The Author’s Note: “Son of God”

I have a new published work out – a short story, entitled “Son of God” in Mount Holyoke College’s literary magazine, The Blackstick Review. An excerpt:
  

“Son of God”

“Of Zebulun, fifty thousand seasoned troops,

equipped for battle with all the weapons of war,

 to help David with singleness of purpose”

– 1 Chronicles 12:33 –

 Zebulun, North Carolina, is the town that Israel forgot; the Wal-Mart parking lot stretches fatter than cars can fill, styrofoam cups piled beside crusting waste bins. There is not a truck without a Confederate flag or a church without a fire-and-brimstone mantle.

Nothing good could ever come out of Zebulun.

Joshua was about to turn eleven and, for his birthday, had asked for another My Little Pony doll. He imagined his own hair turning the same shade as the lilac hair that sprouted from her mane. He knew every song and every line from the DVD collection of the show his parents had first purchased for his sister some four years earlier.

His mother had taken him shopping for presents the Wednesday before his birthday. They were not of much money, nor of many options, so to the overflowing parking spots of Wal-Mart they went.

Joshua made a beeline for the toys section. His father had warned his mother that, being in middle school, Joshua had no business asking for toys anymore. But Joshua paid his father no mind, and so neither did his mother.

The cardboard sign for the Ponies had peeled, tight rows of brown corrugation interrupting the magenta and purple promises that “Friendship is the Best Magic of All!” A February birthday always meant the shelves were lean with all that had been pulled from deep storage after the holidays. None of the toys corresponded with the price tags and there were dents in the plastic casing.

Joshua, however, did not notice the desolation. With glee, he fingered the edge of the princess pony. The packaging was particularly damaged, which was probably why the doll was left in the wake of Christmas. Joshua looked expectantly at his mother. He lifted his eyebrows, a smile tucked in the corner of his face.

Joshua’s mother gave him a gentle grin in return, lifting the toy off the rack and leading him back to the checkout. The man running the register shot a questioning look at the doll, and then at Joshua, but he bagged it anyway.

Continue Reading … 

 

[SPOILER ALERT: the following author's note contains details from the full story!]

I don’t think it is my best work.

But it is the story i have tried to write all semester.

The assignment was to write a story inspired by a newspaper article. I was home for Jonathan’s birthday and the Durham Herald was unfurled on our kitchen table. I combed through, looking for something to supplement my usual off-beat attempted-humor. Instead, i read “When Reality isn’t Magical for Youth,” an op-ed by Lydia Lavelle. She was writing about an eleven-year-old boy who had attempted suicide after being bullied for loving My Little Pony.

I wept. He was only eleven years old. He was only eleven years old.

The story was born then, with only a few of the fact of Michael’s reality before me: he was eleven, he was bullied for liking “girl’s toys” and he had tried to kill himself. I know now, from following his facebook page,  that his youth group and church community has surrounded him and his family with true Christian love. I am so glad my story is not what really happened.

I want to make one thing very, very clear: my short story is fictional. It is not Michael’s story, i am not telling it for him, and you can follow his story and make a donation to support his recovery on MichaelMorones.org.

I wrote my story based on what i have seen and known growing up in North Carolina, growing up as someone who chooses Jesus and chooses love without seeing these choices as conflicting.

And as glad as i am that my story is fictional, i do believe the truth in it is, tragically, very real. 

I crafted the story intentionally to sound almost Biblical, littering it with so many references it clobbers any Biblical scholar over the head with symbolism. I did this because i think Jesus condemns hypocrisy as much as God loves all of us.

It fascinates me that people who read this story often assume Joshua, the little boy inspired by Michael, is gay. Though i am of the John Green bent that books/stories belong to their readers, i do want to say i never wrote this story with Joshua’s sexuality in mind. I wanted to dip into a deeper critique: that we associate gender so inextricably with sexuality, that we think feminine things are so degrading that boys liking pink things must immediately be of a “lesser” or “deviant” sexuality, that humans have the ability to so shame a little boy for loving something that he thinks his life is no longer worth living.

Of course the narrative of gay kids being forced in the closet by conservative Christian communities is a real thing. But what scares me so much is that the very idea of being gay – of being a feminine boy, of liking something designed for girls, God forbid – is so repulsive, so pervasive, that it drives children to suicide. At that point, though sexuality is important, the reality of a person’s sexuality becomes almost a moot point because the taboo has more power than reality.

I didn’t write this story exclusively to show how queer people ought to be loved by Christians the way queer people are loved by Christ. I wrote it to show what a culture of hatred, of homophobia and of exclusion, can do.

Because if we call ourselves Christians, we all have to remember that which Mother Theresa taught us: Every one of them is Jesus in disguise.

Jesus Loves Queer People! Reflections on the #UMassUnited Counter-Action to the Westboro Baptist Church

Almost a year ago, the amazing Rachel Held Evans wrote a piece on the CNN Belief Blog entitled “Why Millennials are Leaving the Church.” Of the many reasons she elucidates, she fundamentally argues that the contemporary church must be more authentic and, consequentially, extend Jesus-like love to all people:

“Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving . . . 
“What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance . . .
“We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.”

Last Wednesday, bundled in my wool coat against the (unwelcome) mid-April freeze, friends and i made our way to our neighboring school, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Two weeks prior, UMass became home to the first out Division I basketball player, Derrick Gordon. It was a huge moment for the Pioneer Valley, and a huge moment for breaking down homophobic barriers in a traditionally masculinist, homophobic space.

And not a few days later did the infamous Westboro Baptist Church announce that they would be making camp at UMass to protest Derrick’s courage. (Well, that’s not the way put it, but you know what i mean.)

