Why I No Longer Call Myself a Feminist (Guest Post by Mark M. Mattison for #CanAManBeAFeminist?)

This is Mark Mattison. I didn’t know Mark at all, until very recently. But I was completely taken by his pathway out of the thicket here. Read this and tell us what you think!

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Despite gross mischaracterizations to the contrary, historic feminism is unquestionably about equality, not gender domination; equal access, not special privilege; love, not hate. Consequently, why wouldn’t anyone and everyone who believes in full equality want to identify themselves as feminists?

I admit, there was a time when I comfortably thought of myself as a male feminist, but I’ve since reconsidered claiming that label in recognition of the disagreement among feminists as to whether the designation should extend to those of us who by definition cannot truly know the experience of female/female identified people, regardless of our degree of sympathy for women’s concerns. As biblical scholars have long recognized (and feminist biblical scholars have always emphasized), our experience necessarily shapes our biblical hermeneutics (i.e., theory of textual interpretation). So the idea of a middle-age, middle-class Caucasian man (such as myself) meaningfully practicing feminist hermeneutics strikes me as inherently problematic insofar as I obviously approach the issue from a position of privilege. To state the obvious, a man simply cannot appropriate women’s experience which is the very basis of feminist hermeneutics. Wouldn’t it be pretentious even to attempt such a thing?

I recall a debate several years ago in one historic feminist organization to which I belong. The debate was over the perennial question of whether men should still be permitted to be full members or whether we should be allowed to be no more than associate members. I admittedly don’t recall the exact context of the debate, but I do recall that many of the voices argued in favor of continuing full membership for men. However, some expressed reservations from the context of their own experience of feeling marginalized by the voices of “male feminists” claiming to speak for the movement. That in itself, if nothing else, gives me pause. And if I consider myself a supporter of women’s rights in any case, why would I need to insist on being a “full” member instead of an “associate”?

As I consider that question, I think about the many pitfalls of unreservedly identifying myself as a feminist. Could claiming the mantle of feminism ironically enable us as men to absolve ourselves of guilt (by our own authority) and seek a shortcut to social justice without doing the hard work of struggling with our sisters through the pain and agony they’ve endured in the face of our historic patriarchalism? To seek a “free pass,” as it were, because we’ve publicly affirmed women’s rights, even though we may not have done anything more than claim a label?

Of course, labels are still important. So what label should pro-feminist men claim? The question suggests its own answer: “Pro-feminist” is a term that’s more than sufficient, and certainly more descriptive and precise. Alternatively, “feminist supporter” or “feminist ally” are equally helpful.

Now this isn’t to suggest that men’s voices don’t have a place in feminist dialogue; quite the contrary. But it arguably speaks to what should be the self-evident fact that only women can, in the final analysis, speak for women.

Could it be any other way?

To articulate these reflections more specifically with reference to my own biblical work – particularly with respect to my involvement in the Christian Godde Project’s Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament – I don’t really see myself as contributing new insights to feminist theological discourse. I do see myself as having the ability to articulate insights that I’ve already learned from feminist, liberationist, and postcolonial authors, and to strive to implement their ideas by helping to re-envision the text of the New Testament, perhaps even exploring new frontiers as a result – but I don’t really see myself as innovating either feminist or liberationist hermeneutics.

We men can (and should) seek a place at the table of feminist dialogue, but it should be counterintuitive to imagine that we can continue to dominate the agenda or set the terms of the debate. So to that degree, I do believe that men’s contribution to feminist theological discourse is necessarily prescribed by womens’ deliberations.

I’ve found that female/female identified feminists really appreciate sympathetic contributions to feminist theological discourse by men – but such recognition must necessarily be conferred, not claimed. And if we men are ever tempted to invoke the charge of “reverse sexism,” then we’ve forgotten that our role at that table is to listen and learn and help heal, not to dictate the terms on which our sisters may seek to be heard. Unsolicited attempts by men to preach to women about feminism necessarily amount to no more than the reinforcement of the same destructive power structures that feminism is all about deconstructing.

And that’s why I no longer call myself a feminist, but rather a pro-feminist man instead.


Mark.Mattison200Mark M. Mattison is co-editor of “The Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament” and  the author of “The Gospel of Mary: A Fresh Translation and Holistic Approach ,” now available on Amazon.

You’ve been reading DAY THREE of the series #CanAManBeAFeminist.

Can Men Be Feminists? (Guest Post by Luke Harms for #CanAManBeAFeminist?)

This is Luke Harms. I might as well take this moment to let you know that I rely heavily on Luke Harms. For a vision of participation in the Christian blogosphere which is story-focused — truth-focused! — and not platform-focused….for straight up liberation theology when I really need it…and, for patiently and carefully combing through the tangles, just as he is doing here today.

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So, can men be feminists?

First things first: obviously I have a vested interest in the answer to this question. I am, after all, a man, so that puts any notion of “objectivity” out the window right from the start. I’m not pretending to be some kind of neutral arbiter of reason here; I’m just attempting to interrogate the assumptions we bring to the table when we ask the question. Let me also be clear that I am largely talking to men in this post, though women may find the discussion helpful as well.

All that said, I want to start by picking apart what we mean when we ask the question, “Can men be feminists?” Now, I’m going to do some serious word parsing here, but I think it’s important to define terms up front.

