Monday, December 14, 2009


I don't typically play music obsessively....but lately I've latched onto Sting's If on a Winter's Night, perhaps because it's emphatically not Christmas music. I've rarely been running the heat...leaving as much of a chill in the apartment as is really possible in a South Carolina December. It somehow seems important to burrow into winter, to wrap the darkness and the damp around me. Which would be much easier with the quiet hush of snowfall.
My instincts are to slow down before Christmas....I have no shopping, wrapping, cardwriting impulses at this time of year. The whirl of school activity becomes draining and often I finish semesters dragging and exhausted. I used to think this made me horrible person, but lately, I've decided it's just that I have Advent built into me.

While I was in Belize, I learned that the Mayans didn't believe in endings, simply in new beginnings (particularly interesting and disturbing was that this was part of the rational for human sacrifice). However, it seems far more truthful to say that nothing can begin without something else ending. My favorite Christmas carol has always been "O Little Town of Bethlehem," especially the line "the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight."

Christ's first coming was disruptive...hope led the Magi to travel thousands of miles to worship, while fear led Herod to slaughter a city of innocent children. His second coming promises to be more disruptive as he comes as King, bringing with him the power he laid aside in Bethlehem, and coming to the entire earth rather than just Israel.

In an Advent homily a couple years ago, my priest said "In Advent, we celebrate the three-fold coming of Christ: his past coming in Bethlehem, his present coming by the Holy Spirit, and His future coming as King." It only makes sense that if Christ's past and future comings are disruptive, his present coming is also. Here in Advent, I prepare to celebrate Christ's coming to Bethlehem, and I prepare for his future coming as King...but what am I doing to prepare for his coming into my daily life? I've said before that Advent and Lent are really where we live, as we prepare for Christ's kingdom....but just how does one go about living in Advent? Perhaps acknowledging every day's beginnings and endings.

Or, to quote the inimitable Joni Mitchell- "something's lost, but something's gained
In living every day"

On an unrelated note....this blog was started in Advent a year ago, in anticipation of graduate school and needing someplace a little more "grown up" for my musings. It's been a very hard and very full year, so much more than I could have imagined.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Why Contraception?

Since the question's been raised, and because contraception takes up significantly more of my time and energy than most peoples', we'll talk.

Because it should be said- I am fully aware that my ability to study, travel, write and advocate is contingent upon fact that I, as an educated western woman have complete and total control of my fertility and how my sexuality is expressed. I'm willing to acknowledge my bias and admit that if I lived in another place or time I might be a different person and feel differently, but I'm incredibly grateful to be a woman in the United States in the twenty-first century.

With that disclaimer-
Why do I believe contraception is so incredibly important?

1) 68,000 women per year die from complications of unsafe abortions.
2) 536,000 women per year -approximately 1 per minute-die of pregnancy complications and childbirth (90% of these are in Africa and Asia).
3) Globally, 50% of pregnancies are unplanned and 25% are unwanted.
(All statistics from UNFPA)

And then there's nutrition.... For one thing, as a fetus's bones are developing, it will leach calcium from its mothers bones and teeth if necessary. The ability to space pregnancies far enough apart that a woman's body has time to replenish calcium stores is important to both the pregnant woman and the fetus. Even in the U.S. we have remarkably high rates of spina bifida, because women of childbearing age don't consume adequate levels of folic acid- can you imagine how much worse this would be without the ability to control when pregnancies occur?

Contraception saves thousands of lives and prevents disease and disability around the world. Thus, it's critical. End of story.

Additionally, another huge effect of hormonal contraception is the impact of powerful estrogenic/antiestrogenic compounds on fish and amphibians, and what's being theorized about their impact on humans. It's going to be vital to find a way to control fertility without using powerful hormones. Yet another reason condoms are one of the world's greatest inventions.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The post we'll pretend doesn't exist

I typically choose not to delve into my personal life here. However, this is important enough that I'm going to break protocol....and you, dear reader, take whatever's helpful from this, but we're all going to pretend I didn't write it, because I don't want to have the conversations it could initiate.

Previously, I've briefly touched on my history of self-harm:
Here, and here

Nov 13 several of my Facebook friends very visibly celebrated "To Write Love on Her Arms" Day. This was problematic enough for me personally that I had to point out that it might be counterproductive, and no one else seemed to realize it.

I'm not pretending to speak for everyone, but there are things that I wish people would take into consideration before plastering phrases all over Facebook.
So...briefly, as I try to avoid writing things that may be harmful or triggering to others:

1)"To Write Love on Her Arms" is really, really problematic phrasing. Switch out the implement, from a marker to an exacto knife or a razor blade, and the same gesture gives you self-harm. Not good imagery.

2)In winter/cold weather, self-harm is a much more sensitive topic, because the cold makes my scars hurt. It's also a much more vulnerable time, because my shoulders and arms stay covered.

3)I really, really, really HATE the word "struggle."

4) Via facebook and other impersonal means of communication, it's very difficult to communicate support and love. You certainly can't do so by joining groups and participating in events. And Facebook"raising awareness" doesn't do much for the people you claim to be trying to help- I don't care whether it's victims of human rights abuses or people who suffer from depression or deal with self-harm.

5)Self-harm is only part of the picture. And while, after scoping out To Write Love on Her Arms website, I can see that they address more than that as an organization, the name/slogan is horribly misleading. Also, this unnamed "her" is really irksome....I can't read the stupid slogan without feeling like a generic target. Yes, so I deal with self-harm impulses. I don't need my nose rubbed in this every time I log into Facebook for a week. There's a heck of a lot more to me than that one fact.

All opinions expressed are mine and mine alone. I know young women who have dealt with self-harm in the past who feel very differently- but I think this is a valid perspective as well, and needs to be considered, before people start randomly throwing things up on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Christian Bleeding Hearts?

Given my great fondness for books and propensity for writing up lengthy reviews or responses, taking some time to blog a response to Half the Sky really was inevitable. Nicholas Kristof holds the distinction of being one of three living human beings I'm in love with (the other two being Barbara Kingsolver and Michelle Obama- I get along much better with dead people for some reason), so I'd anticipated this book all summer.
It didn't disappoint.

Kristof and WuDunn make their points about brutality without being excessively graphic, making this a book I can recommend to others (unlike, say Sunday at the Pool in Kigali). It's hard to imagine the amount of work that went into this book. Lots of first person interviews and a massive amount of time spent in the library. End notes are respectable, and do a decent job of pointing readers to primary sources. Personally, I had one issue with the end notes- the authors state that studies that evaluate the efficacy of abstinence-only sex ed have widely varying findings that correlate closely with the ideology of the organization conducting the study, but that two trends are clear: abstinence only programs delay initiation of sexual contact, but also result in lower rates of contraceptive/disease preventive practices. The assumption seems intuitive, however, I wish a list of journal articles consulted had been included. That's pretty much just specific to me, as a conservative Evangelical (or, perhaps more accurately: someone who would rather not offend conservative Evangelicals) with a strong interest in reproductive health. I realize I could spend a couple weeks closed up with PubMed and I could figure it out myself, but if someone else has done the work, I'd rather just double check their citations.

This misstep occurred in the chapter I found to be the most personally relevant: "Family Planning and the 'God Gulf'."

WuDunn and Kristof talk coherently about the "gag rule"- which I'd always assumed to be a more or less symbolic action. When Obama overturned it this year I was mildly upset, not being a huge fan of the idea of my tax dollars funding abortions around the world, but honestly, expected nothing else, given his previous abortion rights voting record. After finishing this chapter, and realizing *what* the legislation really meant, my feelings were more along the lines of "Thank God. And I can't believe that one day we're going to elect another Conservative who's going to do this again."

The gag rule meant that organizations like Marie Stopes International and UNFPA lost funding for programs that had nothing to do with abortion- programs that provided clinics and medical personnel to rural corners of developing nations. The "gag rule" meant no American tax dollars going to organizations that as much as mentioned "abortion," but it also meant increased infant and maternal mortality, including more deaths from unsafe abortions around the world. (And personally, I like my tax dollars to keep people alive)

And then, we have HIV prevention and condom use (enter the end note issue above). Authors point out that it was during the Clinton administration when condom donations saw their low point- 190 million in 1999. During the George H.W. Bush administration, this was 800 million condoms a year, and 400 million condoms per year of George W. Bush's 2nd term.

