Losing Faith

MaryI was twenty one when I realized I no longer believed in God.

It was the summer between my junior and senior year of college.  I was living in a tiny, hot one room apartment with my fiance.  I remember feeling like there was no where to go get away from my thoughts and feelings that weighed me down like the terrible Maryland mugginess.  I read War and Peace that summer, sitting in the tub full of cool water, and I cried along with each character’s tragedy and joy.

The realization itself itself had been so seemingly tiny, a little addendum of internal monologue attached to an eyeroll.  A particularly lubricious church-planter speaking at an event, everyone nodding politely, and I think to myself, “Why am I putting up with this?  I don’t even believe in this.”  I remember sitting at the picnic table, frozen in my fear, trying not to cry into my potato salad.  That was it.

People talk about being argued into or out of believing in God.  They talk about abandoning belief because of the inconvenience of it’s moral strictures or, conversely, about only believing as a crutch to lean on in difficult times.  But I found that both my belief and my unbelief were events that seemed out of my control.  Instead, they were the culmination of many external factors.  My only active participation was in the response to these realizations.

When I was young I was incredibly embarrassed to talk about God or my faith.  I hated even reading aloud in my religious education classes knowing that I’d have to pronounce words like, “sacrament” and “Jesus” audibly.  Everyone could hear how I felt about those things by how I pronounced them, I could just tell, and I was horribly uncomfortable.  I was taught that feeling uncomfortable talking about God was sinful, as it showed shame.  I was taught that feeling embarrassed when discussing your faith was unloving, because it showed you were uninterested in the eternal fate of those around you.  These lessons always confused me.  The stronger I felt about my faith the less I wanted to casually share it.  It was too valuable and too tender to expose so wantonly.  My faith was a treasure, a pearl of great price, and I kept it guarded closely.

My religious instructors would have been better off had they used the word, “introvert,” instead of, “ashamed” to describe me.  I didn’t self-reveal about anything important or personal.  Self-revelation has always felt so dangerous, like every admission was a weapon put into someone else’s hands.

Without God it felt like my world had collapsed.  It felt like there was an unending earthquake going on, that every time I went to put my foot down, I wouldn’t know where it would fall.  I couldn’t figure out how to be me, or how to be any of the things be I needed to be (friend, sister, fiancee, student).  I hurt in a way that I didn’t know how to say, so I mostly didn’t say it.  Silenced pain and confusion doesn’t go away though, it makes itself heard through other avenues, I started getting sick in all these strange ways.

With extreme reluctance, and after great prodding, I started talking.  Some people were simply supportive, the kind of people who offer hugs and mugs of tea and an ear to listen. Some people tried to convince me, with the best of intentions, of the error of my way.  These conversations were very painful, they plied me with Bible verses and personal stories of doubt and conversion.  I wanted very much for them to convince me, but I also knew, absolutely, that they would not.  And some people took the news of my disbelief very badly indeed.  I wanted solace and understanding, but found disappointment and rejection.  Sometimes I didn’t tell someone about my own disbelief, but I heard them talk about atheists or other unbelievers, and I grew afraid to tell them how I had stepped out of the warm light of the great cloud of witnesses and into dark of the unknown beyond.

I had revealed my lack of faith in small, but growing concentric circles of friendship and safety.  I had felt so much relief knowing that I was understood and loved by those around me, even if I was a godless heathen now.  When I hit the wall of hostility I stopped talking.  I stopped finding relief.  I was lucky enough that I had a wide enough circle of support that I gradually healed.  The mysterious illnesses cleared up.  The earth started holding still.

Nearly eight years have passed since I lost my faith, and it’s no longer really a secret.  There are people I’ve never articulated my atheism to, but if they asked me, I’d be honest.       The loss of my faith isn’t the defining feature of my day to day life anymore and I’ve rebuilt my understanding of myself and my relationship to others without the mediator of Christianity.  My faith has become a historical artifact associated with dates and places and people, but no longer a living thing that I guard and nurture.  I can talk about it now because it isn’t personal.

But there are always things that do remain personal.  There are things that I find hard to talk about now and things that I will find hard to talk about in the future.  It’s a hard lesson for me to learn: that I need to be willing to be honest about my interior life with the people around me.  My supportive friends and family are what buoyed me up when I was sinking so fast under the heavy burden of my secret faithlessness.  I’ve also tried to become more gentle and supportive of my self-revelation-phobic friend’s tender spots.  You’d think that introverts would be great at treating other introverts exactly as they like to be treated, right?  Nope, we gotta learn just like our enthusiastically extroverted sisters and brothers.  I’m learning both lessons, slowly, and as much in the open as possible.

