I’m sitting at the picnic table in my parents’ kitchen, the mess of art projects and nubbins of flowers picked by siblings and half-finished notebooks and Costco packs of food surround me. Walking down the hill this morning to make coffee cake before they left for church, I had to stop and soak in the lilting sounds of life on the air—the birds announcing their delight at the change in the weather, my brothers laughing on the trampoline, the wind hitting the blossoms in the trees and setting them to whispering. My sister was playing Minecraft when I came in, and while I dumped spices into the flour, she darted through, clambered up the counter and plopped white azaleas into dishes of water dyed with food coloring. My mother hugged me from behind while I made my brothers and me our first cups of coffee, and then they were gone and the house was still while the oven chirped and hushed itself into heat and the cake baked.

Here, I have been very lucky. Here, I have circled back and through and am again facing forward, about to launch myself at something unknown, leaving behind something I know all too well. Here, I try to savor up these moments and be grateful.

This last year has been a year of intense periods of growth and learning, which is an abstract thing to say, intended to make you nod and smile and agree (for it must be that you feel the same about this past bit of time, too) and leave me alone about what exactly I learned and how exactly I grew. But it would diminish the lessons to tell you, to try to sum up the breath of moments hitting my soul and inflating and tapping me into new shapes.

Usually I think that I want to be a fiction writer, that some day I want to make my livelihood with my hands and my pen, cooking up stories to delight and amuse and provoke. But I have been compelled to write poetry for the longest time, and I suppose I should be honest with myself that right now, I am not writing fiction; that right now I have a life that demands poems for survival and for joy. Poetry is the necessary outcome of my experiences, poetry is the colors on the wall when light hits the shards of moments on the floor of my head. Poems change me, too, each one turning and turning a moment over and around to look at it from funny angles, catching glimpses of myself reflected in it, and laughing in surprise when I sometimes see the sky looking back at me, too. 

When I came back to Richmond this winter, I knew I had a chunk of poems about these last few months that could probably be shaped into a chapbook—the story they tell is a beautiful narrative, but it’s also intensely personal (which is scary). Every time I sat down to write something else, this story pulled me back in, and I found myself arranging and rearranging and revising and refining these poems. The story was wiling itself into life. I couldn’t resist.

This last year I started reading tarot, and it has been an utterly joyful thing to play with for this English major who loves tropes and archetypes. And as I kept coming back to these poems, the framework of a tarot reading—which is to say, the narrative of a major life lesson learned at a moment in one’s life—bled into the organization of the story and I found that I had a poem cycle in the shape of a Celtic cross reading on my hands. So here we are.

On Wednesday, I shut the door on this season of my life and leave the country for the next two years to serve as an English teacher volunteer with the Peace Corps in the Kyrgyz Republic. I want to give this little book of poems to you as a parting gift, both to remove myself from it and let it live on its own (as it wants to do), and to try to share the beauty that blessed me with whoever wants to enjoy it as well. 

It’s a little terrifying to be leaving for so long, and it’s a little terrifying to trust that this is the right thing. And it’s a little terrifying to share these poems with the world and expose myself. But I’m learning that the things that scare me the most are the most satisfying things, well worth doing. These are the things that expand my capacity to love, to learn, to be present, to not be ashamed or afraid. So I’m going to give fear the middle finger and I’m going to go on an adventure and I’m going to share some poems with you. 

With love,
H

Poems


“Love and abuse cannot coexist.” – bell hooks.

It’s been over a year since I first read bell hook’s masterful treatise on love, All About Love: New Visions.  The book called to and was answered by changes stirring in my heart, little epiphanies cracking the surface of my reality, and it was the catalyst for a radical reevaluation of what love meant and how I practiced it.

I have always craved justice and sincerity. As a child, I distrusted adults who laughed too much or were effusive with praise or compliments. I gravitated toward those who were sarcastic, cynical, pointed. Pastors were suspect unless they seemed to have a healthy respect for suffering.

And yet, I was divided from myself in my own cynicism, emotionally connecting to missionary stories,  reading the Anne Shirley books over and over, and accepting the tenets of courtship and fundamentalist neo-Calvinism without question for the sake of the utopian emotional future they offered. I was too cynical to ever seriously write letters to my future husband, but secretly hoped that the gilded fidelity of guarding my heart and wearing a purity ring would secure me true love where I could hang my cynic’s hat by the door and stretch out by the hearth and have a marriage where I could get my belly rubbed and never fear betrayal or complicated emotions.

Emotional idealism of this sort is dishonest and lazy, and I paid dearly for my naïveté and blind trust. I could wear out pages with my experiential research on cultivated codependency in courtship culture and cultivated female helplessness in patriarchy, but the larger thing I have learned is less specific to male\female relationships or romantic relationships and more relevant to relationships in general, and is especially relevant to relationships touched by fundamentalist thinking on the part of one or both parties.

Fundamentalism, when I use the word, generally implies a measure of absolutism and hierarchy of belief. It is a relational militarization of ideology at its core (which is why I believe it is not something religious people have exclusive province over). Fundamentalism says “my way is better and our relationship is going to be defined by that assumption or we have an impasse.” It costs relational parity and ends humane discussion.

In the slice of human experience where I come from, fundamentalist Christian homeschooling, it exhibits itself when a parent asserts their “right” over their child in the name of ideological purity of some sort and negates that child’s right to autonomy and voice.

