About Me

I write about psychology, the Bible, spirituality, relationships, social issues and justice issues.

Monday, December 18, 2017

On "Disrespecting" Those in Power

If you are more concerned about the people you view as honorable being disrespected than you are about those who are at risk being harmed, your priorities are completely backward.

It's amazing how reliably those people who question the behavior of those with power can count on being shouted down with the claim that they are "dishonoring" a person or institution.

- People who criticize the rate of murder by police are dismissed because they are "disrespecting police."

- People who criticize the racialized aspect of murders committed by police are dismissed as "disrespecting veterans." (?)

- People who criticize sexual assault are dismissed as "disrespecting men."

- People who criticize spousal abuse are dismissed as "disrespecting the role of the husband."

- People who criticize war crimes are dismissed as "disrespecting the military."

- People who criticize dishonest and unethical behavior by the president are dismissed as "disrespecting the office of president."

- People who criticize the gun violence epidemic or systemic racism are dismissed as "disrespecting America." (?)

- People who criticize spiritual and ethical abuses by pastors are dismissed as "disrespecting the church."

Except none of those things is disrespectful. Conversely, the refusal to accept critique and accountability is the one thing most likely to result in the moral destruction of any person, group or institution.

Jesus pointedly criticized those with power far more than he criticized anyone else.

Those who criticize and try to hold people and institutions accountable are not attempting to do any sort of harm. They are attempting to do the one thing that can bring healing.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

On How to Regard Our Emotions

I’ve been sitting here pondering how we should best temper our emotions as we go through our lives  choice-making and doing things and whatnot. In my mind are quotes from Christian thinkers and others about how we shouldn’t be led by our emotions or focus too much on them in our lives or our spirituality. But I wonder now: “Why?” 

I believe this bent to minimize, push aside, or say “not too much,” or “not too important,” about our emotions is rooted in the same sexist thinking we’ve been dealing with for millennia. The same “complementarian” farce that says women are great but also intrinsically different (and slightly less important). The thinking among many “progressive” theological (and other) thinkers today is that emotions are important and should not be looked down upon. But they are also not most essential or particularly reliable. 

This is the same as the idea that the feminine is “emotional” (which is a negative), while the masculine is unemotional/rational (which is a positive). “Sure, emotions are a big part of our lives and can bring us lots of lovely moments, but we should not give them primacy, look to them for ultimate meaning or base decisions upon them.” It brings me back to countless Mother’s Day sermons I’ve been present for, when how “amazing and important” women are extolled to be before each is gifted with a flower and then returned to nursery care from whence they came. 

Brennan Manning powerfully speaks on this issue in his book, Abba’s Child:

“To ignore, repress or dismiss our feelings is to fail to listen to the stirrings of the Spirit within our emotional life. Jesus listened. In John’s gospel, we are told that Jesus was moved with the deepest emotions (11:33). In the book of Matthew we see that His anger erupted: “Hypocrites! It was you Isaiah meant when he so rightly prophesied: This people honors me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me. The worship they offer me is worthless” (15:7-9). He called the crowd to intercessory prayer because “he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36). When He saw the widow of Nain, “he felt sorry for her” (Luke 7:13). … Grief and frustration spontaneously broke through when “as he drew near and came in sight of the city he shed tears over it and said, ‘peace’” (Luke 19:41). Jesus abandoned all emotional restraint when He roared, “The devil is your father, and you prefer to do what your father wants,” (John 8:44). We hear more than a hint of irritation when, dining at Simon’s house in Bethany, Jesus said “Leave her alone. Why are you upsetting her?” (Mark 14:6). We hear utter frustration in the words “How much longer must I be with you?” (Matthew 17:17), unmitigated rage in “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to my  path” (16:23), extraordinary sensitivity in “Somebody touched me. I felt that power had gone out from me” (Luke 8:36), and blazing wrath in “Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market” (John 2:16). We have spread so many ashes over the historical Jesus that we scarcely feel the glow of His presence anymore. He is a man in a way that we have forgotten men can be: truthful, blunt, emotional, non-manipulative, sensitive, compassionate — His inner child so liberated that he did not feel it unmanly to cry. … The gospel portrait of the beloved Child of Abba is that of a man exquisitely attuned to His emotions and uninhibited in expressing them. The Son of  Man did not scorn or reject feelings as fickle or unreliable. They were sensitive emotional antennae to which He listened carefully and through which He perceived the will of His Father for congruent speech and action. (p. 70-71)

For Jesus, the scriptures and the logical underpinnings of God and life were the backdrop to how he lived. They formed his mores, so to speak, the way to put one foot in front of the other, but it was from his emotions and his prayers that he based his day-to-day and moment-to-moment choices. His prayers were prayers of the heart. In the Garden of Gethsemane,  his prayer was so emotional he fell on his face, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). The ways he responded to actual people and situations he encountered — with anger, tears, reprimands, comfort, help, acceptance, companionship — were based on his holy, pure emotions. “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19 NIV).

