culture

#MeToo and Why it should matter to the church

When #metoo first popped up into my facebook feed, I decided not to comment. A quiet little #metoo isn’t going to change anything. Anyone who cares doesn’t need #metoo to not harass a woman. Those who don’t will roll their eyes and talk about how a little flirting isn’t harassment. But then I read this in response to a post:

“[They] just need to suck it up. If they want to avoid it then don’t interact with society.”

#metoo and why it should matter to the church
Yeah. You know what? I’m overweight and over forty. One of the greatest blessings of those two facts is that I don’t have to deal with “it” any more. I “sucked it up” most of my life. I don’t think about it all that much. I don’t talk about it at all. In fact, there are things I’ve never told anyone and I don’t really know why. Perhaps because of just that attitude. I learned to “suck it up.” Tell me, to, however, and apparently I find my voice.

I’m about as far from a feminist as you can get. I stay home with my children. I homeschool. I vote Republican. I go to church and that word “submission” in the Bible doesn’t bother me all that much. And most of my life I’ve known that to interact with society, you have to “suck it up.” Because you can either let it get to you or you can swallow the venom and go on with your day.

But in the last few hours, I’ve read as many diatribes against what random posters don’t think qualifies as harassment as I have #metoo stories. Or should I say, “harassment?” Because those little quotes around someone else’s experiences are oh so convincing to their arguments.

I know it has to be a little difficult for men dealing with a changing culture, where what once was considered chivalrous is now considered belittling. And in a culture where women who were once taught to be coy and passive just might turn around and tell you what they think of your cat calls, your whistles and your sweethearts.

Honestly, though, I know more what it’s like on this side. To be pushed against a wall in a soccer hall by a man three times my age. To be afraid to call out because I’m not sure if the other men standing outside would come to my aid or his. To marvel at just how quickly I wasn’t there any more. To become a passive observer of what was happening to my body. Fortunately, a good deal of alcohol was involved on his part and despite his weight and strength and violence, I was able to get him off balance. I was out the door before he was off the floor and found myself standing in the midst of a dozen other men who in that moment seemed no different to me than he. Because he was also my neighbor, a respected member of the community, the director of the soccer league who unlocked the building so I could use the restroom. To get home, I had to walk through a small wooded area that took me on a dark path right by his house. So I stood there in the midst of the celebrations, unsure what to do or where to go, even as he left the building, locked up and so casually offered me a drink.

I sought out the assistant coach. At least he was safe. He offered to walk me home. For the price of a kiss, I found out when we arrived. But what’s a little harmless flirting? I laughed nervously and started to walk away. He didn’t think it was so funny and fortunately for me, all he did want was that kiss.

I know what it’s like to work drive thru late at night. To have strange men order though the speaker system, “I’ll have a Whopper with cheese . . . and one of you if you’re good looking.” I know what it’s like to swallow the ire. The customer’s always right. To stand there taking orders as he pulls to the window, undresses me with his eyes, strokes my hand as I hand him his sandwich. I know what it’s like to have him ask me for a little smile. But the thing is, it’s my smile and I’ll give it to whom I please. Not to you and not to the countless men after you, some of whom are arguing in my feed about whether telling me to smile is harassment or if I should “suck it up.” You know, so I can “interact with society.”

But this is the thing. No one has ever “just” told me to smile. It’s really the eyes and that smile. That filthy smile and those penetrating eyes that look right through my clothing, leaving me feeling naked while he asks for, just a little smile.

And that’s just “harassment.” In quotes. Because the easiest way to demonstrate that air of condescension on the internet is with quotation marks.

I know what it’s like to have a manager get into my file for my phone number, start requesting I come into work early, before anyone else is there. To have him use any excuse and no excuse to step into my personal space, to touch me as he reaches across for things that are there on his station as well, to endure the constant comments . . . the “innocent” flirting . . . that no one would think constitutes “harassment.” And as I got more and more forceful about defending my personal space and warding off the advances of an older (and married) man, I was the one who ended up in the office, talking to the female restaurant manager.

