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No Longer a Dreamer

August 13, 2015 - Author: emily.timbol

Since I first read Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates now infamous essay, The Case for Reparations, I’ve been enraptured by his words. Coates is a gifted writer, for sure. But what drew me in wasn’t the style with which he wrote, but the words he was saying. Specifically, it was the way his words completely shook up my previous understanding of, well, most everything. To use an analogy from his latest book, Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi is perhaps most gifted at waking people up from their Dreams.

Coates described “The Dream” as a metaphorical place crafted and fiercely protected by mainly white people (or people who believe to be white.) It was a place he could only view through the television set in his poor, Baltimore living room. The Dream sheltered white children from the gangs, violence, beatings, poverty, and permanent required state of vigilance that Ta-Nehisi and his black friends had to maintain. It was a state of thinking. A way of seeing the world, or specifically, America, as a mostly good place full of equal opportunity for everyone. A place that was just. Had good laws. People living The Dream see police as protectors, racism as something mostly overblown and from the past, and poverty and violence a result of laziness and bad choices.

Of Dreamers, Coates says:

“The forgetting is habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world. I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free. In the Dream they are Buck Rogers, Prince Aragorn, an entire race of Skywalkers. To awaken them is to reveal that they are an empire of humans and, like all empires of humans, are built on the destruction of the body. It is to stain their nobility, to make them vulnerable, fallible, breakable humans.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Since first reading his essay on reparations, I felt the tendrils of The Dream loosening their grip on me. It didn’t take much time, or research, to awaken completely. All it really took was a willingness to look at the world (and history) not through the lens of my own experience and privilege, but through the eyes of the oppressed.

When you start looking at the history of our country as told through someone other than the victors, America’s gleam begins to fade. Starting with the slaughter and decimation of the Native peoples whose land we claimed, building on the backs of generations and generations of slaves (250 years to be exact, as Coates notes–black people in America have been free for far less than than they were in chains) then 75 years after those slaves were freed another race of citizens dehumanized all over again. During this time thousands were lynched, hundreds of thousands killed by bombs dropped, and many men, women, and children languished in abject poverty.

No country has survived without making grievous, heinous errors. No nation is without pain or war or poverty. The point in Coates spotlighting this history and me echoing his words is not to attack America or reject the good our country is done. The point is to decimate The Dream. There is danger in glossing over all this bad we have done, and focusing only on the good. When history classes spend twenty minutes teaching on slavery and two weeks teaching on America’s exceptionalism, we put kids to sleep to the reality of where we are today. When white kids grow up only understanding the world through the haze of The Dream, they can’t comprehend the reality of police brutality against black citizens, or the history of poor black neighborhoods caused by redlining and white flight, or the effect their own seemingly small microagressions have on their “black friends” or family. If you’re Dreaming, you can’t grasp why any of these problems having anything to do with you. With the present. Like Coates said,”We meant well. We tried our best.” But  “’Good intention’ is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.”

The best way I can describe, in my own words, what it’s been like this past year to wake up from the Dream, is through the film The Truman Show. To me, The Dream is like the world expertly crafted for Truman. It’s ordered, neat, has neatly clipped lawns and well-dressed neighbors and a feel that everything is good, and right. It’s not Truman’s fault that he was born into this bubble. There’s nothing actually wrong with him leading out his days oblivious to the uncontrolled world outside his little town. But it isn’t real. It’s a lie. And slowly Truman starts to realize this, the more he pays attention. Streets don’t magically clear themselves for everyone, just him. Time doesn’t revolve around everyone’s needs, just his. A part of Truman realizes that it can’t be this way for everyone. And it isn’t.

My favorite part of the movie is the end, when he The-Truman-Show-jim-carrey-141848_400_300unknowingly sails his boat into the wall painted to look like the sky. Truman goes through a cascade of emotions when he reaches out and touches that plaster. Understanding, horror, shock, anger, fear. But then he finds the door to the outside. What propels him through it isn’t just his desire to see the woman that disappeared from his past again, but I think, to know the truth. It’s scary to wake up from The Dream, but not everyone wants to stay asleep.

At times, I feel like Truman, fruitlessly banging my fists against the plaster sky. Because there’s no going back. Once you wake up from The Dream, and you see the inequality and injustice all around you that you, a Dreamer, benefit from, you have no other choice. You have to walk through that door. You have to turn your back on the safe and known and accept the truth.

You have to work to awaken the Dreamers.

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No, Anne Lamott, I Don’t “Know Your Heart”

June 11, 2015 - Author: emily.timbol

As much as I enjoy the instant communication and connection of Twitter, it does have one* major downside–it serves as a trap door for celebrities to fall down off their pedestals through. I’ve lost count of how many famoanneus people I’d previously admired who tweeted something sexist, racist, trans-phobic, or just downright idiotic, and who I now couldn’t help but view differently. Sure, nobody is perfect. But the reason this usually changes my opinion of someone isn’t that they messed up in the first place, it’s in their response to people’s criticisms.

Nothing makes you look worse, when being confronted by someone you’ve hurt, than saying, “You’re being hysterical. You know my heart. You should think better of me.”

But of course, this happens a lot. Most recently it happened with beloved hero of progressive Christians everywhere, Anne Lamott. When I first saw the (confusing) set of tweets Lamott sent regarding Caitlyn Jenner, I grasped for any excuse I could; maybe she was hacked, maybe she was quoting someone else who said these awful things and was simply trying to convey her disgust, maybe she had a mini-stroke.

But no, Anne Lamott–she who champions extreme Christian liberali sm, grace, and love for all sinners–really tweeted these sentiments:

No AnneNo Anne2

It’s been a full day since those tweets and so far Anne has not apologized or deleted the tweets. Not even after her beloved son said this:

samSince, people have been jumping in to criticize the backlash against Anne.

