Letters to My Future Husband (#1): Thanks, Brio!

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Letters to My Future Husband (#1): Thanks, Brio!

Inspired by Brio Magazine to write letters to my future husband, I wrote nearly 150 letters during my adolescent years (sealed with wax and tied with ribbons). I wrote the first letter a month after turning 15. The letters to this imaginary person are embarrassing and ridiculous and beautiful (but mostly ridiculous). I've decided to start sharing them. My commentary is italicized and set in brackets.

Letter #1: July 27,  2002

My dearest husband [how many husbands did I expect to have?],

This is the first of many letters to come. Perhaps you will never be. Only God knows. If that is the case, these shall be left un-opened years, perhaps. Maybe one day they will be put into a time capsule.

[I was obsessed with time capsules. I buried one in our backyard, but was so excited about the prospect of digging up a time capsule that I unearthed it myself a year later. I still have it, complete with coins, newspaper clippings, letters, and the plastic top punctured by the pitchfork I used to dig it up.]

I love you will all my heart, and if I do not, it is my own fault because I would not wait for God to bring my husband to me. [Dang. What did I think would happen? That I would miss the God-picked husband and settled for a louse of a man whom I couldn't love with my whole heart? That any marriage problems I might have in the future were automatically my fault for missing "the one"? Yikes.]

But I pray that this is not the case. [Yeah, you'd better, girl. 'Cause if it is, that's it. You're stuck with that louse.]

Oh, darling, beloved, are you truly my Atticus? You are...and you always will be. [Oh. Yeah. I forgot that I had a thing for Atticus Finch. With his serious brow and clarity of speech, Atticus was to me the manliest of men.]

Per chance you may open this after we have had a quarrel. [Lovers didn't "argue," they "quarreled."] Please remember that I still love you [unless you're a louse], and that it is most likely only pride on both sides. [Yup, pride. Not the result of real differences of opinion. Because you are The One and we would never disagree, so it must be that doggone pride.]

Please remember that my heart is easily crushed, and do not misuse the power I gave you when I gave you my heart. But I trust you with my heart, and have no fear of putting it in your hands.

[This does make me wonder about how I conceived of love. Did I think my heart or affections was just something I could hand over to someone voluntarily? That you just decide to love or trust someone and PRESTO there they have your heart? Like so much of evangelical culture, I thought in binaries. Love was there or it wasn't. You had faith in God or you didn't. Your sexuality was awake or asleep, and goshdarnit you'd better not rouse that beast before you've met and married The One.]

Ever so much love [if you are The One],

Rebekah

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The Art of the Email: How to Sound Like a Gentle Animal, Not an Asshole

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The Art of the Email: How to Sound Like a Gentle Animal, Not an Asshole

A note to the general public about email correspondence.

Unless you have a solid reason to do otherwise, always give people the benefit of the doubt if you think they've made a mistake (and make that clear in your phrasing). People do make mistakes, and you can point out that an error has occurred and needs to be fixed without automatically assigning blame or attributing bad motives to people. (And then, if it turns out the mistake is yours, you won't have egg on your face.)

When you use passive aggressive language, it's rude and unhelpful. It's naturally frustrating when mistakes happen because they take effort and time to fix, but it doesn't help to vent your frustration by writing haughtily to the person you think made the mistake.

That said, it's easy to sound like an asshole through email, so when you receive a passive aggressive email (as I sometimes do), it's also good to remember that the emailer might not realize how terrible and entitled they sound.

In today's emailing saga, someone did not give me the benefit of the doubt, and although a mistake had been made, it wasn't mine (though even if it was my mistake, I'd certainly prefer a polite email). But I remembered my emailing rules and resisted the temptation to write a passive aggressive email back asserting my blamelessness, and instead simply explained in calm, kind language what my understanding of the situation was and how I thought the error could best be fixed.

I remembered that kind communication means thinking about the fact that there is a person on the other side reading those words, and it won't do any good to use accusatory language toward them just because they used it towards me.

Situations like this remind me that I have such a frail ego. I am sensitive and attentive to what people say, so when someone issues an unwarranted or unhelpful criticism, I rush to defend myself. But I need to remember that you don't fight fire with fire, and protecting myself cannot mean attacking someone else.

If I want to be a free and emotionally generous person, I need to remember that when someone doesn't give me the benefit of the doubt, it reflects poorly on them and not on me. I am trustworthy, I am kind (and when I am not, I own that and apologize).

But if I follow my gut reaction (to become defensive), this has the opposite effect and sets me on a trajectory of personhood that I don't want.

I don't want to be that person writing passive aggressive emails. I want to be that person addressing the world as though it were me. Because the world is me and I am the world. And I want, need, and deserve the warmth of generous faces.

With that in mind, here are some practical tips for sounding like a kind animal instead of a rude one.

Step 1: Write a Positive Intro

Getting straight to the issue is abrupt and sounds rude. Imagine you haven't spoken with someone in a day or two, and then they walk into a room and you immediately start to articulate a problem without greeting them first. It feels weird, like you bypassed their personhood. Start with a greeting or thanks:

Thanks for all the work you've done on planning this event. We're looking forward to it.

Or perhaps:

I hope this finds you well and that everything's coming along smoothly for the conference.

Step 2: State the Issue without Accusatory Phrasing

When you bring up the issue, avoid wording that implies the problem was the result of someone's maliciousness or incompetence. Avoid anything that sounds like you could flawlessly insert phrases like "you incompetent buffoon!" and have the basic structure remain intact:

The schedule you sent is different from what's on our calendar. I specifically asked that the  Florida speakers be scheduled in the morning and NOT after 12pm so that they could make their flights [but you didn't listen, you inattentive moron]. I thought this had been understood [you buffoon]. 

(Generally speaking, passive voice tends toward sounding passive aggressive because the object refuses to directly address the subject. The speaker won't take responsibility for her action or directly implicate the person to whom she speaks in the act of communication.)

Try a more generous tone such as this:

As I was looking over the materials you sent, I noticed that the scheduled time slots for the speakers are different from what I think we agreed to in our original correspondence. I'm not sure where the miscommunication took place, but I am hoping we can fix this together.

Step 3: Conclude with Thanks and Good Faith Expectations

Someone made a mistake or created a problem. Maybe it was you, maybe it was them. Maybe it was both. But for better or for worse, you have been collaborating on something together, and it's better to work toward a solution than to stay fixated on your annoyance at the problem. Someone has failed in some way, yes. But rather than making them feel bad about failing, you can give them the chance to make it right or correct their mistake, and extend your willingness to help make it right. Don't use language that reinforces that person's identity as a mistake-maker, but instead offer them a chance to reinforce their identity as a person who grows, changes, and can  become better. Avoid:

I will have to call the speakers myself and fix this. If the change of schedule ends up incurring further costs for flight changes, know that your organization will be billed for the increase.

Instead, try something that gives the person the opportunity to handle the issue, expecting that the person will deliver or accept your help if they feel they can't:

I'd be happy to reach out to the morning speakers myself if that would be helpful, but if you'd prefer to handle this yourself, I'm happy for you to do so.

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Fighting 'Father' Myths On Father's Day

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Fighting 'Father' Myths On Father's Day

I feel like a half-ass daughter every Father's Day because I can never muster enough disingenuousness to call, email, or send my dad a card. Birthdays, sure. Christmas is a given. But on Father's Day – a day devoted to awesome dads – my honest soul just can't pretend to have a functional relationship.

I'm genuinely happy to read other people's celebrations of their dads on Facebook. They don't make me sad or even feel left out or unseen. But they do make me think of the many half-ass (or big-ass dreadful) fathers in the world whose absences or manipulative presences have inflicted lasting trauma on their kids.

They make me think about fatherhood and the many years I've spent traumatized in the wake of poor fatherhood. They make me wonder what myths about 'fatherhood' I've been living in.

I've carried an inconsolable longing for as long as I can remember: a mournful ache at the passing of all things, the grief-filled delight that pierces you when your eye lights for a split second on a single immanent presence. That moment when that which is near actually feels near. The deep, sorrowful joy generated by the inevitable loss of what is before you right now, the transmutation of all things.

I hold this longing with me always, though most often it stays buried inside until I pause (or am paused) and let my gaze be caught up in the beauty of a passing someone or something.

But I grew up having this feeling 'gendered' because I was born into a gendered world. In my patriarchal evangelical community, male and female roles were an unquestioned given, and also strictly defined. The 'father' was a very distinct role, which he could play well or poorly (or somewhere in between).

Without even knowing it was happening, I began to associate the sense of loss – the impending absence of everything present to me in its current form – with my own workaholic father's emotional absence.

I had been told by Christian dating and marriage books that good dads did specific things for their daughters. Dads were protectors, providers, and affirmers. Dads told their little girls that they were beautiful. This positive dad behavior was preparation for the time when their little girls grew up and got married to a godly man who would take on the masculine role of affirming her beauty and protecting her fragile ego.

Over time, I imbued that parental absence with specific, gendered qualities, which left me with a sense of perpetual woundedness and lack. It's left me always reaching out for masculine presences, and perpetually vulnerable to them as I seek external affirmation and approval. The space between the very real relational absence of one person estranged from another (me and my father) became filled with gendered ideas about what I needed from that relationship, prompting me to seek its type in other places.

It taught me to be forever unfulfilled, to be afraid of satisfaction.

It hasn't been until just recently that I've started to sift through how this 'gendering' of absence has weakened me and made me needy in particular, unhealthy ways.

I remember reading John Eldridge's books – Wild At Heart (about men) and Captivating (about women) – as a teenager and being enthralled by his description of "the Wound" that many women carry because of poor fathers. It resonated with me at the time because I felt that deep pain of parental estrangement.

The problem was that the book framed the ache with roles in view, with a very specific vision of what men and women are like and what they need. It cast women as needing certain things from husbands and fathers – things they couldn't get anywhere else. This set me up for a disposition of perpetual reliance on men for affirmation.

