Feminists can be Christians, too

Lot's Wife - medieval stained glass detail, Ca...

Image of Lot's Wife by chrisjohnbeckett via Flickr

I am a Christian. I believe that following Jesus is about kindness, compassion, for meeting people where they are, for practicing empathy. I think the Bible contains metaphorical truth, historical truth, and that it’s a record of human struggle with faith and the human story of encounters with the divine.

As a feminist, I am afraid to admit that I am a Christian, because I’m afraid you won’t take me seriously anymore. That you’ll think that I live my life and govern my relationships with legalism (i.e., using the Bible to make “rules”). Sometimes, those who are also struggling to follow Jesus as a path to following God act in ways that are intolerant, uncompassionate, and inhospitable. These fellow believers make people uncomfortable, claiming to speak for God, claiming to know when another person is sinning, claiming the Bible as incontrovertible truth with a capital T. They use this belief to say that love between two people of the same sex is a sin, to reduce women to objects and servants, and to consume the Earth’s resources.

These people, my brothers and sisters in Christ, are using God’s name in vain. They are speaking for Him without the humility to admit that they may be wrong. I have recently been made aware that silence on the issue of faith and belief may also be using God’s name in vain, because I am part of God’s voice in this world. Silence implies shame.

Here’s what I want to make the liberal, feminist blogosphere aware of — the Bible is open to interpretation, and when it is being used as a tool of bigotry, literacy is the only way to educate those whose minds are open, those who are not using God’s name in vain.

Sodom and Gomorrah

Genesis chapter 19, verses 1 through 19, narrates the story of Lot inviting two strangers, angels, into his home in the city of Sodom. The bigoted citizens of the city, who already do not like Lot, because he is also a foreigner, demand him to hand over his guests. Most translations I’ve read demand that the guests be turned over to the mob so that they can “have sex” with them. Lot pleads with them not to do this wicked thing, and offers his virgin daughters to the mob instead. Before this can happen, the angels strike the mob blind, and ultimately, as a result, the city of Sodom is destroyed.

This passage is the source of the word sodomy, which is less judgementally known as anal sex. Those who believe that homosexuality is a sin cite this passage as a proof that God hates sodomites – i.e. those who have anal sex, i.e. gay men.

But, feminist readers, does this not also sound like attempted gang rape?  Complete with rape apologist language of “have sex”? Could this passage be a story about how rape is not to be tolerated? Instead of teaching how a certain kind of sex is wicked, could the passage be teaching that a lack of consent, that force in a sex act is wicked?

As feminists, it is easy to get up in arms and distracted with the way that Lot offered his daughters to be raped to protect his guests. It is not nice to think about, but in the historical context, women were objects — and we must acknowledge this. To apply our current values on historical circumstance is futile — we will always be disappointed. The knowledge that women’s value used to be different can be a source of strength, too. How far women have come, and yet how far we have to go. Just as life is now, the Bible is a mixed bag. There are both wins and losses, victories and defeats.

What I take heart in is that God did not allow Lot’s daughters to be raped either (at this juncture of the story, at least. The ultimate fate of Lot’s daughters is a different story). God through his angels intervened, and did not allow anyone to be raped that day; the city was destroyed for that attempted act of violence.

At least, that’s how I read the passage as a feminist.

The Church is still a human institution, I get it.  Sometimes the acts of Christians are incredibly hard to defend. The Bible is a human work. Not all passages are easy to explain in a way that makes us feel good.  Sometimes humans use God’s name to legitimize their bigotry and privilege. Sometimes people who believe in justice, in tearing down privilege, and are Christians forget to invoke God. Both are wrong.

My mission here is to record my activism. Sometimes that activism occurs in the context of Church. I shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it.

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#reverb10 – December 7, Community

Prompt: Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011? (Author: Cali Harris, reverb10.com)

I think for me to fully talk about the idea of community, I have to back to a community that I haven’t fully let go of — I don’t think I’m bitter anymore, but I think that I haven’t let go because to me, the community I built the first semester freshman year of college, and that continued for about a year’s time, that community is still, in many ways, something I wish to emulate.

We called ourselves “The Midnight Society,” ironically after a television show from our youth. We did meet up at midnights on Thursdays into Friday mornings, a time where we all knew would be relatively free of interruptions. We all sat around in a circle, eating pokeystix and talking about “intellectual” questions. We all lived in the same dorm, shared most of the same classes, and as a result, we learned to take care of one another. I know that I personally benefited the morning I slept through a class where I was supposed to turn in a paper — and they came and woke me up at the end of it, so that I wouldn’t be penalized. I broke up with my boyfriend in sophomore year, and let him have my friends in the break up — but the rest of the group turned rather insular, and it seemed that I was not as important to them as they were to me.

