It ends with us: the toxicity of gender roles

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Whether you’re male or female, you received messages growing up about gender. Maybe they were spoken out loud, like being told that “women want love and men want respect”, or maybe they were more subtle, like the way you were supposed to dress or whether your boyfriend had to ask your dad permission to take you on a date. Messages about our manhood or womanhood deeply shape who we perceive ourselves to be and our confidence in our interactions with the opposite gender.

To write this article, I posted a Facebook status asking what messages people received about gender. Here are a few of their responses:

For women:

  • “Don’t be too successful or don’t share your opinions too freely or else you will scare men away.”
  • “I was warned against ever making the first move or pursuing a man; it’s the woman’s role to wait patiently and passively and the man’s to pursue. If you, a woman, go after a guy, you are a slut, and you don’t know how to wait on the Lord. (Also, men don’t like it and won’t date you.) I kissed him first. There were no objections.”
  • “Men want respect; women want affection.” . . . Being told that as a woman I didn’t want to be respected was actually very hurtful (and a little insulting).”
  • “Only guys have strong sexual drives and struggle with sexual sin.”

For men:

  • “You should have more friends who are boys, otherwise you’ll start acting like a girl.”
  • “‘If you like romcoms, you’re probably gay.’ Good romcoms are pretty amazing. Sue me.”
  • “Always beware of sexual sin, which amounted to, be afraid of the woman you love at all times. I have since chilled out after realizing that being afraid of my girlfriend wasn’t loving to her or to me and was no way to live.”
  • “The idea that young men and women can’t be friends seems to have led at least a few young men in my life to be completely unable to have a female friend without either developing romantic feelings for her, or developing delusions about said friend having romantic feelings for him.”

You or I may not have experienced all of these messages, but they all have one thing in common: the restrictive boxes that exist around gender in our Christian community hurt more people than they help. When we tighten our grip on definitions of manhood and womanhood, we make people who deserve to belong in society—a 30-something single, a full-time working mom, a guy who doesn’t like sports—feel like untouchables instead of equally valuable members of our church community.

The only party that benefits from suffocating gender roles is the fear inside of all of us; fear that society will change if we relinquish the rules we’ve clung to for hundreds of years.

And these messages are passed down from generation, to generation, to generation. Do you know how they’re being spread? By the generation that came before them. You’d think we would learn, having been wounded by the same messages, but somehow we keep repeating them instead of nipping them at the bud.

It needs to end with us. Let’s make this the last generation that ever has to deal with that crap, because it really doesn’t do anything to positively benefit society. Why inflict the same pain on your future kid that you experienced now? I am convinced that in order for the next generation to be better off than we are, we must intentionally work to rewrite the narratives that we receive—if we don’t, we will unintentionally pass them on. Because apathy is not a neutral attitude; it positively benefits the structures that already exist in society.

And maybe, one day, we will wake up in a world that has taken another step toward loving others better.

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3 Ways to Be Counter-Cultural

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Christians are kind of obsessed with being counter-cultural, yes? Especially in the wake of some heavy news. And the most common reaction seems to be, “We need to be more different from our culture now than ever before!”

Something about this approach always rubs me the wrong way. And it’s not because I think America’s non-Christian culture is perfect or better. But if being counter-cultural is the goal, I think we’re missing the point.

There’s some problems with this mentality. For one thing, it’s basically saying that if we do the opposite of what everyone else is doing (homeschool vs. public school, no tattoos vs. tattoos, not engage with secular art vs. enjoy secular art, etc), we’ll automatically be more like God. AKA, secular American culture is doing everything wrong.

I see the ideology behind that…but I think it’s flawed. Because even if someone isn’t a Christian, they’re still made in the image of God, and that makes them capable of good things. Secular culture is not the enemy.

But there are some ways we need to be counter-cultural that we’re not. Ways that Christians are actually not even paying attention to, because we’re so focused on the obvious surface stuff instead of the issues layered underneath.

So instead of focusing on being against a bunch of stuff, why don’t we focus on…

1. Being actively pro-vulnerability and anti-shame.

I so badly wish this was a given. But we (Christians) are just like our culture: promotion of having your life together, and shaming yourself as a form of punishment.

I don’t know a single person who hasn’t experienced shame at the hands of the Church. Whether it’s shame over not feeling “Christian” enough, or not reading their Bible enough, or not looking “transformed” enough, or being shamed by an authority figure for being too attractive or not attractive enough…we inflict a lot of shame. And we teach Christian kids that it’s deserved. And so they learn to shame themselves.

