I Don’t Accommodate Uncontrolled Men

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It’s summer! Time for all the the ladies to start posting articles about why it’s not a woman’s responsibility to prevent a man from lusting and all the gentlemen to start posting comments about why it’s not a woman’s responsibility, but she sure can help.

I’ve been encouraged to see the pushback, by women, even women in more conservative circles, against the toxic idea that a woman’s clothing choices can cause men to stumble.

But this pushback gets halted when a guy stands up and comfortably announces that while this personal responsibility thing all sounds great, the reality is that normal, healthy guys like him struggle, so women should still cover up. And the ladies go a little silent, unable to argue with this universal battle against sexual temptation that women never face.

The pushback against purity culture dies right then and there, because no woman wants to challenge the idea that men can’t actually control themselves — and that’s a beautiful, God-given part of being a man.

So I’m going to be that woman. I’m going to stand up and look that man in the eye and tell him that his inability to control himself is not normal, healthy, or God-given, and I have no sympathy for his struggles.

Because I don’t. I think more highly of men than that.

My husband didn’t grow up in purity culture. He didn’t grow up hearing that it’s normal and healthy for a guy to struggle with not looking until the offending woman leaves the room. He didn’t grow up hearing he couldn’t control his sexual urges if he caught a glimpse of a woman’s cleavage. He grew up around girls who wore bikinis to the beach and short shorts and tank tops. He grew up being able to look at a woman, notice parts of her body, even formulate a response (like “She’s attractive” or “She’s trying too hard”), and then go on with his conversation with her as if she’s more than her butt and abs.

He doesn’t experience this “all men’s daily battle” regarding women’s clothing choices, because he wasn’t socialized to.

And I think that is a huge thing people are overlooking in this discussion — how much of the “male struggle” can be chalked up not to healthy amounts of testosterone but to socialization?

Even as a female I was socialized to be uncomfortable with women in certain clothing — not because I was sexually attracted to them but because I was taught they were immodest. I would avert my eyes and feel embarrassed and not know how to talk to a woman with cleavage. Now that I’m socialized to be okay with women’s clothing choices, even if they don’t align with mine, I don’t find it awkward at all. They’re just people. They’re just bodies. No need to freak out or be awkward.

I think guys need to learn that it’s fine to notice a woman’s body and find it attractive. Bodies are beautiful. Beautiful bodies illicit responses in everyone. Notice it, and move on with your life. It’s not a sin. It’s not even necessarily sexual. This is how “visual” women deal with attractive men, and you don’t hear them begging guys to put their shirts on at the beach. It’s not socially acceptable for women’s sex drives to show.

I do find it disturbing and creepy and predatory that guys “struggle” so much around women who wear certain clothes. I find it disturbing that that’s normalized as healthy and natural. I don’t feel safe around men who can’t look at my body and engage with me as a human, regardless of what I’m wearing. I don’t feel comfortable around men who are battling not to lust after me.

And I don’t feel that I can control whether I “trigger” that battle or not by my clothing choices. How am I supposed to know what level of dress or undress is “comfortable” for any particular man? Guys will often say, “Oh, I’m not one of those guys who thinks women should dress like frumps. I’m not saying women shouldn’t wear pants or above the knee skirts or tank tops — I can handle those.”

But you know what? Some guys apparently can’t handle pants or above the knee skirts and tank tops. Some guys are more turned on by women in skirts. They’ve told me this to my face.

So what’s “normal”? Is it normal for a guy to struggle when he sees a woman in jeans, or only when she’s wearing a short skirt? Is it normal for a guy to struggle when she’s wearing a one-piece bathing suit and shorts, or only when she’s wearing a bikini? Is there an all-male council who has decided what’s “normal” for a guy to struggle with, and what’s creepy? Because I keep hearing mixed messages from men about what turns them on and what’s modest, and it makes me think the problem isn’t with what women wear but with what men can’t handle.

I think “normal” is a guy being able to interact with a woman comfortably, regardless of what she’s wearing, without waging a battle for his soul. Period. I will not accommodate any other male normal.

An Egalitarian Approach to Chores

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Since I’ve heard many complaints lately about husbands who don’t pull their weight in the chores department, I thought I’d talk a bit about our egalitarian way to split up the chores.

Here’s the key to an egalitarian sharing of the chores: it’s not just about who does what. It’s about whose responsibility it is to care about the housekeeping.

Even though I work full-time, I feel the emotional responsibility of household upkeep more than my husband. This is not because I am innately a homemaker, as some have tried to tell me. It is because some have tried to tell me that I am innately a homemaker — that I, as a woman, am uniquely suited to exert emotional energy towards my home.

