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I tried to post this comment on Studio 360’s website, but it was too long.

I read this book last year when you first suggested it. At that point I was on the cusp of coming out to myself, but wasn’t there yet. I’ve also been drenched in conservative Christianity since birth. And I wrote my dissertation on African American history. So I was very eager to read this book, but it just didn’t click for me. The faith aspect didn’t work. I didn’t recognize the Christians I knew in the main character. He was so ambivalent about faith and yet controlled by it. The folks in Christian circles I know are so much more passionate about faith and gripped by this desire to be close to God.

But when I started thinking about writing this comment, I realized nine months of being out to myself might just have changed my perspective on this. I’m starting to realize how entrenched my own internal homophobia has been. I don’t care any more what the Bible says about stuff, but I do care immensely that I maintain a good relationship with my mom. How does one do both, when my wonderful mom believes that faith in God is the most meaningful thing in life, and indeed the only way to have meaning in life. She is more willing to accept my homosexuality as long as it doesn’t alienate me from God. Well, I’ve been alienated from a didactic God far longer than I’ve been aware of my own sexuality, and for many reasons other than sexuality (though that is a major piece).

So I guess I can understand better how the main character could basically be alienated from his faith in high school, but continue to feel controlled by it–something I couldn’t understand when I read the book initially.

I do think one of the reasons I had such a hard time with the book is that so many of my own objections to Christianity are rooted in my identification as a thinking woman. The kind of Baptist church I was raised in praised schoolwork, introduced me to the possibilities of literary criticism and multiple translations, and yet I walked away with this idea that becoming a scholar was one of the most demeaning of life choices. Really, an arm-chair intellectual, when I could be a missionary? (African American history has in some ways continued this line of thought–though replacing missionary with activist). It is hard for me to believe that my thirsty mind is the sign of health instead of latent wickedness that needs to be curbed.

But the main character in this book does not seek an intellectual understanding of Christianity, nor does his problems or wrestling with faith really arise from his mind. So I had a hard time relating to him, when I thought that I would perfectly relate to the book based on your interview. Maybe that is an indication of the success of the author in achieving this very particular narrator, who is not very smart–and how rarely, really, we read a novel written from that perspective.

But my biggest frustration was that I did not come away from the book with new insights into this thing that is such a close and yet often hated aspect of myself. I thought perhaps as an outsider, he would be able to introduce me to new aspects of the faith, particularly as it is explored in the South (I’m from the West).

I’m still not sure whether my frustration with the book is either the author’s fault of writing or my fault in imagination.

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Interesting morning. Today is probably the last day I ever have to go to church, unless I’m visiting family or something. From here on out, I’ll be living with myself and not with someone who wants me to go to church with them or needs me to drive them to church. As is fitting of my whole church experience, I was involved from start to finish. I helped Grandma host coffee hour (made two batches of brownies and one batch of sugar cookies, thoroughly coated in red white and blue), then ran to the last little bit of choir practice. During church, the pastor invited me and grandma up to the front to be prayed for as I go on this next journey. Throughout people came up to me to wish me well and tell me how very much they would miss me. I helped grandma to the altar for communion and took the bread and grape juice (I used to fear “eating and drinking condemnation” upon myself for taking the elements without belief. Now I feel like it is a rite that confirms my place in a culture–I have no desire to feel alienated anymore by refusing to partake, especially when going up front is required). I waited till she was finished praying and then helped her back to her seat and rushed to join the choir. No solos this week, though I’ve sort of sung 2 solo verses this summer (a big deal, if you read an earlier post).

No frustrations from the sermon, other than my six month meditation on what it means to be a pacifist liberal type. The pastor included many elements of praise for the Civil Rights Generation and for freedom as an expression of caring for the poor and doing justice. The service was concluded with “Lift Every Voice”–the African American anthem, after having sung several American hymns to start off. During coffee hour, as I was pouring juice, the pastor and I talked about what it meant to incorporate politics into church life–i.e. the red, blue, and white I had willingly decorated the homemade goodies with, even though I normally objected to combining church and politics (in many things I let Grandma have her way without challenge. Not something the rest of my family does, but it is the way I have acted while living here). He shared about a church he pastored which had had many Vietnam vets or family’s of vets that objected if soldiers were not remember, but then also encouraged peace talk. As long as the pastor prayed for the service members every week, he could criticize foreign policy as much as he wanted–because these families knew what the cost of war truly was.

