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How Plato ruined everything

All right, maybe “everything” is a bit of an exaggeration.  Still, I’m convinced that Platonic notions color so much of our culture (not just Christian religion) that it’s hard to know where to start.

I suppose a word of explanation as to why I’m thinking about this is in order.  I haven’t blogged much this fall; there are several reasons why not that I won’t go into here.  One of the reasons, though, has to do with online politics and the constant pressure to get it right.  It was a crisis of correctness, I suppose, that led to my on-and-off writing over the last three months.  I blame Plato for that, too.

In an ideal world, life would work like this: No one would ever be distracted by the appearance of another person; every act of justice would take into account every possible situation and person; and no one would ever get off on picturing themselves licking whipped cream off a naked celebrity.

We don’t live in that world.

The problem with that world is that it doesn’t exist anywhere except in the heads of would-be online philosophers.  In all things, there’s some imaginary line that Must Not Be Crossed when it comes to behavior.  It might not have overtly religious overtones, but there’s still the same message:  If you don’t do things right, you are flawed.  Broken.  Damaged.

Instead of learning respect and consideration, we end up with the same fears often instilled by our religious communities–that we are not good enough and must seek to work towards this imaginary standard to which no human can measure up.  How many seconds is too long to stare at someone’s half-undressed body?  Which fantasies are okay to have when masturbating?  How carefully do we have to phrase things to make sure someone disagrees with our views and not our word choice or tone?

There’s no answer to that outside the heads of a few people who have styled themselves the Gatekeepers of Blogging.

My husband and I had an interesting conversation the other night.  He’s been taking a philosophy class–don’t ask me the details; I’ve never had much interest in that sort of thing.  I didn’t entirely follow everything he said, but the gist of it was that some people live in the realm of ideas and some people live in the realm of practicality.  About eighty percent of people are in the latter group.  The difficulty I see is that (at least on the Internet), the other twenty percent often see themselves as being at the top, and the rest of us should conform our practical existence to fit into the theories they’ve developed.

Well, screw that.  I can’t live that way.  When I started writing, it was because I was in a religious context in which I felt that there were specific people being marginalized (namely, LGBT people) and that the church had it dead wrong in how to care for them.  I remained anonymous for about a year and a half.  When some of my Christian LGBT offline friends began sharing my writing (not knowing it was me), I told them.  At that point, I decided hiding was a disservice to people I love in my non-bloggy life.  If they were out, why shouldn’t I be public too?

Note that I never said I blogged because I had some Magic Words of Wisdom on the church and LGBT people or any other issue regarding church teachings (which I also covered).  Honestly, I just wanted those I love to know that, and I wanted anyone like me who might be an ally in enemy camp to know they were not alone.  Practical purposes, people.  Nothing philosophical.

I recently stopped blogging as much because I had started to feel the same sense of “not good enough” that I’d had for over twenty years in the church.  I couldn’t blog about LGBT issues and the church because I didn’t know enough about intersectionality.  And other people who needed my support.  And not tagging every post on social justice issues as triggering (because, realistically, every post could trigger someone for something).  And not actually being LGB or T myself.  And not criticizing progressive Christians correctly.  The list goes on.

That, right there, is Platonism at its finest: There’s a right way to blog about these issues, and you’re not doing it.  There’s often a sense that the critic doesn’t actually know what the right way is, just that one must exist.  Well, no.  There is no hypothetical idealized advocacy.  There are some things that get it decidedly wrong (go research Human Rights Campaign, for example;p see also the Good Men Project).  Most of the time, though, it’s a matter of different people wanting or needing different things.

Another serious problem with forcing advocacy into a Platonic ideal is that the vast majority of the time, the people pushing it at the rest of us genuinely believe they have it right and we have it wrong.  There’s no sense that they might also be falling short of an unnamed ideal or that their particular philosophy might not be the best version because it still leaves some people vulnerable.  It’s an unfortunate reality that there are people out there who simply do not care about hurting people they think are in the wrong.  I’ve seen things get pretty ugly when one person gently explains why they need a particular type of ally and another person says the equivalent of, “That’s the wrong thing to want” rather than, “Tell me more.”

I spent several years deconstructing my faith.  I’m now in process of reconstruction, and there are some great people I can trust along the way.  Deconstructing social justice advocacy feels pretty similar.  I’m disappointed with the online community in a lot of the same ways I was disappointed in the church.  Before someone gets all heated about it, I’m not saying that social justice movements are abusive.  But are there abusive, powerful people within them who want to control the rest of us at any cost?  You bet. (“No! I don’t want to control you!  I just want you to get it right, dammit!” is, in fact, controlling–particularly when the person saying it does not belong to the group for which they are advocating.)  Those are the people I’m trying to steer clear of.

There’s no way to know where this will end up.  I don’t want to stop writing, but some days, I think I have no choice, at least when it comes to blogging.  I do know that it won’t change anything in my everyday life; my loved ones will still know they can count on me.  As for the online advocacy police?  There’s no reason I should care about their Platonic ideals.

Ruining our kids

I was already in an irritable mood after seeing Christianity Today refer to Rachel Held Evans as having a “meltdown” because she pointed out the flaw with The Nines conference’s lack of women.  It didn’t help that this awful post on parenting turned up in my newsfeed–more than once, I might add, and not because anyone was being critical.  Nope, everyone seemed to love it.

I can’t speak for other parents, but I’m very tired of people who think that yesteryear’s parenting was so much better than today’s.  It’s like all the other times people talk about wanting to return to “the good old days.”  While there may be some good things we’d like to keep–or reclaim–there’s also a whole lot of terrible things that, unfortunately, cannot be separated from the things we like.  (And there are relationships between them that we’d prefer not to see, as is the case with “1950s values” and racism.)