Because she knew he could be “annoying,” but I really just needed to “suck it up.” It was my atitude that was affecting the workplace environment.

It wasn’t until he cornered one of the 16 year olds and kissed her that he was finally seen as the problem and let go. It never really surprised me he chose her. She had been molested when she was younger. She didn’t know how to deal with him, bit her tongue and was silent. She tried to stay out of his way but never made any waves. She never landed in the manager’s office because her attitude toward one of her superiors was affecting the workplace environment. She “sucked it up” way better than I ever did.

I know what it’s like to have a male coworker start crossing the lines between a friendly workplace and being a little to familiar. I know what it’s like to wrestle with what exactly constitutes harassment, to know that I could ruin a career and a marriage if I say anything. And yet . . . no means no. Not interested means not interested. Back off means back off. I started saving the emails so I would have evidence if I ever decided to do anything. I was relieved when my husband found them and thought I was having an affair. Because most of my “suck it up” training had told me I was overreacting.

And now he’s the one I think about every time I read another post about the difference between innocent flirting and workplace harassment. Because it may be clear to anyone who isn’t experiencing it that it’s harmless. But it isn’t so easy to put into words when you are on the receiving end and you ponder filing your complaint and even in your own head it all sounds so petty. Except he makes your skin crawl every time he’s near and all of your internal sensors warning that this person isn’t safe go off. Because it isn’t any one comment or any once glance. It’s all of it together, coupled with the fact you know his wife and kids.

Getting from 16 into my mid thirties was a gauntlet of unwelcome gestures, comments and contact. No, it wasn’t all men. It wasn’t all the time. But for a conservatively dressed young woman who stayed away from the party scene in high school and college, declined sex until she was married, who worked in professional environments and who never flirted with anyone she wasn’t already romantically involved with, it happened to me often enough that it is hard for me to imagine that there are very many women out there who haven’t experienced it to some degree.

Because it’s part of growing up female. Just look what happens when a few women come out and talk about what it’s like on this side. We’re told to #suckitup. We’re treated to lectures about “harassment.” We’re dismissed, marginalized, blamed and even mocked.

But that’s not the message I want to teach my daughters. And it most certainly isn’t the message I want to teach my sons who have far more control over how the women in their lives will be treated than my daughters will.

What I’m not as sure of is how to teach them any differently in a sex-saturated culture which seems to scoff at any separation between what is private and what is public, what is intimate and what is superficial.

And you know what’s even harder? Trying to figure out how to teach them any differently when so many of the scoffers are Christian. Sure, there are good men out there. Lots of them. But this isn’t about them. We cannot fix the problems in our culture and in our churches by sweeping them under the rug and “looking for the positive.” We can’t fix them by belittling those who come forward or by dismissing their testimonies with quotation marks. We can’t fix them by asking them to “suck it up.”

When I imagine Christ in heaven watching as woman after woman shares a small, frequently hidden piece of herself with an unassuming “#metoo,” I don’t see Him responding with, “Oh you silly little thing. That’s not ‘harassment.’ You just need to look at all the good in the world!” When we hurt, He hurts. When we weep, He weeps. When we grieve, He grieves. And that is what He calls His church to, as well.

In fact, it is the very heart of compassion.

com = together, passion = suffering

Compassion literally means to suffer together. To bear one another’s burdens. To offer a whispered #metoo when it’s appropriate and an it-grieves-me-that-this-is-your-story when it isn’t. Because that’s what the church is supposed to be.

1 Peter 3:8-9 — Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.

Seeing Ourselves in the New Wonder Woman Movie

Wonder Woman is not my thing. She never has been. Not the comic books. Not the old television show. And certainly not the old cartoon. When my high school history teacher teased the girls for apparent daydreaming, he accused us of flying around in our invisible jets and that is about the closest connection I ever had to the Amazon warrior princess. But then the mini-reviews started popping up in my facebook feed. “Finally, DC makes a movie worth watching!” Everyone who saw it loved it, including my rather conservative, Christian friends. So my husband and I went to see it.