The authors attack some of the foundational misunderstandings about AIDS in Africa, and point out to both sides of the condom/abstinence debate that neither is the program with the greatest numerical success. (If you're curious, dear reader, the most successful program aimed at reducing the number of teenage girls having sex with older men). As an aside- they also agree with my conclusion that abstinence/natural family planning are strategies which depend on women having a status that *allows* them to stand up to their partners. (Further aside-I'm rather scared of what abstinence-only programs are doing to psyches of African girls who are rape victims, especially given how widespread rape in Africa is. I think there are some pretty major ethical issues with the abstinence lollipop "when he's done with you, all you have left for your next partner is a poorly wrapped, saliva-fouled sucker" approach)

Half the Sky commends Christians for their compassion, willingness to serve in remote areas, and their personal generosity. The book also points out the major problems that occur when liberals and evangelicals get so bogged down in their own ideology that they are unable to cooperate on the issues on which they agree.

"If there is to be a successful movement on behalf of women in poor countries, it will have to bridge the God Gulf. Secular bleeding hearts and religious bleeding hearts will have to forge a common cause. That's what happened two centuries ago in the abolitionist movement, when liberal deists and conservative evangelicals joined forces to overthrow slavery. And it's the only way to muster the political will to get now-invisible women onto the international agenda."- Half the Sky, Ch. 12: Family Planning and the "God Gulf."

That's the statement I'm trying to wrap my mind around, because it's hard for me to believe that's even possible. Regardless of my personal beliefs, I often conduct myself professionally as a secular bleeding heart-because I've met very few religious bleeding hearts, and I gave up on trying to convert evangelicals to social action after four years at a conservative Christian college, in an equally conservative area with insanely high rates of teen pregnancy, high school dropouts and drug abuse.

In contrast, a prof in my department whose emphasis is on Community Based Participatory Research recently guest lectured in my research methods course. She's done quite a bit of work with faith communities in this state, including a couple groups who sought her out as an expert on cervical cancer prevention. And apparently, these churches are genuinely concerned about the health of their members and communities. To the point of carrying out evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs, providing health literature, reminding women from the pulpit to get pap smears and mammograms.... this doesn't fit with the reality of the church I've encountered. This faculty member has been able to have a genuine partnership with women in these church communities, and they've had conversations I believed to be impossible in the faith-based context (for example, the church group initiated the conversation over the HPV vaccine -I was under the impression that I might be the only Christian in South Carolina who believes it's unethical not to vaccinate girls for a virus leading to a potentially deadly disease , considering the prevalence of HPV among U.S. females aged 14-59 years is already 26.8% [NHANES, 2003-2004]).

How much do I agree with Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and Very Competent Tenure Track Professor? Obviously, I can't disagree, but there's a lot of work to be done. The distrust on both sides is not without cause. However, what troubles me most is an attitude among Christians that something cannot be objectively good unless it directly leads to "preaching the gospel" or "someone getting saved." In more reformed/educated circles this expands to "changing the worldview of culture," (i.e. influencing society in such a way that it is easier to live as a Christian in that society). But the underlying principle is still "Unless our numbers grow, unless the society we're 'ministering' to views us in a more favorable way, there is no point in service." Can this attitude be changed? Perhaps a better question is "If arrogance on the part of the Christian right leads them to provide healthcare/ESL services/etc as a means to increasing numbers, should that arrogance be challenged, because it ultimately has some positive results?" Which then causes one to ask "How much good are faith-based organizations doing, anyway?" And that's something that is highly specific to the organization. The "Conservative Christians are scary, bad people" position is *just* as indefensible as the "You cannot be a decent human being if you are pro-choice/pro-LGBT rights/pro-healthcare reform/a Democrat" attitude that I found so revolting in college.

Monday, November 2, 2009

again with sexuality in the Bible Belt

Returning to this discussion.
The whole evening was....intriguing. I felt a wee bit like an anthropologist, not being an LGBTQ individual, or a minority, and given that my Christianity looks radically different from what's typical of the Bible Belt.

But the most gripping moment was at the end, when the final audience question was asked.
"What strategies can be used to empower young people to use safe sex practices and how can the Church contribute?" Every nerve in my body was at atention- one of my professors has hinted at rumors that occasionally church members can be convinced that condom distribution was actually their idea, and I thought Bishop Rawls was going to share the secret.

My mouth literally dropped open when Bishop Rawls started talking about building bridges/relationships and moving beyond dialogue. She continued with "I'm owning how important it is that my life speak more [than my words]." This led into a discourse on the lack of role models for LGBTQ people, and the need for healthy relationship modeling. She offered the example of counseling young ladies- when she receives "inappropriate energy" her response is "Baby, you can be in a relationship with an older woman who won't abuse you."
Wow. Having grown up in the church, and being a pastor's daughter, I've heard a gazillion things about the dangers of counseling leading to affairs. And an equal number of ways to keep the minister out of trouble- "keep your office door open" "never counsel or be alone with someone of the opposite gender." But to actually step away from the fear of sexual harassment charges and infidelity to turn "inappropriate energy" into a moment for teaching and comfort....that's a new one for me.

Dr. Simmons followed this up with the observation that the relationships most modeled on TV are typically those of white men. Valid point. However, I think we also need to address *how* relationships are modeled on TV and movies. Why the heck is it okay to depict unprotected sex with someone you met hours ago in a PG-13 movie, or on network television? I'm so angry with this season's premier of House. Or, breaking away from STIs and unplanned pregnancies for a minute- one of my colleagues pointed out in class that she believes part of the reason for the current high divorce rate is that people are looking for relationships that look like the movies, rather than relationships that have the potential to be both long-lasting and positive. My prof responded to the comment with the hopeful observation that this may begin to change, as we watch the Obamas model a strong marriage to the nation. Those thoughts alter my perspective things like the 10 page article in the NYT magazine this past week about the Obamas' marriage (note that I've only skimmed the first two pages and haven't actually read the beast). At first glance, this seems intrusive, disrespectful, prying, meddlesome....(can you tell I'm a pastor's kid? The thought of *anyone* living in a fishbowl is repulsive to me). But when considered as something we as a nation desperately need- the image that marriages can stay strong, can be a vibrant partnership as opposed to a convenient division of bills, chores and childcare, it's not so hideous.

Mr. Patterson concluded the discussion with the observation that "talking about safe sex doesn't reach someone's heart." And when someone in need of love is offered something that seems good, they will take it, regardless of whether that involves risky sexual practices. Men and women pick partners because of who they see around them, and the issue of safe sex must be addressed internally before externally.

Absolutely no discussion about the importance of knowledge of safe-sex practices and the availability of protection. Yet suddenly I was feeling a bit naive and reprimanded- for looking for an easy solution to a complex problem. I know better, really. But how do you design a reproductive health intervention program around healthy relationship modeling and mentorship? Patterson has been involved with several programs -Many Men, Many Voices for one- that take this approach. I need to spend some time looking at strategies and crunching numbers, but resonates. But before I sound like I've been converted to the "Let's try to connect with high schoolers and show them that there are cool people who don't have sex" approach of the Christian college I graduated from (can't use the term "alma mater"-I've always felt that we were at war) and the local crisis pregnancy center in that area- I think the Bible Belt taboos we have about discussing sexuality are dangerous and irresponsible. Teenagers need the knowledge to make informed, safe decisions, regardless of whether we agree with those decisions.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Priveleges of university students...

include the ability to procrastinate on schoolwork to dash off to something equally academic but more interesting. With some prompting from a colleague, I exerted that privilege and attended a panel discussion on "Bible Belt Race, Power, and Sexuality" last night.

I took away quite a few thoughts, and will try to progress through them in a somewhat orderly manner...
Dr. Shaw opened the discussion by showing a portion of the film "Black is....Black Ain't" which I need to watch in its entirety. Something that jumped out at me was the number of interviews in which participants said "Religion is about bringing people together." "If it doesn't result in peace with others, it's not from God." All panelists reiterated this viewpoint, including Bishop Rawls. As a Christian, I couldn't help finding this remarkably disturbing- Jesus makes it quite clear in Mathew 10 that he didn't come to bring peace but a sword, and that his followers could expect persecution and the breakdown of relationships. Ow. Panelists made a distinction between "church" (people) and "religion" (spirituality) and I found this a little incomplete. "Religion" is an organized system of belief and worship, complete with structure and leaders...."spirituality" is much more ambiguous and open. But given the broad scope of the panel, the definitions worked well enough.

Bishop Rawls clarified that her denomination, the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, is not a "gay" church but rather an "authentic" church. I picked up a serious "good pastor" vibe off this woman, which doesn't happen often with evangelicals for me (a "good preacher" vibe is more common- which must be related to why some churches with the best pastors run those ministers off because they're not good preachers). Yes, that was a minor point, but I think important to mention particularly in light of the discussion on gender.

