Why the Nashville Statement Hurts

In light of the Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s recent release of their “Nashville Statement” (which I’m not going to link to), I feel compelled to speak. So here it is:

I am queer.

If you really want to try to pin it down further, the the best-fitting label I’ve found is biromantic asexual (or bi-ace) — I don’t experience sexual attraction to anyone, but do experience romantic attraction to the same and other genders.

Of course it’s more complicated than that, because when gender identity is basically just a big ??? in my head, “same and other genders” is an imperfect descriptor.

According to the CBMW, my conviction that this “self-conception” is real, created by God, and not inconsistent with Scripture “constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.”

I don’t…I don’t really know where to go from there. I’ve typed a number of different things, considered a number of different directions. All I’ve really got is hurt and frustration.

The entire statement frames queerness as being essentially about sexual desire and behavior, but that’s not my experience. As an ace person, I don’t experience sexual desire, but I am still queer. I am still queer because I experience the world differently than straight, cisgender folks. I am queer because I exist outside the gender binary our society, and evangelicalism, has decided is an essential part of humanity.

Do you see why this hurts? The CBMW says “this is what it means to be human, this is what it means to be created by God, this and only this is the imago dei” — and it doesn’t describe me. To earn their stamp of approval, I would not have to just “resist sinful temptation,” but actively reject who I am.

I tried that. I tried for years to mold myself/be molded by God into a “biblical woman.” I studied and I read and I prayed and I twisted myself into knots over it. I told myself that my discomfort in that role was about my weight or my insecurity or my ego, that my inability to grasp what people even meant by “biblical womanhood” was a flaw of my own understanding.

In my years as the evangelical youth group poster child, I never even entertained the thought that I could be anything other than a straight girl. I was too busy using doctrine to sneer at those other “lesser” denominations and churches and using apologetics to argue people over to my side (or rather, worrying that my tendency to be “too nice” was cowardice and that Jesus was ashamed of me and my friends were going to hell).

Being gay was a choice, you know? In 9th grade biology, I learned that there are two sexes and of course sex and gender are the same thing — why wouldn’t they be?

I had a “true love waits” ring and as soon as I could lose some weight and figure out how to turn sarcasm into meekness, Jesus would bring me the man of my dreams and we would stay married forever no matter what (I would never have said this out loud, of course — I knew better — but the messages and beliefs were still there).

But even at my thinnest and meekest, that never happened. Even though I tried to embody femininity (even after I cut my hair short), I was never very good at it, and then I felt guilt and shame for not being good at it. I desperately wanted to make it work, but it never did. It was exhausting.

When I realized how much I preferred the way I looked and felt in a hat and a t-shirt to the way I looked and felt in all my cute dresses, it terrified me. When I connected the way I felt about a girl at church to the way I felt about boys I had had crushes on, it terrified me. Even though I had already moved towards an egalitarian and affirming theology, the idea of applying that to myself felt like standing on the edge of cliff.

Ultimately, it was being an ally that gave me the freedom to discover and be myself. I firmly believe that God led me to those theological positions so that God could show me who I was created to be. But I have agonized over every step of that journey.

And on every step of that journey, I have been surrounded by voices telling me that I was wrong. That I was denying who God created me to be. That I was making God in my own image. That I was prioritizing my own desires over truth. That I was turning a blind eye to sin. That I was conforming to the world, being unthinkingly led by society. That they were telling me all of these things out of love.

I have stayed in the evangelical church longer than most would expect for an LGBTQ-affirming egalitarian. I have tried to be a bridge — I came from the complementarian, non-affirming side, so I understand that side. I have tried to live with “agree to disagree,” even though doing so often felt like condoning violence against my friends and subjecting myself to that violence as well, because I believed that one day I might see a shift, was already starting to see a shift.

But it’s exhausting. I sit next to people who think that my very existence is sinful every Sunday morning. In small groups, I watch my words because I’m not sure I’d be welcome if I were completely honest, but I need the community. I work with people who would sign the Nashville Statement in a heartbeat; at least one of them has already posted it on Facebook, excited to have a “biblical explanation of sexuality.” I teach students who return books with gay characters to the library because they don’t want to read that “nasty stuff.”

It all adds up; it all weighs on me. But up to this point, I have endured it because I felt like my voice and my presence in those spaces could be useful.

And now the CBMW has declared that even “agreeing to disagree” is sinful. That to do so is to place oneself outside of the Christian community. That there can be no meeting in the middle, that there can be no bridge building — either I come to their side, or I’m out. That the best way my church family can love me is to deny my Christian witness until I repent of being who I am.

I can tell myself over and over again that their approval doesn’t matter, that John Piper and Matt Chandler and Francis Chan, men who I have read and listened to and respected, do not get to decide my standing before God. But that doesn’t change the fact that evangelicalism kicked me out. I may have already been mostly out the door, but that rejection still stings.

And I’m an adult with friends that I am out to who love me for exactly who I am. No one is going to kick me out of my apartment and I am relatively sure I will not be fired from my job for coming out.

I can’t imagine being a transgender kid and seeing that pastors have told my parents it would be sinful to not misgender me. I can’t imagine being a queer kid and knowing that if my parents support me, they will be considered outside the bounds of Christian faithfulness. I can’t imagine being a teenager and wanting to follow Jesus, but being told that doing so requires that I condemn myself to a lifetime of loneliness, without any chance at romantic love (it’s hard to hear that at 31; I imagine it would be excruciating at 15).

