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.

Why You Should Watch “13 Reasons Why”

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Have you seen 13 Reasons Why on Netflix?

Hannah Baker committed suicide a few weeks ago, but before that, she recorded thirteen tapes — thirteen reasons why she did it — thirteen people who made life unbearable. Only those thirteen people know what’s on the tapes, and only they can figure out what to do with their darkest secrets and worst mistakes.  

No story has ever made me feel responsible before — responsible to keep watching, responsible to understand, responsible to pay attention, responsible to make this story a priority. But this one did.

I binge-watched it in four days. Four school days, with strict 11 PM curfews that didn’t prevent me from laying awake processing it all. I internalized the story. It kept me up at night. It gave me nightmares. It made me show up to work exhausted and puffy-eyed.

Normally I wouldn’t consider those things signs of a good story. But in this case, it was. I was listening to the tapes for the first time. I was connected to the story. I needed answers just as much as Clay Jensen did.

It’s partly the subject matter — bullying and suicide. I have stayed up until 3 AM on the phone with a friend to make sure she lived through the night. I have driven across states to take someone I love to the ER for suicidal ideation. I have made thousands of little decisions over texts going out to depressed loved ones — what words to use, when to use them, should I pry, should I let it go, should I listen, should I say something, what’s the right tone. I have experienced situations where my advice was a matter of life and death. I have waited through nights wondering if the person I just got to sleep would be alive when I saw them the next morning.

And it’s everywhere. Almost every girl I mentored cut, attempted suicide, and/or wanted to attempt suicide, on top of mental illness of some sort.

Despite it’s prevalence, there are still so many questions surrounding suicide. Who’s to blame? Can we truly save someone? Should we expect a person, stripped of dignity, hope, and friendship, to respond in any other way?

We’re even still debating whether suicidal ideation is serious or a cry for attention.

Then there’s bullying. I’m already living 13 Reasons Why in the kindergarten classroom. Mean girls tearing each other down. Students scared of standing up for the victim lest they get teased too. Six-year-olds coming home in tears everyday and begging not to go to school. My students. Their moms come to me and they all say the same thing: “I didn’t experience this until middle school.”

I’m reeling, because I didn’t experience this at all.

I’ve been feeling like if I do the right thing, I can stop a girl’s suicide years down the road. And if I do the wrong thing — how much am I to blame?

You’d think these would be easy things — or if not easy, at least straightfoward. But this story knows they’re not. It understands the complications of goodness, the bravery it takes to be a decent human being, to be honest, and to take responsibility. The “heroes” are the villains, and even at their best, they don’t do anything above and beyond the Golden Rule. But it’s still a herculean task to love well and do the right thing.

I don’t want to imply that 13 Reasons Why is a propaganda piece for Stomp Out Bullying. I think it’s a truly masterful story — and a complicated one. There is nothing simplistic about its themes, nothing moralizing about it’s open-ended finale, nothing trivial about its characters, nothing stilted about its plot, nothing easy or explainable about it.

And if that’s not praise enough, I’m thinking about going out and buying the book rather than wait for the other 51 library holds to thin out.

In short, watch this series.

Today’s Classroom Model: A Rant

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Can I rant a bit about today’s typical educational model? Please? Thank you.

I HATE IT.

I am talking about the typical set-up with one teacher and 18-30 children for eight hours a day, five days a week. I even have an aide, and it doesn’t help.

Here’s a glimpse into my day:

“This story is called Is This Panama? It’s the story about a bird — A, please sit belly or bottom. It’s the story — what is that in your mouth?”

“It’s gum, teacher!”

“No, it’s not gum, teacher, he’s lying.”

“Spit it out and throw it away, please. All right, now I need everyone paying attention. Look at how nicely Y is sitting. Can you all sit like Y? Oh, I love how M is sitting now. We’re just waiting on E. E. E. E. E! Hello-o. Please stop talking and look up here. So, this is the story about a bird named Sammy — “

“STOP TOUCHING MY HAIR.”

“I’m not touching your hair.”

“F, please stop touching S’s hair.”

“I wasn’t touching her hair.”

“YES YOU WERE YOU LIAR.”

“S, kind words. F, please sit down. Y, please stop touching my knees, for the third time. SO THIS STORY IS ABOUT A BIRD NAMED SAMMY AND HOW HE MIGRATES TO PANAMA. Can you say Panama?”

