Browsing Tag



laughing in spite of . . .

new girl

When New Girl started running trailers before the pilot episode in 2011, I thought it might be a show I could get into. However, when it started, I was in the middle of my first semester of grad school, so while I caught a few episodes, I didn’t stick with it. At the time, I was actually struggling with how Zooey Deschanel was being presented in the media– she was being painted as the ultimate quirky girl– there was a Lord of the Rings reference in the first episode, and the premise for Jess’ character was that she was unique, and zany, but, in the end, absolutely adorable and someone who everyone can’t just help but love because she’s just so darn cute.

As someone who is actually a gigantic nerd, and someone who is actually bombastic and someone who is actually quirky and zany and all of the above, I can attest to the unfortunate reality that I am not so adorable that everyone just thinks I’m the greatest.

At times, the fact that I have friends who do think I’m just the greatest feels like a small miracle. My life doesn’t look anything like Jess’ character. I have that energy level, that zest for life, and guess what? It sometimes annoys the crap out of people. And when that happens, I don’t wave my arms and decry their annoyance and say “I love weddings and I’m going to dance my face off!” until everyone who was annoyed starts slow-mo chicken dancing with me. Even if I do go slow-mo chicken dance, the annoyed people don’t join me. Usually, they make fun of me, and, in my experience, I become the butt of a lot of mean-spirited jokes and I have to deal with dismissive, mocking behavior from that point forward.

So, I didn’t stick with New Girl for very long.

But, me and Handsome decided to give it another go last night.

We watched the first five episodes or so (thank you Netflix), and the whole I’m-so-spunky-don’t-you-just-love-me part of Jess’ character didn’t bother me anywhere near as much. Hardly at all, actually. I attribute that to the past three years of growth and development I’ve survived. I learned to adapt, I learned how to recognize social situations and behave appropriately, I learned how to read people enough to know when my rambunctiousness would be enjoyed and when it wouldn’t– mostly. So, maybe Jess’ character goes through some of the same development, and I’m curious to see if that happens.

This time around, something else stood out to me:


If you’re not familiar with New Girl, that is Schmidt, who is an in-general “douche with a heart of gold.” He serves a similar purpose on this show that Barney does on How I Met your Mother— he’s so disgustingly chauvinistic, you love to hate him. He’s a pig, and all of the characters on the show know it, so they exact their revenge on him in various ways (like the fact that he’s the only roommate who ever puts money into the Douchebag Jar). He’s also blinded by his arrogance and narcissism, which just helps his roommates make fun of him.

However, one of the ways that the show’s writers have decided to make fun of Schmidt is through his work environment, where he is the only man. Everyone else that he works with is a woman, and they endlessly mock him for a variety of things, only a small part of which is deserved (in the pilot episode, they’re making fun of him for wearing a pink tie).

In some ways, Schmidt’s work situation can be viewed as social commentary on how ridiculous sexism is; the writers are making it clear that the women are not making fun of Schmidt himself (like his friends do), but only of his gender, which, we viewers are supposed to automatically understand is nonsensical.


I have a problem with this because reverse sexism is not a thing, in exactly the same way that reverse racism doesn’t exist. Neither of these exist because they are not possible in a white and male privileged culture. I’m not saying that women can’t objectify men, because they can and they do (which New Girl shows when Schmidt’s Santa costume leaves his chest completely bare). I’m also not saying that people of color can’t treat white people badly in a stereotypical and negative way. These things happen.

However, these behaviors are not racism and sexism.

These things are certainly rude, unprofessional, and some actions could even be labeled unethical. But, a woman objectifying a man is not sexism, because a woman, in male-privileged culture, does not have the power or the ability to limit the purpose of a man’s existence (either in his personal or professional life) to his physicality or sexuality; however, this is exactly what happens to women when men objectify them. They are contributing to and being a part of a culture where women exist to serve the needs of men. The reverse is untrue.

So, when I was watching New Girl last night, I had a hard time not throwing my remote control through  my television. It also just kept getting worse, complete with Schmidt making a rape joke.

But, I also laughed. Some parts of the show are genuinely funny. I thought Coach was hysterical (whyyyy did they replace him?), and the scene wear Jess goes on a rampage to get her stuff back from Spencer made me want to whoop and cheer.

So, I was torn.

Because, as a feminist, I’m aware of how the treatment of women in media contributes to the treatment of women in reality. When a popular television show makes a rape joke, it only reinforces the idea that rape jokes are ok, that rape, victimization, and violence against women itself can be funny.

But, as a feminist, I’m also aware of the fact that sexism is everywhere. Really, everywhere. It’s maddening how ubiquitous it is. I cannot read hardly any book, watch any show or movie, or listen to any song or conversation without encountering sexism in some form. And, trust me, it’s exhausting. Some days, I really wish I could go back to a more innocent time when I was completely blind and ignorant to how pernicious and omnipresent sexism is. I want to just be able to laugh at a show like New Girl without having to grit my teeth to get through the sexism and the rape jokes.

I’m slowly learning that there has to be some form of balance. I can’t constantly be reacting to every single example of sexism I see. Sometimes, just for the sake of my own sanity, I have to let it go, and I have to be able to do that without feeling guilty about it. I have to have priorities, or I’m going to completely burn myself out.

I have to be able to flinch, but then move on if it’s not something I can personally do anything about. Sexism at my church? You bet your Bunsen burner (sorry, old Adventures in Odyssey reference) I won’t quit going after that until it’s gone. But in the media I consume? Then . . . then, it’s not quite so clear. Sometimes, I will quite watching that show, or reading that book.

Sometimes, though, I’ll laugh in spite of it.


racism, privilege, and blindness


I will be discussing racism today, and my experiences with it. I am a middle class white person, which means that my perspective is one of privilege. If my attempts to confront this issue in my life are offensive, dismissive, alienating, or, yes, even racist (by the conclusion), please do not hesitate to point out to me those errors.

After my father left the military, his new job required him to travel, so in the year I turned thirteen he spent a lot of time away from home. He did his best to make sure that when he was home, that something special was going on, that he was spending time with me and my sister. One of the outings we took was to the county courthouse so Dad could cast his absentee ballot, since he was going to be in Japan.

It was the first election I’d ever paid any attention to, and the only highlight I distinctly remember is something about Al Gore claiming to have invented the internet– and the Snickers commercial that resulted. When we arrived at the courthouse, something big seemed to be going on. There were buses everywhere, and there were huge crowds of people waving signs and shouting, blocking the doors into the courthouse. We were forced to go around to the back and find our way through the maze of hallways to the election office.

When we eventually made it to the office, there was a long line that wrapped its way through the corridors, and the atmosphere was tense. I could tell that the crowds and the environment were worrying my father– there was an almost violent edge to all the noise.

It took me a while to realize it, but eventually I noticed that the line we were standing in was almost exclusively made up of African Americans, and there were a few people who seemed to be “in charge” wandering up and down the line. Out of boredom, I started listening to the conversations happening around me, and what I overheard disturbed me, even at thirteen. The people in the line had been paid to be there– two women standing near us were making plans to go get manicures with the money they’d gotten after they were done voting. When we got closer to the office door, one of the “in charge” people handed my father a sample ballot; it was pre-marked in favor of the Democratic party, and when the woman handed it to my father, she made a comment about how it showed how he was to vote. My father took one look at it, threw it back in her face, and loudly announced that “he wasn’t there with them.” We ended up having to leave before my father could vote because the people in line focused a lot of animosity toward us.

That was the day I became a racist.


Less than a year later, I turned fourteen and 9/11 happened. I was at homeschool group with other children from church when we got the news. We sat, huddled around an old radio, listening to what was happening. I didn’t really understand the significance of what was going on until we were at a hospital in a waiting room, and I watched the second tower fall. When we found out that it had been caused by radical Islamic fundamentalists, I remember seeds of hatred and bitterness against Islam being planted. Over the next few years, I was taught that it wasn’t just radical fundamentalists– every single Islamic person wanted us all dead. I believed that Islam was inherently violent, that all “true Muslims” wanted to kill Americans. When the Patriot Act passed, I cheered.


