Social Issues

the value of shame

I have … unusual hair. At one point when I was a child, it was so long I could sit on it, but it wasn’t just the length that made it stand out. It was also full, thick, voluminous– or as my partner likes to call it, “robust.” I have thick, wavy hair and I have a lot of it. It was also fairly healthy, so, as long as it was, it kept its body all the way to the ends. Honestly, it didn’t even look real.

Because of that, I tended to attract attention in public. Complete strangers would come up to me and begin stroking my hair without even asking me first. It bothered me, but a part of me preened under all the “oohs!” and “ahhs!” my  hair got me.

So in graduate school, the first time a black colleague came to work with her 4c natural hair down and I asked her if I could touch it, I didn’t think much of my behavior. I was fascinated by her hair– it was the first time I’d ever seen 4c hair worn naturally, and it was so different. She took my request to touch her hair in stride, and I connected that interaction to the sort of thing I’d experienced as a little girl– as maybe a little bit weird, but complimentary.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized that asking to touch a black woman’s natural hair is a microagression. Not every black woman I’ve talked to feels the same way about this– one woman honestly doesn’t mind, she sees it as an opportunity for education– but being “curious” or “fascinated” are just examples of all the ways that our culture erases the experiences of black women.

When I started listening to black women talking about all the “curious” and “fascinated” people who’d touched their hair over the years, I felt ashamed. I think back to doing that to my colleague, and something deep inside of me recoils. What I did was racist– and that’s an amusing anecdote compared to other things I’ve done, said, and believed about black and brown people. The only word I can ever come up with is horror. If I could go the rest of my life without admitting to the heinous things I used to think, I would.


A little while ago a friend and I were talking about skincare products. I have extremely sensitive skin– I can’t tolerate washing my face with anything besides warm water most of the time– so I’ve been limited to a single line of moisturizers. The line my friend uses is one of the brands that are especially bad for my skin, and when she brought it up, I said:

“Oh, I’d never put that stuff on my face.”

My friend and my partner– who was sitting next to me– were legitimately and appropriate offended by my remark, and called me on it. But I did not understand why they were upset. To me I was purely thinking of how my skin reacted to that brand, and there wasn’t a shred of judgment in her using that line.

Except a listening person couldn’t hear anything except judgment in my choice of words, and regardless of what I meant, intent isn’t magic.

Later that evening I was recounting that conversation with my partner, upset that I’d been “attacked” for expressing an opinion. That was when he realized I had no idea how my words were received. He stopped dead on the sidewalk and said “Sam, you hurt her feelings.”

For a split second I couldn’t believe it, and then I burst into tears. I realized with perfect clarity that he was right, and I heard myself from the outside for the first time that night. I had hurt her, and I was deeply shamed. I cried for the entire car ride home, and the second I saw her I apologized. That whole night, though, I was wracked with shame. The thought I am a horrible person how could I do that to her kept spinning ’round and ’round my head.


If there is a writer I wish every ex-fundamentalist could read, it’s Brené Brown. If you have the time and you’ve never seen her TedTalk “Listening to Shame,” I highly recommend it. In the research I’ve done since leaving the fundamentalist cult behind, I’ve done a lot of reading on the differences between shame-based and guilt-based cultures, and I think Christian fundamentalism is a mixture of both. Growing up, shame was an integral part of my identity. Much of Christian culture glorifies shame, enshrining it in concepts like total depravity and calling each other and ourselves “worthless rags” and “worms.”

As Brené puts it, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging,” which sort of encapsulates total depravity in a nutshell for me. She also says that “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”

Shame is paralyzing, especially for those of us who have survived fundamentalism. It was the primary weapon used to control everything about our lives, about the way we think, about what we thought, about what we said and did. For me, when I experience shame today– like after the incidents I related above– it still has the power to stop me dead in my tracks and send me into a feedback loop of I am a horrible, worthless person.

That’s not a healthy reaction.

In that TedTalk, Brené talks about exploring shame without letting it paralyze us like that, to wade through the “swamp” of shame without staying there and settling in. Shame shouldn’t control us, because all it can do is deaden us to the opportunity this new awareness is giving us.

However, I think the ex-fundamentalist community might be going a little bit too far with the “no shame!” bandwagon. We were either a) not given the tools to manage feeling ashamed properly, or b) stripped of those tools– so I completely understand the overwhelming need to try to avoid experiencing it. It’s hard to confront shame head on because we can feel the fear trying to choke us. Feeling ashamed feels like letting ourselves being tugged back under the sometimes inexorable tide of fundamentalism that stills roars in the back of our minds.

When we’re faced with shame, it could be emotionally and mentally easier to not let ourselves experience it; except, when we avoid any opportunity to feel ashamed of ourselves, we’re deterring self-growth.

This is where writers like Brené talk about the differences between guilt and shame. Typically, guilt is portrayed as the positive alternative to shame, but recently I’ve come to disagree. Guilt is an easier emotion to manage, but for me at least that also makes it easier to ignore. Shame, though, is compelling. It’s blinding. The realities about shame that make it so dangerous are also what make it important.

If I didn’t feel bone-deep shame for my racism, or my tactlessness, or my internalized misogyny, or my ableism, if there wasn’t a part of me that felt the part of me that is racist is horrible, I don’t think I’d be as fierce about overcoming those things.

The hard part is not letting shame become a part of my identity. Being racist– and I am racist, not just a person who explicitly or implicitly contributes to systemic racism– is not who I am. It’s a nuanced separation, but it exists. I am bisexual: that cannot, will not ever change. I am and always will be a cis woman.

However, I don’t have to continue being racist: I can unlearn it and change.

But racism, or ableism, or whatever else, are so deeply buried inside of me that it takes moments of heart-stopping shame to overcome it. We can’t let ourselves bury ourselves in shame, to flagellate ourselves with it, to wallow. Shame shouldn’t stay. It should be an emotion we use constructively to motivate us to change, not a weapon we use to punish ourselves.

Photo by Grey World
non denominational church

On “Different” Churches: You’re Actually Not

A little while ago I reached out to my followers on Twitter to ask if they’d stopped attending church and why. I was flooded with replies over the next few days, and many of the answers I received were heart-shattering. In the midst of that conversation, the Twitter account for Highlands Fellowship church jumped in, inviting me and another woman to their church because they were “different,” and linking both of us to a promotional video.