“This is just PC culture run-amok!”

“People need to have room to ask questions!” and,

“It’s just a tweet!”

Trust me, I get the desire to shove this under the rug and dismiss it as Anne being kooky or confused. Like many, many “progressive” Christians, Anne was one of the few people I felt safe turning to when I began to doubt that Jesus would love someone like me. Her writing and books reminded me that not all Christians wore perma-smiles, voted Republican, or eschewed cursing at all costs. Anne was real, human. Anne reminded me of me. Especially because she was a writer and lover of words.

Of all people, Anne understands the power, then, of language. She knows that it’s through words that we often either empower, or dehumanize people. She knows that words, in the wrong hands, can be far more dangerous than any weapon. I think she also knows that it’s often through people’s words that we truly began to see their heart. The only way I can begin to “know someone’s heart” is if they show it to me. This is sometimes done through action, but it’s also done with words. And when those two conflict? Well, then it’s hard for me to know which to believe.

This is why I was so deeply disappointed when Anne tweeted the weak defense that those who are upset by her tweets should, “know her heart.”  The reason we’re upset at all is because we felt like we DID know her heart. It was this heart that used powerful words to reach out to those of us who didn’t fit.  “Here,” her words said, “there’s room for you in the church. Sorry people who follow Jesus have been shitty to you. Sometimes life is like that.” It wasn’t Anne’s face or voice or hands that welcomed us. It was her words.

Words have immense power. It doesn’t matter if they’re spoken, written in pen, typed, or sent out over a iPhone keyboard to the Twitterverse–when they’re read by the recipient they are consumed either way. And there is no debating that Anne’s words were cruel, insensitive, and harmful. Any trans person can attest to that. Misgendering is wrong. Trans people are not their “parts” and reducing them to that is harmful. Maybe Anne didn’t know this before, but if she would listen to those attempting to communicate with her on Twitter, she should know it now.

No one is perfect. I am not perfect. Anne Lamott is not perfect. But no one is asking her to be. What we are asking is for an apology, an admittance of fault, and a step forward. We’re not asking that because she owes us anything. But rather because her words have helped us, and if we do truly, “know her heart” we know that it’s not one that desires to intentionally hurt anyone.

I can’t truly know Anne Lammott’s heart. But I know how her words have affected mine in the past. This is why I was hurt by her tweets, and this is why I hope she apologizes.

 

UPDATE: Anne Lamott has since sent the following tweet:

annepology

 

*I know twitter has more than one downside

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When Grace is Given Only to Abusers

May 28, 2015 - Author: emily.timbol

I’m a big fan of grace. I love that it’s a core tenet of the Christian religion;  we don’t just base our faith on the existence of our sin, but on the fact that this sin has already been paid for and covered by Christ. My faith is not one where I have to earn love or acceptance or forgiveness–it’s already been given to me. Grace is great. Yay grace.

Unsurprisingly, I’m not a big fan of abuse. Especially sexual abuse. Worst even, if that abuse is carried out on a child. In the line of things we can experience as humans, the grace of God and the evil of sexual abuse are about as far from each other as possible.

I’ve seen quite a few friends, writers, theologians, and even politicians, seemingly making this same point this week–that sexual sin is evil and heinous, but despite this, God’s grace still covers abusers. Each time I’ve seen this argument made I’ve wanted to grab a Bible and throw it at the person making it.

This is not because–in theory–I disagree that God’s grace covers all sin. But because the grace they were talking of is not from God. The grace they are referring to is the one granted to certain “sinners” and not others, given selectively, and often politically.

This is the grace of Christian celebrity. Well, the “right” kind of Christian celebrity.

I know this because, as the “wrong” kind of Christian (the feminist, non-submitting to my husband, supportive of LGBT people kind) I’ve received very little grace from the majority of mainstream Christians. Of course, what I’ve experienceDuggar2d pales in comparison to what my LGBT Christian friends have faced from their religious churches and families. Weirdly, for myself and my friends, there aren’t as many statements of support as there are condemnations and demands for repentance.

But personal anecdotes aren’t evidence right? Maybe I’m just a jerk and that’s why people don’t like me (very possible.) Thankfully for my argument, I’m not the only Christian whose experienced a lack of grace from her “brothers and sisters” when confronted with “sin.”

The furthest memory I have of a popular Christian “falling from grace” (so-to-speak) is Amy Grant. Back in the 90’s, when I was growing up, Amy Grant was one of the hugest, most successful artists in Christian music. She was like a more wholesome Taylor Swift. Amy had the first Christian album to go platinum, and was (to my knowledge) the first Christian artist to crossover and have a #1 hit song on the Billboard charts. Her fan base was solidly, overwhelmingly, Christian. Some fans were displeased when she went more mainstream, but the real waves weren’t made until 1999 when Grant filed for divorce, and then remarried a year later. Even though I was only 14 then, I remember how all anyone could talk about was how sad it was that Amy Grant had lost her faith. How wrong she was, how the popular culture had changed her, and how much they’d miss listening to her music. Christian stores removed her albums from their shelves. Popular Christian leaders and magazines released statements of disappoint in her choices. And her career was never the same.

You know what Amy Grant didn’t get? A whole bunch of articles written by conservative Christians reminding everyone about grace.

