happy stuffs

 butterfly

The past few weeks on the blog have been a little rough for me. Between talking about spanking and sexism and racism a bunch of times, I’ve been dealing with the more unpleasant side of the internet, and I thought it could be time to have something a little more lighthearted.

First of all: Spotify has changed my life. I’ve been using Pandora since grad school, but once I discovered the brilliance that is Spotify I couldn’t turn back. There’s whole stations for celtic spa and indie Irish music, which makes me so very happy. I also bought Sara Barielles’ The Blessed Unrest, and while I think I still like Kaleidescope Heart better, I really love songs like “Little Black Dress” and “Brave” makes me cry every single time. Also, P!NK is everything. I bought a few of her albums for a road trip recently and tortured Handsome with pop music for a couple hours. And Queen’s A Night at the Opera is sheer genius, everyone. I’d never listened to the entire album start-to-finish before, and it is gold.

I’ve also been getting back into reading again — really reading. When I was in graduate school, reading fiction became part of my job, and it took me a couple years after I’d finished the program to really want to read for fun again. I’ve been reading a lot of religious and feminist non-fiction for the past couple of years as part of my “job” (blogging), and I hadn’t read any fiction besides Brandon Sanderson and L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Anyway, I started going to a book club because I wanted to be able to talk about books with readers again, and my first visit was amazing. The format is interesting– everyone reads their own books, brings it to talk about, and then we borrow books from each other. I walked away with Bee Ridgway’s River of No Return, which I really enjoyed. It’s written by a literature professor, and what I loved best was that the characters sounded like they belonged in the time period of Regency England. They used pop culture references, they quoted the well-known poetry, they used biblical allusions … and it was all so natural and easy and I only noticed because I was neck deep in early 19th century literature all the way through graduate school.

I also picked up Elizabeth Moon’s Deed of Paksenarrion trilogy, and I didn’t want it to end. It’s pretty old-school fantasy in a lot of ways, and very character-driven. The books follow “Paks,” and while there is a single plotline that is threaded from the opening pages to the conclusion, it meanders along with Paks’ journey. The two main themes are religious tolerance (which is interesting, since she wrote a pretty gosh-darn Islamaphobic piece in 2010) and redemptive suffering– although that theme only really becomes apparent in Oath of Gold, the last book in the trilogy. I didn’t really like the heavy-handedness with the religious imagery at the end (she becomes a Christ figure), but other than that I really enjoyed the trilogy because it’s a medieval epic fantasy in a realm where it’s commonplace for women to become soldiers and thrones can pass to daughters and the heads of religious orders are women and it’s all just assumed that this is the way things should be. Take that, G. R. R. Martin.

For non-fiction I’m reading Generation Roe, The Bible Tells Me So, and Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution. All, so far, are pretty good.

I found a new YouTube-r that I really like because of her straight-faced sarcastic humor. She’s so on-point and I love these two videos especially:

And not funny, and possibly not interesting to anyone but me, but when I’m feeling really stressed and just done with the world GAH, I watch hairstyling and makeup tutorials. Don’t ask me why they’re so soothing, but they are. I discovered this stylist who makes me feel like I could do updos because he does things with brushes and bobbypins that I’ve never seen before and he makes it look easy. It’s probably not easy, but I’m going to try this one anyway:


[skip to 1:35 to miss the ridiculously long intro]

Anyway, these are the things that have been making me happy of late. What about you guys?

burning down the woodshed

woodshed
[photography by Jack]

As my partner can attest to, one of the things that have stuck with me from growing up in the Deep South is my reliance on idiomatic Southern expressions. In my area, “trip to the woodshed” was the most commonly used euphemism for corporal punishment, and while the adults who used this term obviously meant it humorously, hearing it made me feel a little sick. “I’m going to take you out back to the woodshed!” conjured images, for me, of lashings and beatings and screaming boys and girls– but in that old-fashioned Disney way, with the too-red cheeks and too-round eyes and deep furrows in the mother’s brow and the animation sequence of arms flailing up and down repeated on an endless loop. Somehow, the expectation was that we were all supposed to laugh.

Eventually, I did learn to laugh about being spanked. I turned into one of those teenagers that swapped spanking horror stories at camp, and I was proud of the fact that I had a doozy that was the ultimate one-upping story. It never occurred to me that I was probably sitting next to someone that had five thousand versions of my story, every single one much worse.

