Coming out of a spiritually abusive situation is incredibly difficult.

The first and biggest step  is seeing the abuse for what it is and allowing yourself name it. Saying, “this isn’t normal; this shouldn’t be this way,” is the watershed moment which allows you to begin see what’s wrong and why.

After my moment, I needed about four years to process it all. And I didn’t realize the effects of it at once – my understanding of the severity of my situation deepened as various life experiences uncovered it more and more.

When I started dating my husband.
When I saw how the courtship model was hurting my friends.
When I saw God at work in churches outside of our church group.
When I went to England with a group of friends and an Anglican priest, who heard my story and exclaimed, “What! That’s so messed up. That’s not normal.”

Emo shot from said England trip. If I was cool, this would be on Instagram.

Emo shot from said England trip. If I was cool, this would be on Instagram.

This affirmation of my experience, of my observations, was the validation I craved. I needed to know I wasn’t crazy, that I wasn’t dishonoring God by thinking these things, and that the situation I had found myself in was indeed unreasonable. Talking with others coming out of Quiverfull or Christian Patriarchy communities, I’m struck by how much we all need to be told this. We’re not crazy, this is not normal or healthy, and Jesus has more for us than this.

After these things began to unravel for me, I hit a wall with reading my Bible. I couldn’t do it. I was a college sophomore, double majoring in English and “Christian Thought” (theology), and my understanding of how to read was being gutted and scrubbed. I found myself discovering that the meditational,  charismatic methods of interacting with scripture I had grown up with were emotion-driven and tended to make me the center of my study, bastardizing any good-feeling scripture passage to soothe my emotions.

And then I realized that my entire relationship to my faith was centered around a daily feeling of the Word, not a real relationship with God or an understanding of Jesus. With my emotional presets on “GUILT,” I flailed and floundered, distressed that I didn’t know how to read my Bible, agonizing over why I didn’t feel like it anymore.

***

It’s been about four years since I found myself dead to scripture in my daily devotions. Since I stopped reading because I began to hear in my head the voice of the pastor whose teachings so damaged my family every time I opened an ESV. Since my devotions stopped being habitual (for the first time since middle school) and occurred only out of emotional desperation.

It’s hard admitting that. In the circles I grew up in, it was hard to look someone in the eye and confess that I hadn’t read my Bible in a week. To say that I haven’t seriously read my Bible on a daily basis in four years is to have to fight condemnation. I am not a “bad Christian.” I am not a “backslider.” I am not “abandoning my faith.” But believing these truths is hard when I think about the number, the days it represents.

But healing takes time. It’s so slow, and we’re so busy, and the Spirit works at a pace we can stand to bear. I have desperately needed this break. I needed the time to detox, to stop hearing other people’s voices, to find myself craving God’s presence once again, and not being afraid of how I should read his Word.

Just last year, I realized that reading Eugene Peterson’s The Message didn’t set me off. So I savored that as I could. This year, I’m excited to find that the NIV version doesn’t make me feel like that pastor is reading his opinions to me through a proof-text passage. It’s safe. I can read it and think on it with integrity, and not be afraid. As a result, I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve actually wanted to read it on almost a weekly basis.

“Baby steps, baby steps.”

It’s a slow process. I’m on the mend. Other things suggest this, too. I find myself using words like thankful and grace again, without grimacing and deleting them to rephrase my sentence without religious jargon.

***

If you’re recovering from spiritual abuse, be patient with yourself. Don’t let the emotional habit of guilt drive you into a premature fix.

The best advice I got last year was from that same Anglican priest. “Follow the pain,” he said. And I was uncomfortable with that, because, really, who wants to do that? But giving myself the time to journal, to talk through, and to ponder the pain I was feeling allowed me the space to begin to heal for the first time.

We are so often rushed, so hurried to be the next iteration of our future selves, to improve, to expedite, to control. Be patient with yourself. Healing takes time.


Click for source.

I’d like to start a regular feature here about the concept of gender roles within the church, and how they affect us, why they affect us, and how they ought to affect us. I intend for this to be primarily a discussion, and I ask that you engage these posts by first laying down your assumptions. Please be willing to read these posts on their own terms, and then compare them with what you believe after you read them. I would also love to get topic suggestions and questions from my readers to address in future posts.

I’ve had this idea for over a year. It’s been kicked around with my sister, with my husband, with my friends, all in various shapes. I’ve sat on it so long for fear of losing my passion for it, for fear of processing it for myself and finding my need to write about this wane as I grow firm in my beliefs and move on. And for fear of how it will be received.

But I haven’t been able to move on, to burn off my passion with a few months of talking in private. Instead, the number of conversations I’ve had with people about these issues has grown steadily. I’ve become aware of a deep communal need to sort this out in my generation of Christians – those largely raised in the church and coming into adulthood with a unique mixture of earnestness and cynicism. I’m not alone in needing to talk about this, and I’d like to open it up on my blog to enable other Christians to discuss it as much as they need.

Before I continue, I must lay down a clarification of purpose. This blog happens to be written by a woman, but it is not a women’s blog. I’m writing for Christians, in general. I find that the young men of my generation are often just as perplexed and discouraged by these issues as the women are, and need to discuss these things equally.

I’ll get things going with the first real post for this feature later on in the week; in the meantime, I should clarify my personal biases.

***

Most of you know I was raised in a fairly patriarchal homeschooling family, and there were a lot of positives as well as negatives from that experience. I was also part of a cult-like church which emphasized strongly that a woman’s highest calling [read: any other life pursuit is looked down on] was to be a wife and mother and make a home for her family. I was the only one of my graduating peers in that church who went out of state for college, and I was one of the few girls of that group to say that I wanted a career and I wasn’t sure if I’d be a great mom one day. (I’m sure the reality was much, much more diverse than this, but it was my perception of things at the time and it reflects, I suppose, the intense loneliness I felt in that group.) I was also one of the few girls interested in questions of theology and doctrine, and often resented that I was a girl and therefore couldn’t go to seminary.