More recently is the public “farewell-ing” of pastor, author, and speaker Rob Bell. Bell, who was riding a long wave of success and popularity among both progressive and not-quite-as-progressive Christians, published his now infamous book Love Wins and the religious shit hitteth the fan. For his heinous act of asking questions about our modern understanding of hell Rob was publicly attacked by a barrage of religious leaders, many who before had worked with and spoken of him fondly. John Piper’s infamous “Farewell Rob Bell” tweet has almost become a meme in Christian culture, for it’s brevity and ridiculousness. In 2011, you could not randomly click on an article on the Christian net without seeing some kind of rebuttal or warning about the dangers of Rob Bell’s book, and by extension, his faith. I watched all of this from the side of someone who thoroughly enjoyed Love Wins and found its questions stirring. I read many, many articles, posts, and tweets surrounding the book and controversy, from people on all sides.

You know what I didn’t see? A plethora of Christians who disagreed with Bell’s book reminding everyone that God’s grace covers even those believers with differing theology.

Of course, these are just two examples. There’s also the backlash that followed when Dan Haseltine, the lead singer of hugely popular Christian band Jars of Clay, tweeted a modest support of same-sex marriage. It was so fierce and swift that he was forced to issue clarifying statements, no doubt to quell whatever damage his band-mates and managers feared. There’s also the ostracizing of Christian singer Jennifer Knapp, who lost almost all of her supporters once she came out as a lesbian. Again, two examples of Christians who did such heinous things as send a tweet and come out of the closet, nearly having their careers destroyed because so many Christians swiftly and immediately rushed to condemn and turn their back on them.

I’ve watched all of these Christians face the wrath of the religious populous with the same disgust I feel now that Josh Duggar is basking in support. Josh Duggar, in case you’ve been in a coma, is the oldest son of the Duggars, an Arkansas family made famous by TLC for having 17 children who all live under strict religious patriarchy. Josh confessed to molesting at least five girls, four of whom were his sisters, over the period of at least one year. He confessed this after the details of the abuse allegations leaked to the media.

Almost immediately, I saw people defending Josh. First it was that popular plea for us to “wait for the facts.” Once those came in and confirmed what everyone feared, the defenses changed to something along the lines of, “he was 14, this was over a decade ago, the media is just trying to attack a good family” or, “we’re all sinners, what he did was wrong, but he without sin cast the first stone.” And of course, my favorite, “God’s grace covers all sinners.”

First of all, I don’t pay my taxes to pay for God’s grace. I pay them so that the agents of the law can protect me and my family from criminals and predators, of which Josh Duggar is both. No where in the Bible does it say God’s grace is a legal pardon. Jesus didn’t get that thief on the cross next to him down, remember? He served His (unjust) punishment right next to the man He later welcomed into paradise. What I want more than anything is for Josh Duggar and predators like him to not be able to skirt around flimsy statutes of limitations, or use powerful family and friends who call in favors to avoid persecution for sex crimes. Remember–justice and grace are two different things. There’s no justice in sexual predators walking free.

Secondly, if your first response when faced with the news that a popular Christian celebrity molested his pre-pubescent sisters is a reminder of God’s grace, there is something wrong with you. I mean that seriously, not facetiously. Sexual abuse, especially of minors, is a disgusting, revolting, maddening evil. It should make us recoil and feel those warning hairs rise on the back of our necks. It should twist knots in our stomachs and cause our appetites to cease. If you value the autonomy and lives of women and girls, hearing about their abuse should break you. Like it absolutely breaks them. Even more so if this abuse was carried out by the hands of someone who claims to follow Christ. A Christian sexually abusing a child is an evil of which I can’t find comparison.

Part of being a Christian is (or should be) a duty to “the least of these.” While the meaning of this has been debated recently, all who have studied the Bible can agree that the protection of children was sacrosanct to Jesus. Their harm is a grievous sin. As Christians, our response to grievous sin should always first be to the victims. Caring for them, supporting them, loving them. This is what it means to be salt and light. Then, and only then, can we begin to wrestle with the unfairness and pain of what it means for God’s grace to cover everyone. Lest we forget, this idea of grace should not be one that’s easy for us to accept. It’s one we often have to struggle with, and pore over, and argue with God about. I know that (if Josh Duggar truly is a Christian, which judging by his “fruit” he’s not) grace that covers harmful families like The Duggars under the same net as people like me, is something I don’t stomach easily.

But that’s because God’s grace is not the same as man’s. God’s grace doesn’t just extend to conservative Christian celebrities who star on reality TV shows and fit the idea of what we think a “good” Christian should look like. God’s grace doesn’t lift and wain and falter with the political tides. It’s not something that we have any say over, whatsoever. And it’s certainly not something that nulls the rights of victims of abuse.

 

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The Duggars, and Sex Abuse Within Purity Culture

May 22, 2015 - Author: emily.timbol

Ever since I saw the police report and confession from Josh Duggar, eldest of the TV famous Duggar family, detailing the sexual abuse he carried out on young girls, I’ve felt disgust radiating throughout my entire body. Angry, violent disgust, the kind that made me want to throw my computer across the room. I tried writing some coherent thoughts about these allegations, and how the Duggars’ josh_duggarindocrtination of purity culture directly lead to the abuse and cover-up that occred, but I couldn’t. Instead I ended up writing a thousand words about my own experiences with purity culture, and how it almost ruined my life.

But these allegations aren’t about me. So since I can’t bring myself to clearly express my thoughts on exactly why this tragedy should not surprise anyone, I thought I’d let my friends and people I admire do it for me.

If you haven’t read the below posts, you should. They have helped me understand why “purity” is something I no longer believe in, support, or will teach my kids (if I have them.)

Because,

Teaching virginity is anti-Christian. Even if it weren’t, Virginity itself is an allusion.

Aside from virginity, there’s the fact that Purity Culture teaches shame more than anything else. Purity Culture also encourages “forgiveness” for abusers more than punishment. But if abusers are “welcome at the table,” then those they abused are not.

