Crippling lies and “tennis shoes” of truth

I recall vividly the first time I tried to leave my abusive relationship with my first boyfriend.

We were driving home from church and I broke up with him in the car. He became angry, threatening to drive the car off the road and kill us both. So I did the logical thing and climbed out of the car at the next stop light.

I started to run away. I was sure I could out-run him and somehow find my way home once I had lost him…

But I was wearing high heeled shoes.

That made things difficult. I thought of taking them off and running barefoot, but the sidewalk was, as is typical of Metro Detroit sidewalks, freckled with broken glass.

I felt crippled.

My abuser easily caught up with me, picked me up, thew me over his shoulder, and carried me back to the car, reclaiming his property.

I hadn’t been able to escape that day, because, in a literal sense, I hadn’t been standing on equal ground with my abuser.

And I stayed with him for another two months, because I wasn’t standing on equal ground with my abuser in a metaphorical sense.

I grew up in a church and Christian school that taught me some unhealthy things about what it meant to be a woman. And my perceived definition of womanhood was, like my high heels, crippling.

I had learned that, as a lowly female, I was nothing without a man. I could not give anything to the world. I could only receive. I could not have a voice. I could only ask a man to speak for me. I could not stand up for myself. I could only submit to male leadership. Even my goals and dreams needed a man, because, as my church and school constantly reminded me, my “highest calling” as a woman was to be a wife and mother.

And I couldn’t find a better man. I had already given my body to my abuser (not to mention, I had been sexually abused as a child. My abuser was constantly reminding me of how “merciful” he was for being with me, even though I was “damaged goods”). And I had learned that a woman’s greatest gift is her virginity. Without that, I was a used toothbrush. A crashed car. Who would want me? No, I thought I had gotten the only man that my used body could afford.

In order to escape that relationship, I had to take off the lies, the metaphorical high heeled shoes that were keeping me from being on equal ground with my abuser. I had to put on some (pardon the cheesiness) tennis shoes of truth.

I have my mother to thank for my freedom.

I remember once my father saying, “If you get yourself knocked up, you have to marry the guy!” Crippling lies.

My mother refuted his suggestion, confidently and forcefully reminding me that no mistake I could make should make me the property of a man. Tennis shoes of truth.

A Sunday School teacher told me not to go to college. He told me that if my career goals distracted from my desire to be a housewife and mother, they were evil. Crippling lies.

My mother, upon hearing about this, reminded me that (as much as she wanted to be a grandmother) I was under no obligation to have a husband or children. And that, even if I decided to have children, I could still be whatever I wanted to be. I could be a mother AND a doctor, or a lawyer, or a college professor. Tennis shoes of truth.

I escaped my abusive relationship, not only because I found another opportunity to run (and that time I had tennis shoes on!), but because I had finally learned  that I had some thing to run to.

Without the lies and shoes that were crippling me, I could finally face life without the man that I thought I needed. I no longer had to cling to my abuser like a crutch. And once I could stand on equal ground with him, I could hope for a fulfilling life without him.

If you’d like to help me be a voice against relationship abuse, share your story! Read my post “Join the Chorus” for more information! 



The problem with generalization

I have been unable to avoid thinking about the issue of gender roles in our society and in the church.

A few days ago, a famous pastor posted a facebook status calling people to mock “anatomically effeminate males,” and reactions to this brought up some interesting discussion in the blogging world. “What gives us the right to call a man effeminate?” people wondered. Where do our standards come from?

Inspired by others (especially Tyler L. Clark and Dianna E. Anderson) who were frustrated with the church’s traditional definitions of masculinity and femininity, I began to explore the issue myself.

I began a few discussions on facebook, and wrote a blog post myself, and some good conversation resulted.  However, I was left with unanswered questions.

The Bible doesn't lay it all out for us like this (fortunately)

“God, not society, defines gender,” was one criticism I received on Facebook, and several people “liked” it. But this simple answer ignores the fact that the Bible gives no such simple answer. The is no one way given to be masculine and one way given to be feminine.

So, do we follow the example of bold female leaders like Deborah, Esther and Phoebe? Or do we assume that Paul’s advice to the Corinthians about women keeping silent in the church is God’s wish for all women of all time?

Should men be rough and tough war heroes like David or gentle peacemakers like Jesus?

Should the church treat women as property, like Old Testament law did by enforcing a “you break it, you buy it” policy for men who rape virgins? Or should the church treat them as Jesus treated them- as friends and as people?