These experiences, among other things, created in me a sensitivity to gender expectations within the church. This sensitivity was jolted into personal frustration when when my dad pressured me to submit to his discernment on (read: his feelings on and the resulting decisions regarding) my relationship with my boyfriend, now husband. I pushed back against this, asking him why, if he could trust that God was speaking to and leading me to change churches, couldn’t he also trust my discernment in regard to my boyfriend’s character? The response I got was based on the assumption that daughters are to submit to the authority of their fathers until they are wed (at which point, I was told, the authority would transfer from the father to the husband).

I couldn’t believe it. My dad never meant to treat me badly, but the assumptions he was acting under were based on the teachings of the church we were part of for my teen years, and that church had been a place that (for us) fostered serious spiritual abuse. Challenging his assumptions brought our conflict to these terms: I had to prove (using verses from the Bible) that my beliefs regarding my spiritual independence from my dad’s authority was biblical, and then he would be willing to agree to disagree. This is very typical of us – our relationship has always been based in mutual respect for the other’s intellectual integrity, and still is. So, I took him up on his terms. I pulled out the concordance and the Greek lexicon and I drafted 5 sloppy pages on why I thought his interpretation of various verses, especially the NASB translation of 1 Cor. 7:36-38, wasn’t accurate, and responded with my own set of verses and commentaries to justify my spiritual emancipation from him. [As an aside, I have come to the conclusion that these sorts of hunt-and-peck use of verses as proof texts for this and that grey area issue is an abuse of scripture. The purpose of the Bible is not to give us detailed instructions on moral living, but to display the character of God and our relationship to him.]

This was a highly painful season for us. He felt rejected, I believe (which was never my intent), and I felt manipulated and unloved (but he never meant it this way). It was painful and stressful and I probably misremember t0 my own benefit.

This interaction brought to my attention, once again, the reality: in the church circles I was raised in, women are expected to defer to men, and there are significant social and relational consequences if they don’t.

Finally, two other things occurred to push me over the edge into “accidental feminism” or, really, a state of heightened awareness of the church’s messy relationship to gender issues:

First, I was attending a little Presbyterian church for a while during college, and one Sunday they were short on ushers. I heard about this and offered to help for the service.  The ushers functioned as the greeters, the distributors of the offering plates, and they also passed out the bread and wine during communion, row by row to the congregation. I was told that they’d rather go without than have me help–I was female and they didn’t want a woman distributing the elements. I was shocked. I wouldn’t be preaching; I wouldn’t be sanctifying the sacraments; I would just be handing a basket of wafers down the row, then a tray with little juice cups. But because I have a vagina, I wasn’t allowed to help.

The second thing was this: I was fighting with spiritual dryness and decided to sit down to reread the gospel and epistles from the apostle John, in an attempt to see Jesus at his most relational. Reading through these books took a lot longer than I anticipated. I was stunned by my reintroduction to this Jesus. Coming to these passages deeply empty and under significant emotional distress about the situation with my dad allowed me to come to these pages with new eyes. And I realized: Jesus loved women. Jesus didn’t treat them like the rest of society did at that time. He took them seriously, he interacted with them without shame or superiority, and he made them significant members of his entourage, and the first witnesses of his resurrection. I saw that the way Jesus treated the opposite sex was nothing like how the church was dealing with gender issues, and certainly nothing like what I was experiencing from the church as a woman. Furthermore, the Jesus of the Bible didn’t really line up very well with the ideals for “masculine Christianity” as posited by the likes of Mark Driscoll, Stephen Altrogge, Douglas Wilson, or John Piper. And then I knew that, if the church is to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world, these things would have to change.

So this English major (who was also in the middle of an honors seminar love affair with Jacques Derrida), began to reconsider all her assumptions about what the church had taught her about sexuality and gender, and revisit all the proof texts for these issues with fresh curiosity for context, audience, linguistic implications, authorial intent, etc.

Now, I’d like to take this personal study of mine public, and explore individual issues relating to the Bible, gender, and the church along with you.

***

A word of clarification regarding the title (with thanks to David for coining it!): this snarky turn of phrase refers to the modesty panel/modesty rail in the front of the first pew in most old-style churches. This panel derived from times when churches weren’t heated and parishioners needed the paneling to contain heat in the winter, but evolved into what it is today because of shrinking skirt lengths and concerns about peeping toms in the choir. Or something like that. I’m a born-and-raised Christian kid. This is my front-row perspective and I’ve decided to stop holding back on what I see.

I chose “immodesty” because I am deliberately drawing attention to grey area issues in the church, insignificant compared with the gospel and the creeds, but pertinent to most people and frequently ignored by the privileged. Immodesty, as my dad says (quite well, I think), is “drawing undue attention to oneself.” In homage to With apologies to Flannery O’Connor, I hope to draw “large pictures” for the blind that they might see what is before them – both the positive and the negative. I will draw magnified attention to these issues for the sake of those working through them, and for the sake of those who don’t yet realize that these issues are worth consideration. Furthermore, I think it’s funny that one’s awareness about this issue often starts with questioning traditional modesty teachings.

I also chose the word “rail” with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor: women with controversial or non-conformist opinions are often accused of being “shrill” or “emotional.” A shrill tirade used to be synonymous with “railing” at someone, and while I intend to be reasonable and calm, I am sure that my discussions will be called rants. So I’ll just take the liberty of truncating that: here I will reasonably “rail” about issues pertaining to gender in the church, and I might get a bit exaggerated with it to make a point. So gird up your loins! We’re going to start with the topic of modesty and lust later this week. Okay, I’m done with the cutesy puns.

