No Candy for You If You Come Dressed Like This

Ignore the fact that Christmas displays are popping up all over the place. Keep your eyes on the prize, my dear readers.

Candy. Free candy.

Halloween is not my favorite holiday, not because of its pagan roots and dark images but because it wreaks havoc with the kids’ schedules when it falls on a weeknight conflicting with homework, extracurriculars and dinner. And because it brings out a kind of crazy and lack of wisdom in adults, that does tend to trickle down.

The candy is free so long as you make an attempt at dressing up, but that is where the crazy comes out to play. God help the kid who shows up at my door dressed up in a sombrero, or as a “pimp” or “thug”, or a geisha, or in an “Indian” headdress. It is not respectful (why do you get to choose what is respectful to my culture without asking me?). I’m not accusing the parents or the child of racism or of being a racist. I won’t actually refuse to give you candy. I won’t yell at you or the kid. I am simply asking people to reconsider their choice of Halloween costumes, whether it’s for themselves or for a loved one.

The taking a piece or part of a minority group’s culture by the majority culture is known as cultural appropriation. Some examples would be Chief Illiniwek – the University of Illinois’ former mascot and dress-up/theme parties. There are plenty more out there. Chinese character tattoos on the arms of people who think it “looks cool”.  Just Google “Deadly Viper controversy”. There are plenty of folks who don’t think it’s that big of a deal. That’s fine. I think it’s a big deal.

And while we are at it, dear female readers. Please encourage our sisters, young at older, to avoid Halloween costumes that focus on our sexuality. No holiday is an excuse for grown women to wear bloomers with thigh highs or for young girls and young women to mistake dressing sassy=sexy. If you have to ask if something crosses the line, it probably already did. And male readers, keep your shirts on and pants pulled up. You know what I’m talking about.

It’s a big deal because we are all made it God’s image, and God sees inherent value in both our sameness and our uniqueness. God knows each one of us (Psalm 139). And even in John’s revelation he writes of seeing unity and diversity (Rev. 7). So it’s a big deal when we create a caricature of another culture for our benefit, entertainment, amusement and abuse.

So please, don’t come to my door dressed up to honor my Asian, Latino, Black, First Nations friends. I’d rather you put on a Cubs hat and come as an insufferable optimist.



The Sex Talk Lady Is Back

This post is going to generate a ton of spam.

I’ve been invited to sit on a panel to discuss sex, specifically on the topic “Respecting Sex and Reducing Abortion: What Can Churches Really Do?”  I was reluctant to accept the invitation for a variety of reasons including fear of putting at least one foot in my mouth, fear of digging a hole large enough to discredit me but not large enough to sink into and disappear, fear of looking and sounding like the least experienced expert and the potential scheduling acrobatics for me and my husband so that we had morning coverage on the home front. However, the sex talk lady is back.

Let me first explain the nickname. A few years ago I took on several campus speaking opportunities – every single one on the topic of sex and sexuality. I suppose writing the chapter on sexuality in More Than Serving Tea and also helping lead a weekend college student training module entitled “Christians, Sex and Intimacy” for several years had helped shape my reputation as a Christian woman who was not afraid to talk about sex, faith, ethnicity, gender, sin, failure, guilt, pleasure and hope. It was during that crazy year of sex talks that I had the opportunity to speak at Wheaton College during chapel on the subject of sex. That’s right. Wheaton College. Chapel. Sex. The sophomore class, I believe, invited me back to do a Q & A, and the promotional flyers and posters said it all: The Sex Talk Lady is Back.

When it comes to the topic of sexuality (not so much abortion, though I will certainly address the issue on the panel) my hope is for church leaders to understand that the Church can do and must do a better job teaching a theology of sexuality that acknowledges and encourages understanding and thoughtful engagement with the cultures around us and the realities we face. And as a parent of both a daughter and sons, I cannot leave the topic of sexuality and the ongoing conversations up to the youth pastors, health ed teachers and pop culture.

Because in reality repeating the line I heard in church – “Don’t have premarital sex” – did not prepare me well to deal with the warm fuzzies I felt after watching those Hollywood rom-coms and definitely after my first french kiss. Sure, the script kept running in my head (Kathy, remember, premarital sex is bad. JESUS IS WATCHING!) but NO ONE TOLD ME that the script in my head would have to compete with nerve endings I did not know would fire and feel that way and the emotions that became enmeshed with those physical experiences. All I heard was “sex is bad” and then I walked away feeling like “I was bad”. And then, for awhile, it was easier to just walk away.

