baby feet
Feminism

personally pro-life, politically pro-choice

I’m about as pro-choice as it’s possible to be. I’m unflinchingly pro-choice, even. There are no ifs, ands, or buts  in my approach to abortion, no caveats, no disclaimers. I am completely opposed to “late-term” abortion bans, TRAP laws, and any other restrictions on a person’s ability to conduct their own medical affairs. I believe that abortion should be treated no differently from any other medical procedure: it is safe– far safer than childbirth— and it is private.

However, I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, this position is relatively recent– more recent, even, than where I was when I wrote the Ordeal of the Bitter Waters series over two years ago. My feminism is continuously evolving, and back when I wrote that series I was more uncomfortable with so-called “late-term” abortions than I am today. I’ve been evaluating and re-evaluating my stances on reproductive rights for almost eight years now, and I’ve arrived at a place that feels more drastic than a complete reversal should.

As an inexperienced and woefully uninformed young woman, I was fervently pro-life. I picketed clinics a handful of times; I canvassed neighborhoods trying to get TRAP laws put on my state’s ballot. I didn’t think there should be exceptions for rape and incest. Over time, however, circumstances forced me to confront what I believed about abortion, and I realized that my pro-life position was morally indefensible.

My theological and political background puts me in an interesting position, especially as I’ve been observing this election season– my first presidential election as a registered Democrat. My social media feeds are a sometimes-hilarious mix of extremes because some of my friends are Marxists, some are Libertarians, and at least two friends post almost nothing but pictures of guns. What’s becoming troubling to me is that we all seem to have forgotten the value– and governing necessity– of compromise, of embracing a spectrum of beliefs and positions in order to accomplish a good work.

I don’t think there’s anything that demonstrates how polarized we can be than abortion. This election season, it seems that tension has coalesced around Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential candidate, Tim Kaine. He, like other Democratic men like Joe Biden, embrace a complicated position toward reproductive rights: personally opposed to abortion (a somewhat ridiculous position for a man to hold, I’ll admit), but still in support of abortion remaining legal and accessible.

This is where my perspective can seem a little bit wonky to some of my pro-choice friends and colleagues: I don’t have a problem with Clinton choosing Kaine as her running mate. He wasn’t who I was hoping for, but I think the reasoning for choosing him is logical and practical– two of the things I admire most about Clinton’s approach to politics.

I do have a problem with Kaine’s history. He supported abstinence-only education because he felt it would lower the abortion rate in Virginia, which flies in the face of common sense and well-established fact. He banned “partial birth” abortions, a ridiculous position that speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding of medical procedures. He used state funds to support Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which use deceptive, manipulative, and unethical tactics. Even though he’s seemed to have evolved on these positions, I understand the hesitancy many of my pro-choice colleagues are feeling.

However, as fervently pro-choice as I am and as much as I will fight to protect our reproductive rights, I can support Kaine for vice president because he embodies one of my most valued positions:

I will work with anyone,  even someone who’s pro-life, to advance reproductive justice.

I am absolutely for what some call “abortion on demand.” I am vocally in support of bodily autonomy being seen as a fundamental right. However, I am troubled by certain unfortunate realities surrounding reproductive care in this country because I am pro-choice. The US has a much higher abortion rate than many other developed nations, and I think that’s indicative of larger problems.

For example, for teenage girls who gave birth by fifteen, 39% of their partners were older than twenty. For girls who gave birth by seventeen, 53% of their partners were older than 20. There’s some nuance there, of course, but that research indicates that up to half of all teenage pregnancies are a result of rape. That, to me, highlights the gross and horrifying failure in sex education. The abstinence-only “purity” approach leaves people, especially girls, vulnerable to violence and abuse.

In a survey from 2004, a huge number of the people who responded— 73%– said they’d had abortions because they couldn’t afford to have a baby. There’s other reasons to have an abortion, obviously, but when three quarters of the people having an abortion cite their finances as the most important reason they needed an abortion, it means that there’s a definite lack of choice involved in their decision. That’s unfortunate, and upsetting. Abortion should be available without limits– you shouldn’t have to prove you have a “good enough” reason– but if they would have preferred to keep their pregnancy but can’t afford to, that’s a problem.

There are so many avenues to provide real choices. Reducing child care costs. Making reliable contraception widely available. Offering comprehensive education on reproductive health and consensual sex. All of those things are proven in reducing the abortion rate (as well as just being good ideas on their own), and this abortion-on-demand feminist thinks that’s an important enough goal that I’ll even work with Tim Kaine to ensure that people are free to make a true, unbounded, personal choice.

I don’t need ideological purity in the people I work with. I don’t need to agree with you on everything to try to get something accomplished. I don’t like litmus tests, and I abhor movements that are unwilling to bend in order to get the work done. If you’re personally pro-life, but think that decision is a personal one best left to a person and their doctor, we can shake on it.

If you’d like to know more about these pro-choice positions, I recommend Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement by Sarah Erdreich.

Photo by Toshiyuki
michael austin red dress
Feminism

Redeeming Love review: Introducing Michael

Plot summary:

  • Michael sees Angel, God audibly speaks to him and says “This one, beloved.” (53)
  • He buys half an hour with her that night and proposes.
  • She refuses. She continues to refuse, over the next week, quite emphatically.
  • Michael argues with God, leaves town.
  • Angel decides she’s done working for Duchess, demands her wages.
  • Duchess has her beaten. Angel wants Bret Magowan to kill her, provokes him.

***

I’ve been reading A History of God by Karen Armstrong for a little bit. In the second chapter, she’s explaining the different ways the prophets described their deity, and I want to share what she says about Hosea:

It was only with hindsight that it seemed to Hosea that his marriage had been inspired by God. The loss of his wife had been a shattering experience, which gave Hosea an insight into the way Yahweh must feel when his people deserted him and went whoring after deities like Baal. At first Hosea was tempted to denounce Gomer and have nothing more to do with her: indeed, the law stipulated that a man must divorce an unfaithful wife. But Hosea still loved Gomer, and eventually he went after her and bought her back from her new master. He saw his own desire to win Gomer back as a sign that Yahweh was willing to give Israel another chance. …

Hosea saw Yahweh as a jilted husband, who still continued to feel a yearning tenderness for his wife. (48)

There’s a lot more there, and the surrounding argument about how the prophets were anthropomorphizing God is fascinating, but I wanted to highlight that section because it’s important to me to remember that the American evangelical way of interpreting the Bible is far from the only way, or the “right” way. We’ll see Francine’s acceptance of their interpretation of Hosea pop up for the first time here, and I would like us to spend time separating what conservatives say about Hosea and what Hosea might actually have to say for himself.

It’s ok to find Hosea’s story troubling. You can’t remove the man from his culture, and his account is an excellent example of this. However, I do think it’s both possible and necessary for us to wrestle with the parts of the Bible that make us uncomfortable, especially when that discomfort is a sign of conscience.

