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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This.

“If change and growth are not programmed into your spirituality, if there are not serious warnings about the blinding nature of fear and fanaticism, your religion will always end up worshiping the status quo and protecting your present ego position and personal advantage as if it were God.”

― Richard Rohr

To my eyes, ears, and heart, this could be our current, collective spiritual diagnosis.

Let’s talk about poverty.

Along with a related personal story, a friend of mine recently shared the following quote on her own blog:

“This is what we seek: a compassion that stands in awe of what the poor have to carry, rather than standing in judgment of how they carry it”. — Father Gregory Boyle

I don’t know about you, but I am in a position to hear a lot of opinions about how federal and state social services foster “dependence”, and/or encourage poor people to “take advantage” of the system. A vast majority of the people who have said things like this to me also call themselves “Christians”.

In a moment, I am going to have a little ‘come-to-Jesus’ with Christians who feel that this kind of attitude towards the poor is reasonable. But before I do that, I want to offer up this PBS documentary, called “Waging A Living” (click the green link). There seems to be an incredible amount of misinformation and assumptions in the world about what it’s like for people who have a full-time jobs, or several part-time jobs, and still don’t make an income above the poverty line.

Now, beloveds, I would like to kindly but firmly remind us what the Bible says about the poor:

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. – Proverbs 14:31

If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. – Deuteronomy 15:7-8

When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. – Luke 14:14

Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses. – Proverbs 28:27

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. – 1 John 3:17

There’s more, but I’ll leave us all with that for now. Seems crystal clear to me: shall we not aim for Father Boyle’s aspirational compassion? (Prayer hands).

Grace and peace,

Whitney

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.

 

Love each other.

The invitation is exquisite:

Love each other well.

‘Here, let me show you how’, He said.

‘It’s not burdensome, it’s easy’.

It’s light.

Why then is it hard to do?

That mortally vulnerable part of ourselves is such a tyrant.

So defensive about our own well-being.

‘Consider the lilies of the field’, He said.

‘Why are you so worried’?

Our timid unbelieving hearts do tremble.

Could it be that simple?

God, wouldn’t I love to be brave enough find out.

The Religious Right

“Jesus never asked anyone to form a church, ordain priests, develop elaborate rituals and institutional cultures, and splinter into denominations. His two great requests were that we “love one another as I have loved you” and that we share bread and wine together as an open channel of that interabiding love.”

― Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus

I left the church in 2005 because of an absolutely irreconcilable conflict between the moral code I found in the pages of gospel, and the values I saw being paraded out by the institutional church in America. (Not everyone; not every church, but still far too many).

Ten years later, I am trying to go back to church, and hoping to find people who take the actual example of Jesus seriously by loving one another well. Period. No other agenda.

A lot of my Christian friends talk with me about their feelings of grief over the way the loudest, most extreme “spokespersons” for their faith behave. I feel the same way, which inspires me to sympathize deeply with the sincere practitioners of Islam who must simultaneously watch their faith become so grossly misrepresented by groups of terror-inciting extremists.

So, why does it always happen this way?

It seems to me that the MINUTE the religious institution gets in bed with any branch of the government, we might as well brace ourselves for deep spiritual loss.

The history of the church in this country is complex, and I have no interest in romanticizing it. But there was a time when the church was brand new – just Jesus and his crew – and it was exceedingly good. Compassion and humility were the moral cornerstones of that community, and a belief that “Heaven” could be realized when we are able make peace with ourselves and each other in the *present* moment.

TELL ME, PLEASE: how did we get so far away from that?

The following video is offensive in many ways. I wish it weren’t. I wish it were less satire, and more documentary film. I wish the woman delivering the message could communicate the information in it without having to make fun of some of the people featured in the clip. Samantha Bee may be one of the funniest people on late night TV right now, and I really appreciate a lot of her work. But I also appreciate that her humor is often mean & biting. (I guess we just can’t all be Ellen, the good-person saint of comedy).

Nevertheless, Bee is able to use comedy to expose something fairly underrepresented in the more mainstream media, and grossly underrepresented in church, and I think it’s worth sharing in spite of it’s tone.

You can watch the video by clicking this link: The Religious Right.

I believe that this is why the church has such a negative image in America. This is why people with moral sensibilities about how to treat others who are different than themselves, and how to treat the planet we all inhabit together wind up leaving and loathing the church.

It’s a big deal. We have to confront it. I’m doing my part. Sam Bee did hers, I guess, too.