Toxic Masculinity and Biblical Manhood

I had an epiphany in church this morning. I’ve been trying to figure out for a long time why so many conversations about “biblical manhood” make me uncomfortable. I’ve written about it before (and that was before I became quite as much of a “rabid” feminist), but I felt like there was still something off. Obviously I want my brothers in Christ, and all men, to be liberated from the confines of toxic masculinity, but every time it came up in a sermon, it felt like the hairs on the back of my neck were standing straight up.

This morning I figured it out and posted the following statement on facebook: Churches that attempt to fix toxic masculinity without addressing the fact that it’s rooted in misogyny will never succeed.

Often the response I hear from the church to the “big boys don’t cry” messages our culture sends is “Emotions aren’t unmasculine! You can have feelings and be sensitive and still be a man!”

And while I believe that’s true, it doesn’t actually get at the heart of the problem. The reason sensitivity and emotions are so discouraged in boys and men is because those things are seen as feminine, and the absolute worst thing a boy or man can be is feminine.

Think about it – so many insults and exhortations surrounding men involve eliminating any trace of femininity. You throw/run/kick/act like a girl. Man up. Grow a pair. Don’t be a pussy (or pansy, if it’s coming from a church guy). These are all rooted in the belief that being like a woman is weak, shameful, less than being like a man.

The solution to this is not to divorce things like sensitivity and tenderness from femininity; it’s to stop acting like femininity is something terrible.

Pastors can talk about David being overcome by emotion and Jesus inviting the little children to Him until they are blue in the face, but they also need to acknowledge that our broader culture still considers those traits to be signs of weakness. And the only reason they are considered weak and invaluable because they are seen as feminine traits.

It’s misogyny. And we have to deal with that honestly.

So maybe instead of another sermon or retreat about “how to be a man,” we could start teaching men how to value femininity, whether it appears in women, other men, or themselves.



Over the past few weeks (months, years), I’ve seen a lot and heard a lot that has given me a lot of feelings and frustrations. This morning, this is what came out of it.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.”

A nice sentiment.
But what about your words?
What about your votes?
What about your actions?
What about the rhetoric you spread, the beliefs you hold, the systems you prop up when
there isn’t a mass shooting on the news?

“Such a senseless tragedy.”

A tragedy, yes.
Cancer, miscarriage, freak car accidents – these are senseless tragedies.
A young man raping an unconscious girl?
That’s not senseless – it’s the result of parents who forgot to teach their son that women are people
And a culture that told him he could have whatever he wanted if he just had the strength to reach out and take it
Black people dying at the hands of police isn’t senseless
It’s the result of a culture built on a foundation of slavery and oppression that refuses to look at itself in the mirror
And a criminal justice system that believes you are innocent until proven guilty, but only as long as you are white or wearing a badge
A man feeling the need to fire a gun on a crowd isn’t senseless
It’s anger and fear, stirred up, manipulated by those who see him as nothing but a pawn in their own quest for power, with a healthy dose of toxic masculinity sprinkled on top

“We live in a broken world. God has a plan.”

Yes, this world is broken.
Yes, I believe God has a plan.
We are the ones who are supposed to make the world less broken
We are supposed to bind up the brokenhearted
To proclaim liberty to the captives
To open the prison to those who are bound
Why don’t we insist on a literal interpretation of that verse?
We pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven
But take no responsibility for building that kingdom
We silence voices that don’t sound like ours
We protect leaders who cover up abuses
We argue about bathrooms and wedding cakes because we take God and his commands seriously
Unless God says to show love and kindness and gentleness
Unless the command is to sell all you have and give it to the poor
We are the temple of the Holy Spirit
The body of Christ
The very hands and feet of Jesus
What good is that if we are not trying to build a world in which 50 people are not gunned down while celebrating who they are?
What good is that if we are not protecting those who have historically been the most likely to suffer harm?
What good is that if we are not creating space for the poor, the outcast, the marginalized, the oppressed, the abused?
What good is that if all it gets me is a mansion in heaven where I can watch the rest of the world burn?

Why I’m Not Pro-Life…or Pro-Choice

Let’s start some shit, shall we?

It’s election season, which means there are lots of arguments about all kinds of different things. And since this presidential election likely has Supreme Court nomination ramifications, one of the big issues that comes up is abortion.

What’s interesting to me is that I find myself in conversations where people assume that of course I’m pro-life or of course I’m pro-choice, even though I frequently disagree with both of those camps. While I would assert that this is an issue with a lot of nuance and gray areas, it seems to me that most people consider it to be a purely black and white issue.

My feminist friends post things that tell me that if I’m not pro-choice, my feminism is shit (and also probably racist). My Christian friends post things that tell me that if I don’t vote pro-life, my Christianity is shit (and also probably racist).

(This blog post is not really going to address the fact that black women and black communities are frequently used as rhetorical devices and argumentative pawns by the white people who dominate this conversation, but I will say that it’s gross and disgusting and should definitely stop.)

Well, I guess my feminism and my Christianity are both shit, because I refuse to align with either side in this debate. Both sides are hypocritical and both sides are more concerned with yelling and talking past each other than they are with listening. Both sides use the facts and narratives and perspectives that support their side and stick their fingers in their ears when something might contradict their view.