I grew up, and I turned into a young adult that was proud of being spanked. I even had a conversation with my parents at one point that I’d wished they had spanked me more. I had an argument that made sense to me at the time, but I don’t even remember it now. I was going to spank my children exactly the way I’d been taught– controlled, unemotional, in private, and as a form of training, not punishment. I believed everything I’d been told about being spanked. When I heard some people talk about spanking as if it were wrong, I rolled my eyes at the pansy-ass liberal whose children were probably some of those squalling brats in Wal-Mart that they had to satisfy with bribes. I was convinced that it was people who didn’t spank their children is what was wrong with America today.

And, then, one day, I read this:

“I was spanked as a kid, and I turned out just fine.”

No, no you didn’t. You think hitting a child is ok.

I don’t even remember where I saw that, but it hit me like a ton of bricks full in the face.

This is probably the only thing in my life that I changed my mind on so quickly and so utterly and without any more research. It was like a floodlight had flipped on inside of my head, and the sudden bone-deep knowledge wrecked me.

Spanking is the physical and violent assault of a child.

Spanking is like me, facing someone twelve feet tall and six hundred pounds, beating me. If they were to use a board proportionally the same size as the one my ex-cult-leader used, it would be like a giant hitting me with a cricket bat, and it would not matter how “controlled” they were, or whether or not they were angry, or how many times they hit me, or with what, or where. I became convinced that spanking is evil in a matter of seconds, and after the scales had fallen from my eyes I couldn’t even comprehend what I had believed before. I had gone from believing that corporal punishment was a moral imperative to believing it to be a moral evil, and from that moment forward every time I tried to think back to what it was like to agree with spanking it hurt. It made me sick.

I have a hard time saying that, even now, even after it’s been well over a year. Because my parents loved me. Love me. I have never, not for a single moment in my entire life, ever doubted that. They have always done what they thought was best, and they honestly, truly, believed that hitting me with a belt was in my best interest, that they would be be failing their obligations as parents if they didn’t. I know that the same is true for the overwhelming number of parents who adore their children.

After that moment, I did go looking for more information, and I was shocked at how easy it was to find. There are many, many studies on the effects of physical discipline on children, and none of it is positive. Spanking– defined by most researchers as “striking on the bottom with an open hand”– could lead to cognitive impairment. It increases aggression. It can lead to depression and anxiety in adulthood. I started reading material from Gentle Christian Mothers and Why Not Train a Child that offered a compelling and extraordinarily different understanding of the Bible verses I’d always assumed justified spanking.

At this point I’d been reading Libby Anne‘s blog for a while, but now I started paying more attention to her posts about parenting Sally and Bobby. She’d grown up with all the same exact beliefs that I had, and she had the same fears that I suddenly found staring at me in the middle of the night, because as I grew in this area I realized it wasn’t just my attitude about hitting children that had to change, but how I thought of my relationship with children, and what it means to be a parent, and what my duties and responsibilities would be. I had to struggle to re-imagine what the rest of my life would look like if I became a mother.

We hit our children not only because we’ve been taught by generations of cultural training that it’s the best thing for them, for a good and just society, but the reality is that we also spank our children because we believe they are stupid. We believe that they cannot be reasoned with, that they cannot be taught and persuaded and convinced. We do not accept their reasons for their actions, and dismiss their intentions as inconsequential.

I would say we treat them like animals, but the brutal reality is that we can treat our children worse than we treat our animals. I wouldn’t do to my precious Noel and Elsa what I would have once believed to be totally acceptable to do to a toddler. We read Black Beauty when we’re children and are horrified by the descriptions of horses being whipped, but when a football player takes a switch to his child, leaving bleeding welts, people rush to his defense, saying his actions are more than just normal, they’re good.

Another unfortunate truth is that many of us are just not that patient with our children. Not hitting our children means taking a lot of time to correct a behavior. You have to stop and talk to them, to understand why they took an action, and help them understand why their action was inappropriate for the context or just plain wrong. For many evangelical Christians, this means completely upending everything the Dobsons and the Pearls and the Tripps and the Ezzos have ever told us about “child rearing” and rejecting … well, all of it.