Do you have ideas for topics to discuss on Immodesty Rail? Email me at mattiechatham [at] gmail [dot] com.


Last night, I was on a street corner in NW, checking the bus times on my phone. It was later than usual and I was in a hurry to find the nearest bus home.

A man in a burly overcoat approached me. It isn’t that cold out, I thought, as he walked up. In his hand was a little bunch of posies, like the ones my little brothers bring my mom in April. Those are usually short stemmed, with bits of grass and weeds crumpled in the fistful. This, however, was carefully arranged, with little bits of this and that fixed to look just right.

“I’d like you to have these,” he said to me, holding up the flowers.

I glanced down the street for my bus, attempting to convey the DC vibe of  I’m-busy-don’t-harass-me (practiced to avoid NGO volunteers asking you to sign their petitions or donate your pocket change). “Oh!” I said. “But I don’t have anywhere I could put them.”

“Put them in water.” He was grinning now. “Do you know what these are? These are mums, this is evergreen, this is boxwood, and these are hydrangeas.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond (and I knew he wasn’t naming them correctly). “They’re lovely! But I don’t have anywhere to put them right now.”

“They’re for you. I want you to have them.” He put them in my hand, and I couldn’t refuse. “But,” he said, “I’m homeless, and I’m hoping I can find a dollar. Can you help me?”

I was undone. I only had a couple of pennies in my change purse, after stopping at the office vending machine for a snack in the afternoon. The night before I had given my only cash to my husband for bus fare, and I just don’t keep cash on me habitually.

“Oh my gosh,” I said, “I wish! I don’t have any cash on me or I would. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay!” he said.

“I can’t take these,” I said. “You should give them to someone else.”

“No,” he said, and he stuck his hands in his coat pockets and started to cross the street. “I want you to have them.”

***

This encounter left me stunned. DC has a lot of homeless people, and the juxtaposition of this homeless man meeting me on the same street corner where I had seen Jill Biden two weeks ago was unnerving. I don’t really know how I should be relating to them, and I don’t have much to offer. My expensive-looking phone came to me as a good deal at little cost, and I try to look snazzy like all the other Dupont Circle commuters, but I’m just faking it.

We don’t have a home of our own to open up, and I feel nervous about interacting with these people (like offering to buy them lunch instead of giving them change) because of your standard mom lecture about women traveling alone and predators and rape and pickpockets. Some of this is common sense, some of this is bullshit, and most of it is just me being a Christian who hasn’t been outside the bubble of the middle class church world enough. I felt sick and ashamed and convicted. 

And then I remember, with some irony, a discussion with a friend about the phrase “become like gods” in the book of John, and what it actually means in terms of our orthopraxy. My guilt at receiving this bit of beauty without being able to give anything in return – is this not a microcosm for grace? I, who am to be as Christ in the world, got given something beautiful I didn’t deserve and didn’t buy. And it upset me deeply. 


Previous posts in this series: Loving Your FoodEating in Community, and Jesus Ate.

For the benefit of my readers: I write this for Christians, with the understanding that communion is a sacrament and an essential, regular part of a healthy practice of faith and a healthy church. For my own part, I am of the Anglican persuasion, believing in what is called the doctrine of “real presence” (as opposed to transubstantiation or the idea that communion is simply a memorial act). 

Anglican service in Portland, ME last week.

As I touched on in my last post, Jesus eating, as a man with ordinary people, transformed the manner in which we as Christians and humans can relate to each other and food. But that Jesus ate is really the fluffy part of his reinvention of community and eating through his incarnation. The real weight of this new perspective comes in his institution of the sacrament of communion. Every time he ate was either a foreshadowing or echo of this act, and every time the church gathers, we dutifully walk through the ceremonial reverencing of this act and acknowledge our odd but profound need for it.

The most sacred act of the church is the practicing of the sacrament of communion. This is really rather odd. It’s crass—the idea that we receive grace and sustenance because God died and we can eat his body and blood? It’s a repulsive concept in the elemental ways. Perhaps as a result, most evangelical churches skirt around the reality of what is implied by communion by sanitizing the sacrament  into a mere memorial act, a bread-and-wine mimic of the last supper to honor Christ’s final hours. The idea in these circles is that we eat the bread and wine a few times a year to remind us that Jesus broke bread and drank wine with his disciples as a foreshadowing of what would happen to his body, and so the church now mimics this last supper to recall what was done to his body for us. It’s tidy and clean. All symbolic, no gore, no rush to do it every week. This perspective is Gnostic, which is to say, it is a heretical mockery of the real thing.

Gnosticism is often explained in terms of its mysticism and achievement of holiness via secret knowledge and gradual initiation into said knowledge. But the reason it existed (and is still alive and well in a new form in the church today) is because the humanness of Jesus and the physicality of the cross and resurrection and ascension were difficult paradoxes in the ancient world. It didn’t sit well in the context of philosophies like Stoicism to have a God who affirmed the body. To accept the paradox of incarnation and Jesus as fully God and fully man would require believers to accept the worth of one’s own flesh and physicality. Instead, Gnosticism simplifies Christianity and removes this paradox, and allows Christianity to be all about the intellect, spiritual experience, and the knowledge of truth.  There is little value in the body or the physical life—because the flesh is wholly sinful, it should be dominated and made as irrelevant as possible to the spiritual life. The creeping discomfort of the Gnostic Christian with the physical aspect of being human undermines the sacraments and the daily routines of life. It says that your time is better spent in the Word than studying for tomorrow’s test at school. It says that prayer is more valuable than doing household chores. It says that worship songs are inherently better than any other songs. It says that art should only ever be beautiful, because only the true things are beautiful, and the nude body is always pornography and that a mundane or grittily gross scene from real life can’t be true art because it has ugliness (e.g., Thomas Kincade and his ilk). In essence, Gnosticism is an impatience with the realities of daily life and the sin and ugliness and slow realities of a physical body, and tries to practice Christianity as a sort of pre-heaven escapism by devaluing anything that is physical or mundane or ordinary. [My apologies to Dr. Messer for the content of this paragraph.]