What a great opportunity to be counter-cultural! Why don’t we cultivate an attitude of vulnerability with one another, teaching kids that you can make mistakes but they don’t make you bad, and not using fear-mongering or humiliation as a way to keep people following God’s commands? What if we taught from a place of desire for meaning instead of a fear of straying from the rules? This is literally as counter-cultural as it gets. It is empowering, instead of paralyzing. It is strengthening, instead of tearing down.

As Brené Brown says, “The greatest casualties of a scarcity culture are our willingness to own our vulnerabilities and our ability to engage with the world from a place of worthiness.”

2. Promoting engagement in our world.

However you may do it, we’re all looking for ways to disengage with real life. For some it’s addiction, alcoholism, workaholism, sex, “pleasure” (still not sure what that means to be honest), Netflix binges, etc.

For others, it’s “we are not of this world”. It’s Christian escapism. It’s constantly dwelling on Heaven instead of recognizing our responsibility for Earth. It’s dwelling on the soul with a disregard for the physical body.

We have to show up. Even when it’s painful. We cannot stop reading the news just because it hurts. We cannot donate money to Africa to placate our ignorance about what occurs daily in America. We cannot spend money on Bibles in Syria that could have been used to feed a child for another day. God calls us to a life of awareness. When someone is at the bottom of the social totem pole, they deserve our ears first.

We have to slow down. Even when we don’t know how to go for a 10 minute walk alone, without our cell phone or music playing. Some of us live at such a fast pace (read: me) that we can’t even sit in the car without the radio playing. I am physically incapable of sitting in complete and total silence, doing nothing, for more than 5 minutes at a time. I feel weird when I’m sitting at my computer and my TV is not playing in the background.

We are all running away from something. The real world is so hard to bear. That’s why we have to face it together.

3. Stop talking and start listening (OR vice versa).

Our world is constantly shouting at the top of its lungs. Always. Whether it’s social media or real life, we don’t listen well in either capacity. We don’t listen well as a society.

But this is a special direction: it’s not for every Christian. It’s for every Christian leader who has ever had a platform; every white Christian man who has been asked for his opinion on issues varying from racism to birth control; for every person who feels that “servant leader” is a goal they can aspire to without being ignored.

But for some Christians, to be a servant leader would merely be a rug for people to walk on. Another way to become invisible. For black Christian women, to be told to become a servant leader is a joke. A servant leader is a calling for someone who is given authority, not someone who has to fight for a rung on the ladder.

Have you always had the opportunity to be heard? Maybe you should give it up for a while. Ask some people who are less valued to guest post on your blog, or make good use of the retweet. Ask a woman to preach at your church. To the girl who always gets interrupted when she’s talking with your group of friends, make sure you give her space.

Have you been fighting for a voice but no one will listen? Don’t stop now. Don’t let people tell you to sit down, because it’s their turn to sit down, not yours. Thank you, and keep going. Your stories need to be told. We need your narratives to alter a Church that has a history of hushing voices that are somehow different. So please, don’t stop, because without you we have no hope of a Church that will ever look different than it does today.

Missing in Action: Where Are You, Church? A guest post

June 17, 2015 was just an ordinary Wednesday. When twelve people attended Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that night, not one had a clue it was their last. They kissed their families goodbye, grabbed their keys and started their engines.

The shots rang out across the nation as the nine fell, the nine to match the Little Rock Nine, nine taking a stand before nine fell. Five more than the bombing of the four little girls at 16th Street Baptist Church in Montgomery in 1963.

Those of us fortunate to have pastors who are sensitive to these things mentioned them in our prayers, said their names one by one, and prayed for strength and courage and kindness. Our country’s president spoke boldly about America and its pain, these chains of racism that still shackle our feet.

America, for the first time in nearly 50 years, is tentatively opening the door to this conversation once more.

And the majority of white churches across America remain silent.

 

Read the rest over here.

When our opinions no longer matter: LGBT and loving others well

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The internet has pretty much been in an uproar for the last few days over the news about Caitlyn Jenner, previously known as the famous Olympian Bruce Jenner, and her transformation and introduction into the public eye as a woman. I have seen opinions ranging from “YOU GO GIRL! Werk it!” to “Bruce will never be a woman. He is sick and needs serious psychological attention” and everything in between.

We sure like our opinions, don’t we? And more than that, we like to voice our opinions loud and clear for the rest of the world to hear them.

