New Life is Springing

Reading Time: 4 minutes
It is the fifth week of Lent and already I am experiencing the desert as both beautiful and lonely.
Perhaps you can relate.
Perhaps you, like me, are feeling tired. Come, sit with me in beauty for a while.
Come, new life is springing.
The desert is accustomed to extremes. Flora and cacti born into coarse sand and unforgiving heat have long learned to take root and blossom. Snow glistens atop far mountain sides. Scorpion and rattlesnake slither and slide from rock to brush. Javelinas charge and goats scamper. There is life here for the long journey and the short. Look how new life is still growing – forging deep roots and trusting a water source will provide.
Look for new life.
It takes time to grow roots. It takes time to nestle in and trust the water sources. After all, the droughts are long. I can easily forget that this growth period is good. That this growing and shifting and changing is new stretching into the gritty deep. And that here there be water. Water is life. 
This past weekend, I attended a volunteer training for a local humanitarian aid group, the Tucson Samaritans. Veteran activists provided critical historical information about the sanctuary movement, the work of humanitarian aid workers on the borderlands and encouraged us to consider what we know. What information did we have about the border? What were we willing to relearn? What were we committed to doing? Whom were we committed to serving?
A key component of this groups mission is this: We serve and offer humanitarian aid to persons that are refugees and migrants, persons seeking asylum, persons without documentation, persons belonging to independent militias, persons in the Border Patrol…we seek to offer humanitarian aid to everyone.

Hearing the stories of how people remain faithful to God’s call heartens and encourages me.
Look for new life.
A long time Immigration Public Defender and activist, Margo Cowan, offered this consideration (please note that this is not verbatim but is as best as I can remember): consider what you would do if you happened across some human remains in the desert. How would you react? One thing that I do is I consider how I can help to identify this person and bring peace to a family that may be wondering where this person is. I also remember that this is not about me and my reaction. Something that sticks with me is that police officers in the Tohono O’odham nation carry sage and candles that they light while offering a prayer before they return to their police duties.

Look for new life.
The more I commit to investigating Prevention by Deterrence, the more I start to see patterns. I wonder, what patterns you see when you look at this (very short and not at all comprehensive) list of border policies:
It can be hard to remember that there is new life springing. How do we look for it? How do we speak about it?
As a Tucson “transfer,” I can easily remember how easy it was in the East for the borderlands to be relegated to out of sight out of mind.

At a recent film screening of the documentary, Undeterred, the filmmakers talked about ways to mobilize persons throughout the country. 
A staggering reality is this: 2/3rds of the United States falls into the 100-mile constitution free zone. The implications of this is huge.
***(Also, a quick side note: “Undeterred is a documentary about community resistance in the rural border town of Arivaca, Arizona. Since NAFTA, 9/11 and the Obama and Trump administrations border residents have been on the front-lines of the humanitarian crisis caused by increased border enforcement build up. Undeterred is an intimate and unique portrait of how residents in a small rural community, caught in the cross-hairs of global geo-political forces, have mobilized to demand our rights and to provide aid to injured, oft times dying people funneled across a wilderness desert.”)***
I resent the reality that too often ‘humanitarian mobilization’ (or social justice mobilization) requires centering individualism rather than humanitarianism. The idea that we need to market and glamorize basic human rights in order to make people care deeply enough to protest is not merely appalling but upholds and propagates supremacist ideals.