Usually I try to take a somewhat moderated stance when it comes to things that I haven’t personally experienced: I am not a parent, and I might not ever be one. However, in this case, I can’t. I must condemn spanking for what it actually is– and I mean all spanking, not just the sort of spanking I grew up with, but even the milder gentler version of “a couple of swats on the bottom.”

Hitting our children is wrong. Hitting our children is repulsive. Hitting our children is evil.

“Real Marriage” review: 3-18, “New Marriage, Same Spouse”

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[content note: sexual violence, emotional abuse]

I’m doing something different with Real Marriage than how I reviewed Fascinating Womanhood and Captivating; with the last two books, I’ve read the entire thing before I started and then did one chapter at a time, trying to keep the message of the whole book in mind. After reading the first few chapters of this book, I realized I couldn’t handle that– not spiritually, not emotionally, not psychologically. So, for this review, what you’ll be reading from me will lean in the direction of gut reaction and instinct, since I don’t know where Mark and Grace are taking this.

The first chapter is Mark and Grace telling their story, starting from before they met each other, through dating, engagement, and what seems to be the bulk of their marriage. This chapter is mostly written from Mark’s perspective, as he wrote 46 paragraphs and Grace wrote 11. What I found the most disturbing, however, is what Grace says about her side of the story. It is … well, it reminded me of this:

bad dobby

Most of Mark’s paragraphs are him patting himself on the back for living such a good, moral life even though he was surrounded by “brazen prostitutes” and “manipulative women”– he even left his own fraternity, guys, because of the drinking! Wow, isn’t he just great? But Grace’s sections are full of self-flagellation; her teenage and young adult years are summed up by her as “living a lie,” and the few things she says about her marriage are full of “oh, how much I sinned against my husband! I did not feel that I was worthy of his love!”

And this is where I get incredibly fuzzy on the details, as both Mark and Grace are deliberately vague: apparently during the early days of their dating relationship, Grace “sexually sinned” with another man. There is no distinct timeline given, and I’m left wondering things like if they’d both verbally committed to a monogamous relationship at the time, or if their perspective on dating relationships now is coloring their dating relationship then, and what the “sexual sin” was; but what has me the most concerned is that they mention several times that Grace was sexually assaulted, and her assault caused some significant trauma for her. I can’t tell whether or not this “sexual sin” was actually being assaulted, especially because of things like this:

I felt God had conned me by telling me to marry Grace, and allowed Grace to rule over me since she was controlling our sex life. (10)

When I discovered her sin against me and that she had punished me with resulting years of sexual and emotional denial . . . (13)

Then, after more than a decade of marriage, a root issue was finally revealed. Grace’s problem was that she was an assault victim who had never told me or anyone else of the physical, spiritual, emotional, and sexual abuse she had suffered … In forgiving and walking with Grace  . . . (16)

And if you have unconfessed sin and/or a past of sexual sin, including pornography, fornication, sexual abuse, bitterness, and the like, we pray this book leads to the healing of your soul and your marriage. (18)

There’s a pattern through this entire chapter, and it is victim blaming. Both acknowledge that Grace was sexually abused, and that this abuse affected their sex life. She experienced pain and discomfort during intercourse, and Mark describes her as “checked out”– this is known as disassociation, and is common with sexual violence survivors.

However, all of that is framed as Grace’s fault. She “punished” him because she was traumatized– her needs as a sexual violence survivor was her “ruling over him.” He had to “forgive her.” In the last paragraph of the chapter, being sexually abused is listed as a form of “unconfessed sexual sin.” So, even if the “sexual sin” that they’re talking about back when they were dating was consensual, it’s clear that even if she’d been assaulted, Mark’s reaction would have been exactly the same: it’s a sin, her trauma and pain was her “punishing him,” and he needed to forgive her for her “sexual past” of being sexually abused.

What is just as horrifying to me is how Mark and Grace describe at least the first decade of their marriage: Mark says his actions were “overbearing and boorish, so angry and harsh, that I had not been the kind of husband who she could trust and confide in with the most painful and shameful parts of her past.” He said he used his words to “tear her down,” that he “condemned” her, and he links this with Grace “shutting down.” Grace describes it– in the scant few paragraphs where she’s allowed a voice– as him being “angry” and “harsh.” She describes her own reaction as “distant” and that she reacted to his diatribes and “harsh words” with silence.