When Michael finds out who Angel is, he “felt as though he had been kicked low and hard” (so, in the balls), and then says to God “Lord? Did I misunderstand? I must’ve. This can’t be the one” (54). Francine is projecting modern Christian attitudes about prostitutes back onto an 1850s man, because as I’ve mentioned before that wouldn’t have been a big deal at the time. However, it’s important that Michael be repulsed by the ideal of marrying a “soiled dove” for theological reasons: according to the common conservative presentation of Hosea, women like Gomer/Angel/Nation of Israel are disgusting. They’re disgusting like all born sinners are disgusting, really, but Francine really wants to nail the message home through using Michael to voice her whorephobia.

However, if we looked at Hosea with an alternate lens, we could reject the whorephobia in the narrative– which, honestly, is only one chapter out of a fourteen-chapter-long oracle– and look for the compassion that’s woven into the rest of the text. A lot of the anger Hosea feels is directed toward the “Johns” of the ancient world– the people who exploit and oppress and abuse. After he buys Gomer back there’s no brimstone directed toward her or their children. The story conveys a sense of justice– the people who were abused and neglected will be restored.

But, that emphasis on compassion is not theologically relevant to Francine. The typical evangelical desire is to convince everyone that we’re disgusting sinners in need of God, and that’s what Francine needs Angel to understand– that she’s a disgusting whore in need of Michael’s saving grace. Francine beats us over the head again and again with all the times that Angel has “failed” at saving herself through these chapters until she ultimately gives up and decides to provoke Bret into beating her to death (93).

The biggest problem with Francine’s characterization of Michael– and therefore Hosea, ergo God themself– is that ignoring consent is an essential facet of both Micheal and God’s character. At the end of Michael’s opening scene, there’s this line: “But he knew he was going to marry that girl anyway” (56). There’s no if she’ll have me anywhere– not there, not in the next three chapters. At one point God tells him to “Go back and get Angel.” Get her. Not “try to convince her again, I’ll soften her heart for you this time.” None of that, nothing resembling consent. Just abduction.

What Angel wants is irrelevant to both God and Michael. What she wants to be called (64). That she doesn’t want to leave (67). He tells her that she “doesn’t know anything about” him (67) and rejects her stereotypes of “men,” but then makes a stereotypical assumption about her (that he “wants what you don’t even know you have to give”) and it’s not a problem for him to override her own sense of personhood (68). Her life choices “became my business the minute I saw you” (77). When God orders him to abduct her, and he refuses, it’s not because abduction would be wrong, or that he doesn’t want to do something to Angel that she doesn’t want, it’s because “The last think I want or need is a woman who doesn’t feel a thing” (80).

***

All through these two chapters, Francine is painting a deliberate picture of Angel’s resistance. This section of the book is called Defiance, and it’s supposed to parallel an evangelical narrative about conversion: God draws people to him that don’t understand that they need him. They want to stay in their sin (the Palace), they don’t want to accept help or a way out that they didn’t make themselves (marry Michael).

Angel is being stubborn. Michael has given her plenty of opportunities to show her that he’s actually a decent human being. Speaking of, the fact that Francine thinks that Angel could tell at this point that Michael is “not like” (sarcasm quotes there) Duke, or Johnny, or Bret … it’s disturbing. All Michael has done at this point is be an arrogant, irritating man with a frightening temper (76-78), but the subtext to all of Angel’s thoughts is “why don’t I want to accept his help?” which she wonders openly at several points. The answer: again, she’s a disgusting sinner who doesn’t know she needs God/Michael.

A few last notes: there’s some horrific fatphobia here, with Francine describing Duchess using terms like “rolls of flesh,” “puffy cheeks,” a comment about a second chin, and then calling all of that “obscene” right before Duchess orders Bret to beat Angel (89). Yaaaaay. Also, she’s a terrible writer. She freely flouts the old “show, don’t tell” rule, and switches being narrators sometimes in the same sentence. There’s no definite point of view– it’s not a true third-person narrator, and we’re jumping in and out of people’s heads, getting the inner thoughts of basically every character, not just Angel and Hosea.

Bonus prediction: Francine’s going to take Old Testament passages that refer specifically to Israel and apply them directly to Michael and America, the Christian Nation.

firework
Uncategorized

Announcements!

Y’all might have noticed that over the past few months I’ve made the occasional reference to applying for seminary. I first thought about the idea I think almost two years ago now, and spent a lot of time researching options. I tried to apply to a few places, but kept bumping into a few roadblocks– namely, the fact that my undergraduate degree is unaccredited. Most of the seminaries I wanted to apply at wouldn’t even consider me. Some that would, like Calvin or Fuller, where just … a little too conservative.

But, in January I found out about United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities when I was at the Gay Christian Network conference. I explained my situation to the spokesperson there, and he gave me the Director of Admission’s number directly so I could talk about it with him. Our phone conversation was promising– he understood where I was coming from, and he said I could apply without worrying that my lack-of-an-accredited-degree would affect me.

Well, last week, I was admitted!

Starting September 1st, I will be a student again. It’s exciting and terrifying, but I’m happy and grateful. I’m looking at course lists and the like, and seeing possible course offerings such as Comparative Religious Bioethics is tickling me silly. I’ll be pursuing the Social Transformation concentration, and I think it’s going to be fantastic. I’m not sure what my course load is going to look like over the next few years– I think I’m going to start out with two courses at a time and see what happens.

There’s also another thing being added to my plate: for the next few months my workload at the bookstore is basically doubling. Not to unmanageable levels, and overall I’m happy about it, but between seminary, managing a bookstore, dealing with all the travel I’ll be doing, and trying to make sure my fibromyalgia doesn’t wipe me out, the one thing that’s going to have to give  is the blog.

I’m going to keep up the Redeeming Love review– I’ll have a post up today, in fact– and I might write a few posts when I can, but the schedule is probably going to be a little bit inconsistent until I figure out what life is going to be like and my schedule returns to normal at the bookstore. It’s possible the papers I’ll be writing for seminary classes can be recycled into blog posts– let me know if you’d be interested in seeing those!

Anyway, I’m very excited to be stepping into this new chapter. Hopefully it’s a good one.

Photo by Funca
donald trump 1
Feminism

what hast thou wrought: Christians and Trump

I’ve read a lot of articles about Donald Trump. If you look at my last “stuff I’ve been into” post, there’s about a half-dozen articles on him that represents the best-of-the-best of my reading on the subject. I’ve got a lot of angry-and/or-panicking friends on social media, so I’m inundated with quite a bit of material that represent a gamut of positions. My friends range from hard right, center-right, center-left, and hard-hard-hard-hard-left, and one of the biggest conversation topics shared among all these groups is this question:

How can Christians be voting for him?