Instead of saying, "These are things all humans need and you can get them from a variety of different relationships of different kinds," it made women always dependent on men by saying to them, "You will always feel wounded until a man sees you and loves you."

The event that made me question this gendered need was getting to know the man who would become my husband.

Prior to meeting Josh, all my love interests (as varied as they were) had one thing in common: they scared me. I hung on their every word. I knew I couldn't rely on them for affirmation – they wouldn't always come through – but I always wanted it and mentally prepared myself for them to reject me or fail to affirm.

In this framework, God became the foil to my love interests. I identified God as the eternal Lover, the heavenly Father, the only Person who would see and accept me and think I was worthy. My love interests might fail me as my father had, but God would remain true.

But then I met Josh. And Josh...well...he wasn't 'masculine' in the way I'd understood it and we didn't relate to each other with the husband/wife dynamic I'd been taught to expect. We didn't do any of the typical male/female dances. He didn't scare me–I felt completely at ease. He was my friend before anything else. We liked many of the same things and we just kept talking about them and pursuing them. He thought I was beautiful, but that didn't really come into play until later.

I do feel strengthened and affirmed by his friendship and love (more than I ever could have imagined or hoped for). But the more we've talked about it and get deeper into our marriage, the more I realize that he has never filled any of those masculine roles I was fashioned to long for.

And the contrast between the gendered absences and Josh's presence couldn't be more stark. I feel healthy and whole with Josh. When I think of the person I am when I live in light of the gendered absence (who patriarchy fashioned me to be), I feel shamed. Because that schema, that myth of fatherhood, was always designed to keep me dependent. It never envisioned me as a woman who was as strong and autonomous as her partner. It never imagined I could find other wells from which to drink.

But in my real life – in my actual marriage – my partner and I are equals. We need each other (and others, too), but neither of us wants the other to be in an unending cycle of need. The more we grow together, the more we feel we must each strike out on our own as individuals – to know our own selves and interests. The things we share are important, but the things we don't share are equally important. We each want the other to grow strong and confident. My husband doesn't want me to be always wounded so that he can be my balm or healer. He wants us both to be in a process of healing and helping others heal, a mutual relationship.

I'm not sure how to end this post, and I suspect that's because dispelling fatherhood myths is an ongoing process. How do I extricate myself from the story without destroying my sense of self? I've been so shaped and defined by these stories – how can I maintain any form without them?

Maybe I can't.

Maybe the transmutation of all things – the constant movement that brightens my eyes and sets my chest aching – isn't the terror we make it out to be. Maybe we're better off always moving into ourselves.

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I Frighten You, I Know

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I Frighten You, I Know

I Frighten You, I Know

I frighten you, I know,

and for that I am sorry, but

make no apologies.

 

My excess of being,

the weight of my glory,

encroaches on your modes 

of existence, your

storied performances

the exclude me from reality,

deny my provisional role

in the world, for 

I am 

the player that does fit 

the theology of your play,

yet nonetheless, 

I play 

   therefore

      I am.

 

Fear not, beloved.

I beg you: let me play,

let us play together.

I have spent too long

withdrawing into myself,

pausing the dance,

for fear that you 

would beat me back

into categories,

restrict our movements

to the same perpetual

steps.

 

I frighten you, I know,

because you think that

you think 

    therefore 

       you are,

and our thoughts conflict

and so, you think, must we.

 

Look at me.

Don't avert your eyes

or throw a proposition

between us to protect

yourself.

 

Look at me.

Look at this body.

Touch this body

Touch these scars.

See that I am flesh,

as you are flesh.

See that you and I

will turn to dust.

 

You frighten me, you know,

and for that, I am sorry, but

make no apologies.

 

My dread of being the liminal body

that confuses your senses

means that I ache as bodies ache

for mutual celebratory movement.

 

My fear of transgression

means that I so love our world,

so tremble for shared play, 

that I give my one and only body

over to the rabid terror,

the chest-searing prospect

of playing forever outside you.

 

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On Our Anniversary, Let's Talk About Divorce

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On Our Anniversary, Let's Talk About Divorce

Josh and I reached our 7-year-anniversary yesterday (celebrations are forthcoming this weekend). As I thought about posting a little note on Facebook about how much I love and appreciate Josh, I thought of how easily "likable" such a post would be, how easily commemorated and supported. That's not necessarily bad, but like much of the performance that takes place via social media, it reinforces an identity and ideal that can become dangerous if we take it as a universal. 

I love Josh and we love being married, but if we've learned anything, it's that people change, circumstances change, and we have to constantly re-evaluate and re-negotiate our relationship. Will we still be together in 1, 5, 10, 20 years? We don't know. And that's a good thing. Because it means we have to pay attention to each other and the world around us instead of getting lazy and relying on rules or roles to keep our relationship strong.

I grew up in an environment that attached strong stigmas to divorce because of religious reasons. Staying together and making it "till death do us part" was the most important thing, even when a marriage relationship was long since broken beyond repair.

I believe in working at relationships, and that even very broken relationships can sometimes be repaired and renewed. But I also believe that divorce is sometimes necessary and the most healthy and sensible move for a relationship. No one's ever "happy" about divorce, it's not a "likable" event. But if we can't support folks as they go through divorce, what business do we have celebrating at their marriage vows? If we can't love and support two people separately, why did we ever think we could love and support them together?

As we celebrate our anniversary, I want to be cognizant of those who have experienced divorce (or may be going through a divorce). I'm grateful for the time Josh and I have had together, but it's not like we get a prize for making it 7 years. Marriage is not a marathon. You're not on a road to the goal of a long marriage so that you can get a big award at the end. The experience of the journey is the prize. 

If we know anything about journeys, it's that you take many unexpected roads, meet unanticipated people, and become different people. Your travel companions are not the same throughout your life, though some may walk with you a very long time. There's no inherent shame in parting ways when a relationship no longer makes sense.

I like Josh and hope we'll be together for years and years. He makes me a better person (and a happier one, too). But I hope, too, that if we ever reach a point where "we" no longer makes sense, that we would have the courage to part ways. That we'll know a parted relationship isn't a "failure" by default, that ends are not always a gauge of beginnings and middles. That even defining experiences as "failures" or "successes" is a truncated way of talking that doesn't jive with the way we actually encounter life as a complex web of relationships. 

We live, we move, we grow. We break, we heal (or are perpetually in the process of healing). We carry our wounds and scars not as badges of honor or marks of shame, but as memorials and guideposts. They mark where we have been and gesture to the hundred ways we might go.

We breath in and step out onto one of the hundred ways, not knowing where it will go. And in the going, we learn not where we are, but to be wherever we find ourselves.

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Liberation and the God(s) of the Ancestors

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Liberation and the God(s) of the Ancestors

Before Moses could lead the Hebrews out of captivity, he had to make a journey away from the gods of the empire that had enslaved his people and head into the wilderness to meet with the all-but-forgotten god of his ancestors, El-Shaddai. It was there, out in the desert, away from the powers that had shaped his identity since birth, he began to forge a new identity.

Moses was born into slavery to Hebrew parents in Egypt and yet was raised in the house of the Egyptian Pharaoh. His body housed the tension of the two incongruous worlds that he inhabited. 

He lived with his Hebrew birth mother and father until he was weaned. At his mother's breast, we can imagine, he was fed not only milk, but the mother tongue of his people and the beginnings of whatever stories and traditions the Hebrews had managed to retain under Egyptian domination. Close to his Hebrew mother's body, his skin learned the touch, scent, sound, and sight of his own people.

But the rest of Moses' growing up years were spent in the house of Pharaoh, near the seat of power that kept his Hebrew kindred oppressed and enslaved. Moses would have learned the patterns of thought and customs of the dominant culture. Moses' proximity to the empire afforded him certain powers and privileges. It was there, most likely, he learned to read and write, and gained a knowledge of politics. It was his status as a member of Pharaoh's household that kept him from a life of slavery.

But he was not Egyptian. Neither could he fully identify with the plight or traditions of his fellow Hebrews. When one day these two aspects of his mixed identity came head to head, he was forced to decide where his allegiances would lie. 

Exodus depicts very little of Moses' early years and young adulthood, but says that when Moses had grown up, he went out to his "brothers" (i.e. his fellow Hebrews) and looked on their hard labors. He witnessed an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, "one of his brothers," the narrator emphasizes. Moses kills the Egyptian and buries his body in the sand.

This is, it seems at first, a decisive and public statement of where Moses stands: he is Hebrew and will not tolerate the oppression of his people at the hands of the Egyptians. But a closer look at the text, we see that while is deeply troubled by the oppression of his Hebrew kindred (troubled enough to kill!), he is fearful about the discovery of what he has done. The murder was committed isolation and then hidden: "He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand."

We might imagine that Moses himself is shocked at his own actions. Has he not grown up in the house of Pharaoh? Has he not lived these years as an Egyptian?

But neither does his murder of an Egyptian overlord cement his identity as a Hebrew, in fact it may even have identified him more with their Egyptian masters. The next day, his identity is called into question by a Hebrew slave:

When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?”
He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. (Exod. 2:14-15)

When Moses tries to arbitrate between two Hebrews, he is not accepted as a Hebrew leader nor is he respected as an Egyptian overlord. When the Hebrew man striking his brother retorts, "Who made you a prince and a judge over us?" he is getting to the heart of Moses' identity conflict. Is he to be identified with Pharaoh's house? Does he have the authority of Egypt to act as prince and judge over these two Hebrew slaves fighting one another?

"Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?"

The man's question is a challenge, an indictment. In murdering the Egyptian, Moses has made himself ruler and judge over the Egyptian, but he is a self-appointed ruler. He has shown that he resembles those who grow up in the house of Pharaoh, that he has learned their violent ways. On what grounds can he identify with the Hebrew slaves?

