The Narratives that Shape Us

Before I begin, I would like to start off by thanking Alyssa for asking me to contribute to her blog, Over The Invisible Wall. We met a couple of months back through an entry that she posted to her personal website, and have talked about various topics since.

We do not have the same views on everything, but we did find a lot of common ground through our discussions and through choosing to hear what the other person had to say.

Since then, she has asked me to write about one of the subjects that we talked about in a guest post, and I have done my best consolidate my emails into one (hopefully) coherent blog post. Thank you again Alyssa for giving me the chance to write a guest post for your awesome blog!

* * * *

Our narratives are shaped by the lives of those who have gone before us.

Every experience and every piece of information that we take in has a direct impact on how we see ourselves, our lives, and the world around us. We are shaped by stories, and the narratives that we are given by our families, communities, and society at large—for better or for worse. And these stories play directly into how we see each and every person that we come in contact with, every single day.

For instance, if I told you that I’m a twenty-year-old Christian blogger, writer, youth leader, and college student, you’d probably already have some assumptions about me—filling in the blanks for things that I haven’t yet told you.

She probably likes Hillsong, you might assume (in which case, you’d be right).

She was probably a bookworm in high school (this is also true).

She’s probably reads C.S. Lewis (this one is definitely true).

However, if I told you other facts about myself, you might be surprised.

You might be surprised to find that I oppose the death penalty on moral and ethical grounds and cast my first vote to an independent candidate in the 2016 election. You might be surprised to find that I’m a big advocate of gender equality in the home, church, and workplace—and do not subscribe to patriarchy or strict gender roles. You might find it super surprising that I enjoy psychology—and have taken every personality test from the Myers Briggs to the Enneagram (type 2 ENFJ y’all!).

These facts may not coincide with the picture that you have already carefully constructed in your head. Whether you intended to or not, you’ve already prescribed a narrative for me for based on just a few simple facts—without even knowing me at all.

And we do this all the time, right? Name off any number of occupations or descriptors and we can immediately create a picture of that person in our minds: Teacher. Doctor. Librarian. Photographer. Dentist. Lawyer. Fashion Designer.

All of these people are subject to stereotypes and potentially false narratives. All because we’re conditioned from a young age to think of people in an extremely simplified and one-dimensional way. And in some cases, this can be more than problematic. It can be detrimental.

 

Specifically, to those who are LGBTQ in our churches, our schools, and our society.

Growing up in a mostly Christian context, I’ve heard basically every stereotype about gay people that you can think of. They’re promiscuous. They hate God. They live wild “lifestyles.” You name it, I’ve heard it. Multiple times.

However, the older I got, and the more I started trying to construct my own narrative of the world, the more I started to hear other things about gay people as well. You can’t help who you love. It’s not something you can change. It’s not a choice. And slowly I began to question my previous assumptions and the narratives that I’d heard about gay people for so long.

“What if they’re wrong?” I wondered. “What if it’s really not a choice?”

After all, wouldn’t someone who was actually gay know more about this than me—or the countless other voices around me who were speaking so authoritatively on this subject? And if it wasn’t a choice, then where did that leave me, as a Bible-believing Christian?

After all, if it wasn’t a choice, than it had major ramifications for both my assumptions and the lives of real, living, breathing people made in God’s image. It meant that there could even be Christians out there who were gay—Christians who grew up going to church and youth group, just like me. And if there were gay Christians out there, then where on earth did that leave them?

 

Eventually, after a lot of questioning and shifting back and forth between viewpoints, I finally got up the nerve to ask these kinds of questions, and not so much to my surprise, I was right. People didn’t choose to be gay and there were gay Christians out there. But, the picture also wasn’t as bleak as I once thought.

Over the course of my research, my reading, and my questions, I discovered some pretty interesting things—both about God, and about the lives of various, real people.

One, that all of those passages in the Bible that people always use to condemn people who are gay don’t speak about sexual orientation. Nowhere. Not once in the Bible does it ever speak of someone who has a gay orientation. Every verse that describes ‘being gay’ as a sin refers only to lust and sexual acts outside of a Biblically defined marriage ( sleeping around and lust is also considered a sin in Christianity for those of us who are straight).

Second, I learned that there were are a lot more gay Christians out there than one might think—and many of them, though facing struggles at various points in their lives, are genuinely happy. They’re pursuing celibacy and pouring into loving and healthy friendships. They’re in a mixed orientation marriage with the one person of the opposite sex that they’re attracted to. They’re teaching at colleges, leading churches, involved in mission work, and speaking for those who can’t speak. They’re redefining what ‘gay people’ look like to the Christian world and the broader world. And most of them simply want to be understood.

