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Brandon Sanderson


see, here is water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Dennis Jarvis

being a feminist who wants to watch TV

I decided I’d cover a lighthearted topic today because it’s been a rough couple of days and I just want to talk about stuff that I like because the whole world is sort of pissing me off right now and I am temporarily not going to think about it.

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with Handsome about how it’s important for us to be aware while we’re watching TV or reading books or watching movies because there’s probably something going on to normalize oppression and/or violence– and he asked if there was anything I could truly enjoy watching on television or if every single show was making a huge part of me cringe.

My gut reaction was to say “no, everything has something,” and to an extent that’s true, especially when it comes to sexism. But, as I thought about his question, I realized that there are some shows, that even if they have some moments, I still genuinely enjoy and I’m able to dial down the feminist voice in my head, and I figured I could share some of them with you and then we could all talk about our favorite least-problematic media!

So, for television shows:

amanda frietag

Honestly, the Food Network pretty much tops this when it comes to just brain vegging. I’m in love with Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen, and I think the producers really go out of their way to show racial and gender diversity; they’re also honest about how sexist the restaurant industry can be. It’s nice to hear both the male and female judges talking about the challenges that women and minorities face, especially in elite kitchens. There’s a lot of shows on there that are … not problematic per se as much as they just sort of assume gendered baselines, like wives cooking for husbands and doing all the work for entertaining (Barefoot Contessa is actually pretty good about involving her husband when she’s cooking for entertaining, which is cool).

tim allen

I’m a huge fan of Last Man Standing, although a huge part of that is probably nostalgia, since it’s essentially Home Improvement only with Tim Allen’s kids being girls instead of boys. I really enjoy watching the marital dynamics in this show, though– there’s a lot of egalitarian give-and-take, and they’re both successful professionals. Both make mistakes, both are funny, both have triumphs at work and with their kids and … I think it’s one of the healthier marriages I’ve seen in a sitcom. I also love the fact that their oldest daughter is a raving liberal feminist who disagrees with her dyed-in-the-wool Republican father but still has a good relationship with him.

The best part about it, though, is that Tim’s character, “Mike,” can be a really sexist douchebag … until something happens in the episode with his daughters and he has a sincere “OH” moment and realizes he’s a sexist douchebag. It’s pretty great.

emma serious

We were flipping channels a few weeks ago and caught a few moments from Once Upon a Time, so we decided “hey, it’s on Netflix, let’s give it a try.”


I’m still in the first blush of nerd-euphoria with it, so I don’t think I’m even capable of realizing if anything problematic is happening because damn I think this is one of the best shows on television right now, which I completely and totally did not expect because all of the advertising I’d seen for it made it seem ridiculously awful. But it’s not. It’s so good. I’m in the middle of season two, so please no spoilers, but I love it I love it I love it. I love Snow, I love Emma, I love Regina, I love Mulan, I love Belle, I love Red … there’s just so many fantastic women and yeah some of them are the “strong woman trope” but I think they’re pretty well-written. Complicated, with motivations that make sense, and the writers allow them to be human in human ways and not just in stereotypical “flawed women” ways. I was probably predisposed to like it since I grew up with Gail Carson Levine and the “re-written fairytale” being one of my favorite genres (seriously– Ella Enchanted? such a great book), so if you like Levine or Hale or McKinley you’re probably guaranteed to like Once Upon a Time.

For movies:

gone girl 2

GONE GIRL. I can’t tell you anything about it because that would ruin it but this movie was so good. So good. I haven’t read the book yet, but I think I’ll still enjoy it even after watching the adaptation. I really, really loved this film. Dear god the ending. This movie blew my socks off, and the last movie that did that was The Avengers, so …

I know that it’s spawned a lot of discussion on how “feminist” the book and movie are, but I 100% agree with this (spoilers at the link AND IN THE QUOTE):

We need dangerous women on-screen; women who can claw open and bite down into the scarred center of any woman (every woman) who has suppressed an unfathomable anger, a will-to-power that can’t be contained in a pin-stripe suit. We need women whose talons break through skin and spread bones to rip out the great, thick throbbing heart. We need women who breathe fire.

lobby boy

When I was in graduate school, I took a class in post-modern literature, where I was introduced to Camus and Ionesco and I fell in love with theatre of the absurdThe Chairs is one of my all-time favorite plays, and I really enjoy films that have an element of the absurd to them, which is why I like Wes Anderson and Grand Budapest Hotel. I also really like Ralph Fiennes, so I’ll watch basically anything with him in it (the same is true of Emily Blunt and Gary Oldman). There’s not much I didn’t like about it– I highly recommend giving it a watch.

For books:

I think I’ve mentioned Elizabeth Moon’s Deed of Parksennarion trilogy before, so — it’s a solidly good set. I’ve also talked about my obsession with Brandon Sanderson, but I wanted to take a moment to talk about his Stormlight Archive series, which has just two books out so far (both are 1,000-page tomes, which my greedy literary heart adores). Sanderson is really good at character development, and he’s especially good at writing women– one million and a half times better than any of the women GRR Martin’s written, that’s for sure.

