Emily Is Speaking Up

emily maynard : emilyisspeakingup.com

God Has A Body


God has a body, they said.

God walked on the earth and blew dust out of his nose and laughed with his friends. God took on human flesh so we, human flesh, could be with God. God had to become a body, they said. And I believed it.

I saw the pictures, growing up; I saw the pictures of God on flannel graphs and coloring pages and in the Jesus storybooks and on TV. I liked God.

God had a body, but it wasn’t a body like mine.

It wasn’t a body with breasts that grew, with hips that expanded, with a uterus that bled regularly, with cramps that made him throw up every month. It wasn’t a body that was warned against, and called a stumbling block.

It wasn’t a body that was called unclean and prevented from participating in community and worship. It wasn’t a body that kept him on the edge of society, that made him property, or that made him less than other human bodies in public because of his private parts. It wasn’t a body that was silenced, just for being a certain gender of body.

It wasn’t a body like mine.

Read the rest at A Deeper Story

Deeper Story: A New Kind of Christian Worldview


I remember sitting upright at tables like these. I remember stretching out across retreat center lawns. I remember eagerly filling long auditorium rows like the lines in our notebooks.

I remember the buzz of conversation in classrooms at Christian colleges we were too young to attend back then.

But we knew we were in the business of serious learning. It was a deeper, more important kind of knowledge than mere career training. The kind that made my cheeks flush with excitement and strategy. The kind that made my hand cramp up writing down the killer questions and rug-pulling logical twists. The kind that made me jut my chin forward and proclaim simple answers to problems complicated beyond my teenage understanding. We called these lessons, in all of their various groups and nuances, Christian Worldview Training.

We were going to save the world, back then. It would be hard, but we would win. 

You can read the rest at A Deeper Story!

Starting Over Again


I’ve been word stalled for over a month now.

Even typing this out is hard. I feel the familiar clenching of the muscles around my spine, my mind spinning in so many other directions, and my shoulders creeping up towards my ears.

I’ve been avoiding this all day.

I’m constantly thinking, and I have plenty to say, but it’s agony to make myself do it.

It’s never the things that you expect that cause this, you know. It’s never the sermon series you were wary of that throws you off, or the phone call you stilled yourself for on the way home, or the piece you wrote that you predicted would cause an upheaval.

It’s the sideswipe that’s the worst.

But even that, too, is part of the process of life. It’s to be expected, even when it surprises.

So here I am, nearly two months later, ready to try again to hit publish on a regular basis.

It’s been a good summer. I’ve traveled to see family and friends, put many miles on my car, dated like a champion, said what I think a little more boldly in person, celebrated weddings and new babies, grieved with friends over losses of marriages and miscarriages, listened to countless comedy podcasts, chased new ideas, gone back to counseling, started a pile of books and finished a few, ignored a lot of emails, spent less time on Twitter, celebrated the start of a new year for me, and chanted wildly at a number of soccer matches.

 It’s wonderful.

I believe that Internet Life is real life, but it’s been good to sink back a little and regain my balance.  Turns out when I go quiet online, I can hear everything else a little better.

I haven’t been totally gone: I wrote pieces for A Deeper Story, published a small collection with my writing group, and recorded two podcasts with On Pop Theology

I have to admit though, that part of my silence is out of fear.

I simply don’t want to write it out.

I don’t want to expose more of myself. I don’t want to say things that I think people are ready to hear and pour every bit of smart kindness I have into my work and be dismissed as a crazy bitch.

I don’t want to be that girl.

I don’t want more rugs pulled out from under my steady feet. I’ve grown so much in just a year of public writing, but I still hate all of that. I hear from people wiser and much more seasoned than I that it will always be there, and they always hate it, too.

This isn’t a call for people to be nicer online, or to be nicer to me.

All of that is beyond my control, and ultimately, silencing other people’s opinions and processes doesn’t help me handle my own any better. I want to build up this boldness to stand up for myself and let it all roll, just as I want to strengthen my resolve to let myself be affected by criticism and be changed by other people’s stories.