In this particular post, I was most disturbed by the way that she emphasized the result of what she sees as bad parenting (coddling, apparently) without mentioning a single word about the consequences of other parenting flaws.  For example, she’s concerned that her boys won’t be able to play shoot-the-bad-guys at school, but seems unconcerned that parents might not be adequately teaching their children who is or isn’t “bad.”

There were some specific things that bothered me about what she had to say: boys will be boys (what about girls who like that kind of play?  or boys who don’t?); bullies perpetrate physical violence but claims of emotional bullying are more or less just whining; people become suicidal as a result of a single nasty remark; and college students and new graduates are going home crying over every failure and quitting (as though this didn’t already happen with people born into extreme privilege).

Believe it or not, I don’t care what you let your kids do.  Buy them toy guns?  Whatever.  Don’t buy them?  Whatever.  The reason is that it’s not in the purchase or non-purchase of a particular toy that learning non-violence happens.  Kids are not better off because they are allowed  to play cops and robbers or because they are forbidden from playing.  Ms. Metz has it wrong–boys don’t somehow magically grow up better because they were allowed to play certain types of playground games.  Not only that, boys do not grow into better men because they played those games.  That’s part of a particular view of masculinity that says there are certain Normal Things Boys Do, and anyone outside that must either have freak parents who regulate their play or else there’s something unmanly about them.  Weirdly, she seems to be blaming parents for the lack of gun play at school, when it is, in fact, the rules of the school restricting play.  She’s conflating parenting with public education and really seems hung up on this gun thing throughout.

As for bullying, I’m super happy for Ms. Metz that she got over whatever things were said to her.  Perhaps she’s just very confident in herself.  I think it’s far more likely that she simply never experienced the kind of emotional, verbal, and sexualized bullying some of us did.  Maybe she doesn’t know what it’s like to go to school and wonder how many hurtful things will be said to you that day or whether the boy who sits behind you is going to grab your ass yet again while the teacher looks the other way.  She might not understand how it feels to walk into a room to a class full of kids calling you an elephant and making “boom” noises at you while you walk, every day.  She probably doesn’t know what it’s like to spend three years trying to find a lunch table where the other kids won’t slowly slide over while you’re eating until you end up on the floor, followed by laughter and fake apologies.  I’m just guessing here, though.

I suppose because Ms. Metz doesn’t understand that kind of harassment, she’s more likely to also misunderstand being suicidal.  I do not know any person who has felt suicidal or attempted suicide or has succeeded who did it simply because some random girl called her a bitch one day.  If a single episode of name-calling sends one to such a dark place, then it wasn’t just because of the mean word–that was just the proverbial straw.  I find Ms. Metz’s words hateful, hurtful, and inappropriate.  They lack any sort of empathy.  I have no idea where she got her information that this is all it takes to make teenage girls commit suicide, either–apparently, she also doesn’t read all the way through stories about bullying and suicide enough to get the whole picture.

On the other hand, college students with helicopter parents are a real issue, so I’ll give Ms. Metz credit for spotting that one.  The way she presents it, though, makes it sound like she’s saying this is happening in dire proportions compared to the number of students enrolled in college.  She’s making blanket statements about “today’s parenting” being responsible for this.  Oh, really?  Because that wasn’t happening before.  Spoiled, bratty kids going to college is totally a new thing, right?

My biggest problem with this post is that it’s so vague.  She never actually says what she thinks is the bad parenting responsible for selfish, needy kids.  She hints that it has to do with “catering” to them, but what does that even mean?  How, exactly, is it “catering” to kids to have a philosophy of not buying toy guns or allowing shooting play?  And how are her kids better off for being allowed to do those things?  In what way does stopping verbal bullying prevent people from being emotionally healthy?  She gets at it a little with her comment about not giving in to them unless they use manners.  But if what she meant is that kids have no manners, why didn’t she just write a post about that?  She says her boys will be emotionally hurt but that she’ll cushion it as much as a mother can.  Isn’t that catering to them?  How will they learn to deal with things if she’s “cushioning” them?

Like the post about how “marriage isn’t for you,” this just smacks of self-righteousness.  The big FAIL for me is that she never once suggests that the best way to help our kids grow up to be responsible, respectful people is to teach them how to treat others.  I didn’t see even one reference to, say, the Golden Rule.  I saw nothing in there about teaching our kids about kind words, respecting personal boundaries, or helping people who need it.  There wasn’t a single word about making things right when we’ve hurt other people.

Ms. Metz claims that she “respects” others’ right to parent how they see fit.  I’m not that nice.  I think if you’re abusing your child, you are a sorry excuse for a parent, and I do not respect your “right” to harm your child.  Beyond that, I’m just not that concerned with what you do.  As for me, I’m going to worry less about whether I’m “overprotective” and more about whether I’m teaching my kids that all people have value.  That strikes me as far more important than whatever vague badness Ms. Metz is suggesting I avoid.

Humanizing the other

I usually avoid taking on Tony Jones.  Actually, I usually just avoid reading Tony Jones.  I know a lost cause when I see one.  Chances are good that on any given day, he’s going to say something I find offensive.  My time is too valuable to waste on spending it being irritated.  But he posted this, and, well, I couldn’t resist.

First of all, let me start with the very title of this piece of crap.  “Humanize the Other, because That’s the Gospel.”  Oh, okay.  Got it.  There’s no other reason to treat people with respect outside of “Jesus said it” or scoring Compassion Points with the Big Guy.  I certainly hope that’s not the only reason to show kindness to people, though the nice part about that rationale is that you get to then self-righteously claim that atheists, Jews, Buddhists, and Wiccans have no idea how to be nice to people because the Gospel.  Yay.

