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Deuteronomy and feminism

Hi! The following is an ask I got on Tumblr a little while ago. Tumblr is losing a lot of its shine for me (I almost never use it anymore) but sometimes I write things there that are probably worthwhile holding on to. This is one of them.

hereunderthe75stars asked: As both a Christian and a feminist I’m finding it really difficult to get through the book of Deuteronomy. Do you have any advice?

Hi, good question. It’s also something that I probably can’t satisfactorily answer in a Tumblr text post. Sorry about that, but I will try my best.

I think we’re all in the same boat when it comes to the Bible. The Bible is an uncomfortable book written a long time ago by a lot of people, many of whom I probably would disagree with and probably wouldn’t like very much if I met them. It’s also, culturally, a completely different world to the one we inhabit now, and a lot of the history and context behind the words has been lost and we’re doing our best to patch it together and understand it.

It’s kind of like the church in this way, you know? I work for a church, and there are lots of people who are part of that organisation who would rather I wasn’t working there because I don’t do things the way they like. There are also a lot of people who love that I work there and would be very sad to see me go.

The reason the Bible is so important is because it’s like a prism that teases out all the different ways we think about life and God. In order to help you remember this, I have put together a handy graphic which will hopefully make things very clear.

The Bible is a prisim

Self explanatory, really.

When I read the Bible, I’m pretty sure I’m looking at it differently to some other people. I’m seeing a different “colour” to what they’re seeing. I’ve seen some of what the Bible is saying and some other people are positioned differently and can see it from angles I can’t. They’re seeing “colours” I can’t. We need to be talking to each other for us to try and get a better idea of what’s going on. This goes for people alive today from other cultures and walks of life, and it also goes for people throughout history. I need to “talk” to them by reading their stuff and doing my best to understand that and empathise with it. Talking about God should draw people together, not drive them apart. I’m a firm believer of that.

Deuteronomy is not a fun book. It is long and has lots of laws, most of which we don’t follow anymore because Christ is the fulfilment of the law and has changed our relationship to the law. Actually, I think I’ve only read it the one time, and I was relieved when it was over. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it! I found it really helped me understand parts of the New Testament, and it’s pretty vital in understanding the context of books like Joshua and 1 & 2 Samuel.

But! Feminist stuff! Deuteronomy won’t ever affirm our modern feminist ideas because it is not a modern feminist book. Instead it was written by people blissfully unaware of their own misogyny, in the same way your great-grandparents were probably blissfully unaware of their classism/racism/homophobia/take your pick. And yet! The author/s of Deuteronomy – misogynists all – were interested in maintaining a just society and pursuing the ways of God. They wrote a whole book about it and made sure it would survive the ages.Their misogyny was wrong, but they got some things right.

This is a great comfort to me, because I am sure I must be blissfully unaware of prejudices I no doubt hold. Perhaps my grandchildren (grandnephews and grandnieces?) will look back on my Google archive and be horrified that I could believe XYZ or phrase something in the way I do. But I do good things too, and I love God and do my best, and I hope that they’ll see that and give me the benefit of the doubt.

One of the central themes of the Bible is grace – unmerited favour – and so I guess as Christians we need to show grace to the people who’ve come before us, and on whose understandings we’ve built to get us this far. It doesn’t excuse those attitudes, but it frees us from judging them and now we can try and understand them and learn from them. Their perspective on life and God is so radically different to ours – there’s a lot they can teach us and I’m grateful to them for writing it. The misogyny will spoil some of that, but not all of it.

I am gay, so this is relevant to my day-to-day life. There are some people I work and worship with who are homophobic, but I have to show them grace and do my best not to let that homophobia colour the way I see their whole perspective on life and God. The homophobia is not acceptable, and I won’t shy away from telling them so or standing up for myself and others. But there’s more to them than their homophobia.

This is an idea that isn’t well-loved on Tumblr right now. Tumblr likes to find something wrong someone has said or done (however large or small) and then humiliate and destroy them with it. Everything they’ve ever said or done is painted with that imperfection until they’re totally written off. It’s highly judgemental in the worst way.

Remember that as Christians we believe that the Old Testament points to Christ. How is Deuteronomy doing this? What story is it telling? How does it fit in with the story being told in the other books surrounding it?

TL;DR

  1. God is infinite and complex and we need to talk to others with different points of view in order to understand God better
  2. Those different points of view will often contain offensive ideas
  3. Deuteronomy contains offensive ideas
  4. Without excusing or mindlessly accepting those ideas, we need to show grace towards those points of view so we can try and understand what that book is saying about God.

