Thursday, January 18, 2018

Blogaround

Baby sea lion. Image source.
1. Creationist: We’ll Only Be Impressed If You Find Transitional Fossils in the Precambrian (posted January 9) "If you have to read that a few times to make sense of it, go ahead."

2. Florida Court Permanently Blocks Abortion Restriction (posted January 8) "The forced delay law was an insult to women and imposed medically unnecessary and harmful burdens, particularly on low-income patients. This law’s intention was to stop women from getting abortion care, plain and simple." Good news~

3. If You Can See The Invisible Elephant, Please Describe It (posted 2011) "You end up having to construct your understanding of the elephant from tiny snippets, little bits of information you can coax out of normal people before they get aggravated and change the subject." (a post about asexuality)

4. So here's the YMCA song, sung by minions:



5. The Case Against The Jedi (posted December 31) "Just so we're clear on what that means, according to the Jedi, it's loving relationships with another person that leads men down the path to evil." About toxic masculinity in Star Wars.

Related: Internalized Sexism and Star Wars: My Long-Overdue Apology to Luke Skywalker (posted January 9) "And I know that I’m not the only person to have ever referred to Luke as 'whiny'"

6. White evangelicalism vs. missionaries (posted January 12) "Missionaries have, in a very real sense, converted to a different religion from that of the churches supporting their work."

7. Voice in the Wind: An Anti-Semitic Gospel (posted January 12) Presenting the story of the crucifixion as "the Jews killed Jesus" is anti-Semitic. I remember occasionally hearing about that back when I was an evangelical, but of course I totally dismissed it because, well, the bible says it happened that way, so that's that. I didn't know about the whole history of Christians persecuting and killing Jews because "they killed Jesus." Presenting the bible story as "the Jews killed Jesus" is anti-Semitic because of that history. If it were just a detail in a story, isolated from any real-world effects, then it would be fine- but that's not the world we live in. We need to learn history.

8. The 1969 Easter Mass Incident (posted January 14) [content note: crucifixion] "Dad remembers hearing the bishop through the windows roaring 'THE HOLY BODY OF CHRIST DOES! NOT! CONTAIN! RAINBOW! SPRINKLES!'"

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet is Extremely WTF

Photo of a huge group of wedding guests. Image source.
In Matthew 21:28-22:14, Jesus tells 3 parables:
  1. The parable of the two sons
  2. The parable of the tenants
  3. The parable of the wedding banquet
(go over to the link and read them if you haven't)

The basic idea of these 3 stories is the same: At the beginning of the story, there's a certain person or group who is "in" and has the favor of an authority figure, but later in the story they disrespect or disobey the authority figure, so they are rejected/punished and a different/unlikely/underdog group becomes the new "in" group.

Different Christians can interpret these parables in COMPLETELY different ways, depending on their understanding of who the "in" and "out" groups are supposed to represent:
  • In the evangelical church, I learned that the "in" group at the beginning of the story was religious people who worked hard to follow all the rules and believed they were earning God's favor. And they get rejected and in the end there's a new "in" group, which is people who have a personal relationship with Jesus.
  • Currently, my interpretation (as a Christian feminist) would be that the original "in" group is religious people who think they're "in" because they believe all the correct things and have a "personal relationship with Jesus." And then in the end, they are rejected in favor of the new "in" group, which is poor and marginalized people and those who are working to bring the kingdom of God (which I define as equality, justice, etc) regardless of whether they believe the "correct" things about God.
I'm not going to make an argument about which one Jesus "really means" is the "in" group and "out" group, because it comes from one's overall big-picture understanding of what Christianity is. In other words, in order to convince an evangelical that my interpretation is right and theirs is wrong, I'd first have to convince them to stop being evangelical. Both interpretations I mentioned above are totally logically consistent with their corresponding ideologies about what the bible is, what the gospel is, what the point of Christianity is, etc. So no point in trying to argue about this one little parable- I'd have to make an argument that addresses that whole ideology. (Hey actually, that's more or less what my entire blog is. So there.)

But wow, we have to talk about the parable of the wedding banquet. Because, like, these 3 parables are more or less the same story, until the parable of the wedding banquet goes REALLY OFF THE RAILS.

So you have a king sending invitations to his son's wedding. And then this:
“But they [those who were invited] paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
Meme that says "Well that escalated quickly." Image source.
o_O

Okay...

And then the timeline is incredibly weird. Like, the king sends messengers to tell people "everything is ready", then they kill the messengers, then the king burns their city, and then he sends more messengers to tell people "the wedding banquet is ready." Like, I don't know how long it takes to attack and burn down a city, but it seems like maybe the food would be cold by then?

I mean, it's not real, it's just a story that Jesus told, so maybe we shouldn't get stuck on the fact that the timeline makes no sense. (Sort of like how it's better not to try to figure out exactly how long Luke was on Dagobah.) But............ like how could Jesus expect his listeners to just overlook such an obvious, giant plot hole?????

But this is the really WTF part:
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Whatttttttttt

All right this sounds like the worst-nightmare scenario for anyone who's ever worried, "I don't know what I'm supposed to wear to this event... What if I'm overdressed? What if I'm underdressed? What if everyone else stares at me because I'm wearing the wrong thing?" Like why would the king (who apparently represents God) treat this poor embarrassed guest so cruelly just because he didn't know what the dress code was? 

And the part that really gets me is when he says "friend," like he's pretending to be all nice right before he has this guy violently kicked out of the wedding. That's downright creepy.

