When Calories Have a Gender

I was driving home yesterday only to be greeted with a Dr. Pepper  radio advertisement emphatically proclaiming that their new soda has “10 manly calories” and that “it’s not for women,” so I can “keep my romantic comedies and lady drinks.”

How can an inanimate object like a beverage have a gender? I wondered.

How can calories be “manly” or “womenly” for that matter? I mused.

Thinking more expansively, I pondered, “Why does media focus on Kim Kardashian’s newest beckon for attention instead of highlighting the stories of women like Wujdan Shahrkhan and Sarah ‘Attar, who are breaking cultural taboos by becoming Saudi Arabia’s first women to compete in the Olympics?”

“How can more women, girls, men, and boys hear the life-altering message of freedom in Christ rather than hearing each of the ways in which we are to comport ourselves to propriety (if we were born with two “x” chromosomes) or leadership (if we were born with an “x” and “y” chromosome).”

Can I sing “Courageous” by Casting Crowns and alter the lines to “women of courage” and proclaim that we will love our husbands and children (and friends and orphans and neighbors),” proudly exclaiming, “let the women of God arise!” instead of the true lyrics?

Feeling frustrated yet imbued to continue promoting gender equity with ardent fervor, I spent the rest of my commute home reconciling how Church, media, and society all have perpetuated stereotypes for genders and how this can be changed.

I don’t have all the answers, but I believe that we can make the Church and society more equitable and just when we omit exaggerated stereotypes, challenge cultural norms, and affirm the imago dei in all.

I’m trying to discern what my gender means to me, but one thing I know for sure is that it looks counter-cultural to the “rules” upon which I have been imposed. I tell people that I often think about keeping my last name when I get married because I don’t think the woman should have to drop her last name simply because it’s expected or implied. I often joke that if I were to ever have a child, I would make birth announcements in pink for a boy and blue for a girl and laugh at all of the comments I’d get that I can just hear now… “Was your printer not working?” “Was something wrong with your ink?” Hear me loud and clear, there’s nothing wrong with changing your last name and nothing wrong with donning pink and blue, but I’m ready to ask bigger questions, such as why is a  woman ‘supposed to’ change her name? What makes pink a ‘girly’ color?

When God is described as one sole gender, we negate that God is Spirit (John 4:24) and that the excessive use of gender depictions of God focuses more on humanness, dulled down to words that we can understand, rather than dwelling in the mystery and richness of the God who created the Heavens and the Earth.

When calories have a gender, we exacerbate gender stereotypes instead of leading our generation into partnership and teamwork.

When we extol men to be courageous, we must then do the same for the women and girls of this world, particularly encouraging those who face dowry murder, honour killings, genital mutilation and sex trafficking.

When we learn that ultimately, male or female, we are one in Christ (Gal 3:28), we can drop our arguments and stereotypes and calories at the foot of the Cross, united together in synergistic partnership, ready to change to the world.

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Enough.

After a week of reading and hearing headlines, emails, posts, and radio negative campaign ads, I have one word to say, capitalized and underlined.

ENOUGH.

Rush, please learn to think before you speak and learn the power of forgiveness when you say mean things.

Romney, please get to your know your gay, straight, bi, lesbian, neighbors and realize that they don’t need one more person pointing fingers at them; really we all just need one more person to encourage and love us. And as an aside, if you’re going to make a “Christian” graduation speech, may I suggest adapting from the Sermon on the Mount, not the Mountain of Rejection you’ve voiced of others.

Obama, please stop emailing me daily asking for $3 because I’m sick of scheming up millions for campaign finance when I truly believe character wins over capital ANY day of the week.

And lest I put the blame on others, I will galvanize myself: Otterbein, enough with your cynicism.

ENOUGH.

One soldier committing suicide every day.

ENOUGH.

Another needless gun violence tragedy today.

ENOUGH.

Enough of the name-calling, the negativity, the judgment, the labeling, and complacency too while we’re at it.

Enough of assumption making, enough of pointing fingers (and guns), enough of war, enough of divisiveness.

You know what I’m talking about.

There is a world bursting forth with LOVE just longing to be opened and discovered.

There is a Kingdom big enough for all of us.

It’s time we hold hands. It’s time we link up, arm in arm, go on! I know it might feel silly at first but give it a few seconds and you might feel a tingling in your toes or fingers and it will be holy and beatific and divine.

Yes, yes, go hold hands, go high five, go hug, go laugh, skip and jump with your black, Asian, caucasian, Hispanic, mixed, straight, gay, immigrant, hippie, blue collar, white collar, those who cut off their collars a long time ago, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, haven’t-prayed-in-twenty-years-because you have questions and don’t need trite answers, young, elderly, thirsty, empty, stumbling, bumbling (not sure what that even means), homeless, trafficked, just discovering beauty and grace despite chaos, sisters and brothers.

Yes, On Earth as it is in Heaven.

We can have it a bit of it.

Yes, yes, we can learn that fostering hope instead of further creating division, especially during tender times is an excellent idea.

