How I Learned to Love a Show about Mormon Polygamy @Her.meneutics

Despite its troubling views on marriage and family, HBO’s Big Love always felt like an allegory for real people I know.

Years before TLC launched its polygamous reality show Sister Wives, Tom Hanks and company produced HBO’s award-winning drama series Big Love, about a family of polygamists who emerged out of a creepy Mormon splinter group.

I’ve watched all five seasons of Big Love, including Sunday night’s series finale. Creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer told the Los Angeles Times this week that the series emerged from their marriage, with the goal of communicating the idea that marriages can endure change. What appealed to me about the show was how it parsed the challenges of breaking free from a closed religious community while grappling with the community’s best ideals and penetrating reach. …

Read the whole review here.

Domestic Abuse: Coming to a Church Near You @Her.meneutics

Sin by Silence Poster“How long am I to remain in this relationship?” This is the haunting question 65-year-old Glenda Crosley asks in the documentary, Sin by Silence, about the abusive husband she killed in 1986. She has been in prison for as long as she was married — 24 years — and wonders when her ordeal will be over.

In the film, shot almost entirely inside the California Institution for Women, Crosley says the first time her husband, Sam, “truly got physical” was when she was eight months pregnant with their second child. He shoved her into a wall. Eventually she came to believe that the violence wouldn’t end until one of them was dead. According to The Bakersfield Californian, at the time of Sam’s murder, the couple was separated and having an argument in a parking lot. When Sam walked away from her car to the trunk of his, she believed he was going to get the tire iron he had threatened her with the week before. She rammed him once, drove away, then turned her car and hit him again. He died at the scene.

Elizabeth Leonard, author of Convicted Survivors and professor at Vanguard University, a Christian college in Costa Mesa, California, says in the film that women who leave abusive relationships are often subject to “separation assault” and are 75 percent more likely to be murdered than before they left. So the answer to the question: Why didn’t she just leave? is not a simple one. …

Learn why not (and what you can do to help stop domestic violence) by reading the whole article here.

The Smoking Bra Flames Out AKA The Unfunny Side of Modern Feminism @Her.meneutics

I enjoy reading the perspectives of the women at Slate’s Double X channel. (I also like Ann Althouse and Penelope Trunk, two smart, quirky bloggers who live in Wisconsin.) But I’ve had a particular fondness for Double X editor Hanna Rosin ever since she reported on the Christian homeschooling movement because, having done so myself way back in 2002, I think she did it well. I’ve wanted to meet her, which was at least part of the reason I trekked into Manhattan for an event Double X was hosting about feminism and comedy.  I did meet her too, and enjoyed it. We had a little conversation about the word lady, which was used frequently by the women on stage. I found that startling and asked about it in the Q&A. That discussion  made it into the online video, only you never see my face or hear my voice, thank God! As to the comedy, I love a good laugh as much as anybody and I did laugh some, but I’m just not a fan of potty humor, so I wrote about that for Her.meneutics. My analysis begins like this:

Is feminism funny or humorless? That was the question asked and evaluated at a Slate event I attended in New York City called Double X Presents: The Smoking Bra: Women and Comedy. I thought the question was worth exploring because, like so many contentious topics, feminism doesn’t often inspire laughter. Problem is, I was looking in the wrong place for an answer.

I would describe the show in detail, but doing so would violate Philippians 4:8, which instructs us to think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. Much of what I saw and heard was anything but that. …

For a thoroughly sanitized description of what I saw, read the rest here. For un-sanitized clips from the event itself, go here and here. If you do check out the clip from Morgan Murphy‘s routine, perhaps you’ll get a sense of an inherent modesty that comes through her profanity laden performance. Even when she’s joking about “sexting” with a guy, she communicates a certain level of discomfort with the endeavor. Please come back and tell me what you think!

As to the photo above, I lifted it from Google images. It is an advertisement for a product made by Swiss underwear manufacturer Triumph International. I’m sure they won’t mind the free plug. Then again, given the product, I could be wrong.

Art That Reveals Our Need for Grace @Her.meneutics

My latest post is up at the Christianity Today women’s blog, and it’s one I really love because the artists  it features are so inspiring (both the film makers and the photographers). I had the privilege of speaking to the artist who took the picture below and communicating by email with a couple others. What a pleasure! I hope this post makes you smile, and causes you to ponder your own limited vision. It begins like this:

After seeing an advertisement for the 8th Annual Garden State Film Festival on Twitter, I requested a press pass, thinking I might screen an inspiring film or two that I could recommend to Her.meneutics readers. The festival director suggested Newt Gingrich’s Rediscovering God in America, which I saw and appreciated, but not nearly as much as two other films. Both reminded me that seeing the world through another person’s eyes is often the route to both empathy and greater self-awareness.