It has always been a tactic of the enemy of our hearts to suck the life from Scripture, so it will be to us like food made from empty hulls from which we try to gain our nutrients. I don’t believe it was an accident that the Bible was kept unattainably in Latin for so long, or that the archaic English versions reigned for so long in recent times. The inaccessible and dusty quality of the words keep them from penetrating our hearts and from relatably applying to our lives, emotions, relationships, fights and situations today. No less do the droning, starched tones of so many teachers and preachers of the Word dull the razor sharp power of the double-edged sword meant to divide soul and spirit, joint and marrow.

Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (NASB). “Give you the desires of your heart” can also be translated as: “put in place the petitions of your inner man,” or “set the requests of your heart.” He specifically promises to guide our hearts if we follow Him. So why would we ever dismiss our hearts and the directions in which they prompt us along our paths? 

Emotion is what drives me to love someone when my mind says that maybe it's not worth it. 

It is in the emotional stirring in my heart that I feel God tell me to turn left, when in my head I’m thinking that left and right could both be viable options, and that perhaps turning right would bring a greater chance of good fortune. 

It is in heeding the impulse of emotion that I give from my wallet to someone in need in an online fundraiser, rather than making a list of pros and cons and hashing out my next month’s budget. 

Emotion is what stirs worship in my heart, not repeating Bible verses in my mind and how they might apply to my life. 

It is a burst of anger and/or compassion for someone that drives me to speak up for their intrinsic humanity rather than holding my tongue because of how others might perceive me or how that could affect my life. 

If I didn’t heed the emotional nudges of well-timed words and deeds, so many beautiful moments would never see the light of day.

Of course our emotions are fallible. Every part of us is. But I see no basis for a belief that our emotions are any more fallible than our minds or our rationality. Am I able to figure out God using my awesome brain power? Of course not. I also cannot "figure out" God with my heart, but I can meet him and touch him in ways that my mind alone never can.

The Bible is meant to shake us, just as Jesus himself was shaken and shook. He lived a life of passion, deep emotion and godly impulses. He did not walk through life doling our platitudes with a benign smile. Nor did he quote the reliability of rationality, weigh out options in pro-con lists, or whip out Scripture in search of a specific chapter and verse in order to answer the questions he was faced with as he walked through life. He loved his Father, based his life on his truth, regularly prayed heart-wringing, wisdom-seeking, strength-gleaning prayers, and made his choices day by day based on the emotions that stirred in him. And thank God he did.

In my interactions and relationships today, I would much, much rather heed the words of, and be in the presence of, someone who has never known Scripture, but has been wooed by the Spirit of God than be with someone who knowns Scripture inside and out and who does not allow her heart to be actively led by Him.

Peace and Love, 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Femininity and Masculinity: Excesses

The question "What is the difference between men and women, between masculinity and femininity?" is a big one here at Sherlock Tam. And this is to be the first post in which I attempt to begin answering it. Rather than beginning by looking at the positives, or at what, technically speaking, femininity and masculinity are, I'm going to begin by looking at the shadow sides. 


Femininity and masculinity are not confined to women and men respectively. Every person has a certain breakdown of each. But the problem is not masculinity; the problem is not femininity. The problem is the excesses and inherent weaknesses of each type of being. They both have great and terrible power, the reverberations of which are felt in all spheres of life. Every person is flawed. Every good thing can be turned bad. The excesses of femininity leads to a failure to respect and honor the self, to giving of things that should not be given, and allowing things that should not be allowed. The excesses of masculinity lead to a failure to respect and honor others, to taking things that are not one's to take and pushing all of the boundaries of what is humane. 

The excesses of femininity can lead to being locked in ones own head, to codependency, to being overly accommodating, to being silent, to minimizing ourselves, to being passive aggressive, to sadness, worry and weariness. It is a turning inward and a destruction from the inside. It is the dozens of little pills poisoning the body that has never been quite good enough, from within.

