Broken Daughters

Picking up the shattered glass of fundamentalism


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Meet Mr Smith – The League

Sorry for the delay – I had a family emergency (nothing bad though!) and was needed to keep the show running at my aunt’s house. It’s over now, so I’ll get back on track asap!

Chapter 3 is called “The League”, and, to be honest, not very interesting. It’s just 5 pages long, and all Eric does is describing that ‘Great Sex’ has agreed to be interviewed, but not after letting Eric wait for 12 weeks. Eric describes being lead into the middle of nowhere by a blue Pontiac. After arriving at the final destination, a muscular guy tells him

“Mr Ludy, you’ve got your wish. You’ve earned yourself an interview with Mr Smith.” (p. 29)

Eric explains that this 12 week wait seemed rather long, and because he absolutely needed something to publish, he interviewed others during that time. This turned out to be a good thing, he says, because:

“Great Sex, contrary to popular myth, is not a singular force as is Imposter Sex. In a manner of speaking, Great Sex is part of a team. […] Great Sex is the leader of an entire band of superheroes. […]

Those interminable twelve weeks forced me to investigate this oft-overlooked band of superheroic cohorts.” (p. 29-30)

This band of ‘heroes’ is what Eric calls “the league”. What stands out to me in this passage is that it’s actually not that bad of a passage in some ways. For most people, good sex doesn’t come through a singular force (the physical aspect), but please note that it can, and that’s alright too. For most, there’s more attached to it. For some, this might be love, trust, respect, for some it will include commitment, for others it will include being spontaneous, and others again don’t need love and trust, but rather adventure or the unknown. So yes, for each and every person, great sex doesn’t consist of the bare physical aspect, most will find that a number of aspects will add up to what one considers “great”.

What Eric fails to acknowledge is that there isn’t a fixed band of superheroes for each and every person. Sex is as individual as the people who have it. Eric tries to sell this as a “one size fits all” kind of deal when it really isn’t. He also fails to acknowledge that some people are simply not compatible. You can’t expect to invite all those “superheroes” Eric will interview in the following chapters into your bedroom and everything will be fine. That’s not how humans work! Because, I have to say it again, different superheroes for different people.

Additionally, Imposter Sex is described as a singular person, whereas great sex is not. This is a very clear description of what Eric believes of ‘worldly’ relationships: There is only one singular aspect, the physical aspect, which corresponds to the “root of evil” – Jimmy the Shrimp aka selfishness. Eric doesn’t even acknowledge the possibility that non-christians can experience what he supposedly experiences. And this leads me to one of the major problems of this book (sex books of any type, to be honest): If you choose one of these binary options, you can’t possibly experience the other. If you experience ‘biblical’ sex, that necessarily means that you haven’t experienced ‘worldly’ sex. If you did, in fact, experience ‘worldly’ sex, then you can’t experience the ‘biblical’ version because you have lost too much. It’s impossible to objectively contrast these two, but then again, can you ever compare and contrast sexual experiences, especially those of different people?

So, you probably guessed what’s next: Before Eric lets us in on his interview with Mr Smith (aka Great Sex), he’ll tell us more about his interviews with the other members of the League. Next up: The little Wiry Guy!

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Meet Mr Smith: Jimmy the Shrimp

So Jimmy the Shrimp. In this chapter, Eric wonders why God would create sex in the first place. If Eric (and the reader) were to create the world, this is what he would consider:

So when the Garden of Eden comes into view and it’s time to craft our very first human being, it just makes sense – knowing what we know now – that we should leave out the excretory and reproductive systems. (p. 15)

I don’t think I have to say all that much here, let me just… So there are two really gross things about being a human being – sex and… shit? The major problem here is the association of sex with something that most young women (the major audience of this book) will find very gross. This creates an image of sex as something very undesirable – would you want to touch the excrements of another person in any way? No? Well, having sex is very, very similar to that. At least that was my first idea when I read this passage, and I bet I’m not the only one who was put off by the thought of sex in connection to the excrement image.

What follows is Eric’s recollection of a particularly cold morning. He put on warm clothes – even long underwear (he stresses this three times, I am clueless why this is so relevant as opposed to the jacket and gloves he was wearing) to go to the gym. So he gets out of the car in front of the gym, and there’s this guy wearing shorts. Eric is surprised (he put on long underwear, after all) and observes the following:

I gasped with horror, and before I could analyze and thusly quash the words I was about to launch from my squack box, I blurted, “How do you pull off those shorts?” – Sex creates problems we certainly wouldn’t have if it didn’t exist. (p. 16)

Seems like a weird train of thoughts? It is! So why is sex to blame for the shorts-situation? Here’s the solution:

As far as he [the man in shorts] was concerned, I was not only a sexual deviant but a rather rude one at that. My point is, sex caused that very uncomfortable scene! (p. 16)

Ok, Eric, listen: Sex did not cause that uncomfortable scene. Your (and the man’s) perceptions about socially appropriate behavior and stereotyping caused that scene. Your belief caused that scene. Don’t blame sex. It didn’t force you to ask that question, and it didn’t tell the man who you were probably gay. What really, really, caused that scene is the fact that you can’t take a single step in this world without thinking about penises and vaginas, because you were taught that you are supposed to be thinking about penises and vaginas at all times. This is not what normal people do.

