You Too.

You too? Of course, you too.

I don’t know a woman who hasn’t been sexually harassed, or treated in a demoralizing way because of her gender.

A little over a week ago, before the “me too” movement took off on social media, I said something to my mom like, “You know how some people are conditioned or programmed to feel suspicious or fearful of entire people groups?”.

Her: “Yeah?”.

Me: “Well, for better or worse, my life experience has conditioned me to be fearful of an entire gender. Men. Not the men I know and love, of course, or the men who have good and decent reputations that proceed them, but every single male stranger”.

This culture has given men a green light to commit all kinds of violence – physical and psychological – against women with little or no consequences. Every woman knows this, which is why so few of us talk about the acts of violence and humiliation perpetrated against us. From our earliest awareness, we are inundated with stories, images, and experiences meant to degrade and disempower us. We cannot hear about a sexual assault without hearing about the reputation of the woman who was assaulted.

The current President of the United States denied the claims of 12 of his accusers last year by focusing on the way one of them looked. “Look at her”, he said. “You tell me what you think. I don’t think so. I don’t think so”.

An upsetting amount of people accepted that non-answer as a reasonable defense too.

For most of us, we learn – too early – that sexual harassment is a fundamental part of being a woman in this culture. In fact, this phenomena is so normalized that we are likely to count ourselves “fortunate” if we have not been raped, and “only” fondled, cat-called, or intimidated.

I have countless personal stories of sexual harassment, groping, exposing, and bullying. Men have masturbated on the street, in a train car, or across a crowded bar while looking directly at me. I have been groped in over-crowded places, been slapped on the ass, had my swimsuit strings untied at a pubic pool, fielded unwelcome kisses, and once had a stranger run an ice cube up my inner thigh while sitting next to him on a couch at a hotel.

In my early twenties, a man offered to buy me a drink at a bar, and then put something in that drink. Mercifully, I made it out of that moment unharmed because I was paying attention. But, I don’t doubt that this culture would have offered me approximately zero justice if I hadn’t noticed what had happened.

I imagine instead that I would have been blamed for drinking alcohol at all. Maybe my outfit would have been scrutinized. “She should have been more careful”, “What kind of young woman lets a stranger buy her a drink?”, “Where was she?”, “What time was it?”.

FOR THE RECORD: drugging someone is wrong. Having a cocktail in a bar is not wrong.

But here’s what we learn every time suspicion is placed on the woman in that kind of story:

“Being a woman is a liability”.

Or maybe this:

“You are only entitled to safety and respect if you are the right kind of woman”.

(Thank you Christian summer camp for making sure I understood it was my fault if a middle-school aged boy saw my bra strap under my t-shirt, and this caused to him to have “impure thoughts”).

And as unsettling and upsetting as it was to endure many of the things I’ve described above, it never once occurred to me to be angry. Afraid? Sure. Ashamed? Definitely. But angry? Not once.

On an ordinary evening in early December of 2014, however, that all changed.

While walking towards my car in a parking garage at 8:30 pm on a Wednesday night, a man came towards me and said things I will not repeat here. They were explicit and they were terrifying. For those of you who are not intimately familiar with my personal timeline, in December of 2014, I was 7 months pregnant with my daughter.

Something about carrying my precious girl inside the body that this man felt entitled to threaten broke me.

My initial feeling of fear then turned into an overwhelming sensation that I didn’t have time to identify or process before I wound up making a very loud sound that burned the inside of my throat raw.

Maybe it was like roaring. Or scream-growling. It’s a sound I couldn’t repeat now if I tried.

Immediately, this man stopped moving towards me. He looked alarmed. And maybe he should have been. I remember thinking, “I will rip his throat out with my teeth if he comes near my baby”.

And I believe I would have tried if he had tried.

Then I ran to my car. I locked the doors, laid on the horn, and put my phone up to my ear.

He ran away. And I drove away.

After I stopped shaking, I cried. After I cried, I understood.

The feeling that had replaced my fear was rage. Electric, white-hot, focused rage.

There’s a pretty good chance this man backed away from me because he thought I was crazy, or on drugs, or just unpredictable in a way that gave him pause. I don’t know why he didn’t follow through on his threat, and I don’t really care. What I do care about is that this moment taught me something impossible to forget.

We need to be more angry.

FURIOUS, actually.