Example: “you will not bring Harry Potter into my house” because you, the parent, believe that witchcraft is worse than the sin of rebellion (see the story of King Saul) and rebellion is the sin that caused the fall, and witchcraft is aligning oneself with the enemy of God, and you want your household to follow in the ways of God (“as for me and my house…”) and you believe that God has called you to be the spiritual head of the home (circle of blessing) and your child is under your authority because you are under God’s authority, and Harry Potter does not condemn witchcraft as being of the devil, therefore: your child has no rights when under your roof because of God’s ordained spiritual hierarchy and you are accountable to him to protect your child from evil and Harry Potter threatens that order and your ability to be blessed by God for following in his ways…so Harry Potter has to go, no matter what your kid has to say about redemption narratives and metaphor and literary genres. By doing so, you are honoring God, and any opposition to this order is your child’s natural sin nature expressing itself and an opportunity to use corrective discipline to help your child along in the path to sanctification and honor God in their own life.

In fundamentalism, ideology and hierarchy > person and emotional healthy relationships. Every. Damn. Time.

bell hooks writes that “abuse and love cannot coexist” because (as Christian theology teaches) love is about considering another person’s best interest. When I chose to break the rules of courtship and tell my boyfriend I loved him before we were engaged, I did so because I believed that if we broke up, my promise of “I love you” would still be true: if our relationship ended, it would be because the relationship was no longer in his or my best interest and love does not demand the other partner to suffer to satisfy the other. Love should not be mutable, but the terms of the relationship will be in order to be consistent with love. Love respects the other as a separate, autonomous individual with unique needs. Love does not require the other person to fix your emotional problems. Love is considerate, respectful, ethical, generous. Love is not craven, demanding, or manipulative.

This cuts two ways. Loving others well is easier (and probably better) the better you are at loving yourself well. It’s hard to love someone else well if you are abusive toward yourself, and if you try you’re more  likely to expect the other party to love you the way you should be loving yourself, and then resent them for not fixing your emotional disassociation with yourself. No person, no religious belief, no creature comfort will be able to fix the fundamental need for self-acceptance. I’ve been learning this, and it’s not easy. I can deflect and distract myself, but there is no substitute for sitting with my own emotions and owning them to myself and accepting that the me I’m living with is messy and not quite all who I want to be. I have to live with (and learn to love) me in real time, as I grow and learn, and not with my idealized future version of myself. This means also recognizing when I’m in unhealthy relationships or situations and being responsible for standing up for myself, and not expecting others to read my mind or know my needs and rescue me. Boundaries, communication, and actively engaging my day-to-day life and owning my responsibility to and for myself: these are ways I can engage in loving myself well.

Loving others well is an extension of understanding how to love myself. I need to respect the fact that others need different things and that what is good for me might not be good for them, that my perception of reality might not be their story, that they may be growing and learning faster or slower than I am. I respect them as individuals and not as caricatures or emotional food sources for myself, and that paves the way for healthy relationship.

This means: I cannot demand my more fundamentalist friends to change their beliefs on things, because their emotional needs (and reasons for holding on to various positions) are different from mine. I can, however, write about what I’ve learned and how various elements of religious fundamentalism have been harmful. I can also limit the ability of their more negative positions to affect me personally by reducing my exposure to toxic relational dynamics, and I can also appeal to their desire to love others when I see them hurting people close to me and ask for them to change how they treat people based on our shared assumption that they care about the other person’s best interest. (In this vein, a great opportunity Clare had before her was recently leveraged against me to require that I change the offensive-to-patriarchy language in her “Fuck the Patriarchy” post. The situation has now resolved itself, and I have reverted the post back to the original content, but necessary steps have also been taken to remove myself from being able to be manipulated by those who value image and control over people.)

This also means: when a friend has to go no contact with a family member because of abuse, or when someone’s marriage ends and you don’t know all the details, respect their choices. You don’t know what’s best for them and we are in danger of practicing the fallacy of a “single story” when we require someone to meet our socially acceptable normal behavior because we think that they should be in relationship with someone that “normal” people have in their lives. Eliminating abusive relationships from my life seems heartless from the outside, but it’s been a way I’ve learned to love myself: by admitting what (or who) I can and cannot handle if I am going to be mentally healthy and thrive. It seems heartless, but in reality, it’s a way of having compassion for myself and not expecting others to do that work for me.

I recently had a treasured friendship end because of a non-conventional theological position (but one I think has sufficient evidence in the Bible to be supported) that I hold and have written some about. The details are moot, and were moot to the end of the friendship, too. The point, however, was: if you are a Christian, you cannot support this position, and until you recant, I cannot be your friend. It’s the same mindset as I demonstrated before with Harry Potter: ideology supersedes the individual. I’m saddened by the outcome, but there’s no way to debate the issue because our starting premises are so far divided. What has been healthy and freeing and brought light to my life is seen by this individual as a darkness that threatens to devour the “real” me and is an affront to their own perception of themselves: if I am right, then everything they’re betting on is wrong. As high-stakes spiritual premises go, they can’t afford to be wrong, and so I must go. It’s understandable. I love this person, and as I understand the emotional cost of this sort of gamble, I know that this decision is (in their estimation) in the best interest of this person for the sake of their mental health, and it’s not my place to question that. I’m sad for my loss, but if I am honest about caring for them, I need to let them go and wish them the best from afar.

