Monday, July 18, 2011

Can a Christian Woman Get a Hotel Room While Showing Cleavage?

Thunderstorms in Boston and Newark delayed my first leg of air travel home. I, like many other stranded travelers trying to get to Seattle, needed to find a place to sleep other than concourse benches. My journey at that point included 14 hours of travel time and knew I had at least another 16 hours before I would get home. I was frustrated. Exhausted.

As I approached the front desk, my dusty backpack and roller bag in toe, the clerk's eyes roamed over my body. From my face to my shoes, he slowly looked up and down, pausing in leering enjoyment at my chest each perusal over my body.

At that point I smiled. It was not a friendly smile, but a patented Pacific Northwest variety of smile that can easily be translated into "#$@* you very much." Only after I smiled did he acknowledge that I was at the desk.

His reaction was par for the course that day. I had made a classic travelling error. I wore a shirt that showed a hint of cleavage. The over shirt was sleeveless, see through material, with polka-dots. It also breathes well and is cool in the hot summer months, so I can add a layer of formality without sacrificing comfort. So when I was stuck on the tarmac for an hour in Boston in this travel outfit, I wasn’t sweltering. It’s a fun flirty shirt that is not enormously provocative, but makes me smile at the hint of curves that it shows when I wear it.

You see, I love my body. As a 25 year old woman who spends most of her year in Southern California stating how comfortable I am in my own skin is a startling revelation. I love the color of my hair and I am thrilled that I am inheriting my mother’s sparkling grey. I love the fact that only the right side of my face can curl into a sarcastic half smile. I love the gentle curve out of my stomach, because it means that I am healthy and have enough to eat. I love my mismatched feet. I even after years of awkward self-conciousness love that hint of cleavage.

This is not me speaking from narcissism, but an appreciative gasp of thanks for the miracle of my body. Thank you, God. Thank you for this body and the life that comes along with it.

This prayer is defiant. My body is not something that I am supposed to like. My native and corporate culture can’t sell me creams, make-up, and get thin quick cookbooks if I actually like my body as is.

As for Christianity? Historically, the body has been an embarrassing footnote to the theologies of spiritual salvation, an accident that needed to be conquered by true faith. And being in a woman’s body? Well that was an indication of spiritual unwholesomeness that is to be blamed for the whole sinfulness of humanity. So while you have Paul and Augustine praising women for their spiritual leadership and capabilities, you also have them suggesting that women need to cover themselves to not inspire lustful thoughts of angels or cause spontaneous erections in men. I shouldn’t be so proud of my womanly curves, I should hide them so I do not invoke any hint of sexuality.

Wearing a shirt that even remotely suggests my body is feminine means that I am now allowed to be viewed as a sexual object. This is probably why the clerk at the desk felt that it was acceptable to ogle me. After I handed over my identification and credit card, the clerk walked over to his manager. “Should we let her have a room?” he audibly whispered to his supervisor. The clerk kept a raised eyebrow pointedly directed at my chest.

The supervisor looked over at me and smiled broadly. “I think so. She has an innocent face,” he said to the clerk. “But if we have a loud party we will know where it started.” He chuckled inviting me to share in the joke.

Half way through my journey, exhausted and frustrated, I had just been called a whore. I flushed in anger, embarrassment, and gratefulness that I had a place to sleep that night. I swore that I would never wear that shirt again.

That is the sneaky part of sexism. It makes you blame yourself for the horrible treatment of others. I went to bed that night thinking that the behavior of the clerk was my fault for showing cleavage and standing out while I traveled. I looked at my breasts in the mirror and sighed at the unwanted attention the garnered yet again. I forgot that my body was a miracle. I went to bed without thanking God for this blessing.

The worst part of this story is that I forgot that my body is a gift. Sexism, and the theologies that stem from it, are in direct conflict of my understanding of God’s universally applicable love for us as God created us. Scripturally, there are many verses that uphold that a body as being lovingly created by God or in the image of God. Women are either explicitly mentioned, or can be read into verses that celebrate God’s creation. Many feminist theologies address this consideration of the body, and emphasize the importance of the feminine body in the face of prejudice or violence. It’s hard to remember this when you’re scared or frustrated, but the underlying and deliciously subversive message of these Christian's woman's depicitions of the beauty of the body is this: I am a child of God, made in the image of God and I will not feel ashamed because choose to travel in a shirt that makes me smile.

Monday, June 27, 2011

150 Posts

Last weekend was Annual Conference for Pacific Northwest United Methodists. It felt like a homecoming to sit in a large room with “my people.” Although I have loved and appreciated being at Claremont School of Theology, in large part because it refuses to let me rest on shortcuts, it was refreshing to not be constantly translating my understanding of Christianity or Methodism. Yes, there are places that we have to grow to be the best United Methodists we can be, but this weekend left me hopeful and excited to how we can move forward.

One of the highlights of the conference was the high involvement of Young Adults. We were everywhere! We were heading committees, leading worship giving addresses, running cameras, building labyrinths, and serving in dozens of other instrumental ways. It was so exciting to see how much we have made annual conference our own.

In her excellent Young Person’s address, Emma Donohew’s emphasized the need for our conference utilizing social media. “I know it’s cliché for a young adult to say this, but I will preach the gospel of social networking!” she declared. And she’s right. The future of “first contact” will be online. If someone wants to know what it means to be a Pacific Northwest United Methodist, the internet is the first place that a young adult will look. If we are to be relevant we must be online.

As I sat there I realized that I knew to use social media, but I have only updated my blog once in the past year. My challenge from Emma’s talk is not necessarily to preach the gospel of social networking, but to do it.

So. I am giving myself an accomplishable social networking challenge. 150 blog posts between now and the next convening of annual conference. 3 blog posts a week. And while I can visualize whole months in the future that will be difficult, perhaps this kind of journaling shall be my Wesleyan method for the next year. If I agree wholeheartedly that we should use social media as a form of outreach for the United Methodist Church, it’s time that I take the first step and model that affirmation.

Let's see what happens.

If you want to hear other excellent things that Emma said, here is the entirety of Emma's Address:
(It starts at minute 41)

Watch live streaming video from pnwumc at

Blog #1 in Ruth’s Social Networking Gospel Challenge.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Different Reaction

Once explaining how our actions affect God, a professor offered this story. On September 11th process theologian, Marjorie Suchocki planted bulbs in her garden. On a day that despair, death, and hatred reigned, she made a prayer of hope and took part in creating life, with sewing plants into the earth.

On this day that is intimately connected to September 11th, I ponder about justice, safety, and grief. I do not find joy in the death of an evil man.

And so, as so many celebrate this death, I will celebrate the things in which I find life:

I rejoice in the young hummingbird flitting from twig to twig in the tree overhead.
I rejoice in the domesticity of taking down and folding fresh laundry.
I rejoice in the feeling of accomplishment of finishing papers.
I rejoice in the bright color of my scarf.
I rejoice in the support of text messages from best friends.
I rejoice in clear mountains, sunlight on my face, wind dancing in my hair, smiling at a stranger, daisies growing out of cracks in cement, the taste of my coffee, and the scent of roses drifting over campus.

Here God, these are my offerings of uncomplicated joy today. Take these delights into your heart. And God, if I may, I hope the joy we find in these simple things will overwhelm us into deep, lasting peace and celebration of life.