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Social Issues

children can’t be their own best friend, actually

Well, it’s happened. I’ve seen something wrong enough, often enough, to want to write a post about it. I don’t think I’ve written a “reaction post” or a “hot take” in perhaps years. At this point, when John Piper or Tim Keller or Wayne Grudem or Douglas Wilson or the Babylon Bee or the Transformed Wife or or  or or says something asinine and ridiculous, I can just ignore it. Years ago, I couldn’t let their awfulness just be out there, uncorrected. The horror.

But, there’s a Facebook post floating around that has shown up in my news feed half a dozen times, from sources I respect, in communities I engage in or consider myself a part of. I understand why: for those of us engaging with it on a surface level and in good faith, with our typical set of assumptions (such as “children are people and we should meet their needs”), it seems innocuous enough, but it’s not. And it’s going to take more than a Facebook comment that I type out on my phone to respond adequately and thoroughly enough to satisfy me.

I want to note before I begin that basically every other homeschooling alumni who has seen this post in my circles has pointed out what are — to us glaring and obvious red flags. We have the lived experience to see through it for what it actually is.

The following has been shared by Parenting Forward, Raising Children Unfundamentalist, Untigering, and other progressive and child-oriented pages and groups. It was written by Sterna Suissa, a parenting coach who describes her framework as “parenting through emotional connection.”

Here’s the text of her original Instagram post:

It’s interesting how society has us worried about our young children needing friends. Parents feel pressure to place their kids in daycare or have constant playdates so that kids are always socializing with kids of the same age. By the time a child is a teen, the worry flips, parents worry that their teenagers only want to be with their friends.

Instead of being so worried about a lack of social interactions for our child, let’s be concerned with our child individualizing themselves and becoming their own best friend. This sets the foundation for healthy socializing.

So many of us don’t lack social skills & social interactions, what we lack is being our own best friend. Loving ourselves as is, knowing ourselves, being okay with being our own beautiful selves.

The Instagram images were accompanied by the following caption:

The first question I get when I share that I homeschool 3 of my kids is

“Well, how do they socialize?”

I then answer, “My hopes are that my children become their own best friend!”

That normally gets the person thinking. [thoughtful emoji]

I’m not too worried about their social life right now. By the time a child is a teenager they love to socialize & have so many opportunities to form friendships. The foundation for healthy socializing takes place when our child forms a relationship with us & with their own beautiful self.

How many of us lacked socializing growing up or did we lack being our own best friend? How many of us are pressured to have our young children form friendships? We feel guilty if our child isn’t socializing, believing that this is a horrible thing.

Just.

Heavy sigh.

I want to be respectful of Sterna, whose broader style and messaging seem to be things I, by and large, appear to agree with. Looking over her other Instagram posts, most seem fine and I wouldn’t quibble with her over small points of disagreement. There’s one other recent post that the framing of it makes me go hmmmm (this one, about children being “in charge of you”), but generally speaking I think she’s alright.

However, this particular post, even though she comments later that she’s trying to articulate a principle from attachment theory (children with strong, healthy attachments to caregivers have the security needed to actualize), in my opinion massively conflicts with her general principles because it is, at its most essential, far right fundamentalist homeschooling propaganda.

This is a problem I and my colleagues encounter often in our work at the Coalition for Responsible Home Education. There are a lot of well-meaning homeschooling parents out there who don’t even realize that the talking points they’re parroting come from an ideology they’d probably find abhorrent– an ideology firmly committed to Dominionism, establishing a theocracy in the US, and the utter disregard for children’s rights, welfare, appropriate development, or safety. The group pushing ideas like “socializing isn’t that important, don’t worry about it,” are fighting tooth and nail for a country where they can have complete and total control over children to do literally anything they want— including sex trafficking, child labor violations, and torture. I’m not kidding, and I’m not exaggerating– and most importantly, they’ve generally succeeded in accomplishing all of that.

Oh, but that’s a genetic fallacy, right? Just because the source of this idea is from that group doesn’t make it automatically bad. Broken clocks, etc. What’s so wrong with a child being their “own best friend”?

***

To analyze this post, I think it’s important to highlight how the images being shared are in response to a particular question: “Well, how do your homeschooled children socialize?” and Sterna’s response is “I’m not worried about it.” That, at its core, is why I have a problem with what she’s saying here. Regardless of how people have been interpreting her words in good faith, this post is not fundamentally about communicating the principles of attachment theory or advocating for well-actualized, emotionally healthy children (although I believe Sterna generally does advocate for those things). This post is a justification for dismissing concerns about a homeschooled child’s developing social needs.

Homeschooling parents usually crib from the same set of arguments:

  • homeschooled children socialize with “people of all ages,” which is actually better than principally associating with similarly-aged peers, really.
  • homeschooled children socialize in more organic, varied ways, which of course is better than what’s possible in a “formal schooling environment.”
  • homeschooled children have access to co-ops and churches and kids in the neighborhood, they’re constantly doing activities out and about in their town, it’s just laughable that anyone could be concerned that they might not be getting enough social interaction, tra la la.

so it’s actually somewhat disturbing to me how Sterna’s come up with a new one– one drawn from supposedly more progressive frameworks like attachment theory. You can neglect your child’s social needs as long as, y’know, they’re well-actualized! Don’t worry about it! They can be their own best friend! From the response in the comment section everywhere I’ve seen it, boy howdy are homeschooling parents gloaming onto this one, partially because of its novelty and partially because of how it, on the surface, sounds like it aligns with their more progressive child development principles.

Sterna has done here what parental rights extremists have been doing for decades: she’s conflated “socialization” with “having a social life.” When someone asks “how will a homeschooled child socialize?” they’re not really asking “but how will they make friends?” or “but how do you see other people if you’re at home most of the time?” What most people are trying to ask, I believe, is “how does a homeschooled child learn all the spoken and unspoken rules/practices/expectations of their culture? Seems like that could be somewhat difficult to do in a homeschool setting.” And guess what: they’re right to have the impulse to ask that question, because it is hard, and homeschooling parents do have to be deliberate about overcoming this obstacle.* It doesn’t mean we all have to adhere to all our cultural “rules,” but we should still know what they are. But Sterna does what nearly every single homeschooling parent I’ve ever seen does: she makes a question about culture and systems into a question about individual relationships. And she’s done so in a particularly disturbing way: friends? who needs friends, really, when a healthily attached, well-actualized child is their own best friend!

Another component I want to highlight is something many people seem to forget: she uses the bifurcation of “young child” and “teenager” a lot in her work, but the context of this post can be interpreted to mean “toddler and preschooler” when she says “young child” because of the references to “play dates” and “daycare.” For most children, even if a parent doesn’t use daycare or arrange play dates, they’ll eventually access a traditional school environment. This is not true for homeschooled children. Homeschooling parents can’t outsource getting their kids a social life to school, or school activities when they hit 5, 6 years old. For homeschooled children, if their parents don’t help them meet their social needs, those needs are never met.

There’s nothing wrong with children developing their own strong sense of self, of having strong, healthy attachments to caregivers, of being able to enjoy their own company and tolerate being alone or even brief stints of loneliness. Those are all goals I have for my own child. But there is a distinct difference between helping your child have a healthy internal life and rationalizing and justifying your desire to abandon their social needs and social development. It actually is a “horrible thing” for a child not to learn how to navigate their culture or make intimate connections with their peers. If you’re a homeschooling parent, specifically, you absolutely should “feel guilty” if your child doesn’t have friends, and isn’t learning to find themselves in their own culture. As their parent and sole educator, it is your responsibility to make sure they are safe, fed, healthy, and developing appropriately mentally, socially, physically, and emotionally.

