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Oops . . . My Feminist is Showing!

As a girl, I learned about friendship from Frog and Toad, Anne and Diana, Frodo and Samwise, Han and Chewie. I learned about adventure from Huck Finn, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and Peter Pan. I learned about growing up from Jo March, Douglas Spaulding, Ender Wiggin, and the Cosby children. I learned about courage from Spider-Man, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman. What an amazing way to grow up! I had so many kick-ass role models to look up to. The fact that the vast majority of these characters were male never really registered with me. I was able to read books and watch movies, identifying with the hero or heroine, enjoying the stories of both men and women, getting something out of male or female targeted fiction. This is the world I grew up in, what I knew and never questioned, an excellent world – one which I loved.

As I got older, I noticed more and more how much of the literature I read and the films I watched were dominated by male heroes. Ensemble casts would add in one or two women, but were still mostly male, one Hermione to both a Harry and a Ron, a Black Widow and a Scarlet Witch to the rest of the Avengers.  As an elementary school librarian, I still have to search to find books with female leads – even when they’re about animals and not humans. Even after the fabulous push for strong heroines in sci-fi books like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent,” they are still the minority. At school, at least three out of every four books assigned were by male authors.

And yet, as a girl who grew up on this literature, watching these films, reading these stories and poems and books in school, I was still able to find great value in them. I never really had a choice – it was either find something I could identify with, appreciate, or be entirely left out of the story. I was never taught to do this – no one ever sat my sister and I down and said, “now we’re going to read a book written by a man about boys, but you can still appreciate it and get something out of it.” No, we just learned to do that by reading and watching and putting ourselves into the heroes’ shoes. It was expected that this would come naturally to us, and, for the most part, it did.

This, by the way, is how half the world grows up – being exposed over and over again to the male perspective as representative and authoritative, and we mostly accept it, even love and appreciate it. These mostly male-dominated stories and characters are dear to my heart, and helped shape me growing up – I have nothing against them. I am the first in line for the latest “Batman” movie clearly targeting a male audience, and have read and reread the almost entirely male “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

As a geek and a Christian, this ability to put myself into the male narrative became even more necessary. Both of these cultures are dominated by male voices, so I learned to listen to pastors give illustration after illustration of being husbands and fathers, and I learned to somehow apply the lesson to my life. I read comic book after comic book in which many of the female characters were just there to be rescued, depicted scantily clad, or were just absent and I learned to love the story line, the artistry, and the adventure anyway.

And yet, when the 13th Doctor is announced as female, the internet reveals pockets of geeky men who just can’t handle this. When “Wonder Woman” strikes a powerful emotional chord with its female audiences, boys are confused about why. When Christian women bloggers start to bring up topics like this one, articles are written on how they need more male supervision.

I realize the trolls in comment sections aren’t the best way to judge how most people feel or think about controversial topics, but they do represent a growing, vocal cohort of the population. About a female lead for “Doctor Who,” one thing the more logical, thoughtful male commentators say is, “well, I’m not a misogynist and have no problem with women, but I just think this is going to alienate the original fan-base.” The assumption that the original fan-base was all male, and all macho men who can’t handle a female lead, is problematic in and of itself. I personally, woman that I am, have been watching “Doctor Who” since Eccleston resurrected it back in 2005. More importantly, why on earth should a female lead alienate anyone? Male leads haven’t alienated female audiences, why can’t men appreciate the courage, passion, and awesomeness of women in fiction just as much as we appreciate it in male characters?

“Wonder Woman” was a big deal, but if we bring up how powerful and important it is for us to see a strong female superhero as the lead of her own blockbuster movie, we are called “libtards,” “PC snowflakes,” or other words I won’t honor in print. When Christian women ask genuine, important, thoughtful questions about gender roles in the church, even those of us who are actually quite conservative in our beliefs, we are called “rebellious,” “unbiblical,” “upstarts,” and again other words I won’t honor in print by so-called Christian men.

In the library, I’ve had multiple little boys tell me they can’t read particular titles because they’re “girl books.” I have yet to have a single little girl tell me they won’t read a “boy book.” When I was a high school teacher, I never had a female student groan about the assigned text just because it was written by a man or for a mostly male audience, but the minute I assigned a text by a woman or one written for a mostly female audience, the teenage boys would whine and complain as if I was asking them to exert themselves in some horrible way.