“Panama!”

“A, what is in your mouth?

Welcome to one of the better-behaved classes academically outperforming the other K5 students.

You might wonder, why so stringent? Why can’t he lay on his back? Why can’t he mess around with the string on the carpet? Why can’t they call out comments and questions as the story progresses rather than requiring them to raise their hand?

Because we are always one wiggle away from all hell breaking loose.

With a handful of kids, it doesn’t really matter if they lay on their back or mess around with something or call out a response. With eighteen kids, it is an unstoppable tide.

It kills me, it really does, to focus so much of my energy on crowd control. This is not the education I want for them. I want an individualized education that works with their quirks and preferences. It’s exhausting and disheartening trying to squeeze little individuals into a predetermined way of learning just to keep the class together enough just so at least some kids will catch on.

I mean, never learned best sitting criss-cross applesauce on the floor or sitting upright in a chair. I did history draped across the couch, with little naps here and there. I did math sprawled across my bed, with extra time to doodle scenes from the novel I was working on. And I was done with school for the day in two to three hours. To this day, I never work at a desk.

I can’t imagine spending over eight hours a day in school and on the bus, only to have homework waiting when I get back. And I’m an adult. This is what we require of kids as young as four-years-old.

To be clear, I am not opposed to children going to school. I am opposed to children going to a school with an educational model that fundamentally undermines who they are as kids and as individuals.

***

The problem is two-fold: there are too many kids, and there are kids who don’t work well in classes.

Of course, some kids do work well in classes. The majority of mine are whip-smart. They can focus fairly well, they can work independently, they can read, they catch on quickly, and they would do just fine if the five kids who consistently cause trouble were absent from the class. I can pull out my fun games without worrying that a fight will break out; I can pull out the multisensory activities without worrying about spending fifteen minutes cleaning up; I can read and read and read books to them and even ask a comprehension question or two without the entire class melting down.

Oh, what a glorious day it is when certain children are absent and the class size is down to a manageable fifteen and we all have fun and I go home feeling like maybe what I do is worth it!

Don’t get me wrong — I love each of my children dearly. But there’s only one teacher and eighteen of them, and it’s impossible to give them all the attention they need.

Early into teaching, a parent mentioned to me that I spent more time with her child as the teacher than she did as a parent.

That terrifies me, because filling in as a parent for eighteen young students means everybody loses.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to put one child’s needs on the backburner in order to put out larger fires. Your head hurts, babe? One second — A just stabbed S with a pencil. Your dad’s in jail? Hang on, love to talk, but J is having a meltdown over here. You think I’m the best teacher ever? You’re too kind, sorry for interrupting, but I promised M I’d get her ointment for her sore finger and this is the fifth time she’s bugged me about it.

I feel the limits of my own inadequacy every day. I see the results of my inadequacy every day. Would S still have these behavioral issues if I had the time to talk with him? Would A feel more loved if I had time to kneel down, look in her eyes, and express genuine sorrow that she bumped her knee? Am I perpetuating a cycle of poverty and crime because I don’t have the time to meet each child’s needs?

That’s not as far-fetched as it seems. One of my students, suspended multiple times, has had siblings kicked out of school and a parent in jail. This student exhibits similar deviant behavior — despite being the smartest kid in class. I can’t help but feel that the time I have with this student might make a huge difference as to whether they end up kicked out of school, in jail, or graduating college with honors.

Ironically, it’s the well-behaved kids who suffer too. I hardly know my quiet, obedient students, because they’re not screaming at me, starting conversations about sex over lunch, or refusing to fill out their worksheet. They literally, physically cling to me at recess or beg me to read them stories to compensate — and it’s only a matter of time before somebody busts their lip or busts somebody else’s and oops, sorry, we’ll have to see whether he likes green eggs and ham another day.

Ignoring kids was not what I signed up for as a teacher, but I have to do it every day just to cover all the material and keep the class unit functional.

Suggested solutions: Smaller class sizes. No more than fifteen, please. The smaller, the better. Alternatively, add more teachers and teacher’s aides. One teacher for every five or so kids. Require parental volunteering. Something. If schools are going to be parenting the kids more than the parents, we need to be able to parent more effectively. And maybe make it a bit easier for people to get educated and certified as teachers?