The excesses of masculinity are greed, selfishness, pride and taking, they are rape, they are outbursts of anger, they are assault, they are maximizing oneself and minimizing others, they are abuse and murder. It is a turning outward and a destruction from the outside. It is bullets itching to explode from their chamber and into the body of the person that unsettles you. From the outside in.

The feminine asks for too much permission as it floats in the unseen, taking everything in. 

The masculine doesn’t pause for consent, as it only takes. 

The excesses of femininity lead to internal destruction. The excesses of masculinity lead to external destruction. Perhaps we really are yin and yang. The predominantly feminine among us are not so much “dark” as living in the unseen - and then are greedily mined by those who value only our seen places. 

The predominantly masculine among us are not so much “light” as living in the physical realm. They do not really see those of us in the unseen and bulldoze over all they do not value. They fail to value even the unseen parts of themselves. 

The more power is inherent in something, the more dangerous it is. The excesses of masculinity have become the most seemingly dangerous on this earth with countless shootings and rapes and molestations and beatings. Femininity has as much power as masculinity, but it not of the same kind. It is not as physical. It is not as seen by the light of day. It is the power of philosophy and spirituality and compassion and interconnection and metaphor and dreams and the nourished soul. And when that power is turned to darkness… it is from thence that all depression, anxiety, self-hatred, shame and despair spring. 

When the feminine is poisoned, dreams perish. Voices and creativity are stifled, dying the wasted death of divine potential. It is the sin of voices unused and stories swallowed. 

When the masculine is poisoned it silences things that should not be silenced, takes and destroys what should never have been taken or destroyed. And in so doing, in its continual pushing, it grows ever more hollow. It expands and explodes like a bomb rushing to prove its potential and leaving nothing in its wake. 

Femininity, rather, condenses and collapses like a spent star, leaving a black hole that can never truly be seen.

In both cases the true self is not utilized. In both cases lie the destruction of life. As with the plants maintaining animal life on earth and the animals maintaining plant life through our continual exhalations, femininity and masculinity need each other to thrive. I don’t pretend to know how, or to know what each truly brings to the table. But we know that much to be true. 

I pause there for today.

Happy dreams and happy daylight,

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Schizorelational: The Unnamed Personality Disorder

Schizorelational Personality Disorder

The Need for a New Classification

Many people have tried to fit relationally abusive people into the box of one of the established personality disorders — usually either Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Antisocial (“Sociopathic”) Personality Disorder. However, neither of these completely fits with the patterns of relationally abusive people. 

I suggest adding a new personality disorder: Abusive Personality Disorder, or Schizorelational Personality Disorder, which I will use interchangeably. It would be classified as a Cluster B personality disorder (dramatic and erratic) alongside Antisocial, Borderline, Histrionic and Narcissistic Personality Disorders. As with Antisocial Personality Disorder, Abusive PD would be considered volitional (i.e. behaviors done by choice), which makes it technically a character disorder.

The Name

The prefix “schizo” means a “split” and is carried by two other diagnosable personality disorders (Schizoid and Schizotypal). 

In Schizorelational PD, the split can be seen in the following ways:

  1. A split between how they behave when alone with a partner and how they behave in public, with a more positive public persona and then harsh or aloof behavior when in private.
  2. A split between how they behave toward their partner and how they treat others, behaving more unkind, intimidating and unpredictable toward their partner.
  3. A split between how they present themselves in early stages of a relationship and how they behave in the long-term, which sees a marked increase in disrespect and controlling attitudes.
  4. A split between how they actually feel toward their partner (negatively) and how they want their partner to believe they feel toward them (positively).

Compared to Antisocial Personality Disorder

People with Antisocial Personality Disorder can be abusive, but unlike antisocial people, schizorelational people often do have consciences. They generally lack empathy or feelings of guilt within their abusive relationship, but otherwise they can still feel guilty and have empathy for others. While antisocial people generally display a failure to respond to social norms, schizorelational people often blend in seamlessly with society — in their jobs, churches and communities. The difference in both of these points is seen in the fact that schizorelational people often look for reasons to justify their behavior. They make excuses, try to blame others for inappropriate behavior when it is found out, or in some other way try to cover it up. Someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder would generally do whatever they felt like doing regardless of how it affected anyone. They would not look for ways to justify their behavior, because they view how anyone else may perceive them to be irrelevant — unless of course they needed to use or manipulate that person, and would then use charm or tailored arguments to that end.