I've done a bit of googling and most of the interpretations I've found fall into these two groups:
  1. The "wedding clothes" represent living the way a Christian is supposed to live. Yes, God invites everyone, but God still has requirements you have to follow. This isn't "cheap grace"- you have to take God's rules seriously. (This article on Desiring God takes this approach.)
  2. The host of the wedding would have given all the guests wedding clothes. So this guy really has no excuse for not wearing them. (See here and here for articles which take this interpretation.) If we think in terms of modern American weddings, it would NOT be like "why aren't you wearing wedding clothes?" it would be like "why don't you have a card with your table number?"
Here's my issue with option 1: It takes an economic issue and changes it into an entirely-spiritual issue. Some of the guests in the story would have been too poor to afford nice wedding clothes- Jesus makes it clear that the king's servants are just going out on the streets and bringing in anyone they can find. I think Christians often treat parables about poverty and economic issues as if they're only about abstract spiritual things, and that's a HUGE PROBLEM. (See my post The Parable of the Living Wage.) So I'm very much not okay with taking the issue of a guest not having enough money for wedding clothes (which seems, to me, like the most likely explanation for why this character isn't wearing them, even though it's not stated in the story) and then claiming it's not really about that at all, it's actually about living in obedience to God or whatever.

And here's my issue with option 2: It seems too easy. Like, as a reader, I'm shocked that the king would be so cruel to this poor guest who turns up wearing the wrong thing. To explain it away as "the king would have provided wedding clothes" takes my shock and confusion and turns it into... nothing. Like "...oh, okay then" and we just shrug and move on with life because as good Christians who believe everything God does in the bible is automatically good, we were desperate for an explanation to excuse the king's actions, and we got a very nice convenient one here. But... doesn't it seem like Jesus must have included that "shocking" ending for a reason?

(I feel the same way about every explanation I've ever heard for that passage in John 6 where Jesus says his followers must "eat my flesh and drink my blood." Church people have all sorts of ways to explain how it's actually a metaphor for some completely normal spiritual practice that Christians should do. But I don't buy that. Jesus was using very graphic language here- he intended it to be offensive and shocking, and a lot of followers ended up deserting him because of it. If you explain it in a way that completely removes that shock, I think you've missed the point. Personally I don't know what his point was, but it definitely wasn't something as tame as "this is a metaphor for our reliance on God.")

I did find an article that had a different take on it:
This parable makes no sense to me if attire for the banquet was not included in the invitation. How can a host invite “all the people they could find” so that the hall could be “filled with guests” and then get upset that someone in there was not wearing the proper attire, if such attire was not also provided? Did the host really think that everyone they found on the streets, even the poor and barely-scratching-by artisans, would have fine clothing for a wedding banquet of the wealthy?

I’ll freely admits that this is taking an interpretive liberty, but let’s assume for a moment that attire was provided as an option for those who needed such, so that no matter how poor you were, you had no excuse not to attend. If that’s the case, that gives us an entirely different ending. Who is the parable being told to in Matthew? This cluster of parables is aimed at “the chief priests and Pharisees” (Matthew 21.45) and the political place of privilege they held. In the story, someone refuses to wear clothing appropriate for the event. Whether this is a wealthy person refusing to be associated with the poor, or the poor refusing to be seen along side the exploitative rich, it’s a show of arrogance or separateness. It’s possibly an expression of one’s exceptionalism in protest to the inclusion of those he feels are “Other” or beneath him. For him to don the same attire as everyone else would be to intimate that there was no difference, at least at this banquet, between himself and those he feels should not be present. He is better than the others around him here and he will not be included on their same level. For him this is a rejection of the reality that we are all interconnected, we are part of one another. We are not as separate from one another as we often think. We share each other’s fate. In fact, we are each other’s fate. It could be because of the guest’s desire to be seen as separate, or as reluctantly participating with everyone else, that the host so angrily responds to his lack of attire.

The context is the eschatological banquet that some people in Galilee and Judea believed symbolized the distinction between this age of violence, injustice, and oppression and the coming age where all injustice, violence, and oppression would be put right. But this new age in Jesus’ world view is egalitarian: everyone receives what is distributively just. No one has too much and no one has too little, we all, together have enough. So garments could have been justly distributed, making everyone equal. But if a person has spent their life working to be “first,” few things could be worse than to be faced with a world of equity and equality and being thrown into the same group with everyone else. They believe they are better, chosen, extraordinary, or exceptional. They are not like everyone else and they refuse to embrace our connectedness. But whether we acknowledge the truth of our reality or not, we are already in this together.

Those who choose the path of exclusion are themselves eventually excluded from a world that’s being put right through inclusive egalitarianism. As we discussed previously, exclusionary thinking is a self-fulfilling ethic. Again, when you see who is welcomed and affirmed, when you see how wrong you were about those you thought should be forbidden from attending the same “banquet” with you, it’s going to make you so angry! This is the gnashing of teeth Jesus and Luke describe (cf. Acts 7:54) So if any end up in outer darkness, it will not be because they could not accept their own invitation. It will be because they could not accept the inclusion and equal affirmation of those they feel should be excluded.
I don't take a position on whether or not this is the "right" interpretation, but my initial thought is it makes a lot more sense than the other 2 explanations I mentioned above. So the host provided wedding clothes, but that one guy refused to wear them because he thought he was better than the other guests and didn't want to be seen as the same as them. Now that gets into some interesting territory about how not everyone will see "inclusion" as a good thing, if people they think are "unworthy" end up being included. (And I personally believe there have to be limits to inclusion- you can't "include" dangerous/abusive/violent people who make the environment unsafe for others.)

