“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.


“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 have a lot of mixed feelings about the Dave Ramsey-is-insensitive-and-privileged party.

He wrote a ridiculous post about “habits” of rich people in which he showed that he is super out of touch with what it’s like to be poor, and is a subscriber to prosperity gospel stuff, which is a lovely Gnostic sort of plague on American culture, shown most clearly in political discussions in which the word “entitled” is used to reference the assumption that “people who aren’t as well off as us must be lazy.”

Rachel Held Evans and a few others responded to him, on Twitter and through blog posts and made some good points, and now RHE’s post is going nuts on my Facebook feed.

His privilege is clearly an issue. We are right to be angry at his post and the assumptions therein.

Looking at his teachings more broadly, I’ve observed that long-term, Ramsey’s financial ideas are not especially sound. They don’t teach you how to use credit responsibly, they don’t teach you how to invest, they don’t teach you many important financial management principles that one needs to build wealth well in America.

And for someone like me, who grew up without ever going into debt, who didn’t have student loans, and never owned a credit card, it was downright damaging to my financial stability this year. I couldn’t get a small loan to buy a used car, I haven’t got any sort of credit score or history and therefore I haven’t had a “safety net” of a good visa card, etc., etc. I have had to play catch up to just exist in the credit system so I can do basic life things, like: get approved for an apartment on my own. Thanks, Dave Ramsey! I felt like a trope, the helpless, financially dependent female. [And yes, I have been very lucky to have experienced the privilege that later caused me financial complications this year.]

But I did sit through a handful of his seminars and read at least one of his books, and discussed in great detail his principles with various family members who took his courses over the last decade or so.

And I have to say, it’d be “stoopid” (as he says) to write off his teachings completely. Yes, he’s rich, white, and an arrogant dude. It’s silly to teach that debt is “slavery” and sinful. Sure, debt can be “stoopid,” but it’s just bullshit to think that Jesus is going to love you less if you have student loans.

But if you’re middle class, white, averagely financially literate, and born after 1960, it’s likely he’d be good for you. Ramsey is a skilled manipulator and motivator — part of why 1) he has so many blind followers, and 2) part of why I’m really glad he’s not a pastor — and he exercises his very specific abilities to help a very specific set of people.

Not everything he says is sound — I’m not sure cash is more “painful” than a debit card to use — but he helps those who are either in denial or just numb with fear about their debt by shaking them awake and getting them to start practicing some measure of control and awareness about their spending habits and the long-term ramifications of various debts.

His “snowball” method is not the best way to get rid of debt, but it is motivating and helpful if you’re so scared of your loans and the numbers just seem insurmountable. His “gazelle intensity” is silly, but can be effective, like having a workout coach push you for the first six weeks of your New Year’s exercise plan. A tool is a tool is a tool.

So: Dave Ramsey is a privileged bully, yes. His financial advice is bad long-term. And I hate that he uses shame so much. But, he is very useful for those who need a little courage to start to embrace the challenge of America’s favorite daydream, the self-made man. If they can.


Advance warning #1:

Do read up on the concept of privilege a bit before reading this post if you’re not already familiar with it. The short definition is, essentially: the power given to you because of your identity by various established cultural structures, or even more simply, the social place of power you don’t know you have because you were born with it. Some people call it “the invisible knapsack.”

If you want to come here and tell me that privilege is a made-up idea used by feminists to oppress men, I really don’t have time for you. Go do your homework.

***

Advance warning #2: 

I feel a little uncomfortable writing this [because I am “a person of privilege” in this discussion]. But I feel more uncomfortable with the idea of not writing this, because sometimes it’s okay to [very very carefully and very very cautiously, with lots of peer discussion and sensitivity] use one’s privilege to speak out about something wrong, knowing that you will be heard just because of your privilege. 

***

Yesterday was National Coming Out Day, a day that is a big deal on the vulnerability front for a lot of people. Coming out is a daring thing. And straight folks like me who care about our LGBTQ friends should appropriately respect and honor the strength, courage, and vulnerability it takes to come out and name your identity without shame.

And I know that for those of us who grew up in the conservative Christian bubble, acknowledging that we support LGBTQ rights is a scary thing. We care, we’re habitually vocal about our beliefs (thanks, worldview seminars and evangelism trainings and high school debate!), and we want to systematically renounce the harmful assumptions that we once naively embraced and now understand to be toxic. So speaking up to say that we love our LGBTQ friends unconditionally and want to see them treated without shame and as full equals in the Church feels like a big deal. To us, it feels like risking a lot. It feels brave. It feels like we’re doing our own “coming out.”

But it’s not the same. At all. 

And to use National Coming Out Day as our own personal blogging segue to tell the whole internet that we want to learn how to be allies and we are renouncing the fundamentalist beliefs we grew up with is an obtuse act of privilege. It’s like if someone is announcing at a breast cancer awareness event that she has breast cancer and we decided to respond to her announcement by turning to the room and saying “oh, hey guys, that reminds me that I wanted to tell you: I’m okay with vaccines now!”

Bush is concerned about your irresponsible use of privilege. Don’t blog under the influence, kids.

Having privilege means that you’re more likely to get listened to by other people of privilege. That is a fundamental element of how privilege works. So it’s not a good idea to steal your LGBTQ friends’ thunder by trying to make yourself feel better about what everyone you admire thinks about you and appropriating their day to be YOUR day.

It’s just a little…self-centered and overly dramatic.

Let ME tell you how I FEEL!

We’ve all learned this lesson in one form or another, or we wouldn’t be renouncing fundamentalism and trying to learn all we can about living humbly and practicing our faith with nuance and integrity. We should know better. But just to be sure, let me remind you:

It’s not okay to upstage someone’s vulnerability to make ourselves feel better. 

and

Taking on a label (“ally”) is only meaningful if we practice integrity in how we live it out. 

Don’t say you’re an ally if you’re not checking your privilege and listening lots, lots, lots more than you talk.

Don’t say you’re an ally and then appropriate something that doesn’t belong to you and you don’t fully understand.