Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Category: Religion

Republicans: It’s All About Protecting Unborn Life, Right?

A few warnings:

I kind of ramble in this post. Forgive me for that. It’s very hard to create any coherent stream of thought in regard to this thick web of issues that have become impossible to disentangle as we talk about today’s current events.

If you prefer not to read a woman writing in an “unladylike” manner, now’s the time to close this page.

Call me bitchy. Or unladylike. Whatever.

Like many other women my age, you can’t shame me for not being ladylike.

Because we have seen that being the good girl often doesn’t get you ahead and it sure as hell doesn’t get you heard.

So if you’re still here, allow me to bitch away.

***

Republicans,

You’ve got a problem. With women, specifically.

You do realize that 50% of this country is women right? You do realize that women vote, don’t you? You do realize that younger women (a.k.a. the future electorate) are more likely to believe that women are not to blame for their own sexual assaults, right?

I don’t think you do. I think you’re still banking on the idea that there are enough people in this country that aren’t completely offended by your support, nay, your approval, of a man who has been accused of sexual assault by three different women.

But why should it matter to you?

After all, 19 women accused Trump of sexual assault and harassment, and “the American people” still elected him.

Right?

Your political calculation is pretty clear to me.

You have been so, so very eager to get to the godly business of making sure that women can’t have abortions. Ever, if possible.

(At least, that’s the cover story. I’m fairly certain your fervent support of Kavanaugh has more to do with your expectations about how he’ll rule on matters of political finance and other much more boring, but far more pernicious, topics that don’t captivate the attention and ire of millions of Americans.)

No. You are very eager to “protect the unborn.”

***

That’s still what all of this is about, right?

Protecting unborn life is the reason that you’re willing to promote a man who is accused of sexual assault by three women to the Supreme Court.

(Excuse me for a moment: My brain just threw up…)

That’s why millions of us watched Christine Blasey-Ford’s worst nightmare come true on live TV. That’s why we all tuned in to see what Brett Kavanaugh had to say about the accusations.

We’re in this political maelstrom because Judge Kavanaugh may be the deciding vote on future court cases that may overturn or severely chip away the protections of Roe v. Wade.

In short, what you, Republicans, are saying is that the rights of the unborn are decidedly much more sympathetic compared to the rights of women who have been sexually assaulted.

But today, many young women see attacks on Roe v. Wade as what they really are: attempts to control women’s sexuality and their bodies. 

Maybe you’ve noticed lately that women in their 20s and 30s and 40s are not so easily shamed anymore by the old, “You don’t want to be a bad girl, do you?” playbook.

That has to be hard: to know that the women are becoming more impervious to the blows that knocked previous generations down far quicker and for far longer.

Today’s women get up much faster. They speak out much more.

And we aren’t going away.

***

Republicans,

Let me lay it out for you in the simplest terms possible (because I assume you are skimming. You’re busy. I get it. #MomLife)

You suck at making policies that help women.

(Probably because so many of you are Men-Who-Cannot-Imagine-the-World-Through-the-Eyes-of-Women.)

This is what is so frustrating about the Republican platform. Your campaign messages champion upholding family values, strengthening the economy, and keeping government small, but your political actions aim to create a very different reality for all of us. 

Republicans, your track record is awful. Let me count the ways.

You hurt women by admitting that Blasey-Ford’s testimony was heart-wrenching and credible… but she still must be mistaken about who her attacker was.

You hurt girls by insisting that sexual assault committed by teenage boys is just “horseplay” or “roughhousing” and that men shouldn’t be accountable for the actions that they commit in high school.

But let’s not forget all of your…

Favorite Hits of Ways to Hurt Families:

You hurt families by cutting spending on education and forcing teachers into unspeakable working conditions. And then appointing Betsy DeVos. (Sigh).

You hurt families by cutting Medicaid even though most of your constituents depend on it.

You hurt families by cutting food stamps or raising the work requirements for those receiving welfare.

(Haven’t you heard unemployment is at an all-time low? What’s wrong with you? Go get an $8 an hour job to support your four kids, you Low Life! In fact, go get three of those jobs just so you can make ends meet and never see your kids. What? You can’t get enough hours in one place to qualify for health insurance? Guess you should have thought about that before you had four kids! Why didn’t you use birth control? Well, whose fault is it that you can’t afford it? It’s not the government’s responsibility to make it affordable for you to have birth control. Just stop sleeping with your husband or make him wrap it up. That shouldn’t be too hard, right? Take some responsibility for your reproductive powers!)

…is the message that seems to come together in a person’s brain when they consider the barrage of “typical conservative things to say in an argument.”