When panelists were asked about gender, Bishop Rawles took the position I did throughout college. She expressed enthusiasm over women occupying and vying for top positions of power in this country in recent years (Nancy Pelosi, Condoleeza Rice, Hilary Clinton, Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori). Rawls pointed out that there seems to be a far greater rift when it comes to gender and positions of power than race or sexual orientation in regards to those same positions. She went on to speak about the lack of models, for, say, being a woman bishop, and the importance of approaching those situations like a woman. She mused a bit about "things that happen when girls get in boys' rooms" and gave the example of the UFMC and a couple other likeminded denominations struggling to dialogue- until the point when there were female bishops present, when it turned into "let's all go to Palm Springs for a girls' week." Hmm....Rawls believes women to be more likely to ask for what they need and to pull resources. (Example given being "if I'm trying to make a meal for my children, and I've got rice, and you've got some beans, and I know that guy over there has a hamhock, I'm gonna try to hook us all up with a good meal. Men aren't as likely to do that."

The three other panelists- Dr. Simmons, Mr. Hinojosa, and Mr. Patterson, all took the position I ended up with shortly after graduating college- gender is a social construct of society, the load of expectations of what men and women traditionally are like and do. Mr. Hinojosa in particular mentioned a friend of his who is a transgender man who's recently started dressing in drag, which is the sort of thing that makes your head hurt. And the general conclusion was that authenticity is much more important than gender.

Which was my conclusion shortly after college...and the more I get away from that environment, the more I feel the disservice of the John Eldridge books. (yes, I know the John Eldridge books are just one example of this). But this process of defining "what masculinity/femininity is" or "what being a man/woman means" just seems deeply hurtful at its core. Especially when it's conducted by conservative Evangelicals (who seem to be the ones most interested in such definitions). I can't start to explain how many times as a teenager, and a college student I collided with some pre-fabricated idea of what femininity was. Femininity involved nurturing, having children, bringing life and encouragement to situations....that femininity was gentle, demure, submissive. Proverbs 31, 1 Peter 3 etc. were used to model templates of what being a "Godly woman" looked like....and that template was never anything I could possibly become, without losing my soul. I tried to take the thoughts on femininity and womanhood and carry them into a different environment (one that allowed women ambitions beyond marriage and motherhood, and permitted them to be leaders,thinkers, activists) but that ultimately got to be too much work. So at some point, I made the decision to treat gender like it was something society had invented and just to be authentic. I chose to believe that striving to be a thoughtful, excellent, Godly, authentic individual was more important than trying to make sense out of Captivating, or any similar garbage.

Oddly enough...the mentality that society constructs gender, and we are in reality free to be who we are allows men and women to move through society simply being themselves. Ironically, this creates a more accurate picture of what men and women, as individuals and groups are like.

(I do have more [but shorter!] thoughts on something else brought up in the discussion that I'll save for a later date)

Monday, October 26, 2009

My bishop isn't crazy:reflections on Canterbury and Rome

Given my response to a certain event last week (that I've been referring to as the "Canterbury-Rome Cataclysm") there are things I need to say...perhaps primarily to reestablish my status as a rational human being.

I have a bishop who seems to be rather concerned about healing schism. This is a good thing. However, it seems to result in my being greatly upset with him rather often. He is currently taking the stance that "This offer from Rome is a good thing, however, there are some problems that need to be addressed before we, as our particular branch of the Church are interested." Given my strong feelings on the matter, this scared me...until I realized that he more or less said the same thing to the ACNA. I was upset about that too, though less upset, and for totally different reasons (that may be worthy of their own post). We're not going anywhere, we're just talking about it. And even though that seems a little dishonest to me, I think it's right. Heck, what's the point of having a bishop in the Apostolic Succession if the Holy Spirit *isn't* helping guide him?

Per Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, around AD 166 (And I am lifting this quotation directly from Frank Schaeffer's book Dancing Alone, so it's out of context. Though it's worth saying that Dancing Alone did really horrible things to my perceptions of both Orthodox Christians and all of the Schaeffers.):

"You ought to have been ready to suffer anything whatever rather than split the Church of God, and martyrdom to avoid schism would have brought you as much honor as martyrdom to escape idolatry- I should say more. For in the latter case a man is martyred to save his own single soul, in the former to save the whole Church."

Or to grab a favorite hymn of mine:
O thou, who at thy Eucharist didst pray
that all thy Church might be for ever one,
grant us at every Eucharist to say
with longing heart and soul, "thy will be done."
O may we all one Bread, one Body be,
through this blest Sacrament of unity.

For all thy Church, O Lord, we intercede;
make thou our sad divisions soon to cease;
draw us the nearer each to each, we plead,
by drawing all to thee, O Prince of Peace;
thus may we all one Bread, one Body be,
through this blest Sacrament of unity.

We pray thee too for wanderers from thy fold;
O bring them back, good Shepherd of the sheep,
back to the faith which saints believed of old,
back to the Church which still that faith doth keep;
soon may we all one Bread, one Body be,
through this blest Sacrament of unity.

So, Lord, at length when sacraments shall cease,
may we be one with all thy Church above,
one with thy saints in one unbroken peace,
one with thy saints in one unbounded love;
more bless├Ęd still, in peace and love to be
one with the Trinity in Unity.

Overkill, maybe. My point is that this conversation, about two branches of the Catholic Church about reuniting is good, fitting, important, and perhaps unavoidable because of the faith we both hold to. It may very well be impossible to do more than talk though. Rome wants unity on their own terms-demanding that we accept the pope as Christ's Vicar here on Earth, that we accept the Marian doctrines as necessary to salvation. Oh, and by the way, all our clergy need to be re-ordained, because according to Rome, they're not ordained to begin with.

If we were trying to prevent Schism, that amount of work might be worthwhile. However, what we're dealing with is a schism that's already happened, and accepting the current offer means yet another ripping apart of the Church of England. I don't think it's worth it. If this were pre-Reformation, I might consent to submit to the pope and to accept the Marian dogma as good and necessary, seeing this as my duty to the Church. But it's not!! And the Reformation in many ways happened *because* of Rome's power-hungry political posturing. I am not about to say that they were right and fragment my (also Catholic) branch of the Church even more. Nothing about that heals schism. I will continue to pray for healing and unity, but given offers like this one, I'm not expecting us to be united on this side of heaven. But because of who we are, because of those prayers on all sides, the discussion still needs to be held.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Half the Sky: turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide

The following is a review requested by a priest and written for a church newsletter....I have a lot more thoughts, which will be addressed in future posts, but this ought to be a decent introduction, at least.
“[S]ex trafficking and mass rape should no more be seen as women’s issues than slavery was a black issue or the Holocaust was a Jewish issue. These are all humanitarian concerns, transcending any one race, gender, or creed.” This assertion is the driving force behind Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s latest book, Half the Sky: turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide.

While most couples start their marriages discussing what color to paint the living room or how to divide chores, Mr. Kristof and Ms. WuDunn moved to China as New York Times correspondents. They witnessed the Tiananmen Square massacre and were horrified. That initial shock was soon dwarfed by the discovery that each year 39,000 infant girls die in China because parents do not consider them worthy of the same medical attention infant boys receive. They began investigating the problem and discovered that at least two million girls worldwide disappear because of gender discrimination. Based on birth rates, it is estimated that there should be between 60 million and 101 million more women present in the world. Kristof and WuDunn claim that this unnoticed “gendercide” is the great moral issue of our century-comparable to slavery and totalitarianism in previous generations.

The authors have logged many hours both in the library and in on ground interviews, and the result is a thoroughly documented account of the state of women’s lives in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. It’s a difficult book to read, as they address human trafficking, infanticide, neglect of maternal health, and the use of rape as a war tactic. However, the darkness is penetrated by inspiring accounts of the transformation of devastated women into leaders for their communities and providers for their families. Half the Sky is filled with the promise that large scale change is possible and the hope that it will begin to occur soon. Mr. Kristof and Ms. WuDunn provide an honest assessment of what aid groups are presently doing and how it can be improved. They also provide a lengthy list of organizations and projects where readers can connect. Half the Sky is both a call to action, and a tool to achieve change. As children of Christ who are called to “shine as lights in the in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation,” (Phil 2:15) this is a book we should take seriously.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rome, Rome, go away

I don't have time for this. But to quickly chronicle my response to yesterday's incredibly disturbing news: I am a continuing Anglican- this means I am Protestant and Catholic at the same time, and I believe this is where the fullness of the Christian faith is held. I cannot submit to the bishop of Rome because I do not believe his authority was divinely given, or even justly attained.

