Where Logic Meets Love

Blog Comment Carnival: May 2012

Thursday, May 31, 2012

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Blog Comment Carnival: May 2012 | Faith Permeating Life

It's the end of May, which means it's time for another Blog Comment Carnival! I share my favorite comments of the month, and then you post the best comments you got on your own blog and link up below.

I say it every month, but I seriously have the best readers. You all are so insightful, challenging, thoughtful, encouraging, and just plain awesome!

At the beginning of May I posted A Request: Please Don't Read the Menu to Me, which struck a chord with several people.

Q said:
I feel this is a common reaction to *any* trait distinguishing you from others and with which they have little/no experience or understanding. People don't get it, but since they like you they want to show somehow that they care or at least notice your "condition" (or unconsciously compensate for their lack of understanding).

I've experienced similar accommodations (or condescensions, depending on your viewpoint) as an Asian among Caucasians, a feminist among traditionalists, a Christian among non-. However, this usually doesn't result in an actual conversation to increase mutual understanding, which annoys me more than the pointing out of the difference. I think what your PSA comes down to is to try to make no assumptions at all about a person, and talk or get to know them where they're at.

Gina confessed:
I am sooooooooooooooo guilty of this. And I KNOW it's annoying, and I just. can't. stop.

My sister is a vegan, my best friend is a pescatarian, my SIL is lactose intolerant, and I'm allergic to shellfish.

People do this to me when we go to Red Lobster, which happens a lot since it's my hubby's favorite restaurant. And I feel the same way you do, and I KNOW that grown ups don't need my help making decisions.

Heck, if you wanted to eat a giant bowl of ice cream and make yourself miserable, that's YOUR PREROGATIVE! And I shouldn't stop you!


This is one really long comment to tell you that you are not alone, I agree with you, and on behalf of all butt-in-skees out there, I am sorry.

There were a ton of comments on the post Everyone Feels Selfish: Judgment in Parenthood:

Emmy said:
I've always wanted to adopt. I don't know why, but I just remember being a kid and it popped into my head and it stuck. Then as I get older and the more and more I think about it, the more it JUST MAKES SENSE for my life. What's crazy is that even as a kid I've gotten grief for it. One of my big reasons is that I feel as though I couldn't physically handle pregnancy. My doctors already warn me about gaining weight because if I gain too much that will be too much pressure on my fraigle bones and back. Um... pregnancy would probably make me break several bones and/or I would have to be on bed rest for FOREVER. No thanks. When I told this to one friend who had a baby she was all "But Emily it's so worth it in the end." Maybe. But God bless the man who would have to put up with me on bed rest. I would be COMPLETELY miserable. Selfish? Maybe. But oh well. I also have realized that if I have a child there is a 50/50 chance they also will have brittle bones. I remember all of the PHYSICAL things my parents had to do to take care of me as a kid. Carrying me up and down stairs. Carrying me around and letting me lay on their stomach while I was in body casts. Um... I can't do that. I wouldn't be able to take care of a child who also had brittle bones. Yes, whoever my husband is would help of course. But is it fair to him to have to do everything. Nope.

Sometimes I feel selfish about it. But as you said, no matter what you do SOMEONE is going to judge you. You can't base choices off of what other people say all of the time. You have to do what works best for you and your family.

Vonae Deyshawn said:
I completely agree with this! I first time I became pregnant, I was less than excited. None of my friends were pregnant and I just felt like I would be the only one toting a kid here and there. During that time, I experienced a miscarriage and became absolutely devastated. I felt selfish for not being excited for the baby when so many women can't even get pregnant. When I became pregnant again three months later, I was ecstatic and terrified. Would I actually be able to carry the baby? After I reached the 7 month mark, I felt selfish again when I saw the scale creep to an outrageous number. I had never seen it go that high before and boy was it depressing when I couldn't fit into my clothes. Now I'm 37 weeks and I can't wait to do it again. I think there will always be selfish moments but it may just be apart of life change. : ) Thanks for this post!

Gina said:
I have three kids right now, and I honestly yearn for more. Whether that happens biologically or through adoption has yet to be seen, though either way is perfectly fine by me.

I absolutely can attest to the fact that people judge BIG TIME when you have 3+ kids. I have had complete strangers ORDER me to never have more children (and not jokingly). Many people assume that the third was an "accident" (which, by the way, what a horrible way to refer to your child: "you were unwanted, but you're here now... so...")

But as far as me personally, I don't feel guilt or shame around our choices. My husband and I know what we want, what the Lord wants for us and what we can handle. The other opinions are worthless in this conversation.

And Mollie summed up:
Reading the comments, it can be said: people know themselves and what works for them. We (myself included!) need to get better at trusting everyone else to make the decisions best for them.

Defining the "Sex" in Same-Sex Anything was one of my most shared and "Liked" posts of all time.

Charcoal Renderings said:
I'm so glad you posted this video! I posted it yesterday on my facebook as well, I absolutely love John and Hank. Hank did a video before John's also tackling this debate.

I love this post because you are exactly right--so many people thinks it's a solid line when really it's a spectrum of gray. And I just wonder, how gray does it have to get before we will understand that the whole world, and all people, are so completely complex? It's never just that simple to define someone. And while your body is certainly a part of who you are, your mind is what concerns me more than anything. Otherwise, every physically disabled person in the world, regardless of mental capacity, would be considered "less than a person" because they would have essential body parts missing. Are you less human if you are missing an arm? A leg? Both legs? If a male soldier was wounded in war and lost part of his genitalia, would that take away his "male" status? What about the women in other war-torn countries that are subjected to genital mutilation? Do they become less "woman" because this happened to them and took away parts of their bodies? Defining sex by your skin and flesh just doesn't quite make sense. It's all about attraction to me. And I don't think God would disagree.

Finally, a special shout-out to Queen of Carrots, who challenged me to define and explain a bunch of my beliefs in this post and the comments on it.

Defining "Sex": How Should We Talk about God's Gender?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

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To wrap up this series on sex and gender (see "Defining 'Sex'" Part 1 and Part 2), some thoughts on how we talk about God's gender:

Gendered Pronouns

I find it interesting when people use "She" to refer to God so that when people protest, they can say, "But God doesn't have a gender! Why limit God to only male pronouns? That only reinforces the patriarchal hierarchy." (To be clear, I am not saying that everyone who calls God "She" does it for this reason; I am interested in the people who do it for this reason.) I don't personally see a benefit in exchanging one set of limiting words for another. If God has no gender, why use gendered pronouns at all?

Ah, but there's the rub: In English, we have no good gender-neutral pronouns for individuals. Really, the only singular gender-neutral pronoun we have is "it," and it's difficult to imagine having a close relationship with an "it." You might use "it" for an animal if you don't know whether it's male or female, but if it's, say, a friend's pet, you're more likely to venture a guess by calling it "he" or "she" rather than referring to their beloved animal as "it." It's just an impersonal word. So if we're talking about a loving God with whom you want a close relationship, "it" is not going to cut it.

There's also the option "they" as a gender-neutral pronoun. Using "they" to refer to a single person is guaranteed to make most grammarians twitch, despite the fact that it's been used this way for centuries. The average English speaker, however, already uses "they" when talking about a person of an unknown gender.