I

There seem to be a number of ideas about what we mean when we say “can…?”

Do we mean, “Is it possible?” (The metaphysical question)

Or rather, “Is it appropriate?” (The ethical question)

Or possibly, “Is it helpful?” (The pragmatic question)

In each case, I think the answer potentially changes based on the assumptions we read into the question.

The first question, “Is it possible?” is perhaps the most difficult to answer, and as such tends to be met with the most resistance. To answer the metaphysical question, we would first have to establish if there are essential elements to being a feminist, and then ask whether or not those essential elements are wholly exclusionary of men. The question that then arises, of course, is “How do we define men?” Do we use biology as a criterion of exclusion, or do we result to the use of socially constructed gender norms? Or do we use something else? In any case, I think this line of thinking runs the very real risk of resorting to the same sort of gender essentialism that feminism seeks to supplant by erasing the experience of trans* persons and of those whose gender expression does not fit the traditional male-female binary. As such, it seems that a negative response to the metaphysical question yields a feminism that seems to exclude men at the expense of excluding other (in some cases even more vulnerable) marginalized groups. Some people seem to think that’s an acceptable exchange (see trans*exclusionary radical feminism), but a feminism that grounds itself in gender essentialism, it seems, leaves itself wide open to criticism from multiple directions.

I’ve also had many people suggest that if one believes the “radical notion that women are people too,” then that suffices to make one a feminist. This simple rubric for answering the metaphysical question is tempting for many reasons, but if my time in the Evangelical church taught me anything, it’s that talk and beliefs are cheap, and actions are what actually matter. If we define “belief” as intellectual assent, but separate it from any sort of action, I think belief ceases to be a useful criterion for establishing a particular identity, whether we’re talking about Christianity or feminism. If actions don’t follow from beliefs, then it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where beliefs are sincerely held. Sure, there may be a point at which one’s beliefs are newly acquired, and actions are yet to follow in any meaningful way, but it seems more than reasonable then to use actions as the primary discriminator of identity rather than beliefs.

The second question presents us with a somewhat less restrictive paradigm, though perhaps it would be more precise to replace the word can with the word may. The ethical question, I would argue, asks whether or not “male feminism” is compatible with a feminist interpretation and practical application of particular moral precepts. Put simply, it is the question of whether or not women can continue to “do feminism” if men are involved, and especially if men are involved in defining the boundaries of male feminism for themselves. Here men might object that their exclusion violates the principle of inclusion inherent in most feminist thought. But that line of argument ignores extant power differentials between men and women. The demand for inclusion itself reinforces the centering of male experience that lies at the foundation of the patriarchy. In this context, the transposition of may for can seems especially appropriate. It is not a demand for inclusion, but rather a request that we be allowed to stand beside our sisters in solidarity. The abdication of the “right” to be included becomes, in itself, a step toward deconstructing our male-centered cultural narrative, because our inclusion is contingent on our ability to de-center our male identity.

The third question is perhaps the most useful in defining male praxis with regards to feminism, but here I think replacing the word can with the word should is appropriate. I’ve asked many women, some well-read in feminist literature and some not, the question of whether or not men can be feminists, and this pragmatic connotation of the question is what I hear reflected most often in the responses. For example: male feminists tend to (still) center male experience; the nature of male privilege is such that if men and women are saying the same thing, women’s voices will likely be drowned out (and yes, the irony of my writing this line in this post is not lost on me); men claiming the moniker of feminist is used as a shield from actually changing one’s behavior; etc. The question then boils down to a pragmatic calculus of whether men’s presence in feminist spaces moves the cause of equality forward. Men can approach their activism in a way that constantly asks the question, “Is what I’m doing helping or hurting?” instead of just assuming that adding our voices to any discussion is an intrinsically good thing. The result is not a definitive answer to the question, “can I be a feminist,” but rather a way of living, speaking and acting that asks, informed by a knowledge and respect of feminist thought and the lived experience of women, “Should I do this, or shouldn’t I?”

So, we end up with three possible answers. To the metaphysical question we might say “probably,” to the ethical question “it depends,” and to the pragmatic, “sometimes.” But there is one common thread that seems to run through them all: the de-centering of maleness.

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To further narrow down these three possible answers, I think we also have to examine what we mean when we say, “be.” Here, I see multiple ideas emerging as well, and I think we can actually use a similar framework to explore these divergent ideas. When we say, “can men be feminists?

Do we mean, “Can men claim the label of feminism?” (The proclamational)

Or rather, “Can men act in ways that advance the cause of equality?” (The practical)

Or more pointedly, “Can men be helpfully engaged in defining feminism?” (The paternal)

The first form seems to be the least helpful. Now, I think it’s important to acknowledge that there is an argument to be made that the act of claiming feminism in itself is a subversion of the expectations placed on traditional masculinity. It is an action in itself and in some ways may even function as a kind of “propaganda of the deed.” There I think it can serve subversive purposes, though I’d argue that this is not necessarily the case and is dependent on particular cultural contexts. The question for me is whether or not men claiming feminism as a part of their identity crosses the threshold of what we would consider “being a feminist.” For reasons explained out earlier, I don’t think the metaphysical question is particularly helpful, so my focus is on the ethical (is it appropriate?) and the pragmatic (is it helpful?) questions.

