Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Thoughts on discrimination

I've been thinking about the cases recently in which, in order to comply with anti-discrimination legislation, business owners are compelled to provide services which violate their conscience. (e.g. the florist who didn't want to service a gay wedding because she felt that homosexuality is a sin.)

My first thought: arguably, homosexuality is an involuntary condition, such as race or gender, not a specific behavior. Someone is homosexual if they are attracted to members of the same sex, regardless of whether or not they ever consummate a physical union with a member of the same sex. In the same way, a person can be attracted to members of another race without marrying a person of another race. I think the homosexual marriage/interracial marriage analogy is appropriate, because both have/had a great deal of social stigma attached to them, and both involve the natural culmination of an inherent and natural disposition/personhood, as opposed to any conscious and active perversion. To be clear- I see no justification, morally, scripturally, or in any other way, for prohibiting interracial marriage, though there are those who do. The very idea of prohibiting, or looking askance at, interracial marriage is ludicrous and offensive to me in the extreme, because it presupposes fundamental differences between races that I hold to be entirely false. In the case of homosexual marriage, many more people still believe that it is sin, though many people do not. (I support the right of any two unmarried, consenting adults to obtain a civil marriage at their whim, by the way.) So- to be consistent, I think we must apply the same rules to gender, race, and sexual orientation when it comes to discrimination. If it is wrong to discriminate against a person of another race, then it is wrong to discriminate against a person of another sexual orientation. (I am assuming that any pedophelic behavior is not an orientation, but a predatory, criminal perversion of the most obscene and horrific sort)

That said..... to what degree are the dictates of our conscience subject to civil law? Ought we to be enforcing an enlightened perspective where it does not exist? And another important question- does a business owner, complete with personal conscience, differ as an entity from the owned business? To that, I would say no, unless the business was in some way publically owned and traded, publicly funded, contracted to the government, etc.

Here is where I'd draw the lines of anti-discrimination legislation, if they were mine to draw:

1. No discrimination against customers is allowable based on race, gender, sexual orientation, etc in the following places:

  • Any government entity of any level or function, or business which contracts with the government at any level or function.

  • Any business which is publicly owned, traded, maintained, or funded

  • Any business which performs lifesaving services or services the lack of which may leave a customer dead, injured, maimed, deformed, or unable to care for themselves or their dependents. (Examples include hospitals, emergency clinics, homeless shelters, food pantries, grocery stores, utility companies, home health agencies, elder care facilities, etc For things like clothing and auto/mechanics/parts houses and restaurants, I would say that if it's the only one in town, it provides an essential service and may not discriminate. If it is one of several in close proximity, it may discriminate as the owner wishes for all presumably-about-a-day of its commercial life.)

The business situations above are situations in which the private business is not synonymous with its owner.... indeed, I rather like that as a litmus test. :)

So, most businesses would be under anti-discrimination law. Those that would not would be privately owned entities dispensing non-essential goods and services like flowers, candy, event rental facilities, shoes, accessories, etc. Honestly, I think the number of people discriminating against other races, genders, or sexual orientations would hopefully be small at this point, and their businesses easily boycotted.

I think we should recognize that a sole proprietorship business type, particularly, assuming no outside control or civil involvement, should be synonymous with the owner/operator. A business is not an autonomous machine- it is the sum of the people who operate it- just as the government is a group of elected or appointed people, not a faceless entity. (At least it should be!) I am not different as the owner/operator of my Piano Studio- I am the same Mary in both cases. I behave the same, and the law should treat me the same. I would apply this to corporate taxation as well, by the way- there is no such thing as a business tax. There is only a tax on the owners, operators, employees, and customers of that business.

If I were the sort of racist $%$^&%  who wanted to refuse to service people of color in my hypothetical florist shop, I could do that. If I wanted to refuse to sell auto parts to a woman, assuming I wasn't the only one in town, I could do that. I could also deal with the lack of business from the husbands of women and the friends of people of color and deal with my inevitable financial losses. On the other hand, if I were an OB I could not refuse to treat the surrogate carrying the child of a homosexual couple and I could not refuse to sell groceries to that nice interracial couple. I think we can, and should, find a balance between respecting the freedom of business owners to operate their businesses as they see fit and respecting the safety and dignity of those whose life path or person garners the disapproval of some. There are some people who would call me a heretic theologically, or a Jezebel, (thanks, feminism and egalitarianism!) or a homewrecker because I bring in an independent income. As revolting as those sentiments are, the policing of thought required to forcibly eliminate them is more revolting still. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thoughts on the shutdown

My feelings on the partial US government shutdown boil down to two thoughts, really:

1. Math. Use it. If you don't have money, don't spend money.

2. Congress- know your job, and do it. The same thing goes for our President. Your job is to make a reasonable, mathematically viable budget and stick to it. If you disagree with your legislative colleagues, your job is to negotiate where you can. Refusal to converse or negotiate is generally immature.

Budget bills originate in our House of Representatives by law. The House decides the budget and submits it to the Senate. The Senate can approve or not, and they may send it back to the House/ suggest changes, but they don't write the budget. Neither does the President. The President can veto a budget bill as long as it doesn't have sufficient votes. It is the job of Congress to negotiate a workable budget, and refusing to cut spending from pet projects when there is a deficit in other places, and wanting instead to simply borrow more money, seems to me a truly irresponsible way to do this. Ahem... <senate.> The President and John Boehner cooperated on a deficit reduction plan in 2011, but now the President and the democrat-controlled Senate are unwilling to abide by it, and have instead been holding 800,000 + federal workers' salaries and large chunks of the government bureaucracy hostage until the House capitulates and the budget goes according to Democratic demands. This is a personal  subject for me, since my husband, the primary breadwinner for our family, will not be getting paid until the shutdown ends. (It is particularly frustrating because other similar jobs he could take in the private sector would be considered a conflict of interest and could result in his being permanently fired from his government job, or in certain other legal consequences. It is as if the government is telling us that he cannot work, cannot be paid, but also cannot go to work in a similar capacity elsewhere. His only option at this point is day/temp labor, as what long term employer outside his field is going to hire him, being both grossly overqualified and unlikely to work for them more than a few days or weeks at most? Hopefully, it will not come to that.) However, we support the House's efforts at fiscal responsibility and hope that they do not capitulate to bullying and intransigence.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sex Ed series

I've been thinking about sex ed lately, both because of my kids beginning to ask questions and because of issues that friends are dealing with. This was one of the areas in which my own parents were very weak, and one which my husband and I have intentionally worked at with our children. It is so important that we teach them the physical stuff, as well as the emotional/relational stuff, (disease prevention, biology, contraception, consent, respect, intimacy, etc) and that we avoid turning limits of morality into shame. I came across the following series on another blog, and I thought I'd share. I don't agree with every minute detail here, (there are areas in which this blogger is probably a bit more conservative than I am) and I don't agree with everything else on her blog or that she links to, in case anyone is wondering. However, I thought it was generally very good, very balanced, and well worth sharing.


The above is a link to all the posts (they're generally quite short) in the series. A few quotes:

"Perhaps the biggest distortion I see is the idolization of virginity.  So many portray it as the be all end all standard of sexual purity.  First of all, I think that sexual purity is just as important after marriage as before, and in fact, more so.  Furthermore, sexual purity isn't just lack of vaginal intercourse.  Such a narrow focus on outward behavior causes us to lose sight of the heart issue.  Some wind up doing everything except for vaginal intercourse, and have no idea of the possible consequences of things like oral sex, pornography, and other forms of sexual activity.  Others who do have sex feel that they are forever "second hand goods".  Both are terrible distortions of what sexual purity really means."

 also find the double standard with gender that many adopt to be deeply disturbing. Sexual purity is for men as well as women, and the stereotypes of men as slavering beasts and women as cold manipulators are both inaccurate and degrading.  Both men and women are created with a strong sex drive.  That is a good thing.  And both are capable of self control.  That is also a good thing.  Women should be able to be themselves and dress comfortably without being consumed with worry about "causing their brothers to stumble".  Guys shouldn't be automatically viewed as predators simply because they have a penis.  Sex should never be seen as a commodity to trade in exchange for emotional security, and women shouldn't feel ashamed of wanting sex."

"Romance novels and romantic comedies have been called “porn for women.” It’s not just because some of the scenes can get steamy, but because of the unrealistic expectations they set up. Just as all bodies are perfect or airbrushed and exaggerated in proportion in a girlie magazine, all life is unrealistically centered on romance in those entertainments. The souls and emotions of the people portrayed in the pages and on the screen are no more real than the bodies enhanced with silicone, makeup, lighting and digital wizardry in a pornographic image or film.

These are not the messages I want my daughter to grow up with.