I decided to give this Highlands Fellowship PR person the benefit of the doubt and watch the thing, titled “What Three Words Would You Use to Describe Highlands Fellowship?” It made me chuckle because the church Handsome and I left last year asked us to be a part of a similar video, where they asked us the exact same question. We decided to bet on which words would appear– I chose “open” and “friendly,” he went with “loving” and “non-judgmental.” We laughed so hard because lordy did we nail it.

I also ended up e-mailing back a forth a couple times with Tim– the PR guy– which I won’t go into, but our private communication really didn’t go much further than what he’d said publicly: that Highlands Fellowship was supposedly different because “most churches are tradition and religion. We are relationship with Jesus and love.”

Which … that statement continually boggles me. It’s definitely far from the first time I’ve heard this sentiment– my mother’s license plate bracket reads “I’m not religious, I just love the Lord,” one of my favorite jokes as a middle-schooler was “want a taste of religion? Lick a witch,” and then there’s that “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus” spoken word poem that went viral way back in 2012. This whole “we’re about having a relationship with Jesus, not just following a religion” thing is the exact and total opposite of “different.”

I’ve talked about my problems with this bait-and-switch approach to the “it’s not a religion it’s a relationship” concept; it’s impossible to argue that all the bedrock elements of Christianity– things like the Eucharist, baptism, or conversion– are anything except religious, and trying to ignore that is ridiculous.

But I’ve seen these attempts by (usually) non-denominational, mainstream evangelical churches to distance themselves from “all those other churchesfor the bulk of my life, and it loses me every time because they’re not different at all.

If you look at the “what we believe” section of pretty much any non-denominational church, you’re going to find an overwhelming amount of homogeneity. They’ll probably pay some sort of lipservice to “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity” and then go on to affirm all the ways evangelicalism looks exactly like fundamentalism (inerrancy of Scripture, penal substitutionary atonement theory, eternal conscious torment model of Hell…) and many will turn out to basically be “Secret Baptists” with emphasis placed on Baptism by Immersion as the First Act of Obedience.

I’ve had a lot of conversations over the last six years with the church staff of these Different Churches™, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that what they mean by “different” is that they’re still sexist, queerphobic, and racist, they’re just going to hide it. They’ll take their bigotry, slap a coat of Nice and Non-Threatening paint on top of it, and continue on with business as usual. There’s a big show going on about how “open” and “loving” they are, but absolutely nothing will have changed. Unfortunately, all these Different Churches™ have learned is that being honest about what they believe makes people justifiably call them bigots and that makes them feel like they may not be Nice Christians™.

But, Different Church™, I’m not going to leave you hanging; if you actually want to be different, here’s my thoughts.

Be Serious about “In Non-Essentials, Liberty”

What could this look like? I think it looks like having a diverse array of speakers (people of color, women, queer people) who routinely introduce topics like the different ways of understanding Atonement theory, from christus victor to moral exemplar, or who introduce your congregation to Open Theism, or who talk about the alternatives to Inherited Sin like Pelagianism, or the extremely varied ways people see the afterlife, from the Eternal Conscious Torment model to Annihilationism.

Stop Maintaining the Oppressive Status Quo

A pertinent quote here is Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” The baseline of our American culture is racist, queerphobic, ableist, and misogynistic; systematic oppression is the lifeblood of our economy and our religion has trafficked in it for centuries. Most Different Churches™ ignore this reality, skirting around it, preferring to think of these things– if, indeed, they think of them at all– as something that happened Before, but isn’t a problem now.

The problem is that our unexamined bigotry means that we spend every day reinforcing it. If you’re not actively fighting against these systems, then you’re just flowing along with the rest of the river, one drop of silent oppression among millions of others. You need to confront sexism, queerphobia, ableism, and racism wherever and whenever it turns up in your church.

Actually Bother to Try Being like Jesus

If you look at the actions Jesus took during his earthly ministry, you’ll find a pretty amazing pattern: he did things. Lots of things. Physical things. He healed people. He fed people. Yes, he taught, but the bulk of what he did was form relationships with people who weren’t like him, who didn’t agree with him, who even actively opposed his work and did something to make an actual, real, physical change in people’s lives. Take the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats seriously and go out and do something. Worship services and preaching are great, but as a ministry they look barely anything like what Jesus did. Learn to actually take care of each other– if someone in your congregation doesn’t have all their needs met, who are having trouble buying groceries or paying rent, then you are absolutely not doing your job as a church, end of story.

I get why you want to be “different.” I get why you feel the need to try to put some distance between you and the people who’ve given evangelicalism such a hateful reputation, why you want to put so much importance on “relationship” and “love.” I applaud that, I do– but you’ll never be truly different unless you honestly examine what got American evangelicalism here in the first place.

Photo by Idibri
man enough
Social Issues

Man Enough by Nate Pyle — Review

I first heard about Nate Pyle a while ago, when I read his post “Seeing a Woman” after a colleague posted it on Facebook. I appreciated what he had to say there, and over the last two years he’s become someone with whom I don’t always see eye-to-eye, but I still appreciate. I’ve shared his work a few times, and his voice has proven to be extremely effective at reaching an audience I usually can’t.

So when Sarah Bessey (another person I don’t always see eye-to-eye with) posted a blurb on her page about Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood, I was curious, and after looking into it I decided this was a book I needed to review (and thanks to my Patrons, I was able to buy it).

There was only one thing I didn’t like about Man Enough. There is a general feel of “the exceptions prove the rule” approach to gender essentialism. While he acknowledges that some women and some men won’t conform to whatever concept he’s discussing at the time, he is comfortable with saying “all women” and “all men” or things like this:

When I play with my young nieces, we never play this game [breaking things like lego towers]; rather, we play house. The imaginative games are always relational in nature … They are always face-to-face and involve a lot of talking.

