FYI (for girls and boys)

So in the wake of one lady’s attempt to get her son’s Facebook friends to cover up (complete with bonus pictures of her topless sons), as well as one friend’s wife’s attempt to bring a little clarity to what it feels like as a Christian teen trying her best not to be seen as a hussy temptress, I’ve been thinking a lot about what responsibility women do have to their bodies.

Here’s the thing:  women have heard it all.  “Don’t be a stumbling block.”  “Don’t cause your brother to sin.”  “You have a responsibility.”  “If a guy sees your breasts he won’t respect you, you’ll forever be an object to him.”

I can’t help but remember one time when I was wearing a pair of hole filled jeans my brother had given me, and a band tee that was two sizes too big.  I remember walking around at a (Christian) music festival feeling pleasantly asexual, when one leering guy loudly said to one of his friends, “girl tries to hide it but I bet if you peel away the layers there is one sweet body wrapped up in there.”

God, I was so embarrassed.

I never wanted to be a sexual object.  When I was young, a so-called friend of my brothers grabbed the neck of my tshirt and pinched my ass and ogled my breasts.  It scarred me in a serious way.  Some girls, after something like that, choose to be sexy to feel in control.  I chose to be asexual until I was in college.  I’d dress in baggy clothes and keep my body hidden and blush for any attention at all.  Yet, guys still talked about my body.  Guys still asked to see my breasts.  Guys still obviously lusted for me.  So what was I doing wrong?

I would be openly, violently opposed to any male advances to the point that guys called me a lesbian.  Yet once, one drunk friend got me pinned in a corner and kissed me.  What was I doing wrong?

I was being female.

I realize now that it was all I ever did wrong.  I was a girl in a world that tells girls that their bodies are a problem.  Yet I cannot stop being a girl.

Here’s the problem:  when you tell a girl to cover up her body to keep men from stumbling, you are telling her that her body is a stumbling block.  Her body, which you also say was made to glorify God.  You give her conflicting messages, saying in one breath that her female form is a source of shame but also telling her that she should glorify God through childbirth.  As if the end result is holy (she will bear children) but the function itself is vile (she has an attractive body which she will give to a man in order to conceive.)

It simply doesn’t make sense.

Women cannot control men’s attraction.  Even by covering up.  The knowledge that the female body is possessed of breasts and a vagina does not fade just because they are out of sight.  Pure attraction, involuntary attraction, the longing of one body for another to touch, doesn’t fade no matter what clothing is involved.  The only responsible way to handle that primal, human, urging is by teaching our children what it means and how to control it in themselves.  Blaming it on females is recklessly irresponsible; especially, given the knowledge that males are not the only ones who experience it.  (Yet we do not caution our men to hide the traits which women most find appealing.  Imagine if we told our young boys to speak in high pitched voices, avoid growing muscles, and to disdain showing any affection or appreciation towards girls in order to protect girls from feeling lust!)

Women’s bodies should not be seen or treated as a source of shame.  Yes, I understand that in the Garden of Eden, after eating the fruit of the tree of Knowledge, both Adam and Eve felt shame in their nakedness and God clothed them.  Yes, that is all good.  But didn’t God at the same time throw layer upon layer of curses on them?  Are those curses, and that shame, things that we as redeemed people should embrace?  Absolutely not.  We have freedom from those curses, we seek out a more perfect state of being, one in which we can taste the taste of Eden and walk unashamed at the side of God.

Let me be absolutely blatant:  This fervent, senseless shaming of young girl’s bodies is a stumbling block to achieving that blessed state.

I would never unfriend a young girl who posted a coy selfie.  I would never tell my daughter that it is her fault if young boys see her as a sexual object, and I would never tell my son to blame a young girl for his attractions.  No.

No.

No.

I will tell my daughter that her body is a blessing and a beautiful gift.  That it can give her joy, it can give her future lover joy, it can offer comfort and safety and warmth.  Her body is capable of creating the miracle of life and her breasts are glorious gifts that can give sustenance to a child.  I want my daughter to rejoice in her body.  Will I explain to her about society’s expectations, and dressing in a way that people show respect?  Yes.  But I want her to understand that there’s a difference between dressing in a way that shows respect for your body and others and dressing to hide yourself.  Those two are not the same and should not be treated as such.

A woman who wears shapeless dresses and lives in terror of being seen as the sexual being that she is does not show herself, or others, respect by doing so.  She shows fear.

