The Lie of the Slippery Slope

This will be brief.

But I have been thinking about The Slippery Slope. The idea that, “once certain events are set in motion, certain other things inevitably happen.” Put in place certain policies, America will become communistic. Allow gay marriage, soon we’ll be letting people marry children and toasters. Etc.

Now, there is some wisdom in recognizing that certain things lead to other things. That, I will concede.

But as a young adult always making connections between my lived reality and things I was taught growing up, I am becoming wary and disappointed with the messages that The Slippery Slope rhetoric is imparting, especially to young people.

For example, many people in my generation who grew up in evangelical environments were exposed to a certain strain of purity culture that emphasized: be careful who you choose, and then be even more careful about your physical boundaries. kissing leads to french kissing which leads to petting which leads to sex.

And yes, physical intimacy is a great example of how it’s easy to get carried away with things once you start down The Slippery Slope. Once you kiss someone enough that you’re madly in love with, you definitely want to move on to doing more things with them. But I want to say something very loud and very clear for any reader who may happen to be of the younger variety:

There is no LITERAL slippery slope. You are an independent agent capable of saying “yes” or “no” to anything you want.

Want to kiss your boyfriend? You are a human being capable of doing that, and not moving further than that.
It might be hard to stop there.
It might be difficult dealing with HIS desires and hormones.
But (assuming you are in safe places with people who respect you) you are 100% capable of removing yourself from an uncomfortable situation, saying “no, not right now,” or creating new lines in the sand for your relationship.

And I fear that The Slippery Slope argument, perhaps, might give young minds the impression that they do not possess such agency.

But you do. Please please know that you do.

Yes, make wise choices.

Yes, consider the consequences of what you choose to do or say. Consider them deeply and thoughtfully.

You can always say no, not tonight, not this far.

You don’t have to believe pedophilia is OK to think gay marriage should be legalized.

You don’t have to have sex just because you’re holding hands (or kissing, or snuggling, or ANYTHING THAT’S NOT SEX).

You’re bigger than The Slippery Slope. You can jump the freak off the sled anytime you want to.

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Sociology and the Way People Work

1. //

I only took one Sociology class in my undergraduate career, though I would have taken more if I’d had the chance. Even so, I feel like I learned and got to discuss some really important things. In that class I developed a deep reverence and empathy for lawmakers and government officials, simply because I realized I would never, ever want to do their jobs. In that class I learned a little bit about how culture is shaped, and how things change, and how people react to different aspects of society, and how that leads to more changes.

I distinctly remember us discussing the family unit. Why do human families interact the way they do? Why do we form life-long bonds in ways that so few members of the animal kingdom do?

The simple answer is: our babies.

Human babies develop so slowly, and humans learn so much about how to take care of themselves from their parents and caregivers. This is not how baby frogs and toads work. This is not how giraffes work. Many animals begin to reproduce by the time our human babies are toddling or crawling around, not even yet able to speak.

Whether or not we believe in a higher power or deity, the fact remains that this is how human beings grow and mature. Families must stay together, in some form or fashion, in order to raise healthy children and propagate the species.

2. //

I just read an interview with a strong, upright, compassionate doctor and abortion provider. I so respect his humanity and his desire to help women, and I so respect others who share his opinions and his desire to help others.

But I ache for how much we have forgotten how humans work, and how families work. I ache that we put ourselves in situations where life is created, and unprepared for, and unwanted. I don’t believe that marriage = sex = babies = Glorify God = end of story. I may, at the end of the day, have a biologically childless marriage, myself. I would never, never tell anyone that their ability to have children is what makes their sex valid, or their marriage valid.

But still – still I ache over the separation of “rights” and “how human beings work” in many, many situations that lead to abortion.

Maybe I’m coloured by my own experiences.

You see, I know two girls who got pregnant when they didn’t want to be. (I know more, I’m sure, but for now I’ll stick with this)

One girl was young, a teenager, but had the most loving family in the world. A life-giving, we’ll-stick-it-out-through-anything family, a young family with a home and open arms. A family trying to follow Jesus, who never yet rejected this daughter for any of her previous mishaps and terrible choices. And yet, though her family explicitly offered her all the help, and all the love and desire for the baby she carried, this girl got an abortion. I don’t know what she was thinking. She was scared, I’m sure. Perhaps she didn’t want to experience the pain of childbirth. Perhaps she didn’t want her parents to raise a reminder of her own broken relationships. Her mother cried over the baby so much, the baby who was already loved and wanted and now sacrificed on the altar of Separation of Recreation and Actual Bodily Functions.

