Future Daddy

Marrying a man who liked kids was a must.

I adore children. I’ve got big plans to teach them, work with them, foster them, and/or raise five or six of them (both biological and adopted). Erich’s not quite there yet with all of those plans, but he finds children generally agreeable. He didn’t grow up changing younger siblings’ diapers or teaching preschool at the age of seventeen, so much of his baby love is theoretical.

We talk a bunch about future mommy- and daddy-hood. Hopefully, our first child will be a girl, because we already fought a tooth-and-nail battle over what to name her, and called a truce over a beautiful name that I won’t share with you in case we never have a girl. But we talk about her, as both a specific future child we’re excited to meet and as a catchall for future Stegersauruses. We talk about how we’re going to raise her, what we want her to know, what we’ll read to her, and what hobbies we’ll introduce her to.

Baby Stegersaurus is a long way from coming into existence, but already, I’m trying to consciously let go of the Psycho Control Freak belief that I, as the mother, as the person who has worked with children literally my whole and read all the parenting articles, am the Primary Caretaker Who Knows Best. I’m starting right now to make space in my thinking for Erich’s unique take on parenting and interacting with children.

So it’s been fun to watch him get to know our niece, the sweet and screaming Ella. At first, Erich declined to hold her and commented mostly on her projectile vomiting skills. (In his defense, she aimed one squarely for his open mouth.)

But this past Easter weekend, he shocked me by asking to hold the baby while her parents took a much-needed break. When thirty minutes passed, I hunted them down. I discovered Erich walking around in the spring weather and murmuring the tiny bit of Spanish he’d learned from his Mexican coworkers. “Es un horno,” he repeated (a lot).

Ella was fast asleep.

Context: This child gets cranky real quick and real permanent. But that whole weekend, she was quite content in Uncle Erich’s arms, listening to his broken Spanish and enjoying the great outdoors.

Fingers crossed that same magic works with all future children.

House Hunting

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We just put an offer on a house!

For the past year, we’ve been living in a one-bedroom apartment, and we’re ready to get out of there to a more spacious, permanent residence.

Impeccable reasons for buying a home:

No dishwasher (I need a dishwasher); no air conditioning (I NEED AIR CONDITIONING); no in-unit washer and dryer (we’re out of quarters); no garage for Wisconsin’s always-winter-and-never-Christmas (boo); no outdoor access (waah); no place for out of town guests and family visits (sadness); and we can’t hang anything on the walls; and it’s quite a workout to haul groceries half a mile to the kitchen; and we both need to pee at the same time (not often, but when you gotta go, YOU GOTTA GO) and there’s only one bathroom.

We started our house hunt like all the pros do — watching Flip or Flop. (We recommend a steady intake of four or five episodes a night for at least three days straight.)

Then we got serious and started poring over the Home and Gardens magazine.

(Don’t worry; we got around to Googling pertinent questions, like, “How on earth do I find the right house???”)

Three things were in our favor: a small budget, which limited our options; an amazing buyer’s agent from Vesta Real Estate Advisors; and marital agreement over what we wanted in a house. We both wanted a large enough house to grow into over the next seven to ten years. We were open to a fixer upper, but I wanted something we could move into with minimal interior work. Three bedroom, two bath, an open layout, a good-sized yard, a neighborhood not too suburban but not too isolated — those were our other requirements.

We looked at pretty much every home in our budget — from an 1800’s house with the original farmhouse still attached (and a blue pickup sitting in the massive garage), to a tiny bungalow with a neighborhood dog greeting us at the doorstep.

Our first love was an open-concept, modern condo with an Eastern vibe and the most relaxing, romantic master bedroom I’ve ever stepped foot in. It was at the top of our budget, but we were willing to bite the bullet and make adjustments for this gem. Then Erich’s eagle-eye noticed that the condo docs only allowed a three person max per condo.

What.

I’m just going to stop there, because I’m still bitter at the condo docs and their stupid rules and that beautiful, beautiful home…..

Anyways, we had our mandatory couples fight over finances that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad night — glad to get that out of the way — and went back to looking at houses. My mother-in-law suggested we reconsider the foreclosure with the scary basement that I immediately wrote off because the roof needed repairing and the soffit was falling in and there was black stuff growing everywhere. 

Advice: listen to your mother-in-law.

Now that we’d looked at twenty houses in three weekends and knew the comps of the area (sorry, had to channel my inner Flip or Flop at least once), we knew that despite the forest growing in the front yard and the puddle in the backyard and the random mold on the third bedroom wall, this house was a steal.