And I will explain to my son that the things he feels are not to be blamed on the people that incite them in him.  It’s not other people’s fault when he is sad or angry or bored, nor is it their fault when he is sexually excited.  They are his feelings, his to understand and his to control. Those feelings, when shared with others, can be a blessing or a curse.  I will teach him not to curse others with his sexual urges.

So, remember that your body is a gift, the feelings it can create in others and yourself are also a gift.  There is no reason to be ashamed of having that capability or feeling.  What matters is how you take responsibility for yourself.  You cannot take responsibility through blaming or shaming.  Women, dress yourselves with grace and love.  Men, treat your attraction with grace and love.

And don’t be ashamed.

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mistakes can be wonderful

You know how people say, “you have to walk before you can run”?  Before you walk, you have to fall on your butt.  A lot.  This is something that I’ve written about before, but usually in the context of art.  Before you paint the Sistine Chapel, you’re going to have to paint a lot of duds.  Yet, art isn’t the only place where that rule applies.  It applies in life as a whole.  Sometimes in order to learn how to be a good parent you have to realize the areas where you’ve been a bad one.  Sometimes to learn how to be a good employee you have to make mistakes and learn why and how not to make them again in the future.  To learn how to study well you have to, at times, fail at studying.  It’s a process, a long and complicated process we get started in from birth.  Trial and error, trial and error.  How do babies learn how to talk?  How to get what they need?  How to get from A to B?  How to get food into their mouths?  How to get a reaction from Mom and Dad?  Trial and error, trial and error.  Trying everything until they find the one thing that works.  Trying what they know and making mistakes, making mistakes, growing and perfecting.

We have to make mistakes.  We have to give ourselves permission to make mistakes, and we have to give others the right and choice to do the same.  One of the things that has always bothered me the most about living with other Christians is the fact that you inevitably have that one person who thinks they know how to keep everyone else from messing up their lives.  Talking to that person can sometimes start to sound like instant replay.  “Why did Jane do that?  That was such a mistake.  Oh, Bill, you really shouldn’t do that.  That would be bad.  And what was she thinking?  Why would he do that?  If only someone would listen to me.”

Well, they shouldn’t.  God created them to be a self-directed person, and you’re trying to steal their direction.  You’re trying to steal their choices.  Even if their choice is wrong, clearly wrong, spelled out in the Bible wrong, their choice is their gift from their creator.  And they need to make it.  If they never make their own choice, their own mistakes, how will they learn to listen to their conscience?  If they try to avoid mistakes by listening to others all they are learning is to trust your voice more than the one God put inside of them.

“But what if they keep sinning until the day they die?”

That question tells me several things.  First:  It tells me you don’t trust other people, which is sad.  Other people are God’s creation and he made them to do good works.  You need to trust that his creation is good, because he said that it was good and he doesn’t lie.  Second, it tells me that you don’t trust God.  You don’t trust that the things he made are good and you don’t trust that he is powerful and capable of ministering to those who seek his ways.  If someone is seeking to follow him and make right choices, then he will be there for them.  Third, it tells me that you may be confused about your role.  It isn’t your role to convict other people in their sins.  Yes, if you see someone reaching for a hot burner, warn them.  But unless they are a toddler don’t pull their hand away.  It’s their hand, and they have the right to burn it.  If you warn them and they get burnt they will receive conviction that you told the truth.  (Trust me.)

Even when it’s not sin, respect the fact that people can and must and will make mistakes.  They will marry the “wrong” person, they will have kids too young, they will go to the wrong school, they will accept the wrong job offer, they will dye their hair an awful color, they will wear clothes that embarrass them, they will flirt badly, they will watch horrible television, they will eat food that is awful for them, they will read bad books and tawdry magazines, they’ll invest in the wrong places, they’ll forget to save for retirement, they’ll party instead of studying, they’ll waste time on Facebook, and they’ll pay too much for cable television.  They’ll make any manner of mistakes.

Because it’s an expression of their humanity.  An expression of their journey to figure out how to live their lives.  A journey that God breathed into them and created them for.  A journey that in all of it’s ups and downs and mistakes was designed for his honor, because every time we recognize our own frailty we come closer to trusting in him and searching for his voice and call.

So make your mistakes, and I’ll make mine.  We’ll change and grow.  And if you have a friend who is about to make a grave mistake, by all means, say, “hey!  That’s a hot stove there,” and then back away.  Because maybe part of their story is being burnt, or maybe it isn’t.  But you’ll never know unless you let them live their story, and stay their friend long enough to hear it told.