Now, the second girl was young as well – in college. I’m sure her circumstances were not too different from the first, but I cannot say. She’d made mistakes, she’d made poor choices. But this time she didn’t insist on her rights, and she put the child up for adoption after carrying her to term. She faced judgment and glares and tsks, but she did what she did and moved on with her life. Someone else, some family, now rejoices in that baby daughter.

My experience taints the emotions I experience over the idea of abortion. I would never, never condemn a woman faced with the agonizing choice of an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy. But all the unwanted pregnancies I’ve known about happened to girls who should have taken that sociology class.

{{Does it seem like I’m trying to preach against having sex before marriage? I’m not advocating for new laws or universal codes of conduct no matter your belief system. But I’ve written before about the heartache that sexual choices have caused – in my own life, and the lives of others I know.}}

It’s not about “GOD SAYS SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE IS WRONG.”

It’s, Precious sister, things happen that we cannot prepare for. Actions have reactions and sex sometimes makes babies. Why, why would you take the risk with an unfaithful ex-boyfriend? With a boy not even out of his parents’ house? With a man who says he loves you but isn’t able to care for you?

It’s about knowing you can deal with a situation before you do certain things.

{does that make me ill-fitting and heartless? I KNOW abortion-situations aren’t all this way. I know that. But some of them are and it turns my stomach in knots.}

I’ve been brought to the altar so often recently, dragging my rights behind me. Because I don’t serve a God who insists on rights – his own or anyone’s. I serve a God who gave up his “rights” and reached out to me. I serve a Christ who asks that I do the same. The religious right and the progressive left in this country both demand rights for their various causes, for various people.

And yeah, we should give rights to others. I absolutely 100% agree with that.

But it’s still my job to lay down my rights, even once they’re given to me.

//Is that just getting the gift but never opening it? Is my tear-stained gut even making any sense?//

Can Men and Women Be Friends?

I get weary of hearing that question. I get even wearier of hearing some people answer, “no,” or a “yes, but-” with a thousand qualifying factors, like the prohibition of ever being alone with a member of the opposite sex. I guess I’m not going to say what anyone else hasn’t said before, but to anyone who struggles with this question, I just want to let you know:

I exist. The answer is simply an unqualified “yes.” To deny the possibility that men and women can enjoy plantonic friendships is to look me in the eye and invalidate my existence, my experiences.

What I’m NOT saying is that this is normal (in this, or possibly any, culture). I cannot promise that your opposite-sex friendships will look any particular way. I cannot even know whether you, yourself, are capable of living in platonic intimacy with someone who belongs to the sex you find attractive. I would never be so presumptuous. Every person is different, and so many factors play into such situations, like childhood, hobbies, school, parenting, siblings, and more.

All I’m trying to do is just clarify that yes, I exist. This “mysterious” and “debatable” topic isn’t as mysterious as we like to think. It’s just hard. It’s just rare. But just because Sally and Harry couldn’t keep out of bed, doesn’t mean there’s no hope for the rest of us.

[As one author recently put it, I am not a sex-fueled robot.]

I guess I just think my story is really beautiful, and I hope more and more people become open to stories like mine.

1: I grew up with brothers. I know many people who never experienced the joys of opposite-sex siblings, and that always made me sad. I think there is something so special, so human, about learning to interact early with different sorts of people. Boys and girls don’t take the same journeys growing up, for better or for worse. They often do different chores, attend different extra-curricular activities, and deal with different things during puberty and the transition to adulthood. To learn how to respectfully, lovingly, joke, touch, play, write, talk with a boy helped make me who I am. I absolutely wouldn’t be Me if I hadn’t grown up with big, creative, loving brothers.

2: Home. Because I was homeschooled, family meant a lot. Because I grew up in and around church, I learned that the body of Christ was like a family. I spent so much time at home, at other people’s homes, and loved the feel, smell, taste, of just Being Family. When people asked me to “feel at home,” I learned to feel at home. I learned to see boys in houses as brothers; to not get offended at their sass, to roll my eyes at their silliness, to play video games with them, to listen when they needed an ear, to give back as much spunk as they gave me. Because that’s what you do with brothers, right?

3: Being a company. I started doing theatre when I was thirteen, and there’s a reason why subcultures of dance and drama know more about intimacy without romance than the average person. In high school theatre, I learned to hold hands with my company members, to dance with them, to pray with them, to give a much-needed back rub (even amidst the consternation of select mothers). We napped, cried, prayed, laughed, sang together. Sure, we tiptoed through some of it with awkwardness. And we definitely were told to “avoid the appearance of evil” more than we should have been. Because our hearts were young and noble and our hands sought to help and hold, not molest or defame. Sometimes we listened and obeyed. Sometimes we rolled our eyes and gave bear hugs anyway.

