Intimate Partner Violence Doesn’t Just “Happen”

February 11, 2009

Unfortunately for famous people, what happens in their lives becomes the topic of public attention and scrutiny. I have mixed feelings about this. Feministing touches on it. I won’t try to deal with it here. But, I thought it important to point out this terrible quote from the friend of the (apparently) famous man (Chris Brown) who recently assaulted his girlfriend, a famous singer.

“Chris is all right. He’s a good kid. He feels very bad that something like this has happened.”

I’m sorry, but “something like this” doesn’t “happen”. When you say “something like this has happened” typically you would be referring to an accident, or something that just sort of “happens.” Like in a passive or unintentional sense. For instance, a tree falls on your neighbor’s fence. Or you accidentally trip someone or you meant to throw the ball across the yard and you instead throw it through a window. When you send your girlfriend to the hospital after beating her, it does not fall into the category of being able to say “he feels very bad that something like this has happened.”

I wish, but will not hold my breath, that everyone involved with this would be able to make this a teachable moment for all the people watching and looking up to famous people. The above quote, of course, does not bode well for how this is likely to play out in the media.

Sigh.


The Rick Warren Bru-ha-ha

December 20, 2008

I am of two minds on the Rick Warren matter.

My first reaction is to say, “Look, I don’t like the guy either. I don’t agree with his theology. I don’t agree with his politics. But it isn’t like he was chosen to be the minister-in-chief or something. He is giving an invocation. I know it has a lot of symbolic meaning, but it doesn’t have any practical consequences in and of itself. It is a gesture of the president elect to say, ‘I am not a president only to progressives or to liberals, but a president to the whole country.’ And, there are big parts of the country that can identify with Rev. Rick Warren. And, as conservative evangelical pastors go, he is one of the less offensive ones who has at least made some overtures toward changing the tone of the rhetoric. My hope is that it is a gesture that will soften the hearts of those who would tend to be more opposed to Obama and his policies. It will not solve many problems, but it is a gesture of unity, which people are always talking about. You know, one country, working out our differences and that sort of thing. By saying all of this, I don’t mean to say that I don’t understand why people don’t like it. Heck, I don’t like it either. But I see it as a strategic move that may help in the long run with things that matter more than who gives the invocation at the inauguration.” (It is of course another matter whether there should be invocations and benedictions at inaugurations anyway.)

That said, it occurred to me how often discrimination against women or the GLBTQ community can often be chalked up to theology, while few people will stand for discrimination against ethnic minorities chalked up to theology. I try to imagine if someone gave the invocation that said that they still supported slavery based on theology. Or that women should obey thier husbands based on theology (heck, Warren may agree with the second of those statements). What would it mean to have someone give the invocation as a gesture of unity and goodwill who was known to support legalized discrimination against women – that they should get paid less, that rape should be less of a crime, that they should not have inheritance rights? Hmm. No matter how symbolic or strategic that would be, I would be feeling really unhappy about this. So then I started rethinking what I said above.

And now I just don’t know. The thing is, so many of these difficult issues are totally intrackable. “We” dig in our heals. “They” dig in their heels. We write on our blogs about why we are right. We affirm each other at our churches about why we are right. We are smug. We know whose side God is on. And where does this get us? What is the way forward toward better understanding each other, finding common ground to work on together, even, dare I say it, finding areas where compromise makes sense. I am not talking about any particular issue, but rather all of these very intense social and political issues that are so close to our hearts – all of our hearts – and where it seems so difficult to move forward.

I’m guessing having Rick Warren give the invocation at the inauguration isn’t the answer. But I wish we could come up with a better one that just insisting on how right and just we are and getting offended and indignant. Not that I am somehow immune to this. I do it to. But there must be a better way…


The Age of Facebook Activism

September 22, 2008

I have seen all sorts of groups on facebook. Some make sense to me – like a student group that I am a part of has a facebook group. You can go and see who is in the group. Announcements about gatherings are made. Pictures from functions are posted. But I recently saw a group somewhere along the lines of End the Violence Against (Certain Minority) in (Certain Other Country). I am not listing the exact name because I don’t want to criticize this specific group at all. But my wondering is… what happens when you join this group? I have looked at it. There are not events. It seems like maybe updates can be sent to members about what is happening around this. There is no way to give money. No info on how to get more involved. There are all sorts of silly facebook groups (like Bring Back the Chicken Strips at Tommy’s Diner or I Love That Melon (The Group)) which make sense in that they are meant to be inside jokes or funny or silly.