And I need to be honest, too. In my pilgrimage to understand love and to heal, I’ve had to reconcile myself to the fact that church and Christian culture are antithetical to my emotional and mental stability. The solvency of Christianity for some, I believe, is viable and good. I think the church can be better and radically change lives for good. I think the teachings of Jesus are precious and radical and good. There is much that I love, but I have had to remove myself from it and remove it from me in order to be kind to myself. All things are lawful, etc. For me this means: I’m not a Christian anymore.

The damage done to my brain by code-switching in Christianese and by tiptoeing around emotional land mines from my time in the cult outweigh the worth of holding onto the Creeds for the Creeds’ sake. If Jesus is the Christ and all of that is true, then I’d rather be a Calormen in the end and be sound of mind and live ethically and love well than be a martyr for something that has fostered so much suffering.

I do not recant anything I have written. I still love the things I have always loved. I still believe in the power of radical love to transform. I still believe in the magic of community and the mystery of burden-bearing and communion. I still love justice and mercy and crave light and truth.

But it is the learning of the loving that calls me to keep exploring, and so I’m discarding things that are impotent or emotionally destructive. I’m not merely disassociating from the label of “Christian”or organized church in pursuit of being a “Jesus-follower.” I am closing that chapter completely. I’m not sure if I’m an atheist or just agnostic, but I don’t think it’s salient right now. For now, what I know is: this path has taken me away from Christianity and that has been immensely freeing and healing.

I’ve known this for a while, but I wanted to sit with it for a season first, to be sure. And, honestly, I was afraid to tell you.

You readers have been along with me for quite the unexpected journey. I originally started this blog as a place to try to do some fiction and poetry writing, assuming that I’d be able to be productive in those things now that I was graduated from college, employed in an adult job, and settled into married life. What followed was so far from that reality that it seems a little hysterical to think about, now. I wouldn’t trade this journey for that reality, though, and I am thankful for how much I have learned and grown through it. And I’m thankful for those of you who have supported and loved and stayed with me since then. I’m excited to see what comes next, and I’d be touched if you are, too.

A housekeeping note: Once I can get a few things sorted out, the header image of this blog will change and I’ll just write under my name rather than a blog title–Wine and Marble has served a good purpose, but no longer fits what goes on here. Just a heads up.


UPDATE

Everything crashed again, sorry, sorry, etc. We had a SNAFU with servers and switching and WordPress accounts and the fastest way to get this up and running again was to jump the gun on switching Wine & Marble to a domain of my own name, etc. It got complicated, Kiery King is a web fairy wizard, and everyone should go give hen lots of love and probably some alcohol.

Carry on.

::end update::

Hi and welcome, new readers!

I’m sitting here with my cat on my lap trying to take a deep breath and process the last couple hours. Thank you for reading, for your support, and for breaking my blog.

I think we’re up and running again, and so now I wanted to do a little follow-up on the Cracked piece.

First: my parents left the cult and my family’s doing a lot better. My younger siblings are getting much more normal childhoods than I did — all my challenging the system is finally starting to pay off. My parents sent me a big box of goodies this week for an early birthday present and there were references to Disney movies and birthday parties and I even got a chocolate Easter bunny!

Second: My friend whose novel was burned — she’s doing a lot better. After that she got into UVA and got a full ride (but her parents hid her mail and kept her from attending), so she ran away from home and got herself set up, living and working in another state. She’s healing and growing and has started writing fiction again (finally!). She wrote a short story for Swan Children’s inaugural issue. Right now, she’s saving to go to college (she wants to be a doctor) and has plans to do a workaway program this summer in Europe and write more. Freedom is sweet!

What to do if you want to help:

Raise awareness. This stuff is ongoing and hard to spot if you don’t know the signs. Cults are less about doctrine and more about social control tactics.

Patriarchal purity/rape culture infects the world of Christian colleges (and their horrific mishandling of rape cases) — see, for example, the ongoing story at Patrick Henry College.

Spiritual abuse is also rampant in independent evangelical churches, and my good friend Elizabeth Esther just published her fantastic memoir about her experiences in a similar cult to the one I grew up in. It’s a quick read and covers a lot.

On the positive side, there are folks working to reform and heal the American evangelical church from these horrific ideologies. People working on that include Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey, the good folks at Deeper Story, The Wartburg Watch, and Convergent Books.

The homeschooling side of my story is where the biggest ongoing need for reform is, and a quick overview of that can be found in this piece by Kathryn Joyce on us “homeschool apostates.” Groups working to change the state of homeschooling to eradicate abuse, patriarchy, and religious isolationism and dominionism include: Homeschoolers Anonymous, the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children.

If you want to help me out personally: recovery is slow, I’ll be honest. I’m doing a lot better these days than I have been in a long time, but I’m still underemployed and running a tight ship to stay afloat. There’s a tip jar on the side of my blog if you want to buy me a coffee or a tank of gas, but no pressure. I’d be thrilled if you liked The Swan Children and The YA Wallpaper on Facebook and followed us on YouTube — I’m super passionate about the healing power of art and beauty, and about amazing feminist writing and good novels.

I’ll also occasionally run a fundraiser project to help a Quiverfull escapee get on his/her feet. Right now my friend Becca is trying to pay off hospital bills from her gallbladder surgery by selling her music album, and there’s a scholarship contestant we’re upvoting for a chance to go to school without parental support.

