Sit Down Taylor: On White Femininity and Preforming Victimhood

To say I was looking forward to the release of a new Taylor Swift song would be an understatement. I seriously considered setting an alarm. My at the time 3 and 4 year old knew every word of the 1989 album. It was, hands down, my favorite Christmas present that year. Once upon a time one of my students updated the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet and replaced all of Juliet’s lines with T. Swift’s lyrics. I framed it.

I was even excited for the re-brand, because ever since the leak of the phone call where Taylor was all “OMG! SO GREAT!” after her public, “Here I am a victim again!” I had decided that I really couldn’t support her as an artist.

Let me explain. Being a white woman is a tricky space, because white women both benefit from and are hurst by the patriarchal upholding of white femininity. Huh? Let me break it down. White women benefit from playing the victim. It works for us for a long time. One of the ways that people made sure that black people were maligned was to say that white women needed to be protected from them, both men and women.

Violation of white women’s sensitivities were enough to literally kill a black man. She hollered, he was killed. And while actually lynchings are less common, metaphorical ones are still very often to the white woman’s advantage. Taylor Swift is not an idiot. She knows this. Kanye is also a ready made villain. He is clearly emotionally unwell. He says mean and ugly things and is kind of rude in public. You want to root against Kanye. You just do.

I am not trying to throw Taylor under a bus. I know this behavior because I have benefited from this behavior. As a teacher at a primarily black school, I knew that if I cried, I could get a kid suspended. And even if the kid TOTALLY deserved to be suspended anyway, I still should not have used my white tears to remove a child from my classroom. But I did. I can tell you how desperate I was, and how hard my job was, and how emotional I actually was about the situation and all of that is true. Ultimately, I did mostly because I could, and I owe some kids an apology.

Taylor Swift has been the victim her entire career, the victim of her circumstance, or the popular girls, the victim of older boys or the friends who betrayed her. She is always the victim, and when I found out the old Taylor wasn’t coming to the phone anymore I was here for it! FINALLY at 27 years old Taylor Swift is going to be someone in charge of herself, like the woman we all loved from the court testimonies. I would love to hear what the woman who counter-sues someone for a dollar because she doesn’t want or need your money anyway has to sing about. But we didn’t get her. We never get her.

At 27 years old, Taylor is smart enough to know that she can’t be the victim of another white woman forever. So, instead she goes after Kanye, mostly because she knows it will work. “Look what you made me do” is the repeat cry, because she refuses to take responsibility for her own behavior, and she knows that this will work or she wouldn’t have done it.

So how do all these tears hurt Ms. Swift? She never grows fully into herself. At 27 I had two babies, a home and a job. I was in charge of my life and myself and it was good. It was hard, and there are still days I don’t want to be the grown up, but it is good for us to be in charge of our own lives. I was so impressed this summer when Taylor Swift became a strong voice against rape culture. To hear her turn around and use a common trope in victim blaming as a hook for her song is a huge waste of momentum, talent, and this moment in our culture.

The other problem with white feminine victims is there cannot be too many of us. So, you are either the victim or the mean girl, the one who needs saving or the one who needs beaten. It puts us in a constant position of fighting against each other instead of rooting each other on.

True story, in high school a boy broke up with me because I didn’t need saving. He broke up with me because I could handle my own problems and didn’t need him to come in his car and literally rescue me from anything. It was, and is the weirdest compliment I have ever received. People don’t always know what to do with white women who don’t need saving. I would love to watch Taylor Swift model that for us.

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When People Show You Who They Are: On Joel Osteen and The Nashville Statement

Yesterday Christian twitter got so loud, NPR picked up the story this morning. In case you don’t know, now you know Joel Osteen is not being totally honest about why his giant church didn’t house hurricane relief efforts, and a bunch of very conservative theology guys thought it was time to remind everyone what they think about human sexuality.

I understand the outrage. I understand the fury. (My favorite response here) I understand the heartbreak of being reminded that some people think you are broken in the eyes of God. What I did not understand was the surprise. I was not surprised by any of these actions. I was not surprised by any of these statements.

As the brilliant Maya Angelou said, “When people show you who they are, believe them.”

It is no surprise that Joel Osteen did not think it was his job, or the job of the church to house people in crisis. He doesn’t think of the church as a house of refuge. He thinks that people favored by God will be able to help themselves. I am not trying to be critical of his theology, and I am not trying to negatively represent him, these are the things that his says. They are broadcast live on television every Sunday.

Why would a man who thinks that favor with God and financial favor are one and the same even consider opening the doors of his church for refuge? The people of God can surely spend the money that God has blessed them with to take a little vacation while the waters recede. He didn’t open up the doors of the church, because he does not believe that sheltering the unfortunate is the job of the church. He has never said anything that would make us think that.