Now, I understand the impulse of this skewed perspective. Life as a physical being is contradictory, and the most beautiful and the most gross are usually two sides of the same thing. Sex, for example, is a beautiful union where the purest of passions can be expressed in the safety of your lover’s affections and embraces. But it’s also a gross bodily function with funky noises and awkward angles. Likewise, eating can be an almost spiritual experience if the food is really good. But you still have to digest and pass it later. Childbirth, as well: it’s a life-changing and beautifully holy moment when a baby is born and takes its first gasping breathes and begins to cry, and suckles at the breast of its mother. But there’s also blood and mucus and feces to be cleaned up, and the mother may have tearing, and will usually be exhausted, pale, with greasy hair, and sweat trickling down her face. These ugly and gross sides of these events are things we’d like to do without, but because we are physical beings in a physical world, we cannot. Likewise, to sanitize communion as only a memorial act is an immature escapist impulse. We are physical beings, Jesus is a physical being, his death was a physical act, and communion cannot be just symbolism. To treat communion as if it was just symbolic is to cheapen his death in a way that is dangerous and irreverent.

[Before I continue, I must ask my readers to do me a favor: be comfortable with mystery, and don’t expect of me a theologian’s precision. I am not trying to give a completely thorough, systematic apologetic for the theological nuances of “real presence” in communion. I gave up on being Presbyterian in part because of the OCD-like obsession with a wholly reasonable theology. Paradox is an essential part of the Christian faith, and I am not equipped to be an educated defender of it. I am only trying to impart here my layman’s understanding of the significance of communion as a physical sacrament whereby God imparts grace tangibly to his people.]

So here we are: Gnostic Christianity creates a bad substitute for the real meaning of communion. Having explained this, I can now continue onto my larger point: Jesus ate and because he ate I can eat with a holy enjoyment of food and fellowship, imitating his united experience of food with people as a centering activity for healthy relationships.

Jesus was God incarnate, and as God incarnate, he achieved a restoration of relationships in the context of food as good and a guiltless pleasure.  When he ate the Passover feast with his disciples he made this personal, as he broke the bread and passed the cup and said to them “This is my body” and “This is my blood.” Suddenly it became more obvious what he meant during a talk with leaders of the Jews, when he said to them,

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. I tell you the truth, he who believes in me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” – John 6:44-58, NIV

Jesus’s body as manna for his people is, clearly, symbolic of God’s provision of the appropriate salvation for the needs of his people in the physical wilderness wanderings and in the spiritual desert of the old covenant isolation from God without blood appeasement for transgressions. This is an appropriate metaphorical parallel for Jesus, as the sacrificial Lamb of God, to draw. Whoever fed on the manna was saved; whoever puts their faith in Jesus’s sufficient sacrifice on their behalf is saved.

But it’s much more literal than just this, as became evident during the last supper. Jesus reiterated the literal command to eat his flesh and drink his blood, passing the bread and wine as physical symbols of this. He was there with them in this shared, communal experience, and partaking of it was in a way, the last seal of the fellowship existing between the disciples and with their Lord.

And when Jesus died on the cross, bleeding and mangled, and the propitiation for sins was achieved, the reality of partaking in the supper as partaking in his death and living by his death—both physically and spiritually—the deeper truth was made firm. At the command of Christ to remember his sacrifice by sharing the bread and wine as they shared in his body and blood whenever the disciples gathered together, the routine of communion was established, and fellowship with each other was renewed by the common need and the common cup, and the Holy Spirit sustained the fellowship and blessed the act of communion to the church.

This is, sort of, what is implied by the term “real presence” in communion: Christ is present through his Spirit when the believers gather in his name, and Christ is made tangible in the body and blood, the bread and wine, and the Spirit restores and renews the faith of the individual believers taking of this food, and restores and renews the unity and fellowship—the communion—of the church, of the saints.

And because of this, I say that tangible grace is directly imparted to the soul of the believer who partakes of the sacrament of communion. To take part in this sacrament requires nothing of the believer except for an acknowledgement of his sinfulness and need of spiritual food, his need of grace, and his need of fellowship with other believers to sustain his faith. (This is why, in the Anglican church, one joins in a congregational confession of sin and hears the words of peace from the scriptures, and then offers the hand of peace to the other congregants, before processing to the altar to kneel [an appropriate posture for those dependent on Christ for life] and receive [not take, but passively receive, reflecting our helplessness and God’s willingness to meet us just where we are in our worst selves] the sacrament and the blessing.) Grace is unmerited favor poured out with generosity from God on man—communion is the most physically real experience of grace in its purest, most elemental form a believer can have.

I like how one author describes it,

“Not only is Christ present at the altar, but He also gives Himself to us. As we eat the bread, we are receiving, in an intimate and personal way, His body that was broken on the cross. When we sip the wine, we are receiving His blood that sealed the covenant, assuring the forgiveness of sin. We are literally united with Christ—Christ crucified, resurrected, and ascended—bridging the gap between here and Golgotha, now and eternity.

It has been said that this contact with Christ is more direct and closer and more intimate than what His disciples enjoyed. Again, Christ comes to us. It is not something we do, but something Christ does, which we have only to receive. The Lord’s Supper is nothing less than the Gospel. . . .