Back to creation. So, why did God create sex again? Eric states that, if you’re not just going to leave out sex in creation, why not make it really really painful? There wouldn’t be rape, or unwanted pregnancies or VDs if sex were painful. However, Eric believes that this wouldn’t solve the problem behind the whole sex debate. Here’s why:

You know how in mobster movies, you find out that the Mob has been laundering money through a series of front companies. and no one knew that Jimmy the Shrimp from the west side of Chicago was actually the deviant behind the whole murderous affair? The problem with Sex is a lot like that. There’s a Jimmy the Shrimp behind this whole Sex thing, and it’s making the whole bottle of milk go sour. And whether Sex was removed from the picture entirely or the act of Sex actually became painful, the problem (aka Jimmy the Shrimp) would still be at large, finding himself a new flunky and creating a new front behind which to hide his deviant behavior. Sex just happens to be his chosen front. (p. 18)

I think this is a very accurate comparison. Eric is right, sex is not the problem. But who, exactly, is Jimmy the Shrimp?

Selfishness. Yep. That’s the sickness; that’s the problem. It’s that’s (sic!) simple to describe. Selfishness (aka Jimmy the Shrimp) is the essence of everything wrong, not just with Sex, but with everything else on planet earth. (p. 19)

The concept of selfishness vs “dying to self” is a huge one in conservative christianity in general (cf. JOY – Jesus first, others second, yourself last) and the Ludyverse specifically. It shouldn’t surprise that Eric sees selfishness as the root of all problems – or, as he mentions a page later – the Flesh. The Flesh is what makes us do all evil and bad, and, due to our fleshly nature, human beings are bound to follow their fleshly desires, aka to sin, to do bad, to be selfish. On top of that, there is no stopping it. You can’t just be a good person, as Eric explains:

You see, the catch is, you are free as a bird to do bad, mischievous, crude and debased things, but you are not free to do godly things. Being loving, pure, kind, and good-hearted doesn’t seem like much of an ambition until you realize that no matter how hard you try, you can’t pull it off. You are stuck on a one-way street called Sin, and there’s no going the other way. (p. 21)

This is quite a bleak outlook on life, but it captures very well the essence of conservative christianity: It is simply impossible to be good in any way. You are governed by your flesh and there’s no escaping it – your flesh, your selfishness, rule everything you are. The only way (which Eric also mentions in the following passage) is making God your only master. That means that your flesh must die (aka “dying to self”) in order for God to use you for good things, to make you pure and noble. This is an either-or decision, which also means that if you do not believe in the God of the Bible, it is absolutely impossible for you to do anything good in your life – even those acts you might think of as good and noble are perverted by the underlying selfishness of the flesh. Eric explains this problem in connection to sex:

Sex is a carrier for Jimmy the Shrimp’s agenda. You may want Sex to exhibit the beauty and romance of heaven in your life, but as long as the Shrimp stands behind it, Sex will always only be selfish, lust-driven, and perverse. (p. 23)

Basically, what this boils down to is that without a clear belief in the God of the Bible, all sex you have will be perverted, and dirty. Even if you remained a virgin untill marriage. Even if you never looked at porn or had sexual thoughts. Only through believing in God in a particular way can you make Sex something acceptable and fulfilling.

Now, taken all together, it is very hard to criticize Eric on these ideas. If you did have sex outside of these belief systems, you might go ahead and say that Eric is wrong, that you are very satisfied with your sex life and whatnot. But you see, this chapter and the one before it serve to build up a defence system against this argument: YOU see Imposter sex and, like the women at Starbucks, think he’s the hottest guy in town. Your opinion is invalid because you have no idea. Eric knows what really great sex feels like, and you’re just going to have to go ahead and believe him. And if you don’t… well, that’s probably your flesh trying to stop you from becoming a believer.

Next up: Eric’s steps to really great sex.


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Meet Mr Smith: The Imposter

As I mentioned in the introduction post, the first part of the book is exclusively Eric’s tale. After Leslie’s short preface, he starts his section with a chapter called “Imposter Sex”. Now, I wasn’t sure if I should dedicate an entire post to this chapter because it is both very short and very rambly, but I couldn’t think of a way to incorporate it with the following chapter, so I finally decided on an individual post.

The major reason for this is because this first chapter sets the stage for the entire tale, yet is somewhat unconnected to it.

In this first chapter, Eric described the ‘process’ and ‘reason’ for writing this book:

“Just yesterday I sat down at a Starbucks in downtown Manhatten and had a very uncomfortable three-and-a-half minute conversation with Sex.” (p. 3)

As you can see, this is very much a narrative – as the entire construction of Eric’s tale is. What strikes me in this first sentence of the book is the way he manages to incorporate and enforce common stereotypes about sex with his choice of words: “very uncomfortable” and “three-and-a-half minute”. Why is this relevant to him you ask? Well, because he doesn’t express this as a stereotype about sex in general, but about imposter sex. What follows is a several pages long (fictional) story of how Eric wrote a letter to “Sex” (an actual, living person in this narrative), asking for an interview and some rambly thoughts about the word itself. I’ll spare you the details, because he really doesn’t say much. Let’s jump to the day Eric is sitting in that Starbucks, the day of the meeting:

“Although the environment wasn’t much to sex’s liking, seeing as how I had threatened to expose his impostership, he arrived, nevertheless, with two bodyguards and a haughty smirk splattered all over his face, as if he had left the lid off the blender that morning when mixing up his daily dose of self-importance.” (p. 6)

Sex doesn’t seem so nice now, does it? Note how Eric connects Sex to self-importance here: This is a very frequent image (or connection) in the purity culture. Sex, or better, having sex, is not an expression of love, emotion, physical connection – it is merely an act of glorifying the self above anything else. This focus on self-importance vs denial of the self is a central theme in all of the Ludy’s writings, and we didn’t have to read more than 10 pages to arrive at the point where Eric points out just that – the very first thing that strikes him about “imposter-sex” is self-importance.