Yes, yes,we can douse hatred and ignite love with our mouths, our hands, our feet, our very soul.

We can pledge our fealty to loving our neighbor, not our red white and blue embroideries.

We can wave the white flag.

We can throw up peace signs.

We can mourn when our heart is heavy from pain and brokenness and depravity. Better yet, we can mourn together.

And then we can roll down hills together.

And stomp in puddles.

Because we have said ENOUGH to the former and we can now dance in the latter, barefoot and unafraid…

Martin Luther King Memorial
Washington D.C.
April 2012

In Which I Would Gag if it Didn’t Sting so Bad

Tonight I heard the song “Lead me” by Sanctus Real. Normally if that comes on the radio, I switch stations, but this time it was playing from my friend’s ipod over dinner. I politely stay hearken to our conversation, but inwardly, I am distracted. The song echoes,

“I look around and see my wonderful life
Almost perfect from the outside
In picture frames I see my beautiful wife
Always smiling
But on the inside, I can hear her saying…
“Lead me with strong hands
Stand up when I can’t
Don’t leave me hungry for love
Chasing dreams, what about us?
Show me you’re willing to fight
That I’m still the love of your life.”

In this song, the woman is portrayed as a helpless, passive, beautiful person who longs for her husband to rescue her from whatever pain or challenge she is currently facing.

Some Christian music is hokey and makes me want to gag. Others are beautiful, leaving me in awe of so glorious a Creator. And still others hurt like a slow wound as I curl my lip, unsure of whether I will cry or whether or I will become angry and outspoken.

I ponder the song for a moment and wonder what the reaction would be if the song went like this:

“In picture frames I see my handsome husband
Always smiling
But on the inside, I can hear him saying…
Lead me with strong hands
Stand up when I can’t
Don’t leave me hungry for love
Chasing dreams, what about us?
Show me you’re willing to fight
That I’m still the love of your life.”

Doesn’t sound like any song I would hear on Christian radio.

Hearing that song again tonight brought back dismal memories of my college ministry leaders instructing us women that we “need to be willing to be led” and addressed the men to “step up and lead.” I am reminded of being encouraged to read “Captivating” by Stasi Eldredge in which I was told that deep down every woman longs to be seen as beautiful and to be rescued by a man, precisely the message that Disney princesses taught me too for that matter (Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Shrek… I am surprised at how many movies one can make from the “damsel in distress” theme). Also during that time, a friend of mine was reading “Made to Be His Helpmeet,” in which Debi Pearl warns women that there is no excuse for her not to provide sexual gratification to her husband, even if it hurts her (i.e. vaginal dryness in menopause).1

I don’t like to criticize others’ work, be it books or songs, but I have reached a point where I would like to remind young women that there is freedom in Christ beyond prescribed “gender roles.” There are marriages outside of husband-as-decision-maker-and-leader while-his-wife-stands-back-in-adoration. Ephesians 5:21 tells us that we are to submit mutually one to another. Galatians 3:28 tells us that there are no male nor female, but rather, we are one in Christ. Jesus taught and talked to women, against Rabbinical Law (Luke 8:1). Then Jesus didn’t even mention the word “headship” when talking about marriage; rather he just encouraged people to stay together if they do get married (and even if they don’t, I’m quite confident that Jesus is the ultimate forgiver and welcomer of divorcees).

And so as I tend to the wounds of past teachings on gender and leadership, I ask God for healing, for fresh influences, and to use my voice to speak hope and freedom to all of the daughters of the church. I celebrate with other young writers, write some of my own thoughts on this topic and make up my own songs. And then, when I’m tired from staying up late at night to write about all of this, I pray for GOD to lead me with the strength of the Spirit, who is able to stand while I find rest and renewal in living a life in which I am a Child of God, no more, but certainly no less.

1. Chapter 16 of “Made to Be His Helpmeet” by Debi Pearl

Ignited by a Fire That Will Never Burn Out ((Thoughts on Wanting to be Understood))

I never realized how badly the desire to be understood rested dormant in my heart until waterworks poured from eyes sitting down at a newcomer’s meeting one Sunday morning this past spring. I drove forty minutes southbound to a church I’ve always wanted to go to whose founder has authored writings that have put words to all that I feel in my heart, allowing me to sigh, wow. Someone else who thinks like me. Someone with whom my questions are not only safe, but welcomed, encouraged. So when the woman giving the newcomers’ overview asked me for my name and I burst out crying, I realized that for one of the first times in a very long time, I knew I was in a safe place where I could be understood. Where no daggers would be thrown at me. Where I could grow in my faith without being chastised for asking difficult questions. Where I would be met by other people, walking in faith, who aren’t afraid to acknowledge wounds that the Church has caused, and offer an opportunity to start anew, welcomed with however little or however much faith you possess. I can’t explain to you the peace I felt to be present in a community in which I knew I was welcomed, genuinely welcomed, to explore the Ancient of Days knowing that I was not in a room full of Bible-quoting, finger pointing Evangelicals. Instead, I felt like I had literally been ushered into the arms of Jesus himself.