Other people have already begun writing about the problems with the theology and hermeneutics of the Nashville Statement. Other people have been writing for years about how the fruit of this theology is regularly and consistently fear, shame, self-harm, and brokenness.

What I want my friends and family reading to understand is that this is not an abstract “issue”. This is my life. This is my every day. And while you might be able to read the Nashville Statement and nod and move on with your day, I have not been able to stop thinking about it since I read it.

And it hurts. It really, really hurts.


Note: I wrote the first draft of this the morning after the Nashville Statement was released. I wasn’t sure if I was going to post it, not because I’m ashamed, but because I wasn’t sure I was ready to face the consequences that may come from it. Ultimately, I decided that if writing this has even a miniscule chance of moving us closer to a world where people don’t need to write things like this, it’s worth it.

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So You Think You’re Not Racist

Or, Levels of Racism: Why White Fans and Creators Have a Responsibility to Confront Our Biases

[This was originally written in response to some things happening in my fandom life, but I wanted to share these thoughts more broadly as well.]

So here’s a thing I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’m pretty sure it’s nothing new and if anyone knows of resources written by Black people that address this, please send me the info because I definitely want to read them.

Part of the difficulty of discussing racism, particularly with other white people, is that we don’t actually think about the same thing when we talk about racism. The way I see it, there are three levels:

    1. Individual beliefs and actions that are rooted in racial prejudice
    2. Subconscious racial bias that comes from socialization
    3. Systemic racism enshrined in institutions of power

There are probably more in between, and obviously these aren’t strict black and white categories; there’s a lot of overlap and blurred lines involved. I don’t know if any particular level is worse than the others, and I don’t think I’m qualified to speak on that. But I think these work well as large bucket categories.

The problem is that often people are talking about different levels without actually realizing it. When I try to explain to people why level 2 might lead them to judge Colin Kaepernick’s method of protest unfairly, they respond as if I’ve accused them of level 1 racism. When I tell my coworker that I don’t like the Bruins because the crowd booed PK Subban every time he had the puck, I can tell he’s desperately trying to come up with a reason other than race because he doesn’t want to accuse an entire stadium of people of being level 1 racists, when really the problem is probably a mix of 1 & 2.

And obviously, they’re all bad. They’re all racism and we should fight against all of them. But I think we have to fight against the different levels in different ways, which is why people get frustrated with these conversations.

From my experience, education and actual, personal relationships with people of different races is the most effective way of combatting level 1 racism. Individual beliefs and actions are fought on an individual level – this makes sense. People in my life became much more supportive of things like the DREAM Act and DACA when I started telling them personal stories about some of my students and the difficulties they face as undocumented children. It became real to them when the issues became faces and stories.

These personal relationships and experiences can also chip away at level 2 racism, although I think it probably needs a little help to be really effective. More on that in a minute.

Level 3 racism – systemic, institutional racism – cannot be fought by people sitting down and having dinner together. It requires protest and direct action and voter registration drives and lobbying and court mandates, etc. I’ve had a number of conversations with my more conservative coworkers where they talk about how changing laws won’t change people’s hearts, and I had to point out to them that of course it won’t, but it can protect people who are in danger while we do other things to change people’s hearts. It’s both/and, not either/or.

The trickiest part, I believe, is fighting level 2 racism. It’s more insidious and less trackable than the others, at least in ways that have clear causation. This is the racism that causes microaggressions. This is the racism that leads to resumes with obviously Black names getting fewer interviews. This is the racism that causes teachers to have low expectations of minority students (there’s institutional overlap here too, of course).

This is the racism that perpetuates the unequal media representation that we see all around us – which is why I think media is a tool uniquely suited for combatting these subconscious racial biases. The media we grew up with helped create those biases, so it can also be used to deconstruct them.

(Quick note – there should definitely be adequate representation in media regardless of its ability to combat racism because people deserve to see themselves in media, period. I’m not saying the purpose of representation is to combate level 2 racism, just that I think it can be an effective way of doing so.)

Media allows us to connect with characters on a level that can often feel quite personal, which is why I think it can also help with level 1 racism, to an extent. But if we pay attention, it also makes it easier for us to notice the patterns of racial bias that can be harder to quantify. When all the black male characters have the same character traits, we can question why we associate those traits with black men. When black female characters exist only to be killed off for a shocking twist, we can question why we see black women as disposable or unworthy of attention. When characters are whitewashed, we can question why we consider white stories to be universally relatable, or why we find it easier to ignore and avoid issues of race than to deal with them honestly.

The difficult part, of course, is that we have to pay attention. We have to choose to notice the patterns in what we consume and what we create, and we have to choose to investigate those patterns, even when it leads us to something we don’t particularly want to see in ourselves.

And if we’re creators as well as consumers? We have an even greater responsibility to identify those patterns and understand the harm they do and root them out of our own work. The art we create doesn’t exist in a vacuum; we have the freedom to create whatever we want, but we are also responsible for the ways in which it either reinforces or deconstructs those subconscious biases.

