Tag Archives: books

Generous Spaciousness: Whose Space is It?

Earlier this week, i received my Kindle edition of Wendy VanderWal-Gritter’s book, Generous Spaciousness:  Responding to Gay Christians in the Church.  I’m about to start chapter 11 (which puts me a little over halfway through the book), and it’s so far been a pretty good read.  I haven’t decided whether I’m going to do a review of the book itself yet.  I’ll have to wait until I get finished with it and mull over if there’s anything that I want to say about it that other potential readers might find helpful when considering whether to pick up a copy.  (Generally speaking, I think people would do well to pick up a copy, but that statement alone is probably not very helpful to most potential readers.)

As I’ve been reading the book a number of thoughts have come up in my mind.  The one I want to blog about today is related to the question I put in the post’s title:  Whose “space” is it?

From reading the book so far and conversations I’ve had with Wendy1 in the past, generous spaciousness is a concept that is meant to be applied on the personal and institutional level.  On the personal level, it is an attitude of welcome and agreement to live in tension and even disagreement with others.  On an institutional level, it is a formal or informal policy that encourages leadership and members to embody that attitude in word and deed.  The latter, which I’m going to focus on, can be more fully seen in Wendy’s recent OnFaith article about how go engage gay Christian who attend one’s church.  Because the title of that article also points to the one nagging problem I see:  Whose church is it?

While I’m not arguing against the idea that churches need to consider how to be more welcoming of and how to minister to LGBT people, people who are questioning their gender and/or sexuality, or people who are simply wondering what God really says about sexuailty, gender, and same-sex sexual relationships, the very notion of “making space” for such people suggests that the church belongs to a different group of people and not those for whom such “space” is being made.

Ultimately, it becomes a question of how welcoming a space can truly be when the space is controlled by others who get to decide how welcoming to make that space.  Such a space still offers a great deal of comfort, safety, and privilege for those who control it and demands more risk and potential discomfort for those form whom “space is being made.”  Those who wish to truly be welcoming of LBGT people, their supporters, and those who are sorting through questions about LGBT lives and faith journeys need to wrestle with that injustice.  How does one make a space truly welcoming and generous to those who do not share “ownership” or control of a space?

Ultimately, I think that Christians also need to consider that rather than or in addition to “making space” for others in their space, they need to be prepared to completely give up their privilege, comfort, sense of control, and “home field advantage” by humbly2 seeking out those they wish to know in their own spaces, where they can feel safe and truly feel on equal ground or even at an advantage.  After all, trying to meet others only on one’s own terms is not an attempt to meet others at all.  Wendy talks about doing just that in her book when she talks about the first year she attended the Gay Christian Network’s annual conference.


1As an aside, I should point out that I have spoken with, met, broken bread with, drunken wine with, and gotten my butt kicked in a game of Stone Age by Wendy.  As such, my interactions with her do affect how I approach and engage with this book and the subject of generous spaciousness in general.

2As anyone who has maintained or or belonged to any space that caters to and seeks to be safe for marginalized people can tell you, there are different ways for privileged people to try entering and behaving in those spaces.  Some of those ways can disrupt such spaces and even make them unsafe.  Wendy exemplifies one of the better ways to go about this when she talks about how she approached seeking entry to her first GCN conference.

Raised Right: Missing Childhood

Today’s look at Alisa Harris’s book, “Raised Right:  How I Untangle My Faith from Politics” continues to look at chapter seven.  The underlying theme of this chapter — which I did not adequately explain in last week’s post, leaving my criticisms somewhat without the necessary context — is about how Ms. Harris’s conservative upbringing focused so much on politics that it consumed her whole identity and her relationships with other people.  I touched upon a similar phenomenon when I wrote about fundamentalist identity over at Confessions of a Former Conservative[1].  As such, I can identify with a lot of what Ms. Harris talks about in this chapter, though under slightly different conversations.

Harris speaks in the first paragraph of how her political leanings set her apart from many of her peers:

And while they were e-mailing one another about boys and fingernail polish, I was assuming the mantle of e-champion, which required two things of me:  an e-mail address to receive daily Bush campaign emails and the indefatigable conviction that I must forward to everyone I knew.

