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new home

welcome

This is the first official day of samanthapfield.com, and I couldn’t be more excited about the move. There’s still a little more work to be done, some wrinkles to smooth, but I am so happy with the way the new site turned out.

There’s a few changes from the old blog– most notably the blogroll and ‘posts I’ve liked’ widgets. That means I’ll probably start doing a “here’s some stuff I think you might enjoy reading” post every once in a while. You also can’t follow me through the WordPress app or your WordPress accounts anymore, but you can find me in Feedly, Bloglovin’ and an RSS feed link I’ll add once I figure out how to do that. There’s also plain old-fashioned e-mail subscriptions, which you can see in the sidebar under “Mailing List.”

Anyway, I hope you’ll explore the new digs and let me know what you think!

Feminism

on rape fantasies and BDSM

immortan joe
[art by Mirva Pohjonen]
[content note: discussions of sexual violence]

I grew up loving 80s sci-fi movies. From The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension to Enemy Mine, the more cheesy and outlandish the more I love it. Movies like Back to the Future and Ghostbusters were staples in our house. So, you can imagine I’ve seen the Mad Max films more than once (and yes, Beyond Thunderdome is as hilariously bad and wonderful as it sounds). When I first saw the trailer for Fury Road, though, I was all “meh” because I want my 80s sci-fi to be 80s sci-fi and it looked like they were making it all artistic and drama-y, which doesn’t really float my boat (the gender-flipped Ghostbusters, though, that looks like it is going to be awesome).

I was planning on eventually renting Fury Road, but when the MRA corners of the internet completely lost their shit over how feminist it was, I told my partner we had to go see it. I’m not usually one for post-apocalyptic car-chase movies, but Fury Road surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. There’s a lot of good things about it, and if movies about dystopian societies that feature flame-throwing guitars are your thing, you should watch it at some point.

There’s been a lot of interesting conversations happening on tumblr about Fury Road– like the fact that both of the main characters are disabled, or that it focuses on women saving and protecting women— and I’ve enjoyed them. However, after a bit, I started noticing a particular fandom spring up around the character of Immortan Joe.

If you don’t know anything about the movie, the following contains some insignificant spoilers:

Immortan Joe is an abusive, narcissistic, tyrannical, disgusting rapist. He created a religion where obeying him and glorifying him earn you a place in “Valhalla,” and he is completely obsessed with producing healthy offspring. He keeps a harem of slaves that he rapes anytime they are ovulating, and that’s the main plot of the movie. Furiosa is trying to get these women away from him, and they are willing to risk everything to escape. They refused to be a part of Immortan Joe’s “vision.”

The fandom centered on his character features artwork (like the one shown above) and fanfiction, which is usually (from the things I’ve seen float through my feed) dubcon or noncon one-shots that feature humiliation/degradation and brutal abuse. One story that passed through my feed featured Joe fucking a woman’s face so hard he knocks her teeth out. Many people have already gotten Immortan Joe’s brand tattooed on the back of their neck.

Needless to say, this started a bit of a ruckus. One women condemned the entire fandom as being completely fucked up and offensive to all rape victims, which, of course, brought the response that there were rape survivors in the fandom and how dare anyone tell them how to “cope with their trauma.”

I’m not entirely sure where I stand on this issue, mostly because I think this depends on the people involved and where they are in their healing. Personally, I find noncon/rape fantasy stories disturbing, but I can understand how working through those emotions in the controlled environment of writing or reading fiction can be a constructive, healing process. I think that it could be similar to combat veterans playing through video games to treat PTSD.

However, I think there needs to be a stage when a victim moves past that, and I think it needs to be something we engage in critically. If you’re enjoying a story about a rape so brutal the victim’s teeth get knocked out, I think there needs to be a moment where you sit back and ask yourself why that is.

This matters to me especially because I’m kinky, and I enjoy all sorts of BDSM things in the bedroom.

I can understand why a lot of people, feminists included, don’t think of any BDSM activity as healthy. I’d challenge them on that, especially since there’s so many kinky elements in pretty ordinary “vanilla” sex (digging your nails into his back? pinning hands above your head?), but from a superficial perspective, I get it. Any time I’ve seen BDSM porn, I walk away feeling a little sick even if I’d be willing to do some of those things with my partner. Devoid of context, removing any aspect of relationship or trust, BDSM can seem … weird, even icky.

Me and my partner have conversations about this all the time. We engage in BDSM critically, and we involve more than just the “do you think this would be fun or feel good?” in our discussions about it. For me, personally, I enjoy sensation and impact play because of my experiences with chronic pain. To me, these types of play allow me to enjoy and appreciate my body in a way that no other activity can. I am in consistent pain on a daily basis, and as anyone who deals with some kind of chronic illness can tell you, that sort of reality can make you hate your body. BDSM helps me overcome that, because in a certain context (a loving and trusting relationship with my partner), I can overcome that hatred and depression. In play, my body becomes a wonderland (to quote John Mayer).

I didn’t just realize “huh! I like being spanked during sex!” and run with it. I asked myself why. Why would I want to be hit during such a loving, intimate moment? Why do I get off on that? The answer was the above: because it doesn’t register as pain, necessarily. It is transcendent and freeing, and helps me to escape the daily drudgery of chronic illness. I love what my body is capable of doing, of experiencing.

This may not be true of every person– some people might be attracted to impact play because they have some internalized messaging about sex being “bad” and they have to be “punished” for having it. I’ve spoken with some people for who that’s true, so they decided to explore sensation and bondage play, but avoid things that are reminiscent of childhood discipline.

