Last year for International Women’s Day, I wrote a letter to my three daughters. International Women’s Day was last week, so here is a slightly edited version of that letter.
Dear J, G and H,
This world will tell you lies. It will lie to you about your value, about your appearance, about your place. It is filled with people who will see you as weak, who see you as less valuable – to them and to God – and who see you as an object, all because you are female.
I pray you keep this letter in mind when you hear those things. I am afraid that, though the world is changing, it will not do so fast enough to spare you from the warped wisdom and twisted value system that prioritizes, above all things, the gender of a person.
Because you are more than women, as I am more than a man. We are children of God, three daughters and a son. We are loved, valued, respected, prized by the one who made us – the parent of the entire world, the one who is big enough to breathe life into existence, small enough to weep with us when that life goes awry.
But you are, in fact, women. And you should be proud of that. I pray you never accept the attempts of men to make your gender a cause for shame, embarrassment or pity. You are women. Congratulations!
This is my prayer for you:
Word came this week that Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, a star in the National Football League for 20 years who committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest several months ago, did indeed have CTE, the degenerative brain disease that leads to significant neurological problems for its victims.
Seau is the highest-profile NFL player to have had the disease, but by no means has he been the only one. In fact, of 19 brains donated by the families of former NFL players to be studied, 18 have shown evidence of CTE. Seau’s case is also troubling in another aspect: He never once was diagnosed with a concussion, implying that the routine, subconcussive hits that take place in a football game are no less damaging when compiled over years of play.
This increasing knowledge of football’s detrimental, even deadly effects for its players could have profound consequences for the sport, even leading to its demise – either in a natural way as proposed in this Grantland piece, or because the game is forced to change its rules to such an extent that it simply isn’t the same game that has become the runaway favorite for Americans.
Frankly, this wouldn’t trouble me in the least. There is little doubt in my mind that the net effects of football in our society are negative – whether that’s the perverse incentives that lead coaches to be paid more than high school superintendents and college presidents or the glorification of aggression and violence for which millions tune in every Sunday. When history and science classes are routinely given to coaches who care nothing for the subject but need to teach so as to justify their salaries, something is decidedly wrong with the way we prioritize athletics – football, in particular – versus academics.
But the latest revelations lead me to a new question: Is football immoral? More practical for us, is supporting football immoral?
I wound up reading 38 books in 2012, not all of them incredibly germane to this blog (ahem, Hunger Games), but I wanted to take a brief glimpse at the ones that affected me most, regardless of whether I’ve mentioned them here already. These aren’t necessarily the best books written in 2012, though a couple do qualify in that regard; rather, these are simply the best books I managed to read last year, in the order in which I read them:
The problem with a strictly literal approach to the Bible, as people from Christian Smith to Rachel Held Evans have argued, is that it sets up a false dichotomy in which the literalist gets to decide what is worth taking literally and what is not. It allows the literalist to set the rules of a complex game in which she can only win and anyone else must surely lose. By ignoring the assumptions implicit in all of our approaches to the ancient texts of the Bible, the literalist can claim superiority through a “truer” reading of the Bible than those who take more critical approaches.
This isn’t new, nor is it groundbreaking. We all believe the way we read the Bible is the right way to read it. That’s why we read it that way! The hard part is understanding that others who read it differently may not be reading it wrongly. Although this is tough for me – it means acknowledging that, yes, no matter how unlikely I think that is, biblical literalists may be reading scripture correctly – but it seems especially difficult for the literalists, whose reading of the text essentially forces them to consider all other approaches not just misguided but influenced by Satan and potentially damnable. Kind of makes a conversation difficult.
But we do all have assumptions, and no one takes the Bible literally. Our assumptions play a foundational role in how we approach that text. I mention this because I’ve posted my paper for this semester, and it looks at the assumptions underlying one of the most transformative doctrines developed by one of history’s greatest theologians. I wanted to see where the doctrine of original sin came from, and I found that it really comes from Galen – or, more accurate, the biological-sexual assumptions propagated by ancient Greek doctors and philosophers. Augustine didn’t know that, or at least he didn’t acknowledge it. He cited passages like Romans 5 and Psalm 50:7, but more often he cited, albeit indirectly and apparently unknowingly, Aristotle and Galen.
Let me give an example.
I just finished working on a package of stories for our school’s alumni magazine about integration – a profile of the two men who integrated our college 50 years ago, as well as a sidebar about white students who pushed for integration years before it happened and one about race relations are like on campus now. The whole time I was writing these stories, I couldn’t help but think: “Wow, I have no idea what it’s like – and never will – to be black.”
This is not a new revelation, of course, but it’s made more painfully clear when I write about people in minority groups that I am in no way a member of any minority group. I’m white, I’m straight, and I’m male. And so I try to make it clear when I interview or when I advocate for racial and sexual minorities that I have no idea what it’s like to be in their shoes, so they’re going to need to help me out.
It’s not an overwhelming feeling, just a little tug – a healthy reminder that whatever I write, I’m doing it for others, people whose experiences I can’t ever truly know.
That tug has more recently shown up when I write, as I did last week, about abortion. Because while I often call abortion a human rights issue, it is also an issue that affects women far more than men. After all, who is actually pregnant? And who is going to be caring for the child, more likely than not? The old line is that if men could get pregnant, abortion would no longer be a controversial issue.
In Part 1, I laid out the negative case against Mitt Romney (the one who’s been campaigning since last year, not the one who suddenly showed up in Denver on Wednesday). In Part 2, I laid out the positive case for Barack Obama. Today, I want to address probably the strongest Christian argument against voting for Obama.
