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Unnatural selection*

Well, color me surprised:  Matt Walsh is at it again.**  I never know where to begin with this guy–should I start with his imaginary friends that write him letters and emails?  Or maybe with the fact that he’s created caricatures of people for the sake of taking them down?  Actually, I might go with just shaking my head at how many people seem to like and follow this guy.

This week’s installment is “stereotypes of liberal college professors.”  Oh, nice one, Matt.  Let’s take on academia!  Because no one has ever done that before and done it better than Matt Walsh!  I think it’s hilarious that Matt tries to sell us on his being the subject of conversation in high schools and colleges (remember the one about health class?).  No, dude, you are just not that important.

I’m pretty sure my favorite part of the fake email is where, since he couldn’t actually think of something to write, Matt says,

[Five more sentences of insults and pretentious self-aggrandizement]

Oh, okay.  We get to hear all about how “worried” this fictional professor is that Matt is a topic of conversation, thus stroking Matt’s ego, but we don’t get to read about the “self-aggrandizement” of the professor.

The gist of the email is that the fictional professor believes monogamy is not natural to humans (particularly men) and is no longer necessary.  He then goes on to personalize it, suggesting that Matt will inevitably cheat on his wife.  I will admit that I’ve met people who believe this and who are unkind about the way that some people choose to live their lives.  However, none of them fall into the stereotypes Matt has suggested here (well-educated atheist in academia), and none of them have had the misogynistic overlays Matt has used in his fictional scenario (that is, only men cheat, only men believe monogamy is unnatural, etc.).

After making a couple of snide remarks about the “professor,” Matt goes on to say:

A married person who doesn’t believe in monogamy seems an awful lot like a Satanist in a church choir, or an existential nihilist performing lifesaving heart surgery. There’s a bit of a philosophical conflict of interest at work, wouldn’t you agree?

No, Matt, I don’t agree, and you’re an ass who doesn’t understand any of the things your conflating here.  Matt is equating non-monogamy with cheating.  Those are not the same thing.  We can have a conversation about whether it’s moral or a good idea or whatever, but we need to do it on the terms of what the concepts actually are.  A person can be non-monogamous in a marriage without sneaking around and having illicit affairs.

Matt tells us why he bothers answering these fake emails:

In fact, I wouldn’t even bother to address such absurdity if it wasn’t becoming so widespread. What you people — you socially “progressive” academics — have realized is that you can not launch a salient attack against the ideals behind marriage, or abstinence for that matter, so instead you’ve decided to make the bizarre case that these things are somehow mythological.

“Widespread”?  Really?  I’m not seeing it.  Also, this is not a new thing.  People who believe humans are not wired for monogamy have been around for a long, long time.  Goodness, I remember reading this stuff back when I was in high school in the ’80s, and it wasn’t new even then (though as a high schooler I thought I’d stumbled on some terrifying new philosophy).  Matt needs to catch up a little.

As for not being able to “launch a salient attack against the ideals behind marriage,” Matt needs to catch up there, too.  In so many ways, marriage and family have changed.  I don’t mean in the last half-century with the changes in divorce laws or in the last ten years with more states legalizing marriage equality.  I mean over the course of human existence.  The purpose, function, and practice of marriage are ever-shifting, and that isn’t a bad thing at all.  I, for one, am happy that I’m not still considered property, for example.  The ideal behind marriage–which I would argue is a mutual expression of love, trust, and commitment–can still be present no matter how a couple decides to live that out.

The more you say it, the more people believe it, and the more they believe it the more true it becomes. It’s a clever trick. You’ve succeeded, at least partially, in shouting at a reality until it disappears.

But conservatives never, ever do this.  Nope.  And it’s never been used to bully, shame, and abuse people.  Ever.

Monogamy is not natural. You’re right about that.

It’s supernatural.

I honestly don’t even know what he means by this.  He also goes on to talk about “rationality” and a whole bunch of other stuff that generally makes very little sense to me.  Maybe I just don’t have Matt’s incredible intellectual powers of debate.  At no point does he bother explaining how monogamy is supernatural.  I was expecting some stuff about, you know, God somewhere in there, but he never gets around to that.

It’s above our nature. It might not be realistic. Space flight isn’t realistic, either.

I think Matt and I have vastly different definitions of “realistic.”  Does he mean “naturalistic”?  Because realism, by definition, is something that is real.  Space flight has been real for over 40 years.

