Men. Women. Society. Meh.

First, I have to say that I understand why the #NotAllMen backlash is happening.  It’s a frightening thing to feel that you may be unwillingly drafted into a bitter generalization.  The immediate response is to say, “not me, right?”  But, friends, that doesn’t mean it is the right response.  Let me illustrate with a story.  The college campus I work at has a majority of Hispanic students, and the Writing Center where I work is often a home-away-from-home for students that are looking for a quieter environment to study.  This is a good thing, as we work hard to create a safe and comfortable atmosphere for our students. Sometimes that safe and comfortable atmosphere lends itself to somewhat uncomfortable conversations.  For instance, once I was sitting at the front desk when a handful of Latina girls started talking about their frustration with a particular instructor.  Soon that conversation ballooned into their frustration with the attitudes they encountered as Latina students in a world that seemed stacked against them, where men and white women seemed to hold all of the power and they were minorities on many levels.  It wasn’t long before they were talking about how white women don’t seem to understand how much luckier they are than women of other races and cultures.  And I was itching, absolutely itching, to join in the conversation and talk about how many odds I had to face and to more or less ask, “not me, right?”

Thankfully something told me to hold my peace.

The conversation wasn’t about me and shouldn’t have been about me. I learned something.  Despite all the hardships I faced, the fact that I’m attractive and white has definitely helped me to edge out other women who are just as deserving as I am, but just happen to have darker skin and rougher features.  My whiteness has benefited me, but I’ve been allowed to ignore that fact and focus on the areas that are still a struggle: that I’m a woman, that I’m a returning student, that I’m a mother.  Because I do face prejudice I can take it for granted that I also have a great deal of privilege.  

Let me repeat that:  I have a great deal of privilege.  I have the benefit of pale skin and a middle class upbringing that allows me to sidestep institutionalized prejudice.

So, men, I’m going to try to say this all as kindly as I can:  You have the privilege, you have the power.  Like me, you don’t have to think about your privilege because from your perspective it’s just how life works, and you can drum up a million examples of struggles as evidence that your privilege isn’t complete.  Yet, despite all evidence to the contrary, you have privilege.  And the only way you will learn to appreciate that privilege is by listening to the other voices in the room without exerting your ability to co-opt the conversation.  I get that you wonder, “are they talking about me?”  I get that you see the anger unfolding and you don’t want to be subjected to it.  I get that you may even be angry that you feel like you are having to shoulder some of that bitterness unwilling and undeserved.  The truth is that you will now know whether or not women are talking about their experiences with men like you until you take the time to actually listen.

Please.

Just listen.

Now, my lady friends:

Don’t shut up.  Please don’t shut up.  The worst part of the institutionalized misogyny of our culture is the way in which it robs us of our voices because we are trained to expect every outcry to be met with criticism and scolding.  Even when we’re assaulted, even when we’re raped, even when we have blood and bruises to demonstrate the wrongs against us we still have to prove that we are victims.

We learn, pretty quickly, that things heal better if we nurse them in silence.  But, that silence leaves us at risk for greater pain.  So do not, ever, shut up.  

When I was seventeen I went to college for the first time.  I thought I was ready, but I wasn’t.  Stress and poor grades and frustration led me to drop out a semester in.  Or, at least, that’s the story I tell.  But really, I may have done a lot better if a few weeks into my stay there I hadn’t been assaulted by someone I thought was my friend.  Now, I was told that it was my fault for being alone in a room with him.  I was told that it was my fault for dressing provocatively.  (In jeans and a tank top?)  I was told that it was my fault for “leading him on” or not “reading the signals.”  And for a long time, I did believe that it was my fault.  

It wasn’t until recently that I put any amount of thought into how twisted it was that this guy, who stuck his hands down my pants uninvited, was treated like a victim of MY sexuality and naivete and everyone, even my girlfriends, played along.

Thank God my brothers had taught me how to throw a punch.  But, even so, I was lucky.

In the movies, girls sit around sipping cocktails and talking about when they lost their virginity.

In my own experience, we show each other our scars and speak in hushed voices.  We each share our stories of assault.  Rare, very rare, are the girls that have no such story.  We imagine such girls like birds of extravagant plumage, floating down from heaven, like unicorns or mermaids, creatures of fantasy.  We imagine unstained girls as such because we do not known these women.

Yes, all women I know have a story of the time that they were handled roughly by men.  Maybe a husband, a lover, a father, a brother.  Maybe a stranger on a bus.  But we all have our scars, and many more of us than are willing to admit have physical scars we invent fictions for, so that when someone says “what’s that mark on your chin?” we can laugh it off and tell the charming story of our own clumsiness.

