Peace & Strength

http://worthybooksandthings.com/posts/

This post needs a preface, because it was written several months ago and because it is simply my story of how I found feminism. This isn’t the post where I defend Jesus Feminist or use scripture to support my theology or talk about Junia or any of the other women who make brief, but impactful, appearances in the Bible. This is just my story. 

And though a few days late (I’m really not exaggerating about the spotty internet mentioned later in the post), it also coincides with this synchroblog series on the intersection of faith & feminism. It seemed a perfect time to post my imperfect thoughts.

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The pastor today spoke about having a life verse. One piece of scripture that continually reappears in your life, guiding you and weaving together all the bits of stories that make your life into your own journey. His was from Habakkuk.

I don’t have a life verse, at least not yet. But I have always loved James because I see myself in him. He’s bold, unforgiving in his words and unafraid of backlash. He says it like it is. I feel like he’s the kind of person that would have answered any questions, from anyone, with complete and total honesty.

During the closing song an abbreviated verse of James was shown on the screen “You do not have because you do not ask. Ask and it will be given to you.”

That’s a bold statement. And one that I have always believed comes with a “but only” that clarifies you must be asking for something God has intended you to have. But then I started thinking about the times that I have truly asked God for something – not just a generic “bless this, keep us safe, etc” but a heartfelt expression of desire for something or someone. And really, I’ve only asked a few times for something like that. One was for a best friend that was like me. He brought her to me, late in high school. We went through some rough times together but at the end of the day, she’s the friend I have always known I could count on, for anything, at any time. Even today, as we’ve grown up and somewhat apart, her presence in my life has rarely, if ever, wavered and I still believe she is a blessing from God.

The other time was when I asked God for peace and strength to overcome the impending and eventual dissolution of a five year relationship. Even in the moment it was happening, I fought it. I wanted to save it. I apologized, I acknowledged, I did everything I could besides begging. He did nothing. I was devastated. I moved out and on, slowly. I found my own place for just me and my dog – my beloved dog who has never left my side. We moved into a comfortable place in the woods, on five acres, with spotty internet and no TV.

As the new year began, my sadness was turning to bitterness and anger and I was searching for that peace and strength. I dated a little. I kissed a new boy or two. I wrote and wrote and read. I rediscovered my voice. I tried out new churches.

And then, when I wasn’t even expecting it, He handed me a gift. One that stemmed from a snarky remark on a twitter post to a month’s long study of complementarianism and finally to it’s antithesis, feminism.

Down a rabbit hole of blogs and books I fell and though I’ve come up for air, I’m still digging. It was what finally brought me the strength I had been praying for, and strangely, He was encouraging me to find it in myself.

So I dove into the words of Sarah Bessey, of Emily Maynard, of Rachel Held Evans and I found blogs about purity culture and feminism from secular and christian women (and a few men) and I read and read and read.

I don’t think many of my friends or family consider feminism part of the Christian story, but I do. The women in the Bible are unbelievably strong – in spirit and in will. God could have brought His son into the world in any way He chose, but His perfect story involved a young woman who wasn’t even married yet. To bring perfection from imperfection. To show a woman as capable of being chosen, blessed and devoted.

Feminism began to give me the confidence to explore my faith in open dialogue with people, both online and off. It helped me relabel myself from “stubborn and angsty” to what I have always been at my center, a feminist. Not that feminism is filled with angst, but rather that was how my disdain for “the way things are” has always appeared.

It gave me something to seek in a faith community. I have a short list of theological principles I desire in a church, beyond the usual. One is a strong belief in free will. The other is now a feminist ideology, or at the very least, a non complementarian view of women. In other words, a belief that women were created as equal to men and not simply as a cure for man’s loneliness.

Just as it showed me how to move forward, it gave me a way to reach back over the last decade of my life and analyze my choices, my behavior, and the friends I had made and lost. I began a journey of self discovery rooted in the notion that purity culture had taught me that women are “less than” men and only beautiful when we are “pure.” It showed me the flawed way in which I was taught to “protect” myself, without empowering me.

Simply put, feminism helped me love myself the way He does.

I am perfectly aware that many people, particularly evangelicals, do not view feminism as a tool of the Lord, but if there is anything we can all agree that Jesus teaches, it is that He is willing to use anything, to do anything, to meet His people where they are.

I needed strength and peace. First he gave me a safe place in the woods where I could rediscover my voice and find peace. Then he gave me feminism, so that I could make my own strength and realize I, by myself, was enough. For Him, for me, for my life.

I am a feminist, a Jesus lover, a dog lover and animal rights enthusiast, a believer in natural products, a writer, a sometimes poet, and a woman.

