Category Archives: Faith

A Time for Boldness

Last week, I held a video conference with one of my distance learning students to discuss her last two papers for the writing course she was taking from me. One paper instructs the students to write an analysis of a word’s origin and history, the other is a traditional research essay. In discussing the etymology of her word, American, she said that she was interested in the changes to the concept of nationality as an American, particularly in context of immigration. I nodded enthusiastically, and then I made a fateful statement: “You could also think about this in the context of the phrase ‘Make America Great Again,’ particularly because we’ve come to see that it’s really referring to white America.”

My student nodded, and I could see the wheels turning. “Do you mean I can talk about politics in my essays? I’ve tried to avoid getting too political in my essays.”

I replied, “Absolutely, you can.” I paused for a brief second, weighing whether or not to say what I really wanted to include. I try to be neutral, I try to be nice to students who fall into different political camps, I try to keep communication open, and I try not to ignite inflammatory sentiments from unstable students in an effort to preserve my life and those of my other students. But sensing that my student had a need, I decided to forge on. My intuition told me that this was no time to be afraid. I added, “I don’t see how we can avoid politics, especially in this administration.”

She gave a quick laugh, and then she launched into what she was really thinking about for the paper: the idea of “American” and the racist ways in which it has been configured, especially recently. It was a terrific argument, but I was completely startled. Where had this been? Would she have mentioned it if I hadn’t said anything? It makes sense, though. She is a woman of color, and I am a white woman. 55% of white women voted for Donald Trump, a statistic I will bear with shame for the rest of my life, even though I ardently voted for and support Hillary Clinton. There is a major power inequity between us, not only because she is my student and I am her professor, but because I am white and she is dark-skinned. By virtue of my skin color, I hold social capital that she must fight to possess—and, frankly, may never possess for reasons that are never her fault. Because I am her professor, I can exploit her race and mine and cloak them under excuses: “insubordination,” “disrespect,” and other disgusting terms that hide fragile hurt feelings, guilt, and defensiveness.

Therefore, it is up to me to bridge the divide and invite her freedom of expression, even if—especially if—she disagrees with me.

And this is why I spoke up. I felt that it was crucial to let her know that her ideas have a place at this table and that it is my responsibility to hear them with professional respect. The rest of the conference was an eager and engaged dialogue about how she would organize her ideas. We ended with a brief note about the research essay (problems in bullying) and how much I looked forward to reading her final work.

Today, I read her research essay. From the very first page, she discussed the way Donald Trump bullied women, the way he bullied Hillary Clinton. Sexual assaults by Bill Cosby and Brock Turner. The way men bully and abuse and exploit women for their own gain and get away with it time and time again. It was a powerful moment of reckoning, because it relayed the routine contemporary injustices that she faces, that we face, as women. I don’t think I’ve read something this angry before—but what a genuine, necessary anger it is. It’s anger at being held hostage to fear, anger at mistreatment, anger at the minor and major injustices enacted against women by virtue of their gender. How long has she had to hold on to this anger alone? How long must she have hidden behind a “brave” face, because she knows the retributions for expressing herself are swift and brutal and even more damaging than hiding?

I never understand the power that vulnerability holds until I find myself in conversations or situations in which I make a choice to be vulnerable (often at very little cost to myself) and then invite my students to do the same—knowing that the stakes for them are much higher than they are for me. I remain respectful when they do not reciprocate, because I can only guess at the kinds of social and cultural chess matches in which they are enmeshed in all their personal and professional relationships. But when they accept my invitation and share, I have learned to sit and hold their words, because it is the very least I can do.

I write this, because it’s reminded me of the solemn duty I must acquit every day as a Christian feminist professor: to treat other students with fairness and respect and to cultivate a safe environment in which to invite their intellectual honesty, even if, especially if, it makes me uncomfortable.

In the weeks following the 2016 Presidential Election, I careened between fear and hurt. I sobbed over stories of naked bigotry and racism, over the hurtful words of a minority white population who had spent eight years being angry that a black man became one of our most beloved and popular presidents of all time. I worried over my safety and that of my fellow women, cis and trans, straight and queer. I kept my tone in class as politically neutral as I could muster, venturing to make a few “safe” statements in the spring. But I knew, somehow, that it wasn’t enough. It’s taken me a long time to emerge from the fear and face it without flinching, but what has awakened me is seeing other women, less privileged women, dealing with that same fear at far greater cost to themselves and with greater consequences than I would face. Surely I cannot leave them to carry this fight alone.

Conversing with young women (and women of color especially) has taught me that in order for them to be safe, I must not be safe. I must take enormous risks for them, because they cannot and I can. I must take up the torch for those of my friends who are in much more vulnerable positions than I, and so I must make the most of my cisgender, able-bodied, straight white privilege and channel it in ways that help people who are not me. Crucially, I must do so without fanfare or acclaim, because acknowledgment of my part in this fight is not the point of fighting. I cannot be silent, and so, I am moving into this next semester with fearlessness, determined to be as judicious and fair, yet vulnerable and honest, as I can possibly be.

This, my friends, is a time for boldness.

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*If you are white and would like an excellent resource, I highly recommend Robin DiAngelo’s What Does It Mean To Be White? which helped me frame and understand my privilege in the classroom.

**If the concept of female “anger” is uncomfortable to you, I urge you to read Laurie Penny’s essay, “Most Women You Know Are Angry–And That’s All Right.”

***You may notice and want to point out that I do not address male students in this post. I absolutely do engage with male students in respectful and open ways and wish to address this, but that’s a completely different post and requires a different kind of focus and vulnerability in light of gender power dynamics. What I’m saying is, stay tuned! I’m already thinking about the next post. 🙂

****Finally, for the sake of disclosure, I do monitor my comments, because this is my private blog. I accept respectful conversation and disagreement, I do not accept trolls or porn bots.