This issue does not have a cut-and-dry, black-and-white “right” answer and anyone who insists it does is being intellectually dishonest. People who seek abortions are not one-size-fits-all, so no answer is going to fit 100% of the time. I’ve gotten to see the two sides from the inside and I want to give them both some things to consider.

To my pro-choice friends: I get that you want the government to get their hands off your body. I really, really do. But to call a fetus a clump of cells and act like there’s nothing else going on there “because science” isn’t the most solid of arguments. Tell a woman who miscarried at 6 weeks or 8 weeks or at any point, really, that it was just a clump of cells and let me know how that works out for you.

Yes, a pregnant woman has a right to bodily autonomy the same way we can’t force people to donate their organs even if it would save a life. The difference is that a kidney does not have autonomy because it’s a kidney. A fetus is a human being to at least some extent which means it also has its own bodily autonomy. It’s not just another organ.

And I can already hear you screaming at me – “it’s not a human being when it’s a fetus!” Okay. When does it become a human being? When it’s born? When it could survive outside the womb? When it can feed itself as a child? You have to address that question. It can’t be legally considered a person when a pregnant woman is murdered and not legally considered a person when a pregnant woman wants to abort it. Y’all love to talk about hypocrisy on the pro-life side, but you’ve got to deal with your own inconsistencies as well. Too often pro-choice arguments refuse to deal with the question of when we consider a human life to be a human life, and not addressing that question can open the door to a whole lot of messy things like eugenics and euthanasia.

And I get that the pro-life side is hypocritical. Especially ostensibly pro-life politicians who see no problem with the death penalty or police brutality or carpet-bombing or drone strikes. Sure, hypocrisy makes it really hard to listen to an argument, but it doesn’t actually mean the argument is wrong.

To my pro-life friends: YOUR HYPOCRISY MAKES IT REALLY HARD TO LISTEN TO YOUR ARGUMENT. You know what else makes it hard to listen? Misinformation, picket signs, and scare tactics.

You care so much about the sanctity of human life that you want to make it impossible for women to get an abortion, but once the baby is born she’s on her own? And God forbid she actually learn about effective birth control methods in the first place? Or have access to those birth control methods, or even basic healthcare, regardless of her socioeconomic status? And the best way to go about doing this is by standing on college campuses and street corners and outside Planned Parenthood with giant signs screaming at people?

You need to actually listen to women, and you need to listen to women who are not exactly the same as you. You’ve heard from women who view motherhood as the greatest gift they’ve ever received, and that’s great. You’ve heard from women who have had abortions and feel immense regret and sadness and sometimes even trauma because of them, and those stories are important.

But there are also women who have had abortions and do not feel regret or trauma, who still believe that it was the best decision they could have made for themselves and their family. There are women for whom having a child would not feel like a gift, but would actually feel like a death sentence. I, for one, have a viscerally negative reaction to even the thought of pregnancy, and motherhood has never been something I’ve desired. But just like I can’t take those personal feelings and extrapolate them to all women, you can’t act like every woman would embrace pregnancy and motherhood as a gift if she just tried.

If you truly care about protecting life, you also need to be concerned about the lives of women who are not like you. You cannot just make abortion illegal, wipe your hands, and call it a day. You have to be a part of building a society where a positive pregnancy test doesn’t feel like financial ruin or the loss of a career or a loss of personhood. You have to acknowledge that carrying a baby to term and giving it up for adoption is not an “easy alternative.” You need to have compassion for the living, breathing women who are affected by this issue. Millions of women feel like they have no options or control over what happens to their bodies – we have to address that. Abortion is a symptom, not the root of the problem.

Oh yeah, and quit dehumanizing the other side by calling them murderers and baby-killers and acting like any woman who gets an abortion is just a selfish whore who should have kept her legs closed. If you think pregnancy is a just punishment for what you consider bad morals and women should just suffer the consequences, you’re not pro-life; you’re an asshole.

Look, those on either side of this issue want people to live happy, healthy lives and want children to be safe and cared for. We need to stop with the rhetoric and the pithy catchphrases. We need to stop shouting over each other and dismissing the other perspective out of hand. We have to start listening. We have to learn empathy.

The older I get and the more I learn, the more convinced I am that the best way to start dealing with so many problems is by listening to those we don’t usually hear. Maybe that means that the next time the issue comes up, you don’t actually share your perspective. This is super hard; trust me, I know. Ask anyone who eats lunch with me at work – I really like sharing my perspective. But if this issue is as important as we all say it is, it’s worth putting aside our own desire to have all the answers. It’s worth listening to someone else for awhile.

Stained Glass

Because of the time change today, I had the pleasure of being at church this evening while the sun was setting rather than after it was already dark. Towards the end of the service, the light was shining through some of the stained glass windows, throwing patterns onto the walls. We were singing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and it was beautiful.

I was conflicted in that moment, though. There I was, surrounded by the beauty of the windows and the music and my church family, and yet I could not help being reminded of my recent struggles with the church. I love Jesus and I love the individual Christians that I work with and grew up with and sit in the pews with, but the church, y’all. The church, especially the American church, has been hard to love lately.