I’ve already explained why I think Christians shouldn’t be voting for Trump, but now I’d like to take a stab at why Christians– namely white evangelicals– are supporting him in even greater numbers than they supported Romney. There’s been multitudes of ink spilled attempting to answer this, and the obvious answer is white supremacy. Evangelicals exist as a voting bloc because of racism. Trump with all of his flagrant racism is calling to one of the most basic motivations of the evangelical movement, and we ignore this to our detriment. Another obvious answer is misogyny. He embodies everything wrong with masculinity in American culture– braggadocio, chauvinism, narcissism, anger, insecurity– but it’s appealing to those among us who see powerful women and feminism as an innate threat to their manhood or their sense of social order.

The internet is filled to the brim with articles covering all those reasons, as well as plenty of articles pointing out all the ways that Trump’s actions, history, and proposed policies are antithetical to everything Christians have been saying they expect in a presidential candidate for decades. Like having family values. Or being a Christian. So, a lot of my friends are confused: how is this possible? On top of the fore-mentioned white supremacy and misogyny that are integral to evangelical culture, I’d like to highlight two more elements that make supporting Trump a foregone conclusion for so many evangelicals.

Abortion

Yes, this is also obvious. Wayne Grudem even included Trump’s supposed pro-life platform as a part of his argument for why Trump is a “morally good choice.” What’s been confusing to many of my friends is that Trump’s “pro-life” position is recent and possibly a lie, so how can evangelicals be staking an election on something they can’t possibly be sure of?

The answer is simple: Hillary Clinton is pro-choice, and will appoint pro-choice judges to the Supreme Court. Trump, while perhaps not personally pro-life, will most likely appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme Court.

They have to take that chance. They have to because being anti-abortion is all they’ve got. Modern evangelicals and other conservative Christians aren’t, by and large, holistically pro-life in the sense that they consider human life sacred and inestimably valuable. They’re pro-war, pro-death penalty, anti-healthcare, against policies that could end starvation and hunger, anti-gun control, and many even believe that parents should have the right to murder their children once they’re not, y’know, fetuses. They’re not pro-life in any meaningful way, but they are anti-abortion and pro-birth, and holding onto that position makes them incredibly powerful.

With their stance of being a single-issue voter in their back pocket, they control elections. They get to say who stays and who goes, who gets power and who doesn’t, all through this one platform: overturning Roe v. Wade. It’s the Southern Strategy reborn, and there’s no way in hell that they’re going to let go of this, no matter how deep into the muck and slime and mire they have to go to justify it. They’ve staked their soul on this ground. This is the line in the sand they’ve drawn.

Granted, there are plenty of anti-abortion Christians who aren’t being cynical and hypocritical about this. Their theological system simply cannot let them back down from this political position, because if they were to accept the concept that private faith and public life aren’t necessarily eternally bonded concepts, a lot of other things start unraveling. Or, if they were to shift their thinking about abortion from a biblical perspective, the whole house of cards might come crashing down. They can’t afford to question this, because questioning their stance on abortion means questioning everything. It means reassessing their identity, their character, their morality. It means re-examining almost everything they’ve ever done and said to women, to children, to their LGBT brothers and sisters … to orphans and widows and prisoners.

I’ve done it. It’s painful. Too painful, possibly, for many.

Redemption

The one element that I haven’t seen anyone talking about is the redemption narrative intrinsic to the evangelical faith system. To many of my friends and colleagues, it’s inconceivable that Christians could look at Trump– a man who sexually abused his wife, who raped a child, who harasses women with impunity, who sent Hillary Clinton a death threat— and think yes, this man represents my Christian values. How could James Dobson say he’s “tender to things of the spirit” or Jerry Falwell claim that he “lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment,” much less do so with a straight face? This man is an abominable monster, and yet Christians are flocking to him. How can this be?

The answer is in two parts. First, “Creation, Fall, Redemption” is essential to understanding the evangelical viewpoint. Mankind fell into sin in the Garden, but Jesus promises us redemption and ultimately resurrection. To them, this narrative is woven into Scripture from beginning to end, and our lives reflect this pattern, this Truth about reality. We are born Fallen but can be Redeemed no matter what, no matter when.

Trump can’t be excepted from this narrative. He’s a fallen sinner, just like the rest of us, and God can redeem him, too. The fact that he’s converting to conservative Christian-style politics is a checkmark in his favor– in a culture where religion and nationalism are horribly mixed, Trump’s promises for “Christians to be powerful again” ring true in their ears. In this only-Republicans-are-really-Christians climate, it’s the only “spiritual fruit” they need. To those who believe that We Are a Christian Nation, Trump’s “Make American Great Again” speaks to their dominionist, theocratic vision for their country.

Secondly… I’m surprised that anyone is surprised.

Yes, Trump is a child rapist. Yes, Trump abused his wife, making her feel “violated.” Yes, Trump has harassed and attacked multiple women. Yes, yes, yes. But if you look around Christian culture, it’s populated by people exactly like him.

Joshua Duggar attacks his sisters and girls from his church, and it’s written off as “normal.” Bill Gothard sexually abuses teenage girls for decades and he’s still the head of a thriving ministry. Pope Francis has participated in a horrific and disgusting cover-up of child sexual abuse, and he even lands a cover on the AdvocatePastors, youth pastors, evangelists, missionaries, priests– they can rape women, men, children, and it doesn’t matter. They’re protected, even given positions of power. They can rape children, be convicted and sent to prison, and still get to write feature articles for Christian leadership magazines. Their churches and missionary boards will cover it up and shelter them.

Christian culture is a haven for abusers.

It’s a shelter for rapists and molesters because of the redemption narrative they cling to. If a rapist or abuser says “I’m sorry, I’ve repented,” anyone who questions that is harshly censored. If a woman wants to divorce her husband because he enjoyed watching people rape children, she’s censored by her church and shunned. Or if your husband “repents” of sexually abusing a child for years, you’ll be the one seen as “breaking your marriage vows” if you decide to leave him. Even if he’s abusing you, according to John Piper you’re just supposed to stick it out. After all, if you listen to Debi Pearl, maybe if he beats you long enough you’ll bring him to a saving knowledge of Christ. Or, maybe Debi Pearl’s too extreme for you– how about Lori Wick, one of the most popular Christian fiction authors?

This is why Trump is succeeding so well among evangelical voters. He’s an abuser, but now he’s converted to their nationalistic, dominionist, theocratic, white supremacist and misogynistic faith, and through that has been Redeemed.

He fits right in.

Photo by Gage Skidmore
michael austin red dress
Feminism

Redeeming Love Review: Angel’s backstory

For this review series I’ve decided to split Redeeming Love into twelve sections, around forty pages each, instead of splitting it up by chapters– since the chapters all have varied lengths. Today’s post covers the prologue and the first chapter, which gives us Angel’s backstory. To make things a little easier for those of you who haven’t read the book at all, or in a while, I’ll give plot summaries at the beginning of each post before digging into the themes and imagery I’d like to discuss.