I’m also capable of getting off on power play. This is the “domination/submission” aspect, and is why I usually refer to myself as a bottom, not a sub. While it’s true that in a healthy, consensual BDSM scene the submissive retains complete control and power over what actually happens, on a personal level I don’t pursue that sort of dynamic in my relationship. When I asked “why am I turned on by domination?” I realized the answer wasn’t healthy– I was turned on by it because of how I react to being controlled. Domination and power play speaks to my personality, which is naturally fairly compliant with authority, and to how I was raised in an environment that demanded total obedience to men.

In short, the reason why domination would be attractive to me is that it reminds me of patriarchy, sexism, and religious totalitarianism. A therapist once told my mother that sometimes abusive dynamics can “feel like riding a bike” to survivors. Because it feels familiar and easy, we can be susceptible to further abuse without necessarily recognizing it. Domination is like that– it feels familiar, and therefore comfortable.

Which is why my partner and I agreed that it would not be a dynamic we explored. However, the same may not be true for every kinky relationship– without my particular set of baggage, domination may not be a problem for you. It could be simply another form of role play, something fun and sexy.

In the same way, the fandom surrounding Immortan Joe isn’t necessarily completely unhealthy. It could be a normal and productive part of someone’s fantasy life, but I feel that it’s important to be aware of ourselves when we’re attracted to characters like Loki or James from Twilight or Voldemort or Immortan Joe (or, for me, any villain played by Gary Oldman). We have to ask ourselves why.

Theology

see, here is water

water in the desert

If you grew up going to Sunday school, you’re probably at least a little bit familiar with the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. I’ve never been entirely sure why, but this story, which appears in Acts 8, has always been one of my favorites. I’ve always been fascinated by everything about it, especially since it reads almost like a sci-fi/fantasy story.

An angel comes and tells Philip to stand by a certain road at a certain time, and when he sees a chariot the Holy Spirit instructs him to approach it. He does, and in the following conversation converts him to Christianity and baptizes him. At that moment, Philip is transported to Azotus and continues preaching. In the Bible I used growing up, I had “beam me up, Scotty!” written in the margins. Anytime this passage was used in a sermon, I used to daydream about the Eunuch returning home (to probably somewhere in Sudan) and telling everyone about what had happened, including Queen Amanitare.

My view of this story was simplistic, shaped by the conventions of the people who first told it to me. It was a traditional missionary story, told in the same way that I heard other stories like “The God who Made my Thumbs” or the journeys of David Livingstone. We gawked at this story about Philip teaching the black man just like we gawked at pictures missionaries would bring back from Kenya or Japan. All these things reinforced stereotypes I had about “unreached people groups”– in an attempt to provoke my empathy I was taught to see non-Western nations as backwards, dirty, savage, war-torn, hungry, poverty-stricken, and in desperate need of Christian Missions (aside: please take same time to look at the #TheAfricatheMediaNeverShowsYou tag on twitter).

But, thanks to my need to re-think and re-imagine the Bible stories I’ve been imbibing since I was a child, I was struck by something interesting in this passage:

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” and he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.

I’ve been thinking about this story fairly consistently ever since I first heard about the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson. Since that time we’ve seen more protests, more killings, more violence, a massacre, and now eight black churches that have been burned down. I remain hopeful that in the midst of all this terror and pain that Christian America will finally wrestle with the long-entrenched sins of racism and white supremacy, but in all this time I have been disappointed by a typical Christian response.

They’ve called for patience, for love, for forgiveness, for mercy.

They’ve demanded that black people silence the cries of their suffering.

They’ve said that they will not listen as long as any black person is not submissive and compliant.

And while they say that, I think of the Ethiopian Eunuch and the way he interacted with Philip. He listened to Philip’s explanation, and then he acted. He chose, for himself, what he wanted to do with this information, and then says “what can stand in the way of my being baptized?

In our church tradition, baptism has always been and will ever be about identity. When we baptize our children or our new converts, we are proclaiming to everyone that this person is one of us, that they belong. They are as much a part of us as we are a part of them, united in one catholic church.

When the Eunuch– a queer man, a black man– says “what can stand in the way of my being baptized?” he is forcing all of us to acknowledge the truth: he is one of us. He is our equal. He is as much a beloved child of God as any straight white man. He deserves the same love, grace, and compassion as any other Christian, and he claimed the right to it.

Rachel Held Evans said something about this story in Searching for Sunday that stood out to me:

At another time in his life, Philip might have pointed to the eunuch’s ethnicity, or his anatomy, or his inability to gain access to the ceremonial baths that made a person clean. But instead, with no additional conversation between the travelers, the chariot lumbered to a halt and Philip baptized the eunuch in the first body of water the two could find …

Philip got out of God’s way. He remembered that what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out, but who it lets in. Nothing could prevent the eunuch from being baptized, for the mountains of obstruction had been plowed down, the rocky hills made smooth, and God had cleared a path. There was holy water everywhere. (39)

Christians are still doing what God told Peter to stop: we set up insurmountable roadblocks and maintain them with fierce hatred and misplaced loyalty. We tell black people, queer people, exactly when and exactly how we will accept them. We will not love you until you do everything I think black people should be doing. We will not listen to you until you match the completely imaginary version of Martin Luther King Jr. I have in my head. We will not bestow our sacraments upon you until you do as your are told. Deny who you are. Deny your community. Deny who you love.

But the Ethiopian Eunuch didn’t stop for any of that. He ordered the chariot to stop, he got out, and he stood by the water until Philip baptized him.

Today, it’s men getting tear gas away from the children the police had thrown it at.

