feminism

Delicious Words: The Best of Books Devoured in 2014


I love reading.  L O V E reading.  Books have sustained me through some of the hardest challenges of my life.  They are inspiration, education, and sanctuary.  They challenge and uproot.  They uplift my whole person.

That said . . . I've been rather lax in my reading.  Part of it is that being a mama takes up a lot of time (in an awesome way), but then after my sweet boy goes to bed, it's honestly easier to take in some TV shows on Amazon Prime than it is to pick up a book.

Still, my goal was to read ten books in 2014 (I know, I know, such a small goal for a woman who professes to L O V E reading), and I exceeded that.  So yay me.  And also yay to the fact that reading, even what feels like a paltry amount, has reminded me of just how much I need to be reading.  Not just because it is awesome and good for your brain and nourishing to me on a personal level, but also as a writer.  If I want to be a professional writer, I need to be a professional reader, too.

Here are some of my [highly professional?] favorite reads of 2014.


Non-fiction

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd.  This was my first read of the year, and oh man, was it a good one -- and kind of perfect that it was my premiere book of 2014.  It's an autobiographical account of author Kidd's journey out of patriarchy and into her own self.  Perfect for any woman seeking to embrace her own woman-ness in a deeper way.

“I often went to Catholic mass or Eucharist at the Episcopal church, nourished by the symbol and power of this profound feeding ritual. It never occurred to me how odd it was that women, who have presided over the domain of food and feeding for thousands of years, were historically and routinely barred from presiding over it in a spiritual context. And when the priest held out the host and said, "This is my body, given for you," not once did I recognize that it is women in the act of breastfeeding who most truly embody those words and who are also most excluded from ritually saying them.” 

- from The Dance of the Dissident Daughter


Immortal Diamond: The Search For Our True Self by Richard Rohr.  If you follow me on social media, you may already know that I read a good deal of Rohr's works this year.  I even started a free book on Facebook for other Rohr readers.  So I probably don't have to tell you that I really (really, really) like what Rohr has to say.  Reading this Franciscan's priest's words helped move me from seeing the world, and specifically matters of spirituality and faith, in black and white (otherwise known as dualism) to opening up to a greater and more mysterious spectrum of existence and possibility.  Read it if you're weary of spiritual shoulds and are looking for another way.  I also recommend The Naked Now, Job and the Mystery of Suffering, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, and Falling Upward, all by Rohr and all among my 2014 reads.

“Metaphor is the only possible language available to religion because it alone is honest about Mystery.” 

- from Immortal Diamond


Red, Hot, and Holy: A Heretic's Love Story by Sera Beak.  I have something of a love/hate relationship with this book.  I felt like the book's description made promises that the book itself did not deliver on.  However, I have to put it on this list anyway because I love how committed Beak is to finding her whole self, no matter the cost.  Don't read this is a self-help book (that's what messed me up, I think -- read her The Red Book if that's what you need) but as an autobiographical love story between one woman and her Holy.

“Ideas aren’t helping you anymore, Sera. Concepts have run their course. Paradigms pop. Theories leak. Techniques are only top-offs. Beliefs brush away. Books close. Workshops end. What truly transforms is this Closeness with Me. You gotta hug Me so tight that nothing comes between Us.” 

- from Red, Hot, and Holy


Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.  I haven't finished this yet, despite having started it at the end of 2013.  It's not the kind of book you can rush through.  I find it hard to read more than a few pages at a time, because it is rich and healing and alive.  It is a collection of retold myths and fairytales.  Required reading for the awakening woman.

“If you have yet to be called an incorrigable, defiant woman, don't worry, there is still time.” 

- from Women Who Run With the Wolves

Fiction

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.  This book.  This book.  It is perhaps the best book I read this year.  It is a work of art, leaving me breathless like few works of fiction ever have.  It is hard, and lovely, and challenging, and sacred.  Go.  Read it.  Now.  I'll wait.  (And read Ness's other works afterward, because those are really quite good, too.)

Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?” 