My father-in-law said when you’ve found the right house, you get this “feeling.” And I got that feeling — despite the spray-painted fish in the basement and the caving garage floor and the outdated amp service.

But you know what? It has a dishwasher.

I’m excited.

I’ll keep you updated on whether the offer goes through or not. In the meantime, tell me about your first home!

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.

Confessions of a Talkative Female

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I didn’t expect these doors to upset me as much as they did. I mean, cliché fonts and misspellings do normally upset me, so I was prepared for that. But I wasn’t prepared for a huge wave of insecurity over the age-old stereotype that women talk more than men.

Look, I do my best to smile thinly at gender stereotypes and move on. Most of the time I can rant underneath my public face about how I know half a dozen women who aren’t like that and how no guy I know would ever say this.

But this time the gender stereotype cuts too close to home. I talk a lot. I do. And I’ve always felt insecure about it — particularly when it came to my relationship with Erich.

We could have been the inspiration for this stereotype. Erich can sit in silence for days. The only reason he doesn’t is because, if he fails to respond within one minute, I wail about how he doesn’t love me anymore. To which he says, “Huh, no, I love you,” with that exact inflection, and I say, “See?” and we carry on with that topic for awhile until I realize that he doesn’t require normal human conversation to sustain existence.

Me? I talk to myself. In the mirror. In the shower. In the car. Out loud.

Erich has only commented on this once, early on in our marriage, where I took a particularly long shower and decimated bad theology in one go. “Are you talking to yourself?” he called from a room away.

“No,” I called back, and whispered the rest of the conversation to myself.

Talkative people get a bad rap in general — people who prattle on and on as if their companion is listening (or cares), whole “conversations” where only one person is relaying all the movies they’ve watched in the past year (in detail) and the other person smiles and nods until they realize their smiles are turning into yawns and their nodding is turning narcoleptic.

I remember tag-teaming such conversations with friends. We’d decide through subtle eye movements whose turn it was to smile and nod and who could safely make up an excuse and walk away.

The irony is that though I love to talk, I cannot stand talkative people. Some days it’s so bad that the only reason I listen is to respond. It’s terrible.

My dislike of talkative people probably fuels my insecurity about how much I talk.

The other factor is being a woman who loves to talk.

Do men feel the same insecurity about being talkative? I’m curious to know. My insecurity about this gender stereotype came from Jane Austen novels and all the Proverbs groaning about a woman’s tongue. A woman’s words were dangerous. Destructive. Annoying. Unproductive. As helpful and as interesting as a dripping faucet.

(Have you ever lived with a dripping faucet before? Not a metaphorical one, a real one? I once spent a whole weekend alone with a dripping faucet. It drove me insane. Nails on a chalkboard insane. And no, I didn’t fix it because the gender stereotypes about women being unskilled manual laborers most definitely apply to me.)

Lots of women’s articles and books talked about women and their nagging, about women and their chatter, about women and their need to get a grip and give their men some mental space already.

Maybe that’s why women apologize a lot. I know that’s why I do. I lead off every work conversation with, “Sorry to bother you, but — ” Especially with men. I’m convinced my boss cringes every time he sees me open my mouth.

It’s a subconscious thing. Words, words, words. Too much of them. Too much of me.

It’s the same thought: too much words = too much of me. I wear my heart on my sleeve.

Here’s the thing: I don’t enjoy “talking.” I really don’t. When I talk, I mean something — especially when I’m talking a lot. I’m not gushing blah, blah, blah. Not trying to, anyway. I’m trying to communicate something that matters to me.

That’s why this stereotype grates against my skin. It reduces my passionate rants to the drip, drip, drip of a faucet. It equates my attempts to connect and unburden with the prattle of stupid women. It assumes the mechanics of moving my jaw and vocalizing syllables is the be all, end all to this conversation. It’s all blah, blah, blah — no substance, no meaning, and not worth hearing.

That frightens me most, I think — an endless scream into a void, the perfect words falling on deaf ears, feeling disabled from communicating with the rest of the world.

And it makes sense, of course, why people would start interpreting a monologue going on ten minutes as blah, blah, blah. If your words are so important and meaningful, why air them so often and so repetitively?

***

My husband pointed out to me during our infamously horrific newlywed car rides that I “spoke in triplicate.” I’d repeat my main point three times. He’d keep count: “You just said that. Oh — that’s the third time. Do you know you speak in triplicate?”