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Poems to Read to the Very Young Proto-New Yorkers

Poems to Read to the Very Young  When I was quite young my family had a copy of this book Poems to Read to the Very Young, where the poems were selected by Josette Frank and the timeless illustrations provided by Eloise Wilkin.  I loved it.  I often demanded that poems from it be read to me.  I poured over the sweet, idyllic illustrations.  When I was seven or eight our copy of the book was destroyed by my grandma’s dog.  For two decades I’ve looked for a replacement at used book shops and garage sales –  the book itself is many decades out of print.  I found this copy in a local Mennonite “Book Shed.”  When I bought it I had tears welling up in my eyes.  

Bird Talk – Aileen Fisher

“Think…” said the robin,

“Think…” said the jay,

Sitting in the garden,

Talking one day.

“Think about the people-

the way they grow:

they don’t have feathers

at all, you know.

“They don’t eat beetles,

they don’t grow wings,

they don’t like sitting

on wires and things.

“Think!” said the robin.

“Think!” said the jay.

“Aren’t people funny

to be that way?”

That was the first poem I ever memorized.  I knew it by heart before I could read.  I like to think that in that humorous poem are the seeds of learning to love literature and poetry, to accept other people who are different from me and mine own, and of course – bird watching.

Looking through Poems I’ve felt that much of the book was weirdly prescient for my adult life.  In this illustration there is what appears to be a Johnnie chair, just on the child’s right.IMG_0570 For non-Johnnie readers here’s the Johnnie chair I mean:

(Doesn’t this picture just make you hungry for bagels, pasta and marinara sauce, and rum raisin ice cream eaten with a fork?)

Once  I had a chance to look through Poems as an adult I noticed that the landscape and architecture of the illustrations seemed oddly familiar too.  It didn’t match up to the city and suburbs that I grew up in, which had their heyday in the early and mid twentieth century.  These scenes were notably more pastoral and definitely older.  Many of the homes depicted were the big, wooden farmhouses that are now my neighbors here in the Finger Lakes.  There are picture windows, big porches, wooden floors – all of which is clearly evident in the housing stock in the little towns and neighborhoods all throughout upstate.  The landscapes matched this area too – lots of depictions of children in cold weather with bare trees in the background, soft rolling forests, seagulls shown in pictures without the sea.   This was the picture that made me stop and decide to find out where exactly Eloise Wilkins was from.  Because this picture isn’t just kind of similar to upstate, it’s like some beautiful childlike encapsulation of it.IMG_0571 A quick google reveals that indeed, Eloise Wilkins is from Rochester, NY.  I find this makes Poems even dearer to me now.  As a child I learned to love and cherish the land that I would one day come to live in.  I didn’t grow up here in upstate, I didn’t have my formative years spent down in this dirt or listening to this wind or tumbling over this grass.  But I do have the next best thing: these perfect, distilled images of childhood strung like pearls in my heart that I can always return to when I feel the need to really belong to this land.

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One Must Have a Mind of Winter

You might have noticed.  It’s been kind of a rough winter.

Lots of snow.  Super duper cold.  Even the hardiest, most wool and silk and thinsulate prepared of us have been stuck inside for long stretches.  But a few weekends ago the temperatures soared into the above freezing ranges.  We sprang from our stygian lairs!

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This is the lower portion of Taughannock Falls, clogged and roiling with snowmelt and snowpack.  Walking up to the creek was an iffy affair, it was a little hard to tell where the solid bank ended and the rapidly receding mini-glaciers began.  The noise was stunning.  The sheer amount of water flowing outpaced any flow I had seen before and it was being forced through an exceptionally smaller creek bed then normal.

 IMG_0387Further up the creek the water slows down, it flows more broadly and shallowly.  You could watch hunks of ice being slowly rolled or bobbed down the creek, occasionally getting stuck on a submerged rock or shallow place.  The far edge of the bend in the creek is littered with the stuck mini icebergs; each helps describe the curve of the change in the depth of the creek.

IMG_0405 Shallow water isn’t the only place for a free floating creek-sicle to get stuck.  This trio got stranded on adjacent rocks and were lofted above the water as the water level fell.  They reminded me of nothing more than the three wise men on camel back.  Don’t they look as if they are going some where?

