Monday, November 29, 2010

Sojourners

Unbeknownst to me, Sojourners magazine's December issue covers the story of birthing in today's world.  I would encourage the read of some of the articles here.  You will have to register to read, but it's a free registration.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Birth



I have never been nor am I pregnant.  But, the Christmas season seems to bring lots of thoughts about pregnancy and childbirth for me.  (See last year's post.)  As I am 26, I am right in the thick of friends having children.  Some friends adopt, but most do not.  As such, Josh and I are constantly surrounded by stories of pregnancy, birth, and childrearing.  We enjoy this because it's real life, meaning that our friends don't just look like mirror images of ourselves.  They are experiencing different things, and for that, we are very grateful.  

I attended a panel on "Technology and Childbirth" at Boston University in 2009.  It was a very informal panel, and I found it rather fascinating.  In the panel, one of the doctors referred to a documentary he was in, The Business of Being Born.  I went home and watched it.  Today, I re-watched it with Josh because I referred to it in conversation last week when friends mentioned they were having a home birth with a midwife in about a month's time.  (FYI, this movie is on Netflix instant and I highly recommend the watch.)  This is the first home birth of friends (that I know of) and it has renewed my interest on the subject.

There are so many issues that are highlighted by this movie, so I will not summarize them all.  But, one major theme that has stuck with me since the first time I watched it is the idea that birth is often treated as a pathology by the medical community, meaning that it needs to be fixed like a disease.  Instead, the midwifery and natural birth communities believe that birth is usually better off when it is left to progress naturally without medical intervention.  Of course, midwives are grateful that hospitals exist for when they are needed.  But, they propose that most hospital settings are not the best environment for birth.  Moreover, there are studies that show that unnecessary interventions are taken in hospitals for multiple reasons, including but not limited to 1) doctor schedules 2) doctor certification which requires that they perform minimum numbers of certain procedures, 3) teaching hospitals where interventions are a teaching opportunity, and 4) an antiquated gestational calendar.  (Not all of these were in the movie, but are from the panel.)  Of course, there is major reform needed in the area of malpractice insurance, because most doctors will be sued for not doing a C-section as opposed to doing an unnecessary one.  Yes, the American people are at fault for being too sue-happy.  

All of this big mess taken into consideration, I would love to see Christian women leading the way for healthy, informed, natural birthing options.  Of course, we do not want to create a backlash so that if a woman chooses a scheduled or highly-medical hospital birth she is judged.  But instead, we want to set women up for the most possible success, which comes through education, options, and empowerment.  

As a total sidenote, I am flabbergasted that the 40 week gestational calendar is still used.  Isn't it time to come up with a new one?  For one, it is based on the last period, and it does not take into account that some women ovulate significantly later than 14 days after their period.  As such, it sets those women up for a rough "due date" experience.  In addition, studies have shown that 40 weeks since the last period is actually a bit too short, regardless of the time of ovulation.  Shouldn't the gestational calendar be a bit more sophisticated?  

Thoughts?  As a non-birther and non-medical professional, I would love to hear input on the documentary as well as personal stories about pregnancy and birth.  

Thursday, November 18, 2010

In & Out: Part 3

Austin Scarlett 2 Shankbone Metropolitan Opera 2009photo © 2005 David Shankbone | more info (via: Wylio)

My senior year at NYU, I was pretty well versed in LGBT issues.  I had taken classes, gone to events, and learned to genuinely love people who were gay.  As a result, I felt pretty darn good about my gaydar skills.  (Gaydar might be worthy of it's own post sometime in the future.)

But then, I went to a party.  It was a small party, which meant I liked it and stayed a long time.  I didn't know anyone other than the host, so I ended up meeting an NYU student who I assumed was gay.  I was trying to think of how to describe him to you, but the best thing I can do is say that he was eerily similar to Austin Scarlett (pictured above), the former Project Runway contestant.  So I felt completely confident in my assumption that he was gay.  But, as the night wore on, we had an amazing conversation and at some point, while talking, it became clear that I had assumed he was gay.  He handled it very gracefully, but told me that he was in fact very straight.  Our conversation then turned to the issue of sexuality and we had an amazing conversation about his experiences as a straight flamboyant man.  (That even feels funny to write.)  Turns out it was hard for him (surprise) because he didn't fit the mold, for gay or for straight people.  He was in a very sexual relationship with a woman, and made it very clear to me that he enjoyed it immensely.  But people, gay and straight, often assumed that he was in denial about his sexuality based on how he dressed, the fact that he loved photography and art, and his epic locks of hair.  