Should men be the leaders and breadwinners while women stay at home? Or should women follow the example in Proverbs 31 and be the ones providing food for the household?

Some of these questions seem to have more obvious answers then others. But all of these questions are based on Biblical accounts. Which accounts should bring us to our conclusions about gender roles (as Rachel Held Evans points out, we ALL pick and choose when it comes to the Bible. It’s not about whether we pick or choose. It’s about what we pick and choose)?

I’m sure God does define gender. But I think the diverse accounts in the Bible make it clear that gender does not place a person in one of two boxes.

“People are too complex to generalize,” said one friend of mine. I couldn’t agree more.

Humans aren’t commodities.

There isn’t a man factory and a woman factory in heaven. We don’t come off of one of two assembly lines. We were created, not manufactured.

NOT how the female brain works.

I am a woman. But that doesn’t put me in a box with all the other women in the world. My womanhood doesn’t require me to have specific character traits, abilities, or desires.

I am happy to accept my femaleness as part of my identity. But I will not let my femaleness detract from the other details that God has painted me with.

I am a work of art. And God is no minimalist. My femaleness is just one brush stroke of who I am.

What about you, readers? Do you ever feel like a single aspect of the work of art that is you gets more attention than it deserves? Perhaps you share my frustration with gender roles. Perhaps a physical or mental “handicap” prevents people from seeing the other details that God has given you. Perhaps people attempt to limit you based on your race, social status, or orientation. I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts!


Love by leaving

How do you love a boyfriend that abuses you? How do you treat an abusive girlfriend like Jesus would treat her? How do you forgive a person without letting him/her hurt you again?

Ever since I broke up with my abusive first boyfriend five years ago, I’ve been searching for answers to this question.

If I had treated him better…

If I had stayed with him longer…

If I hadn’t responded with violence at the end (our break up involved me punching him in the face out of self-defense)…

….would he have changed?

Does loving like Jesus loved mean letting people walk all over us? I used to think so.

But I’ve changed my mind.

I’ve been reading the book Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. If you’ve read other books by Shane Claiborne, you’ll know that he is radically committed to following Christ’s teachings of love, mercy, and peace. He is anti-violence, anti-war, and pro-“enemy love.”

But in Jesus for President, he reminds us that Jesus was not pro-passivity. He didn’t want us to “let people sadistically step all over us (p. 92).”

No violence or hatred.

No passiveness.

Jesus taught a “third way.”

As Claiborne and Haw explain, when Jesus preached on “turning the other cheek” in Matthew 5, he was not supporting passiveness. Because of  cultural law, the Jews of that time would only use their right hand to hit someone. Turning the other cheek would prevent attackers from backslapping you as one would an inferior. Your attacker would have to “look [you] in the eye” and fight you as an equal. Jesus did not want people fighting back or cowering in fear. He wanted them to look attackers in the eye and say, as Claiborne and Haw state, “I am a human being, made in the image of God, and you cannot destroy that.” (p. 92)

Of course, our culture is different. Turning the other cheek won’t produce the same effect today. But we can still stand up for our “sacred humanity” (p. 93). By leaving abusive relationships- by showing our abusers that “I am enough!” we can remind them whose image we are made in.

When we walk away from those relationships, our abusers see our strength. They are forced to look at us, not as inferiors, nor as objects, but as equals. As fellow humans. We escape the situation, and at the same time, we force our attackers to see things from a different perspective.

(By the way, this isn’t always easy. I used violence because I couldn’t find any other way out of my situation. I’m a pacifist committed to non-violence, and my saying this is probably hypocritical. But, if you feel that there is no other way out of your situation and you punch your abuser in the face like I did, I will not judge you. In fact, I might secretly cheer for you in my head. There, I said it. Excuse my imperfections. You may not have to use violence, but you may have to get authorities involved. And you will almost certainly need help from friends and family. It’s not easy. Don’t do it alone)

It’s not loving to provide your abuser with an opportunity to continue his violent lifestyle. Violence kills the image of God in us.

So leave abusive relationships and give your abuser a chance to start over. Give your abuser a chance to see the image of God in you, but also in himself/herself. Love abusers by letting them start fresh- by giving them a chance to change.

As Jesus for President states, “Even those who have committed great violence can have the image of God come to life again within them as they hear the whisper of love.”

Love by ending the violence. Love by leaving.

