Do I really want to add something to the Duck Dynasty Fiasco?

Prolegomena:  This whole ordeal has very little to do with the First Amendment.  Freedom of Speech refers to the government’s role in censorship.  Phil should be able to say what he believes as he speaks from his own ideology and experience, and A&E should be able to suspend him if they believe it’s in their company’s best interest.

Next, the Robertsons will be just fine.  I don’t write this because I feel any pressure to defend Phil.  (Nor do I think he feels he needs defending, as if he’s a martyr or a victim of persecution in some significant way).  In fact, I think the whole idea that a gritty, backwoods, wildman needs the conservative masses to come to his defense from the so-called “liberal media” is kind of laughable.  It seems he’d be happy to get back to whatever redneck life he lived before any of this went down.

But after observing numerous Facebook threads, and reading several articles both attacking and defending Phil (including the original GQ story), I do believe there are some significant things at stake.

First, I want to make it clear that whether or not I agree with Phil about any of the things he said, I can be certain that I would not have said things the way he said them.  Anytime a Christian is going to articulate a belief, especially one dealing with an issue as charged as sexuality, it’s important we choose our words carefully.  The particularities of any religious belief system or ideology can be divisive and yes, even offensive.  But it’s important that one doesn’t add to that offense by being unnecessarily crude or shocking.  Perhaps part of what made Phil’s remarks so inflammatory was that he seemed somewhat flippant, and I can understand how that was off-putting.  However, many of the things he said would have angered people no matter how he said them (Are we not aware that ideological differences exist in this country?).

However, certainly much of Phil’s discourse was simply his iteration of what he believes to be orthodox teachings of the Christian faith, and while many today do not identify with that version of Christianity, to deny that it represents a widely held and historically orthodox interpretation of Scripture is to be dishonest to one’s faith tradition.  This article in a “liberal” media outlet (The Atlantic) makes a cogent point, and it’s an important read for liberals and conservatives alike.  Here’s the thrust:

Instead of acknowledging this tension, however, A&E, GLAAD, and their supporters have responded with disingenuous expressions of shock and horror.  And it matters that it’s disingenuous, because if they actually acknowledged that there is a genuine conflict between orthodox Christianity and homosexual sex (along with several forms of heterosexual sex) they would have to confront head-on the fact that calling for a boycott or pressuring for Robertson’s suspension tells orthodox Christians that their religion is no longer acceptable, and that’s not a very politically correct thing to do. Right now, they are trying to weasel out of it by characterizing Robertson as a backwoods bigot who takes his moral cues from Deliverance rather than from a straightforward reading of the Bible and the historic teachings of the Christian religion.

Phil did not articulate a marginal or fringe view of sexuality that can be dismissed as lunacy.  Let’s just be honest about that.

Furthermore, as many have pointed out, Phil’s comments on sexuality were not the only things that contributed to the firestorm.  The GQ story also quoted Phil on his experience in the Deep South during the Jim Crow era.  Now, I’ve come to realize that there’s an experience and narrative about race in the Deep South that I know nothing about.  I’ve heard from persons of color and white folks alike that if you’re not from the South, then there are things you just simply won’t “get.”  It seems Phil’s comments belong to that world, so I’ll leave judgment to those who might actually have a clue what he’s talking about.

But to that point, Phil’s comments aren’t too unlike something eminent bioethicist Leon Kass discovered during his time in Mississippi in 1965, from which he reflects: “I came back from this place with this conundrum: Why was there more honor, goodness and decency in these unschooled black farmers than I found in my fellow graduate students at Harvard, whose enlightened and liberal opinions I shared?”  See link.

Nevertheless, I see how Phil’s interpretation of race relations in that time shows a lack of awareness for the wider context of race in America, and his off-hand dismissal of racial struggle today was, again, not helpful.  But here’s the rub, this whole situation has highlighted a dangerous reality about the way we disregard each other nowadays:  We are at a point where if someone contributes to a conversation and shows themselves to be under-nuanced, ignorant, or old-school in some way, then we can rightly brand them a bigot, a racist, a homophobe, a wolf in camo-clothing, etc.