“Yeah, well, that’s the third time today you’ve pointed it out,” I’d snap.

He didn’t mean it as an insult. He says he’s fascinated, frankly, by how much emotion and verbiage I can muster up every day. And I know he’s telling the truth — because when Erich says something, I listen. It’s easy to keep straight what he has said, because he doesn’t say it often.

Last night, for the first time in our relationship, I got to say, “Yep, you told me that story already.”

He uses that phrase with me every day.

***

Speaking of repetitive, here’s a phrase I used to use every day: hard to love. Hard to love, is how my talking made me feel. Hard to love, because my emotions — not the exhausted cry or the ticked off anger, but the soul-stuff that makes life bearable or not — were bound up in my words. Heart on my sleeve, like I said.

Nobody, I thought, could handle me with my emotion-words. Nobody, I thought, would get that I didn’t talk to fill empty space but to empty the space where I felt things the most. Nobody would understand that every time I opened my mouth (except with small talk — a whole other story), I meant something.

I felt like I prostituted my words.

My words are intimate and sacred — and I want them to stay that way, even if I talked to five different people about the same thing. But it makes me feel dirty and used up, talking so much.

It makes me feel dirty right now, writing this all down. Makes me feel whiny. Insignificant.

***

Well, I learned a few things as a talker. I learned that I wasn’t hard to love. I was quite easy to love, actually. I was very self-regulating. All I needed was a good listening ear, a hug, and some quick affirmation, and I could work my way through any problem. Erich is that listening ear for me now (and he gives great hugs, too).

Even though he’s a man, a strong and silent man, he finds me underneath the waves of emotional verbiage. He knows they matter. That I matter. I had to learn those things too, along with him, because I struggle more than he does to believe that my words and soul-stuff mean anything.

I also learned that there is some soul-stuff that no talking and no listening can fix. I use a different medium of words for those situations.

Silence is good too, I’ve found. That, or talking to myself in the shower.

Are you talkative? Is your best friend or partner talkative? How do you feel about it?

Job Hunting for the Vastly Unqualified

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Do you work a job for which you were technically unqualified or underqualified?

I’m currently on the prowl for both a temporary summer job and a full-time teaching job. Reading through job qualifications is a surefire way to take to my joy from sixty to zero.

One of my first bosses, a liberal arts grad who triple majored in Latin, music, and history, told me the key to getting a job is fake it till you make it. (He works in marketing now.) One of my friends said that nobody gets a job unless they apply for jobs for which they’re not qualified. Everybody at school said that everybody in the real world valued critical thinking skills and a good work ethic over previous experience.

I don’t know if I believe them.

Having attended a liberal arts school, we got pep talks all the time about the incomprehensible value of a liberal arts education…and the impracticality of it. You’ve got two options as a liberal arts major: go to grad school, or teach.

Being burnt out and broke, I opted for teaching — which I love. Unfortunately, I am not only uncertified but unable to be certified unless I go back to school. This is not realistic for me right now. (See “burnt out and broke,” above.)

My husband used to tease me about not having a real major. I used to chase him down the halls of the Strosacker science building every time he made a jab at my beloved Christian studies major.

But now I see his point. He majored in chemistry and got a job within a few weeks of looking, in a field wherein paychecks swiftly accrue more zeroes — at least compared to my job options.

Me? I’m still having this conversation:

“What did you major in in college?”

“Christian studies.”

“Oh. What can you do with that?”

“Nothing.”

“Oh.”

On the plus side, when I lift my head from yelling into the existential void of how royally screwed I am, I theoretically can reinvent myself. I’ve been looking into criminal justice (thanks, Criminal Minds), real estate (thanks, Flip or Flop), community planning (thanks, extroversion), and chaplaincy (thanks, Biblical egalitarians).

Everyone wants a relevant degree, plus at least two years of experience.

Cue scream into the existential void.

I’ve just started searching for “jobs in Ozaukee County” now. Just generic, unspecified jobs.

OoI can answer phone calls for a nail salon! “Looking for a friendly, fashionable” — never mind. NEXT.

Oo, I could walk dogs this summer! “Must have five years of relevant dog walking experience.” NEXT.

Oo, I could work at this daycare! “Must hold this, that, and the other certification, and have worked for over twenty years in the early childhood sphere. Bilingual preferred. Pay less than what you’re earning right now.”

I give up.