I sprang into action, contacting as many of my Mount Holyoke friends as i could rallying around a counter-protest. Of course, the folks at UMass were doing the same thing, but rather than giving the WBC more airplay by orchestrating a massive counter-protest, these leaders created something called #UMassUnited. A movement, a march, and a rally focused on creating an uplifting, queer-positive space that celebrated the love between people of any gender and the love of our wider community. So that Wednesday, we MHC pilgrims rolled up with our poster boards and scarves ready to join their ranks.

We wanted to outshine the WBC so much that our love was greater than the hate they bore on their signs. We wanted to show that Derrick Gordon is a whole human being, whose sexuality should not have to be so politicized as it is only one facet of his identity. And we wanted to embrace all among us who were scarred by the venom spewed by the WBC.

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That night, watching video clips and reading articles covering the demonstration, i knew we’d been successful. Almost every news outlet mentioned the #UMassUnited protest before mentioning the five WBC people who decided to show up for twenty minutes across campus.

10259951_2266412825118_2675391619399941410_nI was quite chuffed to find my own sign was mentioned here, on LGBTQ Nation, and littered across Instagram. I meant every word and i was grateful that LGBTQIA people were so excited to see a Christian in their ranks.

But it was even more exciting to me to see how many other Christian signs there were in the crowd, people taking a stand for love and reclaiming a faith co-opted and corrupted by the likes of the WBC. Two of the speakers at the rally were pastors at local churches. The cohort of MHC students who i’d come with all bore signs with God-like themes: “God is Love” read one, another with 1 John 4:7 written out.

It never fails to amaze me, to humble me, and to keep me faithful when so many Christians come out for queer rights. And maybe this shocks me because, as much as i agree with Rachel Held Evans’ piece, maybe we are the majority. Maybe folks like the WBC have been given too much screen time and rallies like #UMassUnited aren’t as sensational to talk about.

10246297_2266228900520_6162120665235027386_nI meant the front of my sign. I still mean it. But i had also made my sign double-sided, in part because i wanted people to still read it when i held it up in the air, and more so because there is a second message i think necessary to the one “Jesus loves queer people.” On the back, i wrote “Jesus Loves ALL of US.

I was working very, very hard to mean the back.

The part about all of us. And as much as it singes my throat to admit it, all of us includes and included those five people from the Westboro Baptist Church.

The beauty of #UMassUnited was in the celebration of love, and in the refusal to give into the hate of the WBC. I may not welcome the WBC views, attitude, language, or theology. But i’m pretty sure Jesus would still welcome them to the table. Not out of approval of what they say, but because they, too, bear God’s image.

Whenever i am struggling to remember this all-embracing theology, i turn to one of my favorite human beings: Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In a sermon given in 2005, he made this radical statement:

“This family has no outsiders. Everyone is an insider. When Jesus said, “I, if I am lifted up, will draw…” Did he say, “I will draw some”? “I will draw some, and tough luck for the others”? He said, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all.” All! All! All! – Black, white, yellow; rich, poor; clever, not so clever; beautiful, not so beautiful. All! All! It is radical. All! Saddam Hussein, Osama bin laden, Bush - – all! All! All are to be held in this incredible embrace. Gay, lesbian, so-called “straight;” all! All! All are to be held in the incredible embrace of the love that won’t let us go.”

I love that. I love it because we have a religious leader who has fought injustice after injustice losing no steam as he fights the next battle. I love it because he says God loves terrorists, God loves us in our often fruitless labels.

And i love it because it means God loves broken me as much as She loves Derrick Gordon and those five people who came from the Westboro Baptist church.

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Watching Mom Get Arrested: Reflections from Moral Monday.

I was ankle-deep in mud, my clammy hands in knots as i looked for her brown-haired head. The crowd was making itself a Red Sea, an aisle split down the middle of rainbow flags and Have Mercy placards. “It’s not that bad,” the lady next to me was saying. “The handcuffs hurt, but the officers are all real polite. What’s her name?”

“Hannah.” I replied, still trying to get tippy-toed height to catch her eye. “Her name’s Hannah. She’s in the white stole.”

My mom, freshly-turned 50 and a lifelong goody-two-shoes, was about to get arrested.

The parting of the Red Sea.

The parting of the Red Sea.

Rev. Barber.

Rev. Barber.

There was a man at the podium bringing down the house with prayers for healing and reprimands for the NC Legislature’s racist policies. Rev. Barber, president of the NC NAACP stood directly in front of us, fingers tapping on his waiting microphone and looking solemn. Focused. His disgust at the NC Legislature calling the 1965 Voting Rights Act a “headache” rang in my ears.

In February of 1965, in Marion, Alabama, one of the most profound but least known civil rights marches took place. James Orange, a member of the SCLC, had been arrested for organizing a voter-registration drive. 400 people had gathered in the Zion Methodist Church in Marion to walk, peacefully, in protest of the arrest. A police blockade met their walk, wherein 50 state troopers descended wielding clubs on the unarmed crowd.

Jimmie Lee Jackson, a US Army veteran, was among the crowd. He took refuge in a café, where he was beaten and shot twice by state troopers. He was trying to protect his mother. He died from his injuries 8 days later.

Jimmie Lee Jackson was the first martyr killed in the fight for the Voting Rights Act.

And Governor McCrory has called this act “a headache.” In the same week that the US Supreme Court has, in the words of Justice Ruth Ginsburg, thrown out the umbrella in the midst of a rainstorm, the very reason the Voting Rights Act came to pass is under fire. The North Carolina Legislature is threatening to pass a Voter ID law under the so-called “Restore Confidence in Government Act.” The same act that would restrict/eliminate early voting – a tool used predominantly by students and racial minorities.

