Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Three Big Questions That Are None of Your Business to Ask

A few years ago, my friend marked her 32nd birthday by crying all the way through it. Not because she was worried about aging, or because she didn't feel like she'd accomplished enough or even because she was having an Eat Pray Love moment. It's because she spent most of the day responding to texts or calls that sounded like this, "Happy Birthday girl! So... did he propose??!" It probably didn't help that leading up to her birthday, various family members and friends had asked her if she was expecting a ring.

That year, she shared with me that "I'm happy the way things are. We're still getting to know each other. I just found out he's allergic to spinach, today. We're not there yet." (Update: They are married now, woohoo!)

I can admit; I have pushed expectations and questions on people just because I selfishly want to see what their kid would look like. But I'm getting better. You can too.

In honor of upcoming holiday dinners with family and friends who tend to be chomping at the bit when it comes to playing 20 Questions, I present to you three questions that are none of your business:

1. "When are you getting married?" In addition to what I've stated above, there are at least four reasons why this is a horrible question. 
a. First off, when you ask a couple, it's weird because if one of them plans on popping the question any time soon, they probably don't need you and your annoying foreshadowing getting in the way. 
b. Second, how do you know this isn't a sore topic for the couple? How do you know this isn't something they haven't discussed yet OR worse something they have discussed and are at odds about? 
c. Third, if you're close to the couple in question, you likely already know. The people that need to know the timeline are in the loop. You're out of the loop for a reason. 
d. And finally, I always find it really weird when people ask me women when they're getting married. Do you think we plan on proposing? If you're a woman, and you're cool with proposing, kudos! That's very 22nd century of you. But for the majority of women in heterosexual relationships, we don't know the date, and you're asking an unanswerable question and we're stuck just kinda awkwardly laughing outside of Nordstrom at The Grove wishing we hadn't fought back the urge to avert our eyes when we saw you across the street. 

2. "When are you having kids?" Of the three, this is by far the most intrusive, insensitive, and rude. Recently many celebrities (e.g. Chrissy Teigan and Tyra Banks), have laudably been outspoken about the problematic nature of this question. But a lot of church ladies and great aunts missed the memo on this one, and people wanna know "When are you gonna give us a grandbaby??" Aside from the obvious lack of consideration to women who are struggling with infertility/miscarriages, it assumes that couples want children or are prepared to have a child. An older woman in the mall stopped me and my boyfriend and said "Now you two are a beautiful couple. Do you have any babies?... Well how old are you?... 30!! What's the hold up? Marry this girl and get going!" I didn't take the time to tell her that if we got married and had a baby per her timetable, the one bedroom apartment that would likely be within our budget (because.... LA) isn't ideal for a bundle of joy and plus, we have a lengthy travel bucket list that does not include Babies R Us. Wanna know why I didn't explain all that? Because well.... all of that is none of her business. See?

3. "Who's the daddy?" I'm not going to be long-winded here. If a full grown adult friend of yours is pregnant, and you have no idea who the father is, then you probably are not close enough for her to tell you the circumstances of how she came to be with child. As I've gotten older, more and more friends in their late twenties and thirties are turning up pregnant with no significant other in sight. If her baby announcement is not accompanied with those well planned father/mother "We're becoming a family of 3!" photo shoots that are now ubiquitous, it is not because she forgot. It's because ya'll are just Facebook friends, not real friends and it is none of your business. 

This Thanksgiving, this Christmas, heck --- for the rest of your life - don't be that guy. You'll thank me later. 

What questions did I miss???

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Three Ways You Can Be A More Informed Citizen Once You Finish Complaining About The Media

The media** is biased. But so are we. Let me explain. 

A few days ago, I ran with a local runners’ group, and we paused at a beautiful “Love” mural to have a moment of silence for “people suffering all over the world… especially in Paris.” Save for those of us catching our breath in the chilly fall air, all was still and then one runner said “And Kenya!” I glanced in his direction, undecided if I appreciated his spontaneous candor or if I was annoyed by his marring of this solemn moment. That dichotomous feeling has plagued me for the past few days. After the run, I caught up with the outspoken fella -who turned out to be Ethiopian-American- and asked, feigning curiosity, “What is the capital of Kenya anyway?” He drew a blank and when I used my acting chops to affect an aha moment, I said “I think it’s Nairobi… yeah that’s it.”

Nairobi, Kenya. 