IMG_0401 And here is Taughannock Falls itself.  Friends, if you have a chance to see this falls, or another just as snowmelt starts, do it.  We often go to Taughannock but this was by far the most impressive it has ever been.  Huge ice chunks could be seen coming over the top of the falls then disappeared into the several stories high pile of snow and icy debris  cratered where the deep well of the waterfall usually flows.  Half the flow from the fall seemed to be blasted into mist which began to coat you 100 yards out.  The gorge roared with sound that just kept falling back in on itself from the high echo-y walls.  It was very loud, but it wasn’t painful or anxiety-producing.

The falls were mesmerizing.  Entrancing.  Awesome.

We stayed until our coats began to get soaked through.

It was a less cold day, but not exactly a scorcher.  And we still had one more errand.  To a vineyard.  To see how harvest was coming.  Yes, in March.

IMG_0421 Yes, this is how an unharvested block of grapes looks like in March.  It isn’t pretty.  No leaves, lots of mud.  Everything is wound in birdnetting in an attempt at keeping the hungry avians at bay.  There is a nice change from fall harvest season though, no wasps.  That is a positive note not to be quickly discounted.

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These grapes weren’t left here by accident and then whoopsie someone picks them in March and tries to sneak that in without anyone noticing.  These are ice wine grapes left to freeze on the vine to concentrate all their grapey goodness into a viscous, delicious syrup to make a delicious, syrupy wine from.  We went around tasting the frozen grapes a few days before their anticipated harvest date to make sure they tasted as delicious as they looked.  Thank our lucky stars, they tasted much better than they looked – which was kind of like the zombies of the produce aisle.

IMG_0432 But an extra three months of sunshine fell on these grapes, putting them a season ahead of their peers.  I anticipate you’ll taste every sunny ray in the bottle.

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The Habit of Lent

Growing up in a moderately observant Catholic home meant that every spring brought around a new observance of a very old tradition, the period of fasting and general abstention of Lent in spiritual preparation for Easter.  This usually involved a lot of additional haranguing of elementary aged children to please choose fish sticks instead of burgers at lunch on Fridays, because obviously all of salvation rests on what picky nine year-olds choose to go with their milk and tater tots.  Additionally, as a Catholic child, you were supposed to give up something that you enjoyed very much and that maybe you enjoyed in a guilty way.  You couldn’t give up homework, no matter how hard some of my peers tried to make that one work.  Chocolate, pizza, candy, t.v., and video games were common things classmates claimed to have given up for the forty days of the fast*.  “What are you giving up?” was a question that could be asked of you by pretty much anyone in my community growing up and it wouldn’t have seemed weird or prying (nor would it need explanation or context).  Family, classmates, and people at church all wanted to know how terrible you had set up your Lent to be.  You were absolutely expected to have an answer.  None of this, “I haven’t thought about it,” or, “I’m just doing the regular no-meat thing.”  That would get you an admonishment, even from a near stranger.

The reasons behind Lent were very poorly explained to me as a child.  I sort of worked my way to this general understanding: it was a pretty crummy time for Jesus, so it’s only fair that it’s a pretty crummy time for  you too.  I hated fish sticks, so I figured I was doing my due diligence.  It was a very simplistic understanding of Lent.

But as I grew older and integrated other faith traditions into my life (though I never would have used that phrase to describe it), my understanding of the season grew.  My Presbyterian Church put a lot more focus on building good habits during that time rather than necessarily breaking bad ones.  There was lots of encouragement to read the Bible and pray daily, and almost always there would be new groups that met to study some kind of devotional book during those six weeks.  The time had a studious, committed air to it.  A young child in the Presbyterian Church may have gotten this sense of Lent: Jesus had a pretty crummy time, so you owe it to him to pay attention and understand exactly how crummy.

I jived so much better with a season given to books than to fish sticks.  I really hate fish sticks.

But even at the Presbyterian Church, I always gave something up for Lent.  For one thing, there were still plenty of people who would ask me and I knew I still needed an answer.  “But I’m Presbyterian now,” wasn’t going to be an excuse for some people, it was going to be another accusation.  But more importantly, it was just what I did.  I had a long habit of Lent.  Late winter rolls around, long after I’ve already forgotten about my New Year’s Resolutions, and I start getting itchy to do something to prove I’m in charge of the direction of my life. I hanker after something hard and secret to do.  It used to be challenges that I understood to sort of force God’s hand, a kind of bargaining where I set all the rules.  Eventually it evolved into challenges that I adopted to force my own hand.

