Tuesday, June 30, 2009

[Christianity] perfected bodies and (wedding) feasts

Shapely Prose's A Sarah posted:
One of the reasons I grudgingly remain a Christian, is because of a particular story that Christianity tells about bodies. Now, I hardly need to point out that not all the stories Christianity has told about bodies are good ones. A lot of them are crap. Maybe most of them; I don’t have an exhaustive understanding of Christian stories about bodies, but of the ones I come across, most are terrible. But there is, I think, a strand of the Christian tradition that is very body-affirming. For example: You might not know this, but there’s actually good reason for viewing the notion of a “soul” going to “heaven” as an interloper in the Christian tradition. Well, maybe “interloper” is too strong. But many theologians would say that, at best, it’s a belief that’s become an unhelpful distraction simply by being so focused upon. (Like, it actually doesn’t say in the historical canonical creeds that Christians’ souls will go to heaven when they die; it says only that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and then ascended into heaven, where he’s hanging out until he comes again.) (Er, I’m paraphrasing.)

Arguably, the FAR more consistent and long-established Christian belief about life after death is EXACTLY NOT that some immaterial vapor of selfhood will go into a happy place in the sky. Rather, it’s that our bodies will be resurrected and perfected.

Aieee! Perfect bodies. I’ve gone to church since I was a wee tot, and have now made a job of it — and yet when I hear about bodies being “perfected,” what springs to mind is not the Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead. No, it’s diets. It’s bikini season. Clear complexion products and spray tan and so forth. I fill with dread and anxiety and self-loathing.

But in the Christian theological sense, “perfected bodies” means mostly that our bodies won’t be in pain or die again. (Well, you have people like St. Augustine who also specified that everyone would be 33 years old in the resurrection, but that’s sort of an academic point.) More interesting than what the bodies won’t be, is what they will be, according to this particular flight of the Christian imagination. Namely, they will be ours. Recognizably. They will be physical bodies, the same ones we have now, just… transformed, somehow. They’ll be even more what they are now, more alive, more there. Their longings and yearnings will be fulfilled and satisfied. The delightful tangibility and vulnerability that comes with being fleshy won’t go away, but it won’t any longer be an occasion for danger and harm. It has even been speculated by at least one Christian theologian (and yes those are weasel words, and no I can’t remember who said it but I swear it’s in my seminary notes!) that our perfected bodies will retain their scars. The reasoning was that it makes sense that anything which testifies to suffering’s having been overcome will be preserved.

And what’s one image in the Christian tradition that has consistently been used to describe this new, redeemed, embodied life that awaits? Obviously not immaterial souls becoming harp-playing angels on clouds. Nope nope nope. A feast. A feast, where nobody is left out and everybody has enough. A feast where – if I may extend the image in a manner I think is faithful to it – there are no good foods and bad foods… no popular table and no nerds table… no foods that look gorgeous on the plate but are the result of cruel and world-killing technology… no need to make eating into a locus for control in the hopes of finally, finally being worthy of love. Just a beautiful, intimate, abundant, joyful, and peaceful meal with your close circle of friends. Except that the circle is extended to every creature, and the Holy One is sitting with us at the table too.
She goes on to talk about some of the ways in which the "wedding night" imagery is problematic and then to her great credit says:
Ah, that’s where I see the whole “ordered appetite” thing come in. And, you know, I can *almost* cut my tradition some slack here. I mean, if you’re saying that both gastronomical hunger and its fulfillment, and sexual longing and its fulfillment, reveal something about the very goal of the whole cosmos… well, suddenly, it seems pretty important to put in a bunch of provisos about how there are right and wrong ways for those appetites to be ordered. Because we don’t want to say that just EVERYthing that someone might theoretically do sexually, or EVERYthing you do related to your meals, is redemptive and good. A meal can be the occasion of exclusion and harm, even accidentally. So can sex. So can a bunch of other embodied longings.

Well, better make a whole bunch of rules to make sure that people only do the right things with their appetites, and not the wrong things, right?

Uhhh, sure, go ahead. Make a list of ordered and disordered appetites. And rules. And good people and bad people. And good bodies and bad bodies. Knock yourself out. EXCEPT REMEMBER THAT a big horking part of the Judeo-Christian narrative has to do with the guardians of “order” always being tempted to use that order to shore up their own power. And meanwhile – at least as I read the Christian Bible, but I’m not alone – God has pretty consistently cast God’s lot with those who’ve been othered by the authorities of the day.

Seriously, that’s like, um, kind of the whole freaking plot of the Bible, over and over and over and over and over again. The guardians of order say, with some plausible reason, “These are the conditions necessary for God to find favor with people!” And then God says, “Aww, nice try, mates, and I can totally see how you got there… but turns out I’m not so simple. ‘Scuse me a sec… Hey, you outcasts over there! Come join the party!”
At the end, she writes:
I can’t write about this without mentioning a memory that I shall cherish for as long as my memory functions. It illustrates everything I’ve just been trying, in fits and starts, to describe.

In the early ‘aughties I lived in a sort of pacifist anarchist Christian commune. One of the things we did — in addition to dumpster-diving, protesting war, and gardening — was provide a place for families with children who needed somewhere to stay. (At the time, in the city where I lived, most regular shelters and agencies wouldn’t place parents and children together.) One young woman, a high school student, stayed with us for more than a year. She’d been kicked out of her house when she got pregnant and decided to proceed with the pregnancy.

One day – when she was getting near her due date – she and the baby’s father announced they would be getting married. “WHAT!? CONGRATULATIONS!” we exclaimed. “WHEN?!” Whereupon this woman said somewhat dejectedly that they’d just get it taken care of the next day, because it’s not like they’d have any family who’d want to come.

At this point the matriarch of the community BEGGED her to let them try and give her a beautiful wedding. The bride happily said yes. And what I saw come together in the next twenty-four hours… I just don’t know how to describe it except that it felt like God was a sprightly and eccentric auntie throwing a wedding for her favorite niece. Somehow the news spread throughout the whole neighborhood. Little things just came together. For instance, the next morning my friend Christy and I found gorgeous entire bouquets of fresh flowers in the dumpster behind a florist, which we used to decorate the basement chapel. The intentional community down the street baked a wedding cake using, for the toppers, boy and girl chocolate Easter bunnies that they happened to have gotten on clearance. One of the other moms in the house worked as a caterer, and she made piles and piles of pupusas and heaps of black beans. Other neighbors brought chicken and I don’t even remember what else. A very psychologically troubled friend of ours who had some musical gifts sang “Danny Boy” as a solo. The preacher from the storefront church half a block away offered to do the ceremony. And the eighty-five-year-old grandfather who lived up the street — the sort who’d sit on his front porch in all but the worst weather so he could greet everyone as they passed – asked the bride if he could give her away.


It was both a feast, and a wedding night. And to me, it was a very scripturally-appropriate foretaste of the future of justice and peace that I try to work for. But I’ve often reflected how it satisfied exactly nobody’s rules for proper behavior or ordered appetites. Nobody. Certainly not wedding experts. Certainly not most religious people, who would have frowned on the bride (and perhaps only her) for having sex. Not the young woman’s family, who were angry she proceeded with the pregnancy. Not the vegans in our community, because of the chicken. I mean, they handled it with good humor and everything; I’m just saying if *they* had been in charge there probably wouldn’t have been chicken, you know? The wedding probably wouldn’t even have satisfied the government, seeing as how the groom didn’t speak English, couldn’t understand a word the preacher said, and didn’t actually repeat any vows. Hell, as a feminist I wasn’t thrilled in principle that she was being given away!

Didn’t matter. There was some power that had gone out ahead of us, ahead of all our rules, and brought us together in a place of peace… in a way that none of us could have anticipated. It was a gift *precisely* *because* it didn’t just spring up out of our fastidious adherence to rules.

Well, that’s my take, anyway. It’s also a long way of telling how I eventually found my spot in a liberal Christianity where a love of embodied life (in its lumpiest and bumpiest and earthiest sense) is at the heart of my faith… a Christianity that expects God to be especially at work in the lives of people with the “wrong” kinds of bodies, who have or are believed to have the “wrong” kinds of yearnings, longings, appetites.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Mother is the name of God..."

At SCBC prayer group this morning, people kept saying "Lord" and "Father" and "He." I don't want to co-opt the term "double-consciousness" (esp. since I think I wouldn't really be using it correctly), but I was very conscious simultaneously of how the speakers intended the language and how it failed to resonate with me. I've been inclined recently to use female language for God (e.g., "Mother," "She"), even though any gendered language for God makes me uncomfortable to some degree because God is so beyond our conceptions of gender. "Mother" in particular often make me uncomfortable because I feel like the speakers are intended to conjure up this happy fluffy "if only women ruled the world we would live in socialist harmony" idea. I was thinking about how recently I've had that fierce protective "place myself between you and the powers of darkness" urge, and how that feels to me really true to who God is and also echoes the Mama Bear response I've seen from my own mother.

