My blog has moved!

You will be automatically redirected to the new address. If that does not occur, visit
and update your bookmarks.


Hold Tight! Coming Soon!

A brand spankin' NEW version of this blog! I'll be changing over a bunch of hosting stuff so this blog will appear on its own domain! The changes will be happening this weekend, and I aim to make them go smoothly, but I can't guarantee that. I'll get everything up and going and announce (via twitter, here, FB, etc) when the new blog goes live.

So, hold your horses!


Reflections On Owning a Uterus

It seems in recent years, the fact that I am female has become both less and more important to me. Less because I have realized I am not necessarily defined by the set of reproductive organs I happen to posses, and more because other people choose to define me in that manner only.

As I sit in my local coffee shop (where they've gotten to know my order, by the way), I am immensely and intensely aware of the amount of privilege I have just to be here in this spot.

The fact that I am wearing jeans and a hipster v-tee (complete with old man cardigan) is entirely the result of the work of women who came before me.

The very fact that I can choose to have a (hopeful) career as a writer rather than stay at home to take care of kids is the direct result of people who came before me - Virginia Woolf. Emily Dickinson. George Eliot (yes, a pseudonym). Jane Austen. The Brontes. Any number of voiceless, nameless female poets and authors who never got the chance to take credit for their work.

At the same time, I cannot help but feel that my fight is not over. Though I have, for the most part, had numerous opportunities, I have still experienced and lived in a culture in which I feel like my every contribution is evaluated on the basis that I am a woman. There are many, especially in theology, who will not even listen to me because I am a career-oriented female. I have been told on numerous occasions that I need to take care in planning my future around possible children - even directly after I have told said person that I have absolutely zero desire to have children or even to be pregnant.

The most searing of these memories was a kind of watershed moment in my feminism, and it's high time I discuss it openly. I may have mentioned it in passing on the blog, and there's not a liberal friend of mine who does not know this story. But I fear that not everyone in my audience does.

I have a very conservative extended family. As in, so far right that they made me uncomfortable even when I was a conservative (yes, there was a time). As in, when I was a junior in high school and mentioned "My friend Chris, who is a Democrat-" my uncle from this family interrupted and said to my dad, "You let her be friends with Democrats?" Yes, that type of conservative.

Needless to say, I love this family, but I don't always enjoy time spent around them - I feel like I have to bite my tongue a lot to keep the peace, and have only recently become more open and more brave about "coming out" as a feminist. Maybe, the reasoning goes, my actions can shake up their worldview.

This particular moment came just over a month after I returned from my study abroad in Oxford, England. I was all kinds of jazzed on academia - I'd just spent four months in a city that revels in it, after all. The smell of old library books, the feel of bricks older than my home country, and the click of cobblestone under my feet were still very fresh memories and elements of my life that I missed dearly.

In June of 2007, I was in a strange spot, in between worlds, as it were. I was looking ahead to post-graduation - plans for the future and so on - and looking longingly backward at my favorite place on Earth. At the time, I was considering a few different options, and all of them involved more school, and all of these schools were far, far away from my hometown of Sioux Falls, SD.

That month, I also took a trip with a friend so that he could visit his girlfriend and so that I could get out of the city. My conservative family lives up there, and so I stayed in their basement guestroom. It was, overall, a fun weekend - I got to reconnect with a friend from my Oxford time and see family whom I rarely get to see.

On my last day there, my uncle was getting ready to leave for work and we were talking in the kitchen. Naturally, the question of what I was planning on after graduation came up and I told him my genuine thoughts at the time - that I was considering graduate school back in England. He asked me if I had the opportunity to live there long term if I would. High on the sadness of having just returned from the best four months of my life, I replied honestly and succinctly: "Oh absolutely, no question."

"Well, what are you going to do when you get married and start having kids?"

"I don't know if that's in my plan. I want to work for a long time yet."

And then the bomb dropped: "What? You know, Dianna, that's something you should do. You need to have a bunch of Christian kids because the Muslims are reproducing at a faster rate than the Christians are, so we need good Christian families."

While in the four years since the exact wording has been lost, the sentiment was exactly as reported. It is my duty - nay, my calling - as a Christian with ovaries to have Christian children. Because of "the Muslims."

To my uncle, this was probably just another conversation, one that he probably doesn't even remember.

