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We are thin spaces.

I’ve been reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope for several months now (with my internship, my research project, plus school and work, it’s been a slow process). In one section he discusses an idea of the “theology of space.” His discussion mostly revolves around whether or not churches should continue to have buildings.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about church buildings, personally. I was sexually abused in a church nursery as a child, so for most of my life just walking into a church building has had me fighting off literal panic attacks. Zoloft helped that, but church buildings still aren’t my favorite place in the world.

On the other hand, when Abe and I decided we were going to get married, we knew immediately where we wanted that to happen. A little church building in Toledo with a chicken coop out front that has become the closest thing to a church “home” that I’ve had since high school.

N.T. Wright seems to affirm a diversity of beliefs here, while encouraging people not to completely discount church buildings. But he also call us to think about what space means to us, in light of the idea of resurrection.

He talks about the Celtic idea of thin spaces: “places where the curtain between heaven and earth seems almost transparent.” 

I like this idea of thin spaces.

I actually want to take this idea of thin spaces in a different direction than N.T. Wright. Even though Lent is over (if you’re a new reader, I committed to learning to love my body for Lent), I’ve still been thinking about my theology in terms of my biology. I’d be interested to learn what my readers’ own “theologies of space” are, but in light of my recent Lenten adventures, here’s mine…

Also, kittens. Kittens are thin places.

Also, kittens. Kittens are thin places.

We are thin places. 

We often think about the spaces that we are at. I think sometimes we need to stop and think about the spaces that we are.

Our bodies. The part of us that takes up space.

I’ve shared this quote from Sarah Sentilles’ wonderful book A Church of Her Own before on this blog, and I’d like to share it again (emphasis mine):

We don’t know what to do with bodies in most forms of Christianity. The body–and in particular the female body–has been denigrated, feared, understood as sinful, shameful, something to be covered up, tamed, and mastered. There is something ferocious about our fear of bodies in churches. And yet, at the heart of Christianity are stories about incarnation, about a God that dwells in a human body, a God that makes bodies and breathes life into them.

A God that dwells in a human body. A God that joined in solidarity with humanity, even to the point of death. 

God with us.

Not only that, but a church that is called over and over again in Christian theology the body of Christ. Bodies that make up a body.

Maybe churches are thin spaces because bodies meet in them, because churches bear the marks of bodies, the histories of bodies, the proof that bodies were here.

And maybe those who have profound spiritual experiences outside of the church are not “doing it wrong” either. Maybe the divine really doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands. Maybe we don’t have to go look for thin spaces.

What if our bodies, and by extension our brains that produce the very consciousness by which we can even imagine the existence of sacredness or divinity, are thin spaces by themselves?

If heaven really is joined with earth, and if we really can glimpse it in certain spaces, why not start with our own bodies? After all, according to Christian theology at least, God became a body.

Our bodies are temples. They are thin spaces. They are sacred and beautiful and they are holy ground.

Lent is over, but I’m going to keep celebrating bodies, because God is with us.

What do you think about this idea of a “theology of space” that starts with bodies? And what are some of your “thin spaces?”

 

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IMAGE BY DANI KELLEY

IMAGE BY DANI KELLEY

Back in February, Sen. Marco Rubio explained why he opposed the Violence Against Women Act:

I could not support the final, entire legislation that contains new provisions that could have potentially adverse consequences. Specifically, this bill would mandate the diversion of a portion of funding from domestic violence programs to sexual assault programs.

Rubio has this idea, apparently, that different types of abuse have nothing to do with one another. Not a surprising conclusion in a world that’s determined to paint all abuse as isolated incidences committed by monsters, but that’s not reality. Often, sexual abuse is present in violent relationships.

No one wants to talk about the fact that different types of abuse are connected because that means challenging the very society–ripe with hierarchies that enforce themselves with violence–that we live in.

Today, I’m discussing spiritual abuse as part of a Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week that some fellow bloggers are hosting. Also this week, Rachel Held Evans will be hosting a more general discussion of abuse (which I will be guest posting for) and Elora NIcole will be sharing the anonymous stories of survivors.