After hurricane Ivan decimated the community I grew up in, there was one thing that stuck out to me in the aftermath: it was the first time I remember noticing Hispanics, and they were everywhere. They popped out to me– they were at all of the construction sites, in all of the fields. Where had they all come from? I wondered. I didn’t even realize that the influx was a problem, until I was educated on how Hispanics were stealing American jobs, American resources, that they were coming to this country to “breed our liberty away from us.”


When I went to college, everything I learned reinforced my racism. I was taught about the “curse of Ham,” and that “the blacks” were intended for being a “servant of servants” for all eternity. I was taught that inter-racial marriage, if not outright sinful, was at the very least a terribly bad idea. I knew that “stereotypes exist because, well,  stereotypes exist.” Racial profiling was just “common sense.” When Arizona passed SB 1070 the year after I graduated, most of my friends were thrilled, and my alma mater hailed it as a great piece of legislation that would put this country back on track.


During my first year in graduate school, I was in a conversation with Zachary*, a person I had already determined was a “flaming liberal.” He disagreed with me about nearly everything I ever said– and conversations with him were incredibly frustrating. At the time, I didn’t realize it was because every single argument I’d been regurgitating since I was thirteen was horribly awful. I was so completely and utterly blind to my racism, to my privilege. I was arguing that “racism only existed because black people insist on being treated differently” and if they just buckled down and worked hard like the rest of us white people, they wouldn’t have any problems. I capped off everything with the “stereotypes exist” line, and I’ll never forget the look on Zachary’s face.

He was appalled, horrified.

He looked like he was about to vomit.

And suddenly, so was I.

Because, all of a sudden, it hit me, and the experience was like being crushed by a train.

I’m racist.

For the next month, any racist thing I’d ever said came back to haunt me. I would be flooded by memories of horrible, hideous things I had said and done. I remembered nodding my head in agreement when pastors visited my undergrad college and talked un-ironically about racial profiling and water boarding. I remembered being annoyed by the very mention of “entitlement.” I scoffed at Affirmative Action. I completely dismissed anyone who claimed to have been oppressed– “marginalization” was a dirty word. I applauded people like Morgan Freeman who wanted us to just stop talking about racism. To make it a non-issue by ignoring it.

But, I was still conflicted, and experiencing dissonance so bad I didn’t know what to do with it. Because, I grew up in the South. My best friend wore the Confederate Battle Flag on every item of clothing. An evangelist who came to our church every year had it sewn onto the back of all his coats. Every truck that passed us in the road had the Browning logo and the Flag, displayed side-by-side. Nearly everyone I knew walked around proclaiming that “The South would rise again!” I sat in revival services where black people were expressly told to leave. I grew up in a town where there was literally a “wrong side of the tracks,” and where no one went anywhere near subsidized housing. And I’d grown up in a place where black people were paid to vote democrat, and black teenagers viciously butchered their white girlfriends, and black men slaughtered white women at construction sites . . . and I had no idea, no ability, to know that white people committed the same kinds of atrocities, they just didn’t end up in the racist newspaper, or covered by the racist news crew, or announced on the racist radio programs.

I’d grown up identifying “black culture” as inferior. It never once occurred to me that the “black culture” I was exposed to, the kind of culture where famous musicians refer to women as “bitch” and “ho”, wasn’t black culture at all, but a style purposely propagated, marketed, and sold, by white people for white people.

I was blind.

I didn’t even begin to realize the depths that racism continued (and continues) to affect me.

Until I became a feminist.

And I started being able to identify how, as a woman in a heavily patriarchal culture, I had experienced oppression and marginalization my entire life. How I had been convinced I was inferior, and weak, and how I’d made huge and significant life choices based on what I believed about myself. And, for a little while, I wanted to be able to say that being oppressed and marginalized myself meant that I couldn’t have oppressed and marginalized anyone else. That I understood what it was like. That I could sympathize.

And I realized that was racist, too.

But we do have one thing in common: we’re constantly told to shut up. To move on. That because women can vote and black people can sit at lunch counters, that we’ve achieved equality. We even have laws forbidding employers and landlords from making decisions based on race or sex. Why can’t we just be happy with that? We have the same rights as every other person in this country.

Legally, maybe that’s true. I’m not convinced that it is.

But, culturally, that isn’t the case at all.


ramblings on esoteric and practical questions about gender


I try to have well-thought out blog posts. I tend not to write about things I’m not really familiar with, and I tend not to write about nebulous, unformed ideas (and hopefully you, readers, agree with me), but I’m doing that today, mostly because of a conversation I read last week.

It’s long, and convoluted, and esoteric in the extreme, so I’ll give a summary. It all started with Jennifer Luitwieler’s post on how men tend to avoid reading things written by women (for example, Joanne Rowling had to go by J.K. in order for boys to buy her books), and a commenter, Alastair, responded by saying that he’s just not that much interested in the kinds of conversations women have about theology (which was a little bit beside the point, but ok). He argued that women deal more with practical, real-life aspects of theology, and men tend to deal more with esoteric, abstract questions. Dianna Anderson, a writer I very much respect and someone I’ve learned much from, even though we don’t agree about everything, replied to his argument by pointing out the inherent bias in his claim, and tried to show the elitist, sexist undercurrent in his argument– an undercurrent he explicitly denied having.

So here’s where I get muddled. There’s got to be a middle ground in all of this, and as I followed their conversation (both on Jennifer’s blog and Dianna’s) I couldn’t help but feel that they were sort of talking past each other. Both seemed blind to what each felt was their central argument, on both sides of the road.

Alastair couldn’t see the sexism in what he’d written (which is in the subtext, and implied), and Dianna couldn’t see anything else (at least, for the purposes of the dialog). All Alastair could see was Dianna reacting to something he didn’t believe existed, and he also completely missed Dianna’s point that women are excluded from the kinds of conversations he wants to have (the esoteric, scholarly, abstract ones, which he very subtly implied were superior theological realms).

The problem is that Alastair has a point: the famous women theological bloggers like Elizabeth Esther and Rachel Held Evans don’t talk about the esoteric questions. I have to admit, Alastair is right: I really like theology. Like, a lot. But I’m not all that fascinated by the super esoteric questions Alastair is. And, from what I’ve gathered, there aren’t too many women blogging about super esoteric things. I certainly don’t.

However, Dianna is also completely right. Women are excluded from the esoteric, scholarly conversations by an entire system dedicated to keeping women “in silence with all subjection.” A woman who enrolls in seminary has a huge, mountainous uphill battle to fight. And a lot of us just don’t have the kind of passion to overcome the innate sexism in the seminaries. Fighting sexism in our every day lives is enough of a struggle for most of us.

There seems to be a problem here, and I’m having a really hard time figuring out what it is. There’s an awful lot of gendered assumptions spinning around on both sides, and one of them is Alastair’s: that “men” are interested in esoteric questions, because they are men. That’s not the case. There’s way more men who are way more interested in “practical theology” then there are men who like the esoteric questions. There’s probably just as many women who are theological scholars (a close friend of mine, Mary*, comes to mind), but we don’t see or hear from them because of the stacked deck. Which was Dianna’s point. But, Dianna seemed to be doing the same exact thing Alastair was doing: devaluing the “practical theology” viewpoint. They both fell into the “super-intellectual-esoteric-stuff-is-better-than-practical-stuff” trap.

