Stop Being Shocked, Start Being Enraged

Back in November, I got kind of obsessed with the repercussions of Trump being elected. The US election coincided with my toddler refusing to nap anywhere but on me, and I often found myself trapped underneath a 30lb kid, with nothing but my phone, scrolling endlessly through Twitter and reading articles on obscure websites by historians and journalists that the mainstream media had shunned. I read a lot about the ways in which a Trump presidency would lead to a rise in the legitimacy of white supremacy, but whenever I mentioned this to fellow Trump-haters, this view was seen as a little too ridiculous. Like, yeah, Trump is awful, but chill with the fascism rants, please. It’s a bit much.

Gradually, most people I knew began to think that the connection between Trump and the alt-right wasn’t utterly ludicrous, and we started debating whether or not it was okay to punch Nazis. Everyone is allowed to voice their opinion, right? And even with all of the flipping of tables, Jesus was nonviolent. I know you’re angry, but take less joy from seeing Richard Spencer being punched, really.

And now we have Charlottesville. White supremacists were given the right to have a freaking rally because, hey, free speech. We’ve got to the point when someone says “Huh, there’s a massive Nazi rally happening in Virginia” and I’m not shocked. None of us should be shocked. We know white supremacists still exist. They never went away. We probably know people who share their views–I know, I know, it’s horrible to consider, but it’s true. We like to “other” them and make them seem like some little fringe group, but there are a lot of them, and they’re incredibly mainstream. They’re holding a freaking march, without wearing masks. They’re not scared about being recognised. They’re proud to promote their beliefs.

We need to stop being shocked, and start being enraged, and start acting upon that rage. Sure, calm it enough to actually do something productive (punch a Nazi, rather than wasting your energy on a wall, etc) but stay angry enough to be motivated.

We’ve got past the point where anyone can conceivably suggest that we should just talk to white supremacists as if they’re rational human beings who might change their minds if we engage them in a debate. Like, really? They’re not advocating for more wind farms or higher bus fares, they literally think that people of other races are less equal. That they don’t deserve the same rights as us. That they don’t deserve to live. They’re advocating for freaking genocide. You don’t debate people like that. You don’t give them a voice and a platform and an opportunity for even more people to hear their ideas. You shut them down, and stop them from spreading actual hate speech.

You’re not going to change their minds by having a calm debate. Making them feel like equals, allowing them to have the opportunity to talk about the ideology they love so much, just gives them more legitimacy. We can’t educate kids about the Holocaust and talk about how we’re never going to let this happen again, and then let Nazis hold rallies. The whole “never again” slogan loses its meaning when we talk about the rights of fascists to put forth their ideas. We’re setting ourselves up for “again” to become a horrifying reality in the not too distant future.

I mean, if a group were speaking out about how terrible white people are, how they’re sub-human and should have less rights, how we should ship them all of to another country, would we really be having this conversation? If this were an anti-Christian rally, would it even have been allowed to even happen in the first place?

I get it, it’s hard to actually call these people fascists or white supremacists when they look like you, when they claim to share similar religious beliefs. Because then that makes you wonder just how similar you actually are, and if there are some problematic things that you believe too. You start to wonder just how complicit you or your political party or your faith has been in allowing this to happen. In allowing this movement to build momentum, to become legitimate enough to hold mass rallies, to literally mow someone down with a car and have it called a “tragic wreck” in the mainstream media.

It’s so much easier to say “This isn’t what our country/our faith stands for” and condemn it. It’s much harder to admit that, yeah, racial inequality has always been part of the history of your country, and Christianity played a big part in legitimising that inequality. The Bible has been used to justify slavery, the idea that women are the “weaker vessel”, and the discrimination of LGBT+ people. It’s been used to hurt a lot of people. We can’t ignore this.

Any time we say “This isn’t us”, we’re complicit. Any time we refuse to acknowledge the racism deep in our heritage and faith, we’re complicit. Any time we suggest engage literal Nazis in dialogue, we’re complicit. Any time we suggest allowing them the right to free speech and hold rallies, we’re complicit. Any time we equate fascists and those fighting them, we’re complicit. Any time we dismiss Nazis as a little fringe group that just needs to be ignored, we’re complicit. Any time we pretend that this is a US problem and it doesn’t matter in our country, we’re complicit. Any time we act like there can’t be white supremacists in our families, our streets, our workplaces, our churches, we’re complicit. Any time we don’t call someone out on a racist joke, we’re complicit. Any time we insist that nonviolence is the only acceptable way to deal with this issue, we’re complicit.

We can’t pretend this isn’t a big damn problem any longer. These fascists didn’t just pop out of nowhere this weekend. They’ve always existed. They feel safe enough to walk in public, faces uncovered, because of all of this talk about free speech and engaging in dialogue. They’ve been feeling safe for quite a while, to be honest. People were reporting on the hatred growing at Trump rallies, of the white supremacists who attended these meetings, and we dismissed their concerns. And then people freaking voted for Trump because, hey, he was the pro-life option, right? Whenever I called people out for voting for a massive racist, I was told he was the lesser of two evils. I mean, like, yeah, he’s empowering fascists, but AT LEAST HE DOESN’T KILL BABIES.

I need a freaking drink.

You cannot defend your decision to vote for Trump any longer. Wrap it up in a neat little bow and explain why he’s not that bad, why he’s pro-life, why he represents Christian values, or whatever other crap. You can even throw “It’s about economics!” in there, whatever the freaking heck that means. You can’t take back what you did. You freaking did it. You empowered white supremacists because you couldn’t bare to vote for someone who was pro-choice.