On the other hand, it's perfectly acceptable to refer to a group of people as "they." And isn't God three persons? Despite most Christians professing a belief in the Trinity -- that God is both one person and three persons -- God is almost unilaterally referred to in the singular. It seems that the dual role of "they" as both a plural pronoun and a gender-neutral singular pronoun is suited quite perfectly for reference to God.

The Nature of Sex and Gender

Those who want to argue against referring to God with only male pronouns often point to markers of biological sex and ask, "Does God have a penis? Does God have testicles? Does God have a Y chromosome? Isn't God spirit?"

And then I've seen the argument come back that God is masculine in nature based on descriptions in the Bible, and that Jesus was incarnated as a male human and referred to God as "Father," so even if God does not have a physical body, God's spirit is clearly male.

Leaving aside the many feminine and maternal references to God in the Bible, I find this argument fascinating because it attaches male-ness to something other than one's physical body. In other words, it clearly identifies gender as separate from biological sex, that one can be male without having a traditionally male body. And yet, I find this argument about God's male-ness, this discomfort with calling God anything other than "He," coming from many of the same people who are so dismissive, if not hateful, toward the transgender community. How is it that God can be fundamentally male without having a male body (i.e., male genitalia), and yet a human can't?

Or Does God Have a Body?

Another point that comes up in the Is-God-Male debate is Genesis 1:26-27:
Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
In this case, "man" is 'adam, which might make more sense here translated as "humans."

If we were made in God's image, does that mean God has a body like our bodies? To what extent, or in what way, is it like our bodies? I am not a Biblical literalist myself, but for those who are, you have to acknowledge that God creates both male and female humans here, rather than saying, "Let's create male humans in Our image, and then change their parts around a bit to create knock-off versions we'll call female humans." So somehow both male and female humans reflect God's image.

If you believe that our bodies are literally copies of God's body, then in order for both men and women to have bodies representative of God's body, God would either have to have no genitals or both male and female genitals. Kind of sounds like an intersex person, huh?

What's the Point?

As with the other posts in this series, I want to challenge black-and-white viewpoints on the notions of sex and gender. These concepts, whether about biological sex, sexual behavior, or talking about God's gender, are not the kinds of things to which you can say, "Obviously it's this way," and then walk away and be done with it. I want to challenge people not to think they have all the answers, but to be open to learning more and questioning what they think they know.

Do you refer to God as He, She, They, It...? Why? Does it matter?

Obedience or Service: How Do You Show Christ to Others?

Friday, May 25, 2012

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Obedience or Service: How Do You Show Christ to Others? | Faith Permeating Life

A while back, our church gave out free copies of the book Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly. I didn't get very far through it because it was poorly edited and Kelly kept interspersing good thoughts with vast false generalizations about people. But what really turned me off was his main premise, that the goal of the Christian life is "holiness."

It's not necessarily that I disagreed with this goal, as he defined it: "What is holiness? Holiness It [sic] is all the incredible things God will do in you and through you if you make yourself available to him." Something about his word choice just rubbed me the wrong way.

It wasn't until I ran until a similar concept in Scot McKnight's fantastic The Blue Parakeet that I was able to pinpoint why I had such a bad reaction to this idea. McKnight says that if we listen to God by focusing on what God wants us to do, we will be able to achieve God's goal for us: righteousness. He defines righteousness somewhat similarly to Kelly's holiness: "To be 'righteous' means our minds, our wills, and our behaviors will be conformed to God's will."

I realized that the words "holiness" and "righteousness" were, in my mind, one and the same with "self-righteousness," a Pharisee-like focus on one's own ability to keep all of God's laws.

It got me thinking back to this post about what kind of Christian I want to be, and this post where I said that forceful evangelization is more about the evangelizer than the evangelizee.

It seems to me that there are two main ways I see people trying to lead a "good Christian life": obedience and service.

These are by no means mutually exclusive, but in my experience people tend to focus more on one over the other.

Where do you fall?

You might have an obedience focus if...
-Your go-to Bible verses are Matthew 18:15-18, 2 Timothy 3:16, and anything in Leviticus
-You never miss church, no matter what's going on
-You saved/are saving sex for marriage, and it's important to you that others do too
-You worry constantly about non-Christians you know going to hell, and tell them so
-You would turn down a job you needed before you'd work on a Sunday
-You think the government should pass laws in accordance with Christian morality

You might have a service focus if...
-Your go-to Bible verses are Matthew 25:31-46, Mark 12:28-31, and anything about Jesus eating with sinners
-You volunteer regularly for causes you care about
-You have friends of different faiths, and you sometimes attend their places of worship
-You have an interest in knowing what is important to other people, and you listen more than you talk
-You provide support and comfort to others even when you disagree with their decisions, without telling them what you think
-You think the government's main concern should be that every person has access to food, shelter, and care

Obviously these are generalizations, but I would bet they ring true for a lot of people.

What it comes down to, I think, is this: Are you more concerned about your own fate in the next life, or your neighbor's fate in this one?

(Or as Rachel Held Evans wrote recently, are you willing to risk going to hell to be loving to others?)

I'm not saying that one of these approaches is "right" or "wrong." I understand the reasons behind both. What I want to suggest is that it's helpful to periodically ask yourself: What is my goal with living my life this way? And am I succeeding?

Here's what I've noticed:

If you ask someone, particularly a non-Christian, to describe a person who exemplifies the worst of Christianity, you'll likely hear about a person who lectures others on their sins, who tells them they're going to hell, who makes a big deal of adhering to their own religious obligations, and who puts everything church-related before their own friends and family. In other words, someone with an obedience focus.

But if you ask about the best of Christianity, you hear about that person who took the time to really listen to someone, the person who reached out with love when everyone else turned their back, the person who went out of their way to provide care and support when someone had made a big life mistake, without ever saying, "I told you so." You hear about the person whose door was always open, the person who was on fire with a passion to help the homeless, the person who said they would pray for you and you knew they really meant it because you were that important to them. That is a person with a service focus.

Recently in church we heard the Great Commission: Jesus telling His followers to go out into the world and make disciples.

It seems to me that those with a service focus are far more successful at opening people's hearts to Jesus than those with an obedience focus -- who sometimes even drive people away from Jesus!

I'll point back to the idea that we have limited time, energy, and money. We cannot be all things to all people. And we must make choices. We cannot simultaneously attend a church event and travel out of town for a family event. We cannot simultaneously listen without judgment and share our judgments.

We cannot both love and withhold love.

So where is your focus going to be?

Does this distinction ring true for you? How has your life been affected by having an obedience focus or a service focus, or knowing those who do?

Defining "Sex" and Why It's Not the Same Thing as Dating

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

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Today, let's return to our discussion about how those who want to condemn same-sex behavior as sinful need to define both "sex" (as in the fuzzy boxes we call male and female) and "sexual behavior." Here's a link to last Wednesday's post about the difficulty in defining people's sex by their bodies.

We face much the same issue in attempting to condemn "homosexual behavior" as we do when talking about "premarital sex." We have to define "sex."

In most conversations about sex and morality, whether about teenagers having sex, or premarital sex, or gay sex, or sex and procreation, we talk as if sex is this one, specific, clearly defined action, when really, it's not.

