Archive | May 2014

The Gospel for Those Who Love

[This was a creative writing assignment in a course on the synoptic gospels that I [Colleen Ryan] took during the 2013 fall semester with Dr. Kelly Wilson. Students were asked to write a 5-6 page gospel from a particular point of view and to a particular audience. I’m not particularly religious, but if I was this is the type of religion I’d be drawn to. I chose to write a gospel for an LGBT audience. After the course, the professor and I worked on refining the message so that it could be shared with others. Here’s the final product. -Colleen Ryan]

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The Gospel for Those Who Love

By Colleen Ryan & Kelly Wilson

In the beginning was love, and love was with God, and love was God. Love was in the beginning with God. In the spirit of that love, many couples began planning their nuptials, including Mary and Addison. Mary and Addison had been in love for over twenty-five years but never had the legal option of getting married until same-sex marriage was made legal in Minnesota. For the couple, walking down the aisle was not only a legal victory, but a personal one as well. About fifteen years before the wedding, Mary discovered she was pregnant; when Addison heard the news, she was ready to end the relationship and dismiss her quietly. That night, lying awake in her hotel room, Addison heard God’s voice. God informed Addison that Mary had been chosen by her to bear a son. God instructed Addison to name their son Jesus. The next day she returned to support the woman she loved.

Nine months later, while traveling in Florida, Mary went into labor. They immediately drove to the nearest hospital where they encountered hostility from the medical staff. The ER nurse told them the hospital did not treat their kind here. They left and encountered a nun who invited them back to her convent. Mary gave birth to a baby boy, named him Jesus, and raised him with the love of her life, Addison. Fast forward to September 2013, on a beautiful fall afternoon, Jesus was overjoyed to see the legal wedding of his two mothers in Minnesota.

In the months leading up to the statewide legalization of same-sex marriage, there were widespread protests citing its harmful effects it would have on traditional marriage. For the first time in Jesus’ life, he began hearing that his mothers were a detriment to society, children, and the institution of marriage. He heard that their marriage would threaten existing marriages between a man and a woman. Jesus was shocked and thought, “If only those people knew my moms, they would not say those things.” He took note of these protesters and tried to understand their motives. Seeing the pain they caused his moms, he realized his mission was to bring the message of love, compassion, and inclusivity to all.

After graduating from high school in Minnesota, Jesus ventured east to Georgetown University; he would study political science to help elect political candidates that supported same-sex marriage and equality for LGBT Americans. As the semester progressed, his roommate, Nathan, confessed he was struggling with his sexuality. While Nathan had always supported the LGBT community, he was angry and bitter once he realized that he, himself, was a gay man. He told Jesus that he did not believe he deserved to be happy and feared revealing this closely guarded secret to family and friends. Nathan continued to voice his frustrations about his sexuality, his fear of being rejected, and his desire to remain in the closet where he could hide from others and himself. He confessed he had turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism; he would get drunk to quiet the storm inside his head. Nathan admitted that even just saying the words “I’m gay” aloud still struck fear and shame in his heart.

As Jesus listened to Nathan, he remembered Claire, his friend from high school. He shared with Nathan her story of being mercilessly bullied and verbally abused to the point of wanting to commit suicide and how her friends lovingly reached out to her and helped her speak her truth without shame. He turned to Nathan, grabbed his hands, and said, “Nathan, what Claire realized, and what you will realize someday, is that your sexuality is a gift from God—you are made by God, and God doesn’t make mistakes.” Tears began to stream down Nathan’s face. “Will it ever get better?” he asked Jesus. “Nathan,” Jesus said, “both of my moms struggled to accept themselves when they were younger; they struggled with being open about their relationship, and look at them now. It will get better. You deserve to love and be loved by another, and I cannot wait to meet the man you want to spend the rest of your life with.” Nathan cracked a smile. “I’m serious,” Jesus said. Jesus’ compassion and acceptance led to Nathan becoming his first disciple. Nathan dropped his fear and self-hatred and followed Jesus. Throughout college, Jesus became friends with other gays, lesbians, and transgender students, along with straight allies, feminists, and religious classmates. This core group of diverse young acolytes would follow him beyond college, as his disciples, to help him promote his message of acceptance and love to all Americans.

