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Social Issues

Living in the Loopholes: Home Education and Abuse

As y’all know, I spent this past weekend in Raleigh, NC presenting at The Courage Conference with my friend and colleague Carmen Green. Preparing for that took a lot more out of me than I thought it would– we both wanted to emphasize story telling instead of getting deep into the weeds on the facts and legalities, so I spent the bulk of last week digging through the Homeschooling’s Invisible Children database looking for stories that illustrated each type of abuse we wanted to talk about. That took a toll, and then the conference was also emotionally draining. It was a good experience and I’m very glad I went, but the focus was on abuse and two days of that is just going to be hard.

I was looking forward to meeting Boz Tchividjian, who founded Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) and whose work I’ve talked a lot about. He was as incredible in person as I thought he’d be, and it was comforting to meet an older white man who actually gives a shit and is actively doing something to fight abuse in Christian culture. I also got to meet Linda Kay Klein, who is as impressive in person as she sounds on paper. She has a book on purity culture coming out next year (Man-Made Girls) and I’m now desperate to read it. The second I have a copy, I will be posting a review. Her talk on the modesty doctrine was funny and insightful and tender and beautiful, and I was definitely impressed with her.

You can still actually “attend” The Courage Conference if you’d like to– you can buy online tickets to see video recordings of the main speakers, and I think it’s worth the $20. Also, in coordination with The Courage Conference, I’ve made it possible for you to see the workshop Carmen and I did. If you make at least a $5 donation to my Patreon this month, I will contact you with a password to view the video after Patreon processes everyone’s transactions.

Also, here’s the PowerPoint presentation if you’d like to take a look at it.

Many thanks to everyone here who made presenting at this conference possible. Your readership and support over the years is why I continue doing this sort of work. The workshop we gave seemed to make a really big impact with the people who came– many said they’d learned a ton that they could instantly put to practical use to fight abuse. You made it possible for us to do that, so thank you.

Social Issues

The Courage Conference: Homeschooling & Abuse

I mentioned this in passing a bit ago, but wanted to take some time to really give this the attention it deserves. I will be presenting at The Courage Conference in Raleigh, NC on October 20-21. Here’s the description of the conference from the website:

The Courage Conference is a non-denominational event that will offer a judgement-free place for survivors of abuse (and those who love them) to gather and hear inspiring stories from other survivors about moving forward in boldness and healing. The event will also educate pastors and church leaders on the topic of abuse and introduce them to safe practices and resources for their faith community. The Courage Conference offers a unique opportunity to hear from advocates and trained professionals through inspiring keynotes talks, Q&A sessions and workshops in addition to connecting attendees with local and national resources, so you don’t have to do this alone.

I’m excited about the lineup of speakers, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk about a topic I think is not well understood. Abuse in homeschooling environments can be so headline-grabbing (children locked in closets and starved to death, chopped up and stored in freezers for years, beaten to death) that most news outlets seem to get pretty myopic. While all of those happen and definitely deserve to be addressed as the atrocities they are, the focus on what are, in actuality, a handful of cases out of millions of homeschooled children lets homeschoolers who are abusive in much more mundane ways escape notice. People can say “we’re nothing like that” or “I don’t know anyone like that” and then dismiss the need to examine their communities for the ways it might enable abuse.

These communities end up fighting any kind of oversight and frequently use the sometimes-myopic treatment of the press as a way to cry persecution. Why should they be punished with regulations and oversight because someone somewhere did something unspeakably awful? It happens again and again in the conversations I find myself in about homeschooling and the need for oversight. We end up talking past each other– they think I’m thinking of Lydia Schatz when I’m talking about my own experience and how every single child I knew in my homeschooling communities were physically abused. Not locked in closets, not starved, not murdered, but still very much abused. They feel comfortable with “self-regulation” because no one they know is an axe-wielding child murderer, and they get to ignore the other forms of abuse that may not be obvious to them.

My presentation, which I’ll be giving with Carmen Green who’s founded the Center for Home Education Policy and who you can read about here (I was background research for that article, btw), will be going over all of that for about an hour. What does abuse in homeschools actually tend to look like, and what can we do about it?