My parents are visiting and we’re going to go have a chat with the pastor and his wife in a couple of hours.

I point all of this out to make it clear that I do know that church people have been very good to me. And I do know that there are a lot of complicated thinkers with Christianity. But I am still very relieved to have a full weekend to myself next week and the week after. To not have to look at runners and bikers with jealousy while driving around in my Sunday best.

It will be interesting just to see what I choose. Will I miss the camaraderie of church or find it elsewhere?  Will I miss the music–which I sang with gusto, but often disagreed with (after the years in which I did not sing b/c I did not agree, I got to the point of most music majors of enjoying religious music without paying attention to the words–the height of profanity to some, I imagine). Well, not always paying attention. I usually note when I’m singing something I don’t agree with, but go on and sing it anyway.

What will my life be like without that weekly soundtrack?

Oh my heavens, this is going to be an interesting adventure.

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I really feel like I’m coming to all the gender discussions late. Growing up in uber-conservative Arizona made me a little scared of the Women’s Studies departments. And you know, I was probably running away from my identity–like somewhere in my psyche I knew that as soon as I started hanging out with aware women I would wake up to my real sexuality. And that was damn scary. This avoidance continued into grad school. It was also partly because women in history didn’t interest me in the way that men did–because it seemed like men did everything cool. So not true. Now I dearly love the women I’ve discovered through my diss and only wish I understood gender more thoroughly in my analysis. [I haven’t been talking a lot about my awakening on this blog out of respect for my estranged husband. It’s now so much a part of my life that I can’t keep it in and continue with this blog.]

That was one of my goals for the summer–to read some books about black women’s feminism.

So, to get to the purpose of the post (because it is impossible for me to start discussing anything without a personal caveat/background info…bad habit on my part). Today’s sermon by a guest preacher at my Grandma’s Methodist church gave a tribute to fathers. Not surprising, given that it is Father’s Day.

But the way he framed it got my brain really churning about the meaning and purpose of gender–what our society thinks it is and also what it should/could be.

The pastor opened up by quoting Obama (“don’t know what you think of our president these days” he begins) from his Father’s Day speech a couple of years ago noting that children desperately need a male presence in the house. Question number 1, is this true? Or is it the case that children need stability and love? Can two women raise healthy sons and daughters? One of my favorite blogs right now is “Lesbian Dad.” Her and her wife’s kids sound pretty healthy to me.

The preacher mentioned his experience in the local high schools through mentoring programs and how often the “at risk” kids come from single parent homes. Is this a correlation? What are the factors being correlated? The lack of a masculine presence? Or a cycle of children raising children? Or poverty? Or a combination of these and many other factors?

The pastor chose to see it as the lack of a specifically male presence. He then related this to the need for us to understand God as a “Father” in order to experience Him as a relational being. He recount his experiences in seminary breaking down the boundaries of patriarchy. In order to purge patriarchy from Christian discourse, he and his friends decided to change the trinity from Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to Creater, Deliverer, and Sustainer. He said that this change from relationship words to role words was the emotional equivalent to him of changing his greeting from “Thanks, Dad” to “Thank you, Breadwinner.”

The world is unarguably a gendered place. We can describe it as such. Should it continue to be so? Or rather, should sex and gender be so closely tied to each other? I remember a couple of years ago listening to an interview with a lesbian couple with many children and how they taught their kids that there were different kinds of energy–masculine and feminine (or maybe they gave them different names)–and that different individuals have those energies in different proportions. Cannot a woman teach a young boy how to be in the world? How to live and move and have his being? How to express the truth of his insides in a way that is considerate of others, responsible to society, and full of integrity?

See Lesbian Dad’s “Baba’s Day Proclamation.” One tidbit:

Whereas Baba is a wonderful parent whether or not she’s socially recognized or understood, but the truth of it is that things will be a heckuva lot easier for her kids if more people considered, ideally even appreciated, that the spectrum of gender, and therefore quite naturally the roles “mother”  and “father,”  includes a rich band of people smack dab in the middle;

Ok, so to the next question. Do we understand God more intimately by calling “Him” a “Father?” What do we understand through that that we would not by calling “Him” Creator? One of my great spiritual questions these days is just who is this “god” we speak of so much. I know lots of attributes of “God” and lots of roles He inhabits…but this feels like just so much facade or decoration. People look at me funny when I ask this question and rarely give me more than the list of names or attributes. So i gotta figure out a better way of asking the question. I feel like the preacher’s argument is a circular one–God is a relational god, so to understand him, we need to call him Father. Or the other way. Father is a relational word. God is the ultimate Father. Thus God is relational. Is this a problem of language? That the only way to understand God is to have a gendered noun for him b/c that’s the only way English understands relations? In the Filipino language (just forgot the name of it) all siblings are just siblings. You have to add an extra word to make them my male sibling or my female sibling. Now sibling and parent feel a little bit distant for us as words–but that is not necessary.

