I’m In. How About You?

Every time I turn around, someone outside the Methodist Church is asking me how things are going at the church.  I think that my reaction to the pain of GC2019 and its aftermath left my friends and counseling colleagues wondering if the UMC was going to suddenly spin apart into little fragments.

I have to admit that there are times when I desire that spinning apart greatly. The movement towards any kind of change, any kind of restructuring of the UMC, seems so slow and leviathan as to make me wonder if change is possible at all in our current, almost stultified church culture.

The statements issued at the end of the UMCNext gathering didn’t offer me much hope either, mostly because the statement sounded like we doubled down on inclusion without making any plans for how we were going to make that happen without first exiting the UMC as I know it.  Knowing that I was starting to despair, several friends suggested that I read Adam Hamilton’s invitation to UMCNext, and then they forwarded me a few blog posts written by participants in the UMCNext conference.

Thankfully, I found hope, inspiration…and a whole new host of concerns.

Rev. Dr. Tyler Schwaller, a participant in the UMCNext conference, wrote a blog post that clearly pointed out the biggest problems that we face as the progressives and centrists in our denomination try to move forwards from GC2019. (read here) It was heartening to read that he found it wonderful to finally be at a gathering of pastors and laity where he was not reviled simply for being queer.  I cannot imagine how painful it must be to have served the UMC faithfully for such a long time, knowing that many of your colleagues and your partners in the laity condemned you for existing, for your very creation.

Not that it changes the years of suffering for all my POC and LGBTQ colleagues, but I repent of not having been more obnoxiously vocal about radical and total inclusion. Entrenched oppression deserves loud and bold resistance from everyone who is aware that it exists, whether they experience the oppression firsthand or not.  I wasted valuable opportunities to speak up and make space for POC/LGBTQ clergy simply because I was too committed to being ‘nice’, and I believe that I did harm because I wasn’t willing to be disliked.  You are my treasured colleagues and friends, and you didn’t deserve that. I repent of my inaction and unwillingness to be uncomfortable, unpopular, and maybe even despised on your behalf.  Please forgive my inaction.

Having said that, I want to look at a few points in Schwaller’s post (please read it…it is short and revealing.)

Schwaller stated “the commitment to the preservation of power and control by the already privileged is palpable. Our Movement Forward summit created space to reimagine a church where power is shared within a framework of mutual accountability. UMCNext forced us around tables over which we had no choice, asked limiting questions that restricted imagination, centered leaders who have already failed and undermined us, was carefully scripted so to gloss over differences that matter, and completely ignored the collective wisdom of justice-seeking resistance movements. In short, it repeated the imperialist framework of the UMC as it already is. “Inclusive” imperialism is still evil.”

That’ll preach, brother.

The one thing that is going to have to change if we are going to move forward as a truly inclusive church is that we have to let go of the entrenched power structure. I don’t mean that we need to do away with Bishops and DS’s, or that we should advocate for anarchy within the church structure. I don’t want to throw away the baby with the bathwater, but at the same time, we need to ask ourselves what we are doing when we seek to preserve the structures that supported oppression in the first place.

Right now, it appears to me that we are too invested in making sure that we keep the larger churches happy so that apportionments will be paid and the coffers of the church, already threatened by the shrinkage of our membership, will remain robust. This means that we cannot place women, POC, or LGBTQ clergy in churches where their prophetic voice (let alone their simple existence and appearance) would challenge valued and generous members to listen to the gospel anew. God forbid some big givers should leave the church and take their money with them. I get it…we need money if we are going to do any kind of meaningful ministry. I am not blind to the needs of the church. But at the same time, I question why we are putting the (less than) almighty dollar before the honest proclamation of the radical gospel of Jesus Christ that extended grace to all the wrong people and frequently put the so-called ‘big givers’ outside the door of inclusion because they weren’t willing to share the table with people they found undesirable.

I am also aware that we continue to discriminate against anyone who dares to ask for ordination as a Deacon. A number of Elders have explained to me that the order of Deacons, created at GC1996, was denied rights to the sacraments because the Bishops feared that granting sacramental rights to Deacons would cause a mass migration of Elders, changing orders to avoid itinerancy. If the only way that you can keep an Elder faithful to their call is to discriminate against another entire class of people, you have a major problem with your Elders. Think about this: Deacons, who serve their congregations and community with the same love and devotion as the Elders, are repeatedly forced to turn away congregants who come to us, asking us to perform baptisms. When we lead worship so that the Elder can have a day off, we are forced to beg outside Elders to consecrate communion or are forced to ask the congregation to skip communion altogether, because we are not allowed to consecrate the elements. Try explaining to a church member that you cannot baptize their child because you are only a Deacon, not quite equal to the Elder, even though the BOD swears the orders are equal. None of this has ever made sense to any layperson when I have tried to explain it, especially when I also have to admit that I have the same MDiv as the Elder, went through the same candidacy and RIM process as the Elder, and am fully ordained like the Elder.  And as for the Bishop’s supposed fear that Elders would switch orders en mass, my experience of the Elders that I work with tells me that nothing except God’s call would convince them to change orders, and that when they do change orders it is for sake of continuing to be in obedience to God.  If we’re going to avoid perpetuating imperialistic church structure under the guise of inclusivity, we need to address all structures of oppression within the church. Inclusion isn’t a “this group now, that group later, and always somebody waiting in the wings for their full rights” kind of a thing. Inclusion is all people, right now, period.