Including by helping them find, make, and maintain friendships.

*I’ve written in more detail about homeschooling and socialization before.

Photography by Marcelo de Oliveira
Social Issues

children have the right to an education

I’ve been the Government Relations Director at the Coalition for Responsible Home Education the past few legislative sessions. While I’ve mentioned my work at CRHE off and on over the years, it’s not something I ever really dig into much– mostly because if you’re not me it’s probably not that interesting a thing to talk about. Mostly, it’s having the same conversations with different people over and over again.

It hit me a few mornings ago how repetitive huge sections of my day job are to me. Recently, I’ve been speaking with a lobbyist who is very concerned about legislation that’s come up in her state, and she asked me a question that– to me– had a very rote answer. “Parents should have the choice how to educate their children, not whether to educate them,” I said. It’s a sentiment I’ve expressed … many times, hence the pithiness, the sound-bite quality to it. Because I’ve said it so often, it feels incredibly obvious. But often when I say this, the reaction reminds me how it’s not obvious to others. Today, I heard testimony from a woman whose parents did not educate her because she’s a girl and how much education do you need to cook and make babies … and then I watched the committee not just dismiss her but label her experience a “non sequitur” and her testimony a “harangue.” “It’s just balderdash,” one senator argued … about a bill that strips out compulsory education for homeschooled students.

***

My book club has been watching The Good Place and using each episode as fertile ground for discussing ethics, religious concepts, epistemology, spirituality, etc. It’s been an amazing conversation over the last year (we meet virtually) and I highly recommend this. Yesterday was (spoilers) the episode were Michael freaks out and Eleanor has to take over as “Architect.” As we discussed it, I talked about how much I related to Michael in my work.

My job is hard, and thankless, and unpaid. Often it feels brutally Sisyphean. Testifying in hearings like the one I was in this morning is worse than screaming into the void, and the powerlessness … well my therapist has correctly identified I have a hard time dealing with feeling helpless. Except I have to try, because the stakes are often if I don’t try children are tortured and murdered without anyone attempting to stop it. It’s not stakes quite on the level of every single soul in the entire universe going to The Bad Place, but honestly, pretty close.

And I have no Eleanor. If I quit … that’s it. No one is taking my place.

I’m in a position where I can afford to do this job unpaid, and I’m incredibly thankful I can fight for homeschooled children to be safe and adequately educated. It’s a privilege and an honor, but it’s also just, frankly, a lot. I don’t know if I can keep doing this, but I also know that if I quit it’s not like I’m going to stop paying attention to news stories like the Wolfthal family in Florida, or stop knowing what I know about how often abusers pull their kids out of school in order to torture them and get away with it (hint: it is often).

***

Today, in therapy, we were discussing my job and my Very Big Feelings about it (there’s this bill that is particularly egregious this year, and its proponents are pulling out every trick in the book and fighting extremely dirty), and she asked me what my obstacles usually are.

“Well, usually it goes like so:

  1. A child is tortured and murdered in agonizing, horrifying ways.
  2. People are shocked and ask “how could this happen?” Answer: lax homeschooling statutes abusers can exploit to hide their victims and literally get away with murder.
  3. Someone decides “we have to do something. Children shouldn’t be tortured and murdered.”
  4. The homeschool lobby comes crawling out of the woodwork in numbers never before seen by most legislators in a “shock and awe” campaign.
  5. It works. Legislators or committees or caucuses panic and they table the bill.
  6. A child is tortured and murdered in agonizing, horrifying ways, somewhere else.
  7. Rinse, repeat.”

But surely someone must be working on this, my therapist insisted. Except … no, they’re not. Most child welfare advocates avoid homeschooling with a ten foot pole. To them (and I get this, to an extent), homeschoolers are only 3-4% of the population. If they’re trying to protect children from abuse, it’s better to actually pass a bill that protects 96% of the population instead of trying to protect 100% and failing. CRHE is the only organization that prioritizes the voices and needs of homeschooled childrenand we have no money and no powerful friends.

Unlike others, we haven’t been members of ALEC (the conglomerate that actually writes pretty much every Republican piece of legislation) for decades. Unlike others, we haven’t spent every day since our inception actively traumatizing every member in our community so badly that we can activate their trigger response and weaponize it any time we need it. We’re not writing reports on Presidential commissions, or hosting conferences where presidential hopefuls have to attend, or getting money from some of the most powerful politicians, schools, law firms, and churches in the country.

We have a bunch of unpaid staff and volunteers who were homeschooled ourselves and have somehow lucked into not having to worry about feeding ourselves and putting a roof over our heads and a budget that can’t even cover one part-time person at minimum wage. And not just that, but there are a lot of homeschool graduates out there who could leverage their power, their social capitol, their position, to help us … but they won’t. Because they know from experience exactly how scary it is to face the brunt of this particular community’s viciousness.

***

This has been Raw Honest Time with Samantha.

Children have the right to an education.

Such a simple, simple truth … and yet right now, it seems impossible to make that truth a reality.

Photography by Got Credit
Social Issues

notes from the bleak midwinter

Hi.

It’s been almost exactly a year since my last post, when I announced my pregnancy. I didn’t know a year ago how hard the intervening twelve months were going to be– which feels like such a trite thing to say nowadays. My last post was in The Before Times, When Times Were Precedented, and golly has there been … EVENTS. Even just the last week has offered up a bevy of issues that I would have ordinarily been jumping on– Ravi Zacharias, Rush Limbaugh, Ray Fisher and Charisma Carpenter. I do, indeed, have Thoughts on this miasmic swirl of misogyny, religion, politics, and geek culture …

but I’m also tired, as I’m sure are all of you. There’s just too much. And recently, it’s been easy to convince myself that I don’t have anything of value to add, that what I could say is already being said by better, smarter, and more famous people with wider audiences that I could never hope to reach.

Apparently this is a symptom of depression says my therapist. It’s February, so that at least tracks.

However, I did write an introduction to my book yesterday– a memoir following my journey from KJV-onlyism to whatever I think about the Bible now, a book I’m still in love with and yet increasingly heretical about. I’m working with legislators and departments around the country on how to better ensure the wellbeing and success of homeschooled children. On top of all that I’m a mom to a six-month-old who is not yet sleeping for any stretch longer than a couple hours. (How does she do it? My partner’s siblings live with us at the moment, so I have live-in baby sitters; my partner also works from home. I am so incredibly blessed and it is amazing.)

I opened up my “draft ideas” doc today, and it is indeed still filled with a ton of things I want to talk about. I want to get back into the swing of writing as a habit. I want to reconnect with an audience, as I realized recently that many of my casual-yet-fulfilling social interactions were with my readers in my comment section. Y’all feel like coworkers, and my comment section a water cooler. I want to stop feeling like my life is in a holding pattern, and even though the pandemic is ongoing and I am staying the fork inside my house, I want to see how my life from Before the Pandemic and Before the Baby works for me now.

***

So. Let me crack my knuckles and see how this feels.