I understand that this kind of community is hard to replicate for a lot of reasons. One, we aren’t always so lucky to live in such close proximity. Two, we aren’t always so lucky to have so much in common. Three, there are always going to be division points, as I found — but they don’t always have to be so permanent.

In 2010, I had made community one of my goals. Perhaps you embiggified the giant list that I brain dumped last January, the one I included on my “letting go” prompt, and you saw that community was one of the things I listed — or perhaps I lamented the lack of community. I didn’t look too closely at the picture before I posted it.

I think my attempts at finding and building community in 2010 were mixed. 2010 was much more about becoming comfortable in my own skin, in my own home, in finding routine, about fixing myself before attempting to support others. And 2011 may turn out that way too, with a baby arriving about a quarter of the way in. But that is not to say that community did not turn up.

Actually, I’m having a much harder time writing about community than I thought I would. I think I hold community in too high a regard, set too high standards on it. I think, perhaps, that perfectionism is rearing it’s ugly head again. Maybe I’m thinking about community as spontaneous displays of affection or getting together, or always hanging out. But maybe I can lower my standard here — connect, always connect.

I connected with my old classmate Katie F nee J in 2010. We ran into each other at a conference in 2009, and again in 2010 and for a few months, we were doing lunch every month. She invited my husband and I to her wedding, and I think that we built a small community to talk about the stressors of being twenty-something and seeing the big picture of how the world is imperfect and broken and wanting desperately to fix it — and knowing that we only had so much power individually.

I connected with a writing group, which originated in NaNo2009, particularly with Sarah, and her husband Matt. It hasn’t been the easiest connection to make, as both Sarah and I are more the introverted types, who worry constantly about if someone wants to be friends with us, really, or if we’re being too pushy, or etc. But we’ve slowly been building up a rapport. Sarah takes care of me on Saturdays when Tim is off playing D&D with his friends, and we chat online. As writers, we can cover a lot of different topics — from awesome movies and TV shows, to awful books, to questions about existence and religion and church. I’m going to be part of her group blog, come January, and we’re going to be awesome Geeky Wives together. 😀

I reconnected with my friend from college, Alex, who introduced me to the people she grew up with at her childhood church: now, young adults, spiritual seekers, people willing to become our friends and be understanding of our plights. These young adults, in turn, introduced us to the wider church community at Central Woodward, and as a result, Tim and I joined the church this past Sunday. It seems like a good place to learn, and grow, to explore my relationship with God — and to continue to have supportive people surrounding us, including two other couples expecting children in the first half of next year.

In 2011, I want to reconnect with Katie F. Even if we only get together every other month, I think we can be good buddies about career stuff.

I want to spend more time cultivating the fraternity community — my husband’s fraternity and those men’s wives, and their children. They’re great people, a lot of fun, and they seem to accept kids just fine.

I want to become a contributing member of CWCC, and for the Young Adult group to take off and become really community oriented. I’ve volunteered to become the “point person” for the community, so hopefully I can use that unofficial position to my advantage in making sure the community continues and gets stronger.

Do Fun Stuff

I love blogs that are honest about their family’s lives. One of my favorites is Marshall’s at Pacing the Panic Room.

Marshall has a stepson he calls Littlest Buddy or LB. LB has a genetic condition called Smith Magenis Syndrome, and he’s had a dream to raise a bunch of money to study SMS, to get more information out there — so that what happened to Cole, his wife, where she was given the news coldly on the phone, doesn’t happen to any other families.

Check out http://www.dofunstuff.net/ and preview the awesome children’s album that is pleasing to adults, too. Buy it from itunes. All profits go to funding grad students who choose to study SMS as their degree.

Third Places and Consumerism

Tim and I went on a little roadtrip this weekend, down to Ohio. I was inspired by a blog I read to investigate and then download TEDtalk audio podcasts to play in our car. We ended up listening to one about retrofitting suburbia. It was a really interesting talk, and she mentioned that there are many ways to make suburbia more inhabitable, more walkable, more appealing to the younger generations, including the Millennial Generation which is growing up and buying houses and finding entry-level jobs and career paths right now.

She introduced a concept of a “third place.” A first place is your home. A second place is your place of work. A third place is where the community gathers.