Well, I’m your friendly pro-choice pro-anarchy pro-punching-nazis Christian, and I’m here to tell you what you can do to improve things now that you’ve realised that you’ve enabled fascists to feel safe enough to murder and beat people.

  • Freaking call people out when they say racist stuff. Just do it. Colleague tells a racist joke? Shut it down. Report them if you have to. Grumpy old relative? Shut it down. Let them know that they can’t speak that way in your presence, in your home, in front of your kids. (Obviously not if your racist relatives are also abusive).
  • Is your church not talking about white supremacy? Call them out. Why the heck aren’t they? Nag them until something happens. Hold them accountable.
  • What are the hiring guidelines for your workplace or school? Is one of them “Don’t hire actual Nazis”? No? Argue until it is.
  • Support organisations who actively fight white supremacy and aid minorities. Here are some in Charlottesville. There will be some near you. Find them. If you can’t volunteer, donate. If you can’t donate, tell people about them. Make sure other people know they exist.
  • Is someone proposing something like this in your area? Lobby for the event to be cancelled. If that fails, show up in counter-protest.
  • Tear down fascist stickers from lampposts and bus shelters. They’re there. You’re just not seeing them. Look for them.
  • Talk to your kids about racism. The whole “kids don’t see race” thing is a load of rubbish. Of course they notice differences in appearance.
  • Talk to people who aren’t fascists. The kind of people who are still arguing that fascists have free speech and crap like that. Point out how utterly ludicrous those suggestions are. Remind them about Hitler and the Holocaust. A lot of people seem to be missing the similarities, so maybe they just need reminding. I don’t know. I’m not sure how people can’t see it? But it’s worth a try. Be that boring person who won’t shut up about fascism.
  • If all else fails, just rant on the internet, because maybe you have a relative or colleague or old school friend who somehow hasn’t heard about all of this stuff, and maybe you’ll encourage/inspire/enrage them to do something useful. Who knows?
  • Just make it clear that white supremacy is not okay. Anyone supporting it or encouraging it? Also not okay. So, yeah, probably denounce Trump, if you’re American? I don’t know, write to people, turn up at the White House and refuse to leave until he’s impeached.
  • Deconstruct the oppressive capitalist patriarchy that allows this kind of stuff to fester.

Just stop normalising white supremacy. Stop being polite to Nazis. Stop being shocked, start being enraged enough to fight this. Stop apologising for your privilege and start using it. Stop pretending you weren’t complicit and just do this.

I could edit this to make it more polite and less angry, but I’m done censoring myself so white Evangelicals aren’t offended by the suggestion that they elected a fascist. I get it, you preferred it when I was the sweet SAHM who blogged about Amish romance novels and posted recipes and pictures of my kid. I’m still that person, just with bonus rage about the normalisation of white supremacy. I’m not sorry if it makes you uncomfortable, or challenges your worldview or voting choices. That’s kind of the point.

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Writing About Faith Without Actually Saying What I Believe

The other day, someone I’ve met all of twice asked me a very specific question about my faith on a mutual friend’s Facebook page, and I was amazed that I was actually able to write a somewhat coherent answer. But I know the answer I gave would not have satisfied a lot of Christians, because what I wrote was basically just, “Actually, I don’t know what I think about that. I used to think X, but now I have my doubts. My views might change, but for now I’m honestly not sure.” It was surprisingly freeing to actually be able to just say “I don’t know”, but for the longest part of my life, I thought that not having a concrete answer to trot out when someone asked my opinion on something faith-related was, well, a failure of my faith.

It’s called Apologetics, and it’s an branch of Christian theology that many people—especially those in their 20s and 30s—will be familiar with. As a child and a teenager, I wasn’t very good at memorising Bible verses, but I could repeat the arguments for what Christians believed on X, Y and Z. I guess they were my opinions, but now that I’m questioning, well, everything, I can’t tell if I really ever formed an opinion or if I just parroted stuff. I do remember feeling incredibly conflicted because I just didn’t care about the issue of evolution. I was never one of those kids who was particularly into science, so I hadn’t learned a lot about evolution. I know it was a contentious issue, but I didn’t care enough to research it and form an opinion. Maybe it was real, maybe it wasn’t, but did I really have to have an opinion on it? Multiple people told me I did. I needed to have a defence in case a non-Christian questioned me about it. It would be a sign of weak faith to not have an answer prepared.

I call bullshit.

* * *

These days, I don’t do apologetics. Well, I do apologise for a lot of aspects of Christianity. I apologise for purity culture and climate change deniers and Donald Trump and a whole bunch of other stuff. Name a crappy thing, and people claiming to share my faith were probably involved. But I no longer have a defence prepared for every question I receive about my faith. Sometimes I’m not even sure what I believe, aside from “Jesus is pretty rad”. (I wrote this without even thinking about “rad” being short for radical and thus implying that Jesus is an anarchist, but hey, it works). And since becoming less certain about my faith, I’ve actually had some of the best, most open conversations about religion. People are way more interested in talking to you when you admit that you don’t have definitive answers about things, that you’re still figuring things out, and that you’re aware that some pretty awful stuff has been done under the banner of your religion.