Anyway, if you can make it to Raleigh, NC in two weeks I hope to see you there. If you know of anyone who might be interested, please pass along the website. The conference still needs some funding, too. I appreciate that the organizers are trying to make this as affordable as possible, so maybe if you think educating religious leaders on abuse, trauma, and how to help is important, throw a few dollars their way?

Social Issues

stuff I’ve been into: summer edition

As y’all know, I took the summer off from seminary in order to try to better manage my time and prepare for the fall. I was able to wrap up one big project I’ve been working on since February, and my other responsibilities have settled down some so they’re not as overwhelming. I was even able to officiate a wedding for the first time (and shoutout to Emmy Kegler and Nicholas Tangen for helping me prepare for that). Seminary starts back up in September, and I’m taking a class I’m especially excited about: “Interpretation as Resistance: Womanist, Feminist and Queer Approaches to the Bible.” Doesn’t that sound just gob-smacking amazing?

I’m going to be incredibly busy from now until the end of the year, though. I’ll be traveling once or twice a month from now until December, which is daunting although it’s mostly for fun things like weddings. I’ll also be giving a workshop at The Courage Conference on how to appropriately respond to abuse occurring in homeschooling environments, which I’m over-the-moon about. I’d encourage anyone who attends a traditional church to ask their pastors to come, since I believe it provides a necessary corrective for the lack of training pastors typically receive on how to respond to trauma and abuse.

Politics

As one can imagine, a lot of my reading this summer has been about politics. I’m sure the same is true for most of you, so I’m going to do my best to only share pieces I think didn’t get widespread attention.

First, something at least somewhat positive: “A Conservative Christian College Protest of Mike Pence” by Molly Wicker. Being an alumni of Liberty University is absolutely humiliating right now, but at least support for this administration isn’t ubiquitous at similar colleges.

One of the most frustrating things about the last eight months has been the fact that my disabilities prevent me from getting involved the way I want. The fact that some activist orgs almost actively bar my participation … it’s a little more that just frustrating. “On Disability and Emotional Labor” by S.E. Smith captures a lot of my feelings.

This one is older, but it’s stuck with me ever since I read it. “Fairytale Prisoner by Choice: The Photographic Eye of Melania Trump” by Kate Imbach was unsettling, but offered such an interesting perspective.

Another excellent resource: “By Any Other Name: The Power of Loaded Language in Christofascism” by Kieryn Darkwater gives amazing clarity to things that are obvious to anyone who grew up in Christian fundamentalism but might seem innocuous to those not “in the know.”

Race

The Struggles of Writing About Chines Food as a Chinese Person” by Clarissa Wei offers a lot of insight to an area that I don’t think white people consider all that often. I think a lot of progressives understand things like police brutality or other failures of our justice and immigration systems as problems, but there’s so many other insidious things happening that we need to learn to pay attention to.

Feminism

I don’t know how to sum up “Hysteria, Witches, and the Wandering Uterus: A Brief History” by Terri Kapsalis, but it was fascinating and oh-so-incredibly-relevant.

Biology is one of my great loves, so I’ve read this article multiple times and haven’t been able to shut up about it. “War in the Womb” by Suzanne Sadedin was an excellent presentation of a biological reality – fetus and pregnant person are at odds– and I think a wider awareness of this could be critically important in helping adjust our views of pregnancy and reproductive justice.

I Don’t Accommodate Uncontrolled Men” by Bailey Bergmann took the “I think better of men” argument against modesty culture and made it better.

Theology

Many of us grew up with the assumption that there is only one way to understand Christ’s work on the Cross. Sometime in or around graduate school I found out that Penal Substitutionary Atonement is only one theory among several. “A Thoroughly Biblical Argument Against Penal Substitutionary Atonement” by Emma Higgs is a good introduction and resource in case you wanted one.

The Defenders of Slavery Taught Us How to Bible” is one of many articles by Fred Clark that explains the link – and by link I mean “foundation of the whole damn thing” – between white supremacy and American evangelicalism.

