WIPpet Wednesday: Broken

Why, hello there, Wednesday! This time last week, I was just starting to come down with a cold, courtesy of my 10-year-old. Apparently, we taught our kids a little too well about sharing. Fortunately, I recovered in plenty of time to play with my orchestra for our annual educational concert yesterday. It was a blast—several hundred third graders listening to us play Wagner, Handel, and Britton. Good times. Best moment: flute player demonstrated her instrument by playing a bit of “Let It Go” from Frozen.

On to this week’s WIPpet. We last saw Micah reflecting on his epic implosion. We’ll get more on that another time; right now, we join him at the house on the lake. For context, his father had attempted to clean it out before his death but never finished. The house is a mess—dust, stuff cleared out of the upstairs rooms, things to get rid of. It’s not clear yet what condition the house is in overall, but Micah suspects it’s pretty bad. He’s having a moment.

My WIP math is easy: it’s 4/9, so 4 + 9 = 13 sentences.

In addition to the thick layer of dust covering every surface, the house was a mess inside. The main living area was piled with junk—everything from old newspapers and magazines to what looked like the contents of his grandmother’s attic.

This was ridiculous. He assumed the rest of the house was no better, and he probably wouldn’t be able to sleep there until he’d done a significant amount of work. That meant driving back into town and finding a place to stay for who knew how long. Suddenly, Micah was angry—at his father for leaving him a heap of rubbish; at Elijah for gloating over it; and at himself for being foolish enough to believe for even a few minutes that maybe he’d meant something to his family after all.

He picked up the nearest object, which happened to be an oddly-shaped ashtray, and hurled it at the wall. It smashed and rained shards of broken pottery onto the floor. It was thoroughly satisfying. Micah spent the next five minutes throwing things and watching them shatter. He had managed to clear a space around him when he reached down and came up with a hand-painted birdhouse. It was too pretty to break, and suddenly the whole thing seemed impossible and strange. He tried to laugh, but that, too, broke into pieces, and instead, he sobbed, sinking down to his knees in the middle of the floor.

I’m kind of enjoying stringing you along, but let me list for you the clues so far as to what story this is:

  1. 3 sons, Micah (the MC) is the youngest
  2. Dead dad
  3. Inheritance wherein 2 older brothers get great stuff and youngest suffers, with financial hardship

Hmm…we’re missing an important piece here. No worries; in two weeks, I’ll introduce a character that will surely give you the answer. I’m not sure if I’ll be around next week, since I’m going on vacation with my family. I don’t want to post if I’m not going to read all the other lovely entries—there’s no fun in that! So I’m making everyone wait. Keep guessing in the meantime.

Thanks to K. L. Schwengel for hosting. Be sure to check out the other entries here. If you want to add your own, just post a bit of your current work that relates (in whatever creative way you choose) to the date and link up with us. Happy writing!

Flesh and Blood

The first time I remember hating my body, I was nine.

Oh, I don’t think I put it exactly in those terms.  It was more the certainty that I didn’t look like other girls.  I was short, for one thing, even at that age.  I was rounder, too, than my classmates.  I’ve seen pictures of myself in fourth grade, and I wasn’t even what adults would have semi-affectionately termed “chubby.”  But I wasn’t skinny, and for whatever reason, my peers latched onto that insecurity and spent the next several years calling me fat.  Taunting me about my hips and thighs.  Pinching me to show where I could “lose a few pounds.”

People say that girls today learn those lessons earlier than in previous generations.  No, they don’t.

When I reached high school and chose to reinvent myself through conservative evangelical religiosity, I thought I’d found a place where I wouldn’t be judged on my body.  How very wrong I was.

Instead of using beauty as the standard by which  I was judged, it became “godliness.”  I lost track of the number of times some well-meaning person asked me if I “really needed to eat that.”  It didn’t actually matter what I was eating; I could have eaten anything and I still would’ve been asked.  No one said it to my skinny friends under any circumstances.

As shaming as that was, that wasn’t the worst of it.  It was the way in which preaching spoke of “the flesh” as a dirty, evil thing that must be overcome.  I learned that my body was bad—not bad merely for being the wrong shape but bad because it wanted things.