Because the real story of having our head shoved down against the bedpost is just way too humiliating, right?

Because it’s somehow our fault?

This, right here, is the institutionalized misogyny.  We, as women, are taught to bear the burden of our victim-hood as if it is our responsibility that we are victims.  And men are trained that it is okay to blame us, because their privilege is more important than our rights.  Now, not all men see women as extensions of their will or objects to be used.  I understand that.  But the patterns of behavior that trap women in perpetual silence are propagated by society and are misogynist.  Sometimes, men participate in the cycle completely unaware.  Often, women do the same.

And what could change that?

Women, don’t shut up.  Men?  Listen.

 

Advertisements

In all seriousness, what would Jesus do?

Sometimes I feel like I get upset about the wrong things.  Let me explain, there’s this meme going around that talks about a new pastor’s first sermon to his shiny megachurch.  The story goes that the pastor pretended to be a homeless man and everyone ignored him, even when he begged for money.  He was asked to stand in the back of the church, and when he was finally introduced everyone was horrified, until he preached a really scathing sermon which culminated in his asking the congregation if they were ever going to choose to be disciples.

It seems like most of my Christian friends have been forwarding this meme around.  A lot of people say things like, “wow,” or “so humbling!”

My first reaction to it was to be sick to my stomach.  Then, I was angry.  Then, I was angry-sad.  Then, I had a headache.

There’s a part of me that thinks we all need reminders that Jesus told us that we would be judged by how we treat “the least of these.”  So why don’t I like that meme?

Okay, let’s go through it step by step:

  •  It isn’t true.  This is a story that someone made up, probably to try to put some of the things that Jesus said into a more modern day context, making the church analogous to the pharisees.  I’ve made that analogy myself, so why does it bother me so much in this context?  While I am a little bothered by the meme’s assertion that only a handful of people out of 10,000 would acknowledge the pastor’s presence, I’m more bothered by the pastor himself.  Here we have a well-to-do man with his suit and tie concealed under homeless man’s clothes.  He isn’t really a man of the street that lives off charity, but he pretends to be one.  When Christ said, “What you do to the least of these you do to me” he wasn’t saying it from a comfortable position as a pastor of a megachurch whose tailored suit was hidden under beggar’s clothes- he was saying it as a beggar.  He lived off of the charity and hospitality of others, so when he said, “do it as you would to me” that could be taken quite literally.  If you would welcome Jesus into your home, welcome the beggars in.  If you had food to share with Jesus you had food to share with the lame.  If you would offer Jesus a cup of water, offer it to the sick.  Every offering as such Jesus would accept as an offering to his own person- not because Jesus didn’t need the offerings, but because he did.  These days, we as Christians are far distanced from the reality which Jesus had to live.  I don’t know if we really understand the fact that Jesus didn’t have a pension plan, couldn’t file unemployment, and couldn’t ply his trade while traveling and teaching.  He didn’t have a trust fun he was living off of, he lived off of the goodwill of others.  When we feed the hungry and care for the sick and give room to the homeless, we are remembering that God himself once shared their lot.  This meme?  It doesn’t seem like a humble reminder of that reality, it feels like the opposite.  It treats the reality of Christ’s life that he lived for us as a charade, to be put on and then taken off at the most humiliating moment.
  • It’s a “GOTCHA” moment, not a humble reminder.  Jesus doesn’t deal in shame, so why should we praise those who do?  This isn’t the case of a pastor humbly searching for truth in the guise of a homeless man, like this one, this is a pastor knowingly setting a trap to catch his congregation in.  The whole story hinges off of the judgment that Christians, as a whole, aren’t choosing to be disciples.  That churches do ignore people who aren’t dressed right.  That parishioners with cash in their pockets for the offering basket would give no change to a hungry, needy man sharing their pews.  The pastor, prior to ever preaching a sermon to his new congregation, has already decided they aren’t following Christ and need a scolding.  And rather than, say, inviting actual homeless people in to be cared for, he pretends to be one just to hammer a point home.  No, no thank you.  Jesus didn’t contrive situations to shame his followers.  He lived his life as a genuine example.  Those teachable moments the Bible is full of?  They happened as a natural consequence of how Christ lived.  The only time he set up “traps” for anyone was in response to the traps that had been set up for him.  Jesus didn’t trade in shaming his followers, so neither should we.
  • Who made it up?  What was their motive? We don’t know.  Rather than putting their own name and face to the tale, someone made up a story just to prove their point.  I’m all for parables, Jesus himself was known for them, but this doesn’t feel like that.  This is a lie parading as the truth.  The internet, yes, is full of such things.  Pictures of babies born with deformities meant to shame you if you don’t share them.  Mangled fetuses.  Abused dogs and cats for whom some unnamed stranger will donate a dollar per “like.”  To put it plainly, bullshit.  But this bullshit I’ll take personally, because this bullshit is about the church.  This bullshit about the church hinges off of the fact that no one will question the idea that a congregation of ten thousand are ready and willing to reject a homeless man.