Film & TV

I’m very happily re-watching Stargate SG-1 with Handsome at the moment and it’s just as delightful as it ever was. The overarching theme of the show is “we never leave a man behind!” and that is a message I think we should all hear more consistently.

We cancelled our Netflix subscription in exchange for Hulu so we could watch SG-1, but we’ll be going back to Netflix this month in order to bingewatch The Defenders, and when we do I’ll be back on my House of Cards marathon. Netflix has been telling me to watch it for months and each time I was all eehhhhhh but then I watched it and holy smokes I’m hooked. Frank Underwood is Eli Gold from The Good Wife, only … a lot more ruthless, and it’s amazing to watch. I’m mystified by why I’m getting such a kick out of watching Frank and Claire Underwood, but I am. I’m still in season two, so no spoilers. I know nothing about what happens, somehow, and I’d like to keep it that way.

Who else is excited about The Defenders and Stark Trek: Discovery? A lot of the build-up to Discovery has left me underwhelmed, but the most recent trailer finally started getting me excited. I just really, really want them not to blow it.

Watched Arrival a few weeks ago and that was incredible. It captured an element that’s been missing from any other “first encounter” movie I’ve seen—a sense of realism, a tension between pessimism and hope. It was a sci-fi movie that made me feel things, and I loved it.

I’ve been looking forward to Love & Friendship, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, and it was brilliant. Kate Beckinsale absolutely nailed it, and I think it’s one of the best Austen adaptations around.

Assasin’s Creed is one of my favorite video game franchises, so I gave the movie a shot. It was about what I was expecting. Fun, but wow the plot holes. I was also disappointed by John Wick: Chapter 2. I adored the first John Wick movie, but the sequel really did not stand up. By the end I was just incredibly bored—and it didn’t have what I liked so much about the original, which was the fact that John Wick was basically perfect. He didn’t make mistakes. The fact that Chapter 2 ends with a colossal mistake that ruins his life and it was completely and totally avoidable… ugh. I felt cheated.

Books

I’ve been playing more Elder Scrolls Online than I’ve been reading books, but since it’s essentially just playing through an epic fantasy novel I think it counts.

I re-read A Wrinkle in Time this summer, and if you haven’t read it at all or in a while, I recommend that you read it now. It’s short—I read it in two hours—but so beautiful and uplifting and encouraging and can we talk about the film adaptation because I cried tears of joy when the trailer released.

I didn’t expect to like The Queen’s Fool by Phillipa Gregory, but it surprised me. It’s about a young Jewish woman who flees the Spanish Inquisition with her father and then ends up serving in the courts of Mary and Elizabeth—and it was a satisfying reading experience. If you like historical fiction, this one is a solid choice. I liked it enough to get Lady of the Rivers, which was also enjoyable.

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray is better than a lot of the YA fantasy that’s out there. Victorian England is not usually my cup of tea as far as setting goes, but it’s got a lot to offer and the queer romantic tension flying around in the midst of literally Patriarchal conspiracies speaks to me.

Handsome and I are reading Mort by Terry Pratchett together, and if you’ve never had the chance to read a Pratchett story out loud to someone, you should. They are meant to be read aloud.

I just finished Kristen Britain’s Green Rider and … it is perhaps a particularly frustrating example of the clichés and tropes in fantasy writing. The ending did not feel earned, and seemed to just slog on forever. It’s ostensibly a Hero’s Journey, except the main character doesn’t seem to be transformed by her experiences at all and she overcomes every trial with a patently obvious deus ex machina. Not the best book I’ve ever read, but I finished it—which says something.

I picked up the first two volumes of The Sharing Knife by Lois McMaster Bujold at the library book sale, and the whole quartet was a lot of fun to read. The pacing of the first novel is a little slow, but it’s worth it. The books are an in-depth exploration of possible ways to overcome prejudiced based in ignorance, and I appreciated how invested I became as a reader in that journey.

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Now, what have you all been up to? This curious mind wants to know!