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Filed under Faith, Feminism, Outlook, Teaching

When God Calls: An Academic’s Experience

Almost three weeks ago, my denomination, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, voted not to let major regional divisions decide whether or not they had the authority to ordain female clergy. I won’t waste time on the semantics of this vote, because the vote itself is not the point of this post. Rather, I am thinking in particular about one speech that caused me a lot of inner reflection. It is the speech of a young woman in a position of leadership, a young woman that spoke out against the ordination of women in ministry. It is a speech that has caused me to rethink what we mean by “calling.”

Brief disclaimer: I have decided, for the sake of Christian fellowship and transparency, to include the transcript of her speech, but not identify her or include the YouTube link to this post. I do not wish to shame her publicly, nor do I wish anyone reading this post to shame her publicly. Her opinion is her own, and I respect her right to her privacy and her opinion. If you, however, would be interested in watching the video for your own edification, indicate so in the comments or message me, and I will gladly share the YouTube link at my own discretion.

This is what the young woman said as a rationale for her NO vote to the ordination of female pastors in the Seventh-day Adventist Church:

  1. I want to speak on behalf of thousands whose voices are not being heard in my division. Thousands of NAD members do not agree with women’s ordination, and the initiative bringing it to the front has served not to unify but to polarize this division. As the president of GYC which has the largest annual youth and young adult conference in the Adventist church, I hear from those within the NAD who feel their voices have not been heard or at least not acknowledged. There are those in this division who believe that we should be considerate of the world church and what regional beliefs will mean for our unity rather than feeling the world needs to be considerate of us. And if our division has not acknowledged all the convictions within their own division, how can we anticipate that they will be considerate of the world church family on other issues when we once set a precedent that each locality can decide for itself?
    2. I am a young adult, a young woman, an ethnic minority, and a leader of one of the largest youth movements in Adventism, and Mr. Chair, God has already called me to work for Him and that is all the calling I need. Not all young people, not all young women, not all North Americans, want our church to be divided for the sake of having someone lay their hands on us. And while people recognize my work as the president of a young adult conference, they should give more recognition when I become a wife next February and a mother after that, since the Spirit of Prophecy says that position is higher than the minister in the desk or the king on the throne. We should focus on giving that the dignity and honor that it deserves.I say no to the question, no to dividing the church.

It’s this question of calling that caught my attention. This young woman asserts that, despite her position of leadership, there is no higher calling than becoming a wife and mother for her. Her confidence in God’s will for her life is inspiring, and I applaud her for it.

But does this apply to all women? Should her calling speak for all of us?

That’s the question I find myself engaging to this very day. The implication (given by many people, and not this young woman specifically)—that there is no higher or better calling for a woman than to be a wife and mother—suggests that unless a woman is married and has given birth, she has not fulfilled God’s calling for her. I am uncomfortable with this idea. I know many fulfilled women who do not have children, or who have not married. I myself did not always know if I would marry. And by the time I did, I had already discovered God’s calling for my own life. Yes, I am still a wife. I love my husband. I have grown closer to God as a result of my marriage. But there are many components of my life that I juggle, and it feels odd to chuck one of these pieces in favor of a calling that does not resonate with my own experience.

I’ve talked about the process of getting my PhD on this blog, but I’ve never shared how it all began. This is a story that goes twelve years back, though I had no idea at the time it had begun to unfold. About two days ago, I discovered my Senior English Portfolio, with my collection of writing projects from the course of my senior year. This list I now share, written when I was 18, shows that I had a very specific idea of what my life was going to be like:

Ten Things I Foresee in My Future:

  1. Enjoying new adventures at Andrews University
  2. Travelling all over in my new car
  3. Taking a year off to be a student missionary
  4. Falling in love and marrying a really sweet guy
  5. Graduating with a BA in English
  6. Teaching English at an [Adventist] academy
  7. Having two boys and a girl
  8. Publishing a novel
  9. Living in a two-story house that always needs repair
  10. Growing old with my husband, and enjoying grandkids

At 18, these were my big dreams. I thought in terms of other people: I would teach other kids, I would be a wife, and I would be a mother. These would define my identity and my life.

And then, God called.

My dad took me to my freshman orientation week at Andrews University. He and my mom were so excited for me. Though they are both medical professionals, they have always supported my love of reading, writing, and analysis, and they were excited that I was embarking on an English degree—a world so far removed from theirs. At the parent/student lunch, we were introduced to the Dean of Students, whose husband had been my dad’s dean at Loma Linda University Medical College. She jokingly remarked, “When you get your PhD, you can come back here and teach!” I remember laughing politely and turning to my dad after she left. “I’m not going to get my PhD,” I told him.

My dad looked at me and, with all seriousness, responded, “Don’t count it out.”

Those four words would mark the shift to a future I never even knew existed.

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I had never considered an academic career, and it wasn’t until my junior year in college that I actually returned to that moment and asked myself, “Is this what I should be doing with my life?” In the midst of rousing discussions of John Dryden (no easy feat), Aphra Behn, and Jane Austen in my English Literature II survey, I began to see a new idea and a new purpose.

And yet I decided to be safe and continue on my English education course. I determined to finish my degree as if I was going to teach high school, with an option for graduate school, if I really wanted to.

I forged on with student teaching, on the fence about what to do with my life. But that rigorous semester was fraught with the struggles of balancing preconceived ideas with the realities of high school education, questioning God’s plan for my life, and the simple discouragement from being mentally and emotionally drained constantly. I cried every Sunday night, because that meant school was starting on Monday (The Chancellor can attest to this—he and I had been dating by this point, and he often had to pep me up before the week even started). I had to face reality: this was not my calling. I returned to the fragile, yet growing, idea of going to graduate school, and I decided to take a leap of faith.