It took me two years, after realizing that I was Anglican in thought and worship, to change my church affiliation. This was because I knew that in embracing the Church of England, I would be stepping into a vehement fight over interpretations of scripture and the role of women and gays. It looked ugly from the outside, and I didn't want any part of it. Yet it hurt, because the Church of England was really my church, and my attempt to avoid pain and confusion was only successful in denying myself a place of refuge. The Church of England is a unique entity, and in order to be here, I had to accept that those who hold different views than I do share my heritage and have just as much right as I do to be called Anglican. I have two dear priest friends- one in ECUSA, one in APA, one who used to work for Planned Parenthood and one who has been arrested in abortion protests. Because of how their faith approaches sacraments, mystery and history, they are far more like each other than they are any minister outside of England. We are united, we are a family, and as such we disagree bitterly-it is our right.

Rome stepped in and just suggested part of the family leave. I think it's fair to compare Rome's current offer to a priest encouraging a couple to divorce over "irreconcilable differences." Sorry- you're not a part of this, and you're doing more harm than good. You are offering to amputate limbs of a body in the name of "solidarity."

I am shaking in fear, because I know enough of the current landscape to picture some pretty hideous things happening. The continuing Anglicans + Anglo Catholics are a small minority, outshouted by the chaos that is the ACNA. Some of the most rapidly growing branches of the ACNA are just Protestant Evangelicals with sprinkles on top. I anticipate that gradually, the money and security offered by Rome will begin to appeal to what is the solid backbone of Anglicanism in this country, and the Continuing Anglican/Anglo-Catholic movement will eventually choose to take refuge there, rather than continue to be pushed about by the uber-Protestants. The uber-Protestants will then rejoice, being free to abandon even more Anglican structure and discipline because there are no longer any dissenting voices within earshot. People like myself will be forced to choose between the mishmash of heaven only knows what and ECUSA.

In that case, ontology dictates that I choose ECUSA. Because I believe in fasts and feasts, because I value seven sacramental rites, because I treasure the disciplines of my faith and I cannot align myself with Rome. This has been one of my worst fears for quite a while now, but I had hoped it was paranoia.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"Adopt a Liberal"

Ironically enough, I caught this on NPR en route to church last week. I screamed, and decided I wanted to start an "Adopt a Conservative" organization.

Barry Lynn's quotes helped bring things back in perspective:
"As a Christian minister myself, I'm always happy to accept the prayers of other people, particularly when they're not calling for my death and dismemberment."

"One of the great things about the principle of separation of church and state is that people can pray for people whether they like it or not."

This is how I, as an Anglican, pray for my elected officials:

"O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world; We commend this nation to thy merciful care that being guided by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace. Grant to The President of the United States and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness; and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end"
(and P.S., Dear God, please tell all of them that healthcare reform is really important, and it's criminal that people in this country go bankrupt over medical bills and are regularly denied insurance for preexisting conditions. Amen)

Minimal soapboxing. Not asking God to bully them, not asking their deep rooted convictions and ideology to change. Just "Hey God, go have a talk with the folks in my government."

Because I'm pretty sure God knows more about what should be done than I do.
(Though I do need to find time to write my senators a note about healthcare)

And no, God doesn't agree with liberals about everything either. But for the most part....the Democrats don't have an organized base declaring you're going to hell for disagreeing with us.

Friday, October 2, 2009

for students

I'm that woman, the one in sensible flats with a purple ink pen grading papers. I'm pretty sure every science department has at least one....somewhere along the way we've realized that purple is much less hostile than red, and if you leave lots of comments, it makes them easier to read. We also try to avoid large x-marks and emphasize the answers you got right.

I want to gouge my eyes out when you answer "true" to a multiple choice question and I may occasionally fling my pen across the room because you didn't even try to answer a question. If you use words like "malignant neoplasm" I cringe, because while I know what you're talking about, I'm not sure you do. When I look through your essays, I'm trying to figure out what you meant and if you were even close to being on the right track, while I insert commas and omitted letters. Sometimes I leave you sympathetic smiley faces when you slip up, and I do my best to point out your creative ideas as well as snark about your grammar.

Your papers drive me crazy because I'm on your side and I care so darn much that you get this. I'm hard on you because your learning is much more important than your grades to me. Eventually, I hope you feel the same way, because if not, you're going to have a miserable life. It's not about the numbers, in my grade book or on your paycheck. So we're going to talk about those things that you didn't understand, regardless of whether you'll be tested on them again or not. You're building a foundation, and the fact that you're in my class means that you at least claim to have some interest in pursuing the good of society at large. Get over the grade thing.

And seriously, if I have to fail you, I'm going to be just as upset as you are.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


I wore pearls for my grandmother's funeral. Not the strand she'd given me, it wasn't the right length for my shirt. But I wore pearls nonetheless, and pearl studs in my ears. I will always associate pearls with my grandmother...perhaps partly because of her June birthday, but always because of her classic, polished beauty.

Before my grandfather died almost a year ago, he requested that Galatians 5:22-23 be read at his funeral: "But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."

My uncle, likely at my grandmother's request, asked me to choose the scripture reading for hers.
My selection was Proverbs 31:25-31:
"Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her. "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all." Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruits of her hands and let her works praise her in the gates."

There is no better description of my grandmother's quiet strength or the great love between her and my grandfather. I have so much peace knowing that they are together, their minds and bodies whole.

From the moment I had my own apartment, my grandmother's presence was a tablecloth, a cup and saucer in a retired china pattern that I dearly love, in an assortment of things purchased abroad and brought back for grandchildren. After her death she has invaded my space even more strongly....with a lavender cardigan, a carved strand of amethyst beads, an assortment of gloves, a suit to be altered.

When I look in the mirror now , I see much more of the steely determination underlying her quiet grace than I used to. I'm grateful for that. At the end of the day....I am the granddaughter of Claude and Sammie Davidson and Max and Marie Vanderford. Wide open spaces, a love for growing things and the ability to do the impossible are in my blood, just as much as my red hair and ugly feet.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


I'm looking forward to Advent so much right now. It's partly because Trinity-tide/Ordinary Time drags on soooo long. And while the tone everywhere drops during this season, the two Anglican churches in town have gone much more low/casual than I am used to or comfortable with. It would be almost enough to make me reconsider my ECUSA issues, except ECUSA has gotten so low church in general, I don't think it would make a difference. And I love Advent (and Lent) -the seasons of waiting and preparation resonate with me so much more, perhaps because of their quiet, austere, contemplative nature.But mainly, Trinity-tide is hard because it's the season most closely connected to the life and growth of the Church.

The Church is a petty group of First Baptisters in a Bible-belt town who drained the life out of my father and my family before throwing us on the dunghill. It is also the pastors and friends in that small town who offered loving silence and prayed peace and grace for us during that season.

The Church is every fight I got into in college with the religious establishment- about the role of women, air pollution, the value of public education, and (my favorite) "scientists are not stupid for believing in evolution." The Church is also many of the faculty at that college who encouraged me to love truth and pursue excellence, even when it's difficult.

The Church is the congregation who sent a friend of mine a bewildering letter, informing him of their intent to "release him to Satan" "in accordance with scriptures x, y, z" (yanked completely out of context). The Church is also the way I've found myself faithfully leaping to answer his phone calls at 3AM for the past year and a half.

And that's the we're asked both to be and to love the Bride of Christ.

per Luther- "The Church is a whore, but she is the Bride of Christ and your mother and you have no leave to abandon her."

Another church father whose name escapes me at the moment- "There is no one who has God as his Father who does not have the Church as his Mother."

Do I still believe that the Church can be redeemed? If I still believe God is omnipotent, I must. But between Binny Hinn's faith healing abuses, the "Prosperity Gospel" philosophy that has swept through the Church in the U.S., and the ridiculous amount of money being made off of a bizarre variety of Christian products (e.g. The Richest Christian Game, the Left Behind books, the "God's Little Princess" gear, the "oh, look, the world is ending and here's how we know" books, and a smorgasbord of cds by bands modeled after better secular bands) it's going to take an awful lot of work.

God is remarkably reluctant to send down fire from heaven to fix things. He more often partners in work with His children. I'm sure I benefit from this as much as anybody, but when it comes to the Church it's exceptionally frustrating. I don't want the work of working for the Redemption of the Church. Frankly, having been battered by the Church more than most, I feel like I should get a free pass here. Ideally, I could just come back in a few millenia after everything's been repaired.

It is impossible to love Christ and despise the Church. We are called to love her passionately, to not be content with mediocrity and to spare no effort in rebuilding her into what she should be:
"in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Eph 5:27, ESV)."