And the Legislature does so in the same breath that denies 17,000 unemployed NC citizens their unemployment benefits, what Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman calls a “war on the unemployed.” And refuses to expand Medicaid. Riding on the heels of last year’s viciously minded Amendment 1, which mandated the only legal union recognized by the state was a marriage between a man and a woman – denying rights to victims of domestic violence in unwed partnerships, same-gender couples, and anyone not wed in the eyes of the State.

And this is only the beginning of our grievances with these elected officials.

Last Monday, Jonathan and i sang our voices hoarse in front of the North Carolina Legislative Building. We’d gone to the growing Moral Monday movement with our friend Aaron, each bearing a sign condemning cuts to public school funds and demands for racial equality under the law. These gatherings are headed by the NAACP but comprise of every body of people from labor unions to Planned Parenthood volunteers to more clergy of all faiths than you could shake a Eucharistic loaf at.

Last Tuesday, my mother worked at her church’s food pantry – as she does almost every Tuesday. She goes, as the pastor, to pray with the people who gather for the food they need to feed their families. In her own words,

“[...] nothing in my life compares to what I hear in prayer time every Tuesday night. Last week, when I asked for prayer requests someone told me she was peeing in a can in her house because she couldn’t afford to have her septic tank cleaned out. The toilet was all stopped up, she said. Her prayer was that through God’s mercy SOMEONE would help her and her family out. [...] And the week before I prayed with a Latina woman whose son was being deported. Her tears dripped on my hand as I offered up a begging prayer for safety and mercy. What else was I to do?? I just didn’t know. I was so angry at our immigration laws and our sense of nationhood that supports them. I confess I was having a hard time loving the Pharisee in that moment…..but I prayed anyway and that prayer changed me.”

So yesterday, as i stood ankle-deep in mud, my mother clamped her hands in prayer and began to walk through that Red Sea. She began to walk for the women she prayed with on Tuesday, for her LGBTQ friends and family, for the unemployed and the suffering. I caught sight of her before she saw me.

In my head, i was still rubbing her arm at the legal briefing, singing and chanting not one step back! In my head, she was my Southern-lady mother who grew up on a farm in the rural south, a woman whose refusal to stand for oppression was born out of an acute understanding of what it means to be oppressed.

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At the pre-rally briefing, where all those volunteering to get arrested gathered around Rev. Barber.

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Guiding her to where she'd begin the walk into the Legislature.

Guiding her to where she’d begin the walk into the Legislature. Many thanks to my friend, Sara Beth, for taking this!

And then my eyes were full of her, full of her scared but determined face. Around me everyone yelled their thanks, their praise, their you-are-a-hero shouts.

We met each other’s gaze, each of us weeping with pride and humility and worry, and then she was gone.

Walking the gauntlet, she’d tell us later in front of the Wake County Detention Center. Walking into a building where they sang “Amazing Grace” and quietly were escorted, cuffed, out. Walking into a building where she would crack jokes with the police officers. She wrote later her heralding as a hero juxtaposed sharply with feeling like “an insignificant sacrifice.”

Many thanks to our friend Shay Hall, who took this picture within the Legislature.

Many thanks to our friend Shay Hall, who took this picture within the Legislature.

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The rally beside the Inmate Transfer Buses, where she & the other 80 participants were taken to the jail.

The rally beside the Inmate Transfer Buses, where she & the other 80 participants were taken to the jail.

My mother had a lot of privilege in getting arrested. Her job is not at stake, she didn’t have to post bail or even worry that her time in the Detention Center would linger longer than the night. She, praise Mother Mary, did not face the same fate as Jimmie Lee Jackson. The police officers that arrested her did not beat her with clubs.

We are white, cisgendered, middle-class American citizens. And we know that this gives us undeserved privilege often at the expense of people of color, trans* people, people without such job security or citizenship. We pray for a day when radical equality exists among all humanity.

We are not protesting as a means for speaking for people who cannot speak for themselves – marginalized people have their own voices that must be listened to. Not at all. We protest with uniquely our own voices, voices that are allies and amplifiers and advocates and women who won’t stand for such sexism, racism, homophobia, and greed. We protest next to signs that read: Non-theists have morals too! We protest knowing that the arrest of over 650 people now 9 weeks into these gatherings are not going to turn the tide overnight. We protest knowing our own humanness, our own frailty. But we protest, and we protest loudly.

She wrote: “I didn’t go to this protest because I dislike republicans. I don’t. It wasn’t because I love democrats. They, too, are politicians. Who I love and who I vote for every time is this God-human Jesus. I LOVE the politics of Jesus. I am smitten with his curious ability to love the leper AND the Pharisee. I want to be like that!! People like that can never keep their mouths shut!”

And i, i am grateful i have a mother who won’t keep quiet. Who practices what she preaches – literally. Who on her unsteady feet walked into a building where she knew she would face arrest. Who practices meek boldness, fierce conviction, and humble love.

That, truly, is the greatest privilege of them all.

For more on Marion, Selma, and a theological approach to the Civil Rights Movement, i highly recommend Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice From the Civil Rights Movement to Today by Charles Marsh to provide a comprehensive overviewFor more on civil disobedience, nonviolence, and the history of theologically-led political action, i recommend A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. edited by James M. Washington. 

Here’s the Huffington Post coverage of last night, as well our interview with WCHL.

Talking Taboo: The Big Announcement!

I’m seated in the church pew, unsaid words pressing against my clamped teeth. I’m chewing instead of talking for any number of reasons; i’ve had this experience so often i can’t delineate which memory belongs where. It could be a flagrant disregard of the female characters in the lectionary reading by the pastor. It could be a subtle refusal to even consider female pronouns for G-d in Sunday School. It could be when a member of the congregation makes a combo homophobic-sexist comment about a woman in leadership needing to be “straightened” out by a man.