And finally: If you related to my piece and thought you were alone:

HI. YOU ARE NOT CRAZY.
::hugs::

Come hang out with us over at Recovering Grace, Homeschoolers Anonymous, etc. Find us on Facebook. We have support groups for you. <3

And if you want book recommendations for how to recover from this stuff, I highly recommend the following:

1) All About Love: New Visions, bell hooks

2) Boundaries, Cloud and Townsend

3) Daring Greatly, Brené Brown

4) Quivering Daughters, McFarland


“I would be just devastated.”

It’s a word I’m not allowed to use, I think. You hit a point where too many bad things have happened to you in too short a period of time, and you suddenly have no time to be devastated because you’re pretty busy working until 7pm for someone else’s startup and getting up at 5am for your minimum wage, “regular” job. When you’re that busy trying to stay alive, you lose your right to be devastated.

Devastation is a luxurious grief. I think it probably involves flopping on the floor and sobbing loudly without regard to time or place or obligations.

I did that once. It was 3am. I put down the phone, and I covered my face with a pillow and soaked it as much as I could because I didn’t have a punching bag or a basement where I could go play rock music loudly. I cried until I got a headache, and then I tried to sleep because I had to be at work early the next morning and I knew I was going to have to fight icy roads on the way to work, but I couldn’t sleep because my pillow was wet and my head was exploding and my eyes wouldn’t make tears anymore but I couldn’t stop crying. And I was aware of my adult self as she kept checking the clock.

When I hear the word devastated, I think of Meryl Streep on the screen, tossing her hair in the sunlight with a big old empty house behind her as she whisks herself away to nurse a wine bottle and purse her lips before sinking into a bubble bath.

When I hear the word devastated, I think of Roxane over Christian’s body, damning death’s approach because, fuck it, she was going to have her cry on the battle fied. I think of her mourning dress in the morning light, the black lace whispering over the grass.

Life, put on pause. That is devastation.

I used to get really flushed and tight in my chest when I’d come back to campus after fall break and walk to chapel and see packs of girls with gleaming skin and freshwater pearl studs and snappy headbands, wearing smooth, fitted North Face jackets. Aghast at my lack of conversationable ideas when I bumped into one in line, I’d compliment the jacket, and she’d flash me a white-toothed smile and tell me how her dad takes her out to get a new fall wardrobe every year during break, and isn’t this just the nicest jacket? I’d agree warmly, and then I’d poke my fingers through the lining of my pockets and finger the length of the frayed edge and wonder if my parents even knew what my coat was like.

Sometimes I feel guilty for taking time alone so intensely. It’s not productive, I can’t answer any of my own questions, and I should be applying for more jobs, since I’m broke as shit. So when I walk to my car after work, I call a friend so I don’t miss the beauty of those five blocks over worrying that I parked in the wrong zone in my hurry to make it to work on time. I talk about writing ideas and boys, telling her how I’m craving hot mozzarella cheese sticks and worried about my little sister, and I try not to count out the impact of a $73 parking ticket on my week’s budget. I watch the light while I listen to her tell me about the first time she felt her baby hiccup inside her. I impress on my memory the glint of the sea between the houses when her husband interrupts us to tell her how he thinks she’s so sexy. I try to imagine what I would feel if I were in their town again, fighting 16” of snow and cursing the ice on my car in the mornings.

Devastation is a mindset that is incompatible with perceived scarcity, I think. It’s loss, but it’s loss to those unaccustomed to the sensation. I wonder sometimes how much bigger, louder, freer, and more me I could be if I didn’t have starvation mentality strangling my brain every second of the day. I trace the sunbeams and feel small, but it’s not new to feel small. When the world steps a bit closer and the rain whispers on the pavement, I feel large and I contain multitudes.

Is my aversion to accepting grand gestures of nature or grief or familial affection and accidental plenty a form of emotional ADHD? Am I afraid of having enough, because then I might lose my excuses for why I’m not yet flexing my full strength?

I don’t want to be devastated. I need to build an addition in my brain for the positive descriptors–they’re all bunking together in the back room while fear and shame play bachelor penthouse in my kitchen. I think I want to invite whole over for coffee. I want to make abundance my godmother. I want to be baptised with tranquility.

But I’m just not sure how to go about it yet, and I have to be up at 5am for work. Maybe I’ll whisper curses at the sunrise. Or maybe I’ll play Beyoncé.


Okay, so, basically, my blog is currently useless if you’re not familiar with Brené Brown’s work on shame, especially Daring Greatly. Just get a copy already. [On another note, I’m still working on a follow-up to my post on leaving fundamentalist thinking, but I’ve moved this week and had a family member in the hospital and have been generally too drained to write a good piece on that yet. It’ll happen as soon as I can.]

I used to own a copy of Humility by C.J. Mahaney. I used to think it was a really good book.

I used to beat myself up a lot over how “proud” I was, a concept drawn from SGM’s teachings inspired by C.J. and the Puritans. My desire to be right, my desire for safe relationships, my desire to be heard–all these were twisted in my interpretation of them and lumped in a pile in my mind, under a big black sign that read “PRIDEFUL SINNER.”

Pride, as they defined it in SGM, is “contending for supremacy with God” (Jerry Bridges). Any attempt to control your life, to assert your likes, dislikes, boundaries, or ambitions was written off as “idolatry” and “selfish” and “proud.”