For a few years out of my faith, practicing some kind of Lenten forbearance felt right.  I enjoyed the connection to my past and to my family and it never hurts to have some outside structure to help you build or break a habit.  I usually used these times to nurture the introverted part of me better.  I would carve out time to journal or go for walks or do artwork.  Nothing groundbreaking, but easy habits that get neglected because watching youtube videos is so much easier and addicting.  But after a few years of not attending a church it became strange to say I had a Lenten practice.  It became strange to even say it to myself.  Why was this time any different from another?  Why would you put an end date on good practices?  Why burden basic self-care with such religious overtones?

Now I’m not sure what to do with my Lenten habit.  I still have my Shrove Tuesday spidey sense.  I can feel it sneaking up on the calendar.  I’ll certainly celebrate Fat Tuesday, I mean, obviously, right?  Who can deny the wonder of a day dedicated to pancakes and doughnuts?  But what will Wednesday bring?

The past few years I’ve watched Lent go past without any outward observance.  It became too strange to observe myself.  The experience was a lot like visiting my high school after I graduated.  The first couple times I went back it was great, I knew most people and got to visit my old stomping grounds.  Then I went back once and didn’t know any of the students at all and only some of the teachers.  I knew the building – all the rooms and doors and hallways – but emotionally and socially it was like a blank slate.  Lent became like that.  I know how Lent works, when it begins and ends and all the rules it follows but all the meaning had drained out somehow.  I can see what Lent used to mean in the past tense for me, but I can’t make it mean anything in the present tense.  In the past it was a kind of power, a kind of wind that moved me.  Now it is a kind of puppet and I move it instead.  Instead of the outward observance of fish sticks there is only an inward observance of yearning and disappointment.  I miss Lent and it’s a new thing to add to the list of things I miss about belonging to the church.

*BTW, those forty days don’t include Sundays, which at least in the Catholic Church, are always considered Feast Days.  So, technically, you could enjoy all those things on Sunday and not break your fast.  But this argument never seemed to get me very far with my religious instructors.  I saw it as an excellent application of my canon knowledge; they saw it as cheating.  It’s probably fair to say it was both.

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Getting Into Things

Henry is just 14 pounds.  Big-ish for a cat, but small for a tornado of troublemaking.  Henry likes to get himself into, shall we say, situations.

Often, those situations involve bags.

Grocery store bags are his absolute favorite.  He starts licking them from the safety of the outside, but eventually works his way all the way in, always, it seems, through the handles.  Often we must rescue him from his impromptu superman capes.

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While we’ve theorized that he suffers from a chronic BPA deficiency that leads him to lick all these soft plastics, he’s not immune from the siren song of the reusable bag either.

 

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Even though he attacks these differently, as a hiding place rather than as a nutritional supplement, he still ends up getting stuck through the handles.  Henry the bag cat is always needing rescued from the very bags he loves so much.

Bags aren’t the only thing that draws Henry’s unwanted attention.  Any project that you’ve begun to devote time or energy to inevitably becomes intensely interesting to Henry.  He wants to watch the T.V. shows you’re watching.  He can’t keep his paws off a keyboard that you’re working at.  He wants to hang out with you in the bathroom so badly that he’ll cry and paw at the door until even the most modest person will finally relent to his insistence.

Henry can only be sated by being 100% involved in your current activity.

I’m crocheting a blanket, does he want to chase the yarn ball like a typical cat?  No, he wants to be draped in attention:

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Are you doing the most boring of household chores, like putting away dishes?  Henry doesn’t care, he still wants you to notice him.  There’s a rule in our house that no cabinet door can be left open for more than 4 or 5 seconds, just long enough to get or put back what’s necessary.  Or else you get this:

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And this is a good scenario.  In this picture Henry has turned himself around and is on a shelf without any breakable china.  But when he’s stuck in a cabinet head-first, penned in on either side by mugs and glasses, suddenly freaking out and grabbing on to everything as you try to pull him out backwards and knocking crockery out at you at the same time you are trying to rescue him?  Just remember to close the cabinet doors when you’re done with them.

But how can we stay mad at a face that stares back at us around that adorable pink nose and those perfectly guileless eyes?  We can’t.  So, I guess we’ll keep rescuing Henry from bags and lavishing inordinate amounts of attention on him.  There are worse fates in life.

 

 

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My Vision Of Feminism, or, Why I Don’t Shave My Legs But Do Wear Mascara

I wear make-up almost everyday.  And not just the bare bones basics of sunscreen and zit-coverer (but I do wear sunscreen everyday, and so should you!)

