Two women seeking equality in a state where some couples are more equal than others.

Monday, August 31, 2015

In Defense of: Christianity's Irrationality

Christianity isn't rational. Believing in a Triune God isn't rational. The narrative told in the Bible requires suspended disbelief and background in different cultures and interpretation of history. I couldn't see that as a child, maybe because developmentally children can't see that, or maybe because I couldn't see anything other than what was in front of my face.

I was taught "apologetics," which is basically training in how to proselytize and defend the Bible, Jesus, Christianity, etc when people called them out as irrational or objected to agreeing with me that Christianity is the best belief system. And in the process of that training, I was also taught how to poke holes in other belief systems, how to show their irrationality front and center. These other beliefs seemed ridiculous to me. The doctrine of abrogation used in Islam appeared preposterous and untenable, for instance.

Until I started looking at the Bible and church teachings and stories I'd heard over and over and oversimplified and normalized since childhood. Until Rebecca (who didn't grow up in the church and hadn't heard some of the obscure Bible stories) and I started reading Genesis. Until people started applying Bible verses to my relationship with my helpmate to try to break us up or withhold our rights. Until I started seeing the divisions between branches and denominations of Christianity, even though all agreed that the Bible is infallible and could use apologetics to "prove" it. 

And at some point, gradually, like my creeping mint plant, the realization swept over me:

Believing in Jesus isn't rational. It's not supposed to be convenient. It's not supposed to be normal. Setting aside self interest is hard. Laying down our burdens and control is hard. Interpretation of a canon written across hundreds of years is hard. 

And that's why arguing people into it, as I was taught to do with my proselytization training, has never worked to bring anyone I know closer to Jesus. 

That's not to say it's impossible to bring people closer to Jesus. But every time I've seen someone step closer, it's because of the irrationality. It's the self sacrifice they see that's inconvenient and countercultural. It's in the mess and the joy during sorrow. It's not because of the safe Jesus or the tame domestic Jesus. A friend in high school who has since been following Jesus admitted, well after, that he got to know my sister and me because we smiled. All the time. Genuinely. And he didn't get why but he wanted to.

I've had better conversation and better love for people by seeing the mess. By asking questions and listening and looking for the image of God in the midst of brokenness. 

And in our current culture, maybe looking for beauty in brokenness is the most irrational of all.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Decade Later: Most of What I Learned was not in Class

That's not to say I haven't learned in class. I've been immensely blessed with a high quality academic experience. The foundation in educational psychology, pedagogy, language, and cognitive development has allowed me to do much, both professionally and personally.

But the ten year anniversary of my start at Michigan State has me reflecting on a lot. I met Rebecca ten years ago this month. I couldn't tell you what date. At the time, starting college seemed like the next thing, the societal expectation, the means to start a career as an educator. It was a big deal and a big transition, but I met a lot of people and had no good way to know who would transform my entire world and who was meant for just a moment, and I didn't know what to pay attention to.

Rebecca and I didn't become good friends until partway through freshman year, when some dorm floor drama pushed us together. I had never met someone who literally grew up in the country on a working farm. East Lansing felt small compared to the rolling suburbs I grew up in, and huge and loud to her.

If I had known then what I would survive and learn and see and do in the next decade, I probably would have packed up and returned home. I know she would have. I wouldn't have believed it if you'd told me. I had a five year plan and still believed those work out. 

That plan, and the subsequent one, didn't include leaving my student teaching year because I realized I wasn't meant for elementary education full time. Or falling in love with a woman. Or marrying one. Or the kind of grad school I've done or not working in public education. Definitely didn't include losing a brother to suicide. Or losing a chosen family member and a grandmother in law right after.

If you'd told me that would happen, or that I would survive it, or that I could ever feel like I was thriving again after, I wouldn't have believed you. If I had believed you, I would have crawled into a hole, paralyzed with fear.

And if it hadn't happened, I never would have known how much grief and joy and anger and hope my heart could hold. Some of you have told me I'm brave. Sometimes I feel that way, but most days, I think I did what anyone would do if the last ten years had happened to them. 

Makes me wonder what's in the next ten. 