My aunt came to pick me up from a rehearsal one time and was taken aback by all the hugs. “Do you have to hug every single person before you leave?”

Well, yes. Of course.

It was a culture of hugs that we cultivated. A culture of love and silliness and memories and inside jokes. Sure, eventually some of us paired off romantically. But a pretty significantly low number, what with all the hugging and loving and being together. The hugging never led to the pairings. The specific attraction between the specific people had more to do with that, I think.

In high school, one of my dearest friends was a boy a little older than I. For much of the summer, I spent a lot of my time working part-time right in his neighborhood, so after I was relieved from my duties we met at a stopsign between our respective locations and gave each other a huge hug. Then we took a walk, or played on the playground, or went back to his house.

Part-way through the summer, his family went through a major upset. His world started crumbling at the foundations, and he was lost in a whirlwind of questions, confusions, heartache, and tears. So after we met at the stopsign and hugged, we normally walked to a park bench and I put my arms around him and just let him cry. Weeks of this. Weeks of whispered words of comfort. Weeks of wet faces touching in solidarity. Weeks of his scent on my clothes, his tears on my shirt. Hours and hours sitting in the sunshine in an empty playground, talking about heartache, encouragement, or just not talking at all and holding hands instead.

He’s the baby of his family, accustomed to a family full of arms and hands and faces. He was always particularly adept at connecting emotionally with girls, and not so he could take advantage of them. That summer when I was fifteen and he was seventeen, I laughed with him and sistered him and sometimes we talked about the girl he was in love with.

I don’t know very many adults in my life who, had they been a bird at that park, would have been 100% OK with our afternoons. Not because we did anything wrong, or broke anything sacred. But because boys and girls can’t be friends like two girls can, I guess. Because touch and intimacy are somehow thought to be elements of Marriage Only, or at the very least, gateways to unholy sexual behaviors.

I loved this boy more than almost anything. But never “like that.” Even now that we’ve both married other people, I regret none of that summer. I cherish it and know that my arms were there for him when he desperately needed them. I rejoice that my time was well-spent, and a fragile young man who might have had his faith all wrecked was able to remember that he is loved no matter what.

Aside from my husband, my closest, most long-standing best friend has been a boy (though I suppose he’s mostly a man now). When we were young, making that sometimes-awkward tween transition, we wrote letters and emails and played video games and dreamed. We danced and did shows and made a box full of memories that still sits in my closet. He was the eldest in his young family, struggling to know right things, behave right ways, and still be himself. He walked a fine line between caring and noticing the opinions of those he respected, and being oblivious to (or simply ignoring) the judgments of others. He half-reluctantly became friends with the limelight. He wrestled intensely with how attraction fit into his penchant for making friends with girls (if, indeed, it did). He stubbornly wore glasses instead of contacts so girls wouldn’t fall in love with his pretty blue eyes, and he got in a lot of trouble for his tendency to “woo” his new, young, female friends and then innocently move onto the next new friend to be pursued, leaving a trail of broken hearts.

All this …and there was always me, pestering him and hugging him and sometimes holding his hand on the couch while we watched movies or talked about the latest Life Struggle. There were long delayed good nights inching toward the front door, with muted laughter and goodbye-kisses on the hair. People thought from time to time that we were an item, I suppose, but when asked we clarified, “No, my brother.” “No, my sister.” Eventually people stopped noticing, caring. Eventually people caught on to the possibly unusual wavelength we lived on. Our relationship, a strange combination of banter, mockery, tenderness, loyalty, nerdiness, intimacy, and family-sharing, has been one of the most treasured parts of my existence.

And it wasn’t that gender or sex was ignored or didn’t matter. He’s a boy and I’m a girl and that’s important. It’s part of who we are. We wouldn’t have the same sort of friendship if he were a woman, or I a man. Skirts and dancing and strong arms and intuition and different perspectives helped define our relationship. We dealt with different lenses, different bodies, different experiences, different frustrations, different struggles. But those things were factors, not foundations. Those things were peripheral, and not core. Those things were, are, variables to discuss and explore, not boundaries or fences that keep us from love or friendship.

I don’t want to make you feel lacking if you haven’t this same story. I don’t want to say that it’s possible for everyone to have such stories, such friends. I don’t even want to say I’ve never broken hearts, never make unwise choices in my opposite-sex friendship, never taken anything for granted when I should have thought more about it.

But I know, I know, that I have experienced glorious agape, soul-closeness, with boys who never wanted to undress me. So please believe me, believe others, when they say it’s possible. We may be few, but we exist.