Walking to listen

I don’t own a car. Instead of jumping in my own vehicle every morning and driving to work, I walk and catch public transport. It eats up a lot of my day, but the walking is good for me. So is the space I get travelling in splendid isolation surrounded by Brisbane’s other white-collar workers journeying to and from the city. I used to spend this time listening to music, but that soon got stale, so I downloaded some podcasts in the hope that I might learn a few things. I have; I’ve laughed and cried listening to some of these. Yes, I’m that person on the bus. I’m sorry, but I guess I’m not really sorry.


This American Life logoThis American Life
is a staple for anyone who listens to podcasts. A while ago, the week’s theme was Hit the Roadand it featured three stories about road trips of different kinds. It’s an episode that I keep thinking about all these months later. The first story was told by Andrew Forsthoefel, and featured audio he took while walking from Philadelphia to New Orleans, then all the way across to the Pacific Ocean. The whole time he wore a sign that read, “Walking to Listen”. Sometimes people would stop him and talk to him. These conversations make up the bulk of the story.

When he enters the southern United States, Andrew tells of the people who would take him in, feed him and give him a place to sleep that night. Often they would warn him not to go to the next town because “They’re not friendly like us. They’ll shoot you for the shirt off your back. Don’t trust them.” But he would go, and those very people he was warned about would take him in, feed him and let him sleep in their homes.

One conversation in particular got me down deep. I got all misty-eyed sitting by myself on a CityCat:

Andrew Forsthoefel: So what was it like back in the old days?

Woman: Oh god, honey. I’ve done got old and forgetful. And I’ve done forgot I used to know about that stuff. But all I can tell you is it was scary.
I never will forget, we were picking butter beans. And we had picked a bag that was in the garden for a white man. And the wife told us to go bring in some water.
And we got the buckets out of the kitchen and went sailing through the hole to the well. Got the buckets full. And when we got back to the steps, he said, “You niggers, don’t you all come back up those steps. Go and run in the house with that water to the kitchen.” And we said, “Yes, sir.”

Andrew Forsthoefel: Now what do you think about those people who are so mean and hateful? What do you feel about them?

Woman: I feel like they ain’t looking for a great day. I’m looking for a great day, you know, when I see my Jesus face to face. You don’t do evil for evil.
They hate you all. You all love them. And I thought, how could I love somebody tell me, you nigger, don’t you come back up them steps, go round the house?
Now how could I love somebody, Lord? And he said, that’s the rule. That’s the golden rule. Love thy neighbour as thyself. And I got to do what he says. I’ve got to love them.

And I just have so many thoughts about that. This woman has faced more hardship than I ever will, and she has learned to love her enemies. Or maybe she’s still learning, but it sure sounds to me like she’s getting there.

Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you‘ is so commonly heard I’m pretty sure it’s lost its scandalous effect on us, but stories like this bring it back. The people this woman is instructed to love might never have realised what they did to her was wrong, but she loves them anyway. The systems that governed her dictated she be humble her whole life, but she still has to humble herself again and love the people who kept those systems in place. Where is the justice in that!

ParaNorman movie poster

Claymation movies are tear-jerkers, as a rule

At the same time, there’s something so right about it: “You don’t do evil for evil”, and I’m so grateful for it. These stories of grace, forgiveness and redemption never fail to move me—even ParaNorman had me weeping quietly to myself on a plane from London to New York. I think it’s because I’m not actually any different to that white man the woman is learning to love. Just about everything I have in life has been possible for me because of a brutal legacy from which I benefit every day, and I perpetuate oppressive systems that are so entrenched I don’t even realise that’s what I’m doing.

Actively thinking about all of this is hard because it makes me realise I can’t really love my neighbour the same way I love myself, by myself. Even if I have the goodness of heart and unshakable resolve to make it happen, being a good neighbour, loving my enemy and putting other people ahead of myself is not within my power alone.

I can try and love someone who is different from me, I can wish them well and be nice to them, but unless I’m able to identify and challenge those systems that benefit me and oppress them, how possibly can I love them? I’ve heard it said that all the world’s religions boil down to “Don’t be a dick”, but I can be a “good person” without actually living out selflessness in any meaningful way. This isn’t about me lacking the capacity to always do the right thing (although that in itself is a problem), it’s about the fact that although I strive to do what is right, and even as I try to eliminate injustice from the way I live, I cannot even begin to fathom how to repent of it.

It seems hopeless. How can we love each other—really love each other—when the minutiae of our lives makes us incapable of genuine selflessness? I think the answer might lie in walking to listen. I should not give up and stop walking, but my walking needs to be about other people—every step seeking out voices that are rarely heard and really learning from what they have to say. How else will I even know where to begin?

