Choosing the Hard and Scary Thing

I’ve blogged quite candidly about my body in the past. The horrific world of plus sized fashion, body image issues, and bullying because of my body are all topics I’ve touched on. I’ve played the Humorous Fat Girl. I’ve mostly made peace with my body’s shape and size and embraced my worthiness for love and romance. But the day has come to write about something I’ve never been able to before.

The fat acceptance movement and the increasing destigmatization and representation of fat bodies have done wonders for me and my self-esteem. It has also brought me to a place where I can have a healthy, gentle, love, and most importantly honest conversation with myself about helping my body function better. I am finally ready to examine my habits, relationships with food and exercise, and the skeletons in my closet that hold me back from living healthfully and respectfully. I’ve decided to choose the hard and scary thing: weight loss.

See, I’ve fantasized about weight loss since about third grade. I became self-aware about my fatness the year previous, but the social consequences really shone when I was around 10 years old. I remember talking to my mom about it and she asked me if I wanted her to help me make the changes to reach a healthy weight. I said no, because at 10, that was the hard and scary thing. The images of dieting and weight loss flickered in and out of my mind. The TV commercials I remember the most clearly were for Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Hydroxycut (which I’m pretty sure is an amphetamine…), and that other one with Marie Osmond. Fashion and women’s health magazines stared at me in the grocery store. When I was older, heavily photoshopped images on the internet took that place. I took out a gym membership in 9th grade but had no real goals or motivation because, at 15, weight loss was still the hard and scary thing. It still was when I quit the gym last year at 22.

The concept of weight loss was scary because I’ve been fat my whole life. On one hand, I wanted to do it because then I could be considered “normal” or even “conventionally attractive”. Shopping for clothes would be a dream and also waaaaaay more affordable. I wouldn’t feel self conscious standing beside my husband. On the other hand, I worried was terrified of what weight loss meant. It meant that I would have to talk to my doctor and others about habits that I found shameful. I would have to be weighed on a scale, which I still find scary. I’d have to adjust to a new reality. Would I be different? What is the experience of the world like for thin people? These are frightening questions when you don’t have or have ever had the frame of reference of a thin person.

Fat acceptance gave me the gift of valuing my body as it is. Marvelling at what it does for me, how it supports me, and how neat it is outside of the designation of ‘fat’ helped reorient me in my own body, where I had previously felt a degree of dissociation. Believing, truly believing, that my thin and handsome husband found my entire being beautiful, without judgment or feeling like that was “in-spite-of” helped me realize that I didn’t need to apologize or change to have value. I am in my body and my body contains me. We are inseparable, so we’d better start being nicer to each other. Well at least, I need to start being nicer to it. 

I’m choosing weight loss and lifestyle change because it is, now that the psychological baggage is mostly dealt with, the nicest thing I can do for my body, myself, and my future. Having aches and back pain at 22 isn’t ideal. Shrugging my shoulders about nutrition wasn’t loving. Late night binging wasn’t okay. Resisting physical activity and chalking it up to “but I’m not athletically gifted” was a terrible cop-out. Careful, responsible nutrition, not harsh and restrictive dieting is loving. Gentle, yet challenging daily physical activity is a conduit for me to continue to love and appreciate my great body.

I’m publishing this because 1) I need accountability/support/pep talks from people who love me and 2) to say that sometimes, the best thing a fat girl can do for her self-love is to choose the hard and scary thing. I have to figure this out with my doctor still, but my plan is to lose between 80 and 100 pounds. I plan to do this through keeping a balanced, diverse diet and lean into intuitive eating (that is, not punishing myself, being restrictive, or assigning morality to food). I have taken up a daily yoga practice, which really helps me feel embodied and self-loving. When I’m ready, I’d love to check out roller derby, mostly because it seems really fun. I’m also monitoring things like sleep hygiene and water intake, which will help me feel energized and fresh.

It’s happening. I’m doing it. I’m choosing the hard and scary thing. I am. And I will succeed.


