learning to respect my body

woman sitting

I’ve mentioned a few times that I deal with a few chronic pain conditions that, when coupled with my depression and anxiety, make life … well, interesting. Take this week, for example. There wasn’t a post on Wednesday for a few reasons. The first reason was that I’d been dealing with the people who always come crawling out of the woodwork anytime PCC gets famous on the internet for fifteen minutes, like it did this week with that Cracked article. That particular set of people is exhausting.

The other reason was that I had gone to the Cherry Blossom Festival and did not listen to my body.

I walked around the tidal basin, went out to the Jefferson Memorial, and at that point my body was saying we’re done we’re so done. Done. Tired. Go home now. Done. But … we had committed to meeting friends, friends who were from out of town and who we don’t get to see that often. I sternly took myself in hand and told myself that I was not going to flake out, that I would do what I said I would, and that was that. So I walked from the Jefferson Memorial to Pennsylvania Avenue. And then I stood around for the next two hours. By the time I had to walk back to the metro, ride the metro for half an hour, ride a trolley and then sit in a car for two hours … Aish. That was not a fun evening, and I am just now, five days later, getting back to something resembling a normal pain level for me.

If I’d listened to what my body was trying to tell me when I lay down in the grass behind the Jefferson, I would have told our friends “I’m sorry, but I really can’t do more today. We’ll see you when we come to town this summer,” and then I would have gone home. It still would have taken me a bit to recuperate, but it wouldn’t have been five days of my hips and back screaming at me.

But that sentence– “I’m sorry, I can’t– I know I said I would, but I can’t” is so damn hard.

It’s hard because I want to be reliable, consistent, dependable. I want to be the sort of person who keeps her promises, who lives up to her commitments. I hate “flaking out” on people, even though it’s because I’m in so much pain I can’t keep putting one foot in front of the other or even stand upright.

It’s hard because I don’t want to let the pain control my life. I don’t want to give in to it, to let it dictate what I can and cannot do. Part of me is frightened that if I start listening to the pain that eventually I won’t do anything. There will never be a day when I feel good the way other people feel good. There will never be a day when something doesn’t ache or throb or burn or stab. There will never be a day when I’m not getting a headache, or I don’t have muscle spasms. And if I give in to all of that? I’m afraid I’ll turn into a hermit.

But it’s also hard because there’s a message in our culture– in Christian culture, especially– that ignoring pain is moral. That ignoring the needs of your body is good. That saying “it’s all right, I can do it” even when your body is screaming at you to stop is godly. There’s something of martyrdom to it, even. We are supposed to crucify our flesh, after all. There’s all that talk of Paul having a “thorn in his side” and managing to do what God asked of him, anyway.

All those things together are a hard thing to ignore, even when the pain is mounting. When you combine the “Christian” concept of “dying to self” and being “self-sacrificing” with the other “Christian” concept that we are all disgusting worms worthy of nothing better than eternal conscious torment it’s going to be seriously difficult to tell yourself “I deserve to respect my body’s needs” and have it sound at all convincing.

My mother has many of the same health problems I do, and because I grew up watching my mother struggle with fibromyalgia among other things, I’ve also been given a glimpse into a side of the way Christian culture works. They would never have breathed a word of this to my mother, but it was common place for me to hear things like “your mother is so irresponsible, Samantha, no one can ever count on her.” It made me want to scream, because these people had no fucking clue what life was like in our home. They didn’t see what it took for my mother to be at church every Sunday morning, every Sunday night, every Wednesday night, every Thursday night, with tons of other commitments besides. When I look back at what my mother was doing when she was my age– after having half a dozen surgeries, even– it is incredible. I can’t even imagine doing all of that while dragging two small children everywhere. My mother is magnificent.

No one sees that when they see the results of chronic pain, however. They see all the times we back out, all the times we don’t show up, all the times we cancel, all the times when we do show up but then have to leave halfway through. They see that and they judge us.

