A moment of sanctity

Up on the second floor of City Hall, not far from the city clerk’s office, is a little white trellis archway on wheels, decorated with flowers and white lace. I’d noticed it a long time ago, and quickly realized that it was designed to provide a little class and formality to a dry civil marriage ceremony. I always thought it was just for photographs, though, not the ceremony itself.

Today, I had to drop off a document to someone in City Hall for comments and corrections. While she annotated the document, I watched as a city clerk pulled out the trellis and guided two young women underneath it. They were both very beautiful and quite young — I can’t imagine that either was that much over twenty — and both were women of color. One wore a tight, short-skirted white dress, and carried a bouquet of brightly dyed silk flowers; the other wore a white tank top and ragged, hole-covered jeans.

The city clerk, a middle-aged woman in plain work clothes, read the vows and guided the young women through the ceremony, as the witnesses — a young woman and man of similar age — looked on. The whole ceremony probably took five minutes. Finally, once the exchange of vows was complete, the clerk offered that they kiss each other; they held each other tight, kissing each other deeply and delightedly while everyone clapped. As they walked away to finalize the paperwork, they couldn’t stop beaming at each other, even when one of them started crying with happiness.

It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in ages. It made me happy to live in this part of the country, in a way that nothing else had before. Because while all the stories in the media, about middle-class white couples who’ve been together for thirty years, are well and good, they’re not the only ones who benefit from same-sex unions. It’s people like those girls, young and hopeful and recklessly in love, already facing enough economic and social discrimination aside from their sexuality, who need and deserve the same legal legitimization as everyone else.

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In the news today

Hrmph. This “updating regularly” thing has really fallen by the wayside in the past few months. My apologies.

Anyway, this is a brief post, primarily for the purpose of bragging and talking about my summer jobs. I just opened up the New Haven Independent, and my two bosses were in side-by-side articles. First, this guy is the head of Traffic and Parking; he took over the department a couple of months ago, and even though I was assigned a different internship for the summer, I love working for him so much that I’ve fought to keep working there one day a week. He’s one of those people who’re a delight to work for: he’s incredibly competent and dedicated, and he balances genuine idealism with experienced pragmatism. I didn’t have much to do with the events in the article, beyond being present for several of the Indiana Jones planning meetings, but it’s a good example of how fun it is to work for someone who actually cares.

The second article is the one I’m most proud of, though. The Mayor had a press conference today at the police department. Well, all that data he cites about shootings in New Haven? That’s what I’ve been working on. Half of the PowerPoint presentation linked by the article was copied straight from the data and observations of trends that I compiled, analyzed, and wrote. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting them to cut-and-paste so completely; it’s a little intimidating to be watching the Mayor giving a press conference and realize that he’s quoting what you wrote, stylistically awkward turns of phrase and all! ::grins::

Still, it was fun; and more than that, it feels good to know that the weeks of work I’ve been spending are actually getting out there. I’ve been spending eight hours a day, four days a week, immersed in case files and criminal records of people getting shot or shooting each other. It’s been . . . overwhelming, and challenging, and hilarious, and depressing, in turns. Part of me wishes that the police department kept better electronic records; but part of me realizes that by having to enter in all that information in painstaking detail, I immersed myself in the details and trends of the shootings in a way that simply seeing the numbers wouldn’t have accomplished.

Anyway, that’s been my summer so far. I’ve been doing lots of cooking — I baked pita bread for the first time this week, and it came out delicious — and I need to nudge myself to post those recipes and photos. Here, have a link about a romantic and sad story about a transsexual Pakistani and his young wife.

By grace, men have been saved

It’s been a while since I looked over the Four Spiritual Laws. Mind you, I heard them enough times growing up to be able to cite them from memory, but when Slacktivist mentioned them in a post, I decided to refresh my memory. I have to admit, then, that it came as something of a surprise to discover that they don’t apply to me.