What’s even more difficult than paying attention is having humility. When someone points out that something you think or say or create reinforces subconscious bias and racial stereotypes, you have a choice — view it as an attack or view it as an opportunity to learn. It’s not fun. My gut reaction to any criticism is to take a defensive posture and argue for my own righteousness or good intentions. But if I say I care about equality and justice, if I say I want the world to be a more fair place, I have to actually do some work to make it happen. Because I am privileged and I am racist — it’s just a reality — and I can spend all my energy denying that or defending myself or explaining why it’s not my fault, or I can accept that reality and work to change it.

It’s not about winning ally points or looking “woke” or whatever. It’s about rejecting the privilege I have to ignore the racism in our society in favor of actively becoming a part of the solution.

Will better media representation, whether in traditional media or fandom, eradicate systemic racism? No, of course not. And will it make the alt-right put down their Confederate flags? Unlikely. But by drawing attention to people’s subconscious biases, maybe we can recruit a few more people into the fight against those things.

And maybe we can subject our Black friends to fewer microaggressions. And maybe we can influence our companies to have fairer hiring practices. And maybe as a teacher, I can believe that the sky’s the limit for my students, and help them believe it to.

And those things are worth the discomfort it takes to deconstruct those subconscious biases. At least they are to me, anyway.

Why I Like Discussion, Not Debate

Like most teachers at the beginning of May, I am very, very ready for summer break to get here. But good stuff happened in my classroom today and I want to talk about it.

Throughout our study of Othello, we’ve talked about all the different things motivating Iago – jealousy, revenge, a general desire to see people suffer, etc. When we got to the end and refuses to give Othello a reason for destroying his life, my students were, of course, annoyed.

Yesterday they read an article that outlined a number of different possibilities and ranked their likelihood based on the evidence provided and their own understanding of the play. For homework last night, they had to prepare for today’s discussion by writing out what they believed Iago’s motivation was and citing evidence from the play and the article to support their argument.

They came in today ready to go. When I originally conceived of today’s class, I had planned a debate. Cause debates are fun! Everyone loves a good debate!

Except I actually kind of hate debates. They’re all about winning, which means no one is listening to anyone else; they’re just thinking about what they’re going to say to prove that they’re right and the other people are wrong. When the tone is combative, fewer students are willing to contribute because there’s more fear involved. And if the debate is about a topic more sensitive than a fictional character from a Shakespeare play, students can easily be hurt (I’ve seen this happen with classroom debates about things like immigration – when half the students in the room are immigrants or the children of immigrants, things can get nasty very quickly).

So I made it very clear from the beginning that what we were doing today was having a discussion, not a debate. I explained it this way: the goal of a debate is to win, but the goal of a discussion is to learn.

That means that in a discussion, the listening is just as important as the talking. I told students that I would be looking for active listeners to give merits to, and that not listening would lose points just as easily as not contributing. I explained that this also means we’re allowed to change our minds! That if we hear something new that we hadn’t thought about, we should consider it. We don’t have to change our minds and agree with the person, but we’re allowed to – it doesn’t mean we “lost”.

I then gave them some sentence starters they could use to make sure it wasn’t just a bunch of students making statements one after another (a thing that can happen very easily and is boring for everyone involved). It included basics like “I agree with ______ because…” and “I disagree with ______ because…,” but I also added things like “I can see _____’s point, but…,” “I want to go back to what ______ said earlier…,” and “That’s an interesting point because…”

And you know what? They did a great job! They were patient when classmates had a hard time getting their words together. They paid attention to what other people said and responded to it, rather than just saying what they wanted to say. They even made sure to ask some of the shyer students for their thoughts directly so that no one got a zero for not contributing.

Yes, it’s easy to have a civil discussion when you don’t particularly care about the outcome. Iago’s motivations are not as important to my students as issues like immigration, police brutality, and LGBTQ rights. But maybe, maybe if we teach our kids to go into even a classroom literature discussion wanting to listen and learn just as much as they talk, if we give them the vocabulary to talk to each other productively, it’ll become a habit that they can take with them and use to raise the level of discourse in the broader society.

Why I Wrote a Letter to the Editor

So, Marvel Comics has made some recent decisions that have a lot of people, myself included, pretty upset. This article has a really good rundown of what’s going on, but basically they’ve revealed that Steve Rogers, A.K.A. Captain America, was actually always a fascist spy and the Nazis actually won WWII until the Allies messed with reality and “cheated” to make sure they didn’t. So now things are being set “right” and Cap is making sure that Hydra (a fascist organization that is essentially indistinguishable from Nazis) takes its rightful place in control of the world.

There are a lot of problems with this, not the least of which that it’s grossly anti-Semitic to take a character created by Jewish people to punch Nazis and turn him into a Nazi, and a lot of people have written about why this is terrible over the past few days.

As a Marvel fan and a Captain America fan, I felt compelled to write in to Marvel to express my own personal frustrations with this storyline. Here’s what I wrote:

To the editors of Marvel Comics:

Many of the letters in your letters pages begin with the writer’s long history of reading comics as evidence that you should care about their opinion and want to keep them as a customer. While I may be relatively new to comics, I think I’m a pretty desirable customer. Not only do I have disposable income and a willingness to spend money on physical books in a brick-and-mortar comic shop, but I’m also a teacher and librarian with the power to get your books in the hands of the next generation.

