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A Fear of Whales

A Fear of Whales

What shall I do with all this Awareness?

posted by rgaffney

NpNon-Profits love people like me. People with initiative and influence, people who already care, who don’t need to be sold on why the mission is important. They love to give me flyers, they love to link me to Facebook pages, they love to sell me T-Shirts, and accept donations. But I have a hard time finding agencies that will let me or my college students do anything else.

"Raising Awareness," it’s called. Although in any other context we would just call it "marketing." Letting people know that there is a problem and there is an organization which has something to do with the problem. Some of these organizations actually do something about said problem, but they only want awareness from me. A lot of them exist solely to raise awareness.

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The result of all this is that I sit here knowing lots of stuff. There are more slaves today than at any time in human history; diamond miners and cocoa farmers are not paid; coffee and tea growers are paid unfair and unlivable wages. Apple is using sweatshops; Abercrombie hates fat people; Bank of America hates the poor. There are genocides going on in at least 6 different places globally; Syria is using Sarin Gas; Sudan has an issue with refugees; Uganda has an issue with child soldiers; every country in the world has an issue with sex trafficking; North Korea just has issues. Cancer is a thing and so is autism and so are our troops. We are destroying the environment. The NSA is spying on the internet; Habeas Corpus is dead; Gitmo is still open; Monsanto is growing mutant corn; and McDonalds sells food that’s bad for you!

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I haven’t done much to solve any of those problems. But I’m happy to know that I am, nonetheless, the 99%.

I think awareness has gotten away from us a little bit. It’s an important first step, but if that first step isn’t followed by more steps (and it almost never is) it’s pretty useless, and can actually be detrimental to the cause.

You’ve probably heard of the Susan G. Koman foundation. They have raised over 1.5 billion dollars. Less than 15% of that goes to actually curing breast cancer. The money goes to letting people know breast cancer is a thing and getting them to give more money to the Susan G. Koman foundation so they can tell more people. But the problem with breast cancer isn’t actually lack of awareness. The problem is rapidly multiplying cells that kill people. By raising awareness you don’t actually solve the problem and you take money away from researchers that do. (Here’s a link to the ACS).

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willywonkakonyThis profitable Awareness market becomes especially problematic when it entails the poorest of the poor. Suddenly there are kids in Haiti that live on 3 cents a day and literally eat dirt cookies but I need $200,000 to make the documentary starring me. Next week I’m staging a fun run for amputees. The winner gets a golden pair of Nikes.

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With the best of intentions, we end up perpetuating the same cycle of exploitation that we are raising awareness about. Money is being made off the misery of people who will never see a portion of the profits. Women who were sold into sex slavery now have their testimonies sold to enable companies to go out selling more sex testimonies. Images of child soldiers lead armies of white privileged hippies through the quad. “Stop Child Labor Now” is written on T-Shirts, but the kids don’t cash the checks.

I’m interested in hearing your ideas for alternatives. Rather than offer a pithy solution to this problem I’d like us to think about real things that can be done by people with full time jobs. Sound off in the comments.

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Enforcing Modesty

posted by rgaffney

Guys, summer is over. Can we please stop with the posts policing women’s bodies?

ModestyI’m not sure why but after years of relative silence the issue of women’s modesty has become “a thing” this year. It seems to have started with a fashion designer who made some vintage style swimsuits. I wasn’t going to talk about it initially because it’s not important, and there are too many unimportant things for me to write about all of them. I’m not stoked about my religion being used as a tool to sell clothes but I figured it would blow over with the end of swimsuit season and we would all move on. But here we are in fall and there is a whole new crop of viral posts making the rounds.
The newest one features a mom from here in Austin who bespeckles her article with glamor shots of her shirtless sons flexing while threatening the ban hammer to any and all teenage girls on the internet who arch their back for a photo, thereby causing her poor little boys to stumble. In linking, one friend of mine challenged “C’mon men, help your sisters in Christ by being truthful about how we really work.”

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Well as Taylor Mali said, if you ask for it I’ve got to give it to you.

modesty2Ladies, I’m a Christian man who struggles with lust. I want to believe that all women are created in God’s image to be loved and appreciated and cared for but that head knowledge doesn’t always reach my heart and sometimes I have a tendency to think of women not in terms of their value as individuals but in terms of their capacity to gratify me and satisfy my felt needs. This process in my head is called objectification. Turning full people with needs and wants and backstories in my imagination into objects that exist for me. That’s a problem, especially because it has a tendency to slip over into the real world and affect how I interact with women.

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But let me be clear about something. Objectification isn’t an accident. It’s not like stubbing my toe. It’s an inherent and ongoing sin in my life and I’m really really good at at. So good in fact that I have no trouble objectifying you in a one piece swimsuit. The glamor shots that I am getting from these Christian modesty blogs create no fewer thoughts and feelings in me than ordinary bikini pictures do, and if you are winking at me while trying to do your best Audrey Hepburn pose it will probably do a little more.modesty3

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Needless to say if stopping me your goal, and you are photographing yourself from the breasts down, with a hand reaching up your inner thigh, as if to say “this is a good swimsuit to take off”. You’ve failed completely.
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The good news for you is that that’s my problem. You don’t have to feel guilty for me objectifying you, I have to feel guilty for that. And that’s true no matter what you are wearing. If you want to help me, forgive me! And pray for me.