I constantly see this among my peers, many of whom were colleagues in college and graduate school or are now working in ministry or higher-ed.  Congratulations to all of us!  We learned the language of social justice and reconciliation while at school.  We learned to be critical of evangelicalism and conservative politics, and we now get to show the world how educated, diplomatic, and socially aware we are!  We are privileged to use words like “privilege” and “systemic injustice.”  And because of this, we get to stand at the Temple gates, thanking God we are not like those ignorant, backwoods, bigoted sinners.

I hope we see the irony in all of this.  Not only does it betray the values we allegedly espouse (but isn’t this justified, for the oppressive patriarchy does not fall under the category of enemies I might be called to love?), but it is also essentially a power ploy – precisely the kind of power we are called to lay down – power that can silence and marginalize those we might classify as “other.”

I’m speaking to my generation, my peers here.  If we haven’t noticed, among other young, educated, so-called post-evangelical Christians, the social and professional rewards for being progressive, moderate, or even simply well-spoken, are now greater than those of regular conservatives (I speak from my own observations here, where I see far more “likes” and cyber pats-on-the-back when someone asserts a progressive ideal as opposed to a traditional one.  And certainly the rewards in higher-ed slant progressive, except in the case of ultra-conservative private institutions).  What was once cutting edge, emergent, daringly critical Christianity is now the status quo for millenials.  I withhold judgment about whether that’s good or bad, but we do need to be honest about the power dynamics now in play, and thus dialogue responsibly and respectfully.  Being harsh and dismissive towards conservatives in the name of “justice and concern for the marginalized” is still harsh and dismissive – and it conveys the same spirit and tone of those who dismiss the poor, or the gay, or the immigrant, etc.

To me, that’s what’s at stake.  In Miraslov Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace he makes the point that there’s very little that keeps marginalized groups from becoming just like their former oppressors once the power has shifted.  If we are not aware of that dangerous tendency within ourselves, and if we haven’t honestly asked Christ to make space within ourselves for receiving the other, then our cycles of judgment, marginalization, and exclusion will continue.  Currently, it seems we’re cool with that.

Hudson’s Home Birth: A Father’s Narrative

I woke to the shower running and the lamp next to the bed still shining.  It was 11:30 pm and I’d been asleep for an hour.

“Jared, you need to start timing these,” Caitlyn said as she moved from the shower to the birthing tub; and with exhaustion still clinging to that space behind my eyes, I began watching the clock as I listened for my wife’s gasps and groans.  Three minutes apart.

By midnight the decision to call the midwife was settled.  We both spoke to Katie, our midwife, and received a few last instructions, which, in the beauty of homebirth and midwifery, amounted to, “Make yourselves comfortable – this is your time for intimacy and solitude.”  And, “Oh, do you have half and half for coffee or should we bring our own?”

It would be an hour before the apprentice-midwife, Serena, arrived, and another half hour before Katie and her doula, Anne, arrived.  In the meantime I attended to a few other details in the house, and sat quietly with Caitlyn while she labored in the warm tub.

The night was pitch black and unusually cold for early May.  Anomalous snow fell furiously to our southeast, but the commute of our midwives was undisturbed.  The house was silent as our daughters slumbered in their sheets.  Our room was lit by bedside lamps and wonderfully warm with the humidity of the laboring tub.  Caitlyn sat in the water, heroic and more beautiful than she’s ever been.  This is our home and this is our room.  This is where our baby enters the world.

Serena softly knocked at the front door, bringing with her the chill of that frigid spring night.  In our bedroom she moved about like a wisp, a gentle spirit, arranging towels and blankets in preparation for the birth.