(Note, though, that this interpretation doesn't really help with the last line of the parable- "For many are invited, but few are chosen." Yeah I'm very NOT OKAY with that line.)

All right those are my thoughts on this section of Matthew. 3 parables which are basically the same, until the parable of the wedding banquet gets REALLY WEIRD at the end. Readers: Any other thoughts or interpretations about it?

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This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: That Time Jesus Didn't "Stand Up For What's Right" (Matthew 21:23-27)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Globophobia

Scared little girl. Image source.
[content note: this is a post about when I was in therapy as a child and it was extremely harmful, for reasons related to undiagnosed autism]

I was planning on never blogging about the time I was in therapy for globophobia. Because I don't want my mom to feel bad. My parents and the doctor really cared about me a lot, and were doing their best to help me, but actually that therapy ended up being very damaging for me. I'm just now realizing the long-term effects. I don't blame my parents at all, because they didn't know, so please don't feel bad. But I want to write about this in case it can help someone else in a similar situation.

So here's the deal: From the time I was a little kid, I have had globophobia, which is a phobia of balloons. When people asked "why is she afraid of balloons?" my mom used to answer "she's sensitive to loud sounds" and eventually that was the answer I too would give when people asked.

But the problem is that that explanation completely misses the point. Here's what's actually going on: I hear sounds much louder than other people do, and sounds like balloons popping, fireworks, explosions, etc cause overwhelming, unbearable sensory pain for me. Saying "she is sensitive to loud sounds" makes it sound like it's just some silly emotional quirk that's not really a real thing, that I'm weak and if I tried harder I could "get over it." No, what's actually happening is the actual reality I am experiencing is different from what other people experience. And my reactions- avoiding balloons, covering my ears- are totally reasonable in the context of that reality.

Back when I was a little kid, we didn't know that I hear the sounds louder than other people. Who would have suspected such a thing was possible? My parents didn't know, and I didn't know. I always hated how I had to tell people what the problem was- like, how was it not obvious? Did they not notice that huge, overwhelming, unbearable sound that had just exploded through the whole room? I spent my whole childhood utterly confused about how seemingly kind and compassionate people could be so unfeeling and unaffected. And I never said the words "I'm afraid of balloons" until I was in college. Because to say "I'm afraid of balloons" implies that my fear was an abnormal thing that other people shouldn't be expected to just know automatically. It would be like admitting that I was the weird one and there was something wrong with the way I reacted. From my point of view, telling someone "I'm afraid of balloons" made as much sense as saying "I don't like it when people kick me." Like, isn't that obvious? If you really believe that it's something you need to actually say out loud, that means you accept that your preference not to be kicked is something unusual. As a little kid, I refused to accept that. On some level, even though I didn't have the words for it, I truly believed my reactions were right, completely justified and reasonable based on the incredible pain caused by a balloon pop. (And please note: I was right, even though none of the adults understood.)

But anyway, when I was in middle school (maybe 12 years old), my mom took me to therapy for globophobia. I read about phobias online, read about how, with therapy, a phobia can be totally 100% cured. So that was the goal of the therapy. The doctor told me to make a list of scary balloon-related things, in increasing order of scariness, and we would slowly work our way up the list, becoming "desensitized" to each one.

And that treatment model was really really bad for me. Because what none of us knew at the time was, this wasn't just a phobia. It was not just in the realm of emotions, which can be totally cured. No, I experience unbearable sensory pain because of those loud sounds, and that's never going to change.

Unfortunately, the goal of the therapy was for me to "become normal." And it didn't really make sense to me, didn't seem possible, but I was a good kid so I went along with what the adults told me to do. But when I saw "normal" people barely react at all to the sound of a balloon popping- as I said, it baffled me. Totally, utterly baffled. (What's wrong with everyone???!!!) Like an unexplainable scientific phemomenon- we can observe it over and over, so it must be real, but it just makes no sense at all. I didn't really believe I could ever become like that. But my mom told me I need to believe it's possible, or else the whole thing is doomed from the start. And in the bible, God did miracles, and the recipients of those miracles probably could have never imagined it beforehand. The walls of Jericho fell down just because the Israelites walked around them- like, how? And so maybe, by following the steps the therapist gave me, trying to "desensitize" myself, I would become "normal."

In reality, the efforts to "desensitize" me to loud sounds communicated to me that my pain didn't matter. That I would just have to accept it when something hurts me, and I shouldn't react or expect other people to care. That's what the therapy was for me- though I'm sure the adults involved didn't know it. It was "sit here, relax, try to act like a normal person, and then absorb and suffer the overwhelming, unbearable sensory pain without bothering anyone else or making any visible attempt to protect yourself."

We didn't know that. I didn't know that, and I didn't have the words to communicate what was gonig on. I never would have thought to use the word "pain" to describe what I was feeling. Because sensory pain doesn't feel anything like the pain you feel when you fall down or hit your head or someone steps on your foot. How can you describe what a sound feels like? A sound feels like a sound; it's completely different from any other sensory input.

It wasn't until I was 23, that I went to a therapist (for a different problem) and mentioned how I'd been in therapy in the past for globophobia, and she said "that doesn't really sound like a phobia, sounds more like a response to pain from sensory overload, possibly related to autism." She was the one who diagnosed me with autism, and she was the first one to ever use the word "pain" to describe how I felt about balloons.

And at first I didn't believe it really was pain- because, as I said, it's different from all the other experiences that I've heard people describe as pain. But then I realized, if I had to choose between getting slapped, hard, in the back of the head, and suddenly hearing fireworks, well gosh, I don't know which is less bad. They are about the same. And it blew my mind to realize that for other people, those wouldn't be the same.