As my wonderful brother-in-law pointed out, this isn’t just a problem of sexist men, but rather the result of a society in which men are expected to behave in very specific ways, one which is sadly emphasized too often in the church. “Manly” men are all the rage – some churches even preach this as the theologically necessary view of manhood. Therefore, even if a little boy wants to read “Nancy Drew” books along with his “Hardy Boys,” he might be bullied or seen as effeminate, so that desire is crushed out of him. In this way, I actually had more freedom as a little girl since I was never judged too harshly for reading “boy books” along with my “girl books.” So this issue goes beyond just a few sexist men to the way both fathers and mothers, pastors and teachers, really our whole society, raises its children. 

As I would tell my teenage boys when they groaned as I assigned Charlotte Bronte or Maya Angelou: “your female classmates, half the class, have been reading books by and for men since they started school and they haven’t once complained, the least you can do is read one or two by and for women.” All I’m asking is for those threatened guys to quiet down for a moment about not liking a woman being cast as the lead, or not understanding why a female superhero movie is a big deal, or not wanting pastors to allow female voices and stories be heard in the church, and instead learn to find the value in hearing someone else’s story. Rather than only being able to identify with stories when they feature someone exactly like you, do what the rest of us do and learn to use your imagination to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. And if you don’t understand why things are a big deal to women, please ask us. Avoid the temptation to mansplain why it shouldn’t matter, and just listen for once.

This disparity in representation between men and women only increases when discussing people of color, and especially women of color. At least as a white woman, I have a few heroes that look like me – but the minute you add any race other than Caucasian into the equation, the chances that you’ll find yourselves depicted as the hero or lead diminish to almost nothing. Though the focus of this article is on sex and not race, I cannot keep from mentioning this because it is a topic which seems to bring out the worst in people. If you think men shouldn’t have to be alienated by trying to appreciate a female lead, then how much more do you think men and women of color are alienated by having to try to identify with often stereotypically white macho males being held up as the quintessential hero?

What is my goal with this rant? I call upon my two favorite communities, Christians and geeks, to take a step back and ask ourselves if we are showing compassion and understanding to those different from us by allowing them to tell us their stories. Are we shying away from hearing someone else’s voice because it does not specifically represent us? Are we refusing to read or watch or listen to something because we might feel uncomfortable or alienated? Are we raising our sons to think anything written by a woman or with a female lead is too girly for them? Are we judging the value of story only based on things we know we already like, already can relate to? Like men and women of color, and women in general, have we ever trained ourselves to be able to listen to voices other than our own and still find value in them, or do we groan, whine, get angry, turn away, and search for a face that looks just like us?

My challenge to all of us this week is to read a blog or a book, watch a movie, or listen to a sermon by someone totally different from ourselves, aimed at a different audience. Take it in. Ponder. Look for something other than confirmation bias from it. Try to find points of connection. Do what every single woman and person of color spends their life doing. Who knows, you might find a new voice you actually like.

*If you are reading this via e-mail and are unable to see the gifs, please click through to the webpage, there are a lot in this one! 🙂

Human Kind Cannot Bear Very Much Reality

Somehow, I have the ability to unlearn everything I learned only a few days ago. A week ago, I was sitting in a hammock, ginger beer in hand, reading a domestic thriller under the canopy of pine trees. I went partially outside of my comfort zone to go camping (pretty normal for me) with 3 married couples (not normal for me) and it was wonderful.

I had made up my mind the week before the trip that I would enjoy it. There was that one moment of panic and dread when I found out I would be the only single person going, but I took that thought captive like a pro and decided I’d go into it with a great attitude, reasonable expectations, and the goal of trying to get to know these couples better.

In the early mornings, just as dawn started to peep out over the treetops, I would sit on the picnic bench reading and journaling alone as everyone else slept. I’ve been rereading T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” since I was in England last fall, a little here, a little there, and then again. It’s one of those pieces of art you can peruse over and over again but never grasp in its entirety, which keeps me coming back to it. The first of the quartets, “Burnt Norton,” introduces the theme of time past, future, and present. One set of lines in particular keeps circling around my mind:

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind

Cannot bear very much reality.

Time past and time future

What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present.

Now there is a lot to get from this poem, dissertations could be written on these lines alone, but up there in the fresh air of the mountains, dodging mosquitos, bundled against the cool morning, I kept thinking how important it is to be present. As the bird says, I often feel I “cannot bear very much reality,” but dwelling in “what might have been and what has been” will get me nowhere.