Things just kind of clicked for me on that night in regard to our society oversexualizing everything.  When we make assumptions about people's sexual preferences based on hair, clothes, culture, or giftings, we make asses out of ourselves.  Moreover, when we make assumptions about people's sexual identity based on non-sexual information, we cause them great pain.  If they are gay, they feel outed against their will, vulnerable to ridicule, and self-conscious about their entire make-up as a person.  If they are not gay, they are made to feel the same things, but add a layer of complete confusion. 

Bullying is a real problem around the world.  And this isn't new; it's always been a problem.  But now, people are doing something about it and I think that's great.  So, I would like the join the chorus.  Can we please just let kids be kids, enjoying the things they love, without teasing them about the fact that they may or may not be gay?  Good grief, teenagers are still figuring out what sexuality is, let alone what it looks like for them.  Of course, the bullying rarely comes from adults; it comes from their peers.  But where do their peers get those ideas?  My guess it that at home they hear people assume that all the men on Project Runway are gay, that all the men who cut hair are gay, that all the ladies with short hair and birkenstocks are gay, that people who are compassionate are gay.  Who knows what all of the assumptions are out there, but we need to stop making them.  They get passed down, and people are dying because we're trying to figure out what box to put them in socially.

To bring home the ridiculousness of what happens when we read between the lines, let's think about some type of personal preference that is not included in the stereotype for gay men or women.  Clothes are included, as well as profession, personality, giftings, and more.  But, what isn't included (and is one of my favorite things)?  FOOD!  Okay, so how utterly ridiculous would it be if I decided that all men who like green beans are gay?  It would be absolutely utterly ridiculous!  Now, imagine that I made this assumption because I had some gay friends and they all liked green beans.  Does it make my assumption any less ridiculous?  No!  The food you like is not a tell for your sexual preferences.  Now, that's try to keep that in mind in regard to hair, music, fashion, and other things that are not actually sexual in nature.  

All this being said, I don't want us to go back to the place in American culture where outing yourself as gay leads to ridicule and disgust.  Years ago, before everyone had their own gaydar and talked about it freely, coming out as gay could lead to rejection and even death.  So, let's not go back to the land of "Everyone assume everyone is straight."  Instead, let's live in the land of reality: "Everyone assume that everyone is completely broken, sexually and otherwise."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In & Out: Part 2

Read In & Out: Part 1

Continued...

Just as gender stereotypes are deeply wounding to those who do not fit the mold, so too is "reading between the lines" in regard to sexual orientation.  What it reveals, when we assume that people are gay, is that we have to come up with an explanation for someone's behavior, character, or passions.  And when we feel the need to come up with an explanation, it implies that who they are is inherently flawed and needs fixing.  

Now, this a big issue.  And while it might seem it's beside the point, I think it must be addressed.  I have heard/read many LGBT advocates say that they won't be told that who they are is flawed; they were born a certain way and are tired of being made to feel guilty for something they don't have control over.  I know what they are responding to, and I hurt for them.  But, I have to vehemently disagree with their theology.  The Bible tells us that we are ALL inherently flawed and ALL were born that way, regardless of how that plays out in our lives.  None of us can escape this inherent brokenness.  The Bible calls this sin, and unfortunately, we continue to act in sinful ways throughout our life, reinforcing the brokenness in our own hearts and hurting others in the process.  Sin breeds more sin and the only escape from this cycle is through Christ.  Good theology in regard to the human condition stands in the face of those who refuse to admit that anything is wrong with them and holds up a big mirror and asks them to look again.  

Now, that being said, within each of us is a Glory Self.  I unashamedly steal this term from Tim Keller, from his old school, rock-your-world sermon series on marriage.  (I'm sure he's probably used it somewhere else, too.)  As Keller says, the Glory Self is the person we would be without sin, the person God intends for us to be alive in Christ.  Through the power of Christ's resurrection, He lives in us and we are slowly being redeemed and our sin is dying away while our Glory Self is coming to the surface.  Of course, this is not a smooth process, but the idea of the Christian life is one in which things grow, either good fruits or bad fruits.  Either we grow in sin or we grow in life and truth, through Christ.  As with all growth, there are seasons and this is not a steady process.