Well, I certainly do exert a uniquely feminine emotional energy towards my home. When my husband walks into a dirty kitchen after an exhausting day of work, he thinks, “Great — the kitchen’s dirty again.” When I walk in to a dirty kitchen after an exhausting day of work, I think, “I am a total and utter failure of a human being and should not have been allowed into adulthood at this young of an age.”

In other words, guilt. Guilt is that special feminine ingredient to housekeeping.

On top of it all, I am a Type B cleaning personality raised in a Type A cleaning home. This means that my mom and my sister, the women closest to me, could not stand clutter or dirtiness at any point during the day. They cleaned as they went. I’d get up from a cozy blanket on the couch for a cup of cocoa, only to find, on my return, the blanket folded neatly over the couch top.

It’s humorous, actually. On one of Erich’s first visits to my parents’ home, somebody put his empty cup in the dishwasher before he was finished with it. He now finds inventive ways to hide his cups from prowling cleaners — like hanging them from light fixtures in the kitchen.

So I have these examples and expectations of housecleaning perfection before me, and none of the energy or interest to meet them. (Read: more guilt.) Erich and I have an extremely high tolerance for clutter and filth. An unhealthily high tolerance, I should say.

It’s frightening how long you can handle counters-full of dishes when you don’t have a dishwasher.

As I thought more intentionally about an egalitarian way to split up chores, I realized that this mindset, this mindset that it’s more my responsibility than his because I’m a woman, has got to go. The cleaning and upkeep of our home is our responsibility, equally. I have to care. He has to care.

While we don’t have children yet, I think this is a crucial component to happy households even if a wife quits her full-time job to stay home. I used to think that I would take over all housecleaning once I stayed home with our baby. After all, I would have eight hours that my husband didn’t to do laundry and wash some dishes.

But after listening to moms with kids underfoot, moms who were drowning with childcare, I realized that I might not have the time — or the energy — after all.

I work in childcare. It is a full-time job that encompasses every spiritual, psychological, and physical inch of your soul and body. Just because stay-at-home moms don’t get paid for their labor doesn’t mean motherhood is any less all-encompassing.

That’s where couples get in trouble, I’ve noticed. Stay-at-home moms run themselves weary keeping up with the kids and still feel obligated to keep up with the onslaught of daily chores too. Meanwhile, Daddy comes home feeling entitled to a break because he worked all day.

Well, Mama worked all day too. So instead of getting into a battle over who’s more exhausted at the end of the day (something my husband and I row about even without kids), it seems more reasonable to assign equal emotional responsibility over household upkeep.

What does this look like practically in our home?

We tried chore lists, but I never did mine, and Erich kept reassigning hated chores to me. So right now, when we see something that needs to be done (i.e., when we max out on our tolerance for filth), we do it ourselves and ask the other spouse to chip in with it or with another chore.

If Erich starts a load of laundry, he might ask me to fold the laundry or point out that I still haven’t done my dishes. If I notice the carpet needs vacuuming, I’ll grab the vacuum and ask Erich to tackle the urine stains on the toilet. And of course, we take personal responsibility for our own stuff.

The only thing we specifically assign are dishes and cooking: whoever doesn’t cook does the dishes. (Because we hate dishes.)

This works for us, because we (usually) respond well to the other person’s initiative. And by “works for us,” I don’t mean “keeps our home in immaculate order.” (We’re working on that.) I mean it keeps our marriage unclogged with cleaning resentment. It helps us feel like a team.

I don’t expect this to change much when we have kids and I stay home with them — except that I’ll have more opportunity to do chores than he will. If I have time and energy during the work day, I’ll do the necessary chores. There’s no point in putting off chores just to make it “fair.” It’s still partially my responsibility, after all, and I would want my husband to tackle the dirty work if he had the opportunity instead of leaving it all for me.

But if I can’t get to chores, or if I’m absolutely sick of doing chores, I won’t feel guilty either.

After all, it’s not wholly my responsibility.

What Introverts Really Do at Farmer’s Markets

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My husband and I are the worst combination on some things, and it’s our similarities, not our differences, that get us into the most trouble.

For instance, we are both introverted, boring, low-energy homebodies whose favorite hobbies involve the internet. And we’re cheap. And we’re poor. Well, not poor, but we might as well be, for all the fun and tasty things we can’t be doing and buying this summer because we’re buying a house.

This means, in short, that we never go out.

But we finally did, this Sunday. We went to the local farmer’s market. And we did what we always do: casually meandered past each booth, avoided eye contact, and didn’t buy a single thing.

We came and went within ten minutes.

I don’t know what is wrong with us. Well, I do — we’re introverted, boring, low-energy homebodies. But for real, I don’t know what is wrong with us. How hard is it to make eye contact, do some small talk, and sample some of that homemade salsa? (Really hard, it turns out.)