A big part of my struggle has come from seeing more clearly what the church looks like from the outside. Growing up, I didn’t really know anyone who wasn’t part of the church. Sure, there were plenty of non-Christians that I went to school with, but I generally wasn’t friends with them (and I don’t blame them – I was obnoxious). For most of my life, I was surrounded by other Christians and most of my best friends were the ones I made at church.

And I now find myself in a position where even though I work at a Christian school and attend church each week, most of my closest friends would not call themselves Christians. Especially in the online communities I’m a part of, I feel like I’m getting a chance to be a fly on the wall, to hear what people say about us when they don’t think we’re in the room (or alternatively, flat out don’t care if we hear).

And y’all, it’s not good. It can be easy to believe the world really does know us by our love when we exist in our church bubbles. And on the rare occasion we step outside that bubble, we love to interpret the negative things we see and hear as persecution aimed against us (I know I used to love to see it that way). But I’ll tell you this – those outside our church walls do not look at us and see love. They do not see grace or mercy or kindness or compassion. They do not see the beauty that I see inside the church.

There’s a church in Austin called Gethsemane Lutheran Church that I went on a field trip to when I was in elementary school (those are the kinds of field trips you go on when you go to a Christian school). We went there because they have beautiful stained glass windows. Here’s the thing about stained glass, though: it’s not beautiful from the outside.

Here’s what Gethsemane looks like inside:


I loved standing inside of it. Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but as a girl who grew up in a nondenominational church with few windows and terrible carpet, those windows made me feel a whole lot of beautiful things.

But here’s what it looks like from the outside:


You can’t see the colors or the pictures. It just looks like a jumbled mess of dark glass. Sitting inside my church tonight, I looked at the lit-up windows and knew that from the outside they would not be nearly as beautiful.

Those of us who have been a part of the church know how beautiful it can be. Yes, many of us have been hurt and wounded by the church in various ways. But if your stories are anything like mine, we have also been loved and cared for and supported. We have seen healing and redemption and reconciliation and all the other things the bride of Christ is supposed to be about. So why aren’t those things obvious from the outside?

We have to figure out a way to turn our stained glass windows around. We have to figure out how to make the light shine in the other direction as well. It’s not enough for the inside of our churches to be beautiful places; we should also be making the world outside our walls more beautiful too.

Taylor Swift, Donald Trump, and the desire for authenticity

Last week Ryan Adams released a cover album of Taylor Swift’s 1989 and the music world lost its mind over it. I posted this article critiquing the way music critics responded to the album on Facebook and was a bit surprised by some of the responses it received.

After a number of conversations, both about that article and in the past, what it seems to boil down to is that many people feel Taylor Swift lacks authenticity – she is too packaged, too marketed, too affected. Rather than being an honest artist, she has meticulously crafted a particular image and used it to make money. On the other hand, Ryan Adams, with his out-of-the-mainstream, stripped-down aesthetic, was able to reveal the heart of Swift’s music because he is more authentic. Many critics felt that his interpretations of the songs were more honest and real, and therefore better.

The whole situation made me wonder why exactly we consider authenticity to be so desirable, especially from artists and especially now that “authentic” is a buzzword that only sometimes actually means “honest”. The belief that an artist with an acoustic guitar is by default less produced and more real than a pop artist or someone who creates EDM or a hip-hop artist who uses her computer to create beats seems silly to me. This is exactly where the backlash against “hipsters” came from – they cultivate and produce an image that strives to appear authentic. From the perspective of someone who admittedly just listens to whatever music she likes, without a whole lot of knowledge of what makes it “good”, guys with beards and guitars seem just as produced as Taylor Swift. It happens in different ways, but any artist who has achieved any sort of recognition is to some extent manufactured.

This happens in daily life as well. Everyone complains about how social media has caused us to edit our lives and make ourselves look better than we really are, but I’m pretty sure we were doing that before Facebook was a thing. Sure, social media creates a larger platform for it, but people have always exaggerated and edited and told fish tales. And you know, I don’t think editing yourself is necessarily a bad thing.

As a teacher, I have a particular image and persona that is just as meticulously crafted as Taylor Swift’s. My students do not know everything about me. They don’t know every thought that passes through my head or all of my natural reactions to things. And this is good! It’s professionalism! Editing myself and using my teacher persona in the classroom makes me a better teacher.

The same goes for social media. The things I talk about on Facebook are different from the things I say on Tumblr which are different from the things I tell my best friends. The audience and purpose are different, so the content and presentation are different. Does this make me somehow dishonest or inauthentic? If it does, I’m not sure I really mind all that much.

If I were always being my most “authentic” self, I would probably be a really rude person. We teach children to think before they speak because we recognize that the first thing that pops into our head is rarely the kindest and best thing to actually say. But by valuing authenticity so highly, we’ve actually encouraged a lack of tact that can be incredibly damaging, all in the name of “straight talk” and “being who I am without apology” – which is where Donald Trump comes in.