I wanna talk about Rush Limbaugh because oh dang. Some of the emotions I’ve felt: relief– the world is genuinely a better place without him it. Glee– it’s legit hilarious he died of lung cancer. Couldn’t have happened to a more apropos person. There’s echoes of grief here, too– not for him, but for every single person I know who was incredibly damaged by his ubiquitous presence in their childhood. I’m grieving for all the people who have lost their parents to Qanon and other far-right conspiracy theories he sucked them into. I’m grieving for all the queer kids who grew up encountering his cruelty on a daily basis, having it constantly confirmed how much our families would hate us if they only knew who we are.

After all that comes resignation and dread. Rush is dead, but the people who listened to him every day are still alive. Trump is no longer the president, but Congress is full of people who want to continue hollowing out our democracy in his stead. All the people who voted for him are still my neighbors and family members, and the movements he emboldened– the ones I was groomed to be a part of– are not going anywhere. Limbaugh’s legacy is with us, and I’m sure his radio show will still be in syndication for many years.

Maybe it’s the depression talking here but that is bleak.

The Pandemic we’re all still struggling through? I don’t see it ending anytime this year. The militia movements and everyone else who wants to be a part of “The Storm“? Well, March 4 is looming ever closer.

On New Years Eve, I did that meme thing were you start watching The Two Towers so that King Théoden says “and so it begins” exactly at midnight. This year, as I sat through the Battle of Helm’s Deep once again, hearing what can men do against such reckless hate? felt more true to me than it ever has before. Aragorn’s response “ride out with me,” usually so inspiring, only had me feeling intimidated and hopeless. Ride out and do … what exactly?

I guess… what I’m doing. I heard about how Joseph and Jennifer Wofthal tortured their three children and decided I was going to do something about that, so I am. Biden is being exactly what I expected him to be, refusing to rescind two of Trump’s worst executive orders and thousands of immigrants are about to lose everything because of his cowardice. I’m doing what I can about that, too. I’m going to plant some native blueberry bushes in my yard this spring to feed the birds and squirrels. I’m writing a book.

None of that is really about Rush Limbaugh or Trump … and yet it is. It’s the best hope I have to offer: we keep living, keep trying, and one day it’ll be enough.

photo by Hilke Kurzke
Social Issues

the homeschooling reading gap

If you grew up homeschooled, were connected to a homeschooling community, or knew homeschooling families, than the anecdotal reality of a “homeschooling math gap” is probably intuitively obvious to you. Among homeschooled graduates and others who were involved in homeschooling communities in a variety of ways, it’s pretty much accepted as common knowledge that homeschooled students typically excel in reading comprehension and verbal skills, but struggle in STEM fields. Evidence for this lies even in my own experience– I was in the 98th, 99th percentile for reading and verbal, but average or below average in math and science on every standardized test I took. I have only personally encountered two people in twenty-five years who didn’t fit this pattern.

This isn’t just anecdotal, as well. Researchers have confirmed the existence of a homeschooling math gap for decades. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (full disclosure: I’m a board member) has a study coming out soon confirming this reality again, so this is not just unsubstantiated rumor and communal lore. Homeschooled students don’t perform as well as their peers in math– not on the SAT, not on the ACT, not on standardized tests, not in portfolio work. The idea homeschooled students do better academically than their traditionally-educated peers is an example of lies, damn lies, and statistics. Brian Ray has been lying to everyone for decades, and so many people have bought it hook, line, and sinker.

As everything I’ve cited above demonstrates, it does appear homeschooled students outperform their peers when it comes to reading and verbal skills. This has always seemed like common sense to me– most homeschooled students, especially once they reach secondary grades, are “educating” themselves, primarily through reading handmedown Christofascist textbooks. Homeschooling culture often involves a lot of reading– constant Bible study, no checkout limits at public library, missionary biographies, “classical” education, the works. I myself read all of Jane Austen and almost all of Dickens before I got to college. Homeschooled students, in my experience, tend to be a literary sort. I’ve known and met tons of graduates who ran newspapers, newsletters, e-zines, livejournals, etc. A lot of us were writers– I myself turned out reams and reams of fanfiction in high school.

The tendency for homeschooled students to be “self-educated” in secondary grades is probably a significant reason why the data shows a math gap. If you can read (which, granted, not all homeschooled students can– I’ve known lots of homeschooled teenagers who couldn’t read), your parents take you to a library somewhat regularly, and you don’t have friends or music or TV or movies … guess what you’re going to spend a lot of your free time doing? I didn’t have anything else to do except practice piano and chores, and in that way my experience was not unusual. It’s a common joke how homeschooled students “talk like a book” and we often understand vocabulary words we don’t know how to pronounce.

None of that is going to help you much if you’re trying to teach yourself algebra, though. Hence: math gap.

***

What I would like to suggest for your consideration, however, is something the data isn’t truly capable of showing: a homeschooling reading gap. Because yes, I read a lot. Yes, I was conversant and articulate. Yes, I had decent reading comprehension skills. I even learned to speed read.

However, what I did not receive was an education in reading.

When I was taught how to write book reports at some point in the sixth grade, what I learned to do was to write a one-page summary of a book, and answer a single question at the end: what was the book’s worldview? What moral lessons had it taught me? How had it reinforced my fundamentalist Christian ideology? … all disguised in the innocuous-appearing language of how did you grow in your faith because of reading this book? That framework was my only method of interacting with literature, and it was present only as a tool of indoctrination. I did not learn about poetic imagery until senior level college classes, and never discussed concepts like theme until my graduate literature classes. Until my Utopian/Dystopian literature class in my second year of getting a Master’s degree, the most recent “literature” (not counting genre fiction or Christian romance novels) I read in its entirety was published in 1907.

The only more modern work of literature I ever encountered was an excerpt from 1984 included, I believe, in the first edition of BJUPress’ Elements of Literature. I can’t find a table of contents so I can’t confirm, but the excerpt followed Winston walking around a neighborhood at night, looking through windows and seeing people imbibing Party propaganda on their telescreens. At the end of the segment, the textbook “discussion” (ha!) questions centered on the evils of television and pushed its students to reject “the world” and a “godless worldview.” Remembering that moment in high school is … it strikes me as incredibly ironic how the publisher chose the one and only section from 1984 they could use as a fundamentalist indoctrination tool. From a book dedicated to how dangerous authoritarian systems use language to manipulate and control, a religiously authoritarian publisher chose a passage in order to use its language to manipulate their students and reinforce fundamentalist ideological control. Just…

I never had an opportunity to explore themes in literature, or read from a diverse array of perspectives, or engage critical thinking to analyze texts. I wasn’t even permitted to read books about characters I was allowed to dislike. Every book I read included a protagonist I was intended to emulate; every book was aspirational and morally correct. What I now know with two master’s programs in “reading” (ie: MA in English and seminary) under my belt is that simply reading a lot of books in isolation is not enough. It is certainly not educational. Literature happens in community– it’s meant to be discussed, shared, engaged.

What I believe an unfortunate number of homeschooled students are missing out on in their humanities educations is … pretty much everything. It is nearly impossible to disguise deficiencies in math education– if you don’t understand long division, you’re not going to be able to do long division. Not understanding the quadratic equation is going to be a serious barrier to doing well on algebra tests. However, you can never read the typical high school canon; never look for themes, motifs, metaphors, and structure; never encounter an ideology different from the white supremacist and Christofascist system at your church … and a standardized test is never going to catch it. Instead, you’ll probably turn out a bit like me with a 710 on the verbal portion of my SAT and still be the most hopelessly uninformed, illiterate, naïve reader imaginable.