While I talked about how fundamentalist identity can consume one’s entire identity, I had not considered discussing how it echoes Ms. Harris’s own experience as described above.  Not only does such an identity consume a person, but it often becomes something that completely separates them from others.  In many ways, I imagine this is intentional, as fundamentalist and other conservative Christians find it important to identify themselves as separate from other people who are still “of the world.”  As such, this obsession with in-group activities to the detriment to other interests that one might have in common with their peers becomes an important sacrificial act demonstrating one’s “insider” status.

This is particularly troubling when one is young, as Ms. Harris notes that young conservative Christians — and I’d add fundamentalist Christians regardless of political involvement — tend to act like adults and associate more with adults.  There’s a certain sense where “fighting the good fight” becomes so important that simple things like expressing an interest in boys or girls, popular culture, and other things, which ultimately can rob such youth of their childhood.

I’ve often looked back at my own youth — and even my college years — and wished I had them to live them over.  I find that because I was so focused on being the perfect Christian, I put a lot of my personal development — especially emotional development — on hold.

When I finally addressed these areas of my life, I found myself trying to work through things in an adult world.  I found myself learning social skills and emotional coping techniques while holding down a job and acting like a responsible adult, as opposed to having the luxury of working through these things while still being able to rely more on my parents and having far less responsibilities.

This is one of the “holes” or distortions that Ms. Harris alludes to in this chapter of those whose politics become the whole of their identity.  It’s one that I felt she should have explored more.
 
Note:
[1]  As an aside, let me said that I’m quite pleased that Former Conservative has managed to rejoin the ranks of bloggers everywhere.  We missed you while you were silent, guy.

TV pp.11-13: Meet the Pentecostals

Note about page numbers:  I’m using an iBook copy of this book.  With iBook (and I believe most electronic books work this way), the book repaginates based on your font settings.  As such, I’m not sure how useful it will be to give page numbers.  For anyone who wants to know, I’m reading my iPad in portrait mode using the smallest font size, with a font setting of Palatino.  That’s how I come by the page numbers I list in the post titles.

After spending last week following Arnold the Catholic around his church, we find ourselves meeting Pentecostal characters this week.  These are the characters that Peretti are most familiar with, as he he belongs to that same community.  Three church ladies,[1] Dee, Adrian,  Blanche, are leaving Antioch Pentecostal Mission after a Sunday morning service.  They begin to discuss the possibly supernatural experiences that Sally and Arnold have experienced as any good church lady would do to keep her part of the grapevine well-managed.

One of the interesting things about their conversation is the hesitant credulity with which they approach Sally’s and Arnold’s respective experiences.  Navigating the supernatural experiences that others claim to have is an ever-present aspect of Pentecostal culture.  On the one hand, to immediately dismiss the experiences of others invites others to be equally skeptical of one’s own claims.  On the other, being too willing to blindly accept the claims of others leaves one open to being led astray by the dark and demonic powers.  This is demonstrated in the book when Blanche questions the weeping crucifix, suggesting that it sounds “awfully Catholic,” as Pentecostals are particularly suspicious of Catholicism.[2]  Indeed, there has been much advice and even a good number of formulas on how Pentecostals might seek to determine if an experience truly a miraculous encounter with God.

Of course, as the women talk, Dee gasps and begins to pray in tongues, for she sees Jesus in the clouds.  She points out the figure to the other women who begin to see it.  Soon, a crowd grows around the women as more people begin to see Jesus in the clouds, and more details are added, such as Adrian who sees him holding a hand.

It’s interesting to note that not everyone in the crowd can see Jesus, and some who do see him also see other animals.  Peretti writes this passage pretty masterfully in that we are left wondering whether particular experience is a true spiritual experience or the imagination of one woman that spreads among others, eager to share in that same experience.  One is left to wonder what really happened.

I find this interesting, considering this easily explained-away experience is happening to the very group who would — at least on an intellectual level — be likely to accept and even expect a more direct miracle such as Arnold’s crying crucifix or Sally’s disappearing messenger.  I imagine that Peretti is intentionally trying to keep a situation in which even the Pentecostal’s can remain skeptical of of whether or not anything legitimately supernatural is occurring.

The question is, if something supernatural really is going on, why would the source of these events want to keep anyone skeptical?

Notes:
[1]  Is this the concept of church ladies something that needs to be explained to some readers?  Or is this a fairly universal concept among most Christian groups?

[2]  I should note that not all Pentecostals actually think that Catholics aren’t “real Christians,” at least not in the sense of being saved.  They believe that some Catholics might be true believers in the sense of being saved, but find much of Catholic doctrine (as they understand it) to be in error.