For me, it was a watershed. I have thought about it over and over again in the years since, especially whenever someone challenges something I do because I am a woman (and as a theology major in undergraduate and an English major in graduate, both at a conservative Christian schools, this happened far more than I would like to think). And each year and each new rethinking of the situation has brought a new level of horror upon that statement.

As I became more progressively liberal, I realized the completely ridiculous idea that just because I am Christian that my kids would also turn out to be Christian. Indeed, in my experience, those in my life with parents who were the most militantly fundamentalists are the ones who turned out to be the most militant atheists in adult life. And my own experience: my parents are a pretty conservative bunch.

As I became more aware of the foster care and adoption problems in the US of A and elsewhere, I realized how entirely selfish it would be for me to produce lots of children when millions of kids are going hungry and need a loving home.

As I got to know some Muslim friends in graduate school, I became much more aware of how entirely stupid it is to think that Christians and Muslims are somehow at odds, especially so much so that we have to worry about their population.

Each subsequent reflection on this statement has only served to reinforce how much I don't want to follow that preset path, that "You have a uterus, so you should have children" mindset.

Having the ability to shove a watermelon out from between my legs does not mean I have a godly duty to do so.

And mindsets like this are why my job as a feminist is not finished. And why I come across as a "feminazi" - a term that denigrates not only the legitimate protests and complaints of feminists but also the suffering of millions upon millions of people...the only people who should ever be called "Nazis" are Nazis.

And this, in a nutshell, is what the modern feminist discussion is all about: The desire and ability to be recognized not merely for our ability to produce children, but for our ability to be great contributors to society in of ourselves. Pinning a woman's worth onto the children she may or may not have (which, despite protestations to the contrary, is what that mindset does) turns her into an incubator for her progeny, makes her worthless as a human being, and fails to recognize her as an independent person with thoughts, goals, hopes and dreams all her own.

And that is what our fight is about: to be recognized as human, to be known for what we can contribute - to math, to science, to literature, to theology, to art, to ... life - not for what we can reproduce. My fight, my fellow woman's fight, is to be known for who we are, not for the little runts we might possibly take care of.

And we do so by telling our stories, by changing the narrative with our lives, by living in a way that contradicts and tells everyone in the past who has told us no: "No, you are wrong."

Join me.

Disclaimer: This post is in no way meant to downplay or negate the great contribution of mothers to the world. Encapsulated, my thought is this: Being a mother is a wonderful thing. Being forced or expected to be a mother, simply because I have a uterus, is not. There is a distinction.


Extreme Couponing: A Discussion

A couple of weeks ago, on NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me..." one of the panelists was shocked to learn that there was an upcoming show on TLC about "extreme couponing." She thought it sounded rather boring - "how can you make a show out of something like that?" For the moment, on the radio show, it was a source of great humor and laughter.

At the time of this NPR broadcast, I'd been seeing commercials for Extreme Couponing almost every single day and was thinking I might watch the premiere. Being currently unemployed, I unfortunately have a lot of time to watch TV - which has the added benefit of allowing me to hone critical thinking skills in terms of the media (example: I adore the portrayal of a career woman who actually is living a balanced and respectable life in TNT's The Closer). But I digress.

Extreme Couponing follows the lives of a select group of people as they spend most of their free time searching through newspaper ads, websites and even, yes, going door to door in the their neighborhood, looking for coupons. They are all about the deal, the chase, the success story. And in a way, it's stunning to see someone get $1200 worth of products for $51 and change.

But then you realize that the "haul" is 200 boxes of pasta, 186 bottles of Gatorade, and a 175 candy bars.

And you begin to think that there is something very, very wrong with this picture.

The way the show works is that they follow these "extreme couponers" on a shopping trip - everything from the preparation for the trip, which can take up to three days of clipping and calculating, to the shopping itself to the trip home. It's obvious that they are pros at this task - frequently, the pre-trip interviews are posed against a backdrop of their previous hauls. One lady, who is married with one young boy, has shelves built into her garage for all the stuff that she buys...and yet she still goes shopping for more. She has enough pasta, pop, treats, and canned goods to survive the Second Coming and then some.

And yet she still wants more.

The thing that I find most disturbing about the show is not the act of saving money, but the idea of saving money unnecessarily. These people are so good at what they do that they don't even need to do it anymore. I mean, what are you going to do with 200 boxes of different kinds of pasta? What are you going to do with 186 bottles of Gatorade, especially when you yourself say that you don't exercise (sidenote: Gatorade, in large quantities, is dangerous for you if you're not exercising)?