Photography by C. Barata McKee
Social Issues

Star Wars on generational trauma and redemption: why Kylo shouldn’t be saved

I took Introduction to Spiritual Formation, ironically, during my last semester at United. The course had been introduced as a requirement after I’d started in 2016, but it was still required in order for me to graduate and it only fit during those last few months. I’m grateful to United for making me take it, though, because it was one of the most rewarding and personally enriching classes I’ve ever had. Some of the coursework and reading assignments will stick with me forever, but none as much as the family genogram.

Briefly, a family genogram is essentially a family tree that tracks more than just who married who and who your cousins are– different genograms can be focused on a variety of elements like medical history or geography. For my Formation class, my professor asked us to go back four generations and examine how that history has shaped us– how has my family culture, our religious and social beliefs, molded me into who I am today? I called up different family members and spent some time talking about those questions– who was Catholic, when did they convert, who deconverted? Where did this person live, what were they like, what do they remember about my great-grandfather? Once I had all those stories and bits and pieces of facts and recollections, I sat down to draw the familiar tree framework I could tie all those bits to.

It took me three, four, maybe five tries. Just to get the basic structure on a piece of posterboard. Visually explaining my family history in that chart seemed like an impossible task, and eventually I had to get creative. The primary problem was: everyone was divorced and remarried, going back three generations. There were children and cousins and ex-wives and aunts and uncles that just didn’t fit neatly onto that simple wire frame. Once I’d managed that, though, I felt something stir in my gut that recognized there was more to the abstract-looking tree I’d sketched than lines and breaks and names. This tree looked broken. It looked painfully pruned and splintered and grafted. There were absences, blank spaces, and dotted lines representing happiness and heartache.

I looked at that tree and saw trauma, reaching back generations. On one side, there was an offshoot where six siblings had gone unnamed– the second they could get away from their monster of a father who’d beaten them and abused their mother, they fled. In my family, they fled from all our collective memories, too. Some figures had every possible symbol, carefully explained in the accompanying legend, and other spaces were empty. I don’t know my great-uncle’s religion because he stole all my great-grandmother’s money and skipped town. Some relatives needed multiple icons next to their name to represent a myriad of conversions over the years as they desperately searched for a faith to comfort their pain.

Making that tree was messy and hard– and far more painful than I expected. How did this make me who I am? the assignment asked, and searching for an answer in all those tangled branches took time.

***

In my classes on biblical interpretation, notably Interpretation as Resistance: Womanist, Feminist, and Queer Readings of the Bible, we talked a lot about generational trauma and how it affects families, how it affects how we read and what we believe. Working on my family genogram, the generational trauma became blatantly obvious– you could trace it down through the ever-shifting geography of my family, the lost connections and blank spaces. For a while, it seemed like suffering was my family’s only legacy. See all these fractures? See all the rage and hurt behind the missing answers? No one wants to remember the lightning that split this canopy.

Eventually, though, a different image took shape: alongside the trauma was resolve. Determination. Perseverance. Grit. After everything we had been through, each generation picked up the pieces and tried again. We loved, we married, we had children, built lives. It didn’t always work and sometimes ended disastrously, but the family that made me who I am is, in some ways, a miracle. We’ve fought every step of the way to be here, and while there were missteps, most generations did their best to be better than their forebears. My great-grandmother, abused in a Catholic orphanage and forced to raised her children as a single mother in a time where few supports existed for her, brought some incredibly kind and hardworking people into the world. My own mother, a latchkey kid whose personal story is still one of the most harrowing I’ve ever heard, refused to make the same mistakes as her parents and every day showed her daughter how precious she was. My father, from a broken home, kicked out of multiple schools and left with few options besides joining the military, worked his entire life to keep his family safe and whole in a way his home had never been.

I’ve vowed to do the same. I don’t know what my own family will look like, but I will leave behind something worth remembering.

***

So what in the world does all this have to do with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Kylo Ren?

My history is why I don’t think Kylo can be redeemed. To be frank, I’ve never wanted redemption for his character– that xenophobic, brainwashing torturer with masturbatory fantasies about the glories of fascism? Hard pass. I don’t need him to finally choose the Light after slaughtering planets and parents. Some people really are irredeemable, and there are some choices you can’t come back from. This has been a truth at the heart of Star Wars since Return of the Jedi came out in 1983: Darth Vader could kill the emperor, but there was no saving himself. Or, as Yoda told Luke: “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” Forgiveness is possible, yes. Anakin reached out for the Light in the last few minutes of his life and found peace. But not absolution.

This was the lesson Rey had to learn in The Last Jedi. When she comes to Acht-To, she came to see the Luke who had willingly submitted himself to an audience before the emperor out of love and compassion for his father– as well as the belief that goodness can prevail even in the blackest of hearts. She believed she could do the same for Ben, cross the same divide. What she found, instead, was a Kylo killing his master not as a Jedi defending the helpless, but as a Sith dethroning his master and taking his place. “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to,” he says to her. Rey chooses Light and life and belonging and resistance over the temptation toward revenge and control.

Looking at the Skywalker family genogram, it also doesn’t make narrative sense for Kylo’s entire story arch to end in him turning back to the Light. For me, at least, redemption narratives have two basic options: the villain or anti-hero inhabits this place in the plot because of trauma, especially generational trauma. Overcoming that, resisting it, redeeming it, involves being honest about your life and what’s shaped you. It means seeking love, wholeness, and healing. The other narrative option is the villain seeks redemption by committing themselves to the work. An excellent example of this is Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender.

The problem with both of these options? They take time– time Kylo Ren in the last film of the trilogy simply does not have. A character coming back from what he’s done in 155 minutes could only be cheap and shallow and horribly unearned.

But for me, the biggest problem is that we don’t see either of these impulses in Kylo’s character, and neither does he have the background justification for the plotline he was chased away from the Light by betrayal or abuse. There’s plenty of both in the Skywalker family genogram, but it’s like he looked at his tree and decided the great-uncle who stole all the money and skipped town was the example worth emulating. His entire life is a calculated decision, not the unaware choices by someone deeply informed by trauma. He’s hungry for power, zealous to destroy any legacy of happiness and healing in his family.

And most troubling to me: his pain is invented.

Leia and Han both agree it’s not their son, Ben, who is making these choices. Not independently. Instead, they believe he’s been twisted by Snoke. In The Force Awakens, we could possibly see that reflected in his emotional instability and rage. However, by the conclusion of The Last Jedi, we know this isn’t the truth. He deliberately kills Snoke not to escape from his influence and manipulation and turn back to the Light, but to assert he is no longer dependent on Snoke and is now ready to assume control of the First Order, which he immediately directs toward his personal vendetta.

The saber duel with Luke on Crait is not revenge for a painful betrayal, but motivated by the same impulse behind killing Snoke: he is outraged any person in the universe exists who would dare tell him what to do. They would deny him power, and that’s all he craves. His self-justification for this is how “wrongly” they’ve treated him, how miserable they made him … denying him power and anything he wanted, trying to steer him away from the Dark Side.

This isn’t the trajectory of a character who yearns for redemption. This is a person deliberately setting the family tree on fire.

