A Graduation & a Confirmation

May has been a pretty exciting (and also exhausting, chaotic, and full) month for us.

The morning after my last final exam we packed up our on-campus apartment and moved a few minutes down the road to a quiet neighborhood apartment. Our new space brought us a few new quirks but we’re settling in day by day.

About a week after we moved, I graduated with a Masters of Arts in Religion with a concentration on social ethics and spiritual formation. I chose these concentrations because I couldn’t justify their separation; ethics and spirituality are intricately linked and layered. Together they shape our behaviors and thoughts. Most of my courses and professors were amazing. There were a couple that gave me a headache. My favorite classes included church history, racial/gender justice, and various topics in the Old Testament.

Seminary was hard. As they graciously warn you, I left with more questions than answers. In the past 2 years, Aaron was away from home for 6+ months, in which I managed a multiple day power outage and shoveled out several feet of snow by myself. I took a summer intensive course for Hebrew 1 and 2. We changed churches a few times. We saw a marriage counselor. I got angry. Angry about the world, the church, and my own weaknesses. Burnout happened and I wanted to give up multiple times. Relationships disappeared. Our theology shifted. I cried, a lot.

But even when seminary cut deep, these past two years offered an unexpected healing. I was able to put words to my experience as a woman in the church and I was encouraged in my ability to think theologically, as a woman. I met women and men from around the world, friends and those who we now consider family, who laughed and wept with us and strengthened us when we couldn’t see the other side. I learned so much in class and through reading, but even more from those we lived and served with in our seminary community.

This month was significant again for another reason. Aaron was confirmed in the Episcopal church. If you’ve been following the progression of our faith, you know we’ve explored a few different traditions. We were hesitant to approach the Episcopal tradition because we had both grown up hearing episcopalians don’t really love Jesus. (What a lie.) The beauty of this tradition (and the body of Christ) is in it’s diversity in thought and community.

You’ll also notice only Aaron was confirmed. We’re both very satisfied in this new space, but since he wants to attend an episcopal seminary and pursue ordination in the coming years it was more important for him to take this step sooner than I might. Aaron affectionately calls me a crockpot or “turtle” and in many ways that’s very true. I tend take my time to simmer and think on something. When the time is right, I’ll think about the next step. For now, I’m still soaking up every bit of our Sunday services. (If you have questions about the Episcopal tradition or the progression of our faith, I’m happy to answer them.)

And finally, I turned 24 this month. My birthday began with an early morning walk around our new neighborhood and ended with gelato with Aaron and my parents. I’m not sure what this next year holds but it’s sure to be a good story.

Any fun milestones happen in your life recently?

Impure: A Reading List on Purity Culture

For my final masters project, I wrote on the implications of evangelical purity culture. And let me tell you, what a wild ride. Normalized sexual violence, gender roles, politics, #ChurchToo, liturgy — there is a little bit of everything packed into this paper.

This paper has gained quite a bit of interest since mentioning it on my Instagram last month. My hope is to break down my research into digestible, accessible pieces for others to benefit from. (What use is all this if I hoard it all in my brain?)

Purity culture, or the evangelical sexual purity movement of the 1980s-2010s, establishes sexual “purity” as the ultimate standard for those waiting to be married. (Marriage is assumed.) In this subculture, to be sexually “impure” would be disastrous in all other areas of life and would doom any relationship with a future spouse. In both political and pastoral spaces, methods of control and fear seek to maintain patriarchal power over the hearts and bodies of young people, though primarily girls and women.

Stories and testimonies reveal the abusive nature of “purity” teachings and practices. Girls and women are often dehumanized and denied vibrant sexualities of their own. If feelings of discomfort or reports of sexual violence are made known, they can be frequently silenced and ignored. Sadly, there are real convictions buried in these teachings – blinded by ignorance and the fight for power. There seems to be no intention to inflict harm on to others. Rather many of those who participate are held to a conviction which values hierarchy between men and women, emphasizing a woman’s submission to men’s needs. “Purity” is interpreted as protection. More on this later.

Before I jump into the research itself, I wanted to share some materials on the impact of the evangelical sexual purity movement or abstinence-only education.

This reading list is fairly brief and does not include academic articles. Even so, these examples are moving and incredibly revealing. Please note, many portions of these texts discuss sexual trauma, which can be triggering or overwhelming for some.

Books or Essays

Blogs

I would also encourage you to read through the #ChurchToo on Twitter or sign the #SilenceIsNotSpiritual Statement.

If there are other articles, books, podcasts, etc. that have been helpful to you, I would love to read them and include them here. If your experience in purity culture has been positive, I would also love to understand more about your story.

Remembering Rachel Held Evans

Sadness, heartache, dread, disbelief — maybe you felt these things too as you heard the news of Rachel’s death yesterday.

I’m not sure what kind of words or feelings she was met with yesterday as she entered Heaven but I’m certain it was a celebration of God’s faithfulness in her life. Rachel was adventurous in her faith. She explored the scriptures, asked the risky questions and embraced her doubt.