What’s your job? Were you qualified for it? Do you love it, hate it, recommend it?

The Billy Graham Rule

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I’ve been listening in on a lot of conversations about Mike Pence’s decision not to eat alone with another woman.

They covered all sorts of territory: Can men and women have close relationships? Does being “above reproach” mean maintaining your reputation at any cost or doing the right thing no matter who’s looking or not looking? Are all male/female relationships one hop, skip, and a jump from adultery? Is it reasonable to fear a loose women might try to destroy your career?

I grew up in a culture where male/female friendships were frowned upon, where I felt uncomfortable with a dad driving me home after babysitting his kids, where this Billy Graham rule of never being alone with a person of the opposite sex made perfect sense. I’d never thought all the way through the implications of a man making this “rule” his own, and I’d never heard the stories I did during these conversations — men moving their desks outside of an office to avoid sharing it with a woman; women never getting mentorship or advancing in their field because they could never privately meet with their male supervisors; women awkwardly listening in as a husband dialed his wife: “Hey, I am in the car with another woman alone right now — just so you know.”

Many women shared how demeaned, sexualized, ignored, excluded, and distrusted they felt when men declined to meet with them one-on-one for business, mentorship, or friendship.

***

One of the big reasons men follow the Billy Graham rule is protect themselves against the end of their careers and reputations because of rumored misconduct.

My take on it is this: I get wanting to protect yourself from false accusations.

I’m a teacher, and we have rules about being alone with students, particularly in a bathroom, both to protect against child abuse and to protect teachers from false accusations that could destroy their career and reputation. We don’t have that rule because teachers feel like they couldn’t control their sexual urges around children; it’s mostly for reputation’s sake.

A safeguard designed to protect both children’s well-being and teachers’ reputations seems reasonable. Likewise, a safeguard designed to protect both the well-being and the reputation of two people of the opposite sex seems reasonable to me.

But where I would take issue with that sentiment is if it began to interfere with one’s work or to exclude women from networking, mentorships, or just plain doing their jobs.

Not all women are temptresses waiting to seduce a man. The Billy Graham rule came about not because he lunched with a trusted female co-worker but because a naked woman broke into his hotel room. A woman building a professional relationship over a lunch outing or discussing company business over a coffee break is not remotely similar to a woman lounging nakedly on a hotel bed.

It comes down to this: Not all one-on-one meals or conversation with someone of the opposite sex are sexual in nature. Honestly, I would be a little offended and shocked as a woman if a man refused to meet with me one-on-one in a public place to discuss business, or to provide private counseling as a pastor or psychologist.

It would be like a woman saying, “Sorry, but I don’t meet privately with men in case they sexually assault me.”

That shows an egregious lack of trust and respect, in my opinion.

Yes, sexual assault happens. Yes, adultery happens. And yes, they happen mostly by people you know and trust. Reasonable safeguards against those things may prevent those realities from occurring. But reducing a professional partner or client to their genitalia and sexual urges and then fearing them because of it — that is not a reasonable safeguard.

***

I can’t speak personally about this situation. I’ve never had a man tell me, “Sorry, but I don’t meet with women alone.”

But I think about all the great conversations, relationships, and mentorships I’ve developed both personally and professionally with men. My college experience — the most transformative four years of my life — would be drastically different if my guy friends refused to grab lunch with me, just the two of us, or if my male professors wouldn’t meet with me in their office unless their wife was present, or if a priest was uncomfortable discussing my spiritual questions without a chaperone, or if my counselor turned me away because he didn’t want to be alone with a female behind closed doors.

I would be more broken, less educated, less well-rounded, lonelier, and missing out on a huge part of the college experience. I owe much of my education, spirituality, and quality of life to amazing male friends and professionals. I cannot imagine having that taken away from me because of an irrational fear that I would try to seduce them over lunch.

Part of working in a co-ed professional environment means working closely with those around you, even if they’re the opposite sex — and that includes developing relationships and maybe breaking bread together.

I think there are ways to be prudent about one’s reputation and opposite sex relationships — meet in public places, keep the door open, have a window in your door, etc. — while still having meaningful professional relationships with one’s female clients, co-workers, and peers.

Speaking as a Woman

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Hardly anything bothers me more than women dismissing other women’s concerns.

“Oh, come on. You’re not that oppressed. No woman know deals with that. Women and their victim complexes these days….”

And I get it. Sexism, misogyny, and oppression are not often words that describe my personal day to day experience as a woman.