The most common thing I’ve heard from Trump supporters is that he speaks his mind. They are so sick of political correctness and vague speeches that Trump feels like a refreshing new thing (side note: I don’t understand why so many people are so annoyed by political correctness…what exactly is the problem with doing your best to not hurt and offend people by choosing your words carefully?). And Trump definitely seems unapologetically authentic. But is that a good thing? Do we value speaking your mind so highly that we have no concern about what the things he says reveals about his mind? To me, he just seems to be a few orders of magnitude higher than people who excuse their own rudeness by saying they are just being honest and that anyone who doesn’t like it should stop being so sensitive.

We all package and market ourselves. We choose the way that we dress and the way that we speak in order to portray a certain image. We do it in job interviews and at parties and on social media. And sometimes, choosing not to complain about that coworker on Facebook or make that comment in front of your boss isn’t being inauthentic, but rather being a decent human being. Having a filter and acting appropriately professional are actually considered marks of maturity in most industries – why is it different in entertainment and politics?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t value honesty or be vulnerable with the people in our lives. I’m also not saying that you have to like Taylor Swift. I’m just saying that instead of valuing authenticity above all things and at all times, maybe we should try to focus on the types of authenticity we really consider important and not worry so much about who is the more honest musician.

Why I Want to Be a God Connoisseur

My church is currently in a series on the Psalms and what it means to have a heart for God and it has been a really lovely few weeks. This morning our pastor talked about cultivating a taste for God and he brought up the difference between being a God connoisseur and being a God expert.

When we think of connoisseurs, we normally think of pretentious wine drinkers talking about tannins and oak flavor and all that business. But Jonathan pointed out that being a connoisseur of something is really just about studying something for the purpose of enjoying it more. Experts study something so that they can know more – it’s about collecting information and seeing all the parts of something and having the greatest understanding of the topic. Connoisseurs, on the other hand, use study as a way to heighten their experience and increase their enjoyment of the thing they are studying.

I really like this analogy; it’s one that makes sense to me as someone who grew up in a church that greatly valued doctrine and theology and knowledge, but was honestly a bit lacking in other areas. Also, as someone who loves learning and collecting facts, it can be very easy for me to fall into the trap of becoming a God expert while missing out on the joy of being a God connoisseur.

On the way home from church, I started thinking about how far we might be able to take that analogy.

(I like pushing analogies to their breaking point; what can I say? I’m an English teacher. I know it’s weird, but go with me.)

I began to think about why people don’t become connoisseurs. If we know that learning more about wine or music or art or baseball will increase our enjoyment of those things, why don’t we do that?

One obvious reason is time. We don’t always want to put in the time (and often money) that it requires to become a connoisseur. But I think there are some other reasons as well that led me to some interesting thoughts about what it means to be a God connoisseur.

One of the best things about being a connoisseur is getting to hang out with other connoisseurs who love the thing you love, but experts and gatekeepers can make the idea of becoming a connoisseur seem less appealing. These are the people who are more concerned with making sure you’re enjoying the thing the right way than they are with sharing in the joy with you. They will tell you that a “real” connoisseur couldn’t possibly enjoy pop music or merlot or whatever. They have so many rules and requirements that you begin to wonder if they actually enjoy the thing they say they enjoy. Being a connoisseur often means increasing the amount of contact you have with these experts and gatekeepers, which can not only put a damper on the connoisseur’s enjoyment (it’s hard to enjoy your glass of wine when you’re surrounded by people arguing about whether or not you should be enjoying that particular glass), but can often be a deterrent to someone who is just beginning to be interested.

We see this in the church. Instead of being God connoisseurs who want to share our enjoyment of Him with those around us, we become God experts and gatekeepers. We insist there is one right way to enjoy God (our way, of course) and create checklists of rules that everyone must submit to in order to really say that they are a Christian. We become experts who just shout ideas at each other instead of connoisseurs who want to hear about each other’s experiences. And we do this so much that we can begin to wonder whether it’s really worth it after all, and people look at us from the outside and begin to wonder if we even enjoy this God we are spending so much time arguing about (hint: it is worth it – I’m getting there).

Another thing that I think can keep us from wanting to become connoisseurs is that it can seem a bit like a double-edged sword. Sure, being a wine connoisseur increases your enjoyment of good wine, but it might also mean that you no longer really enjoy the $5 wine you used to pick up at the grocery store. As you learn more about something, the differences between good and great become more obvious, and you might feel like you can no longer enjoy the things that are just good. The highs are higher, but the lows are lower. I know nothing about ballet, so every ballet I see looks beautiful, but someone who has studied ballet will notice all the flaws and this might limit their enjoyment.

I don’t necessarily think this loss of enjoyment has to be true with things like ballet and art and music, but I’m much more interested in what this means when we stretch the God connoisseur analogy to this place. Because the truth is that there will always be good wine and bad wine, good movies and bad movies, good baseball and bad baseball, the one true God and the idols we attempt to put in His place. As our enjoyment of God increases, it is only our enjoyment of lesser gods that decreases.

At first, that can sound similar to the “become a Christian and give up everything you like” schtick so many of us have heard so many times, but because God is the creator and the Giver of all good gifts, that’s not actually how it ends up working. You don’t have to burn your secular music or never see an R-rated movie or live a life of asceticism.

