Thursday, July 24, 2014

Anger and Injustice

It ended with questions about anger and injustice. It started with an article about journalism.  The writer said one of a journalist's duties is to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

What do I have to be angry about? Do I suffer from injustice? My life is comfortable. I have plenty to eat, a roof over my head, healthy kids who go to good schools. I have a husband with a job. (I'm glad to have the husband. Also glad he has a job.) Maybe I need some affliction in my life.

Can anger be an affliction? I get angry when our culture tells women and girls that their value lies in how they look. Culture encourages men to see women as objects for their pleasure. If this thinking is not checked, it leads to eating disorders, strip clubs, and human trafficking. It ends in suffering. That should make us angry.

Anger is dangerous because it can cause harm. But could a lack of righteous anger cause even more harm? If women and girls are abused and objectified and we don't get angry, nothing will change. Anger is an energizer.

Jesus was famously angry when people turned the temple courts into a place for thievery instead of prayer. He even used a whip! What kind of Savior uses a whip? I guess the kind who gets angry when a sacred place is profaned.  In a sense a woman's body is sacred because it's God's creation. Our culture profanes it. What are we doing with our anger over this? Stifling it because it might cause us to sin? Smothering it because it could make others uncomfortable? The biblical prophets constantly preached about justice. Where's our temple, and are we ready to make whips?

This is the kind of blog post I don't know how to handle. Is God telling me to act? How? What do you think?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Middle School Attacks

It's like middle school never ended. Those are hard years -- sixth, seventh, eighth grade. It can start earlier, but middle school is infamous for being a place where kids hone their cruelty skills. Cliques form or tighten. If you don't look right, life can be miserable. Too tall, too short, fat, skinny. Your acne is bad, or you don't even need a bra when other girls are wearing a C cup. Or you matured early and got unwanted attention from boys who pointed and told jokes at your expense.

If you're honest, maybe you have to admit that occasionally you joined in the attacks on others to mask your insecurity.

Our culture is like never-ending middle school. Only it's more sophisticated when you're an adult. Sleek magazines tell you that you could be beautiful if you only bought this or that. It can be more complicated, especially if you appear to be overweight. Sit down to eat a burger in public and strangers glare at you, as if to say, "For goodness' sake, have a salad."

I've caught myself thinking the same things. But what do I know about that woman's life? What if that burger is a rare treat? What if she's been to doctors who can't figure out why she can't lose weight? More to the point, maybe I should mind my own business.

I need to stop criticizing when I don't know the facts. Forces in the media are already piling on. I don't want to be part of that clique. Maybe I should graduate from middle school.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Modesty and Restraint

Suzanne Fields is a syndicated columnist who writes about culture and politics. Recently, she addressed modesty, our sex-saturated culture and its effect on children and teens.

"Adult fashion trends affect the way little girls see themselves," she wrote. Raise your hand if you're the parent of an elementary-age girl and you have trouble finding modest, non-sexy clothing for your child. Me, too. Moreover, girls are encouraged to say, with a dose of sass, "Don't tell us what we can wear. Tell the boys to stop staring."

Frankly, I intend to do both. I'll tell my daughter what she may and may not wear. And I'll tell my fifteen-year-old son not to stare at young women.

I agreed with Fields right up to the end of her article. She encouraged "a little feminine modesty to engender male restraint." I'm a writer, and something about that phrase bothered me. One little word stuck in my craw.

Engender means to produce, to give rise to. Fields implied that feminine modesty produces male restraint. And that males cannot restrain themselves if women are immodest. Both statements are false. Many modestly dressed women have been raped. And men are not knuckle-dragging Neanderthals at the mercy of testosterone.

Now, as the mother of a teenage boy, I do have a request for teen girls. Please don't dress immodestly and make his struggle more difficult than it has to be. For that matter, girls, respect yourselves enough to dress modestly. But it's not up to the girls to create restraint in my son. It's his responsibility to restrain himself.

This wording matters. It's an important distinction because without it we start down a road that can end with the question, "What did you do to get yourself raped?"

How do we avoid that road? Remember this.

1. Words matter.
2. So does modesty.
3. So does restraint.

Oh, and one more for my kids. As far as words go, I will keep proofreading so that you can write better papers. Roll your eyes all you want, but I will be picky. Fewer comma splices in the world: a noble goal.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Mental Illness

Anorexia and bulimia are two mental illnesses associated with body image. In my case the disease was obsessive-compulsive disorder. A person with OCD cannot stop thinking about something or performing some action. Sometimes my thoughts were about body image, and sometimes they were about other issues.

Normal thought involves the movement of chemicals between brain neurons. In OCD, the movement  is interrupted, so the person thinks the same thoughts again and again. When my OCD was uncontrolled, I would analyze a question for an hour, stuck in a mental loop. When it struck me that this was illogical, another part of my brain said, "But I should be analyzing this. It's the moral thing to do." So it was not as simple as telling myself to move on.

Everyone analyzes things. Many people are concerned about their weight. But mental illness -- whether OCD, an eating disorder, or another illness like schizophrenia --  takes a normal way of thinking and turns up the volume, so to speak, far past a healthy level.

Mental illnesses are physical diseases. We should treat victims the same way we treat other ill people. We would never say to a cancer patient, "Just control your thinking and you'll get well." Or worse, "If you trusted God, you wouldn't be sick."

When my OCD was at its worst, it was like being wrapped in chains, trapped inside the prison of my own thoughts. God used the care of my family and the expertise of a psychiatrist to free me. We should follow Jesus and extend compassion to victims of mental illness. Then, as Matthew 25 records, one day Jesus will say, "I was sick and in prison, and you visited me."