***

The other problem is, of course, that some kids don’t work well in groups of any size. I can rattle off to you all the kids in my class who would need or strongly benefit from one-on-one attention. They mostly suffer from being kids or needing lots of guidance because of their behavior issues.

I like to daydream about how I would approach a one-on-one education for some of my kids. Lots of STEM for one boy who literally never pays attention but loves dinosaurs, planes, and building things. Lots of sensory bins and active learning games for one girl who cannot sit still but loves to sing, dance, and handle animals. This girl is a spazz ordinarily, but put her with an animal, and she is the calmest, most tender, thoughtful child ever. I bet she’d love to do math with a rat in her pocket or read to a dog at the library.

Can’t we create a space for these kids? A tailored public education that gives two or three hours of individualized hands-on instruction (if even that much) and then lets them play and create for the rest of the day?

I know how idealistic all this seems, but it’s so needed. My kids and I myself would be eternally grateful for any improvements in our educational system that acknowledge the inadequacy of one teacher among 18-30 students and the uniqueness of each child whose needs buck the current system.

Rant over.

Hijacking Narratives

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I finally figured out what I dislike most about fundamentalism, what I find most toxic: it cannot and will not accept other people’s experiences, claims, intentions, motives, explanations, or observations as real.

I found this out, ironically, through observing liberal arguments on Facebook. It’s standard fare. Some poor unsuspecting soul will say something like, “I want safe bathrooms for everybody. I am concerned for trans people. I am concerned for sexual assault victims who might feel unsafe with male anatomy in their bathroom too. Can we come up with a bathroom solution that protects all people?”

The response is — I guarantee it — something like this: “YOU HORRIBLE TRANSPHOBIC HATEFUL PERSON. How dare you. HOW DARE YOU. YOU HATE TRANS PEOPLE. YOU THINK THEY’RE PREDATORS. I am SICKENED by you.”

The unsuspecting soul grovels before them: “I am so sorry I offended you. I do care about trans people. I never said they were predators.”

“YES YOU DID, YOU DISGUSTING EXCUSE FOR A HUMAN BEING. You hate trans people. You spew hate.”

“But I just said I don’t hate trans people.”

“YES YOU DO!”

Et cetera. Another big step forward for LGBT+ rights.

***

I walked away from viewing this cage fight considerably shaken. It reminded me exactly of the fundamentalist mindset: the inability to allow someone who disagrees with you to mean what they say.

Since we’re on the topic, that’s why any sort of dialogue between the LGBT+ community and the conservative Christian community crashed and burned a long time ago. Gay people cannot actually mean that their love is real and healthy; their children cannot actually mean that they grew up just fine with two dads or two moms; their sexual orientation cannot actually be as unchangeable as they claim, because the Bible says homosexuality is an abomination and the heart is deceitful above all things and Rosaria Butterfield changed her sexual orientation, so there you have it.

This line of thinking may or may not be expressed in the manner seen above (i.e., you disgusting excuse for a human being), but it’s equally damaging.

This is not a strictly “conservative problem” or “liberal problem” or “internet problem” or “LGBT+ issues” problem.

It is an all-of-us problem.

***

A friend of mine confronted some friends, once. This friend expressed concern, hurt, and discomfort at the language they used and the jokes they told. At first, the friends were angry and offended; they thought my friend expressed herself poorly; they thought she was just stirring up the pot and throwing around devastating words.

Then — as my friend put it — “they realized the problem was different: I had meant exactly what I said.”

I meant exactly what I said. 

That. That is the realization many of us need to come to in our conversations with those who disagree with us.

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to dismiss somebody’s perspective and experience because of their word choice or their emotional state.

You’re overreacting. You’re on your period, aren’t you? You just want attention. You’re a white, cisgender male. You always were dramatic.

That’s why many Christians cannot accept as factual the feelings and experiences of a black person or a feminist or a Christian who walked away from their faith. And many secular people cannot accept as factual the feelings and experiences of white people or complementarians or religious people.

Generally, we don’t want to hear anything that contradicts our narrative of the world, that disrupts our “us vs. them” ideologies, that challenges our beliefs that we want to believe are universal.

***

I use the word “narrative” because I think it’s more important to know why we believe the things we believe than to know what we believe. Why we believe can divide us just as much as what we believe, and what drives us to believe can unite us with others different from us. Even if we don’t share the conclusion, we share the process, we share the motives, we share the goals.