I do not know Mark and Grace personally. I have never met them, and I did not observe them during this time. However, what they’ve spent fifteen pages describing sounds an awful lot like Mark being an emotional and verbal abuser. Apparently finding out that Grace had been sexually abused caused Mark to do some heavy re-thinking, but that just breaks my heart even more.

My partner and I had been dating for a couple months when we initiated any sort of physical romance, and it took me a long time to finally open up to him about what I’d been through. Before that, all he knew was that my last boyfriend had been a “jerk.” He didn’t push me, he didn’t question me. He waited for me to talk about it when I was ready, and was willing for that to be never. However, he didn’t need to know that I’d been raped in order for him to pay attention to my boundaries and to not just respect but love my physical needs.

He was so incredibly careful and gentle about making sure I was ok with anything we were doing. When I mentioned one day how much I loved his way with me– that he was respectful and loving– he looked at me like he didn’t know what I was talking about. For him, it was of course he would respect what I wanted, what I needed. Of course he wouldn’t cross my boundaries. Of course he thought of my enjoyment, my fun, my laughter and pleasure as paramount. This is normal, he told me, and it took me a very long time before I believed him.

American culture accepts violence against women as normal. Of course a penis will tear a vagina the first time they have penetrative sex. Of course men are sex-fueled robots. Of course women should expect reactions and behavior like Mark Driscoll’s. He had every right to feel bitter and tormented and angry because he’d had the bad luck to marry a traumatized sexual violence survivor who displays some symptoms of PTSD and couldn’t be his own personal porn star in bed.

That Mark Driscoll needed to know that his wife is a survivor in order to respect her needs during sex tells me everything I need to know about him.

Update 9/16/14 12:57a: for readers who have engaged in the comment section, please read my new comment here. My deepest apologies for letting that go on so long. I should never have let it begin.

returning to Ferguson

Riot police clear demonstrators from a street in Ferguson

It’s been over a month since police officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown.

The peaceful protests that Ferguson officials over-reacted to with horrific abuses of our Constitutional freedoms and what was to me unimaginable police brutality are still ongoing. The people of Micheal’s community are calling for nothing extraordinary: for the Missouri governor to appoint a special prosecutor, and for Darren Wilson to be arrested. Not tried, not convicted, just arrested, as any other man would have been if he’d shot an unarmed teenager in broad daylight in front of multiple eye-witnesses. But instead, it’s been over a month since Darren Wilson disappeared on vacation.

There was intense national interest for a week, maybe two, but the people who initially cared so much are fading away, the initial passion evaporating. I understand why– that first week, I was enraged, and it is impossible to sustain that sort of reaction for very long. Today, when I think about the Brown family and the torture the Ferguson community has experienced for decades, all I can do is grieve, but grief is not enough.

For the last month, I’ve been working on compiling this list of officer-involved shootings. I’ve called and asked my state and federal representatives to sponsor a bill that would require all police forces in the United States (or in my state) to report their officer-involved shootings to a single government body, and for that body to create a public record with all pertinent demographic data, especially race. I would ask that all of you do the same.

It’s also necessary for people like me– and by that I mean white people– to shut the fuck up and listen to black people when they talk about their experiences with the police. To pay attention to stories like Chaumtoli Huq’s, a lawyer, who was arrested because she was waiting for her husband and children outside of a restaurant while they used the bathroom. Or Chris Lollie’s, who was arrested because he was sitting on a bench waiting for his children to get out of school. I don’t care how outrageous you think it sounds, or how difficult it is for you to believe them because you’ve “never seen it” or “it’s never happened to you.” You shut the fuck up and listen.

I want to be a part of the reason why this never ever happens in my country ever again. It will keep happening, and it will be a long time before it stops, but it will never end as long as people like me are only angry once every few years and then we get tired and we start to forget, to stop caring.

We have to take an extremely hard look at ourselves and the things we say– the things we say when we’re hanging out with friends, and something like Ferguson comes up. I know it’s hard, fellow white people, but we absolutely have to stop saying things like “well, being a police officer is an extremely dangerous job. They have to be able to protect themselves” because yes, it’s dangerous but it’s four times more dangerous to be an unarmed black man standing across from a police officer with a gun. We have to ask ourselves what we sound like when our first reaction to a child being slaughtered in his own neighborhood by a police officer is “well, Andy must have done something threatening– and police officers can’t afford to wait” (hint: we sound like privileged racist assholes). It breaks my heart that almost every single conversation I’m in about the intersection of racism and police brutality the reaction I get from white people is a mix of “meh” and “what else do you expect?”