I’m not in an obvious rage. It’s not always a rage – sometimes it is a thoughtful frustration. But the most important thing is that it’s quiet - i am quiet. I might rant, later, to my ordained-minister mother. She’ll remind me that women have come a long way since the days she couldn’t be a pastor by virtue of her gender. I’ll nod, but exclaim: “we’re not done yet!” If i’m being particularly good that week, i’ll pray. Pray for my anger, pray for the reasons i’m angry.

But i don’t start a conversation. My anger turns into silence, and this silence becomes the taboo i never dare to bring up with anyone who i suspect might disagree.

And the thing is, i know i’m not the only Jesus-lovin’ lady out there who feels this suffocation. I can’t speak for all women who encounter such prejudice – i can only speak for myself. And this what i have to say, boiled down to the basics: i have enough faith in Jesus and the Church that we, people of all gender identities, are capable of confronting the everyday sexism in Christian communities. Capable of engaging compassionately and critically in dialogue with one another about faith and feminism. I am capable of voicing my frustration, even when it requires boldness . It is time i stopped staying silent in the pews.

Because when a chorus of individuals share personal narratives, i think a truly transformative space for conversation can be created.

And that, i hope, is exactly what my co-contributors and i have done in a stupendously exciting new book. It’s called  Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, and it’s set to be published in October of 2013 by White Cloud Press!!

Forty women under the prowess of two fabulous co-editors, Erin Lane and Enuma Okoro, have each contributed their own story. An essay that embodies the marginalization they have faced because of a clash between our gender and our faith. In the spectrum of women represented there is an equally wide spectrum of perspectives – some claiming feminist as an identity, and some decidedly not. Women of many denominations, races, backgrounds, long publishing resumés and shiny-eyed newbies (like me!). Women coming  together to instigate a taboo dialogue.

A proper book! With a proper cover and everything!

A proper book! With a proper cover and everything!

But having a Big Conversation like this requires a lot more voices than the 40 contributors, which is why today we are kicking off an Indiegogo campaign to help launch Talking Taboo with a bang. It would mean the world to me if you would make a donation to the campaign. Your support helps generate conversation, and the conversation works to end these silences. As an added bonus, we’ve chosen May 7th because it is the feast day of Saint Rose Venerini, who was a teacher of girls & women.

As the youngest contributor to the anthology, i stand on the precipice of my adulthood filled with explosive hope because of my co-contributors’ courage. Having my own story shared in the company of women who have paved so much of the road before me humbles (and, if i’m frank, terrifies) me. Their courage leaves me cracking with expectation for the kind of boundary-transgressing dialogue this book will generate.

Mostly, though, i want to say thank you.

I said yesterday i have always wanted to be a published author. By the grace of G-d and some wonderful mentors, this book is making that happen. It’s people like you – friends, faithful readers, neighbors, kin, and internet-passerbys that empower me to keep writing in the spaces of silence. You are wonderful, and sharing this news with you wonderful people makes the excitement tremendously tangible.

So let’s go shatter some stained-glass ceilings, shall we?

For more information about the book: check out the campaign’s website!

Pre-order your copy of Talking Taboo on Amazon!

Like Talking Taboo on Facebook!

A prologue to today’s announcement.

current jam: ‘i wanna dance with somebody’ whitney houston!

 

Write Like Everything is at Stake: A Response to ‘The Pen is Mightier’ by Sarah Sentilles

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be truthful, gentle, and fearless.”

It’s no secret i have a great intellectual love affair with the writings of the Mahatma. Plastered on the cover of my notebooks are curlicued, hand-scripted quotes from his prolific works, laboriously detailed with ink and marker when preparing my school supplies for the semester. My study and subsequent commitment to a life led in nonviolent practice began with a sophomore English class study of Mahatma Gandhi’s life.

I don’t pretend the man was flawless, but i treasure his words. I treasure these words most when i am writing. Often i stare at the flickering cursor on a half-filled screen, repeating a mantra to myself: be truthful. be gentle. be fearless. Be unbridled by the possibility of failure. Be unafraid of honesty. Be loving. Be kind. Be fearless.

But sometimes, i’m not truthful enough with myself. I fret over participles, furrow my brow over clumsy phrasing – worrying my work will never be satisfactory enough. My stomach churns and i turn instead to making cups of tea or re-organizing the bookshelf. Tangible tasks that enable me to see an end. Clean, unperturbed by the messy process of discernment and requiring little courage. Sometimes the task of writing even a small term paper seems daunting, because i fear my own inadequacy will rob my ideas of their merit.

And yet, writing is an addiction. Writing for me is more than an academic requirement; it is a passion manifested in leather-bound journals tucked in all years of my life, photos infused with words scattered to the four winds of the internet. The torturous stomach clenching and tea-making is a ritual i thrust myself through in unending cycles of crumpled paper and tossed-out ideas, for no simpler reason than writing is what my life depends on. The way to make sense of a half-filled cup emptied by my Earl Grey consumption. The way to cope with the millions of burning words from the authors on my bookshelves. It’s a religion, it’s a way of coping with and being religious. It’s my sacrifice and my offering.

Though i do not know the path my life from hence will take, i am certain writing is central to the journey.