"Mother is the name of God in the lips and hearts of children" [Google tells me (1) that originates with William Makepeace, (2) it was quoted in The Crow -- which is probably where it was initially familiar to me from.]


At CWM tonight, I think it was in the Welcome that Tiffany said something about how we are gathered around this table, and I realized that by gathering around the Communion table, we literally mirror the Last Supper -- Christ gathering together with his friends.

Carolyn went off lectionary and preached on: Psalm 29, 1 John 4:19-21, Amos 5:18-24

She talked about how Amos' audience believed that their prosperity (though I don't think that was the exact word she used, but I totally thought, "Wow, that really undercuts the idea of the Prosperity Gospel") was the result of God's favor on them. Retribution will come at the time it is least expected. She also talked about how this idea of divine retribution is problematic (though I think she might have been overgenerous in stating that we liberals are uncomfortable with the idea of divine retribution raining down on our adversaries ;) ).

She said that the word translated "stream" in Amos is a word from the Noah flood story, so it's rather more intense than just the literal translation of "permanent stream that will never run dry." She talked about how the water language of the Psalm recalls Creation and Noah -- order out of chaos. She suggested that one lesson we could take from this is that God helps us find meaning.

Three things we can learn from this Amos passage:
1. Justice is important to God. (On the Day of YHWH, YHWH's justice comes to fruition. Even God's people can act counter to what God wants.)
2. God is there with us.
3. Perhaps we are called to be the prophets.

Interestingly, I used to really like the name "Yahweh" for God, but my best friend and I have had conversations about the Tetragrammaton, and so now my immediate reaction is to find it problematic that we are pronouncing a name which was purposely unpronounceable/unpronounced.

[Iran] Neda, interventionism, media, etc.

Blake Huggins said, "The Revolution will not be Televised. It will be tweeted."

One of the big things going around re: the Iranian election is:
دنیارابگوییدچطورآنهاانتخاباتمان دزدیده اند
Tell the world how they have stolen our election
I literally saw someone comment: "This quote could have been from any one of several million people here in the U.S. in 2000. Truly, we have more things in common than we imagine. I'm sad for them." I could have slapped them. Regardless of whether Bush stole that election or not, the people insisting that Gore won were not getting killed by the government for saying so.

One of the first things I came across about the election was Daniel Larison commenting on a George Friedman piece about polling, questioning whether Ahmadinejad really could have stolen the election. (Though some days later I read a BBC piece "Iran: Where did all the votes come from?", which is very doubtful about the legitimacy of the official results.)

My early reaction to all the news about the election was that I am really not invested in whether the Iranian election was stolen or not. (I winced when at a church service the first Wednesday after the June 12th election, one of the worship leaders said something about the courage of the people of Iran in the face of a stolen election.) What seems to me the big problem is that peaceful demonstrators are getting violently opposed by the government.


Matthew Yglesias wrote:
Obama *always* stays “two steps behind them”

I missed an excellent post the other day from Spencer Ackerman citing Trita Parsi of the NIAC:

It was important, Parsi said, for any non-Iranian organization wishing to show solidarity with the opposition to ensure that “anything they do is two steps behind the opposition and not two steps ahead.”
I just wanted to point out that this has always been Obama’s MO. He’s always a step or two behind where his supporters want him to be, getting pulled along by their enthusiasm, rather than out ahead of them where he might get cut off. It’s a community organizer’s MO. You never get out ahead of your constituency. Instead you shape the playing field so that your constituency’s desires flow towards where you think they should go, and allow them to carry you along behind them.
Somewhat relatedly, Andrew Sullivan quoted Kevin Drum responding to TPM's Jacob Heilbrunn.


ann1962 wrote:
I understand the point they are making, but she isn't their daughter or my daughter. I will not take that claim from her parents. Now her parents don't have her, they shouldn't lose the claim to call her *their* daughter.

In an unrelated context, fillyjonk on Shapely Prose wrote:
Part of the reason we show such public interest in — and sense of entitlement to — women’s bodies is that they’ve historically been used to represent things that are at once greater and smaller than “individual woman.” When we’re accustomed to women’s bodies signifying virtues and values and cultural mores — instead of signifying, you know, a woman’s body — it’s no wonder we start to feel they’re public property.
From "We Watched a Woman Die. Now Let's Look Away" (Posted: June 25, 2009 at 7:57 AM By Vanessa M. Gezari):
Hanna is right about the Neda video. We really don’t have any idea what it records, except a young woman bleeding to death in the street. And ultimately that’s what is most arresting about the film: the experience of watching someone die. Like so many others, my reaction to it has been visceral. The first time I saw it, I burst into tears. Later, I focused on the whites of her eyes, the blood streaming from her mouth.

My interest in these details has nothing to do with my support for the protesters in Iran or my anger at her assassin, and it says absolutely nothing about who that assassin might be. It springs from my awareness of the vulnerability of the human body, and my physical empathy with this particular body in the moment it becomes a corpse. Meghan gets at this when she writes that the sight of Neda dying “is so difficult to hold in the mind that we have to transform it,” and that in making Neda’s death stand for more than the death of a single young women, we “rob it of meaning.” This is the same problem we encounter when we mix art, which captures the reality of life and death, with politics, whose aims are far more utilitarian. I don’t mean to suggest that the Neda video is art. But like art, it captures a profoundly significant moment in human existence, and that’s why it moves us. It’s the record of an individual death, not a revolutionary struggle.
I followed through the links in this post to co-bloggers and to the posts they reference and so on. I recommend it.

[Sidebar: According to the Guardian, "The police did not hand [Neda Agha Soltan's] body back to her family, her funeral was cancelled, she was buried without letting her family know and the government banned mourning ceremonies at mosques, the neighbours said."]


Even though I "seem to be very impressed by right-wing blogs like HotAir, and far-right ideologues and apologists like Volokh," in my (albeit somewhat limited) blogrolling I haven't encountered the rhetoric that Andrew Sullivan references in this cartoon.

Interesting reading includes "Bombing, Sanctions, And Rhetoric" (Posted on June 21st, 2009 by Daniel Larison).

I appreciate seeing the Left divided on this issue (see below excerpts from two posts from friends of friends). I don't think big issues like this have simple, always-true, answers, and I get frustrated when people talk as if they do.
ethrosdemon: This is the problem with the long-range FP strategy that Obama is going with: yeah, it makes sense as long-term FP strategy, but sometimes shit happens and you have to react. The problem with having a strictly non-interventionist FP is that it's morally repugnant. This is same damned thing that happened in the Clinton administration. Why does the American left have to have no teeth? Interventionism doesn't not equal warmongering. Christ, and they even have Joe Biden in the administration. He must be losing his entire mind. LISTEN TO JOE BIDEN, YOU IDIOTS. I don't even think there's all much we can even do (I mean, because, you know, engaged in two wars on either side of Iran...*takes a valium*). I understand all that, but so? Isn't what Obama sold us to get in the Oval Office the dream that we'd Do Better? This is not doing better.

liz_marcs: I can understand the neo-con call for us to do something even though I completely disagree with them and think it's probably the last thing we should do. The arc of history is against the U.S. in this, in it's for the best that we do our best to stay out of the clash between the protesters and the Iranian government. The U.S. coming in on the side of the protesters is exactly what the government wants, so they can blame the protests on "foreign influence" and discredit what the protesters are trying to accomplish.

And what they're trying to accomplish is justice, to force the government to live up to its promises and govern only by the consent of the governed. If the protesters succeed, will their democracy look like ours? Hell, no. It won't and it shouldn't. But it will be theirs and that's the point.

Who wouldn't want to do something after reading and seeing everything that's available online? Who wouldn't?

But in the end, I think President Obama struck the right tone here in reminding the Iranian government that world is watching, and that the rights of the Iranian people need to be respected.

It's hard sitting on the sidelines, but sometimes you have to because history needs witnesses.

David Adesnik wrote:
OBAMA TAKES A PAGE FROM JIMMY CARTER'S PLAYBOOK: In today's news conference, President Obama came down hard on the Iranian regime for its failure to respect its citizens' universal rights. At the same time, the President insisted that he was absolutely, in no way, not at all meddling in Iran's internal affairs. In his words:
I've made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering with Iran's affairs...If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent and not coercion.
So the United States is not meddling, but it is threatening to make Iran's position abroad dependent on its actions at home.