Seeing Ourselves in Wonder Woman Movie

Upon exiting, the first thing my husband said was,

“I’m kind of over the anti-God messages of all the superhero movies.”

I wasn’t so sure. Maybe because I loved the movie, myself. I mean, you can’t dismiss something that you loved as inherently anti-God, can you? At least not quite that quickly?

The thing is, the “anti-God messages” didn’t bother me because the world in which Wonder Woman operates is so purely fictional. Not like “those stories” that gain such popularity in Christian circles with enough of a Christian veneer to land in a Christian bookstore and enough of a lie to misrepresent who God is.

Most of the Christian commentary I have read actually takes the opposite view, seeing Christian elements and themes to the story. M. Hudson of The Federalist goes so far as to claim unmistakable Christology and that the movie really is the gospel brought symbollically to life on the silver screen. Ryan Duncan over at Crosswalk sees the movie as a call for Christian love, self sacrificing and pursuing virtue.

But seriously? The movie was good (as in a story well told). . . but not that good (as in pointing to the author of goodness Himself).

Maybe it’s because I’m a little leery of this recent trend to find God in every popular book and movie, whether the author intended for Him to be there or not. Looking for God in Harry Potter? Sorry, He’s not there. Seeking Christ in the character of Wonder Woman? Eh, sorry to disappoint, but He’s not really there, either.

That isn’t to say that you can’t make a case for one or the other (or any of a plethora of story characters) being a Christ figure. But the use of a Christ figure in literature is a specific literary technique intended to draw allusions and bring power to the characters, not to draw the reader or movie-goer into a deeper understanding of the Christ of the Bible. In fact, a Christ figure can serve to make a mockery of the faith.

“The Christ figure is not Jesus the man nor Christ the Christian redeemer; the novelist bears no direct responsibility to the church nor to his Christian heritage to present a figure sympathetic to the Christian dogma; the critic who attempts to interpret the figure in terms of faith and doctrine does so at his own risk.” ~Robert Detweiler, Christ and the Christ Figure in American Literature

Just because the author chooses to use a Christ figure to serve the story does not mean the story serves Christ.

After all, if you go looking for God in Wonder Woman, you will find several: Zeus, Ares and (spoiler alert) Wonder Woman herself. Part of the case for her being a Christ figure, after all, is that she is the daughter of a god and the daughter of a woman who has never been touched by a man.

But it’s the wrong god.

So does that mean Christians shouldn’t watch Wonder Woman because of its “anti-God messages?” I don’t know. I’m not really big on telling people what they should or should not do to be “good” Christians. I don’t really view Zeus as a major contender for our society’s worship. It doesn’t take the gospel story and twist it. It doesn’t mock Christianity. Christianity is merely absent, even if a few thematic elements were lifted to drive the story.

There’s a little bit more to the movie than that, however. I didn’t love the movie for its definition of who God is. I loved it for its portrayal of humanity.

I loved it for one scene and one line. (And another spoiler alert because this really is the climax of the movie). I loved it for Ares’ depiction of man as utterly depraved, bent on his own destruction, easily corrupted and not deserving of her devotion or protection. It’s the third time the fact that humans don’t deserve her was brought up, but finally she has an answer.

“They’re everything you say. But so much more.”

Because in each individual there is light and there is darkness. Each individual must choose his path. In the end, it is the pursuit of love and virtue and justice that brings forth the light. And no hero can do that for us.

In Wonder Woman, I saw a depiction of mankind that resonated with me. One which explains how one man can develop plans to annihilate an entire race while another man sacrifices his life to save strangers. It reminds us that the capacity for both rests in each of us and that neither can ever be completely driven out.

Great literature wrestles with what it means to be human. American movies rarely delve that deeply into their characters and their story lines. But Wonder Woman reached just a little deeper, showing us a little of ourselves as we are and as we could be. And that this “could be” need not refer only to the victory of the “light.” Because the “dark” has its presence in every human heart as well.

It’s why we don’t deserve Wonder Woman. And why we don’t deserve Christ.