But now he is neither a son of Egypt nor a Hebrew. Pharaoh seeks to kill him for murdering the Egyptian, and Moses flees to Midian.

Moses will return to Egypt one day to confront Pharaoh and help lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. But for now he is a stranger in a strange land, neither a prince of Egypt nor a Hebrew slave.

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Never Forget: Veterans, the Death Penalty, and Terror Lynchings

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Never Forget: Veterans, the Death Penalty, and Terror Lynchings

On this Memorial Day 2017, I remember Manny Babbitt, a Vietnam veteran who was executed by the state of California on May 3, 1999.  Pictured here is Manny's brother, Bill, who travels and tells his brother's story. You can watch the award-winning documentary about Bill and Manny Babbitt, The Last Day of Freedom, on Netflix, or read about their story in the seventh chapter of Executing Grace (pp. 164-168).

Sadly, Manny's story isn't an anomaly. A veteran returns home suffering from PTSD, doesn't receive the needed medical and psychological care, ends up committing a violent crime, and is sentenced to death.

On this Memorial Day 2017, I think of two recent reports that remind us that caring about veterans looks like (among other things) a renewed commitment to both ending the death penalty and addressing America's history and present of systemic racism. (And the death penalty and racism have a sordid and complex relationship. Check out Shane Claiborne's chapter in Executing Grace on race, the death penalty, and lynchings, or watch him discuss it here.)

The first report is from the Death Penalty Information Center called Battle Scars: Military Veterans and the Death Penalty. You can read the whole report for yourself, but this excerpt from the Executive Summary on page 3 is apt:

PTSD has affected an enormous number of veterans returning from combat zones. Over 800,000 Vietnam veterans suffered from PTSD. At least 175,000 veterans of Operation Desert Storm were affected by "Gulf War Illness," which has been linked to brain cancer and other mental deficits. Over 300,000 veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts have PTSD. In one study, only about half had received treatment in the prior year.
Even with these mental wounds and lifetime disabilities, the overwhelming majority of veterans do not commit violent crime. Many have been helped, and PTSD is now formally recognized in the medical community as a serious illness. But for those who have crossed an indefinable line and have been charged with capital murder, compassion and understanding seem to disappear. Although a definitive count has yet to be made, approximately 300 veterans are on death row today, and many others have already been executed.
Perhaps even more surprising, when many of these veterans faced death penalty trials, their service and related illnesses were barely touched on as their lives were being weighed by judges and juries. Defense attorneys failed to investigate this critical area of mitigation; prosecutors dismissed, or even belittled, their claims of mental trauma from the war; judges discounted such evidence on appeal; and governors passed on their opportunity to bestow the country's mercy. In older cases, some of that dismissiveness might be attributed to ignorance about PTSD and related problems. But many of those death sentences still stand today when the country knows better.

This first report reminds us that inadequate care for military veterans sometimes leads to tragic and preventable violence, both the violence that might have been prevented if the veteran's PTSD had been well-addressed, and unequivocally preventable violence of the state against the veteran.

Another report, published by the Equal Justice Initiative, reminds us that returning black veterans in particular have not just been inadequately cared for, but have been the targets of violence and racial terror. You can read Lynching in America: Targeting Black Veterans online or in PDF, but Bryan Stevenson's opening remarks are worth quoting:

The end of the Civil War marked a new era of racial terror and violence directed at black people in the United States that has not been adequately acknowledged or addressed in this country. Following emancipation in 1865, thousands of freed black men, women, and children were killed by white mobs, former slave owners, and members of the Confederacy who were unwilling to accept the anticipated end of slavery and racial subordination. The violent response to freedom for former slaves was followed by decades of racial terror lynchings and targeted violence designed to sustain white supremacy and racial hierarchy.

No one was more at risk of experiencing violence and targeted racial terror than black veterans who had proven their valor and courage as soldiers during the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. Because of their military service, black veterans were seen as a particular threat to Jim Crow and racial subordination. Thousands of black veterans were assaulted, threatened, abused, or lynched following military service.

The disproportionate abuse and assaults against black veterans have never been fully acknowledged. This report highlights the particular challenges endured by black veterans in the hope that our nation can better confront the legacy of this violence and terror. No community is more deserving of recognition and acknowledgment than those black men and women veterans who bravely risked their lives to defend this country’s freedom only to have their own freedom denied and threatened because of racial bigotry.

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Arbitrary Coffee: What 'Just Cuz' Drinks Teach Us about Desire

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Arbitrary Coffee: What 'Just Cuz' Drinks Teach Us about Desire

Riproariously Wonderful Pleasure

A few days ago, I reached out to a local coffee roaster about the possibility of apprenticing with them. I haven't heard back yet, and per my modus operandi, I've had many an imaginary conversation with them in my head, explaining why I love coffee, and what I hope to contribute to the roastery and gain from the experience.

"What do you love about coffee?" the imaginary roasters query.

I smile, a bit sheepishly, almost blushing. The answer is embarrassing, really. I'm not sure I even know why I love coffee, only that I get a ridiculous amount of pleasure from grinding, pouring, and drinking craft coffee.

The experience of delight makes you vulnerable, and so you avert your eyes, and perhaps shrug with a grin, when someone discovers your unmitigated pleasure. The wild and abashing fact is that there is no "reason." Pleasure really is "just cuz." 

You might be able to describe certain features of an experience that you think make it pleasurable. And of course I do this in my whimsical conversation with the roasters. 

I wax eloquent about the beauty of coffee pouring as a centering, grounding ritual, and how the act of taking the time to measure and moderate the temperature and make a slow cup creates an atmosphere of peace. I talk about the aromas and tastes of various coffees, and how they make me calm and comforted and attentive to the space or task before me. I talk about how each cup evokes memories of shared coffees past, of social bonds formed over coffee, or the enjoyment of cups in sweet solitude.

These are all things I love about coffee, but these are aspects, descriptors. They are features I enjoy, and these change from person to person according to each person's distinct characteristics and experiences. We may even venture to call these causes, elements that lead to the experience of pleasure.

But the pleasure itself is utterly reasonless, arbitrary. This kind of enjoyment is excessive, luxurious. Not utilitarian. Why should I receive pleasure from coffee? I can't think of why. I can only inhale with wonder and laugh at the revelation: "Damn. I do. I do love it and it's glorious and fantastically unnecessary, but riproariously wonderful all the same."  I might even say that it's glorious and fantastical because it's unnecessary.

Just Cuz Drinks

When pressed by my chimerical interlocutors to say what I love about coffee, I tell them that I love what coffee teaches us about human desire.

Unlike food and water, which are physical necessities for survival, beverages like coffee and tea are almost always consumed for pleasure or as a social convention, something apart from their nutritional value for the body. Yes, you can get things that benefit your body from certain drinks (teas especially: hydration, antioxidants and others good things), but these are distinct from the social currency and emotional value of coffee and tea, and even from the pleasure factor.

I like to think of these as Just Cuz beverages because you don't need them to survive. They are for pleasure and/or the creating or strengthening of a social bond. What I find fascinating about Just Cuz beverages is that we find them across the economic spectrum. Just Cuz drinks may vary in quality, kind, and expense, but everyone drinks them if they are able, whether it's a cheap cup made with a scoop of instant coffee or the most expensive cup of aeropress made from the rarest beans. 

What might this tell us about human desire? I think, at a minimum, it tells us that humans need more than just the bare necessities of physical survival. We all need a measure of luxury, the delight of excess. 

I don't remember much from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn from high school literature class (sorry, mom!), but I do remember that Francie Nolan's mother always let her children pour their leftover tea down the sink if they wanted. They were very poor and couldn't afford to waste food, but the reason the mother gave for letting her kids pour their beverage leftovers down the drain was this: she wanted them to feel like they had one thing they had the luxury of wasting.

The disposability of the tea was important. Francie's freedom to be able to drink as much as she desired and throw away any excess meant she had the dignity (that everyone deserves) of being more than her basic survival needs. I think of that tea swirling down the drain as an act of protest against the Nolan's poverty, and perhaps even an indictment against the over-excesses of the wealthy.

Daily Bread and Cuppa Joe

The fact that we pursue enjoyment of coffee and other useless beverages tell us that we're embarrassingly delighted, hedonistic animals.

I like to think, too, that the fact that we like to share useless beverages together suggests that we're at our best when we're not being stingy with our luxuries, but always sharing our excess.  Luxuries are a human necessity, but hoarding our own luxuries (be they small or great) creates scarcity for others and ends up subverting our own hedonistic impulses.

We can't enjoy luxuries when we're too focused on gathering our excesses and possessing them. They become crutches that keep us worrying about future security and future pleasures instead of focusing our attention on the glory of the present Just Cuz pleasure before us right now.

They also make us insular and distract us from the plight of the poor who, just like everyone else, not only need their basic physical needs me, but also the dignity of luxuries. Food and drink often function as status symbols, and we do injury to ourselves and our neighbors when we treat luxuries as if we own them or are more deserving of them than anyone else, as if having luxuries somehow makes us more important than those with less. We rob ourselves and our neighbors of joy when we cannot share what we have.

So, drink on, friends! Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die. But remember that today your neighbor, like you, is in need of both daily bread and the arbitrary delight of a cuppa joe, so share what you have and enjoy it to the full.

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The Arm

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The Arm

The Arm

the ghost pain in the severed arm,
the twitch in the lost limb,
is the trace of your religion,
cherished, beloved, and gangrenous
long before amputation.

the doctor shakes his head.
"tissue decays by wounds
untreated," he says. "loss was not
inevitable. it could have been saved."

the familiar throb of absence
prophesies against the word of this seer.

god was the absence that fueled your ache,
the holy ghost that haunted the space
between your radius and ulna.
the removal of this absence
evokes the same old sensations,
the same pangs of wild grief,
the same rattling in the bones.

you could not have been saved.
you are the member cut off
for the body's salvation,
the limb chopped at the wrist
lest the whole blessed body stumble into hell.
you are the riven hand groping in the dark
for the form of a choate body.

peace, my love, peace. 
quiet your sundered heart. 
seek not the wholeness
of a sutured corpse.

let the dead bury their dead.
you are not this piece of rotted flesh.

you are the ghost cells burning
in the imminent arm of the starfish,
the organic radiance of the cosmos
growing forever into itself.