Obama's paradoxical statement on this subject reflects a much deeper and enduring tension in the liberal approach to international politics. On the one hand, liberals cherish non-intervention. On the other hand, they cherish human rights. Is there any way to reconcile the two?


On a related note, Carter often tried to assert that focusing on human rights is not intervention, because international law recognizes human rights. Thus, in his first address to the UN General Assembly, Carter insisted:
All the signatories of the U.N. Charter have pledged themselves to observe and to respect basic human rights. Thus, no member of the United Nations can claim that mistreatment of its citizens is solely its own business.
Yet in another prominent address on human rights, Carter stated,
In the life of the human spirit, words are action, much more so than many of us may realize who live in countries where freedom of expression is taken for granted. The leaders of totalitarian nations understand this very well. The proof is that words are precisely the action for which dissidents in those countries are being persecuted.
So words represent a dangerous threat to totalitarian governments, but they are not a form of intervention. Got it?

I often like Will Wilkinson (though I think he can also be a real jerk sometimes -- but I should know by now that this isn't necessarily a dealbreaker), and he has a series of smart posts (reposted with most recent on top):
"History Repeats Itself" by Will Wilkinson on June 23, 2009

As I admitted below, I don’t know much about Iran, but I suppose exiled Iranian journalist and filmaker Lila Ghobady does. She says:
There has been no real election. Candidates are all hand-picked and cleared by a central religious committee. It is a farcical imitation of the free nomination/ election process that we have pictured in the free world. There is no possibility that a secular, pluralistic, freedom-loving democratic person who loves his or her country can become a candidate to run for president (or any other office) in Iran.

Twelve years ago, we went through the same process. Mohamad Khatami became the favorite of the western media, which called him a “reformist” who spoke beautifully about freedom of speech, civil rights and dialogue between cultures. But when he became president there was a crack down on a student uprising – a crackdown against the same students who voted for him. Many were killed, many disappeared, and many were tortured. Artists, authors and intellectuals disappeared and were found “mysteriously” murdered. The smooth-talking president Khatami, whom westerners loved, never tried to stop the violence and never showed sympathy to his supporters. Instead, he openly avowed that his responsibility was to respect the wishes of the supreme leader, Ayotollah Khameni, and to protect the security of the Islamic regime.

Now, the passionate and oppressed young generation of Iranians are going through exact same situation. They are supporting Khatami’s friend, Mousavi. It is sad that history repeats itself so quickly in my beloved country of birth. The people of Iran were fed up with poverty, injustice, corruption and international embarrassment with the knuckle-dragging, anti-Semitic, war-mongering cretin who was President Ahmadinejad. They chose to support a bad choice – Mousavi – rather than the worse choice, Ahmadinejad. However, when an election is really a selection, choice is an illusion. Mousavi is from the Islamic regime; he is inseparable from it, and all its abuses and cruelties.

The reality is that Iran has not had a democratic, free election for the past 30 years. Mr Mousavi, if elected, will not make any changes, not because he is powerless to do so (as Khatami’s supporters claimed during his presidency), but because he doesn’t believe in a democratic state as his background shows. He belongs to the fanatic dictatorial era of Ayotollah Khomeini and he believes in the same command-and-control system of government. We should not forget Khomeini’s statement in one of his speeches after the revolution about democracy. He said that “if all people of Iran say ‘yes” I would say no to something that I would believe is not right for the Islamic Nation”.

Let us not forget that Mousavi was Prime Minister of Iran in the 1980s when more than ten thousand political prisoners were executed after three-minute sham trials. He has been a part of the Iranian dictatorship system for the past 30 years. If he had not been, he would not be allowed to be a candidate in the first place.
Do you have any reason to think she’s wrong?

Ghobady observes that no matter who comes out on top, he would stone her for her many “crimes” against Islam. This is not the situation I prefer, but it does seem to be the situation we have.


"Further Meditations on the Objective Meaning of Green Twitter Avatars" by Will Wilkinson on June 23, 2009

Some people were really ticked off by my Twitter avatar post, and I can see why. I guess it’s bad enough to accuse people of empty moral posturing. It’s another thing to accuse people of empty moral posturing that helps the people who worked like crazy to start an unjustified war in Iraq. So let me say that I completely understand the impulse to express solidarity with Iranians who seek freedom. I feel it very strongly myself, but I also don’t trust it. Why not?

Because I realize that I have no idea what I’m talking about. I don’t understand Iranian politics very deeply. I will now proceed to make some mistakes that prove this. For example, I did not know until this episode that Mousavi was Prime Minister of Iran for many years under Khomeni, which pretty much guarantees he’s no angel. I did not understand anything about the internal divisions within the Council of Guardians and the Assembly of Experts. Indeed, I still don’t completely grasp how these various bodies are related to each other. What I gather is that that Khameni and Ahmadinejad are aligned against former Prime Minister Mousavi and former President Rafsanjani (who is now the head of the Assemby of Experts, the body that chooses the Supreme Leader. Thank you Wikipedia). I don’t really grasp whether Mousavi and Rafsanjani are in it together, or are in a “the enemy of my enemy is a friend of mine” sort of thing, or what. As far as I can tell, the ruling axis got worried A’jad might lose the election, botched the vote-rigging, but validated the result anyway. I don’t know who would have won had the vote been counted (I think this remains quite unclear), but in any case, it seems clear enough that Ahmadinejad is staying in power despite a pretty transparent flouting of the rules of an already deeply anti-democratic constitution. This provided a great opportunity for the anti-Khameni/Ahmadinejad faction to encourage a popular uprising, which I am sure is fueled by real discontent with the current regime. And much of this discontent I am sure is surely rooted in an authentic desire for a more liberal and democratic Iran.

Is that what we get if the Mousavi-Rafsanjani axis comes to power? A more liberal and democratic Iran? I honestly don’t know, and I don’t think many people do. I do know that these guys are deeply embedded in the larger status quo power structure, have had power before, and their records don’t look so good. They may well represent improvement, but I don’t honestly know that. As far as I know, the outpouring of desire for change that we see so clearly on YouTube is being exploited by one faction of the Iranian ruling class to depose another. I’d like to see the whole theocratic structure of Iran fall. I’d like to see the whole country radically liberalize, but I think that’s unlikely, largely because I doubt very much that that’s what most Iranians want. I want Iran to be free, and I want Iranians to want to be free. And I’m quite willing to cheer for freedom. Go freedom! But given my ignorance of exactly what and who I’d really be cheering on should I alter my Twitter avatar to reflect the campaign color of the former PM of the Islamic Republic of Iran, I think the intellectually and morally responsible course of action is to watch with colorless hope.

I am, however, quite confident that the powerful faction within American politics that argued for and got a war in Iraq has been arguing for a much harder line against Iran in order to set up a familiar dynamic of sanctions, UN Security Council demands, and so on. [...]


"Signaling and Solidarity" by Will Wilkinson on June 19, 2009

So folks on Twitter have been turning their avatars (little profile photos) green to show solidarity with the protesters in Iran. There are websites to help you do this. But why do this? How does it help? I want the Iranian people to live in freedom, just as I want all people to live in freedom. But the point of the gesture eludes me, unless the point of the gesture is to be seen making the gesture by others who will credit you for it. Like so many political gestures, it is vanity dressed up as elevated moral consciousness. It doesn’t help. Is it harmless? Unlike the stupidly grandstanding House resolution, the ruling regime probably won’t be pointing to verdant Twitter avatars as evidence that the uprising is an American plot. So I wouldn’t worry about that. Here’s what I do worry about. When people feel pressure to signal, and it’s free, they’ll signal. But sending the signal creates a small emotional investment in the overt message of the signal — solidarity with opponents of the ruling Iranian regime. As every salesman knows, getting someone to make a big, costly commitment is best achieved by getting them to first make a tiny, costless commitment. The tiny, costless commitment of turning Twitter avatars green is thin edge of the persuasive edge for the neocons who would like to sell the public a war in Iran. Since I would rather not be Bill Kristol’s useful idiot, I will conspicuously leave my avatar as is, and continue hoping for the best.

Apparently HuffPo's Nico Pitney caused a stir, though I didn't see anything about that (on any side of the controversy) in almost any of the blogs I read.

"Mr. President, Iran Has a Question: How Obama is using the media to destroy and improve the traditional press conference." By John Dickerson [Posted Friday, June 26, 2009, at 3:30 PM ET]

Thursday, June 25, 2009

in which I complain about a World Religions class

So, I'm auditing a World Religions class at Harvard Summer School (taught by a guy with a PhD from BU), the first session of which was Tuesday of this week.

A friend of mine had criticized one of the main texts we're using, saying, "she [the author] makes some cringingly simplistic statements, and her bias against traditional Christianity was so apparent (to me, anyway) that I didn't fully trust her appraisal of other religions I know less well. I wish I knew of a better comparative religion text to recommend."