Only one of the five people on the show donate their goods to a local charity/food bank.

And this highlights a disturbing trend in American society: We are way too concerned about STUFF. We are way too concerned about the narrative we can tell others, the feeling of awe that saving 99% on groceries inspires in others. But saving that 99% is worthless in practicality if the food simply expires before you ever have a chance to use it - you're actually throwing money away, money that would be perfectly good and useful in many other areas.

And TLC celebrates it.

My friend Kirby referred to the show as the precursor to Hoarding, another TLC show in which people have literally filled their houses with stuff and need therapy to clean out their lives. But the mood in that show is far different from the mood in Extreme Couponing. They are both about the acquisition of THINGS, but one is celebrated while the other is pitied, but they are different parts of the same disorder.

Let's get a conversation going:

What are your thoughts on the prevalence of shows that, on the one hand, celebrate the acquisition of things while ignoring the possible disorder that underlies them? Do you find these to be bad or good examples? Is there redemption here?

Feel free to wax poetic in the comments - I'll be reading and responding.


Love Wins: God is Bigger than the Boogeyman.

There's a song by David Crowder Band that inexplicably makes me like them again, despite only really having a mild affection for them in college, and a sort of hometown affection for them while I was living in Waco. From their Church Music album, the song "Oh, Happiness!" bursts out, loud and celebratory, proclaiming loudly and happily about the grace of God.

The chorus is one that would make a lot of Calvinists balk, however: "Oh happiness! There's grace enough for us and the whole human race."

The verses get worse. The only nod to the exclusivity of the Gospel message - an exclusivity which the American church holds onto with a death grip - is the line "all who come." The rest of the song refers to "something that mends all of it," and the sounds of church bells ringing, celebrating the fact that "everything can be redeemed, we can be redeemed, oh, all of us."

But let's think for a minute what we're singing there when we sing along with this song in the car, on KLOVE or (if you're in South Dakota), KNWBC.

"Oh happiness! There's grace enough for us and the whole human race."

Grace enough. For the whole human race, including us.

Crowder's message in this short, sweet, simple song is one, ultimately, of inclusion. Very few theologians would deny that Crowder is correct when he sings that "everything will be redeemed," and that this is a reason to rejoice. It's straight out of the letters of Paul and the mouth of Jesus - all this world will eventually pass away to reveal a new heaven and new earth, a phrase likely meaning simply new world altogether. It will be a world in which, as the Lord's Prayer hopes for and solicits, God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven. The two will be joined as one and the kingdom of heaven will reign over all - a world of perfect community, perfect love, perfect relationships, a world without murder, rape, greed, robbery, or Wall Street.

But things get better than that! Grace is extended to ALL.

Crowder is not alone in his assertion that redemption is extended to all of us. This is a notion passed down from the Biblical fathers to the Church fathers throughout the Christian Church for centuries upon centuries. Jesus' blood on the cross is redemptive, for any and all.

Full stop.

How many of you mentally added an "if" to that sentence?

Come on, raise your hand.

Many of us been trained so hard and so long in that particular doctrine of the church that to question it, to cut off the "if" statement at the end of the sentence is like hitting the brakes right after getting the car up to 60mph. It's jarring. I bet, even now, some of you readers are scrolling back up, looking for some wiggle room, some place where I don't propose what you're thinking.

But hitting the brakes on that sentences is precisely what Rob Bell does in his latest book, Love Wins. Even before the book was released, it caused a massive stir, based mostly on pre-release materials about the book, and not actual analysis of the book itself. In it, critics say, Bell proposes a theology that borders on univeralism, if it is not outright univeralist. He proposes a new way of looking at heaven and hell and proposes that hell may not be eternal.

Now, I need to clarify a few things before we go on: This book is not a theological treatise. You'll probably read, if you look around the internet enough at enough blogging sites with reviews of the book, commentary that makes this mistake. Bell is not attempting to create a new version of the Institutes. Or Luther's Theses. Or Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics.

It simply cannot be read that way. If you go into the book looking for precisely laid out Biblical proof that gives you a definitive answer, you're going to find what appear to be gaps, holes, leaps, and misreadings. And that's purposeful. Because Bell isn't concerned about giving us "the answer." He isn't giving us a volume on "Why I Am Not a Believer in 'X' Doctrine" to use as a clobber book when we get in late night arguments with friends in the dorm. He's giving us thoughts on a topic.