Not only does it objectify the male gender as a means to fulfilling romantic dreams, but for me at least, it resulted in a limited understanding of my own value as a human being, and a reduced ability to trust God with my romantic future. "

We teach our children about gender stereotypes from our first observations.  Do our girls hear that they are strong and powerful?  Do our boys learn that we value tenderness and sensitivity?  Our society is so proficient at marketing gender roles that by age three, most girls and boys know that pink is a girl color, and blue is for boys, that girls are princesses (passive and prissy) and boys are tough and active.  As toddlers, my little girl loved blue and Spiderman, and my son loved dolls and sparkly clothes.  Within just a couple of years, though, they were telling each other that blue was for boys and dolls are for girls. I believe that colors are gender-neutral, and that both sons and daughters grow up to be parents.  But we must speak up if we don't want our children to think there is something wrong with them.

"We teach our children about body image through our own.  Do they hear us putting ourselves down and criticizing our own bodies?  Do we point out our flaws or gripe about our weight?  Do they hear us make comments about other people and laugh at their appearance?  Each word nails in deeper the truth about our values, and what their own bodies are worth.

We also teach them about sexuality when they first begin to say no.  Comments like, "Give grandma a kiss or she'll be sad!" teach them to ignore their own body boundaries and give feigned affection to placate adults.  Acknowledging and respecting their right to say no to unwanted touches is vital.  It may mean intervening when relatives or friends try to bully them with unwanted hugs, kisses or tickles.  The message we send about their right to say no is far more important than a miffed adult."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Where "Modesty" Leads, and the response of one very brave woman.



Amira Osman Hamed is fighting a law in Sudan which says that she must wear hijab and cover her hair. SHe refuses to do so, even though her refusal could mean a severe beating. My hat is off to this woman, who is risking much in standing up for right and justice.

Says the article:

"Sudanese woman says she is prepared to be flogged to defend the right to leave her hair uncovered in defiance of a "Taliban"-like law."

Amira Osman Hamed faces a possible whipping if convicted at a trial which could come on September 19.

Under Sudanese law her hair -- and that of all women -- is supposed to be covered with a "hijab". But Hamed, 35, refuses to wear one.

Her case has drawn support from civil rights activists and is the latest to highlight Sudan's series of laws governing morality which took effect after the 1989 Islamist-backed coup by President Omar al-Bashir.

"They want us to be like Taliban women," Hamed said in an interview with AFP, referring to the fundamentalist militant movement in Afghanistan.

She is charged under Article 152 which prohibits "indecent" clothing.

Activists say the vaguely worded law leaves women subject to police harassment and disproportionately targets the poor in an effort to maintain "public order".

"This public order law changed Sudanese women from victims to criminals," says Hamed, a divorced computer engineer who runs her own company.

"This law is targeting the dignity of Sudanese people."

Friday, September 6, 2013

Because You Can Never Have Too Many Cute Kid Moments....

My oldest, Mr. 6 1/2 yr old, just joined the Cub Scouts. He is excited- well, that's actually an understatement. He is already planning badges to earn and projects to do. My second child, Mr. 5 yr old, can't be in Scouts for another year due to his age. Mr. 6 was very worried that his little brother would feel left out, so they got up early a couple of mornings ago and Mr. 6 made Mr. 5 a shirt, hat, bag, "handbook," and "sash" out of construction paper. Mr. 6 then proceeded to come up with "badges" that Mr. 5 could earn, and they spent most of the day going through them. The "badges" were cute- little circles made out of construction paper, taped to the sash- but the activities were the best. There was a "building with legos" badge, a "geography and touring" badge, (for that one, Mr. 5 had to visit every room in the house) a "crafting with paper" badge, etc, etc. They had such fun, and watching them run around "doing badge stuff" with all the attendant whispering and giggling was simply delightful. (We aren't starting the homeschool semester until next week, so they had time for all this.)

An Edit to the Facebook Post

I added the following to my earlier post about how not to embarrass yourself on facebook:

For Religious Folks Who Love their Scriptures (and on a slightly more serious note)

I'm a Christian. That fact is not exactly a secret. I believe that the Bible is inspired and authoritative, and should be my rule of faith and practice. Sometimes, when I'm talking with people, whether on facebook, via email, in person, etc, I reference scripture as a catalyst or justification for something. However, I am not telepathic. I wish that I were, because that would be simply awesome, but I am not. Therefore, I cannot throw out a great scripture passage without any explanation and expect people to understand why I used it and the point I was trying to make with it. Which brings me to:

1. Don't quote a scripture without telling your audience why you quoted it, what you think it says, and how it relates to the subject at hand, unless the literal text speaks directly to your subject so clearly that.... actually, not even then. Never. A few words of explanation will cost you little and foster exponentially better communication. For example: If I'm talking about.....and this is just a hypothetical..... why I left a previous church and someone comes back with "and every man did what was right in his own eyes," I would have no idea whether they were indulging in satire, disapproving of me, or disapproving of someone else. That could mean almost anything, depending on context. Which brings me to

2. Use something that's actually relevant when quoting scripture. Resist the temptation to use Ecc. 11:4  "He who observes the wind will not sow, And he who regards the clouds will not reap" as a justification for your not wanting your child to be a meteorologist, for example. It's also probably not a good idea to use the verse about God's spirit hovering over the waters when you're talking about helicopters. You get the idea.

3. Don't assume that everyone interprets scripture as you do. (one reason why elaboration is so, so necessary) Believe it or not, even within mainstream evangelical/protestant Christianity, there has never been a single, universal interpretation of every verse of the Bible. There are traditional ways to interpret things, but those have never really been entirely unchallenged. Try to remember that your interpretation is just that, and that people can be just as committed to the authority of scripture and to responsible hermeneutics as you are and still come up with a different interpretation. If you disagree with someone's interpretation, by all means tell them, giving sound historical and logical reasons for your take on things. You may still end up in sincere disagreement, but it's no reason why you can't be friends.

4. Don't use scripture to beat your friends over the head with wrongdoing unless you are really close, have a relationship that lends itself to mutual accountability, and are in private.

5. You can be a Christian without using scripture to back up everything you say on the internet. It is ok to argue a rational point. Since your faith should color everything you do, you are not doing it a disservice by occasionally leaving it out of unrelated arguments. Scripture is wonderful, but do you need to cite specific verses in a conversation about teething or immunizations or healthcare? Probably not.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

More Than Mommies

To all the stay-at-home mommies and daddies who talk about more than your children and diapers and crafts when we full-time or part-time parents get together- I salute you. I love being around you. You are a breath of fresh air in a world of (admittedly darling) childish mundanities. Parenting is an all-consuming job at times, but it is so important to remember that we are more than mothers or fathers. Some of us are doctors, nurses, teachers, musicians, engineers, and a host of other interesting things. Some of us have fascinating skills, some have travelled, some have lived and learned the most interesting things- why should we restrict our conversation to our kids or to boring small talk when we get together? Particularly if we already know one another, and we are past the point of learning about each other's life stories, etc. We are no less capable now of serious intellectual engagement than we were before we had kids. We have not forgotten literature, theology, science, politics, or the other varied things we love. I personally find it excruciating to be with intelligent, interesting men and women who talk of nothing but babies, teething, school schedules, recipes, pregnancy, and backpack sales. Not that we can't share those things, but I think that gatherings of mommies and/or daddies, in playgroups, at those interminable children's birthday parties, or otherwise, can be a valuable resource for our collective sanity and fight against mental stagnation. A half hour spent discussing theology or current events or great books energizes me and gives me strength to deal with the days with little interaction with people over the age of six in ways that a half hour of comparing teething stories never could. I seriously doubt I'm the only one. :) I don't think it makes us bad parents to remember, cherish, and keep alive who we are outside of parenting- it makes us better. And we should remember that these busy years won't last forever- we'll have decades after our littles grow and leave. Parenting may seem like the end-all of our lives now, but it's relatively short-lived and it's only a part of who we are.

This is why I sometimes find mommy playgroups tedious- we end up a group of intelligent women sitting around talking about poop and school and mundanities. Not important things like "how much socialization does a kid need" or "should we vote CSCOPE out of TX curricula" but rather subjects like "what is your kid doing in school? Is your kid teething? I wish kids would pick up their toys." I find myself sitting there, thinking- "seriously, ladies. Why not talk about something besides mothering once in a while? I happen to know you are well read, fascinating, have travelled, know lots of fun theology, philosophy, etc- why can't we talk about some of that? I could learn a lot from some of you, and we could have us some FUN. Forget about kiddie crafts and enriching activities- put the babies in the floor with some toys, crack open the wine and the coffee, and let's get to it!"

It's also why I find some groups, of mommies or otherwise, so delightful. Lively discussion of interesting topics/stories of the experiences of bright, interesting, or unusual people (which I am very lucky to be able to say that most of my friends are!) are to repetitive small talk what great cuisine is to McDonalds, at least in my world.

So, next time you're at playgroup, or at a party, watching the kiddies and gearing up for another polite exchange of your kids' basic developmental info- just stop, and start talking about Syria or Cloning or the Trinity or whatever you're passionate about. If I'm there, I'll join you, and I'll be eternally grateful.