I used to have opinions about people who identified as LGBT. It was actually a topic I felt pretty strongly about. But then I had a friend come out to me for the first time. And I read the story of a young man who was raised an Evangelical Christian and was thrown out of his home when he came out to his parents as gay. And I read from my friend Ben Moberg about what it’s like to be a gay Christian. I learned that 1 out of every 4 kids who identify as transgender will attempt suicide at some point during their lifetime. Although LGBT youth make up only 10% of minors in the U.S., they represent 20% of homeless youth.

LGB youth are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide if they come from highly rejecting families.

And when I put faces to those numbers, my sweet friends being thrown out into the streets when they needed love and loyalty the most, changed me.

Those statistics are not okay.

The fact that we choose our opinions over saving livesis not okay.

What are we doing? What the hell are we thinking, that being right matters more than being kind. We are majorly missing the point, friends. If we haven’t figured it out by now, it doesn’t actually matter whether we think it’s right or wrong, because kids are coming out anyway and gender changes are still happening and they’re still going to, regardless of our personal convictions.

Because, while the Bible is gray about sexuality, the Bible has never been gray about love.

Love is not a gray area. There are no exceptions. No one off-limits. And we don’t have to agree with the life choices of someone in order to be their friend. (If you are only friends with people who agree with you, you are missing out on a much richer life.)

I don’t know what you believe, friend. But I hope you can set them aside sometimes to recognize that the world is much bigger than the lens you see it through.

Your opinions will not save you. Only God can do that.

Caitlyn Jenner is brave because she, of all people—a previous Olympian—knows that we don’t know how to accept people who operate outside of the norm. She knew there would be hate and there would be judgment, even from her own family. She chose to make a space for herself anyway. And I deeply respect that.

It’s time to stop the witch hunt, and it’s time to stop whining that we’re so persecuted that we’re actually expected to treat everyone fairly. It’s time to acknowledge that we have not loved others well. It’s time to acknowledge that we are beginners, not experts on this topic, and to start from ground zero and go up from there.

It’s time to listen, and it’s time to humanize those we don’t agree with. Otherwise we are no better.

I wish I was black: on racial inequality + white guilt

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Hi. My name is Hannah. I am a white, young, middle class woman living in the Midwest. And for the last 6 months I have been wishing I could be black.

Yeah, I recognize that’s a super weird thing to say. You’d think in light of Ferguson no one would envy black people. It’s a dangerous way to be born these days. But as our country becomes increasingly aware of racial tension, I’m wishing I could be black. Because as awful as they have it in our country, I am still just as lazy as ever.

A privileged white person who would rather be oppressed than do the tough work of advocating for equality.

My university hosted our National Student Leadership Conference last weekend, and Christena Cleveland came and spoke about inequality. (If you’ve never read anything by her, make sure you do because she is AMAZING.) It was moving. And even though I’ve learned so much in the last 10 months about race and what privilege is and the current state of our Western culture, I’d rather point fingers and cast blame at the general white population than recognize my own part in allowing privilege to still exist. Because every single white person who doesn’t actively try to end white privilege is participating in its existence. And that knowledge is convicting, and difficult, and HECK NO I don’t want to have to deal with that. I don’t want to be that white girl who won’t stop talking about racial inequality, because why do I even care so much? I’m not black.

But that’s the point. I’m not black. This is not just a problem for black people. Whenever a minority is oppressed, it is the responsibility of the OPPRESSORS to change – not the oppressed. So it’s not a black people problem at all – it’s a white people problem. Race is a white person’s problem, because we’re the ones responsible for changing it.

And shouldn’t we, the People of the Cross, be leading the charge?

This week I had one of the best coffee dates I’ve ever had on our college campus with one of the funniest, most genuine women I know. It’s one of those friendships that has been so long in the making that I apologized for not asking her sooner. I said it so earnestly that she laughed, but we both knew it was true. And we talked about racism and authenticity and silence and choosing to be kind over “nice”.

And I am learning every day what it means to be responsible for my place in this country, this town, among these friends and in this internet world with you, my friend, reading this.

And I hope you ask those questions too: What am I responsible for? In this town? In this community? In this country? In this world? What am I responsible for changing? What am I responsible for giving? And don’t wait until you’re older or married or wealthy to do those things.

Do them now. Because there is an urgency to equality that can’t afford to wait until your life has fallen into neat little rows. Because people will die for this while you have the privilege to wait until you can pay rent. And that’s not really a fair toss-up.