Artwork belongs to Lucasfilm and Walt Disney
Social Issues

obligation and abandonment

If you move in progressive spaces, especially progressive religious spaces, there’s a quote from the Pikei Avot you’ve probably bumped into a time or two:

You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

I started seminary in September, just a few months before the November 2016 elections. Even that fall I wasn’t incredibly optimistic about the electoral outcome, and after that abomination became president-elect many of my friends and family told me I was being ridiculous and hysterical for crying over it. “He’s not going to shove immigrants into concentration camps,” they told me; “no one is going to kidnap children from their parents and then adopt them out to white families” they tried to assure me. “Checks and balances will stop anything truly terrible from happening, don’t worry so much,” “the courts will stop him,” and “stochastic terrorism is not really a thing, y’know Sam.”

God dammit I feel like Cassandra.

It’s been almost three years, and that span has been the best and worst years of my life. Enrolling in seminary: best choice I’ve ever made. It was phenomenal and I loved every second. I got involved in local politics for the first time since I was an ignorant, unaware Republican teenager and that was … informative. I learned a lot about people and about myself (mostly how badly I needed therapy, which I’ve now been in for over a year). I started walking in marches, attending demonstrations, and participating in civil disobedience. Being arrested and thrown in jail was both miserable (no food or water in a freezing concrete cell for 12 hours: do not recommend) and sublime (I was with some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met). I completed my capstone project/report in September and while I’m incredibly proud of the work, it was draining in the extreme and required every reserve of grace, patience, and kindness I could draw upon. Other events over the last year have sapped me of compassion, joy, well-being, and trust. Compared to all the rest this seems almost minor but I’ve also been trying to get pregnant for three years and am pretty much sick of it at this point.

I’m facing another difficult year.

The 2020 legislative session starts up in January in most of these United States and as the primary policy advocate or “government relations director” (I’m a lobbyist, but apparently we in the non-profit world don’t like calling ourselves “lobbyists”) for the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, January through May is going to be a frenetic rollercoaster ride I will barely be able to manage. In June I’ll be moving to Michigan to join whatever Democratic presidential campaign has won the primary for the simple reasons of a) I can easily find housing there and b) I have the time and money. I’m committed to doing these things, and in some vague, nebulous, barely perceptible sense I’m … excited? about doing them.

Last Tuesday though … I ran out of fucks.

My county has been in the national media a few times over the last few years because of how incredibly queerphobic we are down here. A while back the secular humanists invited in a lesbian woman to teach a sex ed class at the public library, and the bigots unleashed a staggering tide of hatred that ended in a political brouhaha of local-politics-but-epic proportions. This year, it was a Drag Queen Story Hour the same bigoted group used to incite violence. The county government’s reaction was to punish the public library financially and warn them that if the library didn’t want to lose any more of its funding they had better stop allowing such “controversial” (ie: queer) events. Our state attorney’s general office got involved and explained how what they’re ordering the library to do is illegal, but so far they’ve refused to budge. Last Tuesday, I spoke at a public hearing on behalf of my queer community for our right to free speech and public spaces, and doing so terrified me. I left moments after I was done, and spent the next week struggling to get out of bed and with a migraine I couldn’t shake.

I want to abandon the work.

I look at what’s going on and the searing rage that’s accompanied me for three years is just gone. The riverbeds in my soul constantly flooded with sorrow have run dry. I’m beyond frustration, despair, or caring. Even terms like “apathy” and “emotional numbness” don’t cover it. I look at what I’ve been hearing recently and I’m just … tired.

***

I’ve been taking a break this past month trying to get some of my verve back but I’m afraid it’s not working. I went on vacation to the Emerald Coast and lazed on a beach all day for a week. I’ve created a Twitter account just for my obsession with the upcoming Wheel of Time television adaptation. I’ve been playing video games pretty much nonstop, and when I’m not playing video games I’m reading books and have nearly caught up on my TBR pile. At this point, I don’t know what more to do to make myself feel engaged again, to care again about what’s going on in the world and what I can be doing about it.

As I’ve thought about all this, I’ve started to think it might be the biggest reason why my writing has languished so much over the last three years. Yes, seminary has kept me enormously busy– and so has all the protesting and demonstrating and lobbying. But when confronted with … the entire fucking world right now, what can my writing possibly do? What can men do against such reckless hate?

I haven’t come to any answers. I hear You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it and what used to inspire me feels small and useless. What is the meaning of “You are not obligated to complete the work” when the planet, without immediate and immense action, could actually be dying all around us? There could, theoretically, be no completion of the work for anyone. But … I’ve been reading a lot about vulnerability and I’ve been putting on a brave show for a while, almost entirely to myself. Trying to convince myself that yes, I absolutely will have a draft of my memoir completed by Christmas (ha!). I will finish my World History and Cultures review (right, sure). I will type up all the blog ideas I’ve been jotting down for years now and actually start turning them into blog posts and magazine pitches ([insert::eye roll]).

But I started this blog six years ago because I wasn’t sure what else to do. I wrote for myself, wrote to remember, wrote to feel, and through it all I found all of you. I’ve made friends I cherish, have had transportive experiences I’ll never forget, have felt joy and anguish more acute than anything else in my life has brought me. Maybe, if I start typing away with the same “I have no clue in hell what I’m doing but HEY I’m gonna WRITE WORDS” … I can keep going. Maybe this is putting one foot in front of the other.

Maybe this is doing the work.

Photography by Chuck Holland
Social Issues

the trauma tentacle monster

A few months after I started blogging, a friend of mine came to visit. As we drove back to my house from the airport, one of the things we discussed was my recent writing habit and she expressed some uneasiness about its content and tone. She cautioned me against being too angry, too bitter, too critical, too ungracious. It was a criticism I was already growing inured to since I got a comment arguing essentially the same thing every other day, it felt like. But, this was my friend, so I tried to keep the defensiveness to a minimum. I told her I understood, but my anger was healthy and the criticisms I was making were necessary– especially because, often, those criticisms were not intended to be received well by who I was criticizing, but to validate those they had harmed.

At the end of the year, my father recognized a portion of an anonymous interview I’d given to the BBC about Michael and Debi Pearl’s books and their abusive teachings. He called me, understandably wounded and upset. “When are you going to stop?” he asked me, referring to my decision to air our dirty laundry on the internet. “Never!” I shouted, nearly screamed, at him. “Not as long as there is a single child still being abused the way I was!” It was the worst fight we ever had, and we didn’t speak for nearly a year (he has since demonstrated a real and lasting repentance, and I am very grateful and happy with my relationship with him now).

Sometime in the next year, I wrote in a Facebook comment somewhere about the way C-PTSD has irrevocably changed my life, changed my brain, changed everything; another trauma survivor told me how I was wrong, how the wounds eventually heal and the scars fade, and admonished me not to reject a path toward healing and wholeness. I was offended, and told her so. To me, it smacked of what I’d been told all my life: you can– and must– choose joy, bitterness is a poison that hurts only yourself, forgiveness is the only way to be happy … what she said felt like the secular wooey-woo version of the fundamentalist mandate to “let not the sun set upon your wrath.”

This summer has also been difficult for a lot of different reasons, and at one point both Handsome and one of my closest friends tried to reassure me that the things I was going through wouldn’t last forever, promising me they will eventually get better. But, again, it just sounded like one of my fundamentalist pastors encouraging his congregation to ignore their emotional interior because “this, too, shall pass.” Their reassurance, to me in that moment, was upsetting. It felt invalidating instead of helpful.