(of course, it could be that I just don't like small talk. I think it's a function of my personality in general, and in no way would I attempt to make everyone else exactly like me. I do wish, though, that mommies always remembered that they are more than that, and that their individual passions still matter, very, very much.)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Nature and Essence, Applied To Marriage

To build on the last post- what is the nature and essence of marriage? It's a big question, and I'm not promising a complete answer in this little blog post, but I do have some ideas based on the ” universal/unique” qualifiers from the previous post.

First, to define nature- in this context, I'm not defining it as anything that comes naturally, anything that happens organically, intuitively, or with ease, or as a common characteristic. I'm using it synonymously with ”essence”- the defining characteristic of something, unique/universal predispositions- that sort of thing. Also by way of definition- I realize that marriage has not always been a single, uniform institution. When I reference marriage here, I am speaking of what would fall into legal/socially acceptable practice in America in the present day.

A brief re-cap- my perception of nature/essence is that, for an attribute to be a defining characteristic of an entity, that attribute must be both unique to that entity and universal in all like entities.

For example- a furry mane is part of the essence and nature of adult male lions, because a mane is both unique to adult male lions and universal among all adult male lions. In the same way, abstract thought is part of the essence of humanity, as it is unique, so far as  I know, to our species, and is universal among healthy, mature humans.

So- what things fall into to the "nature/essence of marriage" category?
1. Sex
I'd give this one a no, because sex is neither unique to marriage nor is it universal or requisite for marriage. Sex is a usual, common characteristic, but it does not meet my standards for essence. One could make the argument that sex would be a part of any healthy marriage of normal, healthy people, but even then, since sex is by no means limited to marriage, it fails the test.

2. Procreation/Co-parenting
No. Procreation, too, fails on both counts- it is not unique to marriage nor is it universal in all marriages.

3. Romantic Love
While it should be a characteristic of marriage, and I would hope would be universal within healthy marriages, it is not unique to marriage. It, too, fails.

4. Mutual Commitment based on an Ideal of Affection
While personal commitment can exist outside of marriage, long term legally and socially ratified commitment is both universal to marriages and unique to marriage. So, I would say that long term legal and social commitment is part of the essence of marriage.

5. Legal benefits/Tax status/next of kin rights/etc
Unique/universal? Yes. No other relationship or institution offers the same legal benefits in this country as does marriage.

6. Religious/Social benefits
Many religions offer benefits/considerations to married couples that they do not offer to the unmarried. Those benefits are universal to all married couples (such as allowing more public affection, endorsing sex and cohabitation, etc) and are uniquely offered to married couples. Here, again, I'd say yes, depending on the religious tradition. (Some treat married and unmarried people alike, but I think that that is not the norm) Likewise with various social groups.

7. Financial benefits (excluding taxes, which fall into number 5)
This would be a no, because cohabitation offers all of the same benefits as does marriage, outside of tax/legal benefits, for a reduction of expenses and the convenience of shared finances. (Unmarried people can share a home, bank accounts, etc)

8. Support of an equal partner/Independence mingled with deep community
While this should certainly be a part of any marriage, it is not unique to marriage

9. Friendship/Companionship
Universal, yes, unique, no.

10. Limited in number- only two people
Universal, yes, unique, no.

So..... it seems, outside of matrimony based on biblical dictates, that the defining characteristics of marriage are legal, socially recognized commitment, presumably springing from affection for the other party, various legal benefits, and various social/religious benefits. Additional characteristics which should be part of marriage but are not central to its definition include sex, financial benefits, friendship/companionship, romantic love, and the option of procreation/co-parenting. Thus, in our society, marriage is a legal, social, and if applicable religious contract/commitment, based on assumed romantic affection between two parties. This is what sets marriage apart from cohabitation or platonic friendship, and this is what we should focus on when we talk about what is or is not ok in the context of legalizing same-sex marriage, for example. With the definition above, gender and sexual orientation does not even play a role, outside of the religious aspect of the contract.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Resources on Homosexuality

For all those considering the issues of homosexuality and christianity, here are some great resources. The video is a lecture by Dr. John Corvino- I just discovered it today, and it's the reason for this post. He makes some excellent points.

You can find his website here......

The next set of links leads to essays written by two gay men, Justin and Ron, on the Gay Christian Network.

One of the men believes that homosexual sex can never be endorsed by God, and thus that all people of a homosexual orientation should remain celibate, and the other man believes that monogamous, married homosexual sex is just as God-honoring as heterosexual sex in the same context. You can find their essays here.

Lastly, here is a link to a recent post on combatting homophobia in the church, and I think the post is helpful whether you support same sex marriage or not, and whether you believe homosexuality is sinful or not.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Nature and Essence

I've been reflecting recently on created natures, essences, and definitions of things. I often hear people speak of the ” essence” or ” nature” of a gender, or a species, or a subculture, and when I do, there are many different opinions about what constitutes nature and essence. What does this mean? How am I going to define the nature and essence of anything, gender-related or otherwise?
After some thought, I have decided upon two litmus tests which must in my opinion be present if an attribute is to be considered the essence or nature of a thing, though their presence does not necessarily dictate said attribute as essence or nature.

The two litmus tests are:

1. Is this attribute unique to this entity, and

2. Is this attribute universal for all entities of this type.

If it does not meet these two tests, then I would classify it as a characteristic, not an essence/definition or nature. (an attribute could be natural to an entity, and generally present, without being unique to that entity, but if that is the case then I would hesitate to use that attribute to define the essence of what makes that entity itself)

For example, monkeys generally like bananas. But....do all monkeys like bananas? Maybe. I honestly have no idea. Is banana liking unique to monkeys? Absolutely not! Therefore, while monkeys may love bananas, I could not say that the essence of a monkey, as opposed to a bird or a fly or a human, say, is liking bananas.

I should add that I'm assuming health and normally in entities- there are some humans who, due to mental and physical illness/abnormality, do not demonstrate some of the essential qualities of humanity, but this makes them no less human. For example, I would list a basic capacity for abstract thought as an essential quality of humans, because it is both unique and universal to healthy, mature humans. Some people are born with severe mental deformities which prevent them from having this ability, but they are still human and because they do not fall into the healthy/mature category they need not negate the quantifying of humanity in general.

As to gender roles- if something is the essence of masculinity or femininity, it should be both unique to and universal within that gender. None of the social traits like aggressive, nurturing, emotional, logical, stoic, or attributes/behaviors like providing, protecting, submitting, and supporting can be essential to a gender based on the above two tests, because none of them are both unique to only one gender and universal within it.

Thus, I would say that there is no masculine or feminine ” nature” apart from the biological/reproductive/chromosomal. We can make generalizations, but even if every stereotype/generalization was 90 prevent accurate, and none of them are, they will never apply universally and should never, ever be seen as prescriptive.  Social science supports some social/behavioral statistical differentiation between genders, but it supports such diversity within genders as well, to an even greater degree.

Universal. Unique. So long as I retain those two tests, I can never be a gender essentialist.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How to Keep From Embarrassing Yourself On Facebook, or The Proper Use Of Snopes And Image Searches

I know some really great people on facebook- generally, these people are smart, well-informed, and fun to be around. However, it sometimes seems as though they turn off certain portions of their brains when it comes time to decide what to post/share/like/endorse and what to leave alone. It boggles my mind when I see an otherwise sane and pleasant human reposting conspiracy theories about "Russian infiltration" or "Obama buying guillotines to kill Christians." For all of us- for all our sakes, and the reputations of any groups we are and ever will be associated with, can we just take a big collective breath and trade paranoia and flippant acceptance for a bit o' good, old-fashioned research and consideration? All the silly memes and conspiracy theories and offensive jokes really don't contribute to our credibility or that of any groups with which we are associated.  Here, I am offering a few simple guidelines for saving ourselves the embarrassment of erroneous or inappropriate postings:

For everything:

1. Don't mindlessly repost ANYTHING. It doesn't matter how much you like or trust the person who shared it, or how plausible it sounds at first.
2. Read it. Read it all. Don't post, link, or like things you haven't actually read. It can end badly.
3. Is it extremely personal or sensitive? Privacy settings are not infallible, and people can circumvent them to pass intriguing info around. If your world would end if it were public knowledge, it's better not to post it, no matter the privacy settings.
4. Is it about someone else? If you are posting either 1. A photo or 2. Information about another person, you should get their permission first. Always. This is not optional.
5. Does it have to do with bodily fluids, your own or your children's? If so, then please limit the audience to those who you are sure would love to hear about that.
6. Is it someone else's intellectual property? If so, just put down the mouse or texting finger and walk away.
For news/science/fact posts:
1. Look at the source. Is it a major news network, respected national or global company, or directly from the subject of the news? If not, more research is needed.
2. Go to Snopes.com. Search related keywords. Snopes is not infallible, and sometimes they have inconclusive results, but they easily debunk the most egregious conspiracy theories so you don't have to.
3. Do a basic image search. If you are considering posting a blurb about killer coconuts from Antarctica, for example, google "coconuts" and click on "images." If you find the same image that is portrayed in your proposed article as a killer coconut from Antarctica, sitting blithely in an ordinary article about coconuts on the beaches of Indonesia, you might want to rethink posting about the Killer Coconuts. It's true that some posts use stock photos, but those will usually be non-specific and un-contextualized.
4. Google the basic premise of the article. Worried about an international crime ring posing as vacuum cleaner salesmen in order to scope out your house for carpet thievery? Google Vacuum Cleaner Salesmen. Look at the results. Do you see an alert from BBC or CNN, or do you see paranoid conspiracy sites which cite in the same breath the horrible dangers of Communist Vacuum Cleaners which take photos of your carpets and send them to Moscow (or whatever is the communist outpost du jour in all the conspiracy rags at the moment) and Space Bats that eat your pets and defecate poisonous radiation pellets into your ventilation system? If the latter sort of site is the only one reporting the news in question, you might want to rethink that post.
5. Does the post list any direct sources from which you can substantiate its conclusions? If not, it should be treated as an opinion piece, not a factual piece.