So, something that I’m mulling over is the “practical theology” approach. The work-a-day theology, the theology that lives and breathes in our life. I think women tend to excel at this, especially since it’s been the only area of theology we’ve been permitted access to, but also because of how our culture emphasizes relational aspects of gender as innately feminine. We’re allowed to be more relational; men are nearly forced to be non-relational. But, then I think about bloggers like Micah Murray or Preston Yancey, and they turn that all on its head.

This is, I think, one of the many ways that sexism and patriarchy have left deep, deep scars on Christianity. By setting up these gendered dichotomies, we’ve been forced into sex-based boxes, where men are logical and rational and women are emotional– and women are weak, therefore emotions are weak, so we’re not going to permit emotion into our theology. We’re going to restrict theological pursuits to esoteric, scholarly, abstract questions, and leave the mundane, unimportant stuff to the women.

That approach has robbed us, and I think in many ways left our theology bankrupt of humanity and compassion.


taking things literally and why that's a bad idea


I was so proud when Christina asked me to go with her to a revival service in Alabama. Her family regularly traveled what I thought of as “great distances” in order to be “ministered to by the Word.” But she had never asked me to one, and I happily said yes. Excitement mounted as it came closer– this was supposed to be a “good ol’ fashioned tent meetin‘” and I was picturing things like ladies in bonnets and “chicken on the ground.”

We arrived on the “campground,” and there was a gigantic tent set up with rows and rows of metal folding chairs. A generator was beating away somewhere just to run the huge fans and audio equipment. As evening fell, it got darker, but not cooler. It was Alabama in the middle of a sweltering summer. But, I was enthralled by the mystery of it all. Here was where a great thing would happen, I just knew it– like those boys who prayed in a hay stack and started the Second Great Awakening.

We sang all the old “revival hymns” and then settled in for the preaching. I don’t really remember what the sermon was about, although it must have been about sin because of what happened in the middle of it. The evangelist called a man up out of the congregation, and I watched him walk up the dirt aisle to the front. As he passed me, I stared at his eye patch and wondered if he was Patch the Pirate. When he got up to the front, the evangelist asked him to share his testimony.

Slowly, the man shared his story of a lifetime of sin and abuse, but he culminated by telling of his addiction to pornography. He concluded his tale by lifting his eye patch and telling us that he had followed Matthew 5:29, where it says if your right eye offends thee, to pluck it out. He, in obedience to God’s word, had done just that– and thus, God gave him the strength to overcome his addiction.

Clearly, I did not pay attention to the rest of the sermon. I remember just sitting, dazed, through the rest of it, because I knew if I one day ended up struggling with a sin like that, I was not going to gouge out my eye. I struggled with feeling “convicted” the rest of the sermon. Shouldn’t I be willing to do whatever it takes to obey God? How much more should I value my relationship with him and having a pure heart over my fleshly pleasures? Over trying to avoid pain, and protecting myself?

We came back, and I also don’t remember what the evangelist preached the second night because of what happened. A few minutes after he had started preaching, there was a slight commotion. I don’t remember exactly what made me turn around, but when I did, I saw a black family sitting down in the remaining seats in the back. I didn’t think anything of that and turned my attention back up to the front– where the preacher that had organized the meetin’ was standing up.

“You!” He yelled, striding boldly to the back of the tent. “Yes, YOU!” He pointed. Suddenly, I realized that he was gesturing at the black family. “You don’t belong here. Here,” and he flayed his arms wildly over the throng gathered under the tent folds, “is the bounds of OUR habitation. These are OUR borders. You just get– get back to where you belong, boy. You’re not welcome here.”

“Amens!” and “Preach it, brother!” started echoing from all over the tent.

And I watched, horrified, as the father stood up. For a moment I could see rage engulf his face. Cords tightened in his neck, and I watched as his fist clenched. He was trembling, and I knew it wasn’t in fear. But, after a long moment, he reached down for his wife’s hand. He pulled her up, then turned and picked up his daughter. He faced the preacher again, his daughter in his arms, but then didn’t say anything. He just . . . left.

As they walked back out into the night, the hollers and jeers came to my ears like they were traveling through water. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I remember looking down at my hands and watching them shaking– trembling violently. And I couldn’t identify the emotions that were rampaging through me. I glanced over at Christina and her father– but their faces were impassive. They didn’t seem to be affected by what had happened. I looked around the tent, and saw that some were gathering up their families and leaving, and I could see anger mixed with disappointment on their faces. The evangelist and the preacher screamed after them as they left, calling upon every biblical invective I’d ever heard.

The evangelist returned to his sermon eventually, but after ten, maybe fifteen minutes of preaching, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to get out of that place. Christina grabbed my hand and asked where I was going, and I muttered that I had to use the bathroom.

I stayed in the bathroom as long as I could without Christina or her father wondering where I’d gone, scraping together my determination. I was not coming back to this place. I was not coming back, and I did not care what Christina thought of me.


There is a term for what happened in those two examples, and it has actually been referred to as “the evangelical heresy” (and no, I’m not talking about individualism). It’s called biblical docetism, and it is an extension of gnosticism, dualism, and Arianism. All of these systems promote a common thread that “physical” things represent evil, as they are corrupted copies of the pure, “spiritual” realm. Dualism eventually leads to a mind vs. body dichotomy. Arianism teaches that Jesus was not truly incarnate– he only looked like or seemed to be physical (the term docetic comes from the Greek word dokein, “to seem to be” ).

Biblical docetism is an approach to understanding the inspiration of scripture. There are many perspectives on this, including “verbal plenary” view and the “degree” view, among others. People who hold the docetic view– and many of them have no idea that this is what it’s called, I sure didn’t– all tend to ignore the human component of scripture. They see the Bible strictly as “the Word of God.” Some consequences of this view are:

1) Being able to randomly select any passage of scripture to see how God will speak to them. This includes being able to draw huge spiritual implications out of simple things like Paul asking Timothy to bring him his cloak in 2 Timothy 4:13. And yes, Spurgeon, I’m looking at you.
2) Believing that every single scripture applies to everyone, everywhere, and always. Including 2 Chronicles 7:14, which is used to support Dominionism. And segregation. And all kinds of evil things like slavery and the oppression of women.
3) Believing that the chapter and verse organizations and the canon order are inspired, too. This is less common, but it happens among re-inspiration advocates. Let’s give a shout-out to Micheal Perl and Peter Ruckman, here.
4) Completely ignoring that the writers had personalities, preferences… or that they had anything to do with the Bible whatsoever. We can learn a lot about Peter’s impetuousness, or Paul’s logic, or Luke’s compassion, but that has no bearing on fundamentalists who see the Bible as only the Word of God.
5) There is no such thing as progressive revelation. Because God wrote it, and God is timeless, and God is omniscient, there isn’t any such thing, actually. God wrote Genesis, and God wrote Revelation. It doesn’t make a lick of difference that John the Revelator had witnessed the Resurrection and had some inkling about what was going on, and Moses couldn’t even really understand the Messiah. This can be disastrous from a hermeneutics perspective, because then you start assuming all kinds of things into the text that cannot sensibly be there.
6) They pay absolutely no attention to genre. At all. Every single element in the Bible is exactly the same as all the rest. There’s no reason to pay attention to the nuances between historical narratives and poetry, or biographies and epistles.

7) The supremely over-literalization of Scripture. I cannot stress this one enough. You cannot take the Bible too literally, or you end up thinking, saying, believing, and doing all kinds of insane things. Like plucking your eye out when you have a porn addiction. They have no understanding of metaphor, myth– they cannot account for different narrative structures. To them, every single parable Jesus told literally happened. They turn the entire Bible into a perverse form of itself– as dry and un-human as an encyclopedia.

And, most dangerously, because they believe in a non-fiction, give-me-the-facts-ma’am approach to the entire Bible, they prioritize imperative statements over anything else. They reduce the beauty of the Bible down to a bunch of commandments and lists. They take the suggestions that exist inside an over-arching narrative and force them to be the filter for everything else. And this fails us, because the Bible is a book of story before it is anything else. It gives us story after story— and nothing about these stories in inherently prescriptive. They describe human beings in all their glories, triumphs, and absolute failures.