I have never experienced workplace discrimination. I am paid the same wages as my male counterparts. I have never been catcalled, sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, or raped. I have never felt slut-shamed or body-shamed. My husband wouldn’t even think to tell me to submit or remember my place as his wife. I can think of only two guys in my life who treated me differently than they treated men (or perhaps I imagined it).

The only real sexist discrimination I faced came from a fundamentalist church that I no longer attend and ideologies from my past that I no longer submit to. I notice sexism around me, but it doesn’t cut too deep. I see that my Christian school asks only men to pray at our meetings, for instance, but I would guess they would welcome a woman praying in public as well. And I didn’t even attempt to look for a teaching position that corresponded to my major (Christian studies), simply because I’d never heard of a female religion or Bible teacher in a secondary school.

I don’t feel that I am actively oppressed. I don’t often blame the patriarchy or think of the patriarchy or discuss the patriarchy outside of critiquing explicitly patriarchal views circulating in fundamentalist Christianity. Except in the Christian community, I feel free to be who I am and do the work I’m called to do, .

So if you asked me, as a woman, to weigh in on whether my plight looks like the oppressed female life feminists bemoan, I’d have to say no, not really. I notice sexism around me, of course, and how it sometimes ripples up in my direction, but it’s not screaming in my face at all times in all places. (Except in the Christian community. Gosh, I hate having to clarify that.)

But if the theoretical you that asked for my experience as a woman stops there, you would get a very privileged, lopsided view of what women face in the world, your country, your state, your city, even your circle.

I am, after all, only one woman among billions. And women’s issues is comprised of more than my experience and the women who chime in, “Me too!”

***

Women have incredible power to shape discussions on women’s issues. They have the power to create empathy and awareness in men and other more privileged women, and they have the power to dismiss, deride, and distract from real issues women face.

Almost everybody nowadays is somewhat sensitive to minorities, somewhat aware that things weren’t always done right by minorities, that white, male, cis, and/or middle-to-upper class people need to tread a bit carefully before speaking authoritatively about what minorities experience.

People get it.

And at the same time they don’t, because they grab hold of the stories and the experiences that fit their narrative of how things are — usually a narrative that downplays or denies the experience loudly protested on the streets and social media.

If women aren’t careful or if the conversationalist is on the hunt to hijack narratives, one woman could end up representing the whole of female experience.

“Well, my wife gets paid even more than the men at her workplace.” “My female friend has never been catcalled in her life.” “Bailey’s a woman — a feminist, even! — and she doesn’t consider herself oppressed.”

But worse than a man using one woman’s experience to gloss over other women’s problems? A woman doing the same thing.

I’ve seen women use their minority status to completely dismiss real problems women face. You have too — every time a beautiful woman films herself giving an anti-feminist rant, every time a confident woman writes the why she doesn’t need feminism trope, every time a woman implies or says straight up, “Well, I’m a woman, and I don’t feel that way.”

I wrote a letter to that fundamentalist church about how it felt to see only men in visible church positions — greeting visitors at the door, passing out the offering plate, reading the announcements, leading worship — and how it felt to slowly realize that nobody ever asked me to read the Bible on Sunday morning like the other teen boys got to, not because I wasn’t capable or even more capable of doing so, but because I was a girl. (Yes, I do realize that the full rationale was “because you’re a girl and the Bible says only men should lead and God wouldn’t say something unless it’s for the best,” but that extra reasoning doesn’t negate the utter sexism of the first part.)

I expected the men to get upset about it. (They did.) What I didn’t expect was the women feeling just as offended and incredulous. Women do all kinds of things in the church! Here’s a list! And you failed to address these Bible passages! Here they are! And even if this was a real problem, there are so many bigger problems to worry about.

And a woman can say that.

A woman can say hurtful, sexist, dismissive things, she can openly support a patriarchal system in a way a man cannot. A woman can say them in an authoritative manner. A woman can say them bluntly, shamelessly.

She can say them, because she is a woman, and what woman would actively support her own oppression? She wouldn’t (the thinking goes), and so the thing that another woman (or many women) feels is sexist or oppressive is deemed acceptable. And if a man is looking for an excuse to keep his ideologies the way they are, he can gently point all “oppressed” women by the way of the women loudly and proudly defending his ideologies.

I truly believe that little will change in communities where women, speaking as women, shut down other women’s experiences.