So let me make an analogy. Let's say someone steps on your foot, really hard. Everyone sees it happen.

And you say "OWW!!!!"

And then everyone stares at you, and they ask, "What? What happened?"

And you know that they saw this person step on your foot. You can't understand how they can be so dense as to not know the reason you're crying out in pain. But you say, "You stepped on my foot!"

And then everyone continues to stare, with a very confused expression, and they're like "... and? What's the problem?"

And you say, "That hurt!"

And everyone says, "No it didn't. You're overreacting." And they kind of roll their eyes, like "ah she got us all worried that there was an actual problem, but really she's just weird and overreacting to some harmless thing," and go back to whatever they were doing.

That's what it's been like, throughout my entire life, every time a balloon popped. And I haven't been able to put it into words until now.

Let's talk about gaslighting. Gaslighting means telling someone that their actual lived experiences, memories, or emotions aren't real. Like "you think you feel that way, but you're wrong" or "no, that thing that you said you experienced never actually happened." It's a tactic that can be used by abusers to get a victim to doubt their own mind. I wasn't abused; people did this to me because they really thought it would help. But it is gaslighting. My whole life, everyone has been telling me that the pain I feel from loud sounds isn't real. I'm "overreacting." I need to "get over it." It's "not that bad." And I'm just now realizing how much psychological damage this gaslighting caused.

(People with autism are not "overreacting" to sensory stimuli. We experience them much more intensely than other people do, and our reactions are appropriate for what we are experiencing.)

The therapist I saw in middle school asked me, "What's the first time you were afraid of balloons?" I said I didn't remember the first time, but one particularly early example I remembered was at Hannah's birthday party [names have been changed]. I didn't know why the therapist was asking me; it didn't seem like it would matter what the first time was. But I was a good little kid, always obeyed the adults, so I told her the whole story.

But now I know. There were assumptions behind her question. She was thinking about how a phobia is often caused by some traumatic experience involving some certain object, and then the person associates the emotions and the object and develops an irrational fear of the object itself- even though the object is pretty harmless. That's why she was asking- she wanted to find one traumatic thing in my past that had caused me to illogically believe that balloons could hurt me.

Nobody understood that balloons actually do hurt me, and that every single time it happens and nobody seems to care about my pain is a traumatic experience. Every. Single. Time. Is a traumatic experience. Even the "therapy" itself was just more of that- "relax, it can't hurt you" *pop* "see, that wasn't so bad." Gaslighting.

They wanted me to take deep breaths and learn to relax my body- not to cover my ears or brace myself against the pain. If I could hear the pop without covering my ears, that would be success, then I would be "brave." But I covered my ears and hid in the couch cushions, and they said okay that's fine for this time, we'll work up to it. And after I heard it pop, then I relaxed. Of course. Because the danger was gone.

It was just the same as if the doctor had hit me and told me I was "bad" for tensing up, putting my head down, trying to protect myself, and I needed to be "good" by sitting there "relaxed" with barely any reaction.

And then there was one time, where the doctor did pop a balloon in front of me and I reacted in a more "correct" way, probably I just sat there, looked a little startled, didn't say much or try to hide in the couch. And then in the car on the way home, my mom (who had been there too when it happened) really wanted me to tell her about how I felt. I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want to think about it. At the time, I couldn't understand why. But now I know. My whole life, I've been looking for someone to acknowledge and care about my sensory pain. But "success" in the therapy meant accepting that no one cares, and being okay with that. On some level, I didn't want "success," and I was very uncomfortable with how I had apparently had the "correct" reaction and the adults thought it was so great that I had hid my pain and not asked anyone to care about me. I didn't have the word "pain" back then; there's no way I could have even understood what I was feeling or explained it to anyone. Especially because it sounds really bad to say I don't want to "get better."

(As I write this, it occurs to me that people who have a phobia of heights probably aren't told that they need to "face their fear" by jumping off a building.)

Let me tell you what would have happened if that therapy had "worked." (After a while we stopped the therapy, so it never got to this point.) It would mean me accepting the idea that nobody wants to hear about my pain, that I'm being bad if I scream or run away. My reactions are causing trouble for other people and it would be better if I could just shut up about it and accept that no one cares. Accepting that no one will protect me, and they will think I'm bad if I do what I need to do to protect myself. It would mean withdrawing into myself if I'm in a situation with balloons, not willing to speak- because what's the use of going along with the rules of socialization if none of these people care about me? What's the use of pretending everything is fine- I can't keep up appearances like that when I know they won't protect me, I need to protect myself. It would mean staring at the ground, emotionless, no smile, because the emotional trauma is so great, I'm not able to show it on my face without breaking down- and what does it matter if I follow the social rules about facial expressions and eye contact, it's not worth the trouble, no one cares about me anyway. I'm alone. Like a zombie; shuffle along, follow the rules, don't make trouble, suffer pain and accept the fact that no one cares.

But even though that therapy was just for a short period of time when I was in middle school, it did long-term damage to me. There were many, many occasions after that where I would go to a party, discover there were balloons there, and either leave immediately or leave after people started touching the balloons and I just couldn't handle it anymore. And every time I left, I felt like a failure. I thought, "It's so awful that this phobia has so much control over my life, I miss out on fun things because of it, if I went to therapy and worked on this, I could get better- so it's my fault." Every time, I told myself those things. I'm such a failure, it's my fault, I'm letting the balloons control my life.