 

Through reading these articles, and listening to these voices, and hearing the stories of real people, I’ve grown to see how vital it is that those of us who are Christian get this right. There’s a very real chance that we already know someone who’s gay—whether it be a co-worker, a friend, a student, or the guy who sits next to us in church. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to add pain to someone who has likely already endured far too many sleepless nights thinking about this. I want to be a light and speak life into the lives of other people and the only way I can do that is by listening—both to those who share my convictions and to those who don’t.

As humans we will someday be remembered for how we chose to live our lives. I don’t know about you, but I want to be known for my love. In 1 Corinthians 13:2 (NIV), it says, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

 

Regardless of who you are or what you believe, I want to challenge you to love boldly. To listen to the stories around you and try to understand people right where they are. We do not have to add to the division that already permeates this world so forcefully. We can choose to listen, rather than shout. We can choose love over hate.

We can choose to create the culture that we want to live in.

 

We can choose to be a voice that impacts a generation.

 

We can choose to be a light—and make this world just a little bit better and more compassionate than it was before.

 

Courtney Whitaker is a writer, a reader, and a lover of all things cats, warm tea, and Hallmark. She is currently a youth leader at her church and pursuing a double major at Liberty University in Education and Theology. In the future, she would like to teach and write books geared towards teens and young adults. You can find more of her writing on 1timothy412girl.com, where she posts weekly about all things faith and life.

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Can a Bully Reform?

Picture this:

You’re in the supermarket deliberating if the prices for eggplant are worth it or not, when a stranger approaches you. You’re naturally wary and your mind races through all the possible outcomes of this encounter. The stranger calls you by name; by now, you try to place a name on this other person but your mind comes to a blank.

They also apologize, even daring to hug you at the end.  In the midst of all this, all you want to do is push this person off and run for your life. But you don’t. You politely wait until the hug is over and quite blatantly ask for their name. The person is hesitant but after a few moment’s pause, complies. He says his name is Ian and suddenly the memories come flooding back to your mind.

Ian was the name of the semi-popular boy in high school that bullied you for four years straight. He mocked you everyday for dressing poor and called you every name in the book. He made fun of your appearance because you wore braces at one point. The calmness you had faded; anger sparked and all you wanted to do was bop Ian with the eggplant. You didn’t buy his nice act for one minute because if it was one thing you knew, it was that bullies didn’t change for the better.

 

Would that have been you? Would you have accepted Ian’s changed behavior or would you have held onto the past, refusing to acknowledge his good work?

Many of us encounter bullies, be that at our school, the workplace or even our own homes. Bullies aren’t something everyone wants to talk about, especially when it comes to them changing.

Before we get into that, let’s define a bully: a bully is a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.

Teasing someone about their appearance is bullying. Forcing someone to do your homework is bullying. Making fun of someone online is bullying.

It’s often hard for us to accept that change is possible with everyone, even our worst enemy. We don’t think they’re capable under all that cold exterior, when in reality it happens more than we think it does. Society tends to say change isn’t possible, the church says it is. Which is more reliable?

My pastor has often said that hurt people hurt people.

He’s right — when we’re hurting, we tend to want to lash out at those who are happy or have it better than us. It’s a common variable. It’s especially prominent when it comes to revenging those who have hurt us. We want them to feel the pain, we want them to suffer. Scoffing at Ian’s apology or giving him the cold shoulder and watching his face drop with disappointment would be satisfying to that part of us that still feels hurt but most definitely not the best way to handle such a situation.

Does this change your perspective a little? Take that leap if you encounter one, give them a smile and most of all, realize that they’re trying.

 

Erica is Potterhead who enjoys writing, doing tricks on her skateboard and is a huge lover of Batman. She’s about to start her second year of college in hopes of becoming a surgeon in the future.

Racial Inequality, William Blake, and a Biblical Perspective

This post is adapted from an essay I wrote for a Liberty University English class.