With all these thoughts of abuse in general going through my head, I think about how ridiculous statements like Rubio’s sound. As if we can end violence against women without ending sexual assault.

Truth is, the violences that women (and other oppressed groups) face often stem from the same root–a deeper violence that questions the legitimacy of their very humanity.

I don’t want us to miss this point while we talk about the different types of abuse that people face, inside and outside of the church. Abuse happens, and society either ignores or accepts it because there is an assault on humanity that says certain bodies are objects, or are public property. An assault that paints some bodies as worthless, gross, weird, animal-like, sinful, collateral, too sexual, needing to be taught a lesson, etc. 

Religion is far from the only institution that perpetuates this kind of abuse, but spiritual abuse can be a powerful tool for painting some groups as less important than others and therefore “deserving” of violence.

This happens in obvious cases such as the Southern Baptist Church supporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or in the many church groups that advocate hitting children who misbehave.

It also happens more subtly in ways that I don’t think most leaders (though when you hear stories like Jack Schaap’s, you wonder…) or church members intend.

Here’s where my own story comes in. I grew up in church and grew up learning many things about myself and about my body and about the way the world is. I also ended up in an abusive relationship when I was 16.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I was physically, verbally, and sexually abused in that relationship, but little thinking about how I was spiritually abused. My ex-boyfriend used my own deeply-held religious beliefs to make me think that what he did to me was okay. It was easy for him to convince me, too, because I had been absorbing abusive ideas from the churches I’d attended my whole life.

I will be writing in more detail about how my idea of who God was affected what I accepted as love. But my churches growing up also fed me dangerous ideas about who was, what my body was, and what my place in the world was.

I was a woman, the church told me, so I had to be passive, meek, submissive, caring and nurturing, and endlessly patient and forgiving. A man, on the other hand, was just naturally aggressive, out-of-control, and sexual. These were God-given traits.

My abuser, knowing this, played on those, even sometimes calling my relationship with God into question when I didn’t live up to my role.

My church also taught me that I was worthless. From the sermons the pastors preached to the books that my youth pastors recommended. Because I was not a virgin I was what the Christian dating book, Dateable, would call “dollar store leftovers.” 

My abuser, knowing this, told me constantly that no one else would want me so I had better stay with him. That I was already impure and couldn’t be fixed so I might as well let him do whatever he wanted with my body.

My church taught me that I was responsible for men’s actions. That dressing immodestly could make men lust after me.

My abuser, knowing this, blamed me when he sexually assaulted me. He told me it was my fault for being too sexy, even in the Baptist school-approved outfit I was wearing.

All violence is connected.

I’m positive that the churches I grew up in did not want their teachings to be used by abusers to support abuse.

Too bad. That’s not how it works.

Those teachings were violence in and of themselves. They did violence to my humanity. And in doing that violence to my humanity, they sent the message to abusers that I did not have to be treated as human.

Churches don’t have to be as cult-like and controlling as Driscoll’s Mars Hill or First Baptist Church of Hammond to be abusive. By using language about groups–whether it’s women, children, LGBT people, or people of different colors, cultures, countries, or religions–that does violence to their humanity, they commit spiritual abuse. And spiritual abuse won’t confine itself to the pulpit. Those abusive words and teachings and ideas leave the church in the hearts and minds and Moleskine notebooks of every church member and are spread throughout society like an infectious disease. 

The church is not the only source of this disease, again, but it is a powerful one because battling it means battling ideas and perceptions about God (something I will discuss more in my guest post for Rachel Held Evans later this week).

A church that claims to worship a man whose purpose was “to set the oppressed free” should be horrified to learn that its teachings are being used by abusers to support abuse.

Is it though? Are our churches concerned about how their messages are received? Are our churches concerned about abuse survivors? Or are they more focused on so-called sound doctrine and on giving “grace” to abusers?


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Must Reads!

Here are some posts from the past week or so that you simply must read.

[Note: Several of these have a trigger warning]

Maybe I’m not outraged. I’m exhausted and open and exposed and a lot of other people are too because we are wounds that get picked at and picked at and picked at one day, there won’t be anything left to heal.