Look for new life. Even when it is hard, look anyways. Familiarize yourself with these policies and protest them. Interrupt the old ways.
Look, new life is springing.
Some organizations in Tucson ask volunteers to attend Operation Streamline hearings in order to bear witness and/or to document human rights abuses. While I am still learning about much of the scope of the borderlands, I am aggrieved and outraged by how Operation Streamline intentionally delivers convictions for persons without documentation in order to make deportations easier. No More Deaths has also provided numerous comprehensive reports of human rights abuses. These reports are available on their website, or click here for direct access. 
Volunteers documenting abuses track specifics like: if the person is seeking asylum, if the person speaks English and the age of the person. 
Other organizations work together to track human rights abuses committed by the Border Patrol. Others continue to lobby local and national political leaders. Others carry water. Others track deaths. Others provide emergency medical aid. Some do all of the above.
Look for new life.
I find new life when I look at this list:
I find new life when I remember that across time and history, there have always been those whom protest violence. There have always been those committed to humanitarianism. There have always been justice seekers.
I find new life when I pay attention to voices of those most deeply and intimately affected.
A story I learned recently which has stirred me deeply involves an Indigenous dance. In this dance, good and evil are battling. How is evil defeated? Evil is defeated by a cascade of flowers.
Look: new life is springing. Here in the desert. Here in this wild, gritty, expanse.
Come. Look for new life.

Pure, a Book Review and Deconstructing Purity Culture: At the Intersections of Black, Female & Womanist

Reading Time: 9 minutes
Illustration by Katarzyna Bogdańska

A few days ago, I stumbled across the book “Pure” by Linda Kay Klein. I couldn’t put it down. 

Surely, this book would provide both critical insight and compelling testimony into the insidious innerworkings of peak Evangelical purity culture. 

Unfortunately, the 35-page Introduction was the best part of the book.

At once both captivating and tediously exasperating, “Pure” attempts to investigate the interconnectedness of White Evangelical America and the Purity Culture movement of the 1990’s. And yet, the scope feels narrow and the writing stiff.
Reliant on intermittent and awkward verbatim interviews, the book lacks the ability to tell a critical, compelling, coherent story; which is unfortunate at best and irresponsible at worst.
Primarily because it was hard to distinguish between whether this was a memoir or qualitative study, the writing style impedes rather than supports the reader’s ability to connect with the author.
While it remains obvious that the author went to great lengths to provide credible, vulnerable, heartbreaking interviews and testimonies, the overall style of the book felt awkward. If you do read it, I would recommend pairing it with my all time favorite episode of the Liturgist podcast: ’40: Woman.”
Growing up in a relatively conservative Christian home in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, I strongly resonate with the teachings of Purity Doctrine and the overwhelmingly suffocating and toxic celebration of all things virgin.
Maybe you can relate?
At its core, #puritydoctrine teaches that modest, God-fearing, virgin, (white), obedient women are to be celebrated and exalted. Purity culture celebrates sexual pureness and advocates for strict gender stereotypes while teaching a damning ideological doctrine: if you engage in sex outside of marriage, you are beyond redemption.

Purity culture idealizes the Proverbs 31 woman. 

They are long-suffering and patient. They enjoy hard work. They have lots of babies and obey. They are helpmeets and ever-steady soul mates. They are pure and wise.
Or, as a kid growing up in the ‘90’s you could just tell if they were pure if they didn’t wear spaghetti straps, jeans with designs on the butts, crop-tops or v-necks, lip gloss or anything Victoria secret.

Other damnable offenses were being “boy crazy,” engaging with or questioning purity culture or identifying as anything other than cis and straight. 

In my early growing up years, we were a Focus on the Family, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, The Bride Wore White, Every Young Woman’s Battle kind of family. 
I knew names like Joshua Harris, John Eldredge, Dannah Gresh, and Debbie Pearl. 
I knew passages like this, from “Created to Be His Help Meet:”

“If you are a wife, you were created to fill a need, and in that capacity you are a “good thing,” a helper suited to the needs of a man. This is how God created you and it is your purpose for existing. You are, by nature, equipped in every way to be your man’s helper. You are inferior to none as long as you function within your created nature, for no man can do your job, and no man is complete without his wife. You were created to make him complete, not to seek personal fulfillment parallel to him…”

I faithfully read Karen Kingsbury, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Hinds Feet on High Places.
I went to Bible Study, Youth Group, Girls Club, Small Group, Lock-ins, Retreats, Sunday School and Church. 
I was on various worship teams, danced on the Church Dance team, led Sunday Schools and helped out in the Church Library.
I wore a purity ring, boy shorts, double and triple-layered my shirts and swore not to have sex until marriage. 
I listened to Rebecca St. James and MercyMe.