I mean I choose between a dozen of eyeshadow colors (all shiny, warm neutrals if you’re interested) and apply two or three colors.  I choose an eyeliner, either a brown pencil or a copper crayon and decide how to apply it that day (thin line, smudgy, thick, or continuing beyond the lid).  Then I put on mascara – lots of it.  I really do put on as much mascara as my poor eyelashes will hold without bothering my contacts.  I brush on some rosy pink blush and I’m done!

I’ve always skipped any lipstick/gloss for a variety of reasons, even though I’ve always loved the bold, retro, fifties look that my grandma continues to rock.  When I’ve worn lipstick I’ve never liked the shock of color right in the middle of my face (and why wear it unless you’re going to wear a bright color?).  I also constantly mussed it up and needed to reapply it.  I’d keep doing silly things like eating, or drinking, or fidgeting with my mouth or just generally failing to be a perfectly still plastic doll.  I’m also totally grossed out by the idea of how many tubes of lipstick and pots of lipgloss that the average American lipstick-wearer EATS in their lifetime (which is apparently not six pounds, but any more than practically none is gross anyway).  Bonnie Bell is tasty, but it is not lunch. I am strongly in the camp of using nice-quality (with sunscreen!) lip balm when you actually need lip balm and just leaving your poor lips alone the rest of the time. Because you love them for god’s sake.

I often accompany this thoughtful look (chosen to compliment my green eyes and to not clash with my blue under eye-bags) with the decided hippy-dippy look of unshaven legs. Which really, should just be called, “legs.”  But when you say it like that it sounds so much less, well, exciting and indicative of my strong take on feminist matters.  I gave shaving up for good this past spring when when I began lamenting the end of our six-month long winter because it meant addressing this annoying chore.  And that’s just outright madness.  Nothing should stop spring from being a pure joy around here.  So I figured I could either continue to suffer under this ridiculous (to me) cultural restraint or not.  So baby, my leg hairs are free and long.  And you know what?  They actually became a lot less noticeable once they hit the eight-month mark.  When the hairs are as long as they are going to get they lay flat and smooth and just sort of softly disappear.  My legs don’t feel baby-bottom smooth, but they’re not prickly, they don’t look gorilla’s legs, and they’re no grosser than arms with hair.

So why do you care about my morning beauty routine and the hirsuteness of my limbs?  Because many of the same cultural forces that tell women to wear make-up tell them to shave their legs (and to do it at least every 48 hours or be a gross monster).  Conversely, some people who honestly want wonderful freeing things for women tell them to never ever wear make-up or ever dare to remove a hair from their body and to start loving herself exactly the way she is.  Both of these instructions are flawed!  Why do women need to be told how to be women properly?  By simply existing women are successful at being women!  I wear make-up because I like it and I don’t shave my legs because I don’t like it.  Though these are just silly, external, and cosmetic decisions I get to make them all on my own, without half of society chiming into offer their own misogynistic opinion.  Wouldn’t it be great if that same principle were applied to the other decisions women make in their live?  If women could make desicions about reproductive health, sexual preference, career paths, motherhood, or even how they dressed in the morning without everybody and their mother having an opinion about it and feeling the need to voice it?

There isn’t one path to equality.  Some women will choose to wear make-up, some will choose to not wear make-up.  There isn’t a woman who fulfills some feminist ideal.  Some women will choose to be stay at home moms for a few years, some for many years, some for just a few weeks.  Some women will choose to never become moms.  There is no form of the feminist.  Some women find a sharp blazer fits them best, some women a bikini, and some a flowy Earth Mother dress.  If feminism ever does it’s job, if we ever get to a place where we don’t need it anymore, then the world will be filled with women who are free to make all life’s choices and to face the consequences like men.  Men (at least white, heteronormative men) are judged by the motivations that led to their actions and the consequences that flowed from them rather than how hot they looked performing said action.

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My Favorite Pyrotechnic Failure

For two summers during college I was a camp counselor for a Christian sports day camp in my city.  Mostly this camp consisted of teaching city-kids how to fire a bow and arrow and to do the backstroke, encouraging them to just try the high jump please, singing silly songs, and putting out the thousand little fires that fifty elementary school kids can start in one day. And this was done in 90 degree heat.  Most days were exhausting.  But one day for every two week camp there was the dreaded, and exceptionally exhausting, overnight trip.  You take all those same elementary school kids, stuff them with hot dogs and marshmallows, exhaust them with capture the flag, and just hope that no smart alec decides to tell scary stories so that you’re up comforting a scared-witless nine year-old at three in the morning.