Today, it’s Bree Newsome climbing a flag pole and taking down a symbol of hatred and bigotry.

Today, it’s a woman marrying her partner of 72 years.

Today, it’s Isasi-Diaz teaching that everyday struggles are a source for theology.

We need to listen to the people who are saying what can stand in our way? and finally admit that the answer is nothing.

Feminism

a late summer reading list

poolside reading

I’ve spent the last three days trying to write a post about the Florida State athlete who punched a woman in the head during what a lot of people are unfortunately calling a “barfight,” but I haven’t been able to collect my thoughts well enough. The only things I’ve managed to put into writing are phrases like “this is fucking terrifying” and “I’m never leaving my house again.” I was so triggered after I saw the video on Monday night I went non-verbal for a bit and the anxiety that makes my ribcage feel like a vice hasn’t gone away yet.

So, today, I decided I’m going to do something a bit lighter and share some of the books I’ve been reading that I’ve really enjoyed.

bad feminist

I’m not completely finished with Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, but I am so glad that I randomly picked it up the last time I was in a Barnes & Noble. I only ever really visit three sections in any given bookstore: Women’s Studies, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and Poetry. I found some books for work on my last trip (I’ve been needing Yes Means Yes), and spotted this one, which stood out to me because I’ve heard some people talking about it lately. Two-thirds into it I can really see why– it’s an amazing collection of essays, and I’m almost done with it and haven’t lost interest (I managed to make it halfway through Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman before I just got bored). Roxane’s writing is compelling and important– we all need to read more writing by women of color.

lang leav patricia lockwood

These are both poetry collections. I found Love and Misadventure by Lang Leav because a friend kept posting quotes on instagram and I decided I loved her lovely, whimsical style. Many of her poems cover love and heartbreak in a way I found delightful, comforting, and healing, and I really appreciated the fact that many of her poems are gender neutral.

I’ve been meaning to get Patricia Lockwood’s Motherland Fatherland Homosexuals ever since someone I follow posted “Rape Joke” on tumblr. The post linked to an interview with her, and something about her voice intrigued me. When I saw it at that same Barnes & Noble trip, I was glad I’d finally found it. I’ve been going through it slowly– many of her poems are meaty and dense, which I love– and I’m not entirely sure why but she reminds me of Billy Collins. She’s definitely edged into my “favorite poets” group (along with Langston Hughes, Pablo Neruda, and Tennyson).

mirror empire

I found out about Kameron Hurley when I read her essay “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle, and Slaves’ Narrative” which I highly recommend you read. The author bio said that she’d written a fantasy novel, and I’ve been on the lookout for more fantasy novels written by women (Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed of Paksenarrion and Elizabeth Haydon’s Symphony of Ages are some of the few I’ve read. I need to read more Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. Le Guin, but … haven’t yet). When I saw that The Mirror Empire had made an io9’s “fantasy books you need to read” list, I went ahead and requested it at my local library. Well, they never got it in, but it was a Christmas gift and I am beyond thrilled with it.

The plotting and writing and setting and characters are all amazing, but my favorite thing about it was the cultures. One culture has five genders, which are not assigned at birth, and it’s considered the height of rudeness to misgender someone. Another culture has three genders– male, female, and something a bit like intersex– all of which are assigned, but one character from that culture has a body that transitions back and forth between male and female, and the people respect that fluidity.

In short, I cannot wait for the sequel.

kristin cashore

I discovered Kristin Cashore’s Graceling when a WordPress blog I follow (wish I could find it again!) did a review of it, and it raved about how well Kristin handled the “strong female protagonist” trope. Kristin had an opportunity to subvert some of the trappings that come along with writing about a young female warrior (coughcoughKatnissTriscough), and she did it so fantastically well. I cannot say enough good things about this entire series, especially Fire.

Each of these women claim and own themselves in such a gloriously fierce way, and while each book features a romantic interest, they’re just … different. As in realistic. At least, to me. A relationship where the conflict/movement is completely unrelated to characters lying to each other or plain just not communicating? Sign me up! There’s also a very frank discussion of reproductive justice in Fire, and one of the struggles that Katsa faces in Graceling is the pressure to get married even though she doesn’t want to. All in all, these were fantastic stories that wrestled with honest questions in a meaningful way.

marissa meyer

I noticed when the first book of this series by Marissa Meyer came out and it went onto my list primarily because the “retold fairy tale” genre is one of my absolute favorites. I’ve inhaled anything Gail Carson Levine ever wrote, and both Shannon Hale and Robin McKinley are favorites. But a science fiction retelling of Cinderella? Uhm… alllll the yes. When a friend– whose literary tastes I respect– posted a picture of her reading Cress on her birthday, I decided I would finally check it out. Own a Nook makes this far too easy, y’all. I stayed up all night to finish Cinder, and when it ended on a cliffhanger, I immediately got Scarlet and Cress, and about cried when I found out that the next book, Winter, isn’t out yet. Boo.

The best thing about this series is how fantastic the characters are. Cinder is set in “New Beijing,” and is a cyborg, and dealing with oppression and marginalization is a main theme of the book. Scarlet gets damseled, but is then rescued by two women (yahs!).