(And it’s actually kind of nice over here.)

{face the music and the music is that we can’t look past our own noses}

I long for a less barbaric world. Where people make sacrifices for the greater good, instead of fight tooth and nail for comfortable, quick legislation. I long for a world selfless enough to abandon IFV, and instead invest in (real) adoption and foster care. I long for a world dignified enough to look back on our abortion days with shame and disgust.

Fact: Abortion does not save women from poverty or unwanted children.

Adoption does those things. If you haven’t noticed, this country doesn’t have orphanages. We don’t have rooms lined with cribs of unwanted babies. People want babies. People spend years fighting and paying hundreds of thousands of dollars so they can adopt a 2 month old instead of a 2 year old.

Don’t feed me statistics about how unwanted babies have worse lives, therefore, abortion. People. want. babies. You don’t want yours? Great. Someone else does.

What abortion does (and I’m talking most cases, not rare or fringe medical cases) is save a woman from the shame and discomfort of a 40 week pregnancy.

That’s what we fight for. That’s what abortion provides – the only thing it provides that the adoption system does not.

It provides a way to hide from our brokenness (“My parents will kick me out,” “He’d leave me,” “I’d be so embarrassed,” “I could never look my family in the face,” “My church wouldn’t understand”). But it doesn’t erase that brokenness. It just lets it lie unexposed.

It provides an out from the natural consequences to our actions. Just as if I am sick, and I don’t want the illness, I am expected to endure the time of treatment in order to reach healing. But endure pregnancy (natural consequence of sex) when your plan is to give the child away? Unheard of! Cruel! Nothing a civilized woman should have to endure! So we rip away the period of waiting, of “treatment,” of sacrifice, and in so doing we rob another family of a potential child, and we rob that child of the life it never had a chance to live.

Just, for the love of God, you’re giving me tiny panic attacks every time you say that abortion helps women in some magnificent unique way. No one in this country is ever forced to raise a child if she doesn’t want to (see: Juno. It was a pretty popular movie.)

And, while I’m on a tirade, families who want children need to raise the bar, too. Maybe you should try to adopt locally, try to offer options to women in your midst who would otherwise abort. I don’t know. I don’t know how all that works. All I know is, it’s disgusting to visit foster centers, and hear representatives ache for someone to offer their home to an 8 or 9 year old child who is cycling endlessly through the system….all the while we pour millions of dollars into a “maybe this IVF will get me pregnant” system. It kind of grosses me out, to be perfectly honest.

Isn’t ignoring the actual needs, and artificially seeking to please ourselves, pretty much as barbaric as abortion? Isn’t it a little criminal to try and manufacture some kind of perfect bubble while this country so desperately needs families to get their hands a little dirty with something like foster care?

I just want to make the world less barbaric. Less selfish. But every side is clawing for self and it makes it hard to breathe.

Not Another Modesty Blog

I have convictions about clothes. I have lines and standards and preferences.

But.

I’m going to go out on a limb and admit that, in my mind, there isn’t a good answer to the clothing issue. I won’t call it the modesty issue, because we’ve warped the idea of modesty in our minds to mean “how much skin girls show with their clothes” which is absolutely unbiblical and narrowminded. I’ll get to that presently. My introduction is, however, that nobody wins everything and everybody loses a little. All the time.

As many have said – men lust even after women covered in fabric from head to toe. Lust will happen. No matter what’s going on, if a guy is lusting and obsessing over sex, it really doesn’t matter what a girl is wearing. Guys lose. But, at the same time, many guys do seem to be relieved and helped by certain modes of dress. Then there’s this pressure that builds up for girls to monitor their outfits like hawks, stay out of swimming pools, and convince themselves that they must be responsible for someone else’s sin. Girls lose.

Everybody loses. Somebody is going to lose no matter what is happening, what you’re wearing, or what you say, every single day. You just can’t help it. A good example is my husband, who claims to be feminist and is big on empowering people. Even he, when he read a specifically sex/body-themed article by a female blogger, confessed that the graphic wording made him uncomfortable and gave him mental pictures that he didn’t want. He didn’t bash the article; it was on an important topic and one that many people needed to read. And we discussed how the author had made the choice that anyone’s discomfort (what some might choose to call stumbling) was worth it, in order to reach the people who desperately needed to hear her perspective.

So we talked about it, ate dinner, and got over it.

Here are some things I think we might need to start teaching our boys to do:

1. Accept and Appreciate the Beauty of the Female Body.

[do you ever wonder if we’ve created this obsession with lust in our boys by constantly telling them that they have a lust obsession…?]