All of that has made it next to impossible for me to see the magnificence in myself. I don’t look at all the times when I claw my way out of bed and write a post and make dinner and clean my house a little as success– I see all the things I wish I’d done and the word failure starts spinning around inside my skull. I see my slightly unorganized desk, and my slightly untidy living room and the things that need to be dusted and the shower that needs to be scrubbed and I can’t help but think that I should be able to do these things and it’s only laziness and a lack of good moral character that stops me.

Except, I am magnificent. I am not lazy. I do not lack character. My house does not have to look like I followed Martha Stewart’s weekly cleaning chart. I do not have to push myself to the point where it takes me a week to recover just to prove that I’m “healthy.” Just because I am not able to do what people without fibromyalgia can do does not mean I am less. Whatever I can do inside the boundaries my body places on me is acceptable, and respecting those boundaries is good.

5 Good Reasons Not to Attend Pensacola Christian College

Computer and Book

Last year, I wrote a piece that condemned Pensacola Christian College for its habit of expelling rape victims for being “fornicators” or “liars.” It went viral, and now I consistently get people writing to me for advice. Some are from teenagers wanting to know how deep the problems go, some are from parents who are wondering if they should send their children there, some are from people trying to convince their loved ones not to go.

My answers have been consistent: I tell each of these people to ignore a lot of what they’ve heard about PCC, even from my own blog. Yes, the rules are completely and totally jacked. Some of the rules seem insane. Yes, it’s an extremely legalistic place. Yes, the administration has a well-deserved reputation for treating their students terribly.

However, none of those things are the real problem with PCC. The real problem is that you will not receive even a passably adequate education– and since that’s the primary reason for shelling out thousands of dollars for college, that should be the way to evaluate an institution of higher education.

1) They are accredited. Sort of. But not in the way you think.

When I attended, PCC had no accreditation, and they were extremely proud of that fact. They had no interest in accreditation, because they refused to be held accountable by any outside body that could bully them into giving up their “standards.” This meant that no student could get FAFSA, and many other places that offer student financial aid wouldn’t qualify you. It also meant that no one qualified for educational tax credits.

Most of that hasn’t changed. PCC is technically accredited now, but by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. If you look at the list of colleges that they’ve accredited, it becomes obvious fairly quickly that TRACS is a joke. They’re a rubber-stamping agency for conservative and fundamentalist Christian colleges that want to say they’re “accredited” but still go right on with business as usual. I know some of the people who go around “evaluating” these institutions for TRACS, and, trust me, they’re all in bed together.

They did make a few slight changes. They told PCC that forbidding their students from using Facebook and Twitter was a bit overboard. It’s also important to note that PCC makes it clear that they are not licensed by the state of Florida, nor do they wish to be.

2) They do not allow any form of open, reasoned discourse.

This is most obvious in that it is absolutely forbidden for students to either hold any form of public demonstration or create or sign a petition. Those two things are some of the gravest infractions any students can commit. There is a “student government,” but the officers that students elect do nothing more than put together skits that they perform in front of the student body a few times a semester– skits that are vetted extremely carefully by people in the administration. Dale Fincher was Student Body President, and he has some harrowing stories about the brutal questioning he was put through by doing his best to simply be encouraging.

3) Questioning any of the school’s ideologies could get you fired or expelled.

I’ll just share two examples: one of my professors was fired after a student asked him a question in class and he answered it honestly. The question: “What does Calvinism teach?” The answer: a brief summary of TULIP. After that happened, I approached a professor of mine about the nature of the grammar in the Gospel of Mark, and it didn’t take me long to realize that I’d just asked a question that could get him fired if he was honest.

For an Old Testament Survey class, we were required to read and “write a critique of” a dissertation on why the King James Bible is the Only True Bible that Christians Should Read: All Other Versions are Evil. I was pro-King James-only at the time, and was familiar with the arguments– and I thought that the argument was incredibly weak and filled with shoddy scholarship and lies. Since the homework assignment was to write a critique, I wrote one, taking the dissertation to task for presenting such a poor argument when many other better ones could be made.

I was called up to Student Life– the disciplinary branch of the administration– and interrogated and lectured. Even after I explained that I agreed with them, they continued to bludgeon me. About a homework assignment where I disagreed with something the school required its students to read.

4) Students are not taught critical or independent thinking.