My favorite of the three, though, is Cress. Based on Rapunzel, Cress’s primary internal conflict is dealing with the fact that the fairy tales she’s sustained herself on while locked up in a satellite as an evil Queen’s hacker and master spy (because being isolated and shut away from society doesn’t mean you are useless and have no skills! YAY!) aren’t actually true, and she can’t count on other people to save her or make her happy. As an ex-fundamentalist and homeschool graduate … Marissa got it right.

uprooted

In the vein of me finding more women fantasy authors, I picked up Naomi Novik’s Uprooted because Ursule K. Le Guin, Tamora Pierce, and Jacqueline Carey endorsed it, and with that set of writers saying things like “I could not stop reading this book!” I didn’t really have to think twice about buying it. Initially I got it because it seemed like a Beauty and the Beast-type story, but it is not, and it is wonderful. It has more of a Grimm feel to it than many other novels in this genre, and although I don’t typically go for the “dark faerie” feel, this was really good. It made me want to go out and get her Temeraire novels, but I spent my book budget on The Lunar Chronicles, so … that’ll have to wait a bit or until I can convince the library to order them.

Feminism

Introduction to the Review Series: "Lies Women Believe"

lies women believe

[update on me: I know it’s been quiet around here for a couple weeks– between period week and an IBS flare-up, I’ve been sort of miserable. I have been developing some ideas for blog posts, though, and I think we should have some interesting conversations over the next little while. I’ve also been watching Parks and Rec and reading David Weber’s Honor Harrington series, and both have been highly entertaining. The Honor of the Queen was especially interesting to read– the main plot revolves around a complementarian and benevolently sexist-patriarchal society where the fact that they have to deal with a woman in command throws them all into a tizzy.

Anyway, we’ll be leaving on vacation next week, and then it’s period week again, so I’m not sure how regular posts will be. My goal is to write a bunch this week and schedule them to go up, but I’m trying to go easy on my body, so we’ll see.]

~~~~~~~~~

How to Win Over Depression and Redeeming Love were neck-and-neck in the last poll I did, but since my friend Dani Kelley is doing a review of Redeeming Love, I decided that my next review series would be the runner-up: Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ Lies Women Believe and the Truth that Sets them Free. In the comments, a lot of you mentioned how toxic this book was for you both personally and in your marriages. I received it as a gift when I was still at Pensacola Christian, and I remember feeling vaguely uneasy about it, although at the time I chalked up that reaction to “being convicted.”

In fact, as I flipped through it today, I discovered sections I’d highlighted, and it made my stomach sink all over again. The first time I read this was after I’d become engaged to my abuser and rapist, and the fact that I needed to mark “Every married couple is incompatible” (156) and that submission is a “gift we voluntarily give” (151) is disturbing in retrospect. I will continue screaming this until the cows come home: books that command “submission” from wives keep women in abusive relationships. End of story.

It’s a fairly popular book– the cover I have shouts “OVER ONE-HALF MILLION SOLD”– and over 70% of the people who reviewed it on Goodreads gave it 4 or 5 stars. Reviews generally follow along these lines:

This is one book that I will always go back to for a right and true perspective on God and His ways for me. Nancy’s insight gives genuine hope for all of us women who need perspective that is true and holy… some of it is not easy to hear but often what is best. November 2007

This book challenged me from the first word to the very end. So many of us don’t realize how many of Satan’s lies we are believing and acting upon day after day. Nancy Leigh DeMoss is candid, to the point, and unapologetic as she writes truths and supports them with scripture. I believe that every Christian woman could benefit from reading this book. August 2012

This is an excellent book for those women who actually care what the Bible says, and want to renew their minds to think more Biblically. Eve’s diary entries at the beginning of each chapter were really thought provoking and helped me to see the differences between what God’s plan was and what we fallen humans now have to live with. I went through this with the ladies Bible study at my church and I value it so much that I’m going to be facilitating a study using this book with college-age girls who want to live their lives in line with a Biblical worldview. I highly recommend it, and I even bought 2 more copies to give to my sister and my best friend! December 2014

This is one of the best books that I have read regarding women in the church. DeMoss makes no apologies for telling it like it is, and she doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. Some of the issues she addresses have been accepted practice within many churches, and though some may have a problem with what she says, she is right- on. I recommend this book to my Christian women friends often. June 2004

~~~~~~~~~

As you can tell, one of the most common reactions to this book is that it is eminently biblical and should be received as God’s Own Truth. Even the title contributes to that notion, which claims that this book contains the truth that will set you free. It seems as though many of the women who read that took it at least somewhat literally– the hundreds of reviews I skimmed over echoed the idea that Nancy has repackaged The Truth in an accessible format, and that if you reacted poorly to this book, it’s only because you’ve accepted Satan’s dirty feminist lies.

Many reviews contained kernels like “hard to swallow,” or “she pulls no punches,” or “unapologetic,” and I find that response oh-so-interesting, because they tended to attribute this not to her writing style or voicing, but to the veracity of her content. These women had the same reaction to this book I did in college– we assumed any negative reaction we had was ultimately due to her being right. If we found something “hard to swallow,” it wasn’t because we thought something was illogical or unhealthy, it was because we were being convicted. God was using Nancy to tell us how wrong we were to believe things like “I get to have a say in the course of my life.” I think this is going to be an interesting dynamic to explore as we move through the series.

There’s twelve sections to the book, but some are significantly longer than others– and I think some sections (like chapter six, “About Marriage”) might take us even longer to get through. I’m going to do my best to keep this down to three months, although that all depends on things like how angry I feel like being on any given Monday. I’ll be working with the original version published in 2001, although I believe it’s been slightly updated since then.

As always, if you have a copy of the book on hand and would like to read through it with me and and your thoughts in the comments, please feel free! The best part about doing these series is hearing from y’all.

