(There is No Longer) Male and Female: PCOS and the Theological Aesthetics of Femininity, Part I

2 11 2013

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus
Galatians 3:28

I know that this scripture is considered out of context, but I am okay with that – just bear with me as I do some reflecting.

I am a prime candidate for make-up. I have black marks and what my father told me, in his fatherly duty to reassure his thirteen-year-old daughter that she was not becoming or was not at her root, a man. Lying to me – calling them “heat bumps” – so that I could survive the space that was middle school and petrifying to an overweight, African, and frankly, marked and scar-faced young girl going through puberty was the best thing to do.

I am a prime candidate for make-up because I have hair growing on my face. I have hair elsewhere whose growth I cannot control, but the aesthetic space that any girl can make her own personal canvas is her face. And when puberty happens and her body begins to tell her who she is for the rest of her life; that is scary. But what is scariest is that the time when she begins to find out how her face will look for the remainder of life contains a mustache and a beard. It contains hair that only men should have.

But she’s a woman. She is female. She is anatomically female, not a bit of this and that, but she is one thing.

But her body is confusing this message.

If it is s set in stone, then why is she dealing with what her male peers are?

Why is her chin scarring? Why does she have a faint trace of a mustache? Why does the hair on top of her barely grow and shed in chunks? Why? It is because she has this annoying hormonal imbalance called PCOS (more on this in a future blog post).

I wrote a post a few years ago about why I don’t give in to make-up. To make a long story short, I am not interested in the work and function of make-up. I think the idea of the face as a canvas is a fascinating one, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t understand make-up as a corrective (or “enhancer” as some like to name it). I want people to see my scars, because when they see my scars, they see me in my entirety – blemishes and all. They also can Jesus more clearly (but more on this later).

I have more thoughts on this that will make themselves known in due time, but right now I am in a place of confession and I confess the obvious – I know my face is a strange, unexplainable, and even masculine thing to experience (And I’ll call it what it is – if it is not readily identifiable as female, it becomes a thing). I cannot help it. And I also choose not to hide it. Because it is part of me and part of my story. It contains secrets to my understanding what kind of woman I hope and claim to be.

But further, I am seeing and hoping to hear more about how it is helping me understand the God I serve and worship.

PCOS is, like a said, annoying, but it can teach me so much about what it means to be a woman and a creature of God. Please journey with me as I reflect.

Intersections and Bright Orange Vests Part II

26 08 2010

Along highway 15-501, you’ll find great stories and meaningful lessons, all by watching people – the begging people. Their actions, clothes, bodies, hair, stations and signs tell a story. Granted, a lot of people don’t believe that story and suggest that they are misleading, living a comfortable lifestyle amongst their friends creating a business of begging, but I beg to differ.

I don’t disagree that they may have another concealed life, but I do disagree that their lifestyle is comfortable. I can’t imagine begging as a comfortable practice or business venture. I can’t imagine what is so relaxing about degrading oneself day after day to get a dollar, or even a few coins. Being on the underside of the economy is uncomfortable. It is humiliating. It is distant. It does not even require contact. Begging is a lonely business, a disconcerting effort to survive and live wrapped up in looks of disdain and harsh glares from passersby’s.

And the beggar’s overall invisibility and one-dimensionalism  is strangely a survival mechanism. Smile your toothless grin, say “God bless” and continue doing the dance of “I need your money, please help me.” That is surely humiliating.   

I was at the light in the third lane over frantically searching for a dollar from my change compartment hoping that I would have enough time to signal him over to get whatever I had on me, but the light changed suddenly and slowly traffic was resuming.

Knowing it was too dangerous to pull the stunt of holding up traffic and ask him to dance across two lanes of fast-moving traffic; I replaced the dollar hoping for another opportunity later. What I looked up, he was gone. A second later he stood up as he now stood erect from the crouched position he had when he was previously picking something up. Dangerously close to breaking the median-lane barrier, he stood staring at whatever it was in his hand. It was a dollar bill. He stood looking at the bill for what seemed like eternity. He was in disbelief.  