I personally think human bodies are beautiful. Pretty much every Renaissance painter agrees with me. Artists in general have a marvelous, gracious way of looking at the human body. Painters, sculpters, actors, and dancers learn to separate the human body, and even human sexuality, from an actual sex act, or lustful, greedy thoughts. They have to do this in order to further in their craft! If a dancer gawked and obsessed about sex every time he or she saw the human form, insanity would soon follow. Similarly, if these artists were too reserved or prudish about physicality and sexuality, they wouldn’t be able to tell their stories properly. They wouldn’t be able to achieve artistic distance and build beautiful things.

Maybe artists are special, and maybe this is an unfair thing to expect of everyone. But I still think it’s possible to introduce beauty, softness, & loveliness to boys, when it comes to girls – without encouraging them to become sex fanatics. Cultivate an appreciation of beauty, and God’s masterful creation. This, of course, would be taught along with the concepts of bodily autonomy, agency, and personal responsibility. Yes, girls are beautiful. No, you do not get to touch them without their consent. Yes, certain parts of her body are special and privileged – just as parts of your body are. So hands off and don’t stare.

But it’s ok to notice her body. It’s ok to think she’s beautiful. It’s ok to admire her, think about her. Just remember that she is not yours. Having sex with her in your mind, jealously seething over her, that’s lust – and that’s not a good place to be. Jesus said it’s better to get rid of your eye altogether than to consistently allow it to pull you into sin and the objectification of others.

2. Honestly, Learn to Get Over It.

This might seem selfish or stupid, but it’s been my experience with life that every single person needs to learn to generally “get over” stuff. If I’m a highly visual woman, every attractive shirtless guy at the pool is going to be eye candy for me, and has the potential to be a distraction. But you know? You just move on with your life. Like I explained earlier, everybody loses. I am going to lose sometimes. I am going to be made uncomfortable, I am going to wander into a mental no-zone, and -as long as nobody is touching me or infringing on me actively- it’s 100% my issue to deal with.

And you know what? Learning to get over stuff helps you do it better, easier. Constantly thinking, “oh my gosh, if he would JUST put on a shirt and stop reminding me of how hot he is, then I’d be fine” puts the responsibility on someone who is just adhering to a normal social more. Choosing to notice beauty, accept that it’s not mine, and look away – that puts responsibility squarely on my own shoulders. I’m a big girl. I can deal with it.

And next time, or the next time, maybe it won’t be a problem at all. Maybe “getting over it” can help me learn to accept that beautiful things exist without requiring gawking.

Now. Onto the actual issue at hand.

Clothes? Clothes are the red herring of the modesty issue. Actual modesty is so much harder than clothes. 

There are a few Scripture passages that deal with the issue of modesty. I would like to present and discuss them.

[What’s interesting is that the typical ‘modesty’ blog written to young girls doesn’t have an appropriate Bible verse to pull from, that actually espouses the message it puts forth….] 

Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion (Proverbs 11:22).

This verse speaks to the conduct of women: be wise, be discreet. Even a beautiful woman (even a well-covered woman) whose attitude is wrong is like a pig flaunting jewelry.

Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful (1 Peter 3:1-5).

Again, these verses speak to appropriate, modest behavior. What are we as women to pursue, to exhibit? Purity. Reverence. A “gentle and quiet spirit” – one confident in the love of God. And yes, it’s true, this passage does speak to clothing. It says that if you rely on your hair, your jewelry, or your clothing for your beauty, you’re drawing from a dry well. Braided hair, gold jewelry, and fine clothes in this passage denote wealth, power, and social position. Don’t let those things define you. Don’t be the woman who is remembered for her flaunting her status. We are to flaunt the grace and goodness of God!

“Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”–but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).

We have great freedom, but not everything is good for us, and we’re not meant to be mastered by things. Our bodies, bottom line, are meant to reflect God’s holiness and his artistic, masterful creation. God loves our bodies, created them, wants them, and doesn’t want them abused. That means a lot of things to a lot of people. Girls abuse their bodies by hiding in frumpy clothes out of shame, by cutting themselves, by trying to get attention from the wrong people. Men abuse bodies when they encourage those behaviors. Sometimes honoring your body is going to relate to what you’re wearing. But you know what? Not always. And the bottom line always needs to be honor and respect. Those words are not innately connected with the word “bikini.”

I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God (1 Timothy 2:8-10).

This verse again echoes the clothing exhortation, that a woman’s outward finery not be used as a crutch in lieu of  spiritual qualities. This word “modest” in verse 9 implies the prevention of a shameful act; reverence, awareness of consequences for actions; restraint. Extensive commentary on this verse can be found here.

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God (Titus 2:3-5).