Social Issues

"How to Win Over Depression" review: 212-241

how to win over depression

To be honest, if Tim had stopped writing the chapter on how to help your depressed child at page 216, I wouldn’t have a single problem with anything he says in this single, solitary chapter. His first bits of advice are:

  1. Give your children a lot of love and affection.
  2. Accept them.
  3. Avoid anger in the home.

Those are things I can absolutely get behind, and I’m actually surprised that Tim included “accept your children” here– acceptance isn’t something conservative Christians usually talk about in regards to raising children. But then he does a complete about face with the rest of his advice, which is focused on “discipline,” which he makes clear is “the rod.” He says that “The Bible makes it very clear that if you spare the rod, you will spoil the child” (217), and I’d like to take this moment to point out that this isn’t actually a Bible verse. It’s a quote from a satirical poem by Samuel Butler that mockingly suggests that spanking your romantic interest will make them love you.

Also, for an alternative interpretation on all those “rod” passages in Proverbs, I recommend reading this. Many Christians believe that those metaphors in Proverbs are supposed to be taken literally as a command to physically abuse their children, but I, and many other Christians, believe that is a grossly inaccurate interpretation.

Tim also takes the time to make sure his reader knows not to discipline his children “in anger,” and I want sit on that for a moment. A recent study revealed that the way my parents were taught to spank me– be calm during, and then be extremely affectionate and warm after– can actually make anxiety worse. The lead researcher suggests this might be because it’s “simply too confusing and unnerving for a child to be hit hard and loved warmly all in the same home.”

There’s also evidence linking the sort of spanking that Tim advocates to depression, anxiety, other mood disorders, and substance abuse later in the child’s life, which completely unravels his argument that children need to be physically abused in order to have the depression literally beat out of them. Other studies suggest that spanking can cause cognitive impairment and increase aggression. Couple that with the fact that many parents are likely to underestimate how hard they are hitting their child as well as how often they spank, it should be obvious to all of us that spanking is actively harmful, ineffectual, and not something even the most loving parent can practice responsibly.

Tim claims that spanking “assures the child of his parent’s love” (218), but I can think of few claims more preposterous. How in the world is hitting a child supposed to communicate “I love you”? I believed that spanking was a moral imperative for most of my life, and I never connected it to how much my parent’s loved me. I believed it was necessary, but that was completely separate from how much my parents loved me. The closest word to describe what I felt after a beating would be rage. It was humiliating and excruciating, and having to look at my parent and mumble something about loving them made me so angry I could choke.

Oh, it temporarily “fixed” my behavior. I usually managed to slap on the “thankful attitude” that Tim thinks parents should spank their children into (221), but it was a lie. It was something I pretended out of some sort of survival mechanism. Spanking “works” because of fear, not love.

~~~~~~~~~

“How to Help a Depressed Friend” wasn’t too terrible; his only real piece of advice in this chapter is not to be “too cheerful,” mostly because he thinks that depressed people find it annoying. That’s not true in my experience– I find overly cheery people annoying all of the time. Tim’s obliviousness also comes out a little bit with “Even the depressed will rarely refuse prayer, which they usually recognize as their last hope” (226). I have desperately wanted to say “oh my god, no” many times when someone has offered to pray with me, and the only thing that keeps from me vocalizing it is the fact that would generally be considered fairly rude.

The last two chapters were troubling, since he mostly focuses on biblical figured to communicate the message that depression is a sin. What troubles me is that he chose examples like Jeremiah and his Lamentations. I think it’s a truth (almost) universally acknowledges that white middle-class American Christians have lost the ability to lament. A google search of “Christians need lament” turned up articles from pretty much every significant American Christian movement, from The Gospel Coalition to the Emergents.

One of the things that deeply bothers me about Christian culture is this whole “happy happy joy joy,” “Rejoice in the Lord Always, and again I say rejoice” attitude toward faith and worship is that it ignores reality. Living on planet earth is a catastrophic nightmare sometimes, and if we are robbed of our ability to grieve and lament, then we’ve lost a connection to our humanity. Christianity is not about being happy, but sometimes I get the feeling that’s what it’s been reduced to. Our theology needs room for shit just happens, and “Rejoice in the Lord!” doesn’t cover it.

All the way through this book, Tim has advocated a position that being thankful for everything, including the awful, terrible, no-good stuff, is the only way to avoid depression, but I think all that really does is turn us into Stepford-level automatons. We’re people, and part of being human means being sad.

In the end, that’s the biggest mistake Tim has made in How to Win Over Depression. He doesn’t understand what depression actually is– he confuses it with sadness, with grief (227), and then tells all of us that experiencing those emotions is sinful. He robs us all of our humanity.

Theology

"How to Win Over Depression" review: 192-211

how to win over depression

Thankfully, I think we only have this week and next week and then we’ll be done with this book. One of my biggest complaints today is that this book wasn’t edited– only proofread. There’s not a lot of development to this book, and Tim has a tendency to repeat himself. This chapter– “Ten Steps to Victory Over Depression”– barely contributes anything new to the book.

A few interesting things happen, though. In a previous post I’d mentioned that Tim’s language surrounding his “self-pity” concept echoes how evangelicals typically talk about “bitterness.” However, in this chapter, he just comes right out and says it:

By gaining the ability from Him to forgive her parents, she removed the root of bitterness that had immobilized her for years. (193)

He spends a lot of time talking about bitterness in this chapter– all of the examples he gives are people he thinks of as “bitter,” but, once again, he completely and totally ignores the realities that abuse victims have to face every day. Infuriatingly, he even dismisses one woman’s experience as being imaginary. This woman says that her mother “smothered and dominated” her “every decision,” but Tim overrides that opinion and says her mother was just a struggling single mom who got a little over-protective and she’s just imagining her problems because some guy who took a psychology class told her she had them (200).

I’m not even shitting you. This woman came to him, described an extremely controlling home environment, and Tim says she made it up. I cannot even imagine the re-victimization and trauma that he has put these people through. He has an extremely misogynistic opinion of women: this chapter included examples of five women who were 1) vain, 2) a bad mother, 3) liars, 4) gossips, and 5) nags. He even praised a HR executive for basing his hiring decisions on the submissiveness and gentility of the men’s wives (203)!

The book might have gone flying a few times today, especially when I got to this:

If the individual is aware of your resentment or bitterness, apologize personally if possible or by mail. Admittedly, this is a very difficult gesture, but it is essential for emotional stability. (199)

Oh. My. God. Oh my god.

If I were being counseled by Tim, he’d tell me that I must contact my rapist and apologize to him or I’ll never have emotional stability and “spiritual maturity” (198). This shit is fucking dangerous. I go out of my way to make sure that he can’t find me. I don’t have my location anywhere– not on Facebook, not on Twitter, not on LinkedIn. I don’t connect any of my accounts to my phone number, no matter how much Google and Facebook pester me about it. I ask people who take pictures of me not to tag the location on Facebook. I not only blocked him on every platform I have, I also blocked everyone he knows. I maintain this blocking religiously. I have cut off contact with friends because they were still mutuals with him.

And Tim would tell me I’d have to undo all of that. Sweet mother of Abraham Lincoln.

But, the biggest problem with this chapter is that he emphasizes, once again, that all anyone really has to do to overcome depression is give thanks. If we just inculcate a “spirit of thanksgiving” and maintain a “thankful heart,” then everything will be fine and our depression will go away.

Except that’s just plain not true.

When my rapist ended our engagement three months before the wedding, one of the things he told me (besides “I can’t trust that you’ll be a submissive wife”) is that I am a “persistently negative person.” Believing my rapist to be a better judge of my character than I was, I made it my New Year’s Resolution to find something every day to be thankful for, no matter how small or big. I did this publicly; every day I would post a status update that began with “happiness is” and then finished it with something like “snickerdoodle coffee!” or “buying another bookcase!” or “being accepted to grad school!”

That year was the worst depression I’ve ever had.

This past winter was a struggle because of depression, as well. But Handsome could tell you that at the end of every day when I would be laying in his arms while we watched Gilmore Girls, drinking tea, that I would look up at him and say something about how blessed my life is, about how grateful I am for my life with him, that there were so many moments in my life to be thankful for– even in the midst of gut-wrenching despair and grief. I have never ceased being thankful, mostly for the small things. Vanilla beans and carmelized onions and buttermilk pancakes. Munchkin games. Moonlit strolls in the woods. Soft pine needles. Ocean spray. Swimming pools. Pride parades.

I’m still depressed, though. It’s getting better now that summer is here, finally (thankssomuch seasonal affective disorder), but all through this winter I was thankful, and it didn’t matter. It didn’t change how my body and mind responded to the darkness.

I think if I was ever Tim’s patient and I tried to take him seriously, I probably would have died.