Early in class, the prof spoke praisingly of the author (whom he has become friends with). I'm only about ten pages into the text, though, so I didn't have an opinion of my own to make me hesitant.

[Sidebar before I start complaining in earnest: I will give the prof credit for recommending to us that we get to know people from other faith traditions -- and other countries, other ethnicities -- and sit down and have a drink with that person, that you'll learn more from that than you will from a class. Though it came across a little uncomfortably tokenizing, with an implication of "tell me about your faith tradition" without an understanding that everyone's experience of a given faith tradition is going to be unique and often very different from someone else's ... though he did sort of touch on this at other moments ... and he's traveled to lots of places around the world getting to know different Buddhist practitioners, so I think he really is aware of the diversity that exists within a given faith tradition.]

Later, he told a story of saying to his parents, "Isn't it interesting that two out of your three kids became Buddhists" (his parents were Methodists, possibly ministers), and his sister turned to him and said, "You're not a Buddhist." He said he was -- he meditates some, the Buddhist philosophy is very important in his life. She insisted that he didn't actually practice it (she gets up every morning and chants, has an altar, etc.), sure he goes all over the world and writes books, but "it's a hobby for you." (As the class went on, I returned to this as an articulation of my problem with him -- that he's not a practitioner of religion but rather an outsider ... though admittedly my problem may simply be that he's an outsider talking about my faith tradition.)

A friend of his suggested he take the Belief-O-Matic quiz to settle the question. So he read us his results, mentioning an important belief of his (concern for social justice, the environment, church that doesn't have lots of talking) that explained why he had scored high for that faith tradition (until he finally got to a kind of Buddhism, which I think was #8).

Later in the class, he talked about how we're going to focus on elements common across many religions, but that he's not trying to say that all/most religions are at heart the same. For example, he said, suffering is a central theme of Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity, but if you actually dig down, the way that suffering is central to their faith traditions are very different. Buddhism: everyone suffers, this is the first Noble Truth, doesn't matter how much material wealth or anything you have you're still as susceptible to suffering as anyone else. Judaism: a people who have faced threats of extermination over and over again (the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Nazis), so suffering is understood in community. Christianity: Jesus on the cross is a central image, but that's an individual suffering, albeit suffering to atone for the sins of the whole world.

I couldn't point out to anything he said during class that was factually wrong [maybe "untrue" is more the word I want?], and I tried to remind myself that of course in an introductory overview you have to oversimplify and you can't necessarily be constantly caveating (e.g., "Substitutionary atonement is the traditional understanding of Jesus' death on the cross, but there are many different ways to understand Jesus' salvific work, and many progressive churches in particular reject the idea of substitutionary atonement") but much of what he said still really rankled.

Plus, of course, "suffering" is not something I would posit as a central theme of Judaism or Christianity (or Buddhism).

The next evening, I told my friend Cate that if I were asked to list major themes of Judaism I would say: enslavement, exile, liberation, being a people set apart, having a covenant with God, a legalistic understanding but along with that a tradition of arguing with God ("see the fine print here... oh you didn't specify that... what if there are only ten righteous people in the city? etc."), holidays of "They tried to kill us but they didn't succeed; let's eat!"

I then went to say, "If I were asked to list major themes of Christianity... actually I'm not sure what I would say. Maybe because it is my tradition and so I'm very aware of how much disagreement there is?"

Cate said she was never particularly observant even when she went to church with her family, but that her main takeaway from church was: "Jesus loves you, so go and love everyone else." She later said that she would also list "hope" as a major theme of Christianity.


Seven(!) years ago I took the the Belief-O-Matic quiz.

I took it again today and ugh, my beliefs do not fit into your options... I can pick an approximate, but your statement has resonances I don't intend and elides certain things that are important to me. Yes, multiple choice quizzes are inherently problematic. And this does help the prof's commentary on his results feel less offensive. "Concern for the enivironment" would not be the key phrase I would pull out were I asked to talk about Neo-paganism, for example, but given the questions and answers in this quiz I can see how someone like him could score high for Neo-paganism in large part because he has strong concern for the environment.

The top score on the list below represents the faith that Belief-O-Matic, in its less than infinite wisdom, thinks most closely matches your beliefs. However, even a score of 100% does not mean that your views are all shared by this faith, or vice versa.

Belief-O-Matic then lists another 26 faiths in order of how much they have in common with your professed beliefs. The higher a faith appears on this list, the more closely it aligns with your thinking.

In 2002, my top 10 were:
1. Reform Judaism (100%)
2. Liberal Quakers (87%)
3. Orthodox Judaism (83%)
4. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (82%)
5. Unitarian Universalism (82%)
6. Sikhism (79%)
7. Bahá'í Faith (78%)
8. Islam (76%)
9. Neo-Pagan (69%)
10. Mahayana Buddhism (68%)
My 2009 results:
  1. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (100%)
  2. Liberal Quakers (83%)
  3. Orthodox Quaker (80%)
  4. Unitarian Universalism (72%)
  5. Reform Judaism (70%)
  6. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (62%)
  7. Seventh Day Adventist (61%)
  8. Eastern Orthodox (48%)
  9. New Age (48%)
  10. Roman Catholic (48%)

[Walkman] technology influencing culture

From "The Soundtrack to Your Life: Celebrating 30 years of the Sony Walkman" by Greg Beato | June 23, 2009:
Despite the high price, the Walkman was ultimately a leveling device. A few years earlier, portable stereo systems—boomboxes—had liberated those who wanted to take their music with them everywhere from the tyranny of Top 40 playlists. But boomboxes offered sonic freedom only to those who were strong enough to lug a battery-eating briefcase around and intimidating enough to impose their love of The Village People on others without censure. For anyone with $200, however, the Walkman delivered the same aural sovereignty.

In early Walkman marketing efforts and promotional materials, Sony emphasized how the device could enhance leisure activities like roller-skating and bicycling. Echoing R. Crumb's iconic Keep on Truckin' motif, the Walkman's original logo featured four feet emphatically propelling the word "Walkman" along. Despite its status as a "personal" stereo system, Sony also presented the Walkman as a social device: The original model featured two headphone jacks, along with an orange "hotline" button that allowed two users to talk to each other over whatever tape was currently playing. This feature, Sony executives believed, would keep the Walkman from being perceived as selfish.

They shouldn't have worried. Just a few years earlier, after all, Tom Wolfe had dubbed the 1970s the Me Decade. "Have it your way!" Burger King insisted to potential customers. Consumers were eager to turn listening to music into a solitary, immersive experience. And they didn't necessarily want to have to put on a pair of running shoes to enjoy their Walkmans either. Indeed, as much Sony positioned the device as an accessory for the sort of kinetic, upbeat fun that transpired in nominally social contexts, that was only one way to use it.

The Walkman also served as an extremely effective "Do Not Disturb" sign. Take a book on the subway to discourage interaction with fellow travelers, and you were likely to inspire inquiries about the book. Take a Walkman, and you were suddenly as inaccessible as a lone car commuter protected by the glass and steel of his GM sedan. As effective as the Walkman was in pushing us toward Rocky-like moments of transcendence on the treadmill, its most unique attribute was its ability to enhance life's lesser moments.

In grocery store lines, school cafeterias, airport lounge holding pens, boring college lectures, and every other public or semi-public place where blabbermouths with boundary issues once wielded absolute license to accost you, a new sense of privacy came into existence The Walkman was so good at enveloping its users in a no-fly zone of self-containment it even made private life more private. It didn't matter if you were at the dinner table, in the family room, in the marital bed—with a pair of Walkman headphones clamped to your head, you were clearly otherwise engaged.


As RiShawn Biddle suggested in Reason ten years ago on the Walkman's 20th anniversary, making mixtapes for our personal stereo systems (where limited battery life meant zero tolerance for throwaway songs) whetted our appetites for the coming age of interactivity. To further prep us for the way we live now, the Walkman also popularized the notion that downtime was no longer necessary, that we could assuage our restless dissatisfaction with something more nourishing than the thin gruel of "I'd rather be sailing" bumper stickers.

With a Walkman, every moment could be, if not ideal, then at least more ambient, more aligned with one's particular tastes, more fulfilling. It made us realize we didn't have to just sit on a bus, as dead to the world as a plastic plant—or even worse, reading. We could be listening to Billy Joel! And if we could be listening to Billy Joel, couldn't we also be playing videogames, or watching movies, or laboriously tapping out 140-character messages to strangers on keyboards the size of a business card? And if we could do such things while stuck on a bus, or waiting in line at a grocery store, then surely we could do them while stuck in our cubicles at work, or eating lunch with our less interesting friends. Indeed, as soon as the Walkman hit store shelves, the looming promise of our highly mobile, super-empowered, hyper-productive future grew clearer: Never again would we have to endure the tedium of doing one thing at once.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"I felt my heart strangely warmed."