We have to love our neighbor. This sort of love is exhausting, I know, and you’re going to feel like Sisyphus pushing a boulder uphill, and once you start noticing the ways that racism bleeds into every single aspect of our lives you’re going to want to scream and take it all back. Looking outside the white-privilege bubble is hard. Taking the blinders off is going to be overwhelming, and it’s going to make you cry over and over again.

You’re going to feel shame for all of the racist things you’ve said and done, and every once in a while you’re going to remember another way you’ve unwittingly been the person from “shit white girls say,” and you’re going to cringe and desperately wish you could retroactively slap your hand over your mouth or do a full-on body tackle before you ask your black colleague if you can touch her hair.

You’ll be on facebook, and a friend you actually care about is going to share the most racist thing you’ve seen about Ferguson– and, by that point you’ve been on twitter and comment sections, and you thought it couldn’t get any worse– and she’s going to post it with “THIS” and a bunch of your other friends are going to like it and say things like “oh, this is exactly right” and “finally, someone who makes some SENSE!” and you aren’t going to know what to do. And you’re going to keep being racist, because you’re a white person in a system designed around maintaining your privilege.

But then, one day, you’re going to see a black man in the metro asking other riders for “just one dollar” because he has almost nothing left on his fare card and he can’t get home, and pulling out a $10 will be nothing to you anymore because you’ll remember that one time you didn’t have enough cash on you to pay a toll in West Virginia and it was a black woman who overheard you crying on the phone with your mother and she gave you the $16 you needed to pay the next four tolls and you’ll see a person who needs help instead of a wasteful, do-nothing black man who should get a job you’d been taught by racism to see.

It’ll take you a very long time, but you’ll start figuring out how to stop being racist, and start seeing all the small things you can do every single day to help those oppressed by it. It’s the only way to stop Ferguson from ever happening again.

wives: you have the right to say “no”

husband and wife
[content note: marital rape]

A few days ago, a reader sent me a link to the piece “Six Things to Know about Sexual Refusal” (DoNotLink) written by a woman who goes by “Chris” or “The Forgiven Wife.” I’ve poked around her website a bit, and it seems as though it’s dedicated to the concept.

I went back and forth over whether or not I should say something about her post, but I’ve read it a few times over the last few days, and I think responding to what she’s written is a good opportunity to address the reality that Christian culture frequently endorses marital rape, since the post does exactly that.

While not every Christian would be as direct as Phyllis Schlafly (“By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don’t think you can call it rape.”), I believe that is a common attitude among Christians– that signing your marriage license is giving cart blanche consent to sex for the entirety of your marriage. Christians are certainly not alone in this, as American culture has long confused prior consent with current consent, and simply being in a relationship with your rapist can make investigating officers dubious about your claims, since, after all, you wouldn’t be in a relationship with someone if you weren’t at least interested in having sex with them, right?

The reason why I’ve chosen to respond to Chris’ article in particular is that the reasons that she lays out are very common ones when Christians are defending marital rape, and she’s organized them into six points.

Her first point is that “sexuality is inherent to a man’s sense of self,” which I think is a true statement as long as it’s coupled with the understanding that sexuality is inherent to a woman’s sense of self, as well. My orientation, my desire, my sexual needs are integral to my understanding of myself as a person. My sexuality is only one part of “me,” but it is a significant part. However, that statement isn’t even the focus of this point:

A man who has to accomplish tasks (whether those are household chores or giving his wife a foot rub in order to get her relaxed enough to even think about sex) in order to have sex is being told he isn’t good enough.

This comes from the “how can he expect me to do laundry/cooking/dishes/diapers all day, without any attention or help, and then expect me to leap into bed with him?!” sentiment, which I understand. I’ve only been married for a year and nine months now, but on the days when my partner has spent the evening not exactly ignoring me but has been wrapped up in his own thing (which is fine in our relationship, we are adults with separate interests), I’m not exactly in the mood to jump him. However, if he gives me a foot rub and helps with the dishes (both very common things in our house), then yeah. I’m way more interested in sex.