I’m already bored with Matt’s not-really-a-rebuttal.  There’s no direction here.  He’s basically saying that the “professor” is wrong because he’s wrong.  Or because of space flight.  He finally tells us what he really thinks:

If you won 600 million dollars in the lottery, would you go out the next day and break into cars to steal the change from the cup holders? That’s what sleeping around is like when you’ve already found a woman who will pledge her life and her entire being to you for the remainder of her existence.

Ah.  So there we have it–he sees non-monogamy as “sleeping around.”  Because in Matt’s world, there are only two kinds of sexual expression:  Man-Woman-Marriage sex and Get-It-On-With-Anyone sex.  On, off.  Black and white.  He cannot imagine anything outside of those options.  (This is, of course, how we know the “professor” doesn’t exist, by the way–he’s created as the anti-Matt.)

You tell me that you are in an “open marriage.” I will probably be lambasted for “judging” you for it, but, sorry Professor, an “open marriage” makes about as much sense as a plane without wings or a boat that doesn’t float.

Matt means it doesn’t make sense to him.  I’m willing to bet it makes sense to the people who choose something different.  My concern is less about Matt judging a fictional character for a scenario that, in this case, doesn’t actually exist than about the fact that Matt just doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about and isn’t arguing his case particularly well.

Marriages, by definition, are supposed to be closed.

By whose definition?  In the Bible, marriages certainly weren’t “closed.”  Multiple wives?  Check.  Concubines?  Check.  Song of Solomon may even be referring to an unmarried couple.  Human history and culture is full of a wide variety of configurations, all of which were considered acceptable.  The fact that we’ve now caught up with ourselves socially (to an extent) and can embrace marriage as a choice rather than as a business deal is wonderfully freeing.

If you aren’t strong enough to stay committed to one person, that’s your business. Walk down that path of loneliness and confusion, but you can’t drag the entire institution of marriage along with you. Personally, I like circles but I hate squares. Can I subvert the laws of geometry and suddenly decide that all squares shall henceforth be circles? No, because geometry is geometry, despite my strange square-hating quirks. Similarly, marriage is marriage, no matter how many college professors insist otherwise.

Oh, Matt.  You poor soul.  Though I now see exactly where he’s gone with this.  He seems to think that this one fictional character can single-handedly take down marriage.  I don’t think this fake letter is about non-monogamy at all.  I think it’s a disguise for Matt’s frustration with the trajectory of marriage equality.  I’ve heard that argument before, that marriage is on its way out.  You know what’s really shooting down marriage?  It’s not people who live happily in open marriages.  It’s not same-sex couples.  It’s not polys.  Heck, it’s not even divorce (I can’t imagine telling someone who has escaped an abuser that s/he has ripped the fabric of society).  No, it’s people like Matt who want to cling to a very narrow definition of what marriage is or should be (which is fine, if that’s what the couple wants) and then enforce it so everyone else must follow suit.

Matt seems content to blame crumbling marriages on nebulous philosophies and the relatively small number of people who are honest about their non-monogamy.  But that denies abuse, addiction, actual cheating (vs. non-monogamy), religious oppression, misogyny, and homophobia as far bigger contributors.  It’s important to open the conversation about how people can live moral, healthy lives.  That’s not what Matt’s done here.  Perhaps that’s because it’s easier to hide behind imaginary academics than it is to engage with live human beings.

____________________

*I think that was actually the title of a Far Side book.  Man, I miss Far Side.

**If you get the chance, check out this page.  The Five Drunk Rednecks (I love it) posted a couple of comments on my previous posts about Matt Walsh (it’s so gratifying that I have that much reach with my tiny little blog).  So I ventured over to their page.  I would call it a treasure trove, except “treasure” isn’t the word I want and I’m not sure what its antithesis is.  Anyway, read up on it over there.  Matt Walsh has been saying douchey things for ages.

Love, Marriage, and Happiness

By Musaromana (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I was displeased to see that this dreadful thing, Marriage Isn’t for You, is making the rounds.  This is one of those overly-chipper-but-somewhat-nebulous posts that’s hard to disagree with on the surface, mostly due to its lack of any depth.  I mean, how many of us haven’t been selfish or been hurt by someone else who was being selfish?  And really, isn’t there some truth to the fact that marriage isn’t a solo pursuit?  So what’s wrong with this article?