So, is it appropriate for men to claim the title of feminist (the proclamational)? Is it helpful? To answer that question, I would need to ask if my claiming feminism is something that is acceptable to those women with whom I am standing in solidarity. This requires relationship. If I claim feminism but I do not have relationships with women of whom I can ask the question, “is this appropriate?” then my proclamational feminism is based solely on my own opinions and perceptions. It’s easy to see how such a detached proclamation could be problematic, as it continues to center male experience above all else. Next, we must ask whether our claiming feminism will be helpful to the cause of equality in the short and/or long term. Is proclamational feminism about advancing the cause of equality or is it about building our own personal brands? Are our voices crowding out women who are saying the same things? Is that helpful? Here again, this requires relationship, and it requires being willing to listen to criticism. If we are not in relationship with women from whom we can receive criticism when our proclamational feminism becomes a problem.

Another way of interpreting “be feminists” is to ask whether or not men can be involved in the discussion of defining feminism, or what I call the paternal. This is a dynamic I see play out repeatedly, especially from those who are first beginning to explore ideas of feminism and gender equality. It usually involves a lot of “but what about…” and “well actually…” and it’s usually neither helpful nor appropriate. You see we men are used to A) our voices being intrinsically valued and B) knowing what’s best for everyone else, and these expectations come with us even when we seek to participate in deconstructing the systems of privilege that make them seem legitimate in the first place.

Finally, we come to what I call the practical. Put simply, the question is this: are we capable of acting in ways that advance the cause of equality? I would argue that the answer here is yes, even an emphatic one, but if our actions aren’t guided by the ethical principles we addressed earlier (is it appropriate? Is it helpful?), then it’s easy to see how even good intentions could result in unforeseen and unwanted consequences.

III

So here we are, almost 2,000 words later, and while we’ve explored every possible interpolation of the words “can” and “be,” I’m not sure I’ve actually answered the question that was originally asked. Let me go ahead and do that now.

Can men be feminists?

Yes, but…

We’ve explored a lot of different ideas so far, but one common theme has been the de-centering of male experience. Another is the setting aside of our individual “rights” in favor of solidarity. I think if we, as men, can place those two ideas at the center of our praxis, then it is possible for us to “be feminists” in a way that is meaningful. However, this is not a static identity, nor is this a “one-time” affair. De-centering maleness is a constant, dynamic process and solidarity is an active way of life. This means that feminism, for men, is more than a proclamation. It’s more than doing or saying the right thing that one time. It’s a constant process that involves being in conversation and relationship with the women we’re claiming solidarity with. It means receiving criticism. It means getting our hands dirty and keeping them dirty.

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luke-300x300Luke is an ENFP who hates writing bio’s in the 3rd person. He’s an analyst to pay the bills (a constant challenge for his non-linear brain), but his real passions revolve around being married to Jill, and raising Thing One (Ethan, 3) and Thing Two (Asher, 1).  He writes over at Living in the Tension (sporadically, due to the demands of the aforementioned Things) where he wrestles with everything from faith to family to philosophy, and does it all through the lens of what it means to be a follower of Christ in his life, his work and his family. He’s thirty-smhershmer years old, still loves punk rock and has famously never turned down a rice-krispies treat. Blog: lukelivingthetension // Twitter: @lukeharms

You’ve been reading Day Two of #CanAManBeAFeminist.

When There Have Been Promises Before (Guest Post by Preston Yancey for #CanAManBeAFeminist?)

This is Preston Yancey. Many of you already know him. I will only add that I am a fan, and feel like I can smell the yummy kitchen smells right across Twitter when he gets to baking…

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I believe in the whole image of God. I believe that when the true myth says it was in the image of God that God created them, male and female God created them, that both separately and corporately they showed forth the image. Separately, because we are in and of ourselves made in this image and not one of us is more image worthy than another. Corporately, because the image is not a static imprint, but a vibrant thing. It’s a thing of flourishes and characteristics, uniquely expressed across gender, race, orientation, economy … and so to say that one wants to see God or experience the fullness of God, the trope of the primordial ever-white male Protestant can’t be the image we champion, because that is not the image of God.

I used to think it was enough to say that. I used to think it was enough to make the terms of my belief known. Because I believe in the equality of women, especially in the priesthood, my work was done. My work was a vague way of putting it, obligatory action with minimal commitment. I was not sexist, therefore, my participation in or consideration of sexism was finished. But privilege, the oldest kind, tells us careful and comfortable lies about our agency. It deceives us into thinking that a position of inaction is noble, when it’s as much a privilege to not have to care as it is to benefit from an oppressive structure. I would say that I wanted to hear from women, that I wanted to see them teach in my church, but I said this with the expectation that my saying it somehow would make it happen.

But I learned over the years it’s not that simple. It never is. Women in the church have been promised before a place of more inclusion. They have been promised that they will be heard. Many of them have grown weary of being promised only to watch it come up short, a hook at the end, a sudden surprise that what was said wasn’t actually what was meant, that when they didn’t fit the model or the mode that was imagined, they were no longer welcome in the carefully curated arena of polite sexism.