I've shared this before, but here's a great post by John Green on the difficulties of defining "sex before marriage." (Yes, the same John Green from the video in last week's post. He's a smart man.) Here's the key parts:
What is sex? Is it actions that can result in procreation? Is it any kind of sexual intimacy? If so, is kissing sex? Is hugging sex if it happens to result in arousal?

We’ve created this aura around virginity as if one’s virginity is a real and tangible thing—but of course it isn’t. Sex and virginity are socially constructed concepts. Are you a virgin if you engage in oral sex? Are you a virgin if you’ve kissed a girl? Are you a virgin if it was just the tip? Are you a virgin if your hymen breaks from tampon-insertion?

In order to assign some sort of moral judgment to sexual behavior, one has to define what that is. After all, it wouldn't be fair to say, "If you do X, then you are sinning against God, but I'm not going to tell you which actions constitute X and which don't, so good luck not sinning." Right?

Let's go to an example, and you can tell me when you think we've entered the realm of "sexual behavior."

Mike and I met our freshman year of college and went through a long and awkward courting phase that you can read about here until I decided I was OK with dating him. So at this point we were romantically attracted to each other and we had entered into a monogamous relationship with one another. There was no physical contact yet. (Are we having sex yet?)

After we'd been dating a few weeks, Mike asked if he could hold my hand while we were watching a movie in my dorm room. After a few months, we progressed to cuddling and spooning. There was no kissing involved, and our hands always stayed within what you might call "safe zones." We were being physically close because we enjoyed being together. Sex yet?

After about two years, we decided that we were able to kiss each other on the cheek or the hand without that being a sexual temptation. It was a way of showing affection without trying to trigger sexual arousal or provide sexual pleasure. Was that sex?

Skipping ahead to our wedding day, we shared our first "real" kiss in front of the altar. Is kissing sex? I mean, we did it in a church... in front of all of our friends and family. It didn't lead to anything else, nor was it intended to.

If you classify any of the above as "sex" -- and I'm not saying you don't -- this has ramifications for all areas of sexual morality.

For those who believe premarital sex is sinful: Does that mean a couple can't hold hands or kiss on the cheek before their wedding?

For those who believe that all sexual acts must be open to procreation: Does that mean I can't kiss my husband goodbye because we're not planning on getting naked?

Is just the act of making a monogamous commitment to another person sex?

I'm going to guess that most of you don't consider the things I described to be "sex."

So now let's apply this to same-sex couples.

On what grounds can we say two women can't date each other?

How can we judge two men for walking down the street holding hands, or even exchanging a loving kiss?

If you are basing your moral judgments on Scripture, then you have to acknowledge that the only passages you can pull out to condemn same-sex relationships have to do with sex. Not "same-sex dating" or "same-sex holding hands."

I will reiterate that there is nothing in the Bible that explicitly talks about loving, committed, God-centered romantic relationships between people of the same sex. There are only condemnations of lustful sexual relationships -- whether opposite-sex or same-sex.

Since you're going to bring it up, I don't think there's any true Biblical support (regardless of your interpretation) for preventing same-sex couples from getting married.

"But, Jessica," you say, "are you saying that if we believe gay sex is sinful, we should let gay people get married anyway? Isn't that just enabling them, because they're probably going to have sex?"

What I'm saying is that even if you believe that "same-sex sexual behavior" is sinful, you have no grounds on which to legislate against same-sex marriage. That's like legislating against teenagers dating because you believe premarital sex is sinful. Dating is not the same thing as sex. Marriage is not the same thing as sex. Some teenagers and some gay people are going to have sex regardless of whether you legally recognize their relationships.

What I'm saying right now is that in order to have a conversation about same-sex marriage and "same-sex behavior," we first have to clearly define our terms.

And when we do that, we find that the Scripture passages being swung around to condemn same-sex marriage don't have to do with same-sex attraction, they don't have to do with same-sex couples dating, and they don't have to do with same-sex couples getting married.

They only have to do with sex.

And suddenly the conversation has changed, because the government, at least in the United States, rarely likes to pass laws having to do with sex. It's complicated enough with the laws that we do have, such as rape laws in some states for which it has to proved that there was "any penetration of the female sex organ by the male sex organ." That's an extremely specific definition of sexual intercourse. (And that means that according to this law, same-sex partners can't technically even have sex with each other. But that's besides the point.)

So, again, I'm not trying to make a case against the common interpretation of a handful of Scripture verses. (You can find plenty of resources here that do that.)

I'm saying that you can't condemn "sex" between partners of the same sex and then use a radically different definition of sex than you do in any other situation, one that includes even being in a romantic relationship.

One final thought on double standards: I'm going to guess that you don't walk around asking married women if they're on hormonal contraceptives (although most are) or engaged couples if they're having sex (although most are). You probably give most people the benefit of the doubt because you recognize that these kinds of sexual decisions are between the couple and God, and that Jesus wasn't the kind of person who walked around making sure that everyone was following all the moral laws to a T.

So what would be any different about a same-sex couple making a commitment to one another and letting their decisions about sex be between them and God?

As always, I want to hear your thoughts, and respectful disagreements are welcome, but those who are mean, close-minded, or insulting will be ignored and potentially deleted.

What Marriage Means to Me: Revolution

Monday, May 21, 2012

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I know I say this every time, but I am super-excited to share this week's contribution to the What Marriage Means to Me series. I have the privilege of knowing Revolution "IRL," and he is truly an awesome person whom I wish everyone had the chance to meet. I am exceptionally grateful that he was willing to add his voice to this series, not only as the first male contributor but the first contributor who has been divorced. He has a unique and beautiful perspective about how he is still living out his marital commitment today.


It might sound funny to most people's ear, but two years beyond my divorce I am still committed to my marriage, or at least to the parts that survive outside of the severing of our committed relationship to each other. Suzanne and I were together for 17 years, and as she told me not that long ago, "we had a good run."

We have an incredible daughter who we both love dearly, and Alex represents one of those facets of our marriage that goes beyond our permanent separation, as does the friendly relationship Suzanne and I still share. To say we are friends might be a bit misleading; in fact, friendship between us gets pretty confusing at times. Sometimes when the three of us are together it feels quite wonderfully, in fact, like we are as we once were -- a mostly happy little family. That feeling can be confusing to Alex as well, so a bit of a separation, the subtle distinction between friendship and being on incredibly friendly terms, seems to work best for all of us.

On a lovely summer's day I made a commitment to Suzanne, and to marriage, and Suzanne made the same commitment to me. When our marriage ended, the commitment to each other went away; in fact, it went away long before we divorced. We had been together for a long time and we were both afraid to separate but unable to rectify the problems in our marriage that were ripping us apart. We were scared for some very valid reasons; my bipolar made me a bit unpredictable in terms of earning a living, and ultimately the divorce, in part, led me down a path to homelessness. We were still friends, so that made it even more difficult to separate, and the prospect of being alone, single parents and starting over seemed quite daunting.

Even at the worst moments of my circumstances our commitment to marriage, to the incredible "product" of our marriage -- our wonderful daughter -- was never severed. Every Sunday for 10 months before I got my own apartment, Suzanne would let me hang out at our old house and spend the day with Alex.