It’s a respect thing, actually, as well as self-preservation. It feels socially awful to wander up to a booth all smiles and small talk, knowing that the intent in your heart is only to squander the nice lady’s supply of samples and never hand over any cash for it. Heartless.

Right? Or am I the only one who feels this moral compulsion to not give false hope to vendors that their soap is worth the price of that Wonder Woman ticket I’m giving up in order to buy a new dryer?

So we keep our heads down and talk about what we would buy if we had the money, and what we could make ourselves for cheaper after spending a fortune on gardening and/or canning equipment. And we don’t support the local economy, and I don’t get to sample that yummy salsa, and we come home to a carton of eggs that aren’t organic or cage-free or $5 (!!!).

But, on the bright side, we fulfilled our seasonal expectation to get out and do something on our own volition — and that’s really, for us introverts, what these social outings are all about…are they not?

What do you do at farmer’s markets? Extroverts, please. Teach me your ways.

Thank You for Your Service, Teachers

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Well, that’s that. Kindergarten graduation went out with a bang — that is to say, with one kid refusing to wear a cap and gown, another kid requiring a handheld escort during the processional, and another cracking jokes the entire time he stood on the risers.

These kids know how to read, every single one of them. Their assessment scores are unprecedented in the school, all of them. I could not be prouder of their academic achievements.

Their little characters and budding social skills are, shall we say, somewhat lacking, but I’m too exhausted to go into that.

Exhausted is the word of the day for me lately, especially this last month of school. Exhausted. Teaching was hard. Disciplining some of these kids was harder. Dealing with all of that when all everybody wanted to do was go swimming and play their Xbox was hardest.

When I finally got a chance to lie spreadeagle on my bed, in front of the fan, listening to T-Swift on Spotify for an uninterrupted hour, it occurred to me that teachers deserve more respect than they currently get.

You know how veterans and members of the military (rightly) get instant respect from everybody, regardless of politics, or whether or not they were deployed? Our society is conditioned to honor their sacrifice, to recognize it, make much of it, because we value the work they do for our country.

We say “thank you for your service” whenever we find out somebody served in the military. We honor them at baseball games and at church. We have national holidays and songs and rituals. We are reminded what we owe them — our life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I think a similar societal respect needs to go towards teachers. I think teachers need that sort of recognition. I think our society needs to remember what we owe them.

Teaching is peacemaking. Teaching is making life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness possible. Teaching is bringing hope to places where there’s not much of it. These are more stereotypically “feminine” virtues, but I think our culture needs to honor the peacemakers just as much as the warmakers. What good is the noble sacrifice of our military if there is no good left to sacrifice for?

Teachers are preserving that good. They fight for virtuous, educated citizens, against the odds of poverty, bad behavior, bullying, horrible home situations, and whatever else they face every day in the classroom.

Having experienced this fight, I know what a sacrifice and an emptying this is. It is a slow death, in a lot of ways — not only of the physical body, worn down through trying to keep up with the demands of the administration and the state testing and the homework and the kids, but also of the spirit, worn down from all the discouraging setbacks.

I think we need to start acknowledging this peaceful war waged in our schools as just as urgent as the war waged overseas. I think we need to honor this “feminine” sacrifice, in a similar way we honor the “masculine” sacrifice of those who fight to defend our country — not to challenge the military’s sacrifice, not to denigrate it, but to raise up the importance and the necessity of the sacrifice of those publicly involved in shaping the souls of the next generation.

Teachers’ challenges aren’t just little boys throwing a tantrum at wearing a graduation gown. They’re entering the lives of children who get threatened at gunpoint on the street at eight years old, who solicit sex at age six because their parents didn’t teach them any better, who commit suicide at age seven due to bullying. They’re trying to build a future for children whose moms have more babies just to get more welfare, whose parents’ proudest accomplishment is graduating eighth grade. They’re trying to give hope to the kid with rotted teeth and an ever-present stench, the student who’s embarrassed that his mom can’t buy anything for the end-of-school party, the children who can’t play outside of their two-bedroom apartment because it’s too dangerous.

They’re trying to give kids a decent education even when administration piles on unnecessary busywork and the state requires too much and nobody ever listens to the teachers, who actually know what’s best for their students. They’re trying to give kids a decent childhood, even though recess is mostly nonexistent now and even kindergarten is rigorous and kids have to set in plastic chairs all day.

There are real demons out there in society, and teachers stare them down every day with determination and kindness to spare (sometimes).

Please thank a teacher. Thank them for their service like you would one of the honorable members of our military. They deserve public respect for their public service to our country and community. And they could use a little encouragement right now.

Conscientious Wedding Objectors

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It’s not just gay weddings that can divide a circle of friends.