For the longest time, I actively avoided discussing my criticisms of Christianity with one of my best friends, because you’re not supposed to talk about things like that in case it “puts people off” your faith. Then I had an all-out crisis and realised this wasn’t something I could hide from them, and it all spilled out, and it was absolutely fine. More than fine, in fact. I’d been hiding my uncertainties because you’re only supposed to talk about your faith when you can defend it with concrete statements, when actually my uncertainties where what made me human and relatable and someone worthy of having a friendship with. We’ve had some fantastic conversations about what my faith means to me, how it’s changed, and what I’m looking for in a faith community. The friend I thought I shouldn’t talk to about these things has been one of my biggest supporters during my faith deconstruction. We’ve even visited a church together. I guess technically this is unintentional evangelism? I don’t really do evangelism—in fact, this started out as a post about my issues with the way most Christians approach evangelism, but it went off in an entirely different direction, so this is something I’m going to write about another day. Maybe. Possibly.

* * *

There’s a lot of vulnerability in being uncertain, and being open and honest about how little you actually know about something so huge as faith and religion and the existence of God. And the people who can be the most harsh about uncertainty are often those who are supposed to be part of your faith community. While I do write publicly about a lot of aspects of my faith, there are some things I’ve only revealed in in-person, in private Facebook groups, on websites where few people from “real life” know my username, on discussions on a friend’s profile where we don’t have enough mutuals for the news of my heresy to spread, because I’m not sure if I’m ready for the potential backlash. Admitting that you’ve changed your mind about crucial aspects of your faith, that you’re no longer certain what you believe, that you’re now critical of things that were once major parts of your belief system, can be terrifying.

This uncertainty has led to many fantastic conversations with fellow Christians who are also revisiting and questioning their beliefs. I’ve had people I don’t know all that well contact me specifically to discuss something I’ve hinted at in a more public forum, because they’re relieved that someone else is also reconsidering these aspects of their faith. It’s opened up conversations with non-Christians who are intrigued and obviously find me non-threatening and reasonable enough to converse with—which probably wouldn’t be how I’d describe myself ten or even five years ago. My uncertainties have put me in a position where I’m thinking about and talking about my faith a whole lot more.

It’s no longer something concrete, something fixed, something that I can take for granted. It’s constantly evolving and changing, and sometimes I wish it would just settle in one place and life could go back to normal. But I know it’s not going to do that. Once you open up the door to rethinking something that’s always been part of you, it’s impossible to shut it. It’s so much a part of me that I can’t just discard it, but I need to reconcile it with what I used to believe, and what I’m now feeling pulled towards. I need to figure out how I’m going to move forward with this part of me.

* * *

I recently read an essay by Rebecca Solnit that described despair as being a form of certainty, while uncertainty is a ground for hope. This explanation has stuck with me. Back in November, I definitely found myself dwelling in despair. The religion that I’d aligned myself with for my entire life had been responsible for something that caused a lot of people—myself included—to fall into despair. I know at least one friend who abandoned their faith altogether—despite the fact that they had degrees and qualifications in theology and had been working in the same industry as me for far longer. It was the breaking point for them, but not quite for me.

I pulled myself out of my despair by turning it into anger, latching on to the resistance movement, and eventually landing in anarchism. I found hope in something entirely unexpected, something I felt very uncertain about aligning myself with, but it was the only thing that made sense. These people were pissed off, but not despairing. And unlike a lot of Christians, they weren’t spouting platitudes about praying for change and then returning to their normal lives—they were doing stuff. Trying to change things—and not just small things. They weren’t willing to settle for this crappy nightmare world.

I’ve found hope in fighting for change, and surrounding myself with people who are doing stuff when I’m too limited by the whole parent thing to be more active and involved. I’ve stopped feeling guilty about what I can’t do, and I’m committed to supporting and lifting up those who are actually manage to make some progress. To holding each other accountable, to reminding each other why we’re part of this in the first place. To not despair.

* * *

I’m still a bit uncertain about the labels I put upon myself. I haven’t yet taken “Accidental” out from in front of “Anarchist” in my social media bios because, well, I am here kind of accidentally. Sometimes I call myself a Christo-Anarchist rather than just a Christian because I’m incredibly aware of how much my faith has shifted in the last year, and I have doubts about whether I can use the label on its own anymore. I know a lot of people wouldn’t consider my faith to be truly Christian. I mean, I think LGBT+ people are human beings deserving of equal rights, so that’s enough to make some people write me off altogether and condemn me to hell. (Sadly, this isn’t an exaggeration).

I jokingly referred to myself as a Christo-Anarcha-Feminist the other day, but I think it works. All of those labels intermingle pretty well. Patriarchy is a system of oppression, so anarchists should advocate for its destruction, thus all feminists are basically anarchists. And since I’ve already made the argument for Christianity as Anarchism, we might as well make it Anarcha-Feminism. I should really devote an entire article to this rather than an overly simplistic paragraph, but yeah, why shouldn’t God be powerful enough to triumph over capitalism and patriarchy? If we’re really free, why should we suffer under such man-made oppression? Thus: Christo-Anarcha-Feminism.

Sometimes labels are limiting, but right now I’m finding it liberating to realise that I don’t have to be confined to one label or one belief system. I can be anti-patriarchy, anti-capitalism, and pro-Jesus. I can call myself a Christian even if I’m not certain about everything, I can call myself an anarchist when I’ve only known that the word means for less than a year, and I can call myself a feminist even if I took my husband’s name when I got married. I can mesh them all together and make a ridiculous label that most people in my life won’t understand, because it helps me anchor myself, and reminds me that I do have a lot of things that I believe in, even if I have many more that I’m not at all sure about.

