Making Peace not War

Bodies Matter 2

There’s a war on women’s bodies.

Earlier this year, a 33 year-old Indiana resident named Purvi Patel was sentenced to twenty years of imprisonment. She had sought medical attention in a Mishawaka, Indiana emergency room for excessive vaginal bleeding and eventually revealed to the medical team that she had miscarried, and disposed of the fetus in a dumpster, which was later discovered there by authorities. At the crux of the legal case was the issue of whether Patel had miscarried or self-aborted, whether she had delivered a live baby or a nonliving fetus, and whether her pregnancy was even far enough along to deliver a viable live child.

Yet, Patel is not the first woman to be convicted of feticide here in Indiana as she follows Bei Bei Shuai, who in March 2011 was charged with the murder and attempted feticide of her child and jailed for 435 days.

There’s a war on women’s bodies.

About a month ago Bloomingdale’s ran a shiny Christmas holiday ad: A woman is dressed in a black skirt and white cardigan clutching a white purse looking to her right laughing at a conversation or joke. To her left is a man in a tuxedo looking at her with a secret in his eyes. In the space between the two people is the following copy: “Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking.” Bloomingdale’s later apologized for it.

Earlier this year Budweiser had a similar ad with the tagline: “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night. #UpForWhatever.”

There’s a war on women’s bodies.

There was a massacre in my hometown of Colorado Springs, Colorado. A white American terrorist armed with an assault-style rifle opened fire went on a rampage at the Planned Parenthood. According to the New York Times he “began shooting at officers as they rushed to the scene. The authorities reported that three people were killed, a police officer and two civilians, and nine were wounded before the suspect finally surrendered more than five hours after the first shots were fired.” He spouted sentiments like “no more baby parts,” and was described by later as a “recluse who longed for women and mixed religion with rage.”

There’s a war on women’s bodies.

In October, an Indiana University student was arrested over the weekend after police say he attacked a Muslim woman, yelling racially charged comments at her and trying to remove her headscarf. Police on Monday did not identify the woman, but said that she had been dining in a Bloomington, Indiana, restaurant’s outdoor seating area Saturday night with her 9-year-old daughter when she was approached by the 19 year old male who was yelling things like “white power,” “kill the police” and derogatory statements about black people.

There’s a war on women’s bodies.

In July five women died in police custody: Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, Joyce Curnell, Ralkina Jones and Raynette Turner were all found dead in their cells after being arrested by local authorities.

There’s a war on women’s bodies.

Here’s the thing about the Planned Parenthood tragedy. “The shooting last Friday at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was horrifying, but according to a former Planned Parenthood worker, it wasn’t shocking,” (emphasis mine). The former employee goes on to note, “the attack that left three people dead was a continuation of decades of extremist tactics directed at the health care organization’s facilities, staff, volunteers and patients,” as found in this recent Mic article. This former employee went on to explain in detail the various tactics people would employ to harass and terrorize the clinic, and make it a place that employees feared going to for work.

There’s a war on women’s bodies.

In a day and age where what matters is fiercely contested on every turf and street what does it mean to say that our bodies matter?

That what is fundamental to our humanity is anchored in our flesh, our faces, our skin, our cells, our blood in every possible way? Click To Tweet

There are so many ways we can expand the reality that bodies matter, and yes, all bodies matter. As Advent allows us space to consider the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, what would it mean to enter into the story of God? To enter into the Son of God coming into the world through the body of a woman, theotokos? How can we let that shape our language, our policies, our systems around the undeniable reality that bodies must matter after all?

To label the realities of violence upon the bodies of those marginalized, often women, often women, women of color, transgender women, and transgender women of color is a way of agency and enacting of power. Though employing a rhetoric of war and violence is often viewed as problematic it is actually one way towards peace – speaking truth, telling the real stories, and naming clearly the realities that are there. It is preparing a way, it is making smooth the rough and leveling the ground.

For those of us who have experienced that violence and long for and hunger after that peace in our flesh and blood we feel those powers against us, and to name it is a way to hold onto and embody that sliver of peace.Click To Tweet

As we journey towards the second Sunday of Advent having feasted on hope, may we name, make, embody peace.

#bodiesmatter

Deeper Story: Girls, Modesty-Shaming, and Jesus Feminism

Deeper Story: Girls, Modesty-Shaming, and Jesus Feminism

Slut-shaming.

It’s a backlash to feminist expressions of power when a woman embraces her sexuality. I hate it all, really. It stresses me out trying to figure out whether it’s better to support that expression of female sexuality and agency or if it is better to rail against this subversive (though usually blatant) form of oppression of women by objectifying their bodies and giving girls value only because of their ability to titillate and seduce on stage. But, I admit I find myself slut-shaming in my brain at various levels. Mostly directed towards Miley Cryus and that wrecking ball image.

And then I feel profoundly sad. What are we doing to our girls? – We complain. We criticize. We guilt and shame. They’re too sexy. They’re way promiscuous. They’re irresponsible, vapid, and helpless. In the same breath we modesty-shame others. “Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez are goody-goody and could be so much more successful if they were sexier.” It’s so confusing, no wonder our girls get so screwed up.