But how can you roast those hot dogs and marshmallows without a bonfire?  Overnight trips would be really, really boring without a bonfire.  Oh, and did I mention that even though we are dealing with elementary aged children that the trips are gendered segregated?  The boys and girls go on different days, which while ridiculously and rather insultingly over-cautious from a “purity” point of view, does have the practical benefit of relieving half the counseling staff to bring coffee and collegial encouragement to their co-workers.  Once, when I, along with the other female counselors, showed up for moral support at the boys overnight, I noticed that their bonfire was in pretty sad shape.  The counselors had obviously had pretty big hopes, the pit was piled high, teepee fashion, with all kinds of branches, but the fire was too small to reach them.  It was pretty obviously not going to be the fire they wanted.  The campers were downcast.  Their marshmallows were not going to get toasted.

I am a good counselor.  I do not like to see downcast campers.  I am also an excellent bonfire builder.  So I set to work.  I removed all the extraneous wood (lots of it green anyway) and reworked the basic structure of the fire into a lean-to, getting the biggest logs situated as a base to create coals and reflect heat back into the center of the stack.  I hand-fed it kindling and blew the coals up into flame. Once that was going I restacked the acceptable branches back into the traditional bonfire shape.  Soon it was big and blazing and the campers were no longer downcast.  Toasted marshmallows after all!  Success!

Apparently, not everyone felt that I had been such a big success.  The very next day at our counselor’s meeting the director pulled me aside.  He said that the male counselors had felt very put out by my “rescuing” of the bonfire.  That they had felt shamed in front of their campers.

I asked if the boys were still trying to make the fire work when I came by, if I hadn’t given them enough time to finish.

No, the director said, they had pretty much given up.

Had some of the campers overheard what I said to the counselors – the friendly teasing, “Not one of you is a Boy Scout?” or, “What would you do without us girls around?”

No, the campers hadn’t overheard anything they might have misunderstood.

I didn’t understand.  Didn’t they want the fire?  Isn’t that why they started building it in the first place?  Why did finishing it upset them?  A lot of the wood they had to work with was wet or green, it was raining that very evening.  It was a tough night to build a fire, but I’m really, really good at bonfires.  There’s no shame in being less good at something than  someone who’s really gifted.

Yeah, you’re obviously good at building bonfires, the director hesitated a bit, but you’re still a girl.*

But. You’re. Still. A. Girl.

Because I was a girl, the fact that I was better at something that is traditionally read as male gendered I had shamed the male counselors by besting them at it.  Apparently it’s really only a question of,  “Does the person who just bested me have a uterus or a prostate?” that really matters when you’re asking yourself how ashamed you should be.

This is stupid.  This is mightily and appallingly stupid.  Don’t be like these guys and let someone’s gender force you into feeling threatened by their abilities.  Don’t be like my director who let these counselor’s personal insecurities convince him into shaming me for being great at my job and for having the nerve to parlay a skill at an entirely appropriate time and place.

Guys, I am really good at catching things on fire.  Please don’t be intimidated by that.  Don’t decide you don’t ever want to hang out with me.  Instead, why don’t we catch stuff on fire together?  Doesn’t that sound like a lot more fun?  That is what feminism is all about, catching stuff on fire together!  I’ve got matches and plenty of junk mail to burn, so let’s go.

*That, by the way, was from a director who was otherwise a really cool guy.  Seriously.  I’d be his friend today if we ran in the same circles.  It really goes to show how incredibly pernicious patriarchal attitudes can be.  If he’d thought about it, thought about how stupid and mean a thing it really was to say, he never in a million years would have said it.  But saying stupid and mean things to women has become so rote and normal that it doesn’t even jar us.

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“Evolution of the Swimsuit” Tells Us, “Don’t Show Your Belly Button Or Men Will Mistake You For a Screwdriver”

I’ve seen this video pop up a bunch on my Facebook Newsfeed, I’m guessing you have too.  Some of my Facebook friends have really loved this video, some have been quite dismayed by it.  I’m no fan.  It falls into that same category of videos that purports to be empowering women to own and appreciate their bodies, but really continues to tell women that their body is either only as good as it relates to the perfect white, thin, young idealized body of modern fashion or that their body is a kind of public property.  That Dove video that told women, “You’re not as ugly as you think you are!” falls into that category too.

It’s a slick video by a very intelligent and well-spoken woman (who played a Power Ranger?  I will try to not hold that against her) and honestly, the bathing suits she eventually shows off from her own line are adorable.  But that just makes it more insidious.  This isn’t some overwrought, Evangelical-language laden, Bible-based appeal to women to cover up those dangerous bodies of theirs that will be blown off by young women.  Instead it is presented as almost entirely secular (just one little, “in his image and likeness” snuck in at the tail end) and is extremely modern and hip (I’m sure I’ve seen that last bathing suit in a Buzzfeed article titled 29 Striped Bathing Suits You Need To Own Right Now-DIY It!).  But the message is the same.  Your body isn’t primarily yours, but rather it exists in the perpetual and persistent male gaze.