In that graceless spiritual bubble, the mind, the body, and the spirit were disconnected.  The body had sinful desires to overcome.  The mind had sinful thoughts to overcome.  But the spirit was of God and trumped all of our sinful nature if we prayed and asked Jesus in to fix our broken humanity.

I’m sure some of my conservative evangelical peers must be saying, “It’s not like that!”  Perhaps it isn’t, for them.  Maybe they didn’t already go into faith believing they were broken simply by virtue of existence.  Or maybe they just can’t see it even though it’s right there in front of them.

It never occurred to me to medicate my shame.  Food, substance use, sex, even suicide—none of those were options because they were all “temptations” to be deal with through prayer and reading the Bible.  I didn’t touch drugs or alcohol or cigarettes because that would have been fleshly sin.  Eating the wrong things or in the wrong way was sin, too.  I stayed away from boys just in case my body betrayed my spirit and wanted more than hand-holding and innocent pecks on the cheek.

None of that stopped my body from wanting things, of course.  I used to hide my Easter chocolate in my room and make it last for six months by eating just a tiny bit at a time.  I would nibble, and then I would feel guilty—both for hiding and for eating.  Chocolate was sinful for bodies like mine.  I wasn’t disciplined enough.

I made sure I was covered, not out of modesty, but out of hiding.  It functioned both ways, though, and I was safe from the bodily sin of “causing my brother to stumble” in lust.  Not that I believed for even a moment that any boys were looking at me that way; I knew they all liked pretty girls with skinny waists and big boobs.  Privately, I could barely admit to myself that I wanted someone to look at me that way.

My language was clean, at least on the outside.  I pretended to be outraged once on a trip with some other Christian teens.  A boy from another city said “shit.”  I joined the others in telling him that wasn’t God’s best.  Secretly, it gave me a thrill to hear such a word on the lips of the faithful.  I wished I were that brave, but I felt ashamed for it.

I monitored my thoughts to make sure I wasn’t harboring resentment, anger, or lust.  There was a boy I liked.  I imagined what it would feel like to kiss him, maybe to have his hands on me.  But I remembered that I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about that.  I never asked him out because I was afraid both my body and my mind would betray me.

Alone at night, sometimes, I touched myself, all the time trying not to think about anything so I wouldn’t be guilty of lusting.  Except the very act of giving myself pleasure seemed to fall into that category—not to mention the impossibility of keeping my mind blank, separate from my body.  Orgasm and guilt became inextricably linked.

Everything was about overcoming the “desires of the flesh,” emptying myself of me so that I could be filled with the Holy Spirit.  The more Spirit-filled I was, the closer to God.  If I just let Jesus in far enough, he could make all the things my body—and my mind—wanted go away, replaced only by the desire to love and serve God in near-perfect holiness.

It didn’t work.

Instead, it left a gaping, dripping wound, a hole in the place where I should have been.  I tried harder and harder to not sin, convinced I was broken somehow for not having the faith in God to keep me from doing the things a Good Girl doesn’t do.  So I prayed harder, confessed more, and begged God to make me just not feel.

That did work.  In the wrong way.

A door closed, locked, bolted.  But instead of keeping my spirit safe from my own mind and body, it kept me from feeling much of anything for anyone else.  And it didn’t stop my body or my mind from their natural inclinations; it only served to prove they needed to be separated.

I want to open that door again, but I think I’m afraid that what I unleash will be very much like Elsa in Frozen, setting off an eternal winter.  That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much.

Slowly, slowly, I’m unfastening the chains.  I let myself cry with someone from church who was feeling a deep, heavy hurt.  I asked after several friends coping with fresh grief.  It felt good to allow their pain in.

If only I could let mine out.

WIPpet Wednesday: Down in Flames

I’ve been a busy beaver since last Wednesday.  I’m currently beta-reading for several people, which has been a lot of fun.  I’ve only had one at a time for most of the last six months, so it’s nice to be back to having more.  The works are vastly different genres, which is also enjoyable.

Other than that, I’ve also blogged a little, something I haven’t done much of over the last several months.  That was a big change, as I’d been blogging 5 times a week for most of a year and a half before that.  There was just too much going on in my offline life for me to feel much motivation.  While I will probably never return to that kind of regular posting (nor the community in I was involved while doing it), I hope to be able to blog a bit more often.