This morning, Tim went into work early, as he often does on Wednesdays. He tried to call me and text me to help me wake up, but the ringer on my phone was turned down too far. When I finally woke up, I read some less-than-appealing pronouncement on facebook (sleepy minds are impressionable), and grumped through my morning routine. As I headed out the door, I was struck by a craving for a grande awake tea latte from Starbucks.

In my car, I debated with myself. What is the purpose of this purchase in 10 minutes? Well, I would have a tasty hot beverage. What is the purpose of this purchase in 10 months? 10 years? In both cases, the money would just be gone. I turned left, heading both towards the Starbucks and my freeway on-ramp.

Sitting at the light where I would make the decision between going straight to work and going to Starbucks, I realized that what I was really craving from a trip to Starbucks was interaction with the Barista, someone positive in my day, a conversation.

That was a craving that I could honor without reservation.

I went to the Starbucks, where I had a very nice conversation with Dory, who is the older woman who works in the mornings. She recognizes me, and she knows my favorite drink, and how to make it just right. She asked on this Wednesday morning, what my husband and I were going to be doing with our weekend. I told her about our decluttering project, and she was supportive and impressed. I thanked her for my tea latte, she wished me luck with our project, and I went on my way.

Starbucks, more specifically the Starbucks inside of Target, in Fenton, Michigan, has become a third place for me. I’m a regular there; they great me with recognition, they ask about me, they ask about my husband, they tell me if their day is going good or bad. There are four or five Baristas, and they all seem to recognize me and my order.

My friend Patti pointed out to me that Starbucks explicitly builds its marketing scheme about being the third place in a community, and that they’re clearly succeeding because many people agree with me. I would prefer that my third place wasn’t a Starbucks, but was rather a local coffee shop, but where I live right now doesn’t have that kind of commerce.  Some day, we’ll get to move, and we’ll see out those local businesses; those will become third places, above the local Starbucks.

As for right now, it’s a start. It’s not exactly what I am looking for in a “third place” — it’s not in walking distance, it is not exactly cheap. But I think it’s revelatory that sometimes I realize that what I really want is not so much the coffee, as it is the conversation. It also helps me resist Starbucks as a whole — there is only one Starbucks where they know my order, and it is only in my town.

Putting Values into Practice

In the past month, Tim and I have turned in a car lease, and bought a new car (which lowered our car payments). In the past month, we have also bought new smart phones, in a buy one, get one free deal (which raised our cell phone bill). We’ve organized underneath our bathroom and kitchen sinks, which meant that we bought plastic tubs to organize the remaining stuff. We’ve made numerous trips to Target, which is where our local Starbucks is, resulting in both necessary and unnecessary purchases, and far too much espresso consumption.

And, as a result, Tim and I have declared the next three months a period of time in which we will buy nothing new. Note that we didn’t say that we wouldn’t buy anything, just nothing new.

I could probably tie this into my exploration of The Mommy Myth and the different cultural rules that are all tied up in motherhood; especially the insistence that if you don’t buy everything that is being sold to you, you’re a bad mother. But in reality, it’s probably more related to the kind of person I want to be — and the kind of person that Tim allows me to explore being while he graciously follows along.

There is a movement of people who do this called “The Compact” — it appears it was originally a group of friends in San Francisco, who pledged to buy nothing new for a whole year. There are, of course, some exceptions, such as underwear, food, and health and safety items. And of course, there is a large bevvy of second hand shops out there.

The goals are to go beyond recycling, in resisting the socio-economic impacts of the US consumer culture, to support local businesses, to reduce clutter and waste in our homes, and to simplify our lives.

Because, ultimately, there’s a difference between wanting and needing.

A test of this value

Tim lost his sunglasses a while ago. Yesterday, he said, “I was hoping to pick up a pair before we headed to Ohio for the Dublin Irish Festival.”

I frowned, forgetting that he had lost his sunglasses for a moment, and then said, “You have hats? Because you can’t buy a new pair of sunglasses.”

He groaned. “I almost forgot! Okay, you’re right.”

Today, as I was driving to work, I realized that I work near a very large number of second hand stores, from Goodwill to the VOA Thrift Stores to the Habitat for Humanity Restore. I stopped off at Goodwill and found a rack of sunglasses by the cash register.

And I realized that they were all new sunglasses — and immediately came upon a dilemma. I could classify sunglasses as a health and/or safety necessity; these glasses will protect Tim’s eyes from the sun. However, if I looked hard enough, I might find used ones.

And then I remembered that my dollars are like votes; they are votes of confidence, and votes of support. And even if these sunglasses are new, I’m supporting the job of the young man who was manning the cash register, supporting a non-profit organization that provides on-the-job training to vulnerable populations, and my purchase was supporting that.