Arrogance was a label of a tent that expanded in SGM to cover anything that wasn’t following the social code of correct behavior. Doubting or anxious? Your lack of faith exhibits pride. Depressed? Prideful doubt of God’s goodwill toward you. Making plans for your life and dreaming/learning/exploring about what and who you really want to do and be? Pride and refusing to listen prayerfully to God’s will for your life.

I suspect that this stuff was harsher for women in SGM (and the fundamentalist homeschooling community at large) than it was for men, because men were required to learn their skill sets, urged to find mentors, and assumed to follow their dreams (of some sort) and have careers and aspirations. Women were not. Gender roles were stricter for us–godly women aspired to be housewives and mothers, and anything outside of that was a spiritual open doorway to pride. Aspirations outside of the wife/mother/housekeeper role might be permitted, if you were quiet and meek and self-deprecating and insecure enough in your potential. Men with aspirations were taught to give lip-service to this sort of attitude as well, but they were never socially required to really adhere to it with the same intensity of guilt trips and care group self-shaming sessions that women were.

I was thinking on this the other day–I wrote a poem (which I may share here later) and I wrote it about the fierce beauty of a healthy, strong woman who is confident in herself. Which is, really, a positive sort of pride. I realized a few things, which I want to talk about here.

Pride, in its actual real-life definition, is a double-edged concept. It can be a false, inflated sense of self-importance (a sort of delusion, really), or it can be a secure feeling of worth and belonging of some sort, a warm connection to someone or something. My baby sister has no shame in her artistic attempts–if I get a box from home, it’s full of paintings and drawings she’s made. And she puts them on the fridge and sends them to work with our dad and it’s not a big deal. She doesn’t act self-important about her art, but she is happy with it and shares it with people. It’s pride in her work, and it’s deserved and healthy. And I am proud of her and her cheery lack of self-consciousness with her art. It’s healthy and that’s good, and so I am pleased and heart-warmed by it. That’s the other side of pride.

And the thing that I’m realizing, is that in all the years that I beat myself up for being proud, I was never really proud. I may have been immature and naive and selfish, but I wasn’t deluded in my importance (okay maybe sometimes with younger siblings when I was babysitting), not really. I was afraid of myself. I was afraid of being large and taking up space and having a voice and things to say and having people hear me. I was afraid of being good at anything that would prevent me from being mostly invisible. I gravitated toward excelling in supporting social roles, toward excelling in domestic skills, and toward excelling at being unobtrusive.

I was not proud in either sense of the word. And I was living in shame, afraid of existing much at all. And I think we should be proud in the healthy sense of the word.

My favorite example of this is my friend Kiery, who has been making art since hen’s parents rejected hen when hen decided, at 18, to move out and marry hen’s boyfriend/unofficial fiancé (only unofficial because of the parents’ attempts to break them up). Hen’s family was vicious and abusive to hen’s assertion of independence, and Kiery went into emotional cocooning as a newlywed, but eventually started painting and drawing. The process has been slow and agonizing at points–I know Kiery has fought a lot of internal voices telling hen to stop and that the art is worthless. But hen’s art has improved SO much, and Kiery’s doing a comic strip with a friend, running a gaming vlog, and making some really cool pieces of art. It’s taken years, but there’s a wholeness to what Kiery makes that has been the result of lots of self-nurturing and patience with henself that I really respect and admire. It’s been like watching a butterfly emerge and dry its wings in the sunlight. It’s so beautiful and good.

I aspire to things. So do you. And it’s not sinful or “prideful” to be honest and encouraging and kind to yourself about that.


Fundamentalism isn’t an ideology, it’s a habit of thought patterns. Fundamentalism is based in fear. Fear of not being heard, fear of being invalidated, fear of attack, of erasure, of silencing.

Fundamentalism can be present in any community regardless of ethics or system of belief.

The reason that I started questioning the Christian fundamentalism I grew up with was because I saw people valuing the system of belief as more important than having compassion for hurting people in our community. I was upset that our value system put being right over sitting with someone in pain and empathizing with them in their vulnerable place.

I think that’s why most of us left the system of legalism, fundamentalist Christianity, Christian patriarchy—whatever you want to call it. We saw the system steamrolling people in pain—either us or those we loved—and realized that the system didn’t work for outliers, for those who didn’t fit the boxes or couldn’t follow the rules. We suddenly saw the marginalized, and realized that we were in a broken system and needed a new paradigm to stop marginalizing people if we wanted to have integrity in our claim to love as an ethic of life.

And so we stepped out of the too-small shoes of whatever ideology we’d been living in, and tried to listen and learn and practice consistent compassion and fight shame. We learned about self-care and about boundaries, we learned to question authority structures and say no. We learned the value of listening to those less privileged than us, and we adopted the language of feminism and intersectionality—clumsily at first, for most of us, but with sincere desire to be different from what we’d been before.

But fundamentalism isn’t something you can leave by deciding you’re LGBTQ* affirming, or by reading bell hooks, or by finally expressing the anger you felt when you were marginalized in your former world.

All of these things are good, but being “feminist” or “progressive” or even coming out as atheist can’t really do a thing for unlearning fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism is fundamentally a defensive position. It is not easily open to nuance, it uses synecdoche on first impressions to assume that one or two interactions is the sum of a person’s essence. It is too interested in self-defensive labeling of everyone and everything to have the patience to sit with someone and try to learn how much their good intentions are reflected in their actions over time—it doesn’t have time for those who are learning or need to ask a million questions before they can grasp concepts that may have come quickly to us.