In 1789, eighteen years before slavery was abolished in Great Britain, William Blake published the poetry collection Songs of Innocence, among which is the poem “Little Black Boy.” Blake condemned slavery, which was evidence of the rampant racial inequality of his time (“Blake and Wordsworth”). Interestingly, the same year that Blake published Songs of Innocence, the French stormed the Bastille, and the ideology of freedom initially upheld by the French revolutionaries was reflected in the goals of abolitionists, both American and British. Other materials were published that year, such as a description of a slave trade ship, a report on the slave trade, a speech about slavery by William Wilberforce in the House of Commons, and a former slave by the name of Olaudah Equiano published one of the first books by a black author (Wikipedia). Attitudes about race were changing for the better, leading to increased equality. In the 1960s, as in the US, there was more progress made towards racial equality. The UK passed the Race Relations Act in 1965, which was the first legislation addressing racial discrimination; in 1976 they passed new legislation with the same name, making racial discrimination illegal (EqualityHumanRights.com). William Blake’s poem “The Little Black Boy” uses racial imagery to convey spiritual truth and oppose the slave trade.

The poem is as follows:

My mother bore me in the southern wild,

And I am black, but O! my soul is white;

White as an angel is the English child:

But I am black as if bereav’d of light.

 

My mother taught me underneath a tree

And sitting down before the heat of day,

She took me on her lap and kissed me,

And pointing to the east began to say.

 

Look on the rising sun: there God does live

And gives his light, and gives his heat away.

And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive

Comfort in morning joy in the noonday.

 

And we are put on earth a little space,

That we may learn to bear the beams of love,

And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face

Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

 

For when our souls have learn’d the heat to bear

The cloud will vanish we shall hear his voice.

Saying: come out from the grove my love & care,

And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice.

 

Thus did my mother say and kissed me,

And thus I say to little English boy.

When I from black and he from white cloud free,

And round the tent of God like lambs we joy:

 

I’ll shade him from the heat till he can bear,

To lean in joy upon our fathers knee.

And then I’ll stand and stroke his silver hair,

And be like him and he will then love me.

 

In this poem Blake writes from the perspective of a black slave boy in the southern U.S. to promote a biblical view of blacks as equal to whites. In line two, Blake states that the boy has a soul, despite the popular belief at the time that black people do not have souls (“Blake and Wordsworth”). For slave owners, claiming that black people did not have souls served as a justification of their owning slaves and treating them like animals, who are also believed to lack souls. American and British slave owners who believed the Bible is God’s word might have defended slavery by proof-texting a passage such as Ephesians 6:5, which tells slaves to obey their masters. Ephesians 6:5 defends slavery only if the literary and historical context is ignored; slaves in biblical times were often repaying a debt and were freed after their debt had been paid, unless they chose to remain the master’s slave. Blake insinuates throughout the poem that all people, regardless of skin color, are equal in their relationship to God (lines 3, 9-14, 17-20, 22-28). This is a biblical idea; as Galatians 3:28 (NIV) says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The black boy compares an English child to an angel because of his white skin, viewing himself as “bereav’d of light” (lines 3-4). It had been made clear to blacks that they were inferior to whites; it was ingrained in the culture and in their minds that they were lesser than whites, even when they were striving for equality. The culture, in this case, was wrong; all people are equal, because all are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). All people are the same in a fundamental aspect, making them all equal.

Equality in God’s sight is Blake’s focus in “Little Black Boy,” though equality and fair treatment from whites was also important considering blacks were slaves, both in Britain and America. In lines thirteen and fourteen, the black slave boy relates what his mother taught him: “And we are put on earth a little space, / That we may learn to bear the [sun] beams of love.” The sun seems to symbolize the trials men face on earth. This is reminiscent of James 1:2-4, which says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (NIV). It seems from the black boy’s hope that the English boy will one day love him that Blake saw a future day when whites would realize they were not superior to other races and equality would be gained. At the very least, the final lines emphasize that all of God’s children are equal in His sight, or, as a popular phrase among Christians puts it, “the ground is level at the cross.”

William Blake masterfully used racial imagery to teach his contemporaries about equality in Christ. It was surely not a popular message for slave owning Brits or Americans at the time, but it is a biblical one. The poem decries the prejudice inherent to racism and the slave trade and points readers to Christ. It was vital to the abolitionist movement that blacks be viewed and treated as equal to whites, and Blake communicated this well in “Little Black Boy.” Of course, racial equality did not stop there, and freedom for slaves was only the first step. A lot of progress has been made. Today on the internet there is an upsurge of racism, not towards “people of color,” generally, but towards whites. While some say things about “reverse racism isn’t real” or similar things, racism is any prejudice against someone because of their skin color or race. All people should be viewed as equal insofar as they are human regardless of race.