Again, women are encouraged to be virtuous, self-controlled, productive, kind, and peacemaking. Nowhere in these verses is there language about the appropriate amount of skin to show at a waterpark, or that girls are held responsible for anyone’s lust but their own.

If we’re going to talk about modesty being a “heart issue” – let’s actually talk about heart issues. Let’s talk about actual immodesty: attention hogs, tactless remarks, rudeness, and obscenity. Selfishness is immodesty. Gossip is immodesty.

Immodesty is about drawing attention to yourself when you should be loving others and reflecting Christ.

Let’s talk about that.

(this is now part of the Modesty Synchroblog!)

What Has Fear to do with Faith? Part 2: The “Other” / God’s Breath

I said a while back that I was intending to write a series of posts on the subject of Fear. I still have those intentions. I have a draft saved on Tribalism, as we speak, but first I want to spin off that and talk briefly about

“other.”

We tend to fear the “other,” and that has no place in the Christian faith.

Fear, in the Christian faith, has to do with recognition of the bigness, holiness, and awe-inspiring presence of an all-powerful CreatorGod. “Fear of the LORD” is complex. It’s more than reverence, but still based in love, sometimes terror; not always safe, but always good. It’s too much for a blog post.

But that’s not the fear of man. That’s not the fear of “other” – to which we are so often prone.

::Term Definition: the “other” is something foreign. It’s something we didn’t grow up with, something that makes us uncomfortable, something different from the mainstream, powerful, or normal.::

Can I be a nerd, and talk about yoga real fast?

First off, I’ve been practicing yoga for 3-4 years. I’ve practiced it studios, gyms, my home, and even in an academic setting, so I feel I have a bit of “cred” in this area.

Ask any practitioner (or yogi), what is yoga about? and you’ll probably get a slightly different answer each time. It’s about a lot of things, and there are a thousand different components, branches, traditions, schools. Yoga is big. It’s about the body. It’s about the mind. It’s about the spirit. It’s about the connectivity of it all, about how we relate to each other, about how we view and treat ourselves, about how we view God and the spiritual realm. In my own practice, it’s been about recognizing that I can’t compartmentalize parts of myself. I’m one thing, and every part of me connects and has value. For me, it’s been a way of remembering common, shared humanity – about the importance of respect and peace. For me, it’s been a way to settle, cast off distractions, and give more of myself to God.

But yoga means so many things to so many people – and people of all different sorts of religions practice yoga. My first yoga instructor told us that yoga isn’t a religion: it’s a lifestyle that can help channel and strengthen your religion. Yes, there are highly spiritual aspects that focus on meditation, openings in the heart, mind, and body, and the idea of “nirvana” or oneness with the world and with the divine. But that is going to, by its very nature, mean something different to every person. And to a Christian yogi, there is nothing heretical about opening oneself up to meditate on, and commune with, God.

Unfortunately for western Christians, yoga is eastern. Yoga sprung from a non-Christian culture. Yoga is “other.” And western Christian leaders are absolutely terrified of such things.

E.W. Jackson, currently running for Virginia’s Lt. Governer, has stated that meditation/yoga is:

“about finding a mantra and striving for nirvana. . . . The purpose of such meditation is to empty oneself. . . . [Satan] is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul and possess it. That is why people serve Satan without ever knowing it or deciding to, but no one can be a child of God without making a decision to surrender to him. Beware of systems of spirituality which tell you to empty yourself.”

Popular Christian leader Mark Driscoll straight up claims that,

“yoga is demonic.”

“yoga is Hinduism.”

“it’s absolute paganism.”

“if you just sign up for a little yoga class, you’re signing up for a little demon class.”

(::that thing you smell? fear.::)

Needless for any responsible, self-possessed yogi to say, these men obviously know nothing about yoga. These men doubtless desire to protect their followers from evil, from temptation, and from wrong influences. However, from this noble desire has sprung the reality: they teach their followers to fear “other” in hate and ignorance. Because they fear something, and because for whatever reason they have not taken the time to learn about something, they teach others to continue in that same fear and ignorance.

Can yoga be abused? Anything can be abused.

Can the eastern roots of Hinduism, and its connection to yoga, be distracting or unhealthy for a Christian yogi? Of course. Practicing certain elements or lifestyles of yoga (of the thousands, and thousands of variations) would not be appropriate, helpful, or necessary for a Christian.

Like anything in this life, we look for truth and goodness through the revealed nature of Christ.

But, you know what can be found in the practice, lifestyle, and mindset of yoga?

Do you know what the eightfold path of Raja (or Royal) Yoga includes?

Abstaining from earthly distractions. Non-harming. Truth. Non-stealing. Chastity. Non-greed.