Photo by Silvia Viñuales
Social Issues

what Anne Shirley means to me, and surviving trauma

When I first heard about the Anne with an E adaptation, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. I was introduced to L.M. Montgomery’s Anne books when I was around nine years old, and I inhaled them all, re-reading them all through my childhood and adolescence. I watched the beloved Megan Follows CBC adaption probably as many times as I read the books– that series was sleepover gold for girls my age. In college at PCC, Anne of Green Gables was one of the few things in the library worth watching. I re-read the books for the first time as an adult almost two years ago, and was surprised at how well they stood up to the passage of time. I thought as an adult I wouldn’t connect with them as much, but that wasn’t true. They were just as absorbing and lovely as the first time I read them. I think it’s possible I enjoyed them more– both aesthetically and empathetically.

Since Anne with an E hit Netflix, though, the internet’s exploded a bit with some pretty intense feelings on whether or not this adaptation is “good.” Vanity Fair calls it “bleak,” TVGuide described it as traumatizing, and one review at the Huffington Post says it’s “relentlessly grim.” Individual reactions on Twitter have been just as negative– I’ve seen people calling it a “desecration” more than once. I’ve seen many people argue all over Facebook that they don’t like Anne with an E because it took “happy” and “positive” books and made it all gritty and dark. That seems to be the general consensus for people who didn’t enjoy it, but loved the previous adaptation and the books: to them, Anne with an E appears to be taking a hackneyed grimdark approach for ratings or something.

This is where they lose me. For full disclosure, I haven’t seen it yet although I’m planning to watch it this weekend. However, I just want to focus on the reaction to Montgomery’s books, since that’s what is really bothering me. Everyone is going to have different opinions on film adaptations, and that’s fine and I’m not really here to debate anyone’s response to the show. What is bothering me though is the apparently fairly common perception that the Anne books were rosy and light and sweet and happy and positive.

I apparently did not read the same books.

Granted, I’d describe the writing style as lovely, dreamlike, beautiful … there’s an elegance to the prose and I find the reading experience delightful. However, style is not the substance of the book: the narrative and content are anything but rosy or light. Anne of Green Gables opens with an orphan who has been bought and sold for child labor multiple times, and when describing some of the more traumatic moments of her childhood I got the sense Anne was describing dissociation. The sheer desperation in the opening chapters, which are capped off by the fact that Anne is bullied by an adult … the Anne books resonated with me as much as they did because Montgomery didn’t anesthetize the pain.

How anyone can read through the scene when Rachel Lynde objectifies Anne and is oblivious to her humanity– who without any empathy or compassion calls a child “ugly” not even to her face, but as if she wasn’t a person who could feel the insult … how can someone read through this and not experience the horror and violence? I’ve had adults do that to me. I’ve had adults mock me, belittle me, and dismiss me as if I weren’t recognizably human. Anne’s fury and hurt were my fury and hurt, and I choke as much as Anne does when she’s forced by culture and society– personified by Marilla– to “apologize” to her elder, her “superior.”

That is one of the earliest scenes in the book, and Montgomery doesn’t let up. Anne’s humiliated at school, bullied, ignored; so she decides she’s going to dedicate herself to academic success because she knows it’s her only route to acceptance. She throws herself into school in a way only someone who’s been abused her entire life can really recognize or appreciate, I think. Reading through it as an adult who finally had her lifelong anxiety disorder diagnosed, I was astounded at the ways Montgomery writes Anne dealing with all types of nerves, especially social anxiety. Anne’s coping mechanisms are my coping mechanisms, and part of me wonders if I learned to cope with anxiety and depression by reading these books.

Anne through the rest of the series is drawn to hurting, suffering people. Marilla and Matthew hurt in their own private, silent way. She befriends Aunt Jo, who is grieving the loss of her lifetime companion (read: lesbian lover). She convinces Rachel and Marilla to take in the Twins, whose life had certainly not been a rose garden. Then there’s Lavender, the older woman filled with regret and pain and loss, and who Anne manages to bring some happiness. This pattern is echoed in each of the books– Elizabeth Grayson and Katherine Brooke in Anne of Windy Poplars, my favorite, and Leslie in Anne’s House of Dreams, and then her own children follow the same pattern of reaching out to hurting, lonely people in Rainbow Valley.

