Rebecca K. Reynolds

Honest Company for the Journey

​Seventh Grade Grammar and a Gillette Ad about “Toxic Masculinity”

Twitter is full of fury today, claiming Gillette’s ad about “toxic masculinity” is an attack against men in general. However, applying basic, seventh grade grammar shows why this accusation is illogical.


In Gillette’s ad, “toxic” is an adjective modifying the noun “masculinity.” By definition, adjectives distinguish a noun’s type.


By using an adjective+noun construction, Gillette was specifying which sort of masculinity is harmful.


If you will look at the photo included with this post, you will see how switching an adjective changes the noun. Gillette’s ad compares toxic masculinity with healthy masculinity. It calls America to the latter.


Gillette is not demeaning masculinity in general. It’s not accusing all men of being monsters.


It is asking our nation to grow a healthy masculinity—one that protects others with strength instead of harming or using them.


Hopefully this week’s brouhaha is a simply result of a gross misunderstanding, another knee-jerk in a trigger-happy world primed to rage. From what I’ve read on social media, it seems like a lot of folks misread the title, made assumptions, and roared before thinking. While America is top-down full of sloppy, reactive Tweeters, I can’t quite believe we want our men to be violent, disrespectful abusers. Surely, we’re better than that.

IMG_5265.JPEG

Scored.


For days, I’ve been watching evangelicals celebrate Tim Tebow’s engagement to a former Miss Universe. Members of the homeschool community are going nuts about this on social media, as if Tebow’s acquisition of a trophy wife somehow negates every criticism home education has ever received.


What do they suggest Tebow’s engagement proves? That keeping your kids out of the public school system can not only produce normal, socially-adept adults, but also strapping alpha men who can bag a 10.


As disturbing as these posts have been, they expose two key infections at the heart of conservative Christianity. So, we need to seize this opportunity and learn from our mistakes:


1. Christian women are still objectified.


2. Christian men are still ranked based on the sex appeal of their wives.


Before I proceed, let me clarify two things. I homeschooled for six years. I also participated in (and won) my small college campus pageant. I’m not dropping those details to brag—in fact, the full story would probably make you laugh at me if I had room to unpack it here. I’m giving backstory so you’ll know that I’m not bashing—I’m speaking as someone who is familiar with both of these milieu. I’ve “been there” enough to know that a woman who has paraded around on stage while being evaluated for qualities the Bible considers shallow does not possess more value than other females.


Women are valuable because God made women valuable. Humans are valuable because God made humans valuable. Period. I think Tebow and his fiancé would agree with that.


I will never forget the first time I heard a male friend explain how Christian men described other men’s wives in private. He was unmarried at the time, and he said that he wanted to marry a 10, in part, so that other men would know he was the kind of guy who could get that sort of action. He said he automatically respected men who caught 10’s. He said all men did.


Sure enough, when he chose a life partner, he passed over scores of women full of substance and depth, going after a  girl who used social media to showcase her body. He tried to make that spiritual. I knew too much to buy it.


I’ve never really recovered from seeing this happen. Looking behind this curtain shifted something in me, caused me to grieve deeply for my single female friends who are sad that they are still unpursued at 27…29…32.


You know why they aren’t pursued? Because they aren’t Miss Universe.


You might think that’s cruel to write—too harsh of a truth to speak in public. But what I’ve written is no surprise to a lot of the women walking through this struggle. They live it. They hurt because they know it’s not how the world is supposed to work.


Too many people within the Christian community believe men have a “right” to commodify females. Too many Christian men feel no shame—none—about affiliating female value with sex appeal. Why? Well, we know one reason. According to a recent study, nearly 70% of Christian men watch porn on a regular basis.


70% of dudes sitting beside you on a Sunday morning in church…


70% of the Christian guys you know on social media…


70% of male Christian teachers…


70% of male Christian business owners…


70% of the guys you hear on Christian radio…


70% of the dudes you consider “safe” get away with their phones in a bathroom and treat pictures of other men’s wives and daughters like 2-D consumer goods.


These are the same men who impact our experience with the Christian world. So when Tebow snags a woman 70% of Christian men would willingly look at naked, it seems like he’s beat the system. Tebow loves Jesus, he played by the rules, and he gets to crawl in bed with a hottie every night.