This male gaze is eternal (maybe it’s god’s?), unconquerable, and unquestionable.  Don’t even bother trying to fight it or change it.  Men are not to be chided for their participation in the male gaze, but you will be chided for falling under it.  The male gaze is an insurmountable obstacle.  Imagine yourself back in Victorian times where necklines went all the way to the chin, sleeves always met gloves, and dresses left only enough clearance from the floor to keep women from perpetually tripping.  That was some modesty folks.  Capital “M” modesty.  But you know what they had to do?  Put floor length tablecloths on all the tables because society was seized with panic that the delicately turned wooden table legs would be too much of a turn-on for men.  Seriously.  That was the solution.  Not to ask themselves, “What is wrong with a person who would be turned on by a piece of furniture?”  So basically, in this scenario, in 2013, women are furniture.  Yay, progress.

When Ms. Rey cites the Princeton study that suggests that some men are part-time sociopaths who use the amount of clothing a woman is wearing to decide if she is a human being with thoughts, feelings, and motivations I get mad.  I get mad because Ms. Rey isn’t mad.  She isn’t mad at those men who are waltzing around objectifyng women. She doesn’t even suggest that their behavior is wrong!  She just takes the opportunity to make a snide remark about the bikini’s power to, “shut down’s a man’s ability to see her as a person, but rather as an object.”  That is crazy-talk.  Can you imagine what the world would be like if that were true?  “Sorry ma’am, I didn’t mean to cause offense by groping you, but that bikini of yours made me forget you were a human person invested with rights and dignities and protected by laws and I mistook you instead for a thing to be used at my own discretion for my own pleasure.”  Yeah right, buddy.

And all those men who confuse women with household tools?  They’re tools.  Why doesn’t Ms. Rey call them such?  Why instead does she make this women’s problem?  Objectifying women is pretty obviously men’s problem primarily, and the cultural that created those men secondarily (I will accept arguments that switch the order of those two things, I will not accept arguments that insert women’s clothing choices into this problem).  This is rape culture.  This woman is preaching rape culture as body-honoring, God-honoring, modesty.  This is atrocious.  This masquerade should be offensive to women (it’s your fault that men forget that you’re a person), to men (it’s biologically impossible for you to remember that women in bikinis are people), and especially to Christians (God endorses those things I’ve said about women and men).  Please don’t back Ms. Rey up just because she has designed some cute bathing suits and, from fifty years out, has continued to shame that poor, blue, woman in the yellow polka dot bikini.

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ANY Man and ANY Woman Are All You Need For a Happy Marriage

Not only do some people think that only men and women can have valid, happy, successful marriage, but that really, truly the only thing that matters is the gender of the partners.  For real.  You don’t need to have shared history or interests, have similar goals and plans for the future, be compatible in any of the standard ways.  There are now advocates for a style of marriage-making that go beyond kissing dating goodbye and are even more extreme than courtship – modern day betrothal. 

That’s right.  Betrothal.  An arranged marriage.  You too can have a marriage just like Mary and Joseph!  Advocates quote Martin Luther on his advice about marriages:

To sum the matter up: whoever finds himself unsuited to the celibate life should see to it right away that he has something to do and to work at; then let him strike out in God’s name and get married. A young man should marry at the age of twenty at the latest, a young woman at fifteen to eighteen; that’s when they are still in good health and best suited for marriage. Let God worry about how they and their children are to be fed. God makes children; he will surely also feed them. Should he fail to exalt you and them here on earth, then take satisfaction in the fact that he has granted you a Christian marriage, and know that he will exalt you there; and be thankful to him for his gifts and favors.

Wow.

In the several articles I’ve read under the tag “True Love Doesn’t Wait,” not a single author has tried to walk Luther back from the precipice of statutory rape.  I realize times were different then, that people lived considerably shorter lives and that pregnancy and childbirth were so little assisted by medicine that only young women could be counted on to be healthy and strong enough to survive.  But none of that is true today.  Fifteen year-olds are children, hell, twenty year-olds are often still children.  Proponents of such early marriages want parents and church leaders to choose marriage partners then send them down the aisle lickety-split.  As in days.  Neither men nor women should pursue each other because only God creates love and marriages.  Marriage is God’s buddy-system.  Just pair up! You’ll learn to live with each other eventually.