As a white, cis-gendered straight clergywoman, I am aware that many of us, clergy and laity, will struggle to deal with the changes necessary to create a truly inclusive Church. It will be uncomfortable, to say the least. There will be a lot of fear and hesitancy, and we will need accountability and grace if we are going to find our way to new behaviors and new ways of expressing ministry that don’t involve adherence to the old imperialistic power structures.  I am not asking my POC/LGBTQ colleagues for forbearance with our unwillingness to move forward. We need to move forward no matter how uncomfortable that movement makes the clergy and laity who have been comfortable for far too long. We may, however, need to remember that epic shifts in thinking, attitude, and action involve a great deal of cognitive dissonance, something that our desire for inclusion cannot overcome and should not rush through. Cognitive dissonance is necessary and desirable, because it calls many accepted and unquestioned beliefs into question and even prompts their abandonment.  This means that our execution of the necessary changes will be filled with people dragging their feet, repeated moments of failure, tears of frustration and possibly shame, and the need for loving accountability. I am certain that I will fail my desire to be fully inclusive many times out of sheer ignorance and an on-going belief that I have somehow managed to avoid internalizing abusive and oppressive power structures because I’m ‘better than that’. I’ve already discovered that I casually accepted patriarchal structures without challenge, well into my adulthood. I’m certain that I will find myself sorely lacking in the ability to clearly perceive all the structures of oppression built into the UMC without being called to account by the people who suffer under those structures.  We need to let POC/LGBTQ clergy lead the way into a more inclusive church, and beg their patience with our overt stupidity as long as we continue to visibly struggle for personal change and structural change.  And those of us that have enjoyed privilege without cause to receive that privilege need to trust that God will guide all of us as we are conformed to the inclusive, prophetic image of Christ. It will be painful, and it will be worth it.

I’m in.  How about you?

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Feeling Cranky

Warning: I’m venting.

I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I have spent my entire life dealing with autoimmune illnesses, many of them un-diagnosed for years while wreaking their havoc on my life and my health.

I do my best to remain healthy in light of my illnesses. I attend a variety of exercise classes to avoid repetitive motion injuries and to challenge my body in different ways (weightlifting, weight bearing exercises, dance fitness, yoga, rowing, walking, etc.) I eat relatively well and avoid processed and fried foods. I lost over 100 pounds almost 11 years ago and have kept 100 pounds of it off.

Despite all that, my health problems continue to get worse.

Some of it is just age: arthritis always gets worse with age.  My hands haven’t gotten any larger, but my knuckles sure like to grow, as do my bunions and every other arthritic joint on my body. And I have some really weird arthritic joints, like one on my collarbone and another on the side of my foot. I think my quest to be unique might have gone a little too far in this case.

It isn’t aging that is making me angry.

It’s all the crap on the internet that tells me that my autoimmune illnesses are my own fault, and if I’d only eat their diet/take their supplement/do what this specific doctor says, that I’d be pain free and living life like a 20 year old again.  Supposedly, autoimmune illnesses come from a leaky gut that is caused by a crappy diet that fills your body with toxins…and that’s why I’m sick. Bad Tina…look what you did to your body!

First of all, I had each and every one of these damn autoimmune illnesses by the time I was 20 and had already sought medical help for almost all of them. I spent much of my teenage years seeing doctors to try and deal with what we thought were outrageously painful menstrual cramps. The doctors even prescribed opioids to help with my pain (they did absolutely nothing to stop the pain).  Years later I found out that the pain was due to bladder issues and that opioids and other pain relievers are not effective on the pain from this disease, which is what makes that particular autoimmune disease so disabling.

It is disheartening to have spent your life dealing with progressive illnesses that can’t be cured while simultaneously dealing with people and internet posts that tout total cures. I get that Western medicine doesn’t have all the answers. Believe me, I get that really well, since the cure prescribed in 1975 for my vitiligo was to make me take medication that made me photosensitive and then have me sit in front of a sunlamp to induce a sunburn on the de-pigmented spots. That’s right…my doctor prescribed cancer-causing treatments (that did absolutely nothing to stop the spread of the vitiligo) for my disease. Fun.

I’m just tired of being told that my autoimmune illnesses are related to a leaky gut because my diet is filled with processed Frankenfood…when my autoimmune illnesses were so bad that my parents were told to move out of Chicago when I was still preschool age; the doctors hoped that a better quality of air in the open country would stop my chronic bronchitis.  We moved when I was four years old, and I had been a sickly child from the time I was born. Apparently, Similac causes leaky gut. Or maybe it was Enfamil.

I am frustrated and angry. I feel helpless to stop the progression of my illnesses and even my PCP is talking about this leaky gut stuff. It’s not that I’m unwilling to try diet-based solutions, it’s just that this has been all 55 years of my life and nothing has changed. Moving me away from Chicago when I was a child stopped the chronic bronchitis but didn’t stop the problems with my lungs. I still have bronchitis and pneumonia way too frequently because I have allergy related asthma (I didn’t get that diagnosis until I was 50…when I was a teenager, the doctor told my parents I was ‘allergic to ozone’ and that’s why I was having trouble breathing during the summers. WTH???)  If living on infant formula didn’t change anything, and moving to the ‘country’ didn’t really change anything, and eating vegetables and fruits from my father’s garden all spring, summer, and fall didn’t change anything, and advanced allergy testing and special allergy serum didn’t change much (I am better, just not cured), and the pain-causing autoimmune illnesses just keep getting worse, what the dickens am I supposed to be doing that is going to make it better? What magic food am I going to eat (or not eat) to reduce my C Reactive protein levels?