At L’Abri, something I was reminded of by one of the workers is that we are already in eternity. It doesn’t just start when we die or when Christ returns again – eternity includes our current earthly lives. God is eternal, was, and forever will be. My life entered into this eternity – I am not eternal, for I had a beginning – but I have joined God’s timeline. These thoughts, hard to put into words, “point to one end, which is always present.” Last weekend, when camping, I made it my goal to work at this presence.

This is easier to do on a mountaintop where there is no cell phone reception, I admit. And monster mallow mushy s’mores, giant telescopes staring up at Jupiter, wine, and friendly people help. So instead of feeling left out or awkward or uncomfortable because I was the lone single surrounded by 3 couples, only one of which I knew very well, I asked questions. I listened. I laughed. I rambled on. I stayed behind by myself as couples broke off for walks on their own and enjoyed reading in a hammock, just me and the birds. I learned the pleasure of having a tent to myself for the first time in my life – my gosh, the space!!! A tent of one’s own is a magical thing, especially if you’re an insomniac like me. It ended up being one of the easier weekends away I’ve experienced.

Coming back, I was tired but happy. Due to the exhaustion, extra work hours, and time with my family I decided to take last week off blogging, but planned to write about being present and that weekend today. But then it got hot, very very hot as only the desert can get, and work got a bit more complicated, and the Philando Castile verdict still weighed upon my heart, and the Senate healthcare bill proposed taking away coverage for many people I love and possibly myself, and Trump tweeted stupid things, and Panda Express forgot my orange chicken. And I got tired. And grumpy. So right now, the last thing I want to be is present. Instead, I want to “go, go, go” as the bird said, for I “cannot bear very much reality.”

This Saturday, we had a blackout which affected a few blocks, our house included – and instead of staying home to deal with the increasing heat as the AC didn’t work and the encroaching darkness of night, my mum and I hopped in the car, and drove to the movie theater to see “Wonder Woman” again. And it was fabulous. I cried, again. We both adored it, again. And we came home to a house with electricity. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that at all – going to see “Wonder Woman” is a good life choice. But it shows my reluctance to bear with reality.

And tonight I cannot dodge it – I must be present, for tonight is our biweekly global prayer meeting. In 15 minutes, I need to be present to discuss current events in our world and pray through them with several women who are equally concerned about our world and our country. So I will turn to Philippians once again, and beg God to help me be able to both be present and yet still find peace and rejoice.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise,think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Here’s hoping I’ll be able to better remember my mountain top lesson throughout the rest of this hot, busy week instead of only around the campfire. Here’s hoping you will all be able to find a way to be present, not dodge reality, not dwell in the might-have-beens, and yet still experience true peace and joy.

Just Another Manic Morning

I wake up each morning to the chimes of my cell phone alarm, roll over, and hit “cancel” (which always takes 3-4 tries to turn off in my not-yet-functional state). In those few seconds, when my brain is not yet awake, I see news alert after news alert – tweet-sized headlines that appear on my lock screen – causing my first thoughts as a sentient human to become “Damage Report!” Because I’m waking up on the west coast, it is 3 hours later than Washington DC, New York, and let’s be real, Florida, whence much of the news that concerns me these days emanates. It’s amazing how much can already have happened in those 3 little hours. Ten minutes later, still lying in bed staring at a screen, my brain struggling to string words together into reality, I realize I’m well on my way down the rabbit hole and that, if I don’t shut my phone off now, I’ll be late for work.

The tone of the morning is now set as sadness, anxiety, and often anger seeps into my consciousness. As I shower, the morning’s headlines race through my mind. As I make my coffee and down breakfast, I’m pondering the possible ramifications of the latest article or blog topic. On my drive to work, it takes all my self-control not to check headlines at the red lights and stop signs. And then, there I am, in a library full of my fabulous little children and I have to somehow immediately switch my mode of thinking into work mode.

When my insomniac self goes to bed at night, instead of reading a novel (I’ve been ⅓ of the way through Belgravia for weeks now) lately I’ve been back on social media and news sites on my phone. I think it’s good to be informed and know what is going on, even taking part in the online conversation here and there to try to help push forward justice and overcome evil. Still, my poor anxious brain is having trouble winding down so I can actually sleep (something my body already struggles against).