“I was quite surprised at his appearance. Seeing as how this guy is all about glitz and glam, I’d expect a handsome, well-formed leading man sort of fellow – you know, Tom Cruise meets Russell Crowe. However, this guy was more like a smarmy Elvis impersonator. He was almost cartoonish in his form – tall and lean, but with a blubbery beer bulge up front. Although he had a rather attractive face, his hair was greasy black and he even had a set of long sideburns a la “the King”.” (p. 6)

Bet you didn’t see that one coming! So, what I get from this description is that Sex really can’t be as hot as you would think it is. I find it fascinating that a book targeting young women for the most part would work with such descriptions. I don’t know about you, but after reading this, I can’t help but imagine a guy like this in my bedroom – and it’s not a very nice image. Clearly, the major idea is building negative associations. So, how would you react if you saw a guy like that? Stay away from him? Let’s see what the people sitting at Starbucks do:

“As Sex entered, it seemed the entire room stopped and looked. You would have thought a Greek god was humbling himself and dining among mere mortals. “He’s gorgeous!” I heard a woman whisper from somewhere behind my right shoulder. “That dude is a dude!” said a male voice near the coffee pickup counter. I thought it odd that someone so unimpressive to me was receiving such accolades from these coffee trinkers.” (p.8)

Ok, so it seems Eric is the only one in there who can see Sex for what it really is – that greasy, disgusting figure. The rest of the world – or at least a large portion of it – sees this Sex guy as someone impressive, sexy, desirable. This small section has something very patronizing about it. Eric implying that he can see the Truth (something he states a few lines later), but most others don’t. Eric has the authority to speak because he can see the world for what it really is. In what follows he has a conversation with Sex, telling him that he met his “nemesis” and experienced “his work firsthand”. This makes Sex very angry, and he leaves, telling Eric that he will never go away.

“Sex. Strangely, these three letters weren’t always smarmy, conniving, and falsely debonair. I know this may be difficult to believe, but Sex wasn’t originally coupled with strip clubs, nudie magazines, adulterous antics, and sipping rum punch in a penthouse apartment near Hollywood and Vine. In fact, there was a time when Sex was a clean-shaven gentleman, mature, dignified, bearing roses, and speaking in poetic rhymes with a hint of a British accent. There was a time when Sex worked humbly and selflessly to bring about something good, pleasurable, fun, noble, and pleasing to God.” (p. 11)

Alright, where do I start? I hate to say this, but I have a feeling that Eric hasn’t really read the bible. When was that supposed age where Sex still was the way Eric describes here? In genesis, with Noah? With Tamar? With Sodom and Gomorrah? Or maybe after Jesus died, and Christianity started to form? We have plenty historical proof that this is not true. Prostitution is one of the eldest businesses on earth. “Strip clubs” have always existed in some form.

Also note that “real sex” speaks “poetic rhymes”. I find this interesting in the light of the warrior-poet-construct. There’s another similar line, right after Eric explaining that he knows true sex because he has experienced his work:

“He doesn’t have an Elvis-like flop of hair and long side-burns, he doesn’t have a jiggling bulge around his middle, and he doesn’t swivel his hips – I’d say he’s more William Wallace meet Lord Alfred Tennyson, with a dash of Jimmy Stewart and a dripping dollop of Sidney Poitier.” (p. 12)

What’d I tell you? This is an even clearer rendition of the warrior-poet image, clearly linked to good sex (also note the twisted Braveheart-reference!). As I mentioned in the introduction post, Eric has a very specific image of what this warrior-poet is and uses the term consistently. I will go into details in another post, but I just want to point out very clearly how important he feels this image is in connection to good sex.

After some more rambling about the word sex, Eric concludes this little chapter:

“Imposter Sex thrives off ignorance. But he shrivels up and fades away when we expose him for what he really is – a shameless wannabe.” (p. 14)

So, what can I say to conclude this chapter? Honestly, I find it very difficult to sum up anything other than Eric obviously believing he knows the truth, and that “imposter sex” is gross while “real sex” is super-awesome, warrior-poet style. As I mentioned earlier, this chapter is more an introduction than anything else, but since it stands quite isolated and really doesn’t contain anything, I had to post this separately. What I can promise you is that in what follows, we will finally find out more about that warrior-poet-sex guy, and it’s going to be good. Next up: Selfishness! That’s always a good one.


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Meet Mr Smith: Introduction/Preface

Ludy, Leslie & Eric (2007). Meet Mr Smith. Revolutionize the way you think about sex, purity, and romance. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Available e.g. via amazon, around $13. I purchased my book with my own money some years ago. I am not being payed to review. I have no affiliations with the authors, editors or companies. All opinions and views are my own.