I really like his characters in Mistborn and Elantris, but Shallan Davar and Jasnah Kholin from Stormlight are some of the most solid female characters I’ve ever read. Stormlight takes place in an incredibly racist and sexist world, but the forms it takes on this planet are imaginative enough to really explore sexism and racism in a new light. He doesn’t include a patriarchal hierarchy because “historical accuracy” but because he’s taken the time to really explore that system. The women who live in it actively fight against it, and by the end of Words of Radiance the society is forced to take an extremely egalitarian turn, and the characters have to re-examine their sexist assumptions.

Anyway– what are some of your favorite things that you’ve been watching and reading?

Lead photo by David Boyle

realizing that I had a dream, and that I could chase it

Researching possible graduate schools turned out be a challenge.

The college I attended for undergrad had a China-level proxy server that blocked most of the internet. No Google, no, no e-mail servers. At one point the only way to access any website whatsoever was to send the url to the web administrator and they might add it to the List on the school’s home page. By the time I was looking into grad school they’d become a little more lenient and allowed us to get to a majority of websites unless they had “trigger content.”

Hilariously, this “trigger content” provision excluded any online Bible concordance, because the word concordance has the word dance in it.


However, even with their new-found leniency, the school was still blocking any other university’s website, and taking a laptop off campus was the against the rules. They even sent RAs (we called them floorleaders, but most people know what an RA is, so I use that) out to all of the places that offered free wifi looking for students breaking this rule. We also were not allowed to go the public library. Yes, they sent moles there, too.

The only solution available? I had to take an RA with me to Kinko’s. I could search the internet there as much as I wanted, but only if I had someone literally standing over my shoulder. I knuckled down and just did it. I had to take multiple trips off-campus, and it was a huge pain in the ass, but I found a few schools I was interested in.

One was Oregon State, one was Brigham Young, and the other was Liberty University. All offered English or writing programs, and each had a compelling reason. Oregon’s is just a fantastically famous writing program, Brigham Young features Brandon Sanderson, my favorite author, as a writing instructor there, and the last one was . . . well, it was an evangelical Christian university. Jerry Falwell’s school, “champions for Christ,” the whole bit. (I actually hadn’t really heard of Jerry Falwell, except when he was lumped with other “flaming liberals” like Billy Graham.)

When I decided to pursue English in graduate school instead of music, it was for a variety of reasons. The biggest two being: 1) I hated, no, loathed, performances of any kind after the hell I had endured in undergrad, and 2) I knew I wasn’t good enough to get into a decent music program. And, for me, it was “decent program or bust.” I was a hell of a lot better in English than I was in music, and y’know what?

I’d found a dream.

It was a dream I always had, as it turns out.

I saw Star Wars for the first time when I was eight. I was enthralled, entranced. I wondered at the marvel of the world an imagination had created. I gasped in horror when Darth Vader announced “Luke, I am your father” and then grabbed the front of my father’s shirt and sobbed and sobbed because no, that horrible man just couldn’t be Luke’s father, he couldn’t be, and then I cringed away from the hideousness of the Emperor and gloried in Darth Vader’s ultimate redemption.

So, when Star Wars: The Phantom Menace came out, my father took my family to go see it–in theaters. To an IFB, theaters are, quite literally, the gateway to hell. Hollywood was referred to as “hell-y-wood,” and the television was the “boob tube.” So, dad didn’t tell us where we were going, and when he parked outside the theater, he told us that we were going to see Star Wars, but we weren’t allowed to tell anyone at church. For good reason– they would have crucified us. Star Wars is . . . well, that “new age tripe” isn’t tolerated very well.

I was again entranced by George Lucas’ fantastic world, and that was when I discovered, you guessed it, Fan Fiction.

I also discovered that while I enjoyed writing– I couldn’t really stop writing and frequently stayed up until three or four in the morning– I enjoyed editing more. I liked doing what is called in the fanfiction world “beta reading.” I helped other fanfiction authors create their stories. And I freaking loved it. Editing was the most fun thing on the planet. I continued being a beta reader through college– and I started helping real-life friends with their manuscripts.

Sadly, it didn’t hit me that Editing is an actual career field. There’s a whole industry based on it, in fact. It also had never occurred to me that I could get paid for it, or get recognition for it. Some of the stories I worked on are published, now– some have done fantastically well, but the community of beta readers don’t get recognized, unfortunately. I also didn’t consider it because it involves getting a real education and then hightailing it off to some big city like New York or Chicago or San Francisco. That just wasn’t… wasn’t considered. A young woman, living, by herself, in New York City? Certainly not.

The conservative Christian world refers to a young person traipsing off to some big city as becoming a “Prodigal Son,” almost always, in my experience. We have tons and tons of Christian books with this theme. Some young person hates their rural town, they leave, become worldly and enjoy their life of debauchery, then something forces them back to their small town and they rediscover their faith and feel horribly guilty about how far they’ve fallen. This is basically the plot of most Christian books.

So, yeah. Becoming an editor? Yeah, right.

But I decided that every single voice in my head that was telling me I couldn’t do this could go screw themselves.

Photo by Moyan Brenn