Lest you think this story is uncommon, know that abuse within Purity Culture is not rare. Everytime I see a woman in the church share her story of sexual abuse (and the cover-up that followed) I see comments flood in with similiar stories.

Purity Culture needs to stop. It needs to cease to be taught in churches, and unlearned by those who have believed in it.

If it doesn’t, stories like this will continue to be common.

Christians, we can do better. We NEED to do better.

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The Problem With The Bubble

May 13, 2015 - Author: emily.timbol

I got into a lovely discussion/argument today over this seemingly innocuous post from The Toast; Books That Literally All White Men Own: The Definitive List. I argued with a bunch of dudes (Wednesday, amirite?) that this post wasn’t really funny as much as it was telling since the majority of white guys don’t read books by women. That’s a problem, obviously. Especially since the publishing industry still tends to only deign Serious Books About White Man Pain (TM) as “literature.”

The whole thing, while entertaining, also got me thinking about the cultural phenomenon of “The Bubble.” White dudes who are friends with white dudes who read books by other white dudes will go through most of their life thinking nothing of this, until they meet a feminist or non-white dude who introduces them to the wonders of Flannery O’Connor or Toni Morrison. It’s not that the white dudes reading those books–many of them classics, don’t get me wrong–are nefarious in any way, it’s just that they haven’t expanded their horizons out yet to the experiences and writings of authors who might not look, think, or act like them.

This is not something exclusive to white dudes, lest you think I’m being unfair to my light-skinned brethren. Plenty of white feminists spend their time reading nothing but writing by other white feminists (save for Bell Hooks) and neglect to work intersectionalism into their advocacy. It’s a problem. This problem is not one of skin color though, but proximity. It’s an issue of people being drawn to what’s safe, familiar, and reassuring. That’s why it’s called a bubble. Because bubbles create a barrier between you, and everything that threatens your way of thinking.

Modern bubbles look like this: Facebook friends that are 90-95% your same race, socio-economic level, religion, and political affiliation. News gathered from sites that subtly or explicitly skew to your political preference. Friends that look like you, vote like you, and have about the same level of money as you. Church all of the above.

Sadly, I don’t have much of a bubble (aside from where I get my news.) I used to have one, back when I was a normal middle-class, conservative Christian. Everyone I spent time with or talked to or chatted with online back then (this was pre-Facebook days, I’m old) thought just like me. But then I blew my bubble apart by A) becoming a liberal Christian feminist, and B) attempting to maintain relationships with my conservative Christian friends and family, and everyone else.

Bye-bye bubble.

There are perks to losing your shimmery, translucent shield. Like, getting exposed to ideas that you would never otherwise encounter. Or, having your beliefs challenged and seeing them not falter, but strengthen instead. Sometimes you even get to effect someone, maybe even change their mind, who would not otherwise have encountered your views.

But being outside the bubble is hard. When you have friends that range from as far right and religious as you can get, to as far left and anti as possible, engaging can be exhausting. Sometimes I think of life outside the bubble as a kind of intellectual Mad Max-ian dystopia. Every idea and utterance can be perceived as a threat, every potential post or conversation a potential time-bomb. Sometimes you have to battle it out thunder-dome style, and sometimes you just high-tail it out of there and drive away as fast as you can (see, I can reach white dudes too.)

Bubbles protect you from all the discomfort that diversity brings. If that sounds wrong, it isn’t. Diversity is not bad. Diversity is good. It’s life-giving. It’s literally necessary for the continuation of species. But dealing with difference isn’t easy. It is uncomfortable.

Part of the discomfort I experience comes from the glances I get into the bubble that used to encase me. I might be outside now, but I can still see in, thanks to the window a lot of my conservative Christian friends have given me. And what I see really worries me. Far more troublesome than a bunch of white dudes reading nothing but Kerouac, is a bunch of white Christians talking to no one but each other.

The real danger is that, for most Christians, the idea of this bubble is not just normal, but Biblical. Instead of seeing their carefully crafted worlds as echo-chambers, they see their exclusion of everything “other” as the way God wants them to live. Where this once used to just be sad, in a Blast From The Past kind of way, has now turned frightening. Because now, in order to protect these ever-shrinking bubbles, some Christians have turned on those on the outside.

To keep their bubble from bursting, some Christians are trying to pass legislation to keep “outsiders” away–from their businesses, churches, and schools. Of course, the irony is that this is the exact opposite way of treating “others” that Jesus commanded. You know Jesus, He was the brown-skinned homeless dude who hung out with social outcasts, preached against wealth, and commanded rich people to give everything they had to the poor. That guy. His entire time on Earth was spent challenging the notion of “us” vs. “them” (gentiles vs. Jews) and encouraging those who wanted to follow Him to treat everyone with love. Jesus, who said, explicitly, that He came to fulfill all the laws that came before Him, and spelled out exactly what the greatest commandment was (spoiler alert: it’s love.)

That’s the problem of the bubble though. If you only ever hear Biblical interpretation and theology from people who think exactly like you think, you can miss the depressing irony in advocating for laws that discriminate against people in the name of the dude who commanded that you never discriminate. It’s like demanding laws to be passed against people asking for cloaks, in the name of the guy who said to give people who ask your cloak, and your shirt also. See why I’m so often annoyed at Christians?

Good news does exist though. Bubbles are not made of brick and cement. They are easily burst. It does not take a lot to step outside. To introduce yourself to someone who could not be more different from yourself, and invite them into conversation. It’s not hard to engage respectfully with someone who thinks differently than yourself, politically or religiously. And in the advent of Netflix, educating and exposing yourself to new ideas has never been easier.