There are myriad possibilities, depending on one’s sensibilities and morals, that might prompt even close friends to decline a wedding invitation or back out of standing up in the wedding party: She’s marrying an abusive jerk. The reception will turn into a party of raging alcoholics. The groom’s an atheist, the bride’s a Christian. Dancing and a DJ will be present after cake cutting. The minister is a woman from a “heretical” denomination.

Whatever the offense, these situations often feel like a choice between your deepest convictions and your love for the couple in question.

I thought I’d left behind this problem along with my old judgmental scruples. Surely no problem would arise that a bit of tolerance couldn’t fix.

And then one summer, I was asked to sing a complementarian wedding song.

I found myself, once again, intolerant, unloving, and completely torn over my deepest values.

I had no problem attending a wedding with such a song. Every wedding I’d ever attended in my life had some sort of nod or overture to complementarian theology. That wasn’t the problem.

I just didn’t feel right with complementarian ideology coming out of my mouth — me, a vocal, public feminist trying to make it big in the egalitarian world.

Once I stopped crying about how I couldn’t believe this was happening to me — this horrific situation where I was the intolerant, unbending, convicted one — I tried sort out what was what.

I thought it was my conscience versus my love for this friend — standing up for what I believed versus deeply wounding an unsuspecting bride.

Really, it boiled down to this: not conscience versus love, but what my conscience could take. Could my conscience handle singing one line of complementarian thought? Or could my conscience settle with causing division, hurting a friend, and potentially ruining our friendship and egalitarianism’s (already extremely tarnished) good name?

Because it would. I wasn’t going to kid myself about that.

One thing was clear: I couldn’t sugarcoat my decision as doing what was somehow existentially or cosmically or eternally “best” or “loving” toward my friend. She wouldn’t perceive it as love in the moment, and she would never perceive it as love unless, somehow, miraculously, in spite of being wounded and misunderstood by this ideology, she later embraced egalitarianism.

I wouldn’t be changing her mind. I wouldn’t even be prompting her to change her mind.

In short, I would be doing absolutely nothing of benefit to her by standing up for what I believed in and following my conscience. It was either my sense of supporting what was right or her sense of dignity as a person capable of choosing good, right beliefs without my input.

How do I know this?

Because I was on the receiving end of this situation just a few months prior.

There was an issue among our wedding party because devout Catholics were not allowed to support a marriage wherein a “lapsed” Catholic declined to get a dispensation to marry outside of the Catholic church. Such a marriage was considered invalid in the church’s eyes — immoral, living in sin, akin to two sinners hooking up rather than a sacred union.

While a Catholic could attend the wedding, a Catholic could not stand up in our wedding. And Catholics made up half of our wedding party.

Everything about this was devastating. Hearing that our beautiful marriage was considered immoral. Having best friends decline to stand up in the wedding. Struggling with the guilt and pressure to follow the Catholic church’s rules rather than our own beliefs. Wondering how this would reshape or ruin our relationships with beloved friends.

I was never angry with my friends, never upset at them. I could never fault someone for following his conscience. But you can bet I was furious at Catholicism. You can bet that I slammed the door shut on even considering joining the Catholic church. You can bet it didn’t encourage my husband to repent and beg a dispensation off an archbishop.

It just hurt me, deeply, for a very long time.

Fortunately, because our friends really were trying to find a way to reconcile their religious devotion and our friendship, and because Catholicism isn’t entirely made up of heartless rules, our friends received permission from the local priest to stand up in our wedding — as long as they prayed that we would come home to the Catholic church.

(Which ordinarily would have been an incredible offense in itself, but beggars can’t be choosers.)

All of these wounds were fresh in my heart as I wrestled with what to do with this complementarian singing engagement.

I didn’t want to speak words I disagreed with. I was tired of hiding behind a complementarian facade; I was ready to be open and honest about what I believed. I didn’t want to promote an ideology that was at that moment wrecking havoc in marriages around me. I didn’t want her marriage to end up with that sort of pain on account of me endorsing it.

I really, truly, deep down in my gut hated the prospect of doing any of those things.

But I chose love. I chose her feelings. Because I knew that singing this song would have zero impact on anyone’s minds or marriages, and not singing this song most definitely would. Because I knew that standing up for my beliefs would wreck our relationship and never give me a credible platform upon which to share egalitarianism. Because I knew that if I was in her shoes, I would want my friend to support me and sing the song.

I ended up talking to her about my concerns. I probably offended her when I spoke about how I’ve seen this ideology ruin other relationships. I probably added stress to her life. I probably strained our relationship, anyways, by making this an issue.

But I was honest about my beliefs, I said what I felt I had to say, and I sang that complementarian song at her beautiful wedding as best as I could.