The storm, the catastrophe, the madness that finally severed our commitment to each other forever was not pretty, but with a lot of effort and love for each other and a deep love for Alex, Suzanne and I have kept our commitment to marriage alive in Alex; our marriage vows in this case survived our legal separation. Alex's survival, her wellbeing, her happiness is something we consciously chose not to allow ourselves to sever. In a society where children are often nothing but accessories or human pets, something to show off just while they are all cute and cuddly and then avoid like the plague as they grow out of their cherubic cuteness, such a commitment seems quite often very few and far between. Both Suzanne and I know that we will always have to work hard to make sure we do not fail our daughter by divorcing ourselves from the commitment we made to Alex, to our family, not just on our wedding day but several years later when she was conceived.

So many people I meet are shocked that I like my ex-wife, shocked that we get along incredibly well. It seems de rigueur in our culture to not like your ex. I loved my wife; we shared something so special we chose to get married. Not liking her seems inconceivable and quite immature to my mind. In fact, if you knew the details which led to our divorce (details which are quite sordid by the way), you might at first blush be shocked yourself that we can even be in the same room together, let alone on friendly terms. In my opinion we need to as a society realize that marriages are quite likely to fail, and we should be educating and preparing our children from an early age of that fact. We should be teaching them for how to deal with this separation if and when it occurs. We should also teach them strategies for a healthy and successful relationship as well. We also should be teaching them that having children is a lifelong commitment.

Divorce consoling prior to the wedding ceremony might be a buzzkill, but it might also make for a much healthier separation, which can greatly benefit, as I have stated, any children that the relationship might produce. Understanding that having children with someone, married or not, understanding that in doing so you are committing yourself to a lifelong relationship with that person and the child you have created would be a massive cultural shift. It would, however, to my mind, be one helluva great thing.

You might wonder if I have given up on marriage. The answer is a very definitive no! I am in fact quite certain that I will be married again and my commitment to my new wife will be unwavering. I still believe in real love, in true love, in lifetime love and commitment. I know in my heart that all that has occurred in my life, the pain, the joy, the deeper understanding of love and commitment, the knowledge I have gained from my divorce, will in fact be incredibly beneficial in my next marriage. I hope to be married in the not too distant future and to live a very long life as an incredibly happy and devoted husband and father totally committed to my wife and the family we will create. I still really want to attend a 50th anniversary party with my soulmate and love of my life. I know that this time we will need just one more piece to guarantee our success, that piece is called unconditional love, and if shared, I envision an incredible lifetime of love waiting just around the corner.


Revolution MacInnes is a father, a writer, and Director of Development at the HELP Institute. His path has been forever altered by his homelessness. He will be speaking a bit about that journey and the work he is doing at the #140Conference in New York City on June 19th. He lives alone, for now, in Chicago, Illinois.

Answering Some Questions about Sexuality

Friday, May 18, 2012

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Answering Some Questions about Sexuality | Faith Permeating Life

My next post, about defining sexual behavior, is ready to go, but since Queen of Carrots took the time to ask a bunch of follow-up questions to my last post, I wanted to take an opportunity to answer those questions first.

I don't pretend to have the definitive answers to anything, but I can always do my best!

How central is sexuality to personhood?
Answering this requires defining "central," "sexuality," and "personhood"! Are you talking about sexuality in the sense of being sexually attracted to other people, or in reference to sex and/or gender, as discussed in the post? I think in either case, there's no one answer for everyone. For some people, their identification as a man or woman is very important to their self-identity, and for other people, it's not. Same with sexual orientation or any other inborn trait. To me, this is like asking, "How central is race to personhood?" Because of the culture in which I live, I tend not to think about the fact that I am Caucasian as being central to my identity, but I know many people for whom being African American is extremely important to their identity. It wouldn't make sense for me to make a blanket statement about one aspect of a person always or never being central to their identity.

Is sexuality something people are, or something they do?
I think this may be addressed better by my next post on what sexual behavior is, but there are multiple aspects to this question, and again it comes down to the definition of sexuality. I was born attracted to men and not women, and that would have been true for me even if I lived in a cave by myself for my entire life. My "sexual orientation" is something I am; my "sexual activity" is something I do. I am sexually active with one individual, my husband, and if he died, I would no longer be sexually active (unless I remarried), but I would still be straight.

Is everyone entitled to a legitimate sexual outlet? Is it a necessary part of being human? (What about the disabled, disfigured, or just plain unlucky?)
This question is tricky because to say yes implies that we have an obligation to find sexual partners for everyone, and I don't think that's the case. I think the question to be asking is the flip side of this -- is there a legitimate reason to deny a group of people the ability to have a sexual partner? It's one thing if someone does not attract a sexual partner because they are (disabled, disfigured, unlucky), it's another thing completely to say that people who are (disabled, disfigured) should not be allowed to have a sexual partner. And I don't agree with that.

Are these cases where someone's biological sex is unclear more like being bad (or good) at math, or more like being born missing a foot? And why?
Well, in the case of either math skills or birth deformities, I'd say these things matter only to the extent that they are a disability (they prevent a person from doing something they want or need to do) and/or a handicap (they cause a person to be judged, labeled, looked down upon, etc.). After all, neither the fact that I can't speak Martian nor the fact that I'm missing a third ear have any impact on my life or anyone's opinion of me, so comparing those things to each other or to anything else would be meaningless. So if someone is born without any genitals, for example, you might say that that is a disability in that the person may need to have surgery in order to urinate. But it is a handicap if that person lives in a society that expects people to be clearly male or female, so the person may be discriminated against in school, employment, and so on. If a person is unsure whether to use a male or female restroom because they have both or neither traditional "parts," I don't think the question to be asking is "Is this similar to not being able to solve a math problem or not being able to walk?" The question to ask is "How can we make sure this person isn't going to be harassed or physically harmed if they make what someone perceives to be the 'wrong' choice between these two socially constructed options?" If the person can safely use either restroom, then the "problem" disappears altogether.

What is sexuality for? Why are we this way and not some other way?
I'm pretty sure every Christian, gay child has at some point in time asked God, "Why did you make me this way?" As far as I know, God hasn't provided a clear answer, so I don't feel qualified to try to answer this myself.

Is there such a thing as normal human sexuality?
Alfred Kinsey attempted to answer this question with his research. What he found (to the best of my understanding) was essentially that what we tend to culturally consider "normal" sexual activity looks completely different than "average" or "typical" sexual activity. So if by "normal" you mean "typical," then yes, I think it's possibly to make statements about what most people do, but that doesn't mean that people who don't do certain things are "abnormal" in the sense of being wrong. Case in point: Mike and I are not "normal" for practicing NFP, if you define "normal" as what most people do.

Another way I've seen this question approached, particularly from a Christian standpoint, is by asking what is "natural." This gets tricky because the general implication is that there is one specific way of having sex that is "natural" for everyone, and I don't think that's the case. I'd say it would be "unnatural" for a man who is only sexually attracted to men to have sex with a woman -- that would go against his nature. So if what you're asking is "Is every person sexually aroused by the same actions/people/whatever?" the answer is no. And if you're asking, "Should every person be sexually aroused by the same actions/people/whatever?" that seems like a strange question -- I think it's hard enough 1) determining what sexually arouses you and 2) communicating that to your spouse, without trying to conform to same standard!

