Me Too, You Too, All Too

MeToo

Note Before You Indignantly Comment: Yes, I know that not all men do these things. I am not operating from the assumption that they do.

Yes, I know that men can be and are harassed and assaulted. I simply write from the perspective of womanhood.

No, I do not believe or claim that women are perfect and all men are monsters.

Gentle Reader,

I was 11 the first time a boy tried to grab my breasts. Several of us were playing on a trampoline. He lunged at me. I shoved him away. No, I was not mistaken as to his intent. He laughed when I shoved him. Made a rude comment.

Before that, long before that, boys made fun of me for being “too smart” and “ugly.” (To be fair, some of the girls made fun of me for these things, too). Freshman year of high school I even made it onto the official “ugly list.” Yes, the boys in my class made a list detailing which girls they liked and why (suffice it say that “intelligence” and “personality” were not factors). I remember some hand flapping from teachers, but nothing more than that. We girls were basically told to ignore them.

I attended a small, private Christian school for six years, so we got a “purity talk” every year around Valentine’s Day. Boys and girls split into separate classrooms. The boys’ talk lasted about 15 minutes. They went to the gym to play basketball. My junior year, the girls were lectured for close to two hours. Don’t put yourself in a situation where your purity will be compromised. Don’t wear a skirt shorter than this. V-neck shirts are not a good choice. Boys are boys; they can’t help themselves, so you need to have good boundaries.

The message was clear.

We were the responsible ones.

Our bodies, instead of being good, instead of being beautiful because God made them, were inherently dangerous. Seductive. Boys could hardly be expected to exercise self-control. They could hardly been expected to respect us.

Three girls (that I know of) were expelled from school because they were pregnant. One of those girls, her boyfriend attended the school. There was quite an uproar among the students because he wasn’t expelled. (To his credit, he chose to leave, although neither should have had to do so).

I have been groped, pinched, grabbed, slapped, screamed at, cussed out, manipulated, stalked. My “no” has been ignored. When I was a teen, grown men followed me around as I did my job at the library. Teenage boys used to pull my hair, snap my bra straps and even, on a few occasions, when they sat behind me, unhook my bra in the middle of class. I have received pornographic images from strangers on all of my social media accounts, despite having them locked down as tightly as possible.

I am far from the only one who has experienced these violations.

This is why the #MeToo Movement exists.

A movement that should prompt national mourning and reflection has, instead, pushed some to ask the same tired, old questions. Well, why did she/they wait so long to say anything? You know, she benefited from that, so what gives her the right to come forward? What was she wearing? Why did she put herself in that position? Why didn’t she just say “no?”

  1. Everyone knows why women don’t come forward: We aren’t believed. Even if/when we are believed, we aren’t a priority. In this country, there are tens of thousands of untested rape kits just sitting on shelves. Perhaps worse, the majority of perpetrators do not go to prison.
  2. Define “benefit.” And even if a woman did benefit, at one point, from someone doing something wrong, does that mean she can never raise her voice and say, “Yes, that was wrong”?
  3. It doesn’t matter what a woman is wearing. Women who wear burqas are harassed and assaulted.
  4. What position? Being alone with a man? Are we supposed to view all men as brutes who will hurt us? Are we supposed to be able to see the future, to know how this person will behave if we go on the date, take the meeting or have the drink?
  5. “No” is ignored. All the time.

Again, the message is clear.

The responsibility is on us.

This is all rage-inducing enough, but then throw in the fact that the Church – the worldwide people of God – is just as bad at dealing with sexual harassment and assault as everyone else and I genuinely want to tear my clothes and coat myself in ashes. Pastors – perpetrators – who should be permanently disqualified from the office are instead allowed to preach freely. Popular books encourage “lust management” instead of the soul-purity that Christ commands. Instead of the freedom to interact with each other as siblings, as fellow heirs and stewards, men and women are taught to view each other in terms of suspicion and danger – because, once more, men can’t control themselves and women are always and forever temptresses.

I like men. I married one. I have a dad and a brother. Grew up around several uncles and lots of boy cousins. Have always had male friends.

But some of you are wringing your hands. Some of you are saying that you don’t know how you’re supposed to act around women now. Come on. You aren’t that stupid. I know you aren’t.

Treat us with kindness and respect. Listen to us. View us as something more than breasts and a vagina. Something more than an object that exists to satisfy your desires.

Human beings.