This is not okay. I know most of you have probably already figured this out, but it’s pretty new to me. You see, for years I was a teacher, which meant I got to school in the morning before most people were even awake. There wasn’t much news yet because, well, it was often still dark outside. Then, during the election season of last year, I was staying in a tiny English country town which had little to no internet connection so I had a bit of a buffer. But now, having 3 part time jobs, my day starts later and I have bits of time here and there throughout the day. Into those minutes goes my smart phone, always ready to tantalize me with the most recent shocking thing, always ready to grieve this non-Republican heart disgusted by the greed, hatred, and lies permeating America today. I find myself missing the days before our president could tweet his every thought multiple times a day, missing the times when I used to have to actually turn on my car radio on the drive to work before I knew what was going on. Missing having to wait for the newspaper or news hour after school or work for a recap (yes, I’m older than many of you, and thus didn’t have a cellphone until after my undergrad years at university).

I have to admit that the accessibility of news and the particularly extreme and divided nature of politics and society today is testing my faith. I am often worried. I am often heartsick. I am often devastated. There seems to be no escaping my ability to get news anywhere and anytime!

And then, at the end of this week, I had an epiphany. Again, one many of you have probably already had, but what can I stay, I’m stubborn and cynical and things take me awhile. I realized that my 10 minutes of online news binging here, 15 minutes of Facebook there, and 30 seconds of Twitter there is adding up to drastically more time than I’m spending in both Bible reading and prayer put together.

This brings me back to some of the passages of scripture so common to biblical counselors, ones I should remember and apply more than I have:

Philippians 4:4-9.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me [Paul] – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Psalm 1:1-3
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”

I have not been rejoicing in the Lord as often as I used to, nor delighting in His law. I’ve been withering a bit, to be completely honest. So, how do I find a way to still be aware of what’s going on in the world, still be engaged in the important global and national conversation, still do my best to give voice to the voiceless, help the weak and poor, and champion justice, without becoming overwhelmed by it all?

Here are some of the intentional steps I am taking to change my focus a bit and give Christ and his teachings prevalence:

  • Join a global prayer group – Twice a month I meet with a small group of Christian women who pray for the things going on in this world which concern us. Instead of feeling like we are outsiders for being some of the rare non-Republican Christians in our area, we decided to band together and bring our concerns to the Lord. This is not a space for us to rant or discuss political issues at length, but to present our concerns to each other, then pray together, “letting our requests be known to God.” We also drink tea and have snacks. We actually started out meeting once a month, but doubled it when we realized how much these nights were helping us.
  • Set an actual alarm clock – I just now took the time to figure out how to set the alarm on the speaker I usually use for my phone. Though it was harder than assembling IKEA furniture, I think it will be helpful for me to no longer wake up to a screen. My goal is to do what all the sleep studies say, to plug my phone in across the room so it’s inaccessible, and not use it before bed or when I wake up. I hope this will allow my mornings to be filled with prayer and worship, as they used to be.
  • Put my phone in a different room when I’m reading my Bible – It’s just too easy for my mind to be fragmented the minute an alert pops up when I’m in prayer or in God’s word. I want to be single-minded for once in my life, not multi-tasking while studying and meditating on my Lord’s teachings.
  • Reassess all of the alerts on my phone – I do want to know if something serious occurs so I can keep my students safe, pray for what is occurring as it happens, or know to look into something further when I have time. I do not, however, need to read every single tweet by our president as it’s posted. That is a recipe for madness.
  • Carve out time and space for meditation on God’s word – This was so much easier at L’Abri, where 3 hours a day are set aside for study. I need to apply this to my daily life, to actually put on my calendar and schedule time. To figure out a space where I can truly be alone for a few minutes with God.
  • Pray in my car as I drive to work and drive home – I used to do this as a teacher, pray for the specific classes and lessons I had ahead of me that day, for specific students who were on my heart, for coworkers and the school in general. By the time I got to work, my heart and mind were already engaged with the tasks I had before me, with hope. Praying on the way home instead of listening to the news allows me to lift up any concerns from the day to God, and prepare mentally and spiritually for my next job, or for spending time with family or friends. I need to get to that place again.

These are just a few of the things I am trying or will be trying in order to try to calm my manic mind and spend more time with God and His Word than my news apps or Facebook linked articles. If you have any other ideas that might help me or others like me, please share in the comments!