What really bothers me, however, is the idea of “othering” people in the first place, and the need to “humanize” anyone.  There are two problems here.  One is that, by definition, people are already human.  No one needs to be “humanized.”  I understand that what’s meant is both not dehumanizing people and reaffirming their humanity.  That sounds pretty good on the surface.  Unfortunately, that’s not how it works in practice.

The way it often plays out is something akin to “love the sinner, hate the sin” (which is so full of superiority bullshit I would need a whole post just to dissect it).  In other words, think of people as your fellow humans–ones who happen to make you feel weird, gross, creepy, uncomfortable, or whatever, but still your fellow humans.  That enables people to continue to feel that they are better because at least they’re not whatever-it-is.  Perfect example:  You can totally love your gay friends, even if you still think they’re probably going home right now to do some kind of sex thing that trips your gag reflex.  And since you are obviously not going to trip anyone’s gag reflex with your completely non-kinky, missionary-position, married (of course) straight sex, you are clearly still morally superior.  You may get it that your gay friends are human, but you still think they are morally inferior humans.

That can be applied to anything–race, ethnicity, neurodivergence, varying physical and mental ability, and so on.  It’s this pitying standpoint–that we are going to show compassion on the poor, suffering masses–that bothers me.  It isn’t giving up any of the power and privilege we enjoy, and it isn’t sharing it with someone else.  It’s a posture of reaching down rather than across.

The second problem is that “humanizing” nearly always becomes about seeing abusers as humans.  How often do we see people defend the likes of Driscoll, Piper, Furtick, Schwyzer, Yoder, and so on by saying, “Look at the good they’ve done!  And they are only human, after all.”  That’s misplaced compassion.  I agree that they are human; but that doesn’t absolve them from the harm they’ve done, particularly that which was done in Jesus’ name.  Humanizing, in this case, must always start with the people who were harmed.  We need to see the individual faces, and hear the individual voices, of the people who have been wronged rather than imagining them as, collectively, the “sin” of the people who perpetuated the damage.

Finally, specifically about Tony Jones’ post:  He used the image of the Pope kissing the man with boils to launch into some nonsense about blogging.  What a way to miss the point.  He wasn’t speaking about loving actual people who have been shamed, dehumanized, and wounded.  He was talking about Internet writers.  That says everything I need to know about where he’s coming from.

While I continue to collect stories of accomplished, amazing women who are proud of what they have done, I’m going to write about other things.  (And if you haven’t read yesterday’s post or the comments, please do.  Good stuff is happening there.)

Today, I finally had the chance to catch up with some blogs that I’ve been neglecting.  Over at Registered Runaway’s blog, I read this post (and the ones preceding it; be sure to read all 4 parts).  It made me sad.  Then it made me angry.  I still don’t understand why the way Aibird, the writer, was treated is allowed to continue.

I’ve had Christian friends try to tell me that no one still acts that way–or at least, Christians don’t.  I’ve heard the arguments that anyone threatening “curative rape” isn’t a real Christian anyway.  And yet, here is a woman telling her story, including receiving death threats from people professing to be Christians.

We can’t ignore the parts of the Church (worldwide) that hold hateful attitudes.  They are as much a part of us as any other Christian.  But that’s not actually the thing that bothers me most.  It’s the fact that we’ve chosen–as the rest of the Body–not to fight them.  I can’t help thinking that it’s because deep down, many Christians agree with the underlying beliefs, even if they don’t agree that picketing and threatening and even attempts at curing are the right answer.

It’s not enough anymore.  I have never been of the mind that it’s okay to live somewhere halfway between being an ally and being an enemy.  I’m not entirely a black-and-white thinker.  I’m open to having lots of grey and wrestling with that tension.  I’m willing to talk about what it means to have a healthy sexual ethic or whether it’s okay for Christians to watch violent movies or if tattoos and swearing are acceptable.  We may never agree on any of those things, and that’s okay.

What I’m not okay with is fence-sitting when it comes to personhood and equality.

Too many people have come to the conclusion that they can rest comfortably with the belief that they may not “agree with the homosexual lifestyle” though they would never insist on anyone trying to be “cured.”  There are far too many places where we’ve done what we seem to think is a kinder, gentler version of non-acceptance.  The thing is, though, it’s still exactly that: non-acceptance.  No more “But I have gay friends, and they know where I stand, and they are okay with that!”  Are you sure?  Because when I read stories like the one above, I get the impression that an awful lot of people aren’t actually okay with you disapproving of them, they just hide it well or have learned that it’s an off-limits topic if they don’t want to hear again about their sin.  You personally may not be holding up a “God hates fags” sign, and you may not have threatened anyone with rape or death.  You may not even have given anyone the phone number to a place where they can be “changed.”  But if underneath it you still think they’re in sin, you hold the same beliefs as the people of ex-gay organizations and Westboro Baptist.

If you do call yourself both a Christian and an ally, then why not directly speak up against people who are doing active harm?  I honestly can’t remember where I read it (or I’d link to it; maybe someone else can help me out here), but I recall reading about someone meeting with some people from Westboro Baptist and talking about how “nice” they were.  Not that I want to paint anyone as evil and remove that person’s humanity, but I fail to see how “But they’re so nice!” is in any way helpful.  I also don’t believe for a millisecond that there’s any use in simply leaving people to their own devices because everyone knows how hateful they are.  If you really think these things are wrong, why not speak up about it?  Not merely to your LGBTQ friends–who probably already know–but to the rest of the Christian community.

Things aren’t going to change.  LGBTQ people are not going away, and they’re not going back into their closets.  People who are Christians–whole denominations, in fact–have already become not just accepting but affirming.  Laws are changing.  Meanwhile, people are still being pressured and harmed.  There’s no way to be somewhere in the middle anymore.  That might have worked at one time, but that time has long since passed.