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Mars Concurred by Venus

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Mars Concurred by Venus

Naked Gods

When I sift through the files on my computer, I'll usually stumble across MSW docs with old poems. I came across a poem I wrote in 2011 or 2012 in response to a painting called Mars Concurred by Venus by Krassimir Kolev (image and poem below).

The imagery of the poem is a bit strained in spots (I'm not sure feet dripping with fancy wines is the most apt post-coital description), but I like the poem's simpler images. This poem also signals a small, but significant, transition in my own attitude toward bodies.

Before Mars Concurred, I was at ease with nudes in older paintings that sat in museums. They had been baptized into the purity of classical art, the purity of God (who, rather awkwardly, appears to approve only of nudes from the West and from a limited era in history). Portrayals of naked bodies in this context felt somehow safer since they fell under this approved rubric.

But Kolev's painting felt different to me. I loved its sensuality and let myself love it even though it didn't fall into the sanctioned categories (even if it was of similar stuff). More importantly, I loved it not because the Western tradition had slapped on labels of "true," "good," or "beautiful," but because its details intrigued me: its colors, shapes, and textures, its composition. I let myself write a poem about it, trying to fashion with words an image of the visual image I had encountered.

Concurring Gods

Kolev's painting is both contemporary and evocative, a nod to (or perhaps a play on) Botticelli's painting, Mars and Venus. 

The scene in Botticelli's painting is often described as "Mars conquered by Venus," the god of war overcome by the goddess of love. Kolev's title plays on this. Mars is not conquered, but concurred: he is in agreement, coincides, coexists. The language of war becomes the language of mutual desire.

This mutuality is also revealed in the way Kolev positions Mars and Venus differently than Botticelli does.

Botticelli's Mars and Venus lie apart after lovemaking. Mars sleeps, naked except for a cloth draped across his loins, while a fully clothed Venus looks on. She has conquered him and he is drained by the ardors of intercourse, but she is fully awake, unspent, and quickly puts her clothes back on.

Kolev's Mars and Venus lie together, their exhausted bodies tangled on the pile of clothes and armor onto which they have fallen. Both sleep unclothed. Both rest in the sensual satisfaction of mutual desire. Neither has conquered the other. Love and war are both undone.

Above them, Cupid hovers. You could presume he is behind it all: that Venus and Mars have been struck by Cupid's arrow and sent into a frenzy of love. But I like to imagine that Cupid is too late. They do not need the little god's arrows to hurl one or the other into a passion.

The young god curses. This had better not happen again or soon he'll be out of a job. What will become of him when the lovers of the world, whether humans or gods, discover they do not need Cupid's arrows in order to be struck with desire?

Mars Concurred by Venus by Krassimir Kolev. Retrieved from Saatchi Art.

On Mars Concurred by Venus

The gods lie tangled

like two sheaves of wheat

plaited

by prairie gusts,

skin bright as beaten bronze,

but raw and pliable as clay –

their fallow feet, long and

leathern, drip

Dolcetto, Moscato, Arneis.

 

Their bodies recumbent,

limbs protracted, loose and

unfreighted

after the ardors of love,

knees bent in consummate sleep,

spent as copper deer

beneath a charcoal moon.

 

And above them a nascent god

hovers, lustily clutching his arrows,

cursing his late arrival.

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"Bad SWTS!" What White People Can Learn from a "Racially Insensitive Photo"

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"Bad SWTS!" What White People Can Learn from a "Racially Insensitive Photo"

As I reflect on the reactions to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's "racially insensitive photo" and subsequent apology, I am reminded of a passage from Drew G.I. Hart's Trouble I've Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism.

Near the end of the second chapter, he remarks on the way in which many responded to the news that Paula Deen had made some ugly, racist comments and had at one point in her life considered having a southern plantation-style wedding with all black servers. Paula Deen ended up apologizing and doing the "look, I have a black friend, so I can't be racist" dance. Hart writes:

America was not buying it. Deen's racism was too overt, and she broke all the rules. She used what we could call "old-school racism," which is no longer acceptable in the public square, instead of "new school racism," which has shifted its rhetoric to fit the times. Americans of almost all backgrounds and classes wagged their fingers at this woman in disgust. You could almost hear everyone thinking, "Bad Paula Deen!" Well, guess what? Pointing to Deen's racially offensive words was not particularly spectacular or courageous. Rather, it was the expected response within America's twenty-first century context. Don't get me wrong. I am not going to defend Paula Deen in the slightest. That would be absurd! I am not suggesting that we consider her comments anything other than racist ideology and speech. All I am suggesting is this: the scapegoating of Paula Deen is the sophisticated cultural reflex of a highly racialized society that doesn't want to own up to how racism works systemically. (p. 53)

As Hart has said in other contexts, Paula Deen didn't invent racism. Neither did the professors at Southwestern Baptist who staged and posted the photo. What is more troubling to me than the photo itself is the fact that the professors were unaware that this was even problematic. The staging and posting of the original photo, along with the subsequent statement from the seminary's president, tell me that these representatives of SWBTS lack awareness of the very fact that we are all swimming in the waters of a racialized society. 

The photo is not the primary problem. The problem is not that it happened, but why it happened. It is evidence of a racialized environment, and one which both the president and the professors who posted the photo seem to be unaware of. This wasn't just a "mistake" or a one-off time where professors exercised a lack of judgement. It was a moment when a specific group of white people was caught (in a very public way) perpetuating systemic racism and failing to acknowledge this or live in resistance to it.

If there is a "mistake," it is that we showed our hand to the world, that we don't just lack an understanding of the "nuances of the racist past of our own country," but that we're blithely unaware of the part we play in our country's racist past and present.

And I say "we" because I think it is important for me as a white person not to wag my finger and say, "Bad seminary professors!" It won't do for white people to scapegoat SWBTS and think, "Gee whiz. Glad I'm not like those guys over there." Systemic racism isn't something you have or don't have, it's a world you inhabit. You can go along with the flow or you can begin to cultivate a life of resistance to it in order to dismantle it, to change the shape of the world. But you can't resist if you are unaware of it, which is why we need more than apologies. We need plans and actions.

Self-flagellation won't do. When I first started to become aware of systemic racism, some of my first responses were disorientation and guilt. I knew there was a problem, but I still wasn't quite clear on what my role was, what I'd done, or how to work toward making things right. So my white evangelical reflexes kicked in and I performed that narrative: feel guilty and say, "I'm sorry. I'll do better next time."

But this "I'm sorry, I'll do better next time" mentality is an example of the kind of "cheap grace" on which white American evangelicalism so often feeds. The theological underpinnings of this are the belief that not only is it okay to mess up, but that we are doomed to mess up because we're "sinners"--that's who we are. We don't actually believe that we can "do better next time." In this framework, forgiveness will and must always be available because we won't be able to make significant change. We will mess up again. No matter how hard we try, we will always fail.

This leaves the door wide open for us to commit perpetual wrongs without every repenting (except in word) or making plans to work toward change. It ends up scapegoating the "sin" so that the "sinner" doesn't have to live any differently. We assume the identity of a "sinner," but a "sinless-sinner" because Jesus has washed all that sin away. We find ourselves not only living in a mode of perpetual failure, but perpetual complicity. We can do no right, but we can also do no wrong. This mode of perpetual guilty/clean also leads us to be unspecific in our "confessions," not really articulating an understanding of what we've even done because it doesn't seem to matter. We can't change the details will be wiped away anyway.

If we want to confront this bad theology, we need to recognize that apologies are not enough. We can apologize up the wazoo and even feel bad about ourselves, but that won't help us become good allies or necessarily help us take practical steps toward dismantling white supremacy. We can feel sincere and contrite, but without understanding and action, this ends up compounding the problem because this cycle excuses us from doing the real work of educating ourselves and moving.

I'm no expert on what practical steps to take to end white supremacy, but I do know that the movement must be led by people of color (and actually is being led by POC and has been for years, whether or not white people have been paying attention). White people have been trying to decide "what's best" for POC for ages, and it hasn't worked out so well. And it can't be a matter of white people "having a conversation about race," but choosing to pay attention to what POC are saying and have been saying.

To that end, I have some suggestions both for individuals and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Individuals: start doing some homework. Read. Find blogs and books by POC. Don't get bogged down by your own sense of ignorance or feeling like you don't know what to say or do. You will learn, you will start to do better. Don't be paralyzed by your discomfort or petrified by indifference. We must move. The more you study under POC, the more you will get a sense of what you should and should not do, how you have hurt/hindered the movement and how you can help.

To SWBTS: make a public commitment to listening to POC with an aim toward cultivating change, and make a plan. Invite faith leaders, educators, and activists of color to be the primary contributors on panel discussions for students, faculty, and staff on race, racism, and white supremacy. Invite these contributors to smaller, more intimate meetings with college administrators to discuss how best to construct and implement mandatory courses on race and racism into the seminary's curriculum. Create committees (led by POC) to review the seminary's policies and structures to identify any procedures or approaches that contribute to structural racism. Invite POC to help you make a more detailed and specific plan of action.

These are just a few ideas that came to mind this week. What's most important is not for you to listen to me, but to go study under POC. So go. Read. Listen. Go and scapegoat no more.