But ultimately, my purchase was about slowness — about not dropping everything and driving to the nearest big box to buy one thing that turns into many things; it was an errand on my way to work, and it was a precision mission. It was about being thoughtful about what was needed and necessary, and being willing to put the extra time and effort to buy it in a way that fits into my values.

I don’t want my self worth, or my family’s self worth, to be based on stuff. I want my self-worth to be based on the way that I spend each moment, not how many dollars I have to spend. I want to have a family whose ultimate purpose is to contribute to society, not to contribute to the ever-growing amount of consumption. I want my dollars to be influential; not merely circumstantial, not supporting my ego, but supporting my community.

If you haven’t seen it yet, watch The Story of Stuff.

What values are you putting into practice recently?

Making Friends, Keeping Friends?

In August 2008, I went to Boston for a training conference. I was one of 200 young progressives to be trained to canvass for a non-profit who believed that President Obama was the candidate to move the country in a liberal direction. The days in Boston were spent training. We role-played managerial scenarios, we learned about how to manage an office budget, how to train people to communicate with potential voters effectively. The nights were spent drinking, often to excess.

Aurelia and I were roommates. I liked Aurelia. I liked the way she dressed, the attitude she took, the fact that she took the training seriously but not too seriously. I wanted to be her friend.

But she already had a friend. Aurelia and Paul had come from training in the same office in Illinois, and were best buddies. They had inside jokes, they had nicknames, they made plans to find bars after training with each other.I didn’t want to get in the way. I didn’t want to be the third wheel that they rolled their eyes at, the exasperating and unwelcome hanger-on. So if they invited me along, I celebrated in my head.

One night in the Boston Commons, as Paul and Aurelia and I all stood around talking drinking-loud about recreating the Boston Tea party, I blurted out, “Guys, I know this makes me sound like I’m five, but will you be my friends? I am really bad at making friends.”

“Of course!” opined Aurelia. “You’re cool. Let’s be friends. I’m really bad at making friends too.” I am not sure how to convey the subtleties of drunken reassurances, but believe me when I say that Aurelia managed to show that she was serious about her insecurities while still reassuring me.

“Yeah,” said Paul. “You’re not drinking the kool-aid, and you want to recreate the Boston Tea Party, how can we not be friends?”

“I don’t know,” I said, encouraged, but still insecure. “You guys are obviously such good friends, I didn’t want to be, you know, in the way.”

“You got to be unflappable, Kate!” said Paul. “Now, which way to the Harbor?!”

We eventually did recreate the Boston Tea Party in the Boston Harbor by throwing tea bags off of a foot bridge, but not that night. That night we got drunkenly lost and soaking wet as we walked towards water as found by Paul’s Blackberry and Aurelia’s iPhone. We found a hotel who called us a cab to get back to our own hotel, and did one last shot of the evening in the found-hotel’s bar.

Aurelia and Paul stuck with me through the drama of the election — both political and personal. I think it is this friendship that helped us make it through. If I had never asked, I probably would have just assumed that after we were sent to the far flung corners of swing states (separately), that we were no use to each other. If I hadn’t asked, I would have had no one to practice recruitment speeches with, no one to express my frustration to.

The context of the election is over, and my relationship with Aurelia and Paul is gone: Aurelia is off at law school, and Paul is organizing labor in Mexico. But the context that I do have — a husband, an apartment, an AmeriCorps position — seems strangely without community. I have friends, sure. There are friends from college. Caitlyn, my roommate, who is also married. Bridget, my other roommate, who is also an AmeriCorps member. Jeff, an undergraduate classmate, who is a really good listener. Friends (I hope) from NaNoWriMo. I have friends through Tim, his fraternity brothers, some of whom are married with children, others who are fankids like myself, people whom I like and respect.

But it still seems lonely. Something isn’t meshing together.

I had a lovely lunch on Thursday with a classmate-turned-coworker-in-industry today. We talked about our jobs, briefly, but more importantly we connected on the topics of life, relationships, and shared a tasty lunch. I invited Katie and her fiance to our first anniversary party, a casual event we’re throwing to eat freezer burned cake, and fresh cake, and an excuse to have a potluck.

That seems more like it. I think we’re getting closer. Tim and I want to build a community around our friends — we want to have people to lean on, to share our interests, people who can depend on us too. Maybe what it takes is reaching out and asking people to be our friends — with phone calls, lunch dates, and potluck dinners.