Category Archives: Societal Commentary

Well, Miley Cyrus. How predictable of you.

Aaaand cue outrage. Shock. Horror. Pearl-clutching. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs last night was shocking. Oops. I mean. Predictable.

Seriously. Can we all stop pretending to be surprised now? Can we quit with the breathless reporting that even Miley’s team is “freaking out”  about her VMA performance last night? Because riiiiiight. I’m sure her team is just shocked.

Probably about as SHOCKED as discovering that lyrics like: “trying to get a line in the bathroom” are NOT about a long line to use the toilet. What? WHO KNEW?!

Here’s the truth: Miley Cyrus doesn’t care what you think. She doesn’t care that you’re outraged, disgusted, offended and horrified. In fact, she likes having “haters.” It motivates her.

Miley Cyrus set out to shock everyone and she succeeded. The only surprise, here, is that the adults are asking stupid questions like: “How did this happen?”

Everyone knows how this happened. It’s not like her song “We Can’t Stop” is subtle or nuanced. It’s not like it’s some hidden mystery of the universe that  Miley is singing about doing drugs. Of COURSE she is.

It’s been obvious for awhile that Miley is going off the rails…er, I mean: GROWING UP. Shaking one’s ass on national TV is, after-all, the time-honored way for former Disney stars to shed their squeaky-clean image and take ARTISTIC CONTROL of their careers. And by artistic control I mean: rocking the stripper pole. Or, in Miley’s case, the foam finger.

I don’t know about you but when I saw Miley’s performance, I couldn’t even twerk-up the energy to get outraged. I just felt sorta sad for her because her whole deal seems stupid and derivative and annoying as hell.

The only shocking thing, to me, is that anybody is watching her at all.

Elizabeth Smart & the life-threatening danger of shame-based purity culture

*trigger warning: rape, victim blaming*

I read an interesting line in the New Yorker yesterday, describing an important characteristic about one of the kidnapped girls who was recently rescued in Cleveland:

…she had to never forget who she was, and that who she was mattered..

She had to never forget that who she was mattered.

This line haunts me, especially when juxtaposed against the despair Elizabeth Smart felt after she was kidnapped: 

 …Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you know longer have worth, you know longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

What is the difference between a kidnapped girl who actively looks for escape and the one who does not? One possible answer: she knows and owns her inherent worth.

I realize there are many contributing factors but we can’t underestimate the importance that a girl believes she is important. She believes she matters. She never forgets who she is and that who she is matters. She has an unshakeable belief that no matter what happens to her in captivity, SHE is always valuable.

When I started writing about the harmful effects of purity culture, I overlooked one of the most terrible, unintended consequences: when you teach young women that her identity and worth is tied to her virginity, you make her more vulnerable to despair if she is raped and thus, reduce her chance of survival.

A despairing rape victim is less likely report her rape. A despairing kidnap victim is less likely to actively seek escape. Because what would be the point? Why would it even be worth screaming about? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.

A girl who is raised in purity culture and then is raped may eventually realize that the parenting methods her parents used essentially conditioned her to be… a victim of non-consensual sex. And why would a purity-culture-girl report her rape when, as Jori’s story shows, she’d just be blamed for it anyway: “This sort of thing doesn’t happen to godly girls,” [her parents] told her. “You put yourself in a situation for this sort of thing to happen.”

Even for girls who are not raped or sexually molested but who grew up hearing the shame-based messages of purity culture, the resulting despair can have long-term negative effects on their married sex lives. I’ve received emails from young women who, because they had so internalized the message that My Worth Can Be Measured By My Virginity, felt horrifically guilty after “losing their virginity” on their wedding night. Some of these women still do not enjoy sex. Others have yet to experience an orgasm.

As one of my own friends said to me: “If you’ve been told your whole life no-no-no about sex, how do you just flip that switch after you’re married to yes-yes-yes?”

Ultimately, purity culture  isn’t about sex, it’s about control. It’s about burrowing inside a woman’s heart and soul and mind to control how she views her body, her worth and whether she is lovable. Of course, this is done with the best intentions: protecting young women from unnecessary heartbreak.

But by using shame-based messages about sex, purity culture proponents actually expose their daughters to other kinds of danger: learned helplessness and a debilitating despair that prevents them from believing they are inherently valuable, no matter what they do and no matter what happens to them.

