Women and Taboos: Leaning In, and Getting Frank About Faith, Sexuality and the Bible

In this age of third-wave feminism, many Americans may not realize that Christian women continue to struggle with what many would deem outdated gendered notions. This includes things such as a woman’s calling being second to her husband’s, women as unwitting temptresses who therefore must hide their bodies, and that women may not lead (or sometimes even speak) in church. Both external and internal pressures and fears have historically kept women silent on these matters.

In the recently released Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, edited by Erin S. Lane and Enuma C. Okoro, 40 women under 40 were provided a much-needed pulpit from which to break the silence. These 40 women addressed head-on many of the taboos remaining at the intersection of faith and gender, and how they are stepping out of historical oppression to make real change within the church.

You can read the rest of the review at Sojourners by clicking here.

women of faith talking t_cover_final_front

This is a Day For

knee-falling, anything-pleading, pressure-relieving.

intercession, supplication, massage, and Tylenol.

good quietly appearing, a breadcrumb trail for morning, when heading home becomes all
you’ve got.

cheap pizza, letting your three-year-old paint your face, hoping your rain jacket catches
the drips.

finding your just-clothed baby, puddle-naked, pride-giggling

and happy.

watching her bent head analyze the paint, realizing how the spot between her hairline and her eyebrows is exactly right, and just how much she has your hair

and that your oldest needs you, even more than he knows.

breaking the rule
you created yesterday
about how much TV the kids can watch.

meeting a long blond woman gone platinum. Ankle-length skirt—denim—gold cross, and orthopedics, who asks you, unbidden,

if all four of yours are living,
because hers are not. And before you can answer, she says she can tell just by looking
that they are, and judging by the one at her feet,
that they are all
doing well.

realizing it’s all a metaphor, but refusing
to point it out.


The Time to Love is Now

In my family, politics runs the gamut from Tea Party to Green Party, from Fox News to Al-Jazeera. My family is the melting pot of voter registration. And I’m not talking about see-them-at-weddings-and-funerals family, but close family who are deeply loved as well as deeply intelligent and opinionated.

This could be tough. It could cause awkward silences, silent fuming, exasperated incomprehension, and ruined holidays. Thankfully that hasn’t been the case. We instead understand that our love for one another has absolutely nothing to do with where we fall on the political spectrum. That we are all worthy of respect, even when disagreements arise, and that some things are simply better left unsaid rather than fought over.

You can read the rest of today’s post at the Burnside Writers Collective by clicking here.

(This blog post originally ran on June 20, 2013, under the title Realizing What Matters.)

Sometimes they’ll call me a whore.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m fortunate to be part of a fierce group of women faith writers. A few of these lovely ladies live near me, and we meet together every six weeks or so to lift up and encourage one another, as well as do some old school workshopping.

We tend to leave these gatherings full of new energy, a renewed since of purpose, and overflowing with words waiting to be put to paper.

After our most recent meeting, one afterglow email read:

“My soul was full after today’s lunch. So grateful for this handful of preciousness that God has given us, it filled a hole I didn’t even know was there until suddenly it wasn’t empty anymore.”

A Facebook post happily reported:

“The NorCal Buds met today. [One member] shared a retreat recap and we ate [another member’s] homemade bread while chatting about tribe and platform and which paragraphs I need to cut out of my manuscript. All this while five kiddos napped or watched Sesame Street in other rooms. Power to the mamas, right?!”


But earlier that day, as I relaxed into easy mama friendships and felt my perfected defenses soften, I realized I was harboring an insecurity I’d thought I’d lost years ago. This thought consumed me and, unlike my peers, I left feeling not emboldened, but instead like I’d been punched in the stomach.

My husband tells me I’m the most confident person he’s ever met. On a confidence scale of one to ten, I’d say I’m an eight. Don’t get me wrong—I often come home bemoaning a possible misunderstanding with a friend and needing my husband to talk me down from the did-I-say-something-offensive-without-meaning-to ledge. I’m not comfortable in short shorts or a bikini, and I refuse to go out without makeup. But all in all, I’m at peace with myself.