For starters, I don’t really want marriage “advice” from someone more than ten years younger who has a fraction the time put into his marriage that I have.  I mean, I’m certainly willing to listen to people younger and less experienced than I am (provided they aren’t saying utterly stupid things).  Naturally, I do prefer that the person offering their expertise have more knowledge of a subject than I do.  I’m perfectly fine with the fact that my gynecologist, for example, is eight years younger than I am.  She’s been to medical school; I have not.  So when she does an exam, I’m not all like, “Hey, are you sure you’re doing that right?”  If I’m getting marriage advice, I don’t want it second-hand filtered through a guy who’s barely past his honeymoon.  That’s not to say that newlyweds and young adults have nothing to offer.  But if you’re going to tell people what to do, you’d better be able to back that up with some credentials, or people with a lot more experience are going to tell you you’re full of it.

Anyway, aside from Seth Adam Smith’s adorkable lack of real-life experience, I just can’t get behind his words.  In particular, this stood out to me:

No, a true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love–their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, “What’s in it for me?” while Love asks, “What can I give?”

Right.  Because 1. there’s such a thing as a “true marriage” (as opposed to all those fake ones going on?  I dunno); and 2. it’s not at all co-dependently creepy to fixate entirely on the needs of someone else.  It’s possibly his use of “never” here that strikes me the wrong way, but there’s something deeply obsessive and weird underneath those words.

Seth follows that up nicely with a vague story about how he was being “selfish” and it caused major problems.  I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.  It could have been anything at all, from not pulling his weight in household chores to spending fifteen hours a week watching Internet porn.  He gives no indication about what made him so utterly, appallingly selfish, nor why his wife had to “soothe his soul.”  He uses strange, vaguely religious terms (his heart was “callous” and “hard”) to not really tell us anything.  He’s not clear on what his wife actually did, either.  We know she was “soothing,” but what is that?  Like ointment?

After this cryptic story, Seth assures us that marriage is about family.  Gee, thanks for that–I wasn’t clear.  I thought maybe marriage was like a corporate merger only with sex.  Actually, I’ll bet some corporate mergers also involve sex, so it’s probably not that different.  Oh, wait . . . I guess a lot of us have been confused about it; thanks, Seth, for clearing that up!

At the end, we get the lovely sentiment that the more we give, the more we receive.  Which is ironic, since Seth just spent a whole page detailing why marriage isn’t about us.  So why should we care if we get anything in return?  I mean, it’s not about meeeeeeee!  He’s not forthcoming on the details of what the payoff is, either.  Do we get the satisfaction of a job well done?  A cookie for effort from the spouse for not being a jerk?  Or is this supposed to be like, “You live for me, I’ll live for you, we’ll both be happy” kind of a thing?  I’m also not getting where the love from “thousands” of other people comes into play here.  It sounds more like Seth just didn’t know how to finish his article so he gave it the Hollywood extended ending treatment–not much to add to the story, but aren’t the special effects cool?

Anyway, it’s not that I want to advocate for being a total ass to your spouse.  Of course being completely self-centered is a terrible way to treat people.  But that seems like common sense, not something to turn into your life’s Guiding Principle or whatever.  It really is okay to want to be happy.  There is nothing wrong with expecting your relationships to be mutually satisfying.  If my husband didn’t make me happy, I wouldn’t have married him.  If I didn’t enjoy my friendships, I wouldn’t hang out with those people.  Do I operate based solely on what’s going to please me?  No, but neither do I operate solely on what’s going to please someone else.

Strangely, in telling us this story, Seth somehow manages to undermine his point–that marriage isn’t about us–by making it entirely about him.  I’m going to give him a few years to figure out that there’s a happy medium between expecting relationships to feed you and expecting to meet others’ needs to the exclusion of your own.  Hopefully by that point, he will have a story or two about what he’s done for his wife, rather than what she’s done for him.

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.

Why I don’t need a video to prove I’m not “like that”

At this point, I’m not sure who’s reading this and also has some knowledge of the NALT (“not all like that”) project.  I also don’t know who’s reading this and also might be either upset by or supportive of the project.  Either way, I want to explain why I’m okay with the project, but I won’t be making a video.