Let’s Talk About Periods

Yes, THOSE periods. The menstrual cycle, and any of its cutesy nicknames that have been assigned to it. I love talking about periods, especially with other women. There’s something so cathartic in talking about what is often considered a shameful, embarrassing, gross thing with someone who knows and understands. Talking about menstruation openly and with a good sense of humour brings an end to the stigma and helps women reconceptualize their periods as a good and normal biological function. Periods aren’t dirty or bad and should be glossed over. They’re powerful and painful. They ruin your favourite underwear and stain your bedsheets. They cost a lot of money to maintain. They can do really, really gross things to your body. So let’s chat and see what kind of beautiful and hilarious shared wisdom we can conjure up.

I got my first period in January or February, 2007. I can’t remember which, but I was 12-turning-13 and in seventh grade. If you were once a seventh grade girl, you’d know that approximately 80% of what girls’ conversation are comprised of period/puberty gossip. Who got theirs, who didn’t. Who’s using tampons, who’s too chicken. So-and-so’s mom won’t let her shave her armpits yet. Girls bragging about buying their first bras from LaSenza (ooooooh). Needless to say, everyone prayed that she wouldn’t be the last one to get her period, lest she be labelled a freak. I, as I have been my entire life, tried to keep a very cool head about all of this puberty nonsense while at school. I tried to make it seem like I didn’t care that I was not yet menstruating when the early reports of first blood trickled (heh) through my elementary school. At home, I was a nervous wreck. My mom, a registered nurse and generally epic woman, assured me that my development was perfectly on schedule when I began probing her with questions about if my vaginal discharge meant anything and if I’d get my period soon. Like most pubescent girls with an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, I resigned myself to the reality that P-Day would probably never happen ever and I was doomed to wander the earth as an immortal, infertile woman-child.

I feel now I must take a brief aside to better clarify the context of seventh grade Allie. About this time in my life is when I realized that my baby fat wasn’t really going to go away and I was pretty well established as the “fat girl”. For this, I was teased quite ruthlessly by the boys I went to school with (NOT by the girls, the girls were all actually quite lovely). Most of this teasing happened within the context of gym class, because in addition to being fat, I was also bad at sports. Gym class was subsequently a personal Hell of mine, with no thanks to the heartless old crone that taught it. Despite being on good terms with my female classmates, I often changed in and out of my gym clothes in the privacy of the change room’s adjoining bathroom.

Now, this is when it all happens. While being forced to participate in a humiliating game of dodgeball in one afternoon gym class, I noticed that something was taking place between my legs that I couldn’t quite figure out. Periods, from my ignorant perspective, involved a lot more gore and uncontrollable bleeding so this couldn’t possibly be it. I deliberated the odd sensation until the end of class, and then trudged to my usual washroom stall to change. Time stood still for a solid minute upon inspecting the scene underneath my Umbro gym shorts. This is not what I had expected. Instead of the crimson tide promised to me by health teachers and “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” were blotchy, rusty stains. I contemplated for a minute more before accepting that this was my womanly birthright, disappointing as it was. I felt oddly shameful when I went to retrieve a pad from the Always kits the school provided in health class out of my backpack. I didn’t want the other girls to know that I had achieved womanhood. I just wanted to hug my mom.

I walked home that afternoon and meditated on what it all meant. I made peace with the fact that I wasn’t a kid anymore in that 25 minutes. I waited tensely for my mom to get home, hovering by the door. I think she could tell the minute she arrived that something was up. I didn’t say anything for a minute or so, then started crying: “sniff-Igotmyperioddon’ttelldadornannyplease-sniff”.