You hurt families by saying nothing when the leader of your party allowed children, toddlers, and babies to be taken from their parents’ arms when they came to the border seeking asylum from violence, blamed Democrats for the problem, backtracked, refused to accept responsibility for his actions (does he ever?), and then left our government bureaucracy to clean up his mess. (Oh, right. Sorry. Immigrants don’t count as “real families,” right? Feel free to disregard this point.)

But, remember, you also hurt the working poor by applauding Trump’s efforts to “blow up” Obamacare, even though it’s providing crucial health care for dying coal miners.

***

But what hurts the most today, in this moment, is that you hurt families by using women’s bodies as a political weapon.

And make no mistake–chipping away women’s rights hurts families.

But you care about protecting the unborn.

Right.

***

Does it scare you?

The very noticeable fact that…

We are on to you.

Who are we?

Women.

Women who work full-time, part-time, all-the-time.

Women who still make less money then men who do the same work (thanks to the cultural dilemma of gender in salary negotiations).

Women who pay taxes.

Women who still don’t have any nationwide guaranteed parental leave after giving birth.

Women who give birth in a country with unreasonably high maternal mortality compared to other developed countries.

Women who spend half of their salary on DAYCARE just so they can go to work. (Citation: Me).

Women who raise kids by themselves, with their with a partner, with cobbled-together daycare and babysitting, with parents, with friends when the sitter is sick.

Women who are routinely passed over for promotions based on the assumption that, because they’re mothers, they’re probably “more family-focused” at this point in their careers. (Never considering that those same families would probably benefit greatly from their mother’s promotion.)

We’re women who run PTOs.

And women who run for political office.

Women who do the grocery shopping, the oil changes, the doctor’s appointments, the RVSPs, the thank you cards, the school pictures, the flu shots, the pharmacy pick-ups, the fundraisers, the endless permission slips and photo releases and medical forms.

We’re almost always the ones that get called at work when a child is sick. And we’re often the ones who end up staying home with them.

We’re women.

Educated. News-watching. Well-read. Thinking. Talking. Podcasting. Blogging. Campaigning. Running. Voting. Women.

Republicans, you’re the first to talk about how expensive universal preschool would be or how un-American subsidized daycare would be, or how much guaranteed paid parental leave would hurt business…

In short, you sure know how to make women feel unusual, unwelcome, and burdensome.

But you’re welcome–for giving birth to your future tax-paying citizens.

(Can we please not pretend that our birthing and raising of children has no economic value? Since, apparently, that’s all you seem to care about. Oh right. No. You also care about “protecting unborn life.” And “born life?” That’s my responsibility. I’ve got it. Thanks for the clarification.)

***

I watched both of their testimonies.

And I believe her.

I. Believe. Her.

I think it’s clear that Ford is not some manufactured pawn in a widespread liberal conspiracy.

I also believe that Kavanaugh is furious that his family and his credibility are being raked through the mud now. (Maybe he grew up over the years? Maybe he’s different? Maybe he’s the same aggressive drunk that he was in high school? Hard to say. Maybe the hard-won FBI investigation will help clarify?)

And I believe that Kavanaugh is furious that Christine Blasey Ford is so credible and that his big chance of having his greatest dreams realized is coming crashing down all because he acted like a giant douche in high school.

Is that really so hard to believe that Brett Kavanaugh may have done these horrible things to girls and women?

Not for me, it isn’t. And I don’t think it’s hard for many women. We all remember guys just like him in our high schools. We remember similar jokes circulating in school about boys who joined the “Name of Girl” club, as a way to mark their sexual conquests.

We remember the college parties where some entitled, rich White guy drank way too much and thought shoving his penis in women’s faces was funny.

The more we’ve heard about Kavanaugh’s yearbook and the nicknames, the more we remember how small and dirty we felt when we received the jokes, the taunts, the “innocent” slaps or pinches, the touches.

And for some of us, we remember the groping. The assault. The rape.

All of us remember the shame, the shame, the shame.

I hope it’s all worth it to you, Republicans: the loss of confidence, indeed, the complete betrayal that women all over this country are feeling right now.

(And the women who don’t feel betrayed are still playing by your Good Girl playbook.)

But that’s not what angers me the most.

***

What angers me the most is that you hurt of all these people…

…and still most White evangelical Christians support your party.

Because, apparently, they believe that everything else is secondary to the primary goal of…

…protecting unborn life.

God works in mysterious ways…Who’s to say that Donald Trump isn’t a vessel that God is using to accomplish his purpose of ending abortion in this country?

… is a maddening rationalization of every abhorrent thing that our president has ever done and will do.

As a former evangelical Christian, this reasoning doesn’t surprise me.

But as a progressive Christian now, this logic absolutely disgusts me.

Republicans,

When you write policy against and vote against the poor and the vulnerable and the voiceless, you don’t represent the God’s love.