Listen to some of this utter insanity:

“Arranged marriages”? Yes. Or that is what the world would call it. Arranged betrothals. Thousands of them. Tomorrow. *

Our young people are supposed to be marrying young, not mature.

What would be the implication if our families and churches were to teach, in as big and bold a campaign as ‘true love waits’ that ‘true love marries’? (or, better, ‘better to marry than to burn’ or ‘rejoice with the wife of your youth’) What message would that send to our young people, their parents, and their pastor/elders? How could they justify their sitting on their hands and ignoring the Scriptural mandates? *

I should say this, some of the reasons that the author gives for this type of marriage aren’t crazy.  He argues that people are waiting for the perfect husband or wife to come tap them on the shoulder and, shockingly, getting disappointed that this doesn’t happen in real life.  Spouses aren’t perfect.  It isn’t “settling” to marry someone imperfect.  Everyone is imperfect!  There are issues that couples won’t really get ironed out until they are doing “being married” in day-to-day life.

But my small agreements with the author don’t undercut how very intensely (excessively even!) distressing I find this.  Fifteen year-olds should not marry.  FIFTEEN YEAR-OLDS SHOULD NOT MARRY.  The church should not be encouraging statutory rape (and very possibly regular, non-consensual rape of children too young and sheltered to even understand the sexual commitment they are making).  THE CHURCH SHOULD NOT ENCOURAGE RAPE OF ANY KIND.

Why do these things need to be repeated so often?  Why would you let someone who believed these atrocious things give you advice about your own or your children’s love lives?

People be crazy.

* Edited slightly for grammatical clarity and spelling. This article is where all of these quotes have come from.  All the quotes are from the author in the comments section.  

 

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Arguments Against Marriage Equality Insult Straight Marriages

There’s an argument out there against marriage equality that only oppositely-gendered couples can have a successful marriage.  They argue that same-gendered couples, on the sole basis of their same-genderedness, are bound to fail.  If you are straight and married this should be mightily insulting (and not just because your LGBTQ friends and family are being discriminated against).  Why?

The same-gendered couples I know have relationships that look a lot like my marriage.  They show affection and care for each other, they put up with silly flaws and foibles in their partners, they worry through problems together, and they become brothers or sisters, sons and daughters to their in-laws.  Couples, regardless of their genders, ride all of life’s ups and downs together hand-in-hand.  They have to resolve conflict, have faith in their partner, care for children and parents, and sacrifice personal wants for the family’s good.  Couples cook dinner and walk the dog and kiss scraped knees.  As far as I understand these activities, gender basically doesn’t enter into it.  Successful marriages result from commitment, patience, compassion, and charity.

There are only two differences between straight marriages and LGBTQ marriages: what’s in people’s pants and the regular injustices suffered by LGBTQ couples.  If conservatives are so convinced that only straight marriages can be successful what they are saying is that one of these two reasons must be the cause, right?  Well, they are more than welcome to join the crusade against sexual orientation bias (though honestly, they’ll be a little late to this party since it’ll be over as soon as they abandon their deteriorating cultural-war fortifications).  But saving marriages and people from discrimination isn’t what they want, even if it were a clear source of marital discord and where the seeds of divorce are sowed.  They argue against marriage equality at every chance they get. In states and countries where marriage equality exists, where LGBTQ people enjoy at least some protection under the law, conservatives still argue that LGBTQ marriages aren’t “real” marriages.  Well, if it’s not the discrimination thats why conservatives believe LGBTQ marriages are a sham and doomed, then it must be what’s in people’s pants.

Yes, that’s right, what’s in your and your straight spouse’s pants is why your marriage is successful and worth protecting under the law.  Not your hard work, your sacrifice, your years of love and commitment.  It’s all in the naughty bits, that’s where good marriages come from.  That’s what anti-marriage equality advocates believe.  I wonder if you asked them about their own marriages if they’d say that the source of their marital success has to do with having different primary sexual characteristics.  Seems like a stretch to me.

By barring entrance to marriage solely on the basis of sex they say that sex is the primary requirement for successful, legal marriages.  If you are married, do you find that’s true about your marriage (obviously other than the fact that you and your partner have to be a gender that the other is attracted to)?  I for one, think that it’s pretty insulting, don’t you?

Why do anti-marriage equality advocates hold such demeaning views about straight marriages, the very ones that they purport to protect?  I’m starting to think that they don’t know much about marriage at all.  Maybe we should, finally, stop listening to them.

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