But for serious things, I have a slightly nagging feeling that I don’t like to be able to join the facebook group about really serious social problems and then get the feeling that, yes, now I have done something for that cause. It reminds me of online petitions – I think by and large (there are probably exceptions) they are a waste of time and energy. So what if a zillion people forwarded something around to end human rights abuses in __________ or to end the war __________ or to ban foie gras in Montreal or whatever and they all signed their names? Who reads that? Who cares? (Please don’t provide me with an exception unless you know of 1000 meaningful exceptions to this.)

It isn’t that I am so much against facebook activism or online petitions in and of themselves, but rather that they provide people who take part with a sense that they are doing something useful when they are not. This raises two questions for me (for which I do not have answers). First, if a MILLION people join your group, does that make a difference? Does it matter or make some sort of statement to someone(s) that care if that many people will join a facebook group? My point being maybe if TONS of people join your group, it does somehow matter (?). And, second, If people couldn’t join facebook groups about their favorite causes, would people then go out and do something actually meaningful? That is, do gestures for a good cause that have no impact whatsoever actually reduce the level of action that does have some sort of impact?

An afterthought is that people on facebook (and online petitioners) feel so helpless to do anything (I mean, what could you do that would be that meaningful to end the war in Iraq or genocide in Darfur without committing a significant amount of time and energy?) that they just do facebook groups or online petitions to somehow address that feeling of helplessness – that is, the idea that people just don’t feel like they have the ability to commit real time an energy to one issue (or to the many issues that may tug at us) so facebook groups are sort of a stop gap measure…a way to represent care for an issue, to announce to friends that something matters to you, with no pretence that it actually does do any good.

Anyway, just some thoughts. No conclusions just yet.


Don’t you bet this is a fun church to attend?

September 4, 2008

Church Sign: Kissing Girl Leads To Hell

The Associated Press reports that “a church in the Columbus [Ohio] area is turning heads with its public spin on the pop song I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry. (For more on the song, including the lyrics, you can see my old post on it.)

A sign outside Havens Corners Church in suburban Blacklick has the lyrics from the song’s chorus, “I kissed a girl and I liked it” — and adds, “Then I went to hell.” … Church pastor the Rev. Dave Allison said the Bible clearly states that homosexuality is a sin, so the sign is intended as a loving warning to teens.

Yeah, that seems really loving to me. And I bet it is super-effective too. I sure won’t be kissing any girls now that I have read that on a church sign and I bet all the teenage girls in the area won’t be either. Good thing we have been warned!


We can’t take off the white goggles, people.

July 18, 2008

I used to watch The View long ago when I was probably in high school or college. It isn’t so much my style these days. And Ms. E. Hasselbeck has always rubbed in the wrong way (I know, big surprise there). But I was so cheering Whoopi Goldberg on so much when I read about this. They were talking about the presidential election and E.H. was pretty much saying that black people should think a little bit before they just vote for the black candidate because he is black. (Which, of course, my reply is, hey probably they did, genius. But that is not the point here.) And W.G. is pointing out to E.H that there is really just no way she can understand where black folks are coming from.

SHEPHERD: But you’ve seen, you know, your entire lifetime you’ve seen people in positions of power that look like you. I, I am- the first time in my life, I am seeing a man that’s running who looks like me.

HASSELBECK: I’ve never seen a president that looks like me.

SHEPHERD: They look like you. They are white and they look like you. I want to be able- it shows young black men that they can have a voice in politics. It shows my son Jeffrey that he can do the same thing too.

HASSELBECK: I’m not against the idea. I just- I’m against the idea of not just looking beyond the things which have prevented them from being in office. We need to step away from that a little bit and look at the entire picture. That’s all I’m saying.

GOLDBERG: It’s a very- and I say this with a huge amount of love. It’s a very white way to look at it.

HASSELBECK: What do you mean?

GOLDBERG: And I, I’m saying this with love, so I understand, because it’s never.

HASSELBECK: Let me take off my “white” goggles.

SHEPHERD: You can’t. I wish you could. You can’t.

GOLDBERG: But you can’t. That’s what I’m trying to explain. This, for us, is totally- it’s not an experience I can explain to you. I can’t explain why black folks are saying “oh my God.”

