jennifer hanigan

a pinch of this and a dollop of that

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Riddle Me This

Twenty-plus years ago I won one of those radio call-in contests. I had to solve this riddle:

What do Mr. Peanut, Adam and Eve, and Charlie Chaplin all have in common?

Figure it out? Okay, here’s a harder one:

What do Trump’s ban on trans* people in the military, Tennessee’s new law requiring public schools to display “In God We Trust,” and me getting kicked out of church have in common?

If you answered “rampant intolerance,” you are certainly not wrong, but I think there’s a larger underlying issue. I’m having trouble finding the words to express it, so I hope you’ll bear with me.

I’ve noticed a pattern in Evangelical culture, though it is certainly not confined there, of appearances trumping reality. Sermon after sermon is preached about how we’re to be set apart, visibly different, Not! Conformed! to the Ways! of the World! (But, I was taught by the very pastor who instructed us carefully to interpret Scripture through the lens of the time, place, and culture in which it was written–unless it was about homosexuality and then a plain reading was fine–don’t look *too* different, not like the Hutterites, the German Baptists, the Amish, I mean, that’s just strange, and no one likes strange people!).

This Not Conforming to the Ways of the World is then used to…force us into conformance.

Putting God’s name on the wall of a school building does not make the school, the teachers, or the students any more Christian or godly than they were–it’s just aesthetics. Refusing to let trans* people serve in the military does not make the military stronger–it’s just aesthetics. Refusing to let openly queer or queer-affirming people in your church doesn’t make your church more unified–it’s just aesthetics.

Under the pretty picture you’ve created, you have the same mess, made uglier because you’re trampling on people you’re supposed to be building up. And those who do this seem to believe that if they make things look good, then they are good. They can feel good about themselves, I guess, as they gaze at the pretty picture they’ve created? Never mind that it was painted with others’ blood and tears.

This is, of course, not at all what Scriptures teach us. Instead, we are to appreciate variety, recognize that there is strength in our differences, build one another up, and love, love, love, and love some more.

Mr. Peanut, Adam and Eve, and Charlie Chaplin all had a cane (or a Cain). The military trans* ban, mandated ‘In God We Trust’ signs, and forcing me out of church all have this: a coating of “Christian” culture on top of a rotting pile of garbage.

Remember Jesus’ words about whitewashed tombs? Oh, our irony runneth over.


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On Marching, and Marching On

(This post is an edited version of something I posted on Facebook-first as a comment on someone else’s post, and then as my own-a year ago, as people were fussing about the Women’s March. I know my position is a controversial one, and I know that people on both sides of the issue feel that I cannot be both pro-life and feminist.  Ah, well, I never have fit into boxes.)

You would be hard-pressed to find someone more pro-life than I am. I was an unplanned, unwanted child myself, and I was also unmarried, pregnant, and barely 17 years old once upon a time, so I’m not speaking from a lack of understanding of what many women go through. But I do think it is different from almost every other issue folks disagree on, because I firmly believe that the fetus is a person, and so a woman’s choice to have an abortion is a choice to end a human life. However, I also recognize that this is not an issue that can be solved by outlawing abortion, and doing so only endangers additional lives.

Abortions took place before Roe vs Wade, and they would continue to take place even if it were made illegal again. The only reasonable way to approach this issue is to remove those things which lead a woman to believe that her best (or only) choice is to abort her child. This would include negative attitudes towards ‘illegitimate’ children, the acceptance of rape and rape culture in our society, refusal to provide reasonable medical care (birth control!), negative attitudes towards women who use food stamps or other public assistance, the assumption that people on welfare are drug addicts, the push to work for minimum wage rather than use public assistance while in training for a decent career (not to mention the push for minimum wage to remain below livable), the blaming of single parents for society’s downfall and every little bad thing their kid does, the blaming of poor people for being poor, etc., etc., etc. And the truth is that these are not things most conservative folks are willing to do. I think this is why we saw, during the Obama administration, abortion falling to its lowest rate in decades. There was hope and help for those who were in tough times, and hope and help can make the difference between an abortion and having the baby.

The Farm, which is a commune that is known primarily for its amazing midwifery practices and maternal/infant outcomes, had a policy of allowing women to come live there, give birth, and leave their baby with the community for as long as they felt was necessary (perhaps forever). They instituted this policy so that women would not feel that they had no choice (and I believe that’s how most women who have an abortion feel, and I have certainly known many women who did not feel they had any other option). They saved many lives doing this. But these days it seems people just want to tell the women that they have no choice, and then walk away from the situation, congratulating themselves for being righteous, and firmly believing that the pregnant woman has made her bed and now has to lie in it.

Abortion is no better for women than it is for the babies whose lives are taken, and more than half of those babies are girls. Although many feminists would disagree with my claim to be both feminist and pro-life, I can only think that making life better for women will translate into making life better-and possible-for their children, too. And that is why I will stand-and march!-with my pro-choice sisters, for we have far, far more in common than not, and I want the best for them and their children, and the society that we share.