And it’s embarrassing for you to claim that you do.

But what do you care?

You’ll still be able to pay for an underground abortion if your wife finds out at 16 weeks that her baby has anencephaly and she’s already grieving for her child and you don’t want her to continue to carry the pregnancy, give birth, and watch her child die in her arms.

You’ll still be able to secure an abortion if, one day, your daughter really needs one–because she doesn’t want to raise a child with her prom date just because he didn’t have a condom and you thought she wasn’t old enough for the pill yet. (And the whole experience puzzles you because, it’s weird. Your daughter isn’t usually the kind of girl that gets in trouble like this. It’s not like she’s a slut, like the girls that this usually happens to. Right?)

But for me, you have crossed the point of no return on this.

You will never win my vote back. Ever.

Oh, it’s true, I was pretty sure that I’d never, ever vote Republican again after Trump was elected even though the entire country heard his raspy, old codger’s voice saying, grab ’em by the pussy. 

But presidents aren’t elected for life.

So, never again.

You will never win my vote back. All because of your lack of empathy and foresight.

Because for you, the possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade was such a juicy prize that you were willing to steamroll right over the bodies of dozens of women and their claims of sexual assault.

But I wish you had courage to say what you really mean.

(Courage: Maybe you are familiar with the concept? It’s what Blasey-Ford demonstrated when she talked about her trauma, live, in front of a national audience.)

So, yes, I wish you had the courage to say what you really mean:

You don’t trust women.

Deep down, maybe you think women are conniving, manipulative, back-stabbing, selfish, and left unrestrained, whorish.

(Not the ones that you know, of course, but other women, definitely. You see it happen all the time.)

Deep down, maybe you think women need these laws to stay in place. To keep them from sleeping around and being sluts. Deep down, maybe you think that these laws will actually stop abortions from happening. Deep down, maybe you think that these laws will actually stop women from having sex with men with whom they don’t intend to have a family. (Or being raped by men with whom they don’t intend to start a family.)

Just kidding. Women can’t get pregnant by a “legitimate rape,” right?

But let’s be real.

Outlawing abortions won’t stop them from happening. Did Prohibition work? Nope. Instead, we got mafia and bootleggers. Did making marijuana illegal work? Nope. Just ask Jeff Sessions.

Or let’s turn to guns, your other favorite issue. Did making the AR-15 illegal work?

Oh, right. Just kidding. We would never dream of making a semi-automatic rifle illegal. That’s our constitutional American right. Right, Brett Kavanaugh?

But the right for women to control what happens to their bodies?

Nah, that’s not theirs to decide.

What happens in a woman’s body is no one’s business but the government’s.

Unless she’s assaulted by a future Supreme Court nominee.

Then what happened to her body is the business of the entire country.

It’s our right to be able to judge for ourselves how traumatized she really is.

It’s our right to be able to compare ourselves to Blasey-Ford and insist that we would definitely report a real sexual assault and speculate about the gaps in her testimony.

It’s our right to be able to hear all the details of the assault from both sides and decide that, ultimately, we’ll never know who’s telling the truth (and an FBI investigation would just take too much time and the Blue Wave is coming…), so let’s just quickly vote on this guy (even though we blocked Obama from having his SCOTUS nominee) so we don’t lose our chance to…

…protect unborn life.

Right?

I think I’ve got it now. Thanks for listening.

It all makes so much more sense now that I’ve written it out.

Supreme court

PoP # 7: What Pulls Us Together

This part of my life could be called “Following.”

 

 

 

When I’m not following this tiny human around and making sure he doesn’t kill himself via stairs or light sockets or small items lodged in the throat, I’m feeding him.

Actually, a lot of the weekend is spent just feeding him. (Thank God the older one reminds me when she’s hungry. I can’t keep both of them straight.)

Offering handheld foods.

Mixing and mashing food.

Haphazard attempts at letting him feed himself

Spooning food into his mouth as he lowers his chin, head turned 90 degrees as he stares off into the unknown…

And I just think, Me too, sir. Me too.

When I’m not orbiting him around the house, he’s orbiting me in the playroom.

Because in a room of 5,000 toys, the most fun thing to play with is always, always, always Mom. Mom’s hair. Mom’s clothes. Mom’s coffee cup. Mom’s blanket that is so nicely arranged on her legs. No matter how many times I try to distract him with other things, he always comes back to me.

Over and over again, we are pulled toward each other, by the simple fact that we are existing in the same space. Either I am following him or he is climbing all over me.

And as I’m sitting on the floor of the playroom, moving my cup of coffee from left to right to left while he climbs over my legs from left to right to left…

I flip open the newest issue of National Geographic on my lap. And for a moment, both of us stare together at an illustrated image of our galaxy as it unfolds in full panorama from the magazine’s pages.