My point of this is not to say anything about the presidential candidates or who should vote for who or why, but to point out this widespread notion that white people don’t really have white goggles (which Hasselbeck said sarcastically). I just wanted to appreciate W.G.’s point (which you don’t hear much on network television that much) that people need to be more aware that there are just some things that white people cannot grasp about what it means to be black. It shows so much when E.H. said, “There has never been a president that looks like me,” of course completely missing the point so much. I understand the difficulty of being white and wanting to be a good white person and not racist and to be neutral. Yet, it is only when we understand that we benefit from being white whether we want to or not, and that white is not neutral, that we can begin to get at the heart of the structural racism that hurts so so many people. We can’t take off the white goggles. The point is not to take them off and be all neutral and good, but rather to notice them, see what they do, and take the often hard steps to break down the racist structures that so fundamentally shape our society.


House or Buddha?

June 7, 2008

I’ve spent a lot of the last three or five years of my life trying to be more compassionate, more understanding, more mindful, calmer, kinder, more loving, and really pressuring encouraging my partner to do all of this too. I was sort of an obnoxious know-it-all teenager (yes, more so than your average teen) and this started declining after, one morning at church in college, I had an epiphany that I didn’t have to be this intense, that it actually was not good for me, and that the world did not need my intense drama, debate, provoking and proclamations in order to keep moving along and that I might be happier and make more progress toward my goals in life (liberal political stuff, justice, and all that) if I was nice to people instead of lecturing them. (Not that it is terribly relevant here, but my 180 turn toward gentleness and avoidance of conflict probably also had something to do with rejecting a conflict-ridden household growing up, but that is another post). So, I got all into unconditional love, forgiveness, and this ended up morphing into more Buddhist-ish formulations once I finally decided (I think) that I really can’t be a Christian even if I really really want to.

And now enter Gregory House M.D., mean doctor who is cynical, jaded, rude, super-smart, and probably pretty sad, and lonely. I LOVE THIS SHOW. Unreasonably. At first, I thought I loved it like I liked E.R. Interesting relationships, medical drama. And there are things to solve (sort of like Law & Order only medical and less predicable). Or maybe I just liked it because I don’t have a T.V. and it was a show I had seen a few times and sort of got hooked because I really wasn’t watching much else.

But this is not the case. I am drawn to this show. My spirit is drawn to it. I cannot tell if I want to be more like House (more confident, strong, uncaring about what others think about me, super-insightful, more selfish). Or if I want to rescue House (just like I wanted to rescue Will in Good Will Hunting or Joey in fourth grade, or Levi in ninth grade, etc.). Or both. Maybe it is just fun to live vicariously through someone who is pretty much never wrong, and is cold and calculating, but really soft on the inside.

Why post this on my blog, you say? Because it raises actual questions for me about how we might live our lives. I have started but not finished two other posts on this topic that have something to do with how nice is too nice and how mindful and meditative can you be before you are just dull? The Dalai Lama and Thich Naht Hahn are great, but how Buddha-ish do I want to be or should/can I (we) be and how House-ish should we (I) be, just calling people out on things, and not entertaining their mush and drama? Is part of being a good minister (or just human) sometimes not saying, “Oh, and how does that feel to you?” and instead just being like, “Seriously, you need to just get over that.” How much is all my compassion and love and la la la so others will like me and feel cared for by me, and how much of it is really that that is what they truly need?

I will continue to do more research on this by watching as many House episodes as I possibly can. I will report back.


Sex and the City Movie Review (or Reflections)

June 4, 2008

(This has spoilers so don’t read if you don’t want to know what happens.)

Well, my hopes were not high. A good, smart show rarely makes a good smart movie.

My review is not super-different from the ones you have already read: if you already like the show and long for more of it, then, of course, there is some fun to the movie. I have watched about half the episodes of the show somewhat out of order while visiting my most wonderful friend (and the benefactor of this blog) in DC. The first season I thought Carrie was a spoiled brat and why would I watch such a shallow show. But, as things moved along (and I got a bit older), I thought the writing got better, the characters were richer, the friendship was wonderful, and the story lines were mostly realistic-ish, while still fun and not too realistic to be boring.