So what does that tell us about the person who wrote the story, and what does it say about those who share it?

Judgment, and shame.  We’ve all judged the church as having fallen on it’s sword, and we all believe that it needs to be shamed.

What.

 

The.

 

Hell?

 

I spent one of the most fulfilling years of my life working as the site supervisor for a homeless shelter.  That shelter operated based off of the goodwill and cooperation of a couple of handfuls of churches surrounding a relatively small, but active, community.  Volunteers stayed with our guests overnight to make sure their needs were met.  Volunteers prepared and delivered hot meals for them twice a day.  Volunteers cleaned up after them.  Volunteers often picked them up and drove them to church on Sunday mornings.  Volunteers talked to them.  Volunteers let them know about job openings in the community, sometimes offered them small jobs, brought gently used clothing to hand out, made Easter and Christmas baskets, and donated thousands of dollars every night to pay the staff who served them.

None of those churches would have ignored a homeless person on a Sunday morning.  Quite the opposite.  Their attention and interest brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it to this day.

Let’s be evenhanded.  If we all agree that most churches don’t give a crap about the people who walk in their doors, what does that say about us?  Our faith?  Or, even more important, what does it say about our belief in God?

Essentially, what that meme says is not that we need to be reminded that Jesus asks us to care for the “least of these”;  what it says is that faith is pointless.  That no one is getting anywhere.  That two thousand years after Christ’s death, the church is useless.  That Christians are, as a whole, hypocrites.  (With the exception of a few self-righteous pricks waiting around for “gotcha” moments to humiliate us all and remind us how little we’ve grown.)  The meme doesn’t remind us of Christ’s love, it reminds us of our own selfishness.  What it offers isn’t hope but condemnation.

I have seen a pastor preaching shirtless in the streets because he gave the shirt off his back (literally) to a street kid.  I’ve seen a poor woman wander into a church in the middle of a service and seen everything stop while the congregation found out what she needed and got her help- including people running to the store to buy her baby diapers and formulas, and her having so many lunch invitations she had to choose who to turn down.

That’s my faith.

I’ve seen people give away the dinner they just cooked for their family and have toast for dinner instead because they heard that someone down the street lost their job and couldn’t get groceries.

That’s my faith.

I’ve seen families take in kids whose parents were arrested so that those kids wouldn’t have to go into foster care.

That’s my faith.

I’ve seen so many people show up at the hospital to pray for a sick relative that some of them never even got in the room.

That’s my faith.

That’s my church.  And I’m not just speaking about one church, but many.  All of the truly genuine people whose example brought me back to the feet of God after I thought I’d left him forever.  I may speak about the judgment of the church making me question my faith in God, but never let it be forgotten that it was the genuine love of the church that brought me back to him.  This is a sword that cuts both ways and cannot be ignored.  Yes, some Christians are assholes.  But there are still many who truly seek to follow Christ and emulate his love, and the only cure for the one is the praise of the other.

If we want people to stop being assholes, we shouldn’t be assholes towards them.  We should seek to be as loving, open, genuine, and kind as they are not.

The solution for a church that ignores the homeless isn’t a heaping helping of condemnation- it’s a loving example of the proper way.

*

Do I sometimes have harsh things to say to other Christians?  Yes.  I believe some of the attitudes I’ve seen towards the poor, towards single mothers, towards gay people, are incredibly destructive.  But I speak against it not because I believe the majority of Christians are selfish assholes but because I believe the opposite.  I believe that if most Christians realized the impact their attitudes had on others, they would willingly and quickly change.  And guess what?  In the six years I have helmed this blog that is what I’ve seen, time and time again.  I have so many stories of hope and change and trust and love that I could spend the rest of my life writing about them, and I’m only just getting started.

So, yeah, I had an allergic reaction to this particular meme.

That’s not my faith.

You, dear reader, you are my faith.  And you deserve better than to be shamed by a lie.

*This cannot be overstated.  If you want a church to take interest in the homeless, the best way is to bring the actual homeless into the church and take care of them.  People respond to love with love, and when they see you loving others their natural response is to do the same.  This is far more effective than shame could ever be.  Give the church an example to be like Christ, and if the church is full of Christians, it’ll happen.