There’s already incredible pressure to not look like a chauvinist pig, so men are careful. I’ve noticed that many complementarian or patriarchal men honest-to-God respect and honor their wives, daughters, and other prominent women in their communities. If every woman spoke up against complementarian or patriarchal views, men would have no choice but to listen and conform.

If their wives were opposing it, if their daughters and their sisters and their mothers and the woman next to them at church and the pastor’s wife and their liberal coworker and the conservative neighbor across the street — if everywhere men turned women were vocally opposing or questioning certain ideas and practices that discriminate against women, communities would change.

But that isn’t happening. Men, genuinely curious about women’s experiences, can hear a feminist painting a picture of female oppression and go home to his wife, who rolls her eyes at feminism and the modern victim complex.

That is the danger and the responsibility of speaking as a woman.

P.S. Why reasonable, confident women support benevolent sexism

The True Liberal/Conservative Divide

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You heard about Princeton revoking an award to Tim Keller because of his beliefs on women and LGBTQ people in ministry? And perhaps you read Jonathan Merritt’s criticism of Princeton for “marginalizing” Keller, a conservative? And if you did, no doubt you got sucked into debates about whether Princeton did or did not marginalize Keller, and if it’s appropriate to critique a theologian based on his secondary theological beliefs concerning minorities, and whether beliefs concerning minorities are secondary.

I’ll show my hand: I feel like Princeton had a right to revoke the award and choose to celebrate only those theologians who affirm inclusiveness; I think it was sloppy to award Keller and then revoke the award; I do not think Keller is a misogynist and homophobe; and I think Princeton could only be considered intolerant and close-minded if it refused to allow Keller to speak on April 6, which they did not.

Here’s the thing. Christianity has always had problems with celebrated theologians who held questionable, if not outright deplorable, beliefs. Many have pointed out that Abraham Kuyper, the theologian after whom Keller’s retracted award was named, was racist and supported apartheid. If you do any sort of digging into Christianity’s past, you will find theology and theologians shaped by all kinds of pettiness, politics, personal disputes, and prejudices. Christianity does not have a perfect moral track record. Christianity was not always, in all eras, in all issues, united against bigotry, genocide, patriarchy, and oppression.

And I don’t need to tell anybody that Christianity today is not in all issues united against every Christian’s personal or collective idea of injustice.

That’s something Christians need to own, because Christians need to deal with it. They need to deal with in-house immorality and injustice.

Many Christians try to deal with it by committing the no true Scotsman fallacy — well, no true Christian would support x, y, or z. True Christianity stands with a, b, or c. And that’s why there’s thousands of denominations and denominations within denominations and emphases within denominations within denominations. Christians split into their own true or truer communities that affirms the “true Christian social ethic.”

But Christians squarely within orthodox belief do believe questionable and/or deplorable things — including that only men should be leaders within the church and home or LGBTQ people are abominations.

Even more frustrating, said Christians do have historical precedent, tradition, and Scripture supporting their beliefs because, as mentioned above, Christianity was not always, in all eras, in all issues, united against bigotry, genocide, patriarchy, and oppression.

For better or for worse, Christianity has or has had oppressive views about women, LGBTQ people, racial minorities, etc. that technically count as Christian — if we’re defining Christian by what Christians have traditionally believed and taught.

This is not to say those beliefs are true. This is not to say those beliefs are consistent with Christian charity, ethics, or common decency. This is not to say those beliefs are supported by correctly interpreted and applied Scripture. This is simply to say that the Christian church was not, in all eras, in all issues, united against bigotry, genocide, patriarchy, and oppression.

And this is also to simply say, that no matter how wrong-headed or bigoted those beliefs or those people are, they still fall within Christianity, and Christians have to engage with them as Christians. Christians cannot write off other Christians as not Christians. Certainly, Christians can critique other Christians and their beliefs as not being in line with Christian charity, ethics, or Scripture. But they cannot shrink the definition of Christian so small as to exclude the majority of Christians.

As hard as it is to admit, Christians, as Christians, as wonderful, decent people who love the Lord and mean well, can believe horrible things.

Such is humanity. Such is Christianity.

That’s why I support Princeton’s decision not to celebrate Tim Keller. That’s why I also support their decision to still allow him to speak. Christian institutions, churches, and individuals must find ways to critique each other’s beliefs while still acknowledging the Christianity of the other.

***

As evenhanded as this sounds, I’m chafing as I write this.