Grandma really appreciated the sermon because it made her think about how much she appreciated and loved her father, as I do mine. But I love my Dad because of the time he invested in me. Because of the ways he was different from my mom and so taught me a different way to move through the world. Not because he somehow taught me what it is to be a man. At least, I don’t think so.

My brain is in a muddle as usual.

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In the New York Times:

Granted, every religion has a sense of exclusivity as part of its core identity. Even so, I believe there is genuine potential for mutual understanding. While preserving faith toward one’s own tradition, one can respect, admire and appreciate other traditions.

An early eye-opener for me was my meeting with the Trappist monk Thomas Merton in India shortly before his untimely death in 1968. Merton told me he could be perfectly faithful to Christianity, yet learn in depth from other religions like Buddhism. The same is true for me as an ardent Buddhist learning from the world’s other great religions.

He goes on to note the central message of compassion in Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam.

I grew up in a church very, very tied to an exclusivist message that said that Christianity was the only true religion and it was our sacred duty to proselytize the world’s people, out of compassion for their eternal souls and their ability to live an abundant life on earth. I was trying to explain to my folks a couple of weeks ago that I no longer find it necessary to believe the Bible is True to understand how important it is to people. My dad tried to argue with me that it must be true, or there is no reason to believe it. I presume my philosopher brother would argue something similar (he’s built his career on writing about the evidence of God in general revelation–but don’t ask me too much, cause I don’t retain his argument).

Do you think similar morality and ethical ideas unite the different faiths, or that there are essential logical ways that different religions clash? I recognize the logical differences, but think the ways that religions shape lives are more important. I am currently in a place where I just simply don’t understand anymore twisting our lives and minds to fit closely to a 2000+ year old document. I do understand gaining inspiration from that document (and many others) to live a moral life. I also understand why some people find so much joy and guidance from the Bible, but wonder if I am not one of those why I need to continue to shape my life to its dictates (if I ever really have).

I asked two people on my recent trip why they believed the Bible should shape their lives and found their two very different answers interesting and compelling. I’m thinking about asking a bunch more people that question and maybe write up an essay.

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Jennifer Knapp was my favorite musician in college. I must have driven my freshman year roommate crazy b/c I played her CD over and over again. When I turned at right angles to much of my “faith” from that era, I also threw out all my much listened to Christian Rock. But Knapp I could still listen to because she caught this raw honesty of faith that is quite often scary and complicated. I didn’t realize, though, that she had given up performing for seven years because I wasn’t paying any attention to the Christian music scene.

She’s been living in Australia for seven years, with her partner of eight years. She left music because she was burned out, but also, I’m sure, because she feared the Christian community’s reaction to her sexual orientation. She gives a pretty candid interview to Christianity Today about the current state of her faith, the new album coming out (which sounds honest, like all of her previous albums, but without the strain of linking each song to a specific bible verse. I loved her in college b/c she sung about the dark days of faith, not “happy shiny music” as the CT interviewer puts it).

I was struck by her desire to be private and live her life the way she feels she must. She’s not ready to be a crusader for gay rights, nor a liaison to Christianity on behalf of all gays. I can understand that impulse, though I doubt she will be able to maintain such a distanced position if she wants to be a musician in the public arena. I hope she kind find greater peace with herself (it sounds like she has found a lot) so that she can not shy away from who she is for fear of condemnation. I can hear that fear, so close to my own heart, in her interview as much as she tries to stay strong and independent.

Humongo quoter that I am, I will try to limit myself to just one block quote:

Have you been with the same partner for a long time?

Knapp: About eight years, but I don’t want to get into that. For whatever reason the rumor mill [about me being gay] has persisted for so long, I wanted to acknowledge; I don’t want to come off as somebody who’s shirking the truth in my life. At the same time, I’m intensely private. Even if I were married to a man and had six children, it would be my personal choice to not get that kind of conversation rolling.

I understand. But I’m curious: Were you struggling with same-sex attraction when writing your first three albums? Those songs are so confessional, clearly coming from a place of a person who knows her need for grace and mercy.