Suddenly his stare changed from the bill to the car the bill had come from, a silver car speeding hurriedly to its’ next destination. He stood staring.

I could feel his hurt all the way from my car, and he hurt badly. He wasn’t even human enough, worthy enough, visible enough to have a dollar bill placed in his hand.

The ground was more respectable.

What would or should have my Gospel, our Gospel have done?

Maybe there is a model for the reconciled church in Acts and Galatians.

7 07 2010

Maybe there is a model for the reconciled church in Acts and Galatians.

In order to have the perfect reconciliation recipe you need (in my opinion) two things:

1)      A majority group and minority group who recognize that in being with each other something different (and oftentimes good!) can and will happen

2)      (More often than not) The majority group recognizes that it takes a lot more work and grace to do this new “together thing” and starts to tighten the reins on what is acceptable change, and what is just plain crazy.

And in Acts 15, Paul is trying to affirm the “just plain crazy” and the reality of the whole reconciliation situation: this reconciliation stuff is ridiculously uncomfortable!

It’s not peaches and roses like it was imagined. To be honest, it’s not okay with some people in the church body who were so eager to reconcile with everyone.

And some not so eager. The Pharisees still held to the fact that in order to be transformed, one must transform themselves to look like us. In other words, you can’t be us until you are like us.

But the point isn’t to be just like you. The point is to be just like Him.

The Pharisees were not like Christ, but interested in trapping Christ, setting Jesus up, outwitting Jesus and those who followed. And they looked stupid for doing it. Jesus can’t be trapped into being something or someone less than He is.

Jesus can’t be outsmarted. His way of reconciliation and life in God and with God’s Spirit is a model that freely accepts people without condition except to believe in Him. He does not require people to worship God as He worshipped, but to love God in their own way, to believe in Him because they have witnessed His glory.

For Jesus reconciliation was not about mimicry, it was about collectively becoming something totally different.

The Pharisees wanted to enforce a pre-requisite for others to be like them even though they were not the new model of reconciled life that Christ intended. They misunderstood. People weren’t converting to Judaism, they were de-converting from whatever life they once lived, whichever gods they did serve and moving towards an ambiguous following of righteousness, humility, and freedom that did not warrant certain dress, places of worship, specific rituals and the like.

Life in Christ didn’t mean joining the ranks of the Pharisees…Christ was too free for all that.

At least that’s what Paul was trying to teach/remind people. Christ has freed us up from the new guy having to become like the old guy. Instead both are made new. Both begin again. No matter how long one has been doing something, it is never long enough.

Many churches fall into the 2-step reconciliation model because those who own the church (the faith of that house if you will) are only willing to go so far. They don’t quite understand that it’s not about bringing people into your church to be transformed into yourself.

Reconciliation is a complete make-over of the church. Christ, the Reconciler, does not employ surface change. He’s interested in something completely new standing before Him as His bride.

The real question is, is the bride willing and ready to be transformed? Or does her transformation really translate into “trying out a new look” like someone tries out eyeliner or mascara? Is this a temporary cover up or a new yet permanent identity?

I don’t think Paul was interested in the Gospel he spread being a colonizing agent against the minority into the majority image. I don’t think Jesus wanted people transformed into the Pharisees image, or the Western church’s image, or the Methodist’s church’s image, or the Presbyterian Church’s image.

Both parties must change. And if both parties change that eliminates the backbone of this entire controversy: power.

In Christ, power is surrendered to His will. His transforming power overrides the power of the majority over and against the minority many are so eager to transform into their image.

Both parties are powerless and both parties are powerful in Christ alone. That’s it. Not powerful in budgets or buildings but in Christ. Money and longevity mean nothing. Both are beginning something new, and they’re doing this together, both as amateurs copying the Expert.

Don’t get circumcised for the wrong reasons. Don’t get circumcised at all. But rather accept the uncircumcised and the circumcised into your life because Christ’s death and resurrection wills us to. The laws and unwritten understandings and “this is the way we’ve always done it” mean nothing. But grace means everything no matter if you’re the majority of the minority…

…in Christ both have become beloved.