Last October, I sent an email to a bunch of people, titled "not actually Jonah, I swear" and with body text:
I did an Internet meme with one of my friends today, and for the "Ask you something I've wanted to know about you" part, she said, "I think you would make a wonderful minister. Is that something you've considered?"

I cracked up, because people keep telling me I should go to div school/seminary (and I would totally love getting to geek out about religion full-time) but I think I'm highly unsuited for most of what's involved in actually being a minister.

Yesterday I Replied All (and tweaked the recipient list a bit):
Subject: Gee, where have I heard this before?

At lunch today, my coworker Cailin was asking if I was thinking about grad school, and I said no, I'm just taking classes for fun, enjoying my cushy job. She said I "LIGHT UP" when I'm taking about religion or when religion comes up, and so I should think seriously about pursuing that as a career. She also thinks I sell myself short in saying I'm not cut out for ordained ministry. I didn't get into the fact that if I did decide to pursue ordained ministry I would have to do it through the United Methodist Church since CWM is my home, and that means stuff like itinerancy system... nevermind of course the fact that I'm queer. She half-joked that I should set up The Church Of Elizabeth. Haha, yeah, no. (She also suggested theology professor as a career option, which I really don't feel a pull towards.)

One thing that's funny is that in sitting with the idea a bit after I sent the email, the idea of getting to do church as my LIFE was really thrilling me. Though as Tallessyn (CWM's Music Minister) pointed out in her reply, "Just because you love something doesn't make it a vocation. i love math, for example."

Trelawney suggested that I examine my skill set and what kinds of work I might enjoy. Which makes a lot of sense. (I realized after lunch that one problem in having this conversation with Cailin was that she doesn't seem to really grok what being a pastor entails -- she's not church people.)

I realized in talking to my best friend that evening that really there are 2 separate issues on the table here: (1) Should I go to div school/seminary? (2) Should I serve the church in ways beyond what I'm already doing?

People have frequently suggested that I go to div school/seminary, and I've been increasingly involved in liturgical planning. It's not like I haven't thought about these things.

But I'm also still not a fan of the "you're too smart (or whatever) to be doing this job." I appreciate Cailin's concern that I not wake up in 20 years and regret not having made different choices (and as long as I'm doing what I want to do, she will respect my choices ... she just knows how comfortable it is here and is wishing that someone had pushed her a little more a couple years ago and so she's trying to pass on the benefit of her experience to people she cares about), but I grew up with my mom doing about the same job I'm doing now, and she had and continues to have a fulfilling life, so I think in part the model I have is just different from the models Cailin's used to.

The work I do isn't less valuable for not having cache, and I'm not selling myself short by not having a more high-status job title, and the work I do not-for-pay is important work even if I don't have a specific title or paycheck associated with it.

I mean, pastoral care is what I do (see some of this, for example), just for select people rather than caring for an entire community.

But as my mom said, "You can make a differnece with no further education, no titles, no job description -- just showing up and speaking up, being there, etc. Just what you are doing."

Tiffany wants to have coffee with me when she gets back from maternity leave to talk about this, and I definitely support that. Continuing to discern my gifts and graces and where the Spirit might be trying to lead me are all things that I should definitely be attending to throughout my life, and I think actualfax churchfolk are gonna be much better soundingboards and guides for helping me in that discernment process than certain other classes of people.

Third Sunday After Pentecost

I love when both my Sunday churches preach on the same lectionary.



Karl was at a conference, so Kelsey and Kristy led service.

Kelsey's Words of Assurance she invoked the story of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus' garment. Jesus said, "Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace." Kelsey said, "Hear the Good News: Your sins are forgiven."
I was SO STOKED to hear Words of Assurance that were succinct and straightforward (I can't focus on Karl's Words of Assurance to save my life) and clearly rooted in Scripture (I don't necessarily disagree with what Karl says is the Good News, but I would like a clear actual source; Rest and Bread's Words of Assurance are Jesus' "come to me all you who are weary..." and then ending with "We are a forgiven people. (Amen)," which seems to me a reasonable textual choice).

Scripture Readings:
Psalm 89:5-18
Mark 4:35-41

Sermon: "Stormy Weather"
"Let us go across to the other side." Jesus had been doing his ministry in his home turf of Galilee, but on the other side is the Decapolis, a Hellenistic area with few Jews.
Kelsey posited the storm as an example of the consequences of choosing to follow Jesus.
Jesus calls the disciples not just to watch him cross borders but to cross borders themselves.
She said that in the Old Testament, storms represent chaos and anarchy.
Perhaps Jesus is comfortable in the chaos.
In Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak, he talks about midlife depression, coming in part out of conforming to others' expectations, She quoted from a poem: "Whatever has been uprooted, let it be a seedbed for whatever is to come."
The storm on the sea makes possible the ministry to the Gentiles.
The disciples don't doubt Jesus' power [they wake him up so that he can save them], but they fail to recognize Christ's peace from the beginning.



"We make the road by walking."
-Myles Horton

Children's Time: Marla told a story of one of our children, with a takeaway message about the courage to do what we believe to be right, even when it isn't what anyone else around is doing, and also about how we always do have people/God with us, supporting us.]

Hebrew Bible Lesson: edited version of David and Goliath (from 1 Samuel 17)
Gospel Lesson: Mark 4:35-41

In her Reflection, Marla talked about how David couldn't move in the armor and weapons that Saul gave him (which was the piece that had most struck me upon hearing the reading), and how we are not called to fight Goliath on Goliath's terms. If we fight Goliath and win using Goliath's own tools, we become Goliath, and that's not really what we want. If we only use Goliath's paths, then we end up with only paths that Goliaths walk on. We want to make new paths.
She talked about the Mark passage. She asked: Who were Jesus' first disciples? They were fishers. It was probably one of their own boats they took out. She said that we often forget about that line that says there were other boats with them, and we don't hear that any of those other boats sank or anything. She said that she likes to think that the fishers in the other boats were doing what they needed to do to handle a storm. Jesus was asleep -- hey, he's a carpenter, not a fisher. They wake him up, and he calms the storm, and then he turns to them and says, "Have you still no faith?" Have you no faith in yourselves, in your own abilities?
She closed by reading from Wendell Berry's poem "Do Not Be Ashamed."
She talked about trying to get people in Cambridge (Massachusetts) on board around issues of climate change and how they insist that it's not possible. She said, "Of course it's not possible. If it were possible, we would have done it already. We have to make the road that gets us there." (I would quibble with that a bit -- there are plenty of things that are possible that we haven't done for any number of reasons -- but I understand what she's getting at.)


My best friend's pastor said that the disciples don't ask Jesus, "Fix this," but "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?" that when people reach out to us in crisis, they are not necessarily looking for us to fix thing (though that may be our instinctual response) but rather to care that they are suffering.

For anyone braving the Job portion of the lectionary, may I recommend a Radio National "Encounter" program called "Ashes," looking at the Book of Job (see my post here). I still really like Robert Eisen's take on the "happy ending" of Job.

[UMC] New England Annual Conference 2009 [Saturday, June 20]

As I walked up the steps of the chapel, I saw Barbara at the rainbow stoles table. I'd been given one at Convo 2007, but it was a bit too fluorescent for my taste, plus I just felt weird, so I didn't wear it (yes, I'm the only person in the CWM photo not wearing one), but here there were a multitude of options on this table, and one pattern reminded me of a facebook quiz my best friend took, so I bought one for me and one for her. (If anyone wants one of their own, just let me know, since I know the folk storing the leftovers. There were beautiful ones reminiscent of stained glass windows, but since I am never going to wear one it seemed extra foolish to wear two. Though I found myself really appreciating seeing all these people wearing stoles and knowing they were Reconciling, and I was actually still wearing my stole when I was getting ready for bed around midnight that night.)

I finally found a good description of the rainbow stoles project in the the Winter 2009 Kindred Connection (pages 3-4). Excerpt:
"A Brief History of PRN's Reconciling Stoles"
By Helen Andrews, PRN Steering Committee & RMN

Prior to General Conference 2004, the Parents' Reconciling Network Steering Committee selected a short, symbolic stole of rainbow colors to be the identifier for reconciling persons at GC in Pittsburgh. Those wearing the stole would identify themselves to be committed to the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in the life and policy of the United Methodist Church. The stole motif was chosen to signify that we are all ordained in God's kin-dom. The rainbow colors represent the wondrous diversity of God's creation.
(Also in Googling I learned that apparently the Lutherans do it, too?)