For the sake of completeness, here the text on the back:

Meet Mr. Smith offers a radical alternative to the over-romanced, casual-sex lifestyle popular in today’s world.  Reawakening the ancient ideas of sacred sex, purity, and holy love, relationship experts Eric and Leslie Ludy introduce a new language and framework for our sex-in-the-city culture. Meet Mr. Smith exposes and tackles hot topics like:

  • What does God think about pre-marital sex?
  • What about oral sex and self sex?
  • Why would God give me a sex drive if He didn’t plan on me using it?
  • How far is too far?

Meet Mr. Smith is a funny, fresh, romantic conversation about the true nature of love and sex. So go ahead. Open the pages of this book and prepare to meet the companion of your dreams. You’re about to enjoy an encounter that could transform your relationships – and life.

The book is written by both Eric and Leslie, however it is structured into two major sections: The first is Eric’s tale – this is simply called “Eric” in the book, but since it is a very particular writing style (it is more a narrative than anything else), and because referring to it as “Eric” is confusing, I chose to call this first section Eric’s tale from here on out. Eric’s tale makes up a large portion of the book. Leslie’s section follows Eric’s tale, and consist largely of a question and answer section. About half of Leslie’s section consist of appendices without authorial reference to either Eric or Leslie. I chose to include them in Leslie’s section for two reasons: The structure of the contents page indicates somewhat that this section was written by Leslie, and the topics of the appendices are very clearly aimed at a female readership – this is characteristic of Leslie, not Eric.

The book starts out with a short preface written by Leslie. She shortly describes her hesitation about writing (and co-authoring) this book in the first place. Luckily, Eric convinced her to write this book in the end. Finally, she reassures us that the following section (Eric’s tale) is a true story – with minor tweaks for dramatic effect. I know you can’t see right now why she would say that, and why it’s supposed to be funny, but once we are through the first chapter of Eric’s tale, you will understand this reference. So, after this short technical instruction on the book, let’s get started!

 


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The Ludys: An introduction

Can I get a B-U-S-Y to describe my summer? Phew. I’ve been feeling inspired for a long time but I simply could not find enough time to actually write a full post. Today’s the day! So let’s get started.

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I know most of my readers follow a large number of similar blogs (I follow the same ones!). Now, a ‘trend’ on these other blogs is (and has been for months and months) a focus on certain teachers from the P/QF movements, often closely linked to book reviews and the likes. One blog may be very strongly involved in the Godhard-side of things, another may be more focused on Vision forum. I really really enjoy reading these condensed views, reviews and collections. I personally never felt compelled to focus on any specific leader in my writings, simply because I don’t know that much about them (e.g. their personal histories, affiliations etc.). Another factor is that I never got deep into reading their materials, so I can’t really speak in such a knowledgable way about Godhard & co. What I’m trying to say is that I always thought that I never followed a specific leader religiously in my past life, and that means to me that I should not be spreading pseudo-knowledge when there are so many good (and knowledgable) resources.

Recently, however, I have noticed that I did follow a specific group religiously. I did soak up materials like a sponge. I did listen to sermons and talks and all that, took notes, marked their books, etc. And that group is – Eric and Leslie Ludy. Funny I never noticed how obsessed I used to be (and still am, avid reader of Leslie’s magazine here!). Additionally, I find that the Ludys take very much a backseat in the discussion of hurtful theologies and ideologies. Seriously, it’s very hard to find a critique of the Ludys on the webs. Why is that? Here are some thoughts:

As opposed to many other leaders in the evangelical community, the Ludys are a couple. Now, obviously Mr Phillips is also married, but his wife never played a major role in his projects. When she did appear, she very much seemed in the role of a supporter. Godhard was never married, so there’s that.

Finally, we got the Pearls. Now, the Pearls are also a couple, but the constellation is very different from the Eric-Leslie Ludy constellation. The Pearls enforce the exact same values and ideas, the only difference being that Debbie’s books are labelled “For women” whereas Michael’s books are labelled “For men”. At the end of the day, they talk about the exact same stuff, the exact same ideas. Michael and Debbie Pearl are not so much a couple as they are the same person (at least concerning the books they produced) in male and female respectively. This is a huge difference to the Ludys, and I think it is this difference that sets the Ludys apart from the majority of ideological leaders in the evangelical world.

Eric and Leslie Ludy populate vastly different spheres. Their books are very different: Their styles of writing differ greatly, so it’s actually possible to guess very easily who of the two wrote a text (as opposed to Debbie and Michael, you would probably not be able to tell who wrote a piece of text in a blind test). Most importantly, however, their topics differ greatly. Leslie Ludy has a strong focus on clothing, style, make up, family life, children, housekeeping and all things “feminine” (eg. gossip, texting, Internet, etc). Eric Ludy, on the other hand, has not published as many books as his wife to begin with (possibly due to the fact that Leslie’s books have a different target audience which happens to simply consume more books of this sort), and those that he did publish are on topics such as missioning, theology, religion in daily life, etc.

I think this short list gives you a pretty good idea that there is very little chance of the two getting in each other’s way, meaning, they will never repeat what the other one has stated before because they do not intrude each other’s spheres. This also means that the Ludys come across not only as very complementarian (“perfect match” anyone?), it also gives them a quality of respecting each other and each other’s roles in life without reflecting a pattern of “submission” of the wife. In fact, Eric never talks about submission at all – that is entirely Leslie’s job (though she does not like to use the term “submission” at all; Leslie has developed a whole array of terms to cover for it). That may make Eric look like the perfect husband, but whether this reflects his actually state of mind or if this is simply a relatively smart way to solve the problem of a man telling a woman about her place in life is a completely different story.