I don’t know what to tell you about what you should or should not do when it comes to this. I admit that this is the sort of post I shy away from these days, because I feel deeply the inadequacy of what I would say. But this is what I do know: there’s more power in showing than telling. I know that if I want to see women have an active role in my church that sometimes takes me turning down positions of teaching or authority and suggesting that a woman take it on. I know that it means when we sit in planning meetings for symposia or conferences, I raise explicit questions about women and people of color who we will invite to speak, to keynote. I ask who we’re going to bring on to that planning committee itself who will represent diverse points of view.

I don’t know how to do this online world anymore. It’s noisy here sometimes and it seems to make its capital on turning out critique. But the online world taught me a lot about listening to women and learning from them about God. I’m in a season now where I want to go sit in the physical spaces of my church and see that lived out. So what I can offer is simple, but it is what I have: I ask questions. I intentionally seek out women to lead. I differ.

There have been promises made before. 

I’ve stopped making promises. I’ve just started doing. Maybe that’s for the best.

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EmailYancey.Headshot-5Preston Yancey is a lifelong Texan raised Southern Baptist who fell in love with reading saints, crossing himself, and high church spirituality. He now makes his home within the Anglican tradition. He is a writer, painter, baker, and speaker. An alumnus of Baylor University, Preston completed a masters in theology from St. Andrews University in Scotland before returning to the States. He currently lives with his wife, Hilary, in Waco, Texas. Preorder Preston’s new book, Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again here. Find him on Twitter or at his blog.

You’ve been reading Day One of the #CanAManBeAFeminist? series. Find out more here

On Dudebros and Feminism: A Series Called “Can A Man Be A Feminist?”

I’ve invited four men to speak in this space this week.

Hello, men! 

Why men? Why men in particular? What are you doing, Esther? There are a couple of things going on here.

  1. I dislike the gender division in the Christian blog world. It isn’t conclusive, I wouldn’t say. But it is pervasive. Women often read the woman-y stuff. And men read man-y stuff. And of course we cross over, but more to visit than to live there. Now, here is a key point: I am not trying to change the world on this issue so much as to define THIS SPACE on this issue. I conceived this series because I wanted to invite men into this space, to practice working together, to practice mutual respect, and to do so with sensitivity to issues that may have kept us apart in the first place. Which brings us to…
  2. The question of the week. “Can a Man Be a Feminist?”

All four of the men who are writing here this week are approaching this question. Their viewpoints are not identical, by any means. In some ways they are quite diverse. But they are all informed, in one way or another, by the subject of this #30SOL / 30 Seconds or Less (Voice and words by Stephanie Drury of Stuff Christian Culture Likes, video by Jim Kast-Keat.)

Go ahead and watch it already, it’s only thirty seconds long. But in case you didn’t, the text is here, by Stephanie Drury:

My experience has been that Christians who identify as progressive can be taken with how forward thinking they believe they are. But they don’t have room for actual heartache driven compassion which is how Jesus modeled feminism.

In my experience, a christian man who calls himself progressive can be extremely frustrating to talk to because it’s like their identity is so tied to being progressive that they don’t have anything left to learn. For my experience has been that often these men are the ones who would rather do the talking.

And the female voice in progressive faith communities still sees so much silencing and progressive christian men don’t want to believe that they’re a part of the silencing because that’s a painful realization.

And so conversation shuts down and this is a big obstacle for feminism and faith.

You guys, before we even get started, with this week of discussing “Can a Man Be a Feminist,” this is what you need to know. About this series, and about the four men who are writing in this space this week: you need to know that I asked this question, “Can a Man be a Feminist?” in the context of potential criticism. AND THEY WROTE BACK ANYWAY. These are writers who are saying YES, let’s be in dialogue. Let’s face criticism. Let’s do the work of interrogating systems, language, relationships…and let’s do it from where are socially located right at this moment. Let’s look to the left, look to the right, and start working…right here.

To put it bluntly, there has been a great of trouble caused by “allyship.” I’ve heard recently mounting — but also since forever — frustration over parallel issues to what Stephanie Drury speaks to in her piece above. “White allies” speak over people of color in their rush to be (and appear to be) against racism. “Straight allies” speak over people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, while cis people speak over trans* and non binary people in their rush to be (and appear to be) against homophobia and related persecution.** “Male feminists” speak over women in their rush to be (and appear to be) against sexism.

I have come to believe in recent years that the greatest obstacle to righteousness is the perception that righteousness already belongs to us. The greatest obstacle to change is the insidious idea that the change has already been accomplished, so it’s time to sit down and have tea and dessert. And sometimes the only way to tell the difference between a great deal of talk and a little bit of praxis is to look down at your own feet.

That’s why this series. That’s why I think it’s a good idea for me to turn the mic over to some dudebros who are willing to look down at their feet on these slippery rocks.

Is this the end of the conversation? Of course not. It might not even the beginning of the conversation. It is only one week of one year on one little blog, and the dynamics and definitions of white male feminists are not the central piece of the kingdom puzzle. But I believe this is powerful: to say a few words that are true, and say them out loud to one another. And I believe this is important: for each of us to work from where we are.

Many thanks to the men who wrote for this series. Check back for their words (and, of course, a few of mine) over the next five days.

**this line edited to reflect feedback rcvd on twitter.

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Day One: Preston Yancey with “When There Have Been Promises Before

A Cool Drink of Silence

berry bush under an alder treeI have to say it out loud to believe it. I’m finally home. After traveling SO MUCH this summer. I’m finally home. Home, sweet home. Home for the school year, home for the fall — leading into winter and spring — but first the fall. This season is my favorite.