This is my hope, today. That more Christians (and for that matter, atheists, Muslims, liberals, feminists, and every other -ist and -ism) would open themselves up to relationships with people across the aisle. Real relationships, where both parties listen and not just talk over each other. Because really, the root of almost all of our problems lies in ignorance, and lack of accurate information.

Which is why, keeping in that spirit, I’m going to go out and buy a book written by a white dude today. Fair is fair.

 

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Same-Sex Weddings and the True Meaning of Marriage

March 14, 2015 - Author: emily.timbol

I always cry at weddings. As soon as the doors open and everyone stands and the music changes for the grand entrance, my mascara starts running down my face. It’s always involuntary, like an emotional sneeze, and I’m often annoyed at myself. I mean, I’m a Christian in the south. I’ve been to A LOT of weddings. Most are quite similar. You think I’d be used to this by now.

This morning, when the doors of the old Baptist church opened and the music changed and I watched two of my friends walk armchurch-and-arm down the aisle together, the water-works started. When they read their vows to each other in front of our pastor, I cried. When they poured three colors of sand into a vase, one for each of them, and one to represent God, who is the foundation of their marriage, I cried.

It was beautiful and unique, because, unlike the other weddings I’ve been to, this was a ceremony to legally signify a relationship that God had blessed 21 years before. There was the normal new beginning, but there was also an acknowledgment of everything in the past that had brought them to where they stood today.

There was one thing though I didn’t do at the wedding this morning, that I find myself doing at almost every (Christian) wedding I attend. I didn’t cringe. I didn’t sigh under my breath or resist the urge to roll my eyes, or poke Ryan with my elbow as covertly as I could. This is something I’ve done at pretty much every other Christian wedding I’ve attended, because at most of these, the sermon or message has focused on one specific thing. Gender. Not commitment, or sacrifice, or kinship, or any number of things that form the foundation of a healthy relationship. But gender, and how the man standing in front of his friends and family has one role and his wife has another. Sometimes it’s just a brief mention, a nod to Genesis maybe. A reminder of who was created first (man) and who was created second (woman) and the significance in this order. This I can usually endure. What kills me though is when the pastor standing in front of the church launches into a lesson on gender roles, and how women should never be over their husbands and how their submission is mandated by God.

Bad theology aside, it makes me so sad when these are the words the faith leader chooses to leave the bride and groom with. Because there is a wealth of knowledge and wisdom in the Bible, and a focus on archaic, culturally specific gender roles is not going to help anyone.

God did not create marriage to teach men and women a lesson about how different they are and how important it was for them to stay within the rigid lines of their roles. God created marriage to teach two people the true meaning of love. Religious marriage is an institution meant to reflect God’s love. When we commit to another person and allow them to see us in all our weakness and selfishness and cowardice, yet they love us anyway, we see the love of God. Likewise, when we begin to want what’s best for our partner more than what’s best for ourselves, we see a glimpse of the sacrificial love of God. And when we look into the mirror that marriage creates and stare at all of our flaws and imperfections and decide to grow because we want to be a better spouse, we understand the kind of love that God wants for us. Life-long kinship love.

There is a reason why egalitarian marriages are not just happier and longer lasting but better reflect the image of God. Because in egalitarian marriages, spouses face one another on equal footing. They are allowed to have their own strengths and weaknesses depending on who God made them individually, not on their sex. In egalitarian marriages, the bond between spouses includes mutual submission by choice, not expectation. If there’s anything we learned about love from the Bible it’s that it can’t be taken, it has to be given. How much more beautiful is it then when two people equally, freely choose to serve and love each other, using the gifts God created them with, not just the gifts deemed appropriate for their sex.

That’s why, just by their nature, Christian same-sex weddings have better theology – because the ceremony is about the commitment of the people standing in front of God and their loved ones. It’s not about their genders.

I cry at weddings not because of a bride and groom. I cry at weddings because of the commitment two people are making to one another, for sickness in health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, as long as they both shall live. That commitment is not dependent on gender. It’s certainly not dependent on a white dress or black tux.

So today, I cried out of happiness for the two women whose relationship has helped me see what the true love of God is like. A love that endures, and is patient, and is kind, and perseveres. I’m so glad that their perseverance paid off, and today, this love was recognized not just by God, but by the state they live in. That is certainly something to shed happy tears over.

 

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A Finale on Failure

February 25, 2015 - Author: emily.timbol

When I was in high school I wrote out a thirty-year plan for my life. It charted the path I would take from graduating college and law school, to becoming a lawyer, then a judge, and eventually, by the age of 48, being appointed as a Supreme Court Justice. Most teenage girls spent time memorizing facts about their favorite boy bands while I (in addition to knowing Taylor Hanson’s birthday) memorized details about the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.

I didn’t have a lot of friends, basically.

That plan was never something I stuck to (obviously) and one that was definitely more fantasy than anything actionable. I got off course. Found new dreams. Realized I loved writing way more than government. But I never forgot that girl who dreamed of donning a black robe and wielding the most power that the United States can grant an individual (President, schmezedent, the SCOTUS rules all.)

I think that’s part of the reason I have always loved Leslie Knope, the main character on the show Parks & Rec. Leslie always knew what she wapawneented, and worked towards those dreams. She did so hilariously, and with the help of her friends and co-workers who were just as unique and (usually) driven as she.

It was really hard saying goodbye to Leslie and the crew of Parks & Rec last night, after the series finale aired. I’ll admit that throughout the hour long episode I ugly cried, my face all scrunched up, snot coming out of my nose, weird animal like sounds escaping from my mouth. It was not pretty. Even though they’re fictional, those characters were ones I had not just grown attached to, but, truthfully, sometimes learned from.