When we blame women for the reactions of men – whether it is to their art, to their clothing, to their “unladylike” behavior like riding public transit after dark – we reinforce rape culture. 
I was going to have a girl. I had named her. When I started bleeding I begged. I cried. I asked. I told the guards at the detention center I was pregnant. They said it was not important because I was going to be deported anyway. I was left to bleed and cry.
A Sunday school teacher once encouraged the gathered group of girls that if we ever got home one day, and our feet were dying to get out of our shoes, that…we should leave our shoes on and not sit down for another thirty minutes, at least– so we can make our bodies “submit” to us.
And, maybe our first action in response to injustice should be learning about the causes of the problem in the first place, and refusing to ignore, simplify, and whitewash them further. 
When I was gearing up for my ordination I contacted the press. In one of the articles someone left a comment that said, “Our Catholic community ordained a transgender [side note problematic language was the commenter’s] in 19XX but we didn’t go out looking for press over it.” And I thought, that’s the problem! 
 
I shouldn’t have needed that push. But I did…I, white lady feminist, have a responsibility here and I want to meet it.
The puppy purses. I just can't with the cute of the puppy purses. (image via eonline.com)

The puppy purses. I just can’t with the cute of the puppy purses. (image via eonline.com)


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Let me be angry.

Trigger Warning for abuse and rape: 

I’ve been tired of fighting. Been feeling like nothing is coming through. Been terrified of being dismissed as an angry feminist. But being too filled with words–bursting at the seams with them. All the words I’ve held back because of fear and good ol’ Christian niceties.

All those words can’t be contained anymore.

Because things are wrong.

Things are unfair.

People are hurting.

How can you just stand there?

And there I go again. I guess I am just an angry feminist. But how can you not be? How can you hear the abusive words that church leaders say, how can you hear about the rape and the abuse and the churches that cover it up and not be angry? 

It breaks my heart when people tell me that I don’t care about unity because I will not embrace abusive theology or those who preach it.

It breaks my heart when people say that I am mean or unChristlike because I cannot have a polite discussion about men like the man who raped me and hit me and called me a whore as he threw me against his car.

It breaks my heart that my voice and the voices of those I love are seen as a “digital grenades” when we speak out against the words of abusive pastors. The words of men that lead women to stay with abusive husbandswords that can literally kill–are not seen as the problem, and that breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart that Christians say we are all members of one body, and therefore must embrace the cancerous cells that threaten us with hell, tell us to take responsibility for being raped, compare sex to a man “conquering and colonizing…”

It breaks my heart that someone will be more upset that I compared these men to cancer cells–even though they are eating away at everything that is good and healthy in the body of Christ–than they are about the fact that people are hurting in the church.

People are hurting so badly.

I’m hurting.

Maybe you’re hurting too.

So let me flip over tables, because you shouldn’t have to hurt.

Let me use the words that are my modern-day equivalent of “brood of vipers,” because I shouldn’t have to hurt either.

Let me throw those digital grenades and let me make abusive pastors my business, and let me get riled up. Because no one should ever have to hurt.

Don’t tell me to be nice because being nice about abuse is like trying to treat a cavity with sugar.

Don’t tell me to leave it in God’s hands, because maybe God’s been doing a terrible job. Or because maybe God works through boring, ordinary, people like me. I don’t know which anymore.

Let me be angry. That’s all I ask.


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A church “building project” that made a difference

Many churches get super excited about building projects. These projects are supposed to represent big changes to the church, new ideas, progress, and relevance.

Even the fundamentalist churches I’ve attended got excited about building projects, though these usually involved new gymnasiums where we could play the A.W.A.N.A “run around the circle and then go in for the beanbag” games rather than stadium seats or new stages for the worship band.

Still, the idea is the same. If we build THIS, they will come. THIS will further the gospel. THIS will change the world.

Now, sometimes building projects are just needed. Pews fill up. Roofs leak. And, you know, sometimes that 70s shag carpeting in the teen room just needs to go. But the idea that a building proejct is going to shake the foundations of the earth is usually a lie that pastors hype up in order to get in your wallet. That new building isn’t going to single-handedly bring about the kingdom of God.  Let’s be real.