While extremely simplistic, these examples highlight a general difference between men and women. Men love to be agents of change in the world. … Even in these differences [some men value strength, others value creativity, etc], there is commonality– changing and influencing the world according to our will. (160)

Personally, I think that the wide acceptance of gender essentialism hurts church and ministry effectiveness. If you believe that there is something(s) inherent to being a man or a woman, that will always be a part of how you view them; in my opinion, that view prevents you from seeing a person, in big or small ways, as a unique individual with their own gifts, priorities, and weaknesses. In this case– “men like to be agents of change”– it made me think, well what the hell does he think women like me are doing? If you ask most of the people who know me, they’d tell you “being an agent of change” is my #1 desire, every other priority pales in comparison, and I don’t think I’m an “exception.” I can think of a lot of men who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about this, while nearly every woman I know does.

A book that’s 194 pages long will, by necessity, have some generalities, but I think Nate needs to step back and evaluate this gender essentialist question some more. Is it that men and women have inherent differences, or that the harsh gender binary in America has given men and women, generally speaking, a similar set of experiences and expectations that are divided along strictly regulated lines? That he doesn’t seem to have wrestled with this is a significant weakness in his argument.

But that’s my only real problem, and even I can admit that a lot of his “I’m not trying to erase gender differences” bits are probably intended to make a conservative evangelical comfortable in a book that shouts about a lot of feminist and social justice issues. I highlighted a lot of things I loved, like these:

The inherent danger of equating some Christlike characteristics with masculinity but not with femininity is that we fail to engage women in discipleship that calls them and sanctifies them into the image of Christ. (49)

The problem with militant portrayals of Jesus is that they can quickly and easily be co-opted to endorse the subjugation of those deemed less than masculine– whether that is expressed through racism, sexism, or homophobia. (66)

Using the gospel to reinforce gender roles and ideals redirects our attention away from its central goal: that men and woman will become like Jesus. (157)

I think the strength of this book is that it addresses a lot of the systemic problems present in modern, and extremely gendered, evangelicalism. Nate explains the history and cultural movements that brought us here, and points out that parts of “Christian culture” may not be Christian at all– and he does it all without using feminist or social justice buzzwords that could be off-putting to the very people who desperately need to read this.

One of my favorite themes that he weaves through the second half of the book is that modern “masculinity” is anti-vulnerability in pretty much every conceivable way, but that choosing to be vulnerable is how we develop intimacy in our relationships; it’s how we can make the truest, deepest connections. I encountered that lesson– again– last week when my pro-choice article went up on xoJane. I was taking a beating in the comment section until I was vulnerable. I would have had every right to be defensive, but I chose to be vulnerable with people who were attacking me, to be honest about the grief and remorse I feel. That decision changed some people’s minds and affected others who might have been on the fence about me. I was able to make connections with people– however fleeting they might have been.

Vulnerability is hard. Most of the time it sucks because it requires a level of introspection and self-awareness that can be painful. Vulnerability frequently means risking pain, because truly exposing ourselves is almost always a risk. Nate blends in his own story of coming to terms with vulnerability, honesty, and authenticity in his life, and how embracing those principles enabled him to love others the way he feels called by Christ to do– and it was interesting seeing him trace his steps in his journey toward understanding who he actually is, and not living up to what culture– Christian or secular– says he must be.

In short, I very much recommend this book. I think it is successful for its intended audience, and I’ve known a lot of men who could have used the encouragement in this book. I spend a lot of time on this blog going through the books that put Christian women into a cage, but Man Enough reminded me that it’s not just women who are affected by gender roles. I could never have embraced my true identity in complementarianism, but neither can a lot of men. As long as we’re all being forcefully shoved into a box we don’t fit in, no one is going to be free, or whole.

birth control

pro-life activist to pro-choice Christian

I know it’s been quiet around here for a bit– between period week and a fibromyalgia flare plus taking a college course (Hebrew, in case you’re wondering), it’s been just a little too much for me to manage blogging. I think I’m on the mend, but still trying to balance managing my illnesses on top of studying again, so the schedule might be a bit rough for a bit, especially with the Holidays coming up.

Anyway, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing! I’m working on an application for a Bitch Media fellowship, and I wrote an article for XOJane on “How I went from Being a Pro-Life Activist to a Pro-Choice Christian.” If you’ve read my Ordeal of the Bitter Waters series it’s stuff you’ve seen before, but I wrote it with the intention of creating something relatable and shareable. It might be a good resource for y’all in the future, since I’m hoping it can reach people who are currently pro-life without all of their walls going up. It also links to my Bitter Waters series, too.

Anyway, thanks for sticking with me! I’m excited about the posts I have planned for this week.

Photo by Women’s News
lies women believe

“Lies Women Believe” review: 243-281

Y’all should celebrate at the end of this post because we did it! We finished the Lies Women Believe review– this is the last week. Speaking of which, if you have any ideas for which book I should do next, I’m open to hearing them. Next week will be a break of sorts, since I’ll be reviewing Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood by Nate Pyle, which I’m excited about sharing with you.

But, let’s get this over with, shall we?

The last section of the book– “Walking in the Truth”– is divided into two chapters. The first one, “Countering Lies with the Truth,” explicates the process that Christian women are supposed to use when they encounter one of Satan’s lies, something that Nancy has not explicitly spelled out for us yet. Unfortunately, this process isn’t even remotely innocuous. It’s poison.

We have seen that the progression toward bondage begins when we listen to Satan’s lies … Once we permit Satan’s lies to gain an entrance into our our minds, the progressions continues as we dwell on those lies. If we do not immediately reject deceptive ways of thinking, but allow ourselves to entertain them in our minds, we will begin to believe them. (244)

What this does is make it impossible for women to evaluate what they’re being told by Nancy and other conservative Christians. If they’re exposed to a new idea– an idea they haven’t heard in full before, say like a biblically-based argument in favor of marriage equality– they are required to immediately reject it before they could even begin to give a new idea the engagement and attention it might deserve. Nancy is point-blank telling us that a knee-jerk dismissal is the only possible reaction to anything they’ve been told is wrong, and if they don’t, they will believe it.

That last bit is especially pernicious. It is possible to fully hear out an argument, fully investigate it, and still conclude that you don’t agree with its premises or conclusions. But conservative Christians can’t risk anyone going through a process of listening and engaging, because much of that culture is based on smoke and mirrors that won’t stand up to honest examination.