 

References

Equality Human Rights. “A History of Human Rights in Britain.” https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/what-are-human-rights/history-human-rights-britain

Liberty University. “Blake and Wordsworth.” (Video presentation.)

Liberty University. “Historical Context and Wollstonecraft.” (Video presentation.)

Wikipedia. “1789 in Great Britain.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1789_in_Great_Britain

William Blake. Songs of Innocence, “Little Black Boy.” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43671/the-little-black-boy

 

Rarity of Opposite Gender Friendships

In today’s society, friendships between opposite genders are increasingly rare. It is also something that isn’t normally discussed. I believe that part of the reason these friendships are uncommon is that they are treated as something unique and unattainable when they shouldn’t be. Lack of discussion on the topic only furthers the idea that these friendships are anomalies. In order to bring awareness to the concept and start a discussion, I asked a guy friend of mine to collaborate with me and discuss some different ideas and misconceptions surrounding opposite gender friendships. My comments are in green and his are in blue.

  •  In today’s world, it seems like people think you can’t be friends with someone of a different gender. Why do you think that is the case?

I think it has a lot to do with the cultural mindset. Unfortunately, media such as film and television have corrupted what people perceive to be healthy and natural relationships. Not just romantic relationships, friendships as well. They put these friendships on a pedestal as a rarity and something unusual when it shouldn’t be. There’s been such an emphasis that you can’t be “just” friends – for instance, if someone of the opposite gender is trying to be friends, the only reason that they are doing that is because they want something more from you. While that can be the case sometimes, I think that’s untrue most of the time.

I think another reason why is because of lack of communication. Or rather, lack of communication about intentions regarding the relationship. I think that generally speaking, when people attempt to have opposite gender friendships, they don’t communicate their intentions and people make assumptions and get confused about where their relationship stands.

Definitely agree with the fact that the culture has through film and social norms made the boyfriend/girlfriend relationship not only usual but the expectation. More often than not I have found that when you help or even talk to a girl you are immediately by others and sometimes the girl herself thought to be “interested.” When in reality you can have a conversation, assist, and even hug (shocking I know) without having to be interested in a relationship other than one of friendship.

  • Do you think that stigma/cultural mindset is involved? For instance, it is said that you can’t be friends unless you are boyfriend/girlfriend, etc, etc.

Definitely! I think there is a great deal of stigma involved in the lack of friendships between girls and guys. I think that the misconceptions surrounding the topic and the lack of conversation about it definitely contribute to it.  

In fact most people have become so saturated in the mindset of boyfriend/girlfriend. We as a society have begun to encourage our young children as young as 2nd-3rd grade.

Or even younger!

  • Can you share one instance where having a friend of the opposite gender has been helpful?

Honestly, it’s hard for me to think of just one! Over the years, there have been many instances where I found that having perspective from the opposite gender has been immensely helpful. I think that being able to talk someone who you trust and is able to provide solid advice from a mostly logical standpoint is very helpful; I have gotten advice on topics ranging from how to deal with certain situations to dealing with feelings etc. As I have gotten closer to some of my guy friends, I have found that I have such a strong support system and that has been such a blessing. I really love being able to go them for advice and support knowing that they have my back and vice versa. Also, I think that having opposite gender friendships teach you what qualities to expect/look for in a life partner and what to expect in terms of how you should be treated in a relationship.

In addition to just more people to talk to, I have also found that they are much more likely to give you good honest feedback.  It gives you an ability to get a second opinion on things and get a unique perspective.

  • Do you think that having these relationships makes you a better/more well-rounded person?

Yes, I feel like having guy friends has made me an overall better person. I am normally a very focused, intense individual and the guys remind me that it’s okay to have fun sometimes and to relax a little. They have helped me to learn to open myself up a little and trust people again. Additionally, having guy friends has helped me broaden my worldview.

I think that you will find it hard as you go through life to work in an environment in which you don’t have any female friends. So yes it most definitely makes you a better person, it is also necessary for you to operate in life.

  • How do you foster these types of relationships?

Be honest about what you expect out of the relationship. Look for people you genuinely connect with; don’t focus so much on gender. Only when one does not make opposite gender friendships a big deal will these kinds of friendships normalize. Sometimes, the people you don’t think you have anything in common with will become some of your closest friends.

You should be up front about how you want the relationship to go. I find that if you treat them as sisters and show Φιλαδελφία Greek for brotherly love which is what Christ teaches that we should show to all people.