All through the books, Anne struggles with self-doubt, anxiety, depression, and the leftover ramifications trauma and abuse leave behind, regardless of how happy her life with Gilbert becomes. There’s always the sense that she’s not quite accepted, not quite loved, that she always has something to do, to prove, to become, in order to be seen as valuable and wanted. She has wonderful people in her life who affirm her and love her, but they’re never quite able to overcome the voice inside her own head.

What bothers me about the reaction to Montgomery’s work is that we’re all doing what society always does: we don’t listen to children. We don’t believe them. We dismiss them. Anne declares in the opening pages of Green Gables that she is feeling despair, and our reaction is usually to read that as histrionics. Except look at what’s happening: she’s been sold off as child labor to horrible, abusive people for eleven years and this is the first glimmer of hope she’s ever held in her hands– and then Marilla announces she’s not wanted, that she has to go back … Despair is the only possible reaction to this situation. But Anne is a child, and so we treat her like her feelings aren’t real, that she’s not actually entitled to them. We’re just like everyone else in Avonlea constantly telling her to pipe down and stop being so melodramatic.

Most of the bullying I experienced as a child were for similar reasons. I was smart, articulate, outgoing, vivacious. The more I spoke up, the more I tried to be myself, the more I was rebuked and rejected– and not always by my peers, but by adults who should have known better. But society sided with them when they belittled me in public and my anger wasn’t acceptable. Like in Anne’s life, I’ve always had good people around me loving me and valuing me, telling me I’m good and worthy of love– my mother even adopted Cornelia Bryant’s phrase about “knowing Joseph” from House of Dreams. “They just don’t know Joseph, Samantha, ignore them.” I still comfort myself with that phrase today. To me and my mother it means that there are just some people in this world who don’t understand us and won’t like us, and that’s alright. Not everyone is going to, but the people who do “get” us are blessed by who we are, just like we’re blessed by our friends.

I’m looking forward to a show that takes all of the things I loved about Anne seriously, that doesn’t flinch away from what her life was actually like. What I’d like us all to remember that lovely and true can go together; the books can be delightful and rapturous and make us long to live on Prince Edward Island and they can show us what it could look like to blossom and thrive in a world full of pain.

Artwork by James Hill
Social Issues

stuff I’ve been into: winter edition

First up: my new blog feature of making blog recommendations. I’ve fallen a bit out of touch with the blogging community, and this is my solution to that, as well as starting to help build connections. We’re going to need that more than ever in the days to come.

Everyone, meet Bailey. She writes at her blog Ezer, which y’all know is a nod to ezer kenegdo and the big complementarian vs. egalitarian debate about “helper.” She reminds me a lot of me when I was first starting out. Obviously we disagree on some things, but her writing and thought process makes me want to engage with her– when I usually just want to rant at people about how ill-informed they are. It was a welcome experience.

I’m also very excited to introduce Zaynab, who runs the Queer Muslims blog on tumblr. Her twitter and the tumblr she runs are good resources, in my opinion, and I’m so happy to have discovered them.

Feminism

I responded to Kate Shellnut’s “Women’s March Sets Out to Exclude 40 Percent of American Women” by tackling the misunderstandings driving the whole conversation and talking about the limits of “big tent” feminism. There was one part of Kate’s article that bothered me, but I didn’t have the time to really dig into since it needed an article of its own. Thankfully, Ruthie Johnson wrote on it: “Stop Appropriating Intersectionality.”

A colleague of mine wrote this, and I absolutely adore it because it made me Think New Thoughts. I present “Discourse in the Garden of Eden” by Amethyst Marie.

Abortion is a Social Good” by Veronica Flores is not as well-argued as I would like (in the sense that her intended audience is already convinced abortion should be legal and accessible), but it’s a less abrasive presentation of this argument than many that I’ve come across.

Judith the Activist” by Alicia Jo Rabins is a good introduction to this apocryphal character that we should all be better acquainted with. I’m a big fan of women weaponizing femininity because I have a dark sense of humor, so Judith and Jael have a special place in my heart.

I’ve known for a while that Monopoly was stolen from a woman inventor, but I had no idea how awesome her story really was. “Monopoly’s Radical, Anticapitalist, Feminist Origins” was a great read.