The very few hints Eric’s writings and sermons give us is his usage of terms like the anecdotal “warrior-poet” (I’m serious, direct quote). This is something I will go into in more detail in a follow-up post, for short a warrior-poet is a man like King David: A brave warrior as well as the shepard who write poems and plays on the flute. Now, warrior-poets are leaders by definition, and, because they are not just brave but also incredibly romantic (the poet part), women are to trust the warrior poets to lead the relationship. I think this very short description gives a good glimpse into the idea of “letting a man lead”. The whole point of this is, though, that the idea represented by the Ludyesque warrior-poet differs in no way from the man in the good old purity/courtship culture. Not one bit.

Eric Ludy hardly ever talks about relationships outside of this warrior-poet-symbolism, and that is, in my opinion, what distinguishes the Ludys from everybody else and ultimately makes them seem extremely liberal while extremely complementarian – this sounds like a contradiction in itself, but it is not, as I hope to show a bit clearer in the next few posts.

Now, Leslie, as opposed to Eric, is very much into the strong representation of female qualities in her writings. Leslie has published a number of books on beauty, style, love, relationships and the like. In her writings, Leslie often takes a very critical approach towards women who fall out of the line of what she deems “godly behavior”. In fact, without ever stating this specifically, she often implies that a woman truly saved will look just the way she expects you to. Everyone who does not meet this ideal of the perfectly made up and styled woman fails to do so because they lack faith. In a sense, Leslie differs very little from other leaders in this field, except for the lack of involvement of her husband in these issues. This lack gives her an authority on these issues that is unmet in the evangelical circles: She speaks truth without her husband being involved in this at all. She speaks truth because she herself does not need her husband’s input on it. This makes her believable and uniquely authentic. She undermines this seemingly god-given perfection of the feminine sphere of Christianity with her magazine “Set Apart Girl” (available for free online, just google set apart girl), in which she uses beautiful layout, beautiful photos and beautifully arranged texts. You may say I’m overinterpreting here, but as a matter of fact, Leslie manages to publish and honestly beautiful magazine, while looking beautiful herself, sitting in her beautiful house, with her perfectly clean kids (rosy cheeks and all) – this is what attracts the young female reader. Leslie turns into the perfect role model because she has it together (or so it seems), because her husband is so immensely proud to have a perfect wife (and he didn’t even have to publish a book on how to be a perfect wife because his wife already is perfect).

These things are exactly what drew me towards the Ludys (and still does), so bear with me while I go into more detail on a number of the things I mentioned (and some others). I think it’s going to be interesting, and I also think it’s going to be a nice addition to the rest of the “evangelical leader” publishing field.

By the way, since book reviews are so popular, I went through the small stack of christian living books I still own (They are all Ludy books). I came across “Meet Mr Smith”, which is a book on sexual and emotional purity in relationships, written by Eric and Leslie together. I thought I’d offer this up for a review because it’s one of the least-known Ludy books and it’s actually a very interesting read. Thoughts?


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Recollection of the day I learned something about love.

My heart beats faster and my palm gets slightly tacky. I hope nobody thinks it’s a good idea to shake hands today. I sit in my car, driving and singing, and I can’t take my mind off you. I remember that one night a few weeks ago, where we snuck away from the party crowd and made out in front of a desolated house. I wonder if you remember, you were so tipsy. I wonder whether you think of it, too.

I remember how I laughed and whispered “We can’t stay”, and you said “why not?” I laughed again and said that the others will wonder, and they will think stuff. You look at me with such strange eyes and say “I don’t care” and you smile like I have never seen you smile before. I remember pulling you through thick ivy on the ground, stumbling in the dark, laughing. “Let’s go back!” I tell you, and you pull me towards you, both of us stumbling over the ivy, laughing, kissing me again.

I remember that one time when we were sitting in my car, and there was this tension between us. At least I felt did. Did you, too? I remember you were quiet and I was chewing your ear off. And when we had reached your house, and you wanted to get out of the car, you hesitated, and you wanted to say something. And then you said “You know, it could have been great…” but you didn’t finish, you said nevermind, smiled and said “see you on Tuesday” instead.

I wonder what it was that you were going to say. Were you going to say that we would be great if either one of us had the guts to say it out loud? I like to imagine that this was what it was.

I remember that other night, were we happened to be at the same bar. We sat outside and there were too many people to really talk, so we just chit-chatted. My friends wanted to leave, and I had to leave with them, I just couldn’t stay here with you. I would have loved to, but it was my friend’s birthday. Before I left, I leaned over and whispered something into your ear. What I said was the truth. You looked at me with a sparkle in your eyes, and you tried to pull me towards you, but I wiggled my hand free and laughed. “I have to go” I said, and you said “I have to tell you something, too”, and I smiled and said “next time!” I still wonder what it was that you were going to say. I like to think that you would have told me something true, too.

I remember that one night, were I came to your house. I was so drunk, for no reason really, other than having the guts to ask for that true thing you were going to tell me. All of the Tequila and the Vodka made me feel like I can finally do it. I staggered up the stairs and giggle like a silly girl. You laughed and waited at your door. I came in, you closed the door behind me. I looked at you and wanted to say something, but all that came out was more giggling and the realization that the vodka obviously doesn’t help much. All I could say is “How are you… on this… wonderful night… morning?” and you came close and started to kiss me. And still I did not ask you.