For opinion/theology/religious pieces/memes:

1. Look at the source. Is this a source you want to be affiliated with? Sometimes bad people write good things, but if you are conditionally endorsing only a part of the piece or if you generally disagree with the author but this post is the exception, you should specify that.
2. Are you posting this piece as irony/satire? If so, be kind and specify. Not everyone picks up on that sort of thing.
3. If you are posting from a trusted source, ask yourself- would I post this if it were from a very different source? Do I genuinely affirm this message or am I just parroting the work of a popular figure?
4. Is it rife with any of the following logical fallacies? (see link here) If so, beware- your credibility with your logical friends may plummet if you post it.
5. Is it a "if you love Jesus or hate cancer or love you mom please repost" sort of thing? As a matter of fact, is it any kind of plea to repost? If it is.... just don't. Refusing to embarrass yourself with a stilted meme will not endear you to terrorists or separate you from Jesus or people you love or earn you bad karma with the Cancer Fairy. I promise.
6. Is it sexist, racist, or homophobic? It can still be incredibly funny, but if it is any of those things, you'd do better to take a pass.

For Religious Folks Who Love their Scriptures (and on a slightly more serious note)

I'm a Christian. That fact is not exactly a secret. I believe that the Bible is inspired and authoritative, and should be my rule of faith and practice. Sometimes, when I'm talking with people, whether on facebook, via email, in person, etc, I reference scripture as a catalyst or justification for something. However, I am not telepathic. I wish that I were, because that would be simply awesome, but I am not. Therefore, I cannot throw out a great scripture passage without any explanation and expect people to understand why I used it and the point I was trying to make with it. Which brings me to:

1. Don't quote a scripture without telling your audience why you quoted it, what you think it says, and how it relates to the subject at hand, unless the literal text speaks directly to your subject so clearly that.... actually, not even then. Never. A few words of explanation will cost you little and foster exponentially better communication. For example: If I'm talking about.....and this is just a hypothetical..... why I left a previous church and someone comes back with "and every man did what was right in his own eyes," I would have no idea whether they were indulging in satire, disapproving of me, or disapproving of someone else. That could mean almost anything, depending on context. Which brings me to

2. Use something that's actually relevant when quoting scripture. Resist the temptation to use Ecc. 11:4  "He who observes the wind will not sow, And he who regards the clouds will not reap" as a justification for your not wanting your child to be a meteorologist, for example. It's also probably not a good idea to use the verse about God's spirit hovering over the waters when you're talking about helicopters. You get the idea.

3. Don't assume that everyone interprets scripture as you do. (one reason why elaboration is so, so necessary) Believe it or not, even within mainstream evangelical/protestant Christianity, there has never been a single, universal interpretation of every verse of the Bible. There are traditional ways to interpret things, but those have never really been entirely unchallenged. Try to remember that your interpretation is just that, and that people can be just as committed to the authority of scripture and to responsible hermeneutics as you are and still come up with a different interpretation. If you disagree with someone's interpretation, by all means tell them, giving sound historical and logical reasons for your take on things. You may still end up in sincere disagreement, but it's no reason why you can't be friends.

4. Don't use scripture to beat your friends over the head with wrongdoing unless you are really close, have a relationship that lends itself to mutual accountability, and are in private.

5. You can be a Christian without using scripture to back up everything you say on the internet. It is ok to argue a rational point. Since your faith should color everything you do, you are not doing it a disservice by occasionally leaving it out of unrelated arguments. Scripture is wonderful, but do you need to cite specific verses in a conversation about teething or immunizations or healthcare? Probably not.

I can't promise that following all of these guidelines will save you from any future internet embarrassment, but I can say that I've never seen a horrible post that couldn't have been avoided by following one or more of them.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Not Another Feel-Good Mommy Post

Something's been annoying me lately- namely, all the "mommy blog" posts which are flitting around the internet, patting moms on the back for whatever they do, however they do it. Don't get me wrong- I think that being a stay at home mom is a hard job, an incredibly important one, and deserves oodles of encouragement; however, if a pat on the back is going to actually mean something to me then I'd prefer it be more than a celebration of the barest adequacy.

An example of some things I would find helpful would be, instead of "you're awesome, forget the laundry, go hug your kids:" "Getting All The Stuff done is really hard. Here are some ways you can do it more efficiently" or "how to evaluate whether being a stay-at-home parent is right for your family" or "how to prioritize and balance work and home more effectively" or "In praise of mom X, who rocked it like a boss and did X."

Encouragement is great, but it should be about praising great actions, carefully cultivated traits, and focused effort- the bare minimum of adequacy shouldn't elicit an ode, and when it does, the veracity of the source comes into question for me. How much is approbation really worth when I did nothing to earn it, and how cherished can a medal for participation really be? When praise is a given despite results, I think that it's meaningless.

One of the hardest things, for me, about not working full time/not writing/composing/performing much, is that there is very little measurable sense of accomplishment on a day-to-day basis. Yes, I know that raising smart, kind, humble, successful, Jesus-loving, Church-loving, feminist sons is the most important job in the world at the moment and that it has monumentally far-reaching effects on my kids, their kids, and their world. I understand the concept, but it's still difficult to stay focused and keep a vision for what I'm doing when so much of it is boring minutiae. This makes the things that I can turn into measurable achievements all the more important to my general sanity. I don't want to hear that getting the laundry done doesn't matter- I want to be pleased that I got it done faster today than I did yesterday. I want to know that my work is important, and that doing a good job with it is important. I want to up my productivity and streamline my routine and spend time with my kids, homeschool, keep a fairly tidy home, eat healthily, and pursue my career. This, this "work and mother" path, is a difficult path, and "moms who limit their facebooking and discipline their internet time so that they can clean the house and work on a freelance project and take dinner to their pregnant friend and make it to choir practice on time are The Greatest" just sounds better than "Don't worry about the house or the other stuff- cuddle with the kids and relax." Relaxing is great, but uncompleted work makes me stressed and less productive. (That, and cutting everything from my life but my house and my kids would make me go stark, raving mad. :) ) I'm not saying that stressing out about perfection is healthy, but that setting priorities and goals and striving for competence and self-improvement is far superior to accepting the status quo as my only option and accepting my current level of performance. I know my worth to God and to my family isn't based on my performance, but I'll be darned if I wouldn't go a bit bonkers without a bit of friendly competition with myself from time to time!

Also, I sometimes think that people are making the avoiding of evaluative judgements into an art form. While diversity is great, and the same parenting/housekeeping/professional strategies won't work for all of us, there is such a thing as doing a bad job, an ok job, and a great job. (And yes, while there is a scale, it is somewhat subjective, depending on our specific goals and priorities) We shouldn't be harsh or unkind to those who are lower on that scale than we are, but we should be ready to help if we're asked and to give genuine, constructive encouragement. In the same way, we shouldn't make fun of moms who have laser-like focus and who are extremely disciplined and efficient- we should ask them for some helpful tips. Genuine, well-earned encouragement makes my day and gives me strength, but a pat on the back for something that should be a given, or a celebratory endorsement of mediocrity, is just depressing.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Monday, July 29, 2013

Language App

Ok, so I thought that Geoguessr was the best online game EVER.... until I started Duolingo. :) My phone app for it is a bit slow, but other than that I really, really, REALLY like it and it's a good way for me to keep my spanish and french up. Woohoo! It's quite fun, too.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sharing God With The Little Ones

I was reading the evening bible stories with my little guys in Mr. 6 yr old's room, when Mr. 4 yr old asked me, "Mama- if Jesus is right here with us, is he in this blanket? And if he is, why does it feel like a regular blanket? Is he so tiny that he fits between the threads so we can't feel him?" So I talked with him about what omnipresence means, and that while God isn't the blanket, and isn't part of the blanket, God is still here and we can see God in the blanket and let the blanket remind us of God and God's gentle presence and remind us to thank God for soft, warm, and gentle things. After I finished, Mr. 6 yr old said "Mama- how can we see God in a blankie and in pointy sticks? How can God be gentle and warm and also sharp and sticky?" So we talked about God's strength and protective power, and God's righteous anger and God's justice. I think their theology cup was officially full, because when I was done, they were back to giggling and joking and trying to read science books in their rooms without their parents noticing. I love those little guys, with all their mischievousness, their laughter, their frustrating antics, and their simple faith. Children are, truly, a blessing from God.

