Wednesday, April 25, 2018

From "Virtues Morality" To "Boundaries Morality"

Trees in a forest, with big obvious channel-like gaps between the leaves of one tree and the leaves of the neighboring tree. This is called "crown shyness." Image source.
When I was a little kid, I remember watching a commercial for a local car dealership, which boasted that they sold more cars than any other local car dealership. And I was SO CONFUSED about why that was something they would put in their ads. Aren't ads supposed to be about making people WANT to buy their product? When people hear that this company sold more cars than the other companies, won't they feel sorry for the other companies and go buy cars from them instead?

I was so incredibly confused, so I asked my parents about it. They said that the point of the ad is that based on the fact that they sold the most cars, one would assume that their cars are the best, or their prices are the lowest, or generally something is good about the experience of buying cars there. If you believe their company is the best place to buy a car, then you will buy a car there, so the logic goes.

In other words, customers are motivated by their own desire to get good products at low prices. They don't make purchasing decisions based on some higher-level principle of "helping" the seller. (Sure, sometimes people choose to boycott a business for ideological reasons, and sometimes people purposely seek out companies that are local/ sustainable/ fair-trade because they want to support [what they consider to be] ethical business practices. And that's all fine, but it's a separate issue from what I'm talking about here- the vast majority of the time that people buy something, they only care that they get their money's worth. They don't care AT ALL about how their purchasing decisions affect the companies they buy from.)

You may have noticed that I'm on a mission to watch all the VeggieTales movies and analyze the morality lessons therein. So I've been thinking about the way morality was taught to me in Christian culture- through VeggieTales and similar media, through Sunday school and VBS, etc- and how I don't believe in that kind of morality anymore. How I've discovered that the world doesn't work that way. People are interested in getting the best car for themselves- they're not interested in showing compassion toward the struggling car dealerships that aren't #1 in sales. And that's not a bad thing.

I'm going to be discussing two different frameworks for morality here. I've decided to call them "virtues morality" and "boundaries morality," and I'm defining them as follows:
  • Virtues morality: Teaches about abstract qualities that you should strive to embody, or about certain actions that are good and you should do them, or sinful and you should not do them. Be loyal, be courageous, be obedient, be honest, be compassionate, help others. Don't lie, don't steal, don't be selfish.
  • Boundaries morality: Examining a conflict to see which parts of the situation belong to whom. (For example: time, money, one's own body, personal space, living space, emotions, emotional labor, resources, belongings, needs, desires, responsibilities.) You don't have the right to interfere with other people's actions concerning the parts that belong to them- but you do have the right to protect yourself and the parts that belong to you.
When I was a good evangelical, I believed in virtues morality. Now I believe in boundaries morality. One source that I learned about boundaries morality from was the book "Boundaries in Dating", which I blogged about in 2016.

Another source was the site A Practical Wedding, which is a feminist site about weddings and marriage, which I read regularly during our 18-month engagement. A Practical Wedding has some posts where they answer questions about interpersonal conflicts surrounding weddings and such. I remember there was a post with a question that went something like this:
I am having a problem with one of my bridesmaids because she hasn't bought her dress yet. I found some websites that sell nice dresses that she could wear, and I sent her links, and I told her she should order it soon so she can get free shipping. If she waits too long and tries to order a dress right before the wedding, there are extra costs for the expedited shipping. I keep reminding her but she still hasn't bought her dress yet. I have so many things to do to plan my wedding and I just wish I could check this off my list so I wouldn't have to think about it anymore. What should I do?
And the answer went something like this:
It's so nice of you to send her the links and the information about getting free shipping. It's very nice that you want to help her save money. You have already done more than you're required to do- now she is responsible for getting the dress. If she waits too long and has to pay extra for shipping, that's her own problem, not yours. You already sent her all the information she needs- go ahead and check this item off your list and don't worry about it any more. It's her responsibility, not yours.
See? Boundaries. You can't force a person to buy a dress according to your idea of the most optimal timeline. (In fact, boundaries morality says you can't really "make" anybody do anything.) So that means you need to manage your own emotions and be okay with it if your friend ends up overpaying for shipping. It's her problem, not yours.

Yes, in boundaries morality, "that's not my problem" is a very important idea.

There was another question on A Practical Wedding that went like this:
My girlfriend is very jealous when I talk to other women. She always wants to know where I am and who I'm with, and she doesn't want me to have friends who are women. She is paranoid because she was cheated on in the past. I love her and I don't want her to be worried, but she is smothering me and I can't live like this. What should I do?
In response, the writer (on A Practical Wedding) talked about how this man's girlfriend (it was a man who wrote the above question) does not have the right to police his interactions with women. It's not okay for her to forbid him from having friends who are women. But. At the same time, her feelings are real. She truly is scared he will cheat on her, because someone cheated on her in the past. Those feelings are real and they matter, but they have nothing to do with her current boyfriend. It is her responsibility to manage those feelings- and maybe it would be good for her to go to therapy.

In boundaries morality, emotions matter. Emotions are treated as real. But that doesn't mean that feeling a certain emotion means you're allowed to mistreat other people. Your emotions are real, so it's important to find a healthy way to handle them.

Let's take a moment and contrast this advice with the advice one would get under virtues morality. I'm imagining myself, back when I was a good evangelical, facing the situation with the bridesmaid who hasn't bought her dress. What would I have done back then?