In other happy news, I got Lower Education back from a beta reader who I asked to give me her overall impressions.  She said she really liked it, but she also gave me good feedback about something that wasn’t working well for her.  So, I’m pretty satisfied with that.

Aside from that, I’ve had a bit of time to work on my new novel, which I’m tentatively titling A Worthy Inheritance.  That could change, though.  I’m not ready to divulge too many details—I’m only about 11,000 words into the story.  Gee, that makes about 70-80,000 to go, right?  In this edition of “Welcome to Amy’s Brain,” I admit that part of my slow progress is that I’m just not confident in my own skills.  I spend about 50% of my time trying to convince myself to just write something, even if it’s not great.  No one but me ever has to see the crappy stuff!  But even in my own head I feel embarrassed to write junk.

No matter—I’m still forging ahead.  I posted the first part of the first chapter a few weeks ago, and you can go back and read it here.  The MC, Micah Forbes, has inherited a run-down house on Seneca Lake, a parting “gift” from the father he assumed had disowned him.  As I mentioned there, this is a fairy tale retold, and I promise you’ll be able to tell which one by the end of the month.  (I’m so mean, not revealing it today).

No fancy WIP math today.  You get 2 sentences because today is April 2.

Years before his father’s death, when Micah was in college, he’d sealed his own fate. His undergraduate career, along with the nearly-platonic, church-sanctioned relationship he had with his girlfriend at the time, ended spectacularly.

Yep.

If you’re just tuning in, we do this fun little thing every week where we post a bit of our current work-in-progress (WIP) that has some association with the date.  If you would like to be assimilated join us, feel free to post yours and link up here and read the other entries.  As always, thanks to K. L. Schwengel for hosting.  Resistance is futile Happy Wednesday!

Human Nature

It’s Saturday, and I should be finishing up some work and getting ready to take my daughter to dance class.  Instead, I’m writing a blog post because sometimes, things strike me so hard and so fast that I can’t process anything else until I get my words out.

When I woke up this morning, I was scrolling through my social media accounts and I read this piece by Jonathan Merritt.  Now, he’s a person that I respect very much as a writer.  I don’t always agree, but generally, I think he’s got good stuff to say.  The Christianity Today piece, though—that just felt like being stabbed.

My gut reaction was to be upset that it sounded like the same old, same old with regard to “Let’s figure out why people are gay.”  The piece certainly set off another round of arguing about the topic, judging by the reactions.  I had to take some time to process it because I truly don’t want to waste my time blasting one person for writing about his own journey.  It turned out that I was much, much more upset about the reactions to the article than the article itself, though that wasn’t without its problems.

I doubt very seriously that Jonathan Merritt is reading this.  I’m kind of a small-potatoes blogger.  But if he happens to see it, here’s my message to him:

I don’t blame you in the slightest for the things you said that came across as hurtful and dismissive.  It’s your story, and you have the right to tell it as you see fit.  I blame conservative Christianity for creating an environment in which people don’t handle abuse well and where people are taught that their sexuality is sinful.  I blame conservative Christianity for trying to find explanations for something they don’t like in order to “treat” it and pray it away.  How terrible that it sounded like you’ve internalized and repeated such a damaging message.  I hope that over time, you will internalize instead the message that you are worthy and your feelings are good and that whoever you are or choose to be is just exactly that—who you choose to be.  I hope that you will be able to live and love without regret or shame and that you will give yourself time and space to explore that without the heavy baggage of religious pressure.

The specific thing that troubled me, both in the article and the comments, was the implication that child sexual abuse is a possible cause for later sexual orientation.  This is a construct perpetuated by conservative Christianity, particularly of the evangelical stripe.  It gets trotted out a lot, despite the fact that it’s illogical and there has never been even a shred of evidence that it’s true.

I am of the firm belief that sexuality is (or at least can be) fluid and that it’s not any better to argue a “born that way” stance either.  But it is really, really awful on so many levels to continue to promote the lie that abuse leads to attraction.  I have no idea why anyone wouldn’t find that utterly disturbing.