Then, after a few years’ hiatus, I started writing again. And not just writing, but faith writing.

And all of the sudden, I’m back in junior high: searching for affirmation, hoping to prove I’m “real,” and asking my lady friends the writer’s equivalent of “does this dress make me look fat?”

So why the current crisis of confidence?

Because soul baring is hard.

Because my heart and faith and politics are all on my sleeve, and sometimes people will call me a moron, and sometimes they’ll call me a whore.

And sometimes I’ll even lose friends.

After an especially inspiring sermon a few weeks ago, my husband wrote on our kitchen chalkboard:

¤ Brave?

¤ Safe?

This is a reminder to us that each day when we wake up, we have to decide how we will live out that day. As the guy who gave the sermon said, our grandkids will remember us no matter what, but the way they remember us will be very different depending on which option we choose.

I want my grandkids to remember me as a woman without fear.

But how will they know that I go to bed most nights thinking, “I can’t do this anymore. After years of being in comfortable skin, I can’t handle this,” but that I wake up and do it anyway?

The only way they’ll know is if I write it down.

After our last manuscript meeting, I drove home with my friend, Cara, and related a small bit of how I was feeling to her. She said, “This is a no apologies relationship, friend.” The freedom in those words is astounding: No apologies for who I am, or how I feel or think. Where can fear survive in the face of that freedom?

The truth is, it can. Our fears are not always unfounded, but it is always up to us how we handle them.

I think back to the words I first dog-eared in a now-soft worn book almost two decades ago, and I promise myself this—this—is how my grandkids will know me:

I’ll make sure she always carries a pen
so she can take down the evidence.
If she has no paper, I’ll teach her to
write everything down on her tongue,
write it on her thighs.

I’ll help her see that she will not find God
or salvation in a dark brick building
built by dead men.

I’ll explain to her that it’s better to regret the things
she has done than the things she hasn’t.
I’ll teach her to write manifestos
on cocktail napkins.


I’ll tell her that when the words finally flow too fast
and she has no use for a pen
that she must quit her job
run out of the house in her bathrobe,
leaving the door open.
I’ll teach her to follow the words.

The Back of the Ambulance

Sometimes a parent just knows.

My husband demanded I hang up on the advice nurse:

“It doesn’t matter what she says, we’re going.”

My mom later told me she had never seen my husband move so fast.

We rushed our 9-month-old, Aaron, to the emergency room for high fever and extreme lethargy. Our rush ended when we hit unexpected traffic from a weekend festival. I sat in the back of the van with Aaron, listening to his breathing slow.

I tried not to cry, but I couldn’t help it.

“I need to pray.”

I leaned over Aaron and just before I shut my eyes, I saw my husband’s arm snake around the driver’s seat to reach me in the back. He held my hand tight and prayer flowed through us, incomprehensible, but given to God in the form of “please,” and “live,” and “not again.”

“Andy, I don’t know…. I don’t like this.”

“It’s really bad, he’s just… not right. This isn’t right.”


“Pull over. We have to call an ambulance.”

My husband pointed out that an ambulance wouldn’t actually get us there much faster.

“Yes, but they have things. Oxygen. Skills. CPR.”

He readily agreed.

When the ambulance arrived and the EMT let me ride in the back with Aaron, I knew Aaron would be okay.

Before that, during the drive, I knew God’s will would be done. Sometimes, though, that doesn’t bring the comfort one might expect. I know firsthand that God’s way is not always my way. That sometimes the path God has for us in this world is painful and full of sorrow. And that sometimes, the EMT won’t let you in the back of the ambulance, and that in those times, you don’t take your son home four hours later.

And that’s where my mind was as we sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic and I listened to Aaron’s ragged breath and watched his eyes glaze. As I put my cool forehead against his hot one and tried to get him to focus on me, to smile, and got nothing in return.