I understand that we also need to be afraid. Fear helps us run. It helps us avoid unsafe situations in the first place. It is a critical survival emotion for human beings to access in healthy, appropriate doses.

But, MY GOD. We need our anger too. Anger protects us, and it restores us. It gives us our dignity. It sets boundaries. It takes action. It insists on change. It makes a scene. It demands attention. It says:

“FUCK THAT. NO”.

It also doesn’t apologize for using swear words sometimes. Because if the only thing in this essay that has upset you so far is the F-word, you are missing the fucking point.

A roar, a scream-growl, and a curse word are not violent. They do not cause bodily harm to anyone. Phone calls to congressmen and women are not violent. Signing petitions, telling our stories, standing up for one another, calling the police, donating to organizations that help victims of sexual assault is not violent. Protesting the sentencing outcome for Brock Turner, and insisting that the President of the United States bragged about sexual assault on that horrifying Access Hollywood tape – that it was not indeed “locker room talk” – is not violent.

It’s true. It’s protective. It’s courageous. It connects us. And it just might be able to change us.

Yet, for me, all of these actions are enabled by my capacity to feel situationally appropriate anger.

It took me a long time to unlearn all the lies about how anger is “unnecessary”, “unattractive”, “uncalled for”, “unsafe”, or “unfeminine”. And, it took an even longer amount of time for me to appreciate how these unflattering depictions of anger are intended to keep us from accessing a critical inner conviction about our own shared dignity, and start challenging the status quo.

For the last week, I have been reading these “Me Too” stories on the internet, and every time I read a new one I keep feeling a sizzle of that focused anger I felt that night in the parking garage. And while my daughter now lives in the world outside of my body, I am under no illusion that this world has ceased being a hostile place for her to become a woman.

Nor has it stopped being dangerous for you, or for me.

So.

I will keeping honoring the anger I know we need to feel in order to make the changes I know we need to make, and I am going to continue to give that anger to the world in the most productive ways I can manage until things are different.

And. I think you should too.

 

Furiously,
Whitney

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The temple.

Tonight, I told my daughter that God is alive

In her body.

 

No one ever said that to me.

 

Instead, people told me all about the Commandments,

Ten of them.

Also, Seven –

deadly sins.

Some handful of Beatitudes

And what a fuck-up Eve could be.

 

God breathed God’s breath into the human body,

in order to make a living being.

Genesis says so.

 

It’s the first written words about human beings

in my own tradition.

This gorgeous scene.

 

A man and a woman, made from dust.

Through their nostrils, they are filled

With God’s breath.

 

And when the breath of God leaves

them,

and each of us,

we are returned again

to dust.

 

But what of the time between?

While God’s breath is breathing Itself in us,

how holy can we be?

 

You’ve heard it said, “mercies are new each morning”,

but I tell you,

New mercies ride in on each breath.

 

God’s breath,

In each of us.

 

No one knows what to do next.

 

Me neither.

But, I told my daughter what I wish

someone had told me.

 

Listen for God in your body, sighing softly.

Sometimes rattling.

Feel God, too.

That rhythm, the movement in and out,

filling up and letting go.

 

Rupture and repair.

Expansion and contraction.

Life, Death,

Re-birth.

 

Every cell and atom in the universe is dancing like this.

 

Later, I will tell her even more subversive things.

 

Eve.

To be a woman in the church,

No matter the age.

Ah, that is a great source of shame.

 

Were you, like me, given the story of Eve

to blame?

That first woman, tempted by the power of knowledge,

Not smart enough to know her place.

 

And poor, innocent Adam,

So trusting of the woman,

Now defiled

After her tango with the snake.

 

Taking serpent’s words, and God’s fruit into her body

now changed.

Now naked and ashamed.

 

Man’s first words in his own defense,

“She tricked me!”.

 

What a witch.

 

Well, here’s another trick.

Blame.

Scapegoat a gender, get every last one of them.

Meanwhile, stripping God of any feminine traits.

 

If God is male, then male is god.

 

Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?

That which cannot be named.

Only felt.

In our bodies.

This knowledge of God.

 

Who among us knew it first?

Eve.

And of course, she was afraid.

 

How does a fragile human body withstand the knowledge of God

Once consumed?

 

For me, it’s always some tender blend

of grief and grace –

Mixed.

Like Eve,

 

I cannot keep it to myself.