I had lunch with the Reconciling folks (apparently you couldn't buy a lunch ticket, had to have pre-registered, so I was glad I brought second breakfast and trail mix). Someone said that 12 or 13 retired Reconciling clergy (I wasn't clear if this was just in the New England Annual Conference or nationally) have presided over same-sex marriages and holy unions -- because the Church can't do much to punish retired clergy, whereas it can punish those who are not yet retired. Hi, I think this is awesome. He also said they're gonna be making a public declaration of this fact, signing their names, as a show of support.


I had come primarily because Tiffany had raved about Violet Fisher's preaching. And really, coming for lunch + church service was probably a good plan (though next year maybe I will go for some of the discussion/voting). The service lasted literally from ~2:00-4:50pm. I knew almost all of the hymns, and I found myself really conscious of the language of submission and Lordship and blood atonement and so forth.

Scripture Readings:
Amos 8:10-12
Psalm 119:97-105
II Timothy 2:8-16

Bishop Violet Fisher preached on "Being the Word." Her sermon was very much slanted toward the confirmands etc., which made sense [the booklet we got said on its cover, "Order of Worship for: Recognition of Local Pastors, Commissioning of Provisional Deacons & Elders, Ordination of Deacons and Elders, Reception Into Full Connection"] but which still felt a little weird to me.
I wasn't a fan of the sermon for a while [At CWM the next evening, Tiffany said to me, "Every time I tell Elizabeth a worship experience is going to be amazing, it disappoints."] but it got better maybe a third to halfway through.
* She said that there is a famine of the Word and we are called to be the Internet. (Near the end of the sermon, she repeated that with lots of specific examples and after listing Facebook and MySpace, she had a slip of the tongue and said SpaceBook :) )
* She quoted Gandhi as saying the Bible "has enough dynamite in it to blow the whole of civilization to bits; to turn society upside down; to bring peace to this war-torn world. But you read it as if it were just good literature, and nothing else."
* She exhorted us: "Don't get so wrapped up in church-work [e.g., what color a room should be painted] that you lose sight of the work of the church [saving people, healing people, loving people, blessing people]."
* Don't lose your joy -- "Dragging to the pulpit -- just as I am, without one plea," she deadpanned.
* She said, "Don't let the folk in the church wipe you out," and in part because I was sitting with CWM folk, I automatically heard that as a word of encouragement to queer folk (and anyone else the institutionalized church would be happy to not have to deal with ... though I know that in the context, what she had meant was in the sense of "worn out and worn down" rather than "eliminated").
* She exhorted us to be excited, said "our excitement is contagious ... that others will hunger and thirst for righteousness."
* She reminded us to "stay in the Word, find yourself in the Word."
* She said that people outside of the church ask, "What is the lifeline of that church? Where is the transforming hope?"

It was really unclear when we were supposed to go up to get communed (P.S. It still irritates me that the official UMC Communion liturgy says "wine" when one of the defining characteristics of Methodists is that WE DON'T CONSUME ALCOHOL.) so eventually when we saw Will really near us, we just went and got communed. Will said, "The Cup of the Holy Spirit, poured out for you." Yes, I am glad the CWM balcony contingent were able to get non-traditionally communed. [At LizL's ordination, the people communing me just said "The Body of Christ" and "The Blood of Christ," and I almost said "The Bread of Life" and "The Cup of Blessing" or something as a response instead of "Amen" because I was so thrown. I am used to there being metaphors, both because straight-up blood atonement is uncomfortable and problematic and also to make it more meaningful and relevant and resonant.]

Tallessyn and Michele went down at the not-an-altar-call and the congregation was singing "Here I Am, Lord," and I didn't go down to pray with them because I didn't really understand this unfamiliar-to-me process and didn't feel like I was in the right [soul/head/heart/something]space to pray with them, but I actually cried as I watched their family [for various definitions] gather around them, which surprised me.

[policing the body] "uncontrollable appetites" (sex, race)

In response to cereta's post "On rape and men" (which I previously posted about here), shewhohashope posted [on LJ and DW] "On rape culture and civilisation"

delux_vivens commented:
Is it just me, or is it really ironic that so many trappings of POC cultures are sought after by appropriators because they are 'raw', 'primal', 'authentic' or whatever, while at the same time, actual POC can be so roundly criticized for 'hypersensitivity', lack of detachment, over emotionalism, 'conservativism' etc?

I'm thinking of bossymarmalade's post here, where she talks about being contacted by a white woman with dreadlocks and a cat named Kali who spoke up on behalf of those that "hope that they share in a culture that they feel is richer and more raw and valid then their own".
There's also a lot of good discussion in the comments of this delux_vivens post. yeloson talks about "acceptable rape," pointing out:
Basically why the news is right there when someone plays "blame a black guy" and yet goes to cover the offenders when it's a white rugby team.

Who's doing the raping and who's being raped, etc. and what's projected as ZOMG vs. "boys will be boys"
ithliana posted Racism and Rape: Part 1 (Black women). From the comments:
cos: BTW, I remember one case of race coming up on cereta's post that you didn't mention. In response to one of those cases where, as you described, someone was countering the stereotype about black men, someone else wrote:

"I'm actually much LESS likely to feel unsafe around black guys than I am white guys (I'm a short white girl), because on the whole, the black guys I've met have been the most polite and gentlemanly men I've ever met."

I responded to that comment and suggested that may be because she was actually in a position of privilege when she's white and they're black. I think you responded to say you had the same thought.

We never went further than that, though.

paradox_dragon: Yes! I had forgotten that. I did reply saying that a lot of black guys I know are deliberately careful and extra-mannerly around white girls/women because they're afraid for their own safety to end up as the Threatening Black Man.
ithiliana: By white washed history, I mean the kind of things James Loewen talks about in his work, where it's all passive and past tense: "Slavery was horrible, and then it ended," with all agency removed, with the idea that groups with social power, and individuals of those groups who had specific power, could and did attempt genocide. American history likes to leave out all the imperialism, colonialism, genocide, and other atrocities committed by the white American government--if that history was taught (age appropriate, and also, as Loewen says, the resistance to all of those movements which also occurred), I tend to think most people in the dominant group, white in this case, might not be so horrified.

* Racism and Rape: Part 2 (Native American/American Indian women)

Comments include discussion of "emotional pornography," which ithiliana points out is tied in with privilege--the "tell me every little detail you've suffered so I can decide if you have suffered enough to be worth MY attention."

Excerpts from another comment thread:
delux_vivens: I'm going to start asking some of the people I see commenting about how 'eye opening' this information is, b/c they 'havent thought about it' before: what exactly do you think about?

rosefox: I suspect all honest answers will be along the lines of "mostly I think about myself", probably with at least a side helping of "that's all in the past, so I don't think about it because I'm focused on the present". Even those of us who have encountered a lot of this information have seen it presented solely as historical rather than as anything relevant to anyone alive now, and it's certainly never linked to things like white girls still being raised to fear and mistrust men of color and see them all as likely rapists. (I was raised that way, by my civil rights activist mother; her Nice White Lady training won out when it came to her worries about keeping her daughter safe.)

The exotic pain pornography thing is a lot of why I haven't watched or re-linked the video going around of a girl being killed in Iran. The amount of attention it's getting feels somehow indecent and fetishizing in a way that I find really troubling.
delux_vivens: but from so many people who can rattle off detailed chapter and verse about How Those Women Over There (where over there = the entire muslim world, anywhere in Africa, etc) Are So Oppressed And Must Be Saved Right Now, it seems blatant.
rosefox: I don't at all disagree. I just think people can put a whole lot of effort into worrying about Over There precisely so they don't have to think too hard (or so they can feel they have somehow assuaged their consciences) about what's going on Right Here. It's much easier to claim to care about a whole lot of faceless people than to really care about the ones we see every day, and by focusing on how awful things are in e.g. Darfur, problems here can then be brushed off with "Well, at least it's better than Darfur!".

It's disingenuous and blatant and thoroughly rewarded and supported by the white mainstream. I don't at all mean to excuse individuals by blaming culture, though; I think there's plenty of blame to go around.
ithiliana: Excellent comment--I totally agree. It's hard because the history is important, and yet it does play into the progressivist myth (students literally tell me "slavery was a problem 100 years ago), plus the white-washed nature of the history that's usually taught--and yet the racism also is omnipresent in the present (that sounds weird, but I blame the lack of Coke Zero...).

And yes, completely yes, to the video of the girl being shot in Iran. (I thought similar things of a lot of the media coverage of New Orleans in the wake of Katrina.)
* Racism and Rape: Part 3 (Asian/Indian/South Asian Women)
* Racism and Rape Part 4 (Latina/Chicana/Hispanic Women)

While I've highlighted comments discussion from ithiliana's posts, her posts also contain lots of reading lists.