On Liturgy, and why I love it

The other day, I heard a dear friend say that they didn't like the idea of liturgy, that liturgy couldn't be life-filled or spirit-led, and that their non-denominational church was not at all liturgical. Well...

.I was raised exclusively in non-denominational/charismatic churches until college, when I first attended a methodist church. After I married, my husband and I attended and led worship at non-denominational churches until we joined our current UMC home. Suffice it to say, I have a good deal of experience in both "liturgical" and "non-liturgical" traditions. I think that there is liturgy, ritual, and tradition in every church, at least every one I've ever visited; I do not think that stereotypically liturgical churches are as rigid as some think they are, nor do I believe stereotypically "non-liturgical" churches are as flexible- I think the liturgies are simply different. Whether there is an official liturgy in the usual sense or not, the worship service usually follows a pattern and includes the same basic elements in the same order. The sermon is usually (hopefully :) ) thought out ahead of time, the music selected days before worship, and even the interludes of prayer and inspirational blurbs by the worship leader tend to be pre-selected. This is not to say that no impromptu changes ever occur- they do, especially in any music time/ministry time that may follow either the sermon or the main body of worship music- but that generally, things follow an order and are predetermined, even in the most charismatic of churches. This is not, in my opinion, a bad thing.

Take the music, for example- while "spirit-led worship" is an ideal for many charismatic churches, the fact is that very few church musicians are skilled enough to do it or have the time to dedicate to their team, and very few churches have the resources to hire and maintain a full-time commitment from a team of musicians. In fact, I have never seen a team that truly did "spirit led worship", if that means worship that was not planned and orchestrated ahead of time. Even the most apparently "spirit led" (musically acceptable) team in the world, in my experience, plans out the music, rehearses it, etc days ahead. One main instrument and a singer or two can go "off the cuff" more easily, but a whole team is unprecedented in my experience as both a congregant and a worship leader. Then, too, the scripture and prayer that the worship leader may offer during worship are often selected beforehand. Sometimes the worship leader may hear the pastor go a certain direction in the sermon, and may choose something which complements it at the end of the service. (this happens sometimes in more traditionally liturgical churches as well, as worship leaders generally strive to make the message of the music and the spoken word a cohesive whole) Regardless, it is rare, in my experience, for a worship leader to reject predictable, rehearsed music and pre-selected inspiration. Again- I do not see this as at all negative, but I am observing what is.

Then there is the preaching- the main sermon in any church is prepared beforehand. In our methodist church we also have the affirmation of faith, responsive reading, and written prayers we say together, whereas in the charismatic church we have usual greetings/invitations, "words" that some people share on a regular basis, etc. Both have patterns, but the patterns are different.

One of the reasons I love our church is its liturgy. Much of the liturgy has been refined over time and is beautifully and powerfully worded, and the prayers of the liturgists have been the subject of much thought and effort. I love having my children beside me, learning and saying with conviction the essential elements of faith. There is a sense of calm, community, and commonality with the Church past and present that I feel when I participate in our liturgies that I truly love. If we all have liturgy and ritual, why not embrace it and make it something beautiful and meaningful? If we accept that liturgy and ritual and tradition, while they should certainly be flexible and open to change when the Spirit leads so, are an inescapable part of our churches, then this frees us to think about the liturgy, what we are saying, how we are saying it, and what it calls to our minds. I think that intentional liturgy is better liturgy. This doesn't mean, of course, that every liturgy has to sound serious or formal, or that Methodist liturgy should fit in or be adopted by other churches- but I think that a bit of honest evaluation might reveal an area in the non-liturgical church that could be improved upon.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Book review: Dance of the Dissident Daughter

This book was recommended to me by a friend recently, and while I don't relate to/agree with everything in it, I think it's worth reading.

The author, Sue Monk Kidd, is a one-time christian inspirational writer-turned-novelist, and is also the author of The Secret Life of Bees.

The general subject of the book is the importance of the Sacred Feminine in the spiritual and physical lives of women and those who love them, and it is the story of the author's journey from a more traditional, patriarchy-based understanding of God and spirituality to an understanding that includes both Sacred Masculine and Sacred Feminine, among other things. One of the aspects of her journey to which I cannot really relate is her leaving of the church entirely, not just certain churches or denominations, and her elevation of her own experience past the the point I'd peg as healthy. Unlike Ms. Kidd, I believe that a woman can find a balanced understanding of a genderless God within the Christian Church, and that she can find the closest possible relationship with God through a focus on the gospel and the teachings of Christ and with a community of christians to support her.

First, the writing- the book is divided into four sections- Awakening, Initiation, Grounding, and Empowerment. The chronology jumps around- the story is told in many smaller stories, and there is no organizational structure such as thesis points, a chronological timeline, or really any division between the stories, except for her own four general categories. The story is a progression, but not a strictly linear one. For this reason the style doesn't appeal to me and made the book difficult to finish; that's more a statement of preference than an evaluative judgement. If you like to segue between stories more than you like following a concept down a linear progression, Ms. Kid's style will probably appeal to you.

Ms. Kidd writes that her process of "awakening to her feminine self" began with a vivid dream, in which she gave birth to a daughter who was also herself. She says "For years I had written down my dreams, believing, as I still do, that one of the purest sources of knowledge about our lives comes from the symbols and images deep within." This reverence for individual truth and personal feeling is a recurring theme throughout the book. While I think that being knowledgeable and aware of oneself and in tune with feelings and reactions is important, I tend to elevate Truth that exists outside of myself as a litmus test by which to evaluate and quantify personal feelings, so this is not a theme I particularly relate to. I do think that it could be an important point for a person who is not self-aware, or is accustomed to being dismissed, ignored, or minimized; we should not dismiss or ignore, except perhaps temporarily so that we deal with them on our terms, our feelings and reactions. What a person believes about themselves has an enormous impact on themselves and the people around them, and self-knowledge is always healthy and necessary; I do think that this can be taken too far when people blindly accept their feelings as true, as the opposite extreme to repression and self-depreciation.

Ms. Kidd speaks of a gradual awakening to things she had seen all her life but never noticed, and a gradual process of a distinctly feminine self-actualization. This brings me to my main issue with her perspective- she is far, far more of a gender essentialist than I am, and some of her statements seem oddly reminiscent of gender-based statements I have seen in fundamentalist literature from the opposite perspective. Part of her perspective I find beautiful and true- namely, the ideas that a woman experiences spirituality in a deeper way and/or accepts her life as female with more passion and contentment when all holiness and deity is not exclusively male, and that women need strength and autonomy. I don't make the same correlations between women's biological ability to nurture life and a unique feminine propensity for relational nurturing as does Ms. Kidd. But more on that later.

Ms Kidd, who loves the christian monastic and contemplative sides, describes the pivotal experiences she had in monastic retreats, experiences which propelled her into an understanding of God as both Father and Mother, and she describes the dissonance between her growing need to identify with the feminine aspect of God and her attendance at a traditional Southern Baptist church. She remembers the messages both she and her own daughter received as children, messages of male headship and a limitation of certain levels of spiritual service to males. These experiences, along with any harassment and dismissal she experienced, she labels part of something called the Feminine Wound. Ms. Kidd writes that for the first part of her life, she had been asleep as a woman, and unaware of the injustices which she experienced as a female. She had been operating, unbeknownst to herself, in a paradigm which placed a man at the center of woman's existence, and put any personal goals, desires, or development secondary to the wishes and needs of the man. As her awakening progressed, she found herself realizing and recognizing unhealthy patterns and inequalities in her most basic relationships. I relate to this part of her experience- being naturally aggressive and independent, I assume that I have succeeded in overcoming stereotypes and co-dependencies, only to find another root of harmful philosophy that I never knew was a part of me.