* * *

I’ve got to the end of this post without explaining what I believe, and I’m okay with that. I’m still figuring that out, and I don’t need to defend my beliefs in order to call myself a Christian or an Anarchist or a Feminist. I’m at a stage where I’m becoming more comfortable with the idea that I may never again have concrete beliefs that I can explain in a succinct statement, because I’m constantly learning, constantly evolving, constantly admitting that I might have got something wrong. Where there was once arrogance and certainty, there’s now vulnerability and uncertainty, and it makes for much stronger friendships and deeper conversations, for which I’m immensely grateful. I’m glad I’ve found my way here, to this place of uncertainty and hope. I’ve never been more uncomfortable, or more free.

Sometimes Motherhood is My Act of Resistance

Back in May, I wrote about needing to do something outside of caring for a small child. When I get the chance, I write, I read, I attend protests and activist meetings, I make art, I dress up like a thirteen year old goth and go to the pub with friends and talk about something, anything other than-child-rearing. But sometimes I just…don’t. Sometimes it’s been me and my kid for twelve hours straight, and once I’ve finally got him to sleep, I just don’t have the energy to do anything besides watch somewhat problematic TV shows on Netflix. Or it’s the summer holidays and our routine has changed because playgroup isn’t running, and I suddenly have much less childfree time, and I find myself just doing puzzles and drawing chalk rainbows all day.

Sometimes I don’t talk to another adult besides my husband and the postman for twenty-four hours straight (well, in person—I’d go truly crazy without keeping up a constant stream of conversation with various friends via social media, thank you, you guys are wonderful) and it feels like I’m wasting my time, staying at home with the occasional trip to the park or the library. Sure, sometimes I write while my kid watches My Neighbour Totoro for the thirtieth time, but it’s a distracted kind of writing that’s only really good for rough first drafts. My dreams of writing while he played have never really come to fruition, because if I’m home, he wants to play with me. And, hey, sometimes it is kind of awesome being the most demanded person in a preschooler’s life. I’m basically a rockstar.

The other week, I met a friend and her partner for drinks at ten o’clock at night, which is utterly insane as we are all parents and don’t get enough sleep as it is. It was a Friday night and my friend shouted “I’m taking you to the punk pub!” and we had four drinks each and…inevitably ended up talking about parenting, like we always do. We try not to just babble about our kids when we get together, but some there are some topics I actually like to discuss—like how freaking terrifying it is raising a child in this world.

I follow a number of social media accounts about gender-neutral parenting, including ones that call out corporations for unnecessarily gendered children’s toys and clothing. Sometimes it feels a bit pointless to be complaining that I have to go into the girl’s section to buy my son My Little Pony pyjamas when, you know, fascism is on the rise and rape culture permeates every aspect of society. Is it really that big of a deal if kids clothing is split into gendered sections in my local supermarket when there are literally Nazis in power in western governments? I mean, sure, rant about patriarchy and gentrification and colonization and capitalism, but gendered pyjamas for three year olds? Is it worth making a fuss over?

But, as my friend pointed out that night in the punk pub when we were being super boring, super tipsy, super ranty parents: it is far more radical to dress your son in a flowery shirt from the girls’ section, than it is to dress your daughter in a robot one from the boys’ aisle. It’s downright progressive to put girls in boys’ clothing, to teach them to punch back, to encourage them to be interested in science. But to let your son wear a dress or even just a shirt with frills or flowers, to teach him that it’s okay—nay, good—to cry when he’s sad, to entertain an interest in sewing or baking or childcare? Eh. People balk at many of these ideas, especially when your kid isn’t a toddler anymore. They’re going to go to school soon, and what will the other kids think? What if they make fun of him? Some of these things are acceptable to some level—sure, he can wear pink, but not with lace!—and others are justified with a lot of safe, heteronormative assumptions—of course he can play with dolls, he’ll probably get married and have babies of his own someday. Not, you know, maybe just be interested in becoming a nanny or teacher or children’s nurse, in making a career out of being nurturing.

My son started playgroup in January—a co-operative parent-run playgroup, but a bit jump from being at home with me or a babysitter at all times—and I was worried that someone would finally burst the liberal hippy bubble that we’ve raised him in, and crush his little pink-and-pony-loving spirit. He just finished his first term, and I think we might make it beyond his third birthday before someone tells him that pink is a girl’s colour or that boys can’t play with dolls. I’m hoping we make it long enough that, instead of being upset, he just tells the other kid (or parent or teacher or whoever takes it upon themselves to impose some arbitrary rules of gender on my kid) that they’re wrong, that pink and dolls are for everyone.

There’s this idea that raising your child gender-neutral will utterly collapse as soon as they enter mainstream society, but I’m not sure if it’s true. My aim isn’t to keep my kid in a bubble so he never experiences societal norms of gender, but to provide him with the opportunity to figure out what he likes before anyone attempts to force those norms upon him, and give him the confidence to defend his choices, and challenge the assumption that boys are X and boys are Y.

At the moment, this consists of taking him into both the boys’ and girls’ aisles of stores to let him choose his own clothes, not telling him that there is such a thing as girls’ and boys’ clothing, making sure he has a variety of toys to play with, providing him with a range of male and female protagonists in the books he reads and films he watches, attempting to provide him with male and female playmates. We’ve unintentionally surrounded him with non gender-conforming role models: men with long hair, women with short hair, men who wear jewellery, women with tattoos, men who babysit, women who run businesses, men who cook, women who are doctors. The other day my son wanted to wear a necklace, so I found an old one I don’t wear any longer, and he pulled it over his head asking “This dada’s when he little?” because it made perfect sense to him that his father could have owned a necklace that most adults would have described as feminine.