In the book Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, Nathaniel is talking to a woman about teaching the sailors complex math tricks to navigate more accurately, but they’re not picking it up very quickly and he’s impatient. She chides him, saying [I’m paraphrasing] “Don’t kick the chair because you ran into it in the dark. It’s not the chair’s fault it’s like that.” She goes on to encourage him to try to get to know the sailors individually to understand how their different personalities might inform how he can best approach teaching them to navigate the stars well.

I think about this scene often, because sometimes I’m the quick one who picks things up intuitively, and I don’t always remember that not everyone else is like that. And sometimes I’m the one with clumsy emotional intelligence, and I step on toes without realizing it, and need to have things explained to me in nice, small words so I can understand.

I am not advocating re-traumatizing yourself for the sake of helping someone who you find triggering. That is not your job. Boundaries are good. Take care of yourself.

But: I think it’s inconsistent and a bit mean to have believe you’ve left Christian fundamentalism and to rail against its treatment of the underprivileged and to claim that you’re an ally—and to choose to publicly label someone as “unsafe” for some intent-to-action clumsiness despite evidence that they’re trying to change and learn, just like you. They may very well be unsafe for you or for others and I’m all for eliminating negative influences from one’s personal life. But I can’t help but think how grateful I have been for the kind people in my life who have chosen to sit with me in my ignorance and inconsistencies and help me unlearn my bigotry without labeling me or shaming me.

Compassion is an act of the imagination, right? Shame is the tool of fundamentalists to silence and control the borders of a community. I don’t want to be right and educated well about intersectionality and feminism and my privilege, and fail to have compassion for those who are not as far along in the learning curve as I might be. I remember what it was like to be there. Do you?

Leaving fundamentalism is more about a laying down an irrational craving to be right (oh, I love you my darling Gryffindors, but…) and a taking up of compassion and imagination and epistemological humility than it is about learning and using the right labels and theories. The ethics of unlearning fundamentalism must go much deeper than just jumping to the other side of your line in the sand.

Safe people aren’t relationally fundamentalist. Safe people are compassionate people.


“The hardest part is realizing you’re in charge” – Helen Bishop, Mad Men

One of the things that has been a constant struggle for me, as a woman leaving the world of Christian patriarchy, has been reconciling reality to my learned “right” responses. I have to be gutsy and take charge of my life and heed my personality type and my needs and make sure I’m living in a way that works best for who I am. But it’s hard to learn to do this, because I grew up considering myself strongest when deferring to other’s needs and wants, most godly when negating my desires, and most strong and female when abandoning my preferences to respond and absorb the desires and choices of others.

The term I’ve heard used for this is “learned helplessness” and it’s frequently a gendered problem, but I think it’s not just an issue for women. It’s also an issue for everyone in the “new reformed” circles of young Calvinists.

This is, of course, at the root, a face of that age-old “predestination vs. free will” discussion, but I’m going to lift it from those over-simplified terms because I find that they are useless in the face of reality, where I see a good deal of both/and going on in terms of one’s ability to choose freely and one’s inability to change circumstances. I’d like to lay it aside with the understanding that I think the two concepts probably coexist, and I’m not sure exactly how. Paradox, yes. It’s beyond me just now.

So, first, as a woman dealing with The Most Unpredictable Year Of Her Life Ever!, I’m finding that I have to unlearn a lot of places in my personal character where I’d relaxed into patriarchal norms just because I could when I was married. Things like changing my oil, moving boxes on my own, driving across the country alone, booking a hotel room, getting a credit card, de-icing my car before work, etc. — these were things I had to take on and own for myself.  Some of that is just general cultural gender role stuff. Other things are more Christian patriarchy-related, like realizing that the church search was up to me, if I was going to find one out here in LA, realizing that I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to live my life, or that I don’t need to call anyone to tell them when I’m coming home.

But as I’m talking to other girls trying to take on adult decisions outside of the meet-a-man-and-follow-him-forever Christian patriarchy narrative for women (say, as a woman ends up out of her parents’ house and not yet married, or 30 and living at home without “prospects”), I hear from them over and over again statements such as: “I don’t even know what I like!”  Outside of the girl-to-woman-to-wife-to-mother narrative of patriarchy, they don’t know what who they are, why they want to do what they want to do, or how to make decisions without leaning overmuch on the advice of peers and elders, because they never learned to listen to themselves. Women in Christian patriarchy exist as negative space, conforming to the solid definitions of the men in their lives. And I’m still shaking off stray pieces of that mindset. It’s like sand and children: you’re always finding particles in weird places months after you’ve left the beach.

Similar to this is the “sovereignty of God” talk from the new Calvinists. I’ve been doing a linguistic experiment for the past year or so: every time I feel the impulse to thank God for something or claim his foreknowledge or sovereignty for something, I check myself to see if I’m just talking about an element of my life that’s because of social privilege. If I am, then I don’t do God-talk about it, because that’s just disrespectful to people who love God and live rightly, but still suffer because they’re lacking good things due to privilege. An example: a college graduate might thank God on Facebook for getting her through a private Christian school with good friends and a job offer ready for her in June. The impulse is nice, but it’s infuriating to someone who maybe didn’t have parents who could afford to pay for college, was marginalized socially and had trouble making friends, or got the short end of the stick with the economy and can’t find good work after graduation. It’s not wrong, but does it feels unfair to thank God for something you worked for and earned, or something that was handed down to you by genetics. It feels like it makes light of the hard work you did, or the hard work that less-privileged others put in to try to achieve the same ends.