As marriage equality legislation moved at a furious pace in state legislatures across the country, Jesus and his disciples traveled to Chicago to witness the first day of legal same-sex marriage in Illinois. When they arrived at city hall, they noticed people from the National Organization for Marriage, One Million Moms, the Family Research Council and other organizations picketing with signs that read “One Man + One Woman = Marriage,” “Marriage should be reinforced not redefined,” but the one that caught Jesus’ eye read, “Children need a mom and a dad.” He pointed it out to his moms and grabbed their hands. Others, standing in support of marriage equality carried signs that read “Love is Love,” “Gay Rights are Human Rights/Human Rights are Gay Rights,” and “Proud Child of Two Dads.”

As Jesus walked up the steps of city hall, some of the protesters shouted to Jesus, “This violates the natural order; God created Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve.” They expected Jesus to take up a sign in protest and stand alongside of them; instead, Jesus escorted loving and excited couples into city hall. When the protesters accused Jesus of supporting the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, he stopped, turned around at the top of the steps, and said, “You have heard it said that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for the sin of homosexuality, but I say to you, that story is about gang rape and a violation of ancient hospitality codes. It’s ironic, don’t you think, that your inhospitality of homosexuals is actually the sin of Sodom.” Being overcome with the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus continued, “You have heard it said, ‘If a man lies with a male as with a woman, they have committed an abomination,’ but I say to you, do you not understand that this same book tells you that eating shellfish and pork and trimming your beards is an abomination? You have heard it said, ‘Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another,’ but I say to you, Paul was writing to a completely different culture and had no concept of sexual orientation and therefore has a limited view of humans. We’ve learned a lot in the last 2,000 years, not only about humans but also about the world. Did you know that people argued that the sun revolved around the world because the Bible suggested that the earth is fixed?” A protestor shouted from the group, “It seems like you are picking and choosing from the Bible, Jesus.” Jesus replied, “You are correct, and so do you. Deuteronomy 21 says you should stone your children for disobeying you. Do you? 1 Peter 3 says you should not wear jewelry. Do you obey this? Deuteronomy 22 says that if a man rapes a woman then he must marry her. Do you agree? Matthew 19 suggests that you should sell all you have and give to the poor. Have you done this?”

Then Jesus gestured to the whole crowd and loudly proclaimed so that even those at the foot of the steps could hear, “After God created the first person, God stated, ‘It is not good for the human to be alone.’ Why, I ask, do you think LGBT people should be condemned to a life of loneliness because they do not love whom you think they should? Do you really think that the God who liberates people out of slavery in Egypt wants people enslaved to the confines of the closet? I say to you love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.” The crowd was stunned because Jesus was teaching with authority and compassion.

One day, when Jesus was visiting the sick in a Catholic hospital in Alabama, he came across a man dying of AIDS. The man’s partner of 30 years was denied access to his bedside. When Jesus questioned the hospital about this lack of compassion, the staff told him the man had committed a mortal sin. They brought Jesus to the man in order that he might pray for him. When Jesus entered the room and began to pray, the frail man opened his eyes. The man said, “I have not lived an especially religious life. I have not attended church in years, and at times have wavered in my beliefs.” The hospital staff rolled their eyes and groaned in a manner that revealed their obvious disgust. Jesus silenced the staff, looked at the man, and said, “My son, many have rejected you in the name of religion; therefore, it does not shock me that you have not found a home in church. These people around me want to judge you. In you they do not see a human being; they see a sexual act. They are misguided.” The man took Jesus’ hand, “My whole life I have been told by Christians that I am a sinner. Do you agree?” Jesus responded, “All people are sinners, my son, but you are not a sinner for loving and being loved by that man in the hallway. A wise man once said, ‘If you are pursuing God, who am I to judge?’ and I agree with him. Love God, and love that man in the hallway.” Jesus then instructed the hospital staff to allow this man’s partner to visit him. The staff, after witnessing his compassion, obeyed. Seeing Jesus’ understanding of his love for his partner, the man’s pain and suffering from the disease ceased. When the man touched his partner’s hand, tears streamed down both of their faces, and the staff truly saw the men for the first time and were able to witness their love.