A book on Pagan minorities.

The other day, Steve Hayes brought the book, “Shades of Faith:  Minority Voices in Paganism” to my attention.  As I’ve been highly interested in the intersectionality between various minority groups, discovering a book that discusses minority people within my own religious community came as a terrific boon.

In her introduction, editor Crystal Blanton describes her own experience as a Black[1] Wiccan High Priestess thus:

I am accustomed to being who I am among those who are different.  I am also accustomed to seeing the world a little differently because my experiences in the world are different.  I am used to being the one that people have turned to when they wanted to ask a question about cultures outside of their own.  This has become a part of what I recognize as a gift the Gods have graced me with; and like the pattern of my life, I have found a path to purpose in being the minority within the minority.

Ms. Blanton acknowledges that some minority people within Paganism have felt alienated within the Pagan community, and I hope that some of the essays within this analogy will provide examples of such experiences.  I am hoping that as a Pagan community builder, I can find ways in which to make my own community more inclusive by discovering needs and issues that I may not have considered before.  After all, I agree with Ms. Blanton’s assessment of how a diversity of voices only strengthens us:

The voice of differences add in an element of harmony to the collective voices of any path or movement.  We are in the human and social movement of spiritual understanding; Black, White, Hispanic, Native or other.  Together we harmonize on a frequency that is powerful enough to manifest divinity on earth and bring spiritual rest to so much collective suffering and pain.  I am honored to be the black key on the piano.


Note:

[1]  This is the description that Ms. Blanton chose for herself.  As such, I felt it fitting to use her own terminology.

TV pp.9-10: “Poor Sally”

Note about page numbers:  I’m using an iBook copy of this book.  With iBook (and I believe most electronic books work this way), the book repaginates based on your font settings.  As such, I’m not sure how useful it will be to give page numbers.  For anyone who wants to know, I’m reading my iPad in portrait mode using the smallest font size, with a font setting of Palatino.  That’s how I come by the page numbers I list in the post titles.

Having met our mysterious crucifixion survivor and watching his discovering of some unknown power last week, we turn the first chapter of Peretti’s “The Visitation” this week to meet nineteen year old Sally Fordyce as she leaves her home in Antioch Washington[1] to go for a walk.  We learn that Sally is nineteen and has returned to Antioch to live with her parents after a short-lived relationship with a trucker named Joey.  Peretti describes that relationship from Sally’s point of view:

She had believed everything Joey, the trucker, told her about love, and how she was that girl silhouetted on his mud flaps.  The marriage — if it happened at all — lasted three months.  When he found another woman more “intellectually stimulating,” Sally was bumped from the truck’s sleeper and found herself coming full circle, right back to bring Charlie and Meg’s daughter living at home again.

This is the perfect evangelical cautionary tale against “fast relationships,” especially those involving premarital sex.  Sally is that “poor girl” who trusted the promises of the “wrong boy,” fell head over heels, got used, and had her heart broken and dumped back home, ruined.

As anyone who has ever dated can tell you, there’s a lot of truth to this story.  I suspect most of us could tell that story of that person who promised us the world and eternal love, believed them, and ended up getting hurt.  I don’t take issue with any particular detail of this story, as it’s quite plausible.

And yet, the way in which this tale is told and meant to be perceived in evangelical circles is troubling to me.  This is not a tale of a young woman who had her heart broken when love didn’t work out, but the tale of the foolish girl who made a lot of bad choices and got the heartbreak coming to her.  Let me break down some of the hidden (or maybe not-so-hidden) elements of this message.

First, we have Joey comparing Sally to silhouettes (presumably of a sexy woman in some pose that’s meant to be provocative) on the mud flaps of his truck.  In evangelical culture, this is a hint that Joey is a sex-obsessed boy who would seek to sexually objectify any woman he meets.  In the evangelical mindset, this is probably seen as a sure sign that Joey watches porn too, and that if Sally had been smarter, she would’ve realized that Joey was bad news and only interested in one thing where she was concerned.

Add to this the phrase “if it happened at all” in regard to the marriage, which suggests that maybe Joey and Sally didn’t officially tie the knot, but instead were simply cohabitating in Joey’s truck as the traveled around for his work.  Again, this is a clear warning sign in evangelical circles, as any guy who will shack up with a girl without “making her an honest woman” is bound to dump her at some point.  Again, to the evangelical mind, this is something that Sally should have seen as a sign that Joey was trouble and avoided him.