Humane Anger

There are many verses in the Bible that caution against anger, some of which simply call it evil.  But there are also scads of verses dedicated to talking about God and His anger.  This has always interested me, because if we’re made in God’s image and He at times gets angry, then anger in and of itself can’t be evil.  Jesus got angry from time to time, too.  He cursed the fig tree, he overturned the tables of the money lenders, and he reprimanded his disciples and the Pharisees.  So what is is that we, as Christians, are supposed to do with our anger?  As I already said, the Bible seems clear that we ought to be abandoning it:

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret —it leads only to evil.  (Psalm 37:8)

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.  Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.  (James 1:19-21)

I’ve actually heard that verse from James quoted in a very different context, one that said that we should be getting rid of the sinners in our churches because we have to get rid of moral filth.  This is interesting, of course, because the verse is directed at the individual.  At the end of the day, aren’t we all a little filthy?  Don’t we all have to cope with things like anger and jealousy and ingratitude?

One thing that I have had to confront over the past few years in a rather harrowing way is my own anger.  Like many Christians, I felt like getting angry was a bad thing and it showed a fundamental flaw in my moral fiber.  As my marriage became more strained, I fought harder and harder to subvert my anger.  I became caught in an endless loop of feeling anger and frustration with my spouse but hating myself as a result of it, and that bitterness which I then self-directed became one of the leading causes in my losing a sense of my own worthiness as a human being and even, in a very dark period of my life, almost completely losing faith in God’s love for me.  Let me explain:  anger, in and of itself, is not evil.  Anger is an attribute of God which He Himself talks about.  Anger can be, in the right situation, a good thing.  The problem is understanding anger and it’s role in our becoming more righteous.  Anger is, essentially, a warning system.  When God becomes angry in the Bible it is a warning to sinners that they have moved too far away from His plan for their life.  Similarly, when we as people become angry it’s a sign that something is wrong.  The problem is using our anger in a righteous way.  Anger isn’t a tool which should be used to destroy others, but instead a tool which should be used to cut through the bull in our own lives and allow us to see ourselves more wholly.

Let’s go back to the problems in my marriage:  my anger was a natural response to the fact that something wasn’t right.  If I used my anger to attack my spouse I became a part of the problem.  So, in that sense, I was right to not want to be angry, because it was right to not want our relationship to be harmed.  But, on the other hand, by subverting my anger and pretending nothing was wrong I also became a part of the problem, because I destroyed the possibility of pinpointing what was wrong and using that knowledge to deepen my relationship with my spouse.  By denying my anger I ultimately put our marriage as close to ending as I would have by giving in to it, although it just took a little longer and I destroyed more of myself along the way.

Our anger is another part of how God made us, how He is made and how His Son is made.

Another problem with Anger is that if we try to ignore it, it tends to come out of us in unpleasant ways.  I can’t tell you how many times my son has exploded in anger at his sister, only to later confess that it was me he was angry with.  I’ve seen the same thing in the church when one person has been wrung out on the rack for sinning, and it turns out that the person who started the inquisition was guilty of the same thing.  I’ve seen it the most for pornography.  We need to learn that we can’t iradicate our own sin by attacking others.  Even if we beat the gay and the porn addictions out of every other person on the planet, if we ended the day still mired in our own filth we wouldn’t have won our way into God’s good graces.

So that anger you feel, from time to time?  That anger I feel?  We need to deal with it.  We need to sit in silence and let it work like a knife, cutting through all of the lies we tell ourselves to make it okay.  We need to ask, what is the real problem here?  What is it that I need to acknowledge?

Then, my friends, open your eyes.  Turn away from the anger knowing you can leave it behind, because you’re going to deal with your issues.  Make a resolution with yourself that you will not ignore your anger.  You will control it, you will command it.  You will not let it rule you, consciously or unconsciously.  You will set aside your anger and confront the problems in your life through love.

Not least of all on those days when our anger shows us that we are the problem, not our enemy.

The absolute necessity of compassion.

The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.  (Psalm 11:5)

Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked, from the plots of evildoers.  They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim cruel words like deadly arrows.   They shoot from ambush at the innocent; they shoot suddenly, without fear.   (Psalm 64: 2-4)

Most people, if asked, would say that they would never attack a fellow human being without provocation.  Ask them if they’d stab a gay person, or a poor person, or a person of a different ethnicity, and most people would answer with an emphatic negative.  The idea of casual violence is appalling, and with good reason.  Yet, we use our words for casual violence at times without even thinking of the consequences.  People will say, “all poor people need is a good kick in the ass”, or “gay people want to destroy traditional society” or “all liberals are bleeding heart dweebs” without any thought to the violence that those words carry.  In fact, often such statements will be vehemently defended as if they are not only true but necessary to be spoken.