But when we waited on the street corner for the ambulance to arrive, the cool air blowing his hair, Aaron looked around. Smiled a little. Was aware enough to question where we were. He would be fine.

Later: a catheter, a blood draw, a failed IV. My back burned from holding Aaron down while the doctors and nurses did various things to prove him healthy. We ate horrible sandwiches and gave Aaron hospital formula that made him spit up for the next 24 hours. It was miserable.

But to hold those 24 hours, now going on 48, is a beautiful thing.

The first time, the time I didn’t get to ride in the ambulance, there was no blood draw. No catheter or failed IV. We followed from behind and noticed that after the first few blocks, the ambulance turned the siren off. Then the lights. Because there would be no 24- or 48-hours later. Just prayers and pleading. Our pastor looking at me with fear and defeat: “There’s nothing I can do.” This 6’5 man of God, ebony-skinned and deep voiced, stepping back and spreading his weighty but empty hands: “You can’t ask. There’s nothing to be done.”

But this time, just two short days ago, I came home with a stunningly robust 25-pound nine-month-old squirming in my arms. I sat him down and he played, ankle bracelet and gauze still in place. A little fussy, slightly worse for the wear, but breathing. Healthy. Alive.

So no, things don’t always go my way. But faith is not a crutch and life is not always easy. And right now, Aaron is napping. His sister is playing at Grandma’s and his big brother is somewhere doing big brother things. I will gladly take their health and happiness and tantrums and tensions. Even ambulance rides to the ER. Because at the end of the day, I am confident that these three will always come back home. Perhaps a bit beaten and bloody, but alive.

Sometimes a parent just knows.

The homecoming.

The homecoming.

Related post: My Son Jeremy

Week Links #12

Women’s Words

Sarah Bessey: In which I choose to be a feminist in the way that Jesus would be a feminist

Margaret Philbrick: How Do We Celebrate Malala Yousafzai’s 16th Birthday?

Leah Eichler: The Business Case for Ending Violence Against Women

Social Justice

Jim Wallis: The Moral Urgency of Immigration Reform

Jonathan Merritt: The Rise of the Christian Left in America

Michael Wear: Is Immigration Reform Dead? Not if Evangelicals Can Do Anything About It.

Wesley Morris: Strange Fruitvale


53 Things Only 80’s Girls Can Understand

My Stuff

@ Sojourners: Inspired by Malala: What Your Story Can Do

Inspired by Malala: What Your Story Can Do

Today I’m at Sojourners writing about YOU and your story. And trust me, your story is powerful.

In her speech to the U.N. Youth Assembly, Malala reminded us all of the power of forgiveness and that those in faith communities bring hypocrisy into their midst by declaring anything other than peace. I was humbled by this child’s story. This is what one small girl, standing alone, can do.

Check out the rest of today’s post here.

My Two Americas

In 2005, I worked in the heart of Richmond’s Iron Triangle. I was a single mom at the time, and I often had to take my son to work with me. As he will gleefully tell you, there was at least one time when I sent him to the car, which was parked about 1/4 of a block from the Center, to get something. He had heard stories about the Triangle, and he was frightened. I felt no fear for him, a white boy walking 1/4 of a block. The Center’s kids knew me, knew my son, and were outside of watch him walk to the car. Nonetheless, he was frightened in the few minutes it took to walk there and back. In retrospect, I realize I made the wrong choice, and it is certainly not a choice I would make again.

In the town I lived in at the time, which is about a 10-minute drive from the Iron Triangle, there was an outdoor musical event/town picnic one night of the week for the month of September.

One day after a shooting outside the Center, after I saw several young black men handcuffed and put into the rear of a police truck, I went to the outdoor festival with my son. It was a beautiful night, and we had a great time. As I reflected on the stark contrast between the two events–only a few miles and moments apart in time–I felt compelled to write about it. Yesterday, following the sad outcome of the Treyvon Martin trial, these words came to mind again, and today, 8 years later, I post them here. In 8 years, little to nothing has changed.

