Choice – not coercion. On defining women by relationship to others.

Women are defined by who they are connected to. Meeting new people, you’ll hear these questions – “Are you married?” or “Do you have children?” Both questions seek to define the woman by who and how she is related to others. Women are rarely seen as valid citizens, much less as people, if they are not connected. A woman who tries to define herself on her own merit and ability is in for a hard time.

Romance novels teach women an overwhelmingly unrealistic life goal of finding and keeping a spouse. Men don’t get this script. Ever. Men don’t fill themselves with a diet of definition by relationship to others. Men read about adventure, and superheros, and strength. The characters, their role models, are strong and independent. Women read about being swept off their feet. Men are active, and women are passive. Women’s lives are things that happen to them, acted on by others.

There are countless books for women and young girls about how to find and keep a mate – whether it is a boyfriend or a husband. There are specialized ones if the woman is over 35, where it is seen as more difficult to land a choice selection. The books are framed in the language of strategy and the hunt. Women have to seek out men, because otherwise they will be left out, and left wanting.

There are no books for men like this, and there are no books telling women how to live a happy life without a spouse, thank you very much. If you are single you are seen lesser-than. “Spinster” is not equal to “bachelor”. It should be. Being single, of either gender, needs to be viewed as a valid life choice, and not a failure. It is better to be single and happy than married and miserable.

Single women who wish to remain that way often go into nursing, teaching, or library services. All of these jobs pay enough money that a woman doesn’t have to have a spouse to support her. Yet all of these jobs are nurturing jobs. They involve taking care of and helping other people. So a woman is still defined by her relationship to others, whether she is single or not.

It wasn’t that long ago that women who got married lost their names. They were described as Mrs. John Smith – never as Mrs. Jane Smith. It was as if John suddenly developed a female alternate persona. It was never that the woman gained status, it was as if she just disappeared. By removing her first name and differentiating her by just her title of Mrs., she lost her identity as a unique person.

How often are women who have children referred to by the children’s names? She is “Sally’s Mom” – Sally is never seen as Jane’s daughter.

I bring these points up because sometimes you have to see injustice and imbalance before you can fix it. There is nothing wrong with being married, or having children. There is everything wrong with making those choices no longer choices, but mandatory. There is everything wrong with overt and covert social pressure to make women define themselves by getting married and having children. These are not life events that should be entered into lightly. These choices will affect a woman’s entire life. Women should marry or have children out of choice, not coercion, and know that they will be accepted if they choose not to do either of these things.

Library buffet.

Libraries are like all you can eat buffets. You can fill up on all sorts of stuff that is good for you, or you can fill up on junk. It is your choice, but also you have to bear the responsibility of your choice. If you are what you eat, you certainly are what you read.

There is something for everyone at the library. No matter what your taste or inclination, there is something for you. Even in fiction, I am constantly amazed at the variety. There are not just multiple genres, but crossovers. Large print Christian Amish suspense. Urban historical Western romance. Zombie romantic comedy. We have it all.

There is a lot of fiction, but also a lot of non fiction. If you want to learn anything about how to improve your health, your business, your marriage, your community, or the world, the library has it.

The library was my salvation when I was a child. It still is. I learned about the secret of Santa Claus from the library. I learned about the secret of sex too. I have no idea if my parents were ever going to clue me in to either one of these things. I learned early on that if I wanted the truth, I was going to find it in a book rather than from them. Even now, if there is anything that I need to know more about, I find a book from the library and learn.

Libraries are also my escape. If life is a little bit heavy, then some Terry Pratchett will lighten it. If life is too predictable, then Neil Gaiman will make things more interesting. Libraries are a place to find new friends for my journey.

Libraries are the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter how poor you are or how uneducated your parents are. With a library you can escape the horrible pull of poverty and ignorance. Yet, just like with a buffet, you can make bad choices too. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say they are bad, but they certainly aren’t nutritious or uplifting.

I’m sad when people use their library to exclusively waste their time and thus their lives. I’m sad when poor parents don’t use the resource of the library to help their children escape the cycle of poverty. Nothing is more empowering than knowledge.

We have a limit of 10 movies that patrons can check out at a time, and there are a stunning amount of people who get that limit and watch them and get then more, every few days. Some people have their wives’ and child’s card and get 30 movies at a time.

What an amazing waste.

Then there is “urban erotic fiction”, with broken English and stereotyped scripts. I’ve already written about how damaging I find that genre. I’m upset that it teaches African-American women that they are things and not people. I’m upset that it teaches them that they aren’t anything unless they have a man, and they aren’t much then either. I’m upset that they are reading the literary equivalent of deep-fried Twinkies. I want them to be empowered, not enslaved.