After Jesus left the hospital, he asked his disciple Meredith what people were saying about him. Meredith said many believed he would become president and end suffering for LGBT people; others believed he was an activist bringing an end to the evil age of homophobia and transphobia. Jesus then asked Meredith, “Who do you say I am?” Meredith replied, “You are the messiah working to restore values of love, compassion, and inclusion to the country.” Jesus replied, “You are correct. This is not accomplished until every single LGBT person both young and old knows that they are a gift to the world and they deserve to love and be loved. This does not happen overnight. I will suffer, as will many of you. Hear me, love will conquer hate. But this does not happen by calling people bigots and engaging in heated debates; rather, we will overpower it with love. If a coworker calls you a fag, tell him he is acting out of fear. If a classmate calls you a dyke, remind her that she is created for a better purpose than dehumanizing her neighbors. If people work to strip you of your basic human rights, remind them of your humanity by treating them with respect.”

While he was traveling the country, those who did not accept LGBT people felt the growing threat of Jesus’ social and political engagement. When Jesus worked in Texas with the It Gets Better Project promoting acceptance among LGBT teens, a teen was bullied to the point of committing suicide. Enemies of Jesus conspired with law enforcement to frame him for the murder, and charge him with a capital offense. He was found guilty and was condemned to death after the jury was stacked with individuals who found him to be a growing threat.

On the evening he was scheduled to die, his disciples were unsuccessful in preventing the inevitable. After the Texas Supreme Court refused to grant a stay and the governor failed to grant clemency, despite pleas from both sides of the aisle, Jesus, his mothers, and his disciples gathered at the penitentiary for his last meal. As they sat down to eat, Jesus invited his prison guards to the meal. He took the bread, gave thanks, then gave it to his disciples, his moms, and his prison guards, and said, “Take this and eat. It is my body, which I will give up for you.” He then did the same with the wine. “This is my blood, which I will pour out for you and the many like you who have been oppressed for far too long. Do not ever turn people away from this table, for you know what it feels like to be turned away. This table should be a hallmark of inclusion. Other places will build walls to keep people out, but I say to you, make a meal and invite people in.”

When the clock struck midnight Jesus was escorted to the room where he would be put to death. As he was being strapped down to the table, the executioner prepared the syringes with the drug cocktail that would end his life. As this process was being completed, Jesus uttered his last words to his mothers, who were on their knees in tears. He said, “Forgive them, mothers, for they do not know what they’re doing.” Then, he turned his head to the crowd, and declared, “I’ll be with you always. Whenever you see love, compassion, and inclusion, I am there in your midst.” The executioner plunged the needle into his vein. With this, at 12:05 a.m., Jesus breathed his last.

His mothers and disciples left the prison together and drove home in utter silence. When they turned onto their street, Emmaus Road, they noticed that pastors, rabbis, imams, and over five hundred people had gathered alongside their street with candles singing, “We Are Called.” Remembering Jesus’ words from the table, his mothers knew their son was alive.

 

“We are Called”

Song by David Haas,

Verse 1: “Come! Live in the light! Shine with the joy and the love of the Lord! We are called to be light for the kingdom, to live in the freedom of the city of God!

Refrain: We are called to act with justice. We are called to love tenderly. We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.

Verse 2: Come! Open your heart! Show your mercy to all those in fear! We are called to be hope for the hopeless, so all hatred and blindness will be no more!

Verse 3: Sing! Sing a new song! Sing of that great day when all will be one! God will reign and we’ll walk with each other as sisters and brothers united in love!

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The Confidence Gap is Bullshit

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The latest theory developed to explain women’s lack of equality in the workplace is the “confidence gap.” In their book The Confidence Code, journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman argue women’s lack of confidence and belief in themselves is what is really holding us back from positions of power. Quite frankly, Kay and Shipman are way off the mark with this one. Confidence is not what is holding back women; institutionalized sexism is. Increased confidence cannot make up for the fact that women make $0.77 for every $1 men make. Women are nearly twice as likely (18% to 10%) to face discrimination in the workplace. Female entrepreneurs worldwide face greater obstacles to accessing the capital necessary to launch their businesses than their male counterparts. Women can still be fired for becoming pregnant and do not always have access to paid maternity leave. (My previous post addressed the lack of paid maternity leave in the US, the only industrialized country without it)

If a lack of confidence was holding women back, we wouldn’t need campaigns like Sheryl Sandberg’s “ban bossy.” Confident, authoritative women are seen in a negative light. This socialization stifling leadership qualities begins in elementary school, where female students are called on less and interrupted more. This persists throughout education to the point where women’s opinions are devalued to such an extent that they are viewed as no longer worth sharing.