There is nothing vague here. There is no need to worry about my decisions or whether or not I have been elected to be saved or whether or not I am sinful. In the Sacrament, Christ gives Himself to me. All of His promises and everything He did for my redemption and forgiveness on the cross are made so tangible, I can taste them. I am touching, in fact, the risen Christ, as the first disciples did. And God’s Word, ringing in my ears as I take this nourishment, tells me that His body and blood are for me. That means that my sins are actually forgiven, that I can be assured of God’s favor.” (The Spirituality of the Cross, Veith)

Because God incarnate as the man Jesus made such a big deal of instituting the sacrament of communion food, for the Christian, can never again be just something we put in our mouths to give us energy. Seriously, just reread the gospels with an eye out for the phrases, “body and blood,” “eat my flesh,” and for the idea of Jesus as food for eternal life. It is a central theme in his ministry, intertwining elegantly with his affirmation of the physical body as he walked about the country healing the bodies of those who believed, and eating with them and knowing them intimately through that fellowship.

God has taken flesh and eaten with us and made the very act of eating together with him and others a vital part of how we relate to him and each other. I would argue that a church isn’t a church if it’s not celebrating communion together regularly, because without it, our fellowship is only a heady and intellectual, rational sort of relating to God and to each other. With communion, our practice of faith and our need of grace and our need of each other suddenly become powerfully physical, and we must be united to take the elements in a sacramental, reverential way. It is the literal lifeblood of the church.

In our church on Sunday mornings, the priest prays over the elements and when he is done, he lifts them up for the congregation to see, saying,

The gifts of God for the people of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.

And when I kneel to take the bread, he says to me,

The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for you, preserve your body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your heart by faith, with thanksgiving.

And then as I am given the cup,

The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for you, preserve your body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for you, and be thankful.

Some versions of the liturgy has this, instead:

The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven.
The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.

The wedding feast of the Lamb. The body and blood on the cross. The breaking of bread with the disciples and with the faithful, socially despicable. The God of holiness in human flesh, hungry. Jesus Christ, the bread of life.

Eating can’t be done just for its own sake ever again. It is now Christ-haunted.

{This post was written with this song on repeat in my “mental stereo.” Go listen.}

Iron and marble, wood and stone
Craftsman’s chisel, hammer and nail
All the straight lines form our gath’ring place
At the Altar of God, at the Communion Rail

And the powerful and common, we all come alike
With our faith so weak and our souls so frail
To dine upon the promises of Christ the Lamb
Kept safe for His sheep at the Communion Rail

I can’t help but watch this blessed parade
Of strangers and neighbors, we all fall and fail
We come to have our lives made new again
And to return our thanks at the Communion Rail

And a great cloud of witnesses surrounds us out of time
We will follow their footsteps beyond this earthly veil
We will all join together at the Supper of the Lamb
And we glimpse that shining time
At the Communion Rail

We will follow their footsteps beyond this earthly veil
And we glimpse that shining time now
At the Communion Rail 

Bob Bennett, “The Communion Rail”


I started following Micha Boyett’s blog after I discovered her series on St. Benedict. Her writing has a gentle, incisive graciousness which I find beautiful. This morning I opened my feed reader and found this post on “Marriage and the Easy  Yoke.” I love this bit toward the end:

I can’t pretend to know much about marriage. Eight years is only 2nd grade in the education of married life. We’re only just now learning cursive and multiplication. We have a long way to go. But what I’m learning is that … Only grace oils the bitter places so the machine can run, so you can smooth each other out.

Her post is in response to this one on Her.meneutics, and in light of these two other responses to it. Reading those after Micha’s post, I’m bothered by how easily the author of the first post assumes that marriage is easy (without any discussion of hardships she’s walked through to back this up) and we should stop worrying about how hard the first year is supposed to be, etc. Like the first response by Kristin Tennant notes, it’s a bad idea to assume that your story or experience in marriage is the true one and read your experiences into other people’s lives. That said, I feel a little more kinship with the author  (Grace) of the second response: who are you to tell me that a good marriage is an easy one?

Kevin and I haven’t had a particularly hard marriage so far, and we’re not very far in yet, so I shouldn’t speak too loudly. We have a lot of time ahead of us before we stop being babies and earn the title of “seasoned.” But that said, in just the last 17 months, we’ve faced unemployment x2, frustrating jobs, evening shift work hours, depression, a move, debt, not having a church home, serious family tensions, a car accident, and more. It’s been intense. Not impossible, but difficult. These external factors have in turn exacerbated various issues in our relationship with each other, and the strain has been really exhausting at times.

We were talking about this yesterday, reflecting on our Saturday bike ride and how, while we had a good time, there were moments of tension based on ongoing issues, and by the end of our ride we were very emotionally worn out. But a little patience with each other’s weariness helped a lot, and we ended up having a quiet evening together, just being together and not asking much of each other.

Kevin commented that, for us, loving each other doesn’t always look like happy feelings and tender romantic moments. We’re both broken people with issues that make us hard to love and be loved. Sometimes, all we have to offer is insecurity, or anxiousness, or frustration. Sometimes we’re just too raw to make much of an effort to do “sweet” and “thoughtful” things. But there’s no one else we’d rather do this marriage thing with. Kevin concluded, “we can worship God with whatever emotion we bring in the door. He accepts us as we are–we don’t need to always put on a mask of happiness in order to be in a relationship with him. And it’s the same way with each other: we should be patient with each other, of course. But we don’t need to only bring the correct and proper emotions to each other. We can bring whatever we are at the moment.”

It’s been true. There is grace to be patient with each other’s broken places, even if I’m not always as tender as I should be when he’s weak (or vice versa). Marriage is the hardest thing either of us has ever attempted, and I want to be careful not to make it sound like it’s been all that awful. It hasn’t–but it hasn’t been hearts and flowers and Disney moments, either. But we’re best friends and I know he is a good-hearted man trying to love me the best he knows how. And I think he knows the same of me.