Those with Antisocial PD can also display a reckless disregard for their own safety*, which is certainly not an identifying characteristic of Abusive PD. Antisocial people also often engage in a series of short, intense relationships, while schizorelational people tend to have longer term relationships, which we will examine later. Also missing is the antisocial person's failure to sustain consistent work behavior*, and the frequent presence of criminal records. Again, this can be seen in schizorelational people, as many personality disorders overlap, but as was already mentioned, schizorelational people are often highly functioning members of society, and unidentifiable to anyone not involved in the intimate relationship wherein the abuse is perpetrated.

Compared to Narcissistic Personality Disorder

People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are often known most for their “grandiosity,” which is something that can be entirely absent in people with Abusive Personality Disorder. Some relational abusers can even be very meek and understated. Schizorelational people may even present themselves as inordinately pathetic or to be pitied, or they may execute their abuse with such subtlety that their aims are very difficult to detect. It is often only in the schizorelational person's most intimate relationships that their symptoms are displayed, which can make it difficult, even impossible, to identify from the outside. So while grandiosity can be seen in people with Abusive Personality Disorder, it is not characteristic. 

Narcissism can also be defined as an exaggerated sense of self importance**. While people with Abusive PD do tend to be demanding in one way or another, they may also seem to have an average or below average level of ego, and can present as very straightforward or even simple. Narcissists also display a lack of social inhibition, which, as was previously discussed, is certainly not characteristic of Abusive PD, although it can be present. 

Characteristics of narcissistic people also include “a preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love,” “a belief that he is special and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high status people,” and “envy of others or belief that others are envious of him”** (DMS-IV). None of these are especially characteristic of Abusive Personality Disorder. 

The DSM-IV also states that narcissists are rarely self-harming, but relational abusers are often known to, if not actually harm themselves, threaten to harm themselves, which is a trait more in line with Borderline Personality Disorder. In an opposite swing from Antisocial PD, those with Narcissistic PD are said to be generally unwilling to resort to physical violence** or to commit crimes, which could be true of an individual with Abusive PD, but many schizorelational people are known to resort to violence, generally with precision methods, to further sharpen their control over the recipient of their abuse. Narcissists are further described as often being averse to physical contact with others, which may or may not be the case in Abusive PD. It would be possible for a person to have both Narcissistic PD and Schizorelational PD, but one could also be schizorelational while not fitting the clinical definition of narcissism. 

There has been a move recently to characterize Narcissistic Personality Disorder as more similar to what could be titled Schizorelational Personality Disorder, although I believe it would be much more precise to add the new classification of Schizorelational Personality Disorder and keep the original definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, rather than stretching the borders of Narcissistic PD to encompass Abusive PD. 

How Does Someone Become Schizorelational

It is unclear exactly how relationally abusive people become so or at what point it becomes part of their character. Many abusers experience fear, trauma or abuse at some point during development, but there are many people with relatively healthy childhoods and nurturing parents who still become schizorelational.

As with all personality disorders, Schizorelational Personality Disorder is considered incurable, and is generally with someone for life. Psychologists who have studied abusive people have found this to be the case (Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft is a great resource). Rarely do those who work with abusers with the aim of resolving the abuse find that such people desire to change or ever truly do so. And as with other recognized personality disorders, there can be overlap between two or more personality disorders. Common concurrent personality disorders to Abusive PD would include: Paranoid, Antisocial, Narcissistic and Anankastic, among others. And as with other Cluster B personality disorders, relationally abusive people are those it would be wisest to avoid in intimate relationships.