And I internalized the idea that it's wrong for me to advocate for myself- to specifically take steps which a "normal person" wouldn't, just because of my sensory issues (for example, letting the host of a birthday party know beforehand that I wouldn't be okay if there were balloons). The whole entire reason behind that therapy was "you can't avoid them forever"- that it was bad for me to be active in protecting myself and communicating about my needs. Avoidance makes a phobia worse, the doctor said. Instead, I was supposed to "face my fear" because "you don't want to have this problem for your whole life, do you?"

If I didn't even make an attempt to "be normal," then I was "letting the phobia control my life." My desire to avoid balloons wasn't seen as a real need that should be taken seriously, but as a sign that I was weak and was inconveniencing other people because I wasn't willing to go to therapy and do the work to "get over it."

So that meant for as long as I could, I would pretend to "be normal." Go to a birthday party, notice that there are balloons there, pretend I'm okay with it, be jumpy and nervous the entire time, constantly looking around to see if anyone is touching the balloons, unable to focus on what's actually happening at the party or people trying to make conversation with me, just waiting for it to be over... until there comes a point where the stress is too great, where I can't keep up the "normal person" facade anymore, and I "freak out", which usually looks like suddenly running from the room. And everyone is confused about what's wrong with me.

What would it have been like, if I had known "loud sounds cause real pain for me, so I am not able to be near balloons" and treat that like an unchangeable fact of the universe? (The same way that people let you know they have a food allergy.) Not to be like "I have a phobia, and it's my fault so it's unreasonable for me to bother or inconvenience anyone because of it." What would it have been like if I could have communicated with people who were throwing parties, if I could have told them "Loud sounds are extremely painful for me, so if the party has balloons I won't be able to come"? But of course I couldn't do that. The doctor said avoiding the object of your phobia only makes the phobia worse.

What would it have been like if I didn't try to "be normal"?

The strategy I use now is to be very clear about what my needs are and communicate them to the people who need to know. And accept that it's okay if people don't know balloons are a problem- because, as it turns out, they are literally hearing the sound in a different way than I do. Tell them I can't be near balloons, use the word "pain" instead of "phobia", and be confident- not apologetic- because I have the right to have my needs respected, and I have the right to leave if I am in a situation that is not safe for me. When Hendrix and I are out in public and I see a balloon, I talk to him and make a plan about what to do. Usually "let's walk past it really fast." And I'm able to stay calm because I have a plan which takes my needs seriously, and because Hendrix supports me 100%.

My globophobia is caused by the unchangeable reality that loud sounds are extremely painful for me. I can never "be a normal person" around balloons. But the phobia part- the irrational fear- is because I associate loud sounds with "people don't care about me." And that's something that's completely in the realm of emotions, and can be completely healed through therapy. But healing doesn't look like "be a normal person." Healing from the phobia component means taking my sensory needs very seriously, and communicating clearly about my needs. It means knowing that I don't need to be afraid because I can rely on people who care about me to help me avoid balloons.

I'll always need to avoid balloons, but that doesn't mean I'll always have globophobia. Maybe someday I can avoid them without thinking "no one cares about me."

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Related: The Sound [strong trigger warning for globophobia]

Next week there will be a post on the intersection of globophobia and evangelical Christianity.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Blogaround

Chinese movie poster for "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" (星际大战:最后的绝地武士). Sorry about the glare on Luke's face. I took this photo in the subway station.
1. Film Theory: Disney LIED to You! (High School Musical) (posted December 30) A video about how the "High School Musical" movies want you to hate Sharpay, like she is the villain, but really she's not.

2. Why So Many Men Hate the Last Jedi But Can't Agree on Why (posted January 4) [content note: spoilers for "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"]

3. Memphis mega-church pastor admits he molested a minor days before his ‘True Love Waits’ workshop (posted January 6) [content note: description of sexual assault, and a church covering it up]

And this: Memphis Pastor Admits ‘Sexual Incident’ With High School Student 20 Years Ago (posted January 9) "A Memphis megachurch pastor received a standing ovation during a church service on Sunday after he admitted that he had engaged in a “sexual incident” with a high school student 20 years ago in Texas." That's disgusting.

On the other hand, the kingdom of heaven is like:

4. How The Last Jedi Explains The Power of the Dark Side of the Force (posted December 28) [content note: spoilers for "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"]

5. Why Sex Education for Disabled People Is So Important (posted October 5) "'Many of us often grow up believing we may not even be able to have sexual relationships. We often grow up believing our bodies are disgusting and there is something wrong with them,' he said. 'So, when someone, especially someone with some type of power over us like a teacher or caregiver, shows us sexual attention and we believe we don't deserve anything better or will never have the opportunity for sex again, it is easy to see why some disabled people are able to be manipulated or harmed in sexual situations.'"

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

On Telling My Chinese Husband What I Want For Christmas

A bunch of wrapped gifts under a Christmas tree. Image source.
This year I wasn't able to go back to the US for Christmas, so Hendrix (my husband) and I had to figure out how to do Christmas ourselves. I got out my little pathetic 2-foot-tall artificial Christmas tree that I bought on taobao for like 20 rmb (that's about $3), and my Nativity set that I brought from the US even though it's in this big bulky box. Like, there's a whole stable included with it. Really too big to be stuffing into one's luggage to take to the other side of the world (but I did it!). I bought wrapping paper and ribbons (on taobao again) and I told Hendrix we're going to wrap things for each other and put them under the tree. Even though we both already knew what we were getting from each other.