Toward the end of the first chapter of the book, Bell has asked a series of Socratic questions, questions that are, in a sense, rhetorical. He's going to try to give us some sort of response. This is precisely what he tells us, and the word he uses - response. And that word choice is important - he doesn't ever claim to be giving the answer, he doesn't even really claim that what we think right now is totally and completely wrong. What he does want us to do is be open to the possibility. Be receptive to the idea that there are alternative interpretations, and nothing, especially Hell, is as set in stone as we have made it in the modern day evangelical church.

Second, and related to the first, the genre of the book is "sermon." It is what it is. It reads like a sermon (when you get a copy, read a couple of pages out loud - certainly sounds like a public speaker, eh?). As such, it doesn't end on the last page, just as a sermon doesn't end at the benediction. You are supposed to take it home with you and discuss it. You are supposed to pull out your Bible and examine it. You are supposed to go "oh, I didn't think of it that way before," and sit and digest it for the rest of the week or month or year or however long it takes to pass from your brain to your heart. That is, quite obviously, the type of writing Bell has always done. This genre is especially evident in how he cites Bible verses - he doesn't give us chapter and verse as though he's providing evidence in a court case. No, he references book and chapter, indicating that he wants his reader to go take a look at it for herself, to examine the whole verse in context. It is important that he does this, because he is saying: "Feel free to do your own research. Go on, challenge it, but you'd better have done the reading."

He isn't lazy. He knows what he's doing, and it has been done purposefully. We need to look at the book as a starting point for discussion, not the ending point.

Alright, clarifications are out of the way: let's get down into the nitty-gritty.

If you've paid any attention to this whole debacle surrounding his book, you'll have heard, well, any number of things about the content. But let me clarify what Bell is not proposing: he is not proposing that Hell does not exist. He is not proposing that everyone will just "go to heaven" after they die and therefore Christianity is useless. He is not saying the work of the church doesn't matter.

What he is saying is that God is way bigger than the box we've put on him with our concept of Hell - a place of neverending torment and suffering, all because you didn't respond the right way in the few short years you had here on earth.

What he is saying is that the Bible talks a whole lot more about loving your neighbor than it does about how that neighbor's going to end up in Hell.

What he is saying is that the work of the Kingdom is vastly more important than the fire insurance we've turned it into. And that God is way bigger and more loving than Hell allows Him to be.

And he's also saying: Didn't Jesus, like, defeat Hell? So why are we all sorts of worried about whether or not we're doing it right? As Bell says in the promo and in the book, our current concept of Hell does plant the notion that Jesus and the Father are in opposition, that Jesus saved us from the Father. When, really, didn't Jesus save us from, like y'know, ourselves?

Now, it would be silly of me to go back and rehash everything Bell has to say. You need to read the book to do that.

But I do want to point a few things out: Bell is not groundbreaking. In fact, not a whole lot of what he says is all that new - he just brought the argument into the open in the 21st century. And I'd like to take the rest of this post to examine one of Bell's major influences, CS Lewis, as the ideas presented in Bell are so similar that an examination of one is an examination of the other (indeed, in reading Love Wins, I was writing the titles of Lewis' works in the margins, referencing where these ideas had probably originated for Bell).

CS Lewis, a writer revered by many in the American church, a writer whom many of us read to our kids before bed, a writer whose work has challenged and worked on many of us and brought us to a new life in Jesus, had a very, very similar conception of Heaven and Hell. For Lewis, Hell was not a place of permanent suffering. In The Great Divorce, his major work on Heaven and Hell, he writes of a dream in which he wakes up in a grey town and takes a bus up, up, up in the sky into a green countryside. Upon leaving the bus, he discovers that he is a ghost in this country - the blades of grass are sharp and hard, and everything is immensely more real than he ever could imagine. He and his fellow ghosts from the bus encounter solid people who are residents of this green country. Lewis meets with his childhood hero and the man likely most responsible for making Lewis the man he is: George MacDonald. He and George walk about and discuss the nature of this new, green countryside. Eventually, it becomes clear that, in this green field, they are standing basically at the entrance to heaven.

Lewis asks: "But I don't understand. Is judgment not final? Is there really a way out of Hell into Heaven?"

