-Rev Melissa Fain-
This is part of a series. Check out the other ones!
To Desire or to Lust? That is the question
There always comes a point in pushing an idea, that the idea falls apart and no longer works. It's like when you find that really old stick of bubblegum in your car, and you decide to chew it anyway. At first, it's like biting into a piece of plywood. You finally get it to become chewy, then, in the middle of chewing, it disintegrates in your mouth. Only me?
Well, lust is one of those words that I can't see any other way than as a deadly sin. Lust is the murdering of desire. Lust comes from a selfish place as it objectifies people to use desire as a foothold to get control. Mostly, that's in the form of sexual control, but our lusts can distort anything good for selfish gain.
Last week I had to opportunity to hear Jackie Brewton. She's a motivational speaker, and more specifically, helps teens understand the dangers surrounding sex. There was a point she kept returning to time and time again. Boys that want girls for sex don't want a relationship. They want to turn the girl into an object, get what they want and move on. And boys can move on because they suffer less with STDs (having a visible system, females are internal and can't be seen) and boys can't get pregnant.
A healthy relationship is built on mutual respect. Sex does not add anything that is or isn't already there. You can't add love, friendship, or trust through sex. Those things are built outside our sexual desire.
Sexual Objectification is Real
Yes, as a 38 year old female, sexual objectification can still happen. It is the absolute quickest way to lose my respect. I don't have time to help that person see my humanity outside turning me into an object. I simply make note, and move on. It's easy for me to do, but I'm not worried about me. I have sufficient self-esteem to overcome someone seeing me as an object.
I am worried about girls who struggle with their self-esteem, and seeing objectification as their only route to having any kind of value at all. These are beautiful, smart, creative, girls who just want to be seen. The idea that sex can fill that desire is both horrifying and sad.
Most Women and Men are biologically born different
The struggle is real for me between nature versus nurture. As Nature Made Him probably became my turning point book to accept that both play a role in gender. (By the way, not a book for the faint of heart. Mentally, a very difficult read.) Here was a male baby forced into growing up female because of a botched circumcision that completely cut off the penis. This man was forced into a gender that did not belong to him, as he was forced into female gender stereotypes of the 70s. I believe the book came to the conclusion nature and nurture play a role in gender. The boy grew up, knowing he was not what he was created to be, while being much more caring and gentle than his twin brother that grew up a boy. (Not a happy ending, btw, both brothers eventually committed suicide.)
I believe sexual objectification starts first in the world of nurture. Last week, I came across an article by Melinda Selmys discussing the very issue with nature versus nurture. I was captivated as she laid out a case where most men are more self-confident because of a little drug their body produces called testosterone. The church fathers, all being male obviously, had felt that desire to be the focus, and it led to centuries of writings about lowering oneself, and giving away focus.
Women, conversely, produce estrogen, which makes us more empathetic. We are more likely to work for the sake of others and give up of ourselves. A Christian perspective of bringing oneself low is dangerous when being low is already the baseline. It can kill a woman.
While I disagree with some of her conclusions, I agree with Carol Gilligan's focus on care. A healthy focus on care must begin with a healthy self. Bringing Selmys and Gilligan together: Women are called to bring themselves up to value, and their Christian journey is in seeing their worth, not bringing themselves down.
Men often see the woman's journey as already over, and objectify their selflessness as something to raise up, rather than a sign of a needing personal growth. Therefore it's easier to chastise women for finding their voice, when they're really just on the opposite side of the spectrum of other/self. Then we nurture our children into men continuing a self-centered world, and women an other-centered world, when we should be nurturing both into a world that values both.
Lust ends up objectifying the body and the mind, subverting our natural desire- our needs for others becomes what we take for ourselves.
Chastity: Had to get here eventually
Chastity is the one virtue that, based on how we usually define it, is probably not a virtue at all. Nothing is virtuous about just abstaining from sex. If that were the case, we'd be working really hard to only use sex as an act of procreation. While there are people who completely and totally believe this, many of us see sex within a loving monogamous relationship as not sinful.
Abstinence.is the best way to not get an STD or get pregnant. Period. Even a condom cannot protect you from Chlamydia or Gonorrhea because they are bacterial and are often outside of a condom. Also, partners that just want sex either can lie about their STDs or don't even realize they have them. There are over 40 known STDs. Just putting that out there before I write what I need to write next.