Additionally, my plan was that Hendrix and I would buy gifts on Amazon to send to my family in the US, and my family would tell me what gifts they want to get for Hendrix, and I buy them here and wrap them for him, and he gets the ones for me from my family and wraps them for me.

I told Hendrix all of this. I told him about how important it is for me to unwrap something on Christmas morning. Even though he already said he was buying a vacation for us as a Christmas gift, he should still get me something I can unwrap.

By December 20, I had already wrapped a few things for him and put them under the tree, but there were no gifts for me yet. And like, I don't want to complain too much, I knew that he had been busy with work so that's why he hadn't wrapped anything yet, I knew that he knew it was really important to me. But I was getting worried that there wouldn't be gifts for me on Christmas, and I told him that. Trying my best to tell him in a nice way that wouldn't stress him out.

Anyway, my husband is great and he totally got everything together the weekend before Christmas (December 23-24). He communicated with my family to find out what they wanted to buy for me, then he bought all the gifts, and wrapped them, and even did some fancy stuff with the ribbons. (And I did the same for him, except my ribbon techniques are less advanced.) And on Christmas morning, before we went to work, we skyped with my family and unwrapped all our stuff. So everything went well, even though obviously I was really homesick too.

The reason I'm writing about this is it's a story about marriage, cultural differences, and communicating clearly about what I want. Hendrix is Chinese and has lived in China his whole life. Before we started living together, he had never had a Christmas tree before. Before I brought him to the US to meet my family a few years ago, he had never received a Christmas gift before. There are so many Christmas traditions that are really really important to me, and Hendrix never knew about them before. So I had to communicate about what I wanted. I had to tell him clearly that I expected him to wrap gifts for me, to not let me know what they were, and put them under the Christmas tree. Preferably, wrapped gifts start appearing in early December and then accumulate until Christmas. And that he was responsible for writing a list of what he wanted so the rest of us would have ideas about what to get him. AND that if he gets something for one of my family members that's on their list, he has to communicate with the rest of the family members to make sure none of them already got them the exact same thing.

Like, basic stuff Americans would take for granted about how Christmas gift-giving works, but it's not part of Hendrix's culture, so I had to very explicitly tell him what he needed to do.

It kind of feels weird, saying "there aren't enough gifts for me" out loud. Sounds like I'm a kid in the beginning of a Christmas movie, who hasn't learned their lesson about how giving is better than receiving. And as an ex-evangelical, I am a little hesitant to say so clearly "I want this." Isn't that selfish and materialistic? I learned in church that I should just try to be content, not complain, not have desires.

And if I were still evangelical, I'd probably feel like I should never say the words "you need to get me Christmas presents" out loud to anyone under any circumstances. Probably I would resort to extreme hinting- "hey honey did you make a Christmas list yet? here is mine" and that sort of thing. To actually explicitly say what I want would be "selfish", right?

If that's the only lens you have for interpreting my desire for gifts, you would totally miss the fact that it actually isn't about "selfishness" at all. It's about family traditions and nostalgia and being homesick when I'm thousands of miles from my culture, in a country that doesn't *get* Christmas. I didn't ask for expensive stuff for Christmas- I wanted a hairbrush and a notebook and some things like that. It's not about the stuff. It's about the tradition of unwrapping presents on Christmas morning. That's important to me, and that matters.

Back when I was a "good Christian", I would have felt like it was wrong to have things that matter to me. I'm supposed to be "content in any and every situation." God is all I need, and if I feel unhappy about something I don't have, that means I'm "making it an idol." In this ideology, people aren't even able to understand their own desires, and therefore unable to communicate about them. What if I hadn't told Hendrix how important it was for me to unwrap gifts on Christmas morning, and then I ended up sad or mad at him? See, you avoid that problem by communicating clearly about your needs and desires. But that kind of communication isn't really possible when you're not allowed to have desires beyond "God is all I need."

Hendrix cares about me a lot, and even though he doesn't really understand why all these Christmas traditions are important, he knows they matter to me, so he plays along. And I try my best to do the same for him for Chinese traditions. That's what you do when you're married.

And really, every married couple has to go through this process of figuring out how to do their holiday traditions together (for whatever major holiday[s] they celebrate, doesn't have to be Christmas). For Hendrix and I, it's an extreme example, because it's so obvious that we're from different cultures and he doesn't have any Christmas traditions at all- but really every couple needs to communicate about this kind of thing, right? Even if they come from the same background, there will be slight differences in their families' traditions. Wouldn't it be a shock to discover you had married someone who- GASP!- opens all their gifts on Christmas Eve? You have to communicate about what's important to each of you, and figure out how to put all those important elements together to make your own set of holiday traditions.

Anyway, my point is, being married means I have to communicate about what I want. If I weren't willing to say the words "you should wrap Christmas presents for me" directly, then I'd be unhappy on Christmas, and Hendrix, who is really trying his best even though it's not part of his culture, would have no idea why.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Top 15 Posts of 2017

The letters "B L O G" except the O is a globe. Image source.
Hi readers! It's the start of a new year, so I'll take this opportunity to highlight the top posts from 2017 on this blog. The biggest thing that happened to me in 2017 was I got married. ^_^ Which I'm pretty happy about.

Top 7 posts (by pageviews):

1. Asexual "For me, it felt like 'oh, okay, that's what sex is. Well now that we've done it once and found out what it's like, we don't really need to do it again.'"

2. There's Something Missing From This Article About Marriage And Sex "And unless you can state outright that rushing into marriage IS WORSE than having premarital sex, you have no business telling people 'oh you shouldn't get married just so you can have sex.'"