Meanwhile, as the country is watching Houston and worrying about where people are going to stay, a group of very conservative mostly men put out a statement on what they believe about human sexuality and the Bible. I am a little unclear as to why they even put out a statement, because everyone who cares even a little already knows what they think. It is like me putting an ad in the newspaper about how much I love to eat or how I run my mouth a lot. If you met me, you know. This is information I regularly volunteer.

So dudes who don’t believe women should be pastors, don’t believe women should be the head of the household, got in a fight with a muppet bear over gender roles, believe that homosexuality is a sin and OH BY THE WAY also believe that if you don’t believe what they believe you are not a christian.

Y’all. None of this is new. I am a woman who left a career that I was good at to pursue three years of academic study of the Bible, and people LOVE to tell me I don’t take the Bible seriously. We disagree. I still think they are christians, they think I am not. We disagree on that too. Whatever man.

None of this is a surprise. None of it is new information. When people show you who they are believe them. These men have showed us who they are. These men have showed us what they think about God and what that means for their christian practices. None of this should be a surprise. We don’t just think about theology. We practice it. We do it and live it and work it out in word and deed.

These men have long told us what they believe. They have lived it out by who they let in and who they let speak and what they say and where their money goes. This is what they believe, this is what they say, this is how they live.

There are so many other churches and people and places that are opening their doors wide in the name of Jesus. Melissa Greene has been quietly excluded from the christian machine for years as she continues to affirm LGBTQ people in Nashville no less. The United Methodist Church is doing the quiet work they often do in times of crisis. I am sure they are not the only denomination doing good work. Very many denominations have emergency squads.

If the actions of these men in the name of Christ have hurt you, please know that I am praying that you feel desperately loved today. If you are looking for a different kind of christian leader, there are so very many in your community quietly doing the work of Jesus.

This doesn’t have to be our way, our theology, our belief. We can do better. God is so much bigger than this.

Jesus is Hilarious

I have been writing for She Loves for the last few months, things I learn in seminary that everyone needs to know. This month I am thrilled to be talking about new ways in which I have encountered Jesus. Seminary is for everybody!

I wish someone told me how funny God is. And I don’t just mean lame pastor joke funny. I mean hysterical. Laugh out loud, long set up, OH MY WORD DID THAT REALLY JUST HAPPEN funny. Y’all. I had no idea.

When I was in the third or fourth grade my mom went on an Emmaus walk. I remember this mostly because I remember the little tokens she brought home to remind her of her time there. She kept them in a top drawer mostly, but there was a picture of Jesus she stuck in her mirror above the favorite baby pictures of me and my sisters. This picture of Jesus was like nothing I had ever seen before. The reason my mom loved that picture was because she felt the same way. In this picture, Jesus was smiling. Not just a “smiling with my eyes, looking nicely and softly at a child,” but, like … really smiling. Really, actually smiling, like I-am-about-to-laugh-out-loud-from-the-delight-of-being-with-you-because-I-actually-really-like-you-and-being-with-you-makes-me-laugh kind of smiling.

I’m not sure if it’s because of the felt boards or the stained-glass windows or the pictures in the kids’ Bible, but when I picture Jesus, he always looks so … serious. It never really occurred to me that Jesus was funny, that God’s messages could be delivered a little less like Dan Rather on the nightly news and a little more like John Oliver on Last Week Tonight. But Jesus being a crack-up to make a point is well within the Hebrew tradition of a prophet.

read the rest here

This is Not Okay

This is not okay.

I think I have said this every week of this year. This is not okay. When Betsy Devos was appointed Secretary of Education, when Steve Bannon was allowed anywhere near the white house, when Ivanka moved in just because she could.

This is not okay.

I was wrecked by the refugee ban, hopped into a mini van with another mom and protested at the ATL airport. We cannot and should not attack refugees. Our country needs to welcome them.

This is not okay.

Again and again I find myself astounded at what I have to say is not okay. Overwhelmed I have found myself getting quieter and quieter. I don’t want to always talk about politics. I don’t want to always be fighting with people that I love who think I am a crazy leftist liberal. I do not want to believe that we elected someone who reps for white supremacists. But we did, and so I need to continue to say that this is not okay.

Most recently I find myself speechless because the President released his very first pardon, Joe Arpaio. I know I lean to the left, and I know not many of you are here for my political positioning, but John McCain and various other republicans have also condemned this pardon. If you want the full deal, the Pheonix New Times has a pretty intense thread on Twitter. To be honest I couldn’t finish it.

This is not okay.

Treating prisoners as though they are not people is not okay. I am sad that I have to say that, I am sad that this is where we are at, but I guess it is and I want it on record. This is not okay.

I know that this is not enough, I know there is more work to do and I am doing it. It feels as though I am tossing a marble into a giant hole in the ground in the hopes that the hole will fill up. But this marble is all I have, and so I at least can do my part.

This is not okay. None of this is okay.

 

Is Your PTA Hurting Poor Kids?

