A quest to make sense of it all. Or a sense to make a quest of it all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Latching on.

So this morning I was scanning msn.com (a ritual I'm finding less and less use for, as the articles linked are rarely this interesting), and stumbled upon this. Basically, a lady in Michigan was awaiting her turn in court (for a boating ticket) when her 5-month old son got hungry and fussy. Sitting in the back of the courtroom, the lady discreetly began breastfeeding the baby. The judge called her to the front and embarassed her, and told her what she was doing was inappropriate.


This really bothered me. I did a little sniffing around and found that Michigan is one of five states that don't permit public breastfeeding. Wait, what? That's a thing? There are actually laws against feeding a hungry baby in public? Yes, there are. Apparently, a lot of people feel that b-feeding violates public indecency laws. Right now, the subject is being hotly debated all across the interwebs...because there are enough people who are offended by the sight of a breast as to create a debate. Even most of the people who are pro-titty hasten to add that breastfeeding should be done in a "discreet" manner, so as not to make passersby uncomfortable. That the mother should use a blanket to completely cover the activity, or turn her back, or even go to a public bathroom to feed her child.

Let me get this straight: you think a baby should have to have his meal under a blanket, where he can't breathe fresh air or see his mother, so that you don't have to see a breast being used for its primary and intended function.

That's effed up, America.

What is it about this that makes people uncomfortable? Is it the skin-flashing? Please. The baby's mouth covers the nipple, and his head obscures most of the breast from view. And that's if the mom has her whole milker out. Most of the time, that's not the case and there's just a sliver of skin exposed between buttons. You see more at the beach, or the pool. Or the mall. Or the grocery store. We don't bat an eyelash about walking past Victoria's Secret ads wherein a woman is depicted in a near-orgasmic state, back arched, head thrown back, bosoms spilling almost out of her bra. A particularly skimpy bikini might raise a couple eyebrows, but it won't cause a public outcry. Let's get to the meat of this issue, if you will. We know why people are made uncomfortable by public breastfeeding.

Because our culture has forgotten that that fetishized and sexualized part of a woman's body actually has a biological function, and folks don't want to be reminded of that. Dudes are way happier thinking of breasts as something pretty and distinctly girly to play with. Ok, they are. They are supposed to entice. Guys are supposed to see a nice rack and be interested, at least on the simplest of levels. It's a visual cue that immediately lights up the "knock her up!" part of his brain. I like to picture that part of his brain as looking a lot like this.

That doesn't mean guys are walking around actively looking for fertile ladies. It's been my experience that most of them get asthmatically freaked out at the idea of pregnancy. No, it just means that nature fixed things so that we would be attracted to each other based on obvious signs of virility and fertility.

The problem is that nobody wants to see a breast being used in any non-sexual capacity. We've gotten so far out of touch with our bodies and their functions that it makes us squirm to see something as natural as a baby nursing. We say, "That's private! Intimate! Out of our sight!" Well, it's not private. It's a meal. It's the healthiest meal for an infant. We don't freak out and tell moms and dads to take that nonsense elsewhere if they whip out a bottle, or a jar of Gerber's. Some of the naysayers claim that something being natural doesn't make it ok to do in front of everyone, and compare it to defecating in public. That's...too stupid a comparison for me to spend any time on, other than to shake my head. No, what's at the bottom of this, is that we've been brought up in a world where breasts are pretty, airbrushed accessories, with no purpose but to titillate. They're lifted up, pushed together, even cosmeticized with bronzers and sparklies, but they are, under no circumstance, to be actually utilized.

Preposterous. To all the above, I say: STFU...and grow up.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Grace like rain.

Jesus was walking along one day, when He came upon a group of people surrounding a lady of ill repute. The crowd was preparing to stone her, so Jesus made His now-famous statement, "Let the person who has no sin cast the first stone."

The crowd was shamed and one by one began to turn away. Then, a lovely woman made her way through the crowd. Finally getting to the front, she tossed a pebble towards the woman.

Jesus looks over and says, "I really hate it when you do that, Mom."