Which brings me to my huge complaint about the movie. The story lines were just not good. (This is where the spoilers come in and this mostly for people who have already seen it.) First, Miranda, my favorite, is a smart reasonable woman. What in the hell was that about Steve having sex one time with someone else, feeling TERRIBLE about it, begging for forgiveness, and Miranda is just like “nope, that’s it, I’m outta here.” I’m sorry, but that is absurd. Maybe for some traditional couple who based everything on the sanctity of marriage and monogamy, leaving so surely and quickly would make sense, but for Miranda? Clearly her friends thought it was not smart either. There was not enough explanation as to why she would be so clear-cut about the whole thing. The four friends hardly even talked about it. It was Stevehadanaffair and I’mmovingout and thatisthat. And there was maybe, two minutes of talking about it. It was not believable. It was unreasonable. It was not very Miranda like. If I would ever be so dramatic and over-reacting, I would hope my friends would be more clear about how unreasonable I was being and better encourage me to weigh all the issues at hand.

Problem two is the cancellation of the fancy Big-Carrie wedding. He barely get’s out the words, “I can’t do this,” or something like that and then rather than taking a few minutes to reassure him, she drops the phone, freaks out, and leaves. I know. This is sort of classic Carrie, but again, just too absurd to base a whole freaking movie on. It would have taken two minutes of her talking him down for him to come into the wedding – and it would have taken only a little effort on the part of her friends to remind her of this instead of running out the door immediately and then supporting her when she attacked him with the flowers. I know. It is not nice if your future husband has cold feet, especially given the long history. But to throw away a life with someone over this? No follow-up. No nothing?

Third, Miranda’s little statement to Big at the rehearsal dinner – not wise. But, for Carrie to turn this into “You ruined my marriage”? Again, this falls outside the “realistic but still fun” category into the “we had to think of a plot for the movie and this is what we could come up with” category. I know Carrie can be dramatic. Spoiled and unreasonable. Yes. She could have reasonably been upset with Miranda rather than throw a stupid fit and claim that this is what ruined her marriage. In and of itself, I guess this sliver could have been boarder-line slightly unrealistic but still believable. But mixed with all the other “doesn’t really make good sense” stuff, it was just one more thing that didn’t fit – it wasn’t the women I knew and loved. It was a goofy movie version of them.

And this last point is sort of minor, but seriously, if they were all about diversity, could they maybe have picked the only person of color in the whole move not to be Carrie’s assistant? Are there not any other roles for black people besides that of assistant? I thought Jennifer Hudson did a stellar job. But I would have liked her to be something other than a helper.

Gosh, I sound super-jaded and mean about the movie, don’t I? I don’t mean to be. Here is the thing – I didn’t expect it to be good. So it is okay. I mean, it is hard to make a good tv show into a movie. I happily hold onto those lovely tv episodes of rich, silly, funny, poignant moments of friendship and love and complexity and I am quite happy with that.


The Secret Is Total Bunk

November 28, 2007

I’ve been intending to write about The Secret for a while and Rev. Fred Small‘s recent UU World article Psst: ‘The Secret’ isn’t total bunk,”(adapted form a sermon) inspired me to sit down and get to it. (The Secret has also recently been mentioned at Philocrities and over at Surviving the Workday).

The problems with the book, the DVD companion to the book, and the general philosophy/science outlined therein are so numerous that I have no intention of trying to outline them all. You can read the wikipedia article, which outlines a good number of the problematic aspects and claims. The question for me, as it is was for Rev. Small, is if there is something redeemable about The Secret. Should we throw the baby out with the bathwater?

In the end, for Rev. Small, there was something redeemable about The Secret. After pointing out some of the problems with the book, he writes:

The Secret reminded me that to dwell constantly in the negative is its own kind of hell—a hell of my own choosing. I don’t want to deny or flee the negative, but I need not build my house on its sinkhole. How effective an activist for change can I be when my thinking and speaking are infused with hopelessness? How much time and energy in all areas of my life do I devote to criticizing what is, rather than creating what could be?

“There is no greater power in the Universe than the power of love,” says The Secret. “The feeling of love is the highest frequency you can emit. If you could wrap every thought in love, if you could love everything and everyone, your life would be transformed.” That’s a view I wholeheartedly endorse.

Yet, for me, while I understand that some good thoughts and ideas can come from The Secret – especially the sense that positive thinking is important, focusing on the negative is not often helpful, that we should “emit” love our lives, I think it is total bunk. Just because some parts of a book or a way of thinking can be isolated and might be helpful, I don’t think that we can, or should, separate out the acceptable parts of thinking such as that espoused in The Secret given what the overall “package” implies – an overall package that people are buying into by the thousands.