It’s so clear to me that certain social justice issues are not merely “secondary theological issues” or even “theological issues,” but rather human rights issues. It’s so clear that while privileged people (including myself) are feeling good and open-minded and ecumenical with their discussions about whether a woman should be a minister or whether gay people should marry or whether there’s racial prejudice still around, real people are suffering.

There’s a loud, clamoring part of me that wants to say that nobody who oppresses or limits others can be a true Christian or a decent human being or a good theologian or a man after God’s heart or whatever. And there’s a smaller, more fearful, but calmer part of me that says, “But Bailey, you know that’s not true.”

Because I know these good, true, decent Christians who believe oppressive things.

And I know there’s a difference between good, true, decent (and ignorant) Christians who believe oppressive things because they think the Bible says so, and false, ugly “Christians” who believe oppressive things because they hate women, gays, and minorities.

I think Christians need to start discerning when a Christian is operating out of hatred and when a Christian is operating out of a wrongheaded love for God, especially via a love and obedience to a literal interpretation of the Bible.

For sure, there are those who trash talk women as deceivers, weak, gullible, and unfit for leadership. For very sure, there are those who despise the LGBTQ community’s existence. And certainly, there are those who seek the destruction of minorities and the “other.” Those people, motivated as they are by hatred, deserve neither applause nor a platform.

But there are others who believe their oppression comes from love — love of others, love of God, love of the Bible. The logic goes like this: God is a loving God, and his commands are loving. No matter how unloving his commands seem, they are loving. In order to love others, we must introduce them to this loving God and his loving commands. That is the most loving thing to do.

And that’s where you get Christians who genuinely believe gay conversion therapy, rigid gender roles, slavery, or any other controversial measure is not only true but inherently loving — God’s best for others.

Why don’t more Christians question these “loving” beliefs, particularly when so many of those affected by those “loving beliefs” decry them as unloving? Fundamentalism is a closed system. You cannot question certain beliefs because those beliefs have been hammered home as orthodox. In this view, theology is systematic — one premise builds upon the next. If you question those “secondary theological issues,” Christianity collapses.

Confronting a Christian on his insensitive beliefs is literally asking him to reconsider his entire systematic theology — at least, that is what it feels like to him.

This complicates matters, when two different Christian sides see God clearly saying, “This is a human rights issue” or “This is a secondary theological issue attached to the sum of the Christian faith,” which amounts to one side saying, “You’re clearly a bigot” and the other, “You’re clearly a heretic.”

Neither are accurate labels. The truth is, both sides believe they are following the heart of God, Biblical mandates, and Christian ethics. Both think they are right because of either their moral or their theological superiority.

And both sides are going to get nowhere in their efforts to unite Christianity against evil until they recognize that what divides them is neither hatred and bigotry nor rebellion and heresy, but rather the ignorance, blindness, misunderstanding, and sin that has always plagued true Christianity.

PC: Religion News

The Need for Prominent Women

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In a rather hostile, one-sided “conversation” about feminism and female priests, a priest noted that confession is one reason why female priests would be unhelpful: men would be more comfortable confessing sexual sin to a male priest. I can grant that, though I have been the unlikely confessor for young men’s sexual sin in the past.

But if that’s true, what about the opposite — what about the women and their discomfort with confessing their sexual sin to a male priest? Would that not be an argument in favor of the need for female priests?

What about women wanting female pastoral care, period? Would that not require a female pastoral staff?

As an academic and wannabe theologian, I got used to male mentors. All the pastors were men. All the Bible students were men. All the religion professors were men. Many of my theologically-inclined friends were men.

It was my male pastor who answered all my theological inquiries as a kid. It was a male professor who stopped me outside of Delp Hall to ask about my feelings, because I had been crying during his class the night before (and not, he had intuited, about the Summa Theologica). It was a male professor who oversaw my thesis on gender and spirituality. It was a male professor who heard all the angst about my spiritual life. It was a male counselor who walked me through relationship quagmires.

And yes, I even had dispassionate and theological conversations about sex with men. Was it uncomfortable? Slightly, in the sense that I was wondering whether it was uncomfortable for the man and whether it should be uncomfortable for either of us. But there was nobody else to talk to.

Ministry and academia are dominated by men, and I adjusted to that. I don’t regret any of those friendships or mentorships. I don’t resent my mentors for being men.