Man is Sinful, they announce. Man was created to have fellowship with God; but, because of his own stubborn self-will, he chose to go his own independent way. That makes a lot of sense; men certainly are stubborn, always refusing to stop and ask for directions. I’m just glad that I was created differently . . . Oh. You mean they aren’t just talking about male humans, but all humans? Well then, never mind.

The funny thing here is that this isn’t a matter of “Biblical literalism,” whatever that is. None of the Scriptures they cite call humanity automatically male. Instead, they say things like “all have sinned” and “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” John 3:16 doesn’t say “for God so loved men”; it says “for God so loved the world.” Of course, male-centric expressions do appear elsewhere in the Bible, but the point is that Campus Crusade decided to make them up even when they weren’t there.

And this is what frustrates me about discussions about gender and the Bible, from either perspective. You have the conservatives staunchly insisting on inserting maleness at every opportunity, just to make their point, and you have the liberals inserting femaleness wherever they can, even if it means rewriting Scripture. It’s as if accepting the Bible as a sacred canon necessitates internalizing the worst prejudices of every time period it reflects. (Or at least those prejudices that fit nicely with our own.)

I don’t believe that, as an article we read in Feminist Theology asserted, a male Savior can’t save women, or that Christianity’s canon must be rewritten in order to make it relevant. Nor do I believe that Biblical depictions of relations of dominance — male over female, free over slave, Israelite over foreigner — mean that those relations need to be perpetuated in our own time. But it’s funny how that apparently moderate position seems to mean walking a thin tightrope, these days.

Incidentally, I’ve got half a dozen entries written and ready to be posted — several about food/cooking. I’ll try to get them up soon, now that classes are winding down . . .

Today’s Feminist Theology assignment.

This week’s reflection/discussion assignment was to write a prayer (or other form of art or literature, for those uncomfortable with prayer), using female language for God. This is what I ended up writing.


God Most Holy, Creator of all:
      when the earth floated formless in Thy womb,
            a word waiting to be spoken,
      this soul’s hour was known to Thee.
Naked before Thee, I kneel.
Teach me Thy secret places;
      unfold Thy beauty for me in a twilight alcove;
      encompass me in Thy radiant darkness.
Welcome me into Thine hidden banquet,
      that I may feast on Thee.

Teach me to thirst for Thee,
      El Shaddai, God of suckling.
Let me crave Thee as my life’s-milk;
      give me peace at Thy bosom.
Through Thy tender care,
      make blossom the walled garden of my soul;
      breathe a warm wind,
            thaw these hardened banks of earth,
                  speed the coming harvest.

In humility I approach Thee,
      human prayers from a human heart.
Ignore my words,
      so distant from Thy truth.
Forgive my deeds,
      so easily callous.
Heed instead the spirit with which I speak.
Grant me the love to love Thee.
Forgive me, Eternal One,
      for the hours I have forgotten Thee,
      and bestow on me the first flush of ardor,
            until I delight only in Thee.

Amen.

Compassionate respect

For your weekend reading pleasure, a bevy of links related to women’s and gender issues.

An extremely negative review of 300. “I felt like I was being made to watch a Leni Riefenstahl movie, or the very worst bits of Birth of a Nation.” (As a side note: am I the only person for whom the movie’s odd, distorted, wannabe-video-game graphics aren’t attractive, anyway?)

Two reflections on woman-affirming internet porn: Obscene but Not Heard, a critique of Suicide Girls management and practices, and DIY Porn For Nerds (part 2 here), an interview with the woman who owns, runs, web-maintains, and stars in NerdPr0n.com. (Warning: the second interview does contain semi-explicit pictures.)

Gender etiquette, “Talking to Someone Whose Gender You Don’t Know.” A nice guide, designed for people without much experience with genderqueer folk.

It’s a few days old, but. A Tampa woman is raped, then thrown in jail and denied a full dose of Plan B. (Later, the police apologize.) Says the nurse who refused to give the woman Plan B: “I think it might have been a miscommunication. Clearly the poor girl was distraught.” Because, you know, it’s her fault that you didn’t listen to her request, which was repeated by the police officer. Gah.