But the fact remains: women writers face an inordinate amount of sexism, bigotry, and misogyny in the publishing world. And women who write within religious spheres face a double-scrutiny of secular and sacred sexism. I recently stumbled across a brilliant piece by Sarah Sentilles on the Harvard Divinity School Bulletin entitled “The Pen is Mightier: Sexist Responses to Women Writing About Religion” (thanks to a tweet by my friend Erin Lane). I highly encourage you all to read the entire piece. In it, Dr. Sentilles articulates her frustration with sexist reviews of her most recent work, Breaking Up With God: A Love Story. She uses this personal example to engage in a critical conversation with the scope of sexism women writers have faced and continue to cope with:

“Unfortunately, this distrust of women’s words and the assumption that women do not know what they are talking about, no matter what their credentials or expertise or experience, are widespread in the literary establishment (though they are often coded as ‘reasoned critiques’). “

This distrust of the validity of women’s words isn’t news to me; i’ve been working to live into my feminist consciousness actively since that same sophomore English class in high school. I work for both the on-campus Speaking, Arguing, and Writing Center as well as for Women’s Voices Worldwide, a nonprofit that empowers women to use their voices most effectively within all spheres of communication, with particular attention to the double-standards women in public speaking face. My focus within my religion major is on gender and sexuality. My copy of Mary Daly’s Beyond God the Father is a highlighter and post-it note war zone.

But more than all of these put together, i have to defend my arguments and theological ideas daily by virtue of my gender. I claim saying “mankind” excludes me based on my sex, and somehow i’m whining or “overthinking it.”If i speak with too much authority, i’m pushy or aggressive. If i’m meek or apologetic in my tone, my opinion is overlooked.

Despite my sometimes crippling self-doubt or imposter syndrome, i refuse to be too afraid to not say anything at all. I will not apologize for speaking my mind. This doesn’t make me perfect, or always right, or better than anyone else. It means i refuse to buy into the idea that i should sit tight and hope for the world to change all on its own. But, as one of my favorite feminist authors Audre Lorde, once wrote in her essay “Uses of the Erotic,” women so empowered are dangerous. The threats against us magnify when we refuse to comply with sexist standards.

Writing and speaking out when we are told we aren’t good enough to is the exact reason we should keep talking. Dr. Sentilles articulates that:

“Those who have written from the margins—feminist and womanist and liberation theologians, black critical theorists, postcolonial theorists—have always recognized the need to write as if their lives depend on it, because their lives often do. Words are world-creating and world-destroying; they can be used to liberate and to enslave.”

To write can be a way to dismantle the master’s house with tools the master never wanted us to have. As quoted by Dr. Sentilles, Mary Daly wrote “[t]he liberation of language is rooted in the liberation of ourselves.” We begin our deconstruction of internalized misogyny in utilizing our voices.

But what about the days when i never get past the tea-making? When the writing sits, untampered and untouched and unpublished, because i feel like it’s senseless or pointless or wrong? I don’t claim everything i write to be publish-able or even good. We all have to slug through the suck sometimes to make a breakthrough.

I’m not convinced, though, that my personal self-doubt is a symptom exclusively of a universal writing process. This very essay is not up for any kind of major publication par to Dr. Sentilles’ works, and yet her articulation about the faceless, sexist trolling of the internet and anger at unjust critiques resonated deeply with me. The writing process may be a freeing space,

“[b]ut what happens when your words are published? What happens when they are released into a sexist world, into a patriarchal culture in which reviewers and anonymous trolls have the power to frame how your writing is received? Writing this essay has been a powerfully liberating experience for me, but it is also terrifying. I was supported as a feminist when I was a student at Harvard Divinity School, but I was also disciplined for being a feminist, and I worry that I will be disciplined for writing this essay. I expect to be called whiny and strident and annoying and grating and hysterical and uninformed. I expect to be told I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

I so identify with everything she says here, from the trolls of the internet (i’ve been told i’m “too hot to be this smart” and i’ve been likened to a Nazi more times than i can count for saying patriarchy exists – because, apparently, calling out sexism as wrong is equivalent to mass genocide) to the simultaneous terror and liberation of writing. It’s almost meta, writing this, because as i do i wonder if the comments section will be filled with chastisement for talking about religion or gender.

In another portion of the article, Dr. Sentilles discusses how death threats have become normalized for women content creators on the internet. This past summer, one of my favorite vloggers, Laci Green, went offline for a few weeks because the police were investigating anonymous death threats that were sent to her accompanied by pictures of her apartment building. Laci, fortunately, is now back with a swing and fearlessly continuing to make her sex positive videos on YouTube. But the fact remains: she should never have been threatened like this in the first place.

Seeing what happened to Laci fills me with dread and hope. Dread that it happened. Hope that she persisted in putting content online despite the threats.

And ultimately, i have to chose to live in that space of hope. If i see only the bullying and violence women face, i miss the whole point of Dr. Sarah Sentilles’ article and Laci’s refusal to give up her online career. Right after Dr. Sentilles articulates her fear that she will be told she doesn’t know what she is talking about, she enumerates:

But I’m also hopeful that this essay will encourage people to engage in a conversation about what to do next, about how to respond concretely to sexism in the literary world—and to the sexism in our syllabi and on our reading lists for general exams, in the language of our liturgies and in the leadership structures of our communities and churches and synagogues and mosques. Because, really, when it comes right down to it, there isn’t much to argue with here. I am simply sharing data, stating facts. Facts that aren’t new. Facts that have been stated and restated for decades, for centuries.

I especially love the facet of conversation in responding to the sexism women writers (and content creators) face. In fact, it was this very prompting for a conversation that made me sit down and write this. I’m be-lieving i have something, as a young feminist and aspiring theologian, to contribute to this conversation. I’m choosing to not buy into imposter syndrome today.