I think the key to understanding people, to loving them, to making peace between them, is understanding their narratives — and by “understanding,” I mean letting them mean what they say they mean, even if it contradicts your worldview.

As a fundamentalist Christian, I thought I knew everybody’s narratives. There were only three: those who knew God, those who didn’t, and those who “tasted the heavenly gift” and walked away.

If you knew God, it was because he predestined you, because the Holy Spirit enlightened you, because all along, he was what you were searching for.

If you didn’t know God, you were miserably unhappy and sinful, lost, desperate for escape, incapable of morality or self-control or love. There was a God-sized hole in your heart that nothing could fill.

If you walked away, it was because you hardened your heart; you were bitter and angry against God and others; you threw out the baby with the bathwater; you were deceived; you let your hurt blind you to the truth.

Those narratives dominate and subsume all alternative narratives.

Because of the narrative of those who know God, it’s difficult to be a Christian with doubt, a Christian with the testimony that God doesn’t show up when you need him and that your spiritual life is a source of struggle, not comfort.

Because of the narrative of those who don’t know God, it’s difficult to believe unbelievers who claim to be happy or good without God. “Do you feel like you’re missing anything by not believing in God?” I asked my nonreligious friend. “No,” she said. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Yes,” she said. (I didn’t know what to make of that.)

Because of the narrative of those who walk away from God or Christianity, it’s difficult to take them seriously; it’s difficult to see how droves of Christians are abandoning ship for legitimate reasons; it’s difficult to understand how they could have been unhappy within Christianity and how they could be happier elsewhere.

So we resort to shutdown tactics: “You’re deceived. You’re not seeing the full picture. You’re overreacting. You’re just bitter. You’ll come back to the truth eventually.”

And if your worldview requires that your worldview always be right, you have to resort to shutdown tactics. You have to reimagine somebody else’s narrative. You must, or your whole worldview will crumble around your feet.

***

I did a lot of explaining away as a fundamentalist Christian. Lots of it.

I call that explaining away “hijacking narratives.”

When atheists help the local poor, Christians report how amazing it is that God can work through unbelievers. Hijacked narrative.

When a Christian tries to ask an honest, well-meaning question about homosexuality, secular people report how amazing it is that Christians can be so bigoted and heartless. Hijacked narrative.

When you claim that egalitarianism is a more faithful, Biblical reading than complementarianism, people jump all over you for disrespecting the inerrancy of Scripture. Hijacked narrative.

When you claim to be abused, people roll their eyes at the self-centered victimization going on in today’s youth. Hijacked narrative. 

We’re not going to get anywhere with anybody if we cannot allow people to mean what they say.

***

Of course, this is not a simple path to truth.

People say things all the time that they don’t mean. Not everybody is self-aware. People can be deceived, duped, swayed, and manipulated into believing things that harm themselves and others. And even when people mean something, meaning something doesn’t make it true.

I say this as someone who thought for my whole life the truth was one thing and then realized I was lying to myself. I am hyper-aware of my own ability to deceive myself, my frequent inability to be honest with myself — this, as a someone who prides herself on self-awareness, empathy, and sensitivity.

I hijacked my own narrative. That’s the worst part of fundamentalism, for me — it trains you to doubt your own observations, thoughts, and feelings on the empirical fact that we could all be wrong. And when you’ve hijacked your own narrative to keep it in line with the “truth,” it’s incredibly difficult not to hijack the narrative of somebody who grew up with different experiences or observations. It’s hard not to jump to conclusions or have concerns or questions.

This is why I beg for grace, understanding, and patience for everybody — including fundamentalist, religious, cisgender, straight, white, middle-class people, including secular, atheist, transgender, gay, colored, poor people. I beg everyone to listen. I beg everyone to allow people to mean what they say they mean. I beg everyone to meet people where they are — even if their idea of “love” includes elements of bigotry, even if their idea of “truth” includes elements of narrowmindedness, even if their sincere meaning seems out of touch with reality.

Everybody, on all sides: Give people the dignity to know their own thoughts and motives best, even if there’s evidence they don’t.

No more hijacking narratives.

When Protecting Rights Is Immoral

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Trump’s travel ban.

It’s the next thing, in a long line of things, that’s getting me to think about the difference between rights and love.