More than anything, I want to be in reality, and that means the uncomfortable parts, too.

My fear of offending people with my writing is real, just like my giddy excitement that one person is encouraged by my work is real. So here I am, in this process, willing myself to tell you about it.

It’s not fun or easy and more than anything it reminds me how powerless I am over many parts of my life. I’m still trekking through most of this, and a lot of it is haphazard and sends me back to the start, but here is what I have learned to do, and what I am trying to do:

The first thing I have to do is accept reality. The basic truth of life, darlings, is that not everybody is going to like you. I don’t even think they’re supposed to like you, at least not all the time. I certainly don’t like or agree with everyone all the time, even when I generally like or agree with them.

It took me a few weeks to even admit that I’d lost my footing, because I was caught up in summer adventures and it’s easy to brush off a post when you set your own deadlines. Then I started noticing a pattern: I’d say I’d write, and then I would schedule four hundred events into my week so I would have no time to think, let alone take the space I need to write. I’d collect more shiny things to write about, and then never put them together. I’m a bit of a magpie, really.

The second thing I have to do is grieve. This is the worst part of the sitting here. Once I finally admitted that I was scared and sad and frustrated, I had to actually be scared and sad and frustrated. I had to pick up, examine, and acknowledge the places that hurt. I hurt other people with my words and analysis and eager arguments. That’s reality. I had to grieve the rough places I’d caused in someone else.

It doesn’t mean I was wrong, but it’s reality.  And sometimes reality sucks. For a while. This is the part of the process that feels the most out of control, because you aren’t avoiding it, and you have no guarantee how long it will last.

It gets to the point with me where I have to schedule time to be sad. Like, not even kidding, I put “go home and cry” in my planner. It seems ridiculous, but it works for me. I also recommend rolling down all the windows while blazing down the freeway and yelling obscenities.

Both are important sides of the same grieving coin. Just don’t tell my mom about the second one.

The next thing to do is force myself, gently and with careful attention to my readiness, to start again. Maybe it’s lacing up my running shoes, which notevenkidding were full of cobwebs in the back of my closet, and going on a short, slow jog. Maybe it’s calling a friend I’ve been avoiding, and asking her to dinner. Maybe it’s giving a firm “no thank you,” instead of drifting off after a mediocre date.

There is a time to start moving forward again.

Maybe it’s opening a blank word document, and starting to describe the things that I think and hear and see and feel.

So here’s what I’ve got: Right now, I am sitting in the loft of a cabin in eastern Oregon, listening to my entire family arguing brightly about the best way to cut a watermelon. I am watching a moth circle around the light on the ceiling fan. I can hear the ripple of the river outside our open front door and the pat pat pat of my tiny niece’s shoes on the wooden floor.

It’s wonderful.

I’m not totally okay. I’m still scared. But I think I’m back. 

I’ll write that out, too.

Now you, dear. How was your summer?

Deeper Story: Going to Weddings Alone


Last week I sat on a wooden bench underneath a stained glass ceiling and watched my friends hold hands and proclaim vows to each other.

Their story stretches across years and continents like only the greatest love stories do. It’s been nearly five years since he saw her across the airport in a new country after they’d flown for days from opposite corners of the world. Across countless continents and years and jobs and no thank yous, they are finally here, in her hometown saying yes to each other.

I believe in them. I believe in their vows, spoken clearly before God and all of us. They have woven a connection of love and friendship together, and they are putting it into stately commitments, once and for all. I believe in their love for each other.

I sat there with my palms up on knees, breathing in the holiness of it all. I’m a frequent crier at pomp and circumstance of all kinds, but especially weddings.

But then the pastor started in, like many pastors at weddings do, with Genesis 2.

Read the rest at A Deeper Story. 

 

YOUR STORIES: Modesty Rules

I thought I’d go ahead and put out a few of the Modesty stories that many of you shared with me in the past few months. These stories have been essential in helping me develop a comprehensive view of the way Modesty functions in our culture. These are individual incidents, but they are created out of a powerful social understanding of women, bodies, and sexuality.