I already cast my vote.  I know that to some people, I’m irredeemable.  I’ve already been told–more than once–that I can’t call myself a Christian.  I’ve been informed that I’m leading people in the wrong direction.  Well, so what?  I don’t consider that a big deal, and I think it’s worth it.  (And let’s be honest, there are people I’m happy are out of my life because they can’t handle the fact that I’m an ally.  Think of all the wonderful LGBTQ friends I’m sparing from having any interaction with them.)

I think I understand being genuinely unsure.  I know there’s a transition between what we might have learned growing up or in some churches and a place of being an ally.  I get that.  But don’t sit there forever, and certainly don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth.  Don’t fake being in agreement with either side (or both).  It isn’t fair to anyone, even yourselves.  Take time, but make a choice–then do something about it.

If you want to know why I feel this sense of urgency (besides the immediate concern for individuals such as the woman whose story I linked above), then read this post.  It’s not just about us, about our nation, anymore.  And, like Registered Runaway says at the end of the post (though I disagree that no one is fighting here anymore),

And I’m beginning to think that instead of having a conversation, a culture war truce, with Fundamentalists and right wing Evangelicals, our work would be better focused on protecting the world from the wrath of these people. Despite the lament from many progressive evangelicals, the right wing is hardly fighting here anymore. They’ve moved on. They’re going after the rest of the world. 

How do we stop this?

How, indeed?

 

More on NALT and being an ally

Yesterday, I wrote about why I’m not making a NALT video.  I want to expand on that a little.  There are some valid concerns about the project, but from what I’ve seen, a lot of those concerns border on what the project might do rather than what it is doing and on assumptions rather than experiences.

One big issue is whether or not the people making the videos believe that’s all they need to do to be good allies.  First of all, it’s a pretty big assumption to think that those people are not already doing other things.  All we know of most of them is whatever they happen to say in a couple of minutes.  We don’t know whether they think they’ve done their part.  Obviously that could be true, but I find it hard to believe that the majority of people who make the videos are sitting somewhere feeling satisfied that they’ve completed their assignment and can now move on.  It also assumes that all of those people are straight and cisgender (hint: they’re not).

I think one of the things that frustrates me is the belief that it’s “easier” to be an ally online.  That has not been my experience at all.  I find it far easier to be an ally in real life; it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort.  It mostly consists of being a good friend–which isn’t usually about someone else’s sexuality anyway.  Sure, there are times when I need to take action.  Sometimes I vote for legislation that extends the same rights I enjoy.  Sometimes I have to ask people not to say stupid, hateful, or hurtful things.  More often, though, it’s about getting a cup of coffee together or chatting while our kids play or having our sons baptized on the same day or attending a wedding celebration.  It’s about sharing together the things that are important to us, including our identities.  It’s not complicated.

When I first started to blog, I stayed anonymous for a long time.  I didn’t do it out of fear.  I’m hardly a person who cares that some church official might decide that I shouldn’t be involved in ministry.  I did it to protect the people whom I was serving.  I wanted to stay web-silent so that I could be a safe person for youth and their families.  I know people who have been threatened and bullied for supporting their gay children, and I believed they and their children needed someone safe to talk to.  If I had been public, I would have been removed from ministry and therefore have been less available for people who needed me.*

When the time was right, I began using my real name.  It was mildly risky on my part, but that was at a point when I knew that I wasn’t putting anyone else at risk.  When people make these videos, they may be doing the same thing.  It may be a first step in being public after a time of flying under the radar.  They may be risking much more than I was in making a statement.

When I named myself, I discovered something: It’s a lot harder to be a good ally online.  It’s tricky to navigate the wide range of needs among people I don’t know anywhere but the Internet. I’ve learned a lot, including that sometimes people’s needs are completely opposite.  The NALT campaign is a good example–some people feel hopeful and encouraged while others feel angry and hurt.**  I’m an incredibly sensitive person, and I tend to absorb other people’s feelings.  That’s a good thing, except when people are expressing such vastly different emotions.  It puts me in a place where I feel like I have to choose between people I care about and respect.  It makes me want to quit the Internet and run back to the safety of doing this only offline.

Here’s the thing, though.  I think that’s as it should be.  It is hard.  If it were easy, everyone would do it.  Everyone would know all the right words and there would never be a question.  Everyone would be able to be a good ally offline and on the Internet.  We would never have to work at listening, caring, speaking, or writing.  Taking on the challenge–whether one finds it harder online or off–is important, necessary work if we ever expect social change.

Not everyone can do it on the Internet.  Maybe passing on blogging, videos, and tweets is the best option for some people.  Those who resent having to walk such a fine line are probably better off concentrating on other things.  Those who are so tenderhearted that they are slowly sucked dry by conflicting views might need to back off in order to have the emotional reserve to care for people in their own lives.

For the rest of us, though, it’s worth staying in.  It’s okay that we’re hearing different answers to the same question, because no two people are identical in their experiences.  There is no Hypothetical Idealized Ally.  There’s no perfect way of writing or talking about these things.  I think my first rule of being an ally needs to be, “Don’t tell other allies how to do it correctly.”  I don’t have everything right.  All I can do is point back at those to whom I’m an ally and say, “Ask them.”  Even then, it’s going to depend on the individual.  My default is to individually ask, “What do you prefer?”  and act accordingly when communicating with that person.