When are girls going to be good enough?

…And why is it that when I try to Google image search “girl” and “little girls” I get images of half naked women for the first, and girls only dressed in princess outfits for the latter?

Sarah Bessey came out with her debut book Jesus Feminist and I am inspired by how it subverts the expectation that Christian women should be a certain way by offering a unabashedly real life experience of how Jesus is the source of  her feminism.

Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man—there never has been another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely un-selfconscious. – Dorothy L. Sayers

It broadens definitions and experiences of feminism that are sorely needed right now when even these movements feel like they’re getting constrained and even hijacked by wider culture. But there are other expressions, too.

I watch some TV that may be questionable and not readily associated with the “office” of minister. (Speaking of TV and office – I’m weirdly really missing The Office these days.) Most in my regular lineup are pretty innocuous but so hilarious: Parks and Rec; Modern Family; The Mindy Project.

And then I got sucked into HBO’s Girls. I didn’t start until late into Season 2 – and caught up on the first season in one night from a friend’s borrowed rented DVD.

I had avoided the show because of some critiques by sources I respect that pointed out that Lena Dunham presents a really narrow experience. From NPR in 2012:

But not everyone was so enamored. Within hours of Girls’ premiere on April 15, a backlash started growing online, with critics charging that the show is narcissistic, lacks racial diversity and showcases whiny, privileged millennials complaining about topics only relevant to whiny, privileged millennials.

So, before I really gave it a chance myself, I had disregarded it as another one of those shows following the stories of some rich, skinny, white girls. (As if we don’t have enough of those shows already.)

But then I watched it.

I hadn’t watched anything HBO in who-knows-how-long though definitely pre-kids and even pre-marriage, I think. It was a shock at first to see so much nudity and sex but that quickly faded in the background, because I also haven’t watched something so cringe-worthy, interesting, complicated and hilarious in I don’t know how long. I love the story-telling. The relationships. The scenes of Brooklyn. The accents. The ugly, messy, no frills. And, contrary to popular belief, it really isn’t all about sex – the act of sex – but, it’s still a lot about intimacy. And those intersections between people – physical and emotional – say so much.

Season 3 started and I’m already kind of taken with everyone even though the majority of the characters are mildly annoying. But that’s why – there’s something so raw and genuine about it all – it’s oddly endearing. Reading some more of Lena’s responses to the criticism I see the honesty of her stories. They are her slice of life where she isn’t trying to present or force any universalisms on us. And I appreciate her awareness of the tendency towards tokenism. Is it really that necessary to insert a woman-of-color friend for the sake of diversity even if she knows nothing about how to speak for and to that particular woman’s experience? I don’t expect to find it comfortable and real. I don’t need to find her story familiar. And, yet it is – there’s some overlap because we are both girls. Which always makes me think of my daughter, Anna, and how much I want her to overlap – in meaningful and truthful ways – with other girls someday.

Because it’s hard enough being a girl without other girls coming after you.

Now everywhere in the US intimate things flash in people’s faces: pornography, abortion, sexuality and reproduction; marriage, personal morality and family values. These issues do not arise as private concerns: they are key to debates about what “America” stands for, and are deemed vital to defining how citizens should act.

 The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship

I’m not saying we all need to subject ourselves to this kind of art. It may be uncomfortable to most people and it may trigger some unhealthy behaviors in others. (I won’t go into how problematic porn has become to our understanding of our bodies and relationships, but how the “art” of porn is perhaps a commentary on something more. I’ll do that later in a hopefully provocative and thoughtful post because I’m really fascinated with the way our culture is so obsessed with a particular kind of intimacy.) We don’t need to watch or see Girls to understand that humanity is screwed up but that there ‘s still redemptive possibility.

What we need are Jesus’ words in John 1. Come and see.

Those were Jesus’ kind and patient – pastoral – words to the disciples in John’s Gospel when they are fan-girling around him and don’t know what else to say – where are you staying? But he asks a big question, and it likely catches them off guard so they ask what is on the surface of their minds and hearts – where are you staying … so we can stay with you? I think, come and see makes perfect sense in light of the rest of the story with everything they saw: how he healed, fed, taught, wept, and treated everyone the same way. Everyone. Everyone. Even men that smelled like fish all day and probably could barely write a sentence. Even children.

Even women deemed sluts and women deemed whores, and women deemed domestic goddesses (exaggeration of Martha?).

Come and see. Come and see something deeper than what the media and culture sees and forces on us. Come and see what it means to support and love every human being realizing that even though they may be “Other” (someone foreign and alien, a stranger) their dignity and life means your dignity and life, too. Come and see what it means to delve into gritty, earthy humanness and glimpse the divine in it, too. Come and see that what we are fed by the empty wells around us is nothing compared to the endless harvests Jesus has to offer us now and always.

You have to go deep in one place. When you do you fall into the underground stream that we all share.
-Rohr