Believing she is valuable–no matter what–may literally save her life.

Dear Christians, Victoria’s Secret is NOT the problem

This message being brought to you by hysterical Christian parents:
Victoria’s Secret! Is targeting teenagers!
We Are Outraged!
Boycott All The Thongs!

This message being brought to you by Been There-Done That:

I’ll start boycotting Victoria’s secret just as soon as Christians
start boycotting purity culture. 

Sure, there was a time when I was all outraged about Victoria’s Secret. I was calling it soft porn and so help me God I was not gonna allow MY children to be ASSAULTED–yes! assaulted!–by Public Pornography!

I’m still not happy with the way VS advertises but I’m also concerned about the ways
we Christians have promoted harmful ideas about female sexuality.

I ranted against Victoria’s Secret because it was EASY. 

What’s harder? Taking a cheap shot at an easy target or examining the ways
I’m complicit?

Before Christians cast the first boycott, let’s examine the ways WE
have promoted harmful ideas about sexuality.

We idolize virginity. And oh, yeah. We have our very own Fake Christian Female. She is a mythical creature living in the fantasies of preachers who promote purity rings and purity pledges and write open letters to underwear companies pleeeeeading that they cancel their product line! Because. OUR DAUGHTERS’ WORTH WILL NOT BE DETERMINED BY A SLOGAN ON A THONG!

OK, but are we equally outraged by how Christians promote the Mythical Christian Female in our churches?

Are we outraged by this Mythical Christian Female who is a modestly dressed virgin all demure and submissive on the outside but whom, behind closed doors on her wedding night, magically transforms into a wanton porn star performing strip-teases for her husband?! (Probably in Victoria’s Secret lingerie)?

You know, I’ll get outraged about Victoria’s Secret just as soon as Christians start getting outraged about the way we’ve taught an entire generation of evangelical Christians that waiting until they are married to have sex will result in Amazing! Fantastic! Firework! Sex! Forever!

I’ll get outraged when Christians boycott a company for actual Christian values like exploiting cheap/slave labor.

I’ll get outraged when Christians quit taking the EASY ROAD of outrage and start CHANGING the actual culture.

Because yes, if the broader culture is to be blamed its harmful values then WE CHRISTIANS are also complicit. Because WE have our own harmful culture and let me tell you: purity culture directly harmed me far more than some stupid slogan on a thong.

The problem is NOT outside us. And neither is the solution.

Victoria’s Secret is NOT the problem.

Sexy lingerie is NOT the problem.

The problem is shaming sexuality.

The problem is thinking I’m protecting my child’s sexuality by….asking Victoria’s Secret to pull its product line.

The problem is refusing to examine the ways we Christians have contributed to a church culture that fetishizes sexually pure (and sexually eager!) virgins who wouldn’t dare dress immodestly (except in the bedroom! tee-hee! to the pure all things are pure!).

We think we’re promoting a healthier self-image for our daughters by….threatening to boycott Victoria’s Secret?

We think we’re encouraging healthy sexuality by…writing open letters about how slogans on underwear “make us sick”?

We are missing the point by about 500,000 Facebook shares.

And as Christians, we make ourselves utterly laughable when we write open letters demanding companies get in line with our “values.” Because, frankly? The only thing Christians seem to value right now is signing petitions, ranting all over Facebook and blaming a CLOTHING COMPANY for “coming after” our little girls.

 The problem is NOT outside us. And neither is the solution.

The solution is for us Christians to truly examine our own misogynistic, Christian culture–a culture that idolizes the Mythical, Fake Christian Woman.

The solution is for us to eradicate the myth of the submissive, devout, modestly dressed woman who also moonlights as a strip-teasing porn star for her husband.

The solution is for Christians to LIVE a shame-free sexual ethic.

Until that happens, Imma lay out by the pool in my Victoria’s Secret bikini and catch some rays. Oh, and so is my daughter.

Update: Thanks to everyone for commenting and contributing to this conversation! I told my kids we’d do something fun during spring break today and oddly enough, their idea of fun isn’t Mom sitting on the computer moderating blog comments. :) So, I’m closing comments. You can send email or disagree with me on FB. Pool, here we come!