We've turned chastity into virginity and then we put all the work and punishment on the girls for losing it. I've already mentioned that girls pay a higher price for sex because STDs effect them more and they can get pregnant. We've also turned the purity culture into a female shame game. If a guy lusts after a girl, it's the girl's fault because of what she was wearing or doing.
When we base it all on virginity, we've turned their bodies into a piece of gum that's value lies in whether or not it's been chewed up. You can't undo gum, so girls who mess up think it's over and they don't see the point in continuing being chaste. They'd already been chewed and spit out anyway, what's the point!
WE'RE DOING IT WRONG!
Instead of focusing on virginity, we need to focus on the body. Our bodies are living temples to God. We have power to choose what goes in and out of it. Godly chastity is about not letting vandals or dangerous things into the temple, and cleaning it up and moving on when that sort of thing does happen. It's protecting the temple, not the door to the temple, and only the very first time that door has been breached. It's a lifelong process, that even continues as you find that person who cares for your temple as much as you care for his/hers. It's mutuality. Healthy desire. Chastity is rooted in love. Anything else, is just lust.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
This is part of a series. Check out the other ones!
"Donner, party of 50!"
It is wrong that the one line from Patch Adams is the above quote? Yeah, a little bit. I used it for a purpose. The Donner Party, and the horror that happened trapped in extremes of the American wilderness, is a breaking of natural restraint in a way we can't easily wrap our head around. Cannibalism was a step too far, but, at the exact same time, a necessary step if anyone from the family was going to live.
Temperance is self-restraint. The opposite of temperance is gluttony. Therefore, gluttony is the lack of self-restraint.
We act from a lack of self-restraint when we want to just devour what is around us. Perhaps it's video games, books, or even exploration. John Muir had a gluttonous desire to explore and learn. It is because of him we have the National Parks in the United States.
We also act from a lack of self-restraint when our restraint reaches the breaking point. For the Donner Party it was survival. These are moments of reaction, not thoughtful action. If you're literally starving to death, you have to eat. If someone keeps pushing you, and pushing you, and pushing you... we'll eventually you push back.
Finally, we act from a lack of self-restraint when nothing appears wrong, but the restrains put upon us must be broken. During the Suffrage Movement, restraint (or telling women they shouldn't have the right to vote) was a form of a gilded cage. Some women
Temperance When Tied to Deadly Gluttony
Our biggest problem with gluttony is that every depiction is always related to the excess of food. Not all overweight people are gluttons. Weight gain happens for a plethora of reasons: glands, genetics, and food deserts to name some. This is why I don't want to talk about deadly gluttony like it's an eating problem, because it's not. Deadly gluttony is when we are able to show self-restraint, and should show self-restraint, but don't.
Real deadly gluttony is difficult to see, because we do it without even realizing we are doing it. Real deadly gluttony keeps something necessary out of someone else's hands and keeps it in our own. We often don't even feel we are doing it, because we can never feel the lack or loss from someone else. We only know what we have, not what others don't.
When I took on the male pastoral username for six months I felt the abundance of trust given to masculine clergy without fact checking or authentication. I understood in those six months why my male colleagues couldn't understand my side of the situation as a female clergy. In their excess, they couldn't feel my struggle. I felt the excess for six months, and it was intoxicating.
Not all of us are female, so here's one every American living into. China. Guess what America? We're living into a modern form of slavery. We purchase goods for next to nothing, so we can maintain our lifestyle. While workers in China get paid unfair wages to make our little must have items. We can talk all day long about raising the minimum wage, but that's not going to impact those who actually make the goods we purchase. I think about it constantly, as it's impossible to not feed the gluttonous beast. Everything comes from China now.
How do we live into that kind of temperance, tied to that kind of deadly gluttony?
It starts with something incredibly simple: Put down our self-centered gaze, and try on an other-centered view. We have to see the problem first, before we can fix it.
"Knowing your place," is weaponized temperance at it's worst. We, as a society, love to label things. Whether we mean to or not, our actions hold incredible weight to raise someone up or keep them down. This can happen in a few ways.
We will unknowingly give unearned passes to those who remind us of previous mentors or beloved family members. Raising someone up without reason can actually make it more difficult later, when they react in their own way, not the way of the person we've remembered from our past. It can lead to hurt feelings, as we can't justify why giving preference to an individual happened to begin with.