I am beginning to feel like no one knows what is going on, including me, and that I am being used like a human guinea pig by doctors and internet hucksters, all in the hopes of accidentally creating an impact for a few months so that I’ll proclaim myself cured and make someone else a bunch of money.

I’m beginning to think that the best thing I can do is to not believe any of the pseudo-science and stick with what I’ve been doing for 55 years: rest, exercise, eat healthy foods, and get up and get on with it no matter how crappy I feel. So far, that’s worked. I also think a fast from the Internet might be a good idea.

Vent completed. Thank you for listening.

And while we are at it, please be kind to the people around you. Not all illnesses/disabilities are easily visible and evident, but they are challenging and disheartening at times. And if you are the person suffering from illness and disability, know that whatever you are able to do today is amazing and enough! Hang in there!

Keeping Feminist Balance

I have a feminist itch that I need to scratch, but I am heading out of town in just a few minutes. Please forgive the lack of editing and textual mistakes, as my time to write this was extremely limited.

I have been listening for the last few days to the controversy over Joe Biden’s actions. If you are unaware, Vice President Biden has a habit of approaching people, specifically women, from behind. He places his hands on their shoulders, leans in to speak candidly into their ear, and most recently coupled this behavior with sniffing the woman’s hair and planting a kiss on the back of her head.

Some Democrats and feminists are saying that this kind of behavior, which is overly familiar and just a bit creepy to women, renders him unfit for the office of President.

That’s a bit difficult to swallow knowing that President P*ssy-Grabber has been in office since 2016 and grabbing a woman by her genitals far exceeds Biden “kiss them on the back of their head and sniff their hair” behaviors in terms of offensiveness.

But I digress.  Let me explain what I find so disturbing about the Biden controversy.

The first problem is the repeated assertion by the women complaining that Biden’s intentions don’t matter.

On CBS This Morning I heard the interviewee say “His intentions don’t matter. It’s about how (the behavior) was received.”  There is certainly some sense in this statement, since many men have defended their bad actions by saying that didn’t intend any harm, or didn’t mean to be disrespectful, when they behaved in a deplorable fashion.  The thing is that there are many different behaviors that can come under the label ‘deplorable’. Apparently, Congresswoman Lucy Flores finds having her hair sniffed, her shoulders touched, words whispered into her ear, and being kissed on the crown of her head ‘deplorable’ and I am not going to disagree with her own assessment of how she wants to be touched.

My issue with this argument is that it has been used against women in rape cases for years. You know…the ‘what were you wearing? Why were you out that late alone? But you were drinking…’ arguments that are so common in rape cases.  Basically, women are told that by dressing provocatively, or by being drunk in a public space, or by being out late alone…or any combination of those three…THAT THEY DESERVED TO BE SEXUALLY ASSAULTED BECAUSE THEY WERE ADVERTISTING. After all, it wasn’t her intentions in getting dressed and having a drink that mattered, it was how the man received (chose to interpret) that behavior that makes it reasonable for him to sexually assault her. Women have suffered under the ‘but you were advertising…’ argument for so many years, and now we are going to turn the tables on men and tell them that any behavior can be considered sexually inappropriate, even when it has nothing to do with sex, simply because the woman received (chose to interpret) it that way?

Are we really sure that we want to make this argument just because women have more power now?  Do we really want to turn the tables on men and treat them the same hateful and oppressive way that we have been treated for centuries?

The second problem is that the media has established a false equivalence, where all bad behavior by men is considered to fall under the #metoo movement.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault in my late teens, and sexual harassment at work, I can tell you that I’d much rather have a man I do not know touch my shoulders, whisper in my ear, sniff my hair and kiss me on top of the head than to ever have another man rub his crotch on my leg or my hand while telling me what sex acts he wants to perform on me. I never again want to have a doctor touch me inappropriately during an exam that requires absolutely no skin on skin contact, especially in that region of my body. I’d take a dozen kisses on the head and hair sniffs to avoid even one more minute of unwelcome sexual contact.

There is absolutely NO equivalency here.

After all, if there is an equivalency here, you have to ask why Biden is not in prison like Bill Cosby, who only raped women after he had drugged them into a comfortable sleep. That’s not so bad, is it?  Personally I find Cosby disgusting…and again I’d rather be head-sniffed than drugged and raped, but apparently some feminists find Biden’s actions so deplorable that they consider this a #metoo moment.

I beg to differ. Screw it. I differ and I refuse to beg. I am a woman, and there is no equivalency here.

The third problem is that we offer men who behave badly absolutely no chance to redeem themselves.

What is the path to redemption for a man who commits a bad action? What does a man have to do to be considered ‘rehabilitated’ or to have ‘learned his lesson’?