  • Mae, her mother, is a mistress.
  • Alex, her father, paid for Mae to have an abortion, but she refused because of her Catholicism.
  • Sarah/Angel overhears her father saying how her existence ruined both their lives.
  • Mae sends Sarah/Angel away with Cleo, the nanny, to have a weekend with Alex without Sarah/Angel present.
  • Alex stops supporting Mae and Sarah/Angel; Mae tries to return to her parents, but is refused.
  • Eventually, Mae becomes a prostitute. Falls ill and dies.
  • Rab, Mae’s love interest at the time, sells Sarah/Angel to “Duke” and is murdered in front of her.
  • Duke renames Sarah “Angel.” Rapes her.
  • Angel, at eighteen, goes to California; she’s mugged by the other prostitutes on the boat.
  • Meets Duchess, moves to Pair-a-Dice with Duchess as her madam.

If you read over some of the negative reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, you’ll notice that there’s a fair number of people who found the dark opening to the book incredibly off-putting and somehow an ungodly thing to read about. The sort of person leaving that review is probably coming from a similar background as my childhood: Philippians 4:8 was our guidepost for all our entertainment decisions, and the opening to Redeeming Love probably doesn’t qualify as something “pure” or “lovely.”

In that sense, I’m somewhat grateful that Francine was willing to explore something dark in her book. Christian culture has a tendency to sugarcoat reality, and it drives me nuts– so at least here that’s not happening. While Angel’s backstory is probably darker than her average 1850s counterpart, it doesn’t stretch the bounds of credulity even by today’s standards.

The particular situation that Francine sets up for both Mae and Angel is a particular form of sexual abuse: it’s called survival sex and can appear both inside and outside prostitution. Many of the people who enter sex work– both today and in the 1850s– did so out of extreme duress. Like with Mae’s character, they considered it a “last resort,” but eventually circumstances deprived them of other viable options. However, it is extremely important to note that people can be forced into survival sex and not be prostitutes. I’ve known several women over the years who had sex with their significant others for no other reason than that if they refused they’d be homeless and starving. Survival sex is coerced sex, and y’all know my feelings on that subject.

A common myth about prostitution– one perpetually reinforced by every Christian anti-sex-trafficking organization I’ve encountered– is that all prostitutes are engaging in survival sex, or were forced into it as a form of slavery. There’s this belief that only incredibly desperate people would enter sex work ‘voluntarily’ … which is not the case. I’d also like to highlight that Mae was having survival sex with Alex long before Francine started describing her as a prostitute– her house and their food would only be provided as long as she was capable of satisfying Alex’s lust.

There are some historical details that Francine is getting right about prostitution during the California Gold Rush, like a Chinese woman being the only one of Duchess’ prostitutes who is there as an actual slave, but I’m already sensing some anachronistic over-writing. Due to the scarcity of women in California at the time, there wasn’t a lot of social stigma surrounding prostitution in places like Pair-a-Dice; but, given what I know about some of the events that happen later on, I don’t think Francine is going to stay true to that.

Getting into the details, though, there is one particular scene worth highlighting:

[Cleo] pushed him away. He reached for her again, and she dodged him–but even Sarah could tell the effort was half-hearted. How could Cleo let this man near her? …

Merrick caught hold of her and kissed her. Cleo struggled, trying to pull away, but he held her tightly. When she relaxed against him, he drew back enough to say “More than that’s [the sea] in your blood.”

“Merrick, don’t. She’s watching–”

“So what?”

He kissed her again, and she fought him this time. Sarah sat frozen in fear. Maybe he would just kill them both.

“No! Cleo said angrily. “Get out of here. I can’t do this. I’m supposed to be taking care of her.” (28)

Merrick than tosses Sarah/Angel out into the hallway with strict orders to stay there or he’ll cut her up and feed her to the crabs, and him and Cleo “have sex.” Then we get this:

She stretched out her hand, but Merrick was gone. It was like him. She wasn’t going to worry about it now. After last night, how could he deny he loved her? (29) …

She put Sarah to bed early and went back down to the bar, hoping he would come in later. He didn’t. She stayed a little longer, laughing with other men and pretending she didn’t care … She hated him for breaking her heart again. She had let him do it to her so many times before. When would she learn to say no to him? Why had she come back? She should’ve known what would happen, would always happen. (30)

This scene bothers me because men like Merrick who laugh at women who are actively fighting them are going to get what they want regardless of whether or not she gives her consent. It does seem that Cleo wanted to have sex with Merrick and stopped resisting once he’d thrown Sarah out into the hall … but the fact that her consent was inconsequential to Merrick in this scene isn’t a part of the tension. She only gets mad at Merrick the next evening when he doesn’t show up at the bar, and the fact that he’s probably overridden her objections in the past isn’t a part of the speech she gives Sarah.

Then there’s the line that Francine puts in Sarah’s head: how could Cleo let this man near her? Considering that she’s spent five whole pages of a 34-page prologue doing nothing but establishing how frightening a figure Merrick is, that thought jumps out to me as decidedly out of place. It’s clear that Sarah is terrified of Merrick, is doing everything he says because he’s threatened to cut out her tongue out and kill her, and is also convinced that he’d kill Cleo, too. That doesn’t jive with “how could Cleo let this man near her?”

I think that particular line is Francine slut-shaming Cleo. It’s not a part of Sarah/Angel’s character, and it does nothing for the plot. It’s authorial manipulation, trying to get us to see Cleo the way Francine sees Cleo. We’re also supposed to see the lecture she delivers through this slut-shaming light: Cleo’s problem isn’t that men are truly terrible, it’s her bad decision making.

I think this is going to play out in Angel’s storyline. At the end of the prologue we get this:

He smiled again as he removed his tie and slowly began to unbutton his shirt.

And by morning, Sarah knew that Cleo had told her God’s truth about everything. (44)

… which shows up in the first chapter as a baseline for how Angel views the world. Cleo had told her the truth about the world, about men … but the reader is supposed to see Cleo’s “truth” as being born of her sinful and oh-so-slutty decisions. The book is, after all, titled Redeeming Love, and it’s going to be Angel’s future sinful and oh-so-slutty decisions that she’s going to need God’s grace and redemption for.