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Lesson from the Female Rat: Recovering from Christian Patriarchy

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Lesson from the Female Rat: Recovering from Christian Patriarchy

Voices

In the moments when I feel a sense of powerlessness coming over me (as I've often felt in the Trump era), my first impulse is to freeze. Numbness spreads. I lose my will to speak. What can I say in the middle of all this? What can I do? How can my small hand do a blessed thing to stop the world's bleeding?

My second impulse (when I am still warm enough to feel) is to look back at old things, at personal things. A critical voice tells me that it's silly to look back at your personal history in times like this--times when the destiny of the whole world feels uncertain. Times like this when--even if you haven't suffered directly--you still feel in the locality of your body the weight of movements in the world that are directly hurting others. You feel absurd, ridiculous, taking refuge in the sphere of yourself and your stories. 

But a gentler voices tells me that the world is too big for me, too big for all of us. I can speak to it only in the small things. I am here in the world. Somewhere, my story meets what is happening globally. I may not know what it is yet, but we'll get there. Maybe roundabout, but we'll find where the stories converge.

Sexuality

In the past few months, I've started to think more deeply about sexuality. Many of the catalysts for these thoughts are what you might expect. My formative years were spent moving about as a female body in the patriarchal world of American evangelicalism. I've been a feminist in some form or another for a good eight or nine years now--almost a third of my life. I've thought and written about the toxicity of evangelical purity culture, not just in regard to sexuality, but in the mode of approach to anyone or anything that is deemed outside the bounds of evangelical culture (however those borders are variously defined). I've cognitively moved away from theologies that denigrate and devalue the body.

But getting those toxic theologies to leave the sacred site of my body is easier said than done. I genuinely and enthusiastically cheer on women around me who celebrate their bodies, most especially women of color and sexual minorities to whom the dominant culture attaches additional layers of stigma.

But when it comes to my own body and sexuality, I hesitate. I hold back the celebration. I am afraid. I've only just started to realize how deeply I've been conditioned to feel ashamed of sexual pleasure. 

Not too long ago, I read an article arguing that females of every species have sex for pleasure, but women are stigmatized for wanting to enjoy sex. It wasn't anything I hadn't heard before, but it jogged my memory of what I've known for several years (and mostly try to ignore): I am shy of my own body. I'm not shy with my husband (with whom I've always felt comfortable), I'm shy with myself.

After reading the article, emboldened by the example of the female rat (who apparently really really loves clitoral stimulation), I initiated sex with my husband. 

When we were done and moving on to the next thing, about to make coffee, I suddenly found myself crying, trembling. In the aftermath of deliberate pleasure-taking, I felt intense shame. I don't usually feel guilty for lovemaking, and my body's response took me by surprise. After some thought, I realized that I still--on a visceral level--feel the stigma against female self-pleasure. My way of coping, of keeping shame at bay so that I don't feel perpetually guilty for having sex, is to hide in my husband's pleasure or in the pleasure of "us." 

This doesn't mean I don't enjoy sex. It means the politics of shame are still in place and that I've been trying (mainly) to manage them instead of rooting them out. It means I still feel unduly guilty for taking pleasure. My framework assumes I am secondary, not equal, and that I should not delight in myself. It presumes that the self does not to deserve to enjoy itself--its validity and pleasure depends solely on the affirming gaze of another. This approach to sexuality is the enemy of self-giving because it assumes that I am not first my own to give (or choose not to give).

The stigma against my own self as a sexual person runs deep. I look back at my teenage self harping on what I considered modest dress, listening to my pious talk about not "stumbling my brothers in Christ." In retrospect, looking at my adolescent writings, it's clear that I very badly wanted to stumble someone--not everyone, but someone. All that covering up wasn't because I didn't want to allure. I covered up both because was afraid that I would be seen and found wanting, and because I didn't want to be labelled as "that kind of woman" (what a dreadful phrase).

I've not wanted to go here in my writing for the same reasons. Even I still have women divided into categories in my mind. There are the intellectual ones like me who write in the safety of the abstract. And then there are the women who write about shocking things like rat masturbation. Obviously, the lines are starting to blur.

Looking At The Self

I've started to re-read my girlhood diaries as a step toward healthy self-love. One day, if I become brave enough, I'll sift through the 150 letters that I wrote to my future husband (thanks for the tip, Brio!) from age 15-17. Thus far, I've only been able to break the seals on 15 (yes, I used sealing wax on every single one) to read them with my actual husband (who in no way corresponds to the imaginary "future husband" addressed in my letters).

I feel one half embarrassed and one half delighted when I read my old writings, especially those from my pre-adolescent and adolescent years. This is mostly (I think) because I see in little Rebekah a well of desire and longing to be known, but she doesn't see this. It isn't obvious to her. She doesn't have the language to express--even to herself in the privacy of a diary--her desires. Like most of us most of the time, she hides behind a veneer of words, half of them overly-dramatic phrases picked up from movies, the other half God-language.

She makes me laugh, but she also makes me blush. I can see need oozing out of her onto the page.

As soon as I grew old enough to be aware of my need for affirmation, I took great care to hide this need. I don't think my habit of hiding is unique. None of us are seen as much as we want to be seen or as much as we need to be seen. And when it comes to seeing ourselves, many voices hold us back.

We all ask for affirmation in different ways. But overt pleas for affirmation leave you vulnerable and are almost always disappointing. We all know (if not by experience than through film) the terrible moment when one person works up the courage to voice how they feel: "I love you." And the other person just says, "Thanks." And it's dreadful because you aren't saying just, "I love you," but asking the question, "Do you love me, too?"

The romantic scene is the one that makes it into popular mythology, but we ask for affirmation in many types of relationships. But we can't feel affirmed by just anyone. It's not simply a matter of someone pronouncing a distant verdict of "good" on us. We want someone to see us, to trace our details, and respond with pleasure. We wish more than anything that someone would pay attention, notice us, and answer with genuine wonder.

So here I am confronted by little Rebekah who is both me and not me. I am embarrassed by her need because it reveals in the most telling ways the need of adult Rebekah. Because of this, because she is me (or a window to me), I choose to resist the shame and lean into the delight. I look at the contours of her tiny being, paying attention to her awkward flailing for love. 

Why do we ask such abstract questions like, "Who am I?" The infinitely more practical question is, "Who am I in this story?" You must love yourself in the same way you would love your neighbor: by noticing her details and responding with pleasure. This is the gesture toward self-love. Looking at your details, looking long and hard. Taking in all of yourself, taking generously, taking pleasure.

The Writings

Reading through my diary from 1996-2001 (age 9-14), a few themes recur. I liked boys, watching the PBS series Wishbone, collecting rocks, writing stories, and pleasing God.

I was polyamorous in my crushes and felt perplexed by this (if not also guilty). Over the span of five years, I managed to devote nineteen pages to the nineteen boys that were the objects of my unrequited love. The illustrations are the same on each boy's page. Beneath "I love [boy's name]" are two smiley faces, a pair of lips (labelled "kiss," lest the reader be in doubt of its meaning), a pair of outstretched arms labelled "hug," a heart pierced by Cupid's arrow, and a two boxed wedding rings. "[Boy's name] and Me," is written on the pierced heart.

The diary is filled by my quandaries about my nature and the nature of love:

"I love Harrison, but how can I have a crush on two boys?" (age 9).
"I like Jillian's brother, Jacob. I like him as in I'M IN LOVE WITH HIM. I also like Jim and Jerry O'Dell. The boys love my impression of Barney" (age 9).
"I love five boys, but my favorite is Harrison" (age 9).
"I found out that love, like romantic love, is not having a crush from the start and liking them. It's when you don't know you like them, and just grow fond of them. Like with Derek Ferris, I didn't really like him that much, he fought with other kids and isn't handsome, but I have grown to love him. Being so young, I am not absolutely sure what love is, but my conception of it is nice" (age 11).
"I think Rudy is very insensitive. He was bullying this kid. I made a resolution not to like him, but it isn't working very well" (age 11).

I also had strong feminist leanings, feeling indignant whenever boys teased me for being a girl or said I couldn't do stuff with them:

"I almost hate the O'Dell boys for the way they treat me. They say words like 'my little maid' and they say boys are stronger than girls. But Jesus wouldn't hate them, so I will just love them and forgive them" (age 9).
"Jerry O'Dell is annoying because he said I had little hands" (age 11).

What surprised me most looking over these writings was the few overt references to sexuality. I don't remember ever consciously thinking things like this, let alone writing about them:

"My feet are still growing like crazy. I just bought sandals. And now I have new sneakers, My old ones hurt my feet. I haven't had my period yet, but my breasts are developing. I am having weird pains in my left leg and right big toe. Also weird is that I know I would never have sex and I don't know what it feels like either, but I think of it every time I think of a boy. I think it's normal, though, because Benj [my older brother] says that's how he feels sometimes about girls" (age 11).

I also felt a very keen tension between my love for God and love for boys:

"[Jackson] doesn't seem to draw me farther away from God, like my other crushes. I am not absolutely certain the last sentence is true. Maybe I'm only fooling myself. I don't know. I'm just gonna have to keep praying" (age 14).

It's clear, judging by my diaries and future-husband letters, that I felt this tension throughout teenhood and beyond. I believed that feeling was bad, that God was jealous. I couldn't love any boy too much or God would (for my own spiritual health) want to take him away. It could only ever be me and God on life's lonely road, and God was that mysterious, unknowable Ultimate. This meant that I would forever be a mysterious unknowable, always hiding in God, perpetually afraid of myself.

This fear of knowledge is really what I find so problematic about the world I grew up in. Implicit in our theological framework was the notion that knowledge and desire is the antithesis of faith. It marked humans as innately bad, seeing us as a danger to ourselves and the world, as bodies to be contained and distanced rather than known.

The idea of God then becomes a cover, a mask to shield us from ourselves and from one another. It excuses us from the responsibility (and pleasure) of becoming acquainted with ourselves and the world. It relieves us of the impulse to love our neighbors and ourselves because God will do it for us.  Fear of the self is the end of knowledge, and displeasure the enemy of love.