~~~~~~~~~

In much happier news– remember the poll I did before I started How to Win Over Depression and Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love was neck-and-neck with Tim’s book? Well, a good friend, Dani Kelley, decided to take on her own review series. Redeeming Love was one of her favorite books as a teen and young woman, so I’m very much interested in her perspective on the book now that she’s come out of purity culture and fundamentalist Christianity. I didn’t read it until after I was already a feminist and critical of purity culture, so I think Dani’s take on things will be more valuable than mine.

My plan is to cross-post her review series every Monday starting July 6th, and I’ll be reading along with her and adding some of my own thoughts. Comments will be closed on those posts so that we can keep the engagement in one place on her blog (which is fantastic and y’all should be reading it if you’re not already).

Social Issues

thoughts on Charleston

Emmanuel steeple

If you haven’t heard about what happened in Charleston, South Carolina this past Wednesday night, here’s a brief summary:

A white man walked into a Bible study at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church– which is one of the oldest black congregations in the country and is an icon of the Abolitionist and Civil Rights movements– and sat in the service for an hour before shooting and killing nine black people, mostly women, while saying “I have to do it. You rape our women and are taking over our country and you have to go.” This white man has confessed to the terrorist attack and told the police that he “wanted to start a race war.”

There are no ifs ands or buts about this. This was a terrorist attack motivated by white supremacy. This white man did not do this because he was “troubled,” or a “disturbed,” or “mentally ill.” He did it because he is racist. He wanted to make it very clear to all of us that he believes he has the right to kill black men and women because they are black, and he is white.

As this woman of color put it (talking about the Santa Barbara mass shooting):

Unlike real mental illness, white male entitlement is a choice. It is the choice to see oneself as better than, the choice to see others as less than and deserving of violence, the choice to believe that one has the right to punish women/people of color/queer folk for daring to exist outside of servitude. White male entitlement is a learned cultural behavior that is the logical extreme of the systems of oppression at work in US society. So this gunman is not crazy, it is not crazy to believe things you have been told your whole life. 

White people in America are all racist. All of us. Most of us will never walk into an AME church and murder black people, but there are slivers of racism embedded so deeply into our identities as white people that rooting them out is the work of a lifetime. All the unconscious things we believe about race add up to a worldview that condones this terrorist attack, that tells people like this shooter that other people– everyone like him, really– implicitly agrees with what he did.

One of the things that can help challenge our white supremacy is to listen to what black people have to say, so I am asking you to read the following articles and listen to them. Grapple with it. Let their words change you. Also, please don’t just read these few articles– start paying attention to the bylines of the articles you read, and seek things written by people who aren’t white, straight, and male.