Bonus prediction: Francine is going to juxtapose Mae’s Catholicism with an anachronistically-evangelistic Protestantism at some point, and illustrate that the Catholic faith is inherently lacking and deficient.

woman looking into sunset
Feminism

a new normal: the aftermath of recovery

[content note: trauma, recovery, PTSD]

I’m almost twenty-nine years old. For fourteen years, around half my life, I experienced abuse in various ways. I was physically abused as a child and teenager. I spent my teen years in a spiritually abusive church where I was emotionally, verbally, and spiritually abused by almost every significant adult in my life. I was sexually assaulted twice as a teenager. As an adult I was in an abusive intimate relationship– the emotional and verbal abuse was intensified, and sexual assault and rape became the backdrop to my life. I went to a fundamentalist Christian “college,” where the spiritual abuse continued.

I didn’t escape abusive environments or relationships until I was twenty-three. I’ve been out for almost six years, but didn’t really start attempting to work through everything until four years ago, and I didn’t start making any real progress until two years ago. The healing process is slow, and sometimes excruciating. One of the counselors I went to a few times– the one who told me I was a “poisoned well” and I shouldn’t consider dating Handsome— said that healing would be like “unkinking a hose,” and a more understated metaphor I’ve yet to find.

Over the past few years, I’ve met a lot of people with stories like mine. For many of my friends, peers, and colleagues, we spend a lot of time looking for help, looking for things to help our lives make sense. In that search, I’ve frequently bumped into books, lectures, seminars, tapes, YouTube videos, blog posts, etc, that all talk about healing from abuse and trauma. The problem I’ve encountered is that many of those things aren’t honest about what this process looks like.

They’re not deceptive, by and large, but they do tend to leave one with the impression that healing is a gradual slope upward, and that it leads to peace and recovery. They paint a hopeful picture filled with grace, compassion, and love– and to be perfectly honest, I think those sorts of resources are needful.

But, when I’m looking in the eyes of one of my dearest friends who feels utterly lost and confused because “hasn’t it been long enough? Shouldn’t I be better than this?”– or other women who are beating themselves up one side and down the other because they “don’t want to be a victim,” and they want to “move on” … I have to look at them and say that

I don’t think better looks like other people’s “normal.” I don’t think you can move on.

Better looks like me cleaning out my bathtub. A fleck of mold got on my hand, and I started screaming. Handsome came into the bathroom to find me curled up in the fetal position with my hand stretched out as far away as I could get it. He carried me out of the bathroom and washed my hand for me in our kitchen sink while I sobbed, then tucked me into bed and cuddled with me for an hour before I could even talk.

Better looks like me washing my hair before every road trip and packing dry shampoo. It looks like me standing in the shower at a hotel, shaking and trying not to scream when the shower curtain touches me, while Handsome washes my body and I keep my eyes screwed tight trying to pretend that we’re at home.

Better looks like Handsome and I getting ready for bed, and he takes off his belt and folds it in half to he can hang it up– and I jump away from him and cringe. I don’t know what, but something about his hand movements has my body convinced that I’m about to be hit. He’s never even remotely done anything that could make me think he’d ever hurt me– not with his words, not with his hands. But it doesn’t matter. I jump away from belts.

Better looks like me turning off the subwoofer during Jurassic World because the throbbing bass makes my chest hurt and my anxiety spike.

Better looks like me searching all over my house desperately searching for my cat during my Fourth of July barbecue because as much as I know that she’s afraid of the outdoors and wouldn’t have run away while the door was open, I also know that I won’t be able to convince JerkBrain that she’s ok and still home until I see her for myself.

Better looks like reminding myself to eat even when I’m sick, even when I feel like I don’t deserve to eat. It looks like me playing Farm Heroes Super Saga while I chew and swallow the meatloaf for dinner last night while I try not to think about what I’m doing– hoping I’ll manage to clean my plate this time. It looks like taking small portions when I’m out with family so they won’t ask questions.

Better looks like a nightstand crowded with meds that I take, every day, even though every time I swallow the miracle that makes my days survivable a sliver of myself whispers that if I were a better, more consistent, more hardworking person, I wouldn’t really need them.

Better looks like getting toward the end of the day and telling Handsome “I can’t make any more decisions.” I can’t decide what I want to do, what show I want to watch, what game I want to play, what book I want to read, what snack I want to eat, what blanket I want to cover my legs … so he makes all those choices for me because he cares about me.

Better looks like being thankful for flexeril because I don’t seem to have night terrors anymore, at least not that I can remember. I can’t remember nightmares, and I’ve never been so thankful that I don’t have to relive my rapes once or twice a week any longer.

Better looks like fighting with JerkBrain every workshift because I know that my body needs me to be gentle with it, that working my fingers to the bone does not determine my value and worth as a person. It looks like reminding myself that my employer finds my contributions substantive meaningful, even though I have fibromyalgia.

Better looks like nearly jumping out of my skin every time I see someone who looks my rapist at an airport or national monument because as much as I know that the chances are vanishingly small that I’d actually bump into him anywhere, I can’t shake the idea that maybe just maybe he decided to fly somewhere at Christmas that would take him through that airport.

***

I’ve been afraid to paint this particular portrait of my life because I don’t want to be discouraging. What suffering person wants to be told some of this might be forever? I know all those studies that talk about the long-term consequences of child abuse aren’t exactly uplifting. My brain is fundamentally different because of the beatings I’ve received, because of the times he raped me, because of the hellfire sermons I had imprinted into my bones. I have PTSD, I’m an abuse and rape victim, and those realities aren’t ever going away.

This does look better though. It does. Not better looks like me drinking myself into numbness for three days straight and blaring rock music so loud I couldn’t hear myself think. Not better looks like a panic attack making me vomit in a school hallway. Not better looks like not being able to have sex with my partner. Not better looks like waking up screaming.

I am getting better. I’m not the somewhat-terrifying ball of rage I was a few years ago. Some wounds don’t bleed anymore, some scars have faded. I’m genuinely happier, more content, more at peace. But a large part of why my life is so blissful– and I do often think of it that way– is due to the accommodations I’ve made. I take medications. I play smartphone games to distract me from my anxiety and pain. I spent a ridiculous sum of money on my cat, who we nicknamed “Anxiety Sponge” because holding her makes something in my chest unlock. I walk away from my computer and my phone on the weekends and read fantasy books voraciously.

Healing, in many ways, looks like learning to cope. It means finding crutches and using them. I’ve learned, slowly and painfully, that I can’t meet an impossible standard. I’m never going to be like someone who wasn’t abused for fourteen years.

We got a little beat up by people, by life. If there’s one thing I want every survivor to know, it’s that your hurts are real, and they deserve to be treated. Maybe that means surgery, or walking with a cane, or cortisone injections, or whatever you find that works. Find what works and do it. Maybe, like me, it means smartphone games, taking Xanax with you everywhere, and packing dry shampoo so you don’t have to wash your hair in a strange place.

Whatever it is, it’s ok.