Dismantling History. Should We Destroy Confederate Monuments?

With faces masked, company logos covered and under the protection of police snipers, New Orleans has begun to tear down the confederate monuments of its past. The first to go? The Battle of Liberty Statue, commemorating an insurrection of white citizens angered by the mixed race Reconstructionists.

tearing down confederate monuments

Back in September, we walked down Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. My son couldn’t fathom why these confederate monuments existed. In his black-and-white world, we were walking down a Mall of Traitors. My thoughts were more complicated. I could never quite decide how I felt about these towering memorials to an institution I despised, but recent events has me pondering them once more.

I’m a northern girl, through and through. President Lincoln is one of my personal heroes, even as I recognize his administration as the beginning of the federal overreach we wrestle against today. But there was a deeper evil in America than the violation of state’s rights. The seeds of our destruction were sown in our own Constitution as we decided it was possible to be 3/5ths of a man. And as millions of God’s people cried out to Him for their freedom, I think we are lucky He didn’t see fit to crush us all in their wake as he led them out of “Egypt.”

But my ancestors fought in the Civil War. All of the ones I know of fought for the confederacy. The willingness to fight and possibly die for land and liberty seems to run strong among the McIntires. We were killed in an Indian attack at Jamestown. We fought and were taken captive in the Revolutionary War. We fought in the Civil War, returned to our farms, and took up arms again for each of the World Wars. So far as I can tell, we never even owned slaves. But when Captain James fired the mortar on Fort Sumter, we had been farming the soil of Virginia for over 200 years.

I’m a northern girl, through and through. But I have never had that sense of being a Hoosier first, American second (much less a Nebraskan). There was more to the Civil War than slavery. In the end, the South was willing to free the slaves themselves in a last ditch effort to drum up troops to defend themselves from the North. There was something in the war they valued higher than their slaves. But it was too late . . . the slaves already knew they were freed.

So I stood at the feet of Stonewall Jackson, looking up at his larger-than-life figure. His presence was as impressive there in bronze and stone as it is through the pages of history. Recognized for his honesty and devout faith, he was an inspiration to his men. A war hero. A traitor.

Why is he standing here, on American soil, memorializing a defeated enemy?

The Civil War was like no other. Sure, there were political differences, social differences and philosophical differences. North and South had different economies, different interests and different cultures . . . without even throwing slavery into the discussion. Slavery was a part of each of those institutions, but it wasn’t the only part. And yet . . . we were still brothers. Brothers who had taken up arms against once another. A nation was divided. States were divided. Families were divided. Even Roger Pryor recognized the gravity of the moment and refused the offer to take that first shot that exploded over Fort Sumter.

When the war was over, Lincoln argued for amnesty and rebuilding the South. He desired to “bind up the nation’s wounds” and set a course for healing. His measures ultimately failed without his leadership, but as the South began memorializing its heros in statues and dedications, the North simply let them do it. The Union wanted to be a union, not a conquering force bent on the utter destruction of its enemy and the obliteration of all its institutions and symbols.

The South wanted to honor its heroes. And thumb its nose at the Union in the only way left to it.

So the statues were built. And in September, I walked down Monument Avenue, not sure what I thought of it all.

But art and statues and memorials do not exist solely to uphold a single, unified narrative of our history as we want it told. Mayor Landrieu’s idea that we are “correcting history” is as troubling to me as the existence of these monuments to our divided past. Of course, they never “reflected the totality of who we are.” Nothing ever does.

They do, however, reflect a part. A part that needs to be seen, pondered and discussed. A part that doesn’t go away simply by tearing down a few tons of bronze and concrete.

Perhaps instead of removing confederate monuments, we should consider adding something to them. Something like the “Fearless Girl” (minus the thinly veiled corporate marketing ploy). Something which contextualizes the history. Something that encourages us to walk away both reflective of the past and hopeful for the future.