Until recently, I was thrilled to do just that. I teach at a school that serves a very diverse population and I wanted to expose my students to heroes who look like them. I bought them Miles Morales, Sam Wilson, Ms. Marvel, Silk, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, various team books, and more. I did this not with the school’s budget, but with my own money (and I of course took the opportunity to read them myself first).

For myself (although I also share most of them with students), I have every issue of Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat!, The Mighty Thor, Mockingbird, Storm, and most of the recent Black Widow and Captain Marvel runs. I’ve been eagerly awaiting Nick Fury and America, and was not disappointed by their #1s. I’ve loved so much of what Marvel has given me over the past few years; I got to see parts of myself and the people I love in these books, parts that I don’t always get to see in popular media.

But none of the above were the characters that got me into comics; that honor belongs to Steve Rogers. I fell in love with him in the movies, with his steadfastness and his sense of justice and his belief in doing the right thing and protecting individuals. I went back and read Brubaker’s Winter Soldier arc, but was too intimidated by the vastness of the Marvel universe to read many of the books he was currently appearing in when I first started reading comics.

And then I found out he was being restored to his young self and getting a new series. I was ECSTATIC. I couldn’t wait to get it and see what new adventures this amazing character would go on. When I found out about the twist at the end of #1, I was upset, but everyone assured me that this is comics – it’ll be mind control or a decoy or some other trick. Soon everything would be back to normal. But as I realized how committed everyone at Marvel was to the reality of Steve-the-Hydra-Agent, I also realized that this was a book that didn’t want me as a reader. This version of Steve Rogers seemed to have nothing in common with the Steve Rogers I had fallen in love with. As a queer woman with Jewish ancestry, I felt like my concerns were dismissed and that I was unwelcome.

So I didn’t buy the book. I kept my other subscriptions and continued to enjoy them, all the while waiting for the trick-behind-the-trick that everyone else seemed sure would come. And then Secret Empire began.

I don’t know if I can put into words how it felt to find out that according to this new story, Steve Rogers has never been a hero at all. The closest I can get is that it was a punch in the gut, although I feel the cliche fails to accurately convey the strength of my response.

Stories matter. Heroes matter. And in a world that feels full of pain and fear and darkness, stories and heroes matter even more. The people I love are living with a lot of fear right now – fear of deportation, fear of losing access to health care, fear of being attacked for who they love or the color of their skin – and so am I. We need heroes who can remind us of why we fight, why we resist, why we rise above, why we plant ourselves like a tree and say “no, you move.”

Steve Rogers used to be that hero for me and for many others. To take a hero like Steve Rogers and destroy everything that made him who he was, everything that he was created to be…I don’t know why that is a story that Marvel wants to tell right now. Or ever. It is incomprehensible to me.

And it leaves me torn. I have asked my shop to not pull any books related to Secret Empire for me, and a part of me wants to firmly declare that Marvel will never see another cent of my money at all. The other part of me remembers how much I have loved and appreciated my other experiences as a Marvel fan, the encouragement that your characters and stories have given me, the ways they’ve made me laugh and given me something to look forward to, a bright spot in the middle of the week.

I don’t know if I will keep buying Marvel comics. I want to, but I’m not sure you want me to. Right now, it seems like I’m the type of customer that you don’t want at all – the customer who values the diversity you’ve blamed for the sales slump and who wants her good guys to be good, even when it’s hard.

Hoping to remain a fan,

Rachel

Why Christians Need to Read Fiction

Last week I sent a Google form out to the faculty and staff to collect book recommendations that I could put up around the school. The goal was to model a love of reading for our students, and also give them some ideas of things they might like.

Of the responses I got, nearly all of them were Christian books – Christian biographies, Christian self-help books, Christian fiction.

I’m not entirely sure why I was surprised; I work at a Christian school, after all. But it made me a little sad. Do my coworkers feel like they have to present a certain persona when recommending books to students? Do they genuinely believe these are books middle and high school students would be interested in? Are they really not reading anything else?

We need stories. At the very center of human existence is storytelling — it is present in every culture in some form or fashion. And yet, Christians, or at least modern American evangelical Christians, seem to have lost the desire for stories. Which is strange, considering that Jesus’s primary method of teaching was through telling stories.

I’m currently reading Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart with my 10th grade students. It’s the story of an Ibo man, Okonkwo, who is constantly at war with himself and the world around him. This conflict only worsens when the British empire arrives. This week we’ve reached the point in the novel when Achebe presents two different Christian missionaries who come to Umuofia, Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith.

Mr. Brown approaches his mission with humility and kindness, providing services that are useful to the village, learning about the clan’s beliefs, and attempting to speak to the people in a way they would understand. He eventually falls ill and is replaced by Mr. Smith, a “different kind of man” who “saw things as black and white…as a battlefield in which the children of light were locked in mortal conflict with the sons of darkness.” He is described as being “filled with wrath” and causes serious conflict in the village.

What’s difficult for many of my students, though, is that both of these men are painted as outside invaders. They are white men, in league with the colonizing force that is enslaving and oppressing the Ibo people. Mr. Smith’s adherence to traditional color symbolism, in which black is evil and white is good, is purposeful, of course; Achebe uses it to underscore the racist worldview of the British missionaries who sought to “civilize” the African “savage.” Even Mr. Brown, with all his kindness and understanding, is a disruptive force that leads to destruction for the characters.