Fall is the season of color and of dying. Fall is the season of nostalgia and mortality. It’s the season of philosophers. I like the smell of it. I like the way the cold air slaps my face and kind of wakes me up. I like the smell of wood smoke in the evenings as Nick and I sit by the fire in the gathering dark. I like the way nature leads the journey down into the depth of self, into pruning, into stillness, into gathering close.

Today I am accepting this season’s invitation to return to my beloved practice of silence. It is a countercultural practice. By the standards of the world, it is un-useful, unproductive, lacking in value. But the standards of the kingdom are not the standards of the world.

I have moved in and out of my monasticism many times now. Always I am trying to balance the way of the spiritual life with the way of this world of my bones and blood…the world I have borne three babies in, where I require food and shelter and connection with others, where I encounter and process my ambition for fame as well as my obligation to speak for justice.

It’s a stumbly rhythm, for a clumsy soul like me. Into the self, and out again. Always a bit late, it seems, or a bit early. Shrink down small to recharge, then expand, then shrink down again. I’d think it was crazy, maybe even impossible — I might give up on trying — if I didn’t see that the trees manage it quite so beautifully, every single year.

I would think it wasn’t possible, to expand and contract, so constantly, so fluidly, if I couldn’t place my hand on my chest and feel the brave perseverance of my heart.

I have come in and out of my monastic life enough times to have faith in faith… I know that the first thing that happens when you rest is not very restful. In fact it is all kinds of uncomfortable. Whatever you’ve been ignoring because of all the busy — or suppressing with all the busy — comes to the forefront. Sickness. Mental sickness. Sorrow. Frustration at some situation you thought you had forgotten about. Some unfairness, some criticism, some deep sorrow.

I think of this the rusty water that comes out when you first turn on the tap. And I know, from experience, that there is clearer water on the other side.

I find myself pushing through these days — pushing into rest, meditation, contemplation, whatever you want to call it. I want to push through the false bottom of feelings of failure, feelings of lack of productivity and lost identity. I don’t want that to be as deep as my well goes anyway. The living water is deeper yet than this.

For tangled threads, old velcro that doesn’t stick anymore and songs with no tune.
For hopes and dreams of things that have not been, and never will be, yet.
For the scratch. 
For the months of dry, and a thirsty earth that sucks up all the dew before it has a chance to pool.
For this…I begin. 
Lord, give me a blade to cut, a basin to capture, and heat enough to scald. 
Lord, give me faith enough to carve a channel in this rock.
To seek the cool drink of silence.
Faith to begin.

All The Money Stories (and the link up for September #SpiritofthePoor)

Wow, there was a lot of content in this space last week. I’ve had quite the year, you know, of growing and changing. One thing I’ve done a lot of this year is meeting and connecting with other writers. I know SO MANY writers now. Literally hundreds of writers. Some are close friends. Many are mutually admiring acquaintances. Many of us don’t really know much about each other, except names and connections and this kind of skeletal idea of who fits where.

This October will begin my third year as a blogger, generally in the progressive Christian blogosphere. This October will begin my third year of passing through and living into this blogging space. My first year was a kind of magical, spark-to-spark connection. I was rebirthing myself as a creative being, after a certain amount of time spent in hiding in the dark. My second year has been more exposed. Sometimes overexposed. I got a little less personal. I made some mistakes. I moved in and out of paralyzing self-consciousness. I kept capturing my brave, and losing it again, and capturing it again…which come to think of it, is also pretty real.

What have I learned? What I am going to apply in this third year? Connection is a priority for me. Community is a priority for me. And seeking integrity in community is my highest priority of all. Which brings me to this link-up here, below.

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I had an incredibly rewarding interchange last week, with a reader/friend who fits in that magical category of “deep soul friends I’ve never met.” She preached on Jeremiah 15:19 in church on Sunday, and sent me the text of her sermon. Reading her words I felt that old spark, that old birthing of authenticity out of the dark. I felt how challenging is this text. This call. And how we answer, tentatively, and imperfectly. I felt how our voices alone get disappeared and float away and feel weak and futile, but our voices together sound something like…hope.

The text is this.

Therefore thus says the LORD: “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them…”

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This is what it can be like to talk about money. Economics. Poverty. Justice.

These words are precious.

This is what it can be like to talk about empowerment, rebuilding, re-envisioning.

These words are precious.

This is what it can be like to talk about abundance, enough-ness, rest.

These words are precious.

“If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me.”

This is my invitation, to write your own money story, on your own blog, and link it up below. You aren’t going first. Idelette already told hers, here. And Ritz told hers, here. The link-up will be open all month. And then in October, we’ll do it again with something else. You can also feel free to comment below, or email me, if you don’t have a blog. Or just read the other stories and think about all this, in your head; that counts, too.

Whatever is your story with money…wealthy, privilege, scarcity, guilt, desperation…you are not alone. And you are not powerless.