So we who fight for equality will continue to do so until we lay in our graves. And this is the work we take up, the cross we carry, for those who do not have the power that we do. That even though only 13% of the U.S. population is black, they make up 26% of people killed by police in 2014. That the city of Cleveland decided a dead 12-year-old black boy is responsible for his death because he didn’t avoid being shot, and the police force is in blind support of the officers who did it. And so many more that the list would take up an entire blog post by itself.

I hope you’ll fight with me. Thanks for doing that tough work. And I hope we’ll carry each other, when we’re weary and frustrated and discouraged. Because that’s what community is for, after all.

Secular Oscars: Why Christian movies don’t make the cut

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So.

The Oscars happened last night. And a lot of people said a lot of stuff, whether it was about gender equality or racial incarceration or how everyone is STILL mad that the Lego Movie didn’t get nominated. But, to no one’s surprise, there were no “Christian” movies to be found. While a couple have been nominated over the last few decades, no Christian movie has ever won an Oscar.

Why?

A lot of people argue that the Oscars are anti-Christian. That the Christian message isn’t “worldly” enough, so it won’t ever be received well. Sure, that could be part of it someday, but I don’t think that’s our reason at the moment.

Want to know why Christian movies don’t make it to the Oscars?

Because they suck.

Honestly. They’re the worst. I’m a Christian, and even I don’t like them. To Save A Life, God’s Not Dead, Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Old Fashioned, Left Behind…they’re all terrible. Adequate at best. The only good one worth mentioning is The Passion of the Christ, which was actually received pretty well by the general public. I guess our country doesn’t hate everything Christian.

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Then why did you spend the whole movie trying to prove the existence of God? Just wondering.

So why did The Passion do so much better than the rest? And what are we, Christian artists, doing wrong?

In my photography class last semester, my professor talked about how we interpret art. There’s a big spectrum, and on each side there are two extremes: esoteric and didactic. In esoteric art, there are a million interpretations; the intent of the artist is incredibly vague and the viewer doesn’t know how to follow. In didactic art, the artist takes the message and hits the viewer over the head with it; what is supposed to be subtle becomes a sermon. The goal of the artist is to find the happy medium between the two. 

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“Fact: most people know more about someone after a job interview for delivering pizzas than they do after most dates.” That’s because you’re not paying someone to be your significant other. Also, is that real dialogue??

Christian art is almost always didactic. We hit our viewers over the head with our message. We’re afraid to be subtle, because WHAT IF THE AUDIENCE CAN’T TELL IT’S A CHRISTIAN MOVIE? What if the audience doesn’t walk away learning that you save your first kiss for marriage???

Christians don’t deal in questions, we deal with answers. So it’s not shocking that our art reflects that attitude. We’re scared to ask a question and leave it open-ended – we have to wrap it up in a pretty bow. But that’s not what art is intended to do.

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I’m sorry, is this a movie or a sermon analogy?

In the words of Cesar Chavez; “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

Think of movies that have inspired you, brought tears to your eyes, and even made you a little uncomfortable (but not in a God-when-will-this-movie-end way). I think of Forrest Gump. Selma. Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. Shawshank Redemption. Movies that I left a different person than when I came. Not only good stories, but good art. Movies that asked questions and left it up to me to find the answers.

We resonate with those stories because they challenge us, and they don’t coddle us. They’re not condescending or judging. They’re merely asking us the question – tossing the ball to our court – and it’s up to us to decide what’s next.

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THIS resonates with my soul.

So how did The Passion of the Christ break into the Academy and earn several Oscar nominations? What did it do right that we’re missing from Christian films today?

It told its story, and that was all. There was no sermon, there was no moral. It told its story with no subtext and no soapbox. Jesus’ life was enough. By inviting people to come and listen to the story, it won a larger audience than any other Christian movie made. And it didn’t have to “conform” to earn its spot at the top.

So, Christian artists and viewers and consumers: stop using art to preach. Use art to create empathy, connection, and emotion. Movie theaters aren’t churches and cameras aren’t podiums. Art cannot teach what we don’t connect with. And art cannot reason when it is created by emotion.

In the words of my dear friend Forrest Gump:

My mama always said, ‘You’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on.’

And it’s time to do just that – leave the crappy art behind us.

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Not a dick: a man’s perspective on modesty

There is so much to be said about modesty – more than what can be summed up in one blog post – and after my post about modesty and yoga pants, I realized there is so much more to the topic than what I can address as a woman. My dear friend Austin has offered to share some of his thoughts, and I’m so excited for you to read them. You can find him on Twitter at @LindnerAustin and Instagram at austincarrmusic.