I hope they encourage you to keep wrestling with the reality of Modesty Rules as a damaging cultural force in our churches. All stories have been used with permission and may have been slightly edited for punctuation and clarity.

From S: I was hanging out at the church yesterday and the Middle School Intern girl told me, kind of off handedly, that she had to have a discussion with a student about her skirt.

She said that her boss, the middle school pastor texted her and asked her to. Now, I know this intern, and while I’ve been talking through the harmful side of Modesty Culture and Purity Rules with her, she’s not invested enough to fight her boss on it.

And I guess this means I’m all in, because after talking to her I went to the bathroom and just cried.

All I could think was: Oh good, I’m glad at 12 we are communicating to this young girl that her legs are toxic, that her skirt length is all her pastor noticed when he looked at her.

Another passenger on the SS My Body Is A Weapon! Now her first thought when she leaves for church is going to be questioning every item of clothes she puts on…. At freaking 12 years old!!

I cried in the bathroom stall. I guess this means I’m all in now in the fight against Modesty Rules.

If you have a Modesty Rules story to submit, email me here.

Modesty: Asking Not Telling


I like Shane Blackshear.

He’s smart, funny, and his beardedness makes me feel right at home, because I’m from Portland and beards are kind of a big deal here. So when he asked me a few months ago if I wanted to have a public discussion of sorts about Modesty, I agreed. In fact, I’m pretty much took the first half of his post and pinned it above my kitchen table/frequent desk, because he says some really nice things about my writing.

I recommend you read the whole thing here.

Contrary to what you’d find on my Twitter feed, I don’t like talking about Modesty.

But I do think talking about Modesty is important, because it’s been a significant force in my own story. It’s the topic heading for so many chapters in my life. And I know I’m not alone. The whirlwind around all sides of the Modesty tells me it’s really important to a lot of us. And I think this force is headed towards the end of Modesty Rules. More and more of us are speaking up.

The Modesty Rules are on their last hemlines, my friends, and I think that’s reason to celebrate.

Not because everybody will go nude. But because freedom to make intimate decisions – like what clothes you put on in the morning in the morning, and how you feel about your human body, and how you learn to relate to other human bodies not your own, matters.

The Modesty Rules are keeping us constricted, ashamed of ourselves, and afraid of others.

Shane Blackshear doesn’t quite agree with me on this one. And that’s cool. Sometimes the claws come out (snikt snikt) when we’re processing and navigating and arguing new and very personal things. I don’t mind when things get a little scrappy, even in the Christian blogging world. I’m a belt it out kind of singer.

But Shane doesn’t do that; he models gentleness, and tough but open disagreement. I admire that.

It’s taken me a long time to respond because a. I’m lazy and b. I wanted to do more research and thinking. I didn’t want to take Shane’s thoughtful response for granted.

This is a big deal to me, and as a woman, what my culture says about Modesty (because when we’re talking about Modesty as a cultural force, we’re always talking about women) affects me daily. I wanted to listen to more stories (thank you to all of you who submitted them!), trace my ideas a little deeper, and make sure I had something to say that I actually wanted to say.

And now I do. 

I’ll start with Shane’s main points, today, because mirrors the most significant pushback I get from people when I critique Modesty Rules. On Wednesday, I’ll address the more specific examples Shane brings up, of a lace shirt, leading people on, and pornography addiction.

Shane closed with this, but I’d like to open with it, because he brings up a fantastic point about Legalism and Modesty.

Shane says: 
Please understand that I’m not interested in charts and graphs to find out exactly what is modest and what isn’t, I think that’s where the efforts to control others come in. I think legalism has no place here. I think what I’m asking is for people to just be conscious when choosing attire, and remember that others are fighting a hard battle.