The more we know and enjoy God, the more we will enjoy nature because we will see Him in it. The more we know and enjoy God, the more we will enjoy stories because we will see Him in them. The more we know and enjoy God, the more we will enjoy science and music and baseball and good food because we will see Him in those things.

And since we ourselves are made in the image of God, the more we know and enjoy God, the more we will enjoy our fellow human beings because we will see God in them.

We do not have to fear that becoming a God connoisseur will mean missing out on any good thing, because He is the best thing and every good and perfect thing comes from Him. What a beautiful truth to live in.

Why I…Have No Idea What To Title This Thing

Normally when I post things to this blog, I read them over once and then hit publish. This post has been through multiple edits and revisions in an attempt to make sure I am being thorough and respectful and effectively conveying my thoughts. It’s long. Really really long. Sorry I’m not sorry :)

The past few weeks have been full of conversations about gender and sexuality and their relationship to Christianity and the church. From the rising visibility of transgender issues to the Supreme Court’s historic ruling on marriage equality, there have been plenty of opinions on social media and many, many different perspectives both from within and outside the church.

I’m not here to talk about the SCOTUS decision or what our secular government should be doing; I think I’ve made my view on that abundantly clear (if you’re not sure, just go scroll through my Facebook page). But what’s happening in politics is causing a lot of discussion within the church and amongst my friends.

Because I choose my friends well and pretty selectively curate my social media feeds, I have managed to glimpse the extreme hatred mostly just in my peripheral vision. Thankfully the people I associate with are generally not the ones using the SCOTUS ruling to proclaim the end times or shouting “death to gays” or lamenting the end of American supremacy or whatever (at least not publicly anyway).

What I have seen a lot of, though, are attempts to be loving while also being incredibly pedantic about Christian beliefs and the Bible. Some of these responses were written by my friends themselves, while others were written by prominent pastors/bloggers/etc. and just posted by people I know. Either way, I have some words for the people writing and posting these things.

First, I greatly appreciate that you are approaching this issue from a place of love. For many of you, I know that the love you are talking about is authentic and real because my real life interactions with you have been consistently loving. For others, I am giving you the benefit of the doubt because I try to do that with people. (For a few who have issues with tone, I’m giving you a strong side-eye at your use of the word “love” and restraining myself from adding this to the comments:



I do hope you understand, however, that many people who do not know you in real life and have not actually been loved in real life by Christians are going to respond with skepticism to your assertion that your words come from a place of love. Until the church is consistently providing safe places for LGBTQ teens who are kicked out of their homes and supporting depressed/suicidal LGBTQ people with services other than conversion therapy and actually building relationships with LGBTQ people outside of seeing them as a “mission field”, your words of love are going to ring hollow. I’m not saying your words are not sincere; just making sure that you understand how they will be perceived in light of the church’s historical (and continuing) treatment of LGBTQ people.

Secondly, some thoughts on your explanations of theology and the Bible and Christian teaching. I think I get where you’re coming from. I really do. I’m a teacher; I understand the urge to explain things. You see a group of people who have different views than you, and in your attempt to be loving you assume those views come from ignorance or a lack of exposure to the gospel. And maybe sometimes that is the case. But I’m wondering who you are speaking to in these posts.

Are you speaking to LGBTQ non-Christians? If you are, I’m gonna tell you right now – I doubt they’re listening. Most of them are going to see Christianity and same-sex relationships mentioned in one headline and keep on scrolling. The church has been very loud about same-sex relationships for a very long time; most LGBTQ people assume they already know what you’re going to say. If that’s your audience, you’d be better off actually being friends with some LGBTQ non-Christians – and by friends, I mean actual friends. Not using them as your token friend or starting a friendship with an ulterior motive. Non-Christians are people; not projects (but that’s a topic that needs a whole separate post).

Are you speaking to Christians under your leadership who have questions about what the Bible says about same-sex relationships? Cool. Then address your post to them and not to LGBTQ people. You might be better off having these conversations in person though, where there can be an actual conversation and not just the 7th circle of hell that is internet comment sections. You may also want to include your sources. Who decided that was the correct interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2? Who decided the best translation of that word was homosexuality? All Scripture is God-breathed, but translation and interpretation is a human endeavor. Are you really seeking to inform, or just convince people to agree with you?

Finally, and as I suspect for many of you, are you speaking to LGBTQ and LGBTQ-affirming Christians in your posts? Because this is when things get a bit pedantic. I have seen a lot of assertions and insinuations, even in very lovingly and carefully worded posts, that if a Christian is LGBTQ or LGBTQ-affirming, they must have an incomplete understanding of the gospel or do not value Scripture. If this is your intended audience, your post sounds like you are trying to educate fellow Christians on how to be an actual Christian, as if our views on sexuality are some sort of litmus test for authentic salvation.

I get that you may be trying to educate people, and responding to a different opinion with education can be a great way to have a discussion, but only if both sides are willing to listen. Here’s the thing: I was raised in the church. I know the arguments against same-sex relationships. I know the arguments about complementarianism. I know the arguments about why women shouldn’t be pastors or speak in church.