This portrayal of missionary work is very different from the portrayal most Christians see on Sunday morning or read about in “Christian living” books. And without books like Things Fall Apart, we risk never breaking out of our myopic view of the world, a myopic view which leads people to write things like the following:

“Missionaries go to places that the rest of us don’t. They work their way into cultures that some of us like to pretend don’t exist. And, to the best of their abilities, they try to leave that culture better than when they found it. All for the glory of God.”

I ran across this in a blog post* intended to encourage Christian teachers in their work, but was stunned by the obvious cultural superiority inherent in it. “They try to leave that culture better than when they found it”? Better according to who? Is the gospel not relevant in every culture? Or does it demand conformity to our Western sensibilities?

It’s the kind of statement I would never have questioned if I hadn’t read books like Things Fall Apart or The Poisonwood Bible, books where the Christian pastor isn’t always the perfect hero of the story, where saying a prayer doesn’t help the protagonist kick the winning field goal, where life is messy and difficult and doctrine doesn’t make it neater or easier.

I needed those stories. They forced me to confront my own assumptions and biases in a way that statistics and facts never could. They made people in far off places real and alive, not just projects to be fixed or souls to be won.

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about echo chambers, about how we all live in these bubbles that just repeat back to us the things we already believe. It’s true for everyone — we tend to gravitate towards people and things that confirm what we believe to be true and reject what we consider false. We don’t like to be made uncomfortable.

But there’s another result to this — when we live in these echo chambers, we begin to speak a different language. It happens gradually and subtly, until you think this is just the language that everyone speaks and you can’t understand why someone else would misinterpret you.

I grew up in the church, and I always liked being the one who knew the answers. I could quote verses and pray the right way and say all the right things. And it never occurred to me to question this language because I knew what I meant and the people around me knew what I meant and when they spoke, I knew what they meant, too. Clearly any miscommunication that happened wasn’t our fault.

And then over the course of a few years I went from having mostly Christian friends to having mostly non-Christian friends. And y’all, we sound weird from outside the bubble.

I remember a time I was sitting in Panera, eating a delicious lunch and reading my comic books, and there were two women who appeared to be in their early 20s at the table next to me. They weren’t keeping their voices down and our tables were close together, so I could hear most of their conversation. It was full of talk about callings and leadings and waiting to hear God’s voice and the Lord’s hand being on things and it struck me how much that must sound like nonsense to anyone who isn’t part of the church.

Now, I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with “Christianese”, especially when you’re having conversations with people who do understand what you’re saying. But so many Christians take that language outside of the church building, and then get frustrated when people they are trying to minister to don’t feel loved or cared for by them. They don’t realize they’re speaking a different language.

Books, and stories in particular, can help with that. Stories expose you to the way other people think and speak and see the world. They can give you the language to express that feeling you’ve always had but could never explain. They can give you common ground with people, a place to start a conversation from.

Stories teach us about things that we would never be able to experience otherwise, or that we would hope to never experience. We don’t have to agree with everything in a story in order to learn from it. We just have to willing to think critically and allow ourselves to be challenged by the story.

(side note: this is why I’ve never understood parents forbidding their children to read things that aren’t Christian or “wholesome” — books are probably the safest way for kids to learn about difficult and dangerous things. Wouldn’t you rather they read stories about teenagers doing dumb stuff, and then be able to talk to them about it and examine it from the safety of your living room then have them go try to find out about those things on their own?)

When we allow ourselves to be challenged by stories, we grow in our ability to love others. When we read The Bell Jar, we become less likely to tell someone with mental illness that they just need to pray harder. When we read If I Was Your Girl, we become better able to understand what it means to be transgender. When we read Homegoing or The Underground Railroad, we become less likely to tell black people to get over the past and move on. When we read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe or I’ll Give You the Sun, we become less likely to minimize or mischaracterize the love between LGBTQ+ people.

Stories have the power to humanize and to dehumanize. When we choose to read stories by and about people who have traditionally been dehumanized, we push back just a little against the forces of oppression and destruction in our world. It allows us to hear their voices in their language, to learn what they value and care about, and to see the world, and also ourselves, through their eyes.

I realize that most of what I’ve talked about so far revolves around being challenged and made uncomfortable by fiction. If I left it there, I would be doing you a huge disservice.

We should also read fiction because it is fun.

So many Christians think that if something is fun, it is a waste of time. Fun can be a byproduct, or you can have fun while also doing something purposeful, but fun just for the sake of fun? Not allowed.

My friends, if that is what you believe, you are missing out on the abundant life (oh look, I can still speak Christianese sometimes :) ).

We are made in the image of God, and the very first thing we learn about God is that God created.** God made things that are beautiful and terrifying and hilarious and weird. If we are made in God’s image, then we are also creators. It seems to me that logically, we would also be made to enjoy things that we and others have created.

Think about a little kid drawing a picture or building something — doing something creative. What do they do when they finish? Do they just sit there feeling accomplished? No — they beg everyone they can find to come look at this thing they made! And their joy in creating is deepened and widened by the other person enjoying the creation.

We are made for joy. Galatians does not list duty or efficiency as the fruit of the spirit, but it does list joy. Stories, in all their forms, are fun and can bring us great joy. They can be beautiful or terrifying or hilarious or weird or a combination of all of those things. They can make us laugh or make us cry. They remind us of fond memories and old friends. They give us hope — that love can conquer all, that evil will be defeated, that one person really can make a difference.

