The Modest Feminist

Standard

This past week I’ve been following an intense discussion about Harvey Weinstein, sexual assault and victim blaming. 

Mayim Bialik – an “aspiring modern Orthodox Jewish Woman” – wrote a controversial and highly maligned piece for The NY Times in which she seemed to connect her own beliefs about modesty with assault. I’m not going to spend a ton of time going over that piece, but briefly she made some very problematic correlations between her own escape from sexual assault and the fact that she is what she refers to as not a perfect 10, someone who focuses on developing her brain not her body, and someone who dresses and behaves modestly. I think people very rightfully called this piece out for all the problematic ways it tied victimization to dress and behavior, and how it very erroneously labeled itself as a feminist view.

But the entire debacle got me thinking about the topic of modesty in general. One comment I saw in response to Mayim’s piece was that one cannot hold an ethos of modesty and also be a feminist: that the two views are fundamentally incompatible. And I suppose, based on the most common notion of modesty, that statement is true.

In general, most public discussions of modesty are focused on women more heavily than men. Dress codes are predominately concerned with ensuring that women don’t show too much of their bodies so as to become a distraction. Whether that’s spaghetti straps, low cut tops, high cut bottoms, things that are considered too tight… the message is always that women’s bodies are both inherently sexual and inherently problematic, and that men need women to cover themselves up in order to be able to control themselves. We see this all over our culture, from school and workplace dress codes, to public campaigns aimed at protecting yourself from unwanted attention, to television series like “Counting On” – a continuation of “19 Kids and Counting” highlighting the growing Duggar clan and their Uber patriarchal worldview embedded in their conservative Christian beliefs. This representation of modesty is absolutely counter to any sort of feminist worldview, and in my opinion absolutely harmful in the ideas it continues to perpetuate both about women’s bodies and about men’s apparently animalistic sexual instincts. It contributes to rape culture. It sets up women to be responsible for the actions of men. It’s not ok.

Before I continue, I need to admit something. I believe in modesty. 

I grew up in a church that taught me about the type of modesty discussed above. It was almost always presented to me as about honouring the holiness of my body, but with the added need to protect myself and to not “tempt your brothers or sisters” (the brothers and sisters are in Christ – not biological, for those of you not familiar with church speak). You can imagine that this concept of modesty did not sit well with me long before I considered myself a feminist, and certainly after. In my late teens I had pretty much stopped going to church, and while I held on to some fundamental belief in God, I disposed of everything else. I was certainly anything but modest. For me personally, my times of greatest immodesty coincided directly with my times of least self respect. THIS DOES NOT MEAN ANYTHING ABOUT WHY OTHER WOMEN CHOOSE OR REJECT MODESTY – I can’t speak to their realities. I am only telling my own story here. 

As I started to return back to my faith, but this time cautiously trying to think through it all, I kept coming back to modesty. Because it had always been tied to harmful patriarchal ideas, I really had no idea how to navigate my feelings. On the one hand I felt it was a fundamental part of embodying my faith. Not in a turtleneck and long skirts kind of way, but more a maybe I don’t want my boobs to be covered by a 1/4 inch of fabric because it makes me feel like I’m disrespecting myself kind of way. And even in that, I felt uneasy, wondering if feeling like I was disrespecting myself was somehow the product of being told I needed to hide my body FROM MEN. 

I wasn’t sure what to think about modesty. I spent nearly a decade trying to figure it out. Why did I still feel compelled by the idea of modesty, and how could I reconcile that with my understanding of how harmful traditional conceptions of modesty were? Was it even possible to believe in modesty and feminism?

Modesty isn’t anti-feminist. Modesty, at least the kind focused on sacredness instead of sexuality, has nothing to do with controlling someone else’s behavior, or with making you more worthy. 