I dedicated and rededicated my life to Christ.

I didn’t party, drink or do drugs and for the most part I got straight A’s.

In many respects, I was a “good girl.”

And, I really tried.

But it was never enough. I was never enough. 
Boys would say and do sexually explicit things to me, and I was always the one who caused it.
You seem to cause a lot of drama, a youth leader told me once after I sobbingly confided stories of sexual harassment and assault.
Drama causing girls were stumbling blocks. Drama causing girls ‘got what they asked for.’

I never confided in my youth leaders again.

While I never engaged in sexual activity outside of marriage, I was told both explicitly and passively that I was beyond redemption.

After all, sexual harrassment and abuse only happened if the girl was a stumbling block. Maybe you were leading them on? Maybe they thought you wanted it? Maybe you were just mistaken? 

In middle school, I told a classmate that a friend of the family was pregnant. The boy told the teacher I was talking about pregnancy
The teacher wrote my name on the board and made me sit in the front of the class for the rest of the day.
We don’t talk about inappropriate topics, she chastised.
In junior youth group, a familiar purity adage was that of a used car. Virgin women were fancy sport cars. But, those who didn’t wait to have sex until marriage were old cars. Nobody wants a used car, I was told in between phrases like “modesty is hottest,” and “true love waits.”
Pool parties during church retreats often had strict regulations. Females were required to wear one-piece bathing suits and cover-ups or be asked to change and/or leave. 
There were no regulations for men. 
Excited to wear my new (quite modes) tankini to the pool, I found myself humiliated when a lifeguard told me that I needed to wear a T-shirt. Your bathing suit is too revealing, he said.
As a 13-year-old, I already knew that my adolescent body was dangerous and damning.

My adolescent body was so tempting that it could lead men away from God.

Mortified, I walked back to my room and sobbed.

A few days later, a family member would joke about my clothes. Look what B is wearing…when I get older, my kids will never be allowed to wear that. 

My body was bad and dangerous. My body was not even worth being a role model for future nephews and nieces.

I was devastated.

Sexually abused and harassed from a young age, I knew that sexual purity would never include me. Purity Culture didn’t distinguish between consensual od non-consensual sex. Sex was sex. Touch was touch. Virgins were pure. I knew that I would “never make the cut.” That I would forever be deemed unworthy, unloveable and unwanted.

Nobody, not even God, could cleanse me.

The revelation that my body damned me forever as unredeemable was horrifying and deeply painful and abusive.

What use did I have for a God that would damn me because of my body?  What use did I have for the Church?

During a youth group discussion about sex, a youth leader advised: Don’t do anything with someone that you wouldn’t do with Jesus.

Told by numerous boys that sexually harassed me that I would never be marriage material, I finally broke down and begged them to tell me what was wrong with me. You are too opinionated and ugly. They told me. You should wear long skirts, another advised. You boss too many boys around, another one confided. My parents told me that people like you can never be a Proverbs 31 woman, another confessed.

In high school, four classmates that were known to date around were featured on the front of a student led, admittedly “illegal” school newspaper. The headline? “FO-FO-FO’S” for Four-Foot Hoes. 

In college, another boy later admitted that he thought I would be more attractive if I would stop being so intimidating. How am I intimidating? I asked. You come across as too confident, he told me. And you are too outgoing. Boys like quiet girls.

At the intersection of black and woman, I internalized not only racist and sexist tropes regarding my body but also theological ones.

Historically and contemporarily, Brown and Black bodies are overwhelming sexualized, demonized and degrated.

Purity culture capitalizes on this.