Right now, just showing up on Sunday morning and writing a tithe check is all I can manage. But it's a good faith effort, and I think God gets that.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

back to school

I've read or heard so many people's reflections on going back to school sheep-like, I'm writing my own.

It's only been about six weeks that I've been out of class, and a significant portion of that time was spent doing groundwork for an independent study project. So it's far easier to see the descent of students as an intrusion than any sort of new beginning. Road construction in Columbia has made running errands an obstacle course. The roads weren't in bad shape to begin with, people in Maine would have been *thrilled* with them. But now I find myself dodging rippled pavement, heavy machinery and orange cones nearly every where I go. The textbook buying/bill paying/random office visiting routine is a little old after nearly six years of post-secondary education. Parking on campus is beyond abysmal and dictates my daily schedule. And either all the stress of the past eight months has taken up residence in my abdomen or I've picked up a rather pesky stomach bug somewhere. There's upsides....all that road construction means jobs for someone, several of these books will be great references, and pepto-bismol capsules are lifesavers.

I'm a fan of most of the faculty and staff in the School of Public Health. However, it's a behemoth of an institution, and trying to maneuver through it is like swimming upstream through mud. I unreservedly love the students in my department though. And it's been good to come back and reconnect- to gush about travels, independent studies, research projects. There's nothing like talking health ed, nutrition, HIV rates, health disparities with people who care as much, if not more than I do. It's amazing how much more room to breathe I have here than at a certain small liberal arts Evangelical college.

Ink pens and packs of writing paper don't excite me nearly as much as they used to. There's so much more promise in that hint of coolness first thing in the morning . . .It seems life has adjusted to where my year begins in Advent, not August now. Ultimately, I think this will be a better rhythm, but it feels strange at the moment.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"This is what a feminist looks like"

My father recently joined facebook. I'm not sure what my parents' goal was in child raising-if they hoped to send another right-wing evangelical off to spread the gospel/fight the culture wars/ raise like-minded children, they failed miserably. If they were hoping to raise a gutsy compassionate young woman who thinks for herself and has a fierce loyalty to Christ and the Church, they hit a home run. Given this dichotomy, I had to family-proof my facebook profile. A couple photo albums were marked off limits, the link to this blog hidden, and I left two facebook groups:"I'm sorry, Jesus probably wasn't white...or Republican" and "This is what a feminist looks like."

This wasn't easy-"Feminist" is a label I've sported proudly since high school. Somewhere, I may still have a button or t-shirt with the above statement...or perhaps, the more direct "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people."

And as I'm leaving facebook groups, the NYT is stepping up publicity for Nick Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn's upcoming book "Half the Sky." (I have this pre-ordered on Amazon, and am literally breathless with anticipation. September can't get here fast enough)

"Feminism" at the end of the day is the believe that women have meaning and purpose outside of men. It is the contradiction to Freud's belief that anatomy is destiny. That in legal matters, a woman's testimony should be equal to that of a man, that women have the right to own property, that they deserve the same quality medical care as men. Women are not accessories or servants, and are unique and individual, not to be traded in for the newest model. Feminism is NOT about male-bashing, hyperindividualism, or removing all restrictions from abortion. And "Feminist" is *not* a derogatory term, and I'm sick of hearing it used as such.

And every time I hear one of my Conservative Christian friends talk about "submitting" to her father/fiance' ...a shiver runs down my spine. I think this mentality of "all responsibility resides with the man and ultimately, I will only be held accountable for how well I obeyed" is downright dangerous. If gender confers absolute authority....we are left with no defense against polygamy or the bride burnings of India. If women surrender the ability to think for themselves and be held accountable for their *own* decisions, they have also surrendered their integrity, their ability to be righteous, fair, merciful human beings. That's a high price for being "obedient."

Ironically enough....the Blessed Virgin Mother is often considered the "ideal" of "biblical femininity." However, Mary's submission was not to mortal men. I'm sure an unwed pregnancy was the *last* thing her father wanted for his daughter. It required divine intervention to interrupt Joseph's plans for a quiet divorce. The Mother of God defied the male authority figures in her life in order to submit to God Himself- and this defiance is *why* she is venerated by the Church.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Because I wished to live deliberately

On occasion, I wonder why I blog or write at all, when everything I could possibly wish to say has already been said. After reading Nicholas Kristof's column, today is one of those occasions. One of my college professors was quite fond of saying that our entertainment functions as both a mirror and map of our culture- reflecting what we are, and showing where we will go. I think it would border on insulting to call the writings of a Pulitzer prize winning journalist entertainment, but Kristof is certainly both my map and mirror. Because of the depth and breadth of his concerns about the environment, human rights around the world, women's issues and education he often pushes me beyond the things I've considered, into a more committed, more compassionate view of the world. At other times, like today,when I've freshly returned from two weeks spent mainly wandering the woods in Belize, he reflects my own ponderings and concerns.

The greatest gift my parents gave me-one of relatively few gifts I have no mixed feelings about-was the outdoors. As an infant and toddler I was carried along on trails from Maryland all the way up to Maine. One of my favorite memories is the week we spent camping at Bandelier National Monument (my brother was about 6 months old at the time). Even in Arequipa, we found ways to manage- the dirt road behind our house led to the Chile River, and there were nights of pitching a tent in the backyard...and of course, MK camp at Shiran. My mom's parents had a farm just outside of Santa Fe- complete with horses, sheep, goats, guinea hens, doves, finches, pheasants, and a pair of Shelties. When my great-grandmother's health began deteriorating, they moved back to my grandmother's parents' farm- the Pea Patch, not too far from Denver. My grandfather is 80 and in the early stages of Alzheimer's, but with the help of the grandsons he still maintains an impressive vegetable garden. And this is why the only requirements for my dream home are a vegetable garden, a compost pile and a clothesline.

In college I kept my hiking boots and an extra pair of socks in my pickup truck at all times. Especially my senior year, I was so frequently at the point of exhaustion that an exceptionally tough microbiology quiz was enough to send me scrambling for my textbook and keys and dashing to the nearby wilderness area. My favorite weekends in Maryland were the chilly hikes around Jerusalem Mills village...usually followed by making a pot of soup.To borrow a line from my journal: "I go to the woods to know that I exist."

Or, as Henry David Thoreau put it:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to "glorify God and enjoy him forever."-Walden Pond

God himself has refused to answer me at times. But the trees and rocks and streams are constant -beautiful, familiar yet austere, liberating and cleansing. Nature has never failed me, and this is likely why I believe so strongly that it should be protected.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


I've been back in the lovely, green, humid, southeastern US for almost 48 hours at this point. (Belize is also lovely, green and humid, but that's beside the point).
Pictures have been more or less sorted through and posted on Facebook.
I've seen a few photos and a video of the beautiful daughter of a friend who was born while I was out of the country.
Have caught up with Nick Kristof's column....lots of writing about women's issues in Pakistan the past few weeks. He is my hero and inspiration as always.
There is food in my kitchen now, and clothes have been washed, and bills paid. And I've re-entered the world of phone calls in the wee hours of the morning.
I can't talk coherently about Belize yet. There are a total of 27 pages scrawled in my journal from that time...which isn't excessive, but does indicate that a great deal of observation and thinking happened.

Some very exciting ideas for where to take this independent study project....but all dependent on someone having actually done the research I'm interested in at this point. Time to start literature searches...this is when a PhD would be nice. Just the ability to say "It is important to know this for this reason and I'm going to do my best to convince other people of its importance so we can have time and money to actually find out." Maybe more on this later....I'll just say that my adviser, who is a health studies PhD and faculty affiliate for the women's studies program here, will absolutely love where I'm going with this.

Having just spent two paragraphs rambling aimlessly about being back in the US, and not saying anything traveling-related, I'm going to take the liberty of transcribing a couple bits from the India pages of my journal. Perhaps more for my own sake for later contemplation and connections... At some point, I will return to coherence and decent writing.

The earth lifts her dry throat to heaven-
She screams for mercy;
Creation groans in expectation
frustrated by Adam's race.
We who bow to stone and wood,
coins and kingdoms.

We who look to skies
darkened by our blindness.
Helpless, unable to open eyes
too weak for truth.
A whisper, a footstep
faintly hear the Savior's sigh.

Saliva, mixing, making mud
over the darkness we claim light.
vision given by the blood
treasure pillaged, lives destroyed
by the violent healing of redemption's flood.

The land waits in darkness
colors faded, shadows reign.
Chaos. Smog. Noise. Dirt.
Voices crying for what they know not.

The light of the world, in whom there is no darkness.
True light from true light
Begotten, not made.