Modesty as it was intended is about honoring that which is sacred. That being the human body. Each human body, male and female. It’s about recognizing that the same sacred nature of God that required men to hide their faces and cover their heads, to stay behind the curtain because the sacred was so overwhelming – that same sacred nature is embedded in our very flesh. Many of the rules imposed over centuries are most assuredly patriarchal. But holy modesty is not about the rules – it’s about recognizing and honoring the sacred God who lives in us, not just spiritually but physically. 

The relationship between God and our physical bodies has largely been lost in modern Christianity. It’s one of the many things I so appreciate about my Orthodox Christian faith: the recognition that my flesh is as much a part of my story of redemption as my spirit is. And modesty as I now understand it is about accounting for this reality and honouring that which is sacred. Because encountering that which is sacred should not be something casual. It requires attentiveness, thoughtfulness, trust, respect, and holiness. 

There is nothing shameful about my body, and my worth is not increased or decreased based on my modesty. It’s my recognition of the sacredness of my body that increases (or decreases), and my requirement that I honour that which is sacred as a response of thanks, humility, awe and respect to the God who lives within me. 

Glory to God. 

The Violence of Orlando

Standard

I haven’t really talked about Orlando yet.

My husband and I have had various conversations online about gun control and the role of religion. We’ve spoken to each other about the need for Love, and the dangers of bigotry and hatred. I’ve read so many posts and articles, watched so many videos, most expressing sorrow or outrage or defiant resilience. But I’ve not really added my voice.

I’m not entirely sure why I haven’t wanted to speak. For one, words seem inadequate, particularly when they are coming from a white, straight, blonde haired, blue eyed, middle class, Christian woman – a cross section of nearly every category of privilege available in our world. For another far more disturbing reason, the most recent news has barely registered as shocking to me at all. How terrible is it that I live in a world where I can hear about dozens of people being slaughtered and my initial emotional reaction just barely moves past apathy? Mass murders seem to have become such a common occurrence that when news of one breaks, I think “again”.

Again.

As if they are all just the same old routine. As if the lives of those involved are all just the same.

Except… the lives of those involved are all just the same. Not in a disrespectful, brush them off, nothing about their story matters way. That’s the way I have come to react to them, but that’s not what they are. I mean that each human involved is infinitely valuable, totally unique, terribly precious, equally as flawed and equally as deserving of life as every other individual involved. They all had names and stories, families, friends, jobs, dreams. And hurts.

In all the reactions I have witnessed in response to this tragedy – let there be no doubt, regardless of my initial emotional reaction I do believe with all of my heart that this is an horrific tragedy – there are two that seem most prevalent. The first has been an expression of sorrow and of solidarity. I have seen so many calls to stand with our fellow humans as brothers and sisters, regardless of race, creed or orientation. I have watched thousands of people stand together weeping at vigils, weeping as a community undivided by hate or fear. As the lives of so many have been torn apart, it seems that much of the world has responded by defiantly joining together, something that is particularly powerful in the midst of an American election that seems aimed at tearing people apart. It is the right response, and it is beautiful to be witness to.

There has been a second response as well, only ever so slightly smaller than the first. As news of the massacre spread, the flames of fear and rage have spread too. Of course there is the obvious example: the rhetoric of Trump renewing his cries for a ban on Muslim immigration, blaming the actions of this U.S. citizen on Obama (who apparently traveled back in time and let the shooter’s parent’s into the country). But there are plenty of seemingly less egregious expressions of fear and rage as well. It seems only natural in the face of such an evil act to define the killer by that evil, to identify them as “other”, not human, not us. We speak out against not just their actions but against them, each of us trying to push the perpetrator as far away from any connection to us as possible. “He was a Muslim, Islam is the problem” says the Christian. “He was religious, religion is the problem” says the atheist. “He was an extremist, extremism is the problem” says the Muslim. “He had access to guns, guns are the problem” says the person who believes in gun control. “He was mentally ill, mental illness is the problem” says the mentally sound. “He was closeted, bigotry is the problem” say those who are out.