“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and He will give you the desires of your…well…


I’m not a huge football fan, but from what I know of Tim Tebow’s character, I really like him. My guess is that he has chosen Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters (she has an actual name, BTW) for more than aesthetic reasons. Maybe I’m naive, but from what I’ve seen of Tebow’s values, I think he would have married this same girl if she hadn’t been Miss Universe.


As a Christian woman, it’s easy for me to see that women who wear a size 14 and have acne are amazing beings—in fact, I’ve been there, too. But sadly, our culture often dismisses females based on such silly traits.


Tebow seems different, though. I think he would have fallen in love with the same person if he’d found her working behind a children’s library desk in Omaha wearing a baggy sweatshirt instead of a bright yellow bikini. In fact, it may have taken a man with his unique perspective to properly value a woman with such a resume.


But would evangelical Christianity have celebrated this engagement same way if he were engaged to a non-pageant nerd? No way.


Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters is a precious creation of an artistic God—but according to the Bible—so is Nancy Pelosi. That’s how Christianity works. Ours is a shocking and offensive religion that commands us to see the imago Dei in all.


Neither woman is more or less valuable on God’s scale—they both are sinful. They both receive their worth from the fact that they were made by a God who loves them.


I chose Nancy Pelosi because she’s the sort of female evangelical Christianity is completely comfortable dehumanizing. She’s liberal. She’s older. Pelosi doesn’t affirm the choices we make or the beliefs we hold; therefore, for many “Christians,” Pelosi has no worth. Pelosi is disposable. We act like Jesus didn’t die for her. We act like he died for people like us—not for pro-choice libtards.


In fact, Jerry Falwell Jr. is still sulking because Facebook censored his mocking post, a post that Jesus would never have approved—a post demeaning the physical appearance of a woman God created.


Evangelicals are supposed to laugh when Pelosi is trashed and cheer when Neil-Peters gets a ring, and simply ignore it when thousands and thousands of 20-something and 30-something women who would make wonderful wives and mothers are overlooked because 70% of Christian men don’t care what Jesus thinks about what really matters in a human being.


That’s goofed up.


I’m happy for Tebow. I’m happy for Nel-Peters. But the “homeschooler snags a Miss Universe” posts really need to stop. These posts highlight more of what’s wrong with evangelical Christianity than what’s right about it.


Be happy for Tebow because he is a good man who found a good wife, not because he is a football star who found a trophy. His is no more of a victory than any man has ever received in being granted the privilege of any woman’s allegiance.


http://www.thistleandtoad.com/wwwthistleandtoadcom/writings/2019/1/12/scored

FullSizeRender.jpg

Maybe

Maybe Jesus wants you to be a little chubby

with a yard sale coffee table.


Back when he was knitting you together

inside your momma’s tummy

(decorating her like he decorated the Virgin Mary,

with holy stretch marks and a bonus layer

of blessed belly fat),

perhaps he had a plan for you

to grow up to be strong instead of just skinny.


Maybe the Good Lord knew that So-and-So

would shut you out

(or shut you down) if you were

one more double-zero for Jesus.


Maybe in the endless scope of eternal souls,

he had a reason for hovering over the darkness

and planting his voice

in the precise size of you.


Consider the remote possibility

that God didn’t mess up when he made you.


Consider the remote possibility that a perfect God

made you the exact sort of perfect you are

so that you could hold up your head and walk

like a daughter of the King.


What if he looked down on

a world hooked on porn and little butts in yoga pants

and said, “My daughter will teach them

how dignity looks.”


Perhaps he called you to wipe the tears of

women who hate themselves,

women who step on the scales every morning

and measure their worth in pounds of dirt.


And while we’re at it,

maybe that $10 beat-up coffee table

is part of the plan, too.


Maybe Mrs. Instagram-with-everything-new

needs to sit on your worn out old couch for an hour

and see how comfortable you are with the world to come.


Maybe she needs to cook with you

on your 1980’s linoleum floor,

sticking her finger in the batter of the flavor of joy

you can only whip up in a room just like that.


Maybe you’re not all wrong but all right--

and not just all right but just perfect

for this moment right now,

called by God to believe only

that he has a plan for the you

you already are.

photo credit cohdra, morguefile

photo credit cohdra, morguefile

The Affair You're Trying to Avoid (Part 2) Do No Harm: Consuming vs. Giving

klimt.kiss.jpg

 

“Do no harm.”