As a feminist, I obviously advocate for equal rights. I think I thought that “rights” were the highest form of justice: nobody ought to cross anybody’s rights, and once rights are “equal,” the fight’s pretty much over. Taking a stand for “rights” is always the ethical position, I assumed.

But I kept bumping up against issues and situations where ensuring “rights” not only seemed inadequate but inhumane.

The first thing was listening to pro-choice arguments. I keep a wider circle now, and the entry level pro-choice argument, the aha moment for many, is this: in no other situation is a person obligated to donate their organs, bodily tissue, or the like. It’s a noble thing to donate blood for a good cause, or give up a kidney for a dying sister, but nobody can force you to do it. You have the right to refuse. In the same way, a woman has the right to refuse “donating” her body to the fetus residing in it. It’s a noble thing to carry a fetus to term, but a woman is not obligated to do so.

Since it’s convinced so many pro-lifers to go pro-choice, I try hard to understand this argument, but frankly, I don’t. There seems to be another level of ethics beyond merely ensuring “rights” — a moral obligation that obliges you even when your “rights” excuse you. For me, that is why the pro-choice rallying cry of “my body, my choice” moves me so little.

There’s a similar attitude of “rights” when it comes to the refugee debate.

One of my friends made the connection that being pro-life involves protecting both the unborn and the refugee. Someone countered with this: “The unborn have the right not only to life, but to citizenship. Refugees do not.”

I’ve seen this sentiment in various other arguments. It boils down to “we don’t have to care, because refugees don’t have any right to be here. This is a government, after all.”

I hate this attitude that as long as it isn’t people’s “right” to our care and protection, we can turn them away, we can let them suffer, we can ignore their problems, and we can feel morally justifiable in doing so.

It’s a heartless sort of morality, a cold, technical, calculating sort of morality.

It breaks my heart, these sorts of arguments. “You don’t have to carry your child to term, so murder is totally okay.” “You don’t have to welcome refugees to your country, so sending them back to the horrors of a war-torn country after potentially robbing them of their only chance of a better future is perfectly justifiable.” “You don’t have to help that person bleeding out on the side of the road, so just walk right on by.”

Obviously, things get more complicated when it’s a government acting under moral obligation rather than individual citizens, and we can debate to what extent governments as governments fall under moral obligation to welcome refugees, especially if and when it threatens the safety of its citizens.

Obviously, things are more complicated when conflicting obligations cross paths, period — like choosing between the life of the mother and the child, or stopping to pick up a hitchhiker when you’re a petite female with no self-defense skills, or any number of situations where it’s not clear what’s heroic, what’s stupid, and what’s unhelpful.

I don’t want to make an easy proscription of what to do or not do in all the complicated, conflicting ethical situations we face as a nation, as a pregnant woman, or as individuals in our day-to-day lives. I don’t want to simplify any of this.

But I do want us to think about the possibility of being morally obligated to do something even if it transgress our rights.

Our morality should be empathetic, human, and, yes, sacrificial. Our morality should protect not only people’s “rights,” but also people themselves.

We are morally obligated to protect and care for others even at the potential cost of our rights, even if they have no right to ask.

2016: What Did (and Didn’t) Work for Me

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Addie Zierman, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote this post on what did and didn’t work for her in the past year. Since I don’t make (read: keep) New Years’ resolutions, I was inspired to do the same.

What didn’t work

1. No dishwasher

The power of dishes over our lives is just ridiculous. Never again. Nobody feels like scrubbing at dishes after every meal, and then remembering to put them up once they’re dry, only to refill the dish drainer with newly washed dishes. I’d say around a third of our marital spats involve who didn’t wash the dishes — and that’s a conservative estimate. Plus, do handwashed dishes actually get clean? It feels so unsanitary to scrub your plate with the grime from the other plate still on it. Needless to say, a dishwasher is the number one priority for our next living space.

2. Being a stay-at-home wife

Because we moved around a lot over the summer, I wasn’t able to secure a temporary summer job before starting my teaching job. I spent the summer home alone, in a new place, with nobody to see and nothing to do. I was miserable. I am split evenly down the middle of introvert and extrovert, so being away from people and a routine left me unmotivated to start any creative projects or even keep up with those dratted dishes.

This summer, I’m getting a job — hopefully a part-time job that allows me people time in the morning, creative introvert time in the afternoon, and Netflix-and-chill in the evening.

3. Avoiding counseling

I kept putting it off. Things didn’t get better. I need it.

