controversies, music, religion

I didn’t know “Mary, Did You Know” offends some people…

Most people who know me well, know that I am very passionate about music. I love all different kinds, from classical to country to R&B. I have an enormous music library with songs from almost every genre you can think of. Even though I’m not a very religious person, I have a lot of religious music in my catalog. That catalog includes a large number of different interpretations of religious songs, many of which are usually enjoyed during the Christmas holidays. Music helps keep me sane, and before I was married to Bill, it kept me company.

Back in the fall of 1990, when I first started attending what was then Longwood College, I took a voice class for my degree. The class was taught by an adjunct professor named Ann Ory Brown, who also taught at the University of Richmond. Because my parents were involved in music in my hometown, Ms. Brown knew my dad. Her mother was once a concert pianist, and Ms. Brown’s mother directed some locally run choral groups that counted my dad as a member. I, of course, did not know these people at all. I was mostly uninvolved in music when I was growing up, mainly because I didn’t want to do what my parents were doing. But then I took Ms. Brown’s voice class, and she told me I should consider studying voice privately with her. I ended up taking private lessons from her for three semesters, until she stopped teaching at Longwood.

At one point during our time together, Ms. Brown gave me a copy of a Kathleen Battle CD. I don’t remember why she chose to give it to me instead of one of her other students. I remember a voice major who was in my studio actually asked me to give it to her, instead. I chose not to do that, and fell in love with Kathleen Battle’s beautiful, distinctive, crystalline voice. I started collecting Battle’s music, and sometime in the late 1990s, I acquired a Christmas CD she made with a classical guitarist named Christopher Parkening. On that album, there was a song called “Mary, Did You Know.”

Ahh… so pretty.

This was the very first version of “Mary, Did You Know” that I ever heard. I thought the melody was very pretty, especially coupled with Parkening’s intricate guitar playing. It never occurred to me to be offended by the lyrics of this song. I didn’t know anything about the songwriters, Mark Lowry, who wrote the words in 1984, and Buddy Green who wrote the music in 1991. I just enjoyed the music for what it was to me– peaceful and appealing. The whole album, Angels’ Glory, was just relaxing and good for studying, which I was doing at the time, as I was a graduate student when I first bought it.

Some time later, I came across another version of “Mary, Did You Know” done by The Isaacs, who are known for performing bluegrass, gospel, and spiritual music. I love Sonya Isaac’s voice, and she does a gorgeous rendition of “Mary, Did You Know” with her family members– mom, Lily, sister Becky, and brother, Ben. Lily’s ex husband and the father of Sonya, Becky, and Ben, Joe, was a member of the band until 1998, after he and Lily divorced. Last year, The Isaacs were invited to become members of the Grand Ole Opry.

According to Wikipedia, Lily Isaacs’ parents were Polish Jewish Holocaust survivors; she was born two years after they were liberated from a concentration camp and two years later, they moved to New York City, where Lily’s musical talent soon became evident. She got her first recording contract in 1958, when she was just ten or eleven years old. In 1970, Lily married Joe Isaacs, and they became Christians after Joe’s brother died in a car accident. Their group exclusively performs bluegrass gospel music.

A live version of The Isaacs’ rendition of “Mary, Did You Know?”

There have been many different interpretations of this song, done by a huge gamut of performers. Kenny Rogers did a version with Wynonna. Dolly Parton has also sung it.

A more pop country version of this song…
And the grande dame of goodness, Dolly Parton, has also sung it.

And so has CeeLo Green!

It’s a long way from his big hit, “Fuck You”.

By now you can see, this song has been recorded to great success by MANY fine musicians, coming from an array of different racial and musical backgrounds, and even representing a broad array of genders and sexual orientations.

Clay Aiken has sung it…

Most of the performers have sung this song earnestly, with great emotion and warmth. While I can’t say that this particular Christmas song is my favorite, I have generally enjoyed most of the versions I’ve heard. It never occurred to me to be affronted by this song. Until last night, that is… when I ran across a very active post on Father Nathan Monk’s Facebook page.

Yikes!

Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I’m really getting sick of people trying to tell people what should or should not offend them. I’m no fan of mansplaining, which regular readers of my blog will probably notice, but honestly, I have never thought of the lyrics to “Mary, Did You Know” as offensive in any way. I certainly never thought of them as “mansplaining”! Maybe it’s because the versions with which I am most familiar are sung by women! To me, the lyrics express wonderment and awe. They aren’t about trying to school Mary, the mother of Jesus, about how special her baby is. I’m quite sure Mary knew very well. It probably started with that whole immaculate conception thing, followed by her talk with the Angel Gabriel, and the Magnificat. It’s the regular rank and file people who didn’t know about Jesus… and to me, it would make sense for them to ask Mary if she knew. In the song, Mary doesn’t answer. I picture her smiling serenely and nodding, not getting pissed off and offended that a man would ask such questions. I think Mary would be above being offended by mansplaining. 😉

As one might imagine, Father Nathan Monk’s post blew up, with many people opining. Quite a few people heartily agreed with Father Nathan Monk and Jezebel Henny (aka Ally Henny) that this song is “offensive”. Ally Henny, herself, also weighed in, clarifying that the tweet originated in 2019, and that Lowry deleted the tweet without apology.