First of all, I don’t think there’s a difference between “legalistic” and “non-legalistic” foundation of The Modesty Rules. This false dichotomy distracts us from the real issues, and we end up debating the lines of “legalism” rather than addressing Modesty Rules as a cultural force. We pretend like if all the really awful rules went away, Modesty Rules would be okay, but I don’t think so. We can’t discuss Modesty Rules without considering them as a part of, and force for, culture. 

Secondly, Modesty Rules always involve specifics. Maybe it’s “That shirt is too tight for her,” or “That skirt is too short,” or “Ew, nobody wants to see that,” but this cultural force in our daily lives always shows up like this. We’re always talking about specifics. Specific items of fabric on specific human bodies in specific social situations.

I often hear the critique that my energy should be redirected to only the “legalistic” appropriation of these rules or that “modesty is important as long as it’s not legalistic” but I’m calling foul. There’s no such thing as a non-legalistic approach to Modesty Rules, and that’s not the point. Applications vary, but the root of the Modesty Rules is controlling women.

The goal of every argument for Modesty Rules is to get women to change for men.

No matter what reasoning or religious or emotional appeal is used, the desired outcome is that women change. Even if it includes caveats that men are responsible for their own lust, as many Modesty proponents like Shane do, they use this to insist that women also “be responsible” for their part in “causing lust.”

As many other Modesty Rules critics have pointed out, there is simply no way to be modest enough if you have a female body, because your very presence in a female body in the world is consider a threat.

I don’t think Shane is advocating for the subjugation of women or women’s bodies. But to me, what he is advocating for cannot be separated from this in any meaningful way. The desired result is too similar. We talk in generalities occasionally, but we want specific humans to cover their bodies in specific ways, and we make it known when they don’t.

The shame is inherent in Modesty Rules, not just in the application. 

Shane offered this summary of his response:
I would say that I would ask not tell women to please be conscious of their dress, not because they are culpable for a man lusting after them, but because he is culpable, because there’s distance in his relationship with God when he lusts, and if you love him like a brother and you love God, then you would want to protect it.

Shane is asking that women change for men, even if it’s in a benevolent, relational way, with the goal being celebrating humanity.  

The problem is, it doesn’t work like that.

We cannot celebrate our full, equal humanity if a certain group of humans need to hide their human bodies in order to be accepted.

We cannot be a community of people who learn to love God and love others when it comes on the condition that one half of the community is a threat to the whole.

We cannot mature as individual people, with uniquely beautiful bodies and biological attractions, with common hope for God’s Kingdom, when we ask other people to consider our needs before theirs.

We cannot continue to place the distance in our unique, personal relationship with God on other people outside that unique, personal relationship.  

Shane’s argument requests a certain section of the community: women (with bodies deemed sexually attractive to the straight men in that community) to change themselves for another section of the community: (straight) men (who are attracted to those bodies). He claims that men are responsible for themselves, but then asks women to “protect” men by hiding their bodies properly. And in this language is an undercurrent of female responsibility for male actions, which sounds a lot like Rape Culture.

Though Shane wisely acknowledges his privilege and says he puts the responsibility for female lust on straight men in his post, he still is asking women at large to change for men at large. He’s still operating from a straight male paradigm, and his arguments reflect those assumptions. He’s polite and reasonable and kind, but at the end of his piece, he still advocates that women exist in a particular modest space that a certain segment of men create for them.

In his piece, women only have agency in order to fulfill men’s desires, in this case, his desire that women “help” the male ability to see them as fully human. Women aren’t fully human on their own.

And that’s sexism.

(If you’re unfamiliar with the term Rape Culture, please read this.)

When Failure Seems Easier

image

When there’s something I’m not sure how to say, I start by taking a deep breath. I hold it as long as I can, and then I let it out in one big shove. I can’t do that slowly-let-it-out thing, even after years of Pilates training. 

Here’s the thing I’m not sure how to say, today, but it keeps spinning in my head so I’ll try, in one burst:

I’m much better with failure than I am with success.