I get it. In fact, I do it. In moments of fear and anger, it seems so natural to box the evil-doer in as the other, to protect ourselves from them and to distance them from ourselves. “I would never do that” we rationalize – even when on occasion we may find ourselves identifying with some part of their thinking or some experience from their life. “They did something so evil, they have to be a monster” we tell ourselves as we look for comfort in our differences from them. “I’m sane, I’m just, I know when to get help, I have appropriate outlets for my anger, I am right”, we say. “I would never commit such violence”.

I would never commit such violence, I say to myself. But it’s a lie.

One of my favourite Christian bloggers – Rachel Held Evans – posted a poignant response to the Orlando massacre. In it, she talked about the leaders in the Christian church responding with calls to love and support the LGBTQ community in this time of tragedy. While this is absolutely the right response, she noted that many in the LGBTQ find these calls to love ring hollow. Why? Because the same people who are now calling for love and support have spent years sowing seeds of hatred, contempt and disgust for the LGBTQ community. It is their words and ideas that have propagated so much of the violence against the LGBTQ community, by fueling societal attitudes of bigotry. Their forked tongues seem to preach love and support at the same time as they continue to relegate those in the LGBTQ community to second-class citizenship, to unworthy outsiders, making clear at all times that “they” are “other”.

This is an act of violence.

With each wedge we push between ourselves and our fellow man, we contribute to the violence. I would argue that even though lack of gun control and bigotry and extremism are all contributors to the massacres we see on an almost daily basis now, they are all rooted in something that is far more pervasive and to which we all contribute in some way or another on a daily basis: The violence of disconnection. It is disconnection that leads us to believe we need to protect ourselves from our neighbours with guns, in case the need arises for us to decide between killing or being killed. As if we aren’t all in this together. It is disconnection that allows us to convince ourselves that someone’s differences are more important and more profound than the things we share. It is disconnection that pushes outsiders to search for anything and anywhere to belong, and to hold on so tightly that they will give their lives for an ideology of hate because at least inside that hate they were finally offered a sense of belonging and connection. They were allowed to funnel all of their hurt and rejection back toward those who told them – and keep telling them – that they will never be allowed on the “inside”.

While it feels natural and right to distance ourselves from those who commit these atrocities, it is far more honest – and far more difficult – to acknowledge that those committing these acts are more “us” than they are “other”. When we spend our time putting more and more distance between ourselves, we contribute to the violence that spurred these evil acts in the first place. We become part of the violence we are denouncing. Our forked tongues shout solidarity and seclusion in the same breath. And we truly believe that in doing so we are right.

It is a painful thing to acknowledge that it is not just the victims we share so much in common with. These evil-doers often have families and children, friends, jobs. They grew up in communities just like ours. And as much as it is convenient to tell ourselves that their otherness is what made it possible for them to go to such lengths – an otherness we swear we do not share – I don’t believe that’s usually the reality.

The reality is that we are all broken people in our own way. We are all violent people in our own way. We search for opportunities to tell ourselves we are better, stronger, kinder… different. And while my impact may not seem great on its own, when you combine the billions of tiny fractures we humans make in the fabric of our society each day, you start to comprehend the culmination of our violence, and the damage it does.

We are part of the problem. When we react to violence with violence, we are part of the problem. When we convince ourselves they were “other” we are part of the problem. When we contribute to the disconnection of humanity by polarizing one group against another, by separating “us” from “them” we are part of the problem.

Violence isn’t just guns in crowded bathroom stalls, or bombs in public spaces. Violence is the words and actions we use every day towards each other. And the evil we see is the culmination of that violence and that disconnection.

Until we are willing to acknowledge our part in the violence of our world, we cannot become part of the solution. As long as we are intent on putting each other into boxes, we will continue to propagate the very evil we swear we would never participate in.

But when we see it, when we call it what it is and understand that no matter how small it may seem, a billion tiny words spoken together become a deafening roar, then we can speak different words. We can speak words of connection, and love and healing.  As our voices leave, the roar of hatred and violence will grow ever weaker, and the call of us, of humanity, of one, will inevitably drown it out.