The thing is, this is how some evangelicals tend to envision all relationships that meet their expectations of “doing marriage right” look.  There are no well-meaning couples who decide to live together and do their best to make things work, only to fail.  If such a relationship fails, it’s because the couple “did it wrong.”  Even if the couple does everything “right” according to the culture, if the relationship fails, it’s a sign they “didn’t really do it right after all.”  And while they might be sympathetic with Sally, there’s that part that sees this as consequences she brought on herself.

This is further shown as Peretti tells us that Sally saw her relationship with Joey as her chance for freedom.  Of course, Sally’s understanding of freedom is painted as immature.  Now that she’s back home, she has to cook, clean, and help with other household chores, things that she apparently didn’t have to do while living with Joey.

Of course, to Sally, freedom also meant escape from the small town of Antioch.  To her, Joey was her one chance to escape.  I find this interesting because Peretti is playing on a cliche here that I don’t buy into.  Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who grows up in small towns wants to escape them.  Even some of those who are not “wheat farmers” decide they like their cozy little hometown and stick around.  After all, there’s a lot to be said for living in a small community where everyone has known almost everyone else since they were born.  It can be quite comfortable.

Yes, some of us[2] decide we’d prefer more excitement.  Or we decide that our chosen careers require us to move.  Or we decide we’d have better dating options in a larger, more diverse community.  But we don’t necessarily just leave our small towns for the sake of escaping our small towns.

This is, I suppose, where I find Sally a bit poorly written.  There is nothing driving her desire to get out of Antioch.  There is nothing pushing her away from her hometown, nor is there anything pulling her to some new location.

Of course, that’s why Sally never found an escape other than Joey.  She has no ambition of her own.  She has no goals or self-determined destination.  And that’s why she is still (or at least back) in Antioch.  So she latches onto a man — a trucker who tells her that she’s sexy and beautiful, no less — to provide her with her escape.

Elephant in the room time:  Don’t a lot of evangelicals hold this up as a woman’s perfect — and only — duty?  Isn’t being a wife beholden to a particular man part and parcel of many evangelical descriptions of the ideal woman.  So here we have Sally, who seems to be latching onto that idea herself.  She turned to a man to be her ticket to the good life.  And yet, because (1) she didn’t “do it right” and (2) she “failed,” she’s a “poor girl” to be pitied/tsk-tsked by the same people who probably contributed to her thinking that this was the perfect life for her.

After all this set up, Sally meets a random stranger that has a message for her:

“I’m here to bring you a message.  Your prayers have been answered, Sally.  Your answer is on his way.  Be looking for him.”

Sally’s answer to her prayers — her prayers to get out of this small town — is on his way.  You heard that, the alleged answers to her prayers is another man.

You can almost hear the evangelical readers sardonically thinking, “Here we go again.”

Notes:
[1]  Google maps knows of no Antioch in Washington, though there apparently is a “Highway 9” that runs through that state.  I suspect that this is another attempt by Peretti to create a plausible sounding small town, as Yamikuronue concludes about Ashtion in “This Present Darkness.”

[2]  I grew up in the rural town of Tioga, Pennsylvania, so I’m a “small town boy” myself.

Considering Peretti books for analysis

After some thought, I’ve decided that I’m going to do a deconstruction — if you can still call it a deconstruction if you find more about the book that you like than you dislike — of another book by Frank Peretti.

I’ve read a total of five Peretti books.  Each one of them is slightly different in some way.  This Present Darkness is about the war between angels and demons as it plays out in a small town.  Piercing the Darkness, its sequel, is also about angels battling demons, but this time the main focus is the battle over a particular soul (though it did have a swipe at the public education system, which was a popular topic at the time I was reading it due tot he emergence of outcomes based education).

The third book that I read was Prophet, which was not about angels and demons but about a journalist who found himself living a “prophetic” (in the terms of warning others of the consequences of their misdeeds) vocation.  The book mostly focused on the evils of the (liberal, of course) media and abortion.

The fourth book that I read was The Oath.  It was a strange book in that it was far more a Horror book than the others.  While it got preachy about the nature of sin, there was also no clear connections to actual spiritual movements (at least not that I’m aware of) like the first three were.  I often joked that The Oath seemed more like Peretti contracted Stephen King to write a book for him in comparison to the others I had read.