Some of you might think that we shouldn’t allow for ‘second chances’ because they are nothing more than a chance to re-offend, another chance to behave horribly, and in all honesty, you are not wrong. Giving anyone a chance to redeem themselves always involves the possibility of re-offense.  On the other hand, women have suffered for centuries from labels that made them unredeemable, labels like “adultress” or “fallen woman” or “unwed mother”.  It wasn’t so long ago (in my lifetime, and I am only 54 years old) that young women who became pregnant out of wedlock were sent away from their family and community to a home for unwed mothers where they were expected to give up their child after birth. Women unwilling to give up their baby were often not allowed to return to their family’s home lest they bring ‘shame’ onto their family. The Scarlet Letter describes how women were branded as an adultress and shunned by the community for their action, despite the fact that the man was not held accountable.  The horrifying reality was that the real scarlet letter wasn’t a ‘letter’ sewn on their clothes (as portrayed in the movie) but a letter branded onto their skin so they could not ever escape judgment.

Women have suffered for years under the concept that once stained we cannot be redeemed. If you believe society has changed beyond that, just take a close look at Monica Lewinsky.  While Bill Clinton continued his life and went on to earn handsome money for public speaking and book tours, Monica was forced to live off of family and friends for years before finally crafting a life as a woman who speaks out against bullying, which she deals with even now, over 20 years after she became the ‘harlot’ who sexually dallied with a President.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not advocating for clemency for men who commit acts of sexual violence. That needs to be dealt with using our justice system, and they can work to redeem themselves inside that system. I am asking for a path to grace for men like Louis CK and Joe Biden, men who behave badly and need to change their behaviors after offering a heartfelt apology for their failure to perceive how their behavior impacted others.

If we let our outrage at the tidal wave of horrible behavior that is being revealed every day keep us from crafting a road of grace—a path to redemption—we risk losing a sense of proportion regarding bad behavior. We risk creating false equivalencies between acting badly and being a sexual predator. And we risk our outrage becoming so ever-present that it becomes background noise and easy to ignore. We cannot afford to lose the progress that the #metoo movement has made towards challenging male privilege, so we better spend our outrage wisely, lest we win the battle and lose the war.

 

To the GC2019 Delegates who Voted for The Traditionalist Plan

Dear Dad,

We haven’t talked in a while, mostly because our last talk didn’t go very well. It ended with me crying while you were screaming at me, and I thought that maybe things would go better if I wrote you instead of trying to talk face to face.

I know that you are disappointed with the way I live my life and the way that I conduct myself. You raised me to follow the Scriptures as they are written, to add nothing to and take away nothing from God’s commandments like it says in Deuteronomy. You raised me to live in strict adherence to your interpretation of the Word, and I know that you feel that I am not living a life that reflects what I was taught; that my life doesn’t give glory to God because I am disobedient to what you think is God’s word.

I also know that you disapprove of my relationship with Jes, that you think his skin is the wrong color, and that he loves in all the wrong ways, and that he is a hippy-dippy liberal who wants to give away everything to everyone when they should have to work to earn it.

I am writing these things to you, not because I am agreeing with you, but because I want you to know that I have heard your admonishments all these years. I really have listened, Dad. I’ve listened until I can listen no more. I know what you think of me and my life. I know that you think I am a disobedient child that needs to be taken in hand and ‘schooled’ until I behave correctly.

Dad…I am 54 years old.

I am not a child. I am an adult. I pay my own bills and run my own life. I don’t ask for anything from you but love.

Sadly, for all the disapproval and lectures that you seem to be able to give, love doesn’t appear to be on the list of things that you have for me.

Love isn’t another lecture.

Love isn’t telling me just how badly I’ve screwed up my life or yelling at me about my disobedient nature.

Love isn’t telling me that you don’t want to speak to me until I’ve set aside my childish behaviors and started acting like the adult YOU taught me to be.

Finding Jes and falling in love with him was amazing for me. I never felt so alive! It took years of him loving me without judgement for me to realize that he knew I wasn’t perfect, that I wasn’t everything he wanted me to be, but that he loved me anyway. That’s called unconditional love, Dad, and it is life changing!

It took a long time of me being with Jes to understand that you never really loved me, because love doesn’t treat another human like an object to be bent to the owner’s will. Real love doesn’t seek to control and dominate. Love doesn’t oppress and demand obedience. True love invests in relationship knowing that close, loving relationships have influence, and influence brings change without demanding that one person ‘submit’ to the other. True love leaves space for individuality, and for appreciating differences of opinion and choice. True love doesn’t demand conformity, because that isn’t love for another; love that demands conformity is love for self over all others, and Jes says that love like that is diseased and broken. When he says these things to me, I cry, because I want so much more for you and I, Dad. Jes wants more for us too, and that’s why he’s stood by me all these years while I tried to make our relationship better.

Love isn’t me letting you tell me how to live my life, Dad. Real love is a set of choices based in a commitment to the best for another person, even at the cost of self-sacrifice for their good.

When it comes to love, Dad, Jes taught me that the proof is in the pudding. The pudding that Jes has for me is sweet; it feeds my soul and nourishes me in ways that I cannot even describe. The pudding that you have been shoving down my throat for my entire life tastes of domination, dehumanization, and verbal and emotional abuse, and I can’t stomach it anymore.

I’m letting you go, Dad.

This has been a long time coming, and I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but Jes keeps telling me that I deserve better than this.