The price of religious shaming, the redemption of love {review of “The Whale” at South Coast Repertory}

The Whale logo courtesy of South Coast Repertory

I took a break from book writing this week to catch a play at South Coast Repertory. I walked into The Whale knowing nothing about it and walked out feeling completely known. And more than that: unconditionally accepted—simply for being human, for being here, for being me.

I laughed, I wept and I trembled all the way home. I woke up the next morning with scenes still running through my mind and snippets of dialogue still wrenching my heart. I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t stop talking about it.

The Whale is the story of a morbidly obese man trapped in his apartment and dying of congestive heart failure. It the story of being trapped in one’s body, trapped by shaming religion, trapped by failure, trapped by mistakes and miscommunication, so helplessly trapped that all Charlie can keep repeating is I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

Helen Sadler and Matthew Arkin in South Coast Repertory's production of The Whale by Samuel D. Hunter. Photo by Scott Brinegar/SCR.

On the surface it seems like a depressing story. But like Charlie’s body, outward appearance belies inner beauty. At its heart, The Whale is a story of ridiculous hope and a relentless longing for true connection—a connection that can happen against all odds when we simply allow ourselves to be radically honest and unconditionally accepting.

It is a story that rejects the superficial standards by which our modern society measures honesty, faith, love and success. It is a story that asks us to reach beyond what we see and value the truth within.

Rejected by his hateful, rebellious teenage daughter, blamed by his ex-wife, suffering from the heartbreak of losing his partner and having eaten his way into moribund obesity, Charlie shows us that devastating setbacks are not what define a life.

What matters in life—what truly matters—is being so totally honest with ourselves and with others that we see through to the beauty within each human person and accept them just as they are.

The Whale is graphic and raw and desperately honest. It is at times brutally heartbreaking, also irreverent and unabashedly LOL funny. But as Charlie lurches across the stage toward his daughter, we find ourselves gasping for breath along with him and suddenly we understand: love conquers all.

If you’re local to Southern California, go see “The Whale.” Shows run through March 31.

Virginity: New & Improved!

Yes, I was a virgin on my wedding day. Then again, I was only 20. Yes, remaining a virgin until my wedding day saved me from some romantic heartbreak. Then again, I’ve had other heartbreaks. Yes, chastity is special. Then again, so are lots of virtues. Except, as a 20 year old bride, I thought virginity was extra-extra special and would win me lots of special prizes like: a happily ever after marriage.

It took me a long time to realize I idolized virginity. I kept saying I was just promoting virtue and chastity and purity! Nothing wrong with pushing purity, right? Nothing wrong with Being Good!

Like other Christians, I talked about the “sacrifice” of abstinence. There were princess-themed books about saving our first kiss. Some of us wore purity rings and made pledges to our Daddies not to have sex until we’re married.

Ultimately, we implied that a woman’s inherent worth and dignity could be measured by whether or not a man has touched her.

I understand why we do this. Christians are alarmed by what we see as a sexually permissive society. America no longer seems to share our values. This scares us. The less sacred sex seems to the broader culture, the more sacred we insist on making it among fellow Christians.

The intention might be good but over-emphasizing the specialness of virginity has unintended, harmful consequences.

We start by making ridiculous promises to our daughters. We tell them that “sexual purity” is a guarantor of a more intimate married sex life. We tell them that if they “lose” their purity, they will never really get it back. Oh, yes. They can be forgiven. But. You know. They’re damaged goods.

Christians say that the world objectifies women through immodest dress and a permissive sexual ethic. However, by idolizing sexual purity and preoccupying ourselves with female modesty and an emphasis on hyper-purity, Christians actually engage in reverse objectivization. 

Yes, we Christians say, we believe in the inherent dignity of all human life. But we especially believe in it if that human life is virginal, wears a purity ring and bleeds on her wedding night.

This is harmful and, dare I say, idolatrous.

Virtue is self-evident. It is virtuous simply because it is virtue.

Virtue doesn’t require a bunch of after-market purity rings and virginity pledges to make it more awesome. Virtue can’t be improved upon.

There is no such thing as New & Improved Virginity.

Whenever we seek to improve upon virtue, we are actually creating an idol. Furthermore, by elevating virginity to the ethereal realms of unicorns and angels, we place an unfair burden upon the shoulders of real, human beings.