Even though I find it difficult at times, I’m not going to be silent on the Internet.  I may get pushed from different directions at times, and that has to be okay with me.  I have to go with it because it’s not about me.  When I make decisions about what I write or whether I’ll make a video, I have to go with what feels right in my heart because sometimes there’s no way to do both of two opposing actions.  I can’t both make a video and not make one.  What feels right to me at this time is not to make one, even though I know there are people who may be disappointed.  If people care so little about me as a human being that they reduce me to being bad or good depending on whether I agree with them or I’ve done exactly as they wanted me to, then those aren’t people I want to spend much time with.

Where have you found it harder to be an ally?  Online or offline?  Where have you found it harder to find allies?  What advice would you give to those who want to be allies online?

______________________________

*I know I’m being vague.  I simply can’t be more specific in order to protect people I care about.

**Or some other combination–say, hurt but hopeful.  All those feelings are valid.  The difficulty is in how to proceed when pulled in opposite directions.

It’s not about the sex

Courtesy of http://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/miley-cyrus-sexual-exploitation-vma-2228134 (this was the least offensive photo I could find)

While some people are busy fretting over how they can’t let their kids watch the VMAs because of performances like Miley Cyrus’, I’m shaking my head and wondering how it’s gotten boiled down to arguments about whether her parents did their job or whether she’s just acting foolish because of her age/fame.  There are problems with her performance (which I didn’t watch live; I saw the video this morning).  None of them have to do with what she wore, whether or not she’s trying to be “sexy,” or whether or not she has gone from wholesome to trashy.

I didn’t find her performance sexy (and what was wrong with her tongue?  Does she have a condition?), but I’d be happy to chalk that up to personal preference.  That is, if not for two glaring problems:

  1. It was racist.
  2. It wasn’t empowering for female sexuality.

I’m not the best person to explain what was racist about it.  You should just go read this (and the several articles linked therein).  It explains perfectly what was wrong with Miley’s performance from an intersectional feminism perspective.  I was glad to read that; I’m not always sure that I’m on the right track, so I was happy to have confirmation that my initial reaction wasn’t off-base.  There is obviously more wrong than this, but my first question after watching was, “Why are all the back-up dancers black?”  It didn’t seem right, so I dug a little deeper.  I’m glad I did.

I can speak a little better to the second point.  Other women have performed in less clothing than Miley wore and have had equally sexual dance moves.  Why is hers somehow worse?  The short answer is that by itself, it’s not.  If it were just Miley up there (preferably minus the objectification of black women), it would have been less of an issue.  In one sense, Miley is trying to find out who she is apart from her family and her childhood.  When other child stars do the same, they are often shamed for their mistakes because they can’t screw up in private.  But there’s a special kind of venom reserved for “wholesome” girls who grow up into women with sexuality.  For some reason, the finger-wagging always seems to crop up around things like the VMAs, with parents lamenting, “What about the chiiiiiildren????”

Young men don’t seem to have this problem.  One of my friends was kind enough to point out that Daniel Radcliffe didn’t get the same treatment when he was naked.  On stage.  With a horse.  I mean, I guess parents probably figured that wasn’t something to take the kids to see, but still–he got more flak when people thought he was gay than for his performance in Equus.  Right there, that says volumes about people’s priorities.

The real problem with Miley’s performance is adding Robin Thicke into the mix.  A few years ago, I had a grad school professor who mentioned in class that he’d done some research on pornography (yes, that’s actual research, people).  He evaluated pictures in magazines based on several criteria–pose, facial expression, etc.  He discovered that in many photos of women, they were pouting and passive, and there was often a fully clothed man in the photograph.  This was in sharp contrast with photos of men, who were mostly smiling, active, and alone.  It was the last one that surprised me (and bothered me) most.

As it turns out, I wasn’t wrong about that.  The presence of a fully-clothed man feeds into the idea that women are bodies that exist solely for men’s pleasure.  Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke played that out on national television.  The excuses were strange, too–that this is his “thing” and he’s never been a Disney star are hardly important when he’s perpetuating a degrading view of women with someone half his age who’s barely an adult.  His sexual freedom and aggression are celebrated; she’s shamed for not living up to her status as a role model (which, by the way, she is not obligated to do).

The two problems (racism and misogyny) that I mentioned are linked by the fact that Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke have intentionally joined them.  This is their view of what it means to be sexual, and it hinges on exploitation and the blatant appropriation of a subset of black culture–along with a host of horrible assumptions about black women.  Combine Miley’s own admission that she wants to try on “black culture” with a man singing about “blurred” consent while a woman mimes sexually pleasuring him and you should get a good idea why this is so disgusting.

The whole thing made me feel sick, and many of the reactions have made me feel sicker still.  It was gross, and it was wrong, and we need to ask ourselves why we’re more concerned with the fact of Miley’s attempts at being sexy than how she’s trying to achieve it or why it’s so wrong.  It’s not about teaching our daughters about what’s “appropriate” when it comes to clothing or dance moves.  It’s not about another former child star “gone wrong.”  It’s about how we’ve failed as a society to stop exploiting people for profit and how we’ve failed as a society to teach our children that growing up means knowing the difference between empowering people and continuing to subjugate them, even when the line seems thin.

Healing, forgiveness, and redemption

Joseph Forgives His Brothers, by the Providence Lithograph Company (http://thebiblerevival.com/clipart/1907/gen45.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I recently had the privilege of connecting with Stephanie Drury (of Stuff Christian Culture Likes) through an online community we both belong to.  I’ve long appreciated what she has to say because even though I don’t agree 100% with everything she says, she’s one of the people who comes closest to expressing more or less where my own faith is right now.  I don’t have the history of spiritual (and other) abuse she’s endured; my stay in the conservative evangelical world was comparatively short and uneventful.  My leaving was mostly for the sake of my children.  I saw enough to know that even in the best-intentioned evangelical spheres, abuse is a natural outflow of certain teachings.  It wasn’t something I wanted my children to have long-term exposure to.  Trust me when I say I’d have been happy to foot the therapy bill knowing I could have prevented the damage and didn’t.

