Men’s Rights, A Statement from the Queen

(In which she attempts a sophisticated form of humor that usually gets her pilloried, and yet here she is.)

Men of our modern Western world! We have heard your pleas. We must confess that, being ourselves female, we have always naturally held the theory that men are the inferior sex. So much of nature and culture appear to justify this common belief: why else would men so often resort to violence if not for lack of the sophistication of wit that can create peaceful solutions? Why insist on being coddled in every form of social contact if not because they themselves understand, in some simple way, that they are not emotionally mature and stable beings? Man is made for manual labor and woman for rule, it is everywhere apparent. On the whole men themselves have seemed content with this arrangement; and women, although some as individuals have suffered the effects of men’s brutish leanings while others, finding themselves without even the poorest dullard to train to use, have been forced into the world of labor themselves – even so, women have lived and prospered.

And yet there are these murmurs of discontent, and we must assure our beloved charges that Mother, as it were, has indeed heard them. Our sons are no longer content in their natural spaces of boardroom and battlefield; they claim they are ready to take up the mantles of natural right and responsibility that heretofore have belonged to womankind alone. We have decided it is time to make the experiment: therefore we put forward these simple first steps toward man’s goal, so that he may try on the skirts he has requested and see if he can keep their hems off the ground.

In times previous, we have assigned to women the adult responsibility of governing sex and reproduction, minding her manners carefully in public and keeping her privates, private. We have forgiven the errors of men in these regards as the clompings of an animal incapable of governing his own members. But today, O Man, we announce to you that we accept your assertion that you are beings equal to ourselves, and thus capable of minding your sexual affairs responsibly. Your actions toward women who have rejected you (and toward men less muscular, less masculine or heteronormative and thus closer to the elevated state of the female, et cetera) will be yours to answer for rather than theirs, and children fruited from your seed will be yours equally to care for, both financially and in physical and emotional presence. (Naturally, should your failure be such that your child is itself the product of savagery on your part, your part will be only financial, as you will be in prison and deemed an unfit companion for children, just as you were previously unfit before your declaration as an equal.)

Likewise you are now to be held equal in all social contexts. It may shock you to learn of it, dear gentlemen, but historically women have endured many errors on your part, knowing that your constitutions were too fragile to bear correction of the kind we give each other. In fact a great many women have smiled politely at you, all unknowing in your naivete, as you caused what would otherwise be considered great offense. In this way we have coddled your fancy – perhaps, we see now, at a cost to your development – that life was a Disney movie, in which any man could, at any moment, stumble into a great princess, win her affections with no more than a smile and a few clumsy words and a stolen kiss, and ride off happy with her forever. Alas, in truth, few men excel at turning their haplessness into charm, and for them to gain a kiss from any woman at all is a wonder. As equals, however, you deserve to learn the truth of your predicament, so that you may train yourselves to better communication skills and take equal part in civilized society.

This is not to say that you are without any contributions to civilization in our past! Oh, it is true that we have often relegated you to your natural position as the violent catalysts of history. You yourselves have often dismissed your own contributions in other areas, awarding the arts and sciences such words as “queer,” which as we have said elevate men to nearer the womanly position. But perhaps you do so at your own expense, failing to comprehend that mere men could have created beauty of any kind. We therefore declare August to be White Men Who Did Not Kill, Rape, or Enslave Anyone We Know About Month, so as to encourage you to embrace this aspect of your collective heritage. Their little-known examples may inspire you to enter into the true world of culture and sophistication, where men are currently so underrepresented.

We feel that this is enough to begin with. Society cannot be torn to the ground and rebuilt in a day, nor should it be. Be of good cheer, dear brave men, and do not drum yourselves up into frenzy over the hard work of taking on the duties of true citizens; there will be the rewards of free emotional expression, healthy bonding, and glorious fashion soon enough.

Destroying the Oppressor

Destroy all those who would oppress me, for you are my redeemer, O Lord. – Psalm 143

Today I’m reading Chanting the Psalms by Cynthia Bourgeault. I bought it, logically enough, for tips on learning to chant the Psalter. Being of a musical bent, I have always been very attracted to the meditative power of chant, and the fact that my faith has a millenia-old tradition of it just sitting there unused has picked at me for long enough.

As I was browsing through the book, confirming that it should indeed prove interesting and useful (and it comes with a CD!), I found a section discussing the issue that some people have with the language of the Psalms themselves. The passage quoted above, for example. For a lot of people – and certainly for many non- and ex-Christians, I think – quotes like this are proof of the violent and condemning nature of God and/or of faith generally. Right away that comes into issue because these are not the words of God but petitions to God, prayers said by people – most often King David, according to canon – in a whole wide variety of human conditions, some very harsh. That people in dire straits prayed to God for the destruction of their enemies tells us more about people than it does about God.