Sent into the world, He sent
the smaller lights.
Cities on a hill.
Islands in a black sea.
And the light spreads.

Silence rises in the cacophany of a shattered world.
Peace, be still.
Let your light shine.
It will spread.

Calling forth the sunrise, the stars, the rainbow, the singing.
A new day begins.
But we must weep before it dawns.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Possibly the most infuriating thing about my time at [small liberal arts Christian college] was the flippancy towards the natural world we lived in. There were lectures in which I was told "the world was built for catastrophe and God's not going to let us destroy it", and my personal favorite was the chapel service in which Relatively Well Known Theologian claimed that people concerned about the environment were "Foolish, Faithless, and Fearful" because "Air pollution is actually a picture of the Resurrection. Living organisms died and became fossil fuels, which we burn and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which encourages the growth of plants. It's life coming from death"

That's a statement I cannot repeat without literally shaking in rage. I live in a state where it's unsafe to eat fish from many of our rivers and streams because of mercury deposits from coal plants. That doesn't sound like Resurrection, Redemption, or any other variation on that theme to me.

I don't understand the hostility towards environmentalists that's so pervasive in the Christian subculture. Is this tied to Texas oil? That's quite a leap of logic....but there are lots of conservative evangelicals in Texas, and lots of oil.

And in all honesty, the conservative evangelicals mocking environmentalists are only one piece of the problem. It's the part of the problem that makes me most angry, because of Genesis 1. God created the world, said that it was good, and handed it over to man to children of God, shouldn't our desire be for the world to continue to be good? Romans 8, especially verses 20- 22 comes to mind also (For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.). I'm tired of Christians who tell me "the world was built for catastrophe, God is sovereign and will not let us destroy it." Well, that may be so, but God has let us conduct countless wars and genocides, develop the atom bomb, exploit child laborers....He may not allow us to exterminate all of creation, but I'd rather not try to find the limits of His permission.

We've become so dependent on oil- a nonrenewable resource that is quickly running out (the current estimate is about another 40 years), and coal, which is procured by tearing apart our mountains, never mind the damage to our lungs, plants, fish caused by burning it. Oil and its byproducts runoff into our streams, disrupting wildlife... careless use of hormonal birth control has produced hermaphroditic fish, and there's so much more.

And while the open antagonism of a handful of people irritates me, the real problem is the apathy of the majority. There aren't many ways to disrupt apathy. Human beings aren't moved by rational, logical explanations of threats. Nicholas Kristof has written two recent columns on why people do not respond to environmental threats and why they fail to react to humanitarian concerns. He's remarkably insightful as always. I think what it comes down to is that we know the Fall through our emotions and we understand Evil because of how we react to its presence. Our logical minds are of little help here. While a story about a single child starving, or one snapshot of a bird smothered in oil just seems emotionally manipulative and contrived to me, we are wired to care about specifics.

I don't want to emotionally manipulate people, but I do want to make them aware of realities around the world. The line between the two is a lot less distinct than I wish it were. Unfortunately, there is no 12-step guide to breaking people out of their comfort zone.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


well, the obvious thing to follow a post on self-harm is a post on tattoos - the process of voluntarily submitting yourself to pain at the hands of another, for a personalized scar. I'm not sure that it's a universal correlation but it's worth observing that each of the women I know who has a history of self-harm also has a tattoo (or more, in a couple cases).

Opinions in the Christian community about tattoos are strongly divided- remarkable, given the facial tattoos of the Coptic Christians once upon a time. Heck, even outside the Christian community...a dear friend's father-in-law spent much of her wedding weekend lamenting loudly that we have "defaced" ourselves, and wondering why on earth a beautiful young woman would do such a thing. "It's like someone spray painting a sign on the Grand Canyon."

There's the loudly expressed views that "it hurts your testimony." "You're just being like everyone else in the world, and one day you're going to realize it's not cool, and you're stuck with that thing." "If God had wanted us to have tattoos He would have put them on us personally." "Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit."

These are some pretty serious accusations to level against something only skin deep- that an individual has usurped the authority and power of God, asserting that he, rather than Christ, rules his body. Personally, I believe that most of the people making those accusations are splitting hairs- between my tattoo and their pierced ears, or hair dye, or stuffing their bodies with junkfood, or a refusal to exercise.

Tattoos are as individual as the people who have them. My own bit of artwork is rather important to me.

That stencil is the result of a variety of things that had floated through my head for four years. I can't tell you why I wanted a tattoo at 17- perhaps because at that point, none of my friends had or had considered tattoos, perhaps because they were taboo in the subculture in which I grew up, perhaps because I believed in having tangible symbols of the things that are important to you. I can tell you that at 22 when I finally got the tattoo, much of that thinking had become irrelevant, although the design had changed little.

I'd walked away from my faith briefly....only to turn around and put a white-knuckled grip on it. Because the thought of a universe not created and directed by Love was absolutely intolerable (yes. Madeleine L'Engle has probably impacted my decision to remain a Christian more than anyone else) I'd discovered my tendency to be overwhelmed by despair, and I chose a permanent reminder of hope that would be impossible for me to escape.

It was a dark day-because of lack of sleep, stress, disillusionment. But still important. Yes, it hurt (note my grip on the arm of that chair). However, pain has the ability to bring healing as well as destruction (and, practically- after 15 minutes or so of the vibration from highspeed injections, the endorphins kick in, you go into a zen state, and don't really sense pain for the next hour or so)

It is a powerful thing to say "I'm all in- no reservations, no way out." To take a mark that cannot be erased, that becomes a part of yourself isn't an easy thing or something that should be taken lightly. That tattoo is an expression of confidence that pain can bring beauty. It is a reminder that "The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom." (Isaiah 35). It is no accident that slightly over a year after this tattoo, I was confirmed in the Anglican Province of America.

When I'm putting sunscreen on my left shoulder, my fingertips run over a series of thin, pale scars I've given myself-the result of a broken heart, a broken world,despair, loneliness. However, they simultaneously brush against the wings of a butterfly placed there by someone else- a symbol of metamorphosis, completion, healing, grace.

Spray paint on the Grand Canyon? Perhaps. But at least this way, the Grand Canyon is forced to remember it's more than a desert ravine.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


A sundress, a tank top....throwing sunscreen on my shoulders before I run out the door...that's when I see the scars. The thin raised lines left by a razorblade or exacto knife, they're mostly on my left shoulder. Sometimes, on waking, I mistake one of the lines on my forearm for a crease left by a folded sheet. The sudden shock that it's a permanent mark I've given myself makes my stomach turn, no matter how many times it happens.

Is it possible to explain? The remnants of some of the very worst days are etched on my body. I'm not sure which bit of the latticework belongs to the day S. died...even though I didn't know at the time, it's there, written in my skin.

It's funny. The handful of people who happen onto this bit of knowledge shudder in horror and quote Bible verses. Or shrug, depending on where they've come from. It's an almost commonplace reality for some of of my generation. What drives this? The answers aren't the same for everyone. Perhaps because of a lack of appropriate outlets to express pain...perhaps that physical pain is an endurable transmutation of emotional anguish. A fascination with pain, wounds, broken can be about control, or just numbness and the need for a reminder that there is blood, that one actually is alive,a disconnection between one's self and one's body. On top of whatever else- the sight of blood provides an endorphin rush that reinforces behavior. The reasons for the scars are as diverse as the people who carry them...and the stories and explanations are bumbling and awkward, because if words had been enough, blades wouldn't have been necessary.

In contrast, there are no bounds to the creativity and articulation for cover stories- the attack of the spiral notebook,the boyfriend's cat,an unfortunate incident with car keys, tripping and falling in a gravel driveway. It's somehow strange that we daily live surrounded by so many objects with the potential for ripping through our skin. It's somehow amazing that people only see what they want to see and are capable of understanding...and deliberate self-destruction is not part of the world of the majority.

And yet for this is a very real part of life. Contrary to popular belief- we're not just angsty teenagers, much as the behavior has been glamorized by the "goth" crowd. It's yet another thing I have in common with an especially dear friend-sister - yes, in addition to being bright,capable, diligent graduate students in education-related fields. For us - and I can only speak for us, because this is so individual- this isn't a "battle" "struggle" or whatever Christianese term you want to throw into the ring. It's a reality, at times frightening, closer than we realize and further away than we fear. It's the more extreme version of a stiff drink (or two or three) when the world is insane.

Our eyes are open to the scars of others, and we know when you've seen our wounds, open or healed, even if you don't notice. We keep them well hidden, most of the time. If you know...well, either we're drilling ourselves on the importance of honesty and openness, or we trust you. And your reaction is important.