**By the way, read Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. It’s awesome!

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Sarah and Sarah

I look up to, and see myself in, many men in the Bible- Peter, and his impulsive, inconsistent, moments of spiritual passion; David, who processes his spiritual thoughts through his art; Thomas, who doesn’t believe everything he hears, even if it means he gets scolded for it. Unfortunately, due to the fact that most of the Bible took place in an antiquated, male dominated society, there are significantly less women for me to look up to. As a feminist, I believe it is important for me to find female role models, so over the past year and a half I have been trying to catch the Bible’s sometimes subtle nods to faithful women. About two months ago, I began to start to see myself in an unexpected Biblical female- my namesake, Sarah.

Even with our shared preference for men named Abraham aside, we have quite a bit in common. For one, neither of us stayed in the same place for long. Sure, moving from Ur to God-only-knows-where on a camel is a bit more extreme than my moving experiences, but her flexibility still inspires me. I’ve lived in three states in less than two years, and so much moving around has been extremely stressful, not to mention extremely lonely. How did you handle it, Bible Sarah? You were pretty awesome!

Secondly, Bible Sarah, much like Sarah Moon, was not easily convinced of things. Angels came down from heaven to tell her, “Hey, you’re going to have a son!” And what did she do? She laughed, of course. Perhaps this wasn’t the best response, but was it not the most human? I appreciate how real Sarah was, and I resonate with her skepticism. Often, I will be sitting in a church service, and the preacher will talk about what God is going to do. Those around me respond with a chorus of “Amen”s, but my natural response is to snicker. This is probably wrong of me on some level, but I also believe that God understands the moments of disbelief that people like Sarah and I have. I believe he may even appreciate them. They do, after all, give him a chance to prove us awesomely wrong!

We Sarahs also share a tendency to take matters into our own hands. God told Sarah and Abraham that they would have a son, but Sarah was impatient and skeptical (traits which I embody frequently). So, what did she do? She did what any strong, independent woman would do and took matters into her own hands. That would have been fine, however, when it comes to God, matters are usually better left in his hands. I guess Bible Sarah learned that the hard way, and things got pretty crazy. This Sarah frequently learns the hard way, too. Impatiently, irrationally taking control of every situation just because I don’t trust God to come through almost always causes a huge mess. And I could end this post on that note and walk away feeling like a bit of a failure.

But, then we turn to the New Testament, where we find Hebrews 11, a chapter that my Baptist friends (Warning: Cheesy Wordplay Alert!) refer to as the “Hall of Faith.” Who ends up in this chapter, next to the likes of Abraham, Moses, and Noah? Sarah! Despite her shortcomings, the writer of Hebrews uses her story to inspire New Testament Christians. She was commended for her faith. Some might say, “What faith?” But, God knew the limitations of her humanity and God knew her heart. Yet, he considered her faithful.

…Maybe there is hope for me, after all!

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“I shall seize Fate by the throat…”

Ludwig van Beethoven wrote the 9th Symphony while he was completely deaf. Read that sentence again. No, I know you already knew that. I don’t care. Read it again. Let it sink in. Now, go ahead and listen to it. Especially pay attention to 2:50 and beyond, because that’s where God personally comes down from heaven and sings through the choir.

Now, read that first sentence one last time. “Ludwig van Beethoven wrote the 9th Symphony while he was completely deaf.” When I hear the 9th Symphony, I think of the unquenchable passion that Beethoven had, and I let it inspire me.

When Beethoven discovered that his ever worsening deafness was incurable in 1802, he was heartbroken, nearly driven to suicide. In a letter to his brothers known as the Heiligenstadt Testament (which a wonderful theory teacher of mine described as “A suicide note turned ‘I Will Survive'”), Beethoven describes his feelings.

“But little more and I would have put an end to my life – only art it was that withheld me. Ah, it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon me to produce.”

Twenty two years later, he composed the incredible colossus that is “The Ninth.”

I’m no Beethoven. I don’t deserve to bask in the same candle light, nor do I dare compare my loses in life to what he endured. However, I am no stranger to hopeless feelings, to despair, or even to thoughts of suicide. Like everyone else at the table we call Life, I’ve been dealt more than a few bad cards.

But I’m here for a reason.

There is a symbolic 9th Symphony in my future.

There have definitely been times when, like Beethoven, “art alone withheld me,” but I am here to accomplish something. I am here to do something that will last. I refuse to entertain anymore thoughts of giving up! I refuse to settle for anything less than a Beethovenesque passion for my art! One final quote from this musical powerhouse, and I will close.

‎”I shall seize Fate by the throat; it shall certainly not bend and crush me completely.”