This phrase is often affiliated with the medical profession, but it applies to a much wider realm. Protecting the trust of the vulnerable is the foundation of every good friendship.

While friendship can involve co-creation, exhortation, belief, humor, and physical support; perhaps the most critical role of a friend is that of a healer. Friendship is our primary context for the long, hard, soul work of growth and recovery.

Yet helping to heal another person can be tough when we are wounded ourselves.

If you are familiar with the book The Five Love Languages, you already know how someone with the language of “affirming words” can feel starved without verbal affirmation. You know how an “acts of service” person can feel abandoned in a home where nobody jumps in to help. You know how a “gifts” person can feel empty and unseen when a birthday is dismissed.

Strangely, many of us marry people whose default for communicating love is entirely different from our own. So today, I want to write about what can happen in a split-language marriage when a lonely soul encounters someone else who naturally speaks their own language.

From what I’ve seen,  this disparity can be particularly difficult for people whose love language is physical touch. Why? Because almost every other love language can be legitimately met in some other platonic way in the culture. We can receive compliments from others. We can spend time with others. We can receive acts of service or gifts from others. All those things can be fulfilled in non-romantic settings if our love tanks are running low. But in adults, the language of touch is reserved almost exclusively for the marital bond.  This means Christian men and women who aren’t held meaningfully by their spouses can walk around in the world with a terrible void.  

(Neglect and cruelty can happen in all love languages, of course, so if this love language doesn’t speak to you, some of the same principles may transfer to your situation. Feel free to write me with examples of your own!)

NEED AS A WEAPON

I was shocked when I realized that certain people intentionally leverage the needs of others as weapons in interpersonal relationships. I don't mean that I am easy to live with--I'm not. I can be obsessive, hyper-emotional, oblivious, and selfish. But obtaining control over friends isn’t something I enjoy. I like strong people who can volley with me.

So when I first started seeing spouses trying to control their mates, I was baffled. I didn’t understand why anyone would want to do that in the one relationship that is supposed to run on mutual trust. Yet, sometimes people grow up in homes where they don’t feel safe, so the only way they know to engage is by entrapping another person.

One of my old boyfriends had a dad who told him to always keep women wanting something because dissatisfaction would always keep them coming back. Thankfully, I didn’t marry into that mindset, but it is a strategy too many people carry into the bond of marriage.

The first person I heard describe this in detail was a female—a woman who was profoundly angry with her husband. She was almost giddy when telling me how desperate he was at her lack of physical responsiveness. She said she hadn’t allowed him to be intimate with her for seven years—that it had grown so “bad” he couldn’t even put his hand on her knee without going wild with desire.

She loved that he wanted her. She loved rejecting him. This was power for her.

I knew her husband, saw him flitting around her, trying to meet her every wish. She knew that she had limited his choices to either unfaithfulness (in which he would be the bad guy) or endless and futile attempts to obtain love she wasn’t willing to give. This dynamic was comfortable for her. She felt safe inside of it.

Since then, I’ve heard stories of spouses who were intentionally critical in moments of intimate physical trust, shaming their mates and reducing them to tears.

I’ve heard of spouses who pretended to be oblivious but who were methodically rejecting every physical advance of their mates.

I’ve heard voices quiver when the rejected spouses described cold, obligatory kisses, or nights of sitting next to a spouse who wouldn’t reach out to hold a hand, or crying themselves to sleep in a lonely bed.

This wound goes out into the world with no legitimate means of satisfaction. This wound lives inside husbands and wives who encounter other husbands and wives who are living the same  secret loneliness.

AT THE INTERSECTION OF TWO STARVED HEARTS

In the comments on shares to my last post, I saw several readers get nervous about my nuanced approach to this subject. “I hope she’s going to land this in truth!” Or “She better not excuse sin!” they said.

I get why people are nervous. Too many writers who possess the emotional depth to empathize with sexual struggles end up teaching a relativistic morality. They allow WANT to justify BEHAVIOR, assuming that a loving God would never allow his children to live with decades of unsatisfied temptation.

that’s not what I  believe. I’ve read too many books written by people who spent their entire lives wrestling with the desires of their souls, and I know how much richer their books are than the writings of people who have yielded to what "felt right." 