Jes doesn’t always think I’m right, Dad. Jes has disagreed with my decision to keep in touch with you for a long time—for years in fact—but each time he just tells me what he thinks and then reminds me that no matter what I decide, that he will have my back and be here for me because he loves me.

I don’t remember you ever telling me that you had my back, or that the decision was mine. The only times I remember you saying that you loved me was after you yelled at me for being wrong (again). You would remind me that you only spent time correcting me because you loved me.  I get what you were trying to say, but there is more to love than correction and demands for obedience.

Jes has been telling me for years that your ‘love’ is toxic, and I think he is right.

So I’m done, Dad. I’m done trying to make our relationship work. I’m done trying to please you, to mollify your demands for obedience to your way of thinking and living. I’m done with all of it.

If you ever change your mind and decide that you are willing to accept me as I am, to love me without trying to change me, Jes(us) and I will be right here in Arizona, and you will always be welcome when you are ready to give and receive real love.

I love you, Dad.

Goodbye.

Baby, It’s BS

The Internet has been blowing up in the last week or so because radio stations are banning the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Apparently, some folks have noticed a few things about the lyrics that they hadn’t noticed before and have decided that the lyrics sound inappropriate.

The internet probably shouldn’t be blowing up over such a small thing, but you know how this goes: someone gets vocal about how inappropriate something seems, and people begin reacting, and then some people start taking action, and then the backlash begins. You get one group of people who get disgusted that everything they used to enjoy is now labeled ‘inappropriate’ or ‘offensive’, so they complain about how sick and tired they are of the whole thing and how political correctness is ruining our country. The other group applies unkind labels to anyone who complains about removing the offensive item, implying that they are insensitive and unwilling to come out of the stone age and fully respect others.

To be honest, each side has a point, but for a moment I’d like to set all that aside and discuss the issue at hand.

For instance, what do you know about the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside”?

The song is a duet, sung by a man and a woman. The song was written in 1944 by Frank Loesser for his wife Lynn Garland; Loesser write the song intending that they would sing it at holiday parties they attended.  The Wikipedia entry for this song states:

The lyrics in this duet are designed to be heard as a conversation between two people, identified as “Mouse” (usually female) and “Wolf” (usually male) on the printed score; they are at the wolf’s home and the mouse decides it is time to go home, but the wolf flirtatiously invites the mouse to stay as it is late and “it’s cold outside.” The mouse states that he/she has enjoyed the time and agrees at one point to another drink, but the mouse also says “I ought to say no, no, no, sir” and tries to return home, worried what family and neighbors will think. Every line in the song features a statement from the mouse followed by a response from the wolf, which is musically known as a call and response song.

I find it fascinating that Mr. Loesser wrote a song for he and his wife to sing and yet he openly identifies the characters in the song as “Wolf” and “Mouse”.  I find that very telling, and also a reflection of American culture in 1944, a time when women were expected to be chaste and coquettish when it came to the issue of sex, and men to expected to pursue and win a woman’s affections, and to consider their female companion as their ‘conquest’. The whole things smacks of women as an object, and I understand how feminists of all genders see the reflection of this attitude in the lyrics of the song and find the whole thing a bit disturbing.

Of course, you should judge things for yourself, so I thought I should include the lyrics of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (the ‘Wolf’s’ lyrics are in italics)

I really can’t stay – Baby it’s cold outside
I’ve got to go away – Baby it’s cold outside
This evening has been – Been hoping that you’d drop in
So very nice – I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice

My mother will start to worry – Beautiful, what’s your hurry?
Father will be pacing the floor – Listen to the fireplace roar
So really I’d better scurry – Beautiful, please don’t hurry
Maybe just a half a drink more – Put some records on while I pour

The neighbors might think – Baby, it’s bad out there
Say, what’s in this drink? – No cabs to be had out there
I wish I knew how – Your eyes are like starlight now
To break this spell – I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell

I ought to say no, no, no – Mind if I move in closer?
At least I’m gonna say that I tried – What’s the sense in hurting my pride?
I really can’t stay – Baby don’t hold out
Ah, but it’s cold outside

I’ve got to get home – Oh, baby, you’ll freeze out there
Say, lend me your coat – It’s up to your knees out there
You’ve really been grand – Thrill when you touch my hand
Why don’t you see – How can you do this thing to me?

There’s bound to be talk tomorrow – Think of my life long sorrow
At least there will be plenty implied – If you caught pneumonia and died
I really can’t stay – Get over that hold out
Ah, but it’s cold outside
Oh, baby, it’s cold outside
Oh, baby, it’s cold outside   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby,_It%27s_Cold_Outside

At first read, you can see what people are upset about, especially with lines like “Say, what’s in this drink?”

And I think that’s what the folks who complain about political correctness just don’t get. You can’t look at these lyrics in light of Bill Cosby’s actions and the number of sexual harassment and assault scandals in the last two or three years and not feel just a little disturbed with lyrics that suggest that a woman’s decision to say ‘no’ injures a man’s pride, or that perhaps the drink has a little more than liquor in it.

Too many women have been experienced unwelcome advances, extreme pressure to be sexual, and outright coercion to have sex when they don’t really want to, and lyrics like these start feeling a bit ‘rape-ish’ when you view them through that lens.