The past three years, I’ve spent conscious effort learning the skills to navigate disappointments. I’ve walked through the Twelve Step model of recovery, read countless about healing shame and giving up control, poured hours of study into my personal growth, rebuilt my physical health, and learned new ways of meeting God. I love my life now.

I have practiced at walking through not getting my way, staying connected to myself even when stressed, setting boundaries, and healthier ways to engage people. My relationship with God is hilarious.

I can recognize grief, identify shame, and list out my ugly emotions. Humblebrag alert, but I can do these things like a freaking rock star. It’s never pretty, but I’ve got the tools now. I can sit in those hard places and not run away.

You give me failure and loss and I know exactly what to do. I can start working it out like a boss. Boom.

I can own the crap out of my failure.

But here I sit, maybe on the edge of really great exciting things, with sparks all around me, and I feel totally exposed again. 

Click here to read the rest on my blog!

A Deeper Story: How to Weather June


When we arrived yesterday the sky was crisp and blue.

The trees out here on the Oregon coast are tall and strong. They grow fast in the rain and rich soil, but their roots go deep. They are strangely shaped, with missing branches and limbs bent by the wind, but they are steady. There is one tree growing on the side of the rock wall that stretches into the ocean.

There’s another fresh loss in my life this year, but here we are in June, so I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve felt the storm building for weeks, like a slow hurricane that I see coming in, but cannot avoid.

June is my cruelest month.

Do you have days or months that are marked like this? Seasons weighted with grief or unease that show up each year?

I’ve tried all sorts of things to fight it. I’ve partied my way through Junes, slept through them, and hid away with my good friends Rational Detachment, Over-exercise, Over-eating and Alcohol.

But I’m learning that there are no ways around grief, so this June I am trying to dig in my roots.

Read the rest at A Deeper Story.

Learning How to Learn

I remember exactly when it changed for me. 

I was sitting in the sunshine outside a boulangerie (I know, I know, a lot of weird things happen to me in bakeries), wearing a dress I liked back then, and reading.

It was a Wednesday.

Eating a croissant and wearing a dress on a sunny day seems like it should make everything okay, but it didn’t.

I’d spent so much of my life working on answers to the questions I was afraid of asking. I’d proclaimed grace, but my actions said I believed that once I figured it out, everything would work my way. I’d spent all my time and energy managing everything and everyone I could get my hands on, so that my insides would settle down.  

But internal turmoil can’t be cured by stasis outside. Even when I could glimpse peace for a moment, I would be too terrified of it leaving to enjoy any rest.

When the waves are inside you, you don’t ever steady, even when there’s no storm outside.

Click here to read the rest on my blog!

Modesty & Sunshine

It’s been uncharacteristically sunny in Portland lately.

I’ve encountered a bunch of men who are dressed attractively and because I’m attracted to men, I’m attracted to some of them. But guess what - I recognize that they exist for more than my attractions, that they chose to dress themselves for a billion reasons besides “flaunting” or “tempting” me. So, I notice their attractiveness to me and I move on with my day. Sometimes I say this aloud to help walk me through the process:

1. Oooooooh, that person is attractive to me! I wonder what it would be like to…
2. Whoa, Maynard, that person is made in the image of God, not you and your attractions. 
3. Oh. Right! Hey, ice cream for lunch sounds amazing!

That’s it. I shut down lust when I acknowledge that I am not God and people do not exist for me and that it’s okay to be sexually attracted because that’s part of my biology working and OOOOOH, ICE CREAM YUM. 

You may have a slightly different process. It’s cool. It’s yours.

Here’s the thing though. I know it’s counter-cultural inside and outside the church, but I propose we give women the same agency we give men to choose their clothes (on any part of the conservative-liberal dress scale) for personal and legitimate reasons.

Don’t assume that people are dressing, moving, or existing for you and your attractions. Especially if you’re a straight man who has a lot of inherent cultural power, be really careful about this. Your attraction does not supersede the autonomy of the person you may be attracted to. Neither does mine.

Also, for the ten billionth time: sexual attraction is different from the sin of lust.