Galaxy

There we are, that tiny speck of a solar system in the Sagittarius Arm

A collection of stars orbiting each other, spinning by the force of their own gravity between each other

And I read about the fact that not only is Earth uniquely situated within our solar system to foster the conditions for life, it’s also situated well within the galaxy

And that our solar system exists in a relatively asteroid-and-space-junk free area of the galaxy

And that the sun actually repels harmful cosmic radiation that would kill us

There we are, so vulnerable and exposed, whether by design or by happenstance, protected from complete annihilation (for the foreseeable future, at least?)

There we are, in that great cosmic swirl around the mysterious, hotter-than-hell core of our galaxy

There we are, the tiniest of tiny of tiny in a universe of unfathomable vastness.

And I just think,

Well, shit.

Where Did God Go?: Some Thoughts on Hurricane Harvey

I grew up believing that God was in the good and pure and holy and clean things.

And that I would spend my life trying to keep myself good and pure and holy and clean. And by doing that, I would remain close to God.

No.

Because in all of those moments when I thought I was good and pure and holy and clean, I was actually self-righteous. Self-serving. Self-important. Distant. Cold. Judgmental.

Perhaps intellectually, I felt that I was close to God.

But, oh.

No.

Not until those Desperate Moments did I ever really feel God’s presence.

Not until Fire and Separation and Cancer and Death and Pain and Uncertainty.

In those moments, my cold, assured heart broke open.

And I could no longer keep myself good and pure and holy and clean.

I was ungrateful and messy and blasphemous and so, so full of doubt.

I was everything that would separate me from the Love of God.

But then, didn’t I say that I believed that nothing could separate me from the Love of God?

Did I really believe that?

No. I did not. Not anymore.

Because Tragedy had come. And nothing could be any good anymore.

(Has Tragedy ever come for you? Can you imagine it?)

Hurricane Harvey

***

But here is the double-sided nature of God:

The more broken that we are, the more likely we are to be touched by God’s sacred presence. 

Because in our brokenness, we finally have room for God.

When we have lost all the Things that Keep Us Together, we finally reach out our empty hands

and really Receive.

3633244665_09b16e42c3_m

Photo Credit: Caitlin Regan, 2009, flickr.com

***

God’s Peace and Grace to all of you who are facing so much pain and loss and uncertainty because of Hurricane Harvey.

You are not Forgotten.

You are Loved.

My New Book: A Birth Story Guaranteed To Make You Cry

After I gave birth this past February, I thought,

Well. How am I going to write about that?

Because what I felt in labor had been deeply spiritual. In my first labor, I sensed God’s presence, but not in a physical way. What I experienced was beyond my physical senses.

But this time… I had seen things.

I had actually physically felt things that I couldn’t explain.

I knew that a blog post would become buried in this website over time. That’s not the way that I wanted to share this experience with an audience. I wanted something more permanent. Something more discover-able and more available to as many people as possible.

***

So I published a short Kindle book, called Why Your Middle Name is Jacob: A Birth Story.

From August 3-7, I will be giving away free copies, so I encourage you to download your copy today and share with anyone whom you think would be interested in it.

Important: You don’t need a Kindle device to read the book.

As long as you have an Amazon account, you can read this book. Just go to Amazon’s website, log in, find the book, put it in your cart, and checkout (for free). Then choose “Your Account,” and then select “Your Content and Devices.” You will see the book there and you can read it in your web browser.

Included in this e-book are six additional essays that I wrote in the early postpartum period, curated and compiled for a larger audience.

  • The World is Good Because it is Bad: A Letter to My Unborn Child
  • Postpartum Hemorrhage
  • These Holy Hours
  • Week 6: A Great Time to Return to Work
  • Week 7: And Now My Watch Is Ended
  • Is There Room in Motherhood for Feminism?

Kindle Direct Publishing only allows me to give away free copies of a title every 90 days. Please take advantage of this free promotional period while you can. After August 7th, the book will be available for $2.99.

If you download a copy, please review it on Amazon.

As an independent author, I rely on you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on my work.

I greatly appreciate your support!

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Week 12: Destiny or Chaos?, a.k.a. The Deep Questions

Regardless of how you define “life,” at 3 months old, a baby has officially been a growing organism for a whole year.

From this:

fertilization

To this:

17917276_10211104053150694_6151360946178878502_o

In 365 days.

A. Ma. Zing.

This child was conceived four months after a miscarriage. We could have tried sooner, but, you know. Closure. Time. Space. All of these things are good and healing.

Because I was charting my basal temperatures every day for months before all of my pregnancies, I had a pretty good idea of when I would ovulate.