On the other side of this mindset is the reaction to horrific live events with emotionally numbed reactions: cancer? God’s sovereign plan. divorce? it’s okay, God’s still good. grief? lack of faith in God’s sovereignty. I don’t think this sort of response is meant to be flippant or numbly blasé, but that’s how it comes across. It doesn’t allow for the full range of human emotions to be expressed in normal reactions to traumatic events, but instead cauterizes the emotions with shaming for lack of faith.

Agency is a funny thing. I don’t like that I feel more uncomfortable having agency than I do with feeling helpless. Between the God-is-sovereign catch-all explanation for anything hard or anything good and the patriarchy’s gender roles, the way I thought of myself I was not as an actor in my own life, but a pawn on a chessboard. Things happened to me instead of me making choices.

I don’t think God meant us to half-live our lives. I don’t think he meant for us to wait for life to happen. I don’t think a life of faith is lived in absence of risk or owning one’s full potential or full emotion or choice. I don’t think God wants us to constantly be yammering about how good he is when it’s not something that showcases his kindness in an honest way. It’s a waste of breath. There’s a difference between feeling genuine appreciation for quotidian graces and clanging a cymbal about how awesome God was to give you privilege.

The tension between brash American self-made bootstraps man mindset (which is also unhealthy) and the self-imposed helplessness of Christian patriarchy and new Calvinism is appropriate, I think, and should be embraced. There’s a glorious dignity to being human, and it should be embraced along with a peaceful awareness of one’s size in the face of the universe. These are not things to be taken lightly.


I feel like Stuff Christian Culture Likes is the comedy version of my Immodesty Rail pieces. If you don’t know Stephanie Drury‘s work yet, check it out. Her best work may be her themed Twitter search-and-retweet moments.

So, along those lines: stuff Christian culture likes [to do]:

Demand inappropriate justification for deeply personal decisions.

Maybe this is also a Southern culture thing. But if the South is Christ-haunted, the culture there is certainly also very inbred with church culture.

For example: when a divorced Christian (or a Christian dating a divorced person) is asked by another Christian if the divorce occurred on “biblical grounds” (or a similar question). You think you’re supported by someone, you think your trauma (if you’re the divorcé[e]) or joy (if you’re dating one) is safe to share with this particular person, and then you get hit with the icy water of presumption and judgment. And in that moment between the asking and the telling, you know that your ability to be vulnerable with this person ever again is dependent upon your answer. You are on the defensive, and you have to prove to the other person that your choices are worth their respect, that your decisions are good enough for them to take you seriously–either just as a mature adult, or as a “true” Christian.

It’s kinda traumatizing, and it’s irrational. It’s the milder, more benevolent version of that same sort of thinking that leads people to ask a rape victim if s/he was asking for it.

And I don’t think Christians mean to be so hurtful and oblivious–the discourse of most American Christian culture is premised on the assumption that love looks like challenging each other to be our best selves (in some way or another), instead of loving each other as if we were our best selves. The burden of hope should be placed on the possibility of being one’s best self, not on the act of achieving that possibility. It’s basic Works vs. New Identity in Christ stuff.

When I first told people what had happened, what my ex had decided, someone close to me asked me “What’s your theology of divorce?” and I was just devastated. Compassion and care and offers of support and help should have been the first response I got from this individual, not a one-line request to justify my actions (or, really, my ex’s actions). 

Similarly, demanding to know if there were “biblical grounds” for a divorce is like asking if a rape was legitimate. You don’t do it.

The concept of “biblical grounds” itself is flawed in the same ways that the idea of “biblical manhood and womanhood” is flawed–cultural norms are interlaced with the textual directives and you cannot draw a simple, direct parallel across the ages and say that the Bible’s most direct standards for grounds for divorce are culturally appropriate today. There is definitely ethical overlap, but the framework must be contextualized for the sake of interpretational integrity.

Beyond that, the thing that most people who haven’t personally experience a divorce (and even some who have) overlook is this: it’s more common for people to take the decision to go through with a divorce much, much more seriously than they do the decision to get married. They just don’t jump into it in a rush, eyes blinded by emotion. Some do, naturally, but it’s legally much easier to get married than to get divorced, and there’s a usually whole lot less incentive to change the status quo by ending a marriage. It’s hard to untangle two lives, it’s hard to go through the legal process and emerge intact, and it’s socially much, much harder to tell your friends and family that you’re divorcing than it is to tell them you’re getting hitched.

Black and white assumptions never help anyone. Compassion is an act of the imagination, at its root, and so before you go and ask if a marriage ended on “biblical grounds” or “who was at fault?” take a moment and put yourself in their shoes, and imagine what it must be like to be in that place.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

[for some good voices on divorce and healing, check out: Natalie Trust, Letters From Scarlet, and A Christian Girl’s Guide to Divorce]


First off, thank you to everyone who expressed interest and then was patient and understanding when I didn’t show up on Friday with my post as planned. Life did some unexpected things and I spent most of the weekend on the road. But I’m back now, and here’s the promised post!