Stop trying to roll your sin onto our shoulders. Your lust and bad attitudes – that’s you. Go before God and deal.

#MeToo is also #YouToo and #AllToo. Your sisters are screaming, exposing long-festering wounds to the light. Resist the urge to defend your fellow men. Hear the screams. See the tears. Absorb the full horror. Our torment is part of your experience, because we are family – adopted by Christ.

And family, when it functions the way God intended, sticks together.

Sexual sin – for that is what harassment and assault is – negatively impacts the whole Church. When one suffers, all suffer. There is no room for justifying, minimizing or rationalizing. Perpetrators are not to be coddled, excused, given a platform or hidden. Boys are not to be taught that they “will be boys,” but rather that they will be held accountable for their actions (just as girls are). The Church must become a community that emphasizes justice as equally as it does mercy.

Please, Church. Believe us.

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Photo Credit: Rachael Crowe
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Five Minute Friday: Steady

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I’m a country girl, born and raised near woods filled with hidden creatures and disappearing streams. The sound of owls hooting in the night draws up pleasant childhood memories of smoky barbecue and badminton and fat slugs. More often than not during the hot summer months, dirt gathers beneath my nails, evidence of yet another battle with weeds. The prairie on which I’ve lived for nearly a decade is ringed by ashy blue mountains, like those found on picture postcards. Ten minutes in one direction and one runs into a river. Ten minutes in the other, a lake.

My people – pioneers and farmers and horse thieves – trekked across thousands of miles in wagons or on foot. I know. The history there is complex and at times truly awful. No truly pure saint has ever lived this side of Eden. Still, I can’t help but admire the grit and moxie it must’ve taken to pull up stakes and leave the familiar behind, in the dust. To square your shoulders and press on, toward the hope of something better.

For all my love of London and New York, I could never live in a city. Give me the open spaces, the land where crickets cry.

Doing the link-up thing with the sass machines and the moustache crushes. We pontificate on the prompt: steady.

Go.

I’ll be 33 in roughly six weeks. There is now officially a Stacy London/Rogue of the X-Men/Anna from Frozen (pick your fandom) white streak in my hair. I guess I’m supposed to feel bad about both of those things. That’s what the vague, faceless mass called “society” tells me. Start shaving a few years off my age when asked and scurry off to the salon to hide the follicular evidence.

Why?

See, any day that I haven’t been told that I have cancer or that I’m in need of a transplant or that I’m dying is a pretty good day to me. Why should I waste time and energy worrying about age or hair color or wrinkles or whatever else it is about which I “should” be worrying? I have so little energy anyway. I’d rather spend it in other pursuits. (Not throwing shade at women who dye their hair or spend money on anti-aging treatments; I could not care less. It’s just not my jam). Besides, after experiencing the horribleness of waking up in the the night with a pounding heart, in the midst of a panic attack, anything I can definitively choose not to be anxious over, I will.

Maybe I’ll feel differently a decade down the road. Doubt it. If men become “distinguished” as they age, then so do women. Let’s reject the idea that the fairer sex decreases in value and significance the moment we slip past age 21. (Oh, there’s nothing that could entice me to be 21 again).

Time beats a steady rhythm, one we cannot pause or change. It is out of our hands. A thing we cannot control. All the creams and dyes and lotions and potions and injections and diets in the world will not stop the passing of the days, weeks, months, years. The body grows old. It breaks down. The very steadiness of time creates unsteadiness for skin and bone, muscle and organ.

How comforting it is to know that there is One outside the steady and the unsteady, One who is not ravaged by changing seasons, One whose eyes never grow dim. He is light and fire and radiance and goodness and beauty and mystery. He sits, enthroned, never to be toppled. He knows the number of hairs on our heads – white or otherwise. He determined the length of our lives long before that steady time even existed.

Yes, we age. We break down. Wrinkles and glittering strands and dimmed vision.

And yet – somehow – He builds us up. For the break down is not a winding down, but a winding up. An aching walk toward the Forever Place, the Eternal Home, where pain and sorrow exist no more.

Perhaps we’ll have polka-dotted hair and plaid skin there.

We won’t care.

Stop.

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Photo credit: Daria Nepriakhina

Five Minute Friday: Mom

Along the way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

I went to bed at 7:45 p.m. last night.

Par-tay animal.

Linking up with Kate and The Gang.

Go.