Yes, I actually let my kids watch Beauty and the Beast

OK, so not that Beauty and the Beast. Without having seen it, I’m not sure what to make of it or the controversy. It seems odd that Disney’s big coming out would involve the comic relief and the villain, but whatever. I kind of hope it is as bad as all that because I’m kind of tired of Christian groups sounding the alarm over nothing. Sometimes, it seems like they’re part of the marketing. Float a little controversy in front of the right people and you have instant buzz and instant curiousity. Because seriously, it’s like the second highest grossing film EVER. Right behind Harry Potter. The controversy isn’t driving too many people away.

Beauty and the Beast

The 1991 Disney version is bad enough. I mean really, it’s a bizarre mix of bestiality and Stockholm Syndrome held together by a cast of talking tableware.

Or is it?

What is the main message of Beauty and the Beast?

If you are to believe Disney’s marketing, it’s only the greatest love story ever told. It has everything. A father held captive by a beast. A girl who offers herself in his stead. A curse that can only be broken by love . . . a love that has to somehow be able to see past a beastly exterior. And a beastly temperament. And, you know, that whole being held captive thing.

Most people will tell you it’s a fairy tale with an important moral: Beauty is only skin deep.

But Disney is Disney. They’ve built an empire on harvesting fairy tales and cleaning them up for the mass market.

What was the original Beauty and the Beast about?

My 10 year old actually read the original (or one of its many versions) and was quite disappointed in the movie. It strayed too far in too many key points. Rather than Gaston as a counterpoint to the Beast, you have narcissistic, worldly sisters as counterpoints to Beauty’s perfect femininity. And the spell breaking love is demonstrated through a tear rather than a kiss.

But this, too, was a story with a message. It is also controversial, though not quite so much for the plain features of the text. The controversy comes more from not being able to agree on the inspiration for the story to begin with.

So what was the inspiration for Beauty and the Beast?

Camp 1 says this a prepatory tale for young ladies awaiting arranged marriages. Don’t fret about his looks or manners. Learn to be happy in your new prison. The man may be a dolt, or even a genuine beast, but your femininity and social graces will captivate him, change him and turn him into your prince. I think the most compelling case for this is the social milieu of the major characters. They are neither peasants nor royalty. They seem to belong to the closest thing to a middle class that feudal Europe had to offer. I don’t know how many of the original fairy tales you have read, but this isn’t really typical.

Camp 2 says it’s a fairy tale inspired by real life. Petrus Gonsalvus was a very real man with hypertrichosis, also known as “werewolf syndrome” for the excessive hair growth that occurs all over the body. He first came to the court of Henry II in 1547. He became quite famous due to his condition, moved from court to court and was studied across Europe. While in the Netherlands, he married the very beautiful Catherine. Although he lived as a nobleman, he was never quite accepted as fully human. I think the most compelling case for this view is, well, the “beauty” and the “beast” aspect of the history.

Or maybe it’s a bit of both. I could totally see some well-meaning 16th century parents telling their daughters, “Look, at least you’re not marrying that guy!”

And what does that have to do with the movie?

Disney chose to play up the being-held-captive side to the movie. Themes involving arranged marriages don’t go down so well these days, but Belle is not the only prisoner. The Beast is cursed. His temper is an expression of his own captivity. He continually convinces himself that there is “no point” to pursuing Belle or doing anything to encourage her to like him. And then he lashes out.

He was cursed for not sheltering an old woman. Now he is forced to live his life as the witch saw him. He’s hideous, forced from human contact and held captive in his own castle. With Belle’s arrival, he protects what dignity he has left by pushing away the one thing he needs to make it all go away. He is the one who chooses to open his heart and allow himself to love. He makes the first step and ultimately releases her from her bond to him. The great act of love is him releasing the one thing that could release him.

So what’s the real moral of Beauty and the Beast?

I think it is clearer when you compare the Beast to the beastly Gaston.

On the one hand, you have a cursed man.  His very humanity was taken from him, he’s been driven into a solitary castle with no human contact and his only hope is to somehow find love. On the other, you have the very model of manliness. Strong, good looking and the desire of almost every woman in town. One is a beast because of the prison he was forced into. One is just a beast.