I thought.

Day 14 is ovulation day for a “typical” 28-day cycle. Mine was usually Day 16, but sometimes, it was as late as Day 22. This meant that I had short luteal phases, which can make it difficult to get pregnant or to keep a pregnancy. (I often had a nine-day luteal phase, and sometimes as low as six days. Not good.)

When we conceived our first child, it was Day 18. So, based on past experience, we decided to aim for Days 14-18. You know. Cover all our bases.

Right?

But Days 14-18 of that particular cycle landed right smack in the middle of our “vacation” to the D.C. area. 

I put vacation in quotation marks because we were traveling with a 2 1/2 year old.

So, yeah, it wasn’t really a vacation that was very conducive for baby-making. But that was the timeline.

So be it.

Three days before we left for that trip, our daughter went to bed early and this beautiful window of an hour with nothing to do opened up.

It was Day 11. In the 22 months of data that I had collected, I had never ovulated before Day 14. But whatever. Let’s just have a good time, we thought.

As it turned out, that was my ovulation day.

We officially started “trying” on Day 14, but of course, nothing we did at that point would have gotten us pregnant.

The best laid plans sometimes, right?

***

It would be easy to write this story as destiny. That because our baby is so beautiful and perfect, we were just meant to have sex days before we had planned. God just knew that we needed to get together then in order to make this beautiful baby. Or something like that.

Believing in destiny is all well and good when it’s going your way.

But for all the healing that believing in destiny can do, it can just as easily bleed you dry.

When we miscarried, were we just meant to have sex at the wrong time?

Was that destiny?

Or is destiny just a comforting idea that we hold on to when it helps us?

If there is no destiny, is it all just chaos and luck?

Or do we call it chaos so we don’t need to acknowledge the real consequences of our actions?

Although I’ve been thankful for this child that made his way from cell to zygote to blastocyst to embryo to fetus to baby…

I sometimes wonder about the two pregnancies that didn’t get this far. What would they have been like? Were they boys? Girls? One of each? Did they have chromosomal problems? Would they have been perfect if my body could have held onto them? Would they look like my two living children, who both look more like their cousins than they do their parents?

What alternate course of events may have played out if those pregnancies lasted?

Destiny?

Or Chaos?

When it comes to conceiving a child, it feels like a bit of both.
57e3d4dbd417f

 

Week 38: Paradoxes

Are you ready?!

This is the most likely comment that people will say to me in the next few weeks.

How do I honestly answer this?

Yes. I don’t want to be pregnant anymore.

No. I’m not ready for labor again.

Yes. I’m tired of all the fluid retention.

No. I’m not ready to breastfeed again.

Yes. I want to finally see this baby.

No. I don’t want to do all the night feedings.

Yes. I can’t stand carrying all this weight anymore.

No. The room still isn’t ready yet.

Yes. We’ll never be fully prepared anyway.

***

When I sleep at night on these bitterly cold days, I sweat. I throw the sheets off until I freeze. Then I pull them back over me. Repeat.

I have crazy dreams. Last night, I successfully managed to outsmart, outrun, and hide from a serial killer who had me trapped in an office building, much like the one in Mad Men (which, of course, I’ve been binge-watching lately).

At full term, a woman’s placenta generates as much estrogen as a non-pregnant woman will produce in three years.

Yeah.

Thus the sweating and crazy dreams.

In the weeks to come, the loss of these same hormones will cause me to shake with hot flashes and chills, to weep at the drop of a hat, and to constantly check to make sure the baby is sleeping.

Basically, their loss will make me feel completely undone.

This is the beginning of the ride down into powerlessness. This is when my individual will and desires start to bow their heads to my body’s processes and the needs of this tiny person, now coming forth.

This is when I become a passenger in my own body.

***

Dr. Robbie Davis-Floyd, a cultural anthropologist who specializes in the rituals of birth, points out that pregnancy is both “a state and a becoming.” If you translate the word “pregnancy” from Latin, it would literally read, “the state of being before being born.”

It is a kind of limbo. To be pregnant is to experience the world in flux. To see the world turned upside down and inside out. In her book, Birth as an American Rite of Passage, Davis-Floyd writes that,

“the near-constant inner and outer flux of pregnancy keeps the category systems of pregnant women in a continuous state of upheaval as old ways of thinking change to include new life” (p. 24).

So fluid is this state of being that I oscillate back and forth between wanting to be free of this pregnancy and not wanting it to end.

***

Labor also brings its own set of paradoxes.

In labor, the fastest way to progress is completely counter-intuitive.

You need to relax through the pain.

Try it the next time you burn your hand or stub you foot so hard you scream. Your first instinct is to clench and bear down. Not to breathe calmly through it.