Dr. Sentilles’ whole essay engages in the history of women writers, from Mary Ann Evans (a.k.a George Eliot) to today. Women have been coping with these double-standards in speaking and writing for as long as people have had voices, and the time has come for this conversation to radically grapple with the subtleties of such prejudice. For women who write about religion in particular, this has to occur in places wherein our faiths hinge: sacred spaces. Sacred places of worship, sacred places of conversation.

For, the fact remains: the work of feminism is not done. And, frankly, i don’t think there will be a time in my life when i look around and say “this is it, we’ve reached equilibrium.” But that is all the more reason to continue to try. To continue to write letters to the editors of magazines where reviewers use sexist language or the authorial staff is predominantly cisgendered men. To continue to engage in uncomfortable dialogue. And this means incorporating male-identified allies. It means educating ourselves and others in this transformative process. It means being in sisterhood with one another, in engaging critically with women writers and supporting one another as creative be-ings in a complicated world.

I think, for me, it means taking to heart the words scrawled on my Intro to Islam binder: “Be truthful, gentle, and fearless.”

Be truthful: expose the sexism, especially where it hurts. Be gentle: love yourself, even on the days when the critics are going for the jugular or the words just won’t come. Be fearless: write like everything is at stake, fierce in conviction.

best thing: work & the internship.

current jam: ‘shake it out’ florence + the machine

Why “Feminist” Theologies?

My coursework this semester has thus far been (a) curl-in-a-ball-of-anxiety overwhelmingly large in its stack of readings and paper-writings and (b) simultaneously the most exhilarating ride i’ve yet had academically at school. Considering how madly in love i am with Mount Holyoke – and that a certain religion class second semester my first year is what prompted many of my early blog posts – this is of weighted significance to me. There is never a way to do all of the reading expected of me (and never has been) unless i were to sacrifice all mealtimes and sleep, but discerning what is of the utmost priority has been excruciatingly difficult. I just really, really love it all. I truly feel the coursework i am doing now will directly apply to my thesis next year and, transitively, to the work i aspire to accomplish in the acquisition of a Ph.D. So this struggle to read it all out of unbridled love is a marvelous gift of a dilemma.

But something is still nagging at me.

Easily one of my favorite classes is a seminar entitled “Feminist Theologies,” taught by one of my most most most favorite professors to have ever graced academia. (For liturginerd friends, we just finished Texts of Terror by Phyllis Trible and are well on our way into Audre Lorde!). Presently, i am making my way through one of my favorite theological texts: Beyond God the Father by Mary Daly. To say i think Daly is one of the most critical, important, brilliant, and linguistically creative theologians of the twentieth century is a mild understatement. Though i have plenty of contentions with her work (as, i think, she would approve of considering the whole idea of a feminist space is one of lively discourse) i think her presence in the women’s movement and in the Church is fundamentally revolutionary.

And nothing speaks to me more of her relevance, even today, than this selection from “Chapter One: After the Death of God the Father,” first penned in 1973:

“The unfolding of God, then, is an event in which women participate as we participate in our own revolution. The process involves the creation of a new space, in which women are free to become who we are [ ... ] The new space is always located ‘on the boundary.’ Its center is on the boundary of patriarchal institutions, such as churches, universities, national and international politics, families. Its center is the lives of women, whose experience of becoming changes the very meaning of center for us by putting it on the boundary of all that has been considered central. In many universities and seminaries, for example, the phenomenon of women’s studies is becoming widespread, and for many women involved this is the very heart of thought and action [ ...] By contrast, many male administrators and faculty view ‘women’s studies’ as peripheral, even trivial …” (Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father, Beacon Press, Boston, 41). 

To me, this begs a question that is tugging at my heart: why does Mary Daly have to be qualified as a “feminist” theologian? Certainly more close to my heart, why is that i always feel i have to qualify that i want to study feminist theology in graduate school? I know that qualification is one i am in control of professing, but it feels necessary that i denote my interest is in the study of egalitarianism and struggles for subverting oppression within the canon of theology. And, at least for now, i think the best label is “feminist” theology.

But i can’t help but feel this is, in some way, buying into this marginalization Daly is critiquing. Sure, she’s writing about the academy within a framework of religious patriarchal oppression, but social structures exist because we all play a part within them.

And i truly feel that Mary Daly is a landmark theologian for her critiques of patriarchy, misogyny, and the marginalization of women in the Christian faith. These criticisms are no less revolutionary than Luther with his 95 theses articulating his frustrations with malpractices in the Catholic church of the sixteenth century. The parallel that both Daly and Luther were practicing Catholics is not one that i think ought to be lost on us, either.

And yet, Mary Daly is studied in a context of gender and religion, rather than the scope of all theological history because, apparently, her words only matter if you’re into that sort of thing. The fact of the matter is, though, that gender and sexuality are an inextricable part of our lives. Gender informs the way we interact with other humans, larger social institutions, and thus our faith (or lack thereof) in whatever tradition practiced/not practiced.

Isn’t this qualifier of “feminist” theologian boxing her in within the religious study of theology the precise way she is critiquing the academy for pushing the study of gender to the boundary?

To be fair, i’ve not taken theological courses at a Divinity School. I’ve not done a comprehensive study of all theological courses across the country or world. So maybe i’m railing against a system that is undergoing important and necessary change.

But even if i am utterly mistaken and, in fact, we’re all secretly reading our womanist and feminist and gender study readers by flashlight late into the theological evenings, that doesn’t change the point Daly is making. And that was forty years ago.

So is the feminist qualifier necessary? Does it mark the boundary of people of all gender identities fighting for an egalitarian space within the framework of larger social institutions? Or does it continue to marginalize such ideals to the boundary of mainstream discourse? Can feminism even be used inclusively, when Daly herself was intensely critiqued by her contemporary, Audre Lorde, for her lack of accounting for the experience of women of color?

current jam: “apertura” gustavo santaolalla

best thing: celebrations.