That said, yesterday, I read Stephanie’s post, hugo schwyzer’s suicide attempt, the feminist response, and the tension of holding horrible things alongside possiblity.  While again, I don’t agree 100% with everything she says, it resonated with me.  Bear with me as I attempt to explain why, keeping two things in mind:

  1. Stephanie writes from a place of having been harmed.  No one should accuse her of failing to understand what it’s like to be victimized.
  2. I am not writing from that place.  I’m writing from the place of one who has both done the harm and seen the harm.

A lot of people were pretty angry about what Stephanie said in her post.  I understand that.  There was a time when I would have readily jumped on that train.  I have my own experiences with being told to forgive someone who had wronged me–to the point of not being able to express my anger because both Christianity and “psychology” told me that the burden was on me to “own” my reactions.  I wasn’t supposed to hold past misdeeds against people who continued to hurt me.  All of those things are lies; it’s not on me to do anything, and a person’s history does inform his or her present actions.  So believe me when I say I get it that some of what Stephanie said could trigger a lot of feelings.

On the other hand, her post did make me consider two things that are very important for me.  I emphasize that last part because I recognize myself to be pretty near the top of the privilege food chain.  I’m white, I’m cisgender, and I’m straight.  I’m a married stay-at-home-mom (to me, that’s like the height of economic privilege, that I can choose to do what I want).  I’ve never been spiritually abused, though I have a long history of other forms of bullying, and there were certainly abuses in my family.  What Stephanie’s post made me think about wasn’t how I treat those who have wronged me but how I, as a person who has wronged others, have had my own redemption story.

First, I have to really, truly, deeply own my history of fundamentalist ideas.  When I was 15 or 16, I was in the car with a couple of family members.  I cheerfully told them that “sin is sin,” a line I was repeating from church.  They already knew that my church had taught me that gay = sin.  The conversation went like this:

Me: Sin is sin.  One sin is no better or worse than any other.

Family member 1: So, lying and murder are equal.

Me: Yep.

Family member 2: You believe it’s wrong to be gay.

Me: Yes.

Family member 1: So, being gay is as bad as being a rapist.

Me [now very uncomfortable]: Yeah, I guess, but it’s just because all sin keeps us from God.

Family member 2: So I’m as bad as a rapist.

Me: I don’t know. I guess so.

And that’s the most mild and printable of the ways I hurt this person.

Ten years.  It took me ten years to get to a point where I didn’t still believe that.  I have no idea how that particular family member stuck it out with me.  All I can say is that from the time I was old enough to remember, she’s been one of my favorite people in the whole world.  She’s been one of my biggest advocates.  Because she (and other family members, who have also been wonderful) loved me and waited patiently for me, we made it past all that.  I changed.

It’s that belief that people can–and do–change that keeps me blogging.  It keeps me searching for new ways to be an ally and it keeps me reading on Twitter to see where my privilege is showing and what I can do to make it right.  It keeps me searching for justice and my part in it.  It keeps me pointing to the voices of others and asking people to listen.  I express all that in different ways.  Sometimes I’m angry and bold; sometimes I use Scripture; sometimes I write about how deeply I love the people in my life.  I keep going, though, because someone, somewhere may be reading and might just find the spark to change.

The second thing that occurred to me is that I’m a harsh critic of people.  I don’t actually like people very much.  Perhaps that’s the result of my history with peers at school or with some of my family.  It could be because I’m pretty introverted.  I don’t really know.  The problem is that I often have trouble separating what people say and do from who they are.  This is particularly true when those people are public figures.

I have little difficulty accepting and loving ordinary people, even when they aren’t perfect.  The real people in my everyday life get the benefit of my ongoing forgiveness.  My two closest friends (other than my husband) are very different women, but I love them both so, so much.  Have we ever hurt each other?  Sure.  Do we do things the others think are probably bad ideas?  Of course.  But there is a lot of good history that none of us are willing to throw away.  We make things right and we move on.

That can’t be done with these big-name “celebrity” bloggers, pastors, and speakers.  I’m not at all condoning what any of them say or do.  We need to keep calling them out on their behavior because they are doing these big, public things and using their fame to gain followers who will then turn around and do the same things.  We need to stop them.  We need to be angry, we need to be pushy, we need to be bold.  We also need to be gentle and persuasive and kind–not because that’s the “best” way to do it but because our natural personalities make us respond in our own ways.  I cannot imagine some of my fellow bloggers being polite about Mark Driscoll or Hugo Schwyzer’s latest pile of poo.  On the other hand, there are many bloggers I can’t imagine writing a scathingly funny take-down or an angry rant; they normally write very differently than that.

Where we may be able to agree is that we can say what a person is actually doing without assigning motive or making assumptions about who that person is or whether there is any hope for change.  We can say with certainty that Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Hugo Schwyzer, and others have said and continue to say terrible things.  We can worry about their families.  We can tell anyone who will listen in whatever way we need to that their words are damaging.  What we can’t do is know why they do those things or whether they will ever change.