I spent money I did not have on the Graduate Record Exam and four MA program in English applications. I asked my professors for last-minute recommendations, which they all very graciously provided. And I waited. After two immediate rejections, I received the miraculous email from Western Michigan University. I was going to get my Master’s Degree in English.

When I began my program, I knew immediately that I had found my calling. I was stimulated by interesting, challenging discussions with my colleagues. I was energized by the diverse capabilities of the students in my classroom. On my worst day, I never felt any regret that I had turned away from my high school dream. I was called.

But at the end of my first year at WMU, I fully began to realize the implications of my calling. If God was guiding me towards a PhD, that would mean a LOT more work. It would mean spending money I didn’t have to retake the GRE to get a better score, spending more money I didn’t have on graduate school applications, getting rejected again, and then, at least four, if not five, years of school, which included qualifying exams and a dissertation to write and defend.

That summer, I had two big decisions to make. First, whether to apply for PhD programs. And second, what to do about my relationship with The Chancellor. I haven’t written too much about the US part of our marriage, for the sake of his privacy and mine, but this actually became really integral to my calling. He had just received his own calling. After finishing his MA at Andrews—where we had met in a young adult literature class—he had gotten an interview from a day school outside a large Midwestern city. I was in agony. I didn’t think there were ANY programs in the area. I began to think that I would have to make a choice: go forward with The Chancellor and give up my calling, or give up The Chancellor. I hated both ideas.

A lot of people in my personal or church life would have told me to get married and forget the PhD. After all, I was 25, not getting younger, and not at an Adventist school anymore.

Several academic friends and colleagues would have told me to go forward with my career. If The Chancellor did not fit in, he didn’t fit in. After all, this was my career.

The Chancellor had his own say: “If you give up the PhD to marry me, I’m breaking up with you.” This was perhaps the most miraculous intervention I’ve ever had. God did not present me with the “really sweet guy” I yearned for at 18. I mean, The Chancellor is a good and kind man, and yes, he can very sweet. But he’s also tough as nails, an ardent feminist, and a believer in standing up for what’s right and following God’s leading in your life. He’s the guy I needed to have the confidence in God’s calling for me, and for him, as well.

So, in the biggest leap of faith we both took, we decided to make it work. He would accept the job. I would apply to every PhD program relevant to my field (at the time 18th and 19th century British literature) within a three-hour driving radius (as it turns out, there were 11 such programs). And then we would get married in the summer of 2011. We were in this with God—together.

When God calls, it’s really scary. You make choices. You make sacrifices. You make it work.

I was accepted into Marquette University’s PhD program in English, which meant a 90-mile one-way drive. One of my dearest childhood friends and her best friend opened up their home to me, which meant I had a place to live during the week. But that meant being away from my brand-new husband for part of the week.

It was a wrenching and sometimes very stressful sacrifice. My first semester of my PhD was awful, in ways I will not expand on here. But I survived it, and I discovered the field I was meant to be in my second semester. From there, I began to find a rhythm in living two lives at the same time, of balancing my academic life with my teaching, my work life with my personal life, my marriage, and my friends. It was not easy, and it’s still not. Not everyone can do this. Not everyone wants to do this. Not everyone was called to do this. But I was.

Not every day of my teaching career at the college level has been magical by any means. But even on my worst day, I can’t even think of doing anything else. I have found the calling God made for me. I balance it with my daily life, and with my marriage. It is in my marriage that my calling has been strengthened. The Chancellor bounces ideas off me, and I off him. We read some of the same books, provide each other with inspiration, and challenge each other. I could not have done this alone. I am grateful that The Chancellor acknowledges my calling, and I his. We strengthen each other and glorify God together.

Fulfilling God’s calling for my life has meant research and teaching. It has entailed me to use my mind and challenge preconceived ideas with new ones. My calling has asked me to consider new perspectives and possibilities, to read books that challenge my Western ideas of thinking. It has asked me to accept students whose views are not my own and to treat them with dignity and respect. It has asked me to spend summer hours on my dissertation, to forgo pleasure in order to fulfill my role for God. And it has asked me to be open to communicating those ideas in my life, in my church, and in my work.

When God calls, and when you answer, there are beautiful moments beyond compare. I cannot describe the moment in which my name was called, and I walked across an auditorium stage to receive my diploma and have my hood draped around me. It all pales to the moment I heard my family and friends cheering loudly and shouting my name as I smiled into the light. The dream God had given me had come true on May 17, 2015.

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And it’s true to this day. While I do not have a tenure-track job at this moment (I’m on the market, so I hope to be employed full-time next year!), I do have teaching to look forward to. I have faith that God will provide me with the employment to fulfill my calling for Him. I have training, a mind He has prepared, a curiosity to seek knowledge and use it to make others’ lives richer and better.

When God calls…He changes your life forever. But only if you let Him do it. You can choose to follow the path you think is acceptable based on ideas of tradition, or you can accept His calling for you. Sometimes, it is that “traditional” path to which He leads you. And other times, as in the case of a teenaged girl with a third-grade education, He leads you beyond the boundaries of your home to reach classrooms, churches, ministries, individuals hungry for Him. When God calls…what will your answer be?

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Filed under Beginnings, Doctorate, Faith, Family, Feminism, Marriage, Teaching

Why I’m Staying

I’ve tried to keep myself as anonymous as possible on this blog, particularly since future employers will be Googling me to see what I am all about. But today, I am unveiling a bit of anonymity to talk about the university at the local level, because it is symptomatic of a larger issue. And it forms the heart of this post.