That is the picture of reconciliation. It refuses trends and patterns of acceptance and accepts anyway. It reject traditions that harm. It replaces custom with Christ.

I think Paul calls this grace.

Being twenty-something is such an awkward place.

1 07 2010

Being twenty-something is such an awkward place.

You’re just leaving or have been out of college for a few years. You’re either in graduate school or working where life is completely different from the bubble called curve grading, dining halls, and living approximately 50 feet or 5 blocks from your best friends.

But the most awkward and draining thing is figuring out how to be an adult child to your parents. It is completely hard, strange, frustrating and sometimes bad for us.

Especially when we concede to the painful fact that….every family has problems!

I said it.

I’ve realized that some families have more problems than others, but every single family has an issue. Most of us in our twenties wanted one or both of our parents to do something differently. And we wholeheartedly believe that if they did this one thing that way instead of this way, we wouldn’t have to deal with such and such. But it did happen this way so we must deal with such and such.

Especially in the church…

Relationships are messed up. In fact, they can be damaging, so damaging that the damaged people continue in a cyclical purgatory of pain and despair in the lives of other people. And we twenty-somethings need to be careful that anything we found damaging in childhood, whether it was parental techniques or lack thereof, does not emanate from our pores in vital peer-to-peer relationships.

We need to make sure we don’t mess all other relationships up because of one bad experience.

We need to make sure that rotten habits don’t spoil relationships that have potential.

But what about those people who are VERY messed up from relationships? What do they do?

I believe that instead of inflicting the same pain that crippled us onto others, we need to break the cycle of repetition. This involves not doing what others did to you. This involves not receiving payback. This involves us redeeming one another.

If Susie had a mentally-manipulative father and is tempted to be rash and immature amongst her friends, she must fight the urge to do so. She must also come to grips with the fact that she will not have an avenue to express her frustration like she’s probably hoped she would (not that she hopes to damage her relationships but what she’s dealt with, will most likely come out towards others). She has to swallow the fact that she may never get to express herself the way, she quite frankly, deserves to.

But she has to have people in her life. They need to be people who get where she’s coming from and can help her mourn the lost expression of frustration and anger she wishes to unleash (and that may leak out in relationships she never intends to experience it).

They need to be redeemers. If we lost a relationship early in life, we need to surround ourselves with people who can redeem the love we lost or never had by being in our complex lives in the first place.

I know nothing about chess but I know the pawns are seen as the most insignificant piece.

26 06 2010

I know nothing about chess but I know the pawns are seen as the most insignificant piece.

I understand they are taken first, used to protect and strategize…

Yup, “used” is the word. Pawns are used. They are the little guys(and girls). Their purpose is to propel the King or Queen or whoever to victory… to that “Check mate!” moment.

It got me thinking. How many of us are pawns? How many of us Dukeified, community-talking, justice-preaching Christians who are supposed to be somebody, just pawns? How many of us who are supposed to make it make it only so far? How many of us are supposed to do something great with our lives but are simply pawns? How many of us are only in the game for the betterment and victory of someone else?

Kind of depressing isn’t it? It’s depressing not because we readily jump in and volunteer ourselves to be the pawn, but because the closest answer that reflects the truth in our rapidly beating hearts and hot faces (as we read this post) is: “I don’t know.”

 And it’s true. We don’t know.

Many of us are saying “I don’t know” because we’re afraid that the answer could very well be “Yes, I am a pawn.”

We afraid that our role is strategic not victorious. Our lives and ministries and study and passion could simply be a stepping stone for someone else to achieve greatness. And it hurts when we have to face this realization.

Let’s broaden the picture a bit. Who else can be a pawn? Anyone in time can be one. Time oftentimes benefits those who come last (kind of the like the King or Queen piece) not first (the pawn). Frankly, the pawn gets played (pun intended).