The struggles and temptations we experience on this planet can be some of the most beneficial classrooms of our faith. God uses them to show us things about ourselves that we cannot learn in any other way. True love doesn't try to build escape hatches out of God's hard best.

In fact, Jesus told us following him would involve loss. He said that we would find life through death, and dying hurts. The light yoke that Christ describes, the abundant life that he promises—this isn't a free pass to indulge in sin. Jesus is introducing us to the liberty of the gospel, a Christ-resourced way of living that helps us step out of a greedy human autonomy into an eternal communion.

Gospel levity is about Christ-in-us, not about the “you-do-you” philosophy of indulgence that too many progressive Christians teach. The former leads to life. The latter to devastation.

We don't hear that much, living in a post-modern Christianity. Instead, we often hear Christians describe physical affairs as beautiful. I’ve heard more than one adulterer swear that extra-marital sex was actually an agent of healing in his or her life. But not once in hearing those claims have I seen an adulterer leave the other person more healed.

When two love-starved Christians intersect with one another, their felt needs naturally sit on the surface. This isn’t an intentional choice, it’s more like taking a man who hasn’t eaten for a week into a French bistro. When he’s about to pass out from hunger, would you expect him to concentrate on an exegesis of the book of Philemon, even as the smell of fresh bread wafts through the air?

In a similar way, if a man greeting visitors to his small group meeting receives the hand of a visiting female friend whose husband hasn’t hugged her in a month, even that simple contact may feel delightful.  Her initial wave of pleasure isn’t adulterous… it’s just what happens when someone who hadn’t been loved feels a half second of affection.

What happens next is very important, however.

If the man is intuitive, he may notice when his benign, non-sexual gesture moves the woman. Her cheeks may flush. She might give a slight bend in the knees. She might hold her breath. Some sort of non-verbal clue may show him that he has impacted her.

And what if this man is the same man whose wife delights in keeping him at a distance? What does he feel when he sees this woman's response?

How could she not trigger the question he’s been carrying around forever? "Is it possible that I could actually please someone? Does it really have to be this difficult every day?" How could he not feel a flutter of hope?

This initial tsunami of emotion isn’t about a desire for sex-- it’s about a lonely, rejected man wanting some sort of close,  human connection that isn’t built around strategic rejection.

WHAT IS HEALING REALLY?

Thousands and thousands of lonely Christian couples face this dilemma every day. In the life of a “words of affirmation” person,  the emotional high could appear in a simple compliment that a controlling spouse refuses to give. In the life of a “gifts” person, a cheap, quirky present could show a wife that she is known and seen. In the life of an “acts of service” man whose wife never takes time to help him, the lunch a coworker lovingly prepares could make him feel worthwhile.

You and I work with dozens of love-starved people, and it’s not easy to know how to engage with their wounds without doing harm. Isn’t our first impulse to repeat behavior that seems to give others life? Don’t we naturally want to rush in and fill a gap that would be easy and natural for us when we see someone treated with disrespect or cruelty?

So many affairs in the Christian church begin this way. They don’t begin in sheer carnal lust; they begin in a desire to help. But we walk into danger when we trust ourselves and our natural love languages to heal others instead of walking in the Spirit. Even the best intentions can destroy, when we try to do good on our own.

Even if we see another person grin as we lavish praise upon her, our healing words may eventually cause her harm.

Even if our long hug gives another person’s husband an immediate sense of courage and strength, our embrace may eventually cause him harm.

Even if another person’s wife has been shamed into believing she is unlovable, the sex of another man will hurt her—though his intentions are to help her finally realize that she is profoundly valuable.

We cannot determine the true telos (the end) of our affection by looking at its immediate impact on another person's emotions.

WALKING IN THE SPIRIT IN A BROKEN WORLD

Simply admitting reality here can be so powerful.

If we can identify what is actually going on inside ourselves, we may begin to see that we aren’t always being the pure givers we think we are—but that we are secretly trying to satisfy ourselves while believing that we are being caregivers.

We also have to believe that God sometimes has a plan for people we love that requires them to walk through pain. I don’t mean that a man or woman should stay in an abusive marriage; after counseling leads to continued abuse, I think there’s a place to draw the line. But the answer to abuse isn’t sin. Being hurt by a greedy spouse doesn’t give us a free pass to engage in an illicit relationship. A cruel spouse may justify a divorce--but cruelty does not justify adultery. And this can be very, very difficult for us to believe when we love someone has suffered for a long time.