For the length of this book, Nancy has never really explained what she thinks “The Truth” is– she just sort of assumes that we get it, and it is likely that many of her readers don’t need to be told what it is, since “The Truth” is this nebulous and yet somehow self-evident idea that everyone just intuitively gets.

However, this chapter makes it clear what Nancy means by it: the Truth is Bible verses taken out of context and layered with conservative evangelical interpretations that function as adages for Christians. When she says we’re supposed to counter Satan’s lies with “The Truth,” she means we’re supposed to quote Bible verses to ourselves (246-47). However, like many other evangelicals, she’s incapable of admitting that it’s not that simple, that these verses come loaded with the way conservative Christians have been applying them (sometimes extraordinarily badly) for the last fifty years. Because, of course, they hold to the “plain meaning of Scripture” and deny that, in fact, no such thing exists.

Nancy rounds out this chapter with a personal story on how she herself overcome a series of “lies,” and how she used the Truth to eventually forgive a person who had wronged her.

I knew I could not wait until I felt like forgiving– that I had to choose to obey God, and that my emotions would follow sooner or later. There on my knees, with my emotions still battling, I finally waved the white flag of surrender. (249)

Reading this, it suddenly hit me why I’ve had a problem with conservative Christian definitions of “forgiveness,” and it’s because this model of forgiveness is just gaslight yourself into ignoring your feelings that a particular person is unsafe. That’s what it takes to “restore relationships” in many Christian circles: someone does something wrong to you, they “seek forgiveness,” and you are obligated to let it go and continue exposing yourself to someone with a demonstrated willingness to hurt you regardless of what your instincts say.

The last chapter is a rehash of all the things Nancy’s already said, so I won’t go over them again. The “Resources” section recommends the now-defunct Exodus International, the book A Full Quiver, child-rearing books that advocate abuse like Shepherding a Child’s Heart, and offers no resources for sexual abuse victims that are widely recommended by professionals (not even The Wounded Heart).

Final conclusion on Lies Women Believe: it teaches concepts that can and does result in murdered women, recommends resources that advocate child abuse, and expressly forbids women from seeking other avenues of help. Every copy should be burned and Moody should issue an apology for ever publishing it.

church steeple

the not-so-ridiculous reasons people leave church

Every once in a while, someone I know on Facebook will share a joke or a meme that makes me grit my teeth because it makes me feel dismissed. Most recently it was this one:

10 reasons

I’m sure we’ve all seen these sorts of things before, or heard something similar from a pulpit. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a pastor talk about “some bitty that got her feelings hurt because ‘the pastor didn’t shake my hand!’” I’d be rolling in money. These “jokes” have always made me wonder if I was really just that out of touch– am I missing some huge exodus from church because the pews are too hard?

So, I reached out to a few groups, posting this meme and asking if they’d stopped attending church for one of the listed reasons. I also posed a similar question on Twitter:

The responses I got back were heartbreaking. They shattered me all over again because they echoed the pain I felt on being forced to realize that church is not a safe place. I used to finish that sentence with “for me,” but sometimes, I drop the modifier. I know it’s possible for people to find a safe haven in church even though they’ve been hurt by it before, but I don’t think it’s overly dramatic to say those people are finding safe places in spite of American church culture.

The reasons I got back from people fell under a few significant headings, which are in no particular order below:

The constant homophobia and mistreatment of queer people.

For some it was because a friend or family member was excommunicated for their orientation; for many others it was because they themselves were queer and were demonized by their church. In my own case, I was constantly correcting the pastoral staff at my last church for misgendering the trans people who attended, but they outright refused to listen.

Political figures, ballot measures, laws, and political ideologies were openly supported from the pulpit.

Frequently associated with this was the not-so-implicit expectation that everyone in the church be a conservative Republican. I’m not a fan of any politics being preached from the pulpit, conservative or liberal, but in America the dominant narrative in our churches is conservative. Tied into all of this is the common belief in American Exceptionalism and nationalism– that American patriotism is a part of being a Christian.

The church protected abusers.

This is the one that really broke me. I was flooded with stories of child sexual abusers being given leadership positions and subsequently using their power to attack more children. There were hair-raising instances of church leadership point-blank lying to members asking about the safety of a convicted sex offender who went on to rape multiple women in the church. I heard about pastors being shuttled around denominations where they would continue to assault new victims. One person recounted a story of how a child was sexually assaulted by one of the Sunday school teachers, and while the child was denounced from the pulpit, the teacher escaped any consequences. This should never happen, but it does, on a level that feels almost routine.

The church refused to accommodate, understand, or show empathy to those with disabilities.

Most often I heard this from people who have autism, or are the parents of children with autism. Children with autism, or a sensory impairment of some kind, especially suffer in church, and the reactions of church members was to shame and ostracize the parents of those “spoiled rotten brats.” I know that, for myself, I couldn’t participate in church service because there was nothing for someone who wasn’t able-bodied to do. One person said that their allergic reaction to perfumes was treated like a joke.

Women are treated as less than men.

This was the biggest reason why we left our last church. They wanted to have their cake and eat it, too, and refused to even consider the idea that silence in the face of oppression is wrong. Many people talked about abusive relationship dynamics being endorsed from the pulpit or in private counseling sessions, of blatant misogyny in the sermons every Sunday, of being refused to use their talents and gifts to serve because of their gender.

The church did not care about the community.

This was one of the more repeated reasons, and I know it was something that annoyed me about the last church I attended. There was plenty of money for bulletins and pens and donuts and coffee and giving away flat-screen TVs and putting on lavish Christmas spectacles, but less than 10% of the budget was dedicated to helping either church members or the community. How many churches have I been in that had a coffee shop in the lobby but it had never occurred to them to have a soup kitchen?

They had experienced spiritual abuse.

Many couldn’t experience a church service without experiencing flashbacks and panic attacks. I’ve had to leave many a service because of a trigger. For those of us who have experienced Religious Trauma Syndrome, we’re more aware of the ways that pastors can abuse their authority. The first red flag I got at my last church was that the pastor was completely unaccountable to anyone. Supposedly the staff was in place to help keep him in check, but they were far more interested in defending his terrible behavior than they were in addressing it. For a long time I thought I was only reacting to ghosts from my past, but over time I realized that wasn’t it. I was reacting to my past being repeated. For many who shared their stories with me, this was often the case. They recognized the red flags and couldn’t stay.