Photo by Mitya Ku
switch
Theology

why a “Christian testimony” and code-switching don’t mix

I’ve been keeping busy this week with the #IKDGstories campaign, and will be doing a twitter chat at 7p eastern tonight, August 3rd (my handle is @samanthapfield). I know that many of you left comments on my I Kissed Dating Goodbye review series about how those teachings affected you, so if you wanted to share those stories more broadly, you can submit to our tumblr, or link-up your own blog post. While our intense focus will be for this week, we’re going to continue posting stories as long as they’re being submitted.

***

I wasn’t allowed to use “crude language” when I was growing up. There were a few explanations given, like “only people with limited vocabularies swear,” or “the Bible says not to take the Lord’s name in vain,” but considering I had access to Google when I was teenager, I never really understood why those were considered valid arguments. First, some studies indicate that people who use curse words might actually have larger vocabularies than those who don’t; second, I was never sure why “don’t take the Lord’s name in vain” applied not just to God dammit and Jiminy Christmas and geez but also shitake mushrooms and fudge. Also, it made a lot more sense to me for “don’t take the Lord’s name in vain” to be “don’t use God to justify really terrible decisions” and not necessarily “don’t use the phrase oh my gosh.”

There is one rule we had that I’m still thankful for, though: we didn’t use derogatory or dismissive language, like calling people “stupid,” or “retarded,” or “dumb.” Considering how many of those terms are ableist, sexist, or racist, I’m very grateful for this deeply ingrained habit.

In graduate school, I read an essay by Mark Driscoll that argued in favor of Christians using epithets and curse words. While I find Mark to be, in general, a loathsome human being, I did find that particular essay thought-provoking enough to research further. Considering Paul uses a word that is roughly equivalent to shit, I decided that since there wasn’t a Bible-based reason not to swear, I was going to figure out how “using euphemistic language” worked.

It took me a while. If you’ve ever seen Signs, I sounded a lot like Mel Gibson’s character, a priest, trying to swear. It was hilarious– my friends thought it was adorable and endearing while I was just plain embarrassed until I figured out the various parts of speech that fuck can be. As in: fucking shit is grammatically appropriate, but shitty fuck is just wrong (although, I found, that as long as you used a stream of them, it turned into something adorable: shitty fuck shit fuck fucky shit makes people laugh instead of looking at you like you’re from Mars).

However, once I started using curse words, I ran into a problem: I didn’t know how to stop.

Thankfully it never affected me professionally, except for one amusing incident. I’d had a cyst rupture on a Monday, and was back in class teaching on Wednesday, although pretty doped up on Vicodin. I forget exactly what happened, but something went wrong and I said “Oh shit” in front of my class of twenty-two freshman students at Liberty University. My boss thought it wasn’t a big deal, thank God, but still– I realized I seriously need to acquire a filter. Everyone around me had no problem switching between hanging-out-on-the-weekend-sounding-like-sailors to standing-in-the-office-talking-about-T.S Eliot, but I did.

It took me a couple years until I really got a handle on being able to switch between vocabulary sets when I needed to– like not swearing profusely around my mother, who has relaxed quite a bit from those “do not take the Lord’s name in vain” days but still isn’t entirely fond of hearing the word fuck every hour. Or, now, in front of customers at the bookstore I work in.

It confused me for a long time that this seemed to be a very natural skill set for most of my peers. Handsome started swearing in middle school, but knew from the get-go that sort of talk would not be acceptable at home. He swore with his friends, but not around his parents. Most of us pick up this habit naturally, from a young age: eventually, I figured out there’s a term for it.

It’s called code-switching, and to fundamentalist Christians, it isn’t allowed.

Code-switching is a little more complicated than just “uses curse words in some situations/contexts but not others.” Most importantly, there’s a definite racial component to how code-switching works in American culture, and I definitely don’t want to ignore that. As complex as it is, though, it’s something that fundamentalist Christians view as wrong, even sinful.

It’s sinful, because Christians are supposed to be an “effective witness.” We’re supposed to have “good testimonies.” That doesn’t mean we’re good at street preaching or have inspiring stories to share during “Testimony Hour” at church: it means that we have reputations in our communities. It should be obvious to anyone, anywhere, that we’re Christians, that we’re different. We should walk, dress, and yes even talk in a way that draws attention to Christ and his work in us. We should stand out.

All of that isn’t just an act we can drop. We’re only capable of having a good testimony if we have good character– character that will be reflected in everything we do, everything we say. If we are willing to use one vocabulary set around some people but not around others, that points to lack of consistency, of authenticity, and most especially a lack of integrity. If we act one way around our family, another in our church, another while we’re at Wal-Mart, and yet another when we’re on the job, what are we even doing? How can you possibly hope to be “the only Jesus people will ever meet” if you’re not being a shining example of Christian living 100% of the time?

This attitude is one of the many ways that fundamentalist Christian culture interferes with people being human. It is more than just normal for people to act and speak differently in different contexts, it’s expected, and it’s a good thing. We should be able to let down our barriers around people we trust not to judge us. We should be able to relax around our friends. We should be able to act in a manner expected in “professional” contexts, too.

This isn’t just yet another way that fundamentalists are weird. Now that I’m talking about it, you can probably think of a number of fundamentalist kids who just seemed off and sorta creepy– and this pressing need to always be “on” is probably why. But it’s not just something to point out that make Christian fundamentalists a little bit different: it’s a form of spiritual abuse.

In my cult-like church, spiritual abuse was often overt, like the times when the pastor targeted specific people in his sermons and lambasted them from the pulpit. More often, though, it’s subtle, and it looks like the principle that we’re always supposed to be a Christian witness. This is emotional labor, and it is horribly taxing and wearying when you’re never allowed to stop performing “good Christian.”

It’s roughly analogous to working in a customer service position: you take every customer’s rant and demand with a smile plastered on your face. You never falter in being patient, no matter how frustrating the customer is being, no matter how they berate you for something that isn’t your fault or you have no control over. By the end of the day this is utterly exhausting.

Now imagine not having an “end of the day.” That’s what it’s like to be a fundamentalist Christian, and it’s abusive.

Photo by lamdogjunkie
brunette in hat in woods
Feminism

Life After “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”

Back when I was gearing up to do my review series on I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I reached out to Joshua Harris to see if he’d be interested in contributing anything. He refused, although cordially, and I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. He was so incredibly young when he wrote it, had spent several years in a toxic church… and after all, he’s attending seminary now, so maybe he’s just too busy.

Turns out I was a little wrong.

There’s been a bit of a storm in a teacup about the interview he gave with NPR, but Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism wrote out my reaction almost word-for-word:

Oh my god, really? I mean, “the consequences of the way people applied the book,” is Harris freaking serious with this? That is not what taking responsibility looks like. The problem was not that his book was misunderstood. The problem was what he said in his book.

You should read the rest of her response, as she does an excellent job pointing out all the different ways Joshua avoided actually taking responsibility for the harm I Kissed Dating Goodbye has caused.