Well see, here's the trouble with virtues morality: How do you figure out which virtue applies to your situation? Is this a "be patient" sort of situation? Is it a "trust God" situation? Is it a "help others" situation? All the virtues we learned were so big and vague. The real difficulty was figuring out which one to use when.

The answer to this dilemma was "pray about it." Yes, back then I believed that people are too sinful to "lean on our own understanding"- we're not capable of figuring these things out on our own. We need to pray about it. Pray about everything.

So here's how it might have gone: I pray "God what should I do about Harriet who hasn't bought her dress yet even though I reminded her a bunch of times?" And then I sit quietly and wait, try to "listen to God." And as I sit there, waiting, praying, I have many different thoughts, and I try to figure out if any of them are "God speaking to me." Perhaps a specific bible passage comes to mind, and I think about whether it could apply to my situation. Perhaps, as I sit there praying, I reason that "I already sent her the information, so now it's her responsibility," and as I consider that idea and pray over it, I become more and more confident that it makes sense, and therefore it must be from God. Or maybe I keep thinking of the bible verse "do not worry," and I realize that I have "sinned" by worrying so much about Harriet's dress instead of trusting God. Or maybe I feel like God wants me to "let go", maybe I "give it over to God", and then I "feel a sense of peace."

Basically, there are a lot of ways it could go. Notice that "I already sent her the information, so now it's her responsibility" is the same as the answer that boundaries morality gave. However, if this was the answer I received "from God" under virtues morality, I wouldn't think to generalize it into a larger principle that I could apply to other situations. No, in virtues morality, each situation needs to get prayed over by itself if it's unclear which "virtue" to apply. And "I already did my part, the rest is not my responsibility" is SO NOT considered a "virtue." Quite the opposite.

(As for the second question, about what to do with one's jealous girlfriend, well purity culture teaches that it's perfectly good and normal to be that jealous. So. I can't tell you how I would have addressed it back when I believed in virtues morality, because I wouldn't have considered it a problem.)

Another source that has taught me about boundaries morality is the Workplace section of Stack Exchange. Stack Exchange is a forum where people ask questions and give advice, and the Workplace section of the site is specifically for work-related questions. I remember reading one question that went like this:
I'm working at a small start-up with only 3 employees: the two owners and me. It's a company that makes an app, and I am responsible for all the coding and handling problems that the customers have. I work 10 hours a day and I don't get paid enough. I told the owners that we need to hire another person, and that we need a better system for handling customer service issues, but they won't listen to me. I want to leave this job, but I know that the company will fail if I leave- I am the only one who knows how the software works, I am constantly fixing bugs, and the owners haven't bothered to learn anything about it. I feel like I can't leave, but the job is so much stress for too little pay. What should I do?
People answered by saying that it's not your problem if the company fails. That's the owners' fault. They should have hired more employees who could learn how the code works. It's the company's responsibility to deal with it when people leave; it's not your responsibility to worry about that. If the job isn't good for you, then go find a new job. You don't owe this company your eternal loyalty- they're not valuing your work anyway. The only real issue you might have reason to care about is the customers- it's not fair to them that they paid for an app and suddenly it stops working because the company doesn't know how to do anything after you leave. Still, though, that's not your responsibility- but if you really want to help the customers, here are some ideas [and then they gave some ideas on that].

Boundaries. The employee's responsibility is to do their job well, and give two weeks' notice if they are leaving the company. They don't need to care about how their leaving will affect the company. They don't have to stay in a bad job because they want to "help" the company.

Under virtues morality, though, the virtues "help others" and "put others' needs before your own" would be the obvious ones to apply to this situation. Virtues morality isn't able to diagnose situations where it's not worth your time and effort to "help others" because you already tried to help but they refused to cooperate, or where your attempts to "help" aren't going to work anyway, or where people aren't treating you right and therefore they don't deserve your help, or where it comes at such a huge personal cost to you that it's not healthy.

And another example from Workplace Stack Exchange:
How do I ask for a lower salary? I got a job offer but then I asked them for a lower salary because [some bizarre explanation about it being easier to change jobs if your salary is low?????] and they took back the offer.
The answers to this one were all like, NO, DON'T DO THAT. Don't ask for a lower salary, because the employer will think that's incredibly weird, it's a big red flag, they'll wonder if there's something wrong with you, maybe they will revoke the offer.

However, when I believed in virtues morality, I would have thought of it like this: This candidate had a job offer, then they made this extremely weird request for a lower salary- is it fair for the company to respond by taking back the offer? Admittedly, it is weird to ask for a lower salary and I have no idea why someone would do that, but do they really deserve to be "punished" so harshly for it? It's not like they did anything wrong.

No no no. The company does not owe you a job. They don't owe you anything until the contract is signed. This is NOT a situation where they are taking something from you as a punishment- no, the job offer belongs to the company and it's their right to take it back if there's some red flag or they feel suspicious about something. They don't need to have proof that there's something wrong with you. It's their decision.

(Note that this can actually get a bit more complicated because of anti-discrimination laws- it's not 100% true that a company can choose not to hire someone for any reason.)

Similarly, I now believe it's okay for me to unfriend people on social media even if they didn't do anything bad to me. Being friends on social media isn't something I "owe" to people, that I can only revoke if they did something really really bad. No. It's my decision. Maybe they are an acquaintance that I never talk to, from a church I used to go to, and I don't want to be reminded about that church. Unfriending them doesn't mean I think they're a bad person. It doesn't mean they did anything bad to me. It's not a punishment. It's my right to choose to not have that person in my life, and I don't need to present a "good reason" for it. (Note, though, that this can get a little more complicated if that person was an actual real friend rather than an acquaintance I never talk to.)