In the “things everyone needs to be aware of category,” we have “‘I Have to Text my Rapist’: Victims Forced to Parent with Attackers” by Thom Patterson. And yes, this even applies to fathers who were convicted of assaulting their child’s mother.

Racism

Sometimes There are More Important Goals than Civility” by Vann Newkirk II is, in my opinion, incredibly well written and well argued. It does everything I want good argumentation to do– acknowledge the strengths of your opposition, the nuances in the argument, and then shred them all to bits. Respectfully.

If you haven’t read “White Evangelicalism is White Nationalism” by Fred Clarke, read it now and then bookmark it as a resource. I’m sure there will be a lot of conversations over the next four years where it will be relevant.

Misc.

Not everyone is a literary nerd like me, so “In Defense of Facts” may not be the writing you’re looking for, but honestly William Deresiewicz is commenting on a broader trend than just John D’Agata’s A New History of the Essay. I don’t know how I ended up on the side defending Facts and Truth, but somewhat hilariously I am and I’m also arguing that everyone else should care about them, too. How I changed places with fundamentalists on this, I’m not sure I’ll ever know.

Books and TV

Facebook had been pushing The Magicians trailers on me for a few weeks, so I decided to watch the first season on Netflix before the second season aired. I did not regret it. Like most new shows it takes a bit for the writers/directors/actors to gel, but once they it got interesting. It’s being advertised as “Narnia meets Game of Thrones” which confused me at first until I figured out that “_____ meets Game of Thrones” doesn’t mean “______ meets epic scale or political intrigue”– it means “______ meets We Kill So Many People. So. Many.” Mostly it’s just very … whimsical yet dark. Like things are cute and light-hearted and a little bit quirky and then someone kills a puppy or a fluffy bunny rabbit and oh my heart. So– I warned you. It’s good, but may not be for everyone.

Also: massive trigger warning for the season finale, where there’s a rape scene. I trust the writers and directors and show runners not to ruin it for me and I think they’ll handle the storyline well, but it was really triggering … largely because of how well it was shot, interestingly enough. I’m not usually triggered by rape scenes because they’re usually … well, the “masked man in a bush, she fights and screams and kicks and also we’re going to make it seem a little bit sexy” variety. The one in The Magicians is much closer to my actual experience and what I think rape is actually like for many of the people who experience it. They don’t sexualize it, and it’s compassionately filmed … all of which made it difficult for me to handle. I think it does get one thing amazingly right: the character who is raped doesn’t fight, and doesn’t really articulate a verbal “no” in any way that I can remember … and it is still absolutely clear that her character is most definitely not consenting. For that one thing alone I can appreciate what the show did by including a rape scene. It’s clearly, unambiguously rape, but they did it without signaling that to the viewer in a way that reinforced rape culture.

I read Ender’s Game as a young teen, and that book shaped a lot of my experiences over the next eight years. I’ve read it somewhere around a dozen times– I’ve bought multiple copies of the book because I’ve worn a few out. So when Earth Unaware, a prequel set during the First Formic War, came out I was so excited. I read the first prequel trilogy over Christmas and then went to the bookstore to buy The Swarm the second I finished Earth Awakens. It introduces a new character, a Buddhist chemist, who is amazing. Most of the characters are amazing– Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston are doing a fabulous job.

I also really enjoyed The Invisible Library trilogy by Genevieve Cogman. It was delightful, and I’ve blown through each of the books. Each one has a different flavor– the first is solidly steampunk although I wouldn’t necessarily categorize the next two in the same way. It subverts a lot of tropes and it has a “magic” system that my writerly heart deeply appreciates. One complaint: Genevieve does the thing where her main character thinks of herself as “plain” but like three dudes and some ladies interact with her like they think she’s gorgeous, so blah. But otherwise I liked them.

I read Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch a while back, and I’m liking the sequel Windwitch just as much– sometimes second books aren’t as successful as first books, but I think this one is standing up to the promise of Truthwitch. I enjoyed Susan’s explanation of her writing process, too– “Writing Out of Order.”