Purity. Study of Scriptures. Surrender to God.

The physical practice of steady pose, posture, and seat.

Control of vital energy; awareness of one’s breath.

Concentration of the mind. Meditation.

Did you know that? That doesn’t sound too “other” after all, does it?

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward (Mark 9:38-41).

*

Excepting C.S. Lewis’s portrayal of Aslan, I cannot think of any Christian teacher, author, or leader (in popular, layman’s culture anyway) highlighting the beauty and importance of God’s breath. In the Creation narrative, the world may have come into existence through God’s voice and his words – but man was created through his breath. Jesus breathed on his disciples to impart his spirit. In fact, the Hebrew word ruach means both breath and spirit – thus linking the life forces of our bodies and our souls in a mysterious and majestic way.

God created body; God created breath. He is not a god of Gnosticism – which despises the physical elements of life. God made us from ruach and earth, and I think we forget that in our pursuit of the spiritual. But it’s all connected.

That’s why the yoga mindset, the yoga lifestyle, could be such a powerful tool in a Christian’s life. Because the only base requirement to practice yoga is to breathe. It always comes back to the breath (as, again, any yogi will tell you). Physical poses? They work with your breath. Meditation? Work with your breath. Awareness and control of breath is the centerpoint of yoga, and it’s a brilliant and beautiful metaphor of the ruach.

::see what fear can crush, can kill? fear stops breath. fear stops life. don’t let it.::

Things That Make Me Want to Cry

For the last couple of days, social media has been exploding with opinions about supreme court hearings, about Proposition 8, about DOMA. In the midst of the arguing, the profile pictures, the debates, and the blog posts, an article caught my eye. This article, in fact, about child sex-trafficking in the city where I currently live. That’s where my heart went, in the midst of the swirling vortex of same-sex marriage discussions. It went to these young girls, not far from where I sit at my desk right now, who are being abducted or enticed from their innocence and put into prostitution. Fourteen, thirteen, twelve year old girls.

So I decided to say something about it on my facebook.

Children are being prostituted. Not “there,” but here – in Virginia. In Richmond. Not sure how you can make a difference? Mothers and fathers: train up your boys to love and respect women. Show them humility and selflessness in your marriage, your parenting, your relationships. Sex trafficking isn’t a problem of women, it’s a problem of men. And it will only truly stop when men stop paying to have sex with 14 year old girls. Let’s raise up a generation of men who protect girls, not abuse them.

That’s what I said. And many peopled liked my status. And then the arguments started.

{Yes. My own poor word choices, or tone, or opinion, or perhaps just the fact that I shared it at all, was enough to start one of those fabled facebook debates. Not what I would have anticipated, when so many other people were posting about actual controversy elsewhere.}

Several people who read my comment expressed offense at my word choice. Specifically when I stated, “Sex-trafficking isn’t a problem of women, it’s a problem of men.” What a simplistic statement that erases all fault in the female race, they said; women are active participants in sex-trafficking too, they said; you can’t blame this all on men.

And for my simplicity and brevity, I acknowledge their offense. However, I cannot and will not validate, give my approval to, the offense which was taken. And this is why.

{Time for a little bit of my story; a little bit of my heart}

I have always had a heart for boys. Anyone who knows me, even in a casual way, can tell you this. As a little girl, I almost idolized my older brother’s friends. I would have rather spent time with the older guys than with my own peers. Growing up, it was always easier for me to relate to (and love) the boys than the girls. As I moved into my late teens and early twenties, and became a more big-sisterly, motherly figure in my social groups, it was always so easy for me to reach out to the boys. I wanted to watch out for them. I wanted to love them, teach them, laugh with them, tussle with them. As a director of youth performances, nothing gave me more pleasure than circling up with a crew of boys for a rare male-only scene. They make me smile.

Even now, as I am unsure if I’m called to even have children in the future, the daydream of a house full of boys someday is a pleasant one.

But oh, the things that boys do sometimes break my heart. I wince when I see a bully, or hear a story of a little girl who was raped by two teen boys. Boys are so strong; I know that boys can be  better than that.

A little while ago I was reflecting on the sex industry, and how massive it is. How it’s like a beast with a thousand tentacles, foaming at the mouth. Overwhelmingly, since ancient history, the majority of “clients” or “customers” in the sex industry have been men, paying to have sex with women and girls. And when you look at history, hear stories of women, read novels like Les Miserables, it breaks your heart for these women. Doesn’t it? I cannot be the only one who looks at Fantine and recognizes that society broke her into something she never wanted to be.