What I Need you to Say in Response to the Shooting in Charleston” by Osheta Moore.

“The pain we’re feeling right now is akin to the loss of a child because whenever black lives are treated as worthless, whenever our story is marked yet again with violence, whenever we’re forced to remember the brutality our grandparents endured when they stood for freedom and dignity- it feels like Dr. King’s dream is a hope deferred and our hearts are sickened.  As a white person, you may have heard Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and thought, “yes, that’s a nice sentiment.” That “nice sentiment” is a defining dream for the African- American community.  We don’t want to be angry anymore.  We’re tired of being afraid.  We’re tired of these headlines.  We want to have peace.  We dream of unity too.”

The Only Logical Conclusion” by Austin Channing

“The level of terror that black people feel in America at this moment cannot be underestimated. Because when the driving force of such a massacre is the very thing imbedded in the roots of America, thriving on the branches of generation after generation, sitting in the pews unchallenged every Sunday morning in white churches- there is no reason why black Americans should feel safe.

The sin of white supremacy is thriving in this country because white Christians refuse to name it and uproot it, refuse to confess it and dismantle it, refuse to acknowledge it and repent of it, refuse to say the words

“Its in my family”

“Its in my church”

“Its in my soul.”

The Charleston shooter killed mostly black women. This wasn’t about rape” By Rebecca Carroll

“The shooter allegedly used the salvation of white women’s bodies as a motivation for his acts, an old trope that was once used to justify the lynching of black men and the denial of rights to all black people. The idea that white women’s bodies represent that which is inviolable while black women’s are disposable hasn’t changed enough since it was first articulated by white men; but again, aimed at black men on Wednesday night, it was predominately black women who suffered by their invocation.”

I am also asking you to read the following two books as soon as you possibly can. I believe that every white Christian should read these books.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone

Please listen to these voices and learn from them.

Uncategorized

become a Patron

arms up in the air

I started this blog in February 2013 for a few reasons, but, honestly, the biggest one was boredom. My health won’t allow me to be employed full-time, and I discovered after about a month of getting married and moving in with him that I needed something to do besides read books, play video games, and surf the internet. I’d blogged before (anyone remember Xanga?) and had started reading blogs like Sarah Moon’s and Elizabeth Esther’s and Dianna Anderson’s and Rachel Held Evan’s, and figured– I can do that. It seems like fun.

I never in a million years expected what happened. The first day I got more than fifty visitors Handsome came home to me in the fetal position because I was so overwhelmed. Fifty people read my blog that day. I didn’t know what to do with that. But, by the end of the year I’d gotten a quarter of a million hits and it was more than a little mind boggling.

To this day I’m still a little confused as to why y’all keep showing up to read what I have to say three times a week, but I am so incredibly grateful. I’ve said this before, but I really do think of this space as a community. Over the past few years I feel like I’ve really gotten to know some of you, and consider you colleagues. Some days, knowing that you’re here is why I drag myself out of bed. Knowing that I can count on you to deal with the occasional jackass helps, too.

I’m eternally interested in what you have to say, and you have taught me so much. Your investment here, in this community, is why I’m hoping that you might consider becoming a Patron.

I heard about Patreon last year, and the concept intrigued me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it– the idea of a “tip jar” or asking for money made me a little nervous– but I appreciated that someone(s) had taken the time to create a platform like it. But, I’ve decided to go ahead and create a “Patreon campaign,” as they call it, for a few reasons.

The first, and biggest, is that I’m moving to a self-hosted blog! Exciting! (Well, to me, anyway). Hopefully in the next two to three month samanthapfield.com will be up and running, and I could not be happier about it. Having my own domain name helps with professionalism and credibility, and I get to have a logo and other fancy stuff. However, hosting your own blog costs a little bit, and I’d like to keep ads minimal and unobtrusive– which is where Patreon comes in. $30 a month would cover all my self-hosting costs.

Having support through Patreon would also make it possible for me to do things like go to conferences. I was invited to attend the Faith and Culture Writers Conference last year, but I couldn’t go because it was in Portland and just the plane ticket was out of our budget. I’d also be able to put out a free e-book (like on how complementarian theology is really just the rationalizations of abusers wrapped up in pretty paper), and I think having material like that freely accessible could be a really good thing.

One of the more important reasons, though, is that it would allow me to stop pitching my best writing ideas to other blogs and magazines. I could keep all my best work here where it hasn’t been put through another editor’s vision, which can be a neutral experience to something downright infuriating. For example, I wrote a piece for Relevant last year, and they took anything “controversial” out of it, which made it weak and insipid. I hated what they did to it, but I had no control over what got posted. Being confident that I can keep my own blog running means I won’t have to worry about that so much anymore.

Anyway, I set up the Patron where it’s per month, and you can commit to any amount you feel like– even just a dollar. You can find the campaign here, and it would be incredible if you shared it around wherever you feel comfortable doing so.

As an aside: Patreon has a “rewards” program where, if you pledge “X” amount per month I can offer a reward. Except, I have no idea what to even offer– so, give me some ideas! What sorts of things would you like that you don’t already see around here?

Social Issues

"How to Win Over Depression" review: 160-191

how to win over depression

Honestly, this chapter, which Tim titled “Depression and Your Temperament,” was more than a little befuddling. He bases his entire argument on Hippocrates’ Humorism— and no, I’m not joking. This chapter is dedicated to a medical theory thousands of years old that was completely obliterated by the advent of modern medical knowledge.