The problem is that we cannot evaluate art created decades and decades ago through the lens of where society is now. It is very unwise and unhealthy to declare huge chunks of old American culture and art “inappropriate” just because they don’t meet current standards of behavior, speech, and thought.  And no, I’m not campaigning for free speech at the cost of human decency and respect; there is no tiki torch in my hand as I write this.

Let me make myself clear: I have no problem respecting our diverse and multi-cultural society. Using preferred pronouns when interacting with people who identify as a gender other than the one immediately obvious is a matter of respect. Calling others by their names and not by nicknames like “Sweetie” or “Honey” avoids diminishing their personhood and is a matter of respect. Acknowledging cultural differences and encouraging others to express their diversity without fear is not only a matter of respect and human decency, it is a tacit acknowledgement that every culture, race, and ethnicity has an innate value that should be treasured and protected.

My issue is that censoring art quickly leads to censorship of other kinds.

What makes me think that? Because editing history (including historic art) and declaring it ‘inappropriate’ or ‘undesirable’ is how politicians and the dominant culture have historically erased other cultures, ideas, and modes of expression, that’s why.

Take a look at the history of any country that has come under the rule of a dictator and you will discover that along with suppressing free speech, they also chose to redact and suppress art. Suddenly, historic cultural icons and artists fell out of favor and their art was exempted from what was labeled ‘acceptable’. Redacting the past is an effective way of controlling the narrative in the now.  Erasing history is a fantastic way of convincing people that there never has been any other way to think or to be than what the people in power tell you think and be now.

When my eldest daughter was getting her Bachelor’s degree in graphic design, her history classes examined the systematic oppression of art by political leaders as a means of controlling the current narrative of their people. It made total sense to me…and I refuse to contribute to that kind of oppression, even in small ways by taking a Christmas song off the airways.

We can choose to respect and honor others without erasing any history that makes it clear that we weren’t always this honorable and respectful. We can let the history of our nation’s struggles to embrace diversity of race, gender, and sexual expression be visible without continuing to oppress whole groups of people in the name of comfort and conformity.

So play the song if it makes you happy…and if it feels icky and rapey to you, turn it off. And don’t demand that everyone else in the world do what you choose to do…instead, explain your choice so that we can understand and respect you a little more. And if your child hears the song and is disturbed by its lyrics (or you simply hate the idea that your child is listening to it), let it be a teaching moment; educate them about the devaluation of women in our society as well as women’s quest for equality.

And while we’re at it, may your holiday season be blessed with family, friends, joy, and the warmth of knowing that you are loved.

Show Me The Money!

About 20 years ago, I had an epiphany: being a sexual human being with sexual parts (genitals) is a lot like having money, and having sex is a lot like buying groceries.

Let me explain.

If you go to the grocery store, you will see a lot of people wandering around the store. Some look quite purposeful and others are truly wandering, just killing time. No matter how much time people spend in the grocery store, there is no guarantee that they are going to buy groceries. In fact, we don’t even know if they have the money to buy groceries…until they get into the checkout lanes.

One you get in the checkout line at the grocery store, we know a few things about you. First, you are about to buy some groceries.

Second, and more importantly, we now know for certain that you have money.

As you get to the front of the line and the cashier starts to ring up your groceries, you might even get your money out of your wallet or your pocket. At this point, other people can see your money because it is right there in your hand. Yet strangely, no one seems to ever reach out and touch another person’s money or try to snatch their money out of their hand because that would be wrong. Just because someone has exposed their money and everyone can see it does not mean that other people are welcome to touch their money or to grab their money. Money is personal, and other people should keep their hands off.  No one has to tell the people in the checkout lane how to behave, possibly because they learned how to behave properly around money a long time ago, but also possibly because they all have their own money and don’t want anyone trying to touch it or grab it without their permission.

When the groceries are finally rung up, the cashier (who has every reason to expect you to hand over some money) still does NOT reach out and snatch the money out of your hand. No sir. The cashier tells you how much your groceries are going to cost and then the cashier waits patiently for you to offer them your money. Basically, the cashier makes it clear that there is going to be an even exchange here: groceries for money. The cashier lets you know just how much money they want for those groceries…and then the cashier waits for you to decide if you really want to go through with this.

It is a transactional kind of moment. There is no rudeness, no unreasonable expectations.  You actually have to give the money to the cashier willingly, who will in turn give you the groceries willingly.

Consent.

Another thing that is truly interesting: even though the groceries are already rung up, you can decide at the last minute that you are not willing to pay for those groceries. You can say ‘No…I decided I don’t want groceries right now’ and the cashier will simply void the grocery total and they will let you walk away. No one will call you names and accuse you of simply pretending to want groceries. No one will yell at you and demand that you hand over your money while shoving groceries into your hands. No one will impugn your character for deciding you don’t want groceries right now.

Funny how this all works, isn’t it?

And just as there are expectations about how the customer with the money and the cashier handling the groceries will behave, there are expectations about how those who are observing the transaction will behave. They are not really welcome to make comment on your groceries or tell you if your groceries are good enough or appealing to them. They are not welcome to comment on your money, either it’s form (check, EBT, cash, etc.) or the amount you have. And once you have handed over the money, they are not welcome to jump in and start grabbing your groceries and eating.