***

Last night I had a migraine, which means I needed to stay away from backlit screens so I decided to read Sense and Sensibility aloud in lieu of watching Elementary with my partner, and when I got to this passage, I laughed because I felt a twinge of oof, same:

The agony of grief which overpowered them at first, was voluntarily renewed, was sought for, was created again and again. They gave themselves up wholly to their sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection that could afford it, and resolved against ever admitting consolation in the future.

I have been mulling over this problem for almost a year now– have started and stopped half a dozen posts about it. It’s thorny, and tricky, and all I can do is hope what I’m trying to say here will be received in the same spirit I’m offering it. I shared the anecdotes above to illustrate what I’m examining is not something I’ve noticed solely “out there” in other people, but primarily in myself, as recently as last month.

When trauma survivors first exit fundamentalism/evangelicalism, one of the most crucial first steps we must take is leaning into our emotions– all our emotions, especially the “negative” ones that we were usually completely cut off from. After a lifetime spent in an authoritarian environment that controlled our emotional lives by telling us feeling anything besides joy is sinful, we need our anger and rage as much as we need air to breathe and food to eat. It’s necessary for our survival. There’s a reason why one of the adjectives in my Twitter bio is “bitter” and I’m never taking it out. “Bitter” is no longer an accusatory insult, but claimed and redeemed as a meaningful part of my recovery.

However, I have noticed a pattern in myself and my communities for a long time and am becoming increasingly troubled by it (important to note this isn’t limited to post-authoritarian-religion spaces, I’ve also experienced similar patterns in disability and mental health spaces, too). As we gather together online and in the meatspace, we can find an incredible amount of validation and support among other survivors. In an effort to make those spaces as safe and welcoming as possible, members are encouraged either explicitly by moderators and rules or implicitly by group norms to respect, and not dismiss, another’s sharing of their experience and pain. This is important, and makes it possible for people to see themselves reflected in other’s stories and understand, maybe for the first time, they’re not alone. I will never undercut the power this holds: for me, I’ve always expressed it as feeling the “scales fall away from my eyes,” that’s how transformative it was.

But, I am growing convinced that sometimes what starts as validation can become retraumatizing. I think it’s possible for the support and encouragement to finally acknowledge all the hurt and pain to become conflated with barring the illumination of a path toward equilibrium, integration, and healing. Obviously, I understand why this happens. When I hear “it gets better, here’s how” in the throws of my suffering and consequently reject it, I am operating from a similar place as Mrs. Dashwood and Marianne: “resolved against ever admitting consolation in the future.” Add a heaping side-dish of a lifetime of being guilted and shamed for my emotions, and “giving them up” in any way feels like ceding my abusers emotional manipulation and control. In the heat of the moment, I think it can genuinely be difficult to suss out the difference between my friend telling me I was being too critical of fundamentalist churches and my partner trying to reassure me.

Another aspect of this is what my therapist and I have termed the “trauma tentacle monster.” I went several years without processing any of my trauma, burying it as deep as I possibly could and almost vindictively squashing down any sign of it coming to the surface. Because of that, the trauma tentacle monster grew. It fed on those memories I kept in the dark and slowly creeped and oozed its way into every single part of my life until it was utterly impossible to escape it. Things that, at first, had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with my trauma became connected to it, became a trigger. Once the connection was made, getting the tentacle cut off and unstuck took serious effort and time.

I’m not a licensed therapist so take this with the necessary grain of salt, but: I don’t think I’m alone. I don’t think I’m the only person in the world with a trauma tentacle monster living in my head, and I’ve seen signs of them lurking under the surface in friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and occasionally rearing their head. Sometimes those trauma tentacle monsters lash out at the people around it.

I am coming to believe that spaces built for trauma survivors can, completely unintentionally, feed the tentacle monster and allow it to grow. It’s possible for the monster to even thrive in those environments, for it to exploit the steady stream of validation and connections (as well as for harmful individuals in those communities to capitalize on the existence of all our hidden monsters, to weaponize them against each other).

What I’m not at all sure about is what to do about any of this. We need our communities. We need our safe havens. We need the validation, the support, the ability to bravely share our stories. I believe those things are essential … but we also need healing, and to know that healing is possible. The trauma tentacle monster can be fought, can be beaten.

Really … we all just need therapy. A lot of therapy.

Photography by Quinn Dombrowski
Social Issues

choose you this day whom you will serve

A few weeks ago I participated in a direct action intended to disrupt the business and daily activity at the national headquarters for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The march was organized by Movimiento Cosecha and the #NeverAgainAction movement that has been protesting at detention centers operated by ICE or its contractors. I told a few people beforehand that I was going to be there, and some asked me a variation on the question “are you planning to be arrested?” My answer was always “no, I am not planning on being arrested.” I would then usually comment “the police have a choice. They could think y’know, they’re right, concentration camps are bad and decide not to arrest anyone.”

While there was some levity in my word choice, I was also telling the truth: it’s never up to me whether or not I’ll be arrested. That’s not my decision to make … and that’s also the point of engaging in a direct action like ours a few weeks ago or the one at Wyatt last week, where a captain chose to drive his truck into a line of peaceful protestors. Kelly Hayes said this better than I ever could:

This moment gives us an opportunity to reflect on what civil disobedience really is. It is not, as many believe, the act of getting arrested in protest. It is a form of direct action in which you are giving authority a moral choice. You have made your moral choice, and they have to make theirs. And you are telling that story in the open, or at the very least, in the context of a public narrative.

Sometimes, you will present authority with that choice and they won’t arrest you. Maybe they think it’s not worth the effort or the media exposure. Maybe you have the numbers. Sometimes they arrest you. Sometimes they show their character. And whatever they do, when it’s your action, their choices happen in the context of the story you are telling. Civil disobedience forces a confrontation between morality and that which would subdue it.

When I read that, as a Christian, of course I immediately remembered two of Jesus’ teachings: “you cannot serve God and mammon” and “whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” As I sat in ICE headquarters, singing and chanting with ten other people, I was living out those words. My body sitting in that lobby was boldly declaring You cannot serve God and mammon. You cannot work for ICE, taking their money to enforce their policies, and be a moral person. Every word and lyric that came out of my mouth and echoed against every marble tile was deliberate resistance, carrying the soldier’s pack another mile.

Walter Wink talked a bit in Jesus and Non-Violence: A Third Way about the power of peacefully resisting domination and power:

Jesus directs his followers to go a second mile;

  • that forces the soldier to see that they are using their authority over you and not treating you as an equal
  • that alerts the officer that they are treating you as a lessor
  • that allows them to see that they are abusing their power over you and to consider changing their behavior.

That was Jesus calling his followers and us to point out the abuses others make on us out of their power positions and not out of love. You point out to them where they are abusing you or the situation and you open them to the opportunity to learn and change and grow. That is a loving thing to do and sometimes it’s very hard to do because they accuse you of not loving them because you won’t do for them what you used to do.

Kelly Hayes and Walter Wink are hitting at the same idea, and I especially appreciate Walter pointing out that Jesus’ teaching on radical resistance to power was fundamentally about loving your enemy. After DHS agents had handcuffed us all and dragged us away from the windows and the cameras, they put us in a small room while they called DC metro police; several agents stayed in the room while they waited and we decided to continue what we’d been doing in the lobby: singing. One of the songs we chose was the chorus of “Which Side Are you On?” and as we sang we tried to make eye contact with each of the agents monitoring us. Look at us. See this, see the decision you are making. I knew it was unlikely any of them would intervene, but I hoped. I still hope that occasionally they think about that day and their role in it.

