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Racism in Full Color

November 20, 2015 - Author: emily.timbol

I have a terrible memory. If you ask me the name of my 4th grade teacher, how old I was when I first rode a bicycle, or what my GPA was in high school, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Much of my youth and childhood is a (happy, normal) blur. There’s not much about the day-to-day of my education I remember.

But there is one thing, in particular, I’ve never forgotten.

I’m not sure what class it was in, or even what grade, but the footage itself is seared into my memory. Dark skinned men, women, and children captured in grainy black-and-white footage, being assaulted with high-power water cannons, police dogs, and fists. For wanting the right to vote. To sit at lunch counters. To do the things I take for granted everyday. I was sickened, horrified. Brought to tears.

Learning about our countries violent past changed me. I grew up with privilege. This is part of why the footage and history shocked me so much. Affected me in a way it wouldn’t affect non-white kids, familiar with the ways racism had stained their past. But this new knowledge opened my eyes. It sparked a longing to fight for justice. For a while I dreamed of being a lawyer, or working for a non-profit that fought for international human rights. Even going so far as to apply to overseas positions and majoring in political science, to help achieve this goal. I (wrongly) thought that the true human rights crimes were taking place in developing counties, overseas. I thought that the days of egregious human rights injustices in our country were long past.

There was always a part of me that longed to have been able to be there, before. I had a deep love for Dr. King. My high school yearbook quote was from him, and I displayed a poster of his I Have a Dream speech prominently in my college dorm. Whenever I’d look at it I’d think about how much I wish I could have been there, marching on Washington, doing something tangible to enact justice.

For a long time, I longed to be able to somehow transport myself to those black-and-white times of the past, where people of privilege like myself had the opportunity to stand up to injustice. A time when silence in the face of racial hatred and prejudice lead to death and harm, but speaking up against it could save lives. I wanted to be able to stand up, in real time, to those horribly racist people doing and saying things that were evil.

The irony, of course, is that this time is now. Racism isn’t just relegated to those black-and-white photos of the past. Racism still exists today.  The vile, evil, violent kind carried out in broad daylight by thousands of white Americans fifty years ago didn’t just die. It’s still advocated for by some people, and it’s still seen as valiant by others. This is as obvious to many black people as the weather, but many white people don’t realize it because we’re blanketed in privilege. I had to go looking, and more importantly, listening, for it.

I’ve known this truth, that the racism of the past hasn’t gone anywhere, for some time now. But it hasn’t been until this past week that I realized something depressing and terrifying. I realized that the longing I had before, to be able to march against evil men like George Wallace, can be satisfied today.

This week, the leading candidate for the GOP nomination for President advocated for a Nazi inspired registry for Muslims. When asked about the similarefugeesrity to what happened to the Jews during WWII, this candidate didn’t even attempt to defend himself.

In addition to that, this week, I’ve seen:

  • Christians saying that the safety of American citizens is more important than the lives of refugee children
  • Americans defending the policies of WWII era America that turned away Jewish refugees who later were killed in concentration camps
  • Christian politicians claiming that even five year old refugee children shouldn’t be allowed admittance into our country
  • Christians who oppose all forms of government aid and welfare to the homeless and veterans claiming that the government shouldn’t be taking care of refugees, because we have  homeless and veterans in need
  • Christians defending war and war casualties as something God is OK with and even supports
  • A Christian man say that, “You can love your enemy while putting a bullet between his eyes.”

I’ve experienced something I never imagined I would in my lifetime; a type of overt, hateful racism carried out in the age of color, that I used to think existed only in black-and-white. I’ve watched attitudes so many of us (naively) thought were crushed in the 1960’s and 70’s resurface, and then get broadcast on a national stage. I’ve watched my country experience a level of intolerance, fear, and injustice that I thought we were decades past.

I realized this week that in 30 or 40 years, it’s entirely possible my children or friend’s children will be watching video of events going on this week in America, and feel the same sense of revulsion I felt watching films of Civil Rights era violence.

And I realized that I—we—have an opportunity to speak out against this evil, to do something to combat it. The opportunity to stand up to racism never passed. There was never a time when people with skin darker than mine were safe from it, and they are not safe from it now.

It’s a horrible feeling, realizing that the thing I wished for came true. But now that I see what’s always been there, I will be praying for opportunities to do what I’ve always longed to do. To bring about justice. Because there’s a chance that 50 years from now a young person will asks me what I did to fight the terrible policies that led to the death of innocent refugees.

And I want to have an answer.


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On Being White, But Not Really

September 15, 2015 - Author: emily.timbol

The literary world was shaken this past week when it was revealed that white writer Michael Derrick Hudson had won a poetry contest after using an Asian pen name during submission (a name he stole from a former classmate.) Hudson was completely unapologetic. He felt that the fact the poem was rejected 40 times under his own name, yet accepted under his Chinese pen name, meant that there was some discrimination at place when editors thought he was white. This ridiculous idea was perfectly dismantled by writer Jenny Zhang in a Buzzfeed essay that went viral, They Pretend To Be Us While Pretending We Don’t Exist. I loved her essay. But it gave me some pause about whether I was the “They” in the story, or the “We.”

So, as writers are wont to do, I wrote an essay in response, for The Salt Collective. Below is an excerpt. You can read the full essay here.

I’ve only had a racial slur directed at me once in my life. It was so unexpected, so rare, that my reaction was pure confusion.

“Did that redneck just call me a ‘coon’?” I asked my friend. “That’s bad right?”

We were in high school, at a church beach retreat, and some older boys had gotten into the hot tub we were in. When I said something one of them didn’t like, he replied with, “Shut up, coon.”

I am not black. That particular summer I was incredibly tan, and it was dark out, and I do have kinky, thick, dark hair. I convinced myself that he was either really stupid or really drunk, or both. But I couldn’t shake it. Because I’m not, technically speaking, white.

This experience was one of maybe only a handful of times racism seemed to affect me, personally. I was born more resembling my white mother. My sister was born looking more like my 1/2 Filipino, 1/2 Italian father. I look white to most white people. And indeed, 3/4 of me is. Because of this, I’ve almost always considered myself white. Race isn’t about accuracy right? It’s about perception. Prejudice. Overcoming systemic disadvantages and injustices, and dealing with frequent microagressions. These didn’t happen to me.

They did happen to my grandfather, and my father, and my sister. My grandfather was segregated when he left the Philippines to join the American Navy (illegally) at 16. They made him a cook, like the other “coloreds,” and he served captains and white officers. When he met my Italian grandmother years later, they married and settled in Italy. They moved to America when my father was ten. My father met my (white) mother in the 80’s, they married, and I was born. My childhood was normal, and happy.

When my little sister came along, six years after I was born, women would sometimes stop my mother in the grocery store or on the sidewalk. They’d coo over how cute my sister was, then pause, their voices lowered to a hushed tone. “Is she adopted?” I remember feeling confused and angry each time this happened.

My sister and I both grew up surrounded by languages we didn’t speak or understand. At family get together’s there were buffets of pasta dishes lovingly made by my Italian Zia’s, sitting next to Pancit and Lumpia cooked by their Filipino husbands. Tagalog and Italian were spoken just as much as English. This was nothing but normal to me, so I never considered it wasn’t, for a “white” girl.

– See more at:

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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:



*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.)


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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