The overwhelming, vast majority of women who went into prostitution as a trade did not do so because they thought it would be a fun, sexy time. Do we think this? Have we gotten so obsessed with “selling your body for sex is wrong” that we forget to use proper analytical skills to even figure out WHY someone would do such a thing? Look through the pages of the Bible, or other ancient texts, and talk to me about the many jobs, occupations, and careers that were open to women. Read through a Jane Austen novel and show me how women could survive without the blessing of men. I am not a crazy-raging-feminist. I don’t even use the “feminist” label to describe myself. But I know how to read a book, I know how to study a culture, and you and I both know that we live in a sinful, broken world full of sinful, broken social structures. Many social structures were put into place with good intentions, such as reflecting biblical principles, keeping money and power in the hands of decent, educated people to ensure order, and more. But social structures get abused, they fall into decay, and sometimes they just flat-out oppress people.

Women, in so many cultures, for such a long time, were looked at (and legally treated) as second-class citizens who couldn’t inherit money, couldn’t testify in court, and couldn’t hold most occupations outside their own home. In a society like this, where it is so easy to toss aside a woman, what is an abandoned or impoverished woman good for except to keep doing what she’s always been told is her job: sex?

This is not me saying “selling your body for sex is OK if you need to stay alive.”

What I’m saying is, God has always commanded his people to care for orphans, widows, aliens, and the poor – and we have always done a miserable job of that. When we do miserable jobs, miserable things happen. Prostitution is one of those things. It’s tragic, it’s heartbreaking, it’s sickening, and it’s a sin of society*. I will not be the privileged white American who berates a prostitute for all her sins, and all the ways she’s enticing her brothers to sin.

Because there is a difference between doing a horrible thing because you have no money, no opportunity to get decent work, or no way to support family or children…and doing a horrible thing because you’re horny.

There is a big difference, and that is something I will not debate.

Moving backwards a bit to my own personal reflections, I was thinking about how men (the indisputable demographic who normally pays for sex) continue to pay for it. They continue to walk into brothels and hotels. They continue to call that number. They continue to look at those women (whether they’re fifty or fifteen) as service providers, and not human beings with a story.

{Have you ever watched Taxi Driver?}

It’s sickening. There are young girls, so young, their bodies not even developed, sold again and again every day. Yes, many money handlers are women. Yes, some women pay for sex with young boys. But you cannot look at the world and say, “yes, the main problem is women having sex with boys.” It’s not. You cannot look at the world and say, “this would stop if women stopped running brothels.” It wouldn’t.

Because supply and demand is a thing. No matter who does the supplying – the demand is the problem. And the demand is there. I can’t fathom it. In this world, there exists a demand to buy thirteen year old girls so men can have sex with them.

And that breaks my heart.

So yes, I am calling out (and will unashamedly call out) men as the problem. Is it generalizing? Yes – of course women are involved. In the way that when your house is infested with termites and crumbling at the support beams, sometimes you’ll see a roach or a beetle. I don’t say this because I think women are always right (they’re not). I don’t say this because I think I’m a victim of society (I’m not). I don’t say this because I hate men (that couldn’t be farther from the truth).

I say it because I ache to see my friends, peers, siblings, raise up beautiful baby boys into the loving, glorious men I know that they can be. I’ve seen men protect, defend, cherish, cry, and love. I know what men are capable of. And I can’t stand the thought of a man (a man who was once a impressionable, innocent boy) every day, walking into a dim room and paying to have sex with a girl young enough to be his daughter.

My little nephews, just four and five years old, can be better than that. Your sons, brothers, can be better than that. And if the men who live in my city, one by one, stopped paying for sex with children, then all those people trying to sell them would soon be out of a job. Fewer children would be snared or kidnapped. Fewer lives would be crushed.

So. Feel free to take offense at my opinion. Feel free to protest that I’m giving all the blame to men, letting women off the hook, and have unfair, biased arguments and thoughts. I cannot stop you from being offended, although I certainly mean no offense to anyone.

Although it does make me want to cry when I say, “children are being bought and sold in your home town” and all you can think is, “I am offended at where you place the blame.” Because where I place the blame doesn’t matter. What matters is becoming better people, a better society – becoming more like Jesus.

Jesus wants the little ones to come unto him. I just want to do my best (whatever that looks like) to make sure nothing ugly gets in their way.

*If “sin of society” seems like a confusing or unfamiliar concept, this may be because Western culture has put a lot of emphasis on the individual as it relates to God. YHWH of the Hebrew Scriptures (and Jesus in the gospels, and Paul in his epistles) functioned with Israel (/Christians) mostly as a group – speaking favour over goodness and punishing/convicting society for its sin.