Surprisingly, it was not Leslie Knope’s send off last night that spoke the most to me. It was [Spoiler Alert] actually Tom Haverford’s (played by Aziz Ansari.) Tom, the perpetual hustler of the show, reached the end by achieving the success he’d been clawing at for seven seasons. He was a business owner, a restaurateur, and a successful entrepreneur. He had overcome multiple failures to finally succeed. Except….he didn’t. We saw in his epilogue that all his restaurants closed, his businesses failed, and he lost everything. We watched him lamenting to his now-wife Lucy about how many times he failed, and how everything he did was a disaster. Of course, in typical Tommy T-pain fashion, he turned this all into a world-wide best selling self-help book on how to succeed by failing. It was a good joke, and it fit his character perfectly – he finally reached success doing the only thing he was good at – being bad at everything. It was light and fun, and fit with the happy endings given to each member of the cast. But it also really stuck with me.

It made me think about how, unlike a lot of other light, comedic shows, almost everyone on Parks & Rec experienced failure at some point in their arc. Leslie especially, as she was recalled from her dream job as City Council-woman when she was barely into her first term. Ben failed at being an 18-year-old mayor, Ron had multiple failed marriages, Andy failed to get accepted to the police force, and April failed at maintaining Gothic cynicism until the day she died. Each character managed to not just overcome this failure though, but use it to propel themselves forward.

As someone who has probably failed more times than I have succeeded in my life, this narrative theme meant a lot to me. Because even though the series finale walked the line between sweet and saccharine in its send-offs of beloved characters, it still didn’t shy away from failure. It still acknowledged that even the most successful people get rejected and don’t get everything they dream of.

That was something I needed to be reminded of, as I, once again, attempt to reach my dream of getting published. Three years ago I wrote my first book, and sent it out to agents, spending a year hoping and wishing and trying as hard as I could to get published. I failed. It sucked. There was a part of me that said I’d never go through that again, and wanted to just give up entirely. But that part was overpowered by the part of my brain, I guess the Knope-Haverford part, that wanted to keep trying, and wasn’t ready to give up my dream. So I took a year off. Then in early 2014 I started writing another book, my first novel. It felt good to try again, and to experience that involuntary buoying of hope. And in a few weeks, after I finish my last round of editing, I’m going to try again. I’ll send out query letters, feel my heart race every time I see that little (1) in my inbox, and experience the crushing sorrow of rejection when I see a “Sorry, this isn’t for me,” response. It is entirely possible I will fail again. And again. And again.

What I loved about the Parks & Rec finale last night was the reminder that even if this happens to me, I won’t be doomed a failure. I’m not a failed writer. I’m a writer who is still growing, and learning, and working towards a dream. Even if I never actually reach that dream (a scary thought I’m not quite ready to face) I still won’t be a failure. I’ll just be a writer who kept trying, and working, and doing the thing she loved.

So thanks Tom, Leslie, Ben, Ron, April, Andy, Chris, Ann, and Donna. You taught me a lot about what it means to fail, and keep going. You will all be missed. Except you Jerry.

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A Prayer for Leelah in The New Year

December 31, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

As the clock strikes midnight tonight, balloons will drop, champagne glasses will be raised, and happy couples everywhere will toast to a new year filled with endless possibilities. Not everyone will be celebrating though. The parents of Leelah Alcorn will be mourning the death of their 17 -year-old daughter, who recently committed suicide. Only, they don’t refer to her as their daughter. Even now, after her death, they refuse to recognize the person that their child always was.

Leelah Alcorn was “born a boy.” As in, her biological sex was male at Leelahbirth. She was raised a boy by her parents, two devout Christians living in suburban Ohio. And when, at the age of 14, she learned what the word “transgender” meant – someone whose biological sex doesn’t match their gender – suddenly everything made sense. Why, since the age of 4, she felt (in her words) like a “girl trapped in a boy’s body.”

People, namely Leelah’s parents, consistently refused to recognize her true gender. They did this ostensibly because they were Christians. And this is the reason that Leelah is dead. Because they sent her to “Christian” therapists who refused to acknowledge what accredited therapists all agree on: that the best thing parents can do for their transgender teens is support their transition.

I am not a parent, so I can’t comment on what it must be like to raise a child that you love dearly, and have them tell you that, essentially, you’ve been wrong in how you’ve seen them since birth. That must be incredibly painful and confusing to deal with. But I am someone who has been raised since birth learning the same truths that Leelah’s parents lived by; the truth that living a life that honors Christ is the most important thing of all.

Part of me understands how hard it must have been for two small town Christians who likely had no LGBT friends or family to process Leelah’s coming out. How clearly it must have seemed to them that the solution to all their problems was just prayer, and church, and Jesus. And you know what, I agree with them there. The solution for how they could have saved Leelah’s life was prayer and church and Jesus. Or it would have been, if the church they went to was one that knew how to minister to transgender teens and adults.

If there had been at least one Christian at Leelah’s church who had educated themselves about transgender rights, and reached out to her parents, maybe Leelah would still be alive.

If the “Christian therapists” that Leelah’s parents took her to had followed accepted medical and psychological practices instead of advocating for harmful treatment, maybe Leelah would still be alive.

If the church she went to, or it’s larger church network had listened to transgender Christians who have said over and over that who they are is who God made them to be, maybe Leelah would still be alive.

As much as I love my faith, I am not immune to its weaknesses. I know, from the years I’ve spent studying the roots of religious homophobia, that the church has some major gender issues to work through. There are many Christians who believe that the Bible has clear outlined gender roles for men and women, and it is a sin to challenge these.  Despite the fact that this is not true, and has been disproved by numerous theologians, patriarchy is still the accepted, honored norm for many Christian denominations.