Love is Stronger than Hate.

Today i went to a protest calling for the repeal of Amendment One in Raleigh, the capitol of North Carolina. Though we were a small crowd, we were a mighty one – and we were enough to require a police escort. Whether they were more there to protect us or watch us, i was unsure, but either way i was glad of their presence. I re-used my sign from election day as i left from work directly to pick up my friend and drive to Raleigh, so it was a little out of place (but the message remained, so i didn’t care too much).

We walked all through the center of Raleigh, chanting things like “love is greater than hate, separation of church and state!” We got some exuberant, gleeful honks from people driving which was so satisfying. There were some nasty looks, but i didn’t care. We were peaceful, if not a little loud, and i felt so sure of what we were doing that the nasty looks didn’t matter.

It was wonderful to be a part of a movement for equality and, while i don’t think we necessarily changed anyone’s minds i still feel what we were doing was important in its own small way. In the midst of a state that legalized such prejudice, we few took a public stand saying we disagreed. And that was enough.

Friends don’t lend friends remain silent in the face of inequality.

If you’re interested, News 14 Carolina covered the event, including a close-up on Faith’s poster (and if you look closely you can see us marching!).

Hate with Hate Won’t Work: Marriage Equality and Where We Go From Here.

I’m the first to admit i was infuriated and despondent in the wake of the (albeit expected) news of Amendment One’s passing. It was crushing because, more than anything else, i knew we hardly stood a chance in defeating it – but i had genuinely hoped that we could overcome the odds. I knew my despair was shared among many: my new feed was cluttered with colorful language and statements of disappointment over its passing, for which, i won’t lie, i took some real comfort in. But there was also a lot of hateful slanders from these very people against those who had voted for the amendment, which was far from soothing. Rather, images that compared the counties who voted for the amendment and counties with the highest concentration of college graduated with snide captions over the lack of formal education breeding stupidity left a sour smell in my nose.

For even in the midst of this hurt we all shared, an oft-quoted line from  Dr. King’s speeches and published works came to mind: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 

In responding to those who voted for the amendment with spiteful comments about the low percentage of people with college degrees who populate their counties, or snarky remarks concerning their personhood, we are fighting hatred with hatred. Do i think they should have voted otherwise? Of course i do. Does this make me entitled to sneer and be as equally cruel towards them as they are to me? Absolutely not. Such an argument makes me no better than they are. It may be the easy choice – to go for the low blow, take the hard-hitting swing, but such a smack speaks more of my unchecked privilege than it declares my allegiance to fighting for justice.

Besides, the comment most especially concerning college education is inherently incredibly classist, and it shows the nastiest side to liberal intellectualism. It’s the we’re-better-than-you-because-we’re-enlightened argument which (hello!) is the same premise under which the anti-marriage-equality campaign is founded. Both arguments are praising an institution (the church vs. higher education) and both drive a divisive line between “us” and the ungodly “them.”

Which is why i was not comforted, vastly, by these statements. In the moment it may have been satisfying, but that’s the thing about the path of nonviolence: it is a way of life for courageous people, ergo it is not easy. I’m not trying to say everyone should believe in nonviolence or think like me (because who am i to tell you what to think?) but i do think if we’re going into this fight for the long haul, we ought to look to our forbearers and glean what wisdom we can from their victories. The last time North Carolina amended its Constitution it was to ban interracial marriage. I think, then, the ancestors we must turn to are not from the distant past, but from the immediately preceding history wherein people of all colors stood together to fight institutionalized racism. I personally thus find Dr. King’s words to be all the more relevant.

Yesterday, though, the country took a turn when President Obama publicly announced he was for marriage equality. To be totally honest, my initial reaction was: “About damn time, Mr. President!” But the importance of what he was doing still resonated deeply with me. The timing of it, coming so close after the loss in NC, was clearly artfully planned – but also an enormous risk. North Carolina is a swing state in national elections; we may have voted Democrat for the first time in sixty years in 2008, but that’s no guarantee we’ll do so again. In lieu of the tremendously powerful conservative vote displayed in Tuesday’s gubernational election, i think what President Obama did was a bold, and thus all the more commendable, action.

But he’s not the only one working for this. The most powerful response to Amendment One’s passing that i have yet seen came from an Episcopal bishop,* Bishop Curry of North Carolina. His words are pointed at all sides of the fray; he takes a religiously-founded stance for marriage equality but also holds his comrades in this accountable in decrying those who have said hateful things to the people who voted for the amendment. Whether or not you’re a person of faith (and not that my opinion on your autonomous decision matters but, for the record, i still love and value you and your rights even if you are not a person of faith) i highly encourage you to watch his response.

Most of all, however, i know i need to remember the humanity present in all of us. This isn’t a one-time, lizzie-writes-a-blog-post-and-is-now-a-saint thing. Rather, i know for myself i must choose to recognize this humanity in all of us every day – and most of all on days when this fight is exhausting and hurtful and i am at my most vulnerable. But in the words taken from the essay “Gandhi and the One-Eyed Giant,”by freedom fighter Thomas Merton: “love triumphs, at least in this life, not by eliminating evil once and for all but resisting and overcoming it every day.”

further things of interest: a petition to repeal amendment one; also, a counter-voice critiquing the slippery language of president obama’s marriage equality statement.

current jam: “tomorrow will be kinder” the secret sisters, from my playlist in response to the amendment’s passing.

*For friends who may or may not know: the Episcopal church has been at the forefront of the religious fight to ordain people of queer identities (you can be gay and/or female and still be a priest in the Episcopal church).