I’ve heard children described as sponges, and I guess I’m trying to make sure my son soaks up as many positive concepts as he can before he’s properly submerged into the mainstream world and has all of our hippy ideals challenged. We check books out of the library about children from other cultures, we talk to him about how his great-grandfather’s family came from India, we take him to protests about injustice and explain in basic terms that sometimes the people in charge are mean to people just because they’re different, we participate in the “Rainbow Day” parade and discuss how love is for everyone, and I don’t particularly remember bringing up environmentalism but he’s developed a distinct passion for protecting trees, so we’ve got that covered too.

He knows that Dada works in an office writing computer programs, and Mama works at home and in cafes and libraries and supermarkets doing “emails and writing”. I have wonderful friends who make sure that he knows that Mama works too, because it could be awfully easy for him to not realise that I work, since sometimes I’m only out of his sight for a couple of hours every week while Dada works 40-hour weeks away from the house. I’m grateful to the friends who come to my house and watch my child, who proof-read my novels and remind me that I’m a real writer, even if I’m not published yet. But I’m also thankful to these same friends for supporting our parenting choices, for being the fantastic role models my son sees on a regular basis, for reinforcing the ideas we want to raise him with and counteracting any negative remarks he may hear.

The same friends who enable me to write also help me to raise my son to be a force for change, to resist societal norms. Right now, all he’s doing is choosing a lacy shirt from the girls’ section in the supermarket and being carried in his mother’s at a protest, but we’re planting the seeds of resistance. This is his normal. To him, discriminating against someone based on their race or gender doesn’t make sense. Colours are for everyone, love is for everyone, and we’re not mean to people just because they’re different from us. We look after the world around us, we fight for the rights of others, and we celebrate the things that are important to them, because that makes them important to us. Sometimes the people in charge do things that aren’t right, and it’s okay to challenge that. If we can help—if we can give money, or time, or belongings—then we do it.

I never have loose change anymore because one day my son saw me giving a coin to a busker in the park, and now that’s what he wants to do whenever pass a musician or someone sitting on the ground with a hat in front of them. This is his normal: we have more money than we need, so we give it to those who do.

At the end of last year I was feeling really convicted about my privilege, and frustrated that I had so little time to do anything with it. I had things I was passionate about changing, and knew of groups and organisations meeting to affect those changes, but I couldn’t go, because I had a young child who I couldn’t leave for more than a few hours, especially in the evening. I could pay a sitter to watch him, but would that be the best use of my money? Should I just donate it instead? Besides, most of my sitters are passionate at the same issues as myself, so I’d just be preventing them from attending the same events I was interested in.

I’m slowly getting more involved in local groups, but when I’m stuck at home, I talk about the things I’m passionate about to my captive audience. Obviously, I don’t discuss the intimate details of police brutality and sexual assault with my three year olds, but we talk about the things we come across in our daily lives. Sometimes resistance is just telling Peppa Pig that she’s silly, that of course boys and girls can play together. Sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing and wonder that I’m screwing up my kid for life, but yesterday he was wearing fire engine leggings with a pink lacy top while shouting “Not cut down trees!” at someone pruning a hedge, so I figure we’re probably doing okay so far. If his actions and appearance would terrify a right-wing conservative, it’s all good.

I didn’t make it to the activist meeting tonight, I spent too much money at a massive capitalist coffee chain because I’d been up since 4:30 and was in dire need of caffeine and I hate dragging the stroller into tiny independent shops full of childless hipsters, who don’t want their ambience disturbed, and I’ve not finished reading an actual full-length book in weeks. But I’m not failing. I’m resisting every day, and I need to remember this. Motherhood is resistance. Parenting is resistance. Caring for children—related to you or not—in an intentional, thoughtful way is resistance. Let’s raise wonderful human beings, tiny activists who love hard and challenge societal norms, even if all they’re doing right now is wearing clothing from the “wrong” section of the store. It might feel exhausting and sometimes futile, but it will be worth it in the end.

Jesus is in the Anarchists

Sometime in the last year, I began a faith deconstruction, and I realise that this is a terrible way to start this post as I don’t even know where to begin describing what that means. What have I deconstructed? Why? What prompted it? What does my faith consist of now that I’ve deconstructed? Have I started reconstructing or am I mostly just sitting around looking lost and wondering what I even believe any more?

I stumbled across this post from Unfundamentalist Christians today and it kind of put into words what I’ve been struggling to explain:

“I’ve asked about every troubling question you can imagine, and yet my faith remains intact. It’s a lot less comfortable than before, and in some ways barely recognizable, but it’s also deeper, richer, and more authentic. It’s constantly changing too, which can be exhausting, but also kind of exhilarating.”

I still believe that God exists so I guess my faith is (mostly) intact, but I’m definitely right in the middle of the constantly changing, exhausting part of reconstructing my beliefs, with the exhilarating moments few and far between. Occasionally I find something that really speaks to me in the midst of this weird deconstruction, and it’s incredibly freeing to realise that other people believe the same things as me–not just in the sense of “God exists”, but “God exists and we should dismantle the patriarchy”. Just knowing that I’m not alone and that other people have come to the same conclusions makes me feel a whole lot saner and a bit less heretical.