And that’s what concerns me the most. The New & Improved Virginity places a heavy weight of shame upon women—even those who are virgins.

I was a virgin and I didn’t feel “pure enough”  because I’d kissed a couple boys before my husband. I was a virgin and I felt horribly defiled because I’d discovered this crazy, secret thing called masturbating. I was a virgin and I was disappointed to realize that my ‘sacrifice’ didn’t automatically result in a happily ever after marriage.

I was a virgin and I felt superior to “damaged” women. The purity culture showed no compassion for me so I had no compassion for myself or women who had “chosen” to “give away” their virtue.

So, here’s the thing. I absolutely reject the idolizing and fetishizing of virginity.

I refuse to sit down with my daughter and have a Purity Talk because I have this thing called a relationship with her. We talk everyday. Boys and sex and romantic relationships come up as casual topics, in the midst of daily, real-life together.

It would be just plain awkward—not to mention, harmful and distasteful—to make a whole scene out of it complete with marching bands, purity rings, pledges, purity balls and whatever else. 

And anyway, my daughter is inherently precious simply because she exists. Her worth and dignity as a human being have NOTHING to do with what she does or doesn’t do. Yes, we talk about virtue. But mostly, we live it. And when we mess up we have compassion for our humanity.

We are human. We are worthy. We are not ashamed.

What was YOUR experience with purity culture?
Did it have an impact on your married sex life?
How do YOU talk about sex and relationships with YOUR kids?
ANONYMOUS COMMENTS OK! 

 please read my followup post: Am I being soft on sin?

Throwing out the baby with the bathwater?


Here’s the thing: whenever someone warns you against “throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” they are trying to control you. And scare you. They are afraid your actions threaten their dearly held beliefs.

First of all, what if there isn’t a baby in the bathwater? What if ya got twins? ;-)

The thing is, people get scared when someone refuses to go along with the prevailing wisdom or conventional practices of the group. When anyone comes along who seems to defy the norms or whose very existence is a massive exception to the rule, people get scared and perceive this person as a threat. As a result, they will try to control and subdue the threat.

They will try to silence you. They will threaten you. They will call you names.

Many people, unfortunately, react in fear when they see someone who looks, acts or speaks differently than themselves. Instead of responding in love and with a genuine desire to understand, fearful people will attempt to maintain conformity at all costs.

You must have enough courage to hear your true, inner voice. Furthermore, you must act on that true, inner voice. You can’t let mockery, ridicule or threats prevent you from living the authentic life you were meant to live.

Remember that wisdom is justified by its fruits. If you are choosing to live in a way that directly contradicts the accepted norms of society, you are allowing yourself the opportunity to grow into the fullness of God’s dreams for you.

Did you know God has a dream for your life? Don’t let the naysayers and accusers hinder you from reaching that dream. Instead, shut out their words. Record a new soundtrack for yourself filled with words that fan the flames of your exciting destiny.

God loves you unconditionally and you are not BIG enough to screw up His dream for your life. No matter what happens–even you fail and fail again–keep going. There is no such thing as a “missed opportunity.” As long as you are still breathing, there is time to get back on track. And anyway, detours are often necessary time-outs.

There are things to be learned in all the dead-ends, tangents and scenic routes of life. In fact, if you haven’t gotten off track in awhile, maybe it’s time for a nice scenic drive down a road you haven’t explored yet.

You living your life is not a threat to your company, job, church, family or friends. If anyone discourages you from following the dream God has placed in your heart, it’s time to get new friends. While traveling your own path might seem lonely at first, don’t get discouraged. I can promise you that eventually you will be joined by fellow travelers who totally GET IT and GET you.

Sometimes the realization of your dream might look utterly different than what you expected. That’s OK. We usually don’t have a very clear vision about our destination when we start traveling. But as we go through the refining process of the journey, we gain a better understanding of how everything we experience works together for our good.

In the end, believe. Believe. Believe.

And as Winston Churchill once said: “Never, never, never give up.”

How do I know all this?
Because I just had a dream come true (I’ll share more soon). :)

Joe Paterno and what legacies are made of (and how World Magazine & Relevant Magazine got it wrong)

I’ve been reading various posts and listening to commentary on the passing of Joe Paterno this week. Some folks call him a monster. Others (mostly die-hard football fans, I’ve noticed) seem to exclusively focus on Paterno’s winningest football legacy.