MacDonald replies:
It depends on the way ye're using the words. If they leave that grey town behind it will not have been Hell. To any that leaves it, it is Purgatory. And perhaps ye had better not call this country Heaven. Not Deep Heaven, ye understand. ... Ye can call it the Valley of the Shadow of Life. And yet to those who stay here it will have been heaven from the first. And ye can call those sad streets in the town yonder the Valley of the Shadow of Death: but to those who remain there they will have been Hell even from the beginning.
After a puzzled look, MacDonald goes on to explain that in our present state, there's no possible way humans can understand eternity. Eternity begins before death, he says, and the glory of Heaven and the torment of Hell both work backward, turning agony into glory, and pleasure into pain, even for our earthly life, in retrospect.

And when, after a discussion about the reality of Heaven versus the mental state of Hell ("Every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind--is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself."), Lewis questions whether or not there is a real choice after death, MacDonald cuts him off, tells him not to bother himself with such questions because he cannot really know and understand the relationship between choice and Time "till you are beyond both."

So, Lewis' answer to the Heaven and Hell question in The Great Divorce is, "Maybe there is grace after death. We don't know. And it's not really our place to speculate, in either direction."

Now, The Great Divorce is a work probably not many are familiar with.

So let's look at one which many people know and love: Narnia.

In The Last Battle, the end of the earth and Narnia tale that closes out Lewis' seven book series, the last two chapters are probably my favorite of any book series - even over and above Harry Potter. Lewis paints a picture of Heaven that is full of grace, beauty and glory. And here, he proposes two things that have made readers over the years scratch their heads, things that only make sense in light of how Lewis views Hell as expounded upon in his other works.

The first is the fate of the dwarves. The children and Aslan bound into that New Narnia, the Heaven like area where you can go running and running and running and never get tired, and where it is impossible to feel frightened, and it's bigger on the inside, so you just keep running further up and further in to this glorious countryside, bounding alongside Aslan and the rest of the happy citizens of that far green country under a swift sunrise. They have discovered that this place is Narnia, but is more real than any Narnia they had ever experienced before.

And as they are running around and rejoicing, they realize that, through the stable they have just come through, the dwarves who had entered with them, are not enjoying the beauty of the land, are not jumping and celebrating with them. They are sitting, huddled together, by themselves in the same spot where they had first entered.

They are still in the stable. They are, as Rob Bell puts it, at the party but not experiencing it. When the girls try to force the dwarves to see the world around them, the dwarves reply obstinately, "The dwarfs are for the dwarfs" and insist that they are still trapped in the stable.

Hell is being at the party and not knowing it. Hell is a state of mind, a separation that YOU have put up between yourself and God, not a place that God sent you because "you didn't live right."

The second thing that happens is very unusual, and is probably the one thing people point to if they want to call Lewis a heretic. There is a Calormene, a separate race in the world of Narnia which is often believed to be either Muslims or Hindus. And he is there, in Heaven. He had served his god, Tash, in good faith and had lived out a life that resembled more closely that of Narnians than Calormenes. Aslan tells him upon finding him in that heavenly countryside: "I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For he and I are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him."

There's not really a way around it. This theme shows up over and over again in Lewis' works, reflected in Till We Have Faces, A Grief Observed, Mere Christianity, That Hideous Strength, and Surprised by Joy. Lewis' view of Hell as a mentality, and his view that people would be given a chance at redemption after death, a chance to see that far green countryside should they choose to have it, permeate all his works.

If we're going to call Rob Bell a heretic, we have to put down Narnia as well. And I know far fewer Christians willing to do that.

Luke 20:38 tells us that God is not the God of the dead, but instead the God of the living.

Instead of emphasizing a theology of Hell which turns God into a bastard of a dictator, commanding that you arbitrarily say the right words in the right order in order to be saved from something, we have a God of the living, a God concerned about how you "drag the future into the present," concerned about how you are treating your neighbor and about how you love in community.

We are not saved from Hell. We are saved to Heaven. We are saved to living a life of grace, beauty and love. Jesus' atoning sacrifice was not about saving us from Hell, which, despite lip service to the contrary, is the main thrust of theology in the American church (I blame John Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," frankly). Our theology has become sin-focused and Hell-focused, when it was never meant to be. We are concentrating more on the fate we are saved from than what we are saved to.

That, my friends, makes all the difference.