Now let’s get back to talking about exactly what I am talking about here: sexuality, bodies, and sex itself.

I find it interesting that the whole grocery transaction takes place in public, because so many women get judged for displaying just a little too much ‘money’ in public, leading to the conclusion that they deserve to be assaulted. You know what I mean: how was she dressed? Was she drunk? Was she flirting with him? Was her skirt too short? Was her blouse cut too low?

You know, if some customer took out her wad of cash and was kind of waving it around, being obvious about showing off her money in the grocery store, onlookers might think her immature or ill-mannered, but no one would assault the woman. Really…no matter how much money she flashes in the checkout lane, we are all supposed to leave her alone.  And while we may not approve of her behavior, we’re not really going to do much about it but look away (or foolishly stare) because it’s not really our business what this woman does with her money. In the end, we are certain that money is private and personal and other people’s behaviors with their money are not our business.

This is pretty clear. It isn’t that difficult to understand.

A person’s ‘money’ (body/sexual parts/sexuality) is their own and no one should ever try to take that or force them to give it away for any reason ever. The idea that they ‘showed their money in public’ does not deny them the right to control their money at all times. Moreover, it doesn’t matter that you think the groceries you are offering are superior to all the other groceries in town. You are not to touch/take anyone else’s money without their permission, for any reason, at any time, just because you think you are giving them the ‘good groceries’. And let’s remember that people who are drunk enough to pass out are not awake enough to buy groceries in real life (like at Safeway or Kroger) so you should not try to take their bodily ‘money’ and force your ‘groceries’ on them when they are drunk enough to pass out.

Finally, a word to the men reading this: I came to this epiphany while I was in counseling because I was afraid of men. By the time I was 35 I’d been assaulted and harassed frequently enough to understand that I was a non-stop sexual object. I was a walking advertisement for sex …and it was my fault that men saw me that way. I am not bragging that I was good looking. I was simply female, breathing, and not overtly disgusting…and therefore a sex object. Society made it clear that I was responsible for somehow conveying to men that I was chaste and unavailable, and if I failed, then I got what I deserved, which was more assault and harassment. You can probably understand why I was so afraid of existing in a world where men roamed freely.

After a while, it felt like having ‘money’ made me guilty of offering something I wasn’t willing to actually give…and so I felt like I had to apologize just for having ‘money’ at all. I felt as if it would have been better for everyone if God had made female ‘money’ a detachable part that we could leave at home so as not to lead men on and make men think that we are ‘grocery’ shopping. Then one day I paid close attention to the way that people behaved in the grocery store checkout lane…and had an epiphany that freed me from having to fear half the human race. I realized that every person in the checkout lane had actual cash money and we all knew it…yet no one tried to take our money, ever.  That’s when I realized that my bodily ‘money’ was mine, and no one had any rights to that ‘money’ but ME.  And I have the right to give my ‘money’ to anyone whose groceries look appealing to me…which for the last 30 years has been my husband. He has…nice groceries.  Very nice.

Back to topic.

This allegory may not work for you the way it works for me, but you have to admit: actual money (I’m talking dollars here) is a very emotionally charged thing. People spend their adult lives trying to get enough money to live comfortably, and most people want more money than they currently have. Some people will do anything, even illegal things, to increase their earning potential.  And the funny thing is that even before I thought about the bodies/sex/money allegory, my mother used to tell me that flashing your wad of bills (cash money) to impress other people was ‘vulgar’…a term we usually use to condemn sexually charged words or actions.

There is so much more than can be explored using this allegory: how some people buy nothing but bread, milk, lunch meat, and apples every single time, while others buy exotic and unusual groceries. What does that mean about the customer? Does it imply something about their morals?  Some customers might buy groceries that another person might not consider fit to eat.  Does that make them a bad person?  You can use this allegory to explore and discuss different types of sexual expression, the morals we often apply to sexual expression, and the importance of not judging people whose sexual choices do not fit cultural norms and stereotypes. You can even use this allegory to talk about ‘healthy eating’…and making sure that you don’t buy groceries that aren’t safe to consume.

If you want to open the door to a rich, meaningful discussion about bodies, consent, sexuality, and sexual choices…go to the grocery store. I encourage you to take your adolescent children down to the grocery store and have them stand there and observe the checkout lanes. Have them observe the behavior of the people in line, especially when it comes to retrieving their money. Have them pay special attention to the interaction between the cashier and the customer when it comes time to pay for the groceries. Have them pay attention to the way that the customers in line interact with each other and the personal space they give the person who is paying for their groceries.

One last thing to tell your children: you are always allowed to touch your own money. That’s kind of like a self-serve grocery checkout lane…the ultimate in ‘safe groceries’.  You may disagree with that idea, but remember: no one ever ended up buying diapers at the grocery store because they touched their own money.

Have you seen my brain?

No, seriously. I could have sworn that I had my brain just a minute ago, and now I can’t find it anywhere.

For all of you who ask questions like “When was the last time you knew you had your brain?”  I am pretty sure I had my brain last December, and I think I might have even had it for part of January. The truth is that I can’t remember the last time I used my brain, which could just be the reason that I can’t find my brain.

Spectacular.

What can I say? 2018 has not been the best friend to me. Some years just suck more than others, and so far, this year has had more than it’s share of icky events.