What is ironic is that Tim uses the concept of the “Four Temperaments”– even attributing this idea to Hippocrates– without bothering to note that in Hippocratic theory, the bodily humors (yellow and black bile, phlegm, and blood) affected temperament. Tim is still continuing to insist that biology is not linked to depression in any way (178), all the while relying on a theory that totally contradicts him.

Something that amused me about this chapter was reading his descriptions of the Four Temperaments (which are: sanguine, choleric, melancholy, and phlegmatic) felt like reading horoscope personality profiles. Supposedly, according to this test, I’m phlegmatic, and reading Tim’s description of the phlegmatic felt about as accurate to me as reading what Virgos are supposed to be like.

What bothered me about this chapter is that Tim argues that some personalities are far more prone to depression than others, which sounds like just that much swill. The sanguine and choleric personalities, if they’re “filled with the Holy Spirit,” will be “untroubled by depression” (164) or “will never become depressed” (167); the melancholic will merely be “helped” by the Spirit to “try to avoid depression” (174) and the phlegmatic will “definitely become depressed” (175).

Tim is practicing introversion discrimination in this chapter. “Sanguine” and “choleric” personalities are both extroverted: sanguine people are the “social butterfly,” often charismatic and outgoing, while the choleric is the passionate, spontaneous personality type. Melancholy people are creative, but private (think Romantic poet), and phlegmatic persons are quiet and calm.

This is a society-wide problem. As Steven Dison in the linked article points out, in the aftermath of events like the Aurora theater shooting, the media tends to get myopic about the perpetrator’s personality and social life. These mass shooters seem to be withdrawn, secluded, anti-social? Well, that must mean that being withdrawn and anti-social is bad. Whether or not these people are actually any of those things gets lost in all the talking-head chatter about it. In our culture, traits associated with introversion (like preferring seclusion to social events) are rhetorically linked with mental illness, and Tim does that in this chapter.

Tim is also deeply ignorant about the existence of personality disorders. In his description of how sanguine people can experience depression (which they can easily overcome with the Spirit, while the introverted temperaments can’t), what he describes sounds like narcissistic personality disorder:

As these charming sanguines who often act like overgrown children become aware of their own shallowness, their insecurities are heightened. They become defensive, sensitive to slights or criticisms, almost obsessed with others’ opinions of them. (163)

And his description of how choleric people experience depression (“he quickly becomes angry … he explodes all over everyone else” (165) sounds like borderline personality disorder. People with all sorts of temperaments and personalities can experience these disorders, or have maladaptive behavior that echoes them.

But the most frustrating thing about this chapter is that he sees depression as the exception for sanguine and choleric temperaments, but the natural consequence of being melancholic or phlegmatic. In the context of How to Win Over Depression, this is especially bad, because he has made it crystal clear that depression is a result of sin; the logical progression is that melancholic and phlegmatic people are naturally more sinful– in regard to depression– than sanguine or choleric persons. See what I mean about introversion discrimination?

~~~~~~~~~

The next two chapters are “Depression and the Occult”  and “Depression and Music.” Not much needs to be said about “Depression and the Occult”– he spends a few pages telling Christians to not learn about it because Satan, and that suicides are caused by demonic possession (because demons like to inflict self-harm, as illustrated by Matthew 17).

“Depression and Music” pissed me off, though. This is on the first page:

To a large extent, the highest musical forms were found in the western civilizations. In fact, that art of music was not really developed to any high degree of proficiency in other countries because of the influence of the various religions on their respective cultures … Paganism has always been dominated by the dirge or the chant. (187)

WHAT. THE.

I mean, I’ve heard this before– I was explicitly taught this in my “History of Music” class at Pensacola Christian College, but it took barely any digging at all to figure out how utterly ignorant and false that idea is. For an excellent discussion of how fundamentalists are flagrantly racist when it comes to music, I suggest you read “Patriarchy, Christian Reconstructionism, and White Supremacy” (scroll down to “Note on Music”).

Also, the only people who argue things like “Western Music is just better” argue ridiculous things like “black music had no affect on American rock music,” which is asinine in the extreme.

But that wasn’t the only thing that pissed me off about this chapter, because Tim also said this:

The once happy music of the West, because of the atheistic control of the communications media, is rapidly degenerating into the same depressing tunes I heard in India, Africa, and China. Unless a musician is filled with the Holy Spirit, he will tend to create morbid, pessimistic, negative music that features a detrimental beat or tune. We need a return to happy music today.”

To which I say: “DUDE HAVE YOU NEVER LISTENED TO GREGORIAN CHANTS.”

Also, I looked up what the most popular music was in 1974, when this book was published, and Tim is just so wrong. The chart-topping numbers that year were songs like “The Loco-Motion,” “Kung Fu Fighting,” “Rock Your Baby,” and  “Hooked on a Feeling,” all of which are pretty doggone happy. The rest of the songs were mostly about how much love is amazing, plus “Cats in the Cradle” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

Depressing music? Ok, if you listen to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” on repeat, maybe you’ll get a little bummed (I don’t, I just really like it. Who doesn’t get a thrill out of “and the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they’d made … and the sign said “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls”?). Peter Paul and Mary’s “500 Miles” bums Handsome out in 10 seconds flat while I adore it, but even they are better known for “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

Different people react to music … well, differently. I will sit around and listen to Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” and John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” ’til the cows come home, but Handsome prefers “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding (I prefer the Sara Barielles version). Tim says that no one “can growl through breakfast” while listening to “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” (190) and I beg to differ. Songs written by Martin Luther I find I particularly annoying.

So yeah … I didn’t think my opinion of Tim could get any lower, but it did. Because presenting factual (and racist!) inaccuracies about the global history of music cannot be forgiven.