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Food Taboos: A Conversation on Vegetarianism and Other Good Stuff

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Food Taboos: A Conversation on Vegetarianism and Other Good Stuff

I was hammering out a date via Messenger to have coffee with my friend, Tori Aquilone. I told her I might have a bagel, and she said she might splurge on a vegan donut even though she's been mostly off sugar for a bit. The following conversation on food taboos ensued, and I thought it was interesting enough to share with you all.

RD: No pressure to eat food when we have coffee if you'd rather stick to your routine. You probably don't feel pressured, but I'm always amazed at how easy it is to just eat something because someone else is or because someone suggested it.

TA: Ah, yes—it is a strange phenomenon. Thank you for saying that, though I've become quite accustomed to breaking social food rules. I actually couldn't drink coffee for a bit and people were incredulous that I wanted to "go for coffee" just to spend time together. Thankfully, I can drink coffee again...that was awful.

RD: Yes, we associate food so much with socializing and relationships. I was actually reading a book on food in Isaiah this morning, and it was looking at anthropological studies about food taboos. It noted that often (in literature, but in life as well) we make assumptions about how people eat and what it means for people in other areas of life (whether or not that's true). For example, we Westerners associate dogs as pets and if someone eats a dog, it seems weird even to folks who are not vegetarian. We make assumptions about that dog-eating person (they must be weird...a serial killer...psychopath). In some other cultures, eating a dog would have the same social/moral connotations as eating a cow in our culture.

TA: Yes! That's something I've come across in my food research as well. I think people don't realize how socialized food is until someone challenges it, but usually that person becomes socially ostracized. It's interesting how we're tempted to say "It's just food, who cares?"—but that's not really how we engage it. Perhaps because in our culture we are so accustomed to food being readily available that we don't see how much we rely on it for life and sustenance, but in reality humans are created to have strong connections to that which sustains us.

RD: Right. And "food" is actually a human category. Many things are edible, but we choose whether or not they will be food to us. In our society, we don't choose humans as "food" even though they are edible. We make that choice based on our perception of what is morally okay to eat and what isn't. And our conception of it being immoral to eat other humans is based on how we perceive our relationship as humans to other humans.

TA: Ah, yes–how interesting! I never thought of it like that. I know how strongly I have moral associations with food, but it's interesting to consider that as the default rather than the deviation. It's just that I have different moral standards than the majority culture. It reminds me of presuppositional apologetics–everyone has a moral foundation, it's a matter of which moral foundation rather than whether you have one at all.

RD: Yes, and our presuppositions are shaped by our cultures and societies, and at times are at odds with the broader culture. I love Mary Douglas on "purity" and "dirt." She points out that everyone (not just ancient or tribal cultures) has different ideas of what is pure and impure (both in regard to eating and in other areas of life). We can eat food anywhere, but we would consider it strange to eat food in the bathroom or (for some) in the bedroom, not because it's necessarily unhygienic, but because it conflicts with our socially constructed sense of where food should be consumed (usually kitchen or dining room).

TA: Hmm. Interesting. I'll have to check out her work. I think people fail to realize that our cultural assumptions are often underlying moral beliefs, like the use of the language of "pure," which is why there may be so much vitriol surrounding challenged food habits. I asked my students yesterday in class (in the context of whether or not the economy should be regulated to protect the environment...they don't know I'm vegetarian) if the government should reduce the amount of red meat that's produced to protect the environment and the consumer. Students who were pro-regulation before totally changed their minds because they couldn't imagine giving up red meat. I didn't press into that, but I wonder now what moral assumptions underlie that reaction.

RD: Eating meat is such a huge part of the social aspects of culture, it may be that the students realize (even just on a gut level) that giving up meat has social implications (sacrifices) that they don't want to make. It also runs counter to so much of what is advertised. So much advertising goes into marketing meat and making it look good. Salad not so much.

TA: Yes, there are so many facets. I will think more about the socialization. I've only ever thought about it in light of my personal experience, but I think there's definitely something deeper going on. Like a visceral, instinctual need to belong, and to eat the food everyone else is eating. Not to mention that meat/dairy subsidization makes absolutely NO sense, but that's another topic all together.

RD: I don't think I've really thought much about the idea of food choice as social sacrifice (or alteration) until I verbalized that to you just now. People think of vegetarian or veganism as giving up particular foods, but you're also giving up social currency (and maybe gaining other things and other social currencies). I was always fascinated by the fact that when I would create a huge salad in the cafeteria at school and come to the table, people would often comment on how "healthy" it was and how I was "being good" and contrast to what was on their plate. I never commented on their choices, but they perceived my veggie-oriented choices as a judgement of their choices. It goes to show you that making different food choices (or any choices that diverge from the dominant cultural impulse) puts other people in the position of how they will respond to your difference. Will they ignore your difference? Will they comment (positively or negatively)? Will they create space for you to cultivate your different practice? Will they see your practice as an indictment against them? Will they change their own eating habits in response to your difference?

TA: Yes, social currency is an interesting concept that I definitely feel intuitively from experience, but also never really verbalized. And I frequently have thought of Paul's argument about meat sacrificed to idols and that as Christians, we should deny our rights for the moral convictions of others, regarding food. And his argument in general seems to acknowledge that we attach moral assumptions to our food consumption. I frequently have to bring my own food to social functions and it always invites comments ranging from somewhat benign statements like "Oh, so healthy!" to "What's your problem?" I feel like I have so many instances where I've experienced this personally and it was very, very hurtful...and now I’m thinking it hurt me in ways I didn't even realize.

RD: It can be very ostracizing to have someone comment negatively on your food. Whenever I see people do that to other people, I feel very uncomfortable. It can be ostracizing in general, but also—what if that person struggles with an eating disorder or other food issue? The last thing you want is for someone to call attention to how you’re eating. Paul opens up a lot of interesting issues. In 1 Corinthians 8, he’s speaking to a newly formed Jesus-community who live in a world where eating meat is often connected to the worship at temples of other gods (and the imperial cult of the deified Caesar). Eating the sacrifices offered to the god is associated with worship of that god—you’re dining at a god’s table. The meat was often sold in the marketplace. You can imagine that for some folks in the Jesus-community who used to worship other gods, eating meat offered to those gods might evoke the memories of their former worship and even end up strengthening the emotional and social connections to those gods. I think Paul (from the perspective of a monotheist) recognizes that in an abstract sense, there are no other gods, so on the one hand eating meat offered to the “no-gods” isn’t a big deal. But in the concrete, on the ground, Paul knows that people have memories and associations with food, and social bonds, and so whether or not they eat idol-meat matters. And so he’s calling the folks in the community to be aware of how the other members are approaching food (as it relates other issues) and telling them be willing to show deference to one another.

TA: Yes! I feel uncomfortable too, especially when you bring in the possibility of an eating disorder and medical issues that affect food intake, which I've been battling recently. I've talked with people about Paul on this and they come back with some interesting retorts. One time in a theological conversation I aligned vegans with the "weaker brother" who have convictions about their food, and the person responded, "Do you really want to be the weaker brother?" It seems that people feel if they are the "stronger brother" it's ok to just write off the other position as a weakness that needs to be admonished rather than a conviction that should be respected. I think it also comes back to philosophical ideas. It's clear that a lot of Platonic/Socratic ideas beat out Aristotelian ones in the history of Christianity, and Plato refused to see the "tangibility" (as I call it) of anything. Christians run into problems when they eschew tangibility (what you said above as concrete) in my opinion. Even the sacraments seem to be barely hanging on by a thread because we've relegated them to merely symbolic rather than seeing ourselves as inherently embodied. One of my favorite things ever was when I was in Gary Schnittjer's Intro to Bible class and he asked, "Who is the weaker brother?" and we all said, "The one who refuses to eat.” And he said, “No, they are both weak, for the stronger brother refuses to love the weaker, rendering him just as, if not more, weak in the end.”

RD: That's great. Good old GES. But yes! Absolutely. I really just think Platonism has ruined everything.

TA: Haha. I'm tempted to think that too but I'm still working through it. My assumptions about Plato only started changing recently so I'm a bit swept up in it at the moment, but I definitely am seeing the negatives more clearly.

RD: I have actually intentionally started to avoid even using the word "embodied" and say "bodied" instead (though that’s a bit tricky, too). I think if we're serious about the implications of Jesus’ resurrection, we have to recognize that–however we might parse out the relationship between what we call "soul" and "body," that disembodied existence for humans is seen as a negative (or at least insufficient) mode of being. If we have something that can be called a "soul," it isn't something that (in its fullness) can be abstracted from either physical bodiedness or our bodied social and political locations. But Plato is probably a lot cooler than Platonism.

TA: Yeah, I think you're right. It's funny how the resurrection is so central to our theology yet it seems to evade practice in other ways.

RD: It really is very sad. I see so many Christians not digging into life here because they're hoping for some distant future where everything is "perfect" and perfectly disembodied. But life begins now. Matter matters.

TA: YES! It's certainly sad, but mostly leaves me angry. I'm not sure how we continue to coddle a theology that renders the here-and-now irrelevant.

RD: If matter didn't matter, if it wasn't redeemable, God never would have become human. He'd just have condemned it to burn.

TA: Yes, I think we have to realize that the incarnation is one of the most important supports of the import of earthly matters. As well as the resurrection.

RD: I don't coddle theology that looks away from the here and now. Not anymore. I'm not done with Jesus (and maybe not Christianity), but I'm done with Christian articulations of the gospel that run counter to it.

TA: Yeah, I'm done with it too. I just don't know all of the implications of that doneness, haha. I'm still trying to find out the implications for my engagement with other Christians in a variety of ways.