Then we do the opposite to those who remind us of people who have personally slighted or hurt us. To keep someone down because they happen to remind you of a negative person from your past, is a tempered cage. It's not fair to judge someone harshly on something they have never done.
The gilded cage, however, is incredibly dangerous and alluring for those who want people in them. Both the above examples are tempered cages. A gilded cage is when you mentally trap someone is a station, or tempered cage, and imagine the beauty of the cage you've placed them in.
When women were fighting for equal rights starting in the 60's, often it would be paired with their gilded cage. Why should they want equal rights? Men don't have it that great! They don't get to lounge around the house all day and chat with their friends!
Instead of seeing the incredible amount of work tied to keeping a house, and the muzzle attached to it, the ideal of a stay at home mom was glorified and gilded. It's difficult to discuss a problem, when they problem is being framed like it's somehow better than the solution.
Temperance as an action of faith.
Godly temperance might not always look tempered when it is. I immediately think of Jesus and almost any time he interacted with the Priests. To Jesus he was doing what was right, and was not acting outside that purpose. Self-restraint was giving glory to God, not humanity. To the Priests, they believed self-restraint was in not doing those things on the Sabbath, and keeping spiritually and physically clean.
We cannot act in true temperance unless we have our faith in order. Simply put: we must first know what we are restraining before we can restrain it. When we find Godly faith, our tempered actions might not look tempered to those around us. That's the truth of faith. We walk paths that sometimes sends us through the refining fire, and people fear stepping into God's flame. Yet, that's necessary to have tempered faith.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
"Good things comes to those who wait."
We always know how much patience we truly have when that patience is tested to our breaking point. My kids, for example, know how to hot wire my system to jump past patience and right to wrath! It's really quiet backwards. Those who have had their patience tried time and time again often don't believe they have any. Meanwhile, the ones who have never needed patience in life often think they're patient people.
Patience is a virtue, and wrath is it's deadly sin. How we understand these two can help us know when we are truly acting in God's patience, and when we are simply being a door mat.
Wrath is one of those "deadly sins" we often have a hard time seeing as good, but maybe it's time we understand the virtue of anger. Angry people are typically optimistic. That one got me, but I understand. When we see the best in society and/or for ourselves, we respond negatively when it doesn't turn out that way. Also, anger is a motivator, and in healthy relationships can strengthen bonds. Righteous indignation is healthy wrath. It jumps in when deadly patience rears it's ugly head, but more on that later.
Patience when tied to deadly wrath.
Word of advice: Be skeptical of the minister who is impatient. Healthy patience comes from active hope. Our active hope means healthy patience is active too. We are not merely waiting for the world to change for us. We are preparing as we wait for the rising tide. We are building, working; anticipating. As I wrote a few years back, hope is like a map. You are naming where X hits the spot. Hope is believing in the destination and seeking that destination. A minister rooted in hope will exude that active patience, seeking out that hope. Ministers who lack patience are more likely to be spiritually without a destination. Don't pick leaders who don't know where they're going.
Deadly wrath is a sign that hope has been lost. People react in the moment, because they can't see how their X on their map even exists anymore. This is where things get a bit more complex, and not as easy to pick good vs bad.
There are actually two ways patience can be weaponized.
The first way, is to replace active hope with empty promises. When you tell someone to just wait without anything to wait for, you are keeping that person from an active hope. Sometimes we do it to ourselves. Buying lotto tickets in hopes of winning is an empty hope. Wishing the worst things on our enemies comes from an empty hope. (If it's not empty, we need to take that hope down, and burn it!)
The second way patience is weaponized is when anger is misunderstood as wrath. There are times we attempt to shut people down because we don't want to deal with the possibility that their anger is justified. I know I'm angry over being told to "hang in there" when there was nothing I was hanging on for. That's not wrath, that's loss. We are fearful of angry loss, specifically if that loss means the person realizes their specific hope was lost with it. The hope that their baby would grow up but a stray bullet killed her. The hope that of walking the straight and narrow will lead to a good education, but kids of famous children took their spot because, well, their parents were loaded. The hope that someone would carry out his promise, but now he's a congress man/senator/[name your elected office here] he's doing his own thing. These events can lead us to righteous anger, which is the loss of our potential hope, not deadly wrath.