Does Lowry owe anyone an apology? Maybe he was offended, too, for people trashing and misinterpreting his song.

I totally understand that when someone puts something creative out there– be it a song, artwork, a film, or even a blog post, they invite criticism. I’ve gotten some pretty salty remarks on things I’ve written. In fact, until quite recently, I used to occasionally get nasty comments via this blog’s now defunct Facebook page. I disabled the page because I was tired of getting abuse for simply expressing myself. I don’t mind having respectful dialogues with people who might disagree with me, but I don’t feel like I should have to abide threats, rudeness, or disrespect. Maybe Lowry’s retort to Henny was a bit snarky and rude, but he’s human. I’m sure he was annoyed that she reduced his song to simple “mansplaining”. I would be, too. Like any human, prick him and he’ll bleed. I saw many people referring to Henny as a scholar, and I’m sure she has an impressive intellect, even if I didn’t necessarily discern it in her tweet. I had never heard of her before last night, though. I’m sure Mark Lowry hadn’t, either, when he retorted to her criticism. Maybe he didn’t know he was supposed to be deferential to her. He probably made that comment off the cuff in a flash of irritation. By most people’s standards, his song is an enormous success. I can’t blame him for responding with annoyance, even if it’s not the best look.

Mark Lowry’s version of Mary, “Did You Know” with help from Guy Penrod and David Phelps.

I don’t think Mark Lowry sings his song like a mansplainer would. There’s no hint of condescension when he sings… just wonderment, reverence, and awe. The above interpretation is a bit dramatic, and that could possibly annoy some people, who might think it’s too over the top. Others will find it uplifting and inspiring, as Lowry tries to convey the miracles Jesus will deliver during his brief lifetime. There is no accounting for taste. One of the lovely things about being human is that we can each have our own perspective and our own preferences. Many people love “Mary, Did You Know?” and would never see anything about this song as “offensive”, no matter how many supposedly more evolved people tell them their opinions are somehow “wrong”.

Bear in mind that Mark Lowry is also a Christian comedian. In addition to “Mary, Did You Know”, Lowry also wrote and sang a song called “Hyperactivity”. Someone on Father Nathan Monk’s post was upset about that one, too, claiming he was “making fun” of neurodivergent children. I had not heard of “Hyperactivity” until last night. To me, the song sounds like Lowry wrote this song about himself, not all neurodivergent children. It’s supposed to be funny. Not everyone will find it funny, which is the nature of comedy. Personally, I think “Hyperactivity” is kind of an annoying song, but I can see why some people like it. I wouldn’t presume to tell them they shouldn’t enjoy Mark Lowry’s song about hyperactivity, even if it sounds, to me, like he’s trying to copy Weird Al Yankovic.

Interesting song.

Here’s one about overeating… Weird Al had “Eat It”. Mark Lowry has “I Can Eat it All”.

This doesn’t offend me, but some people probably think of it as fat shaming.

I am a big fan of personal expression, particularly when it’s politically incorrect. I think people should be allowed to speak their minds, even if I might not always like to hear or read what they have to say. Some of it might offend me. I might even take a vow not to use certain language myself. For example, I refuse to call someone a “karen” or a “dependa”. I don’t use the term “douche” as an insult, just as many people don’t use the n-word or the word “retard”. I think it’s important to allow freedom of speech and expression. That does also apply to criticism, of course. I just wish people would stop insisting that others share their views, because that’s how we end up with dangerous megalomaniacal people like Donald Trump in the White House.

There’s a large contingent of people in the United States who like Trump, because he freely says what they’re thinking, but feel too intimidated to say out loud. They’re so enthralled with hearing Trump stand up for the “conservative values” that some sanctimonious people are trying to quickly bury, that they excuse and ignore the really awful things he says and does. Then they show up and vote for him at the polls, and the rest of us are stuck with him and his toxic brand of fascist “leadership”. I think if some of the “woke brigade” took things down a notch, lightened up a bit, and showed some respect for other people’s differing values, they would get further in changing hearts and minds. People don’t like to be lectured or shamed.

Anyway… getting back to Father Nathan Monk’s post… I noticed this comment just now and was left a little bit puzzled…

What was racist about Mark Lowry’s comment? I saw no reference to race in what he posted. However, I did see a lot of people making presumptions about him based on what he posted. All I can see that he wrote was “I wasn’t asking you.” Is that a racist comment? Did I miss something?
Wow. I think some of these comments are pretty offensive. Especially the one about Lowry being “in the closet”. It doesn’t seem like a very “woke” thing to say.