Fast-forward four years. My best friend and I were enrolled in a class for “gifted” students (ie. smartasses) called Enrichment. The whole point of Enrichment was to give students who were identified as gifted a break from curriculum and do their own thing. Part of this involved a field trip to a conference held at the University of Western Ontario for such students. The conference involved various breakout sessions ranging in topics that students were allowed to register for, ranking their choices by preference. My friend and I saw an interesting listing and decided to sign up for it as a final option, half as a joke, half out of vague interest. The session was entitled “Empow’rd Maidens” and it was for girls only. That was all the information we were given. Of course, the day of the conference rolls around and we find that we’ve both been enrolled in this mystical-sounding workshop. The room was set up in a circle of chairs, with a small table in the centre which held a red blown-glass basin, some essential oils, and was draped in a red scarf. Being a snotty 16-year old, I rolled my eyes at my friend. About fifteen other girls joined the circle, each looking at each other awkwardly. The session was lead by a fit, silver haired woman who had taught a yoga class earlier that day. She talked about the history of menstrual rituals around the world, menstrual/yonic art, alternative methods of cleaning and protection (ie. reusable pads, sea sponge tampons, silicone cups), and invited each of us to share stories about our menses (note: she never actually said the word “period”, only menses, which I got a kick out of). I remember feeling vividly uncomfortable hearing menstruation being talked about in such a reverent and spiritual way, often stifling this behind giggles. At the end of the session, the facilitator invited us to rinse our hands in purified water scented with pomegranate essential oils to “cleanse ourselves from the patriarchal lies told to us about our menses”. We were then gifted with a red glass bead to carry with us and remember the power of our internal lunar cycle. That last bit was a little too crunchy-granola for me, but the impression it left has lasted.

Thinking back on my “Empow’rd Maidens” experience, it was totally wasted my punk-ass teenage self. But I’m thankful for the seed it planted. Today, I could probably see myself leading something like this with young women. There is power and encouragement when women speak about an issue that is so ubiquitous, but so stigmatized. So let’s talk about periods. Let’s talk about cramps. Let’s talk about junk food cravings. Let’s talk about crying in public for no reason. Let’s talk about the outrageous cost of menstrual hygiene products. Let’s talk about how &^$@&*&$^# HARD it is to MacGyver a pad out of single-ply toilet paper when you forgot to pack them and the vending machine in the washroom is too much money. Let’s talk about poly-cystic ovarian syndrome and endometriosis. Let’s talk about our health until it’s no longer taboo. Let’s talk until we love our bodies and the things they’re capable of. Let’s talk.

Peace, sister.

menstrual cycle.jpg
Please note the uterus riding a bicycle. Very important.

Towards an Intentional Sisterhood

Howdy. WordPress tells me it’s been seven months since I last published anything on this blog. The last entry I made was picked up by an alt-right blogger (read about this wingnut here) who then mined my social media accounts (and Davis’s!) in an attempt to pseudo-doxx me, and another feminist blogger for his small and pathetic readership. Although it was so-strange-it’s-funny and relatively harmless, I did feel threatened. Insults were made about my physical appearance. My partner was mocked. It was just invasive enough to be a little bit scary. My hiatus from the world of publishing my thoughts on the internet for any and all to read has been, needless to say, very intentional. A lot has happened since April; Davis and I got engaged, we moved in together, and we’re starting exciting new seasons as students. I’ve also taken the time to rest creatively and meditate on how I define my feminism. So let’s do it!

A big part of my blogging hiatus has involved critically evaluating my politics as a feminist, who I am as a woman, and how I interact with other women. Politically, I’ve been increasingly disenchanted with liberal feminism and its cannibalization by corporate media. When feminism becomes branded, it loses its urgency and call to action and erodes into a passive identifier. The collective action characterized by earlier waves of the movement have been lost to infighting, ideological purity, and community splintering (you could say that this is largely due to the fact that Western women have achieved many civil liberties don’t require mass organization in the same way that our foremothers did). Liberal feminist activism has become a nightmare. It has lost sight of the essence of the feminist movement; the liberation of women from male supremacy and the further dismantling of the structures of power, gender, and sublimation. It has contorted into a vicious, elitist club where you must be versed on the current lingo and homogenous group ideals to achieve acceptance and the label of feminist. The world of liberal feminism equates opportunities for critical analysis and challenge as literal violence, pertaining to issues where thoughtful and respectful discourse is required. This is not what I signed up for.

Personally, I’ve wrestled with what it actually means to be a woman. The period of my life in which I identified as non-binary had less to do with feelings of sex dysphoria and more to do with my latent rage at how incomplete and offensive the stereotypes and standards of female behaviour and expectations are. I didn’t want to accept female socialization and the societal standards for women, but then I realized that no woman really does either. Putting on red lipstick is not an act of feminist revolt. Celebrating female sexuality is not about leaning into media messages/pornification/covertly pandering to the male gaze through “reclaiming” historically patriarchal sexual symbolism (an example my frustrations can be better articulated here). Womanhood can’t be sold or purchased or chosen or co-opted; it can only be lived.