Since writing the above, of course, the situation has become even more dire. The Trump administration seems to be fighting to create those circumstances most likely to force women into having no options. It grows more critical every day that we who have the means to fight, fight for the disadvantaged among us.

wonder women

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Believe You Me

In my files is a folder of school papers spanning my years between kindergarten and when I dropped out of high school.  Two or three of these papers are warning letters to my parents about all the sick days I’d taken.  I suspect these letters are, in part, why I was often made to feel I must be faking my illness.  Did you ever tell your parents you didn’t feel well, and get the impression that they thought you were faking it?  Remember what that felt like?  Okay, hold onto that feeling while we chat a bit.

Once, I nearly died from meningitis.  The doctor covering for my own took one look at my record, saw ‘Medicaid’ in my file and decided that my complaints of a horrendous headache were good examples of drug-seeking behavior. He denied me care, over and over, and even when my grandmother rushed me to the ER, he came to the hospital and told me to check myself out, that he knew I just wanted drugs.

Sometimes, when I mention this story, I worry that I’m just being dramatic or looking for attention, and I have to remind myself that no, I was truly sick, I was so sick I couldn’t care for my own kids, I was so sick that even after I got out of the hospital I spent a week flat on my back in a friend’s spare room, bored out of my skull but unable to sit up without extreme pain and dizziness. I was so sick that it was six weeks before I could walk around without an invisible foot-tall stack of books on my head (pro tip: don’t get meningitis).

I lived that experience. It’s mine, and it’s okay to talk about it.

Society, and here I will remind you and myself that society is made up of us, is really good at stealing experiences.  Most especially, when that experience makes society uncomfortable.  And a lot of us, especially when we belong to marginalized groups, are really good at internalizing that attitude.  That’s why, when I’m not feeling well on a work day, I never get by without at least a moment of wondering if I’m faking it.

Recently, a friend from church mentioned that she’d hoped I would recant my coming out.  Doesn’t that sound ridiculous?  I mean, it should…but I’ve had that thought myself.  I’ve heard the voice of doubt in my head asking if I’m sure I’m really bisexual.  Life would be so much easier if I could just shout, “False alarm! Turns out I was just confused or something. Carry on as before!”

So many problems would be solved if I could just erase that part of who I am and let those around me snuggle back into their cocoons of complacency and comfort.

But that would not be okay.  Actually, that would be the opposite of okay.  That’s what we call marginalization. It’s oppression. It’s stealing my experience. And it is not okay.

Still remembering that feeling?  Sucks, doesn’t it?  The not being believed, the implication that your understanding of your own experience must be wrong.  That others know best about your own self.

I’d like to propose a guideline. It goes something like this:

If you’re a man, and I’m a woman, and I’m talking about my experiences as a woman, shut up and listen.

If I’m fat, and you’re not, and I’m talking about my experiences as a fat person? Shut up and listen.

If I’m queer, and you’re not, and I’m talking about my experiences as a queer person, shut up and listen.

If I’m black or brown, and you’re not, and I’m talking about my experiences as a black or brown person? Shut up and listen.

This rule can be applied to all kinds of marginalized groups. And sure, it might make you uncomfortable, at least at first.  But that awful feeling of not being believed? You won’t be doing that to someone else.  And you just might learn something in the process.

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An Unhappy Fourth

I can’t have a “Happy 4th.” I just can’t. I can’t pledge allegiance to that flag, I can’t stand for the national anthem, and I sure as hell won’t be singing “God Bless America.” I can’t bow down to this new religion of Patriotism that would have us believe Baby Jesus lay in that manger wrapped in the good ol’ red, white, and blue.

I want my country back. I want the country I was taught about in grade school. The one that had learned from its mistakes and come to realize the value of every human. The one where everyone had a chance, hope, and a voice.

Oh, I know the America of my grade-school education was a mythical place, whitewashed in every sense of the word. But it gave us something to live up to. It reminded us of how things ought to be. It told us we had principles to live by, dignity and grace to walk in as we took the high road. It inspired Lady Liberty, and gratitude and loyalty around the globe.

I want to go back to the days when I would never believe that people I know and love would willingly sacrifice others’ good for their own (supposed) gain. When I thought that a cry for a Christian country meant a desire for one that was Christ-like. When civics was civilized. When we walked softly, and tried not to use the big stick. When public servants served the public.

So today I will have a mournful Fourth of July.

Today I will remember these words from Ezekiel:
“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.”

And these:
“See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood…they have oppressed the foreigner and mistreated the fatherless and the widow…In you are people who accept bribes to shed blood; you take interest and make a profit from the poor. You extort unjust gain from your neighbors. And you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign Lord. “‘I will surely strike my hands together at the unjust gain you have made and at the blood you have shed in your midst. Will your courage endure or your hands be strong in the day I deal with you?”

And these from Matthew:
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’”

Today I will remember Nineveh. Today I will pray for repentance.