One of the conclusions that I’ve come to in the midst of my deconstruction, is that I’m an Anarchist. I mean, I already call myself a Feminist and confuse the heck out of a lot of conservative Christians, so why not add Anarchist into the mix as well to make things even more controversial? I’m not entirely sure when I started labelling my beliefs this way. I have a wonderful, amazing friend–whom I’ve only known for two years but it feels like she’s been there forever–who frequently writes posts on Facebook about her anarchist beliefs, and at some point during the two years we’ve known each other, my internal responses shifted from “This is intriguing but also kind of crazy” to “All of this makes complete sense and I entirely agree with it”. Not going to lie, my utter anger at the post-Brexit, post-Trump world kind of ignited my desire to align myself with anarchism, but it was a gradual process and entirely accidental. I didn’t go looking for anarchism–it found me, or I fell into it, or some other cliche.

So, what even is anarchism, and how has it somewhat saved my faith in God and humanity, and well, just everything? As much as I suck at describing my faith, I also kind of suck at describing anarchism. It’s super tempting to describe what anarchism is against rather than what it advocates for–which, admittedly, kind of happens with Christianity a lot as well. I was initially going to quote from Mark Van Steenwyk’s That Holy Anarchist (which is amazing because it helpfully brings together many of my beliefs in one accessible place and if you’re even remotely intrigued by Christo-Anarchism you should read it because it’s available for free here) but I discovered that Jesus Radicals (to which Van Steenwyk contributes) has a more coherent explanation:

“Anarchism is the name given to the principle under which a group of people may organize without rule.  It is being against one group or person having “power over” others.  For us, anarchism begins with naming and resisting those things that oppress, rejecting social hierarchies that place one group of people over another.  Anarchism rejects the logic that places some over other on the basis of race, ethnic or cultural background, legal status, social status, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, or any other rationale used for one group to exercise domination over another.  It means challenging capitalism with its social inequalities based upon private property and wage labor and instead envisioning a society that emphasizes cooperation, mutual aid, holding land in common, and workers sharing ownership of the means of production.  It means committing ourselves to undoing the legacies of oppression that have been passed down to us as we seek to build communities of hospitality and inclusion.”

In That Holy Anarchist, Van Steenwyk writes that:

“Anarchists are rarely simply against the State—they have (or should) become namers of all forms of oppression, seeking to understand the way oppressions reinforce each other in enslaving creation and seeing, in contrast, a way of liberation and life for all of creation.”

To those who call themselves Christians, this idea of liberation shouldn’t sound particularly radical, because supposedly our faith is about bringing about the liberation of all creation too. That’s not to say that anarchists have just hijacked Christianity and taken Jesus out of it and attempted to rebrand it as their own thing. Anarchism may be considered revolutionary, but it’s not a new movement in any way. Anthropologist David Graeber writes that:

The basic principles of anarchism—self-organization, voluntary association, mutual aid—referred to forms of human behavior they assumed to have been around about as long as humanity. The same goes for the rejection of the State and of all forms of structural violence, inequality, or domination…even the assumption that all these forms are somehow related and reinforce each other. None of it was presented as some startling new doctrine. And in fact it was not: one can find records of people making similar arguments throughout history, despite the fact there is every reason to believe that in most times and places, such opinions were the ones least likely to be written down. We are talking less about a body of theory, then, than about an attitude, or perhaps one might even say a faith: the rejection of certain types of social relations, the confidence that certain others would be much better ones on which to build a livable society, the belief that such a society could actually exist.”

If Anarchism has basically been around forever, so has Christo-Anarchism. Van Steenwyk devotes an entire chapter in That Holy Anarchist to Christian movements whose actions have overlapped with anarchism, from the early church right up to the current day. This isn’t some ridiculous new idea that I’ve dreamed up to try to rebuild a faith in the midst of my Trump-prompted deconstruction, some amusing but unrealistic concept dredged out of sleep deprivation and near-delirium from too many mornings spent watching Team Umizoomi with my toddler. Christo-Anarchism (or whatever you want to call it, because apparently no one can decide on an official title) is an actual thing, a thing that people other than me practice. People have been doing it since Christianity existed (you could even be totally radical and argue that it is Christianity), and it just, well, makes a lot of sense.

Christianity that is infused with capitalism, imperialism and patriarchy, that both props up and relies on oppressive political powers while somehow simultaneously discouraging its followers from being “too political” (how does that even make sense?), that doesn’t actually succeed in helping our neighbours beyond telling them the Good News of Jesus, that creates a community that consists of occasional casseroles and platitudes and promises of prayers and not much else—is not what Jesus advocated for. I’m not sure how we ever convinced ourselves that it was.

I’ve believed in God for too long to simply abandon the possibility that he exists, but I need to be part of a faith that allows me to criticise and challenge (and possibly even dismantle) structures of power, that allows me to admit that the rampant imperialism in the Old Testament and Christian history in general is actually pretty uncomfortable. A faith that confesses that it created and contributed to many of the problems in the world, and that’s ready to fix them. A faith that isn’t just for the gainfully employed hetero-normative middle class. A faith that looks around the world and shouts “THIS ISN’T WORKING.” A faith that sees our capitalist, patriarchal, oppressive society and believes that this is not what Jesus’ kingdom is supposed to look like.