Boundaries. It's about being aware of what's mine. I'm not required to give it to anyone, and I'm not required to give anyone an explanation of how I use it. (Note, however, that you might not want to actually say that directly- it's better to use polite, indirect language when refusing to let someone cross your boundaries. Unless you already tried that and they didn't listen.) And similarly, I respect what belongs to other people.

Here's another story about boundaries morality: Sometimes when I travel to the US, people living in China ask me to buy stuff for them in the US. Things that aren't available in China, or that are much cheaper in the US than in China. And Hendrix and I have always been happy to do this for our friends/family/coworkers.

Until this one time, when Hendrix's cousin sent him a MASSIVE list of all these things she "needed" from the United States. Probably around 10 to 20 different products. Several bottles of vitamins, lotion, various types of plastic containers for food storage, etc. I have no idea why she needed these specific containers, why she can't just buy other containers in China. Anyway, maybe there are some cultural aspects I'm missing, but to me it felt like she was treating us like her own personal delivery service. Like we're obligated to buy all this stuff for her because she's family. Even though she doesn't really do anything for us.

I didn't want to spend my vacation time trekking around to different stores to find the specific brands she wanted. I didn't want to use all my luggage space for packing a multitude of empty plastic containers. Those things belong to me and I'm not obligated to give them up for other people. (Though for people I have a friendly relationship with, it's reasonable for them to expect that I would maybe help them buy one or two things, as a favor, if it's not too much trouble for me.)

So here's what we did: I decided I would order the stuff on Amazon for her, and have it shipped to my parents' house before I went back to the US. Yes, on Amazon there are shipping costs, and really ideally I could have gotten a better price by shopping around at various stores in my hometown, but guess what, I'm not willing to spend my time on that. And if there are things she wants that I can't find on Amazon, well TOO BAD. And I'm not buying her 4 sets of this or that, I'm buying 1. And I'm charging her an extra 20 bucks as a handling fee for myself.

I got everything into my cart on Amazon, and Hendrix sent his cousin a message saying "We were able to find these things on Amazon but not these others, we are ordering them in these quantities, the final price is X, is that okay?" And she confirmed she was okay with that price (she said it was still less than what the price would be in China) so we ordered the stuff. Packed it all in my luggage when I was at my parents' house, brought it back to China, she paid us for it, everything went well.

I did a good thing for her. I helped her. She was very happy to be able to get a lower price on that stuff than what she would have gotten in China. But. I could have helped her more. I could have found a way to buy every single thing on her list and pack it all in my luggage. (I've been living in China for 5 years, I have MAD SKILLS packing luggage.) I could have avoided the shipping fees if I had gone to a real store instead of Amazon, and passed the savings on to her. I could have not charged her a $20 "handling fee." (That was mostly a passive-aggressive way to show my displeasure at being treated like an international delivery service.)

Boundaries morality says it's good to help people, but that doesn't mean you give them every single last bit of help you are able to give. Help people to the extent that you're willing to help them. And that's good enough. In fact, it's more than just "good enough"- it's good! You helped them! You weren't required to help them at all, but you did! Don't ever feel like you "sinned" by not helping them more.

Please also notice that enforcing my boundaries helped me not be angry with her. If I was following virtues morality, I would have been angry when she dumped that giant list on us, because I would have felt like I really needed to get all those things. If I bought them in a less convenient way than Amazon, I would have been angry about how much time and energy I spent to get her a low price, and feeling like she didn't appreciate it. From her end, she sees it as giving me a list and then receiving all the items she wanted for a really good price- she would have no sense of how much trouble it caused me. (In contrast, boundaries morality says that if someone is doing something that causes problems for you, you should structure the situation such that it causes problems for them- otherwise it's unlikely they'll be motivated to actually stop doing the thing. For example, when Hendrix puts a huge empty milk jug in the trash can so that the trash can is full and I can't put stuff in, and then leaves it like that for several days, even though I TOLD HIM he needs to take out the trash if he fills it up, I don't "enable" it by taking out the trash for him. Instead, when I have trash I'm not able to throw away because the trash is full, I hand it to Hendrix so he has to figure out what to do with it. Make it his problem.)

But instead of being angry about it, under boundaries morality I would determine the extent to which I'm willing to help her, and communicate with her about it and make sure she's okay with the price and other details, and I wouldn't get emotional about it because I wouldn't feel like she's forcing me to do anything. Instead, I am in control, I am choosing what I want to do for her, and we come to an arrangement that all parties are happy with.

The moral of the story is, just because someone asks you to do something and you're able to do it, doesn't mean you should do it. It's good to help people, but it's not good to help people in a way that's going to be a HUGE MASSIVE inconvenience for you, and they don't even appreciate it. That's not fair to you, and you'll probably end up resenting them.

Boundaries.

I only learned about boundaries morality within the past few years. Now you may be thinking, "Perfect Number, how can that be? Didn't you see people prioritizing their own needs and desires over an abstract sense of 'helping everyone'? Haven't you heard people say 'that's not my problem' or 'I don't want to get involved' or 'what's in it for me'? Haven't you noticed it's normal for people to just use common sense instead of trying to literally apply those 'virtues' all the time?"