My Two Americas

The whole town must have been there:

blankets spread, corners held firm with baskets, rocks found in flower beds.
An elderly couple at a table pulled from their patio,
and shiny-haired children, dancing barefoot in September glow.

I held my breath and waited for the next song to begin,
the small blond boy’s father to pull him from the stage.

So warm, watching these families and their infinite smiles, children
undeniably bright, college bound.

And I thought back two hours—
my work, McDonald Avenue—and saw

corn-rowed boys
face down, hands behind backs, wrists cuffed.
Ten police cars, 20 guns drawn, pointed
at three nappy heads.

I am hit from behind – the boy from the stage –

His father smiles in apology at the miscalculation
of his small son’s steps.

My Fearless Voice?

I recently joined up with a wonderful group of women who are charged with “fearlessly expanding the feminine voice in our churches, communities, and culture.” And oh, how they do! Strong, fearless voices reach out through the blogosphere,* books, social media, and prayers, to put the hopes, dreams, joys, and sorrows of women into words. It is an honor to be among them.

But I wonder.

How “fearless” is my voice? How often do I let fear of divergent views of friends and family sway or swallow my words? And this even though I know I will be loved by my friends and family even when disagreements arise? How often do I decide to push away the nagging, burning words of personal experiences because they may expose too much of my life, with its successes and failures, its ups and downs?

The answer is far too often. Will that be any different after I write this post? Will fearlessly admitting to my fearfulness allow me to say it all, do it all, expose it all? I doubt it.

But the more I am exposed to the strength of others around me, and the more I see them write of the hard things of life, the more I am strengthened and emboldened to do the same. We all need community, no matter our stage or station in life.

I am fortunate enough to have a community through this blog as well. Readers are in the 4-digits, and hopefully there will be more to come. So right now I’m reaching out to this community and asking for help. To keep me from flaking on my commitment to be a “fearless” voice, I have a favor to ask: if you read something here or elsewhere by me that you disagree with, would you please let me know? Bring it up in the comment section, on Facebook, on Twitter, or, if you’re family, anywhere other than the dinner table, instead of pretending the disagreement doesn’t exist? And then tell me that’s it’s okay for us to agree to disagree. That we’re still in this community together anyway. And if you see something you like, let me know that, too.

Fear comes from the unknown. So while it’s up to me to overcome hangups and obsessions, I do hope you might help me out a little bit along the way.

(*See the blogroll to the right for links.)

Celebrating the 4th of July Even When We Feel Let Down by Our Country

As our nation celebrates the 4th of July today, I realize there might be a temptation to think only of the ironies of “Independence Day.” Today, many may think of our nation’s non-liberty-loving and questionable moral actions: Guantanamo, spying on citizens, war and drones. The list could go on.

But this morning as my husband and I were explaining the 4th of July to our three-year-old daughter, I was overcome by the feeling that we, as parents and as a nation, must not give into the cynical temptation to disregard today and other, similar celebrations of our country.

The analogy that came to mind was that of a marriage anniversary. Marriage inevitably brings ups and downs, problems, arguments, maybe even questionable moral actions. We are exposed, daily, to our spouse’s weaknesses. But when the marriage anniversary roles around, those things are put aside, and the love between husband and wife is celebrated. The bad is left to be focused on another day. And those two things are essential: 1) the celebration of what is right and good, and 2) when the day has come and gone, focusing on the problems that do exist.

For better or worse, we are married to a country that, like a spouse, has good and bad and moral and evil. Today is the anniversary of our country. So let’s celebrate, and tomorrow and all the 364 other days that follow, let’s build up our metaphorical marriage by loving what’s lovable, recognizing strengths, and working towards solving problems instead of throwing up our hands in dismissal and disgust.

Happy 4th of July!