Womanhood is the untapped power of our bodies. It is having an organ that exists solely for pleasure. It is the life and death and regeneration that we carry inherent in us. It is the strength of enduring our existence as the second class. The pain held in centuries of rape, murder, mutilation, and slavery. It is the fact that girls around the world have their genitals mutilated, are sold in marriage, are abandoned at birth, and have acid thrown on them every single day. It is the rage at our abuses that constantly thrums beneath the surface of our smiles and platitudes. It is the socialization we endure as girls that forces us into tidy, pretty boxes and accepts no variation, which being designed by men, is for their consumption and benefit. Womanhood is being forced into the trichotomy of Maiden, Mother, and Crone when you want to be the Warrior. Having your hand slapped away from your interests. Being told to cross your legs and “act like a lady”. Womanhood is rawness and rage and beauty and creation and fire. I’m not afraid anymore.

To quote the late, great Andrea Dworkin: “Many women, I think resist feminism because it is agony to be fully conscious of the brutal misogyny which permeates culture, society, and all personal relationships”. Rather than sitting back in a sense of smug self-satisfaction about my personal politics like my liberal feminist self used to do, I’ve decided to start paying attention. This post is titled “Towards an Intentional Sisterhood” for this reason. I’m surrounded by powerful women with powerful life stories. There is wisdom and strength in community and I’ve frankly gotten tired of navigating this world alone as a woman. The aimless direction of liberal/popular feminism has left me feeling more lost than empowered, which is why I want to engage more meaningfully with the women around me. I long for women’s spaces and cooperatives and to unlearn my internalized misogyny.

If you’re a woman reading this: you are my sister, you are my friend, and I want to know you. Don’t be afraid to reach out if you identify with my words today. I’m not really sure what collective feminist activism looks like in the 21st century, but let’s figure that out together.

Peace, sister.

Pop Feminism, Men, and the Low, Low Standard

I’ve been thinking a lot of the resurgence of feminism in pop culture, particularly its shift from an important political tool and into a passive self-identifier. A slew of hashtags, Beyoncé standing triumphantly in front of a glowing marquee, and Justin Trudeau’s smug proclamation of “Because it’s 2015” have made feminism accessible and appealing to the masses. Yet this is troubling to me. Of course any reasonable person can agree that the definition of feminism as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” aligns with their beliefs and worldview, but we often forget the second part of the definition of feminism (being: “organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests”). Feminism requires more than slapping a label on yourself so you don’t look out of touch/like an asshole. It requires a commitment to ending oppressive structures of patriarchy and gender that are imposed on people in all facets of life.

What are we supposed to do with this?

I was chatting with a friend on the bus yesterday about male feminists, and how the bar has never been so low for men. My partner Davis is a feminist ally, and a very committed one. In all of his political activities, he strives for gender parity. He listens to and amplifies women’s voices whenever he can. Ours is an egalitarian relationship and he respects, uplifts, and affirms my lived experience. And it makes me so sad when people tell me how lucky I am, how rare he is, and how I should be so proud that my boyfriend actively works with and for feminist activism. Yes, I am lucky; yes, he is great and probably a rarity; but why the hell is it so countercultural for him to actually put his money where is mouth is and use his male privilege to amplify my voice and the voices of other women? I believe this is all rooted in the depressingly low standards of acceptable behaviour that men have inherited as a by-product of their patriarchal advantage.  When a man takes precedence in a dialogue about a women’s issue, it shows us that we still have a loooooong way to go. When we give gold stars for the most basic acceptance of equality and acknowledgment of personhood, that is a bleak statement on our society. My boyfriend’s feminist allyship doesn’t make him a hero or a saint, it makes him a safe partner, which is the least of what any woman deserves (shout to his parents, Janet and Ralph, for instilling these values in all three of their sons).