While I am not a resident of Wisconsin, I go to school here–not at the UW system, but a private school. As it turns out, I am actually being protected by the un-unionized private school more than I thought, because now all UW schools are under fire. Governor Scott Walker has unveiled a glorious new plan (read: sarcasm here): cut funding to the entire state University of Wisconsin system by $300 million, and provide $200 million so that the Milwaukee Bucks can have a new stadium. The sheer chutzpah of this plan boggles my mind, because you just know that of the $300 million getting cut, it will not be administrators and six-figure salaries, nor sports. Majors and programs are going to get slashed left and right, which means fewer academic jobs for an already gutted profession.

I just can’t even.

And then, Gov. Walker defended his brilliant plan. I’ve linked to the article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here, but I’d like to leave with this quote. It’s the money shot, in my opinion:

“In the future, by not having the limitation of things like shared governance, they might be able to make savings just by asking faculty and staff to consider teaching one more class a semester,” Walker told reporters at the Madison hotel. “Things like that could have tremendous impact on making sure we have an affordable education for all of our UW campuses at the same time we maintain a high-quality education.”

It is clear that Gov. Walker has absolutely no idea what goes into preparing, teaching, and grading a course, not to mention the committee work, the mentoring, and the research each faculty member conducts on his or her personal time, otherwise, he would not be asking them to add an additional course for no additional pay.

I just can’t even. It’s insulting, and it tells me that my PhD, which I am soon to receive, and which took years of toil, time, and MONEY, is of absolutely no monetary or intellectual value. It makes me so f**king angry sometimes.

But I’m not here to rant. Instead, two peculiar insights emerged this morning.

The first came when I was packing up my lunch. What if, I thought, I’ve been sent here for a time and purpose–like Esther? It was a momentous insight, one that I probably very much needed to gain. I’ve never second-guessed my love of writing and literature, higher education, or the desire to teach others the subjects that help us understand our world in ideological and abstract ways. But I have definitely questioned the sanity of it. I’ve spent years trying not to read thought pieces basically accusing me of being quixotic, of irresponsibly throwing away my economic future for a shadow, a dream. It’s been disheartening. Instead, here are the words that entered my heart this morning:

“For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, NKJV).

Such a time as this. Yes. Perhaps when I felt the call to be an academic, I was meant to enter the storm, not prosper in the calm. Weirdly, I find it encouraging.

The second insight came when one of my students, a total rockstar, had his meeting with me today. Tuesday, we watched Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary Blackfish, which chronicles the sad, sad story of orcas in captivity at SeaWorld, and the violence that has emerged when humans collide with such magnificent and pent-up creatures. He showed me screen captures that he had taken from SeaWorld’s website, which included accusations of a documentary being one-sided (really. You don’t say), and the idea that there may be no zoos or aquariums is just crazy. My student said, of the former, “it’s not like you show Hitler’s side in a documentary about Auschwitz” (I lol’ed at that, but it’s totally true), and of the latter, “If we had things always the way they were, you could make that case about civil rights. And equality.”

My heart grew three sizes today. This freshman in college is making an argument supporting civil rights and equality, and it all started with a discussion about Blackfish. That’s why we need college. That’s why we need teachers who are creative and passionate and innovative.

And it’s likely why I will spend years toiling as a poorly-paid adjunct. Because I feel the need for a good education. Because I had a good education. Because our nation’s children and young adults deserve a quality education.

And that’s why I’m staying.

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Filed under Doctorate, Faith, Teaching

How 50 Shades of Grey Turned Evangelicals into Casaubons

One of my favorite books of all time is George Eliot’s Middlemarch. It’s a rich, complex saga of trying to make the world a better place amidst fools, charlatans, cynics, and misguided morals. It’s in the last instance that we find dear, devoted, ascetic Dorothea Brooke marrying the dried up old clergyman Mr. Casaubon because she believes she can accomplish her life’s work through his book, which is a key to all mythologies.

Now, let’s be honest: Mr. Casaubon is not–exactly–an intellectual panty-dropper.

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He’s a very well-read man, but he’s self-satisfied and pedantic. He dialogues with no one and he relies on his own readings. It’s precisely his intellect that leads him to presume that he can create a Key to ALL Mythologies, and he insists on Dorothea keeping up his work after his death.

It is, of course, a fruitless exercise. How can Mr. Casaubon, a reasonably intellectual (though not curious or intuitive) man, believe that his grasp of mythology will make him the definitive expert on ALL MYTHOLOGIES? Especially since he has not traveled to other continents and heard first-person accounts of obscure mythologies? He’s simply relying on what little he’s read and assuming it comprises the whole.

What does Mr. Casaubon have to do with Fifty Shades of Grey? you might be wondering, dear reader. Well, as it turns out, he’s a handy metaphor for a debate that is currently waging in the Evangelical pop culture blogosphere.

If you’ll recall, I wrote about Fifty Shades of Grey two years ago when I read the first book. I was motivated to read it only after seeing its inclusion on the New York Times bestseller list and realizing, “This book is a THING and I probably need to know something about it.” I was semi-curious out of ignorance, but there wasn’t a whole lot of buzz about the book beyond the cringe-worthy phrase “Mommy porn.” I won’t rehash my blog post, but I hated the book for its bad writing, its terrible depiction of a co-dependent relationship, and its misuse of BDSM as a sexual lifestyle. In short: it’s not a good book, it’s not a sexy book, and I was not about to waste my time and energy on it.