Though, sometimes a change made to a church building/property does make a difference. I’m going to tell you a story about one of those times.

I’m going to tell you about a church that made a drastic change to their church property–they added a tiny sticker to their church sign.

 And that tiny sticker made a difference.

On one hand it infuriated some. After that little sticker went up, some protesters flocked to the scene, with pamphlets calling that little church with their little sticker on their sign “The Church of the Anti-Christ.”

On the other, the entire time I lived in the town where that church was located, I heard about that church, because of that tiny sticker.

When I talked to others about how one of the reasons I stopped going to church was the horrible way some of the LGBT people in my life had been treated by churches, I often got the response, “Have you tried the church on Church St.? They’ve got a rainbow flag sticker on their sign.”

When I talked about how exclusive and hateful churches often were, people–people who didn’t even go to church themselves, people who were atheists or pagan or just didn’t care–would say “Have you tried the church on Church St.? They’ve got a rainbow flag sticker on their sign.”

Even in counseling, when I was talking with my counselor about trying to reconcile my religious beliefs with my political beliefs, she told me, “Have you tried the church on Church St.? They’ve got a rainbow flag sticker on their sign.”

That year of my life was one in which I was really not ready to try any churches. Not even the church on Church St. with the rainbow flag sticker on their sign (though, when I move back to Bowling Green next summer, I think I’ll be ready to visit that church more often. I plan to). I only attended twice, but both times were pleasant. They were concerned about inclusion, love, and justice.

And everyone in Bowling Green knew it.

Their little “building project” made a difference. 

I think Christians fall all over themselves trying to change the image of the church. People don’t think that church is relevant, so Christians panic, throw out the organs, add some stadium seating, and hope that will make everyone see church as hip and cool.

Christians don’t stop to think that maybe the fact that people are starting to see church has irrelevant has NOTHING to do with how our buildings look.

They don’t stop to think that maybe the church’s million-dollar renovations only sting like salt in the wounds of the poverty that surrounds us–the poverty that the church often perpetuates when it fights against laws that would make life better for LGBT people.

They don’t stop to think that, maybe, just maybe, if they became more like the First Presbyterian Church of Bowling Green, Ohio,  and educated their congregations about LGBT issues, supported pro-LGBT legislation, performed commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples, openly welcomed and affirmed people of all sexual orientations and gender identifications, and donated food and money to their neighbors in poverty…

Then maybe, just maybe, the only “building project” they would need in order to make a difference would be to add a little sticker to their church sign.

Image via Mary Jane Saunders

Image via Mary Jane Saunders


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The church needs to do a better job of talking about sex, and it knows it.

The evangelical church (in general–every time I paint the church in broad strokes like this I get people who share church experiences that look nothing like the picture I’ve just created, and that’s awesome! I love hearing about your positive church experiences!) needs to do a better job of talking about sex.

I think we all know that. I think even most churches know that. In fact, a lot of churches will admit it up front.

I went to a church once where the preacher even began his sermon by saying, “The church needs to do a better job of talking about sex.”

Of course, his version of “doing a better job of talking about sex” involved playing an artsy video that included a Salt N Pepa soundtrack (“Let’s talk about sex, baby!”), and then proceeding to say (I took notes, so this is word-for-word):

Sex is the best gift you can give your spouse, so don’t let anyone else unwrap it before marriage.

I believe many evangelical churches take a similar approach. “We need to do a better job of talking about sex” usually means “we need to dress up the same  discussions we’ve been having so that they seem more modern and cool and appeal more to young people.” But here’s a news flash, churches:

Young people aren’t stupid.

We know these types of churches aren’t doing a “better” job of talking about sex. They’re doing the same job, but with cooler music or flashing lights, or some newlywed preacher with a fauxhawk who mentions every five minutes how hot his wife is and how great his sex life is because he waited.

That’s not what this young person wants, and I think I speak for many others. So, here’s a few ways in which the church can really do a better job of talking about sex:

*Stop acting like people are ruined when they lose their virginity

*Stop blaming women’s “immodesty” for men’s lack of control

*Stop saying, “The Bible is clear about premarital sex.” It’s not.