It’s this belief – that men and women are designed by God to be completely different and fulfill separate but “equal” roles – that fuels religious transphobia. That’s why I can both understand the fear and confusion of Leelah’s parents, while mourning over the fact their ignorance lead to her death. It’s this ignorance that needs to change.

There are so many things I wish had gone different in Leelah’s life. If they had she’d still be alive, and she could see the outpouring of love and support from people all over the world. But since her death can’t be undone, the biggest hope – no, prayer – I have is that her final wish be honored. The last words of her note said, “Fix society. Please.”

What breaks my heart is that it wasn’t “society” that failed Leelah. It was the church. It was Christians. She was fully connected to a body of believers who could have helped her and possibly saved her, if they’d just listened. If they’d learned what most of the world now knows to be true – that transgender people are not broken or sick or damaged. They are just people, people who deserve to live authentically.

So this is my prayer for 2015 – that Christians will remember Leelah’s name. That they’ll educate themselves. That they’ll be there as an advocate and ally for any transgender teens in their churches or families.

There is no bringing back Leelah. But we can honor her memory, and refuse to forget her. And we can try to prevent the next Leelah from feeling so misunderstood and alone. That’s our job as the church, and it’s what we must do better at. Lives literally depend on it.

 

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Some Resources for Whites Wanting to Self-Desegregate

November 26, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

Of all the articles, statistics, and information that’s been floating around on Facebook and Twitter recently, this study, on the self-segregation of white Americans, has stuck with me the most. According to the research, the social networks of whites is 91% other white people. A full 75% of white people have no minority presence in their social networks at all.

When I first read this study, it wasn’t exactly clear to me if “social network” meant real life, or Facebook and Twitter, which for my generation is a heavy part of our social lives. The statistic shocked me because I’d estimate that about 1/3 of the actively tweeting people who I follow are non-white. And a smaller portion of my Facebook friends (but still a substantial one) are non-white as well.

I started thinking then about how different my social media experience would be, if the only people I got my news and current event info from were white. While a lot of my white liberal friends share the same views as my black liberal friends, they don’t share the same experiences. And it’s the experiences that I’ve read about – not the opinions – that have affected me the most over the years. It’s listening to people who have lived through things I’ll never understand (like racism) that has affected my politics, my opinions, and the causes I support.

So in the spirit of practicing something I need to get better at  – using my voice to lift up the voices of POC – I’m going to share some resources from non-white writers and activists who have important things to say. If you’re white and don’t regularly follow any people of color (POC) then I highly recommend you check out some of the resources below. I say “people” and not “person’s” because I think it’s important for white people not to just find one POC who says everything they already believe, like say, Dr. Ben Carson, and then feel justified in tuning out every other non-white person’s voice. This is not OK. There is not one “spokesperson” for every race, and if the people of color you listen to don’t challenge you in any way, then you need to start listening to others. Here’s a good place to start:

Al Letson (NPR host):

As a young man, I’ve been pulled over for no reason more times then I can count, (literally one cop let me go cause I was bumping NPR- seriously, no kidding.) I stopped once on 1-95 to help an older white woman change her tire, the cop got out of his cruiser, and watched me in the Florida Sun sweat to fix this woman’s tire, the whole time he watched me, with his hand on his gun. The woman came to thank me, he stopped her, made sure she was okay, let her go first and made me wait, then let me drive away.

A friend and I ran a poetry reading and late one night, he called me, telling me a cop pulled him over for no reason and slammed him on the cruiser hood. I have 100 more stories from other friends, if I asked I’m sure I could source well over a thousand, that’s just one example.

Christena Cleveland (Christian writer) :

The gospel calls us not only into individual faith in Christ, but also into the multi-racial family of God (Matthew 12:50) in which everyone has value and a voice, and those who were biologically born into higher status races (e.g., whites) intentionally listen to and stand in solidarity with those who were biologically born into lower status races (e.g., blacks) (Luke 13:30; Philippians 2:5-8)…This is not a calling to be taken lightly. As a unified family of God, we are empowered to address the racial issues that are afflicting our world….

Let me repeat: the unified family of God is the answer to the problem of race in America. For years, black Christians have invited white Christians to participate in the unified family of God by leaning into justice issues that affect black people.

Ta-Nehisi Coates (writer):

The truth was that there was no financing for people like Clyde Ross. From the 1930s through the 1960s, black people across the country were largely cut out of the legitimate home-mortgage market through means both legal and extralegal. Chicago whites employed every measure, from “restrictive covenants” to bombings, to keep their neighborhoods segregated.

Their efforts were buttressed by the federal government. In 1934, Congress created the Federal Housing Administration. The FHA insured private mortgages, causing a drop in interest rates and a decline in the size of the down payment required to buy a house. But an insured mortgage was not a possibility for Clyde Ross. The FHA had adopted a system of maps that rated neighborhoods according to their perceived stability. On the maps, green areas, rated “A,” indicated “in demand” neighborhoods that, as one appraiser put it, lacked “a single foreigner or Negro.” These neighborhoods were considered excellent prospects for insurance. Neighborhoods where black people lived were rated “D” and were usually considered ineligible for FHA backing. They were colored in red. Neither the percentage of black people living there nor their social class mattered. Black people were viewed as a contagion.