She was a forerunner and a pioneer in many ways. Before it was popular, she made room at the table for different voices and faces. She helped others, like me, understand the beauty of hard, unanswered questions of faith and also the importance of the gospel. It’s hard to think of a world without Rachel.

Remembering Rachel, here is a brief list of my favorites:

Books:

Podcasts:

Blogposts:

Did RHE have a role in your faith?

The Importance of the Body

Good Friday, the day we remember the unjust, horrific crucifixion of Jesus Christ, takes place this year in the midst of sexual assault awareness month.

During Lent, I’ve studied the stories of survivors of sexual violence and lamented on the evangelical church’s indifference. Like many of you, I’ve watched sacred buildings burn, from the steeple of Notre Dame, to the local churches in Louisiana. Lent this year holds a fair amount of grief, at least for me.

The incarnation is important. It’s not only the basis of the Christian faith, but it also confirms the significance of our material bodies, made in the image of God. These bodies, with all the aches and pains they often collect, are essential to our personhood. They are fallen, yes, disordered and sometimes misshapen but we still bear God’ image. This is why sexual violence may be one of the most horrific and invasive acts someone can experience, physically and spiritually.

And yet, survivors of sexual violence cannot always find refuge in the church. Many times, as #ChurchToo has shown, the church is the source of violence. We have hired and elected leaders who brag about sexual conquests or blamed victims for their own misfortune, despite the endless teaching on God’s grace or sexual purity. We’ve preached a gospel that disregards consent and women’s bodies. Our indifference has allowed abusive individuals and institutions to thrive, leaving victims without justice or healing.

Whatever your convictions are about the body, gender, or sexuality in the church, I believe the execution and resurrection of Jesus Christ is central to how we ought to think of our human bodies — all complexities included.

“God’s momentous “yes” to the body, in the incarnation, both judges and destroys the corrupt ways we have thought, produced, constructed, and even broken bodies in our culture. As inheritors of a long tradition on the resurrection of the body, we have promising resources to point us to theological faithfulness in the face of cultural and ecclesial ambivalence about the body,” — Beth Felker Jones, Marks of His Wounds

The incarnation gives us hope. It reminds us we are understood and known, even in our deepest pain and grief. Healing, restoration, justice, true shalom are made possible through this event.

“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” — Isaiah 53:3-5

The resurrection replaces shame with dignity, hierarchy with equality, and power with humility. But it seems many churches haven’t truly captured this aspect of the empty tomb. When will the church be a refuge for bodies who are abused, shamed, and oppressed? What would a redeemed theology of the body look like in your context? How would that influence the way you cared for your soul and those around you?

Admittedly brief but I just wanted to share these thoughts in hope they spark something in you, too. What does the Incarnation mean to you?

Letters & Thoughts on Lent

I am a huge fan of handwritten letters. I like sticking the stamps on the envelope and sending them off to a friend, just as much as I like seeing them in my mailbox.

The art of letter writing has been somewhat lost, if you ask me. Social media and online spaces make it more convenient to text someone or browse their feed to find out what they’re up to. Who writes in cursive anymore? Do people still collect stamps or stationary?

This is embarrassing, but once I realized I was spending hours (hours!!) on my phone everyday, I cut back on my social media intake quite a bit this year. I’ve done lots of spring cleaning — “unliking” a bunch of those facebook pages from way back when, “unfollowing” accounts I don’t know personally or people I don’t know well, and being much picker about who gets to fill my feed.

Coming out of the black cloud that often is facebook and instagram, I feel so much better. My anxiety went down, I felt more relaxed, and my ability to concentrate skyrocketed. I started exercising and reading more.

With a few clicks or finger strokes we can instantly chat with our friends from kindergarten or that one friend we met at summer camp. And while I’m all for staying connected, I believe social media weirdly obligates us to constantly stay in touch with more people than is realistic. Suddenly, friendships appear valid only if there’s a mutual online relationship. This makes me sad. This false sense of obligation weighs heavy on my mind.

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Lent is a season where we’re invited to examine our lives and our hearts. It’s a chance to identify the unhealthy distractions and obligations around us and prayerfully let them go. Some things are harder to let go than others, that’s for sure. (FOMO is real!) But it’s not meant to be easy. As we anticipate the death and resurrection of Jesus we have the opportunity to actively (individually + corporately) reorient our passions and priorities to honor the eternal ramifications of the cross.

Maybe you missed the first few weeks of Lent. No worries then, wherever you find yourself, you’re invited to enter this space of reflection. Lent isn’t a six-week program that must be completed start to finish. There’s no trophy or point system. So please, pull up a chair and catch your breath. Let’s slow down and remember the Story together.

If you have an online presence, I encourage you to find time to apart from your feeds. You might like it. If you used the time you normally spend scrolling to write a letter, who would you write to?