Yes, it chafed. It was uncomfortable. It was not ideal. These situations never are. They never have a happy ending, they’re never hurt-free for anybody. This is complicated, believing passionately, loving passionately, when your beliefs passionately part ways.

Did I do the right thing? I don’t know…but I did what I thought was right. I followed my conscience, however torn. And I hope that in situations as confusing and painful and awkward as these, that’s all that matters.

Personality Over Beliefs

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I just picked up on a strange bias of mine. When it comes to social media personalities, I tend to gravitate toward to INFJs and ENFJs — in other words, my personality. (I’m an I/ENFJ, split 50/50 down the introversion/extroversion scale.)

This might not be shocking — birds of feather flock together, etc. — but I’ve found that personality trumps even even deeply held beliefs. For instance, I’m a big skeptic and critic of any form of pentecostalism or charismaticism, but I love fellow Christian feminist Amber Picota and her hilarious honesty.

Or Jasmine Holmes (née Baucham). I recently discovered her new blog and Twitter account, and obsessively like almost everything she has to say — despite the fact that she writes for Christian sites I cannot muster the resolve to read anymore and operates from a far more complementarian, Reformed mindset than I do.

Or Anne Lamott, who’s politically a liberal Democrat. I love her.

And it’s not because I’m just a wonderful, affirming, open-minded woman who thinks it prudent to listen to people from all corners of the world. It’s just because I like them. We share a similar personality, a similar way of looking at the world and holding and communicating our beliefs, even if we’re diametrically opposed on specific issues.

It’s true in reverse too: there are some people who I agree with on specific issues but cannot stand. I follow them because sometimes they say interesting things, or because they’re prominent voices in the Christian egalitarian movement, or what have you, but I feel uncomfortable associating myself with them.

I often get more worked up by like-minded allies than I do by people who disagree with me. (Ask my husband. In-your-face feminists and Trump supporters alike bring out all the rage.)

So I’ve been trying to figure this out — my gravitation towards certain warm, authentic, loving, gracious, intelligent personalities over deeply held specific issues. Is it merely personality, in that I/ENFJs feel most at home with people like them? Perhaps other personalities gravitate toward people who aren’t like them, who are more complementary?

Or does it actually come down to beliefs, in the end — at least, a way of holding and communicating beliefs that reveals a deeper belief in what’s most important?

Help me out. Is this true of you? Do you gravitate more toward like-minded people or “like-personalitied” people?

Is Egalitarianism a Slippery Slope to LGBTQ+ Acceptance?

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I remember when I was just starting to question complementarianism, when the world was black and white. The good guys were the Republicans, the anti-feminists, the Reformed, conservative, John Pipers. The bad guys were Democrats, secular feminists, progressives, and liberals, like Rachel Held Evans.

I wanted complete assurance that exploring egalitarianism would not lead me into the enemy’s camp. Egalitarianism, I was warned, was the tip of a slippery slope leading to horrible things like social justice, Episcopalianism, and the very gravest, the absolute lowest of all low valleys — LGBTQ+ acceptance.

Once you tumbled that low, you were lost to orthodoxy forever.

I want to address this particular fear head on — the idea that egalitarianism is one step away from embracing the LGBTQ+ community. While I do get a good laugh at my black-and-white world and the paranoia that resulted from it, I realize that’s still a present and legitimate concern for many people who, essentially, mark orthodoxy by how immobile one is against the siren call of LGBTQ+ acceptance.

The short answer is no, egalitarianism does not a LGBTQ+ ally make.

Prominent egalitarian groups like Christians for Biblical Equality and The Junia Project share marriage between one man and one woman as a core value: “6. God’s design for relationships includes faithful marriage between a man and a woman, celibate singleness and mutual submission in Christian community.”

Many of the denominations who celebrate women’s full participation at all levels of leadership also express the one man, one woman line. The Anglican Church in North America is one such faith tradition. Tish Harrison Warren, one of its female priests, recently wrote about the need for church oversight of female bloggers — particularly because prominent female leaders like Jen Hatmaker are espousing an LGBTQ+-affirming stance.

Another example is the Christian Reformed Church in North America, which views same-sex orientation as “a condition of disordered sexuality” that should not disqualify individuals from community acceptance. But, it affirms that, “Homosexualism (that is, explicit homosexual practice)…is incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Scripture.”

And the reason why these and other faith traditions and individual egalitarians can affirm women in all levels of leadership but declare homosexual activity as sinful is simple: they’re not the same issue, Biblically speaking.

Egalitarians who oppose homosexual behavior will talk about “the movement of Scripture.” There is no “movement” in Scripture toward accepting same-sex relationships, whereas there is great movement toward elevating women. Women serve in leadership in both the old and new testaments. Even in more patriarchal passages that seem to support a gender hierarchy (such as the household codes), the movement is not toward “putting women in their place” but rather elevating women to an equal level with their husbands.