I met Katie and Anne at the door shortly before 2 a.m.  After pointing them to the coffee and tea, we all nestled into our bedroom.  We are Caitlyn’s team: Katie’s strong, bare arms monitoring baby’s heart rate and mother’s vital signs – her strong voice offering confidence and leadership.  Serena’s gentleness providing peace and reassurance.   Anne’s ease and dignity working quietly in the shadows of our dark room.  I kneel beside the tub, breathing in rhythm with my wife, rubbing her hair and neck.

“I can’t do this,” she whispers to me, without lifting her head from the edge of the tub.  The words don’t startle me.  We know she will come to this place.  The place where she recognizes that the pain and effort is more than she can give.  And then she gives it anyway.  This is the untapped strength and force of motherhood.  This is childbirth.

Shortly after 3 a.m. Katie encourages Caitlyn takes a short walk to the bathroom and then the bed to change positions for a bit.  After a few more contractions Caitlyn agrees.  At the bed they check and she is 7 centimeters.  I give Katie a high-five before helping Caitlyn back towards the tub.  She pauses midway for another contraction, and then steps into the birthing tub.

I maintain the position that no laboring woman can ever be judged for their exclamations or expressions during childbirth; there’s just no telling what words and sounds may come.  Seconds after Caitlyn returns to the tub she stands to her feet in a panic and screams a scream unlike anything I’ve ever heard.  It’s a sound of fierce terror and pain, the kind that makes even the owls in the forest bury their heads in their wings.  She shrieks, “What’s happening to me!” Without hesitation, we all surround the tub like ministers at a baptism.

“It’s okay Caitlyn, it’s your baby.  Baby is coming.”  Katie’s words are matter-of-fact.  This is what she does.  She delivers babies.

Another scream like there’s a stabbing taking place, and I look towards our door for fear that our girls will enter at any minute, awoken by a scene they won’t soon forget.  He gives to his beloved sleep – Psalm 127:2.  On this particular night, they sleep.

We coax Caitlyn from her standing position, but are left supporting her as she squats and leans back.  I hold her hands from the front while Anne and Serena support her back.  “You’re safe, Caitlyn,” Serena reassures.

Katie maneuvers to feel baby’s head and birth position.  Another scream.  After the next contraction Katie encourages Caitlyn to position herself on her hands and knees.  Caitlyn agrees.  Baby’s head is out but chin and shoulders haven’t cleared.  Caitlyn pushes and screams again with a strength I know nothing about, and then instinctively reaches down for her baby and pulls him from the water toward her chest.

“It’s a boy!” She yells as she settles against the wall of the tub, leaning her head back and drinking deeply of the love and euphoria shared by mother and baby in natural birth.

***

DSC_6128He was born at 3:36 am on May 2, 2013, in our bedroom.

He was born directly into his mother’s arms and onto her chest.

He was born somewhere between Iron and Wine’s ‘Sodom South Georgia’ and The Album Leaf’s ‘Window’ on our labor playlist.

He was born when the waters of the Little Fork River overran its banks as our snowy spring melted away, and those waters wandered toward that great northern bay with which he shares a name.

He was born into a warm tub, filled with his mother’s tremendous effort and love, his father’s encouragement and joy.

***

Dads are tertiary during childbirth, but nowhere are they more embraced and empowered than in the home.  I was encouraged to be Caitlyn’s most intimate ally and our baby’s unbridled advocate.  While Caitlyn received postpartum care, I held our baby to my body and warmed his pink, wet skin with my chest.  His head rested perfectly beneath my chin and our hearts thumped towards each other’s through layers of bone and flesh.  A few moments ago I knew him only as the lump of life in my wife’s womb.  Now he is my son and I hold him close.

There’s a point during Caitlyn’s postpartum care where she needs an IV.  The midwives and doula are busy at her side.  She is pale and weak and fades into the sheets like sinking into water.  I glance at the clock.  It’s almost 6:30 and the girls could be awake at any moment.  Again, it’s not a scene I wish to greet them with in the morning.  But again, they sleep.