Still there is the issue, and I have felt it myself, of how a Jew or Christian of modern mindset and good conscience can continue to utter prayers like this one in our own practice. In this book, Bourgeault describes taking this question to a woman who had been a contemplative Christian for many years. The woman’s answer was, “This used to bother me too. But what I’ve come to understand is that this prayer really means destroy in me that dualizing tendency of the mind that divides my world up into friends and enemies. Let me see through the eyes of divine Oneness that my so-called oppressors are all projections of my own deepest fears.”

That sounds very Eastern, doesn’t it? The non-dualistic tradition certainly does exist in some forms of Christianity, mystical and contemplative ones in particular, but it doesn’t make a big show of itself; you have to go looking for it. Or else you have to have already studied something like Buddhism or – oh, say, Sakta Tantra – for long enough to have references like this pop out at you when you cross them.

What are the real sources of oppression? Not some particular person or creed. If you get rid of those, others will arise in their place, just as bad or maybe worse. And if oppression were purely external, how could we have so many historical figures, great ethical heroes, who were treated with every kind of external harshness and yet refused to act properly oppressed? How did Nelson Mandela get kinder and wiser in prison? Why didn’t Rosa Parks just stand up? How could Frederick Douglass, in his time and place, develop such a fierce conviction that he was not intended by God to be a slave?

What is it that really oppresses us? States of mind. If I become so fixated on possessing material goods that it becomes the focus of my life, at the expense of all other goods including the good of others, then I am oppressed by greed, and I aid the spreading of greed’s oppression. If I fixate on my own glory and honor, I am oppressed by pride and become its servant in oppressing others. 

I can be oppressed easily by superstitions, by prejudices. We all carry a thousand of these. Muslims are violent, Christians judgmental, Jews greedy, Buddhists wishy-washy, Pagans flaky, Atheists smug. Women can’t drive, men think with their genitals, the fat are lazy, the thin are superficial, the poor are greedy, the rich are heartless. Those who dress conservatively are unliberated, and those who dress suggestively are beholden to their lusts. It goes on and on. But these are not facts, only superstitions. They are rules we impose on the world, not real natural laws; they are ways we remove ourselves from the reality of the moment, and in doing so we cripple ourselves against responding to truth in an honest way. That is oppression.

Destroy all those who oppress me, for you are my redeemer, O Lord.

Bad scholarship is bad religion

It’s hard to find a commentary on the Bible that I can take seriously. The problem is, of course, that I took a class on this stuff, so now I know just enough to be able to weigh what I’m given.

I’m tempted to comment on “what’s allowed under ‘Biblical scholarship,'”, but the truth is that this happens in academic approaches, in religious-minded ones, and in political exploitation of religion, all three. It’s the most disappointing to see it in academia, of course, where people are supposed to know better, but there you go. It’s a heavily charged subject.

What happens, in a nutshell, is that whenever a person – scholar, preacher, political wingnut, whatever – approaches the Bible, they tend toward the following process. Note the order of the steps:

1. Form a hypothesis as to the nature of God the Father and/or Jesus. (Or Paul, or Topic X.)

2. Read and evaluate scriptures and/or other sources.

3. Dismiss material that does not match your hypothesis as later, less reliable, tacked in, etc.

4. Embrace what remains as the truest and most reliable information.

5. Declare that, since this information matches your hypothesis, the hypothesis is correct.

I’d love to assume that we all see the problem with this line of reasoning without my pointing it out, but if that were true it wouldn’t be so common, so I’ll call it for what it is: totally circular. If you use your hypothesis to choose which evidence you’re going to use, of course you’re going to end up “proving” your hypothesis. That’s how we manage to project onto God, onto Jesus, onto Paul, Christianity, Judaism, etc, etc, so many contradictory and sometimes seemingly insane personalities. I’ve seen it in academic treatments and religious ones, on the left and on the right. 

How do we learn to read with an open mind, and let the evidence form the hypothesis?

Prayer of contrition for Christianity

Lord, forgive us our corporate sins.

Forgive us, Father, for all acts of violence we have committed against ourselves, each other, and all people, especially those we committed while claiming to act in Your name, forgetting Your infinite love and Your desire to spread Your grace to all peoples of the world. Forgive us for those occasions when we failed to trust the news of Your grace to be sufficient, and tried to drag souls to You by means of our own force and coercion. Lead us away from this error, o Lord: fill us with the love and peace of the Holy Spirit, and bless and heal all those whom we have hurt.

Forgive us, Father, for those whom we have made to feel unwelcome in Your house because of our rejection, forgetting how Your Son always went first to the leper, the beggar, the adulteress, the tax collector. Forgive us for our temptation to sit in the seat of Judgment that is Yours alone and declare the sins of others, and which are to be forgiven or not forgiven. Lead our busy minds toward our own sins, and our hearts toward welcome to all who approach us, for only You know the path Your grace is taking within them.