What did work

1. Staying hydrated

This little hack made a huge difference in my life. A while ago, I discovered that I am more prone to anxiety, depression, and mood swings when dehydrated. This year, I made it a priority to drink the daily recommended water intake. I fill up a Cool Gear cup and keep it with me at all times. It’s hard to refill during a busy school day, and I rarely drink the recommended amount every day, but its impact on my energy and mood is noticeable. Plus, it’s the only “resolution” I actually stuck with this year, so, yay!

2. Creative outlets

I participated in two plays this fall, got cast in a third this winter, tried National Novel Writing Month, and visit the library once or twice a week. I didn’t realize how much I missed — and needed — storytelling in my life. Drama, reading and writing fiction, and music has made up a huge part of my life ever since I was young, so dabbling in those things again brings back the purpose and imagination of my carefree days. I’ve found that writing fiction, in particular, helps me pry off the perfectionist tendencies that keep me down. It’s also been more helpful, truthful, and healing to work out my existential angst in stories rather than essays. (By the way, I recently got into Goodreads and challenged myself to read 50 books this year. Join me?)

3. Teaching

I love teaching. I really do. I hate when the kids don’t listen and the Play Dough goes everywhere for the third time that day and the internet goes out right when you need it to teach this next lesson and you have to drag that one kid to the principal’s office because he choked somebody again and then threw himself on the floor and refused to move, but I love it. The hard days are really hard, but the good days are phenomenal. I’ve fallen in love with all of my kids (okay, except two — working on that) and am amazed at the progress they’ve made.

It’s the only job I’ve had that gives me purpose, uses and stretches my natural gifts, and makes me into a better person. Whatever jobs I end up doing will have to involve teaching kids in some capacity.

4. Giving myself spiritual space

As you probably guessed, I am completely burnt out with spirituality right now. I got to the point where nothing made sense anymore, and instead of fighting through it, I found peace in saying “I don’t know” and taking a break. Church, prayer, Bible reading…I stopped forcing myself to do them, because the only motivating factor I can muster is guilt and fear.

I still read and listen to primarily Christian voices — Addie Zierman, Phil Vischer, Sarah Bessey, Peter Enns, my local priest, my husband, the Orthodox liturgy, my conversations with thoughtful Christian friends, my dear commenters here. I like this place, as an observer, as someone taking things in, seeing how they play out, falling in love with the mystery and the story of redemption as an outsider, rather than frantically hammering out theology in order to protect myself from hellfire.

5. Boundaries

This year, I discovered that abuse of all kinds is more rampant in my little world than I thought. And so, this year, I had to set boundaries…cutting out manipulative voices, calling out abuse, taking stands, letting certain people go.

And oh, goodness, is it hard to do that, to be open to critique while closed to attack, all while being kind and humble. No doubt you’ve seen me get snippy with a few frustrating readers here and morph into the “tone police,” and I apologize for every time I’ve been ungracious. But as bad as I am at it and as hard as it is, I’ve found it far healthier to set boundaries and know my limits, both online and offline.

Here’s to a new year! I’m hoping for rest, healing, and creativity in this upcoming year. (A baby and a book deal wouldn’t be too shabby, either.)

What things did or didn’t work for you this past year?

No Perfect Victims

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Is it just me, or do some people seem to think true victims don’t exist?

In their mind, there are people theoretically more or less at fault, but the person less at fault is held to an even higher standard than the person more at fault: “Sure, you got raped, but hey, calm down. Respond with love and forgiveness. Right now.”

If you don’t respond with the patience of a saint, legitimate hurt and even abuse gets swept under the rug.

And if you do respond with uncommon grace, well, then, don’t forget you’re no better than anyone else. Share any complaints about the abuse or injustice, any fears, sorrows, or angry outbursts — any negative emotion, period — and the conversation gets turned around to the real issue at hand: “You’re too bitter. You’re too angry. You’re too emotional. You’re not a perfect person, either, so show some grace.”

I’m all for empowering victims to control their own behavior, thoughts, and emotions. You don’t get away with murdering white police officers in response to racism, for instance. It’s not emotionally healthy to stew in hate for the rest of your life. But it’s false, patently false, to think that just because somebody responds in a poor or even heinous way doesn’t mean they haven’t experienced real abuse, or that their abuse isn’t important to address.