Yes. Of course I knew that normal human behavior did not follow virtues morality. But here's the key: Just because everyone does it doesn't mean it's okay. In my mind I've always kept a clear distinction between what I was taught and what I observed people doing- and I think this could be an autistic trait (I'm autistic). If a trusted (probably had to be Christian) authority figure explicitly taught something, then I believed it. If I saw everyone acting in a certain way but nobody ever explicitly told me "it is right to act in this way because of these reasons" then I remained skeptical- just because everyone does it doesn't mean it's right.

For example: When people greet each other, they often ask "How are you?" and they answer "good" regardless of whether they're "good" or not. Even complete strangers will do this- like a cashier at a grocery store would ask a customer "how are you?" Now, in Sunday school I learned we should always be honest (this is virtues morality), so I always used to answer "good" if I was good and "okay" if I was not good, because to me "okay" meant "not really that good, but I'm trying to put a positive spin on it for the purposes of this interaction." I wasn't comfortable telling my actual negative emotions to people I didn't know very well- and I sort of felt bad about that, felt a little guilty for how I was being "dishonest."

I remember one time I even told this big long story about my sad day to some guy I vaguely knew in the cafeteria in college. That makes me cringe now, thinking about it. I didn't really want to share that much information, and it put him in an awkward position where he suddenly had to listen to this whole thing and try to figure out what to say to show sympathy- all because he said "how are you?"

Anyway, my point is, for my whole entire life I have witnessed people answering "how are you" with "good" even if they were not feeling good. And instead of concluding "it is totally fine to answer 'good' instead of saying how you really feel", I was constantly bothered by everyone's lack of "honesty" and felt guilt over my own failure to rise above that.

Another example is my own adherence to purity culture. I've mentioned before that I didn't learn purity culture from my parents- they actually disagree with a lot of it. Sure, they believe it's a sin to have sex outside of marriage, and you shouldn't kiss someone before getting to know them, and my mom makes judgmental comments about women who wear "inappropriate" clothes or middle-school girls with "too much makeup," but they don't believe in all that "guard your heart" nonsense about how dating is BAD and DANGEROUS. They don't believe you should "save your first kiss for your wedding day."

Mostly I learned purity culture from Brio magazine, not from my parents or other Christian authority figures in my life.

And then in church youth group there were kids who were dating. Sitting together and holding hands. And I was very confused- the only way I could explain it was, they shouldn't be doing that but they're so overwhelmed with "temptation" that they "just can't help it." Seeing church kids dating definitely did NOT make me think "oh, dating is okay." Ha. Nope.

My point is, you might say we don't need to really talk about boundaries because it's "common sense." Or because it's normal for people to behave in a way that's too selfish, so we have to give lessons and sermons that push them in the less-selfish direction. We don't need to tell people to care about themselves, because the problem is that they already care about themselves too much.

Yeah, no. That did not work for me, because I never considered normal human behavior to be something I should learn morals from- I only followed the morals I was taught in the form of explicit rules. Probably an autistic trait. But it's not just me and it's not about autism- I have met lots of people who talk about how they were never taught good boundaries. They feel like they should always try to please everyone. Or they were told that it's rude to say no. Or they internalized the message that being a good wife/mother means not having any ambitions of your own, but only caring about what's good for your family. Etc.

Perhaps it's difficult to teach boundaries morality to children because they are so dependent on their parents, and in a practical sense they're not able to make good choices about their personal lives yet. But. Sure, children aren't able to have boundaries in all areas of their lives, for practical reasons- but to whatever extent it is possible to let them have control over what belongs to them, they should be given that. We should teach children that their body belongs to them, and they aren't required to hug their relatives (but that they should communicate this in a polite way and substitute some other friendly gesture like a wave). We should teach them that their emotions are real and they matter, but that doesn't mean they're allowed to mistreat other people when they get upset about something- learn healthy ways to handle those emotions. And so on.

Basically, absolute 100% ownership over everything that belongs to them, total unquestioned right to make decisions on those things that belong to them- BUT covered in a friendly exterior. With the understanding that in order to have friends, you need to give a little (time, emotions, sharing your possessions, etc)- and you can choose what you're willing to give. And be polite and respectful when saying no to someone who is trying to cross your boundaries. Unless you already tried that and they didn't back off- then be as rude as you want; that person does not deserve your politeness.

In church, the morality lessons I was taught were always structured around virtues- things like "be honest", "be brave", "don't be selfish." They never said I should protect myself and the things that belong to me. They only talked about how to say "no" in a situation where somebody is asking you to do something that's obviously sinful, or maybe saying "no" to taking on a task because you're already so busy with other things and if you get "burned out" then you can't serve others very well. And as for how to handle our emotions, well, some emotions are sinful so if you find yourself having them then STOP. No teaching about asking yourself why you feel that way and what you actually want, and the best way to handle your desires/goals/expectations. Just STOP because those desires are BAD.

But now I've reworked my entire concept of morality so it's based on boundaries. What's mine belongs to me, and I look out for myself first. Of course it's also important to help other people, but I help them to the extent that I choose to help them. I need to respect other people's boundaries, and they need to respect mine.

Monday, April 23, 2018

"The Cross and the Lynching Tree": Conclusion

A cross in front of a sunset. Image source.
[content note: lynching]

Here we are at the conclusion of James Cone's book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. Cone begins the chapter by talking about "wrestling with faith"- he says black Christianity is a paradox where faith gives people courage and hope in the face of suffering, but suffering calls faith into question. "Belief in a good and just God was no easy matter for any black person living in the so-called Christian South," says Cone.