It’s the most a-awkward day of the yeeeeaaaaarrrrrr…at church.

“Happy Mother’s Day!” comes flying out of well-meaning, enthusiastic mouths seconds before the look of horrified realization – “Oh, craaaaaaaaaaap. You never carried a baby in your womb-pouch thing that you don’t even have anymore and does that maybe make you less of a woman and you haven’t adopted anyone that doesn’t have fur and I shouldn’t have said that and now I feel weird and did I make you feel weird and how can I get out of this please put me out of my misery right now I’m going to back away slowly and go get a doughnut.”

I nod. I say “thanks” and wish him or her the same in return. (Yeah, weirdly, lots of men). I’m sure a smirk crosses my face because the entire exchange amuses me.

And, oh, the Mother’s Day sermons. No matter how hard I try, I tune out. Or read the footnotes in my study Bible. Jael’s brief story is particularly interesting. Not because I’m angry or hurt. I’m not. I just don’t know why there must be special Mother’s Day sermons and services. Or any recognition of any secular holiday – Father’s Day, Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, President’s Day, May the Fourth be With You. Isn’t the point of our corporate gatherings to worship the Lord? To focus on Him? Can’t moms and dads and just people be encouraged and uplifted in the normal course of that worship? Must the spotlight be shifted?

This is an unpopular opinion, I’m sure, but I don’t want church to be about anything or anyone other than God. I don’t like it when groups of people are invited to stand so all can applaud. Save it for another time, another place.

Between the above period and the “b” that starts this sentence, I’ve been staring at a blinking cursor for a good few minutes. Time is long up. I want to end this with some bit of wit or wisdom, but I haven’t got any. Just go hug your mom or your mom-figure. Or call her if she’s not close by. Because of course I don’t hate Mother’s Day and I don’t want to tear down moms. I love my Mom. The older I get, the more I appreciate all the sacrifices she made for me.

What I want is space for suffering. Space for the lack of the American Dream fulfilled. Space for weak bodies and complicated situations and marriages that have taken a beating. Space for tears. Space to think that women are insane for not using any and all pain medications available during labor because I’ve had surgery and ain’t nobody got time for that. Space to roll my eyes over the fact that every little thing in Western Christianity is oriented around children, around the family, thereby leaving out significant portions of the Body. Space to be the cool auntie with the good fashion sense who lets kids eat the candy their parents don’t allow. Space for questions. Space for bruises and blood tests and surgical scars. Space to raise my hands in worship, in an unspoken message that my Creator hears: I am not what many think I should be. I do not have what many think I should have. But You – You are enough.

Stop.

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Hollow Outrage

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

Twitter lost its collective mind over the last week.

At least the part of the tweet stream that I swim in.

CT Women, an arm of Christianity Today that bills itself as “news and analysis from the perspective of evangelical women,” launched into a two-month long series called #AmplifyWomen: A New Conversation About Leadership and Discipleship. The first entry, “Who’s in Charge of the Christian Blogosphere?,” written by Tish Harrison Warren, stirred up an incredible amount of ire. I confess that I felt that ire at first. I’m as egalitarian as they come. “Feminism” is not a dirty word to me. My knee-jerk reaction after reading the article was to wonder why men weren’t being called to the carpet. Men like Douglas Wilson, Mark Driscoll, John Pavlovitz. Men – conservative and progressive – who teach harmful things. Why were women being labeled the “bad guys?”

Thankfully, I watched the responses before adding my voice to the cacophony. Often wisdom is found in waiting. I took the time to pause and reflect. The more I thought about it, the more I liked Warren’s article, for several reasons:

  • First, she’s an ordained minister. She’s hardly out to silence women’s voices.
  • Second, her call to accountability is appropriate. Anyone who dares take to a public platform had better keep the words of James in mind: “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (3:1, NKJV).
  • Third, she never once asks women to submit to oppressive, misogynistic church cultures (as some claim).
  • Fourth, she doesn’t dismiss laypeople (again, as some claim).
  • Fifth, everything in the piece is applicable to men, just as many (if not most) things geared toward men are applicable to women.
  • Sixth, this is the first entry in a series. Anyone who thought she should or could cover every facet and concern of women in ministry ever had hugely unrealistic expectations.