PS for those of you who know something is up, there's still an announcement coming up, but I no longer have any time table at all. Might have something to do with my reflective mood though.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Some Straight People: I love you, but I don't get you sometimes

Okay, so I've explained that using friends from a certain group to protect against accusations of prejudice that group is tokenism, and I promised that was a setup for another post.

This post has been tumbling in my brain for several months now, but I knew it would strike people as judgy. So the previous post is intended not to condemn me or absolve me, but just to frame things.

I have lots of straight friends. This is an objective fact. Given that straight people are a majority of the population, it would be hard for anything else to be true. I also have gay friends, many of them, mostly that I've met in other ways, and we both happen to be gay. This post is about some of the straight friends. Not all, not even a lot of them. It's about the ones who have been in a relationship for years, in some cases with children, in most cases with the general expectation that they'll eventually marry, who haven't gotten engaged or gotten married. And it's especially for the ones who are together with the intention of staying together but are eschewing marriage altogether.

So this isn't tokenism. I'm not really identifying them simply by sexual orientation or another trait out of their control. I'm identifying them by a behavior. This is still going to sound judgy. That can't be helped. But it's not stereotyping or discrimination. I'm not proposing policy that would force behavioral change.

So here's what I'm saying: straight people who love each other and have been together forever but aren't married,

I don't understand you.

I know you have reasons for putting off the rights and benefits of marriage. I know you have reasons, if you have children, for not completing the legal process that will help to protect them. I know that the tax situation gets complicated and doesn't benefit everyone. I know that if you ever changed your mind, divorce is rough. I know that.

I also know that straight privilege is probably a factor, whether you've realized it or not. Because a hospital is less likely to refuse a parent to see their child if they're heterosexual. They're less likely to refuse to let you make medical decisions. If your situation changed and you needed to get married, you didn't need to move to a different state or investigate whether your home state would recognize an out-of-state marriage certificate, so you could always pop into the courthouse on pretty short notice.

I have straight friends. I have straight friends in this situation. I love them. I'm not asking them to change. All I'm saying is that from my perspective, when I've had to fight to have my relationship legally recognized and protected,

I don't understand.

And maybe the world could do with a few more people who admit when they don't understand things.

Monday, August 24, 2015

When You Say: I Have Gay Friends . . . So I can't be a Homophobe

I often hear people say, "My <<insert family member or other consort>> is gay, so I'm not …" and what follows is always the use of that gay person as a talisman to ward off <<probably not specious>> accusations of homophobia or bigotry, then followed by a negative stereotype or judgment about the gay community. Many times I've been told, before or after a statement like this that I don't count in that stereotype (see post On being a unicorn).

And I realize that in other conversations, I'm probably being used as that talisman. I'm probably the <<insert family member or other consort>> to prevent tenable accusations or "PC" challenges to the statement. My experience or opinion may be considered to apply to all members of the LGBT community or I may get a special pass.

Tokenism at its finest. It's easier to know one gay person than to get educated, easier to take my view than learn multiple ones, and easier to forgive me my faults because I am named and have a face.

But I am not a token or talisman or representative of an entire community. Please don't use me that way. Especially if you're trying not to look prejudiced as you withhold rights from my community. 

I try to be fair and understanding here, and I try to present a well-rounded view, but I'm not actually a unicorn. I have feelings. I have flaws. You're allowed to think so and say so, about me specifically. It might hurt, but not as much as if you imply that I don't belong in the community where I belong.

But if you're saying it about an entire community, like I said in Speaking the truth in love, and you want to make my community suffer (yes, that's what withholding civil rights does), you're a homophobe, which means you should probably evaluate if you're being a good <<insert family member or other consort>> to the token you're holding up. 

Because I have some very prejudiced friends, but that doesn't mean I approve of the bigoted lifestyle.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Loving unconditionally: loving when you don't understand

I am risk averse in the small things. I don't gamble. I don't drink and drive. I allow extra time between appointments to avoid tardiness. I don't leave my drink unattended at bars (or if I'm honest, coffee shops). 

And yet, I don't know that I can say that I am risk averse in the big ones. Coming out was an enormous risk. Tying myself to a med school applicant was an enormous risk. Returning to classroom teaching in any capacity, after the experience I had, was a great risk, as I explain in Love and Risk: Choosing Love When it Hurts.