Cone says he also struggled with the question of how God could allow suffering. But then he had this experience:
It was as if a transcendent voice were speaking to me through the scriptures and the medium of African American history and culture, reminding me that God's liberation of the poor is the primary theme of Jesus' gospel.
And as an ex-evangelical, I'm like, what?

Like.... wow... Cone's theology is so astoundingly different and better than what I learned in the white evangelical church. I'm just shocked by how he says it so matter-of-fact-ly, as if obviously Christians believe that "God's liberation of the poor is the primary theme of Jesus' gospel."

The god I used to have a "personal relationship" with would NEVER have said ANYTHING like that.

And a few more quotes from the chapter, along those same lines:
The Christian gospel is God's message of liberation in an unredeemed and tortured world.
...
The gospel is found wherever poor people struggle for justice, fighting for their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
...
Salvation is broken spirits being healed, voiceless people speaking out, and black people empowered to love their own blackness.
Wowww yes. This is good. This gospel is way better than the gospel I used to believe in.

Throughout this chapter, I found myself saying repeatedly "THAT'LL PREACH," so I'll just go ahead and type up those quotes too:
But we cannot find liberating joy in the cross by spiritualizing it, by taking away its message of justice in the midst of powerlessness, suffering, and death. The cross, as a locus of divine revelation, is not good news for the powerful, for those who are comfortable with the way things are, or for anyone whose understanding of religion is aligned with power.
...
Because God was present with Jesus on the cross and thereby refused to let Satan and death have the last word about his meaning, God was also present at every lynching in the United States. God saw what whites did to innocent and helpless blacks and claimed their suffering as God's own. God transformed lynched black bodies into the recrucified body of Christ. Every time a white mob lynched a black person, they lynched Jesus. The lynching tree is the cross in America. When American Christians realize that they can meet Jesus only in the crucified bodies in our midst, they will encounter the real scandal of the cross.

God must therefore know in a special way what poor blacks are suffering in America because God's son was lynched in Jerusalem.
...
White theologians in the past century have written thousands of books about Jesus' cross without remarking on the analogy between the crucifixion of Jesus and the lynching of black people.
...
The real scandal of the gospel is this: humanity's salvation is revealed in the cross of the condemned criminal Jesus, and humanity's salvation is available only through our solidarity with the crucified people in our midst.
...
As I see it, the lynching tree frees the cross from the false pieties of well-meaning Christians. When we see the crucifixion as a first-century lynching, we are confronted by the reenactment of Christ's suffering in the blood-soaked history of African Americans. Thus, the lynching tree reveals the true religious meaning of the cross for American Christians today. The cross needs the lynching tree to remind Americans of the reality of suffering-- to keep the cross from becoming a symbol of abstract, sentimental piety. Before the spectacle of this cross we are called to more than contemplation and adoration. We are faced with a clear challenge: as Latin American liberation theologian Jon Sobrino has put it, "to take the crucified down from the cross."
And then the book talks about how lynching is still happening, though not in the same way it did back then. Nowadays black people are victims of mass incarceration, and the United States legal system still has the death penalty, which is carried out disproportionately on people of color.

And this:
When I heard and read about the physical and mental abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, I thought about lynching. The Roman Empire that killed Jesus at Calvary was similar to the American Empire that lynched blacks in the United States and also created the atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many white Americans seemed surprised and even shocked that such torture and abuse could come from the U.S. military. But most blacks were neither surprised nor shocked. We have been the object of white America's torture and abuse for nearly four hundred years.
Wow. Remember, if we are torturing prisoners, we are torturing Christ.

Next, Cone addresses people who may wonder why we still need to talk about lynching- isn't it better to just forget about it, because it was so bad? In response, Cone asks:
What happened to the hate that created the violence that lynched black people? Did it disappear?
...
What happened to the indifference among white liberal religious leaders that fostered silence in the face of the lynching industry? Where is that indifference today? Did the hate and indifference vanish so that we no longer have to be concerned about them? What happened to the denial of whites who claimed that they did not even know about lynching, even though many blacks were lynched during their adult years?
...
As Fitzhugh Brundage reminds us, "Perhaps nothing about the history of mob violence in the United States is more surprising than how quickly an understanding of the full horror of lynching has receded from the nation's collective memory."
Yes. We can't just assume everything's fine because lynching doesn't happen anymore (at least, not in the way it used to). American society needs to actually do the work of unlearning that hate and racism. We need to seriously confront that history and understand why it was wrong. We need to work to prevent similar things from happening in the future, and to try to bring justice to people who were affected by lynching.

One more quote I want to show you:
In this sense, black people are Christ figures, not because they wanted to suffer but because they had no choice. Just as Jesus had no choice in his journey to Calvary, so black people had no choice about being lynched. The evil forces of the Roman state and of white supremacy in America willed it.
... what???

Again, this is a glaring example of how Cone's Christianity is so completely different from the Christianity I used to believe in. Jesus had no choice? What's that about? The way I learned it was, Jesus was so perfect and sinless and didn't need to come to earth and suffer and save us, we certainly didn't deserve it, but he chose to do it because he loved us so much, and he totally could have gotten down from the cross if he wanted, but he chose to stay there and die. Because the bridge diagram and all that.

In summary, you should all read this book. For me, it was eye-opening, and I'm seeing how important it is that we learn history. Not just learning "this event happened in this year" but the reasons why, the attitudes that white people had, the way they justified their racism. It's not some long-ago thing that's completely unrelated to our modern world. Our country was built on this racism, on violent white supremacy, not freedom. And that's still playing out today.