I’ve been wondering why people don’t understand this, because to me, your favorite whiny millennial SJW, victimization seems so obviously a thing that happens far more often than I ever thought possible. Why isn’t it obvious to everyone?

I think there are two reasons why.

One, there’s an understanding that it takes two to tango — if you got sexually assaulted, you must have done something come hither; if someone picked a fight with you, you must have provoked them. There are two sides of the story. The victim is the cause, the abuse is the effect. There is some sort of fault on both sides. This is because…

…two, abusers don’t always look like abusers, and/or victims don’t always look like victims. Abusers can be charming, lovable, pitiable, even decent, while their victims can be moody, problematic, frustrating, and guilty of other offenses. Even victims have a hard time labeling themselves as such, because they feel to some degree that they deserved the abuse.

Many people are looking for a victim that doesn’t exist — a lovable victim with an unblemished personality and few moral flaws to speak of. They don’t see victimhood, because they’re looking for a black-and-white case between an evil person and a good person.

This seems to drive the conversation — or lack thereof — on every justice issue. Who wants to believe that racism’s a problem when some black people, in the name of their lives mattering, torch Milwaukee? Who wants to validate a petulant teenager’s feelings and dramas that seem too much like a ploy for attention? Who wants to listen to the mean kid’s sob story after she just punched her classmate in line? Who believes the prostitute when she files charges for rape?

It seems unthinkable to us that imperfect and even repulsive people could ever be victims.

But they are. And we need to see them.

Bad Spirituality = Bad Storytelling

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Nothing’s better than pulling up a cheesy Christian movie on Netflix and laughing the night away with your sister. So my sister and I started Christian Mingle: The Movie with the highest hopes that it would be as entertaining as the movies from Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas.

Worst. Idea. Ever.

To catch you up on the plot, the desperate Gwyneth Hayden fakes her Christianity to sign up for ChristianMingle.com (because there are no other online dating websites in the world, obviously) and continue her budding relationship with the plaid-button-up good Christian guy she meets through the site. Of course, his mother and wannabe girlfriend sniff out Gwyneth’s fake relationship with Jesus, which leads to heartbreak, which leads to Gwyneth meeting Him instead — which the opening monologue already told you, so why did you waste a couple hours watching this movie?

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what bothers me most about this movie. The pink, outlined, Times New Roman font? The mother’s Botox overkill? The Christian cliches you didn’t realize sounded so corny until you watched them on the silver screen? The fact that the mother and wannabe girlfriend discovered Gwyneth’s fakery after Gwyneth could not answer the world’s toughest question on the problem of evil with a Bible verse? The other disturbing fact that Gwyneth wears high heels as a missionary teacher in Mexico?

Kidding aside, I puzzled and puzzled over why this movie, like so many other well-intentioned, decently-made evangelical Christian movies, bothered me. I finally found the words over a chipotle chicken avocado melt at Sunday brunch:

What if it’s not a coincidence that evangelical movies are cringingly awful? We blame the evangelical moviemakers for their lack of vision and storytelling, but what if part of the problem is evangelicalism itself?

Because it’s not accurate to say that Christians are bad at storytelling. Christians are some of the best storytellers in the Western literary canon. J. R. R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O’Connor, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Dante Alighieri — almost every single classic author since Christ’s death and resurrection has been Christian or at least steeped in Christianity.

But none of them are evangelical.

They are mostly Catholic, or Orthodox, in Dostoevsky’s case, or Anglican, in Lewis’s — but rarely Protestant, and never, to my knowledge, evangelical. Of course, those three traditions have held longer sway in history and literature than a movement less than a century old, but still.

I don’t mean this to be a hate-fest against evangelicals, as if they’re bad at everything. They’re not. Evangelicals are good at things like nonfiction, marketing, multimedia, preaching, and motivational speaking. But I don’t think they’re good at storytelling.

It’s just not in the evangelical DNA, really.

I mean, evangelicals revere some of the best literature in the world — the Bible — but nobody sits down and just reads it, or examines the poetic structures of Genesis 1 and 2 (unless they’re liberal heretics), or notices the remarkable storytelling of 1 and 2 Samuel. They get in groups and dissect whole passages into tiny chunks that makes getting through an entire book a three-year long process. They study it to death.