On Being an Ally

Today (or maybe yesterday? I’m behind) my friend Amanda made a short post on Tumblr that I love so much I’m just going to repost it here in its entirety.

The thing is that feeling good and moral and righteous for being The Politically Correct one perpetuates relationships of oppression. If your political correctness brings you attention, you’re doing it wrong—it’s still a dominant group exploiting an oppressed group for personal gain. Performing your political correctness means using the oppressed group as a soapbox.

Political correctness and sensitivity are about removing obstacles to equal participation in the discussion. Dominant groups ought to be seeking to extricate themselves from the conversation—to clear some space, finally, for those to whom space and voice have been denied. Allies ought to redirect attention to those who can speak from experience about oppression and prejudice. Being an ally means taking a slice of humble pie and making oneself small in order to let others stand up.

My oppression should not make you feel good about yourself. If it does, you’re doing it wrong. Dominant voices continue to dominate the conversation when political correctness becomes “This is how those people want us to talk about them.”

Let us speak.

Like, can I get an amen?

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“Being Gay is a Gift from God”

A year or so ago I came across a video on YouTube from the Oprah Winfrey Show, in which the eponymous host was interviewing religious figures. It was all very Oprah-style, self-helpish philosophy, and one minister, on the topic of homosexuality said, “Being gay is a gift from God.”

Oprah was shocked and visibly impressed. I was incredulous.

Although I was out to all the important figures in my life and relatively comfortable with my own sexuality, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow. A gift from God? Seriously? My orientation was a given; God could do with it whatever he liked, and I wasn’t expecting it to change. All the same, being gay didn’t feel like a gift from God, it was a thorn in my side.

If I wasn’t gay I could’ve dated a girl and had a wedding like my friends at home.

If I wasn’t gay I might’ve avoided the rumors and bullying that dogged me all through school.

If I wasn’t gay I wouldn’t have woken up one morning to find an email from family friends asking me why I hadn’t come out to them yet—they’d heard on the grapevine months prior.

It was to me then an inconvenience, and if you had asked me if I would take a magic pill to make me straight, I probably would have said yes. If I was straight my life would be easier, but I figured I would just have to make the best of it.

Since that time my perspective has changed. It hasn’t been one thing in particular, but many small things that have made me think differently. I’ve discovered communities of interesting, thoughtful people like me through the internet and by visiting churches scattered across two continents. It’s meant I can empathise with other people who don’t fit in at churches for some reason or another. I’ve also been able to speak more openly about my faith, often in places that are resistant or hostile to any sort of spiritual discussion at all. Sometimes I speak through the lens of my sexuality, sometimes not.

I see a lot of gay Christian bloggers express a similar sentiment to what I had back then, that being gay is something that only makes their lives difficult and is something you just have to suffer through. Sometimes that’s true, and I understand where they are coming from, but I also have this growing sense that, yes, my sexuality really is a gift from God. I have unique opportunities not open to other people. I have challenges too, but I can live with that.

Back before I came out, I didn’t expect or even want to be in the place being gay has put me. I think a lot of people feel that way about all sorts of parts of their lives, not necessarily their sexual orientation. But even though this isn’t where I thought I’d be, I know it’s okay for me to be here. My circumstances are a privilege, and I want to honour them and the God who has placed me in them.

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Pushing for an Equitable Society

Well after yesterday’s post about Zac Efron wrestling a crocodile I felt like I should try a bit harder today. Someone even pointed out to me that the creature Zac Efron was wrestling was not, in actual fact, a crocodile. It was an alligator. As I said, I wasn’t trying very hard.

URUGUAYLast night I was thinking about Uruguay. On Wednesday Uruguay became the third country in the Americas to legalise same-sex marriage. Mostly I was quoting Homer Simpson to myself, but I was also thinking about how marriage equality isn’t the end game. In the same way that women and racial minorities are still discriminated against in particular ways, gay, lesbian and bisexual people are not going to be magically accepted by everyone once same-sex marriage is permitted. For example, I’m sure couples in Canada, Argentina, etc would still tell you about certain times and places they aren’t able/comfortable to hold hands in public. Understanding and acceptance of trans* people still has a long way to go.

My recent traipsing around from city to city has meant I’ve visited a lot of different churches—everything from Hillsong London and New York to MCC San Francisco. I don’t know what the “end game” is for LGBT people in churches. I thoroughly enjoyed the service at MCC, but I’m not convinced every LGBT-friendly church needs to look or act like that one.