The loss of potential hope is more likely to happen with groups or people who don't hold the power. The word, "Patience," becomes deadly, as it shuts down the action of loss. We need to engage that pain while it can be engaged in a healthy way, because brokenness breaks, always. When we shut down the pain, the situation can become worse, causing the unheard voice to lash out and take someone else's potential hope. It's a deadly cycle that can be stopped, but not with empty patience.
Patience as an action of hope.
Patience as an action of hope is active. It has always been active. It will always be active. Active patience means we are not trying to get to the destination before it's time, but taking the steps necessary to get their in the right time. The next time someone tells you to wait, or be patient, ask yourself if they are feeding you an empty hope, or if that waiting is part of something real. If it's real, and active, then you are living into a virtue.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
On being "green with envy."
It's not easy being green, but sometimes it's necessary. In a study published in 2011, Niels Van de Ven explored which motivates us more: admiration or envy. It was interesting because it separated envy as either malicious or benign. Jeremy Dean, a Psychologist and founder of PsyBlog explored the study.
He explained there are two ways we can be envious. One is driven by the heart, and one is driven by the head. Envy driven by the head is benign. It's a good kind of envy because it gets us to climb, to reach, to soar. We are driven by the accomplishments of others to be better ourselves. Envy driven by the heart is malicious. It's a bad kind of envy because it drives us to pull others down in jealousy.
Benign envy can be a personal teaching tool. When healthy, it maps out a path. You see someone, and can see how they got where you personally did not. You can take notes and do it differently the next time around. We sharpen one another.
Malicious envy is when envy becomes deadly. It is, in my opinion, one of the more dangerous deadly sins, because it's often born from oppression. I can speak from my experience. It's really difficult for me being a female minister, to have benign envy towards my male colleagues. When I map out their path, I know part of what got them there was there gender. As a female that's an automatic closed door I cannot pass. I can open that door, but it's added work in other areas, where I must leave the path and go on a side quest. It forces me to let go of my malicious envy for my colleagues (whom I truly love by the way) and move my focus on the benign envy for the women coming up after me who don't have to do the same work.
I'll just say it. That's not fair. That level of fairness is another post for another day.
As women ahead of me have opened doors I don't have to open, I'm doing the same for those who come after me. If I throw my envy back instead of forward, I'm given room to envy with my head instead of my heart.
Kindness when tied to deadly envy.
I wondered if anyone was picking up on how I was connecting the good virtues. Last week I connected long-suffering to faith. The week before I connected humility to hope. This week, I'm going to connect kindness to love.
That's right, 1 Corinthians 13 is my test of virtue. "Faith, hope love abide these three, but the greatest of these is love."
Kindness is an action. To be kind is not to be passive. It's written into our DNA to shut-up and take it when someone get's nasty. In those cases, it's always good to pull out my favorite MLK jr quote:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
We look at this quote and only see half of the equation. Don't hide the light. Don't hate. We forget the second half where action must be taken in order to bring positive change. In reality, darkness attempting to drive out darkness is much more passive than the light driving out the darkness. Hate attempting to drive out hate might not feel passive in the moment, but it is the path of least resistance. Love is very active, and transforms. Hate is easy, while love takes work.
To enact kindness as a true virtue, we need to see beyond being nice. Nice is passive. I live in the South where we've got "nice" down to an art form. Nice doesn't change anything. We can all play nice, and get through life. Kindness reaches beyond ourselves to seek help for someone else or a community at large. Kindness is love in action.
Kindness when weaponized.
I really believe we actually realize the difference between kindness and being nice. Kindness is really difficult to weaponize. It's much easier to remove kindness and replace it with being nice.
There are people who simply don't want positive change. They make a living bringing darkness into the darkness, and piling hate on top of hate. It doesn't take much light to bring those mentalities down. It's just incredibly hard to shine lights in those areas because the kindness givers are put on mute, and their lights have been extinguished.
Those who bring kindness are often the ones to shine on the pain. Kindness reveals those terrible truths so those who are wounded can be helped. This is where "nice," comes in. Revealing pain doesn't feel "nice." Kindness is quietly replaced with nice so the broken system can continue. If this has happened in your communities, this phrase might ring true: "Why are you being so mean? Just play nice."
Kindness as an action of love.
Seeking kindness doesn't always feel good. In a broken system it can be like attempting get upstream in flooded river.
Let me go in another direction that many of you might get. Those who bring kindness are like healers in a multi-player online role playing game (MMORPG). They are the first targets for those who don't want actual change to their community. If you can take down their healer, than everyone else goes down with them. A good raid set-up has at least someone tasked to protect the healer.