- from A Monster Calls


The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo.  This trilogy isn't high art like Ness's book.  But it is really, really fun.  And it's set in a fantasy world based loosely in Russian culture, which I found unique and refreshing.  The story can be a little predictable, but Bardugo makes up for that with lots of engaging adventure, bloodshed, characters that you care about (pirates!!!!), and romance that I didn't hate.  Like I said,  I had a blast reading these, and couldn't stop until I'd consumed all three back to back to back.

“Anything worth doing always starts as a bad idea.” 

- from Siege and Storm, book 2 of the Grisha Trilogy


His Fair Assassin Trilogy by Robin Lafevers.  I started this series in 2013, but the final book only released this November.  I have been practically panting for it all year, and per-ordered it so I'd get it on release day -- I never pre-order books.  I basically love this trilogy with all my heart.  It's about assassin nuns (assassin nuns, people!!!) set in medieval Burgundy.  Snarky, deliciously dark at times, full of ass-kicking women, they are SO GOOD. 

“I comfort myself with the knowledge that if Duval ever feels smothered by me, it will be because I am holding a pillow over his face.” 

- from Grave Mercy, book 1 of the His Fair Assassin Trilogy


Magdalen Rising by Elizabeth Cunningham.  This book is the first in The Maeve Chronicles, a series retelling the story of Mary Magdalen.  Under Cunningham's care, Mary becomes the fierce and fiery Celtic (eeek!) Maeve, who is raised by seven mothers and goes off for training under the Druids once she comes of age.  Trigger warning: there is sexual violence which, while not explicit, is nonetheless devastating.  Honestly, although it took me awhile to come around to it, this is one of the reasons I love this book.  It's the best fictional representation of sexual violence I've seen because, as with true life sex crimes, it completely stops and reroutes the story.  Nothing is the same after this intimate shattering.  I'm looking forward to reading the remaining books in the series.

“I've outgrown my childhood name, and I haven't found a new one yet.”

- from Magdalen Rising
Poetry

Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God by Rainer Maria Rilke.  No best-of-books list would be complete without poetry.  And Rilke's poetry is so, so rich.  It is just what I needed to read: the words of a mystic, questioning, reaching into the darkness, and learning to be satisfied with not-knowing.  Rilke's poetry echoes my own heart's throbbing.

“I circle around God, that primordial tower. / I have been circling for thousands of years, / And I still don't know: am I a falcon, / A storm, or a great song?” 

- from Rilke's Book of Hours


The Anatomy of Being by Shinji Moon.  I'm still working my way through this collection of poetry, but it is powerful.  Visceral, electric, and full of emotion.  And I love that Moon independently published it.  Basically, yum.

“You will lie to everyone you love. / They will love you anyways.” 

- from The Anatomy of Being

Friends' books

This list would not be complete without mentioning the bravery of my friends who published books in 2014.  I've blogged about a couple, but here they are in their totality, all gorgeous and worth reading(I feel pretty sure I'm forgetting someone . . . if so, my deepest apologies! pregnancy brain strikes again -- remind me and I will happily add yours to the list!)

For 2015 . . .

I've already started reading some of the books that will become my best-books-of-2015 list, I can just feel it.  Like A Discovery of Witches, for example, which I'm currently devouring.  I'd like to read more fiction across a variety of genres, styles, and topics, both for fun and for my edification as a writer.  I tend toward reading a lot of more self-help-y kind of books (usually spiritual ones), particularly when I feel like my heart is spinning.  So more fiction for 2015.

I'd also like to read more parenting books.  I've bought a decent bunch of them over the past two years, and have barely touched them.  I'd like to finish one or two.

Similar to my accumulation of parenting books, I've accumulated even more books on writing over the years -- and again haven't read most of them.  So I'm planning on reading more of those, particularly Writing Begins With the Breath because, well, writing tends to bring out the worst of my neuroses, so writing + breathing sounds like a better plan than writing + emotional eating, or writing + floundering in self-doubt, or writing + depression.