What Chris is implying here is that it is more important for the woman to have sex with her husband when she’s not all that interested because oh noes the REJECTION it’s AWFUL than it is for a woman to pay attention to her own needs and her desire to be treated with respect and care.

Her second point sort of made me laugh, and then I was sad.

Men are designed to want sex frequently, and they are designed to seek adventure … God made your husband this way. It is not wrong. It is not perverted. Your husband’s sexuality is godly.

Translation: men are kinkier than women. If your husband is kinkier than you are, you need to be willing to perform sexual acts you are uncomfortable with (or, possibly, might even find “perverted”) because “God made him that way.” This is an idea that people like Mark Driscoll have popularized, and I can attest to the harm its done in my own marriage– because I’m way more kinky than my partner is. We’ve had to have very serious, very long conversations about this because what I think of as “a little more edge” and what my partner thinks of as “edgy” are not the same thing. We’ve agreed to compromise, because it is extremely important to me that he not feel uncomfortable during sex. I want him to be enjoying it, and not having to push himself to do things that make him nervous.

However, what Chris is saying is that women, you do not deserve to feel comfortable during sex. Whatever your husband wants, no matter how uncomfortable you are with it, you do it. Period. Because God said so. Personally, I can’t imagine asking my partner to do something like that– it would make me feel awful. Hopefully the vast majority of husbands are taking their wives’ comfort levels into account, but articles like this (plus the “smoking hot wife” narrative that’s becoming more common in Christian circles) are encouraging men to ignore their wives’ feelings.

Her third point is where the trouble really starts:

Men best receive love through sex … NOTHING matches sex. You can love your husband in every other way possible … You can do everything else he wants or needs … Sexual love trumps everything else combined.

Aish.

Just … no.

Honestly, this just defies common sense. If all I ever did have sex with my partner, but I never talked to him, never wanted to spend time with him that wasn’t sex, never shared my interests with him, never listened to him about his frustrations or accomplishments, never helped him with anything, never wanted to go anywhere with him, I’m pretty damn sure he’d start feeling pretty damn unloved pretty damn fast.

And this is where rape culture becomes obvious in this post, because the premise of this point is that men are simplistic, men only want one thing, men are pigs, men are animals. That belief is why “she was asking for it” works– because our culture has accepted that sexual violence by men is the only crime where the “overwhelming” temptation to commit it makes committing it excusable, perhaps even justifiable.

This is also the point where Chris begins dismissing the reality of marital rape, because what she is telling women is that the only possible way you can have intimacy and a loving relationship with your husband is if you have sex whenever he wants it. This argument is a Christian-culture-wide form of coercion: you cannot say no, saying no means you do not love your husband. When you remove the ability for consent to be meaningful– for “no” to be a possible answer, it’s sexual coercion.

Point number four is where I got angry:

Depriving him of your sexual pleasure can be as damaging as depriving him of sex altogether.

Just … sputter. No. All the no.

Pleasure during sex is a mutual thing. And, honestly, what women is consciously staving off an orgasm in order to “deprive” her husband of pleasure? If she’s not having an orgasm, there’s a reason– probably a lot of reasons all at once, and it’s impossible for a woman to resolve a lot of those reasons on her own. If her partner is not listening to her about her sexual needs and comforts — like requiring her to engage in sex acts she finds degrading — not having an orgasm is not her fault. There have been moments when my head hasn’t been fully engaged in having sex with my partner and that’s made arousal and orgasm more difficult, but there have also been plenty of times where my partner is experimenting and it just doesn’t work for me. When that happens, I tell him, and he moves on to something else.

Points five and six are essentially the same thing:

The pattern of rejection is there, all the time. Each specific instance of rejection is a reminder of his lack of worth to you.

Whether your pattern tends toward refusing (outright “no” or other ways of avoiding sex) or gate-keeping (restricting the time, location, and nature of sexual activity), it is likely the worst thing in your husband’s life. It is the worst thing in his life.