You are one small voice. Speak for peace. Speak for unity. Speak for humanity.

Speak for us all.

Choose to connect.

We are all human.

We are all in this together.

The Art of Listening

Standard

This summer I have the incredible opportunity to spend almost 3 months on Vancouver Island with my (almost) husband and our 1 year old, as well as having our 5 and 8 year olds come out for 4 weeks in July and August. While most of my peers are busy working, I’m learning how to love cooking again, how to be present for the little things and how to reconnect both with my partner and – even more than that – with myself.

This past year and a bit have been a blur. Scratch that – the past 3 and a half years have been a blur. From the time Tory entered my life, my world has been in a constant state of stress and upheaval. Every aspect of my life has changed in huge ways, as has nearly every aspect of my self. I look back 3 years and see a broken child, searching for meaning and belonging and purpose and Love. Between dealing with a move across the country, a divorce that dragged out 3 full years and ensuing custody battle royale, becoming a step mom and in essence a wife, a career beginning and end, LSATs, first year of law school, pregnancy, childbirth (it was 76 hours, it counts as its own significant endeavor), becoming a mother and more, every facet of my being was reshaped, every belief about myself and the world challenged, every limit tested. But I’m here.

And I’m not just here, I’m… different. More. More aware, more humble, more forgiving, more trusting, more Loving. More human.

This is the first time since my new life began that I’ve been able to just sit and consider what my life is and who I am in it. With no pressing deadlines and no looming court dates or bills we can’t pay, I truly have the freedom to just BE. I think the greatest freedom I am currently feeling is from the pressure to have to provide financially for the family. Tory’s working and I am not responsible for this summers income, and I feel like I can breathe and relax into my life, into the chance to do nothing more than Love those around me for a time.

I catch myself feeling guilty for the nothingness – for the sitting and watching, for the quiet. And yet I know it is necessary. The quiet I have been given these few short months is not just for me to recharge after a grueling few years. I believe more than anything else, God has given me this quiet so that I have the time and space to hear His voice in the silence, and to listen to His whispers as they float in off the summer breeze. My day to day life is normally so filled to the brim with all my competing responsibilities, my attention drawn even in my dreams to all the things I must do and prepare to do and be careful not to do that I have no space in my life for any sort of quiet. For any sort of listening. It’s hard to hear the stillness of God above the cacophony of life.

Because that is what God is. Stillness. In a world that is ever changing and always moving, He is a fixed mark, strong and stable and sure. He is steadfast in his pursuit of us, active in his Love of us, but I can always recognize His voice if I am willing to listen for it, because it never changes. He whispers Love into every corner of my life, asking only that I trust Him enough to let him lead me to fullness.

I am so easily led astray.

In September I will head back into the throng of students competing to find success. For many that success looks like money and prestige. For some it looks like finding meaning and making a difference. For a few it looks like compassion. For me…

For me I pray for the courage to hear and to listen to what I am being called to. For me I pray I do not become seduced by the endless pursuit of MORE, of bigger and better and richer.

For me I pray I will speak Love into the lives of thousands over the decades to come. That I will reflect compassion, embody humility and inspire courage. I pray that I will spare children the hate of their parents, and parents their crippling hate of each other and of themselves. I pray that God makes my life matter.

This summer, I hope I master the art of listening. I want to hear in no uncertain terms who I am called to be in this world so that when the time comes for me to live it out, it is impossible for me to forget, impossible for me to run from. I want to know myself – the version of me that I am called to be – so deeply, so wholly, that I cannot deny who I am. That if I choose not to be her it will torture me every day until I stop running away from myself.

I want to know me, so that out of that knowing, I can truly live.

God, help me listen.

Dark Time

Standard

My life is busy.