At the same time, I did want female mentors. Women have different perspectives than men. Women can talk firsthand about being a wife or a girlfriend or a female, about motherhood, about feminine spirituality (or even if there is such a thing). There are problems and questions I had that I wanted to address to a woman as equally thoughtful, intelligent, and educated as the male professors, pastors, and counselors in my life.

And there were certainly such women at my college (and maybe at my church). They just weren’t obvious fixtures in the community. There were the deans of women, there were pastor’s wives, yes. But those were titles with which I wasn’t familiar. They didn’t connote a pastoral or professorial nature. So I never went to them.

It wasn’t until the end of my junior year when I finally stumbled across these female mentors and struck up equally satisfying friendships with them. Those friendships with intelligent, thoughtful, caring people — both men and women — are what I miss most about college.

All of this leads me to say: We need prominent women in every community that cares for souls — particularly women’s souls. 

I developed relationships with the people who taught and guided me — pastors, professors, and counselors — that is, those readily available. They were advertised as counselors. They stood in front of the class every other day. They addressed the congregation each Sunday. They were visible. Their beliefs and concern for their students or congregants was visible. And that made them prime candidates for mentoring.

In the churches I attended, that was not so. Women were not allowed to lead or teach in any way, shape, or form, so there were no prominent women. You didn’t know if a woman held a theological or counseling degree, and even if she did, whether she wanted to be a mentor or would be a good mentor. You never heard her teach, never could evaluate from afar whether she would be a safe person with whom you could confide.

That, to me, is a travesty. Even the early church had female deaconesses for the care of women before baptism. There’s historical precedent for an organized, prominent group of women for the spiritual life of other women.

It’s all very well and good to talk about the Titus 2 model of mentoring, but the reality is that many women don’t know who those “older women” could even be — because they’re not prominent in the church’s pastoral life. In many churches, there is no opportunity to walk up to a woman after her sermon and kickstart a relationship with a question about her main point — because women aren’t even allowed to read through the church announcements.

Like it or not, the people who look “prominent” in a church or a community are those up front — those you see and those you hear on a regular basis. If communities are serious about providing female mentors for women, they need more prominent women in their community.

A Lighter Post on Education

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I really do love teaching, and to prove it, here’s an excerpt from the worst day of school so far. I now find it one the best, most hilarious memories of first-year teaching!

Art is an emotional subject, particularly in kindergarten.

Observe:

Child 1: “Teacher, I can’t draw a fish.”

Me: “That’s okay, honey. I don’t consider myself a good artist either. What’s important is that you just try your hardest.”

Child 1: “But I can’t.”

Me: “If I draw a fish, will you draw a fish?”

Child 1 nods. I draw fish. I have no idea if she ever draws a fish, because…..

Child 2: “Teacher! I don’t know how to draw a shark!”

Me: “If I draw a shark, will you draw a shark?”

Child 2 nods. I draw shark. I have no idea if he ever drew a shark because Child 3 approaches me in tears.

Child 3: “Teacher, I can’t draw a [unintelligible].”

Me: “What do you mean? That’s a great fish!”

Child 3: “It’s a shark.”

Me: “Yeah! It’s a great shark!”

Child 2 (interrupting): “Look, teacher! I drew a person getting eaten by your shark!”

Child 4 begins crying for no apparent reason.

Child 3 (sobbing): “Teacher, I can’t draw a shark!”

Me: “Honey, why don’t you like your shark? It really does look like a shark. You should be proud!”

Child 3: “I can’t draw the tail!”

Child 5: “I DON’T WANT TO DRAW!” *rips up paper*

Me: “Good thing I have another paper!”

Child 5: “I WON’T DO IT.”

Me: “Why don’t you want to draw?”

Child 5: “I DON’T LIKE SEA ANIMALS.”

Me: “Really? What do you like?”

Child 5: “I like my Playstation.”

Me: “Well, do you have a game with sea creatures in it?”

Child 5: “Yeah. Sharks and fishes.”

Me: “Well, then draw a picture of that.”

Child 5: “Nooo, teacher, I don’t want to draw!”

Me: “Do you want to write a sentence about it instead?”

Child 5: “Yeah!”

Child 3: “Teacher, I can’t draw a shark!”

Child 2: “Teacher, look at the shark! He’s eating a person!”

Child 3 (still sobbing): “Teacher, p-p-p-please draw me a fish.”

Child 5: “I did it, teacher! What does it say?”

Me: “Uhhh….what does it say to you?”

Child 5: “‘The shark ate Mario.'”

Child 6: “Teacher, Child 4 is crying!!!!”