Do I think that it’s practical or workable for every blogger to submit every piece he or she writes to some “board of blogging overseers?” Of course not. I don’t believe that Warren thinks that’s a good idea either. A large portion of accountability should be left to the readers, who need to know the Scriptures well enough to be able to discern when someone is “off.” (I’m talking about unorthodox “off” here, not legitimate differences in interpretation). Those readers should attempt to correct that author, and then stop following that author and warn others about him or her if he/she refuses to be corrected. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with or oppressive about going to our pastors and saying, “Hey, could you check this out? Have I written anything heretical lately? Would you come around me and support this ministry I’ve got going?” That just makes sense. That’s the Body doing what its meant to do.

The main objection to Warren’s piece appears to be her inclusion of one particular author as an example of the blogosphere phenomenon and the questions surrounding it:

One of the most prominent recent examples of this crisis involves the popular blogger Jen Hatmaker, who last year announced that her views about homosexuality have changed. She was cheered by some and denounced by others. LifeWay stopped selling her books. Aside from the debate about sexuality, broader questions emerged: Where do bloggers and speakers like Hatmaker derive their authority to speak and teach? And who holds them accountable for their teaching? What kinds of theological training and ecclesial credentialing are necessary for Christian teachers and leaders? What interpretive body and tradition do these bloggers speak out of? Who decides what is true Christian orthodoxy? And how do we as listeners decide whom to trust as a Christian leader and teacher?

The accusation, coming fast, heavy and from multiple voices: “You’re trying to tear down Jen Hatmaker!”

Please.

There’s nothing offensive in that paragraph. Absolutely nothing. No name calling, no shaming. Just the facts. Hatmaker did announce a change in her views. Some did cheer. Some did not. Lifeway pulled her books.

Apparently stating the facts is now a mean thing to do?

Jonathan Merritt published a scathing retort,  “Why I’ll take courageous Jen Hatmaker over her cowardly critics any day,” over at Religion News Service. Phrases like “conservative mafia,” “evangelical aristocracy” and “institutional machine” litter the piece. I don’t condone nastiness and I have no doubt that Hatmaker has encountered some – but there’s a massive difference between nastiness and disagreement, between character assassination and parting from someone over irreconcilable doctrinal differences. It isn’t wrong to say, “I don’t agree with this stance you’ve taken and here’s why.” It isn’t horrible to tell your friends, “I don’t think you should follow this person and here’s why.”

Warren wasn’t attempting a shade-throwing take-down. There was no need for “progressive Twitter” (not my phrase and I can’t remember who coined it) to scream bloody murder. And in that scream is an important, unspoken claim: I should feel sorry for Hatmaker. I should defend her.

Why?

Between Facebook and Twitter, she has 757,563 followers. Her books are (and will probably continue to be) bestsellers. She had a TV show. She’s a featured speaker with the Belong Tour (if you can figure out exactly what that tour is about, you’re smarter than I am). Her articles for the Today show’s parenting site have been read by almost seven million people (if I am interpreting that statistic correctly; go here and decide for yourself). She testifies to a happy family life. By all accounts, she is beloved and successful.

I’m supposed to feel bad because she’s taken some heat? I’m supposed to buy into the “Christian machine” conspiracy theory?

I don’t.

Call me callous if you like. Shrug.

No leader is or should be immune to criticism.

Most fascinating to me about the whole brou-ha-ha is the near-complete lack of response to the second entry in the series, “The Great Female Commission,”  because another supposed fault of Warren’s piece had to do with her not addressing the lack of opportunities for women of color in ministry. She, a white woman, wrote from a place of “privilege.” Again, it was impossible for her to cover everything in that article, but I do recognize the validity here. The Church has a terrible track record with women in general, and an even worse one with women who aren’t white.

But…”The Great Female Commission” is an interview with an African-American woman who’s doing cool things in women’s discipleship.

And there’s very little engagement with it.

I see you, Twitter. I see you complaining about hashtag appropriation (#amplifywomen rose out of the Women’s March back in January), which has to be one of the dumbest, most nonsensical things ever. I see you mercilessly laying into a woman who dares to express a view different from you, the very thing you vociferously condemn others for doing to your preferred Christian celebrities. I see you talking a big game about supporting and uplifting women of color and then refusing to engage with Natasha Sistrunk Robinson and her thoughts on discipleship.

Your outrage is hollow.

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Addendum: Warren posted a follow-up to the CT Women piece on her personal site. April Fiet shared a thoughtful response, as did Hannah Anderson.

Photo credit: Anna Demianenko