The girls sleep for another hour, a miracle in its own right, and when they do wake up they’re ushered into a room glowing with soft morning light.  We are calm and happy.  When the night began we were a family of four; now we are five, and we pile into the bed to share our warmth and joy.  Sophi curiously brushes his cheek while Aleah stares into his face with her dazzling blue eyes.  We are hugging and laughing.  We are in our home together.DSC_6146

***

It’s Sunday now, and I write this after dozing on our bed in the morning sunlight, my son on my chest and my wife sleeping peacefully beside us.  All is silent except for the breath that tumbles from Hudson’s nose across my skin, and the occasional drumming of the grouse’s wings in the woods beside our house; a sound that accompanied our entire labor and continues to provide cadence to our story.

We’re often tempted to think that our life is the sum of what we do.  It’s our action and advocacy, our education and vocation, our going and showing.  But what about this moment on our bed in the stillness of the morning, with my wife and new child resting like leaves on quiet water?  Is this just a break from the real thing, or isn’t this the real thing?  Life feels more vibrant now than it ever has.

How Both Sides have a lot to Gain, and we all have a lot to lose…

[Note: Please read comment thread for important clarifications and dialogue.]

Behind every sarcastic meme or inflammatory facebook rant is a real person who perhaps spent a lot of time settling into his or her beliefs.  And in front of every sarcastic meme or inflammatory facebook rant is a real person who is perhaps deeply hurt by what they read.  Remember that.

The recent bout of activism, anti-activism (or shall we combine these into a single term, “slacktivism”) on the facebook and blogosphere regarding the Supreme Court case seeking to overturn DOMA and prop 8 has caused a lot of frustration.

Now, being that I’m a pastor in a traditionally conservative denomination, you might assume my frustration is due to the vocal and visible acts of advocacy for LGBT rights, most recently symbolized by a red equal sign in place of peoples’ profile pictures.  That assumption would be wrong.

And if I’m not angry at the pro-LGBT folks, then my frustration must be at the reaction from the conservative folks who started posting anti-memes or strips of bacon or red crosses instead of equal signs.  They bit the bait; they drew their lines in the sand; they marked their territory.  Or at least they made jokes. If that’s not what facebook is for then I don’t know what is.

In reality, the whole scene was rather disheartening, and has been for quite some time.  The recent “equal sign” campaign was one more experiment showing how good we are at reducing issues to the simplest, and thus least nuanced or sensitive talking points, so that when our opponents disagree, we can – with the wave of a hand or the click of a meme – show them to be ignorant, bigoted, or destined for hell.

And we do this because we have a lot to gain in doing so.  If we can reduce the marriage debates to slogans like, “It’s about love!” or “Equality for all!” then we can prove to ourselves that those who disagree are clearly anti-love and anti-equality.  This is great news, because if they are anti-love and anti-equality, then I don’t have any obligation to listen to them, or consider why they may have come to the conclusions they’ve come to.  In a way, I get to dehumanize them.  Because after all, that’s what they’re doing.

But when we do this, we ignore the very real possibility that our opponents have come to their conclusions through a lot of tears and anguish.  A lot of real conversations with real people full of real pain.  Perhaps a lot of prayer, and maybe even a trepidatious searching of the Scriptures.  Or they might have come to their conclusions because they happen to disagree with you about what makes for good social policy or American jurisprudence.  Oh yah, there’s always that.

But the other side has a lot to gain by reducing the conversation as well.  If we can show that our opponents celebrate complete amorality, or are entirely anti-God, or blindly ignorant of Scripture, then we are able to reassure ourselves that we have no reason to listen to them.  Why would I listen to someone who tossed their moral compass in the creek at the last fundy youth camp they ever attended?  Why would I listen to someone who is so blatantly against family values and so sadistically violent toward Scripture?  They don’t deserve the dignity of a conversation.