And when you believe that miniscule imperative statements trump entire narratives, you miss out on the complexity that is woven into scripture. You lose stories like Deborah and Junia and Phoebe and Tabitha and Lydia and Anna and Priscilla– because these stories about powerful women conflict with the limited suggestion of one author to one friend. You lose the ability to learn from the value of contradictions, because instead of recognizing contradictions as the human component of individual perspective and human narrative, the contradictions become something you have to explain away or deny.

And that traps us. It limits our ability to learn, to grow, to understand, to seek, to question. Dichotomies, dualities, and binaries come into play– with only one being “right” and anything else being “wrong.” We lose the ability to appreciate a modern narrative of multiples views, multiple understandings. We lose variety and complexity. And, looking around outside, our world is nothing if not complex.

(My list of seven consequences of biblical docetism was structured for me by Bibliology and Hermeneutics.)


silence will let evil win, so I'm screaming

empty swingset

Fair warning: this is going to be long. But worth it, I hope.

Our recruitment period at the fundamentalist church-cult was over about three years after we had become members. I don’t remember anything before this point being bad– in fact, all I do remember was preferring our church to the other churches we had visited. I’d made friends, a few in particular.

So I was confused when Anna’s* family didn’t show up for church one Sunday morning when I was thirteen, maybe fourteen. They didn’t come to church Sunday night, either. Or Wednesday. They didn’t show up for “Visitation” on Thursday, either. I asked my best friend, the pastor’s daughter Christina*, what had happened. Were they ok? Did they go somewhere? I figured she would know– being the pastor’s daughter gave her an “in” with church gossip. I was worried about Anna– especially since the last time I’d seen her we’d gotten into a tiff and I hadn’t said some very nice things.

Christina told me that her family had been “sowing division in the church.”

“Sowing division? What does that mean?” I’d had a vague inclination about “sowing division” in the context of how people accused us KJV-only types that insisting on our translation was “sowing division,” and basically our response was to blow that accusation off. That didn’t really make sense, here.

“Her father has been holding private services outside of church, without Pastor’s approval, and trying to teach people heresies.”

That was pretty much the the extent of our talk, as words like “heresy” tend to be conversation-ending. I  didn’t know what to do with this information, but it just… it just didn’t feel right. Luckily, Anna’s family lived in my neighborhood, as was within easy biking distance. I biked over to her house, all by my lonesome. Anna’s mother answered the door.

“Samantha– what are you doing here?” Her voice sounded surprised, shocked even.

That’s strange– I come here all the time. I knew why I had come– if Anna was never going to come back to church, I couldn’t let the last things I ever said to her be awful. “I have to talk to Anna.”

“I don’t know if that’s a very good idea right now.”

“Oh.” I didn’t know what to do– should I just turn around and leave? But Anna appeared behind her mother, and it was obvious that she had been crying. When I looked at her mom again, I realized that she had been crying, too. What was happening?

“It’s ok, mom, I want to talk to her,” Anna said, and we went to sit in the backyard on her swing set. We trailed our feet in the sand for a while without saying much of anything.

I finally had the courage to say something. “Anna, I just… wanted to say I’m sorry. For the things I said.”

Anna nodded. “It’s ok. It’s not a big deal, not anymore.”

I didn’t now if I could ask what was happening– how did someone ask “Hey, is your dad teaching heresy?”

“What did Christina say?” She asked suddenly.

I was floored. “Uhm . . . just . . . well, it didn’t really make sense.”

She waited.

“She, well, she said that your dad was sowing division,” I whispered.

Her laugh was so hard and bitter. “Figures.” Our feet made a scraping-swoosh sound as our flip-flops skidded over the sand. “Dad was just having a Bible study. We were having a few families over for dinner, and then we’d just all sit around and talk.”

That made sense. I could see Anna’s dad doing something like that– he always had interesting things to say whenever he taught Sunday school, and I knew he was smart. And a Bible study didn’t sound so bad. Sounded like a good idea, to me.

“But Pastor found out about it, and he got all mad, and… he said we’re not allowed to come back to church anymore.” And she started crying. I didn’t know what to do except cry with her. I stayed for a little bit longer, and we talked about other things. I even saw her dad before I left, and I remember him putting his hand on my shoulder and thanking me for coming to visit. There were tears in his eyes, too. I wanted to hug him and tell him everything was going to be ok, that it would all work out.

When I told Christina about my conversation with Anna, her reaction was almost violent. She was furious with me– how dare I go behind her back like that. How dare I go to the people who had “hurt her family” and “disgraced the church.”  She made it very clear that associating with “those people” was choosing the wrong side. They were filled with nothing but lies. Anna was only going to try to make the church, and our Pastor, look bad. They were out to ruin our reputation.

I never went to see Anna again.


Five years later, during my freshman year at a fundamentalist college, my phone rang. That didn’t happen very often, so I was confused when I picked up the handset. It was Christina. She had been upset with me for choosing to attend college, and we hadn’t been on very good speaking terms since then, so I was relieved to hear her voice. I had been horribly afraid of losing her friendship, as she had been my only constant friend through all of the ups and downs at church.

She was not calling just to connect, though. She was sobbing. “The Stricklands* left the church, Sam.”

What?” That was shocking. They had been there so long, had gone through so much with us. “What happened?”

“I don’t know!” She wailed. “All daddy would say is that Mr. Strickland said that we were all demon-possessed!”

Demon-possessed? What in heaven’s name? “Are you sure he said that? That sounds . . . so crazy.” Mr. Strickland was probably one of the most down-to-earth, solid people I could think of.

“What do you mean if I’m sure? Of course I’m sure! Are you accusing my father of lying?”

I instantly back-pedaled. “Of course not. That just doesn’t sound like Mr. Strickland, is all I meant.” I thought of his wife, and his children, who I adored. They seemed like a normal, healthy family. They were an integral part of our tight-knit church. For them to suddenly leave . . .

“You are. You think daddy’s lying.” Her rant went on for the next few minutes, and I fell into my habit of listening without really listening. It was the only way to survive some of these conversations with her. “Well, all they’re doing is trying to drag our good name through the mud, but it won’t work. We may be persecuted, but God will make sure that we prevail. The truth always finds us out.”

After she hung up, I sat on my bed and tried to cry. I’d cried for so many families over the years. Families that just hadn’t understood all the good we were trying to do. Couldn’t they see all the people our church had brought to Christ? Didn’t they understand that other churches didn’t really have good intentions when they didn’t preach on sin? We were the only beacon of light in that town. The only people willing to preach the Gospel.


Looking back, now, I can so clearly see what was happening.

The abused were being silenced.

If the dozens of families who “abandoned” my church had been able to tell their story, to speak truth, then the evil would have been exposed for what it was. If we had been allowed to communicate with those who had realized that the church-cult and its leader were horribly abusive, then it would have ended.

But, for all of these families, the only option was silence. Be quiet, don’t rock the boat, keep your head down, and just get out of Dodge as quick as you can. Talking about the abuse they suffered would have been received as “sowing division.” Everyone still in the grips of the cult would have shunned them– just like we did with Anna’s family, when her father tried to tell people what was happening. He didn’t even go about it directly– he just started trying to counterbalance some of the horrible ideas the leader was spouting from the pulpit.

But no. These people were creating discord. These people were liars. Once a family had left our church, the leader would get up and give an explanation for why they had gone– and it was always their sin. Their disobedience. Their refusal to honor God’s word and the Shepherd he had put over them to guide them. We were not to associate with them, lest we be tainted, and bring their evil spirit into our church.