Fast-forward to this year. There’s a movie coming out. On Valentine’s Day of 2015. Le sigh. Now, everyone is talking about it, and Evangelical Christians have taken up the cry of “Do not read this book!!!!” I remember this happening in the Summer of 2006, when the film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code was released. This book had been out for what, 3-4 years, and it wasn’t until the movie that suddenly this huge outcry surfaced about the sacrilege, and unbiblicality, and satanic overtones. Of course, no one had actually bothered to read the book to discover it was mostly just a standard mediocre adventure/thriller with an aging academic who wore loafers with no socks (maybe he didn’t. Maybe it was turtlenecks and blazers. But it was some white-man clothing item, and I don’t care to re-read the book to recall my distaste for Robert Langdon’s sartorial choices). But that didn’t stop them from condemning The DaVinci Code from the pulpits, proudly proclaiming they’d never read it and would never see the movie.

I really dislike it when people analyze and evaluate a book they’ve never read. As a teacher of composition and literature, I penalize my students for doing this. Why? BECAUSE IT’S LAZY. And frankly, it’s an insult to my professional practice. I am going to school to be a scholar of literature, and you’re telling me that you don’t need to read the books that I’m reading to give a “better” and more informed opinion? Really?

Look, a bad book is a bad book. But unless you’ve read it, you don’t really know HOW bad it is, and you are not able to form a credible and intelligent analysis on mere supposition and Google searches.

And that is why I am deeply disappointed in the many Christian-themed blog posts admonishing us that Fifty Shades of Grey is a Very Bad and Evil Book and You Should Not Be Reading It, because I Didn’t, But I Can Expostulate on All Those Evils for You So You Don’t Have to Think for Yourself.

For people who struggle within their sexualities (whether erotica drives them away from their partner or if they are single and feeling so horny they are dissatisfied, or what have you) and think this book may be a trigger, I get it. I respect your decision not to read it, and I applaud your mature decision to do what’s right for you.

But here’s where I divide company with these earnest, well-meaning bloggers. You can decide not to read a book, and that’s fine. But then don’t act like an expert on it and tell me why it’s so bad for me, when you aren’t reading this book on the supposition that it’s bad for YOU. It’s mystifying to me that so many people are out to defame those individuals who are supposedly lapping this series up and bringing down the Christian Church with them, when they have no clue or context what they’re talking about. That’s like my student writing a paper on Moby-Dick, when he’s only read the SparkNotes and telling me that he doesn’t need to read Moby-Dick to understand it. That doesn’t work in a classroom, and it doesn’t work in real life, either.

In all the blog responses I’ve seen or watched being posted on Facebook by OTHER people who haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey (and seriously? Ugh. It’s turning into this weird sex groupthink), there’s a common thread: everyone invokes the Bible as a reason NOT to read the book. I believe in the claims of Philippians 4:8 wholeheartedly. I believe in the Bible as the word of God. But then, I have to be incredibly careful how I phrase that, how I live, and how I use the Bible to support my claims. Because if I simply state, “The Bible tells me not to read this book,” that’s one thing. I have made a decision based on my understanding of the Bible and that is MY choice. But then if I tell you, “The Bible tells me not to read this book; therefore, you shouldn’t either,” then I’m imposing my my choice on YOU. I’m acting as someone else’s intermediary. That’s my first Casaubon metaphor: when we try to control others’ behavior, based on our own standards of living and morals, we end up taking away their freedom to choose. Mr. Casaubon continually declare that Dorothea is incompetent to help him make decisions, because he is more scholarly, yet his own limited knowledge makes him a poor choice to collect and anthologize mythology. He creates a will after he is dead that she cannot marry his cousin, Will Ladislaw, or she will lose her settlement–his actions remove her freedom to choose her behavior, and thus make her a slave to his idealism. How do we allow others the freedom of choice that God has allowed us? Are we not supposed to come together and then study individually, to seek truth but to challenge ourselves in the Word? Why is it that someone else decided that Fifty Shades of Grey was a bad book (and again: I believe it’s a bad book), so bad they couldn’t read it, and based on their opinion, decided it was unChristian for ALL of us to read?

I find it disheartening to see such a dismissive, anti-intellectual conversation predominating the discussion surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey. Yes, it’s a bad book. I’m not arguing that point. But why? I’m disappointed to hear non-readers dismiss it as pornography, lustful, or ungodly without invoking the implications of such labels. What does lust mean? What forms does it take for women and men? How do we see it or find it in our own lives and activities? For example: I find Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love gratuitously titillating and sexual. For its thinly veiled relationship to the Book of Hosea, it feels more like a romance novel for women who only read “Christian” books. And yet I’m not seeing people pouring out protests from their personal blogs. Why? What’s the difference between Michael Hosea’s emotional possessiveness and Christian DamagedGoods’ sexual possessiveness? Someone tell me. I’m at a loss over here.

On that note, the sex-oriented critiques, based on the Bible’s views of sex, marriage, and lust, have also thrown me for a loop. People have described the novel’s crudely-drawn and laughable sex scenes as pornographic and something to stay away from. That leads me to my Casaubon metaphor #2: Evangelicals are starting to reveal their deep sexual repressions, and it’s going to have to prompt a discussion on sexuality. Like, now.

*Disclaimer: I’m taking off the gloves here. I’m going to be clinical and frank. You’ve been warned.*

On the one hand, the novel itself reveals a weird, deeply-seated repression that plays itself out as fantasy-fulfillment. Christian DamagedGoods is so abused and emotionally damaged that he forces his partner to eat (food, that is–seriously, it’s super weird) and become a submissive for him? Really? And Ana Snore is sooooo virginal that she has sex for the first time and suddenly has a hilariously unrealistic amount of orgasms from missionary sex? I think we can all agree that E.L. James has no idea what BDSM is, and hasn’t had sex since the 1980s.