Ms. Kidd describes something which she feels every woman should embrace- a uniquely feminine soul; a sense of the relational and interconnected, and the guiding force and power of women. Here I disagree with her, as I don't think souls are gendered, nor do I believe that every woman has a deep internal connection to a relational, earthy, nurturing, inner self. She goes on to say that women have been underrepresented in the historical naming and quantifying of spiritual truth- this I can believe, at least in the official sense. The basic orthodoxy we hold dear was, largely, codified by men, and I can certainly admit the plausibility of her assertion that this fact is responsible for the demise of the sacred feminine within Christianity. I agree with Ms. Kidd on the importance of the sacred feminine to women, in the sense that if God is both feminine and masculine, the idea of both genders as equally divine image bearers becomes more difficult to undermine.

Ms. Kidd describes our culture, even our faith culture, as anesthetizing the feminine spirit, and she quotes Clarissa Pinkola Estes, a quote which I loved:

When a woman is exhorted to be compliant, cooperative, and quiet, to not make upset or go against the old guard, she is pressed into living a most unnatural life- a life that is self-blinding.....without innovation. The world-wide issue for women is that under such conditions they are not only silenced, they are put to sleep. Their concerns, their viewpoints, their own truths are vaporized.

I'd like to think that in the years since Ms. Kidd was young, some of the ways in which she describes females being silenced, minimized, or objectified are no longer as prevalent, but I do think that such things still exist, whether in tempered form, in pockets of religious fundamentalism, or in other places around the world. The condition of women in other places ranges from equality or very near, in some western countries, to the most terrible slavery and oppression in places like the Middle East, parts of Asia, and parts of Africa. I wish I could say that my country was free from the oppressing and silencing of women, but there are echos of it here to varying degrees, more in certain sub-cultures than in others. Whenever I hear people blame a rape victim, or act as if a woman matters nothing if she is not beautiful, or deny higher education to a daughter because of her gender, or exclude women from equal participation in worship, I cringe, thinking of all the steps, all too few, between such polite oppression and the more serious forms of oppression in other parts of the world.

Ms. Kidd describes the course of her life prior to her feminine awakening as filled with attempts to fit external ideals of Christian Womanhood which she had internalized from church and society. She lists several archetypes which describe the good daughter of patriarchy she used to be- the Gracious Lady, that archetype of southern charm, sophistication, and reserve, the Favored Daughter, with all her compliance and man- pleasing and perfectionism, the Secondary Partner, with all her self-effacing and self-sacrificing, and the Silent Woman, with her repression and anger and desperation to be heard. I relate to this as well, knowing the pressure to conform to an ideal of feminine reality and the frustration of being deemed unfeminine because I cannot.

Throughout the book, Ms. Kidd describes various experiences in which she found the Sacred Feminine- dancing with her friends on the beach, experiences in nature, and study of and visiting sacred places of the Sacred Feminine. Many of her examples of the sacred feminine in early religions were new to me, and this aspect of the book was a catalyst for much enjoyable further study. She relates some of her experiences as a metaphor to the story of Ariadne, and the back-and-forth between this story and her own was interesting.

Ms. Kidd does not denigrate men, but respects and loves her husband, which I appreciate. All too often, I see the stereotype of the independent "feminist" woman inextricably linked in people's minds with a "bad wife", or a distant, disrespectful, or inattentive woman. Not so- I was never a better wife than I am now, in all my feminist glory. :) It's funny how a push for honesty, equality, and mutual love and respect actually doesn't ruin a relationship.....

Throughout this book, Ms. Kidd references many religions having to do with the Sacred Feminine, and seems to appreciate that aspect of their spirituality. In my own belief, while the only complete Truth is found in Christ, other religions can certainly have good mixed in with the not-so-good, and can be a source of revelation, as can many non-religious things. Ms. Kidd mentions the sacred feminine symbology of the serpent several times, which I find interesting considering its biblical symbology... which in turn simply reminds us of the fluid nature and limited empiricism of symbology. :) When drawing from many eras and cultures, it is wholly possible that multiple symbologies for the same object or idea can arise, and vice versa. It is also possible that multiple symbologies per the same object may exist within the Bible, and that other, later philosophies which were antithetical to feminine wisdom and equality may have tainted our perception of some of those passages.

I like Ms. Kidd's focus, too, on moving past anger and channeling emotion and energy into action. This is a concept which we'd all do well to imitate. She also acknowledges the importance of allowing for diversity and solidarity between women, and realizes that we are not all the same person with a different shell. All in all, I enjoyed the book and found value in it, though I do not agree with everything within it and though I relate more to the general concepts than to Ms. Kidd's specific experience.

Meme of the Day

Meme of the Day


Some of my very favorites:

  • Pianos
  • Disposable Diapers
  • Coffee
  • Air Conditioning
  • Reliable Contraception
  • Bach
  • Automatic Dishwashers
  • Lists
  • Fast Wifi
  • Precision
  • Quiet

Not my favorites:

  • Laundry
  • Clutter
  • Background Noise
  • Cats
  • Cherry Sodas
  • Flowers (the cut-and-tied-with-ribbon kind; in their natural state, and not in my house, flowers are lovely.) 
  • Ambiguity
  • Large Parties
  • Out-of Diaper Experiences (in my house, this is where you poop in your diaper and manage to get it all over your crib, sheets, walls, etc as well.)

I love my family, my job, and my life, and I am thankful for the privileges and blessings I enjoy. Particularly the Air Conditioning. Oh, and spending the time it would have taken to wash the dishes by hand...drinking coffee. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Racism and Christian Compassion

I have heard an embarrassing amount of misinformation about the Trayvon/George case from fellow christians, but I think that one of the most frustrating things I've witnessed is the attempts at compassion, and the advocating of certain questionable varieties of such. Now- should this case merit our compassion, and is it our duty as christians to comfort and show compassion to those who are hurting? Of course. Always! But there is a way to do that without sacrificing truth and without disguising racism as compassion.

I hear comments like "christians should show compassion for and solidarity with Black America" and I think: Really? I was under the impression that there wasn't a Black America and a White America, but that there was just ... America. To label everyone subjectively identified as "black" as Black America (and, in this context, to assume that they view this case a certain way) is to say that all black people are part of a monolithic color group which defines them, their opinions, and their feelings. I know that I, as a white person, would be a little offended if someone made those assumptions about me, spoke about compassion and solidarity with white america as if there is such a thing, and assumed that because I am white I identify with the parties with lighter skin, regardless of the specifics of the case.

Equally frustrating is the assumption that in order to avoid the racist label, one must side with the black person, or that because a black person was killed by a hispanic person who sounded white, this is de facto a case of racism against black people. (There are plenty of examples of that without adding cases which do not apply to it, I'm sad to say.) I find the notion inconceivable that showing christian compassion equals eulogizing and misrepresenting and that siding against the closest thing to a white male in this case is automatically more compassionate. Perhaps everyone really believes in misinformation that paints the parties as a racist man and an innocent kid, (as opposed to two really, REALLY stupid men) but I find that hard to believe.

We should show compassion for the police chief (and his family) who lost his job for refusing to charge a man who he believed was innocent, and for George Zimmerman and his family- while George committed no crimes, he did not make the smart decision at a key point, and for this his life is in danger, his career wrecked, and his family in hiding. He truly deserves our compassion. The family of Trayvon deserves our compassion as well- losing a child is always horrible, no matter how old the child is, how troubled, or what the child has done. Even youths who abuse drugs and turn to crime should receive our compassion and our support, though this does not negate the consequences for their actions. We don't need to lie about who Trayvon was, or who Zimmerman is, to show them compassion. We should pray for the Zimmerman family in the shambles they are in, hope that painful but valuable lessons were learned, and help them where we can. We should pray for other young men and women who, like Trayvon, are running down a path which can only be destructive to them and their families. We need to make sure that young people who come from broken homes, who struggle with addictions, who are headed toward a life of crime, have a safe place in the Church where they may find counseling, support, and mentorship. Most of all, we should stop the racism, be it against whatever color, for it helps no one. We are all made in the image of God and equally valuable as part of God's human creation. Had the survivors been reversed, this case would have been just as tragic.

Our christian duty of compassion should extend to all, regardless of race, gender, orientation, ethnicity, location, socio-economic status, or whatever. This compassion is not incompatible with, and indeed is intimately connected to, shining truth on the situations in which we find ourselves. Divisive rhetoric from either side is not compatible with compassion, but honest evaluation of facts and issues is. Truth in love is not racism, and refusing to slow down, listen, and self-examine is not a sign of strength.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Zimmerman, Martin and Racism

To begin, a brief rundown of the case, in case any of my readers aren't familiar with it-
Trayvon Martin goes to a 7-11 at about 6:21pm. He buys candy and a soda.  
He hangs around for a while, and heads back home. At 7:09, Zimmerman calls police while watching Trayvon near the gated community's clubhouse, less than a half-mile from the 7-11.
"This guy looks like he's up to no good," Z tells the police.  "Or he's on drugs or something.  It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about."  (TM was either on drugs or had been within the last month, according to his autopsy. )
"He's coming towards me," Z tells the police about TM, who is now walking towards his truck. When asked to describe TM, Z says he is a black male. "He's coming to check me out. He's got something in his hands." "Can you get an officer patrol here?"
After TM passes his truck, Z says, "He's running."  Z says TM is headed "toward the back entrance." (of the neighborhood)
The dispatcher tells Z "we don't need you to do that" in reference to following TM, and Z stops for a moment. TM leaves. Z arranges where he'll meet officers, and Z gets out of his truck and looks around, and seeing no sign of TM, gets back in. (conflicting reports here- some sources say Z only got out once, when TM confronted him; some say Z got out to look around after TM left and got back in.)
TM comes back and confronts Z about following him. Z gets out of his truck. Words are exchanged, and TM attacks Z, banging his head on the sidewalk. Eyewitnesses confirm that TM was on top of Z beating him up. Z takes out his gun and fatally shoots TM. Cops arrive, Z is questioned, but not charged with a crime.