In doing the research for this post I googled “stupid reasons why people leave the church,” and, sadly, I wasn’t disappointed by what turned up. Among the 24 million results there was “7 Really Dumb Reasons to Leave a Church,” “5 Stupid Reasons People Leave the Church,” and “3 Stupid Reasons Millennials are Leaving Churches.” I read through maybe twenty different articles on the subject, and I realized that many of these pieces are actually including the list I’ve given above. Except, to these people, it’s described as “being offended,” or “disagreeing with the pastor,” or “they want so-called freedom” or “their feelings got hurt.”

It’s not that the people who make these memes or write these posts are unaware of the reasons I gave here, it’s that they don’t think these reasons are legitimate. The unending putrid tide of misogyny and homophobia? Just us “being offended.” Thinking that nationalism should not be a part of Christianity? We’re just “disagreeing with the pastor,” (which, in the meme above was given as “reading a book makes me more of an expert than the experts”). Try to explain to a staff member that what the pastor just said was narcissistic or abusive and we just “got our feelings hurt.”

They look at people like me, like the hundreds of people who shared their experiences with me, and they see “7 Stupid Reasons to Quit Church” instead of listening to the pain and horror in our voices.

Photo by Phil Roeder
Social Issues

5 reasons why everyone needs an ISTJ friend

So I’ve been working on outlining a few heavy and serious posts but I have a migraine today and don’t really feel like writing about what the emphasis on procreative marriage does to Christian theology or how purity culture affected my views of marital sex, so instead I’m doing a Myers-Briggs post!

A word on personality tests like Myers-Briggs: I’m not totally convinced of how accurate these things are, but I have found the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs personally helpful. It was nice to have some parts of myself that I’ve been critical of affirmed in a positive, healing way. Some things are actual problems, and some things are allowed to be personality quirks, and figuring out the difference is a relief.

However, in all the articles I’ve seen float about the web on how awesome ENFJs are (seriously, do ENFJs own the internet, or is that just me?), or how to love your ISFP friend, I’ve never bumped into one on ISTJs. So I’m writing one. Because we’re amazing. Even if we’re supposedly the Stannis Baretheons, Owen Larses, and Severus Snapeses of the world (upside: we’re also the Spocks of the galaxy, so).

1) We’re Extremely Dedicated

One of the more complimentary nicknames for ISTJs is The Duty Fulfiller (less flattering ones, in my opinion, include The Judge and The Inspector). This comes out in a variety of ways, including the fact that we keep our promises, are among the most responsible people you’ll ever meet, and that we are reliable and dependable. But when it comes to our friends, we plain just do not give up. Ever. Once we’ve decided you’re our friend, that’s basically it for us. You’re our friend, and we will cross hell or high water for you. It might take you a while for you to cross that line from “person I don’t totally hate” to “yes take all my kidneys,” but once you do, you’ll never experience loyalty like you will from an ISTJ friend.

2) We’re brutally, terrifyingly honest

How is this a good thing, you wonder? Why would anyone want a “terrifyingly” honest friend? Well, we’re more than just straight-shooters. We don’t do cloak-and-dagger stuff, passive-aggressiveness gives us hives, we don’t leave hints and clues and expect you to just intuit what we’re thinking (the reverse is also true: if you don’t tell us something, we’re guaranteed to have no idea what your problem is). If we have a problem, we’ll either a) know it’s a big enough deal to tell you or b) swallow it and let it go.

The best thing about all of this is that you’ll never be left wondering where you stand with us. There’s no “oh you’re just saying that.” You can trust us to mean what we say. So when we say you’re awesome, we like you, we think you’re smart and pretty and courageous– it’s the Lord’s honest truth. Also our advice is awesome and everyone should take it.

3) We play by the rules

Remember all that talk about being dependable? Well, in friendships, it also means that not only do you have a loyal friend for life, you’ve also got a friend that abides by traditional social codes and mores. We value things like civility, patience, and we definitely do not do things like stab you in the back. Betrayal of any kind is anathema to everything about who we are.

Another upside is that you know we can be trusted to do our best to embody the concept of friend. We take our commitments seriously, and when we say you’re our friend, we do our best to act like it. We defend you to others who are gossiping about you. We’ll bring you chicken soup when you’re sick. If you need to us to drop everything and come right then, we’ll be there in brightest day and blackest night.

4) We see and remember everything

This is the the “sensing” part of ISTJ coming out. And I do really mean everything. Depending on the way our individual brain works, we’ll remember all the addresses of every place you’ve ever lived, all the phone numbers you’ve had, your birthday, your pet’s birthday, your mother’s birthday, the anniversary of [Important Life Event]. We know all your preferences– your coffee order at your favorite coffee shop, your favorite song to listen to when you’re angry, that poem you once mentioned got you through a hard time in your life.

We also keep track of all the wonderful, meaningful, amazing things you’ve ever done or said, and we love you for it.

Also, we know where all the skeletons are in the closet of the person you despise, and we know where the bodies are buried.

My favorite part of remembering everything is that I am a fantastic gift giver. No, seriously. I am the Best Gift-Giver In the Entire World. You exclaim over that adorable hat? We remembered that hat come Christmas. You once mentioned years ago on a whim that you wanted peonies for your wedding centerpieces? Well, if we ever have a reason to buy you flowers, it’ll be peonies.

Obviously, right along with “remembers everything” is “incredibly observant.” We notice you, and we’ve made you important enough to where we pay attention. We have a lot of things flying at us that it can get overwhelming at times, but you– you are the priority, and everything that happens to you matters to us. You can count on us to say “hey, what’s wrong?”

Keep in mind that “observant” and “perceptive” are not the same thing. We’ll notice, we just might know what we’re noticing. We’ll ask, but you’ll have to tell us.