North Carolina, You Failed Us Today.

So the lousy, bigoted, harmful amendment passed.

But don’t worry, Carolina. We’re going to cry into our bowls of Ben & Jerry’s marriage equality ice cream, mourn the loss of a step towards equality, and properly sob over your royal screw-up today.

And then we’re going to come back swinging.

My history teacher in high school used to sing this song every time we talked about an oppressed group of peoples rising up and overthrowing those in power in the name of justice. As cheesy and pandering as it may seem, it feels like the only song that’s appropriate right now.

So, go ahead Twisted Sister. Let’s fight institutionalized prejudice together and look fabulous whilst doing so:

(also, if you want more music to angrily drink your merlot to, i made a whole playlist here. it could use your input. okay. back to the ice cream).

Reflections on May 8th: Halfway Through.

I am not, by definition, a morning person; in fact, i find it something of a drudgery.

However.When my alarm blared on at 7 am this morning, i awoke with an uncharacteristic jolt of kinetic energy. It was one of those rare mornings that i awoke simultaneously feeling as though i had not slept at all – that the buzz and whir of preparing for the day ahead were a continuum in which i ran – and yet i felt deeply refreshed and ready to face the morning, coffee or not. The reason for my awakened state was that, as you no doubt have already gathered, today, Tuesday, May 8th, meant the North Carolina primary was coming to a close. Amendment One’s status still stands in limbo.

Though i knew i’d probably be tabling/campaigning against Amendment One alone as the rest of my family had school and work to tend to, i wanted to vote with my mom. My first time voting was a pretty big deal to me, and i like to share accomplishments with the people whom i love. This, paired with a desire to talk with as many people as possible, encouraged the early wake up call.

I dressed listening to recording of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches mixed into a playlist of the 2010 FIFA World Cup album, allowing the thrum of Dr. King’s words and the jubilant choruses of the songs to fill me. Everything about my outfit was intentional – my shirt, a gift from a friend at school, was from the Protect ALL NC Families coalition and a bright blue with white ink. I wanted to wear a red headband and belt so as to have all the American flag colors – something i don’t even do for Independence Day, but i found all the more important when dissenting with the popular legislative opinion. It may seem silly to dwell on such details, but the intention was so purposeful i wanted to share. Besides, i think it was former NYC Mayor John Lindsay who once wrote “dissent is the highest form of patriotism” (though this is oft attributed loosely to Thomas Jefferson). I thus felt more patriotic today than i have ever felt before.

After breakfast, mom and i headed to the polling station wherein she announced to all in the vicinity it was my first time voting. My cheeks thus matched my headband, but it was with delight i checked in and took up my ballot. Needless to say, the first circle i filled in was “Against.” Sticking that ballot into the counting machine as voter number 220 was incredibly satisfying; getting my sticker made it all the better.

(i’ve been waiting for one of these since i first saw my dad wearing one whilst i was still in elementary school!)

with the long-coveted sticker! thanks for taking the photo, ma!

After voting, mom had to go, and so i joined the sole campaigner outside with a sign i’d spent the night before creating (see below). She was terribly nice to let me sit with her, and for her company i was most grateful. We conversed about the implications of the amendment for several hours, she handing out flyers to ingoing voters and i smiling and waving to the people whom i did and did not know. Being Chapel Hill, there were an overwhelming number of people who applauded us for sitting outside the polling place, with commending comments and thanks for tabling. Between the pair of us we got more thumbs up than i can recall. We thanked each person for voting.

It did, however, take a considerable number of people a moment or two to figure out what my sign meant; i could clearly see the squinting and apprehensive looks at the word “Jesus” before they reached the ending phrase “Vote Against.” Some scoffed. I got a few nasty, nasty looks and pursed lips – even from people whom i know. A few, though not may, refused to even make eye contact. But most people broke into smiles, nodding approvingly. One woman even stepped out of her car to thank me for “speaking of the Love of God.” Hearing this, paired with the sobriety and gravitas with which she said it, was pretty powerful for me. I don’t even know her name.

I had selected my words very carefully for my sign, because i knew as a student of Religion and an unyielding believer in human rights that i wanted to make a statement that fundamentally challenged the notion prevalent in this country that marriage, as ordained by law, was subject to church authority. Deeper still, i wanted to subvert the idea that Jesus of Nazareth hated anyone, and that all people of faith (regardless of who or what this faith might be in) are not homophobic and hateful. I know i am not alone in thinking this, as the Protect ALL Families coalition has actively engaged the faith community across the state. More than anything else, though, when the people campaigning for Amendment One showed up waving their banner saying God only loves people who are in heterosexual marriages, i wanted to stand in sharp, pointed contrast.

I didn’t know if any pro-Amendment One folks would be there with signs, but when they arrived and rolled out their cardboard poster i was glad (if not a little scared) to be a counter-voice. I don’t claim to be the voice, or to articulate any opinion other than my own. But i am a voting voice, and a voice of a person of faith, and most poignant today i am a voting voice who believes no single institution or person has the right to infringe upon someone else’s liberty, particularly when such opinions stem from a place of fear.

Around noon, though, i realized i’d left my water bottle at home (rookie protestor mistake) and, in the knowledge i’d be more useful hydrated than in a hospital suffering from heat stroke, i bid my new friend adieu and headed home where i now sit, writing to all of you. At present, it is almost 2 PM and i’m contemplating where to go in town next after the rain lets up a little (i’m thinking downtown). Again, if you have not already voted Polling Places don’t close until 7:30 PM so please do not leave this one up to your peers to decided. The odds are not in our favor, but we can do this. If you need more information on how to find your Precinct, you can go here.