Shortly after he gave that interview, a few anti-purity-culture writers and activists noticed that he’d launched something new on his webpage: a call for stories. It’s been edited a few times since it went live, and initially he was asking for permission to use our stories online or in print, signaling to anyone who’s been on this particular carousel before that he was going to “revisit” I Kissed Dating Goodbye in some way, probably another book or speaking tour or some such– but most importantly in a way that we wouldn’t have control over.

So, some of us decided to launch our own, separate platform:

While we think that actually taking the time to listen is a good start for Harris, many of us are deeply uncomfortable with his chosen format. By giving Harris permission to share these stories, they are being licensed to him for use in whatever way he sees fit—in whole in or in part, censored or uncensored, in service of whatever conclusions he comes to about the impact of his work.

But the reality is that the impact of his work is not his to decide.

This week, we’re inviting you to share your stories—uncut and uncensored. We want to curate these stories in the hopes of preventing more damage from being done and to provide an alternative narrative to the rigid and narrow thinking that IKDG and Harris’ other work espouses.

Today is the beginning of our synchroblog/link-up. At lifeafterIKDG.com, there’s a way for you to submit your own blog post, podcast, or video that will be automatically posted to the main landing page. If you don’t have your own blog/channel, or if you would like to submit your story anonymously, we’re also taking submissions through IKDGstories.tumblr.com. If writing out a whole post or doing a whole video isn’t your style, we’re also using the hashtag #IKDGstories on twitter, and will be hosting a twitter chat Wednesday evening.

Each of us– Jim Kast-Keat, Emily Maynard, Elizabeth Esther, Emily Joy, and Hannah Paasch— are contributing posts for the site, and mine went up today.

rainbow lights
Social Issues

Stuff I’ve Been Into: July Edition

This has been a week from hell in more than one way for me, since I’m coming off period week and it’s also been the horrific shitshow that is the Republican National Convention. Thankfully, I’m leaving for vacation tonight, so I wanted to leave you with reading material, although I might pop in with a post or two next week if the mood strikes me.

Articles on Politics

The Republican National Convention and the Criminalization of Politics” by Dylan Matthews is a must-read in my opinion. If you haven’t paid any attention to the goings-on in Cleveland, Christie said that we should imprison Hillary Clinton because of her policy positions, such as negotiating with Iran. Matthews does a good job of explaining why it’s an all-around horrifically bad idea to start advocating for things like political prisoners.

Speaking of dictatorships, “Donald Trump and the Authoritarian Temptation” by Shadi Hamid was one of the better articles I’ve read over the last year that attempts to understand why Trump’s bid for the American presidency has been so successful. Considering he’s praised Putin, Kim Jong Un, al-Assad, Gaddafi, and Saddam Hussein for being “tough,” “strong,” “incredible,” and “ruthless,” I think I have more than enough reason to be legitimately frightened of a Trump regime.

Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All” by Jane Meyer is probably the best profile on Trump I’ve read. It’s an interview with Tony Schwartz who “co-wrote” The Art of the Deal, and if you haven’t read it yet, it’s worth the time.

Who Are All These Trump Supporters?” by George Saunders was excellent, and I think another must-read because it does what all good journalism should: it humanizes the people we disagree with most.

Articles on Race

We’re No Angels” by Danielle Moss Lee is a heartbreaking piece about what it’s like growing up as both a girl and black, and makes it brutally clear that you can have a stellar performance record, get amazing grades, have no disciplinary problems, and still face racism from the authorities in your life. White people need it drilled into our racist heads that there is no standard a black woman could possible meet that could help her escape racism.

Stop Kidding Yourself: the Police were Created to Control Working Class and Poor People” is written by Sam Mitrani, an expert on the history of policing, especially in Chicago. It doesn’t dig into the race element in depth, but it does make it clear that “to serve and protect” is a convenient bit of myth-making.

I grew up believing that the “War Between the States” and the “War of Northern Aggression” was strictly a matter of “state’s rights.” So it knocked me on my arse when I found out that I was incredibly wrong about that. “Why do people believe myths about the Confederacy? Because our textbooks and monuments are wrong,” written by the author of Lies My Teacher Told Me (good book!) puts a lot of what I’ve learned in one place.

How a $2 Roadside Drug Test Sends Innocent People to Jail” by Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sanders was mind blowing. I had no idea how this whole process worked, and this piece was more than just illuminating, it was infuriating.

I’ve had a difficult time trying to understand cultural appropriation. As a concept it’s not super cooperative with my tendency to want all information neatly sorted into black and white. It’s cultural, and is therefore complicated and messy and nuanced. “Why Defending Your Cultural Appropriation” by Ana Thomas was a brilliant explanation and very helpful for me.

Why I’m Skeptical of White Liberals in the Black Lives Matter Movement,” although written by a white woman, was incredibly thought-provoking. She asks a question that I think deserves incredibly serious thought and introspection, and it’s been following me around ever since I read it. She asks us to figure out how racism hurts us as white people— something that had never occurred to me before. I think she’s getting at something fundamentally true: white supremacy’s target is people of color, it benefits us as white people … but it also must therefore limit us in order to keep us in power.

Articles on Feminism

I love, love, love, love, love this metaphor for consent: the Consent Castle by Robot Hugs.

In the “solidly good things happening in the world” category, there’s a new program being funded by the NFL because they fucked up big time and are trying to balance some of their bad karma. It’s called Safe Bars, and it’s teaching bartenders how to identify sexual harassment and intervene before an assault happens.

‘Empowerment’ is Warping Women’s View of Real Power” by Ruth Whippman is one of those articles that borders on a style of feminism I fundamentally disagree with (the kind that still defines “power” and “success” in white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist terms) while still making a valid point. She also critiques things like “lean in!” and, in her words: “Sexism, in this story, is not the fault of the patriarchy or systemic injustice, but rather a regrettably unavoidable consequence of the fact that women are a pathetic bunch of compulsive apologizers with vocal fry.”

On the other side of the feminist spectrum is “What works for men doesn’t work for everyone: why cities need to start planning with women in mind” by Caroline Criado-Perez. There are a host of things in this world that people would never think of as having gendered consequences– like public parks, parking garages, snow clearing methods, bathrooms, and lighting– but they do.

Language Matters: Why I Don’t Fear being Called ‘Pro-Abortion’“by Maureen Shaw appealed to my feminist, English-major heart. The first time I ever wrote about being pro-choice, I described myself as pro-abortion, even though I was aware of all the negative associations tied up in the term. I wanted to own my public position and be proud of it, even though most of my fellow Christians would probably prefer I be ashamed about this and keep it hidden. In the same vein is “It’s Time to Say ‘Abortion’ When We’re Talking About Abortion” by Genevieve Cato.