If you want to participate, link up at the bottom of the post with your own 5 (or more! I couldn’t stop and did 10) unnamed thanks to people who have made 2013 a better, more whole, more healing year. I’m going to be specifically talking about people from the Christian blogging community in mine, but I think that it doesn’t have to be that narrow. I just thought, for mine, that since it’s so easy to be quick to write each other off over a disagreement online, we sometimes neglect to appreciate positive things about each other in the ‘sphere. And I want to push back against that.

  1. Thank you for your caution in how you discuss hard issues. You get a lot of flack for your reticence, but I see what you’re doing, translating between realms and watching your tone for the sake of everyone, not for the sake of saving yourself online drama. I see the selflessness in this approach and know the hours and painstaking work of revising and adjusting it must take. You’re doing it well and I deeply admire your work and what you’ve been able to achieve.
  2. Thank you for your brash honesty, for being comfortable with not knowing what you believe all the time but comfortable with sharing the learning process with us all. The sincerity and curiosity you display is, I think, symptomatic of you becoming of a whole person as you embrace vulnerability and truth in your journey. I admire this about you a lot.
  3. Thank you for how much you love. I know you’re struggling with feeling out of place and not sure if you’re hitting all the right notes socially in this weird and wonderful online world, but the thing I love most about you is how sincere you are about your affections and care for others, for your family, for the things that make you excited. You’ve walked through hell and you’re not jaded. That’s amazing.
  4. Thank you for playing big sister to the outcasts of the church who congregate in comments sections and aren’t sure if they have a voice or not. Your perpetual hope in the value of a soul burdened with purpose is inspiring. Lives have been seriously changed for good because of your vision.
  5. Thank you for your incisive, non-stop analytical skills. Your intellectual integrity is something we all need to learn from, and I know you’ve moved on to other things, but while you were here, your research and thorough analysis was a tempering voice amid all of our questions and FEELINGS and I so loved that.
  6. Thank you for your love of beauty. Your intimate reflections on God and life and community and ordinary things have been, at points, a really wonderful oasis of meditation and reflection for me and for many others.
  7. Thank you for your maturity. Your voice has shifted, your tone has changed, and we’ve all collided into your blog with our vim and vigor and been sat down at your place and made to be quiet and think bigger than the insides of our own heads for a few minutes. We need you in these parts. Thanks for what you do.
  8. Thank you for your depth of compassion. Your knowledge is tempered by pain and that lends you the ability to hear the wounded in ways that many of us easily skip over in our race to make a point. Please don’t stop writing.
  9. Thank you for your sass and anger. I love how you are 100% wherever you are, I love how you are consistent online and in person, and I love how you are embracing vulnerability and growth with gusto and humor.
  10. Thank you for your absence. I don’t mean that I’m glad you’re gone–I’m not, and our community is often the poorer for it. But what I mean is that I am glad you have prioritized balance and personal health and perspective over the fear of missing out or the fear of not saying something that someone NEEDS to hear now. It takes actual real humility to shut up and sit out and just live, and I have learned a lot from your example of this. And not in a cheesy churchy way. For real.


I think it’s silly how so many of us took to the blogs when the Church gatekeepers wouldn’t listen to us, and how so many of us are now so invested in policing each other.

To counter that, I’d like to talk about this year. This year has been terrible, you all know that. My going away gathering in DC before I moved to LA (appropriately) was one where my friend strung a banner over the doorway that read “Fuck 2013.” I loved her for it.

a room full of reasons why I actually love 2013

a room full of reasons why I actually love 2013

But the other thing about this year is how beautiful it’s been because of the good people who have been there for me. I’ve gotten to meet so many of my blogging friends, I’ve lived out this year almost entirely in other people’s spare bedrooms and on their couches, and I have not lacked anything.

Do you remember those Xanga posts people used to do where they’d write a post with five little somethings to five different people, without naming those people? It’d be like: Things I Wish I Could Say To You! and then they’d write out those things and just leave it open to interpretation who they were talking about. [Probably all of Taylor Swift’s songs started this way, let’s be honest.]

I’d like to do that for Thanksgiving, but as a thank you, not as a bitter-ex-friend-message. If you’ve been touched, healed, held, changed, loved, heard, supported by good folks online, real-life friends, authors (or even books, articles, movements, or movies you found through the blogosphere), join me for a link up on Friday where we don’t name names, don’t patrol the borders of our favorite community, and don’t judge each other if we realize someone is thanking a heretic, a misogynist, a politician, or an Autostraddle author. Everyone’s journey is different, and we each have things we’ve learned and been grateful for that may have originated in odd or socially non-Kosher places.

Here’s a sample of what I want to see, a real-life thank you to someone who’s been a huge part of this year:

Thank you for letting me cry in your kitchen, for dragging me to your in-laws, for buying my favorite beer and sharing your ice cream, for giving me space when the noise in my head got too loud, for letting me say all the most inappropriate things that popped into my head, for helping me pack and unpack at least three times, for picking me up at the Metro in the cold and rain when I called at the last minute, for venting about the internet with me, and for always answering the phone when I needed you, even if if was after you just had a car accident. Thanks for your real friendship when we were both reeling from years of charades. <3

Join me on Friday and let’s link up together to each share at LEAST five unidentified thanks to those who have made 2013 a better, more whole, and more healing year for us.

There’s no limit on who or what you can thank. But let’s take a moment to appreciate the good that this community is capable of doing for a hurting soul.