On the other hand, the Christian response has bewilderingly focused on lust, pornography, and pre-marital sex. Non-readers have called it pornographic and titillating to the point of being disturbing. One blogger mentioned that her mother had read it and could not get the images out of her head. Really? Vanilla sex with an unrealistic amount of orgasms is traumatic? I’m not going to lie, I was traumatized too: I was traumatized by Ana Snore brushing her teeth with Christian DamagedGoods’ toothbrush. NO. JUST. NO. I was also extremely traumatized by the detailed description of her tampon being pulled out. That’s all I can say. It was really, really discomfiting.

But still: are we  really so sexually repressed that we cannot even *read* bad cheesy romance novels that use terrible and childish sexual euphemisms without fear of being so aroused that we masturbate wildly to images of boringly described millionaires? No, seriously, I’m asking are we that sexually out-of-control that when someone watches a porn, all they see are breasts and vaginas on women everywhere? That when we read bad literature about vanilla sex pretending to be naughty, we turn that into an idol???

It feels like this line of criticism is taking the idea that sexuality is dangerous, that the only way we can remain sexually pure is to tamp it down as far as possible so that we can’t even feel a natural, healthy lust for the sexual partner that we are married to. That a woman is so sexually suggestive that the merest hint of bikini or spaghetti straps reduces her to breasts and a vagina. That a man is so sexually fired up, he is continually always one-click away from fantasizing about other women on the computer. That sex is dirty and bad, even when we are married and trying to sexually pleasure each other in the way that works best for our bodies and minds.

It’s like Mr. Casaubon. He’s a married man. He has this gorgeous, devoted wife. And what does he do on his honeymoon? He spends his time in the library searching for the Key to All Mythologies. He stays up all night and avoids going to bed with Dorothea. Dude. Make use of that marriage bed. It’s okay. You’re married now. It’s in the Bible to be naked and unashamed!

This brings me to my Casaubon metaphor #3: we as Christians see the Bible as the Key to All Mythologies. And for believers, it is. But the problem is, we abuse our knowledge to belittle or shame others into believing what we do. We argue that because we are Christians and we have accepted salvation, we have The Truth and that’s the end of the discussion. But what is truth? How does that look from faith to faith? How does what the Bible said 2000 years ago remain relevant in my life today? These are questions I wrestle with every day. I read my Bible every day, and each time, I gain new insight, new knowledge, new TRUTH.

I’m always saddened by people who “proof text” their way through an intellectual discussion, arguing that because Paul decried the sexual practice of a pagan temple, gay people should not get married. That because Paul declared a woman should not preach in an area where women were priestesses at a pagan temple, women can’t preach. That because Deuteronomy 22:5 declared that a woman should not wear a man’s clothes and vice versa, it is sinful for a woman to wear pants. This kind of spiritual practice does not invite people to know Jesus–it establishes us as The Key Mythologians and others as Wrong. Mr. Casaubon denigrated Dorothea’s assistance, love, and help, because she had an inferior education and a woman’s mind. Rather than invoking discussion, he decried her differences and shamed her into silence.

Let us not go down that dreary route. Instead of simply denouncing something as bad and wrong, let us ask each other why and how we know this. Where do we obtain our knowledge? How do we know our knowledge is credible? Let us, above all, not be made to look silly over something as silly as Fifty Shades of Boring Grey.

 

*If you want an excellent and well-informed blog on why Christians should not read the novel, Jeannie Campbell invokes her skills as a LMFT to provide a therapist’s perspective on Christians, sex, and abusive relationships that is both insightful and godly. *

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The Face of Love: Why “Just Be Celibate” Is a Poor Response

This conversation about same-sex civil rights and its relationship to my Seventh-day Adventist faith community has exploded in the last few months. I have been following lots of developments–the recent General Conference vote to pass guidelines that would exclude “practicing” gays and lesbians from church membership and the Andrews University LGBT forum are just a few–and reading lots of opinions and blogs, including this most excellent one by an Andrews University student, who responded to a young woman who’d attended the forum (and her initial piece is embedded in his–read them both).

It’s gotten me to thinking about some of the critiques I’ve heard against LGBT inclusion or same-sex marriage within my community of faith. There’s one that’s always bothered me tremendously, and I want to talk about it today. It’s the line of thinking that goes, “You can be gay, but you have to be celibate,” or “You can join our church, as long as you’re celibate.”

Ugh.

Let me be clear: I’m not advocating for a free-love, hippie-dippie sex romp in the prayer gardens of Pioneer Memorial Church. I just think we glibly state the “I don’t want to be intolerant, but I must follow the party line procedure, so I’ll just comfortably talk about celibacy when I’ve been married for 20 years and have no right to do so” catchphrase, because we (I’m referring to Christians here) don’t know how to talk to gay people. Or about sex. Or to gay people about sex. Or about marriage, for that matter.

People who follow the “Just Be Celibate” line of thinking sincerely believe that this moral standard should also be enforced on the straight single people in church. I’m not decrying their sincerity or consistency here.

But that’s what gets me. We don’t ask single men and women, “Are you practicing sex?” or “Are you celibate?” when they code straight and/or cis-gender (that means, you were born a specific gender and identify as that specific gender as an adult, for those readers not in the know). And when we do discuss sexuality and celibacy with straight singles, there’s always an “end point” to their celibacy:

*Oh, the right one will come along.

*There’s “still time.”

*Have you met my (cousin, nephew/niece, son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, etc)?

*All in the Lord’s time!

*Just for a season.

*[Insert link to ChristianMingle or AdventistSingles.com]

We assume that God will provide the lamb and end the accursed celibacy for straight singles, when the Bible discusses it in far different terms. These above statements assume that celibacy is a cross to bear, whereas Paul treats it as a blessing and a desired state:

“But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. 33 But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife. 34 There is[a] a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. 35 And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.” (1 Corinthians 7: 32-35, NKJV).