And when it comes to great art and literature, many of us grew up without it, because that picture had a nude woman in it, or that movie had a couple F-words, or that book depicted someone’s tragic loss or atheism or sin, and Christians are to avoid any appearance of evil. That’s why we watched PG-rated movies, exclusively. Our “literary analysis” often looked far too much like moralism.

But I don’t blame fundamentalism for chasing the evangelical movement away from good art. I think there’s something inherent in evangelical spirituality — stripped as it is from the larger Christian history, from a sacramental emphasis, from the sensory elements of bells, incense, and spires — that makes evangelicals so bad at storytelling.

Maybe our stories sound cliched because evangelical spirituality only allows for a one-size-fits-all relationship with Jesus?

Maybe our stories are moralistic because our spirituality is moralistic?

Maybe our stories tie up in neat little bows because we’re always trying to tie up our suffering and doubt in neat little bows?

Maybe our characters are one-dimensional because there’s something suppressed in our spirituality?

Maybe our bad guy-versus-good guy is so black and white because our worldview is so black and white?

Maybe our portrayal of atheists, agnostics, Muslims, and nones is so off-base because our religion doesn’t allow us to listen to other people’s narratives?

Maybe our stories are preachy because that’s what’s most important to our faith — getting people to agree with us?

Maybe our stories, music, and art are ugly and trite because we think that truth can be divorced from beauty?

I’m not 100% sure whether this is the fatal flaw of evangelical storytelling — but I strongly suspect it is.

Are You a Pessimist or an Optimist?

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I’m trying to write a post about why happy people annoy me (isn’t it awful?), and I’ve been describing myself as a pessimist.

I’ve been rethinking that. True, I default to depression and a glass-is-half-full mindset. I’m the girl who said, as an objective fact during a class discussion, that this world was a messed up, horrible place. My professor’s jaw dropped. “For someone who’s just about to get married,” he said, “that’s a surprising thing to say.”

I suppose I did say it with a bitterness too intense for a twenty-one-year-old to feel.

But at the same time, I think, deep down, that I am a hopeful person. Eventually, I pick myself up again and keep fighting, even if I don’t think it’ll make a difference. I get really passionate about truth and goodness and beauty, and really upset when they seem to be losing traction in this, quote, “messed up, horrible place.”

It occurred to me that maybe my melancholy doesn’t come from pessimism, but from idealism. I hope for the best, work for perfection, demand the ideal, and end up crushed when I, life, or my fellow human beings fail to deliver. Just because something has always been and always will be has never stopped me from raging against it to my reflection in the bathroom mirror.

That idealism, combined with a joy-sucking empathy of others’ pain, makes for one gloomy Bailey — but that’s not technically pessimism.

What about you? Would you describe yourself as a pessimist, an optimist, or something off the spectrum?

Have You Seen 13th?

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Feeling a bit under the weather this week, I finally watched 13th, an original Netflix documentary on the history of race relations and the criminal justice system in America.

To put it simply: my mind is blown, and my heart is broken.

I’ve always sympathized with the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent outcries against police violence. I tend to believe that people with personal experience get more say on the issue than outsiders weighing in. How am I supposed to know what black communities actually face? I lived in middle class white suburbia my whole life. The only black people I knew were adopted by a white homeschooling family in Texas, way back when I was ten.

Even though I give a lot of sympathy to the movement’s concerns, I didn’t realize until watching this documentary how very little I understood those concerns. I had no idea mass incarceration was out of hand (or a thing, to be honest). I had no idea it was explicitly but covertly tied to keeping blacks down. I hadn’t given a good, hard think to how our country handles the war on drugs, or criminalizes people requesting a trial. I didn’t even grasp the extent of my own ignorance, how I, that compassionate, liberal-minded white person, still unwittingly bought intro black stereotypes. .

The credits of the documentary are photos of real black families, doing the same things photographed in my family — a big sibling holding a little sibling, kids laughing in the backyard on a summer day, a toddler running on the beach in her baggy swimsuit, and lots of photos of daddies with their kids.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen any photos of young black daddies with their children. I just see them dead on the news, the catalysts of a movement that, frankly, I as a white person will never fully understand.

I think everyone, liberal, conservative, and moderate, needs to watch this documentary before they open their mouth or their Facebook page on this issue again. If you’re worried about your particular political beliefs getting smashed, well, take heart that both Democrats and Republicans share an equal amount of guilt in this issue. This is a moral, social issue, not partisan politics.

Have you seen it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!