5) We’re the best freaking planners ever

Yes this means that spontaneity isn’t really our scene. Just don’t expect us to be thrilled with anything that involves the words “carefree,” “spur of the moment,” or “carpe diem.” However, give us the time to plan for an event and it will be baller. We are the best researchers, so we will find the cutest little bistro and brunch spot you’ve ever been to. We’ll know about that tiny little hole-in-the-wall shop that has everything you’ve ever wanted inside.

When you’re with us, everything will probably go smoothly. We’ll have obsessed over every single last detail, from making sure the conversation is sparkling to every single last dietary need is met. Everything is done as far in advance as possible, and you’ll be left with nothing but bringing the vegetable tray. We’ll know exactly how much time we’ll need from getting from point A to point B, and we’ll know how to make sure everything gets there. Ever want to take your friends on a road trip? Ask an ISTJ to come with you, and you’ll have every campsite/hotel/hostel/restaurant/gas stop accounted for with six different possible routes.

And we’re introverts– so while we are the Preparedness Royalty, you know you’ll be at the center of our attention. You’re our friend, and we did it for you when we would literally rather die before doing it for anyone else.


Anyway, those are just some of my observations based on various ISTJ profiles and what I’ve personally experienced. ISTJs need all the love we can get on our moisture farms and potions dungeons.

Photo by Bailey Weaver
lies women believe

“Lies Women Believe” review: 215-242

If there’s one thing that doing all these reviews have taught me about writing non-fiction books, it’s to avoid getting repetitive in the last two chapters. A lot of what Nancy covers in this last part of Lies Women Believe she’s already been over in different ways before. However she’s not completely unoriginal, so let’s dive in.


That she thinks the above is a “lie” … all I could do was laugh– mirthlessly. Honestly, I’m even a little surprised she was able to write this section with a straight face, because it seems really obvious to me that if our circumstances are different, we would be different. If I hadn’t been abused, I wouldn’t have PTSD. If I’d been treated for anxiety as a child, I’d already have coping mechanisms for it as an adult. If I hadn’t been homeschooled … and it goes on.

Granted, that’s not the direction that Nancy’s thoughts went, but she’s ignoring a mighty big elephant to do so. She talks about things like frustrated parents who supposedly “wouldn’t have lost [their] cool if [their] child hadn’t filled the dryer with water and painted the living room furniture with butter!” (218), and what pops out to me is that these people aren’t really talking about how patient (or whatever) they are overall, but that they are acknowledging things like stress is real. They’re saying “these circumstances aren’t ideal for me.”

I agree that things like your kids trying your patience doesn’t give you the right to treat them or other people poorly. Being an adult means managing these feelings and responding appropriately. But, not all situations are created equal, and we’ll see that come out in a bit.


She focuses on the rhetoric of “prosperity gospel” proponents in this section, and on this I agree with her without reservation. If you haven’t seen John Oliver take down the various televangelists who made the prosperity gospel A Thing, then you should.

However, Nancy makes one mistake: she confuses people think they should always be perfectly happy with people generally want to avoid suffering. She paints this picture of how good it is that we suffer, that it makes us holy. This is nothing new for Christian rhetoric– I imagine almost all of us have heard something similar before.

I certainly don’t have a monopoly on suffering. But, one thing my life has taught me is that dealing with suffering is complicated. If you asked if me if I’d go back in time and stop myself from entering an abusive relationship, I honestly don’t know what I’d say. I ended up at Liberty because of the need to take my life in a different direction, and I met Handsome because I was there. My life with Handsome is pretty damn amazing.

But is being a rape and abuse victim “worth” this? I don’t know. What I do know is that I will do everything I can to make sure other people aren’t rape victims, and I’m concerned with this “suffering is good because it’s what makes us holy!” rhetoric. I want to make the world a “better place,” and that means eliminating suffering.


And by that she means:

The Truth is, a moment or two from now (in the light of eternity), when we are in the presence of the Lord, everything that has taken place in this life will be just a breath– a comma. (224)

This is another consequence of dualism: she reduces the value of this earthly, physical life in favor of the “light of eternity.” It’s a blithe dismissal of people like me, offering us nothing more than a “cheer up buckaroo, the next fifty years don’t really mean anything!” Except that they do, and we know that they do.

But that’s not my biggest problem with this. My biggest problem is that it naturally leads her to advocate that people stay in violent, abusive, unhealthy situations because, after all, if this “comma” of an experience doesn’t matter when compared to eternity, then we can put up with pretty much anything, right? A woman in a “painful” marriage, after listening to Nancy speak, says that “time is short and eternity is long” (224) and decides that she’s not going to do anything about the pain in her life.


First off, this section completely ignores those who struggle with suicidal ideations; she dismisses people who have chronic and severe depression with “all of us have had seasons when we feel we just can’t keep going” (227).

I mentioned earlier that Nancy seems unaware that not all situations are created equal, and we see that here:

  • I can’t take one more sleepless night with this sick child.
  • I can’t continue in this marriage.
  • I can’t bear to be hurt one more time by my mother-in-law.
  • I can’t keep making it with three teenagers and a mother with Alzheimer’s living in our home.

Some of the things she’s described in this chapter are flexible, and some are not. Staying up with a sick child is a fact of life, and you push through it– but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help or do something to help yourself. My mom took care of her grandfather with dementia and it was hard; she made sacrifices of time and even health.

But a mother-in-law who hurts you? That, you do have choices about. You can set boundaries– there’s nothing written in the universe that says you must speak to any person, even your mother-in-law. You can leave a bad marriage.

Nancy, however, sees all these things as the same: all must be endured. This is the natural conclusion of her “suffering makes us holy!” thinking. Even wanting to escape an unhealthy or outright abusive situation makes us a sinner in her eyes.


This is the most repetitive section– in a way, the entire book has been about this for Nancy. Two things lept out, though. The first one was when she was quoting Larry Crabb:

Helping people to feel loved and worthwhile has become the central mission of the church … Recovery from pain is absorbing an increasing share of the church’s energy. And that is alarming. (229)

I spat out my tea. Because what is this. It’s so theologically awful it compelled me to look up who Larry Crabb is– and oh, look, he’s the spiritual director for the American Association of Christian Counselors. A man whose entire profession is based on helping people said that about how “alarming” it is for the church to focus on the how Jesus said “they shall know you by how you love one another.” I’m sorry, if you have a problem with the church loving people then I don’t know what to tell you.