A Description

Unlike most personality disorders, Abusive Personality Disorder is seen primarily, or only, within the context of certain relationships. Schizorelational people are usually serial monogamists. Someone with Abusive PD could have been with the same person from the time they were a teenager until old age, and could have abused that partner throughout all or part of their relationship. Or they could be in one relationship after another, but they are often monogamous relationships (or they will at least convince their partner that the relationship is monogamous), because the desire is for the relationship itself, in which they can exert their will, power, control and whims onto the other party. As with any ‘craft,’ the longer one ‘works’ at a certain project, the more finely honed it becomes. So it is with relationally abusive people. They spend years honing, sculpting, and forming the relationship into whichever twisted mixed bag best suits them. There is a wide spectrum of types of relationally abusive behavior, from sexual abuse to financial abuse to spiritual abuse to verbal (mental and emotional) abuse (which has been examined thoughtfully by Patricia Evans in The Verbally Abusive Relationship). Abusive relationships vary wildly, each with their own specific types of common abuse, but the underlying tactics and goals are always the same. This has been studied and tracked at length, although perhaps less clinically than other personality disorders and mental illnesses. The same attitudes and behaviors can be found in relationally abusive people across the board. And the recipients of said abuse often find huge amounts of commonality when they meet other recipients of abuse with whom to compare notes. This makes Abusive Personality Disorder ripe and ready to be categorized, studied and pathologized, which I believe will only help the human cause. The more people can be made aware of the signs, characteristics and tactics of relationally abusive people, the easier such people will be to identify. This will also hopefully decrease the success of gaslighting, blaming and other abusive behaviors perpetrated by schizorelational people. When all people learn how to identify relationally abusive personalities, the easier they will be to avoid. This is crucial socially as well as in business, religion and politics. Relationally abusive people are always seeking power over, either in the small sphere of an apartment, or in a much larger sphere, such as government. Such people cannot be trusted to put the needs of others before their own.

It is important to state that schizorelational people can also choose targets for their abuse other than an intimate partner. Their abuse can be perpetrated against one’s child (young or grown), or perpetrated by a child (young or grown) against one’s parent, as well as by bosses onto employees, spiritual leaders or mentors onto those they lead, or with a friendship. Generally speaking, though, if a schizorelational person is in an intimate relationship, they will most certainly be abusive toward their partner in some way. 

It is also important to note that people with Abusive PD are unlikely to be the one ending an intimate relationship. Generally in abusive intimate relationships, the recipient of the abuse is the one who eventually leaves. This usually first requires that the abuse recipient recognize the dynamics of the relationship they had not fully identified previously. One of the most insidious aspects of a relationship with a schizorelational person is the fact that the destructive tendencies of the abusive person are often labeled as relationship issues, communication issues, or something else that was either mutually caused, or could be mutually resolved. This is, of course, not the case. Someone who does not suffer from Schizorelational PD is as unable to change the abusive person as they would be to change any other personality disorder. 


My aim is not to detail the requisite characteristics of Abusive Personality Disorder, but to argue that a separate category in modern psychology and medicine would be useful and would aid in a more precise delineation of personality disorders. 

However, below is a list of possible criteria:

1. Desire to have power over their intimate partner, and attempting to control certain aspects of their partner's life or self: what they wear, what they say, what they think, what they feel, their tone of voice, their facial expressions, their friendships, their activities, their finances, their spiritual life, etc.

2. Lacking a healthy level of empathy for the person they abuse

3. Intentionally using irrational communication patterns, such as blame shifting, topic diverting or feigning a lack of understanding, which prevent healthy communication

4. Speaking unkindly toward their partner with intent to harm or confuse

5. Inability to receive contradiction, refusal or criticism from their partner

6. Deliberately withholding affection and approval from their intimate partner, or undermining the efforts of their partner

7. Increasing unkind behavior to 'punish' their partner when displeased

8. Refusing to take responsibility for their own actions, behaviors or attitudes

9. Failing to cease damaging behaviors or attitudes directed at their partner, despite occasional breaks in said behavior

10. Trying to in some way prevent the abused person from leaving the relationship

11. Attempting to skew other people's opinions against their former partner

For more information, see:

Why Does He Do That, by Lundy Bancroft

The Verbally Abusive Relationship, by Patricia Evans

* http://psychnews.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/pn.39.1.0025a

** http://www.halcyon.com/jmashmun/npd/dsm-iv.html


Thursday, March 31, 2016

On Having ‘Job Friends’

“Men at ease have contempt for misfortune,” Job 12:5

I had a Job friend once. It took me a while to realize it. It started during the time leading up to my separation from my abusive now-ex-husband. I had been struggling with it for years — multiple marriage counselors, reaching out to friends for advice, trying to figure out what I could and should do… When the shiz finally started hitting the fan, I had one friend in particular who responded to me in ways like “…are you really submitting enough?” “…are you sure you’re respecting him like you should?” And my stories to her of desperation were met with askance-eyed, tight-lipped smiles of “I love you, but…” 