Anyone who knows me will confirm this for you. We have three young boys – one still breastfeeding – and I started law school at the beginning of September. Our youngest decided that daytime formula feeds are just NOT acceptable, and so he reversed his feeding cycle and now feeds every 2 hours at night. I have 30-40 hours of reading and school work to do each and every week, which I wedge in on lunch hours and after bedtimes and over top of the one on one time I have allotted for me and my husband. (Side note here: if you ever decide to go to law school while you have young children, get yourself a househusband. Unlike the mythical house hippo, the househusband is a very real and very valuable addition to your life.)

My life is busy, and I am tired.

In addition to the craziness of life, the demands of going back to school full time have made me seriously wonder if my family is getting enough of me. I fought so hard for this family. I Love them more than anything and anyone else in the world. I take time – however short it may be – to be with my husband and my kids each and every day. I set aside one day each weekend where I forget about school and remember I’m a mom and a wife. But going from full time mom to full time student is bound to change the dynamic of our little home. While I love watching as Lazarus starts to fall deeper into sync with Tory, it is bittersweet knowing he is falling slightly more out of sync with me. The natural rhythms of our early months together are fading as he grows and I can’t help but feel a twinge of loss. Tory has been incredible taking care of our home and our children, but he gets almost no help from me on those fronts, and almost no time with me alone. The older two boys are already with us only half the time, so the time we do have with them carries so much more weight.

My experiences are no different than those of working parents everywhere. Tory struggled for years and under far more difficult circumstances being away from his family. It is a struggle – knowing I am doing what I need to do both for our family and for myself, but also knowing it comes at a cost. Life is full of difficult realities. And those realities, those worries, the busyness and tiredness, they can all create so much noise that we get lost in the cacophony.

And that is where I found myself tonight. I walked in the door to find Tory was frazzled and exhausted from a particularly long day. I tried to juggle feeding Lazarus and making some dinner for myself, while Tory took care of dinner for the boys and himself in between trips to the sink to finish up the dishes. All the while, the boys were in and out, asking questions, playing with friends, wanting to connect with us both. All this noise swirled around me and I wondered how we would handle it all.

But we did. We got through dinner and homework, a mishap with paint, a thumped head and some hurt feelings, another feed, bedtime for the baby and playtime with friends. We recorded L’s first adorable phone call to a kindergarten friend and set up a play date for the weekend. We talked about lying and laziness and work ethic. We played catch the caterpillar. And still the noise of things to do yet tonight were ringing in my ears.

As I poured myself a glass of wine and finished up a pot of boiled eggs for snacks, L invited me to sit with him on the porch. Now, I don’t know about you, but when one of my boys invites me to do something, I will do everything I can to participate. It took us a long time to get to a point where they wanted me to be a part of their worlds. And as boyhood quickly marches forward, who knows how much longer I will be invited in.

So I went. And I sat. And I listened. We drew words and pictures in sidewalk chalk on our steps and on the sidewalk in front of our house. L talked about how mommy’s favourite colour is orange now, not purple. We talked about how L prefers egg whites to egg yolks and about how wine is gross and about why there was only one purple chalk stick. We sent mommy some pictures of the beautiful clouds. We talked about the deep blue of the night sky.

It was nearly bedtime when L said “Brynn, I’ve always wanted to go on a dark time walk, but I never have. Will you go with me?” I told him it would have to be quick and we hurriedly gathered up the sidewalk chalk and got on our shoes. And out we went.

First, we looked at the clouds. “Look at how beautiful the sky is Brynn! See over there?! It’s God peeking out! He’s looking at that boy. Look at how dark blue the middle is. It’s my favourite colour! I love the sky at dark time.” We walked down the sidewalk, our shadows stretching out in front of us. “Ow, something pricked me! Did you know mommy punched a rose bush and the thimbles poked holes right through her glove. The electric for that street light just went out! I’ve never been to the park at dark time. Will you swing with me?” “Quickly” I say as we run across the grass.