I also feel uncomfortable with name-calling, as that speaks to who or what we think someone is at their core.  I admit to having done this; I imagine that I learned to do it as a child.  My mother used to call me names when she was angry, and I was bullied mostly with name-calling for years.  Whether or not anyone else agrees, I believe no matter what abuse someone has committed or appears to have committed, it is, in fact, bullying to call people steaming piles of shit or assholes or fucktards or douchebags.  I don’t really care that you think it’s not hurting them because they hurt you first or that you’re just expressing your anger.  It’s still not right.  They are humans, not poo or body parts–regardless of the evil things they’ve done.*

There is one place where I strongly disagree with Stephanie (and I hope this does not hurt her, in the same way that I hope not to have hurt others with my words above).  In the specific case of Hugo Schwyzer, his past is applicable.  He may have apologized for what he did, but the fact that he keeps on doing it says volumes more than his apology.  Perhaps he wouldn’t try to kill an intimate partner now, but he isn’t demonstrating respect for women.  This is the same man who penned an article (which I will not link to) about removing a tampon from his soon-to-be ex-wife.  If that’s not a violation of her privacy and her womanhood, I don’t know what is.  If he wants people to stop bringing up his past, then he needs to stop behaving that way in the present.

I know this post is already too long; I hope you’ve stuck with me.  I honestly don’t want to hurt anyone with my words.  As I said near the beginning, this was mostly about the things I believe I’ve done wrong and now wish to amend.  It won’t change the fact that I’m going to continue to use my words to fight injustice.  It does mean that I want to be careful not to conflate actions with unknown motives or words with people.

I’d love to know what you think; leave me a comment and tell me what’s on your mind.

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*I maintain that name-calling can be ok for institutions (which are not thinking/feeling beings) or in certain humorous contexts, such as the post I linked in my News last Friday about being a better douchebag (it wasn’t connected with a specific individual).

What justice looks like

Murder Victim’s National Memorial Ribbon, by 23USNRETE7 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

This morning, I read this fantastic piece by Shawn Smucker over at A Deeper Story.  What makes it good is not that Shawn’s bragging about being more noble and being the perfect white ally.  It’s good because he’s confronted his own thinking and made real change.

This is what justice looks like.

If every single one of us did what Shawn did–examine our own motivations and actions–we could alter the whole system.  We could make a place that’s safe for everyone.  It doesn’t take much, really, to begin.  We don’t have to start with protest marches.  If you’re at that point, then by all means, go ahead and join in the activism.  That’s needed too.  But maybe you are someone who needs to start smaller.  Maybe you just need to start by noticing.  Shawn writes,

I probably wouldn’t have noticed these boys before. Probably would have just drove [sic] on by. But it will be a long time before I see a young black man walking down the street and don’t notice, a long time before I don’t think of Trayvon Martin.

That’s one thing that has changed for me, too.  When I was at the store the other day, I was in a long line.  Ahead of me was a grandmother and a five-year-old boy.  As we waited, I chatted with his grandma about little boys and girls and how wonderful they are.  The little boy was sitting in the cart behind a giant box.  He peeked around it and grinned at me.  I told him I thought the box was the best part, and he agreed.  Then he showed me his teeth and said he had two brand-new ones; he asked if I liked them, and I assured him that I did.  Like many kids his age, he was completely irresistible in his cuteness, concerned only with being a “big kid” and as yet untainted by the world.  He wasn’t yet worried that a white lady might not like him, might not be a safe person for him to talk to in the store, might judge him or avoid him based on the color of his skin.  To him, I was just the nice woman who liked his grown-up teeth.  After they left, I couldn’t help thinking about the young man he will one day become and the survival skills he will need.

That’s not the world he should have to live in.

Little boys should be able to grow into men without worrying that the clothes they wear could brand them as being “suspicious” or “hiding something.”  They should be able to walk home from the store or a friend’s house without being stopped and questioned by police.  They should be able to express their grief over a court ruling without people assuming the next step is rioting and violence.

Like Shawn, I notice more now.  I’ve had a tendency to believe that as long as I was doing my best to not be a jerk, I was doing okay.  It’s not quite enough, though, because avoidance of negative behaviors and beliefs isn’t the same as exhibiting positive ones.  My interactions with the little boy at the store made me consider that.  Engaging him in conversation, looking into his eyes, I saw him; I understood a little bit about what he likes (being big and talking and making boxes into hiding spaces).  I don’t want to forget that moment, because the minute I forget, I allow myself not to notice people.  I allow myself to go back to not being a jerk instead of actively being kind and loving.  I fail to ask what it’s like to live in someone else’s shoes.

I don’t want to forget about Trayvon Martin, either.

What would it take for you to really notice people and to think about them differently from the way you did before?  Would it take talking to them and learning about what they like, what they know, and what they hope for?  Would it take seeing their potential to do amazing things?  Shawn recounts the story of a local young man making a heroic rescue.  His closing paragraph contains the following sentence:

I’ve never driven past a young black man on the street and thought, He could be a hero.

What about you?  Have you ever had that thought pass through your mind?  I can’t help wondering how the world would be different if every time we saw a young person–any young person, regardless of who that person is–we saw that person’s capacity for goodness and heroism.

When that day comes, surely we will see true justice.

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This week’s post is part of the Creative Buzz Hop at http://penpaperpad.com and http://gettingliteral.com.  The theme this week is “justice.”  Go visit either of the links above to read more.

The violence of assumptions

We don’t live in a “post-racial” society.

I was saddened and disappointed by the verdict in George Zimmerman’s case; I wasn’t surprised.  It makes me angry that I wasn’t surprised.  That says to me that we white people who are upset (and there are a lot of us) haven’t done enough to be allies.  We haven’t done enough to effect real change.  We haven’t listened well enough.

That said, I was also disappointed by the response I saw from a number of people.  Oh, of course there was the usual racist garbage, usually followed by “but I’m not racist!”  That was to be expected as well.  What bothered me was the reaction from my fellow Christians who typically don’t spout that kind of crap.

There’s this thing in a lot of Christian spheres where grace is reinterpreted to mean “don’t get too angry.”  I was shocked and appalled by the number of Christians exercising this principle and fretting about angry mobs and people going ape-shit over the verdict, rioting and burning things to the ground.  This is disturbing on a number of fronts.