Looking back over this list, I notice that the authors mentioned are predominantly white.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is curious.  I'd like to widen my range of authors, to take in the experiences of those who don't look like me.  I think it's important, as a person and as a writer.  I've already started doing this with my son's books, expanding our picture book collection with stories featuring non-white characters and both male and female main characters, as well as purchasing toys that aren't all male, or the kind of toys marketed only for males.  It's time to challenge myself and expand my mind in some of the same ways as I'm doing for my son.  One book I'm particularly looking forward to/nervous about reading is Writing the Other, which delves into penning characters of a different ethnicity than the author.

And more poetry.  Because poetry = awesome.

On top of that, a number of my friends are publishing new books in 2015, so I'm also looking forward to getting my hands on those.

Most of all, though -- I've purchased a TON of books I haven't read yet in the last year or two.  So my main book goals for 2015 are to a) read a bunch, and b) buy no more books!  (Anyone else have a book buying problem?)

I'm also having a baby in the spring if all goes well, so I'm setting these book (and all 2015) goals with fluidity and grace.  Who knows how much time I'll have to read/create/brush my teeth in the second half of the year, so I'm holding everything quite loosely (or trying to). 

Okay, enough from me.  Your turn!  What were some of your favorite reads of 2014?  Anyone with me in the assassin nun fangirling?  How about your reading hopes for the new year?


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Love, Unqualified -- Part 2


(find part 1 here.)

We love.
We love.
We love, without condition, without a "but you," without excuse. 

We respect.  We preserve dignity.  We look for the value of each other.  We can do these things, wisely.

But how?

For the longest time, I thought that loving someone, especially someone who is "other" than me for whatever reason (gender, race, income, culture, location, etc.) meant doing something really big.  Like joining the Peace Corps, or making buckets of money so I could donate more, or making like Mother Theresa and moving to Calcutta. 

But it doesn't have to look like that.  It could look like that and be valuable, of course, but smaller lovings are equally important and just as valuable.

Loving, the kind that lasts, starts in the mind.  Or maybe the heart.  Or maybe both.  Regardless, it begins within.  That's the spark.

So what it looks like for me is challenging myself and the stereotypes and prejudices I find entrenched within me.  Do I really believe that a person is less worthy of my respect and valuing of her because she is a lesbian, for example?  If so, why?  And I don't know if this is always the case for everyone, but for me, each time I challenge my prejudices, they crumble. 

I realize that I received a certain amount of cultural, social, and religious grooming that helped gestate some of those broken ways of thinking, and I begin to dismantle them.  

I discover, for example, that I can find no valid reason to believe that God loves homosexuals less, or that women are less capable as leaders than men, or that poor people are always responsible for and able to escape from their own poverty.

That is a good beginning.  The self investigation, the seeing, the rooting out.

And then I go further.  I question deeper.   

For example: What is life really like for the Black men and women of Ferguson?  Is the mainstream news accurately reporting events there?  What are their goals in not reporting the full story?  And what do, say, crime and prison statistics reveal about the reality that the Black American community lives in versus the White American community, or the Native American community, etc? 

I question -- myself and the status quo.  And I try to learn empathy.  I learn to forgive myself and others for not getting it right, and I attempt reparations where appropriate.  And I try to teach my son to do the same.  That, I believe, is both the spark for and the answer to loving, period.

Is this over-simplified?  Pie-in-the-sky thinking?  I don't know.  Maybe. 

But I do think that love, period, starts with really seeing each other, and really seeing ourselves.


What do you think?  How can we better love each other without qualification?

Love, Unqualified


The lines are drawn, "in" versus "out" made excruciatingly clear, and we dare to call this love.

We have forgotten how to love one another without lines, without boundaries, without exception.

Instead, we have made enemies of the "other" -- which is really just another way of saying that we have made enemies of each other.

We all can recognize the pick-up lines, the ones that say that none is unlovable, none is without value -- and then we turn around and refuse to love, refuse to value:

You are respected -- unless you are poor.
You are trustworthy -- unless you are Black.
You are wanted -- unless you are gay.
You are valued -- unless you are female.
You are our brothers and sisters -- unless you are not Christian.
You are a beloved part of our global community -- unless you are not Western.

"We love because [God] first loved us" -- unless we don't like you or we fear you or we feel uncomfortable to any degree for any reason when we are forced to breathe the same air as you.

This is the kind of "love" I see pouring out across the lands, the kind that [religious] leaders not only either ignore or allow but often promote. In versus out. Us versus them. We call it spiritual, Biblical, righteousness, but it is justified hate: hate that is justified by the majority in protection of the majority.

We have the audacity to say that God meant it to be this way. This, this qualification above all else, this turning of injustice into divine decree, is a horror to me. But then I remember that there are scriptures like this one and this one, and I wonder that maybe it's not so much of a stretch after all to learn to think that God wanted it this way, and I shudder.

For so long, I thought that the world was made more beautiful by a diversity of faith, but now . . . now the blind dualism of some of these faiths makes me ill. The gross acts perpetuated and excused and ignored by some faiths are so heinous that I'd rather just see organized religion removed from the earth.

We love because God first loved us?

How about: we love, period.

We love.
We love.
We love.

This is your challenge. This is my challenge. This is our challenge.
The world depends on it.

We love.

Coming next: Part 2 -- a few thoughts on the how of "we love."

Our Empathy Can Change the World {Thoughts on #Ferguson}


I couldn't think of anything but Ferguson this week.  My eyes glued on Twitter, my chest aching with the knowledge of profound injustice unfurling in terrifying tableaus, my brain, my heart were with the people of Ferguson.

Those who should be the peacemakers, the upholders of law and justice, ran roughshod over peace and law and justice and turned the streets of their community into a war zone.  Worse still, those whose job it is to report truth instead report half-truths, suppressing information, demonizing the victims, until nobody was allowed to report anything at all, with journalists arrested, their equipment seized.  

Did you feel it?  The earth trembling under the feet of people on the move -- no, on the march, for justice, for answers,  for change?  Did you hear their words?  See their faces?

I felt them, heard them, saw them.

And now, now that the insanity that possessed the police officers of Ferguson, MO, has abated somewhat, now that the law is no longer assaulting peaceful protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets and fire, now that we can all breathe again as names are released and the FBI asks questions and the hypocrisy of the police becomes more and more obvious, although things are far from settled --

Now, will I forget what I felt, heard, saw?

* * *

The fact is that that Mike Brown's senseless murder by a police officer is not unique.  Horrifyingly, it is something of a matter of course in this country for unarmed black men to be killed by the law for no other crime than living.  For every 28 hours that passes, another African-American man is extrajudiciously executed by police, security guards, and vigilantes.

But I'm not black.  I'm a white woman living in a very white city in a very white state, and Ferguson (or Chicago, or Seattle, or Detroit, or Austin, or . . .) can feel very far away.  

I could go back to my insulated life, keep my eyes on the non-militarized streets of my community, and forget that I enjoy unearned, unfair benefits thanks to my color.

But there is the matter of my son.

* * *

When I look at my son, his skin confronts me.  

I look at my son, and understand that while there are many, many ways I fear for and covet his safety and well-being, I will never fear that he will be assaulted by a police offer for wearing a hoodie, or driving, or asking for help when he needs it, or messing around with toys in Wal-Mart, or having a bad day in kindergarten, or doing any of these normal-everyday-life things -- he will never be attacked and/or executed by the police for doing those things and more, only because he's white.  

Which means that there are children and teens and people who will be attacked and/or executed by the police for doing those things, and that just should not be.  Because black people are people.  Imperfect, flawed, glorious people.  Just like you, just like me.

When I look at my son, I see the people who will be treated like not-people because they were born a certain color.  

When I look at my son, I understand that he only escaped living that ugly day-to-day reality by pure chance.  That he is privileged for no good reason at all.  Like me. 

* * *

Did you know that African-Americans have been dealing with the horrifying reality of racial profiling for decades, for centuries, for far too long, on a daily basis?

I didn't.  I didn't.

Oh God, how could I not?

But I didn't. 

And now that I know, now that I finally stopped shutting my eyes to the reality of so, so many people, what will I do with that knowledge?  What can I?

I don't know that racism is for me to fix, for me to find the answer to.  As a white woman, there are many, many facets of a black woman's reality that I cannot and may not ever be able to understand.  And honestly, I'm not even sure that I should be writing this post at all.

But, as one of the folks I follow on Twitter so piercingly stated, to say silent about these matters is abusive*.  So here I am, speaking, very imperfectly, and refusing to stay complicit, trying to remove the only enabler from the problem that I can -- myself.

* * *

So, now what?

For what it's worth, I think that it is my responsibility to see, to open my eyes and look to where it's hard and where people are hurting, even if it might make me terribly uncomfortable.  It is my responsibility to understand as best as I am able, to learn, to feel.

It is my sacred duty to see the humanity the people of Ferguson, in all African-Americans, in the people of Gaza, the immigrant children asking for help at the border of the U.S. and Mexico, the homeless men and women who live on the streets of my city, and more.

Because, in the end, the African-American community of Ferguson?  They are people.  They are you, and they are me, and we are they.  We are different from each other, yes, perhaps vastly different, and yet we still belong to one another.

So I ask you, look at your life.  Look at your children, your spouse, your lover.  Look at your coworkers, your friends, the clerk ringing up your items at the supermarket.  Look at them, and understand that there's no reason why it wasn't them that the police murdered, innocent and unarmed.  Look at your child and understand that it was only not him, not her, not you by pure, nauseating chance.

Think you can't muster up any bit of compassion for someone who is "other"?  Look to your pain.  Look to where you expect understanding and empathy, or at least sympathy.

For me, this is the death of my daughter.  I showed my anguish, people looked.  You looked, and you witnessed the pain of birthing and mourning a dead baby, and that was a powerful gift of respect, of love, one that I treasure.  Look to the empathy you have received, and consider whether you might be able to extend the same gift to someone aching from a situation you have not experienced, but is no less worthy of people who witness.

And don't do this to be macabre.  Don't do this to shame yourself or your loved ones.  Don't do this to harm yourself, or to wallow in the darkness.  And definitely don't do it to make yourself feel better without changing your ways of thinking, or to earn a bit of applause.  Because that makes it about you, when it's really about them.

Instead, do this with a mind to understand, with a heart to see, with commitment to not look away.  Do this to bring light to the shadows.  Find what awakens your compassion, and go there.  Let it flood your veins and synapses, overflow into your words and actions.   

Because when we can see the injustice, truly begin to see it and experience it via empathy . . . well, I think that is the beginning of change.  Not the end, not the whole solution, but a beginning.

There are many awful things in the world, things that we cannot do anything about.  But injustice done by one human to another human, or by one group of humans to another group?  That's we can do something about.

Please don't look away.  Look where you can, as you can, and hold the joy and beauty and horror and pain that you discover there as the sacred knowledge that it is.  Look, and let your eyes be light piercing the darkness.


"We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves.  The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated. . . .  Yet when we don't close off and we let our hearts break, we discover our kinship with all beings."

- Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart**
(I think this book is required reading.)


"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." 

- Edmund Burke 


There are lots of people writing and sharing about Ferguson and racism waaaay better than I am.  Like these folks . . . knowing and/or following many of these people has been truly life-changing:

(Okay, so I feel I have to end this with a caveat -- there is real, hard, excruciating work to be done to bring about racial reconciliation.  There is.  But the seeing -- that's where it starts.  Because how can anyone fix a problem that she is blind to?  So let's start there, and see where it takes us.)

   *unfortunately, I have no idea who said this.  I'd love to give credit -- let me know if you know!
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Sex and Marriage: Thoughts on Waiting

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stolensnapshot/3827502237/
 image by Sam Davis via Creative Commons
I am angry.

This is a portrait of the woman, angry.

Because I was made certain promises, promises that did not come through.

Because every day I hear of more and more people who were handed those same broken promises.

Or -- dare I say it -- the same lies.

And I am angry.

I wonder if you will be angry, too.

* * *

I trusted.

This is a portrait of the girl, trusting those words spoken by others as certainty.  

Perhaps you've heard them, too.

Save yourself for marriage.  
True love waits. 
Resist the devil and he [and his sexual temptations] will flee from you.  
Sex is dirty.  
Your body is dirty.
You are dirty if you think/want/wonder about sex.
Save yourself for marriage, and you will never regret it for a moment.

I listened.  I waited.  I saved myself.

I will regret it for a lifetime.

* * *

I feel betrayed.

This is a portrait of the woman, betrayed.

The betrayal, the regret, was born on my wedding night.  The night that finally -- f i n a l l y -- after twenty six years of life, it was acceptable for me to be a sexual being.  Not too sexual, of course, but sex was finally permissible.

My husband and I came as virgins to the marriage bed.  And -- 

we walked away virgins.

We did not have sex until four months after our wedding.
I did not enjoy sex for years after our wedding.
And we didn't learn why we couldn't have sex until many weeks after our wedding.

This wounds us, wounds my husband and I to this day.

* * *

I was broken.

This is a portrait of the woman, broken in body.

Or really, not broken.  Not breakable.  That was the problem, you see.

I trusted the church, trusted the people who said to wait, wait for sex.  I told them I was worried, because I couldn't even wear a tampon.  It wouldn't go in.  It felt excruciating.  They told me this was normal, that all would be made right on my wedding night.

It takes a penis, I figured.

But they were wrong.  I was wrong.

Because what it really took was a surgery.  Did you know that a woman's hymen can sometimes be not-mesh, not-breakable, can be skin?  Skin with holes in it so she can menstruate regularly, unsuspecting?

I didn't.  And mine was. 

My gynecologist was shocked that I got to my wedding night without knowing this about myself, my body.  She said this condition is not uncommon, but quite rare to remain undiscovered in the way mine was.

One surgery, a complicated healing, and a full season of the year, we consummated our marriage.  And when we did, it hurt like hell -- for years.

But what hurt even more is that I had done what the elders of the church told me to do.  John and Stasi, Shaunti, the few women in my life who were talking about sex and such, the leaders of the local and global church -- you promised me that the wait was worth it.

And it wasn't.

* * *

I am hurt.

This is a portrait of the woman, hurt by some of the very things she was taught would save her.

It's not just about my irregular hymen.  That makes for a dramatic story, of course, and it was anguishing to live.

But even if my husband and I had fully, awkwardly consummated our marriage on our wedding night, I would still be angry.

Because my sexuality is mine.  It is a part of me.  It is mine to know, to enjoy, to create life with.  

And the church made it not-mine.

I believed that if I waited to have sex, I would be handing my husband a priceless gift.

But the reality is that I gave my sexuality to the church -- or to God, if that sits better with you.  And therefore it was not mine to give to anyone else.  I didn't have a clue about how my body worked, about anything but the very basic mechanics of sex.  

And I think that for a woman to reach her marriage bed without a working knowledge of her sexuality -- without knowing what makes her tick, sigh, moan, orgasm -- she has nothing to give to her husband but a passive piece of flesh.

An unknowledgeable, fearful woman lying flinching on a mattress is not much of a gift at all.

* * *

I am embodied.

This is a portrait of the woman, embodied.

Because now, I know my self.  I know my body.  She is mine, I have learned how to inhabit her fully.  

Did you know that I only recently had my first satisfying orgasm?

My husband and I will be married for seven years.  It took me seven years of idling passive in bed, certain that a woman wasn't "supposed" to be alive, active, asking, needing in terms of sex and the having of it, to finally throw all that garbage out the window.

And let me just say -- seven years is too damn long.  

I didn't -- couldn't -- enjoy sex for seven years because I didn't own my own skin.  I didn't own my own sexuality.  Because I was not fully at home in this luscious body.

Both my husband and I agree that we regret waiting to make love until after "I do."  Not just because of the hymen thing, although we both would have really, really (really) loved to have dealt with that before our honeymoon.  

But because sexuality is an aspect of embodiment, of personhood, of compatibility that should be taken into account when deciding whether to marry a certain somebody -- one that the church not only does not value, but ignores at best and demonizes at worst.

I think that if my husband and I had come to our marriage as whole persons, sexuality included and embraced, our early years as one flesh would have been, could have been different.  Better, if not in all ways, then certainly in some ways.

Not because we would have slept around, not because we would have mindlessly fucked anything of the opposite sex that moved our way.  But because we would have shared all of ourselves with each other, and known more fully whether we loved each other.  

* * *

I am speaking.

This is a portrait of the woman, speaking about what does not get spoken of often enough.

Because it's not just me, not just my husband and I struggling still because of how the sexual  realm was handled when we were younger.

No, there are many -- too many -- other couples whose marriages are on the rocks because of this whole sex thing.  They lacked that certain something, that special spark that forever lovers share, but they didn't know they lacked it because they didn't know each other fully before they wed. 

I know couples who felt a blaring lack of spark before they got married, and were told by trusted pastors to marry anyway, that it would come -- and, years and years and children later, it has not come.  

I know couples who are living in turmoil because one spouse has finally, finally awakened to his or her (more often it's her, intriguingly) sexuality, and now needs to the freedom to explore it, to own it, but the other spouse will not or cannot meet them there.  And so the light of growth, of embodiment, that had finally begun to truly burn is doused. 

We should have known who we were as fully as possible before rings were exchanged.  We should have made our marriage choices based on whole persons, and we didn't.  We couldn't.  We were told to do so was bad -- no, was sin.

And now I see an epidemic of failed marriages of those who perhaps never should have married in the first place.  

* * *

I am thinking.

This is a portrait of the woman, thinking about sex and lies and how to start fixing this big damn mess.

It's not just about sex, this mess, this epidemic.  But sex and the vilification of sex is a big part of it -- and an even bigger part of the rape culture that we live in (and yes, we do live in a rape culture -- and while the church is not the only one responsible for rape culture, the church is also a major encourager of it).

Do all Christian couples experience this disappointment in waiting?  No.  Definitely not.  And for those couples, I am sincerely glad.  I truly delight in and celebrate the uncomplicated nature of sex and sexuality in your marriage and your life.

For the rest of us, however, I demand alternatives -- an alternative vocabulary for discussing sex and sexuality, for exploring one's self before and after the wedding day, for embracing sex as the beautiful expression of love and intimacy that it is.  Because I believe that such alternatives will create more mature, responsible, and healthy people -- and marriages.


Here are some starters for sexuality-related alternatives I would love to see:
  • sex and the body embraced as the lovely gifts and works of art that they are
  • a discussion of what masturbation is and how it can be helpful, healthy, and fun
  • parents encouraging teens to appreciate their sexuality while also helping them to be responsible for it in a way that won't make them scared of it (i.e., encouragement for youths to know all of themselves, and be responsible for all of themselves)
  • authentic conversations about what sex is for, and how to decide for one's self when to have it
  • "sex = dirty" talk ditched
  • an end to the objectification of women and women's bodies, and, relatedly, an end to the overtly communicated lie that men are victims of their bodies' naturally functionally mechanisms of arousal
  • the glorification of virgins and virginity
  • abstinence-only sex "education" eradicated; it has been proven not to work
  • gender equality, equivalent rights and opportunities and respect for women in practice, etc.

As for my husband and I . . . well, we're making it work, or trying to.  We're becoming more and more whole, each of us more and more of who we are -- all of who we are.  This is hard to do when you're married and have a kid, hard to do now this work that was made for young adulthood.  But we're doing it anyway, because the alternative is soul death.  And we've had enough of that.

Your turn -- how has your experience of sex and sexuality and related discussion, vocabulary, indoctrination, education/lack of education impacted your current sexual/marital/personal health?  What would you like to see change in our culture, and in religious culture?  What do you think should stay the same?


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