It’s been about seven years since my family left. When we left, we were immediately followed by a vitriolic rampage. My father was weak– he was being manipulated by his “woman.” My mother was a whore. She was bent on destroying her family– see, they even let their daughter go to college, and he lifted up a letter I’d written to Christina trying to explain, directly to her, why we had left– so she’d have something beside her father’s lies. See, he said– see how college only corrupts and perverts a woman’s weak mind.

It’s been seven years, and I am still hearing this. Not necessarily about that church in particular. No– speaking about abuse in fundamentalism, why, can’t you see that all you’re doing is giving us a bad name? All you’re doing is talking about how much you hate the church– and don’t you see how damaging that is? Don’t you understand that you’re just driving people away from other good IFB churches? You’re putting out a spark of hope, Samantha. You need to forgive. You shouldn’t be angry. We need to love. Pointing out all these wrongs is just hurting churches that are trying to do the right thing. You’re not being very edifying, Samantha. You’re a bully.

First off– I am  trying to do my damn level best to give  IFB churches a bad name.” It is my sincerest hope that no one will ever attend an IFB church ever again and that the movement will die. Yes, there are IFB churches that aren’t horribly abusive like the church I grew up in– but fundamentalism is abusiveThe doctrines that make up the core of fundamentalist theology will lead to abuse in some form, whether mild or severe. Legalism, inequality, dualism, sexism, rape threats, and docetism are inherent qualities of fundamentalism that cannot be escaped, no matter how much “good” these churches claim to be doing. All the soup kitchens in the world cannot overcome the rampant abusiveness in fundamentalist doctrine.

I do not hate the church. My beliefs concerning theology don’t really stray that far from your typical Protestant orthodox. I’m leaning progressive, have some ideas that some might call “universalist” and I just think of as “consistent,” though, just to be honest. My point being: I love the church. It is because I love the church that I am compelled to speak truth. The ideas I talk about, while I can only speak to how they appear in fundamentalism, are not limited to right-wring crazies. Many of these ideas are considered central and moderate, by some. They are everywhere, and they saturate conservative evangelical culture. Left unchecked, these ideas will continue to cause untold damage. I am heartbroken by the countless stories of abuse, and because of love I must speak out. I believe that the church can overcome this. I believe that Christ’s message of reaching out to the oppressed, the abused, the marginalized, can be the message we cling to. I believe that the current culture of shame, silencing, violence, abuse, victim-blaming and slut-shaming can change. That’s why I write.

Being told to just “forgive” and how “forgiveness” is somehow supposed to equal my silence— if I were really forgiving, I wouldn’t be talking about it– deserves its own post. Thankfully, there are many others who have written that post for me, for now– although I might get to it.

So yes. I’m angry, and I’m here, and I will be here, trying to use my story to make the world a better place.


guarding your heart and victim blaming

[trigger warning for abuse and rape]

guard heart

Her.meneutics recently ran an article titled “Guard your Heart” doesn’t mean Christians can’t date. It was interesting, and I think worth reading. Didn’t say a whole lot that was particularly new to me, but it made me moderately happy to see thoughts like these running on a “mainstream” discussion outlet.

What really caught my attention was in the comments. The amazing Dianna Anderson pointed out a few statements in the article that had left me with a bad aftertaste I couldn’t identify, but tasted familiar. There are moments when I read something, and it just… feels off somehow, but I don’t know what it is. Dianna hit the nail on the head, beginning by quoting the statements that had just not felt right to me:

“‘A number of my female friends learned to guard their hearts from a parent after years of emotional abuse. Until they did so, they were wracked with shame and insecurity. Their wellsprings were not life giving, but toxic.‘ That’s pretty victim-blamey. So’s this: “Unwise dating relationships can have a similar effect. When a woman gives her heart too freely to men who might abuse it, she endangers the wellspring of her soul.” A woman being vulnerable is not the reason she gets hurt by other people. A woman gets hurt by other people BECAUSE OTHER PEOPLE CHOOSE TO HURT HER. End of.”

Two thumbs up to Dianna. I couldn’t have said it better. But, then there was this response, from Sharon Miller, the author of the article:

“Dianna, I am curious about how and where you locate personal agency. “Victim” is not an identity we should ever use to label a person’s identity. Even when a person is totally victimized by another, they have agency in how they respond to the victimization. Labeling women as complete and utter victims, to my mind, is the most agency-robbing thing we can do. What’s more, it leaves no space for acknowledging personal folly or sin. While some women are victimized due to no fault of their own, being hurt by a man does not, by definition, make a woman a victim.” [emphasis added]

Oy vey.

My reaction to Sharon’s comment was visceral, and immediate. I could instantly feel myself recoiling, and even now, as I’m writing this, I’m having to fight back nausea. A headache is fluttering around the edges of my vision. I don’t want to write about this– I don’t want to touch this with a ten-foot pole, but I have to. Not just for me, but for every woman I’ve ever known who has been damaged by teachings like this one.

First, let me start out by acknowledging that there can be power, for some, in adopting a “victory over the victim mentality.” I know, because it helped my mother who experienced a lifetime of abuse. Throwing off the “victim label,” as she puts it, allowed her to begin the healing process. She refused to be defined by what had happened to her, or limited by it. She didn’t want to see herself as a victim, because, to her, that gave her abuser more power over her, even though he was gone.  She was done with letting him control her thoughts and her actions, her emotions and her responses. She wanted no more of it.  Claiming “victory” allowed her to do that.

But, for me, being instructed by pastors and teachers and professors and counselors that I needed to take responsibility for my “personal folly and sin” left me broken, damaged, lost, and confused for three long years after my abusive relationship ended. I desperately wanted– and “desperate” isn’t a strong enough word, here– to do the right thing. I wanted to be the kind of girl I had been taught to be. I needed to acknowledge responsibility for my own actions, repent for my own sin. Of course, John* had sinned against me, he had abused me–but that didn’t mean that I was a perfect person. There were still things that I could have done better, lessons that I could learn from my mistakes.

That mentality nearly destroyed me.

For the first month after John had broken our engagement, I was determined that I could change. I could make myself a better person– someone more worthy of him. He was right — I hadn’t been submissive enough. I’d been stubborn. I’d had the sheer arrogance to tell him what he could and couldn’t do (like he couldn’t call me a “God damn fucking bitch,” or like telling him it would be a bad idea for him to quit his job, my trust fund isn’t supposed to pay for his college education). I was determined to mold myself into the woman he needed me to be– to take responsibility for what I had done wrong, to own it.

After it became clear to me that getting back with him would be a horrendously bad idea, I still tried to take responsibility for what I had done wrong. To this day, thinking back to some of the situations that I “allowed” myself to be in, that I spent three years “taking responsibility for” make me sick. I have literally vomited when I thought back to some of the things “I had done.” I can’t speak about some of these incidents without bordering on hysteria and panic, the shame is so powerful and overwhelming. Some of them, I will never be able to talk about without anyone. I . . . can’t. Reliving some of those memories are painful enough that they leave me feeling violated and crippled all over again. The mental gymnastics I go through to never have to think about those moments can be exhausting.

Two memories, in particular, are so horrific to me that they created a deep phobia I’d never had before the abuse. They happened in two different bathrooms, so to this day I have a deep-seated need to have an utterly immaculate, bleached from top-to-bottom, scrubbed-within-an-inch-of-my-life bathroom. If it’s not clean, it’s like an itch, or a weight dragging me down. Not having a clean bathroom creates an insidious feeling inside of me that I’m the dirty one.

Eventually I began having mild to severe panic attacks, more and more things were triggering me, and it took me a long time to see it but I was depressed– nearly suicidal, at several points. I couldn’t tell which way was up, and “owning my mistakes” and “taking responsibility for my sin and folly” were tearing me apart.