Men receive absolution from their complicity in sex-based oppression because they haven’t violently raped a woman and are showered with praise and accolades when they hop on the Pop Feminism Bandwagon. The adoration grows, and often blots out the efforts of women, when a full-bodied understanding and implementation of feminist ideology is observed. Let’s take a look at two examples. The Twitter movement #NotAllMen of 2014 is an excellent example of how we collectively pardon men (and how they pardon themselves) from taking responsibility for their privilege and the benefits they reap from the social structures that have been designed in their favour. Your everyday “good guy” cannot possibly be a part of the problem for any number of reasons: he has female family members/is a gentleman/is chivalrous/has a female boss/has never raped anyone. The #NotAllMen defence glosses over institutional issues and symbolic, coded behaviour that fills everyday life. The second example I’d like to point you to is the Toxic Male Feminist. The TMF ranges in commitment and understanding and can come in many forms; there’s the young man who signed the UN’s “He for She” Pledge because “Emma Watson is hot and girls are into it” (note: this is an ACTUAL conversation I had with a peer), and then there are figures like Charles Clymer (I highly recommend checking this link out).

male feminist
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Photo credit: Twitter user @duncepud

Male feminists are not always expressly toxic, neither should they be outright excluded from participating in the quest for equality. What needs to stop is the media obsession with men who proclaim feminism and regurgitate the feelings, demands, and ideology that have been developed through generations of grassroots female-led activism. When we put the Trudeaus, the Joseph Gordon-Levitts, and the Ryan Goslings on pedestals and in the next breath call female activists shrill and bitchy, we need to be critically assessing where feminism is going and who is sailing the ship.

So my words are not confused, men absolutely have a role to play. But it is one of allyship, education, and reform. Listen. Let women educate you. Leave spaces where your presence causes discomfort. Do not let your voice tune out the lived experiences that you’ve only just been made aware of. Check your motivation. If you’re labelling yourself as a feminist because it’s another way to meet girls, you’re doing it wrong. If you do so because you are appalled by the rampant domestic and international oppression of women and want to understand how you are both a piece of that structure and how to undo it, then you are by all means welcome. But if you require praise and fanfare, ask yourself why it’s necessary to receive validation for striving towards something so obvious and so essential.


I’ve Forgotten How to Love God

This confession is not easy to write, but here I am. Awake in the middle of the night, writing while listening to worship music I haven’t been able to go near for months. I’ve been carrying a dead weight in my heart for some time now and it’s time for it to go.

I’ve blogged semi-extensively since last Spring about my disillusionment with parts of the Church and Christian community. It’s been therapeutic and others have affirmed my negative experiences. But the critique and the stewing and (sometimes) the rage have done a peculiar thing. Truthfully, it’s hardened my heart and driven a wedge between me and my God. I know Him objectively, scientifically, but in my heart He’s like an old friend who I remember fondly but can’t seem to reconnect with.

I’m active in my church. I participate fully in the liturgy and accept the Eucharist every Sunday. I lead a Bible study once a week. But something, a small something, hurts inside when I’m at church. And when I try to read the Bible in my personal time. I haven’t been able to effortfully pray for at least a year and a half. I don’t know how to look for the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit anymore.I rely on doubt and skepticism before employing faith and cringe internally when others share theirs. Like I said, I know the theology and the concepts, but I can’t see the forest for the trees, nor do I even really care to look. I know that God loves me but I’ve forgotten what that feels like. I’ve forgotten how to reciprocate.

This terrifies me. I want it to stop. And I don’t know what to do about it.

Below is a reconstructed version of the current Anglican Prayer of Confession. This confession is my new starting point and the words by which I will hold myself to account until I can figure this whole business out.

Most merciful God,
I confess that I have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what I have done,
and by what I have left undone.
I have not loved you with my whole heart;
I have not loved my neighbours as myself.
I have falsified my faith and created complacency
I have allowed myself to forget the glory of your goodness
I have let circumstance blind me from your faithfulness
I am truly sorry and I humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on me and forgive me;
that I may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

I may have forgotten how to love God, but He hasn’t forgotten how to love me.