Forgive us, Father, also for those times when rather than sitting in condemnation of sins not ours to judge, we have allowed hatred and harm to be spread before us, in our name, and been silent. Forgive us for Your work that we have left undone, and build in us the courage and resolve to perform it according to Your will.

Forgive us, Father, we beg, for having taught the world by our example to fear us rather than to love You. We have made ourselves a stumbling block for many hearts that thirsted for Your love and wisdom. We pray most dearly for the souls of those whom we have misled by our error. Flood our hearts with Your Holy Spirit until we are so full of Your love that there is no space left for the fear and pettiness by which we have misguided ourselves and others.

This Week in Scripture, 12/4/11

A little late, partly because reasons and partly because there was so much to work with this week that I had trouble deciding where to focus.  A lot of good lines in this week’s scriptures, particularly famous ones and ones I know from classical music pieces. “Comfort, O comfort my people” and “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd” (both from Isaiah 40); “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10).

But what I really find myself thinking about is the reading from the second letter of Peter 3:8-15a, so much so that I am going to give it in its entirety:

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

This is the passage that always comes to mind for me when I hear or read about the sort of Christian who seems to form the popular opinion of what Christians are today: the one who wants this to be a “Christian nation,” not in the sense of promoting love between neighbors or aiding the poor and oppressed but of making sure no other voices are heard and people who stand out or commit “sin” by their definition are punished. The one who, far from holding out the promise of grace from a loving God to others, seems creepily gleeful at the prospect that those different from themselves will burn forever, hopefully starting as soon as possible. The one who prays for Judgment Day to hurry up and get here.

There are, of course, lots of places in the Bible I would take to imply that God does not endorse this kind of attitude in His followers, that what He wants as our guiding principle is love, not vengeance.  Likewise there are lots of places where He warns us that if we are hateful in our condemnation of others, it will count more against us than them. But this from Peter is a particularly direct and, bless him, tactful reminder that this warning applies to our thoughts on the Judgment itself. Even if it ultimately means an age of righteousness, dude, the elements will melt. What kind of person wishes that on anyone?

It sounds in this passage as if Judgment is something of a last resort: perhaps (in fact certainly, in context) He would prefer for us to do at least some of the work of saving the world ourselves. And “saving” anything in the New Testament, at least, almost always involves things like healing and feeding and forgiving. Things many of us sadly remain bad at, particularly those of us who get the most excited about condemning each other to fiery judgments.

God is waiting, and the patience of the Lord is salvation. Maybe He is giving someone time to have a change of heart – maybe the person you’re yelling at or about. Maybe you.  Maybe you’re getting a minute to think about whether you really are without sin before you cast that stone. Maybe you’re being given time to ask yourself whether you really know better than God who needs punished and when it needs to happen. Whether it really is holy, or even decent, to hurry toward the end of the world.

Arrival post

This WordPress thing is new to me, so other than the superlatively beautiful banner above, I can’t promise any great visual excitement as of yet.

The reason I have started this blog is that I am Episcopalian.  That in itself will not particularly excite the imagination: what makes it spicy is that I previously ran a Neopagan coven for ten years.  I was active in that community.  I taught, I wrote articles.  Even now, unlike some people who convert from elsewhere to Christianity, I don’t see my previous religion or the spirits who guided me through it as evil, especially since they were actually a big part of guiding me here.  It’s a long story; maybe I’ll tell it here.

At any rate, during the course of my Pagan history I established a livejournal, and many friendships and connections in the Pagan community thereby.  Although I originally imagined it to be a personal, let-it-all-hang-out sort of space for myself, I have come to feel reluctant to delve very deep into my thoughts as a Christian in that journal, be they about Christ or Christianity, the creeds I have left behind, or social or political ramifications of belief.  I don’t think that any of my lj friends are consciously prejudiced against such things, but they are foreign thoughts to them: and I am also keenly aware of how many Pagans have fled there from real or imagined hurts by “Christians,” and I don’t want to stir that up unnecessarily.

A fresh start means a fresh set of people to offend and confuse!

On top of what I’ve already said, I should also warn that I do not regard God, gods, or spirits as metaphors or ideas.  In my experience and thus in my writing, they are persons.

My intent for this space is to explore my thoughts and experiences as I reconcile where I am with where I’ve been and where I’m going.  It will probably involve a great deal of unorthodox raving and possibly the occasional full-on heresy.  (I’m not always sure where the line is.  I’m new.)  Both supportive noises and thoughtful discourse are welcome; anti-Christian, anti-Pagan, and other extreme factional rants are not.

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