Stories reflect back to us all the messy, glorious, difficult, quiet, frustrating, and magical parts of life and remind us how lucky we are to be alive right now.

So go read a book, or a comic book, or a poem. Or if reading really just isn’t your thing, go watch a movie, or a play, or a ballet. Or listen to that one album that makes you feel alive. And if you can’t think of anything that makes you feel that way, ask a friend to share their favorites with you. I’d be happy to give you some recommendations, if you’d like.


* Read that blog post here, if you want.
**My pastor, Jonathan McIntosh, was the first person I ever heard say this, and I will be forever grateful for it.

Why I’m Weary

I have never wished more fervently for the ability to disconnect, to not feel, to not care.

This week has been exhausting, and it’s only Wednesday.

I’m trying to stay informed, but there just seems to be too much. I’m trying to perform well at my job, but I’m distracted and tired and the grading keeps piling up. I’m trying to take care of myself, but I don’t really know how because nothing I’ve tried seems to allow me to rest.

I see other people continuing on with their lives, saying things like “I’m not really into politics,” and I wonder what it must be like to be able to ignore the things that are happening around us. I don’t mean this to sound like judgement; if I’m honest, I’m jealous of that ability. I’ve always been someone who cares “too much,” if there is such a thing.

But when I read about yet another thing the President has done, or about another bill that’s been introduced, or another call to action that I should be a part of, it’s not just political; it’s personal.

I have friends with pre-existing conditions who are afraid they won’t be able to afford their medication, which puts their jobs and even lives at risk. I have friends whose marriages and parental rights are at risk. I have students – bright, passionate, amazing students who were brought to this country as children – who are at risk of losing their DACA status and being deported. I have friends who work to prevent violence against women and help women who have already been victims whose funding is at risk of being cut.

I look at the water protectors at Standing Rock and I know that the constant, repeated violations of their rights going back centuries is personal to them. I look at Muslims and other religious minorities and I know that immigration limits and rhetoric that fosters suspicion and fear is personal to them. I look at women and I know that a system that they feel seeks to control them, but does not punish rapists is personal to them. I look at the black community and I know that discussion of “empowering law enforcement” and a “law and order administration” is personal to them. I look at black children in the Shelby County Juvenile Court system and I know that the harsher treatment they receive is personal to them. I look at families who aren’t fortunate enough to be at my school and I know that lack of quality education options, even if they had a voucher, is personal to them.

I don’t know how to ignore any of this. I don’t know how to stop posting about it, to stop talking about it. I don’t know how to stop checking the news to see what else has happened since the last time I looked. I don’t know how to stop worrying about all the issues I’m missing because they’re not on my radar. I’m not at nearly as great a risk as others, and I don’t know how I’m going to make it through the next four years.

I don’t know how to bring this burden to Jesus when so much of the church community doesn’t think I should be feeling burdened at all.

I don’t want to be ruled by fear. I want to have hope, I want to look for solutions, I want to build bridges. I want to be able to rest when I need to and fight when I need to. I want to not be so tired and upset.

I just really don’t know how to make my bleeding heart stop bleeding.

2016: Books

Looking back over my Goodreads challenge from this year, I was surprised to find that I had actually read quite a bit of nonfiction. In fact, I read more nonfiction than adult fiction, which is a very weird thing for me. Most of these lists weren’t necessarily written in 2016, but these are my favorite things I read this year.

Young Adult Books

  1. Legend, Prodigy, and Champion by Marie Lu – This series officially became my favorite YA dystopian series. There are a lot of those, but I loved that this one included characters who weren’t white and also did a lot of different things. Where most of the series end with the big revolution that overthrows the corrupt government, this series goes farther and asks tough questions about what it really means to build a just, fair, and prosperous society.
  2. The Weight of Feathers and When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore – Oh man, I am so glad I found this author, so I had to include both of her books. The Weight of Feathers is one of the coolest examples of the star-crossed lovers trope I’ve ever read with an extremely satisfying ending. When the Moon Was Ours is beautiful and ethereal and tender and I just really loved Miel and Sam. Both of them fall under the magical realism genre, so they can be a bit strange if you’re not expecting that, but both of them are beautiful.
  3. The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry – Another magical realism-ish book, and one that I was very happy to receive in my OwlCrate box earlier this year. It’s got parallel universes and Native American mythology and romance and great characters. A really, really cool read.
  4. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo – A book about a trans character written by a trans author = a really important #ownvoices narrative. #ownvoices is a hashtag started by Corinne Duyvis to highlight books about diverse characters written by that same diverse group. While no one person speaks for an entire group, and Russo is clear about that, #ownvoices narratives avoid a lot of the harmful stereotypes that crop up when people outside of a particular group try to write about it. This book is also just a really lovely story about love and family and friendship.
  5. Beast by Brie Spangler – I picked up this book because the cover is gorgeous. And then I realized it was a Beauty and the Beast adaptation – yes please! And then I read the blurb and realized that it was also about a trans character and I got even more excited (don’t worry – the trans character is the Beauty, not the Beast). The book itself ended up being delightful. I saw some reviews that didn’t like the main character, but his narration sounded spot on to me, and I spend a lot of time with teenagers.