Knapp: To be honest, it never occurred to me while writing those songs. I wasn’t seeking out a same-sex relationship during that time.

During my college years, I received some admonishment about some relationships I’d had with women. Some people said, “You might want to renegotiate that,” even though those relationships weren’t sexual. Hindsight being 20/20, I guess it makes sense. But if you remove the social problem that homosexuality brings to the church—and the debate as to whether or not it should be called a “struggle,” because there are proponents on both sides—you remove the notion that I am living my life with a great deal of joy. It never occurred to me that I was in something that should be labeled as a “struggle.” The struggle I’ve had has been with the church, acknowledging me as a human being, trying to live the spiritual life that I’ve been called to, in whatever ramshackled, broken, frustrated way that I’ve always approached my faith. I still consider my hope to be a whole human being, to be a person of love and grace. So it’s difficult for me to say that I’ve struggled within myself, because I haven’t. I’ve struggled with other people. I’ve struggled with what that means in my own faith. I have struggled with how that perception of me will affect the way I feel about myself.

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tidbits

I’ve decided I’m done! Thanks to DXL the beginning is smoother than it would have been otherwise. I wish I’d had the time to have him read the whole thing and give feedback. I know he would have caught other rough places (and boy were there some doozies). The end couple chapters are not so great, but the middle few are quite good, I think.

Health care bill passed, yaaaaaaaay! Definitely not the best bill it could have been, but at least it is something. I hope that it will be better than the current system. Sometimes compromises are, and sometimes they are so mismatched they are worse.

Totally churched out. Wrote a long piece about it, but it was getting way too personal by the end and I stopped. Went to choir practice, then church w/ Gma, then a horrible Sunday School, then ranting about it in my journal and to my mom, then Dad showed up and took me to a hipster church which was very cool on the outside and yet evangelical to the core and so bugged me too. It was by far the most diverse crowd racially I’ve been in in a church, and everybody mingled together. That was cool…but I wonder how much diversity there is ideologically. It seems like there can only be so much diversity before unity is impossible. Probably that makes no sense, but not sure I can explain more right now.

And a NY Times article about failed posters for La Cage Aux Folles caught my eye. The middle picture totally looks like my calves (along with the bandaid–I’m always cutting myself when I shave). I’m starting to think I have a major extra dose of testosterone–hence the large muscles and a few other things I won’t share. Which is also why I’m thinking about becoming a butch dandy. I love flashy things and lots of pattern, but really, I look ridiculous in dresses and skirts. I’m hitting the thrift stores this week in celebration of “completion.” Still have lots of things to do, including pining for interviews that are not forthcoming.

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Soldiers of God

Why is it as a kid i never found a problem with “Soldiers of God” rhetoric and also all that peace-loving, turn the other cheek stuff? I guess because I thought the soldiers bit was metaphorical. Nope, I was wrong. Look no further than Texas:

Hello? Moderate and liberal Christians? In Texas and elsewhere? Now might be a good time to speak the fuck up. Maybe you could spit out a few press releases, organize a massive, anti-Phelps-style counter-protest, and come to the defense of the people and churches and artists and businesses being menaced by your co-religionists. This calls for something above and beyond mewling in comments threads on liberal blogs about how “we’re not all like that.” Don’t tell us, tell them.

A reader responds to Savage’s call:

No, Dan. Look, I choose to be active on social justice issues where my more liberal attitudes differ from conservative Christians because those issues are important, not because I’m responsible for their behavior or views. ALL people need to act and speak out because those issues matter, not because you incorrectly imagine certain of those among us are answerable for the behavior of others whose beliefs bear little to no resemblance to our own.
And another responds:
@9 When the Islamic Taliban hijaked 4 planes on 9/11 the moderate and liberal Muslim groups of the country stood up and said, “That is not the religion we practice or preach.” Of course, not a lot of people listened, because Islam isn’t the majority here and their numbers weren’t great.
If a Christian group starts terrorizing people of different worldviews because the Bible tells them so, it is the responsibility of liberal and moderate Christians to say, “That is not the religion we practice or preach.”
The reason these wingnuts get the attention they do is because they are screaming at the top of their lungs for it. You need to shut them up by screaming louder.
It’s not fair when one small group makes the majority look stupid, but it happens to every group. The outsiders then judge the group by how the majority reacts- do you give silent consent or loud disapproval?
Angel Action, A group in Amarillo protesting the Repent group.
Your thoughts?

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