My butt, breasts, hips damned me. But, my skin verified me as someone whom couldn’t be credible.

I wrestled with the ideology that I would never be pure. And, it wasn’t lost on me the symbolism of purity culture: white virgin girls.

As a black girl, I would never belong.

Afterall, how could God possibly love me if I was a ‘stumbling block?’ 

How could God possibly want me if I wasn’t a Proverbs 31 woman?

How could God want me? 

Often, critiqued by family and community members for my clothing and body, I came to regard my body as both dangerous and evil. 
So, I internalized sexual abuse and harassment.

I was a black girl. A sexualized girl.

It was all my fault, right?

After all, I was just an Eve that was too tempting.

Nice girls didn’t interrupt. Nice girls didn’t speak up. Nice girls didn’t listen to secular music.
You want to be a nice girl, right B?

In 9th grade, I went on a youth group trip to Louisiana. Our youth group was partnering with relief efforts from Hurricane Katrina. One day while working at our assigned site, a secular song came on the radio: ‘Sweetest Girl’ by Wyclef Jean, and all the girls started dancing. I knew almost all the words by heart and started singing along with the radio. 
A female chaperone took her purse and spanked me with it in front of the entire youth group. “This is from your mom,” she said before adding: “You will never marry or be with a nice young man, especially not my son,” she whispered.
I was mortified, humiliated, angry and embarrassed.
No one stood up for me.
Later, I would tell my dad and watch him confront her. I don’t remember what went down but later that evening her son would find me and apologize.
It didn’t make me feel any better.
At the time, I didn’t have the language to name the incident as abuse.

I didn’t have the language to describe how that incident would go on to shape much of my psyche.

I didn’t have the language because these kinds of things were normal.

You know, the spiritual ‘slut shaming.’ The ‘Christian’ gossip mongering. Like, the super innoent prayer requests like: I just want to lift up my friend in prayer because she is currently having sex, and I just want to pray that she would feel convicted that…

I didn’t have the language then.
Now, I do.
See, the thing is, I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I understand why parents believe and teach abstinence. I get it.
But, I also see the Lie and the way Purity Culture has condemned a generation of girls and women into thinking they were unloveable and unwantable.
See, I believe that Jesus is the ultimate breaker of chains.

I also believe that women are more than marriage beings designed for sex. That women are more than sexual experience.

Scared of an “oversexualized” generation, the Churches purity culture created the perfect cover for sexual + spiritual abuse.

Who would believe women that had reputations of being a stumbling block or causing drama?
After all, if you could package sexual purity as the ultimate Christian goal, women wouldn’t even believe their own abuse.
Women are more than virgins waiting for the altar. 
I believe that women are called into the liberating relationship of Jesus Christ. And, that that relationship isn’t a relationship based on shame. That relationship isn’t a relationship based on guilt. It’s a relationship based in liberating, fearless, welcoming, radical safe love..
The church is called to radically exemplify this kind of love.

What happens when it doesn’t?

How do we reconcile that?

Growing up, I knew and still know too many women whom were denied entrance to the Churches version of love because they were too sexual.

I have girlfriends that have fully faced the sort of insidious, passive, Christian abuse for being sexual beings.

I have experienced that.

How do we reconcile that?

I would like to suggest we start by naming the pain, trauma and spiritual and sexual abuse that were committed in our own Churches, homes and communities.

We must listen to stories of survivors and offer spaces to tell our stories. After all, what we resist, persists.

In the wake of #metoo, Evangelical and many persons abused by the church started a new hashtag: #churchtoo

In the wake of #churchtoo, more and more women spoke out. Men spoke out. Persons identifying within the LGBTQIA community spoke out. 

These are the stories that are too often unheard.

These are the stories that are too often demonized.

These stories are also ubiquitous.

As I write this, I am furious and exasperated, exhausted and hopeful.
I fully believe that Jesus welcomes us as our human, gritty, vulnerable, raw, messy, sexual beings into his liberating love. 
There is redemption in that love.