And Sarah Bessey is so right – Jesus never forgets you. No matter how far you wander, no matter what you say when you’re angry, no matter what you do. Always, always, he will meet you. In the dark, in the quiet, in a crowd, in a book – wherever you are searching, for whatever you are searching for, He will find you and give it to you, if only we are brave enough to ask.

 

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Slut Shaming – Then & Now

Even as I’ve embraced the label of feminist, I’ve still had to fight the urge to slut shame other women. I feel the desire to heave that horrible name at others at the most unexpected times.

-Sitting in a coffee shop as a young woman comes up the stairs, stomach exposed.
-Discharging a patient at the clinic as a teenage girl stands next to her mother, cutoff shorts up to her butt, pockets hanging out.
-Sifting through notes given to me as a teenager, the pages littered with names and labels I didn’t fully understand.

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There’s an echo in my past of slut shaming young women I loved. As if calling out their perceived flaws would fix them and edify me. It pains me to think of the ways I abused the power that word held. It pains me to know I broke them down instead of building them up. It hurts to realize the impact of words used years ago.

I’ve been toying with this post for a few weeks now. Should it be an open apology? Should it simply serve as a reminder to other women that we are still our own worst enemy?

And honestly, I’m still not sure.

I remember the first time I used the word slut. I was in band class in 5th grade. I don’t remember what happened, but my friend and I passed the word back and forth like a football. We lobbed it at each other – no pads, no grace, no love.

I remember the fire I felt in my center. How the anger rose up and out of my mouth, how I enunciated the word with careful precision. I remember room with its risers, how our chairs and music stands were perched carefully at the edge of each step and how we raised them just a little too high so the teacher couldn’t see our gossip.

Where did I even learn the word? Who told me what a slut was?

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When I look back over my years growing up, I see how the term evolved with me as I grew. I can feel the intensity in which I fled from anything that could be perceived as slutty. I remember when my friends made decisions I didn’t agree with, that made me uncomfortable, how I turned their own uncertainty upon them. I am saddened and ashamed that instead of offering to shoulder the burden of growing up, I balled it up and threw it back to them soaked in faux confidence of who I was and what I believed to be right and wrong.

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It’s hard for me to not let this morph into a blog on purity culture. But I’m not there yet. I’m not ready to talk about something that is my story arc.

I can say though that slut shaming and purity culture walk hand in hand on beautiful white sand beaches where it never rains or gets too hot.

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I remember in high school when the word slut was nearly synonymous in my mind with the name of a dear friend. I don’t know that I ever called her a slut, I think by then I was using the word whore.

As if it was more glamorous and less painful.

My adolescent mind was convinced that her decisions were the result of a broken child hood home and the lack of a solid father figure. She couldn’t possibly want those things. She couldn’t be enjoying them. She couldn’t just be another teenager, making sometimes rash or poor choices.

I stupidly believed that my struggle was everyone else’s struggle. That our stories circled back to the same point. That we were each a mirror of each other when in reality the only thing I was good at reflecting was myself on others.

For those actions and thoughts I am sorry.

I’m not quite sure when I began to recognize a friend’s choices for what they were – individual choices. Simple really.

At some point I must have said to myself, well she can do that and I can do this and at the end of the day we can support and love and encourage one another. And isn’t that one of the best parts about being human? The ability to look past a friend’s flaws or imperfections or differences (even if they seem scary) and love and appreciate her for who she is.

I no longer want to be the friend with all the answers or the one who hears confessions in confidence because my perceived piety has earned some sort of misplaced respect. I want to be the friend who will tell you what I think and then assure you I will love you and support you no matter what you choose. I want to be the friend that’s still standing next to you whether you fall on your face or whether you succeed.

I want you to know I love you and I think you have an amazingly beautiful story, no matter where it starts or when it ends.

So, wear that top that shows off your shoulders or back or even your stomach.
Put on your favorite skirt that makes you feel flirty.
Brush the bronzer on your cleavage – no who notices will care and no one who would judge you will notice.
Buy the dress. Or the bikini. Or the jumpsuit.
Don’t be afraid to try on the “too tight” jeans and the top with the open back.
Sleep naked, whenever you want with whoever you love.
Fight the urge to slut shame. To judge. To persecute, even if silently.
And encourage your friends to do the same.
Fill your mind, your heart, your life with grace and with love.
Open you arms and eyes to new experiences, to different people, to challenging choices.
Embrace change.
Recognize that language is powerful and use it for good, not evil.
And never feel badly about facing your past and saying I’M SORRY.
Because I am, really, truly, I am sorry.