It was my husband, then my boyfriend, that first helped me see the truth. It was the first time he had ever seen me triggered. I’d told him, very briefly, that my ex had been abusive and had raped me. But I didn’t tell him the things I was struggling with, so the first time I was triggered and ended up in the middle of a full-blown panic attack, I expected him to abandon me. I expected him to see me for the broken, damaged woman I saw myself as and run away screaming.

Instead, he held me, smoothed my hair, let me shake and cry and rock until the panic subsided, and he was quiet. He didn’t say anything, just touched me and comforted me. When the panic attack was over, I started trying to explain what had happened, and I was using the only words I knew how to communicate– the words of victim-shaming. The words that placed fifty percent of the blame solidly on my shoulders. The words that took responsibility for my sin, that tried to do what I’d been taught was the “Christian” thing.

He would have none of it. He stopped me in the middle of a sentence, made me look him square in the eye, and he said these words:

This was not your fault.

I protested. I denied it. I told him, well, of course, not everything was my fault, but there was still things that happened that I was to blame. He stopped me– again, gently taking my chin in his hand and wiping my tears away.

No. This is Not. Your. Fault. You have nothing to be ashamed of. 

I couldn’t accept the truth in that. I couldn’t see it– I had been so completely blinded by the Christian rhetoric of victim-shaming that I was trapped into a mentality that told me it was sin, that I was a sinner and therefore culpable. But my husband took me into his arms and told me, simply, that I was not responsible for what had happened to me. That John had taken some of my strongest qualities– my loyalty, my stubbornness, my dedication, my commitment, my inability to surrender or give up– he had taken all of those things and used them against me.

John had sought to control, dominate, and abuse– and the abuse kept me living in fear. The choices I had made were not really choices at all– telling myself that I should have kept fighting, even after John had torn a gash in my knee with his watch and put his hand over my throat, that it was a choice to submit to him– ignored the very real threat I was under. He had me so mentally twisted and living in so much fear that doing something out of self-preservation was not a “choice” I made. It was not “folly.”

My healing began when I realized that I was a victim of abuse. That there was absolutely nothing that I needed to “take responsibility for.” That I, in fact, did NOT have the “agency in how I responded” to the abuse.

The abuse I suffered was not some perverted form of heavenly punishment for my sin. The shame and guilt were not the result of my conscience, or the “pricking of the Holy Spirit”– they were caused by damaging indoctrination I’d been put through that told me from ever single angle– from modesty and purity teachings down the line to complementarian rhetoric— that being a woman makes me responsible for any abuse directed toward me.

It was not my fault, and it’s not your fault either.


fundamentalist men thought they owned me

My interactions with boys until I was about ten are pretty much hysterical. They are some of the funniest stories I tell about growing up, and I cackle and giggle my way through them. There’s the boy who gave me his mother’s wedding ring on the bus. I was so confused about what had just happened– why would he do that? I showed the ring to my mother and she about had a fit. Long story short, we found the boy’s mother and returned the ring– and it was like the Parable of the Lost Coin going down in that house.

Then there was the random boy who walked up to me in kindergarten and pompously declared that we had “broken up.” Bewildered, I responded with “ok, but I don’t remember your name.” I think he was trying to impress another girl in our class.

My first five-year-old crush ended in violence. We were playing with our blocks, me creating a lopsided pyramid of sorts, and him carefully stacking one block on top of each other. At one point he started crying, I think, drawing the attention of the teacher’s aide. He complained that my tower was taller than his, and that was so not fair. The aide pulled me aside and told me to not be such a show-off. I nodded, then went back and slapped him.

There were the three boys who lined up after church one day when I was nine, and told me that I had to pick one of them to like, because all three liked me but they weren’t going to let that damage their friendship. I solved that particular problem by telling them they were all gross, and I didn’t like any of them. (Seriously– one boy saved up all his spit during church and then bolted out of church the second the service was over to get rid of it, boy #2 had shoved a scorpion down my dress, and boy #3 had made fun of me in Sunday school for disagreeing with him).

When I was thirteen, Jacob* appeared. I tried to be his friend, as his family had recently joined the church and his status as a public schooled was not being very well received by all the homeschool kids at our church. He was more awkward then we were, shy, and uncomfortable. He did not make friends easily, but talking to complete strangers had never bothered me. I kept it up for a few years, even though we spent most of our conversations fighting over the most ridiculous things. At one point, we ended up in an argument over whether or not a road that connected both of our neighborhoods ran north and south or east and west. This argument lasted for a good, solid fifteen minutes. We fought like cats and dogs about everything.

Then, when I was about fifteen, Jacob confessed that he still felt very lonely at our church, and he asked me if I liked him. “Sure,” I said. “I like you.”

It didn’t really occur to me that he was asking me if I liked him. I’m rather obtuse, when it comes to these things. He started talking about how he was almost a year –11 months, 12 days, to be exact — older than me, and how that was a good thing. His commentary befuddled me, but it frequently did that, so I didn’t make anything of it.

Six months later, Jacob started treating me like I was his. I was confused by this, as it looked like he was trying to make it seem that we were together, and we were not. He had never asked me out, had never even come close to broaching anything like that. He had never even approached my father, as would have been expected as a first step. But, after a “Fall Fellowship” we had out at one of the member’s hay farm, and he had clearly pissed on my leg in front of the boys who’d come from other churches, I asked him what was going on.

He told me that he had gone to the pastor of our church and asked him for permission to marry me. And the man had given it– as well as a promise that he would groom Jacob to be the pastor of the church someday. Apparently, the pastor thought I’d make an “excellent pastor’s wife someday, if she recognizes her place as a woman.”

What the WHAT?!


Needless to say, that’s still my reaction when I think about this encounter. I get confused, still– and I get angry. Even when I first found out about it I was pissed.  You’re batshit insane if you think I’m going to be ok with that. Obviously, our tenuous friendship ended with me furiously yelling at him to never speak to me again. A difficult demand, considering there were six people in our church who were close to the same age, and he and I were the only ones who weren’t related. But, I enforced it by very haughtily flouncing away, Anne of Green Gables–style, whenever he approached.

The underlying philosophy that made this situation for Jacob and the pastor that church, however, is one that is a basic tenet in Christian patriarchy:

women are not capable of making decisions.

This basic assumption drives nearly everything else that gets discussed regarding gender roles and women in patriocentric and fundamentalist circles. There are a host of reasons for why they argue for this, and most of them go all the way back to Victorian oppression. To those who are gung-ho patriocentric, Victorian society was the crowning moment of man. Everything was better back then– the clothes, the food, the education system, and especially marriage. Women were always keepers-at-home, and it was an admirable– nay, necessary–goal for a young woman to be “accomplished” in all the home-making arts. I remember our church hosting “Old Fashioned Days” when we would all dress up like characters from Little House on the Prairie and go around extolling all the virtues from a time gone by. My friends all kept “hope chests,” to prepare for their marriage one day.

However, women were supposed to ignore the fact that, in Victorian society, they were property. They had no voice– in fact, a woman being able to voice her opinion was an even more ridiculous notion than racial equality. A woman in Christian patriarchy is still little more than property. She is inferior to men in every way– in fact, she is so inferior, that supposedly the most biblical form of marriage is one where a woman can’t even be held responsible for her decisions. That is, if she’s allowed by her husband to make any– the husband, after all, is the one who make the ultimate decision. Women are emotional, not rational. You can’t trust her to make the most wise decision, as she’ll be fueled only by her matronly, nurturing instincts. Our emotions are so volatile, too– we’re basically incapable of controlling them. In fact, to be safe, women should surrender every area of their life to first, their father, and then their husband. Isn’t it just so nice not to have to worry about anything, dear? Just keep submitting, dear, and you’ll be fine. God will honor your submission, even if your husband is evil.