First, it’s racist.  Yes, really.  The assumption that Black people who were justifiably upset and angry were at high risk for violence is a cornerstone of racist thinking.  It reduces people to savages who can’t control themselves in the face of bad news.  Naturally, white Christians, with all the talk of grace and mercy, are precisely the people to be the saviors of the barbaric brown world.  You know, even if the thought occurred to you that there might be riots, it’s probably best to keep it to yourself instead of jumping all over people who express their anger.  That is, if you don’t want to be considered racist, anyway.

Second, I have no idea why anyone thinks angry tweets and Facebook statuses are some indication that riots are imminent.  Seriously?  Ask yourself this: Are you personally capable of being angry about something without rioting?  If you answered yes to that, then perhaps you should give others the benefit of the doubt.  It’s the same slippery slope argument that logically fails to win arguments.  One thing does not necessarily lead to another.

Third, posting pictures of protests is not the same as posting pictures of riots.  Again, protests are not equivalent to riots.  This third thing probably falls into both of the other two categories, but I decided it deserved its own space, given the sheer volume of tweets and statuses referring to the peaceful demonstrators as “mobs” and claiming they’re seeking vengeance.

Fourth, things like “No matter what side you’re on, let’s exercise grace” and “But we don’t know what really happened!” are not helpful.  They don’t further the dialogue, they don’t express compassion for those who are hurting, and they don’t serve any purpose except to make the people writing them feel like they’ve done something.  Honestly, if you’re worried that people might become violent, is tweeting, “Don’t be violent!” actually going to stop them?  It may not be intended to silence the oppressed (though that’s debatable), but it sure does come across that way.  The first thing to say to a person who is angry about racism (or sexism, ableism, classism, etc.) is not, “Don’t do something you’ll regret!”; it’s “What can I do to help stop this oppression?”

I feel the need to say something here about the anger people are expressing.  It’s relevant not only to this situation but to any time people talk about oppression.  This is not the same as being angry because someone ate the food you were saving or borrowed something without asking and put it back in the wrong spot.  This is not the same as being angry with your kid for getting in trouble at school or your spouse for totaling the car by rear-ending someone.  This is not the anger of misunderstanding between friends or of unmet expectations at work.  Anger over oppression does not need to be monitored on the Internet because of some bizarre urge on the part of certain Christians to play Sin Police.  In fact, anger over oppression is the very thing we Christians should be angry about right alongside the oppressed.

I am not condoning violence, though I do understand where it comes from.  I just want to make it clear that it isn’t our job to keep tabs on Twitter hashtags to make sure that everyone knows that violence is wrong.  Sometimes, when we don’t have anything to contribute, it’s just better to stay back and allow people with a vested interest to express their grief and anger.  It’s not necessary to preemptively chastise people because you’re afraid of what might happen in the future.

This is a time to mourn with those who mourn.  If you can’t muster righteous indignation, then at least have the decency to pour your energy into compassion for Trayvon Martin’s family.  That’s a more productive use of your time than chasing strangers on the Internet to tell them you’re worried they might do some unspecified wrong or violent thing out of anger.  And if you can’t even manage that much, then just stay away from the subject.  That’s what the block button is for.

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If you’re thinking of coming on here and tone-policing or word-policing me or anyone else, please restrain yourself.

 

A love letter

Image courtesy of jillstein.org

I had something else in mind to write for today, but, as sometimes happens, things changed.  Today, I’m writing a love letter to my friends and family.

Dear Ones,

I was just about to write my blog post when I happened to get distracted by Facebook (I know you’re all shocked by this).  It took me a minute, and then I saw that my timeline was exploding with the news that DOMA is dead.  I can’t tell you how happy this makes me and how proud I am of all the people who have put time and effort into making this happen.

I know, I know.  There are some really sad things happening too, and we shouldn’t forget that there are still forms of bigotry in this country.  We also need to acknowledge that, on some level, even this victory has a tinge of bittersweetness–it didn’t guarantee rights for everyone, just those in the 12 states where marriage is already legal.  Even so, I’m rejoicing with those who rejoice today.

Some of the people reading about the Supreme Court’s decision are going to say hateful, nasty things today.  They might spill some of their own anxieties and their own prejudice onto you.  They might talk about fighting to have the decision overturned someday.  They might talk about how this country has stepped all over the “sanctity” of marriage, as though Marriage has been some unchanging, sacred entity for all of human history.  I’m sorry; it’s not right for people to behave like playground bullies when they don’t get their way.

The thing I think people fail to realize is that marriage isn’t a zero-sum game.  Your victory doesn’t take anything from anyone else.  In fact, I would argue that it makes it stronger. It doesn’t make anyone’s religion or religious ceremony invalid, either.  I always find it sort of funny when people talk about things cheapening or demeaning marriage because it’s a holy institution created by God.  Sounds like a denial that non-Christians get married all the time and that many same-sex couples are Christians who value the religious sacrament of marriage.

You should also know (and you probably already do) that if you choose not to get married, your relationship is not less-than.  It’s not a piece of paper or a government seal or an officiant’s signature or a federal benefit that indicates a commitment.  People get married or don’t get married for all sorts of reasons.  This just means that if you live in one of the states that recognizes marriage equality, you have some new options available to you.  It means that in the future, people in other states will have those choices too.

Today, I will celebrate with you whom I love.  I will offer virtual hugs to my loved ones too far away for an actual embrace, and I will continue to hold you in my heart.  I will drink to your health and I will “like” your Facebook statuses and read your blog posts.  I will honor those who have worked tirelessly for this victory.

Tomorrow, I will get back to work fighting all the other injustice that still surrounds us.

Much love,

Me