The second bit was this:

Over the next several years, her marriage and family life became increasingly rocky. There was a vicious cycle of abusive behavior and language … At one point, Cindy left her husband for two weeks, intending to divorce him; through a series of circumstances, God gave her a new compassion for him, and she returned home. (232)

She tells this woman’s story for three pages, and it is clear that her marriage never improves and her husband remains abusive– and her children refuse to have a relationship with either of them, unsurprisingly. Nancy also makes it clear that she thinks this woman’s actions are praiseworthy.

It fits perfectly into her permanence view of marriage, and it demonstrates how frustratingly clueless Nancy is. That “God gave her a new compassion for her abusive husband” is such bullshit, and it’s rage-inducing. Every abused woman thinks this. God had nothing to do with it. Women attempt to leave abusive relationships six or seven times on average because they have “compassion” for their abuser. Their abusers do everything possible to make absolutely certain their victims feel this way. We go back over and over because we’re convinced that our abusers need us.

This wasn’t compassion, and to refer to an expected result of being abused (seriously! This is Abusive Relationship 101-level shit right here) as something God did is just … it’s sick.

Thank God we only have one more week of this.

Social Issues

mass shootings are a feminist issue

If you haven’t heard about the mass shooting that took place at Umpqua Community College yesterday, the New York Times gives a decent summary of the facts we know at this point– which, honestly, isn’t much. There’s been a lot of speculation about what drove this particular attack. I followed the #UCCShooting tag for a few hours last night, and the dominant consensus was that the police weren’t releasing the shooter’s identity because they were a bunch of “libtards” who didn’t want to admit that it was a “radical Muslim” who’d “targeted Christians.”

That theory came about because one witness has said that the shooter was asking if any of his targets were Christians, and others who are the friends and family of victims have made similar statements. While I don’t believe that these people are lying, I’m doubtful that this person intended to target specifically Christians because he hated Christianity just that much.

I feel that this man wanted nothing more than attention, and one of the best and guaranteed ways for a mass shooter to garner as much attention as possible in this country is to invoke Columbine and Cassie Bernall. Making Christians think that they’re being persecuted is a surefire way to make sure your story makes it into — and stays in— the popular consciousness. The only reason why I heard of Columbine, back before social media and “going viral” was a thing, was because of Cassie.

I think he “targeted Christians” for the attention because of two reasons. The first reason is that the experts say that mass shooters exist because of the attention we give them.

We’ve had twenty years of mass murders, throughout which I’ve repeatedly told CNN and our other media that if you don’t want to propagate more mass murders, don’t start the story with sirens blaring, don’t have photographs of the killer, don’t make this 24/7 coverage, do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story, don’t to make the killer some kind of anti-hero. Do localize this story to the affected community and make it as boring as possible to every other market. Because every time we have intense saturation of coverage of a mass murder, we expect to have two more within the week.

Dr. Park Dietz

The second reason is that he said he was doing this for the attention on 4chan’s /r9k (one of the places where #GamerGate was spawned, and is a board dedicated to “relationship advice”). He posted his intentions, added that “This is the only time I’ll ever be in the news I’m so insignificant,” and was encouraged by the community and given advice on how to kill as many people as possible.

I’ve read through that particular thread multiple times, and it’s clear from that thread as well as breakdowns like this one (only go there if you can stomach it) that the /r9k community is filled with self-described “betas,” who are pretty obsessed with how wronged they are by women not having sex with them. Even though the shooter didn’t state that he was doing this because women had wronged him like the Isla Vista shooter, the instantaneous reaction in the thread was to call this “The Beta Uprising.”

And then this happened:

4chan 1

“If only he had been consoled or had a [girlfriend] then maybe he wouldn’t have went off the deep end like this and many lives would have been saved.”

4 chan 2

“A [girlfriend] could have prevented this … state mandated [girlfriends] when?”

4 chan 3

“If only he had a girlfriend this wouldn’t have happened. We need to save the troubled souls not make fun of them. You all make me sick.”

4 chan 4

“If only he had a girlfriend he wouldn’t have resorted to this. #betalivesmatter”

4 chan 5

“Also it’s because all the girls date douchebags rather than the [Original Poster] or moi.”

That last one especially made me sick because it’s apparently possible for “willing to commit mass murder” not to appear on someone’s “this makes you a douchebag” list. The whole thread made me sick because it was essentially a bunch of people either praising the shooter, calling him “legendary,” or saying that it’s women’s fault that this happened. We’re not willing to date mass murderers and that makes it our fault.

The feminist critique of that should be obvious, so I’m not going to spend much time on it.

We know that these mass killings usually happen because men want attention. Women do similar things, too, but much more rarely, and for different reasons. There’s been a lot of conversation happening recently on toxic masculinity, like with the #masculinitysofragile tag on Twitter, and it seems intuitive to me that actions like mass shootings are an outgrowth of this reality in our culture. Boys are taught from a very early age that violence and aggression are two of the principle methods to gain respect– when you combine that with how men aren’t allowed to respond to their emotions in natural, healthy ways, the result is that men frequently respond destructively. Often that includes suicide, but it often makes it possible for men to be violent in ways like mass shootings.

However, I think this is bigger than just toxic masculinity. I think it’s our entire patriarchal culture. Toxic masculinity tells men that they need to be dominant and aggressive, but patriarchy tells men that they have a whole plethora of rights. Among these “rights” are things like “I deserve to have women sleep with me.” Most relevant among the messages that patriarchy screams at men is that they deserve to be at the top of everything– to be in control of the money, of government, of companies, of universities, of departments … Patriarchy tells men that if they are not the center of things, if they do not have total control of their environment, that they have to do something to assert their masculinity and superiority.

Sometimes this means abusing their partners.

Sometimes this means neglecting their families in favor of overtime.

Sometimes this means mass shootings.

As a friend put it: “entitlement is a hell of a thing.”