There was the time when she was in high school. One of her friends had fallen madly for a young woman who avoided her emotions, taking refuge in humor and achievement. My friend-sister was conversing with him about the situation, and explained "It's like how I deal with my emotions. Only her way is better." He looked at my friend and said "No. Your way [cutting] is better." Within a few hours she was on the phone with me, expressing righteous anger and betrayal.

A few years later....I was running late for a church thing, and threw on a shirt with sleeves slightly shorter than I'd realized. En route a family member asked what happened, and my immediate response was that I had gotten attacked by a twig when mowing the lawn around a tree in the back yard (the tree was of a height that this was feasible, and I am rather clumsy,and quite often attacked by inanimate objects so no further questions were asked). A bit later that night, my then-boyfriend asked about the scratch...then said "oh, yeah, I heard you say what happened, never mind." At the time, I was either considering or planning to marry this guy, so for the sake of transparency, I gave him the true story. Followed by a bumbling expression of regret, to the effect of "I don't get this, and I know it's not the best way to respond and..." Well, the look of shock and disgust on his face wasn't exactly what I'd hoped for. And the "Do you hear me judging you? I'm not saying anything" response was nothing short of moronic.

Is there a point to this post? I'm not sure there is a point, beyond pointing out that self-harm is a real, complex issue, not easily solved or explained. Some things don't go away regardless of how much we want them to. When you notice the fairly fresh patterned etchings on the wrists of your waitress, be kind and tip well. And if you're noticing/wondering about scratches or scars on a friend....she's probably already freaked out over the possibility that you may have seen them and what to tell you-give her an opportunity to not have to lie.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


I'm the girl in with dangley earrings and a tattoo in the back pew. The one who looks like a pretty heathen unless you happen look long enough to notice that she knows when to genuflect,she thumbs through the Book of Common Prayer with ease, her favorite hymns are translations of the writings of Thomas Aquinas and she has to restrain herself from running up to the altar at Communion. In many ways,I and those like me are the new face of the Anglican/Roman Catholic/Orthodox triune. Serious, thoughtful,devout....who may not agree with every jot and tittle of church tradition but who love it, who have experienced traditional Protestantism and are painfully aware of its failings. Mother Kirk is accustomed to Cradle Catholics and is uncertain of how to embrace us seeker mystics. This hesitancy and confusion is what currently has me bouncing between two Anglican churches in town with very different strengths and weaknesses.

The church I was at this morning is a lovely Anglo-Catholic "procathedral". The building is stunning, simple with clean lines and a marble altar, reminding me vaguely of St. Thomas's Basilica in Chennai. The rector and his sermons frustrate me to no end. When people ask about this, usually accompanied with "what did he preach on?" I usually have no idea how to answer, and that's much of the frustration.
Today I sat listening attentively, trying to figure it out.

Psalm 113 was the psalm appointed for today, the other readings were from I Samuel 2,(beginning with verse 1), I Peter 2 (beginning with verse 11) and John 16, (beginning with verse 16).

The priest began his sermon with some commentary on the third Sunday after Easter traditionally being "the invention of the Cross", now referred to as "the finding of the Cross." He progressed to a short discussion on the joy of birth, the gift of life,and the evils of abortion, specifically sex-selective abortion. He talked about his recent pilgrimage to Walsingham and the awe of worshiping in a place where people have worshiped for a few hundred years ("as opposed to the twenty or so years we've worshiped here"-I really thought this church was closer to 40 years old, but I'm a random visitor)and the remarkable fact that the pews are "varnished with tears". This progressed to a discussion of the Holy Land in Israel and Satan's special venom against the places Christians have celebrated the mass for 2,000 years. He then rattled off the upcoming feasts of the week- the feast of the birth of St. Monica, the feast of the birth of St. Augustine of Hippo, the feast of the conversion of St.Augustine. He commended the prayers of St. Monica, lamented St. Augustine's involvement in Gnosticism, commented on Gnosticism's continued presence today in the New Age Movement and lamented the attacks St. Augustine and St. Paul made against the church. The rector continued- celebrating the conversions of St. Austine and St. Paul and their later work on behalf of the Church, which more than compensated for their attacks against Her. This led to some self-reflection-he admitted to being the sort of person who believed that if you give people enough books, scripture and reasons to believe they will ultimately convert (apparently other priests have confronted him about this). There was some talk of the reluctant conversion of C.S.Lewis, and then the statement "I think St. Augustine would say we're making this too complicated. The point is that Jesus meets you wherever you are." Somewhere in here he said "It's like reading a book that you've never heard of and loving it and thinking 'why didn't someone tell me about this?' But the truth is, someone mentioned the book,play, musical ten, twenty years ago and that stayed with you even though you didn't realize it, and led you to pick it up and find that this book, play, musical is a little piece of heaven". I'm really not sure what the "It" at the start of the sentence was, I'm sure it's something important. He wrapped up by telling the congregation that if they knew people who were looking for something it was to be found in Mother Church...that, at least in the Catholic churches, there was a banquet waiting, and he didn't understand why people would subsist on stale cornflakes when they had the option of pot roast, filet mignon, cabernet sauvingon and oysters on the half shell."We are Evangelical in the pulpit and Catholic at the altar, and therein is the fullness of the Christian faith. And if we want to continue to worship here for fifty or a hundred years....."

I didn't hear the last few words of the sermon. In that last phrase the priest had given himself away, and I understood the pomp and circumstance, the rants, the meandering sermons for what they were - signs of desperation and despair. Suddenly I saw the congregation through his eyes- a few dozen people scattered about a sanctuary that can seat a hundred and fifty, most of them grey-haired and arthritic. The contributions of one elderly widow sustain the church financially. He's a man of principle- committed to opposing abortion and homosexuality, to Catholic thought and worship, a crusader against immorality, irreverence. Right now, he feels betrayed and abandoned. He approaches the Eucharist as a chore,not with awe and wonder. The congregation has dwindled, drifted his eyes because of their lack of faith and the lure of the world. So he's left trying to rouse a bewildered battered church into a fervor of evangelism. And because of the strength of his convictions, he can't see that perhaps he is sabotaging his own efforts.

Rather than making me want to rip my hair out and beat my head against a wall as most of his sermons do, this one made me want to cry.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


One of the great gifts of being Catholic is not being confused or overwhelmed when saints and Bible characters step off the pages into your life at the moments when you need them most. You are free to rejoice in the realization that you have a relationship with the Church Triumphant. Ironically, I think Martin Luther was the first person I experienced this with, and his passion for grace, love of Scripture, devotion to truth, perseverance, and reverence at the Real Presence of Christ at Communion were instrumental in leading me to the Church of England (in a similar vein- I have an Episcopalian friend who's been known to request prayer from good St.Martin on All Saint's day). Next was the Apostle Thomas, as I stood at his tomb in India, at a point in my life when I had been nearly destroyed by doubt and fear. He showed me that doubt could be restored; by grace, the man who has become a near universal symbol of doubt and unbelief had enough faith to travel to India, to pour out his life to give others the chance to believe. During the confusion and stress of preparing to start grad school, the Virgin Mother was my reminder that unexpected complications to one's life can be gifts, that one does not have to have a detailed plan in order to respond to God's request, that grace is quite often disruptive,but nonetheless good.

This year, during Holy Week, it was Veronica's turn. In some ways, she's always been there. It's a story from childhood - Jesus is on his way to Jairus's dying daughter, and out of nowhere comes a desperate woman, in faith that simply touching the hem of his garment will heal her. He feels power go out of him, and to the disciple's irritation, stops to acknowledge her. In high school I read something by Beth Moore focusing on her unclean status, and the loneliness and isolation this caused in her life, and Christ's grace in restoring her to community. Jr. Prom fell near Easter, and our group gathered at the home of a friend of mine who's mother is a remarkable woman and devout Roman Catholic. She made it a point to show us her Veronica cloth, briefly saying "she wiped his face with her veil and his image remained upon the cloth"...and my reaction was a strange mixture of confusion and pity that an intelligent educated woman could believe such a thing, especially since it wasn't scriptural.

Veronica. Pushing through the crowds, trying to get to Christ. She didn't want to intrude, she understood that there were more important matters at hand, that she wasn't supposed to be there, and yet she was desperate for something only Jesus could give. Bold, timid, unclean, she made her way unnoticed to the Messiah. She touches him, and is immediately healed. Then, to her horror, Jesus begins to look for her. Despite her hope to go unnoticed, to simply gather up some crumbs of grace, she is singled out. She's terrified, but Jesus calls her daughter. He commends her faith and sends her on her way in peace.