But this article by Barnabas Piper, published on World Magazine’s website, caught my interest mainly because it purported to lay out the proper Christian response; ie. “How does our Christian faith direct us in these understandings?

I found the article deeply troubling and worse, directly harmful to the welfare of children.

Piper allows that disregarding Paterno’s legacy “seems almost justified” but then he spends the rest of the article suggesting why Christians should be “willing not to besmirch his legacy with our vitriol and hatred but to know our God is a consuming fire and all Joe’s evil has been dealt with.”

I absolutely disagree. First of all, WE are not besmirching Joe Paterno’s legacy. Joe did that himself. Secondly, there are certain massive failures that really DO destroy legacies. The Bible is full of them.

To suggest that Christians ought to refrain from any kind of judgment about Paterno’s legacy is participate in the same culture of complicity that enabled a molester to repeatedly rape children. Why? Because saying: “Well, let’s just leave it all in God’s hands” is a cop-out. It exonerates us from actually having to advocate for the victims of Paterno’s horrible legacy: innocent children.

Piper also claims that feelings of complicated complexity arise in the wake of Paterno’s passing saying that it’s “the end of his career that so complicates matters.”

Because, honestly, there is nothing really complicated about covering up the sexual abuse of children. There is nothing really complex about actively participating in a complicity of silence that allowed for the ongoing abuse of multiple children. It’s not like this was a one-time ‘lapse’ of judgment. By failing to follow-up, by failing to remove Sandusky from the coaching position, by keeping silent day-after-day-after-day, Joe Paterno definitively wrought his own demise. And worse, the demise of innocent children.

I’m not conflicted about Joe Paterno’s legacy. No, it’s all pretty clear to me. And I say that as a Christian mother.

Piper asks us if we can “reflect on [Paterno's] life and legacy with grace, even if it is conflicted grace?”

Here’s the short answer: no.

Why? Because that is one screwed-up definition of grace. Sure, I can refrain from spewing “vitriol and hatred” but I absolutely refuse to sit back and lovingly reflect on a “conflicted” legacy.

I have a responsibility–no, WE ALL have a responsibility to the safety and well-being of children. I actually find it appalling that the supposed “Christian response” to Paterno’s death precludes any kind of judgment about his legacy. Certainly I leave judgment of Paterno’s immortal soul to God, but that doesn’t mean I refrain from being angry about actions that endanger children. I actually believe such restraint is morally reprehensible!

Lastly, I also read Shaun King’s tribute (honestly, what ELSE am I supposed to call these articles?) to Joe Paterno on Relevant Magazine’s website wherein he actually claims that Paterno was “so great that I think the ultimate story about him will eventually outshine the awful ugliness of a child molestation scandal.” Yes, Paterno was SO great! Except for that one thing. But hey, no worries! That one thing will be easily outshone.

King goes on to suggest that we are ALL Paterno because…at one time or another we’ve neglected our duty to protect children. Really?! This is the logic we’re using now? We ALL enable sexual abuse? And HEY! Stop judging because we ALLLLLLLL are Paterno???!!!!

As a Christian wife and mother to five children I’d really like to know just WHO thinks these arguments in support of Joe Paterno are worthy of publication on major Christian websites?! Because I’m keeping my children far away from whoever thinks this was really A-OK.

I’m so disappointed and offended that World Magazine & Relevant Magazines found these articles worthy of their huge Christian websites.

What does THAT say about the Christian response to the rape of children?

i WILL prophesy!

Because we women are done fighting for a place at the men’s table.

And when they want to use the Bible as a weapon against us, we’ll put on our headcoverings and say we’re prophesying–just like the Bible tells us to.

We’re simply finished with being told we’re irrelevant, rebellious, emotional, illogical and behaving in an “unbiblical” manner.

We are done with being silenced.

I’m a woman and I’m done with all the male theological saber rattling. I’m laying aside the weapons of doctrinal warfare and instead, I’m raising my voice.

I’m becoming the woman God made me to be:

I am a woman who speaks out on behalf of hurting children. A woman who doesn’t look away when she sees hunger and poverty. A woman who is determined to find grace in the margins and build community.