Do you think all loving, committed relationships are OK? Multiple simultaneous partners? Closely-related partners? Why or why not?
I have a hard time finding any reason to condemn this threesome, and I think the author explains well why having multiple partners isn't for everyone but that doesn't make it wrong for everyone either. There are cases (such as adultery) when having multiple partners seems wrong to me, but that's because of the deception, unfaithfulness to commitment, etc., not solely the fact of having more than one partner. And I learned more about consanguineous relationships from Life as a Reader, such as this post. My experience has been that arguments against these kind of loving, committed, consensual relationships are more often than not based on prejudices, misunderstandings, and lack of experience knowing anyone in one of these relationships. I know my previous judgments were.

Is it always unloving to ask celibacy of someone else? (What about, for instance, someone who is only attracted to children? Would it be wrong to expect them to be celibate?)
Again, I'm not sure this is the question I would ask. The first question I would ask is: Does this type of relationship pose serious harm to either of the people in it? And the second question is, is it appropriate to legally prohibit this kind of sexual relationship? A loving same-sex relationship does not pose serious harm to either party. An emotionally abusive relationship is harmful, but is better prevented (in my opinion) through education and counseling than through attempting to define and legally prohibit such a relationship. However, a sexual relationship between an adult and a child almost unilaterally causes harm to the child (with some exceptions, such as consensual sex that is legally statutory rape between a 17-year-old and an 18-year-old), and it is to some extent the law's obligation to protect minors, so therefore it makes sense to make this kind of relationship illegal. So now if you're talking about an individual who is interested in a sexual relationship that is illegal, it is not unreasonable to prevent this person from being in that kind of a relationship. If that is the only kind of sexual relationship they're interested in, then by default preventing them from having that kind of relationship would mean they would be celibate. But the emphasis is on the relationship, not on the person; I see a difference between requiring a person to be celibate because of something inherent in them, and prohibiting a specific kind of harmful relationship.

What do you all think?

Defining the "Sex" in Same-Sex Anything

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

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Defining the

Recently I watched a fantastic presentation that the Gay Christian Network did for Pepperdine University.

The first night, the GCN executive director (Justin Lee) and another guy from GCN named Ron talked about the issues on which they agree -- namely, that sexual orientation is not a choice and that Christians are called to love and welcome LGBTQ individuals in their churches.

The second night, they went in-depth in Scripture to discuss their disagreements, which revolve around whether those with same-sex attraction should be celibate or have God's blessing to be in a relationship with someone of the same sex. You can watch the videos here: Part 1 and Part 2.

There are a handful of Bible passages that are generally talked about as referencing sexual behavior between members of the same sex, and I've heard the meaning, context, translations, etc. of these debated many times. But Justin's argument was completely new to me, and it made me realize that there is a very large aspect of the "homosexuality debate" that is generally ignored altogether.

Before we can talk about whether "same-sex behavior" is sinful, we have to define biological sex. And then we have to define sexual behavior.

It's a lot easier to condemn same-sex attraction/behavior/whatever if you pretend like there are only two sexes: male and female. Then every possible couple would be composed of one of three combinations: a man and a woman, two men, or two women.

You are probably aware of individuals who are transgender, meaning they are designated as one sex at birth based on their genitalia, and their brain is wired to be another sex. There are also people who identify as genderqueer, which generally means they don't feel they are clearly male or female. Regardless of emerging brain science that backs up people's "feelings" of gender, this is not where I want to focus, because those who are hell-bent on condemning same-sex relationships are often the same ones insisting that people need to live in congruence with their biological sex no matter what.

But is biological sex that easily determined for everyone?

Let's get more specific: If you want to define me as female because of my body (and not because I psychologically identify as female), then what makes me female -- my vagina, my ovaries, or my chromosomes?

Is it my ovaries? An individual with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome is almost always designated as female at birth due to having a vagina. This is true even when the individual has a Y chromosome and testes. The individual develops female breasts but does not menstruate.

Is it my two X chromosomes? Not everyone has two sex chromosomes. Some have one, and some have three or four. This About.com article describes the different names given to these chromosome abnormalities, and they "helpfully" categorize the individuals in each situation as "male" or "female," depending (from what I can gather) on their genitalia.

Is it my vagina/vulva? If you aren't familiar with how the genitals develop in utero, I suggest this animation from the The Hospital for Sick Children that explains the various steps needed to develop typically male or female genitalia. You'll notice that there are quite a lot of steps that have to happen in order for full development into the traditional male and female reproductive systems. As you can imagine, this process doesn't always go as expected. The Intersex Society of North America has a long list of intersex conditions as well as those that aren't exactly intersex but aren't typical genital development either. Some individuals are born with genitalia that appears to include both traditional male and female genitalia, and some have genitalia that doesn't resemble either one.

The point is, anyone who wants to be in the business of dictating with whom another person is "allowed" to be romantically involved cannot simple ignore those individuals who don't fit our standard ideas of biological sex.

The simplistic -- I would say wrong -- answer is to insist that, just to be safe, anyone not presenting a standard biological sex should remain celibate. You're talking about real people's lives here! What about someone who identifies as female and seems to everyone to be biologically female, marries a man, and then discovers she has testes? Should she divorce her husband? Should her husband be immediately made to be celibate for the rest of his life so he can stay faithfully married to her? Who are you or I to make that decision?

So, to borrow an example from the Pepperdine talk, those who would condemn same-sex relationships say that if John and Sam have a loving, committed, selfless, God-centered relationship, and Sam is short for Samantha, God blesses the relationship, and if Sam is short for Samuel, God condemns the relationship. This, however, is predicated on the assumption that there are only two black-and-white boxes into which Sam can fall: male or female. But we know that's not the case.

I would ask, then, how male does Sam have to be before the relationship becomes "sinful"?

If you're looking solely to Scripture for your answer, you're not going to find it there.

Instead, what you find is a pattern: Lustful, selfish relationships are pretty much always described negatively; loving, committed, God-centered relationships are pretty much always described positively.

I'll leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions from that. You already know what my conclusions are.

Up next: Defining "sexual behavior" and How should we talk about God's gender?

EDIT: I had this post ready to go up, and then John Green decided to post a video making essentially the same argument and then some. Watch it:

What Marriage Means to Me: Sarah

Monday, May 14, 2012

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We had a brief hiatus for the What Marriage Means to Me series (I'm always looking for new contributors!), but I'm glad to tell you we're adding some great new perspectives to the series, starting with today's post from Sarah of Shades of Shayes. Sarah's another one of my Twitter buddies, and I'm excited to have her contributing to the series. She shares with us a more traditional Christian perspective on marriage, and how she had to learn not to make marriage into an idol.


When you're a little kid, a pretty common question people ask is, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Then when you're about to graduate high school everyone asks, "What are you going to major in in college?"

And finally, when you're about to graduate college everyone asks, "What are you going to do after you graduate?"

For a lot of people, this answer changed. The answer from a kid is usually something over the top – a superhero, a princess, whatever. Or my favorite answer, the ever-abstract, "Famous."

Right before college, some people knew the answer definitively. My sister did. They knew what they wanted to do going into college, all through college, and coming out of college. But I wasn't like that. I changed – or as my mom says, "refined" – my major four times within my first year of college. After that it stayed the same, but then I realized halfway through my senior year that I didn't want to have a career in my major. Fail.