Larkin and Erik K both recommended that I read Michella Sagara– and while the library never got her book in for me, the first book in Chronicles of Elantra was 99 cents recently so I downloaded it. Cast in Shadow was entertaining– I don’t usually read fantasy series that are intended to be a “monster of the week”-style story, but I’m enjoying the second book so far. Although, question for you two: where does Michelle go with the flower on Kaylin’s cheek (cough cough)?

I also convinced my dad to buy Terry Pratchett’s A Hat Full of Sky for my mother for Christmas … and then I read it. Because obviously the way I’m dealing with everything that’s happened since November is reading every book I can lay my hand on. A Hat Full of Sky was what you’d expect from Terry Pratchett: solid gold, and an amazing ending that manages to communicate Deep and Abiding Truthfulness without gettting preachy.

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So what all have you been reading and watching?

Photo by Laszlo Ilyes
Social Issues

re-writing bad advice #1

Among my favorite things in the world are advice columns. I read Dear Abby every week growing up, and as an adult I discovered advice columns like Captain Awkward and Dear Prudence— which is written by Mallory Ortberg, one of the founders of The Toast  and who is definitely one of the funniest women on the internet. Captain Awkward has been life-changing for me and many of my friends, and I can’t recommend her enough.

Not all advice columns are created equal, and some are really, really bad. One of the worst offenders, in my opinion, is the advice column at Boundless. If you’ve never heard of Boundless before, it’s a branch of Focus on the Family and is designed for twenty-something singles, “with the goal of helping young adults grow up, own their faith, date with purpose and prepare for marriage and family.” I heard of it when I was at Liberty, where it was really popular because it pitched itself (oh-so-slightly) against the I Kissed Dating Goodbye narrative. One post in particular that went viral is “Learning from Ruth” which encouraged women to make romantic overtures toward men.

I read Boundless regularly for several years until I couldn’t take their advice column anymore because it infuriated me so often. A long time ago I kicked around the idea of taking the letters written in to the Boundless team and answering them with better advice, and I’ve decided to actually go ahead a do it. With almost 600 letters to choose from, there’s tons of fodder and it should be light-hearted and easy enough to continue when I’m slogging through mid-terms in seminary.

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I’m a 28-year-old guy with stable income. I feel mentally and emotionally ready for marriage. I’ve been praying about it for sometime. I met a wonderful Christian lady during my college years. After we both graduated, we stayed in touch. She has all the characteristics of a godly woman, and I am sure she will be a great wife. The only problem is that I am not attracted to her.

I know that she is somewhat attracted to me, and even her family seems interested in me.

Should I pursue her, hoping that I will become attracted to her, or should I keep my distance?

If you read the original response, Candice Watters tell him that being a man means “leading his feelings,” but that he’ll need God’s strength to do so. She goes on to tell him to spend time with her “with all purity and honor” and that he might be surprised if (heavily implied when) he becomes attracted to her.

Dear Stable Income,

Before I answer your main question, I want to address a possible assumption here that might affect other choices you make about dating relationships down the road. You said “she has all the characteristics of a godly woman, and I am sure she will be a great wife,” and your phrasing here implies that the first guarantees the second, when that is not how relationships– especially marriage relationships– work. Godly characteristics can be all well and good, but they must be placed in context; depending on the context, those “godly characteristics” may be fine for one relationship and disastrous for another. Take for example the virtue of patience. To one person, how they demonstrate their patience may be comforting and helpful– to another person, it could feel constrictive and overly passive. People are complicated, and it all depends.

Figuring out who you want to date and eventually marry isn’t about finding someone who lines up with your Godly Woman Checklist. Two women could appear to have the same exact list of “qualifications” you’re looking for and one could be a good match and the other your Date from Hell. It is important to find someone who shares your values, but equally as important is that you’ll be sharing your entire life with a partner. Your personalities should mesh well, you probably shouldn’t have wildly conflicting ideas of how you want to spend your average day, and you should respect their ideas, arguments, point of view, opinions … even if you don’t always agree. That and so much more goes in to figuring out who you’d like to eventually be with.