Eventually I started getting knocked upside the head with references to the book of Job. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s about a man whom God allowed to be tormented by satan, so satan proceeded to destroy Job’s family, home, finances and health. He’s left miserable, lonely, destitute and hopeless. Three godly friends of his came to sympathize with him, and it all seemingly started off well, as they sat with him on the ground without doing anything for a solid seven days. This seems like a very compassionate ‘mourn with those who mourn’ kind of gesture. Then they started talking. The majority of the story is those three friends telling Job that he must clearly have deserved everything that was happening to him, that he was somehow to blame, and then Job defending himself. Toward the end there was one young man who gave some good advice, and then God basically said He was super pissed at the three friends, and that Job should pray for them and make sacrifices on their behalf so they could be forgiven. In other words, He was tempted to smite them all, but was being nice.

When I finally started pondering this at that time, I realized how it related to my own situation, having this friend telling me I must have done something to deserve what was happening in my marriage. And it was encouraging to feel that God was not actually in agreement with or pleased with the patronizing, critical, unhelpful feedback I was receiving. Conveniently, this friend also started finding herself being reminded of Job, although her interpretation was that she was the ‘good friend.’ Everyone thinks they’re the good friend. 

A current close friend of mine has recently been going through a similar situation, and he, too, has been blessed with a Job friend. When he explained to this friend of his about the abuse and misery he had been living with for so long, the friend responded by sending a long missive pleading with him to reconsider his position so he can be 'restored.' If not, this friend mournfully explained, he would be forced to cut him out of his life. Which is basically verbatim what Job’s friends kept saying to him. And saying to him. 

The parallels and unlearned lesson seem painfully clear. And unfortunately, I think this is all too common. Look for a person going through a terrible situation and you can often find (I hate to say it, but especially within the church) someone telling them they must have done something to deserve it — or, in a watered down phrasing, that if they didn’t do A, B, C, things would be better — which means the exact same thing, it just makes the person saying it feel nicer and more logical. Like they're just trying to reasonably point out the flaws in the way the person has been acting, which, again, is the exact same tactic of Job's friends. In fact, in Job, they seem so genuine and concerned and knowledgeable and persuasive that it often goes over my head at first just how crappy they are being to him. But that's coming from a serial apologizer. Plus there's the added benefit of it being super clear they were being jerks to him based on the fact that God said they were being jerks to him, which spares me the necessity of doubting my interpretation. 

This whole tired, 'helpful' unhelpful judgement parade happens to people in abusive relationships, people who have been sexually assaulted or sexually harassed, people who are struggling to get by financially. It happens to people who are victims of racial profiling and physical assault, and even murder. “You know, that’s unfortunate, but…” “If you hadn’t…”

“Men at ease have contempt for misfortune.” If we translate that into our modern context, it would read “People who have privilege look down on those who suffer from the lack thereof," or, more generally, "People whose lives aren't that difficult look down on those whose lives are." People take their own privilege for granted, and then blame those around them suffering from the imbalance created by their not-God-given legs-up in life. Blaming the poor, blaming victims of assault or abuse, blaming the victims of the crooked system. Or even as simply as looking at those in lower socioeconomic classes or living in poorer regions of the world as somehow being deserving of their situations. It's prideful and disgusting and very, very common.

The story of Job is, in large part, a very early tale of victim blaming, and the ending is a clear example of God calling out victim blaming as a clear and blatant sin. How many people within our country, our culture, reply to anyone going through a trauma with censure of some sort, often doled out in trappings of holiness and claims of wishing for better circumstances for those who have unfortunately made such bad choices — those people who carry such inherently flawed morality/judgement/work ethic — those people who are so different. I've heard the victims of terrorism in Syria being blamed for their genocide because they didn't do a better job of fighting the terrorists off. Black people are blamed for... basically everything, no matter what happens to them. This is not compassion. This is not love. This is not helpful. That is what the book of Job, I believe, was attempting to make clear. 

Regardless of the arguments, the eloquence, the logic, the reasons and refutations. God had the final word and God was clear: the things those 'friends' said were pronounced untrue


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The (Hopeful) Rise of the Sensitive Man

Sensitive men can change the world. 

My children are some of the many to be enchanted by Mr. Rogers. For decades there have been boys and girls who found in Mr. Rogers a loving adult — someone safe, gentle and compassionate. He was someone who worked to understand them and encourage them; that was Fred Rogers’s goal in creating his show — to provide a loving example and friend for children who might not have any others, and to teach them to understand, acknowledge and manage their feelings. 