But there is one dream that has never changed. One answer about future questions that always remains the same: I want to get married one day.

Now I realize that a lot of little girls say that. A lot of little girls dream of one day getting married. They play dress up with veils and white dresses and pretend to walk down the aisle. They get married in their backyard, the playground, the grocery store. But marriage was always my answer for major future questions.

What did I want to be when I grew up? A wife. What did I want to major in in college? Journalism, yes, but being a wife was more important to me than a career. What was I going to do after I graduated? I didn't know what I wanted to do because I had always assumed that I would meet my husband in college and get married right after or shortly after graduation.

Marriage was an ideal. It was a destination. It was a dream. It was the dream.

And then it dawned on me. What if I didn't get married? I was 22, about to graduate college, and I had never had a boyfriend, never been kissed, never been on a real date. That doesn't exactly sound like the recipe for someone who wants to be a wife, now does it? But that's where I was. And I had to ask myself, "What if I'm one of the women who is called to a life of singleness?" And I flipped out of my skin. And that caused me to reevaluate my ideal of marriage.

I realized that marriage had become an idol. It had become the thing to achieve and I had forgotten what the purpose of marriage was in the first place.

So I did some reevaluating. Why did I want to get married so badly? Why was it such an important thing? Why was the idea of spending my life alone, without a husband or children, so terrifying to me? And after some months of reflection, I finally knew what marriage really meant to me.

People get married for all sorts of reasons. For money, for convenience, for love, whatever. But that's not the purpose of marriage.

Marriage to me is more than an institution. It's more than a legal agreement. It's a binding covenant that should not be broken under any circumstance. When a covenant like that was made in the Old Testament, the breaker of the covenant deserved death. That's a pretty serious thing.

Marriage is a divine institution created by God and God alone and the purpose of marriage is to bring glory and honor to Him and to help your spouse grow closer to God. The fact of the matter is we weren't created to be alone because we cannot fully glorify God when we are alone.

God is not a single God. God is triune, so even He Himself is not alone, and He doesn't want that for us either. (For the record, this doesn't mean that people who are single aren't fully glorifying God, because some people are called to singleness. That's what community is for.)

Marriage is the closest thing we get on earth to representing the relationship that Christ has with the Church and God has with Himself, and that's why it is such a beautiful, beautiful thing.

I want everything I do in life to bring honor and glory to God. I want everything I say, do, think, write, etc. to point back to Him because I believe that is what I was created to do. And I want that for my marriage, too.

I do believe one day I will walk down the aisle, my father will give me away, and I will commit my life to the man created for me. I don't believe God would put such a strong desire to be a wife and a mother in my heart if He didn't plan to fulfill that dream.

And I so look forward to that day. I look forward to the day when I will marry a man and we will commit to a lifetime of honoring and loving each other and continually pointing each other back to Christ. And I pray that our marriage will be a representation to all who see it of sacrificial love, servant leadership, and, above all, people will look at us and say, "Their love for each other is beautiful but their love for Christ is even more beautiful."

Because that's what marriage was created to do: to show the world Christ.


Sarah is an aspiring author, a social media junkie, and the brain behind Shades of Shayes. She blogs about her sitcom-esque life, her faith, her funny stories, the saga with her Office Boy, and anything else that happens to strike her fancy. She loves painted toenails, climbing trees, dancing in the rain, coloring, singing at the top of her lungs, the down comforter on her bed, and a really good book. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter or send her an email.

Everyone Feels Selfish: Judgment in Parenthood

Friday, May 11, 2012

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Everyone Feels Selfish: Judgment in Parenthood | Faith Permeating Life

Since writing On Adoption and Selfishness over a year ago, I've had conversations about children with many different people, mostly women. And I discovered something fascinating.

So many women consider their specific decisions to be selfish.

In my previous post I wrote about how selfish I feel for wanting to have a big family but not having to "sacrifice" my body in order to get there. I recently had a conversation with a woman who said she'd always imagined she would adopt a child because she knows what a great need there is for adoptive parents. But then she admitted that she also had the selfish desire to bear a child herself, just to have that experience of intimacy of having another person grow inside you. How funny, I thought: She considers it selfish to want to experience the very thing I feel selfish for wanting to avoid!

I've talked to women who feel selfish for decisions across the spectrum.

Some feel selfish for wanting to have children as soon as they're married, feeling that they should really wait until they're more financially secure but craving that mother role. Others feel selfish for waiting to have children, as they've heard the disparaging comments about women who put their career and their personal dreams ahead of their family, who wait for that nonexistent "perfect time" to have a child.

Some feel selfish for only wanting one child, fearing they're dooming their child to being spoiled or lonely. Others feel selfish for wanting multiple children, reasoning that their attention and energy will be divided, that they'll have less money to spend on any one child.

Among those who want to adopt, the trend continues. I feel selfish and awkward telling people I want to adopt domestically, knowing that children in many other countries have far greater needs than most American children. But then I talk to those who tell me with embarrassment that they want to adopt internationally, because how can they go halfway around the world for a child when there are children right here in their own country who need homes?

It's no wonder, though, that so many people have doubts about their decisions regarding children. If there's one thing I've learned from reading parenting blogs, it's this: No matter what decisions you make, there will always be someone there to judge you.

A thoughtful reader sent me a link to this radio show about the ethics of having children. There's a caller right at the end who talks about how people will judge your decisions about having children almost no matter what you do.

If you have no children, it's "When are you having children?" or "What's wrong with you? Why don't you want kids?"

If you have one kid, it's "So, when are you having another? Don't you want him/her to have a playmate?"

But if you have three kids, you start getting, "Wow, how come you're having so many kids? Are you done yet?"

It's the same thing I wrote about when I said how everyone tells me I'm too skinny. There is, for some reason, an inexhaustible supply of people wanting to comment on other people's lives.

So at this point I've pretty much accepted that I'm going to be judged no matter what and that there is no one "selfish" or "unselfish" path when it comes to having kids. With so many women feeling called to so many different paths to motherhood (or not), why try to conform my life to someone else's calling?

Better to live my own imperfect life path the best I can than try to stumble through living someone else's.

Have you ever felt guilty or selfish for your decisions or plans about having children? Why or why not?

Creating Space for Voices: Reflections on My Life Purpose

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

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Creating Space for Voices: Reflections on My Life Purpose | Faith Permeating Life

I wrote previously that there were certain things that drove me -- confidence, challenge, and connection -- but I realized that these are my motivators, but not my goal.

What is my goal? What is the one thing I've worked for in the vast majority of work that I've done?

I'm still pinning down the exact wording, but it's something like this: Creating space for the voices of those who need to be heard in order for their reality to improve.