The next day, I asked my intelligent, worldly coworkers the same question and only one could recall it. Meanwhile, my social media timeline included quite a potluck of views: some friends posted their favorite memories in Paris (read: a honeymoon snapshot at the Eiffel) and ferocious debates ensued as folks charged “the media” with focusing only on the Western world, ignoring the tragedies of developing countries in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere.

I agree; “the media” is not interested in providing equal coverage to all people and all countries. I also believe that the media’s lack of focus on issues in poorer, blacker, and browner countries is part of general systemic racism and prejudice. But the media is also influenced by something else, something even more powerful than prejudice: ratings. And ratings are driven by what we the people look for and watch. Let me give you an example. 

When Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, the story was picked up by “Black Twitter”, and as frustration, anger and rightful interest in the story grew organically, it hit the mainstream media outletss. People FORCED the media to pick up the story by illustrating their interest in the story and convincing the media that it was a story worth telling. Facebook didn’t have to compel folks to take pictures in hoodies; people did it on their own. (My pastor even preached in a hoodie that weekend.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Teaching Kids Respect for Authority AND for Themselves: The Balancing Act

My first experience with Spring Valley High School was a scary one. I was a scrawny seventh grader who had barely made it onto the varsity track team (which was basically a come one come all type situation) and we were headed to Columbia to compete against Spring Valley's track team. Although I went to a suburban high school, our co-ed bus full of seventh graders to high school seniors was pretty rowdy and spirited.  Until the bus slowed and we all saw the sprawling campus with what looked like hundreds of track athletes in impeccable track suits, stretching with the uniformity of a Marine Corps. The bus grew quiet - almost respectful -  and as we took our beating that year, Spring Valley became imprinted on my mind as the gold standard to work towards. By my senior year, our women's track team had eked out one win against Spring Valley through some kind of Remember the Titans like underdog strength, but I will never forget the fear they inspired at our first encounter.

Fast forward to Oct 26, 2015 and it seems Spring Valley High is still inspiring several emotions in folks, one of which is certainly fear. The video of a student's altercation with a Safety Resource Officer at Spring Valley High emerged and in a cycle that is becoming all too common when a white police officer has a physical altercation with a person of color, the debates ensue. I think most reasonable folks across the Don Lemon to Rev. Sharpton continuum can agree that the force used is difficult to watch, justifiable or not.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Post about That Certificate of Purity That Went Viral

If you're reading this, you probably already heard about the young lady whose certificate of purity has gone viral. Here's a quick recap:

At 13, Bre Bowman signed a covenant with her parents committing to abstain from fornication, sexual activity, and other behaviors too - like drinking, smoking, et cetera. Fast forward to her wedding day and she gives her father a certificate of purity. This certificate is signed by a doctor and is meant to be verification that she has abstained from sexual activity.  Then she took a photo of this certificate and shared it on social media; and the rest is viral Internet history. 

Several outlets have weighed in with disgust, praise and everything in between:
  • "Yes, your virginity is your father's business!" (well the author say's "daddy's business" but this just feels... icky) Source: Married and Young
  • "The hymen test is a myth and not really a scientific test." Source: Slate
  • "I see it as respect for her father." - Commenter at USA Today
  • "Any vows made at 13 years old should be taken with a grain of salt." - Commenter at Buzzfeed
Before I outline some problematic concerns for me, let me make something clear. 
  • I believe abstaining until marriage is more than admirable; it illustrates a discipline and commitment to your faith and your marriage. 
  • I am always happy to see young people who are outspoken about their faith.
  • Bre and Tim Bowman are strangers to me, but seem like a beautiful couple inside and out. And I just love love. 
Here's my rub (no pun intended):

1. #MakeJesusFamous or #MaketheBowmansFamous? - Bre Bowman says she is on a journey to "Make Jesus Famous", which is an interesting concept considering we live in a country whose biggest holiday is the celebration of Jesus' birthday. Nevertheless, if we are to assume she means the gospel, not just Jesus Christ, I don't know that it shows. A perusal of @brefreeman's IG page shows several screenshots of her online coverage, including my favorite - a graphic with her wedding photo surrounded by outstretched hands holding smartphones viewing articles about her purity certificate. Is this really about Jesus?  The covenant between herself and God is now public fodder. Her method (not the message itself) lacks the humility that that guy with the dusty sandals often displayed. (See Matthew 6:6)

2. Any Message About Jesus That Doesn't Include Grace, Mercy or Hope is Incomplete (and worse, not inclusive). The thing about Jesus that is so dope, is that He is available to ANYONE - the murderer, the prostitute, even lawyers! :)  If you plant a thousand trees, adopt a dozen children, and hug a few hundred widows, but you haven't committed to Him, you're not in any better shape than the woman who sold her body night after night, but cried out to Christ for mercy. Brelyn made her commitment at 13 (controversial in itself but I digress), and was raised in a home where a premium was placed on remaining abstinent. For a variety of reasons, many not related to any act of her own, she was able to produce a certificate that her hymen was still intact.