But up until a few years ago, I didn’t know the arguments for the other side. And yes, there are Christian, biblical arguments for the other side of all of those issues. It was reading those arguments that changed my perspective. Christians who ascribe to egalitarianism and believe that women can be pastors and affirm the LGBTQ community (or any combination of those things) have not necessarily thrown away the Bible. We have not been swayed by the world’s values or rejected the authority of Scripture or started down the dreaded “slippery slope” toward lawlessness or whatever else your impression is. We are simply interpreting the Bible differently than you.

Look, it is literally my job to interpret text and to teach others how to interpret text. In my classroom we mostly read books that were originally written in English and that are at most 400 years old (the one exception would be the Odyssey). All of these texts have tons more text written about them with varying interpretations and opinions. And when it comes to something older or something translated, things get even trickier. I can read two different translations of the exact same passage from Antigone and they can have completely different connotations. Even when we read A Thousand Splendid Suns, a book from 2008, my resident and I will have discussions about the meaning and importance of particular passages when we plan what to share with our students.

Theologians and scholars have debated all kinds of things for as long as there have been theologians and scholars. It’s why we have denominations. But one of the things that has made me grow very weary in the evangelical church is this insistence on having all the answers. Everyone is so sure the Bible is clear and that they have the right interpretation and all the theologians who agree with them are good and all the theologians who disagree with them are misinterpreting things.

Now before you start quoting things at me and talking about church history and traditional interpretations, let me just stop you. Church history is important and should absolutely be valued and probably actually needs to be taught a lot more than it is. But do not pretend that Augustine and Luther and Calvin were perfectly objective individuals whose interpretations of Scripture were completely unaffected by the politics and culture of their times. The church leaders who excommunicated Galileo thought they were interpreting the Bible objectively and accurately, as did the white church leaders who supported and encouraged the practice of slavery and the continued enforcement of Jim Crow laws.

There are so many factors that play into translation and interpretation. Genre matters, setting matters, author’s purpose matters, original audience matters. Our own context and our own experiences inform the way we read and interpret anything. That’s just part of being human: we do the best we can with the knowledge we have, and when we know better, hopefully we do better (yes, I’m shamelessly paraphrasing that quote that’s attributed to Maya Angelou).

I’m not exactly without a dog in this fight. As an asexual woman who finds her gender to be about as useful a label as her zodiac sign, my story does not follow what so many both implicitly and explicitly describe as God’s best. For many years, I wondered whether I was broken and questioned my salvation because I couldn’t seem to be the kind of Christian woman I was “supposed” to be. When I started listening to and reading other Christian perspectives on gender and sexuality and accepting that those aspects of me might be different than the norm, it did not feel like I was walking away from God. Rather, it felt like I was finally becoming the person God made me to be. Yes, there has been loneliness involved in the process and some feelings of isolation from the church, but there has also been incredible peace. To hear others characterize what has been a very sweet and life-giving season as me compromising my faith has been really, really hard.

So my question is this – have you considered the other side? Have you read about the history of same-sex relationships, and how what we use that phrase to describe is vastly different from what Paul was talking about in Romans and 1 Corinthians? Have you considered that many of the verses that are traditionally interpreted as being about same-sex relationships might actually be about sexual violence and the lack of consent? Have you thought about how our understanding of Genesis 1 & 2 and gender roles within marriage has been influenced by hundreds of years of patriarchal society in which women were considered as little more than property?

Chances are most LGBTQ and LGBTQ-affirming Christians have heard your arguments. Have you heard theirs?


If you are interested, here are some places you might start:

Ben Irwin answers the 40 questions posed by Kevin DeYoung in his Gospel Coalition post

Matthew Vines asks 40 questions of his own

The Reformation Project has lots of resources and information

The ladies at A Queer Calling provide a particularly unique perspective that I have found incredibly enlightening

Matthew Vines, Eliel Cruz, Dianna E. Anderson, and Rachel Held Evans have all talked about issues related to gender and sexuality in various places, both online and in print (there are others, of course; these are basically the ones I follow on Twitter).

If you noticed my mention of asexuality and are wondering what the heck that is, start here. If you have legitimate questions about me personally that are not answered there, ask away. If you have rude/invasive questions about things that are none of your business, just don’t.

Why I Will Call Caitlyn Jenner By Her Name

1. Because she has asked me to.

I wish I could just leave it at that. I wasn’t really planning on saying anything about this topic (goodness knows there have been more than enough thinkpieces already), but the more I’ve seen being posted on facebook, the more I’ve felt like maybe my perspective could bring something unique to the conversation among those who follow this blog.

I have seen a lot of articles and posts by Christians who are “worried about Bruce”, who are “standing by their convictions”, who are “loving by telling the truth”. Many of these start with the phrase “I don’t know Bruce Jenner,” which is exactly the problem. It is not our job to “lovingly discipline” anyone who is not directly under our pastoral authority or with whom we already have a close, loving relationship based on trust. And when we do lovingly discipline our brothers and sisters, I’m pretty sure we don’t usually do it in blog posts for all the world to see.