I could rant on and on, but I won’t because this morning I have a list of things I must, must, must get done. However, I would again appreciate hearing from all of you. Please, be respectful of one another’s opinions, which may differ from yours. Please.

What, if anything, can the churches do to respect sex and reduce abortion? Should churches be doing anything at all? What did you learn about sex, sexuality and abortion at church and how has that helped (or not) you understand and respect sex? If you could help shape and change the message your church is sending about sex, sexuality and/or abortion how would you do it and what would that message be?

Moving Forward Sometimes Means Looking Back

I am not trying to rehash the past for the sake of rehashing the past. I am, however, trying to figure out what, if anything, was learned from the DV incident. Personally, I’m still sorting through the experience which gave me a unique opportunity to speak up about issues of identity – both ethnic and gender.

I found myself speaking out with the likes of Soong-Chan Rah and Eugene Cho while having to ask them to consider the cost of not speaking out against misogyny and sexism. And in the end my only regret is not pushing the issue further with them. We talked about whether or not “adding on” the issue of gender would hinder the effectiveness of our protest, and there was talk about whether or not we could go back and criticize content when initially we all had agreed that we were not as concerned with the content of the book.

Looking back, I would have pressed us to stop and say what we were hoping the authors would say. We made a mistake. We drew attention to the obvious – the random “Asian” images and objectification of culture for one’s own gain. But I wish I had quickly run out and taken a look at the book (which I did about two weeks into the mess), slowed down the online rant to a more thoughtful chapter-by-chapter analysis. Once I had the book in my hands I realized I had a problem with both the content and the images. I wish I had slowed down and then pressed the issue further because at the end of a day of explaining white privilege, stereotypes and brokenness I looked at a photograph in the book of an Asian woman baring her midriff, wearing an Chinese-styled dress carrying a Japanese samurai sword I had to come to terms with “male privilege” where the normative experience is that of men.

So I’m still thinking things through, praying that God will help me find a gentle, powerful voice to move forward without losing lessons of the past.

But I wasn’t alone in DV. This e-mail was sent out on March 11 in hopes of some clarification from a few folks involved.

Dear Jud, Mike, Chris and Stan,

I trust you are all doing both well and good, and you are connecting with Christ in a fresh way this Lenten season.

It has been almost four months since our paths crossed, but I suppose in some ways our telephone conversation and subsequent online “interactions” may still be fresh. I am writing not to open up old wounds but to see if you have any reflections or a response to all that happened in the fall now that there has been a little bit of time and space. I continue to have blog readers, friends and colleagues who watched the situation unfold ask me if I have had any contact with any of you (particularly Jud and Mike) and what if any thoughts I might share publicly.

Revisiting DV publicly didn’t seem appropriate until a follow-up of some sort had happened. You see, as I’ve replayed our phone conversation (with Mike, Jud, Chris, Nikki, Soong-Chan, Eugene and me) and re-read our joint statements post-conversation, I cannot help but shake the impression that our conversation would continue at some point offline. Perhaps I mistakenly assumed that Soong-Chan, Eugene, Nikki or I would be part of those conversations and that you have sought counsel of other Asian Americans. Was I wrong in assuming we would at some point come back to the table to talk?

Jud and Mike, I have been watching POTSC from it’s unexpected early start develop into what looks like a lively community ready to engage in learning from and extending second chances. I’m getting ready to write a follow-up reflection piece, and I’d prefer to include a public comment or two from either of you (or from Stan or Chris) in response/reflection four months later rather than a “no comment” or non-response. At the very least, I will be letting readers know by the end of the month that I’ve contacted you, perhaps including this e-mail, in hopes of getting us back to the table to talk again.

Please let me know what kind of response I can share publicly with my readers.



What Does It Mean To Be “Feminine”?

There is a great discussion going on about Mark Driscoll and the “chickified” male/church at the Jesus Creed. I’m running out the door so I’ll have to revisit topic, but I have blogged about  my concerns with similar thoughts on masculinity and femininity.

But controversy aside, I’m curious. I’m not sure who all of you are who read my blog, but I’d love to know how you would define, describe, live/seen lived out femininity? It can’t  be about lip gloss and twirly skirts, but sometimes we don’t push the conversation, the descriptors, the issues deeper than that, I’m afraid. What do you see in women that is a part of the image of God that is reflected uniquely in the feminine? Or is there such a thing? And does race and ethnicity play any role in how you’ve seen the feminine defined?

For you women, what about being a woman do you find joy or discomfort in? What about being a woman draws you closer to God or makes drawing closer to God more challenging?