And I believed all this, once. To my core I believed it– I could not trust myself to make decisions. I laughed about this gnawing fear, jokingly telling people that I just wanted my father to “pick someone for me,” and that I honestly didn’t mind the concept of an arranged marriage. After all, the one time I had “fallen in love” had been a horrendous mistake that left me “damaged goods” for any other man. I couldn’t escape the fear, though, that I was, by nature, untrustworthy. That I could not trust my mind, or my instincts, or my emotions. My gender rendered me mute.

And then, one day, I met someone.

He asked me if he could write me letters– and we wrote for months and months, and I asked him things, asked him what he felt and thought and believed. And I fell in love– fell in love so quickly it frightened me. I was doing it again– thinking I could make a decision this monumental. Eventually, he kissed me, and told me that he loved me, and that he’d be crazy to ever let me go. I held onto him as tightly as I could, and promised myself that I’d never lose the certainty I felt in that moment.

I called my father to tell him what had happened to me– that I had fallen in love, and I was happy, and I was so utterly sure that my parents would love him, and I couldn’t wait for them to meet him. And then, suddenly, we were arguing, because how could I trust you to make this decision. Look at what happened when you thought you could this before. Look at all the pain you caused yourself when you thought you’d found someone. History has proven that you’re not capable of making this decision, Samantha. You have a track record. 

And, for a moment, all the certainty was gone. I had gone outside my father’s approval. I hadn’t waited for his permission– no one had even bothered to ask him for it. I had made my parents superfluous, like they didn’t even matter, and just gone off, willy-nilly, thinking I could do it all by myself. How rebellious was I being? I should be ashamed of myself.

But in another flash, all that doubt flew away. No–no, I refused to go back there. I knew myself– I had spent the last two years discovering who I was, and I was not about to let all of that go to some ghost from my past telling me that I’m the weaker vessel, the woman who was first deceived. I didn’t need my decisions rubber-stamped. Even if it was a mistake, it was my mistake, and I would own it.

Turns out my parents did love him. My mother helped him plan the proposal, and my father walked me down the aisle. Turns out– I was capable of making up my own mind. And when my husband asked me to marry him– he was asking me, and not “me” plus some patriarchal authority system. And I said yes, all on my own.

Photo by Katie Tegtmeyer

my own feminist awakening

In order to finish my grad school application, I had to take one more English class, and I chose to take American Women Writers from an online university, as it seemed the most interesting– the literary canon at my undergrad was dominated, nearly exclusively, by WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant– I’d never heard this term until grad school). The only time I remember reading anything by a female author was an excerpt from Uncle Tom’s Cabin and “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor for my American Literature class, and Pride and Prejudice and Middlemarch by George Elliot for British Novel. Everything else I read was written by men– even in my English Literature class, as we completely passed over any of the female Romantic and Victorian writers– and didn’t cover post-modernism at all, except for T. S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men, as he wrote that post-conversion and was acceptable. I was totally unaware of the sometimes revolutionary achievements of women in literature, and the first time I heard references to women writers was in the context of Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti — and the only thing she could say to describe it was that it was a “disgusting, horrible little piece and you should be glad I didn’t make you read it.”

I didn’t even realize that this was a gaping hole in my education– that eliminating the feminist writers after 1850 was a deliberate, universal choice made by my university’s professors. I had no real idea the lengths they went to in order to nearly deify the men in the canon. Charles Dickens and Mark Twain were the best, most important writers in English and American literature– and that’s all anyone need know. We even avoided male authors who wrote somewhat feminist views into their writing, like Oscar Wilde. Lolita was treated as barely more than erotic fiction. We never discussed the systematic oppression of women in Victorian England– not even when we read The Mayor of Casterbridge and the main character sells his wife in the opening chapter. My professor made a brief comment on how selling your wife was a common legal practice, and then she moved on.

Even though I wasn’t aware of this gap, I still somehow felt the lack, and my curiosity compelled me to take a class on women writers.

I hated it.

It was one of the most miserable experiences I’d ever had.

I hated most of the books we were required to read. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath repulsed me– Esther’s character was so… so blind. Why wasn’t she grateful for all those amazing opportunities that just landed in her lap? I grew angry with the characters in The Joy Luck Club, as every single one of those daughters spent the entire book disrespecting their mothers. The events in Sethe’s life of Beloved shocked and horrified me. How could she possibly do that to her child? Don’t even get me started on The Poisonwood Bible (stupid book making Christians look bad).

But no book infuriated me more than The Awakening by Kate Chopin. I had trouble even reading it through until the end, and when I reached the final scene when Edna begins swimming, I threw it down in sheer disgust. Her character and all of the events in the plot disgusted me. Edna Pontellier was the absolute worst character I’d even encountered in literature. I despised her.

I also didn’t really like any of the other characters in the book, but the only character I could stand at all was Léonce, Edna’s husband. He could still be maddeningly difficult, but I could at least sympathize with him.

So you can imagine my dismay when most of the postings on the online discussion board were about how much my classmates disliked Léonce. I had trouble taking that in. They liked Edna? How in the world could anyone like that insufferable woman! So, I wrote this:

It was difficult to read about these characters because I reacted so viscerally.  I was drawn to Léonce Pontellier for mostly negative reasons—I liked him because I did not like anyone else. Edna was a selfish, childish, petulant, ego-centric person before her “awakening” and that transformation only exacerbated serious character deficiencies. Adele forces her opinion on other people. Mademoiselle Reisz encourages self-absorption and illicit sin. Robert is a manipulative cad. Léonce is the only central character that acts with morals, principle, character, and is also the only person to have the true motivation of love.

Although he was a man of his time, and hence a bit controlling with a great many expectations, none of those expectations were out or proportion or overly demanding. He is devoted to his wife—he sends her chocolates when he is away, and the night that she refuses to accompany him to bed, he sits with her. When he does express concern over Edna’s complete disregard of responsibility, he does it reasonably. He doesn’t care if she decides not to receive callers— he just asks that she offer an explanation. He doesn’t mind if she pursues art—but he does mind the complete neglect of the household and the children. He tries to keep her focused on the value of her family and her friends. After he consults the doctor, he does his best to “let her alone,” hoping that Edna will come to her senses and see how much he loves her. Not without his own faults and shortcomings, he does his best in a difficult situation. Even after his wife tells him that weddings are a sham and to “go away, you bother me,” he tries to do what is right by her. Maybe if Edna had been mature enough to recognize that she possessed the heart of an honorable man she might have responded differently.


Holy…. mackerel was I BLIND.

Son of a biscuit.

If you’re familiar with patriocentric and complementarian rhetoric, you should easily be able to see how it came spewing out of me, here.

I’ve since read the book again. I’ve read all of these books again, recently.

Esther was a woman born into a society with mountainous expectations and a complete disregard for her suffering.

The Chinese daughters in The Joy Luck Club were caught between two worlds, two cultures, and struggling to make sense of their reality– to love and honor their mothers, and yet still be their own person.

Sethe knew her daughter faced a lifetime of horror, abuse, deprivation, and shame– and in an act of loving desperation tried to save her.

The Price daughters grew up in a household of tyranny and oppression, but still managed to escape and find fulfillment.

And Edna . . . oh, Edna . . .

Edna was me.

Edna Pontellier is every daughter affected by the patriocentric movement. She is every woman who has been told, her entire life, that she can have only one possible purpose, and that purpose is in being the perfect wife and mother. She is every little girl who grows up comfortable and familiar with the lies of people like the Vision Forum who tell us that Victorian society was the brightest moment of human development. She is every woman who has been trapped, controlled, oppressed, and abused by a system that exalts men and tells husbands to “expect their due.”

She was me when I refused to leave my abusive fiancé, when I accepted the curses and the shame he heaped on me. She was me every time I was put down from the pulpit, every time I was told my existence, my body, did not belong to me, that I was the property of some faceless, future man.