Some years ago, when I was first trying to figure out how to love and serve LGBTQ people, I could’ve used something like NALT.  I was in a situation in which I didn’t know any other Christians who believed same-sex relationships were not sinful (though I knew a few who thought the “condition” of being gay might be okay so long as one didn’t act on that).  I knew exactly two gay Christians.  And trans* people?  Hell, they didn’t even exist in that world.  Just to be clear, I wasn’t necessarily looking for other straight allies–just anyone who had a different view from the conservative one.  When I went seeking, all I found were organizations that wanted my money.  It took about two years of actively pursuing it to find others, and then it was only because I decided to open a Twitter account and follow people who looked like they might be progressive.  Believe me, I understand the desire to find like-minded people.

One of the reasons I kept up the effort is that I have a lot of LGBTQ friends, family, and acquaintances in my offline life, and I had done a lot of damage with my religious posturing.  I’m lucky some of these people decided they still like me.  I suppose I thought I needed to make things up to them somehow.  I had been so trained in “love the sinner, hate the sin” that I wasn’t sure anymore how to just love people.  Of course, I do know better these days, and I no longer need an outside source to tell me how to care for my friends.

I also have a lot of friends, family, and acquaintances who are not LGBTQ.  By now, the majority of those people should be aware of where I stand on things, whether it be in regard to Christianity and LGBTQ people or feminism or the doctrines of total depravity and hell.  I don’t feel the need to explain or defend myself.  The people close to me don’t need me to say anything else; they already know I’m “not all like that.”  In fact, some of them have used those exact words to describe me.  I had to laugh once when my cousin said she was telling a friend about my husband and me and she said we were Christians but whispered, “But they’re not like that“–and apparently, the other person knew exactly what she meant.

All of that is why I see no need to make a video to announce to the world that I’m “not like that.”

That’s why I’m choosing not to participate in the NALT project.  My offline loved ones don’t need it; I’m not a big enough online voice to be noticed by megachurch pastors; and it won’t do anything to help my online acquaintances.  On the other hand, I’m not going to write a blog post condemning the project.  I know far too many people who have found it to be meaningful and powerful.  I know straight allies who have found each other, I know LGBTQ Christians who have, some for the first time, heard the message that their spiritual and sexual identities are not mutually exclusive.  I know people–cis-het and otherwise–who want to use this as a way to stand up to bullying anti-gay pastors.  I can’t slam the project on the grounds that some people don’t care for the terms used or don’t see the project as helping them or their loved ones directly, even though I do understand where those feelings come from.

One of the criticisms I’ve heard about the project is that it’s taking some kind of “easy” way out of being a “real” ally (and yeah, that’s mostly something I’ve heard cis-straight people say).  I’ve seen online arguments about it and a good deal of the sort of rage usually reserved for Mark Driscoll or Hugo Schwyzer.  So tomorrow, I’m going to talk about being an ally, walking that fine line, and what it really means for something to be easy or hard in that context.

What are your thoughts on NALT?  Will you make (or have you already made) a video?  What might be some better alternatives for people who don’t want to make one?

A Moving Target

By ange Embuldeniya from Somewhere… (Stop Cyber Bullying Day Uploaded by Doktory), via Wikimedia Commons

Warning: This post may be triggering for people who have grown up in abusive homes or churches, particularly when there were unclear expectations, or for those who have been harassed/bullied (online or off).  Also, it’s long and kind of ranty.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write today.  I’m feeling a little burned out.  I still love writing, and I still love talking about things that need to change in American evangelical Christianity.  But right now, being part of the blogging community doesn’t feel like a hopeful pursuit.  I’m not going to leave, as I believe I still own my words and have things to say.  But it’s hard to put my feelings into words these days, especially when I’m seeing online friends experience bullying by other bloggers.

I’ve been complicit in this because I haven’t wanted to be victimized myself.  This is probably understandable, given my long history with bullying.  When one has the appearance of having made it to the cool kids’ table, who wants to go back to being the outcast?  I was horrified when I realized that I was doing the very thing I’d experienced for years.  I stopped, and the repercussions were immediate; I lamented that blogging can feel like middle school all over again.  Some of my fellow writers, who happen to have encouraging online blogging personalities, really helped me feel better, and I started thinking about the power dynamics.