3. I knew Desiring God ideology is spiritual abuse, but wow. "It's incredibly harmful to describe symptoms of depression and then call it a spiritual problem which can only be fixed by having the correct view of God. I plan to never stop talking about this."

4. For This Asexual, Purity Culture Was All About Fear "I wish I had been allowed to actually explore my own desires and find their limits. Instead, I lived in fear of desires that didn't even exist."

5. Tickling, Consent, and The Way It Works "It’s not a big deal that they purposely did something to me that I literally JUST SAID I did not want. My boundary was not reasonable, says society, so they didn’t have to respect it. That’s The Way It Works."

6. Christianity and "Selfishness": Here are the Receipts "The Christianity I used to believe was an anti-human ideology which equated godliness with a suppression of ourselves, our emotions, our individuality."

7. "Is it Okay for Christians to Use Sex Toys?" (An Exercise in Missing the Point) "Why don't we just teach people what a healthy relationship is, and teach people that their desires matter and their emotions matter and they should do what they need to do to take care of those desires and emotions? Why all this fretting about 'oh no, the bible doesn't say anything about sex toys, how will we ever know if we're allowed to use them or not?'"

A post I did for Libby Anne's blog:
I’m Really Really REALLY Glad I Had Sex Before Marriage "I can’t imagine how terrible it would have been for me to 'wait for marriage.' (For other people, it may be the right decision, but not for me.) To live in that fear and shame and depression for another two years, only to find out that sex isn’t that much of a big deal and there was nothing to be afraid of all along."

A few other posts I'm really proud of, even though they didn't get the most pageviews:

1. Runaway Radical: Radical Christian Missions "The point is to sacrifice so much that you're constantly in a state of crisis and you have to 'depend on God'- because some people in this world don't have clean water, so what makes you think you deserve to feel secure about getting all your needs met?"

2. The things I've never let myself say about worship "I raised my hands and yelled and danced, and I wasn't allowed to have feelings about the fact that a whole bunch of people at church could see me."

3. How Are Autistics Supposed To Know Which of Our Pain is Socially Acceptable To Express? "How am I supposed to know that, even though they expected me to go the whole damn day with my sock scratching me and I'm supposed to pretend I'm fine, now they're going to think something is wrong with me if I don't whine while getting blood drawn with a needle?"

4. You know that whole "white dress means virginity"? Yeah, not actually a real thing. "If you grow up in purity culture, it doesn't seem too far-fetched to imagine that a salesperson at a wedding dress store might ask about your virginity. But no, they did not. Of course they did not."

5. I Can't Write Wedding Vows Without Thinking About Divorce "But am I weird for thinking that way? It's certainly not part of the cultural narrative around weddings- apparently, the couple is supposed to be so high on their love for each other that they effortlessly make bold promises of eternal love as if it's no big deal, and divorce never even crosses their mind."

6. They Prayed About It (a post about the #NashvilleStatement) "Even the thought of taking a quiet moment to pray and ask for God's direction is triggering for me. Because of what he did. Because of how he took advantage of me."

Looking forward to another good year of blogging~ I have LOTS of good posts planned. :)

And here's a question for my readers: What topics do you want me to blog about more?

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edit: nooooooooo I just realized there are 14 posts here even though the title says 15, and as a math nerd I feel quite embarrassed about that. It's because earlier drafts had different numbers of links and I guess I didn't update the final count.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Blogaround

One of those desk-calendar things, that stands up by itself and has a spiral that the pages flip around. The page that's visible says "2018". Image source.
1. Erica Garner, daughter of police chokehold victim, dies at 27 in Brooklyn (posted December 30)

2. The “Pete Ruins Christmas” Series: the virgin shall conceive (posted December 20) "The point is that before the child is old enough to make moral choices, the Syro-Ephraimite siege will have come to and end."

3. Are Private Schools Immoral? (posted December 14) "We have a system where white people control the outcomes. And the outcome that most white Americans want is segregation. And I don’t mean the type of segregation that we saw in 1955. I don't mean complete segregation. I don't think there are very many white Americans who want entirely white schools. What they do want is a limited number of black kids in their schools."

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Blogaround

A corgi laying with a stuffed porg. Image source.
1. Female evangelical leaders call on church to speak out on violence against women (posted December 21) "Emily Joy, who created #ChurchToo with fellow artist Hannah Paasch, said sexual abuse is an “epidemic” in all spheres of life, but there’s an “added level of trauma” when it occurs within a religious environment."

2. USA Gymnastics paid Olympian McKayla Maroney $1.25 million to keep quiet about years of sex abuse (posted December 20)

3. How a former sharecropper in an SUV helped drive Doug Jones to victory in Alabama's Black Belt (posted December 14) "She says she simply will not allow anyone to fall through the cracks or avoid casting a ballot in Lowndes County, which has a long history of fighting for voting rights."

4. The True, Secret, Hidden Religious Meaning of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ (posted December 19) "We like the idea of knowing the true, secret, hidden meaning of things. Gnoing the gnosis makes us feel special — far more special than we could ever feel just from studying the actual history and context and intent of this initially bewildering old text."

5. Trump Administration Considers Separating Families to Combat Illegal Immigration (posted December 21)

6. Christmas Carols, generated by a neural network (posted December 20) "He was born in a wonderful christmas tree"

7. Redefining Events: Body Concept and Bodily Relationships for Cyborgs, Werewolves, Super-soldiers, and Other Altered Bodies (posted 2013) "Bruce [Banner], for example, has a not-worst-case-scenario RE [redefining event], but due to the dangerous and stigmatized nature of his AB [altered body], he spends most of his time coping with it alone, which impacts his ability to cope with these changes in a healthy way." Wowwwwww this is an analysis of the psychological effects of having one's body altered, with examples from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (Note, though, that this is applicable to real life too- for example, pregnancy is a pretty common experience which alters one's body.) Wow I am so glad I found this article because the topic is SO INTERESTING.