Purity Culture Nearly Killed My Relationship

Scene: Allie is 14 and at Pentecostal youth camp, the same one they attended for about 10 years of their childhood and adolescence. It also happened to be one of the hottest summers in recent memory. It’s the second day of camp, and after the morning preaching session, the camp’s female director steps onto the platform with a solemn expression. Everyone can tell what’s about to happen. “All of the female campers and female counsellors need to stay where they are. Boys, please go with your male counsellors to the dining hall.” There’s a bustle and the camp staff make a big deal of ushering the boys out, insisting that what’s about to be discussed was GIRLS ONLY subject matter. With the chapel devoid of male presence, the camp director and the wife of the district youth director took to the stage again. For the next 20 minutes, they lectured the 70-ish girls attending the camp about the dress code. About how the clothes they were wearing were immodest and were fuelling sexual thoughts and desires in the boys and male leaders around them. About how they were robbing their future husbands of their sexual purity by dressing in a “provocative” way that caused others to lust after them. Afterward, the female counsellors led discussions with their campers about how everyone can work better at being more modest, as not to be stumbling blocks for their brothers in Christ. Allie spent the rest of the day wondering if the clothes they had packed were good enough, or if they should stick to pants in the 30+ degree weather.

Scene: Allie is 16, attending a popular youth convention for evangelical youth. As a junior high leader, Allie accompanies several girls in their youth group to a breakout session for single girls. It is led by a man. For the allotted 45 minutes, the man tells the group of girls about what kind of a woman a good Christian man is looking for in a wife. Included among the laundry list of Psalm 31-esque qualities was a sexuality that hasn’t been “defrauded”(meaning another man hasn’t swindled your virginity away from your future husband). Virginity was the greatest gift you could give, and according to God’s plan for your life, it already belonged to the man you were destined to marry. A good Christian wife also submits to her husband’s leadership, supports his calling, and has a vibrant personality that constantly uplifts and bolsters his. Allie contemplates if they’ll ever make the grade of what it means to be a great Christian wife.



I could tell many more stories like these two. During my tenure in a Pentecostal youth group, I was taught to “guard my heart” from wily boys who would manipulate my emotions for sex, that cuddling induced the release of oxytocin and was neurologically equivalent to orgasm, and that I needed to be the ideal partner before anyone would even think about dating me. The messages from these conference sermons, youth nights, and girls events shaped my expectations of relationships, gender roles, and the type of person I would inevitably date and marry. And it was these messages that had devastating consequences in my relationship with my partner.

When I started dating Davis, I was in the throes of my evangelical phase. He was a new Christian, from an utterly different family background and religious context. Without really talking to him about it, I decided that we were going to be the ideal teen Christian couple. He was going to lead me spiritually. I was going to be feminine “wife material”. Declarations of love would be reserved for when we were absolutely certain that we would marry and physical affection was strictly prohibited, lest I let the guard around my heart down and violated my future marriage covenant. According to my education on such matters, it was the perfect formula for a God-honouring first relationship. According to reality, it made us miserable.

I struggled immensely trying to pigeonhole myself into the ideal “girlfriend” (probably should have been my first clue that the gender binary isn’t for me) and grew frustrated that Davis wasn’t the macho He-Man I’d been conditioned to seek out as a life mate. A huge emotional valley grew between us because I refused to open up to him emotionally, partially from immaturity and partially because I thought I was guarding my heart by remaining closed off. I was afraid to kiss him or be alone with him, in fear that propriety would be breached. I began projecting character flaws and issues onto him to justify why I needed to break his heart. My obsession with the standards dictated to me by purity and courtship culture, in conjunction with a sharp turn in my mental health, resulted in not one, but two break ups. There’s more to this story, but that is not for public consumption.

Our reuniting was highly improbable and to many (including us), deeply confusing. So much hurt had been inflicted that it seemed impossible that we could actually have a future in spite of all that went on between us. There was something imperceptible, unknowable drawing us back together and it was that very thing that compelled us to press the reset button on our relationship and the baggage behind it. Friends were baffled and parents upset, but we were certain that whatever it was, it was worth saving. We decided that our best bet was to ditch the method that we originally implemented in round one of our relationship. I accepted that the standards that had been laid out before me were deeply flawed and that it was unfair to both of us to force something that should be organic and beautiful into a manufactured, church culture-approved mould. In fact, we smashed the mould together and haven’t looked back. I began to affirm and enjoy the wholeness of who Davis is and not fret over what I expected him to be. We define our relationship and conduct it according to who God has made us as individuals. We love to debate and push each other, and we also love tenderness and honouring the other’s individuality. He is brilliant and kind and exuberant and invariably the person I want to spend the rest of my life with.