While I was there I never experienced –not once in four and a half years– a “classroom discussion.” Every class I took, every day, for nine semesters, was lecture-based. We came, we sat in chairs, we took notes, and we left. Lather, rinse, repeat. There was never anything else. I was an Secondary Education major, so I even got the rationale for this: a classroom discussion made the learning environment too “student-centered,” and that was not to be countenanced. “Student-centered” or “student-directed” anything is of the devil.

I didn’t even realize this was a problem until I was in graduate school. Granted, graduate school is different from undergrad, and there’s a different dynamic between professor and student. However, I went to grad school at Liberty University and my peers were all very shocked to learn that a teacher had never once even asked for my opinion on something. I was to essentially find and then read aloud some notes I’d taken in previous lectures (or simply recall them from memory), but I never had the experience of a professors asking an open-ended question where the words hadn’t already been handed to me.

Students learning to think for themselves? To reason, and then articulate their own opinions? The horror.

5) They are simply not qualified to be an institute of higher education.

Out of almost 120 full-time faculty members, fifteen have terminal degrees in their field of study. Many of those MFAs and PhDs were granted by Pensacola Christian College. At a time when PCC was accredited by nothing. They literally made up their own degrees– licensed and accredited by no one– and are now using those “degrees” to pretend as if they have a semblance of respectability.

This next thing makes me laugh– the textbooks used in many of the required general education courses are the same ones they use in their high school. The book I bought for HI 101 and 102? The same one I’d used as a homeschooler in tenth grade. The anthologies we used for American and English Literature? Hardcover versions of the books I’d used in 11th and 12th grade with some of the artwork removed.