Biology, gender, and sexuality are all incredibly complex. Anyone who wants to claim differently is…well, I don’t know what they are. It seems obvious to me that these are not black and white concepts, just from my own personal experience. And yet I still see people arguing that biological sex and gender are one and the same; people who would never ignore the nurture side of the nature vs. nurture argument are ready to completely throw it out the window when it comes to gender. (side note: if all that determines manhood or womanhood is what’s between our legs, why have I had to listen to so many sermons about biblical manhood?)

This is ridiculous. Would you tell a woman who has had a hysterectomy or a mastectomy that she is not a woman? What about a woman who is unable to have children? Is she not really a woman anymore? “Well, those aren’t choices. Those are because of the fall.” Well, ok. Am I sinful for not wanting to have children? Are you going to lovingly correct me for going against God’s design when I say that I am choosing to never “be fruitful and multiply”? Am I not living as a real woman of God if I make that choice?

People have been using the rhetoric that Caitlyn Jenner has “chosen” to be a woman. That she looked around at the world and herself, and said, “I don’t want to be man; I want to be a woman.” Try thinking about it this way instead (this is shamelessly stolen from a post I’ve seen on Tumblr):

Imagine for a moment that you are exactly who you are right now. You have all your same personality traits, all your same likes and dislikes, you are a man or a woman or whatever. And now imagine that your body looks so much like a different gender that the world automatically treats you like that is what you are.

I know this can feel unimaginable. I don’t claim to fully understand it. But when they tell me that this is their experience, I will listen to them. I will not negate their experiences just because some people have decided they know exactly what God was saying in Genesis and Romans.

I love God and I love my Bible. I believe that Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. But I also understand the nuances of translation and interpretation enough that I am not going to claim this is a black and white issue. I believe that a God who created all of the diversity in nature is also capable of creating diversity in gender. If someone tells me that God created them transgender, I will believe them.

Beyond all the theological arguments and psychological arguments and biological arguments, I will call Caitlyn Jenner by her name for two reasons: because she has asked me to, and because this past year one of my students came out to me as transgender. If referring to a celebrity by the correct name and pronouns will make it clear to my students that I am a safe place, I will do it.

Chances are you know someone who is transgender or queer* or questioning their gender identity or their sexuality. The way you respond to big celebrity stories like Caitlyn Jenner’s sends a message about how you would likely respond to them if they were honest with you. Consider carefully what message you want to send.

*I am using queer as the umbrella term used by many within the LGBT+ community. It is not intended as a slur. If it upsets you, please let me know and I will edit.

Why I Probably Won’t See The DUFF

This was originally posted over on my new Tumblr Rachel Watches Things. It’s a project I started when I made a kind of late New Year’s Resolution that I won’t pay money to see any movies centered around straight white men in 2015. There’s a post that outlines my options each week that usually goes up on Wednesday and then reviews of what I see and other thoughts related to movies and representation. It’s going to be more focused than this blog has ever dreamed of being, but I thought this particular post had a bit of crossover appeal. Enjoy!

So The DUFF comes out this weekend and on the surface it kind of seems like something I would enjoy. I’ve enjoyed Mae Whitman in the things I’ve seen her in (which isn’t all that much, honestly) and high school rom coms are a genre that I usually enjoy. I mean, 10 Things I Hate About You is still one of my absolute favorites, and I loved things like Drive Me Crazy and Never Been Kissed, even though they were completely ridiculous. I’ve actually never seen American Pie or any of the sequels because raunchy comedy isn’t my jam, but The DUFF seems more like a 2015 She’s All That than anything else.

From what I’ve gathered, the basic premise is that Bianca finds out the she’s been labeled the “duff” among her friends – the Designated Ugly Fat Friend – and enlists the help of the hot-but-terrible-guy to change things. Cue makeover montage, high school shenanigans, hot-but-terrible-guy turning out to not be so terrible, everyone learning lessons, etc.

[minor spoiler – although really, don’t we all know where this is going?]

Based on the previews and the summaries I’ve read, it seems like the movie is at least attempting to send a positive message. According to Wikipedia, Bianca wins by “reminding everyone that no matter what people look or act like, we are all someone’s DUFF… and that’s totally fine.” And that’s cool, I guess? Although it still seems to be asserting that there is, in fact, a hierarchical order to things and it’s more important to remember that there are people both above and below you than it is to, oh I don’t know, dismantle the whole system?

[end of spoiler]

Aside from the fact that I’m not sure I like the message it’s sending (although since I haven’t seen it, I can’t say for sure), and the fact that Mae Whitman is neither ugly nor fat, I’m not sure I want to see this movie. It just hits a little to close to home for me.

Story time!

10 years ago I worked at a movie theater. I got 4 free tickets a day, so I often brought groups of friends with me to the movies. One night three of my friends and I went to something, and the next day I was working with the guy who had taken our tickets. He told me that he thought it was interesting that groups of girls always had one friend who was less attractive. He had noticed this phenomenon again when I came in with my friends – they were all really hot. Implying that I, of course, was the less attractive friend.

He tried to engage me in conversation about this ~*super interesting*~ sociological phenomenon and because 18-year-old me was much less sure of herself and also keenly aware that all of her friends were more “conventionally beautiful” than her, I let him keep talking instead of punching him in the face.