Ritz’s Money Story (guest post by Maritza Valle for #SpiritofthePoor)

Ritz’s story is the second of three money stories in our space this week. Soon I’ll put up the link-up so readers can chime in, too, although…I do believe it is worth shining light on your own money story, even if you keep it quiet in your heart and not in a shiny blog post. Thanks for sharing your story here today, Ritz. I’m pretty sure nobody who reads this blog has EVER felt like this…

ritz and david

We’re lying on the bed and…he’s crying. Man tears no me molesta nada, but they clue me in to something significant happening when they come from my husband, a stoic, squinty-eyed kind of a man whose strongest feelings usually involve the enemy’s tower falling. (It’s a video game thing.)

“I want you to have nice things. You should have more jewelry. You should be able to buy more clothes.”

I have no idea where this is coming from, and I take a logical approach.

“But…. I don’t want those things.”

“I know!” He is still crying, seemingly exhausted with himself.

The absurdity of his emotion and words comfort me, somehow. It’s not schadenfreude, it’s just nice to know how he must feel when I do the weeping/spouting-of-confusion thing. Because my heart reaches out to his, and so do my hands.


I will have you know that you can put two egalitarian minimalists in a marriage together, and each can still spend time and energy worrying about providing enough income for the other.

I am an entrepreneur in my first year of business, an artist and a writer and a massage therapist and a professional counselor. But I only get paid for some of those things. And while I do get paid more than I ever have before, it’s still not much compared to what my husband brings in. And so, every moment I’m not earning income, I feel this push, this pressure to provide something.

Clean the house (because Husband is working and earning for the family so the least you can do is provide a clean home for him to come back to).

Go work out (because if you’re not going to pull your weight monetarily, at least keep that weight down and provide a smokin-hot bod for him to enjoy, as your pastors have encouraged you is your role).

Find a project and do it (accomplish SOMEthing if you’re not going to be earning income. Lazy).

So I scurry and I worry and I accomplish plenty of things but at the end of the day I’m frazzled and my husband comes home to a wife who loves him dearly but doesn’t want to be close to him because she’s pretty sure that no matter what she’s done with her day, it wasn’t enough.


In reality, I’m closing the gap. I went from making 20% of what he makes to 70% of what he makes, with my business picking up. Doesn’t matter. I work at least as many hours as he does, in various jobs. Still doesn’t make a dent. Not only does he bring in much more money, but he’s a great partner, so he does the grocery shopping which I hate and most of the cooking which he’s better at. So I sulk. Look at that. I see it as one more deficit on my part… I’m deeper in the hole.

In these awful moments of relationless economy, I have an idea in my mind —  If I owe ANYone ANYthing, I cannot rest, I must be worthy. People can owe me, and I’ll rarely care. Give me the raw end of the deal every time, but please don’t give to me too generously, or I’ll always wonder if I’ve behaved well enough to make you feel it’s worth it. So it is with my spouse, when I let worries grow bigger than love.When I count up what I “cost” versus what I “make”. Why do I not count a clean home, an organized calendar, a warm welcoming bed, as important things I contribute?

Because my health requires costly visits to the nutritionist and associated supplements. Every feminine product costs more than the male equivalent and I have to buy the supplies for all my work as well as pay all the insurances and licensing fees for them. I’m a relational creature but I can come up with a never-ending list of why I should feel bad and work harder based on our financial situation.


“But I want you to have them.”

“Do you…Is there something about your heart that believes it’s your job to buy me nice things?”

“Of course.”

“Even though you work at a job you don’t like, diligently, to pay our bills, most-of-which-are-my-bills, and even though I work and bring in money, and we have more than enough, and even though I can’t even come up with a birthday wish list?”

“Yeah, babe. Because I just…I want you to have everything. And my heart hurts when I see that I work and you still don’t have all the things you want.”

“It’s not really good for people to have EVERYthing they want, generally.”

“Still, though….”


Where did these ideas come from? Why do we think we owe so much to the other? What keeps us from believing we’re enough? How much would we have to make, or spend, or have, to be calm about it? Could we believe in the other’s assessment: that we are all we need to be, already?

Toward that end, I thank my husband. I take time to stop and appreciate the things we have, the things we do, the things he does for me. I try to spend more time and energy being grateful for what we have than mindful of what I want.

And he, he is mindful to tell me he literally could not care less about what I do. “In the good way,” he specifies. He trusts me and knows it is not in my character to be lazy, he’s far more concerned that I will not rest.

And thusly we work, to hold up the other to the light. To say, “You are all that I asked you to bring into this relationship. Not you + income, you + things….” And as we say it to each other, again and again, our hearts begin to hear it for themselves. My income is enough. (my body is enough, my heart is enough, this life is enough…) And our hearts connect…so much better this way.

img_6247Maritza is a bi-racial, multi-cultural, one-and-one-half-lingual mental health counselor and massage therapist who uses her diverse background to help her understand the unique perspective of each individual and engage with the world. When she isn’t working, she’s probably at home cleaning or out playing with her husband. She also enjoys writing, reading, exercise, art and travel, and pretty much anything that makes her smile, even though she’s a big supporter of crying whenever it’s helpful, necessary, or just happens. Her friends call her Ritz. maritzaamanda.com

Idelette’s Money Story (guest post by Idelette for #SpiritofthePoor)

This is one of three money stories that will post here this week, as part of this month’s #SpiritofthePoor. I believe this — so much! — that when we cast light on the tracks our money stories have made through our hearts, those tracks begin to fade. Thanks for going first, beautiful Idelette!