Derrick Clifton (writer):

https://twitter.com/DerrickClifton/status/537273629432877056

Imani Gandy (Writer/Legal Analyst):

The simple fact is that Black Americans are in crisis right now. In Ferguson, activists will be looking to the Department of Justice for answers if the St. Louis prosecutor announces—as many expect he will—that Darren Wilson won’t face any charges for the killing of Mike Brown. At the ballot box, Black voters will be relying on the DOJ to restore the voting power of people disenfranchised by voter ID laws and Republican gerrymandering. And when it comes to the War on Drugs, which continues to send disproportionately high numbers of Black and brown folks to jail, it is clear that we need an attorney general who understands the current civil rights crisis. Loretta Lynch is that person.

Jamelle Bouie (Writer):

Take Wilson’s account of Brown’s actions and language. He describes a vicious, combative Brown, quick with a quip and eager to fight with police. Based on what we know from his family and friends, this sounds out of character….

More troubling is Wilson’s physical description of Brown, which sits flush with a century of stereotypes and a bundle of recent research on implicit bias and racial perceptions of pain. In so many words, Wilson describes the “black brute,” a stock figure of white supremacist rhetoric in the lynching era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The southern press was rife with articles attacking the “Negro Beast” and the “Big Black Brute,” notes Philip Dray in At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America. To the white public, the “black brute” was a menacing, powerful creature who could withstand the worst punishment. Likewise, in northern papers, it was easy to find stories of “giant negroes” who “spread terror” and rampaged through urban centers. That image never went away; it lingers in crack-era stories of superpowered addicts and teenaged superpredators, as well as rhetoric around other victims of police brutality.

These are just a handful of the people I regularly follow, if you have any other suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

 

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The Dysfunctional Family That is The Church

October 13, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

Last Thursday my husband Ryan and I attended a panel discussion entitled, “Faith Perspectives That Embrace LGBT Youth and Families.” It was put on by the university we both graduated from, and was centered on understanding the implications of faith communities on LGBT youth and family, society, and the church itself.

The small theater the event was being held in was about 1/2 full, mostly with students and a few white haired older folks. We sat next to Susan, the pastor of the church we’ve been visiting for the past few weeks. On the stage sat four speakers; Jane Clementi, the mother of Tyler Clementi and co-founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, Dr. Carolyn Stone, Ed. D, professor and counselor educator who serves as chair of the American School Counselor Association’s Ethics Committee, Rev. MacArthur Flournoy, a preacher who serves as the director of Faith Partnerships and Mobilization for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and Dr. David Gushee, a clergy member and Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology at Mercer University.

Each person on the panel spoke about their own story and how their background led them to where they were today; most as believers who fully embrace the Bible as the Word of God, but who reject the current church’s teachings on homosexuality.

At one point during the panel, when Rev. MacArthur was speaking – in the booming, engaging voice one would expect of a preacher – I leaned over to Ryan. With a big smile on my face, I whispered, “this feels like church.”

It was a weird thing to say, as, by the end of the night, there was at least one thing every speaker and audience member agreed on; it was the church we were fighting against. Even though most of the “we” were also church members themselves. We were all believers. People who not only worshiped the same God and read the same Bible, but wanted the very same thing as the people we were working against.

The dichotomy was almost overwhelming. Here we were, Christians, talking about other Christians and how we needed to save LGBT youth from them (and their incorrect and dangerous teachings.) It was like being at an intervention familyfor a family member who is abusing their children; the immediate need is to save and protect the kids, but you don’t necessarily want to do that in a way that harms the parent. Everyone involved – abuser and victim- are family.

As someone who was  ridiculously blessed with loving parents, it’s taken me a long time to process what it’s like to live in this dysfunctional relationship with my Christian family – I’m honestly still processing it.

I have to deal with this painful dichotomy every time I randomly peruse the Facebook pages of friends from the church I grew up in. There I see jokes made at LGBT people’s expense, attacks on poor people, defenses of violence, and of course, praises to God. This is just par for the course on social media – you’d think I’d be used to it by now. But I’m not. Every time I see a Christian use the Bible to make a remark filled with ignorance or hate, there’s a part of me that wants to just throw my hands up and say, “I quit. I want no more part of this family.”

There’s a certain kind of pain and frustration that can only come from knowing that the people who hurt you the most, are supposed to be the ones that protect and love you.

After the panel discussion ended, we walked back to our car. I was stewing in a mixture of incongruous emotions; anger, hope, frustration, disappointment, and as usual, hunger.  It wasn’t until we reached the parking garage that I realized something.

No matter how dysfunctional the church family gets, we have a father and mother (God) who loves us. All of us. God is not the one carrying out the abuse or causing the dysfunction. God is the one who is bringing truth to light, and opening enough people’s hearts and minds, that events like the one we attended could even take place.

I can’t throw my hands up in the air and say, “I quit”, because I have a father who has always been there for me. My siblings might often be terrible (what siblings aren’t?) but my mother God is in control.

Towards the end of the panel, Dr. Gushee opened a Bible that was sitting on his lap and said, “The thing about holding this up and saying, ‘the Bible says’ is that in certain places, people actually believe you.” For years, I’ve been secretly wincing every time someone utters that phrase, “The Bible says” because what follows has almost always been void of the Gospel. Last night though, I was reminded of the power that comes when the person holding that Bible is using it not as a weapon, but as a welcome.

It’s OK for me to separate myself from the dysfunctional parts of my church family that have caused me and my LGBT friends pain. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for dysfunctional relationships is draw boundaries. The great news though is that the church family has many members. Much to my joy and relief, I’ve found that there are many in the church family who want to embrace LGBT youth and families. Fully. Which means that even though my faith family is dysfunctional, there are people within it who I can turn to for strength, support, and guidance.

When it comes down to it, no family is perfect. I’m just grateful that the family I am a part of has members who are willing to point out the dysfunction within.

 

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