Though it can and has been argued that Scripture is silent on monogamous same-sex relationships, or that the core principles of Christianity compel one to embrace the LGBTQ+ community, there isn’t the same explicit “movement” in Scripture toward LGBTQ+ acceptance the way there is toward women’s equality.

That would be, in a nutshell, the egalitarian differentiation of women’s equality with the LGBTQ+ movement.

Still, we all can think of dozens of friends or prominent voices who started out egalitarian but not affirming and then later allied themselves with the LGBTQ+ movement. I don’t have any hard statistics on it, but anecdotally, the egalitarians who are allies seem to outnumber the egalitarians who aren’t.

And here’s why: egalitarianism doesn’t automatically turn you into an ally, but it sure makes you think about becoming one.

I can’t think of any egalitarian who hasn’t wrestled with LGBTQ+ issues. Biblical movement aside, there are parallels between egalitarianism and LGBTQ+ issues that would move any ardent supporter of women’s rights — both want full equality and normalcy, both involve minorities, and both are misunderstood and maligned, particularly in the church.

As a woman whose motivations, salvation, and common sense get questioned because of my egalitarian stance, I’m far more sympathetic to minority groups seeking equal rights and understanding. I know firsthand how people use “the Biblical worldview” and “orthodoxy” to silence the legitimate pain and discrimination I’ve experienced. I’ve seen how women’s voices get ignored and explained away because it challenges long-held “Biblical” beliefs.

So when I’m tempted to write off LGBTQ+ complaints of discrimination, I remember the time when I experienced discrimination and nobody came to my defense. When I’m tempted to wonder if LGBTQ+ people are overly sensitive and milking their minority status for a political agenda, I remember when people called me overly sensitive and promoting a feminist agenda. When I’m tempted to doubt LGBTQ+ voices on their own experience because of this verse in the Bible or science or “common sense” or what if they’re deceived?, I remember when my pain, my experience, and my thoughts were real, true, and completely dismissed.

Add to that the church’s long, often abysmal record of hurting those most in need of support — and I know I’ve got a heck of a lot of listening to do.

That’s why, I think, egalitarians as a whole tend to strive for empathy and a listening posture with the LGBTQ+ community — and why many of them end up allies.

Here’s the truth: if you become an egalitarian, you’re guaranteed to come out with at least a more nuanced view on LGBTQ+ issues. Egalitarianism doesn’t roll you down an inevitable hill toward LGBTQ+ acceptance, but it does kick the door open for genuine soul-searching on the issue.

And I don’t say that merely as a comfort to people interested in egalitarianism but worried about falling down a slippery slope. I say that because listening to LGBTQ+ people, working through your own preconceptions of, well, everything, and wrestling with all the components that make these issues complicated — it’s no easy tumble.

In fact, I think understanding and/or accepting the LGBTQ+ community is an uphill battle — something that requires intentionality and effort.

(NB: In this post, I’m not addressing whether we should or should not accept the LGBTQ+ community and/or their lifestyles. It’s an important discussion that I do not feel qualified to lead or moderate, so I would appreciate if all comments stuck closely to the intersection of or divergence with LGBTQ+ issues and egalitarianism. Thanks.)

When the First Year Is Hell

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Happy Anniversary to us! (Overpriced Italian food in the pouring rain when I’m exhausted, nauseous, and congested, and when he comes home asking if we really can’t just make tacos and Dumb and Dumber our permanent anniversary tradition, starting now. We are so romantic.)

It wasn’t a specific piece of advice that got me to our first wedding anniversary. It wasn’t the insistence of my closest friends that we’d be able to make it work, no matter what. It was a specific piece of someone else’s story — a story of someone I respected, with a marriage full of love, honesty, and honor.

“Our first year of marriage was hell.”

That’s the phrase I kept returning to, fight after fight after heartbreak after screaming-into-the-void heartbreak.

My first year of marriage was hell, too. Well — to be precise — the beginning of it was.

“Marriage is such a wonderful thing!” I once gushed to a engaged couple a few days ago.

“Bailey lies,” my husband added. “It’s only wonderful after the first seven months.”

And for us, that was true.

I won’t bore you with the details, but they involve selfishness, verbal abuse, cold shoulders, pointless 2 AM arguments about the same exact thing, a lack of trust, complete and utter disrespect for the other’s dignity, and contempt.

It was the most nightmarish thing I’ve ever experienced.

I once sobbed through a wedding out of biting jealousy that the other couple was happy and I wasn’t. I cringed whenever people asked how newlywed life was. (“The worst,” I wanted to say.) I hit rock bottom so many times. I begged for separation, I pined for my single days — anything to end the torture of loving and feeling unloved and the hateful rage that kept spewing out of my mouth because of it.