I knew that that rainy Sunday in April was the start to a new beginning in my journey of faith; one in which I officially surrendered trying to be someone I’m not, letting go of my college Evangelical days in which I sat uncomfortably in my seat, cringing each time I heard that anyone who didn’t accept Jesus into their heart would spend eternity burning in Hell, but too afraid to speak up and say politely that I really didn’t want to pass tracts around campus after class on Friday. Ever.

I now know that I don’t fit in many Christian circles but I can’t let go of this incessant longing for the Divine. My heart is with the thirsty, for those who yearn for something more but don’t necessarily know what it looks like.

I do know that part of it looks like letting so of stringent views about theology. I am frustrated with the walls I’ve seen so many in the church put up. Holding signs that say, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” doesn’t exactly help a fellow hungry human being feel closer to God, much less change their sexual identity, if that’s the “agenda’” you’re after. Writing books about Hell, emphasizing that “we can’t get it wrong” doesn’t exactly help the person with questions looking for hope feel welcomed.

But besides all of that, I am tired of wasted time spent on arguing over theological debates instead of fostering loving relationships. I don’t want to lose any more friends; I also don’t care if you think I’m a heretic; and above all, I really just want to be your friend. I don’t care if you believe in eternal punishment for those who don’t profess Jesus or if you do believe that Jesus did it once and for all to “save” everybody.

I don’t care anymore.

All that I’m concerned about is if you are finding God in this journey. That you are finding freedom and joy and peace and some mess and some conflict and some yes-es and some no-s and questions, LOTS of them. I hope that you can find peace in your storms, comfort in your sadness, grace for every time you fall. I hope your journey is about feeling appropriately small when gazing upwards at the Heavens, in awe of so glorious a Maker. I hope your journey finds God in unexpected places, far from steeples and tracts, like in the smile of the poor, in the playfulness of a child. I pray your faith encourages you to spend time with those who are different from you and challenges you to find the image of God in all you come in contact with. I pray your hurts get healed, and that you would come to realize that God is kinder, that God is warmer, that God is more loving than you have ever dared to imagine. I pray you find your hands holding God’s and that your shoulders will be squeezed in a heavenly embrace and that you won’t want to let go of this moment because this moment is exactly what you have been longing to experience all this time. I pray you never go parched, but oh, that you would still maintain your hunger and your thirst and may it draw you straight into the arms of your Creator, beyond understanding, until your soul is dancing, on fire, ignited by a flame that will never burn out.

The second time I went back to this church, I did cartwheels on the church property with a new church friend. By far, my most favorite Sunday afternoon to date.

Ways in Which to Make Myself Look Back on my Twenties and say I Lived it Well.

Accept that change is inevitable. Develop the skills and capacity to see God’s hand in whatever change is occurring. Even good change must be grieved. Learn to put your love for the water to use by rolling with the waves of life. Swim with the wave and let it move you, rather than fighting it only to get crashed down.

Go to Colorado. Make sure to visit family; let those feet experience the trails of the Rockies. Breathe in a peaceful, deep breath of fresh air, and when you do, gaze skyward and say “thanks” to God for every fugacious moment of your life.

Advance your career towards things you’re more passionate about.

Keep writing.

Do small things frequently with great love.

Compete in a half ironman.

Go back to Africa. (Before you’re thirty. You can go after too if you’d like.)

Participate in a flash mob.

Find some more friends who share a similar theology/worldview. Make friends with more people who don’t know what their spiritual beliefs are. Enjoy learning so much from them.

Say words of affirmation to others more frequently.

Rehearse love, God’s love, in your mind instead of worries.

Grow a tomato plant.

Simplify your faith. Let go of the constraining voices from certain faith community’s teachings that are eating up your energy.

Travel.
Travel.
Travel.

Worry about money less. Trust in God’s provision.

Explore what’s on your heart; don’t let anything that keeps resurfacing go unexamined. Ask God for a way to incorporate coaching into your life, perhaps alongside some type of women’s health/gender equality program.

Conserve water from your showers when you first turn the faucet on and wait for the temperature to adjust.

Write people cards. Even spend money sometimes on the really nice ones, like the Quoteable cards or UNICEF cards.

Practice contentment. Be wild and unruly, but in that process, express continual gratitude. If you are unsatisfied with something and you can change it, do something about it.

Learn that your passions need to be pursued because God has put them there for a reason, no matter how contrary they seem. If people use labels to describe you, give them an envelope to put the label on and go FedEx yourself back onto your journey of freedom in Christ.

Practice Christian unity. Remind yourself that no matter how much you may disagree with or feel hurt by certain faith teachings or practices, each of us is made imageo dei and each is saying, “Yes” to Jesus’ heart-beckoning call into the Kingdom of God the best way they know how. In light of so big a diety, ultimately our words and arguing will fall silent in the presence of this God… the God of love.

Take lots of pictures.
Speak hope.
Laugh at yourself.

And, as always,
Love life.
Be brave.
Play hard.

Forever and ever,

Your 25 year old self