I push L as high as I can, then hop on beside him. “I’ll try to keep swinging myself. Why are you going so much higher?! How do you do that?”. I explain that bigger people can more easily create momentum. “I know how to swing too. I’m really good at it.”

As we head back home, he laments that he can’t stay looking at the sky. “How about one day, we can sleep in the backyard and look at the stars” I say. “But what if we get scared?” “It’s ok, daddy or I will sleep with you.” “Can I sleep outside when I’m five?” he asks. “Yup” I answer. “YES! I’m five next year.”

We are almost home, maybe six houses away, when L says to me in a serious tone, “Brynn, this is the beautifullest time in my life.” All I can manage to say is “I agree”.

These next few years will be hard. There is a lot on my plate. There is a lot on all of our plates. But even though there is so much going on, even though it is all important in some way, none of it takes away from the beauty of the life we are living in the midst of all the noise. Our children remind us that life continues on, even if we are too busy to notice. And they remind us that those moments we do have – no matter how few or far between – matter more than we think.

It took the quiet of a dark time walk to let me hear the most important noise in my life – the voices of my children.

Take time for some dark time. It may be just what your soul needs.

 

 

 

Your Will Be Done

Standard

This past year, none of our plans worked out.

At the beginning of the year, I (Brynn) began applying for other jobs. I knew I didn’t want to stay in my current job forever, but I also knew that there was very little opportunity for me to move up at my place of employment. So, I decided to find something else, something that would give me the opportunity to increase my seniority and eventually make enough money to help support our family in a more substantive way. I reached out to friends and family for help. Leads poured in. Having never had trouble finding work and with a decent amount of experience and living in one of the strongest job markets in Canada, I was certain I would get something new in no time. Then: nothing. Nothing panned out. In the over 100 jobs I applied for, I didn’t receive a single interview. What was going on?

Tory had a very good year in 2013. He was able to be employed in town for the entire year, a blessing given our ongoing custody issues. We finally felt like things were settling into place for him professionally. When we began to look at he 2014 season, so many opportunities for employment were there. There were a number of shows, all that had great roles that would be a great fit. Things were looking great. We were confident. Having just found out I was pregnant, we needed Tory to have steady employment as I would be going on maternity leave in the new year. We had it all planned out. Then: nothing. Audition after audition, show after show, nothing was panning out. While we understood that sometimes that is just how the industry works, we couldn’t figure it out. What was going on? We were facing the prospect of no more than a few months of work the following year and no way to possibly meet the expenses of our life. Tory began looking at opportunities outside of Calgary. More offers came his way, asking for him to submit. And then, more nothing.

In May, Tory and I went to dinner on a gift card a friend had given us. As we were sitting there, Tory began asking me about law. We have been involved in an ongoing custody dispute for the past year and a half for which I had done much of the legal work. I researched, wrote many of our legal documents, developed legal arguments and organized our evidence and documentation. I had learned an incredible amount about our legal system and family law. Our lawyer had come to rely heavily on me, and in spite of why I was doing the work I found I loved doing it. And I was great at it. Tory asked me if I had ever considered pursuing law. I told him I had thought of it in passing, but that I couldn’t seriously consider it – it was too expensive, we had too much going on, I needed to be there to support the family and I wasn’t even sure I was smart enough. Tory stopped me, looked at me and said “Brynn, I believe you can do anything you put your mind to. If this is what you want to do, you should do it. I will support you 100%”. Or something like that.

Had my plans to find another job worked out, I never would have considered law. I wouldn’t have had the time or energy to devote to the legal work needed to successfully resolve our custody dispute last month. Because my plans didn’t work out, I will be attending law school starting in September of 2014, which is so much better than anything I could have dreamed up.

And Tory? Last month – in the span of about two weeks – he lined up work in town for the much of next year, with more opportunities still on the horizon. Better work, in shows he likes, that won’t require him to be gone when I give birth.

None of our plans worked out this year. Thank God for that.