I can see that a lot of people commenting on this thread don’t like Mark Lowry’s music or comedy. I see that some people, like me, didn’t even know who he was until they read the above thread. Now they’re describing him as “execrable”, “in the closet”, and “a turd” in a thread about how he “mansplains” to Mary, the mother of Jesus. It’s very strange to me, because some people are quoting the Bible and demonstrate actual knowledge of theology when they present their arguments. Others have just resorted to character assassination and name calling, having only been exposed to ONE song by the man. I am not a big consumer of contemporary Christian music or comedy. I only know what I like. And I sure as hell don’t need other people telling me that I’m wrong for enjoying what I like. I would feel a bit nervous, though, to add too many comments to this thread, lest someone call ME “execrable” for daring to disagree with them. 😉

Actually, I DID leave a couple of comments. It was to a well reasoned dissenter’s observation. Behold:

Yeah… this is pretty much my view of “Mary, Did You Know?”. I have no problem with people criticizing the song, but when people resort to personal insults toward the songwriter, they lose out on the moral high ground they’re clearly trying to take.

One woman wrote the below comment, which I think is pretty respectful. I mostly liked her take, but I was disappointed when she seemed to doubt herself for liking the song. There’s nothing wrong with “checking” oneself, but this response read a bit like a disclaimer. She’s not wrong to wonder if the lyrics come across as mansplaining when they’re sung by a female singer like Dolly Parton or Kathleen Battle, who is not only female, but is also Black. Would I call either of them “mansplaining”? Would I question their choices to sing this song? Neither of them are slouches when it comes to making music, that’s for damned sure!

What an interesting discussion!

I always hear the song from the viewpoint of a mother. I could personally not imagine all of the joys, trials and tribulations my sons would experience and bring me as their mother. I thought about how a theoretical mother of god could not possibly conceive of her future either, even knowing what the score was upfront.

Then again, I can be a little naive about intentions. And yet again, my demographic has me pretty experienced in receiving mansplaining.

I also didn’t know that Dolly Parton did a version. She is pretty much a feminine divine voice IMHO so even though she isn’t the male composer, I would have to hear it differently from her.

But “I didn’t ask?” Humph. When you put art in the world that’s what you risk: criticism and interpretation.

Another person, a guy calling himself a “musician”, wrote this derogatory comment:

Mostly, that song just sucks. As a musician, that is among the WORST and least fun, festive, or even touching or emotional Christmas songs. It’s just a boring list of stuff Jesus did with a weak contextual premise. If little kids don’t like it, and/or it doesn’t touch you emotionally, it’s trash.

Um… lots of bonafide and highly accomplished musicians would totally disagree with the above comment. And plenty of people are “touched” emotionally by “Mary, Did You Know”? Does the fact that the above musician isn’t moved by the song negate other people’s experiences listening to it and overall opinions of it? I don’t think so. And there are a lot of songs I might think of as “trash”, but that’s just MY opinion. I only get one vote, even though I am pretty musical myself. 😉

This whole controversy reminds me a bit of the huge uproar a few years ago about the song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” In the wake of the “Me Too” movement, people were saying that “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” promotes date rape. I wrote a blog post about my annoyance about that, since “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was written decades ago, during an era when it was considered improper for women to stay unchaperoned with men. The song was written by Frank Loesser and his ex wife Lynn, meant to be a “parlor song” for entertaining their dinner party guests. It has nothing to do with date rape. But people sure want to project their modern sensibilities on classic songs and “cancel” them. Is the world really a “better” place without so-called “rapey” songs like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” polluting the airwaves? I don’t think so. I think the world is a better place when people consider context, original intent, and history, and stop trying to impose 2022 values on songs that were written decades ago. Even “Mary, Did You Know” is a pretty old song. It’s 38 years old! And the world was very different in 1984, right?

If people don’t like certain songs, they have choices they can freely make. They can choose not to listen to it, sing it, or buy albums that have it on the playlist. They can listen to and promote songs that are more to their tastes. They can even express why they don’t like it and invite a dialogue. Or, hey, here’s a novel thought– they can try to write their own, more “appropriate” song! But please don’t tell ME that I shouldn’t like a song because of how YOU interpret it. I’ll try my best to show you the same level of respect for your individual opinions and taste. And please don’t try to qualify yourself as a “musician” and declare someone else’s song as “trash”. Lots of musicians, most of whom are more famous, successful, and acclaimed than you will EVER be, completely disagree with your assessment.

