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On being a female body at a Christian college

[I wrote recently about learning to love my body for Lent. Part of that loving so far has involved some deep contemplation about where the fear and hatred come from. And I’ve realized something.

Part of my body hatred, and by extension part of my self hatred, comes from the fact that oppressive people have used my female body  to justifying oppressing me.

I hate my body and myself because, deep down, I blame my body (and thus myself) for the ways in which I’ve been hurt by others.

7128_173502622984_2193630_nTwo examples stick out clearly in my mind. Both from experiences at my former Christian school, Grace College.

It was the first week of my freshman year. We had a meeting for everyone in our all-women dorm to go over the basic rules. Don’t burn popcorn and set off the smoke alarm. Be in before curfew. No sex, drugs, or rock and roll (okay, maybe rock and roll was okay. Just not during quiet hours!).

During this meeting, the husband of our Residence Director came in to talk to us ladies about, you guessed it!

Modesty.

He started out by telling us to never let any Christian man blame us for their sins. Then he proceed to…well, blame us for his sins.

He told us of his own porn addiction and of the porn addictions that other men on campus have talked to them about. He was blunt, and even made subconscious hand motions while talking about masturbation.

And what was his point?

“When you wear those tight jeans, your brothers in Christ go home and masturbate to you. Your selfish clothing choices make it hard for your brothers in Christ to break their addictions. Thanks to God’s grace, it’s been weeks since I’ve looked at porn, but it hasn’t been months. And the way women on this campus dress doesn’t help.”

I talked to many women who were present in that meeting who expressed that they left feeling ashamed and dirty. I know that every time I passed that man on campus from that day on, I wanted to turn invisible. I’d tug my skirt down and pull my jacket over my chest, and I’d resist the urge to get sick to my stomach thinking about him masturbating to me, and it being my fault.

My body was shameful. It was dirty. It could ruin lives and marriages just by existing.

This is the first thing I learned about my body at Grace College.

It was the second semester of my freshman year. We were required to attend chapel three times a week, so there I was. This week we were learning about relationships between men and women, how they were often broken in this world, and how we could fix them.

We did this by learning our roles.

And we could learn our roles, not just from Scripture, but from our bodies.

The speaker told the Biblical story of King Joash (and I’m still to this day not sure why). “Joash drilled a hole into the box,” he said. “Joash femaled the box.”

According to this man and his strange desire to associate being female with having a hole drilled into you, the reason men and women can’t get along is because men and women (mostly women) are rebelling against the nature revealed to us by our bodies.

“Men are supposed to give the life-bearing seed of the gospel to all the world,” he said, while making disturbing hand motions from his crotch to the audience. “Women are supposed to receive that seed.”

The moral was that female people were trying too hard to give when they were made to receive and weren’t letting male people to what they were meant to do (which is apparently to spiritually ejaculate on everyone).

Female bodies were not built to give life (apparently child birth doesn’t count and we’re just the incubators) but to be fulfilled in receiving life.

It wasn’t patriarchy holding me back, according to this man. It was my body. This is why I could not be a pastor, or a spiritual leader in my family. This is why I could not speak my mind too loudly or be too bold. Because I had a vagina, and vaginas are not for giving.

But I fell for it for years and years. I saw myself as stuck in this body with its sinful breasts and its useless vagina.

I saw my body as a prison.

And in seeing my body as a prison, I blamed myself.

Oppression is tied to bodies. It often happens in bodies and to bodies. It often comes from other bodies. And oppressive people use the bodies of the oppressed to excuse it.

Loving my body for Lent means recognizing that it is not my body’s fault when I am treated as “less than.” Loving my body means recognizing that others have used it to tell me I am “less than.” Loving my body means recognizing that those people were lying to me about my body.

Loving my body means affirming that they don’t decide what my body means. They don’t decide what I mean.

[Note: Though I learned some harmful things at Grace College, it was also at Grace College where I began the process of loving my body. That may be a post for another day]

 

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When there’s nothing else to cling to….

You've got that right, Courage Wolf!