Have you ever been in a relationship where the rules keep changing?  Years ago, I was in a friendship like that.  The other person–I’ll call her Lulu–had a long list of expectations.  Disagreeing with her was never a simple matter of saying, “I disagree.”  She wanted me (and others) to use specific words and phrases.  If we made a mistake in our language, she would refuse to respond to our concerns until we rephrased things “properly.”  It could even result in weeks (or, in one situation, years) of being ignored or complained about.  This would have been annoying on its own, but what made it worse was that the line kept moving.  She would change her mind about what she wanted or how she wanted it on a regular basis, or she would add rules on top of rules.

It took me a long time to extract myself from that friendship.  I kept telling myself that it was me–I wasn’t a good enough friend; I was overreacting; her abuse wasn’t that bad; I would have the same issues in any relationship.  When I finally left, I discovered that there are people out there who like me for me, not for what I can do for them.  Friendship means being allowed to receive as well as give.

I experienced similar situations at home and at school growing up.  I never actually considered my home abusive, but my mother was highly unpredictable and could be volatile under certain circumstances.  When it came to peer relationships, the ones that always left me devastated weren’t the kids nasty from day one but the friends-turned-bullies.  The worst part was the inconsistency–the unpredictable nature of the abusers.  Which version would I have that day?  The kind, gentle loving person or the monster?  The friend who invited me to sleep over or the one who turned around the next day and told everyone that she made me eat candy she’d put down her underpants?  The mom who baked ten kinds of Christmas cookies or the one who spent the entire holiday raging and crying, holed up in her room?

That is how I feel about the online world.  Sometimes I feel like I’ve hit the bulls-eye.  I receive praise and encouragement from fellow writers.  Other times, I feel like I can’t keep up with the shifting expectations.  Every time I turn around, there’s a new thing I’m supposed to say differently in order to demonstrate that I’ve properly heard and understood something.  Just when I think I’ve gotten it, the target moves again.  For example, I thought I was doing pretty well as a parent, particularly in how I speak of my children on my blog.  Then along came some new rules:  Don’t say you’re proud of your kids because it takes away their autonomy.  Don’t talk about your kids’ issues because you’re speaking for them.  Actually, don’t write about them at all without their express permission, which of course you can’t get in writing because they’re not of legal age.  Also, don’t have any feelings about their needs at all because it’s not about you, despite the fact that you’re the one who has spent years learning to care for kids who have challenges or don’t fit in with societal expectations.

Seriously?

You know what?  I am proud of my kids, dammit.  And I do have feelings about raising kids with learning and behavioral needs–it can be emotionally and physically draining.  I will write about them because other than my husband, they are the two people I love most in this world.  The most common complaint I’ve heard is that if I think it’s hard to parent a neurodiverse child, I should try being one.  Know what I say to that?  Up yours.  Why the hell do you think it’s so hard to parent a child whose needs exceed his or her peers?  One reason is that we do know how hard it is for them, and all we do all day long is try to help it be less hard.  My kids tell me they feel loved, so I’m pretty sure I’m not screwing them up for life.

Writing about my kids is just one example.  There are rules for everything, including what words we should use (I’m not talking about proper terms for things or not using slurs or insulting phrases).  Today, one thing will be considered appropriate phraseology; tomorrow, another.  And through it all, the real problem isn’t so much the changing expectations but the fact that there are segments of the blogging world that have unpredictable reactions to the use of yesterday’s terminology–often on behalf of others rather than themselves.

That’s the thing I can’t do anymore.  I can’t follow all the rules, and I’m not going to try.  If someone wants to be pissy that I talk about what it’s like to parent a kid with ADHD (or even that I mentioned having one with ADHD), so what?  Be pissy, then.  Don’t like how I apologize when someone has told me I’ve hurt them?  Fine–go make amends your own way.  Think I’m not the perfect [whatever kind of] ally?  Then what you want is a robot, not another human being (and honestly, I’ve never heard this from people I’m being an ally to–only from other allies).

I know why I’ve spent so much time trying to fit in.  I desperately want to be accepted, and part of that is trying to offend as few people as possible–or at least those who seem like the cool, popular ones or the influential ones.  Today, I realized that I view everyone I meet in these terms–when will they stop liking me and start behaving erratically?  I’m done.  I refuse to try to contort myself for the sake of someone else’s unpredictability.  I can’t live like that.  I wasn’t able to maintain a friendship like that long-term, and I can’t maintain online relationships that way either.