Also: Anti-Oppression Linkspam Community

And as always, sparkymonster's links for clueless white people.

[policing the body] "uncontrollable appetites" (fat, food)

Last Wednesday (June 17) GMA had MeMe Roth on (whom I had read about the other day via the Notes from the Fatosphere feed). (BigLibertyBlog also blogged about the GMA piece.)

I think even if I hadn't been prepped at all, I still would have been a bit "huh?" at the ridiculously softball nature of the interview. Yes, you don't want junk food to even be an option at "in loco parentis" places, I understand the logic behind that. But what sort of twisted logic is, "So that the kids aren't doing nothing while everyone else is chowing down on junk food, they can pull out a plastic container and put the junk food in that and bring it home and we'll discuss whether they're allowed to have it maybe after their piano lesson or something"? One commenter said, "if MeMe doesn’t want her children to have cupcakes, donuts, and juice pops, she could always just instruct them to politely refuse the treats. There were kids at my elementary school who were taught to do that because of allergies, religious dietary requirements, and parents who had strong beliefs about what foods were good and bad for them, and aside from a question here and a pitying look there, it wasn’t a big deal."

And wtf "Show me an American who understands moderation?" Seriously? We should ban junk food from everyone's presence because no one is capable of consuming in moderation? (And how the eff did obesity rob her mother and grandmother of "their health, and their hope, and their aspirations"?)

And, um, you told the YMCA that if they didn't get some food out in addition to the ice cream buffet in the next hour you were going to start throwing food out? No wonder the cops got called.

A friend of mine sent me this article on MeMe Roth. From the end:
When I ask her if she's ever been anorexic, she gasps: "No! I've never even been on a diet!" So I ask her what she eats in an average day. On this, Roth is reticent. She now runs a private nutrition counselling business, she says, and because of that, "I don't spend a ton of time telling people what I do personally. What works for me may not work for other people."

That's fine, I say, but just as an example?

"I eat beans like nobody's business," she says hurriedly. "I eat more black beans than anyone else I know."

I try to pin her down to something more specific. Let's just do a sample day, I say. What about breakfast? Roth grimaces. "I hate to say this, because I think it's counter to what most people should do, but I never in my whole life have enjoyed breakfast. For me, it doesn't work as well as other things."

Right, I say. So how about lunch?

She squirms visibly. "You're taking me where I don't want to go ... What works for me doesn't work for a lot of people."

Well, you've said that, I insist, so taking that into account: lunch? Roth hesitates. "I discovered when I was in college that I work best when I get a workout in and eat after that. Sometimes I'll delay when I eat until I get a workout in. But I don't let a whole day go by without running four miles."

OK, I go on, but supposing you couldn't work out until four o'clock in the afternoon - would you not eat until after that?

"I might."

I look at my watch. It's 3.30pm. Alarm bells start to ring in my head. How about today, I ask. Have you eaten at all today?

Roth is a little quiet.

"No," she says.

There is a pause.

"But I feel great!"

That same day, Sweet Machine complained about the obsessive attention to what President Obama eats. She wrote:
Maybe the very reason that Obama can sometimes just pick at his fries instead of shoving them into the presidential gullet is that he knows he can have fries another day if he likes. The man is the president of the United States, after all. Do we really want him to obsess over whether he should order his salad dressing on the side?

I know that this isn’t the first time that a President’s gustatory preferences have been drummed up into a national incident, but this idea that people will eat themselves fat because the Obamas ate fish and chips—while in London!—is only possible in a culture where we are so deeply alienated from our own bodies that we cannot be trusted to use food. Are you insulted? I sure as hell am.

[policing the body] sex work

Sacred Eros - Thursday, May 28, 7:00pm in the Perkins Room

Our theme for this month is "Word, Image, Flesh, Spirit." Sexually explicit writing and images have been around for centuries, made more widely available with the printing press and camera, and even more so with the Internet. Some say such words and images are inherently bad and harmful -- or are they? Can erotica be good for you, even spiritually inspiring? Bring your opinions, your questions, your favorite examples, and some munchies or beverages to share.

Sacred Eros is a monthly discussion group at Arlington Street Church, providing a safe and supportive space to explore questions about sexuality from a spiritual and ethical perspective. All people over 18 are welcome, and participants are expected to respect one another and keep personal matters discussed confidential.
It turned out to just be me and the facilitator, which bummed me out a bit as I was really excited about the topic but hadn't actually done any advance prep myself.

We talked about a whole slew of topics, some not even really connected to the stated topic.

The facilitator talked about sex work a lot from a workers' rights angle. If workers are entitled to safe working conditions, etc., then why aren't sex workers (prostitutes, those working in pornography, etc.) entitled to the same? I was thinking later, "But what about drug dealers -- we don't agitate for them to have health care." Will Wilkinson had recently posted on Cultural Externalities and Harm.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009 9:30pm
CineMental Presents: Happy Endings?
at Brattle Theater
40 Brattle Street Harvard Sq. Cambridge
9:30pm $10
http://www.truthserum.org for info and links.
followed by discussion and drinks.

With the Rhode Island legislature getting ready to vote on changing the "indoor prostitution" loophole, CineMental is thrilled to bring this insightful documentary to the Boston area. Filmmaker Tara Hurely will join us for Q+A following the screening. This should be a rousing discussion of sex worker's rights and privacy as well as informative about her filmmaking process.

Happy Endings? is an intriguing exploration of the Asian massage parlor industry in Providence, RI, where a 25 year-old loophole has made the exchange of sex for money legal - as long as it happens behind closed doors.

As the documentary follows a recent Korean immigrant, "Heather", working to operate her spa, the city's mayor fights to change the law that allows her business a legal existence.

The film includes interviews with Korean women who work in spas, clients who frequent the spas, politicians from 1980 and today, police, local news footage, radio call-in shows and "voiced" reviews from internet escort review boards.

Official Website: http://www.happyendingsdoc.com/
Official Blog: http://happyendingsdoc.wordpress.com/
Film Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/happyendingsdoc
Facebook Group for film: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/group.php?gid=40775235587
Someone early on in the film commented that a "loophole" indicates a way to get around obeying a law, but the law did what it was supposed to -- it got sex workers off the streets. Having sex workers not out on the street benefits the other residents as well as helping the sex workers be safer.

One thing I hadn't expected but shouldn't have been surprised by was the element of racism. Yes it's problematic that it's disproportionately the sex workers who get arrested and thrown in jail [see this blogpost, for example] even though it's also illegal to pay a woman for sex. (And seriously, so many of the anti-spa folks in the film were invoking the specter of human trafficking, but if these women aren't meaningfully consenting to be sex workers, how is punishing them a good idea in any way?)

But there's also the fact that all these women are South Korean (these women immigrating from South Korea brought a business model they had seen in their home country). "Jen" (one of the prostitutes) said of one of the raids, that the police acted "like Asian people are nothing to them."

Connected to the racism issue is the immigration issue. "Heather" and "Chris" got married on 9-11-01, and in a clip from maybe 2005, "Chris" quipped, "They still haven't found Bin Laden, and she still doesn't have her green card." Hurley writes:
“Heather” married her husband “Chris” on 9-11. (It seemed odd to me that someone would be married on a Tuesday, but they were.) The entire time I was filming I was mostly concerned with “Heather’s” reaction with the prostitution laws. In reality she was mostly interested with her immigration case. In every interview all she wanted to talk about is how she wanted to go home to Korea to see her mom. She needed to relax, replenish and then come back to the US to finish her immigration hearings.

I was talking to my college roommate about “Heather’s” immigration case. She thought it was odd that “Heather” was in hearings for seven years, when she works with a a woman who was unmarried and only had one hearing and became a citizen. I asked her where that woman was from and she said England. It makes me think that if you are from a “white” country and go try to immigrate they welcome you with open arms.
"Heather" said, "I'm okay with them saying things are wrong because that's their job." She said, "whether it's moral or immoral, they get our taxes, they give us a permit."

Ginny Hall, Account Executive of the Providence Phoenix, says she goes there the same time every week, so if any of the women there wanted to give her some sort of message, they could certainly plan to do so. Hurley commented in the Q&A that one of the spas shares a parking lot with a taxi company. The host of the event pointed out that the counter-argument would be that these girls don't have anyone to call, don't have anywhere to go. Though the girls each have a cell phone and a laptop, some of them even have MySpace pages.

"Heather" died partway through the making of the documentary, and Hurley attended her funeral. She got chatted up by a lot of the people there since she stood out as the only white woman there. During the Q&A, Hurley said, "If someone forced me into sexual slavery, I wouldn't fly all the way across the country to go to their funeral to honor them. I might fly all the way across the country to their funeral to make sure they were in the ground."