Paul sees singlehood as a blessing to be desired for the ministry of Christ? Interesting. Because I went to more than one chapel or Bible talk about what to do “until…” with that assumption ringing that there was SOMEONE out there for me, and that the marriage bed was God’s desired plan for my life.

There is a clear pressure to get married in the faith community. Those of us who are married are immediately pressured to have children–I won’t rehash the blog post from last week, but suffice it to say, every year I get closer to turning 30, the coy “When are you having children?” questions become less coy and more pointed. Those who aren’t married get marketed for singles gatherings and ministries. There is nothing wrong with any of this, but I believe we set people up for failure and discontent when we treat marriage and parenthood as the ultimate desired goal for life and singles are treated like the sad cat ladies who just “can’t find a man.”

And that’s where my issues with enforcing celibacy on unmarried folks enter this conversation. I am married; I made a choice to be married; I had the legal right to be married. Therefore, my choice reflects my opportunities available to me. How can I then flaunt my privilege in someone else’s face because they don’t have either the opportunity or the resources to be able to make the same choice I could? I find that fundamentally unkind and unchristian.

I’m not saying that we should all be practicing celibacy and abolishing marriage. Good grief, no. What I *am* saying, however, is that the Adventist Church has implicitly come to regard celibacy as a burden, a cross, a temporary state that singles should not desire. So I find it deeply hurtful to have such a fugue state imposed upon LGBT members. If we don’t want to relegate straight men and women to “being alone,” why on earth would we wish that upon singles who are queer? I don’t, and this is a major reason I stand up for same-sex civil rights. If I am to follow the teachings of Matthew 7:12, which states,  “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” I must treat someone else the way I would want to be treated (NKJV).
I do not want to be told that I must be celibate to be a member of a church.
I do not want to be asked if I am “practicing” my sexual orientation.
I do not want to be told that I must live alone and never have even the chance of a marriage partner.
Therefore, if I ask these kindnesses for myself, I must then reciprocate in kind. I don’t have an answer for doctrine or church policy. But in practice, I have been asked to be God’s face of love. And if I am His face, then I must shine with love and acceptance and kindness in my everyday life.

 

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I am not a mother. But I am a woman.

Mother’s Day is next weekend. I have always been excited about thinking of out-of-the-box books to get my mom and now mother-in-law, and the phone calls or messages I send to the women who genuinely mean something to me, and have been there for me in tangible and intangible ways. I could name them all, but it would take all day. I’m one rich woman.

Woman. That’s what Mother’s Day has meant to me–celebrating the women that made me the woman I am today. But not everyone celebrates it in that way. There’s an excellent blog post going around about the tradition of acknowledging moms at church on Mother’s Day weekend by asking the mothers to stand, either as recognition, or to receive a special flower or token at church. I’ll link it here, because you really should read it. It’s all about the compassion we need to bestow on women, particularly those who bear no visible sign of motherhood but may be hurting in deep, deep ways: http://www.messymiddle.com/2012/05/10/an-open-letter-to-pastors-a-non-mom-speaks-about-mothers-day/

Back? Great. This piece really resonated with me, because Mother’s Day didn’t really become an awkward holiday for me until recently. I’m 29, married, no kids as of now, and no plan for kids in the immediate future. I want them someday, but right now, I have a dissertation to finish drafting (by the end of summer, as per my director’s and my goals, but that’s a different blog post) and a salaried job of some kind to get. I know a lot of women my age in church who have kids already. A. Lot. And it’s put me in a strange spot in this faith community. Don’t get me wrong, no one is persecuting me or singling me out or belittling me for not being a mom. Although, at Christmastime, a complete stranger (one of the parents of the kids at The Chancellor’s school) rubbed my stomach and asked me why I didn’t have a baby yet. I KNOW.

Still, there is this odd undercurrent around Mother’s Day Church that feels like a rite-of-passage. That I won’t be seen in my faith community as a WOMAN until I am a mother and receiving a cheap carnation from a bodied child or standing and being applauded for having a child.

When I think of the many women in my church who are not married but have served God faithfully and joyfully, blessing my life in the process, I can’t help but become a little upset on their behalf. Where is their recognition? When I think of the work that the Chancellor and I do, reaching out and educating students, many of whom have fractious relationships with their parents, I wonder why being an actual parent automatically holds more value in the eyes of my church than in the missions we undertake.

I don’t intend this to be a poor-me post. I am not poor. By no means am I poor. When I think of the students whose paths I have come across, I feel lucky. When I think of the fellow graduate students and colleagues I have worked alongside and mentored and encouraged, I feel blessed. When I think of the miracles worked in my life, the trials, the joy, the deep, deep joy that lives in my heart, I realize that I am a woman. I am not a woman with children, but I am a woman.

If you are a fellow childless woman who has been made to feel less for not having children, I hold your hand in solidarity. If you are a woman who has lost a child, I hug you from this page. If you are a mom, I salute you. If you are a mentor, a friend, a guide, a leader, then I applaud you for making this world a richer place by making the world your children.

It is my hope that our world will recognize the many ways in which we can guide and direct and love without necessarily being a parent. That parenting is more complex than a fleshly child handing you a carnation. That loving a child or a soul is all it takes.

I am not a mother. But I am a woman.

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The Face of Love: I’m Not Perfect. I Need Help.

Last July, I posted a much-discussed defense of gay marriage. To this day, it is the most viewed post on this blog. I have received comments, emails, and many, many personal messages either agreeing or disagreeing with my particular stance, and to all of you, I am tremendously grateful for the responses.