This is specifically addressed to women who say “no” more often than not, and it made me want to cry, because I know a lot of women who say no frequently, and this argument has done more damage to them, personally, than anything else. I know women who can be easily triggered by sex because of PTSD caused by sexual violence (which Chris makes it clear in the comments is an audience she is addressing), or who have vaginisimus, or endometriosis, or a plethora of other reasons why having sex might be extremely difficult. But what a woman might be experiencing, why sex might be difficult for her is not important because of her husband’s fee fees. I’m sorry, if your husband isn’t willing to work with you because you’re having a panic attack during sex or you are in so much pain you have to stop, your husband is an asshole.

And Chris, by arguing for women to ignore their own bodies, hearts, souls, and minds, is telling women you do not matter. What you want does not matter. Your pain and suffering do not matter.

Unfortunately, Chris is far from alone in American Christian culture.

“Real Marriage” review: xi-xiv, “Preface” and “Introduction”

preacher

Ok, so I read four pages of Real Marriage this morning. There’s eleven chapters, so with that plus covering the preface and introduction today, I’m going to try to wrap this up in three months and avoid as much of the “multiple weeks dedicated to one chapter” thing that happened a few times with Captivating. I don’t think you or I could handle it.

Like Fascinating Womanhood and Captivating, Real Marriage will inevitably have statements that I agree with, mostly because they’re common sense. And, the first time I read these pages this morning, I thought I could agree with a good portion of what he said in the preface, which is subtitled “How Not to Read this Book.” And then I read it again, and even with some of the things that I started out kinda-sorta agreeing with, I have a few problems.

Don’t read sections of the book and tell your spouse, “I told you so.” This book is not meant to be a pile of rocks for you to throw at each other in bitterness.

That feels fairly common-sensical, right? In general, “I told you so” isn’t a statement that’s going to help bring healing and friendship back to a damaged relationship. No one enjoys hearing something like that. But, when I chewed on this for a little bit, I stumbled into a question: what else are you supposed to do with a marriage-advice book? Maybe not use the words “I told you so,” but if you and your partner are experiencing problems that you’ve tried to talk to them about before, and a book you read describes what you feel the problem is … isn’t pointing to a chapter and saying something like “this really made sense to me” or “I feel this way” or “she said what I’ve been trying to communicate really well in this chapter” something that will just happen? And isn’t that . . . sort of the point?

And I don’t think Mark would outright forbid someone from doing that– he just forbids us from doing it “in bitterness.” Which puts a horrible burden on someone who’s experienced a lot of hurt from their partner. Being honest for the first time can be messy and painful, and I feel that Mark might be trying to force happy-happy-joy-joy expressions onto people who are feeling raw.

There was one “Do Not” that struck me as both amusing and troubling:

Don’t read as a critic trying to find where you think we might be wrong. Although we seek to be faithful to the Bible, this book is not the Bible, and, like you, we are imperfect, so there will be mistakes. Take whatever gifts you find in this book, and feel free to leave the rest.

I didn’t exactly laugh when I read that– I snorted and smirked and rolled my eyes. A “mistake,” Mark, really? Like, oh, I don’t know, calling women “penis homes”? (Note: I do not agree with the title of that article, which implies a cause-and-effect relationship that doesn’t exist.) The problem is, I’m not going to find mistakes in this book. I’m going to find sexism and misogyny and since there are chapters dedicated to sexual assault, probably heaping, steaming mounds of victim blaming and rape myths. Those things are not mistakes. They are wrong, and the beliefs that Mark and Grace hold are directly responsible for churches excusing domestic violence and marital rape.

The last “Do Not” of the preface is probably going to be something I comment on a lot as we move through this book. In the opening salvo of Captivating, Stasi Eldredge tried to make it clear how different her book was from other “how to be a godly woman” books– she wasn’t going to give us a list. She was just going to show us . . . well, what turned out to be a rather gigantic list, although the items on it were more abstract that Helen Andelin’s “wear chiffon and florals.” Mark is doing the same thing:

Don’t copy our methods. The principles in this book are more important than the methods. Principles are timeless and unchanging. Methods vary from marriage to marriage and person to person. Many marriage books focus too heavily on methods that worked for one couple’s marriage, but because you and your spouse are unique, those methods may not work for you and your marriage.

On its face . . . there isn’t a glaring problem here, and I can agree with a surface-level interpretation of what he’s saying. However, when he says “principles,” what he means is complementarianism, which is, by definition, a method, so … yup.