But a true friend comes alongside pain, empathizes deeply with the reality of suffering, and helps the other person continue to believe that God has a plan for his or her life that is built upon faith, not reactivity. A true friend co-believes that God is good and that he will do good, even as our friends face the trials God has allowed them to experience.

This is some of the most painful love I have ever had to give my friends. I am a rescuer, and I’d rather feel pain inside my own body than watch others hurt. Yet this gentle, tender companionship—offered without severe judgment or platitudes—is the companionship Jesus desired when his disciples slept as he agonized in the garden. It's lonely to be broken. And when you help a friend who is fighting the battles of “Not my will but Thine,” you are kneeling in union with something profoundly holy.

In mixed-gender friendships where potential romantic energy is present, loving the wounded will involve resisting expressions of love that would immediately medicate pain but ultimately hurt more than help. This restraint may feel cruel or heartless, but it’s a great kindness to the vulnerable.

Your work here begins in honest prayer--some of the most honest prayers you have ever prayed. You ask for insight into your own motives. You pray for wisdom in how to do ultimate good to a hurting person. You walk trusting God to love your friend more than you do.

God sometimes shows us practical ideas for assistance that don’t tempt or destroy in these situations. Often these ideas will take people closer to Jesus instead of deeper into ourselves, and this can feel a little lonely on our end. You haven't failed if you experience this loneliness. In fact, it might mean you have succeeded.

CONSUMING VS. GIVING

C.S. Lewis, Sayers, and others, often wrote about a dark form of love that consumed its object. This selfish obsession tried to own, use, and control instead of helping another free soul toward its eternal end.

A lot of times, giving love isn’t as immediately satisfying as consuming love. It's tough to assist without strings attached, and overflowing from God’s resources can lead others to embed themselves more deeply in Jesus than in us. It’s a whole different way of living, counter-intuitive in a culture that seeks ultimate healing in human romance.

If God isn't real--if He doesn't have a good plan for our friends--this way of doing things foolish. But if He is a benevolent Father who is working ultimate good for those we love, being selfless with the wounded trust of a true, hurting friend is the most beautiful offering we can give them. If Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, giving them to Him is even more beautiful than giving them ourselves.

 

 

 

 



 

 

 

But could a God like that be good? (Part 1)

 
Photo by Lisaleo on Morguefile

Photo by Lisaleo on Morguefile

The fiercest and most common objections I hear about Christianity aren’t scientific or historical but moral.

Millions of dollars are spent on faith-based training programs trying to argue that the Bible wields academic heft in a post-Enlightenment world, but the real crux of modern atheism doesn’t quiver before the intellectual force of the Scriptures.

Very simply, most atheists don’t like the God of the Bible because they think he isn’t moral. They think God is narcissistic, savage, inconsistent, moody, sexist, racist, and primitive.

I’ve met few Christians who are able to empathize and engage with this barrier. They shake their heads and say that atheists “just don’t get it.” They slap on a platitude. But for the most part, Christians aren’t sure how to respond to the argument that if the God of the Bible is real, he’s not the sort of leader modern humans should trust.

God has allowed this barrier to impact people I love deeply, so I’ve not been able to dismiss it like some Christians. Even if I apply childlike trust to my own faith, my heart still reaches back to plead for those who cannot believe so easily. The Lord has kept me in a strange and difficult place—a place of loving him while also understanding why friends are angry about how they perceive God.

So, I want to try to talk about this issue with respect for those who disagree with me. I want to try to explain why (at least some) atheists have such a hard time wanting to engage with the God of the Bible. And I also want to share a couple of thoughts about how I’ve processed their honest apprehensions.

1. Atheists believe the the God of the Bible is inhumane.

They have heard bits and pieces of the Old Testament— verses about mass slaughter, the stoning of homosexuals, and punishing women who were raped. They have read verses that condone slavery and advocate for treating females unequally.

While Christians tend to say, “But that was the Old Testament!” it’s very difficult for someone who isn’t all that familiar with the Bible to see how 1300 years of the Mosaic Law fit into a larger narrative context. To someone who doesn’t understand how many years the Bible actually spans, or what the different covenants communicated, the words of Deuteronomy and Galatians seem to hold equal weight.