Those who bring true kindness are often not treated very kindly. These people need support systems surrounding them the most, because they're in it for the whole; not themselves. The virtues tied to love are the most difficult to follow, because they bring the most positive change when acted. That's not to say that all negative reactions are signs what you're doing is positive, but it's something to know to keep you from being disheartened. There are reasons good people do bad things. Sometimes they don't even realize they're protecting broken systems. Knowing this helps kind people continue to be kind. If you're a "healer," find peace in that. If you are not, protect your "healer" at all costs.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
"Much of my work comes from being lazy."
John Backus was a computer scientist back in a time when they were creating their own job from the nothingness. He wrote the very first computer language, FOURTRAN. Not a lazy person, the above quote belongs to him.
"Much of my work has come from being lazy. I didn't like writing programs, and so, when I was working on the IBM 701 (an early computer), writing programs for computing missile trajectories, I started work on a programming system to make it easier to write programs." ~ John Backus
The virtue for today goes by many names: Long suffering, diligence, or persistence. We typically know the deadly sin attached to it by one name: Sloth. A modern ear might tie the word "lazy" to it and call it a day.
Only, like pride last week, sometimes being lazy can be a virtue in and of itself. There's a time for work, and a time for rest. Purposeful laziness is a statement of our limits. For Backus, he knew he had work that needed to be done, so his laziness helped him to it easier. When used in that context, it doesn't seem very deadly.
Sloth or laziness becomes deadly when it doesn't believe in anything. In other words, our faith in what we're doing sets the tone for why we're doing it. Laziness must have a purpose or we lose ourselves in it.
Diligence (or long suffering) when tied to deadly sloth
We are drawn to act towards the things that we have the most faith in. This is not just about being Christian. We all have something we put our belief in. (Even Atheists.) We act towards this belief, often without realizing we are doing it.
You've heard the phrase, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." It was written by John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton. The entire phrase is "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." Why is this? This isn't because power actually corrupts. It's because power frees us to act as our true selves. Adam Grant writes: "Power frees us from the chains of conformity. As a team of psychologists led by Adam Galinsky finds, “power psychologically protects people from influence.” Because powerful people have plenty of resources, they don’t need to worry as much about the negative consequences of expressing their values."
Powerful people can force others into places of servitude so those in power can be lazy about their own theology or actions. When most of us are not required to care about our neighbor, most of us will not care about our neighbor.
Believe me when I say those are terribly difficult words to write. My faith has always been grounded in the hope for a better world. Diligence, when tied to deadly sloth will always sacrifice outside of personal gain. True diligence can only ever been seen when standing firmly in power.
Diligence (or long suffering) when weaponized
The work will never be done, but someone has to do it.
Diligence, or long suffering, is a weapon when it's used to keep someone down or shut someone up. The United States actions of African and native peoples is diligence being used as a weapon. Native Americans were told to conform. They were forced to give up their native languages, and to take on European ways of life. The indigenous people tried and their attempts led to the Trail of Tears. Also laziness at it's absolute worst led to slavery of an entire people playing out over many generations, leaving shock waves even today. Weaponized diligence is caused by deadly sloth. Almost always.
When it comes to theology we are in very dangerous waters. We can see a tyrant. We can label their abuse of power, and act accordingly. It's not as easy to see those who abuse theology to make it easier for themselves. Often times, they are incapable of seeing it themselves. Faith should never come easy. It's sacrificial in nature as it seeks God's love in ourselves and the world around us. When testing our theology is to keep our belief system instead of refining and understanding it, that's deadly diligence.
Diligence (or long suffering) as a an action of faith
Most of us have heard the term "due diligence." It's a term used in corporate law. It's the investigations that take place before an acquisition whether it be land or another company. As a people of faith, we often use lazy practices of accepting or dismissing the faith of others. Typically, our personal test is simply if their faith lines up with our faith. We don't consider how our faith could enrich theirs or how our faith could be wrong.
Being a person of faith is an action. It requires us to seek. It engages us to go.
All people have faith, even Atheists. We all believe in something and our actions reflect our belief. Our faith can be as deep and complex as God, humanity, science, or as simple as the quality of a company we choose to buy products from. We all have faith. We all act from the place our faith takes root. If our actions are tied to a diligent faith, we are living into a virtue.