Shooting Beauty introduces viewers to a community of people with cerebral palsy, first through the eyes of an aspiring fashion photographer whose career is diverted as she teaches them how to take pictures, and then through their own and each other’s eyes. The second, Dark Light: The Art of Blind Photographers, defies logic as it highlights the stunning art and unique vision of some of the world’s leading blind photographers. Yes, that’s right, blind photographers. And no, I didn’t believe it either until I saw their work and their processes for myself. Both films tell their stories without either pity or sanctimony. This is a significant accomplishment for filmmakers who don’t travel through life in the dark or by wheelchair.

Shooting Beauty opens with the first person story of Courtney Bent. She initially visits a cerebral palsy day program to photograph its severely disabled clients, but soon discovers that her own limited perspective distorts the images she creates. …

You can read the rest here, and join the conversation either at Her.meneutics or right here at Exploring Intersections.

[Cathedral photo ©Pete Eckert ; all rights reserved. Used with permission.]

Running in the Shadow of 9/11 @Her.meneutics

There isn’t much to say in introduction to this essay except that it’s not what I intended to write. I had thought perhaps I’d get it out of my system and then write a more forward looking piece, but the editors wanted this. Here’s a clip from the middle of the essay:

On Sunday morning, the race began with a seven mile loop of Central Park. We emerged from the park onto 7th Avenue to the sound of cheering crowds. A smile crossed my face so big it made me laugh. Owning Times Square for a moment felt as magical as I imagine it must feel to be a Broadway star. We turned right onto 42nd Street and loped over to the West Side Highway, where we were greeted by showgirls and guys dancing and singing us on to victory. It was about then that my legs began to get heavy and tight, but I ran a really smart race. I paced myself, stayed in the shade, stopped at every fluid station, stretched, and ate packets of salt as advised in the 87 degree heat. Someone later asked if I ever thought of quitting. No! I was having too much fun taking pictures and tweeting as I ran and walked!

Besides, how could I quit with Dribble the World runner Ashley Ten Kate bouncing her basketball a few strides ahead of me for 13.1 miles! According to its website, Dribble the World “exists to save the lives of orphans in sub-Saharan Africa using the game of basketball.” There was also the 13.1 Virgin runner, who I thought was running in support of abstinence until someone who doesn’t write about the sexual revolution and its consequences informed me was probably a first time half-marathoner. Duh.

Sprinting for the finish line a couple hundred yards from Ground Zero, though, I started to cry again. It was as if all the happiness and pathos of my life was represented in that course. …

You’ll have to go to Her.meneutics to read the whole thing.

Speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.


I spend a good deal of time defending evangelicals, both in the real world and in the virtual one. I’ve begun to realize, however, that I’m often defending aspects of evangelicalism that I don’t care for myself. For example, in a discussion that followed my Her.meneutics post on “Hooking Up,” I defended followers of Bill Gothard against some rabid criticism, even though I deplore the sort of legalism Gothard represents. And last year, at Brandeis University, as one of two evangelicals amidst a dozen or more religion journalists doing a fellowship on Judaism, I repeatedly defended evangelicals against negative stereotypes that I myself have pondered in print.

I bring this up because, now that I’m home, I don’t fit easily in some of my old evangelical circles. Not that I ever did, but it’s been a while since I’ve been immersed in certain of our popular religious practices. I find myself shocked at things I once gave ne’er a thought to. I had hoped, for instance, that attending a Bible study led by a dear friend and wonderful teacher would bring me comfort. Unfortunately, I don’t care for the Bible study material we are using. It wants to turn the Bible into a self-help manual and its characters into heroes, and I don’t. I’m also tired of studying the Bible to extrapolate every last ounce of possible meaning out of it. It follows then that I don’t want to rip it into shreds and remake it in my own image. I mostly just want to read it for the comfort and correction I find in it.  So, there’s that and then the study group is composed of women from both sides of two church splits I lived through. There’s nothing awkward in this, except that I get a clear picture of where I’ve been and see pretty clearly that I no longer belong there.  I love and appreciate those places, but rarely find comfort in their forms of worship, whereas I always find comfort in the Anglican liturgy. Always. Never once in my three years as an Anglican has it failed to do its work on me. I live for Sunday worship because Sunday worship imbues me with the power and peace I need to live. (Worship is about God, but it gives back.)

I mention this because it relates to the topic at hand. That topic is pain. Deep, abiding psychic, spiritual, emotional pain that sometimes lasts for days on end.

Last night I was in that kind of pain, and so I picked up Nancy Guthrie’s book, Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow. I’m skeptical, not of Nancy mind you, but of my evangelical tribe’s tendency toward weak tea. I began reading nonetheless.