Writing my blog is a great risk, as I share my heart and story with you (see post Your questions, my answers). There's still a post on self-censorship languishing in my drafts while I debate whether to share it with the world.

Love is risk. Loving unconditionally means sometimes loving when you don't understand. When you don't have all the facts. When things could hurt. When they could end. I'm sure I have hedged in love sometimes. We all have. Maybe more than I should. Maybe less. 

But I don't think Jesus or any other people I try to emulate hedged in love. Ever. Didn't He say that "greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their lives for their friends"? 

Apostle Paul says he was poured out as a drink offering. Poured out. Drastic picture there. Am I being poured out? Am I investing everything I have in the actualization of the human family?

Maybe a trickle, right now. Maybe a little faster some days. I hope, by the end, that it will be a cascade.

Will you pour out with me?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

In Definition of: Modesty

I've written on this topic a little in Eff Your Beauty Standards, a popular post about wearing a bikini.

It came up recently with a friend, and so here I am pontificating again (I'm still shocked anyone reads this). And there's the part of modesty I want to hit. Not as much the clothing issue - I think my last post tackled this well. The issue of self-deprecation, especially as women, and then the choice to hide rather than come forth, as well as the acceptance of unacceptable treatment based in part on that thought pattern.

I'm not saying that true modesty isn't a virtue. I'm saying that we've misdefined modesty and that there's a double standard when it comes to men, women, and modesty.

So here's what I see as the current definition/application of modesty: women should be covered up according to whatever standards society - including men, but just as much other women - decides. Their bodies should be covered with clothing. Again, see my previous post. Other parts of them should be covered in silence, shrinking, deference, and acceptance. They shouldn't preach, according to many churches, even when they have the gift of teaching and shepherding. They shouldn't show anger or aggression. They shouldn't look good at math and science if they want boys to like them. They shouldn't make too much money. A woman's place is in the home raising children full time.

ALL of these contribute to an environment where women hide their gifts, or in some cases never see them in the first place. They are dissuaded from solving the problems the world faces (in addition to intentional attempts to stop them of course). This twisted version of modesty is doing incredible harm.

And here's what it should be, in my own words, not pasted from Merriam Webster: modesty is a practical estimation of we can do, based our skills, talents, and practice, with the support of others and a higher power, in terms of bringing a better world about. It's focused on function, much like clothing should be chosen based on purpose. It lacks boasting, but also entirely excludes self-deprecation.

I'm still working on it - but thanks for reading, even if I'm still surprised. I appreciate you.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Confessions: I'll Probably Never Stop Calculating Price of Food per Pound

Most of us know a senior citizen or two with habits we think are a little eccentric that they attribute to life in the Great Depression or World War II. Adding salt to coffee. Swiping out the last of the egg residue with her index finger. Saving jars. Dealing with tiny soap nubbins. Most of them think it's normal, or don't even realize they're doing it. But of course, lots of people don't do these things.

Now that the Recession is ending and Rebecca has been a doctor for more than a year (see my post about what med-wife life is like),  we no longer hemorrhage money or burn up savings or wonder how we're going to pay for things as much as we used to. The financial stability of her having a regular salary and me being on a decent hourly-wage paycheck has allowed me to reflect on habits I formed during the Recession.

One habit I have been teased about (and yes, I often still do this) is calculating price per pound on food - as in, "well, our vegetable this week will be cabbage and onions, since it's winter and they're the only thing under $1/pound." Of course, now I sometimes splurge, but one consideration is still amount of nutrition, price, volume/weight in terms of the whole meal. Sun-dried tomatoes seem expensive per pound, for instance, but they're very high in nutrients, and given that it takes something like 6 pounds of fresh tomatoes to make 1 pound of dried, divide the dry price by 6 to compare to fresh. As a bonus, they keep longer, reducing my food waste. I've done this to varying degrees, but I probably reached my peak when we were living in Wyandotte, couldn't go to Horrock's anymore, and had to fall back on food stamps for about a year (as I describe in my post about being a welfare queen). To many, this practice seems strange coming from someone who didn't deal with food insecurity as a child and is now married to a physician, but I doubt I'll ever completely stop thinking of food like this.