Fundamentalism and Christian patriarchy’s worst nightmare is that a woman could realize that she is independent, that she is valuable, that she is a person with wants and wishes and dreams all of her own.

Since my first reading of The Awakening, I’ve had my own. I’ve been lost in life and beauty, overcome and transformed by ethereal powers, drawn, pulled, and caressed by an ocean of new ideas, new thoughts. I can proclaim, with all my heart, that I am woman, hear me roar.

Photo by Tracy

not just in Pakistan: Christians don’t believe in educating women

Like most kids, “what I wanted to be when I grew up” changed . . . oh, every six months, maybe? My interests ran the gamut– I wanted to be a vulcanologist. Then a large-animal veterinarian. A marine biologist– no, a marine botanist; algae is so cool! I wanted to be a medical researcher. Wait, a nutritionist. Oh, wow– quantum physics is fascinating.

Then, something interesting happened. And, by “interesting,” I mean “awful.” I loved, loved math until I hit higher mathematics in high school. In truth, I loved everything about school. There was a period in middle school when I got insanely bored, so my mom’s solution was to skip a grade. I skipped sixth grade completely, and I skipped sixth and seventh grade in math. Why? Because I was good at it.

And then I had a conversation with my friend, the pastor’s daughter. I was enthusiastic about geometry and algebra, and I was having a one-sided, yet still quite animated discussion, about the Greek philosophers. She rolled her eyes at me, made a dismissive motion with her hand, and told me that the Greek philosophers were a bunch of pagans who could never really understand the world because they didn’t “have God,” and didn’t I know that girls were supposed to hate math?

Why no . . . no, I didn’t.

I told my Sunday school teacher I wanted to be an astrophysicist– and he asked me how I expected to have a job and be a mother at the same time? Well, maybe I could just do it before I had kids. Then I could stay at home.

“So, you’re going to spend all of that money going to college and then never use it?”

I . . . guess not. That does seem kinda silly, a woman, going to college, ha-ha.

When I did, eventually, go to my radically conservative fundamentalist college, I was a music major.

Because “math” became useless to me. Because I was good at playing the piano, and why didn’t I just do that? Then you could go to college, if you really wanted to do that, I don’t understand why you just don’t stay home, but at least, this way, you could be a stay-at-home-mom and teach piano. Wouldn’t even have to leave the house, even. Children could come to you.

I started off as a piano performance major. When they introduced the piano pedagogy major, nearly everyone I knew pressured me toward that degree track. Because it was designed to create piano teachers– and piano performance is really only trying to get you to be a concert pianist, and why would you need that? You’d have to leave home.

At the end of every year in the music program, you are evaluated based on your progress. If they think you can’t hack it as a piano performance major, you’re told to go into another track– church music, piano pedagogy, music education, or choral conducting. My freshman evaluation was coming up, and I knew I was going to fail it. I wasn’t a spectacularly good pianist, and I knew it. So, I had to consider my options. Enter piano pedagogy, like everyone wanted?

I chose music education.

I explained this to my mother as a “calling,” an explanation that turned out to be frustrating later when I decided I definitely hated the very idea of teaching music to a room full of 13-year-olds holding things capable of making hideous noises. But, it was convenient at the time. I even had a neat little story of how I was vacuuming my room one day and I just knew, like a voice from heaven, that I was supposed to be in music education. It was just so clear.

It had nothing to do with the fact that the thought of caving to all those people in my life and choosing to be a good little stay-at-home-piano-teacher was absolutely repugnant. Nothing at all.

By my junior year, during one of those rare occasions when I consented to going to church with my parents, I ran into Mrs. B. She was an aeronautical engineer that had worked at NASA during the 70s. She had also been the woman to tell me one morning when we were both “keeping nursery,” in no uncertain terms, that I was smart, and that I needed to go to college.

She asked me how college was going, and I told her that I had changed majors, that I was considering graduate school.

She was thrilled.

She was the only person that had ever become happy when I told them I wanted to pursue higher education. She told me that I could be anything that I wanted to be, and to “never give up on my brain,” as she put it.

Mrs. B doesn’t know it, but her encouragement probably saved my life two years later.


sexism in Christian romance novels

If you haven’t read Who Brings Forth the Wind by Lori Wick, thank your lucky stars.

Done thanking them?


I, unfortunately, have read this book . . . many much more times than I would like to admit. Growing up IFB, your reading choices are pretty limited. Grace Livingston Hill and Elsie Dinsmore top most lists, and nearly every IFB teenager girl I met had a copy of Stepping Heavenward in her purse. My mother was slightly more liberal, and I was allowed to read Lori Wick, Lauraine Snelling, and Janette Oke.

I started to refuse reading this *ahem* tripe after I discovered actual literature– including, but not limited to, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde . . . and Orson Scott Card, Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick . . . (I might maybe be a huge geek).

However, I was pretty familiar with Lori Wick’s Kensington Chronicles, including the above. The essentials of the plot are as follows:

Innocent, naive country virgin goes to London for the Season.
Bitter, trust-issues, oppressive and controlling Duke wants her to be his mistress.
She says no, she’ll only be an honest woman.
They get married.
Bitter, trust-issues Duke “catches” her in the arms of another man.
He sends his now-pregnant-but-she-has-no-idea wife away.
She gets saved.
They are re-united.
Years and years and many children and grandchildren later, he gets saved, too.

Follow? Ok. Good.

The question that most of the book centers around lies in the simple question: how does the Duke get saved?

The answer, my friends, is that she is good, obedient, submissive wife, and through her adoring flexibility and compassion, wins his heart. He never would have gotten saved if she had done things like stand up for herself, or her children, and told her abusive husband to go screw himself. No, she was sweet, and loving, and kind, and considerate, and only because of that was he able to understand the Love of God and Come to a Saving Knowledge of Jesus Christ.


One of the most problematic elements, I believe, facing modern conservative evangelicalism is that sexism is so horribly, horribly rampant. It completely saturates nearly everything it touches. The church I attended with my parents for three years after we left the IFB movement was not that much different when it comes to sexism. Women are ignored, regardless of ability, in favor of men filling the same role.

A woman can do it better? No, she can’t! She’s not a man! So, even if she could do it better, no one would follow or trust her, and her leadership would be ineffectual and all her efforts would be fruitless. If a man did it, even poorly, at least he could be respected and people would listen to him.

I attended a Sunday school class that was only women, and the pastor’s wife stood up and explained to us that it was okay that a woman would be speaking, because they’re only women present. Nothing to worry about here, she “joked.”

The associate pastor’s wife stood up and gave a “lesson” on how not “submitting” to your husband is a sin. Her anecdote was an encounter she had with her husband, who asked her where an item he’d lost was. She was doing the dishes. She told him she didn’t know, and why didn’t he look for it, she was busy. Oh, my word, how she sinnnnnned against her husband. She felt so guilty that she immediately dropped what was doing and went and found it for him. Because good wives submit to their husbands. Good wives are “helpmeets.” Good wives drop anything they are doing, always, because they are there to help support their husband, and how can he go and be a Great Christian Leader if he’s distracted by looking for his socks?


There’s been a lot of focus recently, on “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood.”

And I’m puzzled because, frankly, I don’t really see any such thing in the Bible.

Can someone please show me where the “Fruit of the Spirit for Men” and the “Fruit of the Spirit for Women” is, because I’ve looked, and I can’t find it. But, supposedly, it’s there.

What I do find are universal calls to service, to action, to love. There’s no difference between a good Christian man and a good Christian woman. We’re both told to seek love, joy, peace, patience, long-suffering, temperance, forgiveness, compassion. In Christ, there is no male nor female. Dividing up all these aspects of Christianity into “manly virtues” and “feminine virtues” is such a load of chickenshit. Follow Christ, and being a good man, or woman, will come.

Photo by Sela Yair