What the Introduction makes clear is something we already knew: Mark is obsessed with sex. I counted, and in one-and-a-half pages, there are seventeen references to sex, including one mentioning how sexualized our culture is. Also, Mark wants to make sure that we know how incredibly experienced he is at the ripe old age of 41 (at time of publication), and how he’s a pastor so that means he knows stuff.

In fact, the whole section reeks, at least to me, of the “touch not the lord’s anointed” bullshit that I grew up with. It’s possible I’m being overly sensitive to that, but I don’t think so, not with “YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO CRITICIZE ME” showing up on the first page.

the straight and narrow

straight and narrow

Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

If I had to guess, I think I’ve heard that verse preached on more than any other verse from the entire Bible, and since this verse only had one possible interpretation for Christian fundamentalists, I’ve heard that particular sermon a lot. This verse, in the communities I grew up in, was meant for us, because we were the only ones who had it figured out. The “straight and narrow way” equaled the fundamentalist lifestyle, being “separated from the world,” the “salt of the earth”– in short, we were of bunch of judgmental legalistic assholes.

But, we were convinced that we weren’t legalists because we wanted to follow the rules– all of which we got from the Bible, anyway!– because they were our personal convictions. And we weren’t judgmental– we were just right, and how can we help it if people were convicted by our modesty and our “upright conversation” (conversation here in the archaic sense).

We thought this verse applied to Christian fundamentalism for a few reasons: first, we thought of ourselves as a persecuted minority, so the “few there be” part was literally true (I thought at the time. I now have serious doubts about how much of a “minority” fundamentalists actually are). Second, we were extremely proud of ourselves for being one of the precious few who were truly committed to living a holy, righteous life. Any supposed “Christian” who didn’t look, talk, and act like us was on the “broad way that leads to destruction,” the sorry bunch of liberals.

Now that I’m one of those liberals, I’ve had to re-think this verse, but I’ve had to be careful. A huge part of me wants to keep the same exact idea, but instead of applying it to fundamentalists I’d claim it for the liberals; I could so easily take the “straight and narrow way” and make it mean “be a Democratic anti-capitalist yuppie,” thereby rendering people like me the “few there be who found it.”

I’ve been thinking about what “the straight and narrow” could possibly be over the last week. I’ve been driving the same four-hour route a couple times this week, and I’ve passed a church with “Straightway” in its name each time. I also just finished reading 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker (the first thing I’ve read by her, and I really liked it. Enjoyable but challenging, too), and she raises the point that if Christians were truly following some of Christ’s simplest commands, so much of what is desperately wrong with the world would disappear (for example, there are 4o Southern Baptists for every child in the American foster system).

So, what in the world is Jesus talking about in Matthew 7?

Well, it’s part of the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, for one– a passage I’ve wrestled with more now that my viewpoint has shifted so drastically over the last few years. Judging, fasting, giving generously and sacrificially, loving your enemies, trusting God, the Golden Rule, bearing good fruit . . . it’s all there: The Teachings of Jesus: Condensed Version.

Interestingly, my ESV groups this “straight and narrow” bit with the Golden Rule:

So whatever you wish that others would do to you,
do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Enter by the narrow gate.
For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction,
and those who enter by it are many.
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life,
and those who find it are few.

And as I’ve been mulling this over this week, something occurred to me– maybe I should be reading this passage just a little more literally, especially because of its context. Whose “destruction” is Jesus talking about? What does “life” mean here? And I’m wondering if Jesus might be talking about our world, our communities, as a whole. If we’re not making sure the needs of those around us are met, if we’re spending all of our time pursuing wealth, if we’re petty and vindictive to each other . . . are we not destroying our communities– literally?

Could it be that what Jesus meant by saying that “few there be” who find the “straight and narrow” was simply a statement of fact about the destitution of our world? That there is far more suffering and pain and death and sickness and poverty– destruction– than there is life? Isn’t part of the whole point of the Sermon on the Mount to instruct his followers in what it looks like to be a Christian in the day-to-day? That we must be the life-bringers, the merciful, the meek, the peacemakers?

The more time I spend reading about Jesus and hearing his words for what feels like the first time, the more I think I understand about what it means to be a Christian, and it is so far removed from the ridiculous pettiness of the Christianity I was raised in, where we were obsessed with “practicing our righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.”