I remember that time where I texted you that I would come and stood you up. There wasn’t any particular reason. I just didn’t come. I wonder whether that hurt you. I wonder whether you even cared.

Another song comes on and it goes “oh but that one night”. I flash back to the desolated house. Darkness, laughter and kisses. I think of texting you, but I don’t. I don’t want to feel silly. I don’t want to feel rejected. I get angry at your for not texting me first. Will you ever? I want you so much, but I can’t get myself to admit that. I can’t stop thinking of you, and it bothers me.


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Book Review: Brenda Weatherly: “Quiverfull: To Be Or Not To Be”

This and the following post are a review of “Quiverfull – To be or not to be” by Brenda Weatherly. Brenda approached me if I could review her book in exchange for a free e-copy. After making sure she had understood my own background and position, I agreed to write this review. Apart from the free copy, I did not receive any form of compensation. The review is my own, honest opinion.

You are probably wondering why I would review this book. Well, I’m still wondering myself. For some reason, I felt that it would be fun. I was eager to read a QF book at this point in my life, with my new ideas and convictions. I wanted to see what changed in my views. It seemed like a great opportunity to reflect myself. At the same time, Brenda is a lovely woman who approached me with so much kindness that I didn’t feel like I could possibly turn her down. Yet I was very hesitant. Why should I in particular review a book written by a quiverfull mother? What positive could possibly come from it?  She’d said that it is about quiverfull faith, contraception and valuing life. I imagined that it would be a rather technical book, and that I would feel terrible writing an honest review on it. I am still unsure whether I’m the right person for this review, nevertheless I will do my best to be objective and point out what I liked and didn’t like.

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Here is what Brenda says on her blog about the book:

“Quiverfull: To Be Or Not To Be” is a 50-page book that discusses a somewhat controversial topic, that of birth control in the Christian family. The first portion of the book is the story of my life and where the Lord has brought me, from teen mom to a mother of 7. The next portion of the book goes into a brief history of the birth control movement and what the Church’s views on contraception have been and how they have dramatically changed since Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, came onto the scene. Natural family planning is mentioned as a positive alternative to the conventional ‘wisdom’ most women typically have heard. I discuss sensitive issues such as mental and physical illness. The topic of abortion is covered in detail because it has personally affected the life of my family. Orphan care and adoption are covered in the final section of the book when I ask the question, ‘Which children are blessings?’

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The book is a relatively short read. There are 52 pages. However, Brenda doesn’t waste space on fancy layout, so these are full-text pages with an occasional family picture. I generally like Brenda’s style. I can’t quite figure out what to call it: Conversational? Blogger-style? Either way, it is fun to read, easy to access, and doesn’t feel “holier than thou”.

I believe that the title (and description) are slightly off. Yes, it is about all the technical issues (contraception and faith etc), but it is also a journey through Brenda’s life, especially the first half of the book.

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As mentioned, the first part of her book is pretty much her biography. Brenda comes from a christian background. Throughout her life, she went to several stages of christian beliefs. If you yourself come from any of the conservative christian movements throughout the US, you will likely be able to relate to numerous parts of her story and her experiences. From the perspective that traversing through different groups of christians offered up to Brenda, she describes the changes she went through concerning her beliefs in contraception.

I think what is particularly interesting in the first half of the book is the way in which these hardships changed Brenda’s views on family planning – I want to tell you right now that Brenda’s beliefs today would label her a heathen in the community I’m from. This doesn’t mean she isn’t conservative. I’m having a very hard time placing Brenda on the typical QF scales of believers and unbelievers. She doesn’t quite fit in.

If you like reading biographies of QF people, you will greatly enjoy this part. I really don’t want to quote here because I’m having a hard time reviewing it without revealing too much. But there are many problems Brenda faces and goes through: Relationships with parents (and her own children, of course), difficulties of life, job problems, financial problems, health problems, to name a few. In this sense, Brenda experiences many things all of us experience, and I applaud her bravery to talk about it so openly and to dissect her own choices she makes in those situations. Brenda is not afraid to talk about right and wrong choices, and she does a great job using her experience as means to explain how these shaped her beliefs.

Yes, that’s all I want to say. I think Brenda’s biography is worth reading, though it is short. I have encouraged her to add some more perspectives because I truly believe her life is worth telling a bit more extensively.

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The second part of the book is where it gets as “technical” as promised by the title. Brenda had mentioned a sort of essay on birth control she wrote in her biography already, and I tend to believe that this is what makes up the second part.

Now, the thing with the second part is that almost all of it was “already known” for me. But please remember that I grew up in these same beliefs, so it is only natural that I am familiar with it.

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The first section discusses the backgrounds of Planned Parenthood and “artificial” vs “natural” family planning. This is also the section which I criticize most. I used parenthesis because Brenda doesn’t quite clearly state the position of certain means of family planning – I’m talking condoms here. The section about Planned Parenthood shouldn’t be news to any insiders of QF, but nevertheless useful to newbies. I like that Brenda gives references to her sources.