The Balancing Act

Hollywood isn’t real life, but when real life (mine and the lives of the actors) and Hollywood converge it is great fodder for thinking and conversation. Peter and I can’t stop talking about last night’s date night movie, “Up in the Air”, starring Vera Farmiga and George Clooney.

IMBD’s movie description: With a job that has him traveling around the country firing people, Ryan Bingham leads an empty life out of a suitcase, until his company does the unexpected: ground him.

My oversimplified movie description: Ryan Bingham has a midlife crisis.

But I’m not so focused on Ryan Bingham (that’s for another post). What I am still thinking about is how I was drawn to Alex Goran, played by real-life mom and wife Vera Farmiga. Alex is a strong, confident, beautiful, sexy (but not slutty, for the most part), successful, intelligent business woman whose opening exchange with Ryan had me and Peter talking about power dynamics into the wee hours of the morning. (Peter and I really are a fun couple.)

Women have a different balancing act than men, especially in the corporate world, in terms of how they communicate through their words, body language and even the way they dress and carry their sexuality. Times are changing, but Equal Pay Day, when women finally catch up to what men earned the year before still isn’t until April 10, 2010. We’ve come a long way, but it’s still not a level playing field, which is in part why the length of the skirt, firmness of the handshake and awareness of the hair flipping matters. You  may not agree with the rules, but there are rules. Changing them means knowing them first.

As a Christian woman who works in the tension of a management position in a Christian missions organization, my concerns and thoughts on “dressing for success” can either be dismissed as being superficial and too concerned with “the world” or hijacked by important and related conversations about women’s roles, marriage and parenting (and then get into the messier conversations about whether or not a mom should get a paycheck for her work, whether or not a woman can lead other men over the age of 18, whether or not women can be women without tempting men) while ignoring the obvious truths. God gave all of us, men and women, more than one sense in which we interact with the world and, therefore, people. Sight gives us literal lenses through which we make judgments and assumptions. Hearing allows us to interpret tone and volume and pace. Even smells, touch and taste play into the ways we interact with one another and how that affects success and effectiveness. Again, understanding and awareness is not the same as agreement with said rules.

Successful women are often portrayed in both Hollywood and real life as the “byatch”. The stereotypes are easy: successful women essentially act like men but happen to have breasts or they are women who have used their breasts to gain access. Even in scripture we have to wrestle and understand the cultural norms and stereotypes of women as we interact with Ruth and Naomi, Queen Esther and even Mary the mother of Jesus along with the unnamed sinful woman and the woman at the well. When Bible teachers and trainers are asked to teach on leadership, where do they turn? I turn to those women.

I digress.

The reality is a balancing act of trying to embrace our leadership, our femininity, our voice alone and alongside men. Personally I struggle and am confused when colleagues describe me as being “motherly” and describe other male colleagues as “pastoral”. I don’t want to be overly vain and concerned about my appearance but I’m not going to pretend that my appearance doesn’t matter to others or myself.

Which is why I found Alex as a character fascinating. Alex, from what little we know, is neither a man with breasts or a “byatch”. When the younger female character Natalie Keener, played by Anna Kendrick, is in crisis Alex listens and speaks frankly without cattiness. Alex is a woman who has, in some sense, arrived in the corporate world and in midlife, unlike the younger Natalie. Alex was a woman comfortable with her sexuality, success and choices and Natalie was still struggling to figure out what her choices would be, how she would view success and how her gender would play into those choices.

Twenty years ago I was Natalie, and I suspect I would not have resonated with the movie or the characters in the same way, which is why I say go watch “Up in the Air”. Hollywood gave me 109 minutes of entertainment and lots about reality – past, present and future – to think about.

Back When I Was a Little Girl Football Commercials Were About Beer and Boobs, Not Babies

Is nothing sacred anymore?

With the exception of one Super Bowl in the 80s, I’ve generally looked at Super Bowl Sunday as an excuse to eat chips and watch the commercials. During the regular season, football commercials tend to bore me. I am not interested in drugs to treat ED, and nothing, not even watching boobs (the fake version on women as well as the foolish male version) will convince me that one beer is better than the other. Super Bowl Sunday ups the ante on the commercials by charging tons more for airtime. Over the years there have been some great commercials that often entertained more than the action on the field.

So imagine my surprise over the stink brewing over a commercial set to run featuring football darling Tim Tebow and his mother Pam Tebow. The link is thanks to a colleague, and I have to agree with him and the writer of the Washington Post column,  Sally Jenkins. You may fiercely disagree with the message of and the values (and pocketbook) behind the commercial, but as a woman I am a bit frustrated and disappointed.