Shipman and Kay’s confidence theory only further contributes to society’s belittlement of women, the same society that says employers can fire females for being too attractive (I’m looking at you, Iowa Supreme Court) and unpaid interns are not protected from sexual harassment because they are technically not employees. The message being sent by our current society is one that does not value the full dignity and autonomy of women as human beings. No amount of confidence can counteract that. Women can more effectively achieve equality by calling attention to these forms of ingrained sexism and working to change them. Change can begin to take place once we have paid maternity leave, raise the minimum wage, and have unrestricted access to reproductive health services. While some women, as well as some men, lack confidence which holds them back, categorizing all women as lacking confidence only harms our chances of gaining economic equality. It’s time we stop pushing these self-help theories developed predominantly by wealthy, white women, and start working to eliminate barriers to economic independence.

 

For further feminist reading debunking the confidence gap:

It’s Not the ‘Confidence Gap’ – Here’s What’s Really Holding Women Back by Elizabeth Plank (another favorite feminist of mine)

10 Ways Society Can Close the Confidence Gap by Soraya Chemaly

The Female ‘Confidence Gap’ is a Sham by Jessica Valenti

The Hypocrisy of the Pro-Life Movement

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Snapshot of the opposing sides of abortion (Image via rawstory.com)

There are few political labels I dislike more than that of “pro-life” applied to those who oppose abortion. Abortion was established as a fundamental right for women by the Supreme Court in 1973 with Roe v Wade. 41 years later, the war on abortion access is still raging. Over the past three years, there has been in a surge in the number of abortion restrictions passed in state legislatures throughout the country. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a leading advocate for reproductive rights, 22 states passed restrictive abortion measures last year; these restrictions included bans before women would know they are pregnant (typically 6 week bans), increased regulation of the doctors and clinics that provide the procedure (such as unnecessary ultrasounds, doctors needing hospital admitting privileges nearby, and waiting periods), limits on the use of medication abortions, and insurance coverage bans on the procedure. 43 state abortion restrictions were passed in 2012 and 92 were passed in 2011.

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Texas has been leading the way in eliminating women’s access to abortion care. In spite of Wendy Davis’ famous filibuster that ultimately launched her gubernatorial bid, legislation banning abortions after 20 weeks and requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals became law. Currently, there are just 24 abortion clinics in Texas, down from 44 in 2011; when the law takes full effect in September there will be just 6 clinics providing abortion in the entire state of Texas. 

The situation is more dire in Mississippi as the fate of the last remaining abortion clinic will be determined by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Jackson Women’s Health Organization has two doctors fly in from out of state to provide abortion care. Like Texas, Mississippi law requires providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. So far, the two doctors have been denied privileges at 13 hospitals.

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Mississippi’s last remaining abortion clininc in Jackson, MS (image via NPR)

Proponents of legislation requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic say it is in the interest of the patients. The truth of the matter is that, statistically speaking, abortions are safer than carrying a pregnancy to term. A 2012 study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology revealed the maternal mortality rate of a full-term pregnancy to be 8.8 per 100,000. The risk of death connected to abortion was found to be 0.6 deaths per 100,000 women. In other words, a woman is 14 times more likely to die by carrying a pregnancy to term than having an abortion. This is not pro-life.

Other states have been much more ambitious in limiting abortion access. Several states are fans of using outdated FDA regulations from when abortion was first approved. Unsurprisingly, Texas is one of these states. 14 states mandate a patient can only take medication abortion in a doctor’s office in the presence of the physician. This restriction disproportionately affects rural and impoverished women, those most in need of uninhibited access to abortion. North Dakota successfully passed a “fetal heartbeat” bill that banned abortions starting at 6 weeks, before the majority of women know they are pregnant. This law was struck down by the U.S. District Court, ruling, “A woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before viability has been recognized by the United States Supreme Court for more than 40 years. The United States Supreme Court has clearly determined the dispositive issue presented in this lawsuit.”