How we think about Heaven and Hell does affect our life here and now. If we place Heaven and Hell as far off, far away things, we separate ourselves from them. We put them far in the future. And we devalue our life now - our lives merely become pit stops on the way to eternity, a mere 70 years or so (or less) in which we have to choose what we're going to spend all of eternity doing. When we put the emphasis on being saved from Hell, by acting through a magic prayer or what have you, or even by living your life in a certain way, we place the emphasis wrongly. We are to work on bringing the love of God to our neighbor, not by telling our neighbor he is going to Hell if he doesn't respond correctly, but by telling him of the infinite, unrelenting, all forgiving, all loving and all good God who is working right now to bring more good and more life and more joy into the world. We do not tell our neighbor of the fate that awaits him if he decides that his pleasure is more important than some far off, far away eternal torment. We tell him of what God is doing, right here and right now. Of a God who died not to save us from Hell, but to take us to a further up and further in community with Him. Of a God who knows him, who created him, and who knows, understands, and wants to be a part of his story.

That is the God I speak of. My God doesn't "test me" to see if I'm getting it right and, if I'm not, sits back and wags his eternal finger over the button that sends me to a fate worse than death. My God calls me to participate in a loving, graceful, beautiful world with him, one which will be a fuller experience of a more real world, regardless of whether or not a Hell exists eternally.

Isn't that, ultimately, a better story?

In closing, CS Lewis writes in a little known sermon called "The Weight of Glory" about this mental status of Hell - emphasizing that the choices we make every day are steps that we take into creating our own Hell, into building that wall between us and God that will be harder (but not insurmountable), after death. He writes, in what is often quoted by not always understood:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously--no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner--no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat--the glorifier and the glorified, Glory himself, is truly hidden.
Every choice we make creates a Hell or calls Heaven into our lives. In my choices, I choose, ultimately, to err on the side of Love. And it is in that truth that we can sing along with David Crowder: "There's grace enough. For us. And the whole human race." And we know we can experience that grace right here, right now. Grace that is about so much more than avoiding Hell. Or even about whether or not Hell is eternal. A grace that defeats death. That goes beyond death. That maybe, just maybe, bypasses death altogether and says that you have a chance. Dead or alive, you have a chance because my love is infinite, and extensive, and unfolding in numerous different ways and numerous different places all over the world.

It is, ultimately, a grace we can't understand, but we can celebrate and not fear.

And it is bigger and better than anything we can imagine, even bigger than Hell.

And isn't that, in the end, the Gospel story?


For the Men: Woman Like Me

When I first registered for college, I was a political science and communications major. Shortly after I graduated from high school, things changed and I felt called to ministry in the church. I wasn't sure what it would look like, but I thought seminary and ordination would be in my future. I was incredibly excited about this possibility, and I knew that at the very least, I had been called to study theology. When I told one of my friends who happens the son of a Southern Baptist minister, he quoted the Bible at me and told me I couldn't do it because I'm a woman.

When my mother was starting college, she received a full ride scholarship to the college in her town. Her high school guidance counselor told her she shouldn't take it because she'd be taking the place of a man. She went anyway, but has frequently looked back on that moment and wondered about her abilities, especially when it came to traditionally male disciplines like math and science.

There is no way I can make those who are not women understand the discrimination that a woman faces day in and day out. I wish it was possible for men to do a "Black Like Me" sort of investigative journalism story, but it would only scratch the surface of the misogyny (internal and external) women face every single day.

Every time I discuss the pay gap, the lack of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, the fact that only 17% of national political offices are held by women, I get rebuffed. I get told that I don't understand the statistics (despite having done my research and read article after articles that breaks down the statistics and take a look at the actual studies). I get told that the perception of discrimination is not the same as intentional discrimination - as though hiring managers must wake up in the morning thinking "I'm going to discriminate against women today" in order for the statistic to be legitimately reflective of discrimination. I get told that these things can be explained because "women just don't want to go into those fields." I get told that I don't understand it.

But I do, far more than they know.

So I issue this challenge to the men in my life.

For one week, I want you to consider how others would perceive you if you made that decision as a woman.

Before you speak up and disagree with an authority figure in class, think: are you merely being assertive, or could you be painted as a "bitch"? Would being called a bitch stop you from speaking up?

Before you go out dancing, consider what message your clothes may be sending about you - should you cover up so you don't accidentally "advertise" to an unscrupulous person and risk sexual assault?

When you do go out and get a drink in a bar, consider how carefully you have to watch your drink so that someone doesn't slip a drug in (this actually happens - a friend of mine was roofied just last night and woke up in the ER).