However, I truly missed a connection back to the actual beliefs derived from the history of Planned Parenthood. I do not want to discuss Margret Sanger here – it’s not really important for the review – but I am wondering: If Sanger in fact had racist views on birth control (something not entirely proven), how does that influence modern Planned Parenthood? Sanger is long gone after all. I think the argument that the Planned Parenthood organisation must be rejected based on Sanger’s views is a bit like blaming others for mistakes they didn’t make. The churches likewise had difficult relationships to several nazi organisations, nevertheless I don’t see anyone condemning the churches today on the basis of that. That’s exactly the point here: It is ok to reject Planned Parenthood, but doing so on the basis of Sanger’s private ideology that is not the same as Planned Parenthood’s modern stances is a bit mushy to me – it doesn’t seem religiously correct to reject/judge.

Another chapter which receives almost the same criticism from me is the chapter about environment and population. While it is fine to have certain beliefs, I still miss the connection of the facts with the corresponding beliefs. I also would have wished for a more thorough investigation of this. One thing that struck me was the following:

Gene Edward Veith, of WORLD Magazine, writes, “In 1968,
Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb, panicking the
world with dire predictions of a population explosion. By the
year 2000, he predicted, the world would be so crowded that
hundreds of millions would die of starvation. Although Mr.
Ehrlich’s prophecies have turned out to be almost comically
wrong […]. (p. 35)

I think the final sentence is quite off. Unfortunately, we do live in a world were millions – unfortunately most of them children – died of starvation or malnutrition since 2000. Whether this is due to overpopulation or not I do not want to discuss – I would have to do research. I think the issue is much more complex that just overpopulation yes or no. The issue is also that we are not willing to cut down on what we have, that we believe we deserve what we earn and if somebody else doesn’t earn the same, he or she probably doesn’t deserve it. I don’t think you can discuss overpopulation without keeping in mind that there is also the matter of distribution, or what we expect to get. Just an example: If we were to not eat meat, the world could feed more people with the resources we have than if everybody wanted meat at least twice a week. And in this sense, I do believe there is something like overpopulation, not to forget that we can’t simply use all land we have at our disposal to produce food. And this is only food, the list goes on. Either way, I had a problem with this part, simply because I do believe in limits population-wise and also because we certainly already hit a limit of some sort. Otherwise, we wouldn’t see all those children starve when we turn on the TV.

Both the criticism of Planned Parenthood as well as the criticism of environmental beliefs are collected under the hood of a “humanist” thinking. Humanists are believed to strive for a decrease of population and, ultimately, to a destruction of the human race, by furthering contraception and abortion. In these senses, this book is very much in line with core QF beliefs. And, just like every QF classic, this book too fails to tell me why exactly “humanists” would want to do these things that they are supposedly doing. Why would humanists want the human race to die out, or live in agony, or anything else? What is the agenda behind the “agenda” of abortion?

In my youth I was told by my parents that humanists worked for satan. This means that humanists are actually working for him – consciously or unconsciously – to win the “cultural war”. The underlying idea is that Christian are in a war against satan’s army. The army consists of more than just humanists, however: Anybody who is not a christian (muslims, Buddhists, atheists, you name it) is a member of satan’s army with the ultimate purpose to destroy God’s army. There are so many things about this ideology that bother me. The idea of a war of cultures is also what nurtures the christian idea of being different from “culture”, often by dress to make it obvious.

I think you get the point I’m trying to make here: The stance this book expresses on specifically these two issues is very much the same as you will find in the classics – and just like in the classics, there is very little reflection on the actual consequences for beliefs based on the facts. It is “This was a bad person, so don’t like the organisation”.

The idea of this group of “humanists” with some shady agenda to hurt humanity is troubling. I think it generally remains underspecified what is actually meant here, not just in this book but in pretty much every book on these issues.

Yes, these chapters were a drawback for me, the two reasons being 1) my familiarity with the rhetoric and therefore my unfulfilled hopes for “something new” and 2) the fact that I cannot agree with these parts. I simply can’t. Sorry.

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However, I agree with many things mentioned in the chapters on NFP and the general stance towards birth control. The chapters in which Brenda deals with the “tough” questions of QF are very interesting.

OF COURSE I heard these questions in my youth: “What should the family do if the woman is ill?” is just one of them. But the answers I got and believed in were different from the answers Brenda gives here. I like the way she deals with questions like illness (a mother’s or one of the children’s), severe financial problems and others.

While Brenda makes it obvious enough that she believes that children are blessings, she does not mindlessly press that a child is a blessing at all times. Something that struck me as very strange (for an evangelical, that is) was the fact that she quotes roman catholic stances on family planning extensively. That’s not a negative thing, actually, because she manages to make quite a point that despite children being a blessing in this mindset, she acknowledges that this may not be true at every point in a person’s life. Especially her opinions of delaying children in instances of illness struck me as unusual for Evangelic circles:

“For goodness’ sake, can there possibly be any judgment aimed at the desperate woman who fears for her own children’s safety because of mental issues? Certainly not!” (p. 28)

Brenda advocates family planning whenever another birth poses a threat to either the mother’s health or the other children’s health. This is also the major point in which I see potential shunning for Brenda’s attitude and bad critiques from the core QF movement: By their ideologies, she does not fully “trust the Lord”. Brenda justifies this ideology by saying that the intentions of the heart matter. If you are truly open to having more children, but are overcome with fears for a reason, that is theologically fine. I do not think that this is necessarily a bad position, but it is certainly a position which can be easily attacked by core QF believers. “God’s ways are best” is a traditional QF quote which typically goes a long way “exposing” people who think like Brenda as “unbelievers”. While I don’t agree with this logic, you will have to agree with me that in this aspect, it is unfortunately impossible to dispute the issue. There is always that all-knowing, loving God who does everything for a real good reason. Why not would he allow a physically ill woman to have another child? Why not

One of my favourites was the following quote:

I believe the Lord wants His children cared for… not just given birth to. (p. 43)

Here, Brenda adopts a rhetoric that is also used by liberals (christians and atheists alike) to point out that merely birthing children is not the point. IF you are pro-life, you cannot stand there and cry out against abortion and then lose interest as soon as the child is born (or, alternatively, pound on the idea that the mother should give her child up for adoption). Things aren’t black and white like some people want them to be. Children must be cared for. Some people need help. In some cases that may be adoption.