Critics point to the pro-life message as being inappropriate. Really? You may disagree with it, but how is it inappropriate? The commercial is running during a game in which very strong, grown men tackle each other, sometimes to the point of injury, while boisterous fans, some in various stages of inebriated behavior, scream encouraging words using colorful language while grown women wear clothing small enough for small girls shake their pom poms in order to create team spirit. Yes, let’s talk about what is inappropriate and question where our values are.

And apparently there is a flurry of investigative reporting happening as well because questions are being raised about whether or not Pam Tebow’s story is true. (She got pregnant in 1987 while on a Christian mission in the Philippines and got sick. Doctors told her that the pregnancy was risky, but she chose to go through with the pregnancy.) Some headlines are declaring Tebow’s story a “falsehood”. Have those writers and critics taken a look at some of the boobs (male and female) out there? There is plenty of falsehood to go around. Buying expensive but really cool shoes won’t make you cool, but that falsehood is what sells those shoes. My goodness, advertising wants you to buy into a falsehood – if you buy this product you will be happier, more attractive, more successful, more this and that.

Apparently a few of the organizations taking issue with the Tebows and their commercial are launching their own response because the best response to an inappropriate commercial is to create another one? I never imagined Super Bowl Sunday would become part of the pro-life/pro-abortion conversation because when I was a little girl football was about the game, the beer and the boobs.

Solution? Suggestions? Should CBS pull the ad? Do you find the idea behind the commercial offensive and inappropriate? And do you really think the Saints will reign victorious?

The Ultra-thin Pad

I still can’t believe that no one pulled the R & D folks at Apple aside and suggested a different name for the latest in the “i” family  – iPad.

I’ve seen several threads on friends’ FB pages and the Mad TV clip that predates the real iPad. One comment read “my mind didn’t even go in that direction”. I’m not sure what direction that would be, but my mind goes that direction every month. It’s called menstruation. Yes, every month until the good Lord and my hormones say enough is enough. Really? No one in the know at Apple played word association and made the connection? Does this point to the absence or type of influence women have over there in Apple land? What say you?

On the other hand, is it that big of a deal? So what if the ultra-thin iPad makes me and many other men and women think of a maxi pad. Surely they could have come up with a better, cooler name, but perhaps all of the nervous laughter and joking has less to do with associating a cool, sleek, over-priced techno toy with a feminine hygiene product than our culture’s inability to reconcile it’s obsession with sexuality and appropriate comfort with all things sexual, including menstruation and pads of all kinds.

Why Don’t We Call Him the Adulterer if the Women are the Mistresses?

Sorry. I’ve jumped on the Tiger Woods gossip-mongering bandwagon. I’m tired of it too, but maybe not exactly in the same way as others are.

Floozies. Dogs. Mistresses. That is how some of the women involved in the scandal have been referred to in the media. Woods, who is alleged to have had more than a dozen affairs during his marriage, is still being referred to as the greatest golfer of all time. Why isn’t he being referred to as the adulterer if the women are the mistresses?

A friend of mine recently posted a note on his facebook about  sports talk host Jim Rome interviewing Charles Barkley. I do not listen to sports radio so I haven’t heard this interview, but this snippet my friend posted is what made me stop in horror (I’ve added the boldface):

Rome challenged his assertions, but Sir Charles never backed away from his points. After he hung up, Rome made the following statements. “I know that Charles is tight with Woods. I get that. But Charles is known on TNT for being a straight talker. I guess I wasn’t that surprised he backed up his good friend. He did say that what he did was wrong. But then he quickly denounced those women as being sinister and the press as being relentless and unfair. But like I said, if you sleep with dogs, expect to get some fleas. Those women kept his emails and text messages all this time because they’re cocktail waitresses and he’s Tiger Woods. Tiger chose that kind of person to hook up with so why is anyone surprised that they’re bankrolling that connection now? Again, if you choose to sleep with dogs, you’re going to get fleas. I disagree with Chuck that the focus should be on how these women are treating Tiger or how the press is treating Tiger. The focus should be on how Tiger treated his wife and children.”

No. The focus should be on how even in this day and age it’s OK to refer to women in such disparaging ways. Dogs? Sinister? Are you kidding me? Yes, the women involved in this slow-motion car wreck have made some very unwise choices, but identifying them based solely on physical features, past sins and sexist stereotypes is used to discredit them. Because really are you going to believe a sinister cocktail waitress over the world’s greatest golfer?