View More: http://tinafrancis.pass.us/africa2013

(photo credit, Tina Francis)

We walked down the mountain in our flip flops and the African sun felt warm and welcoming on my shoulders. This mountain in Burundi, called Matara, is where heaven meets earth for me every time.

This time, coming down the mountain, there were women working in a small field to our left. They’d planted fruit and vegetables and they stood in the land, working. I paused.

Our group wanted to walk ahead, but I stopped, because I knew Heaven was speaking to me. What are you saying, God?

I couldn’t stop looking at the women.

I started asking questions and learned how the women began working in this field to earn extra income. They’d approached the community leaders, saying that women have their own needs and they wanted to work a piece of land, so they could fulfill those needs.

I watched them and I knew: I can come here with my expensive plane ticket, my education and my strong relationships, but these women, standing in their land, had a better grasp on empowerment than I did.

Taking seed to soil to market and earning for their needs—knowing their needs have value—that’s empowerment.

These women looked at what they had and what they could do and they set out to do it, together. That’s empowerment.

I grew up in South Africa where my dad gave me pocket money. At 16, I started working as a waitress at the Spur. I smelled like burgers and fries and served diet cokes and ribs with finger bowls and more beers than I can remember.

I loved working and earning money. Mostly I spent it on clothes and books and magazines. My basics were taken care of, so what I was earning, I could spend however I wanted.

I learned: Someone else takes care of my livelihood. I get to take care of me.

I learned: The men hand out the money and I will be taken care of.

Once I set off into the world to work in Taiwan, I learned to take care of myself—rent, food, phone. But in that foreign place, there were often other people looking out for me, paying for breakfast or inviting me to dinner and I received it, gratefully, but—if I’m honest—also accepting: this is how the world works.

When I moved to Canada and got married, I brought the art and stories I’d collected around the world and that was all the earthly wealth I had to contribute. It wasn’t exactly a condo, but it was my story and how I’d chosen to live and it got us together across many continents.

For the first year of our marriage, due to my immigration process, I couldn’t work. It was what we, as a couple, had chosen to do, so we could be together in one place. We learned to share everything. We both surrendered our old lives to make a new life together.

Then Canada opened my eyes to what empowered women look like. I saw women as decision makers. I saw women in construction, women working on the roads, women in politics, women in business. I saw women leading, while not surrendering their femininity. My friends mowed their lawns and painted their houses. There were no more gendered roles. I learned that if I wanted to share responsibilities in the house, ALL the responsibilities were meant to be shared; not just the ones I felt comfortable with. Slowly I unlearned the gendered roles I grew up with.

When I first learned to turn on the BBQ, I squealed with delight. I felt ridiculously empowered.

In South Africa, the men make the fires and they braai (like a barbecue over open coals). Women don’t touch the grilling process. Now grabbing the lighter, igniting the gas and grilling some chicken, feels like liberation.

I mostly do the garbage, he mostly folds laundry.

Once I got my landed immigrant papers, I worked until I was eight months pregnant with our first. I birthed three babies and launched a dream. Staying home with the children gave me the opportunity to launch that. It was the perfect time and yet, standing on that mountain, watching those women work their land, I knew they were speaking to me.

I wasn’t as empowered as I thought I was.

Seeing those women work, I realized I had let the finances slip onto Scott’s shoulders. I’d bought into the belief that somebody—a man—would take care of me.

Since that moment on the mountain, I’ve pressed into understanding more of what this all means for me. I’ve learned that my heart and my words are my piece of land; it’s where I am called to work. I no longer want to abdicate my power.

I am a woman of God, and this God who loves me and has filled me with power will not leave me without the abilities to work my little lot of land and contribute in this way. Tilling the land is hard work. Working at my craft is not always easy, especially when I do it in the margins of mothering and homemaking. But I know now:

I may barbecue and carry garbage cans to the curb on Monday nights,
But if I don’t work my lot of land and believe that my work has worth,
I am not an empowered woman.

idelette-profile

Idelette’s bio: I like soggy cereal and I would like to go to every spot on the map of the earth to meet our world’s women. I dream of a world where no women or girls are for sale. I dream of a world where women and men are partners in doing the work that brings down a new Heaven on earth. My word last year was “roar” and I learned it’s not about my voice rising as much as it is about our collective voices rising in unison to bring down walls of injustice. This year, my own word is “soar.” I have three children and shelovesmagazine.com is my fourth baby. I am African, although my skin colour doesn’t tell you that story. I am also a little bit Chinese, because my heart lives there amongst the tall skyscrapers of Taipei and the mountains of Chiufen. Give me sweet chai and I think I’m in heaven. I live in Vancouver, Canada and I pledged my heart to Scott 11 years ago. I believe in kindness and calling out the song in each other’s hearts. I also believe that Love covers–my gaps, my mistakes and the distances between us. I blog at idelette.com and tweet @idelette.

What I’m Into August (with Deer Hunting in Paris, Killjoy Prophets and Normal-People Stuff)

What I'm Into photo

Let it be known, in August of the year 2014, Esther did a bunch of normal-people things. I cooked normal-people chicken on a normal-people stove. I took the kids to a normal-people park and played on my iPhone while they played on the merry-go-round. (That’s normal, right?) In the evenings I sat on a normal-people porch and consumed normal-people beverages. 