As a part of the discussion on caring for children, Brenda (of course) discusses orphans and foster parents. But within this chapter, I also find that she discusses state and welfare means to protect children in the US (not overseas). A general stance towards state intervention by the core QF groups is that it is an invasion of privacy and a threat to parental control over their families. Recently, Libby Anne has extensively discussed the fact that a home school organisation is greatly involved in cases of suspected child abuse, actually defending the abusive parents by advocating their rights to raise their own children. From a book written by a QF follower, I expect a similar position, but Brenda delivers quite a different comment:

State welfare emergency hotlines throughout the nation reportedly receive over 5 million calls each year of suspected child abuse or neglect. Of those calls, about one million meet the criteria for state intervention. What happens to the remaining four million families that don’t qualify for help? (p. 47-48)

Brenda correctly points out severe issues such a lack of funding and an overwhelmed structure of agencies. I think this is another point in which Brenda greatly deviates from core QF, and I think her points are  interesting. It was refreshing to see that a QF believer would actually speak out for help from welfare agencies. Some groups within the QF movement put a parent’s right far above the rights of a child to grow up unharmed, both physically and emotionally. The thing is: A child has rights. The fact that this is acknowledged here, and that child neglect and abuse calls must be checked, that they are not an inappropriate invasion of privacy but merely the best thing for children in a very difficult situation, astonished me.

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Summary

Overall, I get the feeling that Brenda is caught between worlds. It’s not that I feel she wants to please anyone with her book. I do think she bravely defends the points she known won’t get her praise in the evangelical circles. The thing is that Brenda switches back and forth between ideas that I consider deeply QF and almost liberal ideas how families should work.

At some points I was surprised by the liberal views, which in turn caused me to feel surprised when very conservative views showed up. I was constantly torn between really liking what Brenda writes and some very bad memories I connect with certain conservative teachings.

Would I recommend this book? Well, yes. I didn’t regret reading it. It didn’t feel like I was wasting my time. I think this book is interesting to people outside of QF, and helpful for people inside QF. There is very little “biblical” background to the core QF values, and I do think that this is beneficial for the book. Brenda repeatedly points out that there is no literal evidence that one must have as many kids as possible – she says that while children are a gift and you shouldn’t be so concerned about planning everything to detail (because planning doesn’t make much sense anyway, in my opinion!), you should still use your (god-given) brain to make good decisions. That is the core message of the book, and in my opinion, it is a refreshing one for QF – one that should be taken to heart!

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What I liked about this book:

– Brenda’s biography was a real “page turner” for me – there were some serious moments of suspense that had me thinking “Oh please do the right thing!”

– I liked reading a mother’s perspective instead of a daughter’s or young wife’s perspective

– Brenda’s story is not “core QF”, neither is it “ex-QF” – her story offers a very interesting middle ground; keep in mind that despite the fact Brenda considers herself QF (which is ok, no critique here!), she would still be considered an unbeliever by core QF

– Brenda can very pointedly reflect events in her life and how they changed her beliefs over and over

– It doesn’t blame women

– Brenda acknowledges the existence of mental illness, and points out how serious this issue is – she recommends not having children in cases of mental illness – this is NOT typical for QF at all. The ignorance towards mental illness has led to cases of mothers killing their children and I find it great how Brenda stresses the seriousness of this type of illness.

– Brenda offers genuinely good advice for QF families who find themselves in a difficult situation. She does not reject family planning and repeatedly points out that a large family is not the best way for everyone, while not being judgemental towards others.

What I didn’t like that much:

– It’s not that it’s bad or anything, but much of the ideology behind her beliefs in QF was known to me

– Sometimes I missed a deeper connection between facts and beliefs (this goes particularly for the Planned Parenthood section)

– I think it should be longer, specifically the biography. It is so interesting and I was genuinely sad when I had finished it so quickly – but this may be personal preference

To whom would I recommend this book?

– To anyone unfamiliar with the QF movement and the ideology behind it – you will find a widespread collection of beliefs in Brenda’s biography, while the actual QF part provides insights into pretty much all branches of the beliefs behind QF

– If you are interested to understand QF and don’t really know where to start, this will give you all basic information on a relatively short page count – definitely an advantage to reading 1001 blog posts without really knowing what’s going on

– If you are a christian and you are interested in QF beliefs for yourself. I would carefully recommend this book over the “classics” provided by Mary Pride because Brenda is not a mindless, vicious woman who doesn’t care about mothers. Brenda DOES care. Props to that.

– To anyone who needs condensed information about QF due to professional reasons: I know there are people who do research (e.g. thesis for university) on these issues because I do get emails and questionnaires occasionally. It is great for single use or as a supply to the classics mentioned above.

The e-book is available via amazon for $2.99.