Labor takes you out of the boat and throws you to the mercy of a series of invisible, crashing waves. At first, you might hold your breath through the pain and gasp for air in the breaks. But in time, the waves come at you harder and faster, leaving little to no time to breathe.

And that is when you realize that what you really need to do is stop fighting.

Let the water hold you down, down, down. Until you are still.

Because the more you resist, the longer labor is.

So surrender becomes your savior.

Surrendering to pain. Accepting it. Even though you don’t know when it will end.

That is the smoothest path through labor.

***

As a human being, I loathe this truth, that surrender is necessary in labor. I hate uncertainty and I cling to control. I avoid pain if I can.

But allow me to get spiritual for a moment.

As a Christian, I understand this truth.

Of all the symbols that Christians could have used to represent their most ardent belief, they chose a symbol of execution. Of Death.

Instead of choosing a symbol of humility (the manger) or peace (the dove) or bounty (the fish), Christians chose a symbol of intense pain and sacrifice. A sacrifice so crushing that it would obliterate body and mind, leaving behind only spirit.

They chose a symbol of death because they believed that it was only by dying to their previous lives that they would be able to embrace new life. They believed that before experiencing true humility and peace and bounty, they first needed to give it all up.

Because you can’t truly receive until your hands are empty.

Emptiness first. Then Plenty.

Death first. Then Life.

As a Christian, this is how I understand labor. I see labor as the most authentic expression of what I worship.

I follow a belief that Death comes first. Then Life.

Death to Self. Then, New Life.

***

As I’ve said before, January doesn’t seem like a month that goes well with birth. It stands in contrast to so many other months when we see evidence of life at work. In the United States, nature lovers will tell you that we are currently in Deep Winter, a period of seven weeks before Early Spring begins. In these weeks, we see nature as barren, perhaps even conquered.

But below the surface, the world is shifting and preparing for spring.

light-shining

I think about this as I walk in the mornings now, bundled beneath layers. Even though the winter air bites and stings, the winter light still warms me when the clouds break.

I went to church last Sunday and I was reminded that we are in the season of Epiphany, the time of year when Christians remember that God’s light doesn’t just shine on us. It comes down to light our way. Even though the darkness consumes so many hours of these winter days, the light is still there.

Even though darkness, light.

Even though Death, Life.

Even though pain, progress.

Even though two, one.

Even though being, becoming.

Even though ready, not ready.

What I Used to Believe

cross

I used to think that a spiritual life was carefully lived

Flawless, or close to it

I learned about The Box

I learned how to crawl inside and close The Lid

How to feel comfortable inside it

The Box was for my own good

The Box would keep me safe

But the waters flowed in anyway.

And when I ran out of air, I pushed The Lid off.

***

I thought that was the end

That there would be no room left from someone like me

Someone who hated the Box

Someone who wanted to understand the Lid and the Walls and why the Box has four of them.

***

But then a truth: That to be Christian

is to believe that the sacred can become profane.

And the profane can become sacred.

To believe that life is full of these moments

When the two sides blend seamlessly from one to another

Life does not progress at an even slope, rising ever into our American horizon

No.

Life takes you away and brings you back.

Like a good song, life moves in circles, in waves

Return and repetition

Sometimes, we call them breakdowns or failures

But we are made for this

We are made to

return

relive

perfect

***

So if you’re carrying the cross, thinking there is a finish line

Lay it down, already

If you carry it to prove your struggle to be holy

Lay it down, already

Don’t carry the cross to prove your sacrifice

Carry it because you must

Carry it now because someday you won’t be able to

Carry it for someone else

***

I am belief and despair, strength and weakness.

I am tension and struggle and doubt and hope.

I am happiness and grief, delight and disgust.

I am handshakes and cold shoulders, warm hugs and hot sex.

I am Christian. I am worldly.

I am sacred. I am profane.

I am perfectly unholy.

I am rising above my humanity and succumbing to it.

I am what makes God smile.

I am what makes God cry.

I am all of these now

But I may be none of these tomorrow

But no matter what shape I take

I am always Loved.

God, the Mother

God, the Father. God, the Son. God, the Holy Spirit.

“God the Father” Gottvater Veronese, Paolo. 1528-1588.

 

Adam, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Moses, Samson, Saul, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah, Malachi, Matthew-Mark-Luke-John, John the Baptist, Jesus, Saul/Paul, Peter, James, Philip, Simon, Jude, Andrew, Bartholomew…

jesus-washes-feet-of-disciples-02

 

And then there was Eve, Sarah, Esther, Ruth, Naomi, Mary, Mary Magadalene… These are the ones I can remember.

Looks like I left out three of them...

Looks like I left out three of them…

***

How we imagine God makes a difference.