When Mr. Rogers appears on the screen, my children smile. They wish he could be one of their friends, and envision him as someone they really know. In reading The World According to Mister Rogers, I discovered that Fred Rogers himself created a character for his show — Mr. McFeely — based on his own grandfather, whom he remembers as kind, loving and influential in his own life. And, as strange as it may seem for a grandfatherly figure we grew up with, (and yet how relatable) Mr. Rogers himself related most to the character of Striped Daniel Tiger, who was a shy, small and nervous tiger cub.  The cycle, it seems, repeats itself. And Mr. Rogers's legacy lives on today in a great way. 

Recently, as I have been repeatedly listening to Sufjan Stevens’ album Carrie and Lowell, I am impressed by the emotion and power behind the song “Eugene,” about a grandfatherly man Sufjan befriended as a boy. The impact of the man Eugene is plainly still sketched, painfully, beautifully, indelibly on the man Sufjan. In particular, the song reminds me of my dearest childhood friend — an old man named Mr. Windey. From the time I was a tot until Mr. Windey passed away, his was the home I wanted to visit. His was the lap I wanted to sit upon; his was the belly I wanted to drum. He was a safe place — warm, gentle, lively, and always excited to see me. I wonder how many of us have had our own Eugene. And how many haven’t. 

The most influential people throughout my life, both emotionally and in terms of strengthening my belief in myself, have been the caring, compassionate men I have met along the way. The occasional friends and teachers who saw something unique in me and called it out. 

Craig was the pastor who lead youth trips during all of my middle school and high school years. I just saw him again a week ago. He always felt to me like a father, and is one of not very many people who has been around for a lot of the less-proud moments and seasons in my life, yet never let those things color his view of me. He has always respected me, valued me (along with the many youth he befriended over the decades), called me higher, and has been neither stingy nor dishonest in the praise he has given — praise delivered with a discerning stare — almost sharp, Dumbledorian — and a warm heart. 

There was David, who led the trip I took to Uganda. David is a beautiful man, one I am proud to call a friend. Big and strong, he loves people, is passionate about fighting for human justice around the world, and is brought to tears more easily than almost anyone I have met. Seasoned by his great sensitivity, David has a clarity of vision that is unwavering (unless change is called for by greater understanding). He was another who called me out — called me to a special side-trip in Uganda where I would end up sharpening my public speaking skills and strengthening my self assurance. 

There was Pastor Moses — an entirely unforeseen friend who in many ways colored the Uganda trip for me. He appeared one day, immediately bringing me encouragement about my giftings after hearing me speak, and providing a soft, gentle, kindhearted friendship and belief in me that I will carry with me for the rest of my life, though I may never interact with him again. 

In the trip I recently took to Canada, I was again surprised by a contact/new friend in that place who provided a similar service. Sandy is a big, strong, First Nations man, used to northern winters and hardship of many kinds. But what is most striking about Sandy, alongside his size, is his gentleness. He has great sensitivity and compassion for the people around him, devoting his time and energy to better the lives of the people of his hometown, dropping everything and hurrying home when the community finds itself in a crisis, helping out however he can, and reaching out with his large hands to tenderize the hearts of those who are not yet familiar with the dynamics of that region and people group. There is a fire in him when it comes to injustice, and with that is a patience and a gentleness, and a smile that comes alongside his bass voice that conveys how much he wants people to be happy and well provided for. 

There is something about good men that impacts people. Each time a man stops trying to prove himself, stops trying to conquer, to overpower, to rule, and instead focuses on how best he can benefit those around him, the world changes a little. Each man who is able to live in such a way can season countless lives — old and young — with the love and strength that comes from being valued, rather than being dominated, and with expressions that encourage understanding rather than overriding. 

There is nothing manly about not using one’s mind, not using one’s heart, not understanding, listening, empathizing, helping and showing compassion. The loss of those things is not manly in any sense; it is only sad. 

Certain Bible verses returned to me the other day, seemingly out of nowhere: “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” Ephesians 3:19 NIV, and “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” Ephesians 6:4 NIV. I am a firm egalitarian, and as such I believe that neither women nor men have more authority in any situation. I believe women and men are meant to balance each other, in whatever enigmatic way (still pondering that…), but I do believe, and I think it is clear in the context of these sorts of verses, that men can either royally mess things up, or allow things to flourish. As a woman, if I am not having to fight for my own rights, for the respect that I am due as a human, for the voice I need to have in this world… when I don’t have to fight for those things and can instead just be, I will have so much more to give. I will have so much more energy not being wasted on fighting for basic rights, fair treatment, and my own inherent value and validity. That energy can be poured into creating new things, structuring and strengthening established things, and giving the brain and heart power I have to the many people I interact with each day. 