“Real” Adult Books

  1. Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – This book deserves every award it’s received. A lot of times I don’t find that award-winning books live up to the hype, but this one does. It’s brutal, because Whitehead refuses to sugarcoat anything, but that’s part of what makes it so good. Definitely worth the read.
  2. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin and The Fire This Time edited by Jesmyn Ward – I highly recommend both of these works to anyone who wants to better understand the African-American experience in the US. James Baldwin’s work is seminal and should probably required reading in every high school curriculum, and the essays and other works that Ward compiled are eye-opening and moving. If you need facts and statistics, most people will point you to The New Jim Crow, but I think these personal stories are just as important for understanding race relations in America.
  3. Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey – Bessey seems to find away to say all the things I’m feeling about theology and the church, just much more eloquently and coherently. Her writing is always such an encouragement to me, and this book was no different. She reminds me that it’s okay to not have all the answers because I know the One who does.
  4. The Awakening by Kate Chopin – I’m almost glad I never had to read it in high school, because I’m pretty sure I would have hated it. I would have called Edna selfish and annoying and I would have completely missed the point of the book. Reading it as an adult though, was an absolute pleasure.
  5. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston – I have a pretty good idea about how I would have reacted to The Awakening because I did have to read this one and that’s exactly how I reacted. Oh boy was I wrong. This book is exquisite and high school me was an idiot. If you’ve never read either of these, put them on your list for 2017.

2016: Movies

Everyone likes to talk about how the movie industry is unoriginal and dying. And yes, there were a lot of sequels and adaptations this year, but that’s not always a bad thing. There was still plenty of good stuff out there this year, and here are some of my favorites.

Most Beautiful: Moonlight

I’m still not over how beautiful this movie was. The visuals were stunning, even when the setting wasn’t a place that would normally be considered pretty. And the performances! The entire last third of the movie was all about facial expressions and body language and everything that was going unsaid underneath the dialogue. I just really, really loved this movie.

Runner-up: La La Land

Most Laughs: Ghostbusters

 

I had so much fun watching this movie. I know there were lots of people whining about how unnecessary the adaptation was, but I’ve never seen the original and never had any desire to see the original. But with this cast? Sign me up. And it definitely didn’t disappoint. I saw it twice in theaters and definitely wouldn’t mind watching it a bunch more.

Runner-up: Love and Friendship

Best Acting: Fences

I saw a tweet or something where someone said that the acting in Fences was so good, they forgot they weren’t watching real people. That’s a rare thing, especially with actors as recognizable as Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, but it’s absolutely true in this movie. Major kudos to August Wilson for creating a character in Troy Maxon that I simultaneously hated and sympathized with, and to Denzel Washington for bringing him to life.

Runner-up: Loving

Best Kid’s Movie: Kubo and the Two Strings

Okay, so I never saw Finding Dory or Moana, but I’m pretty sure this would still stand. This movie was gorgeous and had so much heart. The ending made me weep and filled me with so much joy and hope, feelings that we all desperately need these days. My only quibble is that I wish the main characters had been played by Japanese voice actors rather than just the supporting characters, but it’s still such a beautiful story.

Runner-up: Zootopia (although I’m pretty sure it’s the only other one I saw)

Best “Based on a True Story”: Hidden Figures

I just saw this one yesterday and I am sooooo glad the limited release included Memphis so I didn’t have to wait until next week. The women in this movie, and all the others like them, deserve all the awards and accolades, and they went years without receiving any credit or acknowledgement of their contributions. I hope the movie kills at the box office and inspires a whole slew of movies highlighting the contributions of those who have been left out of the history books.

Runner-up: Queen of Katwe

Best Mainstream Movie that Probably Won’t Win Awards: Star Trek Beyond

I’ve liked the previous Star Trek reboot movies, but this one felt the most like what people who love Star Trek talk about when they talk about why they love it. Rather than just being about explosions and Captain Kirk’s angst/womanizing/whatever, it was about teamwork and friendship and unity and working together to create a better, more peaceful future. Yes, please – more of this.

Runner-up: The Magnificent Seven

Most Frustrating: Captain America: Civil War

I’m mostly focusing on the positive in these posts, but I can’t write about movies in 2016 without talking about this at all. I love Marvel. I’ve loved Marvel since Iron Man, although it was really after Captain America: The First Avenger that I really became a superhero fan. I’ve watched Winter Soldier more times than I can count. And I really wish I had gotten a third Cap movie that actually brought the story arc from the first two movies to a close and continued the character arc that was being set up there. Civil War was a fun Avengers movie, and a far better one than Age of Ultron, but I just really want to pop over to the alternate universe where the Russos got to make the Captain America: Fallen Son movie they mentioned before the whole RDJ deal happened and Civil War became a thing. I think it would have been really good.

2016: TV

There’s too much TV. It’s impossible to keep up with everything and there’s always something new that people are talking about and telling you to watch. Of course, the plus side is that there’s something out there for pretty much anyone; you just have to find it. Here are some of the things I found in 2016.