If you're applying for jobs, consider whether or not being a woman could get in the way of you being hired - is this a position of power over others? Statistically, you're less likely to get the job. And if it's an entry level one with opportunity for advancement, consider how easy it'll be for you to move up. Again, assertiveness for a man is often perceived as bitchiness for a female.

Think about what it'd be like if you decided to run for office. Would you have a better chance of winning? What would the media say about you? How would it be perceived if you showed emotion - like crying - in a setting with constituents, talking about something important to you?

These are the things women must consider day in and day out. When considering jobs, it is important for women to see other women in those same positions of power - it's much harder to be the pioneer in a position of power than it is to follow someone else's already blazed trail. If I know a woman can do it, I'm more likely to try.

When going out, we have to keep a careful eye on our surroundings for our own safety - 1 in 6 women will be the victim of either an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. When deciding on clothing, we have to think about whether or not it would give men the wrong perception that we are their property and that we're "advertising."

Women still have a long way to go - we do have a lot more opportunities and possibilities than our mothers before us or their mothers before them - but until we stop seeing "What designer are you wearing?" as a legitimate question for the female Secretary of State, we still have lots of work to do. And it would help if we had empathetic men on our side, men who recognized the privilege that being male affords them.

So take a few minutes this week, strap on a pair of pumps, and walk a few miles in my shoes. You might just be surprised.


Japan: A Response to Suffering

Over the past couple of days, I've gotten a lot of phone calls, facebook messages and general expressions of concern over my well being. If you didn't know, however, I'm back in the USA and was not affected (at least not physically) by the earthquake. Where I was living in Japan is okay as well, though this event has forever changed the Japanese people as it is one of the largest natural disasters to ever hit the island nation.

Where I was living in Japan is a good 600 miles from where the earthquake hit - a good six hours by the fastest bullet train. Even with the tsunami, Shimonoseki was unaffected. Which is good. Oddly enough, if I had kept my original plans to go to Australia during the summer break, I would have been in Tokyo at the time of the quake. So there's that.

The photos coming out of Japan are stunning and scary. Over 600 people are already confirmed dead, thousands are missing, and millions have been displaced from their homes.

So the question is: What the hell do I do? What do you do in disasters such as this? And I don't mean physically - survival techniques and all that. I mean how do you, as a person not directly involved, respond?

You could make terrible jokes like a CNN anchor apparently did.

You could blame the victims.

You could bring up Bible verses about how it's the end of the world.

But none of these things are forms of comfort. None of these things actually provide any sort of help - emotionally, physically OR spiritually (especially not the last one - the whole end times thing sort of turns God into a manipulative bastard in these situations).

What you can do is be there for the people of the area affected. If you can't travel to help (and you shouldn't if you're not qualified for these situations), then help fund those organizations who do (list below). Pray for the people there. Offer your comfort in any way you can, even if it's just the word equivalent of a pat on the back.

And for God's sake, don't diminish their pain. This goes for any type of suffering, in any situation. The worst thing we can do to people is to tell them their pain is somehow non-existent or imagined or somehow deserved. To deal with another person's suffering is to take their pain upon ourselves, to ease the burden a little by taking some of it upon ourselves. Each time we empathize, each time we take another person's pain and make it our own, we do a tiny, tiny bit, a little reflection of what Christ did when he died on the cross.

If you want to help the people of Japan, my friend Hitomi from Shimonoseki said on Facebook this morning that they need people to donate blood. One of the ways you can help with that is to donate to the American Red Cross. The Red Cross is a very trustworthy organization, and donating directly online is a good way to make sure the money gets used quickly - all those phone text donations can take up to 90 days to process.

Another organization I can recommend is Shelterbox. Shelterbox provides food, shelter and medical supplies for people in disaster areas, including tents, tools and water cleaning supplies. They're a good organization, and can do some good in Japan.

Those are two that I recommend who I know have responses going on in Japan right now. If you have another organization in mind, feel free to leave it in the comments.


Guest Posting!

Sometime between me finding out that I was stuck in Atlanta for two days and me actually checking in for my new flight to Omaha (hopefully finally making my way home), my guest post over at Jesus Needs New PR was posted. It's an off-the-cuff personal examination of the violent rhetoric that we find in Jesus' cleansing of the Temple, and my discomfort with this somewhat violent image of Jesus.

I'll be participating in the comments section shortly, so head on over, give it a read, and see if you can add to the discussion!