2. Christianity has lost cred because of misapplications of the Bible.

If atheists are confused about Biblical interpretation, they have good reason. Over the centuries, a great many so-called Christians have yanked random verses out of context to try to gain cultural power. Biblical verses have been misapplied to support American slavery, the abuse of women and children, wicked political leaders, and cruelty toward the desperate. Just as satan used the Scripture during Christ’s temptation in the desert, wicked men have quoted the Bible while promoting darkness.

Before we get all defensive about this and say, “Yeah, but those teachers weren’t legit!” we need to think seriously about how trust works. Aristotle taught that ethos (personal credibility) was far more persuasive than logos (facts) or pathos (emotions). Jesus taught something similar when he explained that bad fruit falls from a bad tree.

To ask people to immediately embrace a belief system that (in their view) has proven cruel is unrealistic. Jesus warned us about the impact of false religion, and our society is now facing the consequences he told us would come. Grave damage has been done, and it’s probably going to take a lot of time in the company of real faith to even begin to repair those wounds.

People who have been deeply disappointed in religion need to test the waters, need to push on the walls, need to shake the foundations. That’s not just because those people are weak—it’s because they’ve been exposed to a false version of Christianity that hasn’t held to its core.

3. Even the New Testament can be morally confusing to the modern reader. It would be different if every baffling verse were packed away in the pre-Christ books, but even in the epistles, we find passages that provoke the modern, humanistic conscience. Beautiful commands to feed the poor, die to self, and serve the weak are juxtaposed alongside commands for women to keep silent in the churches and for slaves to obey their masters.

Concepts like predestination and hell feel profoundly unjust. Atheists ask, “How could a mortal resist the plan of God? And why should a soul face eternal consequences for a temporary choice?”

4. Perhaps even more offensive than all of these things is God’s determination to require faith of a society that worships empirical proofs. Modern America doesn’t build temples to gods made of wood and stone, but we have idolized an epistemology built upon the reliability of human perception. Despite the inability of empirical science to provide primary proofs—despite its ultimate reliance upon presuppositions built upon blind faith, a weakness even the founders of empiricism openly acknowledged—modern academia feels no qualms about demanding secondary proofs. Any deity who fails to jump through these hoops is deemed a bad sport.

I believe the Bible is true, and I believe that God is good. But I also understand why questions like these catch in the throats of the atheists of my time.

It’s hard for me to write this next bit, but I also think it’s pretty important. Sometimes what’s called “faith” is really just a lack of empathy.

I don’t mean that everybody needs to become a melancholy, cynical doubter. Not everyone is wired like that. But a lot of people who call themselves Christians aren't just pragmatic--they are fundamentally selfish about their own faith.

They have checked off the salvation box, and those who haven’t don't really keep them up nights. Once they’ve signed the dotted line on their own fire insurance, they move on to accumulate as much wealth and happiness on this planet as they can, huddling in groups with people who agree with them, and not caring all that much who makes it out with them in the end.

The politicization of the American church has exacerbated this problem. The we/them mentality has helped us divide the world into good guys and bad guys. If we are honest, a lot of Christians are truly more concerned about LGBTQ rights than they are about LGBTQ souls. A lot of Christians are truly more concerned about protecting the free market than they are about helping the poor. A lot of Christians are truly more passionate about proving their liberal family members wrong online than they are about where those family members will spend eternity.

Empathy doesn’t alter what the Bible teaches about holiness. Compassion doesn’t turn us into moral relativists. But these traits can expose our idols and show us that sometimes we have minor gods standing between us and the Pearl of Great price. Sometimes we think we are worshipping Jesus when really we are just trying to save our own skins.

I’m writing this post as a political conservative and as an orthodox Christian. I hold to old creeds and confessions and to inerrancy. Making room to care about the questions I see atheists asking hasn’t undermined my faith in Jesus.

The church is spending so much energy trying to convince the unbelieving world that the Scriptures are true, but perhaps the church needs to talk less about this and more about real heart of the matter--how the unconventional God of the Bible could possibly be good.

I’ll try to spend some time over the next few weeks unpacking my thoughts on that. For now, this post is too long already.