Favorite returning shows:

  1. The Americans – This show just gets better and better. The acting, the writing – all of it is so consistently good and compelling. And while I’m sad the end is in sight, I’m thrilled beyond belief to know that the writers know exactly how many episodes they have left. I can’t wait to see what they have planned for the last two seasons.
  2. Brooklyn 99 – This and black-ish are pretty much the only sitcoms I can stand to watch. The cast is diverse, the characters are more than stereotypes, and most of all, the humor isn’t rooted in meanness. That feels so rare these days. Also, Andre Braugher as Holt is one of the greatest comedic performances in history.
  3. Jane the Virgin – I had fallen behind and was thinking I didn’t really enjoy this one as much as I used to, but then I watched 4 episodes in one day to catch up and remembered why I love it so much. The plots are ridiculous and over the top, but the characters are so human and real that the ridiculousness just becomes fun.
  4. Supergirl – My annoyance with the treatment of Jimmy Olson and the introduction of Conventionally Attractive White Male Love Interest aside, Supergirl is still one of the shows I tend to watch within 24 hours of it airing. It survived the move to the CW mostly unharmed and the Alex Danvers storyline was one of the best LGBTQ narratives I’ve ever seen. And it also provided a wonderful example of why positive representation is so important.
  5. The Flash – When it comes to comics and movies, I’m a total Marvel girl, but while I could never really get into Agents of SHIELD, I still love The Flash. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and has mostly avoided getting bogged down in complicated mythology, which actually makes it fun to watch. It’s consistently entertaining without requiring a lot of effort, which means it’s one of the few shows that rarely stacks up on my DVR.
  6. Honorable mentions: black-ish, Vikings, The Great British Baking Show

Favorite new shows:

  1. Queen Sugar – I don’t even have the words to describe how great this show is. Let’s put it this way: I willingly called DirecTV to find a way to add the network it’s on just for this show, and I haven’t regretted it for a second. Put Ava Duvernay in charge of all the things.
  2. Pitch – I was worried that Pitch wouldn’t be good, mostly because I so badly wanted it to be good. But it’s better than good. Ginny Baker is a wonderful, multifaceted character and the show manages to avoid pigeonholing her into any of the expected stereotypes. I don’t even like baseball and I love this show.
  3. The Get Down – While everyone else was obsessing over Stranger Things (which I watched and enjoyed), I was obsessing over The Get Down. The music is great, the story lines are great, the acting is great. It’s also just really fun to see the connections between the roots of hip hop and nerd culture and everything else that was going on in the late 1970s.
  4. Luke Cage – Luke Cage was the best thing Marvel did in TV or movies this year. As with many of the 13-episode shows that have premiered on Netflix in the past couple of years, there are a few episodes in the middle that feel like too much wheel-spinning, especially if you binge-watch, but the show as a whole is seriously entertaining. It’s got a seriously talented cast, some genuinely shocking moments, and the glorious, glorious Misty Knight.
  5. Leverage – Okay, I’m cheating. Leverage isn’t new (all 5 seasons are on Netflix), but it was new to me and I’m so glad I watched it. The character growth over the course of the series is phenomenal and it accomplishes the rare feat of coming to a completely satisfying ending. It’s clever, funny, and hopeful, and you should watch it.

2016: It wasn’t all bad

2016 has been rough for a lot of people, and it’s easy to look at the horizon that is 2017 and think about all the potential catastrophes it could bring. And there’s definitely a time and place to do that – we can’t work to prevent catastrophe if we pretend it’s not real.

But personally, I need to end this year and start the new one on a positive note. Otherwise I might not actually show up for work on January 3, and that would definitely lead to catastrophe. So in an effort to remember the good stuff in 2016, I’m going to be posting a series of lists of some of my favorite things from the past 12 months.

First up, experiences (in reverse chronological order):

  1. Meeting Siena Mae – my niece was born on December 26, which was perfect timing for me to get to see her before coming back to Memphis (sorry she’ll be the youngest on the soccer team, Becca). She’s objectively the cutest baby in the entire world and I can’t wait to watch her grow and change over the years.
  2. Turning 30 – So that happened. I felt a lot of cultural pressure to have some sort of crisis about this, but really, it wasn’t a big thing. And so far, being 30 is pretty great. It’s still weird to sometimes stop and realize that I’m the adultiest adult in the room, but I’m also pretty content with how my life is working out (especially now that I’m moving in February).
  3. New York City – In July, I took myself on vacation to New York City. I stayed at an Airbnb in Brooklyn and did whatever I wanted for four days in the city. I ended up getting to see four Broadway shows – Fun Home, Hamilton, The Color Purple, and Shuffle Along. While Hamilton was obviously the highlight (and the reason for the trip in the first place), the others were excellent in their own right and the whole experience was good for my soul. I also got my 5th tattoo as a souvenir while I was there.
  4. Boston – in March, I went to Boston to meet up with who real life people know as my “internet friends”. Really, they’re much more than that. I may have met them on the internet, but I probably talk to them more than anyone else thanks to the magic of group texts. Lauren couldn’t make it, which was a bummer, but we had a great time hanging out and getting matching tattoos and actually inhabiting the same physical space for only the second time.
  5. Buffalo – technically, this was at the tail end of 2015, but I like round numbers, so I’m including it. While being a Buffalo Bills fan has been disappointing enough to drive me into the arms of another sport (hockey is great fun!), finally getting to go to a game in Buffalo was an awesome experience. Plus it was fun to see all the places my parents lived and spend time with family.

Stay tuned for my favorite books, TV, and movies over the next couple of days!

  • A collection of ramblings and musings on Jesus, life, education, family, and anything else that pops into my head.

    Twitter: @rachel_heather
    Email: raltsman@gmail.com
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