And when we do this, we ignore the very real possibility that our opponents have come to their conclusions through a lot of tears and anguish.  A lot of real conversations with real people full of real pain.  Perhaps a lot of prayer, and maybe even a trepidatious searching of the Scriptures.  Or they might have come to their conclusions because they happen to disagree with you about what makes for good social policy or American jurisprudence.  Oh yah, there’s always that.

So yes, each side has a lot to gain by reducing the conversation to red equal signs and crosses.  We get to end the conversation right there, we get to be right.  That just feels good.

But we all have a lot to lose.

More than One Way to be a Woman

An odd title for a post written by a man, I know.  But this post comes after years of conversations with my wife, and was spurred by an editorial that appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune a few weeks ago.  In the article Elaine Gale reflects on her experience as a feminist in the face of a heartbreaking miscarriage.  She writes:

I now had the experience of my own biological power as a female. I knew I would likely trade my two decades of focused toiling on a successful career for the ability to carry a healthy baby to term and raise a biological child with my beloved husband.

I knew, for sure, that I wanted to be a mother. And not just to check it off some list.

Instead, I was faced with the inability to do the one thing I was genetically built to do as a woman.

Feminism was always going on and on about the importance of having choices. But I found that my biological choice to have a child was snatched away from me while I was being liberated.

The place of healing, for her, came with a renewed sense of the feminine: the nurturing, life-giving force that grows deep in the hearts of women.  She ends with this insight:

Can you be devoted to Feminism and the Feminine at the same time? I guess you could say I’ve become a Feminine-ist. That extra syllable changed everything.

When women get pregnant, it is the Feminine nurturing us and connecting us with the essential life force on the planet. But when we take a maternity leave, it is because of Feminism’s hard work that we have that opportunity.

When I read that article I immediately thought of my wife.  I guess you could say she’s a feminist; she values equity and fair opportunity for women.  She gets sincerely irked by off-hand sexist jokes and doesn’t ever pretend they’re harmless or cute.  In college she carried a double major (History, Biblical and Theological Studies), and for her senior history thesis she researched the changing roles of women in WWII, inspired by their strength to succeed at “man’s work” while the men were off at war.  She played college hockey and soccer, and even now she’s the only girl who gets invited to play pick-up hockey with my college buddies at the neighborhood rinks.  She skates with the boys.  She got game.

But here’s what’s been so frustrating for her at times in her life:  Unless you know her really well, you may never sense her feminist impulse because, at a glance, she seems so…girly.  She’s given birth to two kids and raises them well.  She really enjoys crafting and sewing.  She loves flowers.  She’s a wizard with the mixing bowl and spatula – her desserts are well known in our apartment hallway.  She admits, it’d be great if she had lofty corporate aspirations or wanted to go to school for 7 more years for a PhD, but she doesn’t.

She’s a feminist, but in most ways, she’s simply feminine.  And her femininity might make it appear like she’s oblivious to the culturally conditioned gender roles and stereotypes that feminists rail against.  But she’s not oblivious.  She knows what it means to be a woman.  She knows the importance of choice and freedom. And she’s free to choose to be feminine.

Liberation movements in their many forms are important for society; they critique the status quo and chip away at structures that oppress.  But like any power movement, they run the risk of becoming just like their oppressors: Excluding and silencing the voices of anyone not “like us.”  Does feminism as a liberation movement have room for feminists, like my wife, who choose to be feminine? It better.

A Few Changes

As some of you might already know, my wife and I started another blog that will feature our gardening and sewing interests.  That blog can be found at HeSowedSheSewed.com.

Some of you have enjoyed this blog primarily because of my gardening essays; if that’s the case, you might want to become a reader of He Sowed She Sewed.  And if you have even a mild interest in sewing or re-using old clothes, then by all means, jump over to that site.