A doctor who discovers something that helps a counterpart 100 years down the line can be seen as a pawn. A stay-at-home mother can be a pawn to her child doing better and bigger than she is currently doing. A workaholic father who makes the money but isn’t happy with where he thought he would be by this time is a pawn of motivation for his daughter to be a lawyer (because for some reason society doesn’t assume those with high salaries can be pawns if though they very well may be). Pawns can be rich or poor, but they share the same place in history – they are a means to get to a destination that they don’t get themselves (eh hem, Moses anyone?)

What’s your point Tomi?

My point is this: At the end of the game, even though the King or Queen (this sadly signals my lack of knowledge with chess) is still standing and seemingly victorious, they are not the only victorious pieces. Even though the pawns, rooks, knights and bishops have all been captured, when the game is over, all the pieces are on the winning team. The King or Queen didn’t win on their own. The player won will all the pieces. And it was by the skill, precision and thoughtfulness to assign certain purpose to certain pieces that the game was won. Usedness (I definitely just made up that word) can be part of the strategy.

There were some pawns in the Old Testament too! Jacob’s brother Esau could be seen as a pawn. He was seemingly bypassed so that Jacob, heralded as the youngest son, could be the blessed one. Zilpah and Bilhah were seen as pawns. They bore Jacob sons because of this strange birthing-sons competition between Leah and Rachel. Joseph’s brothers (some second generation pawns) existed so that their lives could be a foil to Joseph’s life. And this is only in the Jacob’s lineage! (And if we think about it, Jacob was a pawn to Laban…)

In order for one to be great, many have to mediocre.

 But even in what seems mediocre, reconciliation can exist!

 For some reason, God doesn’t simply allow His children to be used and thrown away, but their lives are assigned purpose and their purpose is redeemed more fully in God’s timing. Redemption and reconciliation existed and lived where it wasn’t expected to. Esau was reunited with his brother, and even though selling his birthright didn’t eliminate consequence, he still had a moment of peace, love and redemption with his brother. Zilpah and Bilhah (although fulfilling sexist and patriarchal-dominated roles in their societal time) bore sons, the highest honor in child-bearing. Joseph’s brothers reaped consequences for their sins, but in a moment of mercy (mixed with insanity and a wave of emotional and psychological confusion and torment [I personally believe via Joseph’s back and forth actions]) were saved by their brother who reveals himself to them later.

All these pawns leading seemingly mediocre lives still see God’s hand in their lives. Their pawn-ness isn’t a status of manipulative use, but it is one of purpose and life that God has a hand in. It isn’t as great as what they probably imagined their lives could be, but it’s real.

They lead normal lives (well as normal as it can be) and their glory comes in small moments.

The unknown doctor knows he had a hand in medical history and the betterment of physical bodies. The stay-at-home mother knows that her hard work as a mother has installed values and principles in her child that will help their mission in the world matter because of the character of who it’s coming from. The overworked father knows that his life and the love for his family has made his children’s lives a little easier as opposed to them growing up in other conditions.

The pawn’s moves matter because they are the stage on which greatness is performed and holiness can be perfected. Pawns matter because God is using them. Their capture may look like middle class life with kids and a dog instead of a Manhattan penthouse. Their moves may endanger the four-car dream uncovering a two-Corolla reality. Their strategic placement may mean a life of ministry where effort is underpaid, prayers feel futile, hard work is more imagined than enacted and church is more a miracle than a mainstay. But they are a part of the game; and even if they don’t win on the chessboard, they are still a part of the winning team, yes, even on the sidelines. Yes, even when they feel captured.

For capturing is sometimes part of the strategy. And strategy makes all the difference. even when we go through most of our lives wondering what God’s strategy is and when this game will be over.

We want our struggles, disappointments, and un-glamorous lives to have meaning. We want it to mean something.

And it will. We just have to wait; God knows what He’s doing. He created this game. Do we believe that?

Let It Be

24 06 2010

Dear Church:

We need to step up our discernment game. Like seriously. People who make a career and name for themselves by talking stuff they know nothing about is not only extremely annoying but damaging.