I am a woman who LIVES COURAGEOUSLY and loves unconditionally.

With the children I sponsor in Bolivia--and with their lovely mothers

I am a woman who refuses to waste one more moment listening to men opine about why it’s not it’s “Biblical” for me to read Scripture aloud in church or how I supposedly stepped outside my “Biblical” role when I confronted Michael Pearl (I won’t even link to those men anymore because I also refuse to give them web-traffic).

I am a woman who refuses to remain silent in the face of misogyny, injustice and cruelty.

Yes, I am a woman and God gave this woman the gift of words.

He intends for me to use them—and I will not keep silent simply because those words were placed within a female earthen vessel.

I was named after two women of valor: Elizabeth–mother of John the Baptist and Esther–the Queen who saved the Jewish people.

It is time for me to step into my name and own that name.

I am Elizabeth Esther.

I will speak. I will use my words.

And together with you, my sisters, we will prophesy.

WE WILL DANCE UPON INJUSTICE!

Occupy San Francisco: my conversation with a protestor

Philip Oje, 26, is precisely the kind of radical every societal revolution desires. Young, earnest and idealistic, Oje joined Occupy San Francisco on September 30th, 2011. He wants nothing less than to totally change the world.

“Ideally, I’d love to see a money-less society,” he confesses, grinning. I chuckle at this, but he’s not joking. “Everything needs to change,” he says. “We’re trying to do something that has never been done before–what we’re doing has never been done in the entire history of humanity!”

Philip Oje, 11/23/11--sitting in my neighbor's living room

I ask him what he means by this.

“Well, humans have always lived as hierarchical and patriarchal societies. We want a more horizontal society. A sustainable, equitable society.”

Despite my initial skepticism, I find myself warming to Oje’s passion. We agree on several major societal problems: the homeless elderly, dependency on oil, severe global poverty, corrupt government institutions, a broken education system.

“If I could just meditate everyone into world peace, I would,” Oje remarks. “The Occupy movement is devoted to non-violence and global compassion.”

When I ask him if there are leaders in the Occupy movement, Oje shakes his head.

“We don’t have leaders,” he says. “There are some of us who have a….” he pauses, searching for the right description, “a stronger vision.”

“So what does the Occupy movement want?” I ask.

“That’s the most commonly asked question,” he says, pulling out his well-worn notebook and thumbing through the pages filled with notes. He pauses, consults a page, looks up at the ceiling, sighs.

“We believe in and embrace a variety of tactics for social change,” he says. “We are committed to non-violence and change without force.”

But some of those tactics, I say, have people wondering if the movement is truly non-violent. Oje dips his head, closes his eyes for a moment and steeples his fingers.

“I support a protestor’s right to break a window,” he says.

“You support his right to break a window?” I repeat, readying my pencil to write this down.

He smiles and reconsiders. “Well….I respect his freedom of choice although I don’t necessarily support that tactic.”

“There are better ways than destruction of property, yes?” I prompt.

He nods. “I think so. But others in our movement have other forms of civil disobedience.”

His step-dad, sitting a few feet away, interjects a practical question: “I heard the protestors in New York had to file for some kind of legal tax status–to handle all the donations they’ve received. At some point, you’re going to have to organize, how will you do that?”

This seems to perplex Philip. “But filing for legal tax status? That’s–that’s becoming part of the corrupt system we’re trying to change!” he says.

“Well, yes, but you’re going to have to consider some of these real questions,” his step-dad says.

“I know, I just….I don’t want to get into that right now,” Philip says.

Watching their exchange, I see Philip as a young visionary who is frustrated by the practical nitty-gritty of social change. As much as my heart soars with his ideals, I understand the concern of his step-dad. After all, even revolutionaries must eat and have a place to sleep. And then there’s always that pesky question about laundry: who washes the clothes when you’re running a revolution? Who pays the bills?

I can feel Oje’s unease and so I change the subject a bit.

“Has the movement changed you?” I ask. “Are you learning a lot about yourself?”

“Oh, yes!” he grins and lets out a sigh of relief. “It’s been a rite of initiation. I’ve learned I can be an effective human being. I can have conversations with all kinds of people. I’ve overcome many of my fears.”

“Peace-making is hard work,” I say.