I’m getting real tired of people– especially total strangers– insisting that there’s only one way to look at something. I’m tired of people telling me to “stop” doing something because they don’t approve, or that I should do something because it’s the “right” thing to do. I’m over being told how and what to think, especially by people who claim that their freedoms are being infringed upon. This happens on both sides of the political spectrum, and it’s time more thinking people spoke up about it. If we really live in a free society, then people should be allowed to create things freely without fear of being canceled. Yes, it’s fine to criticize creative pursuits, but when you resort to personal insults and character assassinations, you risk falling off that moral high horse and landing at the bottom of the pit with the rest of the lowlifes. I’m just saying.

Standard
Duggars, holidays, mental health, religion, sex, silliness

Repost: I’m grateful for orgasms…

I am reposting this article I wrote for my original blog back on November 22, 2013. It’s not that I don’t have another topic in mind for today. I just saw this in my Facebook memories and realized that yes, nine years later, I am STILL very grateful for orgasms. And I just wanted to spread the news.

As it’s November and the month of Thanksgiving, there have been a number of Facebook posts recently about gratitude.  Many people post something they are grateful for every day in November.  In the spirit of gratitude, I too have been posting things I am thankful for.  I try to keep my thanks upbeat and light-hearted, though.  I figure there are enough schmaltzy posts about being grateful for good health and happiness or a supportive family.  I like to give other things their due.

So I am grateful for odd things like clean underwear, modern plumbing, and Jagger’s swagger.  And yesterday, I was grateful for orgasms.  I posted that thought and was amazed by how many “likes” it got.  Some people thought it was funny.  Some thought it was shocking.  Some people, who know me, thought it was typical.  But yes, a lot of people apparently appreciate the ability to have an orgasm.  And you know, it’s something that many of us probably take for granted.  I’m aware that a lot of people thought my post on Facebook was funny, but when you think about it, the ability to have and enjoy an orgasm is really a much more serious subject than meets the eye.

Back in the late 1990s, I took Prozac for awhile.  It wasn’t the best drug for me and pretty much killed my ability to have an orgasm, not that I had a sex life at the time.  I just remember that even when I was in the mood for a little self abuse, it took forever.  It was very frustrating.  I remember thinking of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, “Welcome To The Monkey House“, a story about overpopulation and indecency and how people of the future were ordered to take a drug that took all pleasure out of sex.  In the story, a druggist had taken his family to the zoo and was appalled when they saw monkeys masturbating.  He came up with “ethical birth control”,  a drug which didn’t actually render anyone sterile, but just made sex unappealing.  Because the world was overpopulated, everyone was required to take the druggist’s birth control pill. 

The story was also about how people were encouraged to visit “ethical suicide parlors”, where beautiful, tall, virginal women would help people voluntarily kill themselves as an effort to keep the world population of 17 billion people stable.  There was a group of rebels who refused to take the birth control and therefore were able to enjoy sex.  And indeed, they did enjoy it frequently.  One of the characters kidnaps a “suicide hostess” who is very much in favor of the laws.  The characters force the woman to allow the birth control to wear off… which, of course, gives her the ability to know what she had been missing.

I have always liked the story, but after taking Prozac, it became very profound to me.  It’s been years since I read it, but I do remember Vonnegut describing what the ethical birth control did to people and how it made them feel… kind of numb in the sexual regions.  And that’s how Prozac made me feel, too.

But at least I had the ability to stop taking the drug.  I eventually switched to Wellbutrin, which was a much better antidepressant for me.  My nether regions came back to life and my depression finally lifted.  I was able to make decisions.  Later that year, I met Bill online and the rest is history.  You might say Wellbutrin actually helped me finally get a sex life, though it took a few years.

I am very grateful not to have been raised in a belief system that thinks of sex as a dirty thing.  It’s bad enough that we have a number of religions that discourage masturbation and subject members to humiliating interviews about their “habits” and refer to masturbation as “self abuse”.  There are also belief systems that promote the idea that enjoying sex is a sin and that it should only be done for the purpose of procreation. 

There are a number of religions that forbid members from admiring others, even to the point of forcing young men to look away when a pretty woman walks by or worse, forcing young women to wear shapeless garments that obscure their figures and veils that cover their hair and face.  This is all done in the name of avoiding lust or, heaven forbid, immorality caused by an orgasm.  An early episode of the fundamentalist Christian Duggar family’s reality show featured someone shouting “Nike!” when a pretty but “inappropriately dressed” young woman walked by.  It was a code to get the boys to lower their eyes, lest they be “defrauded”– that is, driven to lust by the tempting appearance of a beautiful woman.  Can’t have those young men having boners, can we?  Not until their wedding nights to women who are hand-picked by daddy… and may or may not be all that attractive or interesting. (ETA in 2022– oh, how innocent we were about the Duggar family in 2013!)