Near the end, Rep. Gianinni says we need to "teach our children careers ... doctors, lawyers ... even secretaries or administrative assistants -- anything but prostitutes." I knew the point she was trying to make, but I was still really offended.

In the Q&A, Hurley said Rhode Island is the most economically depressed state after Michigan, and at least they [Michigan] can blame the auto industry. When she started this documentary, there were 12 or 13 "spas," and now there are reportedly 30. It's a growth industry. [See also this blogpost.]

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What do you do with the Sermon on the Mount?

Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus said to his disciples 'You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Commentary: These words of Jesus can make us feel that we never measure up. To forgive an enemy is one of the most difficult things to do in life. Bitterness is understandable when we have been badly and unjustly treated. Christian preaching can force forgiveness too readily. All we know is that the more we can forgive, the freer we become. The example of Jesus' love and forgiveness on the cross can help us make small steps on the way of forgiveness in our lives. Sometimes the realisation that God loves each of us can help us look on others with love or tolerance or compassion.

-from Sacred Space, prayer for 16th June
One of my friends really struggles with the "Be perfect" injunction. And looking at it in the context of the three chapters that make up the Sermon on the Mount doesn't really help (she refers to it as "three chapters of impossible things before breakfast").

I told her that I read it as Jesus saying, "The Pharisees tell you to keep all the laws and commandments, and they act like they're so great because they keep all of those themselves, but I'll let you in on a secret -- I AM's supreme commandment of Love goes way beyond their narrow scope, and no one, not even the Pharisees, has mastered living that fully, but the Divine Parent loves each and every one of you so much that She wants you to love yourselves and each other just as much as She loves you, and her grace is sufficient to make up the difference every time you try and fall short, just keep trying."

Though I also recognize that I'm importing a lot from elsewhere in the Scriptures to that reading.

I later commented: "Jesus hung around a lot of supremely imperfect people, and he didn't usually seem very concerned with telling them to be perfect. I think God desires us all to live into the fullness of the persons we were created to be, but I also think God has a limitless supply of grace and mercy which She freely pours out on us over and over again."


I reread Mathew 5-7, and it is HARD. Lots of, "You thought these were the rules, but actually the rules are even more demanding than you thought. And you can't enter heaven unless you keep them all perfectly." There is no "you are saved by grace" in these three chapters. There is a lot of heaven and hell. I do kind of snerk at the, "Just because you call me Lord, if you don't do good things then I don't know you," but saved-by-works is really problematic (not to mention untenable -- who manages to never insult anyone or lust after anyone or etc.?).

I mean, here Jesus makes Paul look like the grace-filled non-rule-bound guy -- "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:23-24).

policing the body

Monday morning at the gym, I saw GMA's segment on Marianne Kirby and Gabrielle Gregg.


Seen today via Dave Chen: Abercrombie and Fitch banishes girl with prosthetic arm to storeroom because she doesn't fit the "look policy"


Yesterday, I was reading a rant about the way Zoe Saldana's skin gets described in fanfic, and in reading something about Zoe Saldana getting described as "light-skinned," I read something (though I can't find it now) that commented that up until recently, being a light-skinned black person meant being the product of a white man raping/coercing a black woman.


Marianne Kirby takes issue with Purex's “As things get simpler, they get thinner. They get better.” ad campaign.


I read Marianne Kirby's complaint about Bravo's Fashion Show (and an even better blogpost from mo pie on Big Fat Deal) and I remembered something I had seen from Virgina Postrel.

As it turns out, Shapely Prose had already seen Postrel's article.
Sarah: My most charitable read is that she’s distinguishing the average weight from the mean weight. Her argument, as I see it, is that it’s in the economic interests of the clothing companies to make clothes near the mean (rather than the average simply because that’s how they can maximize the number of people who can wear their clothes while minimizing what they spend on developing different sizes.

IOW, even though the “average” size may be a 14, that doesn’t mean that’s the single size (or range of a few sizes) that the greatest number of women can wear. There’s a big range of sizes above a 14, obviously — and those all affect the average size, but that doesn’t mean that any *one* (or two or three) of those plus sizes is common enough to pull in lots and lots of customers, at least to a brick-and-mortar store. So the sizes promising the greatest numbers of customers wouldn’t be the *average* size (or range of sizes), but the *mean* size, which (she claims) brick-and-mortar stores already do try and cater to.
Yes, Sarah, that was my read of it as well (and I wasn't actually going out of my way to be charitable). Shapely Prose links to Jezebel's response to the article, which makes some really good points.

Speaking of fashions for fat ladies, Gabrielle Gregg's YoungFatAndFabulous has lots of pretty pictures (interestingly, I read "Beth Ditto, fashion's Magical Fatty" and then saw Gabi's "Beth for Evans" and "Ditto" posts). Also, I love that the cover model for "Full-Figured Fashion Week" is a hott woman of color.


Medical-related readings from today:

Problematizing the obesity=>diabetes stats.

A depressing story from "First, Do No Harm: Real Stories of Fat Prejudice in Health Care."
WLS may increase bone fractures

A small study by the Mayo clinic as reported on Forbes.com showed that one in five people they reviewed after weight loss surgery suffered a bone fracture within 7 years, on average, after having the surgery. The group showed nearly double the fracture rate in post-WLS patients as in other patients.
"We knew there was a dramatic and extensive bone turnover and loss of bone density after bariatric surgery," study senior author Dr. Jackie Clowes, a Mayo rheumatologist, said in a Mayo news release. "But we didn't know what that meant in terms of fractures."
You mean they really didn't realize that an extensive loss of bone density would lead to more fractures? Isn't that, you know, why osteoperosis is a concern in the first place, because the loss of bone density leads to increased fractures? They didn't realize that by putting people through radical surgery that reduced their ability to get proper nutrition might, you know, also prevent them from getting proper nutrition? Like Calcium and vitamin D? That makes for the strong bones? really? Never occured to them?

on rape, domestic violence, etc.

(1) Elizabeth Mendez Berry's "Beyond Gossip, Good and Evil" on domestic violence (and undercutting macho posturing in gangs)

(2) cereta's post "On rape and men (Oh yes, I'm going there)".

There's lots of good stuff in the comments -- including how insulting it is to men is the cultural idea that they "can't control themselves" (e.g., if a woman is "acting slutty" or whatever), and how problematic it is that girls grow up knowing that they're going to need to be a "credible victim" (i.e., if they accuse someone of something, they're going to need to not be vulnerable to counters that they were "asking for it" or whatever), and also the importance of teaching children that "stop" means "stop" and that there's no shame in saying "stop."

Responding to a commenter, cereta said:
Thank you for telling this story. I really believe we should tell them, not because such acts are so worthy of praise, but because boys need to hear such stories, to hear how good men act.

And yes, GOD, if there has been one thing I have learned in my brief time as a mother, it's how much men are sometimes praised for NOT acting like raving dickheads, and how said it is that we do that. Men should be angry about that, not at the women who point it out, but at the men who create that impression.
hubbit and ataniell93 both talked about how problematic it is for people to invoke Orthodox Judaism or political liberalism to insist that women should or should not dress modestly.

In linking to the post, inlovewithnight said:
Her point isn't that men are evil; far from it. It's that a societal problem like rape can't be changed as long as only half the population is working on it. Actually, less than that, because women as a group internalize our oppression amazingly well; I can't find it now, but somewhere in the comments of Cereta's post someone talks about how much of her personality and behavior has been shaped by *wanting to be a credible victim, should it ever come to it*, and yes, hi, that's me. The idea of all the things I haven't done, the experiences I passed on, because nobody wanted to go with me and it just wasn't the smart/good/safe thing to do by myself, hurts so much if I let myself think about it.
In her post, giandujakiss mentioned:
there was a comment about how people - boys in particular - need to be taught that no and stop mean no and stop, even outside the context of a situation specifically identified as "dating." Because the invasion of women's physical space and right to control their bodies occurs in all kinds of situations, not just on "dates."
She talked about an experience at a summer camp pool and how "the only way a girl could effectively signal a lack of consent to be grabbed and lifted and dunked was to not go swimming at all."

coffeeandink posted about a variety of stories of people whose experience of abuse/harrassement is marginalized (because they are not-white, because they are male, because they are disabled, etc.). One thing that really struck me was the problems that come from reading the stories she linked to was, as elle put it, "the fetishization of virginity."  How once you've crossed a certain boundary, your decision about whether to cross it again is given less weight.  (I keep starting to write about formulating a personal sexual ethics and how church and culture don't give us good models and tools for that, but everything I have to say feels just a little too me-centric off-topic for this moment.)