In chapter 3, she deals with those who would suggest that our children ( hers, and mine by inference) who died would have been healed if only we (or they) had had more faith. Nancy chose the story of Jesus healing the leper in Mark 1: 40-42 as her text for dealing with this issue. She came across the passage in the months after her daughter Hope died and says it hurt her feelings to think that Jesus was not willing to heal her child. I know exactly what she means. On the morning Gabe died, I said something to God that I don’t recall ever saying to Him before. I lay in my bed, and said, “God, if I were honest, I’d tell you I don’t think you love me anymore. How could you let my children …” A little while later, I said something harsh to Gabe about him wearing a dirty, smelly shirt to work again, and then went for a long prayer walk so that I could get my thoughts back in line with the truth of God’s word and affirm my trust in His love for me and my children. Before the day was done, my son was dead.

Nancy’s implicit trust in God led her to dig deeper into the Scripture to find out what Jesus was really communicating through his miracles (particularly the healing miracles). She came to the conclusion that if Jesus’s healing ministry had been mostly about healing physical sickness, it would have been more pervasive and central to his focus. Also, physical healing is by nature temporary and God didn’t come to earth for a temporary fix. In John 20: 30-31, we learn that the purpose of Jesus’s miracles is that we might believe, and believing, “have life by the power of his name.” Jesus’s priority was our deliverance from the ultimate source of our suffering and that is the sin that separates us from God. About the fall, Nancy writes:

Into the purity of the world God created, sin brought a poison that penetrated everything. And into the relationship we enjoyed with God, sin built a barrier. We went from being at peace with God to feeling threatened by him. Guilt and fear took over where innocence and openness had once ruled.

Ever been there? I have, at least once in the past 24 hours. And yet, she reminds us,

There is a day coming when death and disease will be healed for good. That is our sure hope in the midst of sorrow.

The passage that penetrated my pain last night is this one:

When Jesus said, “I am willing. Be healed!” to the leper, he was saying that he wants to cleanse us from the pervasive sin that will prove eternally fatal without his healing touch.

And now I realize that Jesus turns toward me when I call out to him for healing. Now I can hear him lovingly responding to me, saying, “I am willing. Be healed.” He is at work in my life, bringing healing to the wounded places where sin has left its ugly mark. He certainly isn’t finished yet, but I know the day is coming when his work in me will be complete.

I’ve also come to peace realizing that Jesus did not withhold his healing touch from Hope or Gabe. He has taken them to himself and will, at the resurrection, give them glorious bodies (Philippians 3:21). And this is no get-God-off-the-hook cop-out. It is everything we would ask for and long for.

It is the last paragraph that stuck with me as I went into today. I don’t want get-God-off-the-hook cop-outs. I want the truth. And the truth is that Gabe’s brain was sick from neurofibromatosis, from years of asthma-related oxygen deprivation, from inordinate guilt emanating from suicidal depression, from … The truth is his resurrected body will be tumor-free. The truth is the impulsivity and feelings of aggression that are common to both NF patients and suicide victims will be gone forever. The truth is he will breathe easy and never again have to say no to an invitation because of a household pet. The truth is he now knows and will for all eternity know that he is loved and lovable and lovely. The truth is it’s not my fault.

I didn’t process all of that last night. I simply held the last paragraph in my mind and went to sleep. This morning, I was still in pain.  At church, neither the opening hymns nor the visiting priest bade well for healing, and yet heal the liturgy did. I took note when the priest used alternate phrasing in the prayer we say before taking communion. Phrasing that echoes what Nancy wrote about from Mark 1. It is a sentence that I silently add every week and keep wishing our rector would use instead of the other. It is a piece of the reason why the liturgy never fails to do its work on me. There is power in the prayer:

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.

He is willing, and so I am healed when I take his body and blood into my own in faith. There is power in the blood. One mustn’t forget that. Afterwards, we echoed these sentiments again as we sang the African-American Spiritual, There is a Balm in Gilead. It goes:

There is a balm in Gilead, to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged, and think my work’s in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.

There is a balm in Gilead, to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.

If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul, you can tell the love of Jesus and say, “He died for all.”

There is a balm in Gilead, to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul. …

Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work has been in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again. I cannot preach like Peter; I grapple with too many negative triggers and questions. I cannot pray like Paul; I don’t know how anymore, except in the most general terms. I can tell the love of Jesus though, and say, “He died for all.” For all the broken, battered and bruised. For all the sin-sick lonely souls. For all the high and mighty liars. For all the orphaned, starving children. For me. For you. For Nancy. For her Gabe. For mine. For evangelicals and our critics.  For every tribe—past, present and future. There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.

Notice, if you will, that the day’s healing was found in drinking from deep evangelical wells.