I even went to a block party. 

Not lying. I won’t say I fit in perfectly well at the block party (in a nice neighborhood in Seattle) but I did go. The end for me didn’t come until some time after that, when I tried to Instagram a gorgeous latte, like all the cool people do, and then a fly came and died in it.

But this is mostly what I did in August. And mostly what I was into. Hanging out with my sister, doing normal-people things.

Seattle center

I actually have several sisters — big family — and they’re all wonderful. But only one of them synced up her reproductive system with mine so carefully that we have, get this, sons who were born five weeks apart and daughters born three weeks apart. (Talk about super powers. How did we even do that?) The boys are kind of a pair, and the girls are kind of a pair, clearly, but also they rearrange well, because her son is feisty and my daughter is feisty, so my son and her daughter enjoy a bit of quiet together while the other two terrorize suburban backyard chickens and learn new swear words.

Like I said…normal people things.

girls in the hot tub

Meanwhile, back at the yurt, my husband also spent August doing normal things. But normal Nick things. Like…

…spring cleaning the yurt
…milling stacks of beams and lumber for our future timber frame cabin
…clearing the footprint of the timber-frame cabin
…building our gorgeous new shower enclosure
…and a set of steps going down to the shower enclosure
…splitting and stacking off-cuts into the woodshed
…spending his evenings reading up on rocket mass heaters (because we seriously need to be going through less wood)
…and doing a little work for a neighbor, you know, in his spare time.

…oh, right. And he made and installed a spice rack, too. Also out of off-cuts from this mill.

mill on a log

Does anybody else feel like a chump right now? That’s just how it is being around Nick. I think the trick is that he doesn’t EVER spend any time trying to Instagram gorgeous lattes. So all that time adds up.

Anyway. Here’s the good stuff.

WHAT I’M INTO BOOKS

Deer Hunting in Paris: A Memoir of God, Guns and Game Meat by Paula Lee.

I loved this book. It isn’t packaged, or soft, or easy. Self-published, I’m pretty sure. It took a long time for me to read it. Possibly because there is a lot of talk of France, I kept thinking of Hélène Cixous, and the way she writes about the artistry of “imund,” or unclean. Basically, I think, literature isn’t dead. It may have to be self-published. But it isn’t dead. This surprising and sharply funny memoir, which tells the story of a Korean-American pastor’s daughter who doesn’t fit in her own skin, is proof of that.

Scandalous: Things Good Christian Girls Don’t Talk About But Probably Should by Emily Dixon

I’ve been reading up on sex and Christian religion, because I’m about to do some writing of my own on this subject. But I don’t actually recommend this one. At all. I appreciate the work the author has done. But I don’t want to be a part of spreading this perspective on Christian sexuality, in which women are apparently free to practice sexual self-care, and responsible for practicing sexual self-care, but only within the context of feminine submission to a male partner and male Godhead. It’s no good, you guys. I don’t buy it. I don’t spread it. I think it’s dangerous for girls and even more dangerous for those who don’t fit heteronormative gender standards.

The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul With Monastic Wisdom by Christine Valters Paintner

This is my third time through this wonderful book. The relationship between monastic spirituality and creative authenticity is pretty much my jam. Sometimes I forget that. Then I read this book again to remember. It is never a waste of my time.

WHAT I’M INTO BLOGS

I have been watching events in Ferguson pretty closely in recent weeks. Which means I have even more than ever appreciation for Austin Channing Brown. If you don’t follow her already…just go. Go. Go. Go. Just Wait

I’ve been watching Suey Park and Killjoy Prophets, too. They did a hashtag #Marissa418 this past week that did some great teaching on liberation theology, while building support for Marissa Alexander. I participated, along with a dozen others, by recording a #30SOL (audio/video in 30 seconds or less) on justice. You can find them all here.

And…SheLoves Magazine. I’ve struggled with community, both online and off. It’s just a part of my personality that I struggle with community. If you are one who struggles with that, too, this “community of women who love” is strange and inspiring. They really pay attention to each other over there. Which (I think) is good news. Good News For Girls

And, August in this space

My most popular post was #Ferguson and Me, or, Why Should I Care? A favorite of mine that I think a lot of people missed was In Defense of Failure. And, the Fouch-o-matic Off Grid YouTube channel now has two videos (we’re adding one each month!) That’s here.

And one more picture of our curly-top.

sadie

That’s it for me. Happy September!

Click this button to join Leigh Kramer’s “What I’m Into” link-up and check out the rest of the links.

What I'm Into

Fouch-o-matic Homestead Tour (VIDEO)

This is just a quick note to let you know that we put up another video on the “Fouch-o-matic Off Grid” YouTube channel. This one is a voiceover guided tour of our place in the woods, with a happy Stella as the guide. Pretty painless to watch, I’d say.

I am often asked how I manage to blog while living off the grid. I always say it isn’t a big deal, and I do stand by that. It really isn’t a big deal to blog in as close of proximity as I am to civilization. But, you guys, editing 4 minutes plus of HD video was pretty sketchy. We had to run the gas-powered generator all afternoon.

But I like doing videos. I think it’s fun. So we continue on the plan of doing one of these per month, at least until we run out of interesting things to show you.

Enjoy!