There are also a lot of women who, unfortunately, can’t have orgasms because they have been subjected to female circumcision.  Female circumcision is a horrible misogynistic custom practiced in certain countries around the world.  It’s considered a rite of passage in some places, perhaps even celebrated to some extent before a poor girl between the ages of birth and puberty is forcibly held down as her genitals are brutally mutilated by other women or even the local male barber, who may be a local health practitioner.  It involves removing part or all of the clitoris and sewing up the labia, which makes the eventual enjoyment of sex very difficult.  This procedure can be done with or without anesthesia.  It can cause significant health problems and gynecological difficulties.  It can also cause death.

Women who have had their clitorises amputated can’t experience orgasms.  They may or may not know what they are missing, which seems like a small problem in the grand scheme of things.  Just the idea of trying to recover from such a brutal operation, as routine for them as having wisdom teeth extracted is for many Americans, is hard to fathom.  It really is food for thought if you happen to be lucky enough to be a woman living in a place where female genital mutilation is not common.

So yes, during this season of Thanksgiving, I am very grateful for orgasms… the ability to have them at will, and for the sweet man who still inspires me to have them.  Orgasms are one of life’s most wonderful gifts.  May you enjoy your orgasms as much as I do mine…

Standard
book reviews, religion

A review of Kate Bowler’s The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities…

I don’t remember what prompted me to download Kate Bowler’s 2019 book, The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities. Maybe someone in the Duggar Family News recommended it. Or maybe I saw something about it on YouTube. I imagine Jen of Fundie Fridays could have suggested this well-written and researched book about the wives of high powered evangelical leaders like Joel Osteen and his ilk, and women who are high ranking evangelical leaders themselves, like Paula White-Cain and Juanita Bynum. In any case, Amazon tells me I bought this book in July 2022. I just finished reading it this morning, and that seems fortuitous, as it’s Sunday– the Lord’s day. 😉

I have never been a very religious person myself, although I grew up going to the local Presbyterian church. I do come from a very Christian family, with musical parents who were avid churchgoers, although church was never a family affair for me. My mom was always the organist at some church, so she never sat with the family. My dad was always in the choir. My sisters are much older than I was and out of the house for much of my childhood. Consequently, although I was compelled to go to church, and even had a job working at a church camp for two summers, I have never been particularly devout.

However, even though I’m not much of a Christian, I do find religion interesting. For over half of my childhood, I lived in Gloucester, Virginia, a once rural county about an hour’s drive from Pat Robertson’s Christian mecca, Virginia Beach, Virginia. I watched a lot of television in the 80s, and back then, we had independent Channel 27, WYAH, which was owned by Robertson, who also owned the Christian Broadcasting Network cable channel. Because Channel 27 was owned by a Christian evangelical leader, a lot of religious programming was aired. I would occasionally watch some of the shows, mainly getting a kick out of the over-the-top televangelists and local programs. For example, the late John Gimenez and his wife, Anne, of The Rock Church in Virginia Beach used to air their services every Saturday night on Channel 27. I would watch in amazement, as the church had a full band, complete with electric guitars and keyboards, and Gimenez would dance and sing. This was not something I had ever seen in my very conservative whitebread Presbyterian church, which was quite traditional, and at least for me, as a child, extremely boring.

As time went on, religion became more polarized… and polarizing. I noticed extremes on both ends. It seemed like a lot of people were abandoning traditional “boring” churches for megachurches or fringe religions. Or they were going atheist, or embracing non-Christian faiths. I started noticing a lot more mainstream programming on television, like Joel Osteen’s broadcasts from his Lakewood Church. When we were living in the States, it was a rare Sunday morning that we didn’t catch at least part of his show– lots of feel good prosperity platitudes from the Houston Astrodome, his gorgeous wife, Victoria, at his side.

In her book, The Preacher’s Wife, Kate Bowler explores the women who are married to famous celebrity evangelical church leading men. After all, even though they aren’t typically the ones leading the church– as many religions require that men do the leading– the women are often the ones prodding their husbands to go to church, rather than staying home and watching sports or doing chores. Bowler rightly points out that the wives of church leaders are role models to the women and girls of congregations. They are expected to lead by example, and sometimes they even get involved with actual leadership roles. For example, Bowler writes about how, as Joel Osteen delivers his folksy, feel good sermons, Victoria follows up by imploring people in the 40,000 strong congregation, as well as those watching at home, to support the ministry with “love gifts”.

I shouldn’t be surprised by the quality of Bowler’s work, by the way, or the comprehensive scope of her research. She has a PhD, teaches at Duke University, and has written several well-regarded and top selling books. The Preacher’s Wife is her third book exploring the “prosperity gospel”, and how it’s used to sell faith based lies to a public desperate to believe. She can also be found on YouTube. Below is Kate Bowler’s TED Talk, which was very well received, as it accompanied her first book by the same title, Everything Happens for a Reason– and Other Lies I’ve Loved.