I am 100% certain, had our pattern of mutual disrespect and contempt and emotional bankruptcy continued, our marriage would have ended.

That is clear.

What isn’t clear is what changed.

Oh, I can tell you what changed, as in, we are now decent people who apologize and say kind words and laugh together and listen to each other and don’t actively seek to make each other’s lives miserable. We’ve got the crucial ratio of five positive comments for every one negative comment down. Our arguments — our rare, contained, occurring-during-daytime-hours arguments — actually end up with mutual understanding instead of despair.

Things have changed, for sure. I’m just not sure how, or why — or why then.

I had imagined me being the one to revive my husband’s affections for me through my mild manners and humility and deescalation tactics. I was the woman, I was the one with the emotional intuition and maturity to win him back. And I was the one who went to counseling.

Not for the marriage. I went to counseling for me, for my faith deconstruction, for the anxiety I felt over shifting beliefs. I blamed all of that for making me the demon wife from hell.

That was the biggest change I made — taking responsibility for my own emotions, working constructively and independently on tackling my anxiety and fear, and finding a skilled listener other than my husband to hear every paranoid, odd, and overwhelming thing I felt.

But through no mild manners and humility of my own (though I really did, mostly, try or intend to try), my husband started treating me respectfully. He’d say something that would tick me off, I’d raise my voice to the highest decibel, expecting the same old repeat 2 AM argument, and he’d gently, humbly, respectfully, apologize.

And he kept doing it, even though I lost my temper every time, even though he lost his temper sometimes.  When he did, he’d stop, take a big breath, apologize, and clarify.

It was like a completely different relationship.

We were communicating. We were conversing. We were healing.

I don’t know why it didn’t work all the other times one of us tried to be the bigger person, or when I poured out my soul to him, or when we researched the key components in a successful marriage. I don’t know what clicked for him, or what clicked for me, or why they clicked at roughly the same time with miraculous results.

Maybe it was a miracle.

At any rate, we acquired these miracle-working communication skills — or he did, or I did, and we rubbed off on each other, or maybe we didn’t, I don’t know — around mid-January. And it’s been heaven ever since.

I want to stress this: the first seven months were literally hell — if hell is the absence of goodness and love and hope. And these past five months have been literally heaven — if heaven is the presence of kindness and laughter and happiness and love and occasional arguments about dishes.

I stress those two things, because it was hard for me to believe that anyone with a hell as real as mine could experience anything like the happiness I’m now experiencing — with the same person. Anytime anyone talked about hardship in their marriage, I doubted either the intensity of their hell or the reliability of their happiness.

As far as newlywed encouragement goes, this is all I got: I walked through hell my first year of marriage.

How we did it, I don’t really know. It took two people deciding to change. Any advice or formula I can offer will only affect one of those two people.

Whether you can walk through it too, I don’t really know either. But at least four people have — my husband and I, and the couple whose first-year hell allowed me to keep going.

God’s Unfaithfulness

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Not surprisingly, I deconstructed many of my beliefs about God through teaching children. Faith like a little child is so clarifying. It’s so devoid of the systematic, the splitting hairs. A child’s faith calls it like it is.

We were working through a reader on the time Elijah informed Ahab that his whole kingdom would experience famine until he repented of his wickedness. We spent days discussing how the body can survive only so long without food and water. We analyzed the emaciated cows on page 5. We predicted how God would use the crows to feed Elijah. “The eggs!” a couple of them shouted. “Maybe he’ll eat the birds?” another wondered.

Happily, no crows were harmed in this story, and neither was Elijah. “Did God provide for Elijah?” I asked the group of six-year-olds. “YES,” they shouted. “Was God faithful to Elijah?” “YES.”

And because I was curious, I asked, “What do you think happened to all the people in the famine?”

“Oh, they died,” the kids informed me.

“Do you think God was faithful to them?”

“No-o,” they droned.

If that makes you uncomfortable, don’t blame me — I’m not the God who starved an entire nation to rattle one wicked king and then ignored all their prayers for basic sustenance.

Because if we’re defining faithfulness by “God meeting our basic needs” (as we just did in Elijah’s case), then no, he wasn’t faithful.

I didn’t tell my kids any of this, of course. That was my own thought process as I zipped the readers back into the Ziploc bag and all hell broke loose during center time clean up.

But I thought about it again, yesterday, when I read to them a lesson on prayer. “God doesn’t answer our prayers for bad things,” I was teaching them, “but God will always give us what we ask for if we ask for good things that we need.”

Except he doesn’t. He doesn’t all the time give us the things he promises. There are many times when you ask, and it won’t be given to you; you seek, and you never find; you knock, and the door remains bolted from the inside.