“Yes! It is! It’s such hard work and so full of interruptions! Sometimes I feel like I’m being pulled in so many directions. Most of my time is spent in meetings having hours and hours of conversations.”

“The interruptions are part of the process,” I say. “Conversations are a very important part of change.”

“Yes! Thank you for reminding me of that,” he says.

We embrace and I wish him well. If the Occupy movement is full of people like Philip, I have hope it will succeed–at least in convincing more of us that things need to change.

I’m not sure the Occupy movement has a positive identity yet. To me, it seems like the occupiers are more consumed with what they are against than what they are for. And because they have no tangible goals and no practical way of accomplishing them, I have to wonder if they’ll achieve any kind of meaningful change.

I mean, a moneyless society sounds like a marvelous, utopic, lofty ideal. But short of radically altering human nature (which no societal revolution has ever been able to achieve), I foresee a grand dose of disillusionment in Philip’s future–unless the Occupy movement is willing to create more realistic goals. Still, I love the heart of this movement and wish them all the best.

Maybe I’m the one who needs to, as Philip says, “evolve out of this current system.”

I don’t know.

All I do know is that I have children to tend and ain’t nobody gonna wash that huge laundry pile of mine. What can I say? I am the 99%.

A necessary anger

“Great emotions are especially powerful teachers. Even anger and rage are great teachers, if we listen to them. They have the capacity to blind you, but also the power to open you up, and bring you profound conversion, humility and honesty. People who are too nice and never suffer or reveal their negative emotions, usually do not know very much about themselves…the feminist movement has rightly recognized that many women have to be led into a necessary anger.
Richard Rohr, “Hope Against Darkness” (pg. 99,100)

Not only are women supposed to suffer public, blatant sexist humor at the hands of our Christian brothers, we are also not allowed to be angry about it. Indeed, where is our sense of humor? Can’t we “overly sensitive” women take a joke?

Getting angry is a cardinal sin–for a woman.

Women in the church, you see, are expected to endure all manner of crude jokes, putdowns, mockery, being told to shut up, to keep quiet, to not get our “panties in a knot,” to not be so easily offended.

And we’re supposed to endure all this without ever once getting angry.

Because as soon as we get angry, well, we’ve crossed a line. We’ve invalidated our arguments. We’ve become “emotional” and–my personal favorite–unable to “think logically.”

Ironically, the first thing I learned in therapy was the necessity of anger. I can’t tell you how many therapy sessions started with me saying: “Well, this probably doesn’t qualify as abuse but…..” and then go on to describe a horrifyingly abusive experience.

When my therapist asked me if I was angry about what happened, I’d say: “Oh, no! I’ve forgiven and moved on!”

Because that’s what nice, Christian women do, right? We don’t get angry! We forgive! We play nice! We move on!

The problem, of course, was that by never allowing myself to feel anger about what happened, I missed a crucial, vital step in the mourning/recovery process. By rushing to Forgive-And-Move-On!, I repressed the negative emotions without transforming them.

The hardest lesson I’ve had to learn in the past 9 years is that if I don’t transform my pain, I will transmit it.

When I first went to therapy, I couldn’t understand why I kept having these unpredictable outbursts of anger. I thought I needed to learn how to better control my temper. It wasn’t until I was willing to look at what was causing the anger that I was able to truly move forward.

Allowing myself to feel angry about legitimate injustice was a necessary step toward epiphany. By circumventing necessary emotions, I’d cheated myself of fully understanding and living my spiritual journey.

Furthermore, by stuffing down the negative emotions, I was actually guaranteeing they’d explode at a different time in a completely unpredictable way.

In other words, you can’t take detours around negative emotions without paying the price later on. Those emotions are there for a reason. The anger is there to teach you something. It’s your job to find out the lesson hiding behind the anger.

I didn’t want to be angry. But I needed to be angry.

Anger, I learned, is a proper and God-given response to injustice. When you are being unfairly treated, abused or witness the unfair treatment and abuse of others–you are supposed to get angry.

It is good to be offended by what is offensive.

If we are NOT angered by injustice, if we are NOT offended by what is offensive, then the only transformation we can hope for is a superficial one.

So, yes. I am angered by injustice and the ongoing, sexist treatment of women in the church. I am grieved that young men in the church are adopting and continuing these attitudes.

I am a woman. And I am angry.