-------------

Posts about The Cross and the Lynching Tree (by James H. Cone):

Reading US History Inerrantly
Ending Slavery Didn't Address the Real Problem
For the Sunday School Kids Who Never Heard About "the Curse of Ham" Or "Black Simon" 
Dr. King and What Taking Up the Cross Actually Looks Like
"The South is Crucifying Christ Again"
"Strange Fruit"
"The Cross and the Lynching Tree": Conclusion

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Blogaround

A goat. Image source.
1. Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis (posted April 11) [content note: racism, death of babies] 

2. Disabled People (Might) Finally Get Emojis That Represent Us (posted April 9) "Look at an emoji keyboard, however, and you’d never know [disabled people] exist at all. But if you’re a vampire or a merperson, you’re covered; there are currently seven emojis representing fantasy characters like fairies and elves."

3. The anti-abortion hypocrisy of proposed pro-Down syndrome legislation (posted April 10) "But Republican legislators, at every turn, have sought to dismantle the safety nets that would keep these families from tumbling into an abyss from which no one can return on their own."

4. A Thief in the Night: Traumatizing Children for Fun and Prophet (posted March 30) "Instead of protecting children and contextualizing their sometimes out-of-control fears, fundagelicals try their best to hijack those responses to brainwash their kids."

5. Andy Savage and the Problem of Evil (posted April 4) [content note: sexual assault and coverup] "Thousands of Christians located their car keys after praying for them and found divinely-ordained love." Yep, this is why I don't pray.

6. China's Weibo site backtracks on gay censorship after outcry (posted April 17) "'The response shows that we LGBT people in China are slowly realizing our rights,' Hua said. 'Gay people who would not have spoken out years ago are now letting their voices be heard.'"

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Xiamen, China (part 2)

More photos from our trip to 厦门 Xiamen~

(These are all from 鼓浪屿 Gulangyu Island.)


You know how in last week's post there was a piano museum? Well there is also a completely separate organ museum.






From Gulangyu Island, you can look across the water and see the tall buildings of the city of Xiamen.











This is a giant statue of 郑成功 Zheng Chenggong, who got took Taiwan back from Japanese rule.

There is a statue garden dedicated to 林巧稚 Lin Qiaozhi, a (female) Chinese ob-gyn who helped make a lot of advances in China's medical system. (The writing under the statue says she lived from 1901 to 1983.)

Another statue related to Lin Qiaozhi




----------------------

Series of posts with photos from my trip to Xiamen:

Taking the Train in China
Xiamen, China
Xiamen, China (part 2)

----------------------

If you want to see more posts like this, consider supporting me on patreon~ When I reach my goal of $20/month, I'll do a series of blog posts about various aspects of life in Shanghai. With lots of photos. ^_^

Monday, April 16, 2018

"Strange Fruit"

Fannie Lou Hamer speaks at the Democratic national convention in 1964. Image source.
Let's look at chapter 5 of James Cone's book The Cross and the Lynching Tree. It's called "Oh Mary, don't you weep," and it's about black women's role in fighting against lynching.

Cone starts out by saying that black women were lynched sometimes too- about 2% of lynching victims were women. He says this about Mary Turner:
[content note: graphic description of lynching]
When a mob in Valdosta, Georgia, in 1918 failed to find Sidney Johnson, accused of murdering his boss, Hampton Smith, they decided to lynch another black man, Haynes Turner, who was known to dislike Smith. Turner's wife, Mary, who was eight months pregnant, protested vehemently and vowed to seek justice for her husband's lynching. The sheriff, in turn, arrested her and then gave her up to the mob. In the presence of a crowd that included women and children, Mary Turner was "stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her swollen belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the ground and was stomped to death."
Holy shit.

How could this happen?

Howwww? Mary Turner wasn't even suspected of any crime. She was just angry about her husband being lynched- like, yeah obviously anybody would be angry about that. And her husband wasn't even accused of the murder, why was he lynched? And why did the sheriff hand Mary over to the mob- this sheriff should be punished because that is THE OPPOSITE of what his job is supposed to be.

I think the answer to the "how could this happen" questions is this: A lot of white people back then believed that blacks didn't belong in their society. Like, they're not supposed to even be here, but we'll let them, as long as they don't make trouble. When a black person was suspected to be connected with some crime, it wasn't like "but do they deserve to be killed just for this crime?"- it was like "ugh, see, this is why black people aren't even supposed to be here anyway, just get rid of them."

That's the explanation I've come to, anyway. And I wish I had learned more about that in school- I wish that, as a white person, I was educated about how white people have justified their racism, historically. So that I can recognize it when I see those same sorts of attitudes in modern politics. Or in myself.

Because I think for a lot of white people, when we read that account of Mary Turner's lynching, we're shocked and disgusted- it's so graphic, so violent, so obviously unjust, it's unimaginable. It feels like a horribly scary thing from history, a long time ago, with no connection to our current society at all. And that's a problem.

Cone then goes on to talk about the "unspeakable black suffering" caused by lynching, and how people have found comfort in the biblical story of Job, laments found in the psalms, and in Jesus' suffering.
Just as Jesus cried from the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" many lynched victims made similar outbursts of despair to God before they took their last breath, hoping for divine intervention that did not come.
In some ways, it was more difficult for black women than for black men. Men might be more able to flee to another city when they were threatened with lynching, but women often needed to stay because they had children to take care of.