These are bold statements about love and commitment to be making at the age of 20, but there it is. Love is strange. And so is the impact of purity culture. Stay away.

WhiteJesus™ and the Inflexible Comfort Zone

There’s something fascinating about the human life of Jesus. What was his day-to-day life like? Did he have a favourite food? Was he good to his mom? There’s only so much contained in the Bible about the life of Christ to illuminate the nuance and complexity of his life. There are troubling narrative gaps, which leads to us getting creative with our perception and image of who Jesus is. Folks tend to have the sneaky tendency to filter Jesus through their own context to reconcile what they don’t know. That being said, Christ is all things to all people and understanding Him in your own terms is helpful in fostering intimacy with him. If you study religious art across cultures and periods, iterations of Jesus can be found in multiple shapes, sizes, and colours. With the rise of Western Christianity over time, a particular interpretation of the human Jesus has replaced the diversity and mystery in religious consciousness. We’ve stuck Jesus in a happy little box that is clean and inoffensive. The White, Western perception of Christ is what we’re left with. I call him WhiteJesus™.

WhiteJesus™ has twinkling blue eyes, a soft speaking voice, and a perfectly trimmed beard and soft hair. He is fit and probably smells nice. He can be found on FlannelGraph boards, primetime television adaptations of the Bible, and framed and hung in people’s homes. If WhiteJesus™ were around today, he would drive a Prius and be really serious about recycling. This is the image of Jesus that belongs to the privileged and the comfortable. This is not the Jesus that I see in the Bible or in history.

white jesus
Yeah, I don’t think so.

Until I really started studying the culture and context which Historical Jesus lived in, I was totally fine with WhiteJesus™. So comfortable that I was disturbed when I finally put the pieces together and figured out the reality of his life, based off of what The Gospels give us.

Historical Jesus was a brown-skinned, Palestinian, bastard son of a carpenter. He was born in a cave full of animals (and not a cute little stable like your church’s living nativity). He was a refugee as a child and his country was occupied by an oppressive, totalitarian police state. He was not formally educated. He essentially couch surfed with pack of dudes for three years of his adult life, making him homeless. He was betrayed by his own people, then executed without a fair trial by the same police state in the place of a convicted murderer. Based off of what is known about Roman crucifixion, he was likely raped by the soldiers that tortured and killed him. He died in obscurity, abandoned by his friends and was buried in a stranger’s grave. When you frame Jesus’ life this way, it upsets the pleasantries WhiteJesus™for the privileged and can provide comfort to those who identify with the pain and ugliness of his reality.

When we ignore the realities of the life of Christ and focus our eyes on an interpretation of him that is pleasant and easy to swallow, we exclude the oppressed and abused and forgotten from sharing in the Gospel. I hate when people say things like “Jesus humbled himself to eat with tax collectors, lepers and prostitutes” to somehow inspire Christians to invest in their time in “dirty people”. It assumes two things; 1) that we as Christians are somehow on another tier of existence than others, and 2) that humanity of Christ was somehow more glamorous and sanitized than anyone else’s. Traditional theology asserts that Jesus was fully man and fully divine. So yes, the fully divine Christ did humble himself when he came to Earth. But from a social and historical perspective, the fully human Christ was already there. From manger to tomb, the whole of Jesus’ human life was lived at the bottom of society.

If you’re wondering why people are turned off of knowing Jesus, perhaps it’s time to think critically about how we present him. It is wrong and lazy to focus or manipulate just one element of the beautiful intersection of divine and human that is found in Jesus Christ. Please join me in stretching out your spiritual comfort zone. Let your understanding of Jesus (no matter how it looks) out of the box. What do the realities of Jesus’ human life mean for his divinity? Let this challenge your theology, let this challenge your walk with him. And for Pete’s sake, let’s retire WhiteJesus™.