What if we were to turn that around?  What if we were to suggest that the reason people “turn straight” is because they were molested by an opposite-sex offender?  That sounds horrifying, no?  It has a tone of creepiness which suggests three very bad things:

  1. That we are drawn to our romantic and sexual attractions as a way to reenact upsetting and frightening childhood experiences
  2. That offenders are not pedophiles but are including children as part of their overall sexual orientation (another tired assumption: gay men are child abusers)
  3. Abuse is a form of sexuality

I can tell you firmly as a survivor of sexualized bullying that I have no wish to find people who will do the same things to me.  I’m not interested in men because I think I deserve to be treated that way or because I’m confused or because I need reassurance or because of some other reason related to my unfortunate childhood experiences.  I cannot fathom why we wouldn’t see everyone’s sexuality the same way.  Of course it’s complex.  But why do we only ever question the cause of someone’s sexuality when that person is gay?  Why are gay, lesbian, and bisexual people the only ones who have to have a reason for their romantic and/or sexual attractions?

We simply have not achieved a state where we see variance in sexual orientation, preference, attraction, and expression as normal.  We’re still seeking causality because we can’t see the whole spectrum as healthy and good.  And that troubles me, because I believe that it is good—all of it.  The whole wide range of human love and sex is so vast and so beautiful and so amazing, an incredible gift we’ve been given.  How is it that we are still trying to scientifically or spiritually defend what should just be considered part of the human kaleidoscope?

Until we are all convinced that our sexuality (let’s face it, even we straight people now and again have to defend our natural desires in the face of conservativism) is truly good—not merely acceptable—we will continue to peddle half-truths and outright lies about the causes.  And until we stop selling falsehoods, people will continue to believe that they are broken rather than being fully, wonderfully human.

Dear straight conservative Christians: I’m sorry I offended your “biblical worldview”

Actually, no, I’m not.

Yesterday, I posted about World Vision and their change in policy to allow married gay couples as employees. Obviously, I spoke too soon. They’ve hit rewind on their decision. I would like to pretend I’m surprised, but I’m not. Pressure from conservative Christians is swift and powerful. (I will not blame this on “evangelicals,” though conservative evangelicals do seem to be at the forefront here.)

I am angry. Yes, partly I’m angry at the hateful bigots who put pressure on World Vision to change their minds.  I’m angry with World Vision for not having the backbone to see it through the backlash or the foresight to put protective measures in place. But you know what makes me angriest?  World Vision’s apology to straight people.

You read that right.  It’s telling that the apology wasn’t to the 2000 children who lost their sponsors yesterday or to the gay people who lost their job opportunities today. No, it was to the conservative Christians who went after World Vision over their policy:

We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority.

Are you fucking kidding me?

Oh, World Vision. You are “brokenhearted” that your friends were upset? Well, gee. I guess that must be hard. Much harder, of course, than applying for a job and then finding out that your legal marriage disqualifies you. Much harder than the fact that your stupid flip-flopping has led arguing of a strand that calls into question the very humanity of the people you just yesterday promised to affirm.

That must suck.

Well, I’m not sorry for offending any conservative Christians—not even a little bit. Come at me, folks. I’ll be happy to have you tell me I’m spreading a “false gospel” or that my eternal soul is in danger of the fire of hell. Remind me again that I’m leading my brothers and sisters (and people who identify as neither, both, or something else) astray. Tell me how I’m corrupting my children and causing someone else to “stumble” in sin.

Because I’m not going to stop. I’m not going to stop challenging the conservative belief that there is something fundamentally flawed about people based on their sexual or gender identity, and I’m not going to stop affirming every single person’s humanity, intrinsic worth, and right to live however and love whomever they choose.

Lest anyone think that there’s no cost in taking a firm, unapologetic stand, let me assure you there is. But whatever minor inconvenience, and whatever difficulties I’ve faced, that’s been nothing compared to what the people I cherish have endured. World Vision could easily have withstood the criticism and the loss of support, but they chose not to try even for a whole day.

Apologies to the conservatives who had a little of their assumed privilege curtailed for a few hours? No. My apology goes to the people who were harmed by World Vision’s indecision and by the fighting that resulted.

I’m sorry this is hurting you.