Here are some past examples of when I've done this:
  • Those who knew me in college can attest that I was extremely vocal about needing to give non-drinkers on campus a voice. Because our school was often written off as a "party school," even by those who worked there, the reality that there were non-drinkers on campus was largely ignored. An issue I brought up repeatedly in my work in the alcohol abuse prevention office was the problem of instructors making jokes that implied that every student was a heavy drinker. I helped found a student organization for substance-free parties, an organization that, for better or worse, ended up making the non-drinking student population un-ignorable.
  • Even though I never wanted to work at a newspaper after college, what I loved about journalism and working on the school paper was bringing people's stories to the light when I felt like sharing someone's story was going to make things measurably better for that person and others. As a student who also worked in a Student Development office, bridging the gap between students and administrators was hugely important to me, and by bringing those voices into the paper I was able to create a space for them to both understand each other better.
  • Now that I'm firmly entrenched in college administration but in a position to collect and read feedback from students, I feel that I'm able to continue to do this, this time by bringing the student voice to the staff who need to hear them in order to make their experience better. And this is why the student course evaluation process is so important to me -- it is possibly the only college-wide space in which we give students a microphone to weigh in on the quality of their education.
  • Even beyond that, I've started pushing for a policy and a process by which students would get to regularly weigh in on the quality of the customer service they receive from staff throughout the college, similar to a hotel "comment card." Right now this never happens unless a particular office puts a survey out to students. This would create a permanent space for any student to have their voice be heard, and have it have an actual effect on the college experience for that students and others.
  • And of course, here on this blog, this is a large part of what I've tried to do. Readers have told me what a difference it has made for them to come here and see that there are others who see the world the way they do, to engage in meaningful, respectful discussion in comments, and to be challenged for the better. I know that I've gotten all of this out of blogging, and more! Having a space for my own voice and engaging others on the issues most important to me has had hugely positive benefits for my own life.

Articulating my driving goal has started transforming how I see my life and conceptualize my future. I don't think that every single thing I do has to be related to this goal, but it gives me a clearer picture of what kind of work I should focus on if I want to keep my passion and drive alive.

I recently watched a webinar by Pamela Slim, who introduced me to a great idea. She talked about thinking toward a future time when you will look back over your life, and measuring your success by what your whole "body of work" looks like, not whether you became "a successful [profession]." Rather than focusing on how high you can climb the hierarchy in a particular field, this perspective instead asks what you want to have created or achieved, in total, at the end of your life, regardless of how many different fields those achievements were in.

The articulation of this underlying goal of my life is, in a way, how I would want other people to describe me. It is not important to me that when I die, people say, "She was a great data analyst" or "She was a great copyeditor." But I would hope people would say, "She was always striving to create space for people's voices to be heard."

What are you working for? What do you want people to say about you?

A Request: Please Don't Read the Menu to Me

Friday, May 4, 2012

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A Request: Please Don't Read the Menu to Me | Faith Permeating Life
I am making a Public Service Announcement because I know that a lot of you are nice, helpful people and therefore you may have done this very annoying thing I am about to describe.

I am lactose intolerant. Because I am an adult and have learned how to manage this condition, it does not greatly interfere with my life. I know that if I eat something with a significant amount of cheese or cream, I need to take a pill with a lactase enzyme, and if it is something mostly dairy like a bowl of ice cream or a glass of milk, I need to avoid it or choose a lactose-free option (thank you, Breyers).

Now, I also happen to be literate, which means that if I find myself in the unfortunate situation of accompanying friends or family to an ice cream shop, I am fully capable of consulting the menu myself and determining if there is anything that 1) I can have and 2) I like.

However, in an effort to be helpful, my companions almost inevitably begin to point out to me options of things that I can have.

This is frustrating to me for several reasons:
  • It's a bit patronizing because it implies that I'm unable to discover for myself what options are available to me.
  • Generally, people assume that because I'm accompanying them, I want to buy something, when really I may just want to hang out with them or am unsure whether I want anything.
  • Every time something is suggested to me, the person expects me to respond. So they'll say something like, "You could get a popsicle...?" and look at me expectantly, hoping that I'll praise them for solving my "problem." Then I have to say, "Um... No, I don't really want a popsicle." Or (this one ALWAYS comes up) "Actually, fruit smoothies usually have milk in them..." And then they suggest another thing, and another thing, and I have to make a split-second decision about whether I really want that thing and if not, if and how to explain why not.
  • This actually makes it more difficult for me to find something to order. Rather than training my attention on the menu and thinking through what I might want, my attention is on the person talking to me and how to respond to their suggestions. Think about how you would feel if every time you went to a restaurant, your friends would rapid-fire suggest things you might want to order so you never got a chance to actually read the menu for yourself.

The analogy I used to use was that of inviting a vegetarian to a steakhouse and then going, "Hey, you could order a salad! And it comes with bread!" Of course, now that I am a pesco-vegetarian (when I go out to eat), I have had this kind of experience myself, with my dinner companions feeling the need to comb the menu for vegetarian options and then read them aloud to me. Often they do it in an apologetic tone, like, "I feel so bad you can't eat all this delicious meat, so I'm going to make the non-meat options sound as appetizing and exciting as possible."

This is even more annoying than the ice cream thing because while I am sad sometimes about not having the broad range of ice cream flavors available to me (the only lactose-free ice cream I've seen is vanilla, chocolate, and butter pecan, and it's been a decade since I had soft-serve), I am a vegetarian by choice, so no one needs to pity me for it. And I've actually found that it makes ordering infinitely easier because I may only have three or four things to choose from instead of the entire menu.

What prompted me to write about this was yet another version of this experience that happened last week at work. A bunch of my coworkers were taking a break to walk over to Caribou and invited me to go with them. I made the mistake of mentioning that I don't like coffee, but I said I'd be happy to walk over with them anyway.

Of course, as soon as we walked in, everyone started suggesting things that I could buy instead of coffee. I tried really hard to focus on the menu, but it was impossible to absorb any of it because I had to keep saying, "No, I don't really drink soda... Actually, I can't have caffeine after 10am... Yeah, but I don't really like those flavors of tea..."

I was trying to remember whether I had any Lactaid pills with me so I could order a hot chocolate, and trying to decide if I actually wanted a hot chocolate, but my brain couldn't fully process those two thoughts because my one coworker was talking rapid-fire for at least five straight minutes about the caramel apple cider: "I usually get that because I don't really like coffee either but sometimes I just get it without the caramel so it's really just heated up apple juice if you wanted that, but I don't see it on the menu but I'm sure you could ask and I know they have apple juice so if you just wanted them to heat up apple juice and then maybe they could put caramel in it if you wanted but I don't know because I don't see it on the menu -- oh, maybe it's -- oh no, that's not it, I don't know, I don't really come here that often."

I ended up ordering nothing.

So that's my public service announcement for the day. If you have an adult friend or family member with a food allergy or intolerance or simply a dislike of a certain food, assume that they are perfectly capable of reading the menu and ordering for themselves unless they tell you otherwise.

Have you ever found yourself in this kind of situation, either giving or receiving these kinds of suggestions?

3BoT Vol. 8: Three Books Every American Should Read

Thursday, May 3, 2012

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3BoT Vol. 8: Three Books Every American Should Read | Faith Permeating Life

The first Thursday of every month, I share three related book recommendations with you. You are invited to link up at the end of the post with three recommendations of your own! Click here for more info about Three Books on Thursday.

One thing that frustrates me about discussing politics with some of my fellow Americans (which, honestly, I try to avoid as much as possible) is when people are operating off ideas that could seem logical if we didn't already have evidence that they don't actually work in practice. For example, communism and trickle-down economics are both ideas that make sense when you first have them explained to you but which history has shown to not work as well as people expected.