Next, we read about Ida B. Wells, who made it her life's work to fight against lynching through her writing and in speeches she gave all around the country. She started her anti-lynching work in 1892 when her friend Tommie Moss and two other men were lynched because whites' "envy of black economic success." In her essay "Lynch Law in America," Wells wrote:
It is not the creature of the hour, the sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury, or the unspeakable brutality of an insane mob. It represents the cool, calculating deliberation of intelligent people who openly avow that there is an 'unwritten law' that justifies them in putting human beings to death without complaint under oath, without trial by jury, without opportunity to make defense, and without right of appeal.
YES. See, I had always understood lynching as "an angry mob got out of control and it's not really anybody's fault." Like the murderers didn't even realize what they were doing, they just got caught up in their emotions or something, and it seemed like a good idea at the time, but maybe later when they can think clearly they would feel guilty about it. Wells says no. I now think it was probably more along the lines of "a lot of white people just wanted to get rid of black people in general, so they were happy to have an excuse to do it." (With slight variations depending on if we're talking about the white people who were active participants, or the white people who just kind of condoned it or did nothing.)

Rape was often used as a justification for lynching- white people said black men were "beasts" who often attacked white women. But: "In her research, Wells discovered that rape was given as the reason in only about one-third of lynchings. In many of these cases, the claims referred to consensual sexual acts, while in others, the claims were often false."

Cone gives the example of William Offett, who was accused of raping Mrs. J. C. Underwood in Ohio. Offett said that the sex was consensual, but was put in prison anyway. After he had served 4 years in prison, Underwood confessed to her husband that actually it was consensual, but she had lied to protect her reputation. Offett was then released from prison. Cone points out:
Had the Offett-Underwood sexual encounter occurred in the South, a white mob probably would have castrated him and strung him on a lynching tree or "burned him alive." This is what happened to Ed Coy in Texarkana, Texas (1892), as well as to many blacks in the South and sometimes even in the North and West.
And, I should point out, this idea that black men are dangerous because they rape white women is a thing SOME PEOPLE STILL BELIEVE. In 2015, Dylann Roof said "you rape our women" before he killed 9 people in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Also, black women pointed out the hypocrisy of rape being used as a justification for lynching black men, but white people not caring about black women being raped by white men. In the citation list in the back of Cone's book, we find At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power; maybe that would be worth reading too.

Cone talks about how Ida B. Wells risked her life in her fight against lynching- she was almost lynched because of it. She found strength in her faith to keep fighting. And she had Some Opinions about white Christianity:
Wells was especially critical of evangelist Dwight Moody, who segregated his revivals to appease whites in the South. "Our American Christians are too busy saving the souls of white Christians from burning in hellfire to save the lives of black ones from present burning in fires kindled by white Christians."
Damnnnnnnnn that'll preach.

Also this:
Black people did not need to go to seminary and study theology to know that white Christianity was fraudulent. ... There was no way a community could support or ignore lynching in America, while still representing in word and deed the one who was lynched by Rome.
YES.

I am SO DONE with the "high view of Scripture" Christianity which says you can't trust your own heart to know injustice when you see it, and instead you have to find bible verses that say so. I am SO DONE with the endless arguments about "what did Paul really mean" about how women shouldn't speak in church, or about how same-sex relationships are sinful, or whatever. By their fruit you will know them. Just look at how bad and harmful it is when you teach women they're not allowed to be leaders. Just look at how bad and harmful it is when you make gay Christians believe there's something wrong with them. (And how bad it was back when white people were using the bible to justify their racism.) We don't need to carefully comb through the bible in order to be allowed to show basic decency to people.

A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.

Next, we read about Billie Holiday and the song "Strange Fruit" (which was written by Abel Meeropol, a white Jewish man, but made famous by Holiday). Here is a version from youtube:


The song starts out like this:
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Cone writes this about "Strange Fruit":
With vivid and horrific imagery, deep and disturbing emotions, Billie Holiday's rendition of "Strange Fruit" forced white listeners to wrestle with the violent truth of white supremacy. No white person could listen to Billie's "Strange Fruit" without feeling indicted and exposed by the sound of truth and contempt in her voice. She made whites look at the brutality they wanted to forget. That was why "Strange Fruit" was often banned from many radio stations and several clubs would not let Billie sing it, especially when whites walked out, claiming that it was not entertainment. Those who stayed to listen were eerily quiet as Billie told the story of lynching in the South. Billie's record company, Columbia, refused to record it, fearing that the South would boycott them.
Cone also talks about Fannie Lou Hamer's work during the Civil Rights Movement. For her, Jesus' cross was an inspiration, and she taught that blacks should follow Jesus' example and "take up the cross." However, Cone writes:
Yet Hamer did not embrace the cross uncritically. She was aware of its dangers. "We have always been taught," she said, "that we have to suffer as Christ suffered. He was killed and all of his followers persecuted. But I think in terms of what David had to do. David was a shepherd boy. He was giving service to his people. But it came a time in his life when he had to slay Goliath."
(I'm assuming that "aware of its dangers" refers to the ideology that says suffering is a good thing in and of itself.)
After telling the country and the world (at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City) about her attempts to register and vote and the vicious beating that followed in a Mississippi jail, Fannie Lou Hamer asked the poignant question that stirred the conscience of most Americans watching her speak over live television: "Is this America?" Her power and eloquence captivated the nation. She knew that even liberal whites could not deny the truth about white supremacy in America. Yet, they did not want to hear that truth, the fact that America's democracy is hypocrisy in the lives of its black population. President Lyndon Johnson, a Texan, knew all too well the hard truth of Hamer's testimony. Immediately, after seeing and hearing her speak, he called a news conference in order to get that "illiterate woman" off live television.
You can listen to her whole speech on youtube.