Kate Bowler is well worth noticing.

I was impressed by the scope of women Bowler profiled in The Preacher’s Wife. Yes, she mentions people like Ruth Peale, wife of Norman Vincent Peale– and parents of the man who taught my philosophy class at Longwood College (now University) in the 1990s. Ruth Graham also gets some discussion, as does the daughter of Ruth and Billy Graham, Anne Graham Lotz, who was arguably the most talented preacher of the Graham parents’ brood, but did not inherit the ministry because she’s a woman. But Bowler also writes of Paula Stone Williams, a well-known pastoral counselor who started out life as Paul Williams, and later transitioned to a woman. I’m sorry to say that before I read Bowler’s book, I had never heard of Paula Stone Williams, but I’m now listening to her TED Talk. She’s a great speaker, and I have Bowler’s book to thank for letting me know she exists.

Paula Stone Williams speaks about her experiences as a transgender woman.

This book is not about religion, per se, but it is about the business of religion. And make no mistake about it, today’s religion is very much a business. Bowler writes about how some of today’s megachurches have fashion shows, where congregants can shop for the beautiful dresses or statement necklaces worn by the “preacher’s wife”, who is often perfectly coiffed, manicured, and dressed to the nines. She includes photos of flyers for makeovers sponsored by churches, where makeup and fashion experts mix the proper Christian beauty image with Bible verses. But she also includes discussion of Christian leaders like Liz Curtis Higgs, who promote forgiveness, grace, and acceptance, even if they wear a size 22 dress.

I would not recommend this book to anyone looking for devotions or encouragement. That’s not what this book is about– it’s not meant for preachers’ wives who need to be uplifted. Rather, The Preacher’s Wife is more of a secular expose of powerful, influential, and frequently wealthy women in evangelical circles. Bowler also doesn’t just stick strictly to the wives of the preachers. She also mentions female preachers, like Joyce Meyer, who admitted to having had a facelift to make herself more appealing to her followers, and the late Gwen Shamblin Lara, who famously died last year with her husband, as they flew in their private jet over Nashville. Gwen Shamblin Lara is famous for her Weigh Down Workshop and her church, the Remnant Fellowship.

I will admit that it took some time for me to get through this book. For me, it wasn’t necessarily a page turner. However, when I did sit down for reading sessions, I was impressed by the quality of the writing and research, as well as the broad spectrum of evangelical women who were profiled in this book. There were so many that I’d not heard of before, as well as some who were very familiar to me. And the fact that I am interested enough to look up Liz Curtis Higgs and listen to Paula Stone Williams speaking on YouTube, shows that for me, The Preacher’s Wife was well worth reading. I think it would make an excellent resource for anyone doing academic research on this subject, as well as good reading for smart people who are just interested in what drives the world of evangelical Christianity– particularly those who are rich, powerful, and beamed to us on television and the Internet. This book was an eye opener for me, and I thank Kate Bowler for writing it.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard
poor judgment, religion, slut shamers, Twitter

Inappropriate stickers leave youth pastor in a sticky situation…

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m very grateful that my parents weren’t really into religion when I was coming of age. Yes, I did go to church when I was growing up, and my parents were/are lifelong Christians, but church wasn’t the center of our lives. Well… except maybe the musical part of it. My mom was a church organist, and my dad was always in the choir. But while I never had a long chat with either of them about this, I get the sense that neither of them were into the musical part of church solely because of their devotion to religion. My dad loved to sing. My mom loves music, too, and she was/is a talented musician. Being able to play the organ was a nice side job for her– another source of her own money, besides running her own business.

Consequently, I grew up in a mainstream Presbyterian church. I won’t say there were never any tears at church, because there were. But that was mainly due to being bullied by my peers, not because I was exposed to some creepy youth pastor or being asked inappropriate questions about my sexuality. On the whole, my parents didn’t force me to attend “youth groups” or engage in activities with youth pastors. Once I was old enough to work, they quit forcing me to go to church at all. I never had to deal with a young, charismatic “man of God” who did things like hand out stickers like the one below:

Ugh… this is so very inappropriate and disgusting.

The Washington Post shared an article about 35 year old Cory Wall, a now former student pastor at Fairview Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist megachurch in Greer, South Carolina. According to the Washington Post, Mr. Wall has “been placed on administrative leave and will not be involved in student leadership while it conducts an investigation.” The church has also put out statements on its website and on Facebook indicating that Wall “acknowledges that he made a poor decision and a mistake by making a sticker available that was offensive to some…” 

Who was supervising this “student pastor”, anyway? Shouldn’t someone have been making sure he didn’t do foolish stuff like this?