 

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I’m a man. And I generally like to think of myself as more than a penis.

As ridiculous as that sounds, it’s honestly how I feel whenever a heated conversation about modesty begins. The two sides of the debate form opposing lines, ready to attack the other side with thrown words or rocks at the drop of a hat. And without a doubt, whenever the “modest is the hottest” team steps up to defend turtlenecks and floor-length skirts, one of the first things out of their mouths is “Do you want men to lust after you? You know guys are more visual creatures. You know they can’t help looking. You don’t know how hard it is to be a man.

Bullshit.

This argument is used to justify too many things in today’s society. Assault, sexual harassment, rape, really anything can be pacified with a good “boys will be boys” mentality. And as one of these “boys” myself, this logic has always seemed offensive.

It implies that I am little more than an animal. That I will uncontrollably lose my cookies at the slightest mention of the word “sex,” or if I walk past a girl in a mini skirt. That my hormones and sexual instincts control my life on a day-to-day basis and I am constantly resisting the urge to mate with anything that moves.

It implies that I am stupid. That I don’t know lusting after a woman is wrong, because I haven’t been taught not to. I never had the chance to attend “Human Decency 101”, so I get a hall pass. It’s okay girls, I didn’t mean to grab your butt- I’m just an idiot.

It implies that I have no restraint. That I have no power over my body whenever a girl with yoga pants walks in the room. That I’ll turn into an unhinged rapist if a girl’s shirt slips a centimeter too low.

And the part that bothers me the most about these statements is when I hear guys saying the same thing to excuse their own behavior.

Living on a college campus, I hear things like this all the time.

“If you wear yoga pants, how can you expect me not to stare?”

“Girls should really consider how distracting they can be before putting on stuff like that.”

Growing up I understood these sentiments. Yeah, why does she have to wear that? If she dresses like that, she’s obviously a slut. Which means I can stare. Because she wants me to stare. Right?

Society told me that I wasn’t responsible for these feelings. It told me that when a girl trespasses some invisible line in the modesty department it is suddenly okay to judge her. To view her as less than a person. To objectify.

But after maturing a little more, I realize how selfish this line of thinking is, to demand that someone slap some more fabric on her body for the sake of my own comfort.

Lately I’ve heard a lot of guys comparing “immodest” women to food (go figure). These pro-modesty dudes say things like, “When you dress like a slut it’s like you are turning yourself into a big mac, and then asking us not to look at you or touch you. How can you expect us not to try something?”

Look. I get it. Big macs are the bomb. And I may instinctively want to snatch a big mac out a stranger’s hand if I’m in public around lunchtime, but that doesn’t mean I have the right to. And it definitely doesn’t mean that I have the right to complain about all these strangers walking around with their slutty, unwrapped hamburgers. Or request that everybody around me refrain from eating big macs in my presence because of my own issues and preferences.

I may love a good burger, but I’m not an animal running on pure impulses. I’m a human, and so is the burger-woman. And we both deserve to be treated as such.

And maybe a good place to start would be to stop comparing the opposite sex to inanimate junk food.

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Something that Hannah has mentioned before that I wholly support is the idea that lust is a choice, not a reaction.

I may be instantly attracted to a woman wearing a bikini walking past me at the beach. I can’t stop the quick rush of those feelings, it’s biological. But that isn’t lust, which seems to be where a lot of guys get tripped up.

Lust is turning around to get a better look. To imagine what’s underneath the fabric. Lust is shying away from her face so you can see her only as a body, an object. Lust takes time and active thought.

Since I’m not a woman, who are the ones most affected by the modesty debate, I honestly don’t know how to address this issue as a whole. Modesty is a complicated topic, dealing with things like self-expression, cultural standards of respect, public decency, and freedom of choice. The answer isn’t as clear as society often tells us, with nasty sluts on one side and respectable women on the other.

All I know is I plan to view members of the opposite sex as people, even when it may seem easier to objectify. Even when I have a society-supported excuse to act like a bundle of sexual impulses.

But I know that as a man, I am more than my genitals. I don’t need to be coddled because of my sex. And one day, I plan to teach my future sons the same thing. Not to see themselves as boys being boys, but as men who respect the people around them, no matter what they are wearing.

 

– – – – –

 

_MG_0601I’m a college student studying journalism and music. I try to tell the truth in a funny and genuine way. I love fast walks on the beach and collecting sharks’ teeth to throw at my enemies. Also I Boggle.