How we imagine God’s followers makes a difference.

***

For man did not come from the woman, but woman from man. Neither was the man created for the woman, but woman for the man.” 1 Corinthians 11:8

But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed and the Eve. Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” 1 Timothy 2: 11-14

***

I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, where such verses were summoned forth as rationale for explaining the subjugation of women according to the Bible. But I always had a problem with these verses.

Man did not come from woman?

It was clearly a reference to the creation story in Genesis. I understood that. And at the time, I believed in that story. I was taught to read the words of the Bible literally and not get lost in the sticky web of interpretation.

Read the words. Believe the words.

But I could not understand why the apostle Paul was so adamant to throw the creation story in the face of the reader. Man did not come from woman? Give me a break. Men come from women all the time. It’s called birth.

But Eve was deceived, not Adam.

Who cares? I’m not Eve. Hadn’t I been taught that I was responsible for my own actions, not the actions of my ancestors?

I just didn’t get it. Why was it so important to blame women for the fall of all creation?

***

During my senior year of college, I was reading some chapter in a linguistics textbook about the “rhetorical situation”: speaker/writer, message, audience, and context. Then, it struck me.

Women were not the authors of the Bible.

The authors were all men. The people who got to make the decisions about what to put down on paper–they were all men. Men got to decide which women would be mentioned and how they would be represented.

But then, new questions opened up: Why were women left out of Bible stories? Why were their stories less worthy of telling? How had women ended up so powerless in societies throughout the world? Had it always been this way? Were men just naturally stronger and better at organizing political and economic systems?

***

When I wasn’t studying and reading for my other classes, I spent a lot of time in the stacks at the library. Not kidding. I was on a quest to learn more about the origins of Christianity, and I was determined to come away from college with some answers. The more I read, the more I added to my reading list.

And I came across this book:

When God was a woman

This book rocked my world.

The author, Merlin Stone, pieces together archaeological evidence and primary texts from a number of ancient civilizations to present a narrative of a grand shift in how people imagined God. In 25,000-15,000 BCE, many civilizations all created similar religions, ones in which the chief divine figure was a Goddess. She was called different names, but in all of these societies, she was revered for her powers of fertility.

Why fertility?

Because we worship what is important to us in our time and in our place.

And fertility was a power so great at that time that it was worth worshipping.

At this time, people didn’t recognize the relationship between sex and reproduction. The idea of paternity was non-existent. Therefore, women were seen as powerful because they had the greatest power of all: the power to give life.

Because paternity was non-existent, children were raised both by their mothers and the community. Mesopotamian societies at this time had mostly matrilineal descent patterns, with children tracing their origins through their mothers. Inheritances were passed from mother to offspring.

In addition, societies that worshipped a Goddess were typically relatively peaceful agrarian communities. Labor was not spent on making weaponry, but rather on growing food, care-taking, and leisure. In short, the Goddess of these communities mirrored what they people valued: the ability to produce and reproduce.

But things shifted.

Stones states that a group of “northern invaders”, also known as the Indo-Europeans, entered into Mesopotamia in wave after wave of invasions for 1,000 to 3,000 years. The timeline is not completely clear since writing systems were not used until about 2400 BCE. This is why we don’t know as much about the Goddess religions. No one was writing it down. The most prevalent and convincing evidence of this time period are the statues of the Goddess found in numerous civilizations.

Ishtar, goddess of Bablyon, 19th century BCE – 18th century BCE

Indus Valley Terracotta Figurine of a Fertility Goddess, Pakistan/Western India Circa: 3000 BC to 2500 BCE

Indus Valley Terracotta Figurine of a Fertility Goddess, Pakistan/Western India Circa: 3000 BCE to 2500 BCE

Venus Fertility Goddess from Falkenstein Austria 6000 BP

Venus Fertility Goddess from Falkenstein Austria 6000 BCE

Mother goddess Nammu, snake head Goddess figure, feeding her baby - terracotta, about 5000-4000 BC, Ubaid period before the Sumerians

Mother goddess Nammu, snake head Goddess figure, feeding her baby – terracotta, about 5000-4000 BCE, Ubaid period before the Sumerians

However, the Indo-European invaders enter the historical record around 2000 BCE, when they established the Hittite civilization in modern day Turkey. Historical accounts of these invaders call these groups of people, “aggressive warriors, accompanied by a priestly caste of high standing, who initially invaded and conquered and then ruled the indigenous population of each land they entered” (p. 64).