Consequently, this blog won’t feature as many of my gardening/composting contributions.  I’ll hold the Birdseed Desk for my more organized essays, usually involving theology or contemporary issues or some combination of the two.  I hope you continue to enjoy the Birdseed Desk, and please check out the new one too!

Winter Compost

I love harsh winters and treacherous blizzards and snow-covered landscapes.  But the frozen world of the north can be hard for gardeners and composters.  So….

I contributed another composting piece for my friend, Tonia, over at Itty Bitty Impact, and it’s all about composting in the winter.  Check it out.

 

Why I’m Not a Grinch Anymore: A Reflection on the Incarnation

Obviously I’m not trying to be unique when I say Christmas is my favorite holiday.  I love snow and twinkling lights and I get warm-fuzzies when I look at Normon Rockwell paintings of people ice-skating on quaint ponds with bright red scarves and rosy cheeks.  This season turns me into the most kitschy, nostalgic sap on the planet.  And I’m okay with that.  I really love Christmas.

 

But I’m also not naïve, and as I’ve grown up I’ve realized the Christmas that gives me those warm-fuzzies isn’t very closely related to the holiday that’s supposed to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Incarnation of God.  The religious Christmas and the secular Christmas both happen to fall on the same day, but they celebrate two very different, perhaps contradictory things.  Sure, if we try really hard we can convince ourselves that buying lots of stuff and eating large meals is a perfectly meaningful way to celebrate Christ’s coming, but it’s a stretch.

 

Darn, there I go being grinchy.  I thought this post was supposed to be about why I’m not going to be a grinch this year?  What was I getting at?

 

Oh yah…so it should also be obvious that I’m not trying to be unique when I rag on the consumerist, materialistic bonanza that Christmas has become.  I’m not the first person that’s been troubled by this, and you don’t have to be St. Francis to realize that Black Friday and doorbusters and evergreen trees surrounded by boxes don’t point us to Jesus.

 

Consequently, throughout the last several years it’s been difficult for me to truly celebrate the great Christian holidays (Christmas and Easter) because I’ve been so bothered by the secularization thing.  What does a stocking hung by the chimney with care have to do with the Virgin Birth?  What do a bunny and a basket have to do with the Resurrection?  These are real questions, and as a young husband and father I’ve been trying to figure out how my family is going to celebrate these holidays in a way that honors their true significance.

 

And while I was busy figuring this out, I forgot to marvel at the God lying there in the manger; I forgot to rejoice at the empty tomb.

 

This is a big problem.  In my effort to reclaim the true meaning of the Christian holidays I had, in fact, ceased to celebrate them.

 

As I reflect on it now it seems so silly: I’m all bothered that our celebrations ignore and contradict the religious events that propagated them; so instead, I’ll spend all my energy worrying about how everyone is doing it wrong.  God came to earth and then defeated death, and now this same God needs me to be all grouchy about the way people spend their money.

 

Don’t get me wrong, as someone passionate about theology and Christian ministry, I care deeply about who the church is and what the church does.  In fact, I spend a lot of my time pondering the ways we can more faithfully follow the Christ we profess.  I want to be an effective Christian minister and participate in communities that earnestly follow Jesus, thus I’m motivated by our potential to be different, to be better witnesses to the God we worship.  The way we celebrate these holidays is one of those areas we can be better.

 

But like I said, whether my energy this Christmas is wasted on Best Buy’s latest sale or wasted on how badly I want to kick everyone in the head who waits outside Best Buy for that sale, it’s wasted nonetheless. It just doesn’t make sense, in light of the Incarnation, to feel such pressure to fix everything that’s wrong with Christmas.  That’s kind of the point of the Incarnation of God – we were having trouble fixing anything, so Jesus came and fixed it for us.  This is a truly liberating reality, and it’s helped me enjoy this season so much more.

 

I love Christmas.  I really love it.  And this year I will pour myself a cup of coffee and sit by the window while it snows and turn on Pandora’s Christmas station…and be happy.  Christ has come, and Christ will come again.