So the Beast takes Belle captive in exchange for her father’s freedom. Maybe more in hopes that the curse can finally be broken. But the climax of the movie is not when Belle returns. It is when he, out of love, releases her from her bondage. He is the one driving the story forward. He is the one with a major conflict. He is the one who changes.

Belle is the same young woman at the end as she was at the beginning. He was the one with a love powerful enough to change, and powerful enough to allow her to see his humanity.

I don’t see “Beauty is only skin deep” so much as “True love changes you for the better.” It’s like that greatest of all love lines in As Good As it Gets, “You make me want to be a better man.”

And that is totally a message I want my children to ponder.

Reflections on the Berlin Wall in pictures and cartoons

Now that Monica Crowley is to serve on the National Security Council in President Elect Trump’s administration, an old tweet has been making the rounds again.

 

walls-work

She says people missed the point. I’m not sure what her point was. I don’t know if it was an odd bit of sarcasm or a complete misunderstanding of the historical significance of the wall she was standing next to.

The wall that worked.

But that isn’t really what this post is about. I stood near where Crowley was standing. My thoughts were very different.

east-side-gallery

Two years after that wall came down, I stood in its shadow. For me, as a child of the Cold War, it was not a smiley selfie moment. It was one of quiet reflection. I felt much as I did standing at Bergen Belsen, the concentration camp where Anne Frank died. There, standing in the shadow of this historic monument, I saw what governments were willing to do to control their people.

The Kiss
“My God help us survive this deadly love” From a famous photograph of Brezhnev and Honecker’s “socialist fraternal kiss” that many thought was a little too “passionate.”

This wall that stood between East and West, between totalitarianism and liberty divided a nation, a continent and a world. East and West. That’s all I had ever known, and one night, the people tore it down. Because once the people realized the guards weren’t going to shoot and the dogs weren’t going to attack, the bit of concrete that stood between them and freedom didn’t prove to be much of a barrier at all.

chained-dove

But I was also there two years after it came down. Two years was long enough for the euphoria to wear off. People weren’t toasting their victory with champagne and passing out money and care packets to people spilling over the wall and through the gates anymore. Once every person who made it across was hailed a hero. Now, they were all a nuisance. Germany was coming to grips with what it meant to graft this second world nation onto their own economic powerhouse. Germany has always prided itself on its social market economy, but now their resources were being drained by these . . . leeches. Unemployment was skyrocketing. The public koffers were draining. And what had the East Germans ever done but take?

"Where the state ends, life begins."
“Where the state ends, life begins.” Graffiti across from the monument.

There was a joke going around we had all heard. “It’s time to build another wall . . . but 10 meters higher.

Reunification cartoon
“Hurry! Before West Germany builds a wall!”

And another wall was being built. But this one wasn’t made of concrete and barbed wire. It was in the hearts and minds of Germans, looking down on their neighbors, not trusting their economic superiority to these outsiders, not entirely accepting of these intruders as Germans.

German reunification
“State of the nation.” The Ziggy-like figure is “the German Michel,” the symbol of Germany, much like our own Uncle Sam.

Now they were Ossies.

And I only ever heard that word used as a perjorative.

Even my civics teacher who had devoted an entire semester to “Die Wende” (The Turning Point — refers to the events in East Germany leading up to the collapse) made very clear that “reunification” was a misnomer. Germany was being unified, not reunified, because it had never existed prior to this moment. East and West were not being reunited. They were being spliced together.

the-german-michel
Note how there are two German Michels? And one intends on moving in with the other. The hugging will only last so long . . .

And somewhere in there is what the wall means to me today. The monolith of my childhood. An art gallery in Berlin. A moment in time where two people became one. A reminder that our political dreams often look very different when we achieve them. A symbol of oppression. A symbol of triumph.

A reminder that walls can be torn down. Even between East and West, Red and Blue.

Because at the end of it all, East and West did become one. One Germany. One people.

(Note: The photographs are my own. The political cartoons are from “Die Wende in der DDR” which was published by the German government and hence –to my understanding–free to use with attribution.)