George Zimmerman is hispanic, but has been referred to as "white hispanic." Trayvon Martin was black. simply because of this fact, there were riots, protests, and "retaliation attacks" on whites by blacks with the aggressors citing TM as their impetus for the attack. The media paints TM as a nice kid who was just out for a snack and was profiled and shot for being a young black male in the wrong place at the wrong time. However.... the evidence does not support that theory.

 For one thing, in the media blitz, Trayvon is often represented as a cherubic 12 year old or labeled a "child". In reality, he was a physical match, perhaps more than, for Zimmerman. A key witness for the prosecution actually changed her testimony after learning that the "big guy" was TM- she said that the "guy on top was clearly bigger", and she assumed that was Z, because TM was "just a little kid." Well.... not really. TM was 3 inches taller than Z, and roughly 20 lbs lighter. 

It is also possible that TM actually was related to a recent string of robberies in Z's neighborhood, as Z feared. (Z's neighborhood had seen many recent break ins, robberies, etc committed primarily by young, black men, so when Z saw behavior from TM that appeared consistent with "casing the joint", Z had reason to believe TM was up to no good.)   "He's just staring, looking at all the houses," said Z. TM's background is pertinent here: On October 21, 2011, he received his second suspension of that school year. A security guard at his school had seen TM writing on a locker, and in looking through TM's bag for the marker, the guard discovered 12 pieces of jewelry, a watch, and a screwdriver described as a "burglary tool". Also, there were incriminating pictures on TM's phone, not released to the defense when they should have been, one of which was of a pile of jewelry on his bed. 

In the media, TM is portrayed as an innocent youth who went out for snacks for his brother and never came home. The background we have on him does not seem to support this conclusion.  

Trayvon had "statistic" written all over him.  In the past year or so, his social media sites showed a growing interest in drugs, in mixed martial arts-style street fighting, in a profoundly vulgar exploitation of "bitches."  
Trayvon posed for one photo with a raised middle finger, another with wads of cash held in an out-stretched arm....

(this post  says that a YouTube video shows him refereeing a fight club-style street fight, (I saw the video, and I can't tell if it's actually him or not) and that a cousin had recently tweeted him, "Yu ain't tell me yu swung on a bus driver," meaning, if true, that Trayvon had punched out a bus driver. It also speculates that the two items he purchased were two of the necessary ingredients for a homemade codeine-based drug he was fond of, if his facebook posts can be believed. The concoction was known as Lean. (since his facebook posts are no longer available, this is pure supposition. I've seen screenshots of the posts, but their validity is difficult to prove. They do seem to be from his actual facebook account, but they could have been altered pretty easily.)
...Zimmerman never saw the cute little boy that the TV audience did.  He saw a full-grown man, a druggy, a wannabe street fighter, the tattooed, gold-grilled, self-dubbed "No_Limit_Nigga."

In popular media, we have seen George Zimmerman's life dissected, from his study of Florida law to his possible ambitions to a career in law enforcement, his knowledge of and ownership of guns, etc. He is painted as an overeager, wannabe vigilante, and a racist one at that. He may well be all of those things, but why, I wonder, was the same scrutiny not placed on Trayvon Martin? (Not to say I'm glorifying Z here either- I think he acted like a complete idiot- but then, I think they both did.) Why the one-sided media campaign, even to the point of editing Zimmerman's call transcripts an recordings and photoshopping the police photos to remove evidence of injury? Why the protesting, the electric dialogue of race and privilege? Why was the police chief who refused to charge Z without grounds fired? Why was the DA who refused to charge him replaced? Why did the President side with TM, when he knew practically nothing of the details of the case? Either party could have ended it without any violence happening- TM by not returning to confront the "creepy ass cracker", and Z by staying in his vehicle until the real cops arrived. Why did the president issue the following statement:

"The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin."-Barack Obama

One word: Racism. 

It is racist to assume that because Zimmerman is not black, he would automatically racially (as opposed to criminally- they're not the same) profile and fear a black man. It is racist to side with Trayvon, in the face of evidence of his culpability, because he was black. It is racist to vilify one party and extol another, without knowing the details, and basing that decision solely on the races involved. It is racist to give Zimmerman's life now lived as a hermit and in shambles no thought, just because he is not Black. If Zimmerman had been black, his life would not be in danger. If he were black, or even if his name sounded less white, he would not have had to go through the ordeal he faced, and still faces. His family would be safe, he would be working, and he would not fear unjust prosecution- if he were just a little less white.

In summary- If Mr. Zimmerman were a little less white, his life would not be the testament to American racism that it is today. From the President down, I have seen some shamefully racist responses and assumptions, and it's embarrassing. The facts of a case should matter more than the political implications of it, the actions of the parties involved more than their skin color, and if we could go back to "innocent until proven guilty"..... that would be nice. Making something about race that never was, harming innocent people in the process, co-opting an unrelated situation to highlight social issues like guns, violence against or by black men, etc, or glorifying a person because of their race... those things are racist and do nothing but contribute to the racism we still have here. This case should have been about two men who were desperately in need of some common sense, discretion, and calm reasoning; about a man who put himself in the position to be attacked because of his own stupidity, (Z) and who was then in the position to have to use his weapon in self-defense. Nobody wins, and the death of a person is always a serious thing, but the case, truly, has nothing to do with white-on-black racism.

Racism is an ugly thing in all its forms. Black people have faced a lot of it in this country, as have Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Arabs, Jews, etc. But- the solution is not to turn the tables into the racism against Whites that we see here! Far from it. The solution is to see each other as people, not colors- to demand nothing, give up nothing, expect nothing, and silently endure nothing because of our race. Race should tell us nothing about a person but the colors which look best on their skin tone and the ease with which they sunburn- and even there, it's hardly an exact science. A black person is no less capable or intelligent than a white person, and a white person is no more disposed to prejudice than is a black person. We are born in our bodies- we should embrace them in all their beauty and diversity. We cannot change them, nor ought we to try. But our actions, our words, our culture- that we can change.

Race does not make us criminals, or poor, or privileged, or oblivious to the less fortunate, or educated, or uneducated, or smart, or uncivilised, or more or less worthy, capable, or successful. We are responsible for that ourselves. So let's not blame our actions or circumstances, or those of others, on race. Color is just that. As Christians, we have all the more responsibility to be just and fair in our dealings. Jesus taught humility and solidarity with all believers- rich, poor, jew, roman, greek, slaves, free, men, women.... there is no racism, and no arbitrary privilege, in the kingdom of heaven. We all have lenses through which we view our world- these lenses should be inspected for racism and other prejudices regularly, no matter what race, gender, or class we are. We are not the same, but we are of equal value. We are individuals, not colors, or genders, or sizes, or anything else. We may not have the same gifts and talents and abilities as everyone around us, but those things are not handed out based on characteristics like race or gender. We are responsible individuals and beloved of God. Let's act like it.

For video of the trial, go here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Cross-posting at CBE

One of my past posts on Femininity is at Christians For Biblical Equality today. Check them out- they're on my blogroll, and they have some great articles in their archives.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Modesty, Part 5: Biblical Modesty

Mat 6:28  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 

Modesty is taught in scripture, and as it is taught there it is an important lesson for both men and women. The sort of modesty we find in the bible, however, has nothing to do with covering skin or sexuality of any sort. Rather, biblical modesty is synonymous with simplicity, humility, and having the right priorities.

(1Ti 2:8-10)  I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness--with good works. 

(1Pe 3:3-4)  Do not let your adorning be external--the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear-- but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.

I see this as an admonition to Christians to resist the temptation to be obsessed with the latest fashions and the temptation to put all our resources into maintaining a competitive appearance. It is natural to want to be beautiful, and admired, but the most important adornment for a Christian is our heart of love and service and the good works which flow from it.

Matthew Henry says, "Those that profess godliness should, in their dress, as well as other things, act as becomes their profession; instead of laying out their money on fine clothes, they must lay it out in works of piety and charity, which are properly called good works." 