Um… “offensive to some”? Really? This is a man who was working with impressionable adolescent girls and felt it was appropriate to hand out stickers mimicking the “I <3 hot moms” social media trend. I think it was offensive to the vast majority. I’d also love to know who made these stickers. What kind of company would manufacture such a product? Obviously, that was a unethical company that values making money over decency. Although– I suppose there could be legal adults who <3 youth pastors, too. Still, what are the odds that the person ordering these stickers is going to be handing them out to soccer moms? I’d say the chance of that happening is pretty close to zero.

I remember what it was like to be 14. That was not an easy year for me. Between hormonal fluctuations, growth spurts, and metamorphosing from child to teenager, I remember a lot of tears during that time. Fourteen year olds need mature, understanding, compassionate, and stable adults leading them. At my most generous, I could describe Mr. Wall as being extremely tone deaf. At the worst, maybe he might be someone akin to Josh Duggar. I hasten to add that I don’t actually know if he is that bad– but it does seem to me that handing out stickers like these to girls makes him appear predatory.

I know some people might conclude that Wall is definitely a “dangerous pervert”. I can’t come to that conclusion simply based on what little I’ve read. I would need to know Wall before I could make a judgment that serious. He might just be very immature and socially delayed. However, given that he was studying for a leadership position in a very large church, and was presumably choosing to work with children, he definitely shows a lack of good judgment and character. He’s clearly not ready to work with the youth.

The article I read in the Washington Post was informative, but the Twitter thread about this was even more telling. Many people were posting about their own experiences in churches with creepy youth pastors. Some were pointing out that church is where children should be the safest. And yet, there’s a lot of evidence pointing to how unsafe churches can be, especially the ones where pastors and other church staff intrude into subjects like sexuality. There are many churches in which church leaders feel perfectly fine about asking young children about their sexual habits and will defend their right to do so. I know there are many churches in which sex, even just masturbation, is considered dirty and sinful, and yet these churches are the ones that often end up in the news because children are victimized by church leaders.

I used to live in South Carolina, and I grew up in Virginia. I have also lived in Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas. I know church is a big deal to a lot of people in the southern states. It’s a huge part of the culture. It seems like some people down there think the more pious and churchgoing a person is, the better their moral character is bound to be. These folks invariably vote Republican, too, which is definitely not among the more “Christlike” of American political parties. They talk about morality and family values, being “decent” and clean cut, and working hard for a living. But then behind closed doors, there’s a lot of dark, creepy, illegal, and abusive behavior toward which many people turn a blind eye because these are supposedly men of God. It’s especially egregious when this is done to defenseless children, many of whom are easily manipulated, threatened, charmed, and victimized– particularly by “cool” adults who, for their own perverse purposes, make them feel admired, appreciated, or loved.

I have no doubt in my mind that if someone hadn’t tweeted about how gross these stickers are, being handed out by a “youth pastor”, it probably wouldn’t have been addressed. Because, as I pointed out above, apparently no one was actually supervising Mr. Wall, the “student pastor”. If he’s a student, he ought to be monitored, right? And then weeded out, if he can’t pass muster… or does really stupid shit like this. Imagine what would happen if a pediatrician gave out “I <3 hot kiddie docs” stickers. Or a teacher gave out “I <3 hot teachers” schwag. Or hey, what about a babysitter passing out “I <3 my hot babysitter” merchandise? It would be deemed completely beyond the pale. And this youth pastor is supposed to be a man of God? Sounds to me like he’s looking to be “worshiped” and “idolized” by young girls who have been conditioned to pray and obey, and have probably been “slut shamed”, to boot. It’s a recipe for abuse.

Some people are saying that Mr. Wall should go to jail for handing out these inappropriate stickers. I am not yet ready to go that far. I mean, if he’s done something besides handing out gross stickers that indicates that he’s really not safe in society, then yes, send him to jail. It could be that he needs counseling, and to be steered away from work with young people, at least at this point in his life. On the other hand, if a person is already 35 years old and they don’t know how yucky this is, I don’t know if there’s much hope to hold out for their reform. Someone probably should, at least, check out what he’s viewing on the Internet. I hope Mr. Wall will consider a new career path.

Standard
book reviews, religion

Reviewing The Case for Heaven: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for Life After Death, by Lee Strobel…

I’m not sure exactly what made me purchase Lee Strobel’s 2021 book, The Case for Heaven: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for Life After Death. I think it might have been an impulse buy after Bill and I had a talk about near death experiences. I have mentioned a few times in this blog that Bill had a near death experience in 1980, when he was 16 years old. He and his buddies were drinking beer somewhere near Houston, Texas, when one of his buddies’ girlfriends was having a teen girl hissy fit. She wanted to leave, so Bill’s friend, with whom he’d gotten a ride, mounted up his Subaru Brat– basically a car with a truck bed in the back. As it was 1980, it was legal for Bill to ride in the back. He went to climb in, but his friend hadn’t noticed and started to back up. Bill lost his footing and was soon under the car’s tires.