When I began graduate study, I realized that I had not been equipped to handle to rigors of my program. At all. On any level whatsoever. And I wasn’t even at some prestigious university– I was at another conservative Christian college, for crying out loud. I was so upset I called the Dean of English at PCC to ask why they hadn’t bothered preparing me for grad school in any basic, fundamental way. Why had I never even been shown– once— how to write following MLA guidelines? Why did they never even breathe the words literary theory? Why had I never even heard of Jacques Derrida? Why had not a single literature class I’d ever taken required me to read anything written by someone born after 1857? His answer: they felt that none of that was necessary– in fact, they saw those things as actively harmful and “detrimental to the program.”

~~~~~~~~

In conclusion, Pensacola Christian College does not care about education. They are there to indoctrinate, and absolutely nothing more.

book review: “Searching for Sunday” by Rachel Held Evans

searching for sunday

I sat down to start reading Searching for Sunday a little over a month and a half ago, and I couldn’t get past page xvi before I was sobbing. I’ve been reading this paragraph out loud to everyone I know, and it’s one of the things that rang inside of my soul like a sonorous bell:

This book is entitled Searching for Sunday, but it’s less about searching for a Sunday church and more about searching for Sunday resurrection. It’s about all the strange ways God brings dead things back to life again. It’s about giving up and starting over again. It’s about why, even on days when I suspect all this talk of Jesus and resurrection and life everlasting is a bunch of bunk designed to coddle us through an essentially meaningless existence, I should still like to be buried with my feet facing the rising sun.

Just in case.

And I’m sobbing again. That sentence– I should still like to be buried with my feet facing the rising sun— is exactly where I am right now. Exactly. It put every agonized, spirit-wrenching emotion I’ve had over the last few months into a dozen words. I sat my Nook down and cried like a baby until Handsome asked me what was wrong and we had a four-hour-long conversation about why we’re still bothering with this whole “being a Christian” thing.

This book was for me, and I think this book might be for a lot of you, too. If there’s a part of you– a big part, a small part– that is whispering the question why am I still a Christian? then I think you might need to read this. Not because she has some earth-shattering answer that will miraculously solve all our problems. I didn’t finish this book, set it down, and think to myself “ah, this was just the thing I needed to get me to go to church again.” I still have reservations, and questions, and doubts, and the thought of walking into a church still terrifies me. But it did help make hope a little more possible.

Since we left our last church, I came to the conclusion that my emotional well-being will not let me attend a church where a) women are barred from any form of leadership whatsoever, and complementarian messages are preached from the pulpit in subtle or overt ways, and/or b) anyone in church leadership embraces the “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach to the LGBTQ community. Those may not be hard lines for you (nor do they have to be), but they are for me now. Finding a church that doesn’t conflict with either of those has been … difficult. The longer I’m away from church, the easier it is to wake up like I did yesterday, make cinnamon buns and read The Great Hunt out loud to my partner while I pet my cat.

But the longer I’m away from church, the more a sliver in the back corners of my heart hungers for the bread the wine. Reading Searching for Sunday was a gentle, gracious, gorgeous reminder that I do believe in the sacraments. I do believe in the Body. Reading her chapters on Communion was one of the most sacred experiences I’ve ever had, and it gave me the nudge I needed to start reaching out again. I don’t know where this road will take me– maybe further away from church, from faith, I don’t know. But I want to hope. I want to believe. I want to try again, even if I get terribly burned.

Going through this book was comforting, and encouraging. It was like sitting down with a friend and drinking tea and being honest in a way that terrifies both of you, but once you start talking you can’t seem to stem the flow of words. Each slicing knife wound is recounted, each euphoric moment comes out tinged over with a little bit of sadness. You’re sad because you wish your faith were still that simple, that fresh and naive– and sad because you know that those moments of happiness came in the middle of suffering, and the pain made those brief moments of joy seem like ambrosia.

But we can’t get rid of who we are. There are many days, many weeks when I wish I could pave over my life and pretend like there isn’t a graveyard underneath what I’m building, but our lives aren’t like that. At one point in the book, Rachel uses the metaphor of a palimpsest, and that image made me catch my breath. My theology might look and feel completely and utterly removed from anything I thought or believed as a child, but there are remnants peeking through, things I won’t ever be able to shake.

I won’t ever be able to forget the look on my pastor’s wife when I tried to tell her I’d been sexually assaulted and she called me a liar who was only jealous of his musical talents.

But I won’t ever be able to forget it when I came to her, unsure that I’d been “sorry enough” when I’d said the sinner’s prayer, and she hugged me and took her face into my hands and said that wasn’t up to me, that the only thing that mattered was that Jesus loved me.

I won’t ever be able to forget the time a family friend lectured and berated me for not respecting my mother enough to clean our house like Martha Stewart would when I was 10, contributing to a complex that still has me panicking before anyone sees my home.

But I’ll never forget the look on her face when she came to my senior piano recital and she was so proud of me she could have burst, or that when she hugged me afterward she cried when she told me she loved me.

For better or for worse, all of those things are part of who I am today, all so mixed up and confusing it would be easier if I could set it all aside. However, Rachel reminded me that the God I believe in is one who makes all things new. She cares for the broken things, even the dead things, and restores them.

~~~~~~~~~

Searching for Sunday officially releases tomorrow, although if you’re near a brick-and-mortar Barnes & Noble some already have it stocked. If you buy it sometime this week and show a proof of purchase, you gain access to the “launch celebration” goodies. And yes, I got a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

men write letters to me

envelope

As I started becoming more involved in an online life– using Twitter more often, blogging regularly, opening up my e-mail for people to communicate with me privately– I knew that I was going to have to steel myself against online harassment. For the first six months I was terrified of what was coming, unsure of how I’d stay healthy and strong in the face of that. It worked out that it didn’t arrive as a sudden deluge of hate, which was what my imagination had concocted; instead it was a slow and steady progression of vitriol and misogyny. In fact, looking back, it’s funny to me to see how the harassment has “evolved.” Initially all the harassment came from fundamentalists who didn’t like what I was saying, but has slowly shifted to misogynists who actively go out of their way to find women to hate on. My blog has appeared on places like The Slyme Pit (Google that with caution), I’ve been ripped to shreds in comment sections all over the internet where my work has been re-posted, and I’ve even picked up a few hate-readers.

That slow and steady increase in harassment has given me the time to build up a thick skin, which is definitely not something I’d previously cultivated. Now when an asshole sends me a hateful comment I can shrug it off more easily, especially when the substance of the comment is so unoriginal it’s beyond boring. I’m fat? Really? That’s what you’ve got?

Something I did not expect was the bizarre e-mails.

In a way, I find these things profoundly more disturbing than most of the comments I get– excepting the rape and death threats. Some of them are bizarre and threatening, which is a difficult combination to shake. I’ve been accused of being a fundamentalist double-agent, using my “powers that are far beyond ordinary people” to use you, my readers, as “guinea pigs” in some convoluted fundamentalist trap. I barely understood that one– although being called a sorceress, essentially, was entertaining and is now my reliable pick-me-up about my writing: I’m such a damn fine writer someone accused me of sorcery once.

All of these bizarre and harassing and threatening letters and comments come from men. All. It’s gotten to the point now when I see a notification that I have a comment from a male-sounding (or gender-neutral) username I don’t recognize, I ask my partner to read it and evaluate whether or not I can publish it (so, all you douchewaffles out there, most of the time I don’t even see your comments. They’re getting read by a guy so unflappable and emotionally steady you’re definitely wasting your time).

But what I’d particularly like to talk about today is a very particular subset of men who write to me. Almost all of these e-mails follow so specific a pattern I’m left scratching my head wondering if they’re all the same person, or multiple people who have all read Arguing with Liberals for Dummies.

This type of man– I’m going to call him Mr. Apologist– sends me an e-mail that opens with how concerned he is and how much he just wants to understand me. He wants to clarify things in order to communicate clearly. All those italicized words have become red flags for me, as well as the tone in which they’re said. Mr. Apologist is mild, bordering on gentle, and every word is obviously meant to be soothing. He goes out of his way to seem as non-combative as possible. He just wants to talk.

For the first couple years, I took Mr. Apologist seriously. I would craft extensive, well-thought-out replies. I engaged these men for hours, for days, doing what I thought was my job– after all, I’m a feminist. If someone comes to me asking questions, I’m going to use every opportunity I can to educate. I would do individually-tailored research, finding resources I thought would help this man particularly well.

Over time, however, I noticed a pattern: inevitably all of these men would become recalcitrant. I would tamp down feelings of frustration, telling myself sternly that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and this would take time and effort and patience. But, eventually, it would become obvious that Mr. Apologist is not actually interested in “understanding” me. What Mr. Apologist wants to do is find out what my particular set of presuppositions, arguments, and support are for various issues so that he can bring to bear everything he picked up at his “Defending the Faith” class at church.

I’ve also noticed that they all want to “talk” about the same things:

  1. Hell
  2. Salvation
  3. Homosexuality
  4. Abortion
  5. The Meaning of Truth
  6. How Women Need to be Gentle and and Meek and Mild and Sweet and Invisible

When I figured this out, all I could do was laugh ruefully. Because– supposedly– they got my e-mail from my blog (it’s the only place it’s published) which means if they’ve spent two seconds around here they’d realize that I used to be them. There is not a single argument they can possibly make that I have not already made myself. In fact, what I’ve found is that when I used to be them, I was a much better version of them. For example, if I’m going to debate someone about homosexuality in the Bible, my opening salvo would never have been Sodom and Gomorrah (first: Romans 1 is much more verdant territory. Second: Ezekiel 16:49).

What frustrates me about Mr. Apologist is that he also has another name: Bancroft calls him the Water Torturer.

He tends to stay calm in arguments, using his own evenness as a weapon to push her over the edge. He often has a superior or contemptuous grin on his face, smug and self-assured. He uses a repertoire of aggressive conversational tactics at low volume, including sarcasm, derision—such as openly laughing at her—mimicking her voice, and cruel, cutting remarks. Like Mr. Right, he tends to take things she has said and twist them beyond recognition to make her appear absurd … He is relentless in his quiet derision and meanness …

In an argument, she may end up yelling in frustration, leaving the room crying, or sinking into silence. The Water Torturer then says, See, you’re the abusive one, not me. You’re the one who’s yelling and refusing to talk things out rationally. I wasn’t even raising my voice. It’s impossible to reason with you.

From Why Does He Do That?, 94.

I have slowly come to the opinion that conservative Christianity teaches everyone– but especially men– to be Water Torturers. Staying calm in an argument is one of the ways we feel superior to everyone else, and emotions from other people are taken as a sign that we’ve “won.” These men feel the same way: an excellent example that many of you are familiar with is Tiribulus. I’ve also talked about this in the context of that protester outside The Reformation Project: that I’d become emotional couldn’t be a sign of how offensive, mean, insulting, and degrading he was being– it was the sign that he’d won the argument. He’d stayed calm longer than me: ergo, he was more logical, more rational, more right than me.

Today, when I get one of these e-mails, my responses are brief and straightforward. I link him to a few posts that are a good example of my stance on an issue and then ask him to limit his contact to commenting on individual posts if he’s so interested in “asking questions.”

So far, no one has taken me up on that.

[sidenote: I do respond to e-mails from men. I’ve gotten pretty good at telling the difference between guy-with-an-actual-question and guy-who-just-wants-to-debate-a-liberal. I do enjoy talking to all of you, male, female, or otherwise.]

poptarts taste like freedom

lorelai gilmore

As I’ve mentioned a few times, I’ve been watching through Gilmore Girls for the first time, although Handsome and I have been distracted by listening to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time on audiobook. One of the episodes we watched recently, included Lorelai having a bit of an epiphany about her likes and dislikes. In a conversation with Sookie, she says that the first time she ever had a PopTart, “it tasted like freedom.” She wonders if perhaps some of her favorite things are simply a result of wanting them because her mother said she couldn’t have them.

As I watched, I told Handsome “oh, I hope they deal with this more because I think this is something Lorelai really needs to work out.” So far, they haven’t addressed it again, but it got me to thinking some about the choices I’ve made in my life. I’ve enjoyed some of the things that I’ve done because fundamentalism told me I shouldn’t.

Take Star Wars for example.

I saw the original trilogy when I was about seven, and I remember having a dramatic emotional response. When we got to the scene at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, I turned to my father, sobbing, and declared “he just can’t be his daddy! He can’t be!” I was somewhat traumatized by this revelation, and was grief-stricken all the way through Return of the Jedi.

I sort of forgot about it, though, because we watched Jurassic Park the next day and I had nightmares about goats for a while. When I was eleven, though, The Phantom Menace came out, and Dad– who’d grown up with Star Wars— decided that we were going to break the “no good Christian ever goes to a movie theater ever for any reason ever” rule. It was made very clear to me and my sister that we were not to bring it up with anyone at church. In fact, just to be safe, don’t talk about it with anyone.

As I sat there and slowly fell in love with Obi-Wan Kenobi (I have a crush on Ewan McGregor to this day, it’s why I like gingers so much), I could feel myself becoming enchanted. I was hooked, obsessed. I found out about the Jedi Apprentice series and read them a few pages at a time whenever we were in a book store. I checked out Star Wars-related encyclopedias from the library and memorized ever factoid. When we got the internet, I discovered starwars.com and theforce.net and became heavily involved in the fan community, especially fan fiction. I read every single thing ever posted on starwarschicks.com and the Jedi Apprentice Fan Dimsension (one story in particular, “Sabre Dance,” ended up being my introduction to smut– I enjoyed the story on JAFD and found the not-safe-for-children sequel the author had written).

But now, as an adult, while I still love the films and will definitely be fangirling out my ass in December when I go see The Force Awakens, that obsession has … abated. Perhaps a part of it is that I’m no longer a teenager, but a part of me is sure that I’m not as obsessed with it because there’s no one in my life telling me I’m not allowed to be.

~~~~~~~~~~

When I was in graduate school, I started experimenting. For people who had a “typical” American childhood, you probably went through something similar when you were in high school. I started flexing my decision-making muscles, testing limits, all of that. I made some bad decisions, did some things that weren’t good for me– nothing too bad, but things that in retrospect make me grimace a little bit in either embarrassment or regret. I think that was a healthy thing for me to go through, as I didn’t know anything about myself, really. A bit like Kimmy Schmidt, I’d been trapped in an invisible box all my life and I wanted to experience life.

However, some of the choices I made were a literal middle finger to fundamentalism and pretty much nothing more than that. I tried to be ok with movies (like Planet Terror) that made me uncomfortable because of their overt sexualization of women. I did the bump-and-grind with a few guys even though they sort of creeped me out, and I dismissed those feelings because I chalked them up to my fundamentalist programming. I did that a lot, actually– if I had a negative reaction to something, I’d tell myself get over it, Sam, it’s nothing– this is fine. Just because your Sunday school teacher would be horrified doesn’t mean this is bad.

That was an important thing to learn to differentiate. Some things I react to because fundamentalist!brain goes into overdrive and teams up with JerkBrain to make me feel like shit for having fun. Other times I’m reacting because there’s legitimately something wrong. That show is portraying abuse. This comedian is sexist. That article minimizes the harmful effects of destructive theology.

A few weekends ago I went to a club for the first time in my life, and I had a blast. It was a local event mainly for lesbian and bisexual women, and it was awesome to be in a safe space like that. The DJ played a few songs I like (dancing to Icona Pop’s “I Love It” is fun), I got a little tipsy (don’t do Kahlua as a shot. Just … don’t), I danced with a few of my girlfriends, and had a pretty fantastic night.

It was also simultaneously miserable. I’m an introvert, so being in a crowded club filled with strangers? AHHHH. Loud, base-throbbing music sends my anxiety through the roof? AHHHHHHH. Flashing lights induce a headache? AHHHHHHHHHHHH. Dancing in heels? Who the hell thought that was a good idea? Oh, right, me. Should’ve known a club full of queer people would have involved Converse for most and my attempt to “fit in” just made me head-and-shoulders taller than basically everyone (at 5’8″ I already stand out in a room full of women).

But I’d figured out that my “oh, ok, I’m done, I want to go home now” feelings weren’t because fundamentalist!brain was telling me to. I wanted to go home and go to bed because I know myself. I know that loud noises and flashing lights and lots of people just aren’t my cup of tea for extended periods.

This is something fundamentalism robs us of. Being able to make decisions based on who you are and what you like doesn’t even begin to enter the picture. You do things because God (coughpastorcough) tells you to. You don’t do things because God (coughbullshitcough) tells you not to. That’s the only thing involved in making decisions, and while I understand how easy and comfortable and safe that can make us feel, it’s also the everyday equivalent of being trapped in an underground bunker.

Introduction to the Review Series: “How to Win Over Depression”

how to win over depression

The poll I put up last week had Francine River’s Redeeming Love and Tim LaHaye’s How to Win Over Depression neck-and-neck almost the entire time. At the very end Redeeming Love won out by a few votes, but I’d already decided to work on Tim’s book instead. Also, I’m reading through Why Does He Do That? by Bancroft in preparation for another series I’ll be doing sometime soon, and I don’t think I can handle reading about Michael Hosea being both an abuser and a rapist in the context of a book that glorifies it.

The copy of Tim’s book that I have is the original edition published in 1974. There’s an updated and revised edition he put out in 1996, but I’ve seen a copy of the book and the changes seem to be unsubstantial– for example, in the opening illustration the woman is “attractive” and in her mid-thirties in the 1974 version, but both descriptors are removed in the 1996 edition. For this reason I’m going to be paying less attention to the specific language he uses (which he may have changed) and focus more on the big-picture problems.

How to Win Over Depression has been an extremely influential book in conservative Christian circles– in some cases, this book or books like it are the only education a pastor receives about depression, and since it echoes the common cultural myths about mental illness it’s received as reliable information.

For a glimpse of how people typically respond:

I read this book years ago and it was the key to winning over depression. Excellent book. Since then I have bought several to give to others to help them learn how to manage depression and conquer it. It’s an awesome teaching and I recommend it to everyone. [from Christian Book, September 2008]