Another habit from the Recession is putting off major purchases as long as possible. Rebecca and I finally got a new printer in the last couple months. The one we have has never worked well, and the software, hardware, interface, etc have only gone downhill. By the end, it could take up to a half hour to print or scan a one to two page document, and Rebecca couldn't use it from any of her devices, so she would print from work or borrow my computer. The new one has saved so much time and frustration - part of me can't believe we lived like that for so long. I hope we don't have to again. But I don't know where we would have gotten money for a new printer before recently. We have no intentions of getting a new TV before what we're currently using dies (and I think it was a hand-me-down, and might actually be a computer monitor - it doesn't have a remote, and to change it between input sources requires physically unplugging things). In the end, I guess I don't know why I would pay more money for something unnecessary, though I suppose I might be surprised in the same way I'm still delighted when the printer actually works.

All of these were survival techniques for a while. I've been asked if we ate a lot of ramen. We didn't. I think some of that came from knowing this isn't ending anytime soon, so temporary nutrition fixes like ramen noodles, mac and cheese, and hot dogs, that could ultimately jeopardize our long term health if we persisted, seemed more dangerous than it would have been if we were just dealing with a couple summers during college. This wasn't time limited. If it was going to last indefinitely - and remember that we didn't know the Recession would ever end - we had to look past foods that would be cheap short term but could come with serious health implications. And so our grocery carts were filled with lots of dry beans, tofu, rice, and fruits and veggies carefully calculated at $1/pound or less. My meal planning list started to include homemade whole grain focaccia, rice pilaf, remnant paella stew with the cheapest canned tomatoes and canned white beans and frozen veggies I could find. I saved pasta jars to avoid buying Tupperware. We sharpened our thrifting skills.

Most of my Recession habits will be ultimately beneficial. Resources on this planet are finite, and remembering that and acting accordingly is not only thrifty, it's the moral path I choose to take. Delaying gratification can have great payoffs in the end, sometimes.

Some other Recession habits I'm working to break, though, because I'm finding them detrimental. For instance - believing I'm just fortunate to have a job, any job, fortunate to be paid anything, anything at all, and don't deserve a raise or bonus or autonomy. During the Recession, I was fortunate never to experience long-term unemployment, but I was underemployed, underpaid, and even uninsured at one point. Believing I had little worth and had to just be a pawn or commodity deeply affected how much agency I believed I had, how talented I thought I was, or how impactful my life could be. I also internalized my difficulty paying our bills as meaning that I was a bad person for not having money saved and for Rebecca having to take out debt (see post Gays didn't break marriage: we found it like this).

Combine these beliefs, and I've ended up in a lot of workaholism benders in the past year, fearing that I will fall back into my previous circumstances. I've also put off buying items that, unlike a new TV or printer, drastically affect the quality of everyday life. During the Recession, my weight fluctuated a lot for a variety of reasons. That started to bother me less at some point, as I discuss in Eff Your Beauty Standards and My Philosophy of Food, but at some point, there really wasn't money to keep buying clothes that actually fit me, and weight fluctuations were another reminder of our limited resources. Some fixes were to buy dresses that were A-line or flowier in the areas where I tended to carry my weight - and I have to admit that I really love wearing dresses as much as I do now, so I'm grateful it was kind of a necessity (see this post about looking like a lesbian - or not). But I've chosen to wear other things that were really uncomfortable - slacks, undergarments, shoes, etc - longer than I should have because I didn't really have much of an alternative. Or I avoided buying trendy clothing with the thought that I didn't know when I could buy something new or when things would go out of style. Even thrifting was kind of out some months.

In the last year, I've tried to be careful about purchasing new items, but I've had to replace a lot. And some of the things I'm buying, if I'm honest, are still hedging against the possibility that my body might change, that style will change, that money might be tight. I've had to learn that being comfortable enough to live my life is worth something, and that buying a new pair of jeans is okay.

I'm glad the Recession is over. I wish I could have learned these lessons some other way, or that I hadn't had to learn some of them (mostly just the one about being underpaid and a commodity) at all. We've been blessed, as I've mentioned before, to have had our educations, and each other, and access to credit. Things could have been much worse. In any case, I'm glad that I have learned most of these lessons, and I hope that I'll remember them, whether or not I choose to continue living that way.