I’ve heard and read some Christians jump on the forgive-Tiger-and-give-him-a-second-chance wagon. Everyone needs second chances and then some. Many Christian commentators have focused on the gossip-mongering angle of the story or about infidelity and its consequences – valid. But let’s make sure as Christians we don’t shy away from addressing the sexist comments and taking on a culture that worships sports figures and then demonizes the women who buy into the idol-worship. Let’s make sure we welcome the floozies, dogs and mistresses, too. Jesus did. He had to. It was part of his story generation after generation from Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and the unnamed woman who had been Uriah’s wife.

We’re a week away from Christmas. Our Savior born to the floozie known as Mary. Forgive us for our double-standards and blindspots.

WWJW or What Would Jesus Wear (if Jesus Was a Tween/Teen Girl)?

A friend’s post about fashion and leggings got me thinking about how my daughter and I are navigating the scary yet vaguely familiar world of teenage fashion.

Life was a lot easier when I could go to just about any store and buy a few things for Bethany, stick them in the closet, and pull them out for her to wear with little to no objections. But I don’t know if it was as fun. Life now means going to the mall or Goodwill together and trying to out-do each other’s best buys.

But starting around age 9 finding “appropriate” clothing and avoiding exposed midriffs and butt crack became priority #1. I remember walking into a tween girls’ clothing store and horrified at their underwear display – bikini and low-rise underwear for tweens. What does a 9-year-old need low-rise underwear for? Apparently to make sure her underwear doesn’t show too much under those cute low-rise jeans. Duh.

Bethany isn’t 9 anymore. She’ll be 14 the day after Christmas. And when she tries on a pair of jeans I ask her to sit down in them before I’ll pay for them. When she tries on a shirt I ask her to raise her hands in the air because I care about whether or not the shirt rides up and shows off the spot where she was once tethered to me for sustenance.

But fashion and appropriateness can feel like a moving target. I don’t have big issue with her wearing a bikini, but I may change my mind on that this summer. I think she looks great in those low-cut skinny jeans, but I don’t want boys or men googling her. I want her to see herself as God (and Peter and I) see her – beautiful inside and out. But I also remember what it’s like to be a teenager, and I’m still the kind of woman who likes to look good in what she wears. And I want her to understand that what she wears isn’t as important as her heart, but that it’s OK to appreciate her physical beauty as well as a fabulous fitting pair of jeans. Clothes don’t make the woman, but we all know that at one point or another we’ve judged another woman for what she was or was not wearing.

See? Moving target.

A few nights ago Peter and I were watching ABC’s Nightline when a segment on tween/teen fashion came up. A national program called Pure Fashion was promoting modest fashion for teens. Pure Fashion’s creator and former Miss Georgia, Brenda Sharman says, “The idea with Pure Fashion is very countercultural.” She goes on to explain that the program is for girls with courage, and that is extends beyond fashion to cover proper behavior and actions for Christian girls who wish to remain virtuous until marriage.

But something about that segment bothered me, and I’m still trying to figure out why. Perhaps it’s knowing what it’s like to be judged based on appearances and not wanting my daughter or her friends to be judged that harshly…or for them to judge others based on their fashion choices. Maybe it’s because I want to believe that what I wear isn’t all that important but I hold in tension the reality that what I choose to wear can communicate messages I intend or don’t intend to communicate. There’s a reason we call the power suit the “power” suit.

So, should we even be asking the question, “What would Jesus wear if he were a tween/teen girl?”? What have you seen in fashion trends that make you cringe? (Why are shoulder pads coming back? At least they cover the shoulders, right?) What are the lines you have drawn for your daughter or for yourselves as you shop and get dressed? (No belly button or butt crack exposure. That goes for both of us. And I refuse to let her shop at a particular store that insists on dimming the lights and assaulting potential customers’ sense of smell and hearing, but we’ve bought a few of those label’s items at rummage sales.)

Christmas Catalogues

It’s that time of the year. Our mailbox overflows with catalogues. It may be Jesus’ birthday but why not pick up a few gifts for yourself?

One of my favorite holiday catalogues is from Heifer International. We’ve been flipping through the pages of cute animals and compelling stories of families finding their way out of poverty and despair through a gift of a goat while the kids start singing, “Everybody has a water buffalo. Mine is fast and yours is slow…”

The one catalogue that continues to perplex me is the Victoria’s Secret catalogue. No. I will not put a link for that. Duh. I’m all for pretty, well-fitting undergarments. And I love getting the $10 of any purchase coupons to help stock up on free, pretty, well-fitting undergarments.

But I must be naive because I would never ever have imagined being able to make a model in a wool-blend pea coat look like she’s selling sex. It’s a wool-blend pea coat!?!

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