There are plenty of reasons various Christians have for voting against Obama, and many of them frankly are nonsensical. I simply have nothing to say if you believe, as many conservatives do, that Obama is a Muslim, or that he’s not an American, or that he’s a socialist. All of these things are blatantly and obviously untrue, but I’m not going to waste my time and yours trying to convince you out of something you are so deeply invested in believing.
I also find critiques of Obama’s presidency from the right generally to be baseless and unsupported by evidence. The most sweeping pieces of legislation Obama signed into law were based on ideas created and originally supported by Republicans, who then disowned them once they became associated with their political opponents.
The only persuasive argument from the right is about abortion, and I’ve covered in the past that simply stamping somebody “pro-choice” or “pro-life” is unhelpful if the actions they take belie the label. In short, Obama’s support of expanding access to contraception and encouraging steps to reduce unwanted pregnancies, which account for the plurality of abortions in America, will have far more success reducing the number of abortions than the typical conservative position of teaching abstinence only, defunding women’s-health providers and – in a rather bizarre twist – treating contraception as a product to be stigmatized rather than embraced.
Not surprising, I don’t really find any argument against Obama’s reelection to be terribly convincing. But there is one exception, and that is the argument from the left eloquently expressed by the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf.
Some moments you just remember.
2000 was one of those. I sat in a chair in my college dorm room, filling out an absentee ballot to vote in my first presidential election. A milestone. I’ll never forget it, even if I ultimately have come to regret my choice in that particular race.
2008 was another. I stood in the voting booth, and I paused. I knew whom I would choose. I’d followed the race closely, and I could feel a palpable weight of historic significance. I paused to take in the moment – the electronic square colored blue, next to the name of an African-American candidate. I was proud that day to have voted for Barack Hussein Obama. I still am.
Why did I vote for Obama in 2008? I’d be lying if I pretended emotion didn’t enter into it. Obama was an inspirational candidate, whose words had moved me to tears multiple times that campaign. I was one of many reporters who had covered the Democratic National Convention for the Rocky Mountain News that year, and a highlight was sitting in a Hard Rock Cafe with two colleagues, watching Obama make history by becoming the first black man to accept a major party’s nomination for president. It gave me goosebumps to be there, in the same city, at the same event. I can’t pretend that moment was not formative.
Of course, the policies were important, too. Obama promised a more just society, one in which we did not launch preemptive wars; did not torture suspected criminals, no matter how egregious the alleged crimes; and provided affordable health care to all, among other proposals. In short, although I would not have phrased it this way at the time, I believed Barack Obama would make this a better, more compassionate place to live.
So here we are, four years later. Much has changed in that time.
When I type into Google, “How can a Christian …”, the autocomplete’s No. 1 response is: “support Barack Obama?”
The first debate of the presidential campaign is Wednesday night, and we are just a few days shy of being one month away from the election. Now seems as good a time as any to lay all of my cards on the table and explain why I stand where I do in this particular race.
There are two ways to vote for a president – negatively and positively. Which is to say you can vote against a candidate or for one. I am doing both. So I’ll break this “endorsement,” so to speak, into two parts: why I oppose Mitt Romney and why I support Barack Obama. My goal with this post is not to demonize or caricature Mitt Romney but to describe and characterize his policy proposals and particularly explain why I, as a Christian, find them unacceptable.
We’ve had some birthdays in the Disoriented household this month; I have now been a father for four of my 30 years of life. I was not prepared for the numerous ways in which fatherhood changes a person. It’s not the same for everyone, I’m sure, but having children, especially daughters, changed the way I look at everything from movies and advertising to the Bible and God.
The latter is especially significant. The Bible describes God as a parent numerous times, ascribing to him the characteristics of both mother and father (we tend only to focus on the latter, to our discredit). Certainly, we have picked up that mantle. We often address God as “Father,” we talk about divine correction, we often analogize God’s actions with the actions of a parent.
But I don’t think you can really get a handle on God’s love until you experience what it’s like to love unconditionally as a parent – at least I couldn’t. My view of God has been radically reshaped by finally understanding the parental perspective on the actions of my children.
Perhaps one of the most damaging doctrines with which I was raised is the notion that God does not hear/listen to the prayers of those who have sinned. This notion is taken, as far as I can tell, from a single verse, Isaiah 59:2: “Your misdeeds have separated you from God. Your sins have hidden his face from you, so that you aren’t heard.”
My relationship with the Fourth of July has become a little strained lately.
Some of that is the growing discomfort I have with the way patriotism and certain American values tend to be equated with Christianity by many people of faith – as if Jesus roamed the hills of first-century Palestine extolling the virtues of free-market capitalism and individual liberty.
Some of it is the knowledge that for many, if not most, people, American independence was a theory, not a reality. It’s difficult to unreservedly wave the red, white and blue when those colors were used to enslave, subjugate and slaughter.
And some of it is my own faith journey. Why do we pledge allegiance to a flag when that flag is used in ways that are most certainly antithetical to the kingdom to which we owe our true loyalty? Would I really fight and kill for a cause with which I did not agree? Why do we sing a National Anthem that celebrates American warfare and violence above all other qualities? Does not our true king abhor violence?
Yet America has done incredible things to relieve people’s suffering, and despite the nation’s ongoing difficulties with race and xenophobia, she is far less bloodthirsty and far more tolerant than even 50 years ago.
And this is the thing worth celebrating about the American republic. Continue reading