***

My small group–Bible study–book club has been reading through Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, and last night we read a quote from Ken Robinson:

However seductive the machine metaphor may be for industrial production, human organizations are not actually mechanisms and people are not components in them. People have values and feelings, perceptions, opinion, motivations, and biographies, whereas cogs and sprockets do not. An organization is not the physical facilities within which it operates; it is the networks of people in it.

While Brown and Robinson are focusing on creating and sustaining emotionally healthy environments, this morning I connected the above quote with everything I’ve been mulling over since the direct action in DC. The DHS agents, ICE personnel, and metro police who eventually put us in squad cars and then locked us in concrete room without any water or food for twelve hours clearly thought of themselves as cogs and sprockets. My arresting officer even said something to the effect of “why did you have to make us do this?” and I just stared at him– I am not making you do anything, I thought,  and wow I know I’ve used “abuser” as an analogy for structural power for years, but that just really drives the point home, doesn’t it.

They view themselves as just a part of the system, just doing their jobs. It’s not up to them what happens, they’re just “enforcing the law,” they don’t set policy they just enact it … but the reality is that they’re not just wheels grinding away in a machine. They’re people, and they have choices about what they do.

So do we.

Photography by Lindsay Wesson
Social Issues

stuff I’ve been into: pumpkin spice edition

September is the best month.

In most of the places I’ve lived, September is usually balmy, filled with a chaotic mix of sunshine and thunderstorms. It signals that the long, hot days are over; it makes me remember everything I love about summer while whispering that autumn is winding closer. I’ve always experienced September filled-to-brimming-over with anticipation and this year is no different. I’ve started seeing cocoon cardigans and blanket scarves in my pinterest and tumblr feeds, my birthday is just around the corner, and crisp Friday nights make me want to light a bonfire in my yard and keep candles burning.

For ten years, September has also brought scholarship and learning back into my life after lazy summers, and I’m a little bit sad that this will be my last year in college and I’ll never need to order textbooks or read a syllabus again after I graduate. It makes sense that I’d feel this way in September, which has always been synonymous with change and beginnings– both of which require me to let go and move forward.

This is also my first week back to seminary, so I thought I’d share some of what I’ve been enjoying, mulling over, and carrying with me.

Reading

One of my seminary textbooks this semester is Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde, and one of the readings we did this week included excerpts from her essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.”

“There are many kinds of power, used and unused, acknowledged or otherwise. The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plain, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling. In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change. For women, this has meant a suppression of the erotic as a considered source of power and information within our lives. We have been taught to suspect this resource, vilified, abused, and devalued within western society.

As women, we have come to distrust that power which rises from our deepest and nonrational knowledge.

The erotic has often been misnamed by men and used against women. It has been made into the confused, the trivial, the psychotic, the plasticized sensation.

The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings.

When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the lifeforce of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives.”

I went and read the rest of the article and … I think this article might be one I reference for the rest of my life. It struck a chord in my soul that makes me ache, wonder, long, and rejoice. It’s been a few days since I’ve read it and every time I read it again, especially the last paragraph I quoted above, I feel … expanded. Reading this feels like Sophia Wisdom brushing my hair back from my face and touching her lips to my forehead. I read this and know something deeply true. I learned, somehow, something I always knew.

***

I’ve been promoting “Cravings” by my friend, Hännah Ettinger, since it went up at Autostraddle in July. I mentioned it in my post about how whiteness absorbed my family’s cultural heritage, but if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet … it’s beautiful and powerful. I just read it again looking for a quote to help draw you in and again I’m moved and crying.

“I’d say, it’s my grandmother’s favorite cake, the one we make for her birthday every year, and tomorrow is her birthday. It’s my mother’s scone recipe, it’s like small sweet cakes. This is cornbread for me to take to Talas City tonight; it’s a volunteer’s birthday and she misses her mom making this for her. These are snickerdoodle cookies, my brother’s secret recipe. He called me last night.

I would not say: I remembered the way my skin felt one night in Zoey’s arms, and I have to touch other things to distract myself from the crackle running up and down my spine. Never: I missed my parents and I cannot talk to them the same way anymore, but I still miss when I believed were all safe together, and when I believed that, I used to eat food just like this. We made this spice cake together, just like this.

***

The last two years have been excruciating as we careen wildly from incident to scandal to catastrophe and back again. As a kid I loved arcade racing games, and like many kids I adopted a form of “steering” that made heavy use of guardrails, bouncing back and forth between one side of the track to the other, and using walls to turn corners. My dad aptly named this youthful style as “bang-bang driving” and I’m reminded of it every time I think of everything we’ve been through since the election. It’s hard to keep track, but there’s one article that’s been really helpful to me in putting everything into a cohesive, coherent timeline and context. “Will Trump be Meeting with his Counterpart– Or his Handler?: A Plausible Theory of Mind-Boggling Collusion” puts a lot of things all in one place, in one narrative. I’m still not sure what I think of Chait’s argument, but it was still eye-opening to see everything together.

***

Chris Stroop is one of the most brilliant and incisive writers I’m aware of, and I respect the hell out of him and his work. He’s incredibly good at demystifying fundamentalism and the pervasive influence it wields in American culture, and I think “Educated Evangelicals, Academic Achievement, and Trumpism: On the Tensions in Valuing Education in an Anti-Intellectual Subculture” is a good place to start with his work.

“Fundamentalism is authoritarianism in microcosm, or on the margins. Fascism is essentially fundamentalism in power, and it continues to nurse a sense of being “the moral majority,” as well as a sense of being “beleaguered” and “treated very unfairly” – at the same time.”

***

I spent my summer mostly playing video games and reading, and the best of the books I’ve inhaled over the last few months have been: The Hidden Sea Tales by A.M. Dellamonica, The Liveship Traders set by Robin Hobb, and the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness.

Watching

I finally watched Interstellar and it is as good as everyone says it is. If you haven’t see Miss Sloane I highly recommend it– it’s one of the very few movies I’ve actually decided to buy.

Iliza Shlesinger’s Elder Millennial made me literally shriek with laughter, and at this point anyone who hangs out with me has to watch John Mulaney’s Kid Gorgeous at Radio City for half of what I say to make any sense. I’m going to join everyone else on the internet in saying Nanette by Hannah Gadsby is a must-see. Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King is equally as incredible as Nanette IMO and I wish it got as much press as hers did. W. Kamua Bell’s Private School Negro was also hilarious and amazing.

… and I watch a lot of standup.

I rarely ever subscribe to YouTube channels, but Natalie Wynn’s ContraPoints is one of the best things on there. Her videos The West,” “Jordan Peterson,” and “Incels” are the sort of YouTube-video-essay-with-costumes-and-set-pieces-that-refute-conservative-arguments that I feel like my blog would’ve been if I could make myself not hate video editing so much.

***

And that’s all I’ve got for now. As always, I’m curious to see what has kept y’all busy this summer. Give me your recommendations! (Also, if you know of any historical romance-ish fantasy-ish bodice rippers that you think I’d enjoy, toss those recommendations my way! I need light and fluffy reading material in between Black Theology and Black Power and Sisters in the Wilderness.)

Photography by Silvia Viñuales
Social Issues

World History and Cultures: The Middle East

I sat down to start working on this week’s World History and Cultures post at 2pm. It is now almost 5– that’s how long it took me to factcheck seventeen pages, not including writing this review.