Confession: I am only an expert on my own life: what I have felt, experience, seen, discerned | I love people but I can be very greedy and focus on my myself way too much | I love doing ministry but I can be very picky about which ministries I feel called to do | Just because I’m black doesn’t mean that I’m an expert on all things black [just because I can quote someone black doesn’t mean I’m an expert on them either] | I have my racist moments | It’s been slow but I’m beginning to see my color less and less around my Caucasian friends and church family [slow, but not impossible] | Sometimes I’ll start talking about something I know but stop or stumble over my words because I really don’t know what I’m talking about so I struggle pretending like I do | I’ve re-found the bad habit of gossiping and am currently working to change that |  I want to read my Bible, go to ministry, etc badly but convince myself not to because “my heart’s not in it” | I judge more than I love | I keep my options open for ministry because I don’t feel called to anything terribly specific even though I control which ministries I feel called to be a part of | I don’t confess as often as I sin | I let people tell me that it’s okay not to change [repent] because I’m human and am just working through some things, even though I know deep down that it’s not that easy.  

Whew! Now that I’ve completely embarrassed myself and made myself vulnerable not only to your criticism, but also God’s love, I now want to speak with a clear conscience and from a genuine place.

We need to be more honest, especially to ourselves and to people who talk too much stuff. We need to be wary of when we or others we know and love speak of ourselves so well and negate our humanity with “I’m not perfect”, “we all make mistakes” etc. but don’t really mean it. It’s just a disclaimer that is part of the legal jargon of our self-righteous statements. We don’t know it all, we only know in part. But we fall into a dangerous trap of believing without discerning. We listen to people who talk out of no experience of what they’re saying, no education in what they claim to know, arrogance, their  experience in their race [which may not equate to the credentials we think it does], and anger.

And we take this to be as true as God’s word. We don’t question it. If we question it, somehow we’re afraid of doing some spiritual disservice to this “woman of God” or “man of God”. But it doesn’t work that way. If they’re a “woman of God” or “man of God”, where is their fruit? Not people who feed their egos. Not their 2,000 friends on Facebook, 15 who comment on everything and are from their neighborhood or church, but that person who has bettered lives that Facebook doesn’t tell us about? Or their writing or book doesn’t brag about? Or their sermon [in their grandparents’ church] doesn’t state as its spiritual example?

Since when did we accept things without checking out that it’s credible? Since when did their words become God’s words? Since when did we start believing EVERYTHING simply because it’s being said?

I have no solution to this. I have no answer. I’m warning. Double check what people say: they shouldn’t be offended if you can confirm what they say is correct. If they’re offended upon being questioned, it’s probably because they’re busted. But if you love them or care about them, bust them before they get busted elsewhere. Being busted by your friend, brother or sister is definitely hard and embarrassing; but the clean-up is Godly.

I’m also hating. I hate it when people think everything outside of God qualifies them to do ministry. I hate it when people who are not super-star preachers, youth ministers, college ministers are ignored and their souls bleed because they don’t have the platform, advantage, ego-feeding friends and family, money, extroverted personality, go-get-‘em attitude, spiritual gift of “talking out of their butt” etc. like the “heavy-hitters” do. I am hating. I’m hating that God’s church looks like a circus. And that the ring-masters think that they had something to do with those in the Kingdom. And that they think their tricks, and magic and bad risk-taking will mean something there. I hate the fact that they think their ring-master mentality has bore good fruit instead of the maggots that it has brought to good fruit. And if I may be truthful, I often-times hate the fact that God can redeem maggot-ridden, rotten fruit. I don’t want God to, but know God can, because like the eldest son, I don’t want my father to throw a party when my younger sibling returns home repentant. I want my father to tell me I was right all along because my self-esteem wants affirmation at the expense of others. And I know this isn’t right.

I have a lot to learn from my father. And I’m glad that my father is willing to love my sin, for I know it is greater than my younger brother’s. (Luke 15:11-31)

I love that God is a redeemer. And that today, right now, on this earth we all have a chance not only to help redeem others but to be redeemed. And automatically with our being redeemed comes in the inadvertent redeeming of others. No money necessary. No mega-church necessary. No self-made followers necessary. No egotistical Facebook status updates necessary.

If we let it be.  

And I’ll be the first to say. I need to let it be.

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