Doctors agree that hymeneal tissue (learning so many different words with this story) is not really the best determiner of a woman's virginity.  Every woman is born with different amounts, some are broken while riding a bike, and there are reports of women breaking their hymen while giving birth (which is clearly after they've had sex). Furthermore, abstaining from fornication (rubbing and petting as indicated in her covenant), can't be proven with a hymen test. 

In Bre's attempt to publicly prove her purity to her father with a certificate, versus just by having a private conversation with any parties that needed to know, she has conveniently confused purity with an intact hymen for all those following along in her journey. Moreover, she has excluded the "prize of purity" for women who have been sexually assaulted, women who chose to abstain after engaging in sexual activity, and women who for whatever reason have broken hymens - I see you gymnasts. This is why the JESUS part of this message is important. All women will not be able to have access to this Certificate of Purity; however in Christ's eyes, the woman who has abstained for a lifetime and the one who moments ago turned to Him are equally pure. (See John 3:17)

3. It Ties Women's Value and Morality to Their Relationships with Men. From the very beginning, there was something nagging me about this story that didn't feel right. For one, abstinence is a charge given to both men and women, yet in their wedding video, Bre is the only one who provided a signed covenant. Moreover, 13 yr old Bre made this commitment to both of her parents; but only her father received this certificate. While Bre is quick to clarify in her wedding video that both she and her husband Tim remained virgins until marriage, the purity message is focused primarily on her, a sign of age-old patriarchy that rears its ugly heads in cultures worldwide. This focus leads to virginity tests (some more crude than a hymen test), genital circumcision, and other sexist, harmful "traditions." Brelyn should be proud that she was able to abstain. But she is not more or less valuable to her husband (or her father) if she didn't. One of my favorite organizations is a faith-based nonprofit based in Los Angeles called Treasures that supports women in the sex industry. They teach women who work in strip clubs, in pornography and in other sex-driven industries that they are valued.  Mrs. Bowman's purpose may not be to speak to these women; but women who haven't abstained certainly hear her message anyway. If as a Preacher of Purity, she flaunts a certificate about her hymen, she unwittingly excludes these women from the purity movement. (See John 8)

Do we want Jesus to be famous for being the guy that deems only virgins as pure?
Do we want to add to the societal view that women's bodies are owned by men?

If the answer is no, then I think we should reconsider how we frame the message of purity for women, and attempt to see people as Christ sees them. As His children.

Your thoughts?

Monday, September 21, 2015

I'm a Pro-Life Christian and I Support Planned Parenthood

What does pro life mean to me?
At the risk of being told that I am misleading, I want to clarify what I mean by pro life. When I say I’m pro life, I mean we should be concerned with the lives of folks who indisputably have life, and that they have it more abundantly (John 10:10 - did I mention I am a Christian too?)  

The term pro life implies that the opposing side is pro death, and perhaps that was intentional. But I don’t think it’s fair. To me, pro life is a stance that should extend beyond the abortion issue.

Pro life should mean:
  • we are committed to pulling the 16 million children living in poverty in the richest country in the world into the middle class
  • we are ashamed to have the highest rate of incarceration in the world
  • we are figuring out a solution to the fact that police kill American citizens at 70 times the rate of other first world nations
  • The Creator who gave us life is the only one who can impose death as a punishment, not a court

Speaking more specifically, I am committed to making sure that abortion becomes a medical procedure that women rarely if ever have to consider because our society has empowered every man and woman with a metaphorical toolkit that includes:
    • Reproductive Health Education and Resources
    • Sexual Assault Prevention Education (for men and women)
    • The self-esteem to feel ownership and autonomy over their bodies and the relationships they are in – physical and emotional

Do I like abortion? Not particularly. Do I think it should be illegal? Nope.
Since the beginning of time, people have performed abortions, and making them illegal won’t end it; they’ll just make them more dangerous. We’ve all heard about the use of hangers, risky potions, and “accidental” stair falls. Making abortion illegal just increases the risk to life we currently have – the lives of the women in our society who have for one reason or another decided that they are not going to complete their pregnancy.