Gun violence in America is a real concern, and I think something fundamental must change in our gun laws in order to avert these kinds of situations in the future. But, I don’t think that largely unregulated firearms and ammunition is the only problem. Some would like to use the red herring of “mental illness,” but more and more often these people are telling us exactly why they’re willing to commit these acts. In Charleston it was blatantly racism. In Isla Vista it couldn’t have been more clear that it was misogyny. And now, in Oregon, this shooter felt robbed of the attention he felt he naturally deserved– from women and society– and he was willing to murder people in order to get it.

Feminism is an answer to this problem. We know that when gender parity and egalitarianism becomes common, violence declines. It is not a given that society must be this violent, must be this wracked with terror and grief. Feminism has taught me to prioritize empathy and understanding, and I believe that if those were to become the virtues of our society– instead of power and wealth, the virtues of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy— our world would be a much better place.

And maybe, just maybe, mass shootings would become a thing of the past instead of a daily reality.

Photo by John Spade
I really wanted to get out and do some star shots while in Tassie for 10 days but the weather was conspiring against me.  Wet and cloudy in a week packed with other evening activities I took a chance on Boxing Day to drive up to Cradle Mountain.  It was so completely spur of the moment I didn't even pack so much as a jumper, by midnight I was freezing as the camera was doing its thing (and it was still twilight, I wasnt hanging around for that in the cold).  But boy is it a beautiful night sky, I did not do it justice, though I thought the satellite was cool.  I also hadn't considered the drive home, which is dangerous in the dark on windy roads packed with animals darting about.  2 unfortunatley went to a better place despite my best efforts, so too, did a Samyang lens cap.  A last interesting note, I couldn't get closer to the lake because a fellow photographer was doing a 12 hour time lapse, that red spot is not noise it's his camera doing its thing.  He was seeping in the car and rugged up for the arctic.  Clever bloke.
Social Issues

Star Trek made me a moral person

When I was eight, I became obsessed with the concept of the morality tale. I had a children’s book with some of Aesop’s Fables in it, stories like “The Fox and Grapes” and “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” A friend of ours who lived in Korea sent back a collection of Korean folk tales, many of which have the same feel as Aesop’s Fables, the same sort of simple moral lesson. To this day those books are among my prized possessions, and I am very much looking forward to sharing these works with my children, if I can have them.

When I was ten, I wrote and illustrated a story about a fox and a turtle that featured my burgeoning love of wit and dedication– in some way the fox was trying to be crafty and lazy, but the turtle outwitted him and got him to do most of the work. I was immensely proud of that story even though I can’t remember most of it now– there was something about rocks and apples and a wheelbarrow?– and I’m pretty sure mom still has it tucked away somewhere.

In many ways I’ve outgrown the simplicity and ease of those stories. Part of growing up is realizing that the world is much more gray than it is black and white, and that the good guy doesn’t always win. Now, I like my villains complex and my heroines flawed, and I love stories that shine a bright, jarring light on our humanity, on all of our brilliance and shame. Sometimes I want a story where the “moral” is:

“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. This is not a weakness, this is life.”

That quote is from a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. Captain Picard is speaking to Data, a character I’ve always identified with, explaining a lesson that can be a difficult one to truly grasp.

I often joke that my earliest memory is the theme song to Star Trek: The Next Generation. The series premiered the year I was born– in fact, the first episode aired in the same month. Even when we were in the fundamentalist cult we still prioritized Star Trek. We didn’t have cable while Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and Enterprise were airing, so our neighbor recorded them for us. New episodes of Voyager aired on Wednesday, and every week after church my sister and I would fly out of the car and breathlessly rush to our neighbor’s door in order to pick up the VHS tape.

Voyager was more my church than church was, really. I idolized Captain Kathryn Janeway, and one of the more upsetting experiences of my childhood was the finale of season five, when the last shot makes it look like Janeway might have been killed. I grieved all summer, hoping and praying that she would be alright. (Yes, I’m aware I care about fictional characters way too much. If you want to see a show, ask me about Egwene al’Vere from the Wheel of Time at some point.)

What I didn’t realize was that my deep and abiding love for Janeway and Seven and Jadziah and Data and Picard and Trip was changing me. Episodes like “The Outcast” later became the context I had for understanding and loving myself as a queer person. The entire story arc of Star Trek: Enterprise‘s third season, which aired in 2003, helped form and shape my views on foreign policy and the War on Terror. Enterprise culminates in the forming of the Federation of Planets, something that Archer came to fight for after realizing that war– even war in the name of “national security”– is terrible, and that violence must not be favored over understanding, trust, and relationship.

Star Trek, in many ways, is a modern morality play. There’s more nuance, more shades of grey, more complicated human realities, but what it does best is feature people with all their flaws and beauties struggling to make the world a better place. Sometimes, they fail. As Chakotay learns in “The Year of Hell,” sometimes even your best and purest motives are wrong. In Star Trek, though, winning is defined not by typical notions of success and wealth and power, but by understanding. When characters learn more about themselves– like Data learning about fear in Star Trek: Generations– or about other people, nations, planets, and species, that’s what the show considers a success.

My priorities and values were affected by growing up in a fundamentalist cult. Hatred and fear overrode almost anything else I absorbed through my religion, but somehow Star Trek mitigated all of that. In many ways, the different shows became a North Star of sorts; I didn’t have a God that I knew loved me, but my idea of love was shaped by watching all the different ways– flawed, terrible, beautiful, sad ways– that the characters cared about each other. Even today when I think of a concept like friendship I see Data and Geordi, Tom and Harry, Janeway and Seven, Jadziah and Kira. When I try to picture kindness I see Deanna Troi. When I want to embrace strength, purpose, and conviction blended with compassion I ask myself “What would Captain Picard do?”

Many people criticize the sorts of work people like me do with geek culture. It’s just a damn show for crissake they’ll say, belittling the conversations we have about whether or not such-and-such show or film is sexist or homophobic. Who cares if Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a problem with consent? Why bother getting all bent out of shape over Whedon’s infertility = monster in Avengers: Age of Ultron? Why care about the way women die in comic book adaptations?

This post is my answer: because media matters. I was fortunate that I grew up on a steady diet of Star Trek. I could have been imbibing shows with much more toxic masculinity, misogyny, and homophobia than I did, but instead I was gifted with a story whose main focus is trying to show us what we could be like at our very human best.

Photo by Scott Cresswell