So your school has a PTA. AWESOME. Really, this is amazing. An active PTA can really be an asset to any school. Seriously. No one, NO ONE wants to tick off a strong PTA, and your local officials are very likely to listen to a card carrying member. If you think of your school as the smallest government in your life, the PTA is the only lobbying group in that place. It can have a remarkable amount of power.

And power can be used for good or for evil. Think of your PTA like a knife. Some are old and rusty, some are just for show, but some are super sharp, and the knife will cut where you direct it to cut.

It is weird to think about the PTA hurting kids, especially if you think of the organization as mostly a bunch of well intentioned moms. How could a group of moms hurt anyone? The short answer is: I don’t think they are doing it on purpose, but not all kids need what their kids need.  Moms tend to advocate for their particular child, and either they don’t care, or they don’t understand about the needs of all the kids in the building.

If you are in a PTA, if your kid is in a school with a PTA, you have the unique opportunity to have major impact on the lives of all kiddos. This is primarily an excercise in asking the right questions.

Are the meetings at a time where most parents can attend? Here is the deal. There are REASONS and there are excuses. Reasons are real, excuses are what you say when you would rather sit on your couch and watch Game of Thrones (ask me how I know…ahem.) If your PTA meetings are at a time that is only convenient for those who are not working during the day, and then you say that the other parents don’t care, you are keeping the working parents at the meeting AND THEN blaming them for the fact they can’t come. You are wrong for that. Additionally, if a parent is working a job that has no flex time (you don’t show up you don’t get paid) then you are asking maybe way too much of those parents. If they have to choose between feeding their kiddos and coming to the PTA meeting, guess which one the good parent is going to do?

Are the prices set so that ALL students can have the experience? If not is there help that is readily offered? The PTA generally sets the price for things. How much is a t-shirt going to be? How much is a candy gram going to be? Can everyone afford them? How are you going to advertise the fundraisers you are doing? I once worked at a school that was really big on raising money for pennies for patients. Don’t get me wrong, this is an awesome cause, but the kids collecting the cans would shame any class that didn’t donate money, calling them selfish and without school spirit. It got shut down real quick but it still happened. Money is tricky and if only the people who have it are making up the activities, these activities often become impossible for the  poor kids to do. The culture of the school becomes that really only the haves belong. It might not be anyone’s intentions, but it does happen if you aren’t careful.

Whose Voices are Being Amplified?  Are there guest speakers? Are they all white? Are the people on the agenda all friends with the PTA president? Look, PTA can be as bad as middle school. I know a women who came to the PTA meeting for two years, every time asking for the prohibitive cost of something to be considered. She never even made it onto the agenda. Look, the kids with privilege tend to hang out with the kids with privilege. If all the kids taking all the AP classes all have parents running the PTA, guess what kind of thing gets all the funding? It isn’t the remedial tutoring program. It isn’t always this bad, but it can be so pay attention to who gets to talk the most.

So What Can You Do? Join the PTA and pay attention. Ask the school social workers who needs the most help, what are their most pressing needs? Get to know your principal and her vision for the school. If you are at a high school there are likely “tracks” so make sure all tracks are being advocated for.

Mostly, just imagine that you are the poor mom, that your kid is the poor kid. What would you want done for them, do that. What would you NOT want done? Even if it benefits your kid personally, maybe don’t do that. The PTA is a great tool. Just make sure it is being used for the good.

 

Your First Name is NOT Someone

Dear Over achiever, over committer, chronic over estimator of the minutes in a day,

I just need to tell you this one thing. Your first name is not someone. It isn’t. Someone needs to volunteer for to teach Sunday school, and someone needs to host small group. Someone needs to serve communion and someone needs to clean it up. That is all true. Someone needs to do all that. You are not all of those someones. You might not even be some of those someones. You might be none of those someones. That is okay.

Mostly, I am writing this for myself. I am a chronic over committer. I always underestimate how much time something is going to take. Always. So much so, that when I volunteer for something at church my pastor and the church administrator make me think about it for 24 hours, or publish it in the church newsletter anyway and see who else might volunteer. (Shout out to healthy pastoral care practices!)

Someone also is not your name in your home. Someone does need to do the grocery shopping and the laundry and make sure that the kids bathe at least semi regularly. Someone does need to find their shoes. That someone may not be you. They may be able to find their own shoes, a caper chart may remind them that they take a bath on Wednesday instead of their standard binge watching Girl Meets World. Someone does need to go grocery shopping and if you find it relaxing to wander up and down those aisles (I do. Don’t judge. But do send me on an all expensive paid vacation so I can have higher standards.) then by all means you are the someone. BUT if you hate it, it doesn’t have to always be your turn.

It isn’t good for you to always be the someone, and it isn’t the best thing for your community either. Your first grader needs to take responsibility for her own stuff. Your community at church needs to pull their own weight. Maybe a program that you have been hooking up to life support just needs to die. It might be painful, but it might be time. Everyone needs a someone in their life, but everyone needs to BE the someone too.

Your name is not someone. Please act accordingly.

Sincerely,

A chronic someone.