Whatever it is, my prayer is that I will never lose my passion for making churches a safe place for people who don’t fit in, even after I personally feel safe in every church I attend. I hope the LGBT community doesn’t begin to rest on its laurels as acceptance of LGBT people increases. Perhaps it’s too much to hope for, but I’d like to think LGBT activists will continue to push for a more equitable society generally long after they have achieved equality for themselves.

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Choosing What’s Important

For many people, family are the ones they grew up with: their brothers and sisters, parents and extended family. I grew up with both my parents, but I am nine years younger than my next closest sibling. They were all moved out by the time I was 10, so for most of my childhood I grew up separately to the rest of my family.

Getting to know my brother and my sisters now as an adult has been truly wonderful.

I visit my sister Ceara and her family about once a year. Ceara is the oldest out of us and looked after me pretty often when I was younger. She’s married and has four kids of her own now. I never do much during my visits, just hang out with her, my brother-in-law and the kids. They live up in the north of California, near Sacramento.

It would be pretty easy to lose touch with them, staying friendly but never really seeing them. But now that I’m an adult I’ve learned you get to choose what’s important to you. My sister and her family live a long way away from me, but I choose to make them important.

I’m staying with them now. Today we went shopping and I bought some new clothes for my new job in Brisbane. This evening we ate soft tacos, chatted (“Is there a boyfriend on the scene or..?” “Nah.”) and after putting the kids to bed we sat and watched The Voice.

It’s not something you’d take photos of and brag about on Twitter, but in many ways this is still the most important part of my trip. Because they are important, because I love them.

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Death of Public Figures

Margaret Thatcher

Wikimedia Commons

Today, Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Baroness of Kesteven and co-inventor of soft-serve icecream died, age 87—and people got opinions.

I’m 25, which means I was a toddler when she was ousted as Conservative Party leader in 1990. I’m not going to give a critique of her leadership or politics; I’m completely unqualified! Sure, I’m leery of the conservative side of politics (is anyone surprised?) but it’s impossible not to be impressed by her.

Celebrity culture is a strange thing. The public feels like it owns the identity of a famous individual, and therefore has the right to pick over their every utterance and action. It’s true that celebrities are active in the public sphere and need to expect a certain level of public scrutiny. It is, after all, part of the job. But I start to get uncomfortable when people’s identities become commodified, leading others to believe they own part of those identities. I think this accounts for the strange grieveing process we go through upon the death of a public figure; we think we have a stake in that person’s life, and so are entitled to act the ways we do.

Margaret Thatcher had a profound influence over many people’s lives, so I’m not surprised there is so much chatter surrounding her death (not to mention, this post makes me a contributior!) Perhaps there are folk who really are entitled to make comment so soon after her passing. Then again, perhaps not.

It just gives me something to think about. If my favourite politician or actor or YouTuber (!) died tomorrow, what would my reaction be? And what does that mean in terms of the way I treat public figures when they are alive?

As always, your thoughts in the comments are welcome.

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An Embracing Community

Metropolitan Community Church

Metropolitan Community Church

Just a quick post to say that today my friend Becki and I decided to go to the 7:00pm service at the MCC in the Castro. Neither of us knew exactly what to expect, but both of us were really glad we went.

I’m not into ‘church reviews’ because critiquing someone else’s community feels wrong to me, but in light of yesterday’s post about safe places I can definitely say: I found one. This little church in the heart of San Francisco’s gay village is an oasis for many people who wouldn’t be embraced by mainstream churches.

Before the service started I wondered what the service would be like, and in many ways this service reminded me of the church I grew up in. People clapped, some danced a little, some stayed still with their hands by their sides. There were guitars, a piano and there was the most amazing choir. I was intrigued (or, perplexed?) by the way they ended prayers with “in your many names”, but almost moved to tears as we sang together, “From where does my help come? It comes from God.

I wasn’t able to stick around very long after the service which was such a shame because I really wanted to chat with everyone. If you ever get a chance to experience a service at MCC San Francisco I encourage you to do it; they would love to see you there and share their community with you.

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Rainbow-sticker places

Gay flag

That little rainbow

When around San Francisco, sometimes you see these little rainbow stickers above the doors of businesses. You see them in other places too (I saw them in London, even) but San Francisco is a place you see them pretty commonly.

It’s kind of funny, as a gay man, walking into a place with a little rainbow sticker above or next to the door. In many ways it makes no difference whatsoever. Like, is my burger or cocktail or eve  my antique really going to be of better quality because of a little rainbow sticker? No, of course not. The folk in that shop probably don’t even know I’m gay. Is the service I receive any different? You’d like to think that a rainbow-clad business would be happier or friendlier, but that might not always be the case. I went to a coffee shop on Valencia Street where the coffee was great but the staff were moody; they had a rainbow near their door.