Back in November, I seriously struggled to see Jesus anywhere. I couldn’t see him in the colleagues who had voted for Trump and stood behind their decision. I couldn’t see him in the friends who tried to tell me that it wasn’t really that bad, that we just had to wait and see how things panned out. I couldn’t see him in the prayers and the platitudes and out-of-context Bible verses that were spouted in an attempt to convince me that everything would be okay if I just had faith and kept believing. I really struggled to see him anywhere at all, to be honest. But there’s this small anarchist community in my city–where I have one friend who I met through a freaking breastfeeding group, of all places–who actually seemed to be angry about all the same things as me. They didn’t stop being angry after a couple of days or weeks. They attended protests and held discussion groups where they talked about topics like mutual aid and solidarity, which felt like the kind of things my Bible study group should be discussing, to be honest. They seemed to care, to want to change things, to not want to put up with the way things are. It sounds utterly ridiculous, but the one place I saw Jesus was in the anarchists, and the more I read about their beliefs, the more I felt like I’d found my home. 

I’ve been hesitantly owning the Anarchist label for the last six months, and reading That Holy Anarchist confirmed a lot of the ideas that I’ve been mulling over. I don’t feel quite so crazy for believing that Christianity and Anarchism can line up, that this fusion of beliefs does make sense in some way;

Since Jesus is (as Christians believe) the truest revelation of God, then he defines for us what the reign of God looks like. The social, economic, political, and religious subversions of such an un-reign are almost endless—peace-making instead of war mongering, liberation not exploitation, sacrifice rather than subjugation, mercy not vengeance, care for the vulnerable instead of privileges for the powerful, generosity instead of greed, embrace rather than exclusion. Jesus is calling for a loving anarchy. An unkingdom. Of which he is the unking.”

Our faith has never been about gaining power, and I don’t believe we’re only called to challenge the world in a spiritual sense. If we’re called to love our neighbour, then we’re also called to advocate for them, to bring them out of oppression–and perhaps it’s entirely necessary to bring about freedom from earthly oppression before we broach the subject of spiritual liberation. Maybe dismantling systems of oppression is a form of evangelism. Sometimes loving our neighbour might require us to be uncomfortable, to take a stance that is neither polite nor neutral, to stand beside those who don’t share our faith but do share our desire to completely do away with all forms of oppression forever. As Van Steenwyk writes;

“In the early days—the first century of the Jesus movement—the church was invisible to most people in the Roman empire. However, they had a growing reputation as an alternative and seemingly antisocial community that lived in the nooks and crannies of Empire.

Christians were thought to be extreme, subversive, stubborn, and defiant. The Roman writer Tacitus called them “haters of humanity.” They rejected the central facets of Roman religious and political life. In his view they actively undermined society with their indifference to civic affairs. Some critics even blamed Christians for the fall of Rome.”

I can’t do comfortable, privileged, neutral Christianity any more. I want the subversive kind that seeks to undermine societal norms and systems of oppression, but I’ve seriously struggled to find this radical, disruptive form of Christianity in the church. Reading That Holy Anarchist and discovering that Christo-Anarchism is an actual thing has made me feel a bit less alone. Realising that there are other people who are just as frustrated and disillusioned as me has given me hope that I’m not alone in my anger and desire to change things.

I still don’t really know what I’m doing, and I feel like I should add a disclaimer stating that I’m not an expert on either Christianity or Anarchism, but this is where I’ve ended up. I’m not sure if Anarchists want me or if Christians will finally deem me too heretical to use their label any longer, but here I am. 2017 is turning out to be a pretty insane year, and Christo-Anarchism is one of the few things that makes sense.

It’s Healthy to Not Be Entirely Fulfilled by Motherhood

Last night my friend Moriah tagged me in a Tumblr post about not demonizing women who want to have families, with the following comment:

because I like to hear you rant… I’m tagging you in case you have Thoughts™. 😉 

I kind of love that having Thoughts™ on subjects like this is something that I’m known for. My response ended up becoming a bit of an essay, and it seemed to hit a chord with a couple of friends and my writing group, so I thought it warranted posting publicly.

* * *

The crux of the original post was that women who chose to get married and have children—especially in their early twenties—are often judged harshly by their peers who are focusing on their careers. That these women are made to feel that they’ve failed at being feminists because they’ve chosen a more traditional route, even when the emphasis is on the fact that they’ve actively chosen this life. Personally, I don’t think I received a lot of flak for getting married at 20 and having a child at 22, but this is most likely because I spent a lot of time in Christian circles at the time, and marrying young is definitely more common in that culture.

I know a lot of women who have proclaimed that all they want in life is to get married and have a family, and at one point, I was one of those women. I’m not entirely sure how I found myself saying those words, as I’ve been writing “novels” since I was six years old. Getting married and having children isn’t something I actually thought all that much about until I was older. I never expected that I’d get married while I was still at university, but it happened, and I found myself falling into the lie of believing that I was “called” to be a wife and mother, above everything else. It kind of makes sense in retrospect—I’d never been interested in a traditional career, one that put me behind a desk from 9-5 every weekday and actually paid a living wage—but having come out the other side of this period of my life, I can see how this line of thinking was actually pretty toxic.

While I entirely agree with the sentiment in the original post about not judging women who chose to marry and have children in their early twenties, or just women who don’t have any desire for a standard (read: corporate) career, I feel pretty conflicted about the rhetoric of “but what if some women just want to be wives and mothers and nothing else?” I could de-gender this statement, but I honestly haven’t heard any men say that they only want to be husbands and fathers. Even my dad, who was a stay-at-home parent way back in 1991, had hobbies he worked on when my brother and I weren’t demanding all of his attention. He occasionally made money off these interests, but the crux of it was—he had stuff he did outside of being a dad, and that was an integral part of his identity.