I selected these three books as ones that I wish every American would read because they provide statistics and stories that counteract some of the more persistent notions I hear come up in political conversations. If I were required to discuss political issues with someone, I would want them to have the background knowledge contained in these books.

#1: Urban Injustice by David Hilfilker
At only 128 pages, this book doesn't require a huge investment of your time, but it will leave you with lots to think about. Hilfilker first explains how America's inner cities became primarily poor and black, then outlines all the ways that the cycle of poverty is perpetuated. What I found so refreshing about this book is he cuts right to the chase in calling out the assumptions that I as the reader had -- about how various forms of governmental assistance work, about what it actually takes to get a job, about what actually works to get people out of poverty and what myths are preventing those changes from happening. Most importantly, I think, he highlights the meaningless distinction so many Americans try to make between the "deserving" and the "undeserving" poor, that we tend to be so afraid of accidentally rewarding a few "lazy" people that we err on the side of denying benefits to people who truly need them. If you read any of these three books, read this one.

#2: The Spirit Level by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson
This book was recommended to me by a reader (thank you!) in the comments of my post When You Say "Get a Job".... The authors painstakingly demonstrate, with chart after chart, that greater income inequality (measured by the distance between the top 20% and bottom 20%) is positively correlated with a wide variety of indicators of negative physical and mental health. The trend is clear both across countries and across the 50 United States. They also show that a country's total wealth is not related to these factors. What's interesting is that these negative effects happen across the spectrum; income inequality doesn't just negatively affect the poor, it affects everyone. The authors offer some possible explanations for why there is such a strong relationship between income inequality and poor health, but regardless of the reason, it's pretty clear that closing that gap would be good for all of us.

#3: Three Cups of Tea by David Oliver Relin and Greg Mortenson
I just finished listening to this audiobook and, regardless of whether every detail in it is accurate, I want to make my grandmother read this book before I have to have another "all Muslims are not terrorists" conversation with her. The story details how Greg Mortenson went from an aimless mountain climber to a passionate fundraiser for building schools in Pakistan (and later, Afghanistan) that would educate both boys and girls. What struck me while listening to this was just how far some of these children and their families were willing to go in order to get an education, beginning with the children kneeling on the frozen ground outside in Korphe, studiously scratching multiplication tables into the dirt despite having no teacher present. You will get angry along with Mortenson when you hear about how much more effort the U.S. Government puts into getting weapons into Afghanistan than they put into making sure the schoolteachers there get paid, and when you hear the hate mail he gets for wanting to do anything with Muslim children other than blow them to pieces. I wish all Americans could get to know the stories of the Pakinstani families that Mortenson meets and works with during the decade that this book covers.

These are the books I'd like every American to read. What books should everyone in your country read?

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Explaining My Beliefs to Those Who Have All the Answers

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

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Explaining My Beliefs to Those Who Have All the Answers | Faith Permeating Life

Last Friday I wrote about the trouble with knowing everything, or why I find it so difficult to share my beliefs with people who ascribe to one single source of Truth that has authority above all others, to the extent that anything that doesn't fit is disregarded as false.

And then I asked this question, "Will I ever be able to talk about my beliefs with those people who believe they have all the answers already?"

To some extent, it was silly to ask this question. Because like it or not, I will end up talking about my beliefs with people who believe they already have all the answers. Again and again and again.

So I reflected on how I tend to handle these conversations, and whether this is a good or honest approach.

When other people ask me to defend my views about this or that, I always try to explain it on their terms.

So if a Catholic wants to argue with me that my beliefs are not in line with Catholic teaching, I generally skip trying to have a discussion about why it's not important to me to follow all aspects of Catholic teaching. It's clear that this person believes that all truth comes from Catholic teaching and all beliefs must be in line with it, so I attempt to find a way to justify my beliefs in a way that's internally consistent with the basics of Catholic teaching.

Or if someone adheres to the idea of sola scriptura (as it's currently used, and not its original meaning) and wants me to use Scripture to back up my beliefs, then often I know it's a waste of time to engage in a conversation about why it's impossible to literally follow the Bible. So I'll talk about my interpretations of Scripture in its historical context or what the overarching themes of the Gospels are and how those inform everything else I read in the Bible.

It's not just Christians. I've explained to many people in the LGBTQ community why I continue to align myself with a religion whose leaders can be outspokenly anti-gay by talking about change from within and separating worship from doctrine. I've explained to non-religious friends how I reconcile faith and science. I emphasize different reasons for my beliefs about gender equality depending on whether I'm talking to a liberal feminist or a conservative evangelical. And always, I focus on whatever explanation fits best with their own worldview.

But no matter how I look at it, I don't see these changes to my messages as dishonest or deceptive, because they are all true pieces of who I am. I am still a Catholic, Christian, gay-rights-promoting, Jesus-loving, evolution-believing feminist.

It's important to me that I connect with the Catholic Church enough that I feel right continuing to call myself Catholic.

It's important to me that I seek guidance from Scripture even if I don't read it literally.

It's important to me that understand my own reasons for supporting gay rights from both a Christian and a humanist perspective and that I continue to revisit my decision to remain aligned with the Catholic Church to ensure I am at peace with that decision.

It's important to me to hold a view of gender and gender roles that is in line with everything I know to be true about biology, psychology, sociology, and history, but not to completely erase an appreciation for the spiritual and theological views of what it means to be female.

The truth is that I don't fall neatly into many either/or categories and that I often draw knowledge, wisdom, and guidance from a multitude of areas that some people would consider contradictory, whether it's faith and science, or gay rights and Scripture, or feminism and theology. I seek truth, wherever it may be found. And so, in explaining my beliefs, I draw on whatever truths resonate most with the person I'm speaking to.

I believe it's generally a smart idea to meet someone where they're at if you're trying to help them understand your way of thinking. If understanding your way of thinking requires violating something they believe to be true, you're not going to get anywhere, but if you can explain it in a way that fits into their sphere of truth, then you've gained a step in understanding.

When I was in college I had the opportunity to hear Mario Cuomo speak, and one of his points has stayed with me. He said if you believe strongly in stopping abortions because of your Christian faith, OK, but you can't go to a Jewish or Muslim or atheist Senator and say, "You need to outlaw abortion because Christianity says it's wrong." Well, you can, but you won't get anywhere. You have to find terms that speak to them about why it makes sense to outlaw abortion, and if you can't make that argument, then start smaller, maybe saying that Roe v. Wade assumed viability outside the womb at 24 weeks, but now science shows it's actually X number of weeks, so you're making a case on legal and scientific grounds rather than moral or religious ones.

It's not that you're not being true to your beliefs, it's that you're finding the most practical way to make progress by working off what the other person believes to be true.

And sometimes it's impossible to find that common ground. I have had more than one conversation with someone who believes so vehemently in sola scriptura that the conversation can't progress until I can explain how my beliefs are not contradictory with this specific, isolated verse. And I can't, because I don't read the Bible that way.

So I think I'll continue to frame my explanations of my beliefs in terms of what the other person holds to be true. Maybe it's not always a complete picture, but I don't think that understanding is built by reconciling broad world views -- particularly when they're vastly different -- but by finding small points of agreement and then building understanding of one another's ways of thinking based on those common truths.
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