My friend Gabby wrote “Reproductive Freedom and Pride Go Hand-in-Hand,” and it’s something I wish more of us grasped. The few times I’ve brought up reproductive rights to my gay friends, they weren’t exactly dismissive but it was clear that they thought the plight of Planned Parenthood doesn’t affect them. Considering Indiana is now experiencing a rise in HIV because Mike Pence shut PP clinics down, this isn’t something the LGBT+ community can afford to ignore. Feminism and queer rights are intrinsically tied up together.

This one could go under both race and feminism, but either way it’s another must-read: “This is What I Mean When I say ‘White Feminism.’

Books

I’m almost finished with the Kingbreaker, Kingmaker series, and while I’ve read four of them so I must be enjoying them at least a little, my original complaint from three weeks ago stands. I had such high hopes for The Relectant Mage, since the back copy and cover art made it seem like the main character was going to be a woman. Well, I’m a third of the way into it, and most of it has been from male points of view. Two villains, and she introduced three more characters last chapter– all men. Again. Le sigh.

I picked up Dietland the other day, though, and while I’m not very far along into it, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be amazing. I don’t read fiction books that aren’t in the sci-fi/fantasy category that often, but it seems like this one might be a winner.

I also grabbed Karen Armstrong’s A History of God, which I’ve had my eye on for a while. As in, multiple years, so hopefully it’s good. I’ll keep you updated on what I think.

TV

We finished season two of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and I think the season ends even better than it started. Kimmy starts therapy and decided to confront her mother, and it deals with all sorts of important things I think trauma survivors will recognize and understand.

Based on a recommendation from my sister-in-law we watched Grace and Frankie, which was one of those that we’ve been meaning to watch for a while but hadn’t gotten around to it, mostly because we’re both firmly convinced that there is no better television than The West Wing— and that’s coming from a Trekkie and a Firefly-fan. Anyway, Grace and Frankie was solidly good and enjoyable. It’s amazing watching Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin together, especially since they’re playing women seven or eight years younger than they are.

We also started Alias, and it’s hilarious. I’m not sure why the Bones theme song is better since they both sound sort of exactly the same, but it is. Jennifer Gardner’s costumes are the crème de la crème of 90s fashion, and Bradley Cooper as “plucky reporter” is also awesome. My only observation so far is that most of Sydney’s troubles could be prevented if she got better at lockpicking. Just throwing that out there.

Anyway, enjoy the rest of July!

good samaritan
Theology

The Parable of the Good Samaritan, revised

[content note: violence, racism, transphobia, misogyny]

There was once a young black man, traveling alone. It had been a long, hot, grueling day and he was eager to be home. As the hour grew late he decided to take a shortcut home through a neighborhood. There, he saw a group of men armed with clubs and guns, and he felt his heart begin to race. He told himself to stay calm, to look respectful. It didn’t do any good. He saw them start to run toward him– he put his arms in the air, but when they didn’t stop, he threw himself on the ground and prayed.

No one answered his prayer as they viciously beat him. No one came when he felt his bones begin to snap. Finally, they left him alone, in the middle of the road, and spread tape around his prone, dying body.

POLICE LINE — DO NOT CROSS, it said.

He could hear voices as people began to gather, could hear them over the pounding in his ears as his heart struggled to beat.

“He does have a wide nose. You can see it, plain as day.”

“Probably stole those skittles, anyway.”

“I heard he stands on the corner and sells cigarettes.”

“Actually, I heard it was CDs.”

He could feel their stares. He could feel it when they crossed to the other side of the street to pass by him.

***

There was once a trans woman trying to move through her day without attracting any attention. She hadn’t eaten anything, or had anything to drink, since she’d left her house that morning but it had been long enough where that didn’t matter. She had to stop at the grocery store, there wasn’t anything left to cook for her family that night, but her bladder was about to burst. She stared at the door to the ladies room, nervous but trying not to be. Finally, taking a breath and bracing herself, she slipped into the bathroom and hurried into the closest stall, heedless to how clean it was or if the toilet was clogged.

She didn’t notice the man watching her enter the bathroom. Didn’t see his hands clench into fists, or rage spark in his eyes.

Exiting the stall, she kept her eyes down and her body as small as she could make it. As she reached for the towel to dry her hands, an arm stopped her. Terrified, her stomach dropping into her feet, she met his eyes in the mirror. It was the last thing she saw before he started beating her.

Minutes later, she realized she was on the floor. Everything hurt, but she could hear voices.

“I tried to tell you about those predators.”

“It’s so sick. Gender confusion is ruining our culture.”

“Pervert. Rapist.”

What hurt even worse was the silence as they left her behind, bleeding and broken.

***

There was once a woman at a college party. It was the biggest kegger of the year, and she was out to enjoy the night with her friends– the last night she’d probably get to spend with most of them. After this it was graduation and job searching and moving away and adulthood. She didn’t want to think about it. Tonight she wanted to be carefree one last time.

She spent the night on the dance floor, had a couple drinks. After a few hours she settled onto a couch between two of her friends, but wanted one more beer before calling it a night. As she was about to get up to get it, one of her best friends offered to get it for her. Grateful, since she was tired from dancing and her shoes were killing her, she handed him her cup.

A little while later, she started feeling awful. Maybe three had been too much– but that didn’t seem right. She didn’t normally get this drunk off just three beers. Dizzy and sick, she turned to her best friend and asked him to take her home.

She doesn’t remember anything after that when she wakes up. Nauseated, she can taste bile. Slowly she realizes she’s freezing. Her dress is torn to pieces and with a horrified shock she realizes her panties are gone. What in the world happened to me? Opening her eyes, she nearly shrieks at the cockroach on the ground next to her face. Why am I behind a dumpster?

That’s when she hears the voices.

Slut. Whore.”

“He has such a bright future ahead of him.”

“Did you hear he was a swimmer?”

“Wait. Isn’t he on the football team?”

“At any rate, she shouldn’t have been drinking. What did she expect would happen?”

Each word is a knife in her heart. The sound that sinks the deepest, into her bones, is the sound of them leaving.

***

But the people who we see as a Samaritan– Syrian refugees. The #BlackLivesMatter movement. Gay Pride. Trans men and women.– the people we despise, the people who make us uncomfortable, who disrupt our otherwise “pleasant society” … as they travel, they come to where the black man lies in the road, where the trans woman is crumpled up in a bathroom, where a woman lies torn and bleeding behind a dumpster, and their hearts are stirred to compassion.

They bandage their wounds, they offer their help. They give them shelter, a space to heal and to be safe.

Jesus turns to us and asks “Which of these was a neighbor?”

The expert in the law, a man who has dozens of Bible verses at his fingertips, who goes to church every Sunday, who tithes from every paycheck and serves in the bus ministry, replies: “The ones who had mercy, who were kind.”

With a prayer that we will finally, finally, understand, Jesus whispers “Go and do thou likewise.”

Artwork by Jan Wignants