It seems incredibly healthy to have interests and hobbies and just stuff that you do that isn’t related to the people in your life. Whether you’re male or female, married or single, childless or a parent, you need to be fulfilled by something other than relationships with other humans, otherwise you’re going to be incredibly disappointed, because people are flawed and screw up and disappoint you. Even the ones you love. Even the ones you gave birth to. Again, I think this is an issue that particularly pertains to women. Stay-at-home dads are frequently praised and kind of given superhero status, and no one is going to sneer at them for having a hobby that doesn’t relate to their kids, or for wanting one evening every week where they can skip bedtime so they can participate in some activity or just go to the pub. The same cannot be said for women, especially when their children are babies or toddlers. And truthfully? It’s often other women judging the mothers who carve out time for themselves, away from their children.

I absolutely do not think that every woman (or person, for that matter) should be pushed to have a career, or earn money, or even go to university. The fact that we have the right to do all of these things doesn’t mean that we all have to do them. I do think that it’s incredibly important to just have some hobbies or things you’re passionate about. Scrapbooking! Airfix Models! Tennis! Gardening! Amateur Radio! Literally anything that interests you and gives you a sense of fulfilment. Becoming a parent might even ignite in you a passion that you’re able to continue once your child has left home—I know many mothers of older children who are still breastfeeding counsellors with La Leche League.  Just…find something you’re passionate about that isn’t reliant on pleasing other people. Because people can fail you. And pinning your entire life’s purpose on being a wife and mother can come crashing down if you aren’t able to actually become a wife and mother, or those roles look entirely different from how you imagined.

I hit fertility problems after my first child was born, and suddenly my entire life-plan of having 3+ children and having them all close together and staying at home to homeschool them entirely collapsed. It affected my mental health really badly, as I wasn’t able to live up to the my/society’s standard of what motherhood looked like, and since that was what I was basing my worth on, everything just imploded. I had reduced my entire personhood to Rachel the Mother, and I’d forgotten who I was outside of that. It took me a while to figure out who Rachel the Human was, and fall back on the hobbies I used to be interested in before I became a parent. Writing helped me to figure out who I was outside of being a mother, and it’s something that I can continually work at and improve on. Having more kids? That’s not something I can just “try harder” and get better at, in spite of the insane amount of fertility charting I conducted. Every month that I didn’t get pregnant, it felt like I was failing at achieving the idea of motherhood that I’d been presented with.

It took me a while to accept that my experience as a mother to one child was just as valid as that of a mother of three or five or nine children. That just because I didn’t have that joyous messy image of mothering multiple tiny children at once—as is presented in so many Christian memoirs and self-help books—it didn’t mean I was any less of a mother. For now, I have one child, and he’s growing up incredibly quickly and becoming less reliant on me by the day. In this season of him becoming more independent while my friends are having their second, third and fourth children, I’m finding it incredibly helpful to have other interests. It’s ended up being an entirely essential form of self-care, and I think think having interests outside of mothering would still be pretty important even if I did have more than one child.

There are many, many days where I feel like I’m utterly failing at being a good mother, and it’s so encouraging to have something else I can focus on that I know I can do well. For me, it’s writing, but for other stay-at-home parents it could be something as simple as baking a cake or knitting a scarf or getting out of the house to play a board game with friends. Literally, just, having a hobby. It’s not something stay-at-home parents should need to fight for the right to have, but in a society that wants mothers to forget their own needs and martyr themselves on the altar of perfect motherhood, we often forget that we need to do something unrelated to our families.

[As a side-note, I want to call out the phrase “good mother”, even though I just used it. I don’t want to label anyone, even myself, as a good or bad mother, but it happens almost unintentionally when we claim that being a mother is our “job”. We’ve established that it’s an entirely valid life choice to not want to have a career outside the home, and that raising a family can be a full-time job, but if we view it in that light, we can fall into the trap of measuring how “good” we are at parenting. After all, you can be a good writer, a good programmer, a good chef—but if your job title is wife or mother, measuring those roles in this way feels super problematic. Let’s just not do it.]

Honestly, if we don’t tell men that they should feel entirely fulfilled by their relationships to their wives and children, we shouldn’t have the same expectation for women. It’s okay—nay, incredibly healthy—to have something else you enjoy, besides caring for your family.

So, yes, support women who choose to get married and have a family, who don’t get married but still have children, who get married but don’t have children, or who stay single and have no desire to ever have children. ALL of these options are valid. But whatever you’re doing with your life, don’t fall into the trap of basing your entire self-worth off your relationships with other people. Being a wife or mother can be incredibly fulfilling, but it isn’t the only thing that defines you, and it’s entirely normal and healthy to need time to do something, anything else.

I’m Rachel the Wife and Rachel the Mother, but I’m also so many other things. I’m a feminist, an anarchist, a romance novelist, and a book reviewer. I’m sometimes an editor, an historian, and a bit of a goth. I listen to a lot of metal and play board games. If I could make time for it, I’d love to do more non-written art. I can’t find the words to accurately describe what I believe spiritually, but I’m working on that, and I’m always up for talking about it. I bake on a regular basis, but mostly out of habit and so that I can listen to podcasts and audiobooks undisturbed. I do know a lot about breastfeeding and babywearing and cloth nappies, so feel free to hit me up about those things, but on any given day I’d much rather discuss toxic masculinity than my favourite kind of sling. I have too many descriptors to fit into a Twitter bio, and it feels rather liberating.