Today, I want to think about homosexuality and the Bible, but I want to take a slightly different tack. Instead of thinking about what the Bible says, as I’ve already done, I want to think about the different perspectives and responses I’ve received and put them into practice.

I belong to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, for those not in the know. Right now, the world congregation is struggling to articulate its stance on homosexuality, not to mention gay marriage. So far, the unofficial stance is the prototypical Evangelical, “We support marriage between a man and a woman, etc etc etc, we follow the Bible, etc, etc, etc.” Many gay and lesbian members have fled the doors of the church, to my horror and dismay. But what about members who want to remain, who want the relationship with God? What then?

In the responses against gay marriage that I have heard, some of the most common threads include, “The Bible clearly forbids homosexuality and therefore, to have a relationship is to willfully sin” or “You can be gay, but you have to be abstinent” or “You can come to church, but you can’t hold church office.” It’s hard for me to accept this kind of logic, particularly because I wouldn’t want someone to say it of or to me.

I’m not arguing with the Bible. The Bible clearly denounces sin. But what constitutes sin? And how far do we go to keep it out of our churches, before we start driving people out, in the interest of self-preservation? And how far do we use the Bible to “prove” our point, at the cost of our relationships with others?

Let me share an anecdote from my childhood. It horrifies adult-me. So. Much. I feel, though, that it illuminates the dangers of “having the truth” and trying to foist on people who are either not ready or carry a different truth.

So, in 3rd or 4th grade, I had this antiquated science textbook that included healthful eating and discussed, in great length, the evils of soda (and seriously, it is actually pretty awful for you, but I still love my ginger ale). I was enthralled. Here was the truth, right in front of me. Soda was horrible, evil stuff, and people were drinking it ALL AROUND ME (you can see where I’m going with this, right? Buckle up; it’s about to get real awkward in here).

That summer, in day care (my mom had to work that particular summer), I ended up getting into a fight with two girls about soda. I regret this so much. I pulled out all the stops, the sugar content, the carbonation leaching calcium out of your bones, the WORKS. Oh, yeah, I was THAT kid.

Was I right? Yes, and I even had science to back me up. But did being right bring those girls to the truth? Did they quit drinking soda because I told them it was unhealthy? No, and in fact, they spent the rest of the summer making my life as miserable as they could, because I’d stuck my self-righteous nose in their business. It wasn’t as if they asked me what I thought about soda, or if I liked soda. No, I saw them drinking it and took the “Dare to be a Daniel” idea quite literally and decided to share the Health Message. Much to the cost of a potential friendship.

Obviously, soda and sexuality are very different. But I think my story exemplifies what has often happened when those of us in the Christian faith have tried to regulate others’ behavior because we are convinced of the truth that the Bible tells us. Obviously, if someone is hurting someone else (especially a minor, or breaking the law), we MUST step in. But there are other instances that make me more uncomfortable.

I’m especially dismayed by the idea that we can’t allow our gay and lesbian members to worship alongside us, or that they can’t possibly have partners because it’s an abomination to God.

You know what else is an abomination to God? If we look in Proverbs 6:16-19 (one of many, many places), God clearly tells six things that He hates, nay seven that are an “abomination” to him (again, refer to my post for that oh-too-brief discussion on abominations):

These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: 17 A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, 19 A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren (NKJV).

Whoa. My biggest sin was just mentioned right there. That’s right, folks. I struggle–deeply and secretly–with pride.

I am an intelligent individual with pretty good health and a fair-skinned, slender(ish) physique. I am in a doctoral program and doing well and making reasonably good progress. I am a competent teacher who receives pretty consistently positive feedback from her students. I feel pretty good about myself. I forget all the time that this is a gift from God, and that I didn’t get here on my own.

God tells me in no uncertain terms, and in many parts of the Bible, that He hates my prideful heart. There are countless stories of men and women undone by their own pride. Pride is bad for me. It drives me away from God.

Yet, I am allowed to be married to The Chancellor. I am allowed to hold church office. I am welcomed into my congregation and shake hands with other members all the time. But my pride leads me away from God. It is toxic to church unity. It is, in fact, the very sin that turned Lucifer into Satan. And yet, I’ve not been asked to leave my church.

And that’s what kills me. All the sins that God continually discusses about run rampant in our church. And the sin we’ve chosen to fixate on is given very little definitive space in the Bible. I find it profoundly ironic.

I struggle with my pride. I have to die to it EVERY SINGLE DAY, and yet I cannot conquer it on my own. It doesn’t really “go away” for good, though God has helped me make strides towards defeating it (only with His help, again might I add). My Sabbath School (that’s the Seventh-day Adventist equivalent to adult Sunday School), a great discussion place for young adults, has unofficially and half-jokingly adopted a catch-phrase: “I’m not perfect. I need help.”

It’s the absolute truth. God tells us that ALL have fallen short of His glory and sinned. I am no better than the person next to me. It’s a sobering and humbling thought. And that’s why I cannot possibly decry another’s sin without first decrying my own.

As a Christian, I am asked to be a light to others, an example of God’s love. Sanctus Real, a Christian band, has written a song that, for me, exemplifies the joy and challenge of being that light: one line in the song proclaims, “You’ve been portrayed a thousand different ways / But my heart can see you better than my eyes / ‘Cause it’s love that points the portrait of your life.” Others see God in us. And how can they see God when our own sins are clouding over the Face of Love?

My challenge to myself, one that I hope others will take on, is this: to love others unconditionally, as God has asked me to love them. To die to my own sins (that God has convicted me personally of) every day. To hope that my friends and family are able to see God in me.

In the words of the song, “Let us see… Let us be your face.”

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