The same is just as true of fathers and the children they raise, except that children are even more impressionable, and as such even more squashable. Paraphrasing a rhetorical question posed by the creators of the television show, Lost: “How many people don’t have father issues?” So many people are crushed or embittered as a child, and often by a father. I think that is what that verse is pleading fathers to avoid. I believe the meaning behind it is the same as a similar verse: “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” Ephesians 3:21 NIV. 

Unfortunately, men, as a group, have become known as generally the most power-hungry, the harshest, the most overpowering, and the quickest to abuse their authority. Asshole-ishness tears the world apart. And unfortunately men have the longest history of established asshole-ishness. What can cure this? When men come to understand that they don’t need to compete to show who can break the most things, who can force their way with the most success, who can give the least of a shit… If more men can realize that these things are not strength, they are pettiness, selfishness and weakness of character… 

Sensitivity is strength, because it carries the sorrow of others. It doesn’t make the easy, self-centered choice of refusing to meet the eyes of a person in pain. 

Parents need to raise their sons to understand how crucial it is to empathize, to show compassion, to genuinely listen to and care for others. Fatherhood is a glorious position and opportunity for helping form the hearts and minds of others. The same can be true of friends, neighbors, grandfathers, uncles, coworkers, employers, and the people we pass on the street. This influence that we have needs to be taken more seriously than almost anything. Each one of us can, and will, do some percentage of building up and some percentage of tearing down with the things we do and say in our lives. Let us work to make sure the weight is far in favor of the benefit of individuals, because as go individuals, so goes the world. 

"Confronting our feelings and giving them appropriate expression always takes strength, not weakness. It takes strength to acknowledge our anger, and sometimes more strength yet to curb the aggressive urges anger may bring and to channel them into nonviolent outlets. It takes strength to face our sadness and to grieve and to let our grief and our anger flow in tears when they need to. It takes strength to talk about our feelings and to reach out for help and comfort when we need it." - Fred Rogers 

I will close with one last thought. Regardless of anyone’s political ideations, there is one clear dichotomy in the presidential election at this point, and it becomes even clearer when one begins to look with the lens of what true manliness can be, compared with how far it has fallen in many ways. It doesn’t take much to see that Bernie Sanders is someone who, in general, as a stance of character, integrity, and value, looks to help those who have lived different experiences from his own, who looks to understand and empathize with those who are different from him. Compared with that, it is painfully obvious that the current leading Republican candidate is the polar opposite of this — a man who works only for his own elevation in every sense. Bernie Sanders makes a point of reaching out to and helping those who have had it more difficult than he has. Perhaps that is what men’s muscles are actually for.



Friday, February 19, 2016


I am disenchanted.

I see Kesha being legally forbidden to get out of a contract (i.e. get away from) a man who has been raping and abusing her.

I see Gwyneth being told, regarding the man who has stalked her for years in inappropriate and threatening ways, 'Aw shucks, he's just in love with you.'

I see Zoe Quinn spending years trying to get some sort of protection from an abusive, vindictive ex who repeatedly sends MRA hordes to her doorstep, without any relief.

I've seen a woman with a molesting ex being told that he must have visitation with her children.

I have seen countless women trying to free themselves from abusive situations and being left to flounder - or being outright attacked - by the court system.

I am one of countless women who has been failed and harmed by a commissioner in my county with a reputation for hating women.

I, myself, have been told by those within the legal system that spousal abuse is not considered a factor in determining child placement arrangements.

I have been told that my ex throwing a butcher knife in anger into an adjacent wall when my young daughter and I were in the room didn't matter.

I am one of many who has been told and shown in numerous ways that I can't be protected or achieve justice against those who want to control and harm me.


We live in a country in which a well-known racist can hold one of the VERY TOP positions in the JUSTICE system... and there is nothing we can do about it.


I truly hope that this country can turn it around. Unfortunately, at this point I have little hope that anything I do will make a difference. Not until we value those who are not men; not until we value those who are not white; not until we value those who are not rich. Not until we protect those who need protecting.

Right now I am disenchanted.

- S.B.T.