I’ve not kept my recent spiritual struggles a secret. Anyone who’s read this blog will most likely recall a few spiritual temper tantrums. I’ve been a bit of a party animal lately- a PITY party animal (and there ain’t no party like a pity party!). I suppose this makes since, however, since the past year and a half of my life has been a bit of a transition process, and as any good musician will tell you, transitions are often marked by harmonic instability.

I suppose the transition that God has expected of me has been rather tough as well. He COULD have just moved me to my dominant key, or to my relative minor, or any other near related key (I should stop with the musical analogies. I may lose some of you), but no. He’s God, and if you know anything about God, you know he rarely wastes his time with easy journeys. Though, when God called me to start this journey back in the summer of 2009, I half expected it to be just that- easy!

That summer, God said to me, “Hey, I’m going to make you face the past that you think you’re over. It’s going to be tough, but I want you to cling to me.” And I said, “Sure God! Bring it!” But, when the time came for “clinging,” I ran to my church instead (not that going to the church is a bad thing, but I had gotten to the point of “Who needs God when I have church?”).

So, God said to me, “Hey, I’m going to throw some disillusionment your way, which will completely destroy your faith in churches for awhile. It’s going to be tough, but I want you to cling to me.” And I said, “Alright, God! I can take it!” But, when it came time for clinging, I ran to my beloved Grace College. I hid in my Christian bubble, wrapped my comfort blanket around me tighter, and pulled my head back into my turtle shell.

So, along comes God… “Sarah, you might as well come out of that Christian bubble on your own. I’m going to pop it soon. You’re going to hate it, but you know who I want you to cling to.” And I said, “Silly God. You don’t have to do that. I always cling to you, don’t I? I don’t NEED this bubble. I can quit anytime I want. I just don’t want to.”

I’m not sure if God rolls his eyes at people, but I always imagine him doing just that at this point.

Then I imagine him coming down from heaven to Winona Lake, Indiana, with a giant needle and *POP*. Goodbye Christian bubble. Hello, world. I believe I clung to God for awhile at this point, but as things got tougher, and the bitterness grew stronger, my faith dwindled. Dwindled? Is that the right word. No. Let’s be honest here. It shattered. This became a typical prayer: “I’m done with you, God. You don’t love me. You don’t even care. You’re not even listening to me, damn it! Just leave me alone. Just stop taking things from me!”

And I clung to my long time boyfriend instead. Without God, or my church, or my Christian bubble to cling to, I clung to ol’ boyfriend so much that I ruined our relationship. And we broke up. And I wanted to hate God, but I had nothing else to cling to, so instead, I crawled back to him.

And I didn’t even have the strength to hold on to him at this point. So, he clung to me instead. And he hasn’t let go. And I know he never will. And this is what security feels like. This is what peace and stability feel like. In a transitioning life, God remains the same. And I only wish I would’ve crawled back sooner.

The dust that God kicked up in the past year and a half seems to be settling (for now…), and things do not seem as bleak now that the sky is clear again. I’ve been going to new churches, I enjoy my new school, and I’ve formed new friendships, but they have not become my strongholds. Someday, I will probably forget this entire lesson and I will probably start clinging to something or someone besides God, and God will probably have to pry me off with a crowbar again. Such is the life of a finite human. Perhaps next time I will be less stubborn. I hope that I have at least learned something from this whole ordeal.

But, even if I haven’t, he’ll be there, ready to cling to me when I finally run out of strength to cling to anything else. A beautiful thing, is it not?


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The time Sarah Moon didn’t go to Anderson University

Once upon a time, I didn’t go to Anderson University.

My story begins in fall of 2009, in the little town of Winona Lake, Indiana, at a little school called Grace College. Grace College was a magical, sparkly, rainbow world of happy Christian goodness, where you walked onto campus and immediately felt like you were being hugged by Jesus. I might be exaggerating slightly, but I was happy there. It was my “comfort snuggie.” Grace College was also home of an amazing School of Music which I was a part of- a School of Music that gave me a chance, even though I wasn’t exactly musician material when I first arrived. After being told by several other music schools that I shouldn’t even bother auditioning (people should learn never to tell me this. I don’t really do things like give up), this chance was a miracle for me. In short, for two years of my life, Grace College was the perfect place for me. But, then one day something changed.