This IS rape. Analysis of a “rape crisis scenario” and the reactions of various bloggers. Scroll to the bottom for the response from the makers of the rape education program, and for my response.

Finally, this isn’t a link, but I’d like to make a note to talk about the Feminist Theology class I’m taking, taught by Margaret Farley and Letty Russell. As well as the subjects we’re discussing, what fascinates me is the way that they’re deliberately changing our understanding of the classroom, despite the limitations of a very popular lecture course. Each week includes a discussion section that’s less about competing arguments and more about sharing our personal reactions to the material; the lectures have a snack, coffee, and tea table, and include breaks to talk to our neighbors about the subject at hand; the personal experiences of the lecturers and guest speakers are given as much value as their academic credentials. In short, they’re not merely teaching a feminist perspective on theology and scripture; they’re embodying the difference which that perspective makes to academia in general.

Many hellos in America

I know there aren’t a lot of Top Chef watchers reading here, let alone Top Chef watchers who also follow it on Television Without Pity. Call me a coward for not posting there, I suppose. Mostly, I just want to see if I’m the only person bothered by a habit that seems ubiquitous on the forum boards, which I believe has even slipped into the official Bravo blogs at points.

The contestants this year are almost all American, but one of them, Elia, grew up in Mexico. She speaks English fluently, though with a Spanish accent. Frankly, though some contestants (Mia comes to mind) work to link their cultural/ethnic/regional origins with their cooking style, Elia very rarely does so; she was trained in France and tends to show the most culinary influences from there.

However, when people talk about Elia, positively or negatively – but especially negatively – they parody her accent. One typical example: “In the first episode, she wouldn’t shut up about the “deeleecous” American cheese (aka “thees funky product that shouldn’t exeest”).” Not everyone does it, but it’s a consistent feature when people quote her, and nobody seems bothered by the habit.

It’s a bit like, oh, for example, electing the first Democratic Speaker of the House in over ten years, and rightly celebrating the fact that the highest echelons of political power are no longer closed to women, then filling your newspaper articles and photo captions with descriptions of her clothing. It’s not cute. It’s demeaning. It’s a reminder in her moment of triumph and achievement that she is still different, a curiosity, a reluctantly-admitted guest.

I’m forced to conclude, from the online silence on this subject, that I may be reading too much into the common online tendency toward caricature. Feel free to tell me so. However, it does disturb me to see the assumption that, as long as we’re not saying that a trait is bad, it’s okay to consistently paint it as other. If reality-show fans transcribed black contestants with an exaggerated, phonetically-spelled AAVE dialect, we would rightly protest; why should a Latina be treated differently?

Love and Marriage: Goes Together Like a Horse and Carriage?

Link of the day:

Stand By Your Man: The strange liaison of Sartre and Beauvoir, by Louis Menand. Over a year old, but worthwhile for those interested in Sarte, Beauvoir, existentialism, sexual ethics, feminism, and/or polyamory.

I was “linked” to the article from Margaret Farley’s new book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, which was recommended several times in the course of researching my ethics paper. The title is somewhat misleading; it’s “love shaped by justice,” not “merely love,” and really it’s not about love as much as it is about how we bring the ideals of love and justice to bear on questions of sex.

It’s an excellent book, thoughtful and well-researched, and it brings up a lot of aspects of sexual ethics that are frequently under-discussed, from the role of cultural bias in “modern” studies of global sexual behavior to the relevance of a theological understanding of mind/body division/unity to moral norms. She acknowledges and addresses the concerns of conservative Christianity, progressive feminism, sociological studies, minority groups within the queer community, and more. While it doesn’t relate as directly as I’d hoped to the subject of my term paper, I’d recommend it to anyone examining Christian sexual ethics, or even Christian ethics in general.

Also, despite deep temptation otherwise, the title of this post will not be the title of my paper.