I doubt that our experience is universal, but I think it’s a pretty common one, too. I am really thankful that I have a good man to work this marriage thing out with and who makes the rough spots worth it all.

If you’re a newlywed, just enjoy your first year. If it’s sweet, don’t borrow trouble by worrying about what-if-it-gets-hard? and just savor the season. If it’s really rough, don’t feel alone. Plunge into community and get counseling, and let yourself enjoy the glowy moments when they come.


This week has been full of fantastic blog posts. Better writers than me are saying things that I have been thinking for months or years, and it’s delightful to read their clear, succinct essays on these subjects. I’m not Emerson, so I don’t have a problem with hearing my thoughts in another’s words.  Happy reading!

Why the kill-your-lust and modesty culture is just as bad as slut-shaming: Beauty vs. Sexuality, by Hugo Schwyzer

“. . . we shame men by insisting they’re fundamentally weak, constantly vulnerable to being overwhelmed by sexual impulses. We shame women for not being better stewards of that supposed weakness. That shame doesn’t just lead to unhealthy sexual relationships (including between husbands and wives); it leaves too many men feeling like potential predators and too many women feeling as if they’re vain, shallow temptresses.”

An incisive argument for true compassion in Christianity: Dear Me and You and You and You, We’re All Screwed Up, Forever and Ever, Amen, by Max Dubinsky

“Why are we as Christians so obsessed with nailing the perfect relationship? . . .  Every single example of a relationship we have in the Bible is totally jacked up. They all deal with infidelity, same-sex attractions, multiple sexual partners, lying, cheating, and stealing. Not to mention the very first couple in the history of couples is responsible for the fall of the human race. And we think we’re going to get it right? All I know is there is no absolute instruction manual for dating and abstaining, and what to do with your pulsating libido if your 40 and single. We are all going to screw it up, one way or another.

Wasn’t I supposed to be building orphanages in Africa, or choking the life out of Kony with my girlishly-soft and moisturized bare hands? Shouldn’t I have been starting underground churches in China? Or was I called to just give generously to those specifically called to start underground churches in China? If these are the things Christians are to be doing, why were we sitting around like a college study group discussing theology and dating as if it was the key to saving the human race? Because that’s also what Christians do. I played it safe within my community because the world out there was a scary place and hated me. If I could create the illusion of doing what Jesus had supposedly called me to do, and surround myself with likeminded individuals equally afraid of the world, I knew I’d be just fine.”

Why we should believe in the harrowing of hell: More Creed Tinkering? by “Chaplain Mike” [an apologetic for understanding how Christ’s humanity makes this part of the Creed valuable]

“Among the errors feeding rejection of this creedal affirmation are an insufficient doctrine of Christ’s humanity, an opposite error that Christ actually completed his suffering in hell, and an insufficient appreciation for the Beatific Vision and how it applies to Christ. In Marshall’s article, he gives eight verses from the Bible on the descent into hell and concludes by challenging evangelicals who want to excise this point from the Creed . . . “

When a psychologist does a study of Christians who say that God talks to them:  “When God Talks Back” To the Evangelical Community, by NPR.

[This hits on some of my carefully-guarded skepticism about people who say that they feel that God tells them to do thus and so, or to have some sort of special insight into God’s plan for my life. Like that one time when two different guys told me that God gave them each a vision/word that they were supposed to marry me. I told them that I’d talk to them about it if God ever gave me the same message. He didn’t. I married someone else.]

In these classes, congregants were taught to discern thoughts coming from their imagination with thoughts that were coming directly from God, says Luhrmann.

“What I was fascinated by, was that when people would enter the church, they’d say, ‘I don’t know what people are talking about. God doesn’t talk to me,’ ” she says. “And then they would try praying in this interactive, free-form imagination-rich kind of way, and after six months, they would start to say that they recognize God’s voice the way they recognize their mom’s voice on the phone.”

Congregants in the prayer classes at The Vineyard are taught that they are unconditionally loved by God. Luhrmann says she saw prayer groups in which a group would pray over someone who felt inadequate in some respect and remind that person that God loved him or her unconditionally.

“People practice experiencing God as a therapist,” she says. “They have a sense of God being wise and good and loving, and they talk to God in their minds and talk about their problems, and then they are seeking to experience themselves as seeing it from the perspective of a loving God who then reflects back on their anxieties and interprets them differently.”

The terrifying future of self-publishing: Birth Control is Sinful in the Christian Marriages and also Robbing God of Priesthood Children!! is now available on Amazon.com for only $132.48!


I’m pushing through today on ibuprofen and weak coffee
Trying not to register spring’s appearance this morning
for fear of feeling the life-beat vibrating outdoors.
The sunlight shifted yesterday, and the sky removed her dressing gown

If I ignore it, it never happened.
I didn’t notice the smallness of your kiss,
the withdrawing of your body from mine,
the shudder you gave when I touched you.

I want to make this work out so badly.
But when I can’t touch you, I don’t know you at all.
And this hangover of absence makes my eyes burn.
It’s just allergies. Did you see the pollen coating my car?

We’re both suffering from intimacy intolerance, I announce.
ADHD of the heart, addiction to voyeurism and sensations.
You mutter that you hate acadamia
and so we disjoint again, limping in our harness.

You slump into introspection, blue over the pictures you dream
and I push you away because I can’t follow you there.
I was never part of the dream and I am a wounded animal
thrashing when touched too truly.

I’ll go and work it out. I’ll stop crying when I fall asleep.
You stop thinking when you forget to think,
and then your ache wanes; out of sight, out of pain.
Let’s get drunk and go to Jackson, I think. Maybe I’ll see you better there.