There is nothing to be gained from words that seperate.  By marking the poor, or the gay, or the other political party as some “other” whose problems you can solve, you make them your enemy.  By making the poor, or the gay, or the ideologues your enemy you cut a chasm into any discourse which can only be breached through strenuous effort.  Such division is not only fruitless, because by making the ‘other’ in the conversation your enemy you diminish the chance that they will listen to you with an open heart, but it is evil.  There is no force on earth more destructive than discord.  It is discord that ruins marriages (not gays), that impoverishes the poor (not just lack of financial means), and makes the difference between a statesman and a political hatchetman.  How can heaping discordant words onto the discord of the world possibly be used to heal the problems that plague our society?  Does throwing gasoline on a fire put it out?

Compassion is not just an ideal.  Love is not just a word to be written with sweeping hearts and glitter on  a high school girl’s binder.  Peace is not just some hippie dream that common sense can do away with.  Love, compassion, and peace must necessarily be the driving force behind not just actions, but words.  We must speak them into being, hold them in our hearts, and summon them with the strength of all of our actions.  If we want to change society for the better the first thing we need to change isn’t our president or our banks or our constitutions to reflect better “values”.  We must change our words.  By speaking words of compassion and understanding, we can bridge divides and do away with the petty arguments that continue to move our larger social discourse in such dizzying circles.  We can stop maintaining the barriers that insulate rich from poor, straight from gay, and liberal from conservative.  We can finally start to get to a place where our actions can hold equal force to our words.  For if we speak words of violence, our actions inevitably follow in kind.  (Be it with picket signs or guns.)

I’m writing this as the first real post of the next era of this blog, because I want all of my readers to hold in their minds the greatest goal that I have as a writer:  I want you, dear reader, to feel the love that motivates my word and the sincerity of my conviction.  We can change the tone of the discussions that prevail in our society.  We don’t have to accept that social change is brought about by defeating the opposition.

Let’s love the world to bits and pieces, and build something better.

Learn Tolerance, or Die Alone.

(For Kelly.)

Ever had a conversation like this?

Man:  Tolerance is a destructive force.  It erodes true belief.

Girl:  If you never tolerate the other side’s point of view, how can you expect to have an honest debate about the issues?

Man:  I’m not going to tolerate false beliefs. How can you ask me to debate the truth?  The truth harbors no debate.

So…  Maybe I’m watering down the true content and exaggerating the real words said for dramatic effect- but the principle remains true to form.  One person takes deep offense at tolerance because in their mind it means allowing an offense to the truth to continue.  Yet, simultaneously he is asking that his own views be tolerated and accepted.  (Or even affirmed.)

Here is the question to ask that man:  Would you rather be right and alone, or tolerant in the company of others?  Because to be so unnassailably intolerant means a life of isolation.  Why?  Because when we go to the grocery store, we are practicing tolerance.  We are offering up money to corporations who do not necessarily support our point of view.  (If you are conservative, check the amount of stores who offer money to left-wing political lobbies- if you are left-wing, check the amount of stores who offer money to right wing political lobbies.  Most corporations do both.)  It is nigh near impossible to live in the United States of America without corporately endorsing tolerance.  Paying our taxes is also an act of tolerance- as I can guarantee that no matter your affiliation, politically or religiously, our government acts on behalf of those you disagree with.

You may say, okay, this kind of tolerance-by-six-degrees-of-separation is impossible to avoid and thus must be accepted.  But let’s take this a step further.  Let’s look at humanity as a whole.  Have you ever (even once) met someone with whom you fully agreed?  We can all find people who agree with our most closely held beliefs, but at some point every relationship experiences differences.  My spouse is someone who I agree with eighty percent of the time- but don’t for a second  believe that the other twenty percent is insignificant.  When it’s things like how to best make eggs, you can roll your eyes and let go.  But sometimes in even the best relationship there is serious disagreement.  What do you do then?  Demand the other person agree with your point of view?  Tear them down until they are forced to capitulate?  Scrape away at them day after day, trying to win them to your side by hook or crook no matter what the cost?

At some point, isn’t the cost of relationship tolerance?  Don’t we all have to love and accept each other despite disagreement, or never know love and acceptance at all?

Know who you really are.