They meet again on the road to Golgotha. This time, she is whole, but he is broken, bleeding for her sake. Again, this time with much more boldness, she pushes through the crowd to touch the Savior. She is here to offer kindness and thanksgiving. She wipes his face with her veil, and whether or not the image remains upon the cloth, it is certain his image has remained upon her life.

He has transformed her- from a woman who had been so broken by lost hope and the harsh judgment of society that she is afraid to seek goodness and healing for herself to a woman courageous enough to push through an angry mob and offer grace and kindness to the Lord.

I hate visiting churches. I've seen their ugly side too many times, my father's a minister. I went to a Christian college, I know just how spiteful Christians often are. I'm fully aware that I'm a scientist, a graduate student, a single woman in her mid-twenties, that my political views often fall far left of the churches I attend. I don't belong, and churches are quite good at sending off a "why the heck are you here?" vibe that I pick up and take far too seriously.

Why do I bother to fight my church phobia and the expectations of the church? Because even though I don't belong there...I am desperate to meet Christ in the Eucharist. And I will do my best to slip quietly, unnoticed through the hostile crowds, to the altar where the Bread is placed in my hand.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


It's begin slowly sharing the news: I'm going to Belize in July. This isn't something I feel compelled to advertise to every random friend and acquaintance, and I doubt that it will be mentioned on Facebook (well, I'm likely to post photos after the fact).

But I am going. Cornerstone Foundation is an intrinsically interesting organization, that seems to be about the same things I am (community empowerment, respect for culture and the individual, AIDS outreach). In some ways it seems like an ideal setting for my practicum project, and I'll be exploring that as well. My adviser and I are planning an independent study based around this time...likely including a literature review on Complementary Alternative Medicine.

And then there are the things less easily explained. The appeal of the rainforest- Nathaniel Hawthorne would find this extremely interesting. That's a fascination I've had my whole life (For the past fifteen years, Madagascar has been very close to the top of the list of places I want to visit ...maybe when the political climate settles down.)

There's the need to set some time aside for just listening and growing. For me...there's something profound and enlightening about leaping headfirst into adventure in unseen places, be it Tamil Nadu, India or a molecular toxicology lab in northern Maryland. Truth crystallizes, pieces come together, paths open. Mystical, yes, but true to how the world and I interact.

Madeleine L'Engle wrote that she understood very little about the Holy Spirit- except that no work of creation or art could take place without it (I would provide a direct quote, but my copy of The Irrational Season has wandered off). I believe the same is true of healing, much as we've forgotten it in our materialistic medical and scientific culture in the western world.

And so this about openness, to the gifts of God and the universe. It's about worship, and insight, and about becoming someone. It's a step towards hope and fearlessness, an embrace of adventure and the unexpected and inexplicable.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

For me, one of the biggest differences between being a student of biology and a student of public health is the emotional exhaustion I now experience. Biology was a much more mentally demanding discipline- demanding memorization of countless organisms, structures, cell signalling pathways and the interactions between everything under the sun. Health Promotion, Education and Behavior places more strenuous demands on my heart than my mind. It also orders me to a careful reckoning of how my mind and heart are interacting- is my compassion for a particular situation leading me to jump to a solution, rather than deliberate over the best use of limited resources? How do I balance the urgency of life and death with the need to not be wasteful, to choose the best intervention?

This week I've been working on a short paper on the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, which has necessitated reading a vast quantity of UN "on the ground" reports. I sort of stumbled into this topic, having lived in Latin America during the epidemic of the 1990s. Cholera, that classic well- studied -yet- unsolved problem of public health, was what brought me into the field in the first place, so it's only fitting (though unintentional) that my first "real" paper be an attempt to wrestle with it.

"Knowledge alone is not enough to change behavior"
"An educational curriculum is NOT a health promotion program"

New mantras- they don't replace DNA => RNA => Protein though.

Bits and in a toolbox...

These things take time.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

no more ghetto

Some days I really miss my Conservative Christian Ghetto. That place where no one admitted to smoking or drinking, divorce was unforgivable, people with same sex attraction were sick and twisted, and the goal of everything was to lead people to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I'm not romanticizing that place. . . but everything made so much sense there. The black and whites of "never do anything that might possibly cause anyone to stumble," "love the sinner and viciously condemn the sin," and "you have a responsibility to share the Gospel with everyone you meet" are difficult to carry out, but simple in conception.

I don't know when I left it forever. It could have been the day a left-leaning Episcopalian priest's daughter became one of my best friends. Perhaps it was the day I enrolled in college as a biology major. Maybe it was the day the guy with whom I danced my last dance at senior prom hung himself.

Somewhere along the way I left it, and there's no going back to easy answers. Soon, I will be receiving my first lesbian wedding invitation, from someone who has been a dear friend for twenty years. She has very different ideas than I do about how to interpret Scripture, and she and the woman she'll be spending her life with are both very committed Christians, active in their church. On occasion I get 3 AM phone calls, as a friend leaves the gay bar he works at to drive home to his boyfriend. I listen to his questions- which are so often the same as mine. "If God wants me to love Him, shouldn't He make it easier?" "Why should I believe that God is more than a Cosmic Sadist?" "Why did God allow sin, injustice, torture, Why doesn't He rescue the innocent and powerless?" This friend is asking questions again, after a season of being satisfied with Richard Dawkins and vodka. I'm proud of him, and I can't say that I would bother, after tragically losing a marriage and being "turned over to Satan" by a church.

Jesus not only loved sinners, he let sinners love him. These two have certainly loved me, during some of the toughest days of my life.

So when I'm handed information about GLBQT issues and health disparities, I can't just let it wash over me. It matters that men who have sex with men have a higher rate of HIV infection...and it matters that African American women (thanks to the men who have sex with women and men phenomenon) have ridiculously high rates of new HIV infections compared to the rest of the US population. And it matters that lesbian women have higher rates of cervical cancer. It also matters a heck of a lot that people who are involved in homosexual activity (probably not the current/correct phrasing) fear "coming out" to their healthcare providers. I am an evangelical who takes Romans 1 at face value. However, that doesn't trump my conviction that everyone should get adequate (well, ideally. excellent medical care).

How do I be Christlike in engaging homosexuality as an individual, with those I love (and love me)?

How do I be Christlike in engaging homosexuality as a public health proffessional?

(and that's just one of the "how do I go about being a Christian in public health?" questions)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Stage Theory and the Movies

Somewhere, in my daily routine of prowling through news and blogs, I stumbled across the upcoming film A Powerful Noise. While I added it to my mental list (along with Milk and Slumdog Millionaire) I found myself annoyed by what feels like a glut of "activist movies" in recent years.

On one level, I feel guilty about that annoyance. My sister considers me an "Eco human rights nazi," and she's not without cause for that assumption (the organic tea in my cabinet, my canvas grocery bags, and personal boycott of Hershey, Nestle and M&M/Mars, for example) I have been thrilled and grateful that movies like Hotel Rwanda, Amazing Grace, and the three above are being made and watched. However, I'm perturbed that what I see happening is people watching these movies, having an extreme emotional reaction and then joining half a dozen facebook groups.

Then it clicked- stage theory. The bane of my existence this semester has been a class called "The Theoretical Foundations of Health Promotion". It has been centered around learning about various theories of human behavior (specifically related to decision-making and behavior change) and their limits and usefulness in health intervention programs. Depending on which model of stage theory you embrace, there are 7 (Precaution Adoption Process: Unaware of Issue, Unengaged by Issue, Undecided about Acting, Decided to Act, Decided Not to Act, Acting, Maintenance) or 6 (Transtheoretical Model/Stages of Change: Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Relapse, Maintenance) stages.

The beauty of stage theory, and why it's revolutionized public health, is that it allows programs and interventions to reach out to individuals who are not currently aware of a need for change. Which helps me see that, yes, there is a place for emotional humanitarian films -they shock people who are unaware of issues and pre-contemplators into acknowledging injustice. However... I'm not sure that connects to making them aware of the injustice that is currently taking place around the world. I'm fairly certain it doesn't motivate them to ask how their daily comforts and indulgences encourage injustice, and there certainly seems to be little organization around making the connections between the ugliness on screen and change in behavior.

So, where do those of us who are (or are becoming) community organizers, human rights advocates, public health professionals meet and further engage the movie viewers? Once the world is on the silver screen, how does it move into people's hearts?

One line from Hotel Rwanda has driven me for years:
"I think that when people turn on their TVs and see this footage, they'll say, "Oh my God, that's horrible," and then they'll go back to eating their dinners."

I've not yet found where it's driving me.