Here’s a little bit of performance poetry, if you’re into that sort of thing…

Another Collection of Stories (and Voices)

I love holding onto words. Seriously. I just brought home two very full boxes of notes and journals and cards from my parents’ house. At any given time I have 3-10 windows open in safari of blogs or articles or other such things to read. And I struggle with exiting my word documents until I’ve given them a home, so instead, I have between 10-12 open documents on my computer (thank God for auto save!) I’m learning to file and bookmark and organize so that I don’t feel the desperate need to hold every word in my hands.

All that to say, words and stories are so important to share. I hope you enjoy this collection and maybe find a new blog friend to follow.

“Something has come between women and the source of our femininity. Something has happened to us, that our womanhood can be held hostage by the world.
The lines of judgment vary widely. But there is always something. Can you bear children? Do you have boobs? Is your hair long enough? Do you wear a diamond? Do you carry lipstick? Can you bake a cherry pie?
I thought of all the gates, and the walls, and the insecurities. I thought of the million idols of femininity that stand between us and the truth…”

Esther Emery at A Deeper Story

“They invited me to join them, so I sat down between John and Wendell and listened as they reminisced. John had been a medic in the war, and grew emotional as he described some of the things he’d witnessed. “I will never forget those children’s faces…” His voice trailed off as he looked away and just stared at The Wall.”

-Alece Ronzino in Band of Brothers

“I was born into this faith. I prayed the Sinner’s Prayer at five years old and I believed those words of prayer would encircle like a charm. As if this promise held the power to protect me from anything bad in the world, from anyone that would want to hurt me. I believed in the Church, I felt safe in the Church, and I felt all the more held to be officially part of her people.

Then I found out I was gay.”

Benjamin Moberg in Acceptance

“My only protection was the darkness—the dissociation. I hadn’t felt him ripping out hair, but when he hit me in the spine, the pain was too intense. That part of my body was too vulnerable. I couldn’t curl up. I couldn’t wrap my arms around it.

I was present for what was happening. I stopped breathing for a moment. He paused.

It was as though he, too, felt that I was present, and he stopped.

I couldn’t have been human to him in those moments.”

-Kelly Sundberg in It Will Look Like a Sunset

Failure & Flying

I remember when I fell in love with flying. I was headed to Chicago to celebrate a friend’s bachelorette. I had flown dozens of times before and had always been anxious, but not this time. As the plane took off, I closed my eyes, felt my stomach drop and marveled at the miracle of it all. How incredible that two young men had discovered the secret to flight! I thought of them on the beach, trying and failing, trying and failing and how they must have had days where they felt lost and defeated but something spurred them to continue trying. Before that day, I had always hated taking off because it felt uncontrollable and unnatural. It seemed like it shouldn’t be happening – a great hunk of metal leaving the ground with no magical strings to hold it up.

I wonder about how many things in our lives we can apply that analogy to. How something can seem scary and unnatural for so long until one day, it doesn’t. One day we look at it with new eyes and we marvel in it’s invention and evolution. We consider those who experienced it first and what it must have felt like and we sigh with knowing breath because we have now stood there too. It makes me wonder what it is that makes us most of us keep trying, even when we fail.

And we all fail. Most of us repeatedly.

I think maybe I got over my fear of flying that day because I’m over my fear of falling in or out of love. What’s more uncontrollable then love? Humans have used the falling metaphor for love for ages because it’s accurate – you just fall. No ropes. No bungee. And you never know if the landing will be soft or if it will break you. I think most of us hope we never land; that instead we just keep falling.

Or flying.

A few months ago I wrote this little poem:

Two years ago I was
shoulders deep in the warm waters of love.
Now that I’ve waded
out and am comfortable
feeling the sun all on my own,
I’m finding I’m afraid
to even stick my toes in.

I thought I was writing about how I was scared to fall in love again. Because, in many ways I was and still am. But really I am afraid of forgetting how comfortable I am on my own. I would gladly dive in, head first, as long as the person I’m jumping after promises to let me swim back to shore, by myself, occasionally. In fact, I want him to tell me to do it. To encourage it. Because I want him so in love with the woman that I am on my own, that he doesn’t want me to become anything other than a better version of that woman.

I know my soul speaks in my poetry because it reveals itself to me days, weeks or months after I write the words. I wonder if other writers struggle with that slight disconnect? Between heart and soul – where they talk to each other but rarely commune. I keep trying to bring them together more often.

But I keep failing. And I’m learning that it’s ok.

That one day it will happen. It will be beautiful in the most remarkable way and the result will be uncontrollable.