And also this fanfic about Captain America dealing with the psychological aftermath of torture: The Healing Properties of Felt-Tip Pens

And this one about Bruce Banner after the events of "The Avengers", dealing with topics of guilt, touch-aversion, and self-harm, featuring a romantic relationship between Bruce and Clint: The Care and Feeding of Lost Causes

8. NPU removes Pastor Judy Peterson (posted December 27) "By now many of you have heard the news that Rev. Judy Howard Peterson, North Park University’s campus pastor, has been removed from her position for officiating at a same-sex wedding last spring."

9. So the World Uses a Calendar That Starts with the Birth of Jesus (posted December 26)

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Welcome to China, Have a Christmas Eve Apple

An apple, along with several small boxes (the size to hold an individual apple). The boxes have images of Santa and Christmas trees and the words "平安果" (which I will translate as "Christmas Eve apple"). Image source.
Merry Christmas Eve everyone! On Friday at work, the company gave us all Christmas Eve apples. This is a tradition in China. Let me tell you about it.

First of all, you need to know that Chinese culture LOVES puns. For Chinese New Year, it's common to see decorations which have the character 福[fú] (which means happiness/ blessing/ good fortune) upside-down, because 福倒了[fú dào le] ("fu is upside-down") sounds like 福到了[fú dào le] ("happiness/ good fortune has come"). Every year has a different animal associated with it- when we were celebrating the year of the horse in 2014, there were puns EVERYWHERE about 马上[mǎ shàng], which means "about to happen" but if you take each character literally it means "on a horse." People would stick some money on a toy horse and be like "马上有钱" [mǎ shàng yǒu qián] which means either "money on a horse" or "getting money soon." And there are 12 different zodiac animals- new puns every year.

4 is an unlucky number because it's pronounced 四[sì] which sounds like 死[sǐ] which means death. And May 20 is a sort of unofficial Valentine's Day because 520 is 五二零[wǔ èr líng] which sounds like 我爱你[wǒ ài nǐ] which means "I love you." (Please note, though, that Hendrix thinks this 520 business is just silly, it's only been a thing for maybe 10 years, possibly made popular by the internet, whereas these other puns go way back to ancient China.)

My point is, Chinese culture loves puns.

And that brings us to Christmas Eve. In Chinese, Christmas Eve is called 平安夜[píng ān yè], which means "peaceful night" or maybe to get across the Christmassy meaning we should translate it as "silent night." And "apple" in Chinese is 苹果[píng guǒ]. So you see where this is going, right?

Anyway, so, you can buy apples individually packaged in cute little Christmas boxes. It is ADORABLE.

I searched the [English side of the] internet to see if I could find out when this tradition started. Found a bunch of articles about the fact that the Christmas Eve apple tradition exists, but nothing more detailed than what I've written in this post. But Hendrix guesses it started maybe about 10 years ago.

Merry Christmas Eve, and enjoy your apples~

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Blogaround

A cat peeking out of a box that's wrapped in Christmas wrapping paper. Image source.
1. Wil Wheaton Wears ‘Star Trek’ Uniform To ‘Star Wars’ FOR REAL (posted December 15)

2. Women often can't avoid men who sexually harass them — and men are using it against them (posted December 13) [content note: descriptions of sexual harassment] "Women who are subjected to unwanted sexual advances in the workplace say they can't afford to burn bridges and often wind up leaving a trail of friendly messages behind them — continued contact that men later produce as evidence to dispute their accounts and cast doubt on their credibility."

3. Conservative Evangelicals Have Shown Me Who They Really Are (posted December 14) "Like conservatism in general, American evangelism often centered around the individual — an individual conversion experience; an individual, personal relationship with Jesus Christ; individual sin; individual repentance. Racism, then, was always a personal failing, and one that, by and large, didn’t seem to matter in comparison to the horror of abortion or the perceived impending threat of same-sex marriage. Addressing racism was just never a priority in the churches we attended, or on the radio, or in the Christian music we listened to. That there could be a form of Christian faith that recognized these injustices never occurred to me."

4. Red and Yellow, Black and White: Evangelicals Miss a Wakeup Call on Race (posted December 14) "The campaign demonstrated no understanding of why people were upset, only a tone deaf insistence that using racial slurs was okay because Moore was quoting from a popular evangelical song."

5. When You Don’t Know What You Believe at Christmas (posted December 11) "I know that I have spent nearly a month holding virtual space for stories of abuse within churches, my own included, and the very churches implicated in these many threads are as we speak greening the vestibule and practicing their carols and preparing for Christmas pageants that tell a story that is, at its heart, about believing women."

6. Some notes and rules for a Christmas music playlist (posted December 15) "We will know the proper balance has been restored when it’s routine for someone to hear a song by, perhaps, the Clash or Bob Marley, and say, 'Hey, this sounds kind of ‘brought down the powerful from their thrones-ish,’ is this a Christmas song?'"

7. Two Couples Have Exchanged Vows in Australia's First Same-Sex Weddings (posted December 17) Hooray!

8. Perfect Number Watches VeggieTales "Josh and the Big Wall" (posted December 20) The "lesson" in this VeggieTales movie is EXTREMELY BAD.

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