Among these warriors were the ancestors of Judaism, which explains a lot of the imagery used in the Old Testament to depict God. (trembling mountains, lighting, fire, etc.) Just as the Goddess mirrored the lives of the people in Mesopotamia, the God of the Indo-Europeans mirrored the lives of the Indo-Europeans. Their God was a young, war-like god. He was a “storm god, high on a mountain, blazing with the light of fire and lighting” (p. 65). Because these people originated from mountainous areas in Europe, they had probably interpreted volcanic activity as supernatural events. Therefore, it’s not such a stretch of the imagination to see how and why the Indo-European God was seen as a god of fire and lightning.

And because the Indo-Europeans were engaged in constant invasions of occupied lands (i.e. what was important to them was conquest), it’s not difficult to understand why the God of Indo-Europeans was a war-like God.

As the Indo-Europeans moved into the area of Mesopotamia, they brought with them their war-like practices, their religion of the storm god, and their patrilineal social organization (if their God was a man, didn’t patrilineal descent seem natural?). As they fought against the societies that worshipped the Goddess, they won. They crushed the previous civilizations with their advanced weaponry.

But it took longer to crush the religion.

***

I won’t go into all of the details of When God was a Woman (it’s far too detailed to do it justice in this single post), but I will summarize Stone’s account of how the Goddess religions were crushed and the new Indo-European God was revered.

As I mentioned before, the idea of paternity in societies that worshipped a Goddess was non-existent. Eventually, people figured out the connection between sex and reproduction. As the Indo-Europeans won more and more land and power, they sought ways to destroy the old religions that stood in their way.

One specific practice of the Goddess-worshipping societies that especially bothered the Indo-Europeans was their sacred sexual customs. In some Goddess religions, temples offered space to people to have sex, which was a form of worship to the Goddess of fertility. Some women lived their whole lives in these temples and were considered holy women. Although the paternity of their children was unknown, their children were not considered illegitimate. They simply took their mother’s name and acquired her status.

This drove the Indo-Europeans nuts. It was completely incompatible with a patrilineal descent system.

After all, how could a patrilineal system be maintained unless the paternity of children could be certain?

And in order to determine paternity…

you have to control women.

More specifically, you have to control their bodies.

Stone suggests, “it was upon the attempt to establish this certain knowledge of paternity, which would then make patrilineal reckoning possible, that these ancient sexual customs were finally denounced as wicked and depraved and that it was for this reason that the Levite priests devised the concept of sexual ‘morality,’: premarital virginity for women, marital fidelity for women, in other words total control over the knowledge of paternity” (emphasis in the original, p. 161).

So the challenge of the Indo-Europeans was to end the sacred sexual customs. And they did so through demonizing the worship practices of the Goddess religions, which then gave birth to taboos and shame surrounding women and sexuality.

***

It’s not hard to see that the Indo-Europeans were successful. The thought of women freely having sex with whomever they choose elicits words of shame like, whore, slut, prostitute, while men who engage in the same behavior are called studs. Women can’t enjoy sex too much (or risk being labeled nymphos). Women are more judged for having sex before marriage (girls should be virgins at their weddings, but boys are expected “to sow their wild oats”) and outside of marriage (cheating men can be forgiven, but cheating women will be forever shamed.)

***

Hearing this narrative of the predominant religions that once existed and comparing them to the major religions of today helped me understand that there is nothing natural about seeing God as a father. Seeing God as a father makes sense when we see the world through the lens of a patriarchal society. This view of the world is further upheld through religious texts that were written at a time when the Indo-Europeans sought to assert their superiority over the older Goddess religions.

Understanding this helped me to read the Old Testament with different eyes. The authors of the Old Testament were writing from a place of inadequacy. The religion that they were offering people of Goddess-worshipping societies did not appeal to them. Although the Goddess-worshipping civilizations were conquered, their hearts remained true to the religions that had shaped their world for several thousands years.

The writers of the Old Testament were writing for the purpose of redefining their current reality–a reality in which other, more established religions around them conflicted with their long-range goals of asserting widespread domination.

They were writing to redefine “normal” and “natural.”

And they succeeded.

 

***

As a Christian, I say “God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit” in the liturgy.

But in my mind, I add, “God the Mother, God the Daughter, God the Holy Spirit.”

And when I say “God the Mother” to myself, I feel differently about my relationship with God. When I imagine God as a mother, I feel nurtured, accepted, and loved, regardless of my actions. When I imagine God as a father, I feel fearful and judged, like I must be on my best behavior. That I must put on a good show and not disappoint. (I should add here that my own father was nothing like this. I think my psyche hearkens to archetypal portrayal of fathers in our culture.)

Of course, God is neither man nor woman.

But how we imagine God makes a difference.

***

 

Other reading if this topic interests you:

  • Armstrong, Karen. (2004). A history of God: The 4,000 year quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. 2nd ed. Gramercy Books: New York.
  • Stone, Merlin. (1976). When God was a woman. Harcourt Brace & Company: Orlando.
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