My father broke all the bones in his face in late January, beginning a chain of crises and consequences that forced us to put him in into a memory care facility, a psychiatric hospital for seniors, and finally a memory care facility for seniors with behavior issues.  (read)

My friend Teri died of breast cancer in early February, only a few weeks after the beginning of my father’s multiple crises. (read this and this)

Finally, my father died in early May. (read)

I wish I could tell you that everything has been sparkling and wonderful since all the crises and tragedy have stopped, but that would be a lie. On the other hand, there has been a good deal of fun since the beginning of the year.

I went to visit my daughter and her husband in Portland in late April.  Trust me, Portland is always a good time.

My mom’s best friend came to visit us for close to a month in June and we always have fun when she’s around.

My husband and I celebrated our 30th anniversary and went on a sort of ‘second honeymoon’ that allowed us to revisit portions of our first honeymoon.  Then we went to San Francisco to visit our eldest daughter and RuPaul. RuPaul is utterly adorable and a total cuddlebg!  (BTW…RuPaul is our brand new grand dog.)

All in all, the laughter and fun have mixed themselves in with the sorrow. Although I have to admit that when it comes to that laughter, the majority of it comes under one heading:

INAPPROPRIATE.

You see, the laughter that I remember best happened at the strangest times and in the least likely circumstances.

I spent quite a few hours sharing hilarious stories, watching ridiculous YouTube videos, and in general cracking bad jokes with my friend Teri’s extended family, especially with her husband Andy and both of his sisters, and Teri’s brother Patrick. There were plenty enough hours of silent vigil and daily serious, tear-filled conversations. God knows there were so many difficult issues to deal with in those final weeks. The thing is that I was already good friends with Teri’s husband Andy, and you find yourself becoming fast friends with anyone who stands side by side with you in such an intense and difficult experience, so bonding with their siblings was quick and easy.  Each visit was filled with both laughter and tears, cementing our camaraderie in the face of pain and loss.

It was the perfect demonstration of bittersweet sorrow.

After my father’s fall and initial hospitalization in January, my mom and I spent hours on the phone. At that point, we were just trying to endure what seemed to be one horrible crisis after another, whether a health crisis or the realization that my father’s dementia and behavioral issues were so severe that most memory care units would refuse to admit him. His behaviors made visits very painful for my mom and me, and it was necessary for us to spend some time every day remembering the truths we knew about my father, both the good and the bad. Remembering the good often led to remembering the silly things my father used to do, which led to plenty of laughter. We found ourselves telling the same stories night after night, comforting ourselves with memories of the good times. It made it possible to go and visit him again the next day, knowing how difficult it would be for us to handle his behaviors.

After my father died, we started preparing for the funeral and going through pictures, which led to even more stories and even more laughter.  We wanted to make sure that his funeral reflected the joy and laughter in his life, and we got help from an unexpected source. Kathy, a seriously ill friend of our family, stood up at the funeral to tell a story she began by saying “I’m not sure this is appropriate, but…”   During difficult periods in her illness, Kathy frequently needed assistance with self-care, bathing, and grooming.  My father showed up at her house one day with a hedge trimmer. When she answered the door, my father said “Hey Kathy! I heard you needed help shaving your legs!”

I can’t even write that story without giggling.

God knows that I’ve laughed enough in the last few months to relieve all the tension of the first six months of 2018, so why is it that I still can’t find my brain?

I am working with a good friend on an end-of-life education project for clergy, and I am embarrassed to admit that I am seriously behind on my deliverables. Even worse, I have little to no memory of the planning and strategizing conversations that I’ve had with her over the last six months, which makes it even harder to remember what the heck it is that I am supposed to be delivering!

This is entirely uncharacteristic of me. I am not the kind of person who commits to things and then fails to deliver.

Okay…I used to be like that about 8 – 9 years ago, and then worked hard to stop overcommitting myself, which led to a much better consistency with delivery.

I find myself embarrassed to admit that despite making sure I am not overcommitted, I am still unable to consistently deliver pretty much anything except clean laundry and the occasional witty comment. After that, it’s a crapshoot.

I guess that I had hoped that my brain would return to normal after the stress of all the crises, tragedy, and death stopped.

Nope…not even close.

Grief is a process, and I have been plenty willing to take time to be sad and to allow myself to cry. You might have noticed the time I take to be sad, because it’s on Thursdays when I should be writing.

Yeah…not many blog posts for the last few months.  Thursdays come and I find myself sitting and staring at Facebook, or at my emails, or at my abortive attempts at writing that eventually get filed away under the name “Blog post STUB.” Some of those attempts are so stubby that there are barely three lines of text. Maybe one day they’ll blossom into a blog post where I string them all together and you will get to see just how dysfunctional my mind can be.

Or you could just pay attention my sense of humor and the things that make me laugh. Do that for very long and my brain’s dysfunction becomes immediately evident.

As much as I love writing, and as much as I love sharing my thoughts (and my sick humor) with all of you, the posting may be kind of spotty for a while because I seem to have misplaced my brain and I just can’t find it anywhere.  I’ve cleaned out a few closets and one of my file drawers in the process of looking for my brain, and Goodwill has benefitted massively from this process. Unfortunately, still no brain.

If any of you find any evidence of my brain, could you email me or post a comment here and let me know where you found it?

Thanks.