There are also other choices that aren’t the best. Sure, you don’t have to get educational materials all the time. But I worry about parents who let their children only get comic books. Children are like plants. You have to support them and raise them. They can’t be allowed to just grow up like weeds. They have to have good information put in them.

It is stunning to see the difference between foreign born parents and American born parents. The foreign born ones get educational books for their children. The children learn early on that their job is to learn. They develop healthy habits about learning. The parents choose for their kids the majority of their books.

The American born parents let their children pick out whatever they want. While I’m all for kids having some say in what they read, I know that they aren’t going to push themselves at all. Some, generally lower income ones, let their kids get just movies. This will just continue the cycle of poverty. If they can’t read, they can’t get good jobs.

Library materials and food are the same. If you let a child choose what to eat, he is going to pick junk food and candy. No child picks broccoli and squash if he has had hot dogs and chocolate. I’m not for censorship at the library, the same way I’m not for eliminating fried food at Golden Corral. I am for people being mindful about the repercussions of their choices. Life is short. Choose wisely.

Water and Words – on infant baptism.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’m against infant baptism. I’m cool with some ceremony where the parents commit to raising the child as a Christian, and ask for the help of the Church to keep them on track.

But I don’t get the purpose of actually baptizing their child.

There are way too many people who get their child baptized and then leave the church. There are also stories of grandparents who are concerned that neither parent is Christian. They take the child to a church on the weekend they have the kid and get her baptized, unbeknownst to the parents. There are also stories of parents whose child is gravely ill and they ask for an emergency baptism.

In all these instances they aren’t planning on raising the child as a Christian. There is something else going on. Do they think that there is something magical and protective that happens when a child is baptized with water?

Jesus never baptized anybody with water. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to his disciples after he ascended into heaven. The water is just a symbol. It isn’t the real thing. It is the commitment to following Jesus that matters. We need ceremonies to let us know that a change has occurred. We need ceremonies like we need doorways, to show us transition and evolution. Baptism is a ceremony, but it marks a change that occurs within the person. Just pouring water on someone and saying some words doesn’t make them a follower of Jesus.

It seems like idol worship for people to baptize their children. It seems like they think that words and water will do the trick. It seems like they think that that is all there is to it. Get baptized, and you’re in the club.

But baptism should be a choice of the person, not something done to you. I think that deciding to follow Jesus is too important for someone to do it for you. It is like deciding to be vegetarian. That is a major choice. Your parents may think that being vegetarian is something that you should do for your own good, much like following Jesus. But if you aren’t in agreement with it, you aren’t going to keep doing it once you are out of their house.

Then again, you can get baptized with water and it doesn’t mean anything. You still aren’t connected, you still don’t get it. It isn’t the water or the words. It is the Holy Spirit that makes it work.

The Holy Spirit baptizes. That is like being upgraded from a 110 to a 220, like being transformed from a garden hose to a fire hose. It is overwhelming. When you’ve been touched by the Holy Spirit you are never the same again.

Let us stop baptizing children. They aren’t able to make that decision, and it is too important for it to be made for them. Let us remember that God is the one who saves us, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It isn’t the water. It isn’t our words.

I choose…

I choose to release my old way of thinking.

I choose to trust that God is leading me on the right path.

I choose to allow God to work in my life.

I choose to no longer define things as good or bad.

I choose to be patient with the process.

I choose to not put parameters on my path.

I choose to believe that God can use me as I am, right where I am – and to embrace that God might transform my life into something totally unexpected.

I choose to not resist God’s will.

I can see a book deal and traveling in my future.
I can see having time to volunteer more.
I can see me healing people with words that I share.

I am grateful that God has planted this seed within me.

I choose to nurture this seed.

I choose to be patient, no longer defining situations as good or bad, and no longer needed to see the outcome to trust the path.

I choose to believe that God is leading me, and that I have the ability to follow God on this path.

Poem 4, antibody

It isn’t alive, the old church.
Instead, silenced, and you are not happy.
We forget Samuel and the voice he heard.

Is church about green tea or coffee?
Or doughnuts, or potlucks?

Love your friends.
Love your enemies.

Because the way to heal them
is to get them drunk on love.

Just write, like your life depended on it.
Just speak, like nobody is listening.

Whoever fixed anything by complaining or judging?
Whoever repaired a house with a broken hammer?

We have buildings in our childhoods.
They are crumbling ruins.
We need reminders of the world, broken that it is.

We can’t escape from this world.
It is our calling.
We were made for this brokenness.
We were made for this joy.

You have to let a little bit of the brokenness, the disease of the world
get under your skin.
This is how the antibody works.

I think the way home is now.
It isn’t in the future.
Every moment is a choice
to be here, to be present
to the beauty and pain that is our world.

Every moment is a choice to love and serve God
with gladness, and singleness of heart,
rejoicing, even down to the grave.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.