But Lent paroles my border, keeping me from pressing the razor into my skin
and letting it all out quickly. So I have to feel the slow fullness of this,
I have to hemorrhage awake. And since I don’t understand it all
The gradual unravelling will tear me apart all the more.

If I want to rebuild our dream-castles, I can’t start at our beginning
and I can’t do it alone. If your eyes become clear again, let’s hold hands
while we go to the quarry and sort through the rubble.
Just touch me, I say, meaning: put me back together again.


I think I avoid writing because I’m not comfortable talking about what really matters to me. And I’m not comfortable talking about it because I’m afraid of the criticism and friendly “heart checks” I’ll get from my parents and the good people who knew me mostly during 2000 – 2008.

I am happy to either 1) let them think I haven’t changed that much and am a happy newlywed making home and love and reading her Bible and working a little and having a beautiful life, or 2) simply bulldoze them with long arguments against the tenets of conservative fundydom and leave them reeling.

There is no comfort in vulnerability for me. I want to be happily ignored or a force of reason to be respected.

And when I don’t have happy housewife blog posts to write (and really, I should just let the gushy poetic types with good cameras, etsy shops, and cute kids have that genre) or a new tour de force about feminism & grace or some such thing, I hide. I bury my need to write in absorbing a never-ending stream of information, blog posts, essays, and piquant news articles.

Upon reflection, I’ve realized that this is an addiction in the truest sense of the word: I self-medicate against my intense need to write (journal, blog, ponder) by numbing my mind with an overflow of words and ideas from others.

In high school, I used to think that I could be a good writer if I wrote regularly. But then I realized that I needed to read good books in order to write well, and I “took a break” from writing, which turned into a 3 year self-directed course of reading all the “classics” I could get my hands on (being in a conservative environment, this meant reading anything written before 1940 and the post-war cynicism of true 20th century literature), and eventually a degree in English.  I still wrote, but it was a strange mixture of half-baked jabs at hard questions, platitudes, and detailed evaluation of little moments. I was sure I hadn’t lived enough or read enough to write well. (I’m still convinced that the good writer is a regular reader of good writing)

But I think this discipline-turned-habit has become a way to avoid writing, now. And I think I do have some things I can say better than I could before, but I’m afraid of the consequences. I’m too much of a people-pleaser.

This year for Lent, my husband and I stopped drinking alcohol. We do this every year (or have for the last three) and it’s a good idea, especially as we have family history of alcoholism and mothers who are concerned for us because of the simple reality that we think alcohol tastes good.

In retrospect, though, I think I should have given up reading my rss reader feed and keeping up with the various news outlets and social media hotspots I have on my browser’s bookmarks. I don’t think I’ll give it up completely, now that I realize this about myself, or that I’ll suddenly start writing honestly instead of finding something to distract me.

But maybe I can open up a little more, and be okay with the fact that I’m not really the goody-two-shoes who kept her parents and church friends satisfied with her behavior throughout high school and [most of] college. Maybe I’ll admit that I am normal and that’s okay. That I liked Hangover II and I like reading The Bloggess. That I write better when I drink whiskey. That yes, mom, I wear a bikini to the pool and that’s just fine. That I have an anger problem which is tied to anxiety which is tied to not being okay with letting go and not having control over everything in my life. And sometimes I like to use strong language, because I feel strongly. That I’m using birth control pills and think that’s an acceptable moral thing for a Christian to do, if it’s a careful, educated decision. That I really respect stay-at-home homeschooling moms with 9, 10, 11 kids, if that’s a careful, educated choice. That I’m afraid of being a mom someday, but I’m also really at peace with having a family with Kevin because he’s a good man. And so forth.

The funny thing is, none of that is “shocking.” I just tie myself up in lies, thinking that it is and trying to ignore it or laugh it off.  I’m going to try to stop being an internet voyeur in order to ignore real life. And perhaps I’ll try to write more frequently (in general, not necessarily here).


Last night, hit by both “my brain is flat-lining after a long day” and an absurd level of contentment–despite running into the awkward moment earlier in the evening at the grocery store checkout when my debit card declined a $5 transaction and I was scrounging for pennies in my change purse [we’re okay, it was just coincidental timing with a check going out earlier than I thought it would]–I pulled out Regina Spektor, my 4B pencils and a sketchbook.

I hadn’t drawn in a while. The kneaded eraser was new and I worked it until it was soft, sharpened pencils, trimmed my blending stick, and finally started sketching. I was trying to sketch the back and shoulders of a woman, but little things were off. The shoulders were too short or too slumped, the arms were slightly off-kilter, and the neck was ungainly. I realized this was more than just being out of practice. I just really didn’t have a good grasp of the anatomy of the way the shoulder meets the arm and the back. I didn’t know how to shade it properly, and I didn’t have internet to pull up an image search for reference. This made me realize two things: 1) I need to take a figure drawing class [I’ll have to save up for that], and 2) I hadn’t done any serious nude figure studies before.

I have always loved drawing people, but when I was really into it, during high school, I mostly kept myself to just drawing faces. Drawing the body came with too many unspoken taboos–once, I drew a flamenco dancer in a red dress, and left her body as shapeless as I possibly could, altering the dress to be “modest.” Carolyn Mahaney’s Modesty Checklist was all the rage at our church at the time, and every girl who was “serious” about her faith had it practically memorized. It was taped up on the wall by bedroom mirrors, and we were all quick to help each other adhere to this list. It would be normal to hear one girl comment to the other that her neckline was revealing and she should go adjust it–and did she need any safety pins for that? I went along with it, and accepted it as good.