And of course, I’ve learned all the caveats — God’s grace is sufficient, God works all things together for good, you have to ask in faith (are you sure you didn’t believe hard enough?).

It’s an elaborate system of caveats and exceptions to the basic promises that God is faithful, he will always come through, and he will provide for our basic needs. But the promises don’t always hold true. His yes doesn’t mean yes, and his no doesn’t mean no. Contrary to Jesus, not all of his children are clothed like the lilies or eating like the sparrows.

And the caveats of spiritual improvement don’t always function, either — the sufficient grace or the peace that passeth understanding down in our hearts. We get emptiness, silence, and angst. We get the joy of wondering where God is and what he is doing and what is the point in believing all of this.

We’re left with famine while God seems busy giving out A plus grades when the student didn’t study and free Starbucks drinks “just because he loves me” and a spiritual insight “right when I needed him most.”

It is, frankly, abhorrent to me that God would prioritize getting a cappuccino to one of his princesses who woke up a little down today while his other princesses are getting slaughtered on the other side of the world. (And how convenient that those who get the most from God materially seem financially positioned to get the most, anyway.) It is abhorrent to me that people attempt to find God’s love in neglect, that God’s perfect plan involves so much hate, violence, and evil.

But this doesn’t make me doubt God’s love. It just makes me doubt that humans have figured out a predictable pattern in this mysterious God’s ways.

I’ve given up on believing in a system of how God works — particularly regarding prayer. In fact, I don’t petition God for anything anymore. There’s nothing more terrifying than being at the end of your humanity and knowing that God might choose to withhold his divinity. There’s nothing more devastating than hoping against hope for a miracle of a more earthly nature and getting the final “no — I think I’d rather work on your spiritual improvement right now.”

What happens happens. If he’s determined to ignore the pleas of innocents as a way to show them his sufficient grace, so be it. Who’s to argue with God, so why try?

And yet I believe in a God of love. And yet I believe in the possibility that God does intervene in this world in a way that doesn’t make him a capricious monster.

That’s the mystery, always — how an omnipotent and loving God can interact with or tolerate or coexist with finite humans and the evil let loose in a once-perfect world. To deny the omnipotence or the love of God or the distinction between good and evil is to leave one utterly without hope. It makes God out to be a monster.

To deny the seeming absence and capriciousness of God is equally hopeless. It makes you out to be a faithless, doubtful sinner.

I believe in God, but I don’t believe in systems about God — and what that exactly means, I’m not sure.

I think it means believing in God as he is, not in God as he does — God as goodness, light, beauty, truth, love. Because there are always some glimpses of them, somewhere, if not in your life right now, than in your past and hopefully your future and definitely in someone else’s life. And those good things are just as real (and hopefully more real) than the bad.

I think it means acknowledging when God is here and when God isn’t here, being grateful for the good and grieving for the evil. God is in the good things. God is not in the bad things, and he hates them as much as you do, so why he doesn’t stop them, I don’t know. Sometimes God answers your prayers, good or bad. Many times he doesn’t, and I’m not sure why.

I think it means that God is hidden and obvious, absent and here, faithful and unfaithful, according to human definitions and human experiences. For some reason, certain faith-filled people experience him one way, and certain faith-filled people experience him another way, and we’re missing crucial information to mesh those two experiences into one, coherent, loving, omnipotent deity.

But here’s the certain hope, often uncertain: in the end, the very end, goodness and love and God will win. Humanity has always known this. We don’t always get eagles ex machina or the free Starbucks or the basic sustenance to survive (or maybe we do), but somehow, someday, when the story ends, we’ll make good on our hope in God.

P.S. See Psalm 89 for proof I’m not a heretic, plus more thoughts on good and evil.

How to Call Your Representatives If You Hate Talking on the Phone

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1. Spend days alternately horrified by X issue and terrified of what everybody else will think of you for feeling horrified.

2. Realize it’s now or never.

3. Work up your courage (minimum 30 minutes).

4. Google (again) to confirm that representatives really only care about calls, not emails. (Seriously?! WHY.)

5. Continue to work up courage. This time, stare at your phone.

6. Google a call script that fits your personality.

7. Edit out verbs like “outrage” and adjectives like “tone-deaf” and sweeping generalizations like “EVERYBODY ELSE AGREES WITH ME!”

8. Pray, pray, pray that staffers don’t stay past 6 PM.

9. Pray some more that if they do, they’re staying late because constituents are flooding the lines and you’ll get sent to voicemail.

10. Hit the dial button/panic (simultaneous).

11. Stumble through. (THANK GOD IT’S VOICEMAIL!)

12. Repeat for X number of representatives.

13. Celebrate democracy, 9-5 work days, and beloved voicemail.

14. Post to Facebook.