RD: I was about to write that I don't think Jesus coddled it either—but then I realized I can't think of too many passages that come to mind where he confronts metaphysical dualism. But he does just seem to keep doing his thing—healing the sick, talking about helping the poor, hanging out with people.

TA: Yeah, they are few and far between. But I agree: his example is most poignant on this issue. Why heal the sick if he could just promise them heaven?

RD: Exactly.

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The Apolitical Jesus (or "Fuck This Shit")

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The Apolitical Jesus (or "Fuck This Shit")

The misconception of the gospel of Jesus as apolitical is a blight on American evangelicalism that robs its articulation of the gospel message of any power to affect the present. Jesus was not born into the world as an unspecific, socially and politically neutral human being, but with a socio-political location.

Though in the form of God, Jesus didn't hold on to equality with God with an iron grip, but emptied himself and took the form of a doulos--a slave, someone on the margins of society (Philippians 2).

The identification of Jesus with those on the margins is a political statement: that the God articulated in Jesus is the God of the weak, marginalized, and oppressed. Those in power will only know this God insofar as they follow the power-divesting example of the crucified and resurrected messiah whose kingdom from God does not work according to the logic of Caesar, the logic of empire.

Imperial logic holds that "peace" is achieved through domination: kill or be killed, enslave others or be enslaved, conquer and demand assimilation. According to imperial logic, our different specifics as humans--our backgrounds, languages, cultures, socio-political locations--are weaknesses and a threat to the "unity" of empire. The sameness of its members and/or their adherence to carefully constructed hierarchical power systems that advantage some and disenfranchise others is imperative.

But the incarnation runs counter to this narrative: the God who came as a doulos affirms the particulars of our contextual details as humans in various locations. It also criticizes the false story told by the empire: the lie that the oppressed and oppressors cannot be redeemed from slavery to the unjust systems and the ideologies that support them.

Imperial ideology argues that human specificity/location necessitates hierarchy, and imagines that our differences demand that some be on top and others on the bottom. Proponents of empire cannot imagine a world in which people are both different and equal, simultaneously political and yet not vying for power.

But the self-emptying God-human turns this logic on its head, the ruler of the universe divesting himself of power and privilege. By becoming a slave of all, Jesus subverts the imperial powers that insist on the necessity of a world that runs on the hierarchy of lords/masters and slaves.

The incarnation is nothing if not political. To say "Jesus is Lord" is to insist that Caesar is not--that though there presently exist many "gods" and many "lords" in this unjust world, for us there is but one Lord, and in contrast to the power-grabbing Caesar, this Lord comes as a slave to liberate all those in bondage.

If Jesus came only to save me from my personal sin, but didn't come to dismantle white supremacy, fuck this shit.

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I Thirst

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I Thirst

I Thirst

Am I a good person? she asked her teacher.

Who is good but God alone? he answered.

And alone, God is good, he said.

He does does not need you,

does not hunger, does not thirst.

He the Eternal is the Eternal He,

timeless

colorless

genderless

apolitical

unspecific.

He is the god who did not

let go of equality with God

to become

not just human, but

a human slave, a slave

among

the slaves, the women, the prisoners.

He is the god who did not

at his execution, as his lungs

labored their last before collapse,

wheeze out the faint, ungodly cry:

I thirst.

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Human Hands

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Human Hands

I'm not sure if this poem is finished, but it's what came to me after dinner tonight.

 

Human Hands

You return to the old poems

and they are as you feared:

Fixed, budged not a jot

since you pressed them into shape,

worked their whirling figures on your wheel.

Glazed, fired, brilliant

on the day of conception, but now

they sit, still and silent, on the shelf

as you whirl through the ages,

dazed, wild, resilient,

and pliable as the day of your making.

You return to your old face,

and it is as you feared:

A mask

brittled by time and horror-filled

by dread of becoming

a shell that becomes,

a formable face cupped in human hands,

searched, seen, smoothed, kissed

by lips not of cold, kilned glass,

but warm skin rushing

with nascent cells.

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Dancing Out of Oblivion

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Dancing Out of Oblivion

My parents' attempts to make me exercise were largely futile. 

Whenever my mother rummaged in the video cabinet beneath the TV and popped in a VHS of Richard Simmons' Sweatin' to the Oldies, I might join her for the first song or two, but wimped out after a few minutes. The half-hour following lunch and recess at our home school was slotted for exercise, but I dawdled about and rarely did more than a few jumping jacks. My father tried to take me on a walk around the neighborhood once, but after a quarter mile I was done. Sorry, Pops. Time to head back home now.

I worked very hard to avoid any kind of movement that would put me in a sweat or out of breath. 

Except climbing trees and dancing. I forgot exercise when I danced, caught up in the rhythms of the music. And one night, when I was about sixteen, I went into Manhattan to a Swing dance with some friends where we twirled into the wee hours of the morning. That wasn't exercise. That was heart-pounding, blood-racing, skin-shocking joy.

Exercise was a bane. Ultimate frisbee days were the worst. I went to our weekly homeschool frisbee practices primarily to hang out with my friends, but the cost was high. Running was arduous. It wasn't so bad once we got to the frisbee part--then I could choose when I felt like running to catch the frisbee and when I felt like lazing in the field. But the team captain required us to run a lap around the field before starting practice.

This lap was a constant source of embarrassment to me. I was the slowest runner and always came in last. If I was lucky, I could find another slow runner who could share my shame as we lagged together behind the clump of runners some yards ahead of us. 

I was also a rather well-endowed adolescent, and not even a sports bra could quite reign in my ample bosom. I could feel it moving conspicuously up and down with each step of the lap. Probably no one else cared. No one was looking at me and thinking, "Why is that girl's chest flapping around her neck?" But I was always relieved when the lap was done. I could stop feeling so seen without being seen.

My mother (wisely, I think) never pushed me too hard when it came to exercise. She just continued to get up every morning at 6am for her 40-minute walk. Every day. No skips (unless we were going to travel or had an unavoidable appointment). Every day.

When I went off to college, I started to walk in the mornings. Living with roommates and seeing students and teachers constantly pressed against the introverted parts of me, and I needed a quiet space every morning in order to breathe. The only empty space in that crowded college existence was the morning hour before everyone was up.

So I walked. Just before the sun was up, I was, too. Langhorne Manor became my Westminster Bridge: The City now doth, like a garment, wear / The beauty of the morning; silent, bare.

And I just kept walking. I wanted to walk. I needed to walk. My body grew used to it, and my muscles ached without it.

Over time, my routine changed. When it was too cold to walk, I'd go to the dorm basement lounge and put on some music so that I could leap and twirl around the couches. The regular morning walk turned into several hours of walking hither and yon when I spent a year in Oxford. In England, I ate everything and walked everywhere. I was at my heaviest in Oxford, but didn't have regular access to a scale and really didn't care. Because I was just doing what I wanted now. Not worrying about what I'd see when I hopped on the scale the next morning.

My body started to crave more rigor, so I incorporated a short routine of other exercises for indoors. This became my primary routine after I gave birth since I couldn't go out in the early morning when Marshall was still sleeping. It's short and intense, but it's enough. For now. Enough to make me feel at home in my body. To keep the bad aches at bay, to stretch myself, to keep my day ordered so that I do what I really want to do and don't get distracted by feelings of inadequacy.

Everyone has different ways of managing their lives and desires. I do best when I don't have some grandiose vision of a body I don't have, some imaginary body I work towards, but instead make decisions about what to do as my body right now. Instead of dreaming for a smaller this or a bigger that, I focus on what will make my body feel most alive today.

This is my approach to writing, too. I forget my wild ideals of writing something that will change the world, of being a Writer. A writer is one who writes. So write. Just do it. A little every day or every week or every month--whatever time you can carve out. Work on this piece. Right here. Right now. This is your plot to tend, your space to love. 

Forget the visions of all you could be and leave your guilt over what might have been. Concentrate on the world that is and the self you are in it. The world to come will come, but not tomorrow or the next day or the next. It will come today, as you listen to the rhythms of the world, to the pulsing of bodies. As you dance yourself out of oblivion.

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Marduk, Son of the Gods

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Marduk, Son of the Gods

I'm thinking about the language of "sonship" after just reading through Enuma Elish (also known as The Glorification of Marduk). The story is about how Marduk became enthroned as king of the gods at his temple (Esagila) in Babylon (after quelling the rebellion of Tiamat, goddess of the ocean, by hacking her to pieces and creating the heavens and earth from her body and then creating humans out of the blood of rebel god in order to serve the gods--yeah, it's gross).

The Anunnuki gods (as homage) build a temple to honor Marduk, and then all the gods sit down to a celebratory banquet where they grant Marduk kingship of the gods and confirm his dominion. The gods are referred to multiple times throughout the epic as Marduk's "fathers," and he is referred to as their firstborn. When they confirm his dominion, they say, "Most exalted be the son, our avenger. Let his sovereignty be surpassing, have no rival." They also charge him with providing not just for creatures, but for the gods: "May he establish for his fathers the great food-offerings."

This is just one more window into how "sonship" was associated with rulership in ancient Mesopotamia. When talking about rule, it's not about the dads, it's about the sons. In Mesopotamia, a human king was often referred to as the "son of god" or "image of god" (or both). We see this language in the Hebrew Bible, too. The term "son of god" is sometimes applied to an angelic figure, Israel, or Israel's king, perhaps most notably Psalm 2 (Yahweh's anointed king is also Yahweh's son).

And then there's the famous 2 Samuel 7 passages where King David wants to build a house (a temple) for Yahweh, but Yahweh responds to David's offer by saying (this is my  super-short paraphrase), "I've been living in a tent since the days I brought Israel up from Egypt, and I've never asked for a house. Nope. You won't build a house (a temple) for me, but I'm going to a build a house (offspring/kingdom) for you. I'll raise up one of your offspring and establish his kingdom. And he'll build a house for my name. I will be a father to him, and he will be to me a son."