When I picked this book up at a library, I figured it would be like all the other unhelpful books on depression I had read. However, the book was amazing! This book literally changed my life! I had been suffering from depression for 6 years and tried therapy, hypnosis, anti-depressants and had a struggling relationship with the Lord … The book opened my eyes to that fact that my self-pity was a sin and the root of my depression. The book showed me how to beat the depression by giving me details on how to change my thinking. I have been relatively depression free since reading this book. Try reading this book, it might change your life too! [from Amazon, February 2000]

This book really ministered to me when I was in the depths of my depression. I even bought a few to give away. Looking through the book now, I really wish I had taken it more seriously and heeded the advice in it sooner. My only complaint is I didn’t really care for the chapter that lists common cures for depression, such as antidepressants because it needs to be updated and reiterated that abiding in Christ and walking in the Spirit is the only true cure for depression. [from Goodreads, March 2008]

After experiencing depression for over 20 years, I was given a copy of this book by my pastor. One reading is all it took to cure me of depression. I’ve gone through many tough times since reading it and though I have been down at times, I have never experienced depression. Faith in God and the Bible were the keys for me as well as the great writing skills and wisdom of Tim LaHaye. If you believe it, you’ll live it. [from Barnes & Noble, July 2003]

Negative reviews exist, although I think it’s important to note that most of those reviews seem to come from non-Christians who are primarily reacting to the “Christian” views– it was unusual for someone to criticize the ideas he presents, shrugging them off as being “not for them.” This is one of the reasons why I think it’s important for someone like me to critique this book– I’m a Christian, and capable of separating out the parts of this book that are truly Christlike and the things that are a result of Tim’s … misunderstandings.

It’s about 240 pages long and split into 20 segments, so I’m going to do my best to cover two chapters each week, since I’m not super interested in spending half of this year on it. We’ll see how it goes, though. I might need to step away from it some weeks, and I’ll do my best to put up a review of a book I think y’all should read (for example, Rachel Held Evans’ new book, Searching for Sunday, comes out next Tuesday and it’s definitely her best book yet– and I’m going to put of a review of it next week so you know exactly how awesome it is).

Anyway, so why did I pick Tim’s book over some of the others I could have chosen? Well, first … I already owned it (it was one of the “oh, you should totally review this on your blog!” gifts) so I didn’t need to give anyone more money. Second, Tim LaHaye is an important figure in conservative Christian culture. He co-wrote the Left Behind books which made so much money Nicolas Cage himself starred in a film adaptation of them (in my opinion, he should have just stuck with Knowing as his apocalyptic movie). Tim’s also written a bunch of other self-help and Christian-life-advice style books which were also successful in Christian circles.

Here’s to wishing us all luck and endurance. As always, if you’d like to read along and have a book-club-style discussion in the comments, that would be fantastic. Multiple points of view always help.

which book should I review next? your pick!

book stack

I have a small-ish library in my office, with four filled-to-bursting bookcases (English major, what can I say?). One of those bookcases has what my partner refers to as the “caution tape shelf.” It’s the shelf I set aside for all the books I’ve amassed that are anything from mildly irritating to absolutely horrific. I don’t want their bookjackets contaminating all my other lovely books, after all.

I’m sitting here looking at it, and was attempting to decide which book I should choose next for my Monday review series. Eventually I gave up and decided to ask all of you. It’s a a slightly different list than the last time I did this– not all of them are in the “marriage-advice” category this time around. Each of them, however, is a well-read book in evangelical circles and all have some pretty serious problems.

[edit 3.29.15: I’ve narrowed the poll to the three most popular choices]

If you’re not familiar with these books, here’s a short break-down:

How to Win Over Depression is, in my opinion, one of the worst books written. Ever. I’m having a hard time trying to come up with a worse book. It’s one of the books that started the “you can pray away your mental illness!” approach to “biblical counseling” back in the 70s. This book has killed people.

Lies Women Believe I read when I was a student at PCC, and my memories of it are that it was vaguely encouraging. It would be interesting to go through this one an re-experience it now. I imagine it would be a bit like how some of you responded to going through Captivating again. Helpful at the time … but not so helpful now.

Redeeming Love is slightly different because it’s fiction, but it’s equally as horrible as all the rest. Rape? Check. Misogyny? Check. Horrible theology? Check. Thank you, Francine Rivers, for taking Hosea and Gomer and making that story worse.

Anyway, let me know which one you’d like to see me rip to shreds!