None of this means that I will stop working for change or pointing out where we can improve.  But I don’t want to be part of an unhealthy system.  I did that growing up, I did that in my former friendship, and I did that at church.  At this point, I need to protect myself from further harm, and that includes not allowing myself to be influenced by my need to fit in.  This thing called life is hard enough without feeling like if I so much as twitch it might be taken the wrong way and I’ll get an earful of how I’m defending some terrible injustice even when that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Maybe one day, I won’t feel the need to be on the inside anymore.

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 safe space?

Remember last week when I (probably somewhat rudely, I’ll admit) said, “Fuck living in the tension”?  I just want to take some time to clarify that.  Many thanks to the Christians expressing their “grief” over the SCOTUS decision yesterday for helping me to figure out what was bothering me that led to my statement.

First, I want to make it absolutely, perfectly, 100% clear that I was NOT talking to any of my LGBTQI friends or family or strangers on the Internet.  That remark was solely intended for my fence-sitting straight Christian brothers and sisters.  It’s important that I emphasize that, because dialogue about LGBTQI issues and faith can never, ever begin with me–which is actually why I abhor “living in the tension” so much.  That phrase is aimed at straight people and meant to imply something like, “How the heck do I love gay people when I really think they’re outside God’s will?”  It’s a really bad place to begin any kind of conversation; you can’t go into something with the idea that another person needs to convince you of the validity of their identity and how that looks to them.

What sparked my fury and my desire to try again to explain to the nice straight people what we’re all doing wrong was this post at A Deeper Story.  See, my issue is absolutely not with any LGBTQI people who are learning what it means to honor their identity and be a person of faith.  That’s a respectable journey, and no one–NO ONE–needs my, or anyone else’s, permission to take it.

The problem is that straight people all seem to think we’re entitled to an opinion on someone else’s identity.  That conversation at A Deeper Story?  All about straight angst because we have feels about homosexuality.  This goes for both sides of the “debate,” by the way.  You know that thing people do when you tell your story and the first thing they do is derail and start talking about themselves?  Yeah, same thing.

Here’s a newsflash:  It’s not about you.  Whatever your personal opinion–even if you’re sure it’s “biblical”–about LGBTQI people, that’s all it is; it’s your opinion.  You do not need special times and places to write about it, because there are people all over, on both sides, who share it.  You do not need “safe space” to be sad about marriage equality.  You are not entitled to determine someone else’s humanity or their faith.

What has long bothered me, though I didn’t quite have the words for it, was this idea of inviting people to the table to talk about how we should handle relationship with LGBTQI people.  It bothers me because it’s still the people with privilege sitting in our positions of power making decisions about who is welcome and in what capacity.  That’s not how it should work.

You really want to have this conversation?  Then I suggest starting with actual LGBTQI people who are working out their identities and their faith stories.  You want links?  Come back tomorrow and check out my Friday links round-up, where I’ll connect you with a whole bunch of people.  After that, try doing a Google search for things like “LGBT Christians” and “Queer Theology.”  Whether you agree or not isn’t important; what’s important is that you see what Christians identifying as LGBTQI are saying about themselves.

Before I get hate mail or protests along the lines of, “But I know a gay person!  And that person appreciates my honesty that I don’t approve of the lifestyle!” please take a moment to think about that.  When was the last time you “appreciated” it when someone chose some vital part of your life and disapproved but said “I love you anyway”?  I honestly don’t care whether you approve of my friends and family or not.  Either way, it’s not terribly helpful or loving to remind them all the time what you think, and it’s not your job to have an opinion about someone who has reconciled his or her faith and identity.

I just don’t understand why there’s this need for such anxiety, unless deep down you’re worried that if you don’t help people get this whole gay thing under control, they’ll wind up in hell.  Seriously?  Stop with the hair-pulling already.  Here’s some suggestions for Things You Can Do with Your Christian LGBTQI Friends:

  • Have a nice cup of tea or coffee
  • Exchange conversation about the blessings in your life
  • Talk about ways you’re hurting and listen to theirs
  • Make a play date for your kids
  • Go see a live band
  • Ask them how they see their faith/identity/sexuality, without explaining what you think of any of those things

I stand by what I said: “Fuck living in the tension.”  But it applies to straight people who use it to have discussions about whether we should include them in our worship.  Until we upend the conversation and start viewing it the other way around, we will never be able to come to the table together.