*Stop saying, “The Bible is clear about homosexuality.” It’s not.

*Stop telling us that men are visual and women are not. Seriously.

*Stop talking about lust and porn as if they are men’s issues only.

*Realize that marriage is not a reasonable option for some couples. Many cannot afford to get married in this economy. Others are not allowed to get married. It’s not as simple as, “Well, just get married and you don’t have to worry about it.”

*If you want people to view pregnancy as a gift, stop talking about single mothers like they’re being punished by God.

*Don’t pretend that marriage is like pressing a magical, “All sex for the rest of your life will be great!” button.

*TALK ABOUT BIRTH CONTROL

*Quit opposing sex education in schools.

*Quit pretending that abstinence-only programs are sex education.

*LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN to young people.

These are a few of my suggestions. Anyone have any to add?

 


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Not them. Us.

This week, Amendment One passed in North Carolina. We all know this by now, I’m sure.

And we all know who is responsible.

I don’t know what we Christians hope to accomplish. Even if you believe same-sex marriage is wrong (I personally do not think there is anything wrong with same-sex relationships–here is why. Please don’t waste your time trying to argue it with me in the comments section because I’ve made a well-researched decision and you’re not going to change my mind at this point), what do we hope to do? Legislate “morality?” Arrest people who do not accept (particular definitions of) the Bible? Show God’s love by denying others their rights?

Damn straight.

But, I honestly don’t want to talk to those Christians right now. Some of you reading my blog may still believe that taking away people’s rights in the name of Jesus is the right way to love others and to treat others as you would want to be treated, but I’m going to guess that most of those types of Christians have long since given up on me (or are too busy praying for me to stop “backsliding”). If I’m wrong, and you’re one of those Christians and you’re reading this, please read with an open mind and don’t be a jerk in the comments (I WILL delete you. I mean it).

I want to talk to my fellow LGBT-affirming/tolerating Christians. The ones who don’t think that taking away the rights of others shows the love of God. Whether you affirm same-sex relationships like I do or you think same-sex relationships are wrong but don’t force those beliefs on others, this is for you.

First of all, you’re not alone. It’s not you vs. the Church.

Sure, it may feel that way. Especially for those of us who grew up in fundamental or evangelical churches. I’m sure many of us have heard “God wants us to love, but not tolerate sin,” and “you need to read the Bible because it clearly says ____,” speeches.

It gets frustrating and tiring.

I know, believe me. I know. I break down and cry every now and then because of all the pressure from my brothers and sisters in Christ to hate others. And I’m dating a man, so I have it much easier than those of you who may face pressures from your brothers and sisters in Christ to hate yourself.

But we’re not alone. There are lots of us.

Allies facing rebuke.

People with questions being shot down.

Gays and lesbians who feel they should be celibate facing misunderstanding and lack of support.

Out LGBT people facing excommunication.

Closeted LGBT people facing shame.

Which brings me to my next point. The LGBT community is not just “out there.”

I was thankful to see posts by some of my favorite Christian bloggers, expressing outrage over Amendment One.

Rachel Held Evans (whom I love dearly), wrote a beautiful post:

When it comes to homosexuality, we no longer think in the black-at-white categories of the generations before ours. We know too many wonderful people from the LGBT community to consider homosexuality a mere “issue.” These are people, and they are our friends. When they tell us that something hurts them, we listen. And Amendment One hurts like hell.

Her words are true.

But…

LGBT people aren’t just our friends.

When we assume that the LGBT community is some separate group outside the church, we forget that many people within the church are LGBT and many LGBT people are Christians. When we talk about LGBT people as a church, we need to realize that many of them are our siblings in Christ.

We are talking about us. Not them.

The church and the LGBT community are not mutually exclusive.

Tomorrow I’m going to talk about a group of LGBT activists who work with and within the church toward change–More Light Presbyterians. I really love what this group is doing. I think they’re more inclusive and bold than even many secular LGBT activist groups. Until then, what reminds you as an LGBT Christian or ally that you are not alone?