And, yet I too am rendered a bit naked

And ashamed.

 

But shame, beloveds, is not the toxic terror you’ve been told.

Just the stripping back of one or two dead layers,

Much like the snake.

 

Nearly every woman on earth would now pay

For the peeling

Of old skin,

 

Unearthing something new.

 

But this is not a surface peel.

The encounter with God we’ve been offered

By the snake.

 

When we eat the fruit, we risk becoming

A graveyard

For all the people we thought we were.

 

Scales falling from the eyes of Saul,

A new name, a new life, and here we have

Paul.

 

Not my favorite apostle.

Some thorn is his side about women still.

But,

Then I suppose we all have to drag our own humanity

Along

with us,

 

Long after consuming what’s been given

by Grace.

I love Eve.

Eve, my favorite bible character, or otherwise known by the patriarchy as “Adam’s wife”, showed up in a TIME op-ed piece co-written by one of my heroes, Glennon Doyle Melton. This particular bit or writing right here (click link) is the whole reason I couldn’t stand being a woman in the church any longer. In fact, I think I have now spent a cumulative 7-8 years in therapy working this poison out of my own self-concept.

More pressing still, I now have a daughter, and I’m genuinely afraid to bring her up in the church for fear she might receive the same messages I did. In fact, I go visit churches by myself like an adult pre-screening a PG-13 movie to make sure it’s not going to be too corrupting for my child’s eyes and ears. Sometimes I actually picture myself sitting in the back of her fictional Sunday School classroom, and when we get to the whole bit about Eve, standing up and saying something like:

“Alright. That’s enough of that then.

Listen up kids, let me give you a brief little background about ancient semitic oral tradition and language, and how that fits into a much larger puzzle of religious and cultural context than the story itself reveals on the surface.

You tracking with me?

Okay, cool, next up: the ‘serpent’ as a symbol of feminine spirituality and the cycles of life-death-and-re-birth innate in a woman’s developing consciousness.

Any questions so far?”.

(Somehow I’m still waiting for my invite to be a guest Sunday School teacher at any church in town?!).

As Christian women (and men) start to wake up and demand better for themselves and their daughters (and sons), the church is going to have to decide how to respond. And as they do, I sure hope they look to JESUS instead of Mike Pence for guidance. Because Jesus spent plenty of time with women, all by himself, without a chaperone. In fact, they were some of his closest companions.

Eyes to see.

Alright, beloveds: we gotta talk about how easy it is to interpret the Bible for our own personal satisfaction.

Are you not guilty of this? I know I am.

On Monday of this week, I met two women protestors standing outside of a Planned Parenthood facility while on my way to a physical therapy appointment nearby. On a bit of a whim, I politely and sincerely asked them to tell me why they choose to stand there with their signs, what they are hoping to achieve through this demonstration, and why this issue means so much to them.

Alongside their seemingly sincere love for unborn babies, and professed love for the women who feel desperate enough to terminate a pregnancy, I also heard them express a lot of rage about Planned Parenthood in general. Anecdotally, I mentioned to them that when I did not have health insurance in 2007-2009, I received two annual exams, the HPV vaccine, and a birth control prescription from a Planned Parenthood provider. I’m aware that they also offer cancer screenings, although I did not mention this at the time.

One of the women standing there responded to me then by saying, “well, when I think of that, I think about the ‘double-minded man’ in the Bible, and I know I need to be single-minded. It doesn’t matter if these facilities sometimes do good things, they also do the worst thing, and I can’t be double-minded about it.”

Her explanation troubled me considerably, and here’s why: there is a verse in the book of James Chapter 1, which says “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (1:8, KJV). Fine. Now, let’s zoom out for second, and observe this verse in it’s context:

5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do”. – James 1:5-8, NIV

James encourages his reader to not be double-minded, or doubting, regarding their faith in God’s generosity. In other words, he may as well be saying, “when you ask God for wisdom, believe that He will give it you. If you do not believe that He will give it to you, you won’t be available to receive it”.

Do you see?

This scripture does NOT say: “when you decide that you alone know the mind and will of God on any one subject, make sure to dig into that conviction as hard as you can, and do not waiver from your opinion even if you are presented with contradictory information, or your fate will be that of a double-minded man”.

That’s not double-minded, that’s closed-minded, and that is in no way related to the instruction James gives the early church in this part of his letter.