In the fall of 2009, God spoke to me. He said, “You don’t belong here anymore. Its time to leave the Christian bubble. There’s more out there.” I replied something along the lines of, “You don’t really mean that, God. I am here to prepare for the real world. I’m not done preparing. I’ve talked to some of my professors and they agree with me. Plus, this must be ‘your will,’ because I’m happy here.” God didn’t give an answer to that. I thought I must have convinced him (note to self: trying to convince God that I’m right and He’s wrong is like trying to convince your dad that its okay to wear sandals without socks).

Still, I wanted to appease my conscious, so I met with a professor at Oakland University (a state college in Michigan), and explained to her my musical background. When she heard that I had not had classical training until college, she told me (before even hearing me play) that I was not cut out to major in music. I was hurt, but it was okay. I had my “Grace College snuggie” to crawl back into. “You can have your dumb ol’ sleeveless blanket, OU!” I thought. And, then I added an “I told you so” to God.

I continued to think this way until February of 2010, Grace College decided to close down the school of music. It feels silly to say, but I’m still not over the pain of the experience. Pardon the cliche, but I felt like the my world had ended. I don’t know how else to put it. But, I hate cliches, so let me try this again: I felt like God had come down from heaven and ripped my comfort snuggie away. And, now I was sitting there in the cold watching  the non-music students walking around campus, and to me, they looked as happy as the families on the Snuggie commercials that go to the movies in their Snuggies and raise the roof. But, even though I’ve been to more than enough funerals to know that my life felt like one for the rest of that semester, I had decisions to make.

After researching several schools, the choice came down to two very different ones. The first, Anderson University: a Christian School, which, when they heard about our situation, offered to accept all Grace College students without making them audition. I wouldn’t have to deal with the rejection I’d felt at Oakland University. I could finish my Bachelor of Arts in Music degree, and they offered to be so flexible with my transfer credits that I would probably be able to finish a semester early. These all seemed like wonderful advantages, but above all else, the school reminded me of Grace College. It was like comparing the “Cuddlee” to the “Snuggie.” There wasn’t any noticeable difference. They both had all the fuzzy warmth of blankets with the added convenience of sleeves.

Then, there was Bowling Green State University. The only thing that attracted me to this school was the fact that they were one of the few schools that offered an undergrad music history major. I didn’t even know that one COULD major in music history until I saw it on their website, but as soon as I saw it I knew. I knew I why I had been struggling through music classes for two years, wondering if I’d ever find a job in “the business” that I could do without having to fight to keep up. I was supposed to be a music historian. That was something I could do, and do well. It was my “thing.”

And, still, my mind was set on Anderson. I was afraid to go try to audition for Bowling Green. I didn’t want another Oakland University experience. I was afraid to be told that I wasn’t good enough. I was afraid to have to make friends with people who had different beliefs than I. I was afraid to give myself the freedom of going to a school that held events like “Beer tasting” and “Sex Olympics.” I felt a bit like Jonah. God sent a storm to get my attention, he sent me a whale, he sent me a gang of pirates and a worm named Kahlil (that’s in the Bible, right? I know I’ve heard that somewhere), and still, I didn’t want to go to Ninevah. I was afraid. But, I went.

And, now, here I am at BGSU, and its the last week of classes. I am glad to say that I am not QUITE as stubborn as Jonah. I am very glad I came here. I met amazing people (and they don’t slap me with fish). I am getting an excellent education. I understand so much about the world outside of my Christian bubble, and I think this world is a beautiful place. I’d be lying if I said my life was perfect right now, and everything were easy, and that I lived happily ever after. Actually, its been the toughest semester of my life. I still struggle in my non-history classes, I haven’t made as many friends as I did at Grace, and my introversion and social anxiety have gotten much worse. Plus, my parents want me working (i can’t convince them that Music Historian is a wise career path), and when you work 35 hours a week and are taking 18 credit hours in school, you don’t sleep. Ever.  But, for some odd reason, I have never once regretted this decision. I know this is where I’m supposed to be. As the Fray says, “Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.” There is comfort in that.