I have a theory.  You’ll never find happiness and fulfillment if you don’t know who you really are.  You may be married to an amazing person, raising good kids, working a decent job, able to have time to relax and pursue other interests…  but if you don’t really know yourself, you’ll always hunger.

Our physical bodies have this amazing capacity to know what they lack.  That’s why we have an appetite. You may suddenly crave fresh fruit, or fish, or a cheeseburger.  And you may think, “ah, I’m hungry” and eat potato chips or a handful of vegetables or a couple of chocolates from your snack drawer.  Yet, you will continue to crave, even when your tummy is full.  Why?  Because you don’t really understand what your body is hungry for.  It may be telling you “more vitamins!” or “more fibre!” or “more iron!” and you are filling it up with the wrong things.  So even when it has an excess of calories, it still has a lack of the things it needs to be healthy.

Our daily lives are the same.  Our soul aches, and from that ache comes greed and jealousy and depression, or exhaustion.  We think that the answer is to work harder, to have more, to divorce the spouse that doesn’t content us, to sink money into hobbies that waste time but don’t fulfill.  We search and we ache and we feed our days with all of these things, but still go to bed feeling like something is missing.

Why?

We don’t really know who we are.  Like with our appetite, we lack the ability to listen to our soul and give ourselves the right priorities.  If you want to paint a painting that reflects your spirit and you settle for “practical” scrapbooking, you could spend a fortune in money and time and still feel unfulfilled.  If you’re working at a firm because you chose a profession that offers you stability and all your heart wants is to stand on the stage saying “that this too too sullied flesh would melt” (while rocking awesome tights), you’re going to go home every day feeling like a failure no matter how successful your career is.  You may be married to an incredible person, with wonderful kids- but if every day you carry wounds you are ignoring and never healing, your relationships will suffer.  The answer isn’t finding someone else who abrades you less- it’s dealing with why the abrasions are there.  And here’s the secret: your hurts, while perhaps incurred in the process of dealing with one person or another, may not be their fault.

The problem may be a kink in your own spirit which you simply ignore.

So what is the answer to better interpersonal relationships?  It’s not know other people better, or to choose better people to know.  It’s to know yourself, to heal yourself, to feed yourself the right foods.  Once you are strong and happy, you’ll be able to have a great relationship with even the most abrasive of people.  Why?  Because when you come from a place of strength, your strong heart bleeds happiness into everything you touch- even other people.  A weak heart saps energy and turns everything into dust.

So know your heart.  Feed it what it needs to be fed.  Once that happens, you will be indomitable.

Sin on a Sliding Scale

So this verse was recently quoted in a comment on my blog:

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

Actually, I added verse eleven for affect, because I feel it points out something important.  Such were some of them, just as such were some of us.  I find it interesting that the only time I really see these verses quoted are when people are rejecting someone.  When they are rejecting homosexuals and using it as a justification, rejecting a couple known to be having premarital sex, rejecting a drunk.  But what is this verse really talking about?  Not just a few specific kinds of sins, but of sins which all show the same thread: self indulgence.   People who prayed to idols wanted something.  “Fornicators” in that era didn’t think of the cost to their family’s social standing (and the same is sadly true of homosexuality at the time- you couldn’t be fulfilled without leaving the marriage that every man would have had).   The covetous?  Selfish.  Drunkards and Extortioners?  Selfish.

So what’s this verse really saying?  “Selfish people won’t inherit the kingdom?”  Why?  Because they aren’t looking out for the kingdom, they are looking out for themselves.

And yet that verse is generally brought up for a selfish means: to reject someone.

Now, let’s look at a few more sets of verses:

1 Peter 3:9-10

Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.

1 Corinthians 7:13-15

And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.  For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.

These verses, along with other verses, have been used for centuries to command wives to know their place and stay with abusive men.  Let me tell you a story.  I know of one church where a man was emotionally abusive to his wife consistently and physically abusive to her on occasion.  He would not take a reprimand about his behavior towards her.  He only showed an attitude of apology when she left- but as soon as she returned, HE returned to his manipulative and cruel ways.  Eventually she tired of the cycle, and she left him for good.  But what was the end of that?  Her church left HER, they rejected HER, because she wasn’t a good Christian.  Well, what about him?  What is Christlike in telling your wife she is worthless, in slapping her around and demeaning her in front of your children?  And yet, the verses that could (and perhaps in some situations SHOULD) be used against the abusive husband, the man who suffers from fits of jealous rage, are reserved for use with the homosexuals.

And the wife, the victim, is the one who is sent away

Please, someone, explain this to me.

Because I certainly don’t understand it.