Some of the points made by Carolyn are just fine. I agree with the principle of the thing. There’s a place for being discreet and being modest and not dressing inappropriately. But the spirit of that checklist however–I now realize–is blatantly legalistic. The mentality it promotes created a subconscious fear of the body–even a bizarre detachment of “self” from the body–in the minds of girls who were taught to believe in the message of this highly detailed modesty rulebook.

How Modesty Made Me Fat” is one girl’s experience living with this mindset (afraid of being seductive, pretty, sexy, noticed) and while her struggle became extreme, it’s pretty true to the insidiousness of this way of thinking. Homeschooled girls don’t always dress like homeschooled girls because they “aren’t socialized enough.” Homeschooled girls mostly dress like they do because they are taught that the female form is something to be afraid of (and by inference, inherently sinful). I have been that girl, afraid to get noticed for having a feminine body.

To a degree, this awkwardness is part and parcel with normal adolescence. During puberty we are more self-conscious and have to learn to identify as whole selves with our newly-matured bodies. But fear is not healthy and trying to hide who we are as women is just silly.

This fear of a normal, adult body affects how you see everything. For example: around the time this checklist came out, my sister and her friend took my mom’s art history book (a huge, gorgeous book full of giant glossy pages with color images of every major artwork until the late 20th century), and they pulled out a big black Sharpie and drew 1) boxers on Michelangelo’s David and all the other male nudes, and 2) one-piece bathing suits/bras on Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and all the other female nudes. From my understanding of the story, they thought my parents would be glad to have all that wicked nudity taken care of so that the book would be “appropriate.” Instead, my mom was [rightfully] mortified.

This mindset breeds fear of self in women, and more than that, it objectifies men. These modesty teachings are promoted with good intent–to “keep our brothers from stumbling” [lusting] and to protect girls from . . . men’s lust. The logic doesn’t work; the assumption is that men are helpless against their natural attraction to the female form and the sometimes inevitable result of desiring that form, and so all men (in the minds of these girls) become helpless slaves to lust.

This creates even more unnatural distance between the sexes in homeschool/conservative Christian circles. Girls become (naturally) suspicious of guys, of being alone in the same room (even if it’s a public area!) as a man (what if he decides to rape me?!), of being told by a guy that they look pretty (Oh no he must be lusting after me! Did I dress modestly enough?), etc. I’m using a bit of hyperbole here, but the underlying point remains: extreme modesty teachings creates unnecessary fear in the minds of girls and teaches them to assumes the worst of men and the inner thoughts of men.

This teaching also hurts how boys and young men think about themselves. Their sexual desires become the central evil in their lives and undue focus is given to how sinful these [normal, natural] desires are. Lust is sin, yes. But talking to adolescents mainly about lust and modesty and how evil sexual desire is will make them feel utterly enslaved to these things.

It’s the “don’t think about pink elephants” principle–talking about how wrong something is in an unbalanced manner will feed an unhealthy fascination with the issue. Guys don’t have to be slaves to lust. It’s possible for a guy to acknowledge “that woman has a beautiful body” and not be aroused sexually. But the all-or-nothing modesty/lust paradigm leaves no room for this, and so men remain suspect and are brought to assume that they can’t help themselves if they do lust–and the women just need to be more modest, to protect everyone. It’s really demeaning for both sexes.

Now, not every conservative Christian or homeschooling family believes this just like I described above. However, there’s a lot of this mess influencing a lot of people, and I heartily believe that this is not how God intended us to see each other or our own bodies. The body is often a beautiful thing and it is possible for a woman to be womanly and attractive without generating lust in men. It’s also possible that a man will lust after a woman in a potato sack, just because he knows she’s a woman.

Blanket assumptions about the hearts of others are never really unhelpful, and the thinking patterns they create are difficult to overcome. Christianity needs to refresh its theology of the body to combat these assumptions.

And I really need to find a model so I can practice drawing shoulders. Any volunteers?


The Good Shepherd

This is now hanging on my kitchen wall, in between the copper-tiled backsplash by the stove and my apron hook. I’ve been hankering, no, craving, an icon in my home for over a year now, since I first saw icons in a home of one of my professors (who happens to be Orthodox). This family has them over the doorway to almost every room (but not the bathroom, which I find an amusing contrast to the Episcopal/Anglican tradition of a house blessing, in which there is a prayer for every room including the bathroom). It really adds a degree of beauty and sobriety to the house that I found very satisfying. Little gestures of eternity in the everyday of a home make me stand a bit smaller [read: more humbly and more thoughtfully] and take me out of the perpetual self-monologue in which I’m wont to live.

Kevin took me to a Catholic bookstore in DC on Saturday as part of our date out on the town. We went to a crêperie for lunch (and while he wouldn’t admit it, I think he liked the chicken and pesto crêpe), and then to the bookstore, where we purchased this icon. (ikon? I think I like the latter form better, to avoid confusion with internet/desktop icons).  Afterward we went to Georgetown, which was just lovely at sunset. Kevin geeked out at the Apple store and I wandered around. The Potomac was nearby. I’d like to spend more time walking along it sometime.

On Sunday Kevin had obligations with the worship team at our old church. I don’t particularly care for that church’s services (the people are nice, though), and so I played hooky. It was refreshing to have a long morning with coffee and a book and I even got to have a nice chat with a dear friend. There’s something sacred about restful recreation without a particular purpose, especially in the morning. Even though I very much missed the prayers of confession and receiving communion at our church, there was a reverence and an understanding that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath, and that Jesus is honored when his disciples respect themselves and his given order by taking rest and allowing themselves to stop their striving.

We finished our Sunday with the prayers for the close of the day, after getting drinks and dessert with some friends in town and having lots of good talks about everything and nothing, and working on a crossword puzzle together on the metro.

I feel a little sheepish saying this, but I think that such a restful, unstructured weekend was a gift to me from my Shepherd, and that when I savored it for all it was worth, he was smiling on me.