I sincerely, and urgently believe that we HAVE TO make a commitment to examine our spiritual assumptions – in an ongoing way no matter how uncomfortable that may feel to each of us sometimes. Otherwise, we risk carrying around belief systems that are unsubstantiated and lifeless at best — or corrosive and dangerous at worst.

 

Eve: the best First Lady.

Retrospectively, I can now identify the beginning point in my own inner movement away from a literalist religious perspective. It happened one morning when I was 19 years old during a college course on the Old Testament at a Baptist university in Texas. A bit paradoxical, I admit. But here’s the story…

While reading the bible’s two (yes, there are two) ‘creation narratives’ in the book of Genesis, the Baptist minister who was teaching the course let us in on this super significant detail: one of the two creation stories suggests literarily (not literally, but literar(y)-(i)ly) that Eve is the “apex of creation” (his words, not mine). Essentially, he said this to us: the literary movement of this story tells us that God ordered “His” creations to be increasingly more complex (“good”) throughout the course of those seven days of creation.

His crowning accomplishment? The woman (Eve).

This way of understanding this story struck me as supremely confusing at the time, and I actually did not know how to reconcile it with the rest of the things I’d been taught during my religious education up to this point. Consequently, it took years and years for that gem of knowledge to marinate in my mind alongside a wealth of other experiences and information to allow me to consider the rest of what I’m about to suggest to you now.

I don’t know about you, but I had been told repeatedly that when God created woman, he was creating a “helper” for man. Like a good little house wife or something! Right? A helper serves the person their helping, after all, and I imagined Eve being created to sort of “get Adam his slippers when he came home from work” everyday.

Well, as it turns out, God called woman a “helper” using the same language “He” also used to describe “Himself” in the role as “helper” to humankind. The Hebrew words for this are “ezer kenegdo”, and they are only used again throughout the rest of the whole Old Testament to describe the kind of help God offers to “His” people. [All those male pronouns referring to God are in quotations for a reason. It’s a colloquial habit of mine to refer to God as a “He”, but I also know that “The spirit of God”, Ruach Elohim in Hebrew, as referenced in Genesis 1:2 is a feminine noun].

I should probably pause here for a moment, and let all of these linguistic and literary morsels to sink in properly…

Okay, you got it?

Well, good for you. Because that stuff took nearly a decade to coalesce properly in my own brain.

Onward, then.

I can’t offer a definitive explanation for how the type of help that woman is able to offer man is similar to the kind of help that God is able to offer mankind, but I think it HAS TO BE the lens through which we read the next part of the Genesis narrative.

So. With this perspective in mind, let’s revisit the infamous conversation between Eve and the Serpent, in which she soon becomes “responsible for ruining paradise”. Through our newly informed theological lens, I don’t think we can necessarily assume that Eve is somehow dumber, lesser, or weaker than Adam, and therefore a more vulnerable target for that sneaky snake. So then what can this part of the story possibly represent to us that we haven’t maybe been able to consider before?

Well, here’s a fun fact: the serpent – or snake – in nearly every other ancient spiritual tradition is often considered a feminine symbol, as it (like a woman) has an intimate, embodied knowledge about the cycles of life, death, and re-birth through it’s molting (skin-shedding) process. Menstruating women are also intimately connected to the bodily experience of life, death, and re-birth cycles through the shedding of their uterine (endometrial) lining, which is how the two creatures got linked to one another symbolically. So curious, no?

At this time in my pontification, I would like to encourage you to take a little risk with me, and consider how the serpent – and his/her objectives – may not be all bad. You can decide to reject this notion altogether and read no further, or keep reading and reject it later, or chew on it endlessly like I have been doing for the last 13 years, and come up with your own conclusions. Nonetheless, for the sake of our conversational purposes, that’s the argument I’m going to be making here. Obviously, the story tells us that God explicitly forbid Adam & Eve from eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And I am not dismissing this, I’m just going to put a pin in it, and re-visit it in a few paragraphs from now.

But first, let’s review this infamous moment between Eve and the serpent:

1″Now the serpent was more crafty (subtle) than any living creature of the field which the Lord God had made. And the serpent said to the woman, “Can it really be that God has said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees of the garden, 3 except the fruit from the tree which is in the middle of the garden. God said, ‘You shall not eat from it nor touch it, otherwise you will die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You certainly will not die! 5 For God knows that on the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened [that is, you will have greater awareness], and you will be like God, knowing [the difference between] good and evil.” 6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was delightful to look at, and a tree to be desired in order to make one wise and insightful, she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of the two of them were opened [that is, their awareness increased], and they knew that they were naked; and they fastened fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.”