And I’d love to say that I shrugged it off because who cares what he thought, but clearly I didn’t. Even ten years later, I still remember how I felt during that conversation and how it painfully confirmed what I already knew – that I was not thin enough or pretty enough or sweet enough or funny enough or enough of whatever thing it was that boys were looking for.

It seems silly to not go see a movie just because of a dumb comment someone made so long ago. But it’s taken a lot of work to be happy and content with who I am and going to see something that could dredge up all the insecurities of 18-year-old me just isn’t worth it. If you see it and it turns out to be awesome and empowering and uplifting, let me know. In the meantime, I’ll go find something else to watch.

Why You Should See Selma

As is pretty much always the case, there were plenty of buzzworthy movies in 2014. As someone who loves movies and keeps up with reviews and awards and such, this time of year is full of things of interest to me. While I rarely have had the time or inclination to see all of the films that are likely to be nominated for the major awards, I have usually paid enough attention to the buzz to know basically what the big films are about.

With the Golden Globes tomorrow night and the Oscars around the corner, awards season is in full swing and most of the movies generating most of the buzz look very, very familiar: white male coming-of-age, white male genius, white male misunderstood genius, white male antihero, white male historical figure, etc., etc., etc., and other variations thereof. The box office hits paint a slightly different picture, but there are still overwhelmingly white male superheroes and white male action stars and an entire cast of fairy tale characters that are somehow exclusively white.

This is nothing new, or really at all surprising. And I thoroughly enjoyed plenty of those movies – many of them rightly deserve the acclaim and success they have achieved.

But today I saw Selma.

I have attempted about 5 times to write the next sentence of this post, but have been unable to. I do not have the words to describe how I felt watching this movie or how I felt after this movie ended. I think I have a pretty wide vocabulary (I am an English teacher), but I have failed to come up with the adjectives necessary to adequately describe the experience. The best I can do is this: when the movie ended, the thought ringing most loudly through my head was “More. I want more like this.”

In most conversations I have had where Selma has come up, it has been described as “the movie about MLK.” But there is a reason the movie is called Selma and not King. Dr. King is in it and is a central figure, but the story is not about him. It is about a community. It is about a place and time. It is about a movement. It is about what happens not just when “a man stands up and says enough is enough,” but about when an entire group of people does. It is about the forces that limit progress and cast doubt and challenge people’s faith. It is about the difficulty of bringing a group of individuals together to work towards a common goal, and about what can be achieved when those individuals persevere through those difficulties and find a way to bring about change.

Selma puts Dr. King in context in a way that I have never seen before. The movie humanizes him, and it is so striking because it reveals how often he has been deified in previous narratives, particularly narratives crafted by white storytellers, whether that be in popular media or in high school textbooks. By taking Dr. King off the pedestal he is so often placed on and showing him as one among many, it not only makes for a more compelling story, but also elevates all the others around him who were so important to the work of the Civil Rights Movement. I knew the name Ralph Abernathy because he was with Dr. King when he was assassinated in Memphis. But I didn’t know the name Jimmie Lee Jackson or Bayard Rustin or James Orange or Andrew Young or Amelia Boynton or Diane Nash or James Bevel or John Lewis. This movie made me want to take a course on every single one of them.

The movie also made me want to learn more about the SCLC and SNCC and other organizations that are left out of the conversation on the Civil Rights Movement, who worked long and hard at grassroots efforts to build momentum for those larger pieces of legislation that we tend to focus on.

Speaking of legislation, I know there has been criticism of the way President Johnson is depicted in the movie, saying it paints him as more antagonistic than he actually was towards the movement. And maybe that criticism is valid; it’s not something I’m an expert on, so I don’t know. But the criticism reminds me of a post that’s been circulating Tumblr over the past couple of months that talks about the length of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The post points out that we forget how long the Civil Rights Movement took and asserts that it might be because we hate to think that the United States resisted changing. We want to believe that most white people just didn’t know how bad it was, and that when they found out, they immediately worked to fix it.

History paints a different story – one of apathy and indifference, if not outright obstruction, to the movement. And if the makers of Selma chose to use President Johnson as the representative of that reality for the sake of the narrative, I’m ok with that. Honestly, it’s about time. How many historical figures of color have been misrepresented by popular media for the sake of drama? And how many white figures have been polished up and shown in their best light in order to advance a particular narrative? This is a common necessity in storytelling, and as someone with a basic knowledge of American history and a pretty good understanding of how our government functions, the portrayal of President Johnson was not beyond the bounds of belief.

But I don’t want discussions of that one aspect to distract from the bigger picture. Selma is a triumph of filmmaking. The film is exquisite and unflinching and compelling at every moment, as well as extraordinarily prescient considering it was written before Ferguson and the other events of late 2014. Many of the speeches and conversations would not seem wildly anachronistic if they were to occur today. It is beautifully designed and beautifully costumed and beautifully filmed and beautifully acted (as big of a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch as I am, and as much as I enjoyed his portrayal of Alan Turing, if David Oyelowo does not win all the awards, it will be a travesty. Director Ava DuVernay also deserves all the awards).

Selma is without a doubt worth your time and the price of admission.

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

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