In short, don’t obsess too much about whether or not she meets your definition of A Godly Woman and instead figure out if you even like her and want to spend time with her, for starters.

Now, moving on to your main question. Chances are since you’re asking this question you know a) what attraction is and b) that you’ve experienced it. While it is possible to develop an attraction over time, I’m guessing you’ve known her for at least six years at this point (if you graduated around the average time) … if after six years you’ve never been attracted to her, you’re probably not going to be attracted to her. Not every person wants or needs to be sexually attracted to their life partner– see asexual people who have platonic partners– but since you’re writing the question I’m assuming you’re not one of those people.

Sexual attraction isn’t the end-all-be-all of marriage (neither is sex), but it is a component that shouldn’t be neglected for those of us who feel it. It’s totally normal to feel different kinds of attraction for different people, but it would be unusual for attraction to develop after you’ve known someone this long. Not impossible, though– so if you want to hang out with her and see, there isn’t anything stopping you.

Which leads me to my final piece of advice: if you date someone and it doesn’t work out, that’s ok. The world will not end, and you will not have given (or taken) a piece of heart you can’t get back. That’s not how it works. If you do decide you want to see if something could happen between you and your college friend, just make it clear to her that’s all your interested in for the time being, and that neither of you should feel obligated to force anything if there just isn’t a spark. There’s no need to tell her “I want to see if I can be attracted to you,” but do be honest that you’re not hearing wedding bells and that this is just to see how it goes. If she’s not interested in that, well, there’s your answer.

Kindly,

Samantha Field

Photo by Steven Depolo
Social Issues

stepping into the future

I spent the bulk of my early twenties thinking I was going to be a freelance editor, largely because I was a freelance editor. It’s something I’d been doing for a decade by my mid-twenties, and that’s just where I thought my future was going. I got a Master’s degree in English, I went to the Denver Publishing Institute– everything was nice and orderly and mapped out. And then I started blogging, and that managed to blossom into the early stages of a writing career. At first I struggled to keep up with everything that was happening when I started this little adventure with all of you; I’d spent so much time and attention plotting out a different future that when it suddenly changed on me I found myself coasting a bit.

It surprised me when I fell in love with it, found it incredibly fulfilling, and was so thrilled and energized by all the possibilities I hadn’t allowed myself to even imagine when I was thinking I was going to be an editor. I don’t know why I’d assumed I’d fail as a writer without even trying, but I did … until you proved me wrong. Your support showed me I could do this.

So, for the first time, I’m trying to be truly intentional about this whole “I’m a writer” business. Nothing around here should change much, since it’s just going to be me frantically working in the background. Seminary is proving extraordinarily fruitful ground for post ideas– my notebooks are crammed full of dashed-out notes with BLOG written next to them. I think I’ve decided on my thesis topic, which will form the foundational research I’ll need to write the books I want to write. I’m also going to seriously dedicate myself to finding freelance writing opportunities (so if you know of a site like SheLoves, The Mudroom, The Flawless Project, etc, that would be interested in writing like mine, let me know about it).

One of the things I’ve decided to introduce is a monthly community feature. Elizabeth Esther used to do this, but she’s decided to take a step away from writing for a while, so I want to continue what she started. I want to get blog recommendations from everyone– comments, twitter, facebook, private message, e-mail, however you want to get it to me– and every month I’ll choose a handful to feature in my “Stuff I’ve Been Into” post. I’d like them to be either a) less than 3-ish years old, b) have a smaller readership, and c) be written by women, POC, or LGBT+. They don’t have to be religious or have a religious focus, although religious feminist blogs written by people from non-Christian faith traditions would certainly perk my interest. Feel free to pitch your own, even!

I also want to purposely resurrect the Learning the Words guest post series. Check out what’s in the series so you can get a feel for what I’m hoping to see, and then send me your ideas!

There’s a lot of work ahead of us, but I’m ready to get started.

Social Issues

stomping on eggshells: on white fragility and speaking up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jorge Andrade
Social Issues

the day after tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m afraid, and I’m hurting.

***

But.

But.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Tim Sackton
Social Issues

experiencing hate as a queer woman

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Alex Holyoake