As to the culture that says it’s on you, I feel a bit responsible for that too. Do you remember how I said objectification has a tendency to slip from my mind into the real world? Well I think it did. Somewhere along the line some men, probably in spiritual leadership like me, struggled with objectification, and it slipped into the real world and they decided that the best thing to do is cover these objects up so they could stop being such a problem for us. We decided that if only we could impose our will on you we could get our needs (for sexual purity) met more easily.

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It was a dumb idea.

Now I’m not saying don’t be modest. I’m not saying you don’t know best what to wear. What I’m saying is quite the opposite. Wear what you want because you want to. Don’t let someone like me make you responsible for my sin.

All pictures in this article come from ReySwimwear.com where all the swimsuits are named after Audrey Hepburn characters. Audrey, who quite rightly said “there is more to sex appeal than just measurements. I don’t need a bedroom to prove my womanliness. I can convey just as much sex appeal, picking apples off a tree or standing in the rain.”

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Tradition

posted by rgaffney

People joke about entering ones 20s and the passage on from teen years as a transition into “no longer knowing everything” If that’s what teenagers are characterized by than I guess the arrogance of ones 20s comes from knowing that your knowledge is limited but believing that what ideas you do have are your own.

I’m headed out of my 20s now.

It’s striking to me how people got on so well for so long without the internet. When I got the flu last month I had to google my symptoms and find out what to do about it (Rest, plenty of fluids, and chicken soup btw) but hundreds of years ago none of that information would have been available, and I would have relied on the collected knowledge of the elders of our community for what to do. What would they have said (rest, plenty of fluids, chicken soup probably)

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The Christian Church, for most of it’s existence (AD 0 to AD 1530) unanimously valued tradition as equal or greater in authority than the bible. And even that was often just considered another source of tradition. Most Christians in the world (the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox + Anglicans for good measure) still do.

And as to the rest of us, do we really think we are so evolved? Perhaps we have head-knowledge that scripture is the final authority but do we really follow that in our analysis of ideas. Do we prefer to follow what scripture appears to say even when it goes against what we were taught in church? It seems to me that most of us protestants have gone right on following tradition and merely stopped citing our sources.

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For instance. when I use the term “head-knowledge” I’m drawing upon a memetic tradition in the American Christian subculture. you are inclined to agree with me because you have heard that somewhere before from someone reliable. But where did it come from? I for one have no idea.

Consider also the phrase “right relationship” particularly the restoration thereof. Christians from every group I’ve been apart of agree that it’s important to restore right relationship to god, to one another, to whatever the thing we are trying to advocate for is. But the way it’s phrased it’s obviously borrowed from someplace. I goggled it, and still have no idea from where. could be the Quakers or the Jesuits, maybe I’ll ask an old Jewish lady.

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How many of the ideas that I draw upon on a daily basis come from somewhere else without my being able to identify it as easily as these two examples? How many of my ideas are shaped by other ideas that come from these traditional sources. Is there any idea that I currently hold which does not rely on the work of someone who came before me?

I don’t expect there is. but I’m not inclined to fight it. If I were to arrive on this planet as a wholly logical observer, and could not receive any past information I would come to different conclusions, about the world and what’s important. But I believe most of those wholly logical contemporary conclusions I would draw would be wrong.

I’m probably just prejudiced though

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Absolution

posted by rgaffney

Once in Mr. Kaufman’s 5th and 6th grade combo class I said something really stupid and awkward. I was trying to make sound effects for a movie. I bragged on myself quite a bit; I could not deliver what I promised. I still remember it once and a while and cringe at how dumb I was.

It was almost 20 years ago.

Do you ever do this? Feel guilt for something from high school? Stress about mistakes you made in college? Shrink back as you remember your parents yelling at you for something from ages past and forget that you are an adult now with a car and a job and your own apartment?

I think most of us do.

I’ve come to believe the problem is characteristic of a lack of absolution. We seek confession, but often forget absolution. When something goes wrong, out societal response is to investigate, see what and who messed up. Then we accuse that person. Then that person confesses.

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20 years later they still feel like the person who messed up.

I don’t like shoes; I walk around barefoot a lot. Sometimes I walk into a restaurant, forgetting I don’t have shoes on. I don’t mind being told I need to go put on shoes. I do however mind the 3 minute lecture I often receive after I get the shoes.

”Sir, I noticed you aren’t wearing shoes.”

”Oh I’m sorry, I have a pair in my car, I’ll be right back.”

”Yeah, would you get some shoes? We need you to have shoes. It’s because of a state law actually, people have to have shoes on at all times where food is being served. It’s corporate policy that we obey laws in all Burger King locations, so shoes are definitely a must.”

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”JUST LET ME GET THE SHOES!!”

…I don’t actually say that; I just want to.

When I come back there is often another lecture waiting. Someone wanting to justify themselves and convince me that I am the wholly guilty one, the one who committed the grave abomination of barefootedness. 

But your self-justification deprived me of the opportunity to restore relationship. I never get to hear that it’s okay, I have shoes now, I’m not a 5th grader anymore, my lost Gameboy is obsolete and I can afford a new one. I don’t know I’m forgiven, and it haunts me years later.

This is one of the many reasons that the gospel is so good. Even if you don’t forgive me for saying something insensitive, my heavenly father forgives me. Even if it’s years later and the person from whom I need forgiveness is dead, the person I really need forgiveness from offers it freely.

Confession is a good discipline but absolution is a life giving necessity that all Christians should experience regularly.

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