On the national level, the GOP-controlled House has tried repeatedly to ban federal funding for abortion since 2010. The infamous “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” would have banned all insurance plans in the Affordable Care Act marketplace from covering abortion, force small businesses to pay extra taxes for offering health insurance that included abortion coverage to their employees, and eliminate the ability to charge abortion as a medical expense under IRS codes unless in cases of rape, incest, or maternal health. Essentially, the IRS would get to determine what constituted rape and incest by auditing victims for potential tax fraud.

Let’s be clear. Just because women have the anatomy to have children doesn’t mean we want to or have to have them. We should be cautious not to create a hierarchy of humanity based on who does and doesn’t reproduce. 52% of Americans support at least some form of legal abortion. As Jessica Valenti rightly puts it, “what anti-choicers don’t understand – and almost never reflect in their policy or prose – is that pregnancy, abortion and birth are too complicated for assigning strict moral designations, let alone to legislate.”

The hypocrisy in this “pro-life” movement is that they are not always pro-life; they are pro-birth. Opponents of abortion tend to oppose contraception access and comprehensive sexual education in schools, two policies that would decrease the abortion rate. They rail against the killing of unborn babies, but are curiously silent when the baby is born. The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not provide mothers with paid maternity leave; instead employers can legally fire women for being pregnant.

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Image via Huffington Post

So long as pro-lifers are going to force women to have these children, we must have the economic mechanisms in place so they are not relegated to a life of poverty. If anti-abortion activists truly were pro-life, there would be more widespread support for Senator Tom Harkin’s Fair Minimum Wage Act to raise the rate to $10.10/hour, as women comprise nearly two-thirds of the minimum wage workforce. If anti-abortion activists truly were pro-life, there would be overwhelming support for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s comprehensive Opportunity Plan to provide paid family leave, raise the minimum wage, provide universal pre-K, affordable child care, and equal pay for women.

If men were the ones giving birth, would we really still be having this debate 41 years later? If you don’t think voting matters, just remember this wave of attacks on women’s reproductive rights began after the surge of Tea Party candidates won in 2010, and we can vote them out in November.

Feminist is Not a Dirty Word

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“I’m not a feminist, but…” is a phrase that makes those of us that identify as feminists cringe, while also realizing we have a long way to go with the movement. The majority of individuals uttering this phrase are women. They often preface it with a very feminist argument, such as, “I’m not a feminist, but I believe in equal rights.” Feminists helped paved the way for many of the freedoms women enjoy today. This leads me to wonder, why are so many women so reticent to call themselves feminists? Easy answer: Rush Limbaugh and his “feminazi” campaign. Feminist icon Gloria Steinem denounced this disparaging term, while exposing Limbaugh’s historical ignorance stating, “Hitler came to power against the strong feminist movement in Germany, padlocked the family planning clinics, and declared abortion a crime against the state – all views that more closely resemble Rush Limbaugh’s.”

Actress Shailene Woodley is the latest in a long line of female celebrities coming out against the word feminist. Woodley said she is not a feminist because she loves men and does not want to take the power away from men. Her misunderstanding of the core principles of feminism is not surprising; the word “feminist” often conjures images of man-hating, bra-burning, hairy legged lesbians. Truth is, we feminists come in all shapes and sizes: white, black, Hispanic, gay, straight, bisexual, single, and married. At our core, we believe in equality of the sexes; feminism does not seek to reverse the patriarchal culture by subordinating men to female power.

Feminists won the right for women to vote in 1920, legal access to contraception (1965) and abortion (1973), criminalize marital rape (1993), brought issues such as rape and domestic violence into the public sphere, and continue to fight for equal pay. So the next time you say you’re not a feminist, understand that you are not supporting the aforementioned rights you now enjoy.

With this blog, I hope to dispel common misnomers surrounding the feminist movement and address current events involving women’s rights. Feminism is not just for women. As John Legend puts it, “All men should be feminists. If men care about women’s rights, the world will be a better place.”

We should all be feminists, because who wouldn’t want to be associated with a movement that includes badasses like Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton, and my personal favorite, Jessica Valenti?