This is shocking- black people were beaten for registering to vote. (How did I not know about that? I mean, yes we learned about it in history class, but I didn't really *get* what that really meant.) But this isn't ancient history- voter suppression of black Americans is still a problem today. (Gerrymandering, voter ID laws, closing polling stations, not allowing early voting, etc.)

And Jeff Sessions was involved in blocking black people from voting, back in the Civil Rights Movement. Yes, Jeff Sessions, current Attorney General of the United States. This isn't ancient history. This still matters now. Remember Senator Elizabeth Warren, reading Coretta Scott King's letter about Sessions, in the year 2017? King had written, in 1986, "The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given a life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods."


Near the end of the chapter, Cone talks about Delores Williams, a womanist theologian:
She rejected the view common in classic texts of the Western theological tradition as well as in the preaching of African American churches that Jesus accomplished human salvation by dying in our place. According to Williams, Jesus did not come to save us through his death on the cross but rather he "came to show redemption through a perfect ministerial vision of righting relationships." She argued that if Jesus were a surrogate, then his gospel encourages black women to accept their surrogacy roles as well-- suffering for others as Jesus did on the cross. But if the salvation that Jesus brought could be separated from surrogacy, then black women were free to reject it too.
I believe this is SO IMPORTANT. It's good that different people have different interpretations of the meaning of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. And it's extremely important that we examine the effects of our theology- like Williams criticizing the "Jesus died in our place" ideology because it can be used to teach people they're supposed to suffer in others' place and they should just accept that.

Overall, this chapter of The Cross and the Lynching Tree shows us how lynching affected black women and how they fought back. Cone says that even though the most well-known leaders in the Civil Rights Movement were men, it was "also a women's movement," and that "If Rosa Parks had not sat down, Martin Luther King Jr. would not have stood up."

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Posts about The Cross and the Lynching Tree (by James H. Cone):

Reading US History Inerrantly
Ending Slavery Didn't Address the Real Problem
For the Sunday School Kids Who Never Heard About "the Curse of Ham" Or "Black Simon" 
Dr. King and What Taking Up the Cross Actually Looks Like
"The South is Crucifying Christ Again"
"Strange Fruit"
"The Cross and the Lynching Tree": Conclusion

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Blogaround

A puppy. Image source.
1. How 2 Women Are Working to Erase Anxiety Around Being Plus-Size in Public (posted April 5) "I have scrolled through more photos of ravioli than you can imagine, when all I really want to know is if a restaurant's booths have tables that move or tables that are bolted down".

2. Film Theory: The Cost of Disney's DARKEST Business!! (Pinocchio) (posted April 3) An analysis of the economics of Pleasure Island.

3. C.S. Lewis' Trilemma is Naive and Unhelpful (posted April 7) Yep.

4. Crisis Pregnancy Centers: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) (posted April 8) John Oliver talks about crisis pregnancy centers as if it's *shocking* how dishonest and manipulative they are, and how they take advantage of vulnerable people. But as an ex-evangelical, I am not shocked. Not a bit. Even though I was never involved with crisis pregnancy centers back then, every single thing Oliver says about their dishonesty rings true to me. Because I used to do evangelism in basically the same way. I know all about trying to manipulate people into giving the right response in a "life-or-death situation" that they don't even believe is a "life-or-death situation." I know all about pretending to respect people's right to make their own choices.

5. The Courtship Constraints of Homeschool Erotica (posted April 11) "The “homeschool erotica” I created in my mind, then, had to involve circumstances that would result in marriage anyway—because that was the only context within which romance or sex were allowed." This is a really interesting topic- about how those of us who grew up in purity culture used to fantasize about the love story we wanted, and how those fantasies had to be constrained by the rules about when romance and sex were or were not sinful. (And I'm realizing my own fantasies were ... a little more on the asexual side.)

6. Ultimate SCB Film Bracket (posted April 7) Fill out this bracket of the best Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and Harry Potter movies.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Xiamen, China

Here are the photos from our trip to Xiamen, China! (厦门, pronounced kind of like "sha-mun.") It's a well-known vacation spot for Chinese people, in southern China (about the same latitude as Key West, Florida). We were there during winter but the weather was super-nice, in the 60s and 70s Fahrenheit. (Note that China uses Celsius though.)

There is a big touristy island in Xiamen called Gulangyu 鼓浪屿. The whole thing is beaches and pretty scenery. There aren't any cars on this island, just a ton of pedestrian paths, and some smaller electric vehicles.

Anyway here's part 1 of our photos:

Taking the ferry from the city to the island.

Ferry terminal








There is a caligraphy carving museum. It's all artwork of Chinese characters carved into wood or other materials.



There is a piano museum there. It has pianos from Europe and the US. Some were pretty old.



I don't even know what's going on with this piano.






Narrow pedestrian streets and little restaurants and souvenir shops.


Xiamen is so beautiful! I'll be posting more pictures next week~

----------------------

Series of posts with photos from my trip to Xiamen:

Taking the Train in China
Xiamen, China
Xiamen, China (part 2)

----------------------

If you want to see more posts like this, consider supporting me on patreon~ When I reach my goal of $20/month, I'll do a series of blog posts about various aspects of life in Shanghai. With lots of photos. ^_^

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