In my opinion, there’s more than two ways to read this, but I want to highlight the positions on either end of that interpretive spectrum for now. You can choose to read this literally, and that’s fine, that’s your prerogative – Godspeed. OR you can read it as if it were an attempt to communicate some complex and mysterious truths about the origins of human beings using a kind of symbolic language. As evidenced by the way in which Jesus himself used parables (symbolic stories) to teach people about the nature of God, I don’t think I’m reaching too far into the realm of sacrilegious sentiment by suggesting this. After all, story telling and poetry, music, art, and other forms of symbolic language are often the only way we can communicate about things too infinitely unknowable for our finite language expression.

If you’re still with me here, I’m going to step even further into the abyss, and suggest that from a symbolic perspective, that this “conversation with the serpent” could be understood as the woman’s first uniquely feminine initiation related to some phenomena of change occurring in her womb. Maybe her first menstruation, maybe the birth of child… I don’t presume to know this, and won’t try to nail it down either, but I like the idea that this might be talking about menstruation, as it lends itself to the loss of innocence we often associate with the onset of adolescence.

Somehow this feminine initiation experience then gives birth to a kind of adolescent doubt on Eve’s behalf. She begins to question (represented symbolically by the dialogue between herself and the serpent) the prohibition against eating from “The Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil” (another symbol).

I don’t know what to make of the tree nor the fruit as symbols yet, but the description of the tree itself, and the suggestion that eating from it would give someone the knowledge of the difference between good and evil is pretty obvious to me. Isn’t this the kind of knowledge that separates humans from animals? Animals just do. There’s no reflective processing of their behavior, or even of themselves as separate from their own instincts. This seems clear as day to me in the story of Eden, as we immediately see both Adam and Eve become “aware” of themselves; understanding their own nakedness is a reflective mental process that was previously unavailable to them before eating from this tree.

I suppose the next symbolic question to then ask ourselves then is how this new awareness gets them kicked out of the garden? Is it all just because they broke the rules? And what do we make of the snake’s seductive little statement to Eve about how eating the fruit would make her “like God”? Here’s my best guess: being able to think reflectively is a divine kind of mental and spiritual capacity, and therefore we could no longer exist in the garden of blissful unconsciousness anyways.**

From a developmental perspective, it would be easy to understand the symbol of the Garden itself as one of fertility, new life, the womb – maybe even the whole of the female reproductive organs – the lap of the Mother, the place of fusion with Caregivers, and a consequential innocence about our own responsibility in the world, which leads me right back to my hunch that in some ways this a tale about human development, and more stunning still: a tale about the inexplicable human capacity for a kind of god-like consciousness among all the other sentient beings on earth.

It’s a privilege and a burden both. And Eve walked that path first because she’s a badass. (Also because she needed to be able to “help” Adam get there too).

If – like me – you are at all familiar with popular culture’s version of the Christian narrative, you may now be asking yourself “okay, then why did Jesus have to come and ‘save us’ all from our sinful natures, which we supposedly inherited from Eve after that whole banishment from paradise fiasco?”. Well, here’s what I think about that in a very small nutshell: Jesus showed up to heal us from our own shame about being separate from God, and lived his life in a way that would compel us to remember that the Garden we are ever-seeking still exists within us. As Jesus himself said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed or with a visible display; nor will people say, ‘Look! Here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For the kingdom of God is [already] among you” (Luke 17:20-21).

… I believe that trying to wrap your heart around THAT mystery is the heart of the whole spiritual path.

 

 

** Another thought: when Adam and Eve got kicked out of the garden, God told Eve that one of the personal consequences she could expect to experience as a direct result of eating the forbidden fruit was super painful childbirth(s).

So, I would like to point out that humans – with their fancy divine-like consciousness capabilities – have the biggest brains (in relation to their body size) of any mammal on earth, which means they also have the biggest heads per body mass, and this makes it very difficult to push the human head out of the human pelvis, which = MAJOR, MAJOR OUCH (trust me, I’ve been there, and it felt a lot worse than dying).