What does the overall package imply, you ask? That your thoughts are responsible for what happens in your life – if you think positive things, positive things will happen. And if you think negative things, negative things will happen. There is no gray area here.

“Everything that’s coming into your life, you are attracting into your life. And it’s attracted to you by virtue of the images you’re holding in your mind,” Bob Proctor of The Secret DVD tells us.

As Rev. Small reminds us in the UU World article:

The Secret demands three simple steps: 1) Ask. 2) Believe. 3) Receive.

“It’s like having the Universe as your catalog,” explains [Dr. Vitale, Metaphysician]. “You flip through it and say, ‘I’d like to have that product and I’d like to have a person like that.’ It is You placing your order with the Universe. It’s really that easy.”

The insurmountable problem I have with this is that the logical conclusion these sort of theological/scientific claims require: if things aren’t going well for you, it is because you are doing something wrong. Not only is this just reprehensible to me in general (thinking of those I know who have suffered and succumbed to cancer despite hopeful, joyful honest asking and believing), but this is also a quite racist, classist and sexist claim as well: those who are doing well are doing so because they have asked and believed – because they have done what they need to do, attracting good to themselves. Those who are not doing well have not asked and have not believed – according to The Secret‘s law of attraction, they have not attracted good things to them because their thoughts and energies are not good enough. So, women, if you get raped: you could have prevented that with different thoughts. To the millions suffering from the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa: you could have prevented this by thinking different thoughts. Did your wife get laid off from her job?: that also could have prevented by thinking different thoughts. If you go to a highly segregated school that is vastly underfunded and get an inadequate education: you simply did not open that catalog of the universe and pick out what you wanted – you could have prevented this by maybe taking a little action, but mostly by thinking different thoughts, emitting different energy. It’s really that easy.

Rhonda Byrne speaks to this in a Newsweek article:

“The law of attraction is that each one of us is determining the frequency that we’re on by what we’re thinking and feeling,” Byrne said in a telephone interview, in response to a question about the massacre in Rwanda. “If we are in fear, if we’re feeling in our lives that we’re victims and feeling powerless, then we are on a frequency of attracting those things to us … totally unconsciously, totally innocently, totally all of those words that are so important.” (Jerry Adler. “Decoding ‘The Secret’” Newsweek, March 2007)

Right. So apparently the Rwandans might who were massacred (or those killed during the Holocaust or, say, Matthew Shepard or other people who have been brutally killed) might have been having totally unconscious, totally innocent frequencies which, in the end, resulted in their deaths. What a woefully inadequate answer to questions about longing, hoping, and suffering in our world. Shame on you Rhonda Byrne.

Positive thinking is great. Emitting love frequencies is great. But this is not what The Secret is about. The Secret is making claims about how the universe works. If you think about what you want, believe it will come to you, it will. If it doesn’t, you aren’t doing things right. This sounds to me too much like blaming those who suffer from injustice, oppression, and simply those who suffer. It feels like such a slap in the face to all of the people who I have known throughout my life – and really, those throughout the world – who have believed, and yet suffered and struggled and not received. And, it is a slap in the face to those who, for whatever reason, have not been able to believe.

Our Unitarian Universalist faith does not offer easy answers to why there is suffering in the world. We do not have answers as to why we do not always get what we want, or why justice and goodness and health so often fail to manifest in our lives. This is because there are not easy answers to these questions. These are important places for reflection, exploration, struggle, and grappling with hard theological and scientific questions. Why did the cancer treatment not work? Why did our dad lose his job? Why does violence like that which we see in Darfur continue? The Secret, and any embrace of it, dismisses these questions and this grappling that is so central to our faith with easy, simplistic answers.

Let’s call this what it is. The Secret is bad pseudo-science and has nothing to do with what Unitarian Universalism is about. We can embrace love and positive thinking and hope without contaminating our faith or our lives with the absurd theological and scientific claims of The Secret.

Addendum: I just want to clarify, after reflecting on this post, that my frustration with The Secret is primarily about The Secret and its theology, not about Rev. Small’s attempt to glean something useful from it. I understand where Rev. Small was going with trying to take some good out of a book/theology/world-view that he takes pains to point out has great problems. I just respectfully disagree with that approach. I don’t know Rev. Small, but imagine, like so many of our ministers, is a thoughtful, kind, and very wise person. Just thought it was important to clarify this.


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