But I still feel safe wherever I see that sticker. I can talk freely to my friend about who I’m interested in without worrying another patron will take offence to the pronouns I’m using; if I was dating someone, I could be affectionate without worrying about who was watching or how they would react; if I am there alone I might see a same-sex or trans* couple there and be reminded that I am not alone.

Essentially, that little rainbow sticker gives me permission to relax. I can stop thinking about the ways I fit in or don’t fit in, and instead just be myself. In a way San Francisco as a city is one big rainbow sticker, so I can understand why so many LGBT people come here.

In terms of my faith, because it is never far from my mind, my hope is that churches everywhere will become rainbow-sticker places. Not just for LGBT people, but for everyone. The rainbow flag represents many people coming together as one diverse community. In my past experience, church has been a place where people from many backgrounds come together seeking a common goal, serving a common God. I’ve met a few gay men while I’ve been in this city and had the odd experience of ‘coming out’ to them as a Christian. They’ve asked how my friends and family have reacted to my coming out, and they’ve been pleasantly surprised that I haven’t been maligned, ridiculed or kicked out; they say “I’m glad to hear your experience with them has been so different”.

It’s clear I’ve had it easy.

It makes me sad that so many of the folk I’ve met have experienced hardship simply because they no longer desire to hide the fact they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans*. The LGBT community is not the only group of people presenting a challenge to the status-quo in churches, and I believe the Church needs to be a place that loves unconditionally, just like Jesus did. This poses a challenge to me, because there are groups of people I find difficult to love. I’m not able to love them properly by myself; I need a community of people there with me to do it properly.

A rainbow-flag community of people with a wealth of experience from different backgrounds who can support each other to love those that are difficult to love—that is what I want the Body of Christ to be! I’ve seen shadows of it in the YouTube community, the LGBT community and the Christian communities I’ve been part of, so I know it is possible. It’s not necessary to have a physical rainbow sticker above every church door, but it is necessary to act like there’s one there; not just for the sake of people like myself, but for other people who struggle to find a home at church, or anywhere else for that matter.

But I cannot do it on my own.

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Re/Discovering New York

All good things must come to an end, and tonight is my last in New York City. My friend Amanda (who co-runs an amazing, but little-known news blog, Wonkistan) has generously let me stay in her apartment and eat all her granola. I’ve just come from a YouTube convention in Orlando too, but I’ll have to blog about that another day.

Manhattan SkylineWhen I was living on Iona I would see people get off the ferry with their mouths agape; they wanted to visit the island so badly all their lives and finally they had arrived! A ruined nunnery, swarthy little cottages, an oddly-shaped mountain and a looming stone abbey — it was all there, just like they’d seen in pictures and documentaries for years and years.

Isle of Iona

Wikimedia Commons

My island — that of Manhattan — is a little more urban than Iona, but I couldn’t help but compare myself to those pilgrims as I saw the misty skyline of East Harlem through the window of my cab driving over the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. Not that this is a spiritual pilgrimage for me by any means, but I’ve spent my whole life watching movies and TV shows set in this city, and more recently reading books with stories so rooted here, that to pluck them from their New York setting would obliterate their meaning.

The Empire State BuildingIt means New York is simultaneously alien and eerily familiar to me. I haven’t dealt with these kinds of crowds or this volume of traffic in a long time, but the streets and the buildings and the parks and the bagels are exactly like I know from TV, and haven’t I seen those benches somewhere before? New York feels familiar, but there’s a profound sense of discovery as I walk the streets. It’s kind of addictive: what could there be around that corner? I’ll turn around after just one more block. No, just another block more. Actually, what’s that over there? Better check it out now or I might forget where it is and lose it forever.

I have wanted to visit New York all my life, and this week I finally made it.

Staying with Amanda has been wonderful, and as a New York City native, she has never experienced that sense of re/discovery like I have this week. She was highly amused by my borderline obsession with the squirrels in the park and did not quite grasp the trepidation I felt before using the subway for the first time. Whenever I find something in real life that I saw first on a screen I always try and remember so I can tell her about it, thereby helping her re/discover her city too.

Iona friends and I in New York

Iona comes to Manhattan

Tomorrow I leave for sunny San Francisco, but I’ve had a wonderful time in New York and I hope to return sooner rather than later. Amanda and I went to a Watsky show, rode the Staten Island Ferry, discovered an AMAZING vegan Chinese restaurant on the Lower East Side with our friend Kassie and had brunch in the West Village with friends.

I also met up with four friends I originally met on Iona. Iona and Manhattan certainly felt close that day.

If you want to check it out, Amanda and I made a video about my squirrel obsession affection.

Until tomorrow!

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