So Why Do Women Have Abortions?  
I can’t answer that question for thousands of women, but I can give you an educated guess for at least one reason based on a recent experience I had:

My significant other and I regularly babysit our friend’s daughter, a beautiful 8-month-old child who brings us a lot of joy. We typically try to babysit her on days when we’re both available to watch her. However, a few days ago, my co-babysitter had to work, so it was just the little love muffin and me. I had to run an errand at Target and it was one of the very few times I was out in public with an infant, alone.

For whatever reason, I felt a little self-conscious when people looked in my direction, and I couldn’t figure out why. Then it hit me as I realized I was awkwardly covering my left hand. I was afraid people would think I was a young, single unmarried mother. A statistic. (And a stereotype if you factor in that I’m Black.) This of course, is silly. Why should I be concerned with the opinions of complete strangers? And more importantly, why should I care that they might look down on me for being something – a single, unmarried mother – that many women I know, respect and admire are? My mother was a single parent, a single parent mothers my goddaughter, and single mothers raised both President Clinton and Obama.

And yet, I was ashamed, as are many women who choose to have an abortion.

I imagine people choose abortion for the following three reasons:
  1. they are afraid of what others in their family, social circles, and the local Target will think (often the same communities that would castigate them if they had a child out of wedlock would also judge them for having an abortion – a lose lose situation)
  2. they are unprepared to raise a child
  3. they simply aren’t interested in raising a child

So What’s the Solution?
There are solutions to all three that would drastically reduce abortions without making it illegal (which as I stated earlier wouldn’t solve the problem).

Despite conservative media coverage that suggests otherwise, Planned Parenthood is an organization that provides much needed services to women and families, often preventing the very abortion and unintended pregnancies that anti abortionists rally against. Planned Parenthood offers:
  • cancer screening and prevention
  • STD testing for men and women
  • Contraception for men and women
  • Reproductive health education

I could have pulled this information from a website, but I’ve seen Planned Parenthood in action myself. Several years ago, as an undergraduate student, I was enrolled in a Women’s Health class and along with a few classmates, I had the opportunity to teach basic women's health education to teenaged women at an inner city Planned Parenthood. When we asked, “Any questions?” we received questions you wouldn't believe. I am forever grateful that we were able to provide extremely valuable information that we sadly assume people are taught by their parents. It was proof that not only does Planned Parenthood provide great services to women, but also that they are a much-needed resource!

But I Thought You Said You Were A Christian
In addition to supporting organizations like Planned Parenthood, I believe Christians and other people of faith need to do more to show women that:
  • God loves us, no matter our station in life and so do His children
  • our value is not tied to our sexual history
  • our value does not change because we may be raising a child alone
  • we are never truly alone (Deuteronomy 31:6!)

Many folks have told me that the traditional pro-life stance is the only Christian choice. Often, these same individuals fight for an unbridled 2nd amendment, despite clear evidence that shows gun ownership restrictions would assuredly save lives. These same individuals adamantly support capital punishment, although each time a sinner approached Jesus about a crime that carried a death sentence, He chose mercy.

I won’t presume to say that Jesus is pro choice or pro life. However my faith leads me to my current position; that we love and care for another in a way that makes the need for an abortion improbable, not illegal.

If you’re like me and you wish we lived in a world that didn’t require abortions, you should be invested in fighting the sources that cause it – a fear of shame, a lack of information, and a lack of preparation for parenthood.

You may ask, “Well how do we do that?”

Let me introduce you to someone….

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Church Rules

Church girls
My dad is a Minister of Music. For those who are unfamiliar, that means my dad is sort of a combo preacher/musician/choir director/pastor. So for most of my childhood, my dad didn't take his talents to South Beach; he took them (along with his family) to Pentecostal (specifically C.O.G.I.C.) churches that hosted  three-hour services on Sunday morning, a brief intermission for a much needed meal, then a follow up evening service. There were also weekly choir practices my dad led, Bible studies and something on Fridays called Joy Night. I imagine some adults found joy there, but I can't say I shared that emotion. 

As a teenager, my mother volunteered my services as Baptist Sunday School secretary; in college, I was tasked with enticing students to come to the local AME church with promises of home cooked soul food on their ride back to campus. 