Fortunately, because he was so young when he had his accident, Bill’s injuries didn’t kill him. Save for a couple of scars and arthritis in his chest, as well as a couple of crushed disks in his back, he was mostly left with no physical ill effects. But he did have an experience that changed his life and, in my opinion, made him a different person than he might have been. He says he experienced a NDE that day and described it as being very peaceful and comforting. I had long ago read Life After Life, Dr. Raymond Moody’s 1975 book about NDEs, and found it fascinating. So, I probably bought Lee Strobel’s much newer book, because I figured it might be kind of like Raymond Moody’s book. But Strobel’s book isn’t like Moody’s book. It has a much more religious bent to it, which, for me, made it somewhat less of an enjoyable read.

Lee Strobel is a journalist who has a Master of Studies in Law degree from Yale University. For a good portion of his life, he was skeptical about religion. But then he found himself in a medical crisis. When he came to in an emergency room, the physician tending to him told him that he was a step away from a coma and two steps away from death. Mr. Strobel suffered from hyponatremia, which is a potentially lethal deficiency in blood sodium. I was immediately intrigued by that, since Bill also has chronic hyponatremia, as well as hypertension. He’s one of the few high blood pressure patients regularly advised to salt his food, since his blood is naturally low in sodium. If a person’s sodium is too low, their cells can swell, which can cause health problems that range from mild to severe. In Mr. Strobel’s case, the hyponatremia almost killed him, and during the episode that landed him in the hospital, he reportedly had a near death experience. It profoundly changed his life, and he went from being a skeptic about religion, to becoming a true believer.

Strobel writes well, which stands to reason, as he was once the award-winning legal editor for the Chicago Tribune. His work has put him in touch with many interesting people, some of whom he describes in The Case for Heaven. I mostly enjoyed reading his thoughts on what happens after we die, as well as some of the stories he includes about people’s NDEs. The book attempts to provide concrete that Heaven is for real, and for some people, it will succeed and be a great comfort.

However, for me, this book was kind of difficult to get through. The religious aspect of it was a bit of a turn off, especially since it’s really directed at Christians. I was raised a Christian, and don’t quite consider myself an atheist, but I’m not a very religious person. I was expecting this book to be more about the actual experience of having a NDE, but after a couple of chapters, it sort of veers away from that topic and delves into other areas that seemed less relevant to whether or not there’s really a Heaven, and more about Mr. Strobel’s beliefs about faith and religion.

Lee Strobel talks about his book, The Case for Heaven.

I do remember reading some of Strobel’s thoughts on Hell, which were kind of surprising to me. He uses Bible verses to explain what Hell really is, and what it’s actually like. Most of us think of Hell as a lake of fire with never ending suffering and torment for those consigned to go there. Below is a video in which he discusses his thoughts on Hell with podcaster, Alisa Childers. Strobel’s thoughts on Hell did interest me, in fact, probably more than most of the rest of The Case for Heaven did. I might recommend this book simply for that part of it.

Lee Strobel is interviewed about his thoughts on Hell.

I notice that many Amazon reviewers were already fans of Mr. Strobel’s work. He wrote a well-received book called The Case for Christ, that I’ve seen many people referencing. Some write this book isn’t as good as that one is, while others opine that The Case for Heaven is a perfect companion to the earlier work. I haven’t read any of Strobel’s other books, so this is my first experience with his writing. I can tell that he has a gift for grabbing his readers. I was into the book when I first started reading it. But then, after a couple of chapters, continuing to read became a real struggle. I found myself rushing to finish it, skimming instead of really focusing on the writing. I’m a pretty experienced and enthusiastic reader, and I try hard to finish the books I start. I just found this book hard to finish, even though it’s well written and researched. Strobel does, for instance, include an extensive reference section for those who want to explore more.

So, I’m left with a mixed mind about The Case for Heaven. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it… and nothing really exciting sticks out for me about it, other than the fact that Mr. Strobel has had hyponatremia, like my husband has. But I’m sure that some people– particularly those who are very religious, and regularly read books about faith and Christianity– will enjoy this book and be comforted by it. For me, it was just kind of “meh”… and I much prefer Dr. Moody’s classic, Life After Life. I think I would prefer more of a scientific approach, complete with stories of experiences of NDEs, rather than discussion about the Bible or religion.

I think if I were rating this on a five star scale, I would give The Case for Heaven three stars. It’s probably best for people who enjoy religious books, especially from a protestant Christian perspective, and especially for those who have read Mr. Strobel’s other books. As for me, I’m happy to move on to my next title, which has already grabbed my attention.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard