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Monday, May 30, 2016

Suzhou, China (photos)

Hi everyone! I went to Suzhou (苏州 pronounced sort of like "sue joe"), a city very close to Shanghai, and it was beautiful. Suzhou is famous for its canals and gardens.

First, I went to Shantang Street (山塘街), a touristy pedestrian street by a canal. It had a lot of street food and souvenir shops.





Next I saw Xuanmiao Temple (玄妙观), a Taoist temple. We got there pretty late in the afternoon and the main temple part was already closed. Here is some stuff around the area outside the temple:



And in the evening, Hendrix and I went on a cruise on the canals:









It was beautiful!

We saw a bunch of other cool stuff in Suzhou too~ I will post more pictures later.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Blogaround

A very happy dog, with 2 tiny flowers perched behind its ears. Image source.
1. Abigail and the Courage to Take Charge (posted May 19) "Of course in modern times, a good complementarian wife would have given gentle input before simply submitting to her husband even if she disagreed with his choice. But not Abigail."

2. Josh Harris Apologizes (posted May 11) I don't hold anything against him- he was only 21. I publicly advocated a lot of super-Christian stuff when I was 21, stuff that I now recognize as really messed-up.

3. Bill Gothard and the Dynamics of Abuse (posted May 11) "In fact, abusers typically choose their victims carefully while acting in an upstanding way toward those they are not victimizing. This helps hide their abuse by ensuring that no one will believe their victim if they speak out."

4. Did God Give Me Cancer? (posted May 18) "And yet, this is the very dogma folks like John Piper seem to relish in. In fact, he’s written an entire book entitled – and I’m sad to say I’m not making this up – Don’t Waste Your Cancer."

5. “Do I look like a boy, or a girl?” (posted May 16) "Ensuring that people always read my children’s gender correctly would require ensuring that each conforms to very specific societal norms of dress for both hair and clothing. In other words, it would require a sort of forced uniformity."

6. How North Carolina’s HB2 Affects Parents (posted May 17) "Every parent or other caregiver who has ever had to retrieve an escaped toddler from the opposite-gender changing room at the gym understands these feelings."

(Lots of good posts from Libby Anne this week!)

7. Love > tolerance; but (love – tolerance – subsidiarity) < love (posted May 16) "That means you don’t have to help a homeless person unless it’s your own sister. And it means that no one else has to help your sister, or to help you help your sister. So you’re all on your own, and we’re all screwed."

8. sinful hearts: the consequences of Inherited Sin (posted May 13) [content note: abusive theology] "So if our partner spends a lot of time telling us how untrustworthy we are, how terrible we are, how we deserve having our possessions destroyed, our body beaten, our souls violated, where is the space to call this abuse in the context of Inherited Sin?"

9. I saw "Captain America: Civil War" and I think it was pretty good. I really liked the beginning, when there was discussion on whether the Avengers should be under some kind of regulation and be held accountable for the destruction they cause and innocent people who die because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Totally agree with Ironman on this. Actually, this is why I don't like action movies in general- people are always fighting, destroying buildings, destroying cars- like, don't they care? Who's going to pay for that? And what about the innocent people in those cars or buildings, who probably just died off-screen? Yes, definitely a big issue for superhero movies, this definitely needs to be addressed.

Unfortunately, a bunch of other emergencies came up and the Avengers all got involved in various fights, including fighting each other, and never really returned to that discussion. Ahh man. (I'm aware that this is probably when everyone else thought the movie finally got exciting.)

Anyway, I hope Ant Man has to pay for that airplane.

10. 7 Ways Social Justice Language Can Become Abusive in Intimate Relationships (posted February 17) This is really important- but this article is just a start. There is a lot more that has to be said about this topic, and I'm not even sure of my opinion on it.

As an example: I'm not totally on board with the whole "tone-policing is bad" thing. (I'm defining "tone-policing" as "criticizing a person's 'tone' [perhaps by saying they sound angry or impolite] as an excuse to avoid considering the actual point they're trying to make," which is more or less how it seems to be defined in feminist stuff I've read.) Yes, definitely it's a problem when someone is like "well you should try to say it in a nicer way, then people might listen to you" when the person they are criticizing has every right to be angry, and they are suffering injustice that MUST be addressed, without first having to be burdened with explaining it in a way that privileged people deem as acceptable.

BUT. Does "tone-policing is not okay" mean "any time anybody says anything racist, sexist, anti-LGB, anti-trans, etc etc etc [and all of these terms are VERY broadly defined to include all tiny microaggressions, like asking a woman "and how does your boyfriend feel about you cutting your hair that short?" which implies that if a woman is in a relationship, then her body is not her own, she has to get permission from her male partner before she cuts her hair] then you can totally yell at them. You don't have to think about how they feel, you don't have to try to be nice, you don't have to care about if they're even able to understand why you're yelling at them"? Because, I'm not really comfortable with that. I think there is something to be said for being nice to people who unintentionally perpetuate the harmful ideas that are native to our society.

I don't believe this concern about fighting against tone-policing is a question of "taking it to the extreme"- instead, I think if we define "tone-policing" more clearly, then such situations will be automatically excluded. There must be some better and more clear definition, which does not lead to "tone-policing is bad, and therefore you can be as yelly and mean as you want when someone says or does something that feminism disapproves of."

11. Leaked Documents Reveal Studio Executives Knew About ‘Gods Of Egypt’ Before It Released Onto Public (posted May 25) From The Onion (fake news).

12. Beware the Jelly Creationists (posted May 25) "Hardcore young-Earth creationism is rigid and inflexible, and easy to disprove. It’s not easy to get its adherents to admit you’ve disproved it, because they engage in all kinds of ad hoc rationalisations, but eventually many young-Earth creationists run out of these rationalisations and are forced to change their minds. Jelly Creationism, by contrast, is compatible with almost anything short of evolution by natural processes, and so almost nothing you say will change its adherents’ minds."

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Feminism 101: Cisgender

Two happy babies. One is wearing a striped shirt and laying on a blue background, and one is wearing a pink frilly shirt and laying on a pink background. Image source.
Feminism 101 is a series in which I define some of the terms that feminists like to throw around. My goal is to help those who are totally new to feminism understand what it's all about.

Today's entry: cisgender

Gender Wiki defines "cisgender" in this way: "Cisgender is a term for someone who has a gender identity that aligns with what they were assigned at birth. The term was created for referring to "non-transgender" people without alienating transgender people. For example, if the doctor announces a baby as being a girl, and she is fine with being a girl, then she is cisgender."

In other words, cisgender (or just "cis") is the opposite of transgender. (So really, to understand cisgender, you need to know what transgender means. See this post for a list of resouces I gathered on transgender issues.) If you're cis, that means when you were born, the doctor said "it's a girl", and society has always labelled you as a girl, and you believe that yes, you are a girl. (Or, the doctor said "it's a boy" and yes, you are a boy.) The majority of people are cis.

Some people might ask, why do we need a word like "cisgender"? Well, if you don't have a word like that, then what do you call a person who is not transgender? What do you call them? "Normal"? Wow, not okay with that- that makes it sound like trans people are freaks who barely even get included in the category of "people." And also, when you're talking about issues like sex or pregnancy- topics where people's specific configuration of genitals is very important- it's not really right to say things like "men shouldn't be the ones making decisions about abortion, because they can't get pregnant"- that's not true, some men can get pregnant. For example, some transgender men. So this is why we need the term "cis", just say "cis men" instead of "men" and you're good. (Or say "people who can't get pregnant" or something.) Otherwise you're treating trans men as if they don't even exist.

Okay now that we know the definition, let me tell you a little story.

Back when I was a little girl, I didn't really do things "like a girl." I didn't see the point of brushing my hair, I didn't care what kind of clothes I wore or if they "matched"- to me, the whole "matching" thing was an arbitrary set of rules society was forcing on me, and I hated it. When I was in high school, I didn't wear makeup, and I hated shaving my legs. I felt like I had to, otherwise everyone would judge me- but it was just such a huge amount of effort and it didn't matter to me at all. I also used to wear a lot of big t-shirts, and bought jeans from the boys' section because the pockets were ACTUALLY BIG ENOUGH TO BE USEFUL and the sizes made sense. [Y'all. If you've never bought clothes for yourself from the boys'/men's section, you MUST go try sometime. It is MIND-BLOWING how the sizing follows ACTUAL LOGIC. Wow. Completely different from women's clothes.]

When I was little, I had Barbies, but I didn't brush their hair or care what clothes they wore- instead I had them go on all kinds of dangerous adventures. I liked books about science and math and logic problems- stuff that's not really seen as "girly."

I hated when we used to play competitive games at school or at church, and they made the teams "boys vs girls." I felt like I fit in more with the boys. And whatever the result, there would be some people loudly claiming that it proved one gender was superior. I hated if the boys won, because they would say boys are better, they would just lump me in with all the "inferior" girls, even though I hadn't wanted to be on the girls' team anyway. I hated if the girls won, because they would say girls were better, and then the boys would be angry, and I felt like I didn't belong on either side.

In high school I finally realized I was a math nerd. I participated in so many math competitions, both in school and outside of school. Finally I had found people who thought the same way I did. I really fit in with the nerd herd (fun fact: a group of nerds is called a nerd herd). The overwhelming majority of them were boys.

When I was little, sometimes when I played with my sisters, and we pretended to be secret agents or something, we would choose boy names for ourselves. In video games, I often chose the male-looking avatar (usually they didn't have good options for female avatars anyway). Online, I typically picked a gender-neutral-sounding username. But if someone replied to a post I made, and they called me "he", I corrected them. I was not okay with that. Should be "she."

As a nerd, I didn't want to look feminine. Girls who dress more feminine don't "look like" they're good at math. [Wow that is a horribly sexist thing to believe.] But in college I figured, we're all here studying engineering, everyone knows we are all nerds, I can be myself more without worrying about not looking nerdy enough. Then I started wearing more cute stuff, pink stuff, and I really liked it. Still, as a girl I was in the minority in my math and engineering classes. And I felt like I fit in better with boys.

(Some internalized sexism in this story- that's generally a big factor in the whole "I'm not like other girls" thing. But analyzing that would be a whole other post.)

Anyway, I'm cisgender, and I'm writing this story to tell cis people what NOT to do. Don't talk about how you don't fit gender stereotypes, and then conclude your story with "but I never, like, thought I was a MAN or anything." I've heard cis people say things like that, talking about their personal experiences not conforming to society's gender expectations, and then trying to argue that trans people are clearly confused, clearly they just had those same sorts of experiences you had, but they foolishly believe that actually means they're a different gender.

Yeah, not okay.

Guess what? If you're cis, if you're confident that your gender is, in fact, the gender that society assigned you based on your arrangement of genitals, then your experience is NOT the same as that of a trans person. If you've never thought "I wonder if I could be transgender..." then congratulations, you have absolutely no insight on the question of how someone knows they're transgender. (And, having said that, I'll point out that I have no insight into that either. The point of this post is to tell cis people to quit judging trans people, to quit thinking they know a trans person's identity better than the trans person knows themself. If you're in the "I wonder if I could be trans..." camp, I really can't help you at all with that question, you have to go ask someone else. Here is a list of resources.)

What's the difference between being a trans man (or being non-binary) and being a cis woman who doesn't follow a lot of the gender stereotypes? Well... in terms of definitions, it's about how gender identity is a separate thing from gender expression, but... what does that really mean? What does it feel like? How would you know? I guarantee you that there ARE answers to these questions. There IS a difference between being trans and being a cis person who doesn't conform to stereotypes. But because I'm cis, because I've never thought "actually, I'm not a girl", it's impossible for me to really *get* those answers.

But I totally believe trans people are correct about their own identity.

And really, do you think there is any trans person out there who is going to realize "OH!!!! I can just be a GIRL who LIKES SPORTS! I don't have to tell everyone I'm a man! WOW I NEVER THOUGHT OF THAT!"

I always thought I wasn't really "like a girl." But I've always known I am a girl, and I'm happy with that. I'm not transgender, so it doesn't matter how many gender stereotypes I break, I will never know how it feels to be trans. I will never understand why gender identity is so important that it's worth all the risks and costs associated with coming out, transitioning, and existing as a trans person in a society that doesn't understand.

So if you're cis, don't say that trans people are "confused" or that they probably just had the same experiences as you did with not meeting society's expectations of what a boy or girl should be like. Because, no, they didn't. Being trans is something different from that. I'm not sure exactly what it's like or how it's different, but I know it is because I believe trans people know their own identity better than anyone else.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Boundaries in Dating: Boundaries are very anti-Christian [as I learned it]

An image with the text "Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last." It spells "joy." Image source.
In chapter 1 of Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships, the authors define the term "boundary." To do this, they first talk about freedom and responsibility:
Simply put, many of the struggles people experience in dating relationships are, at heart, caused by some problem in the areas of freedom and responsibility. By freedom, we mean your ability to make choices based on your values, rather than choosing out of fear or guilt. Free people make commitments because they feel it's the right thing to do, and they are wholehearted about it. By responsibility, we mean your ability to execute your tasks in keeping the relationship healthy and loving, as well as being able to say no to things you shouldn't be responsible for. Responsible people shoulder their part of the dating relationship, but they don't tolerate harmful or inappropriate behavior.
In other words, freedom and responsibility are key factors in a healthy relationship. Freedom means that people are able to make free choices, without feeling like they're forced into it, too scared to consider alternatives, etc. (Hmm, sort of the opposite of what I learned in church- "you HAVE TO read the bible every day, and you HAVE TO go to church every Sunday, or else you're a bad Christian and you should feel guilty about it.") Responsibility means you do what you've committed to in the relationship, and you say no to things that aren't your responsibility.

Wow. I'm pretty much blown away by how healthy this all sounds.

Continuing on, a "boundary" is defined as the line which tells you "what is your emotional or personal property, and what belongs to someone else." I've heard this term before- but only within the past few years, in the context of relationship advice from a feminist perspective. (Purity culture's use of the term "boundaries" doesn't count, because it just means "God said you can't have sex- yeah nothing about this is your choice at all.") As I understand it, the idea behind "boundaries" is that there will always be some jerks out there- you can't change them, but you can set rules about the extent to which they will be allowed in your life. So they can go be a jerk and engage in destructive behavior on their own time, but you make sure you don't give them an opportunity to do that crap with you. The point of boundaries is to protect your own mental and emotional health. It's about setting rules on the way people treat you, and what kinds of behavior you will or will not tolerate.

I don't know about the rest of y'all who grew up in American evangelicalism, but this sounds like "moral relativism" to me. What an idea- that you're okay with the fact that someone is a huge jerk, but you won't let them be a huge jerk who affects your personal life. That certain behviors are allowable in some situations but not others- for example, if you're at someone else's home, you have to respect their rules, but at your home, they respect yours. What about absolute truth and morality?

And what's this about setting boundaries in order to protect yourself, rather than trying to give of yourself in order to help other people change? I mean, if something is right, it's right- and we should try to get everyone to do it. If something is wrong, it's wrong- and we need to make everyone NOT do it. Don't you care about them? Don't you care about how their sin is ruining their life? Maybe by treating them with unreasonable kindness and vulnerability, sacrificing your own mental and emotional health, you can get them to realize they need to repent.

And- gasp- they might even be going to hell! How could you be so selfish to set a boundary and cut a destructive person out of your life- don't you know you could be the only bible they ever read? How are they going to hear about Jesus? You know, Jesus suffered unjustly too- you think your "hurt feelings" can compare with that?

Okay, yeah obviously I don't believe any of that stuff I just said, but that's the Christianity I was taught, and it is VERY MUCH opposed to this whole "boundaries" thing. We learned in Sunday school that you should put Jesus first, others second, and yourself third. Always give up something if it helps other people. The idea that sometimes you have to put your own needs before others' would be unthinkable- no one would ever say that out loud in church. (Well, maybe they would say that you should take care of yourself so that you can be stronger and better able to serve others. It's just a means to an end. You don't matter- serving others better is what matters.)

I wrote last week that if you're in purity culture, "Boundaries in Dating" would be essentially unreadable. It doesn't address purity culture's ideology at all, and a purity-culture reader would be baffled at how a CHRISTIAN book could talk about dating without talking about the risk of becoming impure, permanently damaged, losing parts of your heart. "Boundaries in Dating" is working off completely different assumptions about the basic definition of dating, so it would actually be impossible for a purity-culture reader to even understand what the writers are trying to say.

Well, turns out it would also be incomprehensible to a Christian who had always been told that they need to put others before themselves, that taking action to care for their own emotional health is "selfish".

Because I don't see anything here along the lines of "many Christians believe that it's wrong to set boundaries to protect themselves and say no to people who treat them badly, because they've been taught that they need to 'consider others better than themselves.' Here, let's explain why we disagree with that." It's all just about the benefits of having boundaries, and the potential harm if you don't have them- all of which is so practical and healthy I'm honestly shocked to read it in a Christian book, you guys- but nothing for readers who may believe that as Christians, they're not even allowed to care about consequences for themselves when people need God's love! they're in danger of going to hell! the bible says lay down your life for other people!

Y'all. I had to question and reject pretty much everything I believed about Christian morality in order to get to a place where boundaries sound like a really really good idea, very solid advice that everyone should know about. I've learned all about feminism, become a feminist, and done the hard work of unlearning purity culture. It has taken years. And my concern is that, if you're in the type of Christianity I used to be in, the book "Boundaries in Dating" won't be able to help you at all.

So I'm perplexed at how it could be possible that the "Boundaries" books are very much regarded as Christian books, I've heard them highly recommended by church people, and I haven't heard of anyone who says "Henry Cloud is a false teacher!" (Specifically, I saw Dr. Cloud speak at a Women of Faith conference years ago. Everyone there had great things to say about his books. And Women of Faith was totally promoted by my church and tons of other churches.)

How can this be?

I submit that a lot of Christians don't actually believe the things that are said in church. And I don't mean this in a "so many people go to church but they're not REALLY committed to God, they're not real Christians, they talk the talk but don't walk the walk" way. No, I mean stuff that's said at church (like how you should always put others before yourself) is really unhealthy, and fortunately, a lot of church people don't actually believe it.

They might not even realize they don't believe what's said at church. Someone stands in the pulpit and says "you should consider others' needs before your own" and they hear "you should consider others' needs before your own. Within reason, obviously." And then they tell me I'm the one who misunderstood, I was supposed to just know there was an implied "within reason, obviously" attached to all those sorts of statements. "You take everything too literally," they say.

Yeah okay. I was supposed to just know that. After a lifetime of hearing sermon illustrations about people doing ridiculous things that make no sense because God told them, and look at what a great example of faith they are. And how we can't trust our own minds, we have to obey God instead, even when God's commands seem unreasonable. And how the world won't understand our devotion to God because we're so "crazy for Jesus." You want to know why I believed common sense was the enemy of Christianity? Because Christians ****ing said it was.

(And I'm angry about it.)

Yeah. So. So far, the book "Boundaries in Dating" seems to be incredibly good and healthy. But unfortunately, all that useful advice is inaccessible to good evangelicals.

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After I finished writing this, I did a google search for "boundaries false teaching" and found a couple results about the exact thing I'm talking about here- how Christians are supposed to believe boundaries are heresy. You shouldn't protect yourself; you should always sacrifice to help others- dying to self is what Christianity's all about. You shouldn't be in control of your own life; you should submit to God. I won't link to those posts here because that stuff is really triggering for me, but THANK YOU, fundie website with bad web page design, you've proven my point.

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A blog series reviewing the book Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships

Previous post: Boundaries in Dating: Introduction

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Blogaround

A dog who has helpfully brought you a pillow. Image source.
1. Hi I’m Demisexual. Here’s What That Means (posted May 13) "Growing up, long before I had a word to explain why I felt the way I did, I felt isolated from other guys my age because our sexualities diverged so radically. Pornography never interested me because I felt no attachment to the people having sex on the screen in front of me. I told my best friend, 'Maybe if they made a pornography where the couple was shown to be in an intimate, loving relationship, it might interest me, but why would I want to watch two strangers having sex?'"

2. U.S. Directs Public Schools to Allow Transgender Access to Restrooms (posted May 12) "What you don’t do is go and tell a kid, ‘You know, there is something so freakishly different about you that you make other people uncomfortable, so we’re going to make you do something different’"

3. A Response to Russell Moore's article "The Real Meaning of Transgender Bathrooms" (posted May 13) "She actually spoke the very words I would hope trans people could hear from the church: 'But no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice and the entire Obama administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.'" Amen.

(also: 7 trans Christian voices worth hearing)

4. What Delilah Deserves (posted May 10) "Seems to me that her options were: betray Samson, get filthy rich; or refuse to cooperate, and seal her and her family’s doom."

5. "How is Your Walk With God?" and Other Questions Jesus Never Asked (posted May 17) "It sounds like an open-ended question at first blush, but it feels to me heavy-laden with expectation. There is a right answer to this question."

6. Scalia’s Death Just Prevented Alabama From Executing A Man (posted May 13)

7. This cat slithering down the stairs

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Boundaries in Dating: Introduction

 Boundaries in Dating book cover
So I started reading Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, and I'm very excited about it and find myself with a lot of opinions, so I've decided to do a whole blog series review of this book.

This book is unique because it's very very NOT purity culture, but I've heard the "Boundaries" books highly recommended by church people. (Yes there's a whole series. Boundaries in the context of all kinds of different relationships.)

Take a look at this part, from the introduction:
A few years back I was doing a seminar for singles in the Midwest when the question came from the floor, "Dr. Cloud, what is the biblical position on dating?" At first, I thought I had misheard the question, so I asked the woman to repeat it. And the question came out the same as the first time.

"What do you mean, 'the biblical position'?" I asked.

"Well, do you think that dating is a biblical thing to do?" the woman explained.

Once I heard her question, I thought she was kidding, but I soon realized she was not. I had heard people ask about the biblical position on capital punishment or euthanasia, but never on dating.

"I do not think the Bible gives a 'position' on dating," I said. "Dating is an activity that people do, and as with a lot of other things, the Bible does not talk about it. What the Bible does talk about is being a loving, honest, growing person in whatever you do. So, I would have to say that the biblical position on dating has much more to do with the person you are and are becoming than whether or not you date. The biblical position on dating would be to date in a holy way.

"In fact, God grows people up through dating relationships in the same way that he grows them up in many other life activities. The question is not whether or not you are dating. The questions are more along the lines of 'Who are you in your dating and who are you becoming in your dating? What is the fruit of your dating for you and for the people that you date? How are you treating them? What are you learning?' And a host of other issues that the Bible is very clear about. It is mainly about your character growth and how you treat people."
In other words, someone asked if it's okay for Christians to date, and he was like "what even is this question? Isn't it obvious that if you date in a healthy way, that's good, and if not, then it's bad?"

I mean, YES! I love this because it's common sense instead of purity culture.

He goes on to say that, after hearing this same question over and over on many occasions, he finally decided to find out where it was coming from- and that's how he heard about "I Kissed Dating Goodbye." Then, in the rest of the introduction, he talks about his thoughts after reading that book and why he disagrees and believes that for most people, dating is a healthy thing to do.

But. You guys, I really don't think the authors of "Boundaries in Dating" understand purity culture at all. They seem to have interpreted Harris's argument as "in dating, sometimes people get hurt, therefore everyone should stop dating" and they respond by saying that if you have good boundaries, people don't have to get hurt. Now I've never read "I Kissed Dating Goodbye", but since it is THE purity culture book, I'm guessing the argument is more like: "in dating, sometimes people get hurt, and I will explain that hurt using concepts like purity and how if you loved an ex you have damaged your heart irreversably and can never love your future spouse 100%. Therefore everyone should stop dating." In order to respond to this, you can't just give your advice on how to date responsibly- you also have to engage with the purity argument. You have to make an in-depth refutation of the idea that the more romantic and sexual experience you have, the less potential you have to truly love a marriage partner.

"Boundaries in Dating" doesn't do this. So I believe this book will give a lot of healthy, practical advice and serve as a fantastic alternative to purity culture, but it is definitely not a response to purity culture. If someone has never heard of purity culture, and you give them this book, I think that would be very good and healthy for them. But if somebody believes in purity culture and you want to give them this book to help them get out, oh no no no that will never work. What I've read so far in "Boundaries in Dating" is literally incomprehensible to someone who believes in purity culture.

There are statements like this one: "People can have good dating relationships where they learn, are healed, grow, and are stretched, even when the relationship does not lead to marriage. It has value in a person's life." If you're in purity culture, this statement is completely nonsensical. Like, what is he even talking about?

It would be like if someone said, "When there's a lot of traffic, I find it helps to drive backwards." Like, what? I have no idea what this person is even trying to say. Even if you really wanted to agree with them, you couldn't. You have no way to even understand what they're trying to tell you.

In purity culture, dating (along with any other romantic or sexual thoughts, interactions, or experiences) erodes your purity, causing damage that can never be fully healed. So if you must do it, do as little as possible and go as slow as possible. And when this idea is part of your understanding of the definition of dating, at its most basic level, the above statement from "Boundaries in Dating" is literally incomprehensible. You have no idea what he's even talking about.

(And actually, here's a little story about how I first heard about this book: So, long ago, I heard there was a Christian book called "Boundaries" and I was very interested, because like any teenager or college student in purity culture, I wanted to know "where the line is." But upon reading the book description, I realized it wasn't about dating, it was about all your relationships. Then I found out there was a whole series! There was "Boundaries in Marriage." Wait what, that doesn't make any sense, when you're married you're allowed to have sex and do everything, you don't need boundaries. And there was "Boundaries in Dating"- the only title in the series that made any sense to me. So I flipped through it a little, and read a bit about like, honest communication or something, and concluded it was not a book about "where the line is" and so I was not interested at all. So yeah, not really useful if you're already in purity culture.)

So. I am super excited about reading this book because it is SO NOT purity culture. And the way the authors just nonchalently drop statements which contradict everything I ever believed about dating back then, like it's obvious and it's no big deal- wow, there's something that feels good about reading that. (There will totally be things I disagree with though- it's 100% heteronormative (heteronormativity is when you act like LGB people don't exist) and takes for granted the idea that OBVIOUSLY Christians believe we shouldn't have sex before marriage.)

I always say, if you're a good little church girl who wants to love Jesus with her whole heart, and so you ask, "what is the Christian view of dating?" well the only people who are offering an answer to that question are the purity culture advocates. Even though I really don't think most adults at my church believed in purity culture, there was no one who said, "Hey, how about being practical and having healthy relationships? And here are a bunch of bible verses to support this idea." And THIS IS A PROBLEM. Well guess what, looks like I finally found a Christian leader [who's not regarded as a "false teacher" or anything] saying just that. Very exciting.

Very much looking forward to reading "Boundaries in Dating." I expect it to have a lot of astonishingly healthy things to say. But it's not a response to purity culture. No no no. Very much not.

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A blog series reviewing the book Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships

Next post: Boundaries are very anti-Christian [as I learned it]

Monday, May 16, 2016

I speak evangelical. The Babylon Bee is NOT all fun and games.

A church sanctuary. Image source.
I am not a fan of the Christian Humor site The Babylon Bee, which has been described as "the Onion for Christians." I grew up evangelical, and I know the way we judged people who didn't agree with us, the little eupehmisms and jokes we used to mock them. We kept it indirect and coded in church-y language so it didn't sound so bad, but it had a rotten core of arrogance and hate, which we called "love."

That's what The Babylon Bee is.

Let's take a look. I'm writing this on Sunday, May 15, and the first article on the front page is Armed With Just His Personal Relationship With Jesus, Man Invents Several New Heresies. Hmm, reading this title, I'm not totally sure which direction this article is going. Obviously it will make fun of people who like to talk about their "personal relationship with God"- which is a concept I have some problems with- but the "invents several new heresies" bit is very ominous. Is this going to be mocking the idea of thinking for yourself, rather than just following what the church tells you?

And... unfortunately, yes.

"His theology, though vague, seems to be a strange mix of Arianism, semi-Nestorianism, and what commentators have identified as teachings from the Teletubbies and Dora the Explorer."

Whoa. Whoa whoa whoa. Hold up there.

Because I used to live in that world. I know the types of beliefs that we compared to children's cartoons. Specifically, the beliefs that I now hold. Specifically, the beliefs about love and acceptance and getting along with other people. And the ones about self-esteem and feeling good about yourself. All the beliefs that conflict with the evangelical teaching about sin, about hell, about how we're all terrible sinners who never deserve anything good. And all that stuff they're teaching kids these days about accepting yourself- no, we shouldn't accept ourselves, because we're crap. And that stuff about accepting people who are different from us- no, we shouldn't accept people who believe differently, that's the worst thing we can do, we have to convince them to agree with us, so they don't go to hell.

That's what we believed. We even used to mock the word "love." "Oh but we love each other, so it's okay," church people would say in an unnaturally high voice.

For real though. If you find God in Dora the Explorer, than good for you. Didn't the psalmist say, "Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast." I'm pretty sure if you're watching Dora the Explorer, God is there too.

I find God in Star Trek. In Star Wars. In writing fan fiction about the bible. I find God in my own life, in my experiences with phobias and depression. And I love to read about diverse interpretations of the bible, how people from different backgrounds see their own lives reflected in the stories. From liberation theology to queer readings of Scripture, and so many more. I don't think of it in terms of "is this the correct interpretation or not"; it doesn't have to be right or wrong, and you shouldn't take it too seriously. They're just interpretations made by imperfect people- very useful and interesting, but not "absolute truth." And it's beautiful to me how so many different people can find so much meaning in the bible. This creativity is a core component of what it means to be made in the image of God.

And this last line from the Babylon Bee article: "Pershing is also reportedly beginning work on a new book chronicling his journey out of the institutional church and into a stronger relationship with Jesus, which is rumored to contain a systematic rejection of systematic theology." Okay, really? It's mocking Christians who write about leaving the church and rediscovering their faith? Like me?

What this "humor" article is really saying is this: "How dare anyone think about Jesus in ways other than those that have been approved by the church."

I am not okay with that.

And over and over, that is the punch line to so many Babylon Bee articles. "lololol look how silly people are, who don't believe the correct Christian things that we believe!" You want more examples? I got more examples:

Pastor Packs Sermon With Record-Setting 78 Euphemisms For Sin. Allow me to translate from evangelical-ese. What this article is really saying is: "Isn't it terrible how a lot of pastors don't talk enough about sin nowadays? They really need to emphasize how disgusting and worthless we are, and how we deserve God's wrath. How come Christians hardly ever talk about God's wrath?"

Target Announces Senior Discount For Anyone Who Self-Identifies As Age 60 Or Older. Translation: "LOL being transgender is clearly not a real thing!"

LGBT Advocacy Group Launches Center For Advanced Ad Hominems. WTF is this? As if conservatives are the victims, demonized by LGBT advocates. Tell me, which side is it that claims the other side is wrong about their very identity (and also probably all child molesters)?

Jesus Was A Socialist Deconstructionist Feminist, Claims Socialist Deconstructionist Feminist Scholar. Translation: "Isn't it terrible that people have opinions about Jesus other than the correct church-approved opinions that I hold?"

Yes, there are a few articles that I am fine with- they point out some of the same problems with Christian culture that I see too. Everything Local Man Feels Led To Do He Coincidentally Really Likes, for example. Some of the articles are harmless, or even a little funny. But running through most of them is judgment for people who are doing Christianity "wrong." And I know that, according to the writers of this site, I am one of those people doing Christianity "wrong."

It's not funny. It's triggering as hell. I speak their language, and I know what they're really saying.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Blogaround

Lieutenant Uhura, from Star Trek: The Original Series. Image source.
I have recently realized my life is incomplete without one of these little red Starfleet uniforms like Uhura wears. Where can I buy one? I looked on Amazon but the ones there seem to be more along the lines of "cheap sexy costume" rather than "authentic Starfleet uniform."
1. This guy hilariously recreates celebrity fashion moments with household items (posted May 4) LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

2. Harry Potter Theory: Dumbledore's Horcrux (posted May 3) Wow. I love this fan theory.

3. I'm Intersex and My Body Works Just Fine, Thank You (posted 2014)

4. 15 United Methodist clergy, candidates come out as gay (posted May 2) "Lamb said he thinks about 'children in our churches that hear this harmful rhetoric that they are incompatible with Christian teaching and how this does violence to our souls.'" Indeed. Think of the children!

5. 6 Tips on How Married Christians Can Embrace Single Adults (posted April 25) "Many single people feel that they are often automatically stereotyped as spiritually immature, morally dangerous, and unsuitable for leadership simply because they’re single. I’ve even heard pastors unapologetically and explicitly discriminate against single people: 'I don’t want to hire a single woman to direct the worship arts ministry because she’ll probably end up sleeping with all of the guys in the band.'"

6. What Pundits Keep Getting Wrong About Donald Trump and the Working Class (posted May 5) "This year, non-Hispanic whites are 58 percent of the working class, a historic low."

7. Who Did God Save When the Zamzam Sank? (posted April 12) "And hadn’t that same God also saved the Muslim Egyptians who worked on the boat? Was I the only person who wanted to know the Egyptian experience?"

8. How Birth Control Could Save Lives (posted April 11) "In fact, providing contraception to 90 percent of those in need around the world would ultimately save the lives of 67,000 women and 440,000 infants over the next year, according to an analysis published last week in the journal Lancet."

9. feminism and American exceptionalism (posted May 6) "I was taught that women can’t be trusted to supervise, manage, or govern anything– we barely even run our own households, and we certainly shouldn’t be given control over our finances. We didn’t have to wear burkas or hijab (although the definition I was taught for “modesty” was based on a Hebrew word that means “long and flowing” and a lot of us wore head coverings), but we were prevented from basically ever leaving our houses or existing in the public sphere."

10. Yes, Virtual Reality Has a Sexual Harassment Problem. What Can We Do to Stop It? (posted May 6) "When women join virtual spaces, he said, they're often the only female bodies in the room — and male users respond by swarming around them."

11. Christian Homeschool Leader Announces Conference for Arranging Child Marriages (posted May 5) Oh my god this is disgusting- this is human trafficking dressed up with bible verses. It's about a conference where good Christian parents arrange marriages for their teenage kids, who then have to go along with it or else they're ungrateful and disobedient. Apparently the event has been cancelled, since the internet found out about it and was shocked by how unimaginably terrible it was.

But seriously, back when I was a good purity-culture girl, I occasionally read articles encouraging Chiristians to marry young, and I read books which talked about how the parents should really be the ones making the decision. This kind of thing isn't unheard-of. I'm shocked at the idea of "let's actually hold a conference and set them up right now", but yeah... not unheard-of.

12. I Used THINX Underwear With No Backup For 3 Periods & Here's What I Discovered (posted March 11) Wow cool!

13. John MacArthur: The People of the Hispanic World “Don’t Know Christ.” (posted May 9) "Thus, when MacArthur says Hispanics don’t know Christ, that they don’t know the Gospel, and that they don’t know Scripture, what he’s really saying is that they don’t know Calvin."

14. Christianity Today Just Gave a Mouthpiece to an Alleged Abuser [trigger warning: all the tactics an abuser uses to make themself look like a victim] "I’m flummoxed that Christianity Today didn’t include any refutation of any of Saeed’s statements whatsoever, that they didn’t bother bringing up the content of the 2007 incident report, that they never bothered to conform any of Saeed’s claims with Naghmeh, and that they instead ran what is in effect a PR piece for a man accused of years of emotional and physical abuse."

15. Off Brand (posted May 4) "I always thought that I would be one sort of person: but now I’m someone else."

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Wear Your Retainers, Kids

Artwork showing a shark with braces. (In British English I think they're called something different? I mean the wires for straightening teeth.) Image source.
Way back in the day, I had braces. Then after I got them off, I got a retainer. And I had to wear it every night, for forever. That's what the orthodontist said.

I was a good kid who took rules very seriously- but I had been noticing that I often took rules more seriously than they were actually intended to be. I maintain that this is not my fault; it was adults saying things they didn't really mean. (Also, Asperger's. But let's not pretend like that lets adults off the hook for saying things they didn't actually mean.) Like about wasting water. I was so worried that future generations wouldn't have clean water, I stopped flushing the toilet. I don't know how long that phase lasted- maybe a few weeks? Don't worry, it wasn't long. My parents managed to convince me that flushing the toilet is necessary.

So when the orthodontist told me I'd have to wear the retainer every night for the rest of my life, I was highly suspicious. Was this one of those rules that I would naively treat with total seriousness, only to have people laugh at me for "taking everything too literally"? What if I happened to stop by the orthodontist's office 5 years later- say, when my sister had braces- and somehow let it slip to the receptionist that I was still wearing the retainer every night- would she excitedly tell all the other receptionists and staff, "Wow, you guys, this girl is STILL WEARING HER RETAINER EVERY NIGHT! How adorable!" And they would all gather 'round and tell me how good I was- but the real message would be "wow, we didn't expect you to ACTUALLY keep wearing it, like we said. How strange!"

I never thought I would keep wearing my retainer for my whole life. All throughout middle school and high school, I told myself, oh when I go to college, I'll probably stop.

Went to college. Brought the retainer. Still wore it every night. (Well, skipped a night here or there, but basically yeah, every night.)

Went to grad school. Moved into my own apartment. Still wearing the retainer.

Got on a plane and moved all the way around the world, to China. Brought the retainer. Still wore it every night.

And then somehow, I stopped. I don't remember how. Just got out of the habit.

AND YOU GUYS. Now there is a gap between my two top front teeth. YEAH. I wore that retainer almost every night for 10 years. Then quit wearing it for like, 1 or 2 years. And my teeth moved.

Turns out the retainer actually did matter. It wasn't just an arbitrary rule. Back when I was little, everything was about rules- there were all these things that I was supposed to do, and I did them because those were the rules. I didn't really think about the reasons behind the rules very much. But as an adult, I don't exactly have rules that are imposed on me- I get to choose what I do, and I base my decisions on the expected outcomes of various options. I don't have to clean my apartment- there's no rule. But if I don't clean it, there is cat hair everywhere. So I have to find the equilibrium point between how much I dislike sitting in cat hair, and how much I dislike vacuuming. It's my decision. There's no "rule."

And now that I have this gap between my teeth, it's my decision what to do about it. I decided to get braces again. I weighed factors like how much I dislike having a gap, how it will keep getting worse if I don't do anything, the amount of pain involved with having braces, etc. I wouldn't say "you need to wear your retainer because I quit wearing mine and then my teeth moved and I had to get braces again." No, I don't "have to" get braces. This is my decision.

Blah. Yeah. So that's kind of a huge pain. The point is, sometimes people's teeth move, so you should really listen to your orthodontist and keep wearing that retainer. Not because it's a rule, but because it's pretty easy to put in a retainer every night, compared with the amount of money and pain that it takes if your teeth move and then you choose to have them moved back to the right places.

And also, I'm doing this in China. Which means this whole "living in China" thing isn't some silly phase I'm going through before I start my real life- no, I'm making important medical decisions right here and right now- this is my real life. (I go to an international hospital for all my health care stuff. Everyone is super-professional, they all speak English, and they wash their hands ALL THE TIME like doctors and nurses are supposed to. I've had a few pretty bizarre experiences in Chinese hospitals and yeah, not doing that any more. International hospitals from now on. Oh and by the way, in China, the doctors are all at the hospital, that's where you go for your normal doctor's appointments and everything. When I use the word "hospital" don't imagine it means there's some super-serious problem.) But I guess, since I'm thinking about this, it means even after living here for 2 and a half years (and studying Chinese for 6 years) I'm still a little worried that it's just a phase and I'll "get over it" at some point. Hmm.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Shanghai Natural History Museum (has got me thinking about evolution)

I'm very excited to share with y'all my photos from the Shanghai Natural History Museum. I love science and dinosaurs and all that stuff! This museum was just opened last year, and it's super cool.

This exhibit was called "The River of Life", and it included a huge variety of animals- from the oceans, land, and air; prehistoric and modern; models, fossils, and dead stuffed animals.







There were many kinds of dead taxidermied animals here. This photo shows the exhibit with tigers, lions, and other big cats. There were also bears, moose, deer, pandas, wolves, monkeys, goats, and others.

There was a butterfly house, with live butterflies.

There were a bunch of exhibits with live animals in them- reptiles, fish, big bugs, that kind of thing.

There was a whole section on dinosaurs. In this photo, a museum employee is telling us about the fossils.

This huge animatronic T-rex can open its mouth and roar.


Here's another animatronic creature, protecting its eggs.


There was an exhibit on human evolution, which was very interesting to me because I'm interested in re-learning evolution.


Here's an activity where you put the various skulls under the scanner and it tells you the brain capacity.


This exhibit showed local Shanghai wildlife.

There was a whole big exhibit of African animals.


I'm pretty much 100% sure that kid is not allowed to climb up there.

A bunch of animal skins, laying flat like rugs. SUPER CREEPY.

The "Bird Tree of Life", which has dead stuffed birds arranged according to their species classification and such. (Guess what? This is related to evolution.)

Here's a science kit in the gift shop, with English and French on the packaging. On the back of the box, a label with a ton of Chinese text had been stuck on. It's an interesting example of how a lot of science and technolocy education stuff in China is imported from western countries.

Here's an exhibit with some artifacts from China. This part shows movable type, which was first invented in China.
I really liked the exhbit on human evolution. Also, I noticed a lot of the exhibits were arranged with evolution in mind- for example, the different fossils or specimens were put in order of when they lived, and from simple to more complex, with labels explaining that one species developed into the next. It feels very strange for me... because I've definitely been to a LOT of museums that set up their exhibits this way. And the different human-like ape-like species- I've seen those fossils before.

Somehow, I've seen all this before, was excited to learn it because I love science, and yet never realized how much it all assumed evolution as its context. When I was a kid, I knew that Christians DEFINITELY don't believe in evolution, but it was very unclear what exactly that meant and what we were supposed to believe instead. I remember seeing in a science book one of those drawings of the series of creatures from ape to human, each standing up a little straighter than the one behind it, and I quickly skipped to the next page because I knew that was something bad and we weren't allowed to look at it. And yet, I would read statements like, "Many people think pandas are bears, but actually they are more closely related to raccoons," and not realize that it was talking about evolution. (A google search reveals that currently, scientists believe pandas are more closely related to the spectacled bear of South America, rather than raccoons. How about that.)

I would go to museums and love looking at all the animals and learning about them. I would see them arranged in different types- for example, different kinds of turtle-like animals would be together- and I would read about how this one lived so many million years ago, and later this other one descended from it, and I would believe all of it except the part where one descended into another. I guess. I never really thought about it though. I mean, OBVIOUSLY I didn't believe in evolution- but I didn't realize that all these things in my books about dinosaur fossils were actually about evolution.

If this sounds confusing, it's because IT IS. I thought I never actually encountered evolution until 9th grade biology class, but now I realize that so much of everything I learned about fossils and animals and biology was assuming evolution as its context. I had no idea- I knew Christians weren't allowed to believe in evolution, but nobody ever specifically said to me "hey this part about animals being 'related' to each other- no, that's bad, we don't believe that" or "this bit about 100 million years, no that's not what the bible says, we don't believe that."

I actually asked a Christian adult one time, if dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, and never lived at the same time as humans, but everything was created in 6 days, well, how does that work? They told me it was a good question, and they didn't know the answer- maybe nobody knows. It wasn't until I was in high school and started looking for better answers than this vague suspicious feeling anytime someone says the word "evolution" that I heard about young-earth creationism (and converted to it).

(My experience with this is different from that of a lot of other former young-earth creationists I've met in the land of blogs. I've read about people who grew up in a fundamentalist church and learned a pretty awful version of science which was anti-evolution and actually consistent, unlike my "regular science class in public school but I just ignored any sentence with the word 'evolution' because I'm a Christian." Lucky me. Could have been A LOT worse.)

I see this as a really good example of how Christians trying to be "less extreme" doesn't really work. The Christian adults in my life probably thought they were at a reasonable middle ground- they weren't like those fundies who had all those bizarre anti-science beliefs, but they also weren't like the evil worldly culture which denied the bible and claimed we came from apes. But in reality, their position was an ill-defined, logically-inconsistent blend of two completely opposite idelogies, which couldn't even answer THE MOST OBVIOUS question that a kid who loves dinosaurs would ask about the creation story. Coming from this background, it was pretty much inevitable that I would become a young-earth creationist. They were the only ones who gave actual answers to my questions and also emphasized the importance of "following the bible over the wisdom of the world"- that perfectly matched the view of the bible I was taught in church.

And now that I've decided I "believe in" evolution, I'm surprised to find that all these things I learned in science class and never saw as unbiblical are actually related to evolution. It's pretty cool, and I'm excited to keep learning more.

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Readers: If any of y'all are former creationists, I'm interested in hearing about the context in which you became a creationist. Was it explicitly taught, or did you just sense this weird vaguely-bad feeling from church culture any time evolution was mentioned, like I did?

Also, I'm looking for recommendations of books I can read to learn more about evolution. Anybody know any good ones?

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