A practical example of this teaching would be the emphasis we Christians sometimes put on appearance in our worship services- do we require that worshipers dress expensively to fit in among us? Do we have a tacit dress code that cannot be met by those with limited resources? Do we care more about how nicely we are dressed for church, or how nicely others can see Christ in our actions when we're there? Do we accept all visitors to our fellowship as they are, endeavoring to see them as God sees them, as people with hearts, souls, minds, hopes, and pain of their own?

Barnes says, "The word here rendered “modest” (κόσμιος  kosmios), properly relates to ornament, or decoration, and means that which is “well-ordered, decorous, becoming.” It does not, properly, mean modest in the sense of being opposed to that which is immodest, or which tends to excite improper passions and desires, but that which is becoming or appropriate."

(Jas 2:2-4)  For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet,"  have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 

Also, dressing in such a way as to be situationally appropriate, simple, and pleasant without demanding a spotlight is an art form that we all, men and women, should attempt to practice. This has less to do with sexiness or coverage, and more to do with cultural context, practicality, and intentional simplicity, in my opinion. And, simple needn't be drab; it's more the antithesis of gaudy, extravagant, or garish. A two piece swimsuit can well fit into this paradigm at the beach, but the most covering, sexless swimsuit would not be the best choice for worship or school or a funeral, as the loveliest church dress would probably be inappropriate while working in the food bank or weeding the garden. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Modesty, Part 4: A Guy's Perspective

I have always loved my husband's take on the modesty issue, so to that end I would like to "interview"/ converse with him about it here so you guys can hear it as well. When I was growing up, any time I heard the phrase "from a guy's perspective" I remember a perspective being shared that differed substantially from the one my husband is going to share. I think his thoughts are very valuable here, both on their own merit and as a counterpoint to other views expressed by his fellow christian men. So without further ado, here's my husband! (My questions are in bold, his answers are not)

First, Nathan- can you tell us a little bit about yourself? I would love to hear what your church background is, what you were taught as a kid about modesty, etc.......
Well, before we get into history and background, and I associate myself and family with some pretty crazy ideas I want to make your audience aware of something.  Despite the issues I have with some of the Fundamentalist doctrines and dogmas I was taught, I have to clearly state that I hold no animosity toward my parents. Without their instruction I would have no basis for the reevaluation and evolution of my faith. My parents lived out an honest system and eminently equipped me with instruction including both a love for God and the Bible, and critical thinking and logic.  These are the tools of strong faith that also enable me to defend and support that faith. In short, without my parents and their instruction I would be lost.

I was raised in various fundamentalist evangelical churches.  My earliest memories of church involve me sitting (or standing) in a pew in the Fairview Primitive Baptist Church   it was a very conservative and exclusionary doctrine, closed communion, a capella hymnal music, and hard core 5 point Calvinism.

Through growth and their own spiritual exploration (including a very real move to another state) my parents began attending a PCA church (Presbyterian Church of America, again a conservative, Calvinistic environment but more liberal than the Primitive Baptist Church).  As my parents eyes were opened to the untruths and false dogmas they had been taught, our family became a part of a small church that corporately was exploring what it meant to walk in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and to move out of some very rigid dogma.  Looking back this church was in a state of flux from its inception There were at least four different families with a modicum of leadership and each family had its own direction to go.  Each family had its own ideas about Christianity and modesty so I was exposed to everything from hijab-like modesty standards to shorts and a tank top.

My parents raised me with a respect for other people and were very open in discussion regarding attraction to/from the opposite sex and any details I needed regarding sex.  I count myself very lucky because throughout their teaching (particularly early on) they were able to impart a respect of the body and not associate it with shame and sin.

As I approached puberty my family joined ATI/IBLP.  With that curriculum and environment the standards of modesty required by our family were elevated in public for the sake of conformity to the standard set by the program. My parents never bought into the ATI/IBLP ideas completely. They would always warn us children about the danger of legalism and a works (conformity) based gospel.  However as immature children we did not really understand and so we let the curriculum and peer pressure drive our standards.  My parents, (I think they did not understand the damage it could cause) allowed false ideas of modesty to fester and grow.

Do you believe that modesty is a fixed standard or a relative one?
Easy answer, and short. Modesty is a relative standard.

I really don't know anyone that would seriously argue that it isn't (granted I don't know many people in the grand scheme of things.)  The ones I know might argue that since we don't know if/what God's modesty standard is we should be as modest as possible. However that is an impossible argument based on arbitrary opinion.

What do you think about the concept of modesty as it relates to our responsibility for others? Do you think that christian women have a responsibility to dress modestly so as not to be a stumbling block to their brothers in Christ?
No.  All individuals have a responsibility to dress in praise to the Creator.  There are no special modesty requirements for women versus men, other than what may be legally dictated by society.

I put the responsibility for "stumbling" at the feet of the stumbler.  If a man is going to sin by wallowing in a possessive lust because he saw a tank top and short shorts, he's gonna do it if he sees a navy jumper with a giant white collar.  One of the great dangers of this overbearing focus on "not causing a brother to stumble" is that men are not taught self control.  Men (especially young men and boys) begin to believe that they have no control over their primal desires.  These ideas so focus men on the id that they forget about the ego and super ego, those tools the Creator gave us that allow men to be more than an animal.  When I refer to "self control" I mean control over both emotions and rational thought.  It is dangerous to teach young men that "self control" is to "flee youthful lusts" and to merely run from something they think is a sin.  One day they won't be able to run and they will need to know how to control emotions with intellect rather than replacing one emotion (lust) with another (fear).

I can testify that both intellect and morals are active during libidinous excitement.  I have personally had offers of an erotic nature made to me (it was before I was married and the individuals making the offers were endowed with bodies fit to tempt) and it was no great (or small) thing to turn it down.  My mind was perfectly able to respond to that emotional stimuli with rational thought. Man's intellect and morals can only be over ridden by our primal mind if we choose to let them be.  If we have been trained to think that men revert to the primal nature when exposed to sex.  Then when we (men) are exposed to sex our minds WILL revert to that primal nature because we have a perfect excuse to satisfy it.

How would you define "biblical" modesty, or the modesty that is mentioned in the New Testament?
Is there such a thing?  If we take the Bible literally and use the biblical culturally specific mandates of modesty in the Bible, then women cannot braid their hair, wear jewelry or makeup, or wear any clothes or uniform that is worn by men.  The danger here is that if we are that literal with scripture in one place, to be consistent we must be just as literal EVERYWHERE ELSE in the Bible; including stoning disobedient children and  innocent people whose only crime was being related to an oathbreaker (Joshua 7).

If however we take the view that those "modesty" references are culturally specific, then the Bible really has no "opinion" on modesty.  Instead it deals with personal responsibility Philippians 2:1-9.

What are the responsibilities of men when it comes to modesty? What are the responsibilities of women? Do the two differ?
The responsibilities of men are exactly the same as the responsibilities of women in regard to modesty. There is no difference.  Modesty is not about the clothes worn, but personal conduct.  The idea of "modesty" is cheapened when it is only about the physical accoutrements.

How has working in a service field affected your view of modesty and temptation?
It hasn't affected my views of modesty at all.  Modesty is a factor of personal and social responsibility and morality.  Temptation also is a factor of personal morality and opinion.  Having worked in the service field for several years I was regularly exposed to scenarios that could/would be considered to "immodest" or "tempting".  However, due to the differences in personal opinion, temptation is impossible to define by any specific behavior or action.  I could be tempted by something that another person would find innocuous and vice versa.

I do think my work in the service field gave me a great deal of practice in exercising modesty for myself and in self control.  It was being exposed to things that tempted me which proved and crystallized the instruction I received as a child.  It was in those times, when I had a responsibility to my employer to stay near  a temptation, when I realized that control of my emotional responses was a necessity, not a luxury.

Do you believe that men and women have different sexual needs and struggle with different sorts of temptation? Err, No.
Why or why not? 
Because it is the acme of foolishness to define temptation or what constitutes a "sexual need" by gender.  Two randomly selected men will have as divergent of views on what constitutes temptation, as a randomly selected woman and man.  As far as "sexual needs" go they are such personal ideas that they cannot be quantified by gender.

How do you define lust? Is it possible to be attracted to or notice a physical form without lusting?
In the Bible the word "lust" is defined in a multitude of ways including everything from a flame or glow, to a covetous, possessive desire, synonymous with the word "covet" in the 10th commandment.   The word translated "lust"  in Matt 5:28 is not just sexual thoughts.  It is a covetous response to temptation.  It is a possessive thing that goes way beyond temptation or even thoughts of a sexual nature.  To be sexually attracted to an individual is not the same as a desire to own or possess that person.  To have thoughts of a sexual nature about a person is not possessive covetousness.  But, if we dwell on those thoughts and allow them free reign in our mind it can quickly lead to a possessive, covetous lust.  However, the initial sexual attraction and subsequent thought response is not automatically lust.

And that, folks, is Husband's take. :)