I should note that I read these four books when I was in high school, when I still considered myself a fundamentalist Christian.  As such, I read them as a member of Peretti’s target audience.

I didn’t read my fifth book, The Visitation until I was in my late twenties or early thirties, long after I became a witch and devotee of Freyja.  In many ways, I suppose that’s why i liked the book.  In this book, Peretti turned his critical eye away from “outsiders” and turned it upon his own religious subculture.  As a former member of that same subculture, I appreciated his look.

I’ve decided that I want to do an in-depth analysis of The Visitation.  As I said, I’m not sure I can call it a deconstruction, as many of the parts that I will be exploring are places where I actually identify and agree with Peretti’s thoughts.  However, given the nature of the main plot, which I wasn’t as impressed with, I don’t expect my comments to be entirely glowing, either.

I’m also hoping that it might be interesting to compare this book with This Present Darkness.  Who knows, maybe it’ll even spark up some sort of discussion between Yamikuronue and myself as we compare our experiences of our respective Peretti books.

Adventures in reading

This weekend, I finished reading Wings of Wrath by C.S. Friedman.  Wrath is the second book in the author’s new Magister Trilogy.  I found it a fantastic read, and I’m disappointed now that I have to wait the third book to come out.  (I had to buy wrath in hardcover because it’s not even out in paperback yet.)

One of the things I absolutely love about Friedman’s Magister Trilogy is her conceptualization of magic.  She describes magic as an act that draws upon and uses up the athra, the very fire of the soul, to work.  In the cases of witches, this means that every spell cast costs the witch moments of her life.  The first book, Feast of Souls, starts out with a witch who knows she’s near the end of her life performing one last final act of magic.  This is after announcing years ago that she would do no more magic so that she might enjoy what little life she had remaining.  The town turned against her and she lived in solitude, until a woman came with her two small children to beg for her help.  The baby boy in her arms was sick with a plague that could kill everyone.  Here’s part of that scene, as scene from the witch’s perspective:

The log in the stove hadn’t caught; the fire was dying.  Winter’s chill seeped into thecabin and into her bones, and she let it.  There wasn’t enough power left within her to keep her flesh warm and heal the boy as well.  Not that an witch with a brain would waste power on the former task anyway…no when there was wood to be burned.  The power was too precious to waste on simple things.  If only she’d understood that, in the youth of her witchery!  A tear coursed down her cheek as she remembered teh hundred and one little magics she could have done without, the tricks performed for pleasure or show or physical comfort.  If she could undo them all now, how much tme would they add up to?  Would they buy her another wee, another year of life?

Too late now, Death whispered.

Dying.  She was dying.  This is what it felt like, when the embers of the soul expired at last.  She could feel the last tiny sparks of her athra flickering weekly inside her.  So little power left.  How much time?  Merely minutes, or did she have all of an hour left to wonder if she had done the right thing?

A young girl, the sick boy’s sister, witnessed that scene.  That girl is later introduced in the story as Kamala, the first woman to ever successfully become a magister, those sorcerors who have somehow learned to do magic without sacrificing their own lives.  They are ageless and can live practically forever.  Of course, what most people do not know is that the secret to the magisters’ survival is that they have learned how to tap into and use other people’s athra for their magic.

I’m anxious to read the final book of the trilogy, as Friedman has managed to weave some intriguing mysteries into the story.  I’m looking to find out who the magister Colivar really is, for example, and why he knows so much about the ancient souleaters, who have suddenly returned to the world of men.  Friedman has also hinted that there is a relationship between the magisters and those ancient beasts, and I’m anxious to find out the connections.

Finding a new book

While surfing the web tonight, I came across a book I’d never heard of before. The title is From Boys to Men: Gay Men Write About Growing Up. I find myself wondering how closely any of the stories contained in the book resemble the experiences I’m working on writing about. One of the reason I started writing about my own sexual self-discovery is because I feel like the topic is not well covered. So it would be interested to see if this book is a sign that there’s more out there than I realize. It would be a pleasant discovery if that is the case.

I’ve added the book to my wish list. I’d buy it outright, but I think I spent enough money today. I got a laptop in the price range I expected. But by the time I added all of the extras I decided to get with it (including a new wireless router for the house), the bill was a bit…shocking.