There is no fear in that love.
There is no shame in that love. 
There is no Lie in that love.
We must create space in our church to hold and name the pain and trauma of Purity Culture.

There are many of us hurting. There are many of us in pain.

We must make space to deconstruct.

We must find space to hold space with one another. 

Over the past years, I have had to unlearn my ideas about womanhood and sex. About purity culture and redemption.

Things I know to be true about my experience with purity culture:

1. Purity culture enabled ( and continues to enable) sexual predators

2. Purity culture de-emphasizes truth and centers shame

3. Purity culture often contributes and perpetuates rape culture

4. Purity culture’s core curriculum functions on an ideology which advocates that young females are responsible for others thoughts and how men will treat them.

5. Purity culture reduces women to the state of their marketability vis-à-vis marriage. Ironically, nobody talks about how purity culture reduces “Godly” men to the drive of their penises.

Oof. There is a lot to unpack. Power and privilege. Abuse.

There is a lot to name and deconstruct.

Know if you resonate with this post that you are not alone.

I see you.

Honestly, deconstruction has been a rough, emotional, vulnerable journey. It requires a commitment to stick with the raw, messy, often emotionally exhausting process. It is uncomfortable and often alienating.

But, it is SO worth it.

Beloved One, if you are reading this and this resonates with you, know that your body is valuable, holy and valid. Your experiences matter and your voice is powerful. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You were created in love and your body is a design of love. Beloved one, love your body. Delight in your body. Honor your body. For Your body was declared a good thing.

Shalom always.

**Sidenote** There are many people that I respect whom adhere to conservative ideologies and purity culture doctrine. This is not a post to shame them. Instead, I wish to speak my truth and claim newfound liberation. 

Beloved: Here is the Dust

Reading Time: 2 minutes

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10

These past few months, I have wrestled with seasons of anxiety, hope and lament. Quite often, the journey has felt long and sometimes lonely as I struggle to make new community and to lean deeply into the call which God has placed on my heart.
Journeys are like that sometimes.
Perhaps, you’ve experienced something similar.
Living in the desert, I have begun to experience the Lenten text in new ways. On weekends when I hike, I am drawn back to concepts of dust and the vast expanse of the desert. Home to many sacred lands, Arizona boasts of brilliant red rock, sand, cacti and unforgiving heat. For many here, the dust is both ancestral, holy and wild. There is life in the dust. 
There is familiarity in the dust. There is holiness in the dust. And, there is death.
A border town, Arizona’s dust and sandy dirt experiences the footsteps of many journey makers, asylum seekers and warm-sun seekers. For Arizonians, ours is the ancient wild in between. Ours is the desolate, awe-inspiring wilderness and the sacred solitude. For here is the dust of the worn and weary. Here is the dust of wild spaces. Here is the dust of holy journey makers. Here is the dust.
In preparation for Lent, I discovered the most delightful and hopeful website called The Painted Prayer Book by Jan Richardson. An excerpt from her poem, “Blessing the Dust” particularly evokes the holy wild power of God:
All those days/you felt like dust/like dirt/as if all you had to do/was turn your face/toward the wind
and be scattered/to the four corners/or swept away/by the smallest breath/as insubstantial—
did you not know/what the Holy One/can do with dust?
There is dust that can transform.
Perhaps, you’ve experienced something similar.
In the next few weeks, my journey will take me to a local makeshift ‘hotel’ for asylum seekers. I carry this image of dust with me. I carry the hope for transformation and for God and I name that there is holiness here. In the dust. In the shelters. In the journey.
There are change agents, prophets and peace seekers here in this dust. And there is loneliness and fear in the dust.
For those whom can shield the other, let us use our bodies for love. Let us use our hands to extend the tables and to wash the dust from off one another’s feet.
Let us use what we have, beloved.
Here is the dust.
Shalom always.