So, thinking about this all in terms of sexual orientation, what parts of a person's life are of their sinful nature and which parts are of their Glory Self?  I believe the Bible is the clearest thing we have to guide our thinking in this realm.  I do believe the Bible comes down on only one side of homosexuality, stating without nuance that it is a sin.  (While I know this position is not popular, especially among feminist groups I admire, I cannot ignore that the Bible doesn't give wiggle room in this regard.)  Despite the many guidelines in the Bible, what I don't see in the Bible is a condemnation of acting outside of the gender expectation--men who act "feminine" or women who act "masculine".  But, it seems society often condemns these characteristics because they believe they are related to sinful sexual identity or confused gender identity, meaning that a person's characteristics are condemned along with their sinful nature instead of considered as part of their Glory Self.

You know that male friend you have who likes fashion, loves Madonna, and manscapes himself?  Do you think he is gay because of these things?  And if you trust God to redeem his sexuality (however that looks for him), do you make the assumption that God will also tweak those personality traits that seem feminine so that he will be more masculine?  Or further, do you think that the road to sexual healing (sing it) comes through partaking in masculine (or gender normative) activities?

The bottom line I am getting at is this: Sexual orientation is about who you want to have sex with.  Why do we lump characteristics in with sexual orientation that have nothing to do with sex?  And to maybe step on some toes, if we had been living in the time of Jesus, would we have read between the lines and assumed he was gay?  He was single and had many "feminine" characteristics (along with many masculine ones, too), right?

BUT, I'll admit, I make these assumptions, too.

To be continued...

In & Out: Part 3

Friday, November 12, 2010

Housewives of God

This article was released today, and while long, is probably worth the read in the context of this blog.  I'll be back to continue In & Out soon.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In & Out: Part 1

I watched In & Out a few weeks ago, and have since been wanting to write about it.  I don't know if you've seen this movie, so if not, here's a brief synopsis:

Kevin Kline plays a high school literature teacher, Howard Brackett, who lives in small town America.  He is engaged to be married to his long-time girlfriend.  A former student wins an Oscar for playing a gay character, and in his acceptance speech outs Howard as a gay man.  Howard doesn't think he's gay, and the comedy of the movie begins: freak outs, town gossip, etc.

In the end, just before his wedding, Howard admits that he is actually gay.

Now, what in this movie made me want to write about it?  It is the way Kevin Kline's character "realizes" that he's gay.  Instead of describing this scene, you should just watch it. (You can stop watching at about four minutes.)

While I realize this is just a movie, the degree to which thinking like this determines how we view sexuality and gender identity baffles me.  I know that stereotypes about gay men are what cause this, but I really wish there was a conversation about how destructive these stereotypes are.  When did we start turning commonalities between gay men into indicators of sexuality?  According to this scene, gay men like things neat and tidy, notice window treatments, and dance without abandon.  Now, I would like to clearly say that this is NOT true.  I know gay men who have no rhythm and others who are slobs.  But what irritates me more than the inaccuracy is the underlying assumption that our "do" determines our "be".

Now I've talked about this in a previous post on gender stereotypes.  (If you are new to this blog, I cannot recommend a better post to read as an introduction to how I think about gender.)  I believe that doing masculine and feminine things to prove your gender is like doing charity to prove that you are a Christian: it's backwards.  And moreover, I believe our ideas of what constitutes masculine and feminine have been so eroded by the world that they are largely unsubstantiated by the Bible.  I believe that within the Biblical framework we are given a much wider view of masculinity and femininity than American culture currently supports.  In the Bible, for instance, men have rhythm, write songs, and dance in the streets.  Women are shown to do lots of manual labor and have positions of leadership.  

I don't know when and how these concepts changed.  It is clear that women have consistently been oppressed throughout history.  I believe that it is very possible that the inroads that Jesus made for the equality of women were eroded (along with the true message of the Gospel) with Constantine and the establishment of an earthly Christian empire.  (While some believe the Gospel was advanced by Constantine, I believe it was undermined.)  But, in every culture, there are ever-changing concepts of gender identity and sexuality.  And unfortunately, most people read the Bible in a way so that it reinforces their ideas instead of challenging them.  You can read the Bible to find something to back-up what you already believe.  Or you can read it as it is: full of nuances that should challenge the way we see the world, ourselves, and God.

To be continued...
In & Out: Part 2
In & Out: Part 3
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