As an adult, I've been a choir member at a Baptist church, social media coordinator at a non-denominational church, and at the church I currently attend, I interned, led a couple Bible studies, and I (happily!) serve on a few teams. 

If anybody loves, respects and understands the value of the church community, I am your girl. No matter where I lived or worked or learned, my tie to the church has been a constant and I am forever grateful.

Another constant has been the unwritten but oft-spoken "rules" provided by what I lovingly call "church folk." When I was younger, I blindly accepted them. Most of them were harmless anyway. (Bow your head during prayer in reverence, men should take off their hat inside the church... and so forth.) I often assumed that church rules were also Biblical rules. 

But the older I get and the more I study the Word for myself (which I highly recommend), the more I realized many of these rules are steeped in tradition, not divine instruction from the Lord himself. 

I think it is fair to argue that the thickest section of the unwritten Church Rule Book is the Relationships chapter. I am often confused or amused by the rules/strongly suggested guidelines I hear from my church family. Here’s an example:

After a few months of planning, my boyfriend and I visited my brother in Hawaii for several days – a vacation/meet & greet. The night prior to my departure, a friend texted me. 
Her: So who are you going to Hawaii with?
Me: Who do you think silly? I'm going with my guy. Who else I would I go with?
Her: That's like a honeymoon. You guys are gonna have nothing left to do after the wedding. 

I was dumbfounded. It had never occurred to me that vacations were reserved for husband and wife. I've gone on vacations with family, girlfriends, coed groups, people that are almost strangers, with only my mother protesting that I'd end up on a milk carton, but a vacation with the one you love most was an issue. While I was still processing this text, I tapped back jokingly, "Nah my honeymoon will require a passport" and left it at that.

But it made me wonder... in a time where we choose our spouses based on love and compatibility, not someone our parents picked out for us at 13 a la Biblical times, what behaviors are taboo for unmarried couples? 

While I don't believe all parts of a relationship need to be "Try Before You Buy" (to keep this post PG, I'll let you all figure out what I mean here), I do believe it's important for people to get a good sense of how their prospective spouse deals with adversity, how they handle their finances, their levels of domesticity, and many other variables that you really just don't know until you spend a lot of time around them. What ticks them off? What is their kryptonite? How do they juggle career, family, their faith, friendships and other priorities?

Obviously, there's no way to do a true trial run. You're not married until you're married.  Kids, the loss of a parent, the relearning each others bodies post child birth and age, sharing of bills, sacrificing for careers and so forth… these are all challenges and joys most likely reserved for married couples. But I believe people are endowed with sound minds (So does the guy who wrote 2 Timothy 1:7).  If we want to honor God with a lifelong marriage, using God-gifted discernment to avoid throwing rice at a doomed union makes practical (and Biblical) sense.

A few other rules I’m not convinced are based in Biblical doctrine:
1.    Don’t go on a formal date with a prospective spouse until you’ve seen each other in group settings and had a preliminary coffee date.
2.    Save domestic activities such as grocery shopping for life post nuptials.
3.    Support of civil rights like marriage equality for same sex couples is akin to endorsing homosexuality and must be avoided. Active viewership of shows like Modern Family can be interpreted as an embracing of homosexuality and is bad.
4.     Attending the wedding of same sex couples --friends and family alike-- is an absolute no-no. 

Proverbs 19:20 advises us to “hear counsel and listen to direction that you may be wise” and I have been fortunate beyond measure to have friends and mentors who love Jesus and who love me too.

They manage to hold me accountable without passing judgment, they push me to grow in my faith (and my career and relationships too). I do believe they are iron that sharpens iron. They are often the same folks who give me “Church Rules” but more often than not, they advise me to go directly to the source to learn how to best live my life for Christ.

They know that wise counsel is still a step removed from the ultimate Counselor, Jesus Christ.

Every church I’ve been a member of, particularly the one I am a member of now, has helped to improve my faith, provided lifelong friendships, and most recently, it has been the place that introduced me to the man I love. Ironically, church consistently reminds me that their rules aren’t the ones that matter. God’s rules are.

Think about the things you’ve been taught to do in your church or by believers, and consider if they reflect what Christ wants for you, or just something that’s always been done. Are there any rules you’re unsure on? I’d love to hear them. My former pastor always says “If you read your Bible, you’ll be a better Christian.” It sounds a bit like cliched rhetoric, but it’s true. Are your rules in the Bible?