I’m glad you are part of my life and my church and my faith.

I love you.

Kyrie eleison–Lord have mercy.

World Vision and Unmasking Priorities

So, this happened.  World Vision is now allowing married gay Christians (and unmarried gay Christians willing to agree to WV’s policy of abstinence until marriage) to serve in the organization.

As you can probably guess, I’m behind this as a step forward.  Is it perfect?  No.  I’m not a champion of abstinence until marriage (and really, are they so sure their employees are all waiting anyway?).  I also understand that this prevents couples in any state not recognizing legal same-sex marriages from employment, since that’s the specific parameter.  I understand the implications that WV appears to be endorsing a heteronormative view of relationships (that’s a whole other discussion).  But in the Christian world, this is huge.

Which, of course, means that the backlash has been huge.  And that’s what I was thinking about when I woke up this morning to see that my friends had linked to several articles, tweets, and blog posts in which WV has been accused of deception, “empowering the darkness,” embracing “the world” (Christianese for “stuff the church considers wrong in society”), presenting a false gospel, and more.  People have questioned whether they should withdraw support or discontinue sponsoring a child through WV.  Lots and lots of people have expressed being “sad” about WV’s change in policy.

To which I say: Wow, people have messed up priorities.

Nothing reveals the true values of people more than asking them how they feel about anything related to same-sex marriage.  Almost no one says, “I don’t really care; whatever.”  The vast majority of people have one view or the other–that it ought to be legal universally or it ought to be banned or called something else so as not to mess with the “official” definition of marriage.

It would be awfully nice if it were a non-issue, but it isn’t, certainly not when people are expressing horror and outrage at WV’s comparatively innocuous change in policy.  I mean, come on, people.  WV did not suddenly announce that they have adopted a policy of beating small children or setting forest fires or shooting sub-par employees or drowning puppies.  All they did was say they’re going to hire gay people.

How about we get back to protesting something that actually matters for a change?  Because honestly, the only reason it makes a difference whether WV hires gay people is if you think being gay and/or being in a same-sex marriage is worse than acts of harm and violence.  It only matters if you think same-sex relationships are more terrible social ills than poverty.

Yesterday, I posted a link on Facebook to a good review of the movie Frozen.  (I promise, this is related.)  A family member joked that I must not be worried that watching it will turn my kids gay.  I replied that I wasn’t, but even if it did, I didn’t care.  I suspect that’s the real fear—that gay missionaries are going to somehow turn the world gay.

I suppose my question, then, is this:  Who cares?  Which is more important—telling people about God’s love and providing people with food and clean water, or making sure no one is threatened by the presence of gay people?  I guess maybe my own priorities are messed up because I sure prefer the former.

And if my kids somehow turn gay* because they’ve been around gay people or watched “gay” (by that I mean “things people accuse of being gay”) movies, so what?  That just means both the church and the gay community get two more awesome members, ’cause everyone knows my kids are the best and anyone would be lucky to have ‘em.

Let go of the warped idea that a small subset of the population is looking to colonize the world and plant their rainbow flag in the dirt of impoverished villages everywhere.  Instead, let’s take seriously WV’s call to come together in Christian unity for the good of all.


*I truly do not believe it works that way; I’m just saying I wouldn’t care if it did.  For real, I could write a whole blog post on why we need to stop saying “But it’s not going to turn them gay!” as a defense regarding gender pigeon-holing.

Guest Post on Praying the Rosary

Woo hoo! I got to write a guest post for Carly Gelsinger‘s series From Grape Juice to Red Wine, stories of people shifting from mainstream, conservative, or fundamentalist evangelical to “high church” liturgical traditions.

I had the chance to meet Carly in person at the Faith & Culture Writers Conference a couple of weeks ago.  She’s really cool, the sort of person who makes you feel like you’ve known her forever even though it’s only been a single weekend.  She has a way of putting people at ease with her warmth. The coolest thing was finding someone else who shared my own experience–that of choosing (rather than having it forced on us) a conservative evangelical path before finding our way out again.

I’m excited to add my voice to the conversation, especially because it echoes my own journey so well.  Go check out my post, and while you’re at it, give Carly some bloggy love on her other writing.  Happy Friday!