We know from the rest of the story that David's son Solomon ends up becoming king and building Yahweh's temple.

Yahweh's initial rejection of David's offer to build him a temple is an interesting contrast to Marduk's desire for the building of Esagila. The interplay between "fathers" and "sons," tells us much about the interplay of divine and human rule in the Hebrew Bible.

Yahweh's divine kingship is often assumed throughout, but you don't get the sense that Yahweh feels the need to legitimize or prove his kingship. This is perhaps what we might expect in a monolatrous context: when you've only got one god to worship, that god doesn't need his kingship to be established by others gods and he doesn't have any rivals. (Except, perhaps, the humans that he has made just the teensiest bit lower than gods (Psalm 8), when they start to think that their spectacular humanity isn't fantastic enough, that the glorious freedom of the sons of god just isn't free enough.)

The portrayal of Yahweh's interaction with David makes it clear that Yahweh is the one who will  establish the kingship of David's descendant, not the other way around: it's not David who establishes Yahweh's rule in a temple, but Yahweh who establishes the rule of David's son. The son doesn't make the father, the father makes the son.

But unlike the the Marduk's "fathers," who take the backseat now that Marduk's at the wheel, Yahweh doesn't fade into the background. The elevation of his own "sons" (be they Israel's kings, Israel, or the primordial humans in Genesis 1-2) doesn't threaten his own sovereignty. He's not afraid that humans will usurp him (they can't), but things get complicated when humans stop leaning into their human rule and potential and instead busy themselves trying to to be Yahweh's rival.

This is a recurring theme we see in many parts of the Hebrew Bible: the deliberate distancing of Yahweh from anthropomorphism. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of verbal anthropomorphisms (e.g., you can speak of Yahweh's body, even if metaphorically, "hand of god," "eyes of god," etc.). And of course there are visions of Yahweh and times where a messenger of Yahweh appears to be human, but he kind of might be Yahweh as well, and it isn't always clear (Genesis 18, anyone?).

But when compared to the unabashed portrayals of gods in human form in Mesopotamia, you can feel the difference in the Hebrew Bible: Yahweh can be imagined in human language and terms, but he's also not like humans as well. Gods in Mesopotamia eat and drink, have sex, grow tired, etc. Not so Yahweh. Oh, wait...he kinda sorta eats. He receives food offerings, but he receives them by smelling the smoke instead of direct consumption, emphasizing that while he's interested in enjoying the relational benefits of a meal, he's not dependent on it for nourishment.

This de-anthropomorization of Yahweh actually alleviates a lot of the tension between divine and human rule felt in texts like Enuma Elish.

Creation in Enuma Elish is a cosmic battle against Tiamat. Marduk creates the world by vanquishing Tiamat and her rebel forces and cutting her up to make the world. In Genesis, god simply separates the waters above the earth from the waters below, whereas Marduk looked at Tiamat's body and "split her like a shellfish into two parts: half of her he set up and ceiled it as sky, pulled down the bar and posted guards. He bade them allow not her waters to escape" (Tablet IV, lines 137-140).

Humans in the biblical creation myths are made from dust and divine breath, while in Enuma Elish, humans are created through violence: Marduk kills one of the rebel's from Tiamat's band and makes humans from its blood. The express purpose for the creation of humans in Enuma Elish is to relieve the gods of their work. Genesis 1-2 certainly has the idea of humans doing working (cultivating and keeping the garden and reigning over the earth), but it isn't work for Yahweh god, but simply the normal work of human life: cultivation for food and survival, care of other creatures, and the building of culture.

Humans in Enuma Elish are basically servants, while gods get to rule and feast and have awesome temples. The de-anthropomophization of Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible lets him be the divine creator king and frees humans to be the awesome, glorious, spectacular humans he made them to be. Yahweh doesn't need humans to serve him--they can just enjoy the world he created as long as they don't abuse their freedom and power.

We see more of this sort of thing in Genesis 1-2. Enuma Elish is the story of how Marduk became king of all the gods in Babylon (taking up residence in his temple), while Genesis 1-2 is a story about the establishment of humans as rulers on the earth, and (perhaps) the enthronement of Yahweh, but Yahweh's divine kingship is once again assumed more than broadcasted.

If Genesis 1-2 were primarily about the enthronement of Yahweh, we'd expect a fancy temple-building scene at the end like there was for Marduk. The god who creates the world is entitled to a temple and kingship. There's certainly temple language in Genesis 1, but it's much more subtle, and the creator god's kingship is presumed more than declared. The god in Genesis 1 creates the world by issuing commands much like a king, and at the end of his creation, he "rests" from his work in creating the world (Gen. 2 1-3). The language of "rest" often appears in Mesopotamian texts in reference to the idea of god's presence coming to occupy a temple. If this god is coming to rest enthroned in his temple, it's the temple of creation, which is the domain he's just given to the humans to rule. Is he threatened by this overlap in domains? Nope. He's happy to sit back and let humans rule.

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You Are a Transgression: A Poem

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You Are a Transgression: A Poem

You Are a Transgression

Imagine

you are a transgression,

Your body

       bursting at the seams,

       peaking out from hems,

       spilling out of necklines,

       onto man's territory.

 

Your mind is a revolt,

Your voice

        pushing against the order

              of silence,

        contradicting the terms

              of your confinement.

 

You are not

        a cup flowing over

        a light passing through a window

        a fruited vine crossing the borders of its field

               to feed the hungry.

 

You are too big

        for the  britches you may not wear.

 

You are not

        until you scale the wall 

        built by your accusers

        and cry:

Go fuck yourself.

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Your Body Longs to Feed the World

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Your Body Longs to Feed the World

I had the pleasure of writing the Wake Ups for Red Letter Christians this past week. This week's theme was food. You can read the Wake Ups in the archives here.

*

Food was my adversary for many years. I grew up eating lots of healthy foods, but had a sweet tooth and from a young age was heavier than most of my peers. As a teenager, I was prone to binging on sweets at parties and often felt bloated and like I wasn't really enjoying the food anymore (just kind of wolfing it down). I ate when I was bored. Or when I felt lonely.

I didn't feel like I could control my eating, so mostly I just ate anyway and tried to ignore as much as possible my own dissatisfaction with my body.  I held on to the gnostic myths that comforted me: that I would one day marry a missionary who wouldn't be so shallow as to care about externals. He would love me for my soul and my discontent with my body wouldn't matter so much anymore.

I think I knew that my disordered eating was a symptom of other pangs and longings, but wasn't sure how to address them. In the end (if we can call it an end), it was a long relational process (that began about 10 years ago) that helped me develop a healthier relationship with food and my body. As you might expect, it happened concurrently with other emotional development and healing.

As an undergraduate, I started taking morning walks for mental and physical relief (exercise became a habit). I grew intellectually through the courses I was taking. My year at Oxford, I had weekly sessions with a professional counselor to talk about the issues related to my parents' marriage and divorce. I started to take more of an interest in the world. I started to believe that I was a good person. 

Throughout that period, there were many ups and downs, some evenings still spent staring into the mirror, hands grabbing the flab on my belly, feeling guilty for eating too much. Feeling like I was terrible and now needed to lean into the terribleness. I've always had a fear of being boring, and this feeling was always exacerbated by eating lots of sugar. But those downs gradually came less and less. I learned to be more balanced in my eating. I took an interest in food as more than sugar or fat: in knowing what goes into it, portioning it so that my body feels nourished, and preparing it in ways that my taste buds are delighted and satisfied.

I have learned (for the most part) to enjoy food. The regularity of preparing and eating satisfying, well-balanced meals, and crafting a cup of coffee in the afternoon or evening, are rituals that ground me. Food is a major part of my self-care.

As my love and appreciation for food has grown, I've developed a heightened awareness of how important it is to both share food on a local level, and also be a part of efforts to feed communities across the world that suffer from lack of food. My food issues have always been related to excess and, in some ways, an irrational fear of lack that came from my own low sense of self-worth. I believed that I did not deserve to eat, that I was not worthy of having this basic and universal need met. I didn't think I deserved to be provided for, so I was afraid no one would provide for me, despite the reality of plentiful food sources.

I can only imagine (and not very well) how excruciating it is for those who suffer from hunger and starvation. The physical pain of your body deprived of nourishment is compounded by the mental sense of your own body devouring itself. Add to that the horror of watching your community starve and being powerless to feed it. Lack of food doesn't just destroy you physically, but cuts into the fabric of your communal life. Without food to share, without commensal meals, what holds your community together? Around what do you gather together? Your bodies are too weak even to work together as you once did.

If people like me can feel deeply neglected even though we have our daily bread and then some, how must those who are quite literally and physically abandoned feel? Can you believe in life at all when you are physically dying slowly and watching those you love die beside you? How can you believe that you deserve to be fed when no one is feeding you?

But then imagine, just imagine, that moment when someone brings you food. This, here, is the beginning of your new life. Today, you are fed by others. Tomorrow, you will plant. The day after, you will both feed and be fed. Your community has been torn apart by devastation and lack, but you will rise again. You will once more gather around the table to be nourished together.

And this is a day of liberation not just for those who suffered from lack of food, but for the people of excess who lived in the myths of their own scarcity. This is the day those with excess of food stop fearing lack, stop hording their resources, and begin to believe that the whole world deserves to be fed. They stop fearing that no one will provide for them and, instead, recognize that generosity does not lead to lack, but abundance.

I began this post thinking about the efforts of Preemptive Love to bring food and relief to communities torn apart by ISIS (and most recently their efforts to address the water crisis in Mosul). Food has deep theological, emotional, and social significance, and to me hunger around the globe has become deeply personal. I do not (and should not) feel guilt for the food security I have, only an intensified desire to do what I can to help others find safe and abundance spaces.

I encourage you to consider giving to Preemptive Love or other relief organizations you might know. You may not feel like you have much to give, but remember: you have more than you know.

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