Inaccuracies:

Wild Assertions:

  • The Enuma Elish was written “in order to exalt Babylon and its chief god, Marduk” (23).
  • Babylonian scientists were “too immersed in the naturalistic superstition of astrology to develop the science of astronomy.”
  • “Without laws and a governmental structure to enforce them, it would be impossible for people to live together peaceably.”
  • “Justice is the use of authority and power to uphold what is right, just, or lawful. It reflects the principle that every man is responsible for his own actions and should be treated accordingly” (24).
  • “Unbelieving critics, including the French infidel Voltaire, ridiculed the Word of God and insisted that no such nation [Hittites] had ever existed.”
  • “The name Assyria became synonymous with terror, cruelty, and oppression among all the peoples of the ancient Middle East” (25). (This is also an inaccuracy, since this “reputation” appears among 20th century scholars and has been discredited.)
  • “…the ruins of Babylon bear testimony to the judgment of God against the pride, idolatry, and immorality of the once proud city” (26).
  • “The Persian Empire prospered for over two centuries, probably because of its tolerant, generally beneficent treatment of God’s people, the Jews” (27).
  • “Although the Persian kings practiced the false, pagan religion of Zoroastrianism, they had a much higher regard for the sanctity of law than did the haughty Assyrian and Babylonian monarchs.”
  • Moses is “one of the greatest men in world history” (28).
  • “Byzantium was increasingly threatened … by the rise of a fanatical, militant new religion in the Arabian Peninsula—Islam” (34).
  • “Muhammed combined elements of a corrupted Judaism and a distorted Christianity in a legalistic religion that looked to him as its ultimate authority” (35).
  • “Because Islam is such a fanatically anti-Christian faith, the progress of modern Protestant missions in the Middle East has been extremely slow and difficult.”
  • Britain took control of Palestine, etc, “in order to prepare these Arab states for independence” (36).
  • “…the Middle East will continue to be a center of international tension and conflict as the world nears history’s last great battle, the Battle of Armageddon” (38).

Assumptions:

  • Not only does the Bible relay accurate historical information, what it relays indicates the significance and superiority of its contents over other cultures, nations, cities, persons, and events.

***

This was my face as I read this chapter:

I knew when I started WHAC that things were bound to get interesting, and I suspected that their chapter on the “Middle East” was going to be … is there a word that combines “hilarious” and “troubling”?

I think the most important point to highlight about chapter three is this: how much time WHAC gives to certain items is indicative of its point of view. I mentioned above that they see the biblical narrative as not just accurate, but as a source for understanding God’s priorities. If God didn’t mention it in the Bible, then it’s not that important– and if he did, well then it must be incredibly important.

We see this in their section on the Hittite Empire: the Bible exalts the Hittites to a fabled, mythic stature. They’re portrayed as allies of Israel (Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband, is one of David’s mighty men, and the Empire is the source for many of the building materials for the Temple), and as powerful allies at that. Consequently, Abeka makes a mountain out of their iron forging ability, even though from the research I did indicates it’s likely the Hittites only had access to a form of wrought iron, which is not that much stronger than bronze. The historians I was reading pointed to Assyria, not the Hittites, as using iron weapons successfully … but that doesn’t align as well with the Bible’s recorded emphasis on the Hittites, so WHAC lies. They also call Voltaire an “infidel” for being skeptical of its existence, which … alrighty then.

Not only that, we also get two entire pages on the Old and New Babylonian Empires and not even a whisper about some of the other empires that existed in the same time frame. It’s obvious from their constant references to Scripture that they’re giving this much space to Babylonia because the Bible does.

Another example is that we get two paragraphs about some missionaries that I feel like I’d never even heard of, even though WHAC was my textbook in highschool … and a single half-sentence on the Iranian Revolution. WHAC spends five pages giving us an “Update” on the modern near east, but one of the most significant events in modern history, something that has had massive consequences on world politics for decades, the Iranian Revolution, gets 12 words while four little-known missionaries get 121. That is literally ten times as much attention.

The text is also incredibly Islamaphobic. I didn’t even know what Islamaphobia was when I was reading this in high school, but it’s no wonder that I thought the worst possible things about Muslims, given what I was told. They make Islam seem beyond absurd– their “explanation” of Islamic theology is reductionist in the extreme as well as being actively deceptive. They claim that Muslims have to repeat the shahadah (“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah”) 125,000 times in order to be saved from hell, a claim I could find absolutely nowhere else. They also do not correct anything they’ve lied about in the third edition, published 12 years after 9/11.

They’re not just being biased against Islam the way we’ve seen hundreds of our religious and political leaders be over the last 15 years, they’re lying. For all they claim that the 10 Commandments are “universal” and “eternal principles” in this chapter, they must not think that applies to “bear no false witness against thy neighbor.”

Students are required to memorize and regurgitate the text’s Islamaphobia, as well. Of the 78 review questions, 28% ask students to answer questions like “Describe the origin of Islam and its effect on the Middle East” or “define Islam.” The answers: “Islam’s fanatical anti-Christian beliefs don’t allow missionaries to spread the gospel” and “Islam is a man-made religion that teaches people to rely on their own efforts” (35).

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I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but I did want to direct your attention to one of the “wild assertions” above:

“Justice is the use of authority and power to uphold what is right, just, or lawful. It reflects the principle that every man is responsible for his own actions and should be treated accordingly.”

If you’ve ever wondered why Christians are so comfortable completely abdicating their responsibility to love their neighbor, or are completely oblivious to God’s emphasis on liberation, or believe that the United States has every right to slaughter Black men and women and call it justice–

This is why.

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Lastly, I want to bring out something that may seem rather minor compared to the flagrant Islamaphobia, Eurocentrism, and racism in this chapter. When talking about the Persian Empire, they assert that “Darius established the world’s first postal service over the numerous roads he built to connect the empire.” This point gets six more lines, including a quote from Herodotus.

They completely ignore that there’s some uncertainty on who, exactly, expanded couriers into an early mail system. Many historians say it was Cyrus, and use a quote from Xenophon, a Greek historian, to back them up. Some others say no, it’s Darius, and argue the Herodotus quote (“neither snow nor rain…”) applies to his reign. Most of what I was reading say things like “It’s unclear whether…” when discussing this subject, and relay the above information.

World History and Cultures, however, can’t do that.

In the authors’ framework, there is nothing uncertain about history. There is no place for doubt, no place for questions, no place for exploration and growth. In a previous chapter they made the claim that a single man near-miraculously “cracked the code” of Sumerian cuneiform, instead of rightly attributing it to many scholars and the work of decades. In their world, there’s no slow progress from not knowing to we think this is right, at least the best answer we have right now. We are haplessly ignorant until God reveals the answers, and then those answers are incontrovertible.

This perspective even gets projected onto their philosophical opposition: Voltaire’s skepticism isn’t the result of a person who doesn’t believe in things there’s no evidence for, and would have gladly changed his mind if he’d been alive in 1906, when Winckler uncovered Hattusa. It’s not that historians study and grow and learn and expand knowledge; instead, they “deny God’s truth” because they’re “infidels” until God sees fit to “vindicate” the Bible.

This is why I’m arguing that World History and Cultures doesn’t exist to educate, but indoctrinate. They’re not interested in giving students a sense of wonder, curiosity, or learning. All they want is to make sure students stay inside the fundamentalist ideological box.