So I'm about a month into RCIA classes. My head's all kinds of full with new ideas, some of which shed light on issues I've always had with certain religious doctrine, and some which make a tangled mess of drawers I thought were neatly organized and firmly shut. You know, the drawers where you keep the linens you will never, ever use and you get irritated when someone suggests that maybe they're not exactly the pattern you (kinda?) remember them to be. I was raised mostly in the South, by a from-the-cradle Baptist mother and born-again Assembly of God father. (They both now attend a Baptist church.) My grandma Charlie taught Sunday school at her Presbyterian church. My granny Cora? Also Baptist. I've attended all of these, plus Church of Christ, Pentecostal, and non-denominational churches over the years. It's safe to say I'm firmly ensconced in the very Protestant culture of the mid-South. Sometimes it's good for a chuckle. Sometimes it's good for scaring the daylights out of you. A lot of the time, it's good for making you just shake your head and think that whatever the Good News once was, it's been lost in squabbles over pianos and uncut hair...and in the actions of people who decorate their SUVs with fish stickers by day and flirt with your husband at the bar by night. I decided a long time ago that the only way I could hold onto the faith I so desperately wanted was by limiting my involvement with church, because all church had brought me was disappointment in the people around me. Church was a place I could go to sort of recharge my spiritual battery, get a little insight. But I never really felt at home, and the black and white rules didn't seem to work well with the fuzzy gray space that is human nature. But that is what's given; most Protestants believe that the Bible is the living, literal word of God and that everything in it must be taken as complete and whole, factual truth. But that's pretty hard to swallow. The earth is only a few thousand years old, despite all the evidence to the contrary? Jonah sat, undigested, in a plankton-eating whale for three days and walked away from it? These things were bothersome, but it was taught to me by preachers that not believing in every word as indisputable fact is tantamount to willful separation from God, or worse, blasphemy. I mean, people used to be put to death for blasphemy. Depending on where you are and how you do it, shunning for it still totally goes on. Talk about the message getting lost. Catholicism is a little easier on the THIS IS FACT preaching, understanding that a lot of the stories are metaphorical or that they are true without being fact. You can say it's raining cats and dogs outside and be telling the truth, but not talking in facts. There's a lot of the OT that should be taken as such. I've always felt that way, and having a church tell me that's not only not shameful but probably right feels a lot like leaning against the back of one's chair and taking a big, relieved breath, which is exactly what I did.

I started attending RCIA because I was curious about Catholicism and wanted to see how it actually compares to the Protestant teachings I was raised with. People around here have a lot to say about Catholics, and most of them have never set foot inside a Catholic church. I didn't want to get any information from them, because the general consensus is that Catholics are idolaters (as if anyone whose motorcycle or clothes or television or job is more important to them than their relationship with their creator isn't an idolater) at best and anti-Christ at worst. I wanted to get information straight from the horse's mouth. I knew the goal of RCIA is to convert, but I was ok with that, and decided to treat it as a sort of religious studies course, taken by a not entirely neutral/objective student. I have faith, after all, and I've known for some time that I'm craving more of it. So I decided to go and see what these folks had to say. Do they really worship Mary and the saints? Why do they cross themselves? What, exactly, is Purgatory? The function of the Pope...and how did he get that job? Why is confession necessary if you talked to God already? What's up with not using contraceptives? How much of what they do is Scripture-based?

I'm gaining the answers to those questions, slowly. It's been very informative so far, and I've enjoyed learning about the history of the Church and how Protestants grabbed this and that, left that, and ran for the hills. I'd say the split was silly, but I can't, when I think about how many people on both sides were murdered over it.

Extremism in any context is terrifying, and if you find that your religion is causing you to argue and hate...you've missed the boat, brah.

There's a sense of clarity settling in. I'm finding it easier to say "nah" to things and people that I know aren't good for me, and easier to reach out and be a little nicer. My energy lasts a little longer, my patience runs a little thicker. (I totally vent on twitter, though.) I've never been good at holding a grudge, and I find it impossible now. I don't think I'm angry anymore.

That doesn't mean everything's sunshine and kittens. What it does mean is that when I start to feel overwhelmed, I've learned to shut up and be still, and NOT try to fix it. If I'm quiet long enough, there's a little poke at my heart that tells me without words what to do...or to do nothing but maintain my trust that I, 28 year old Sarah Saint in Mississippi, actually don't have all the answers. I have a gift of very keen intuition, humbled by an utter lack of prophecy. I have no clue what's going to happen tomorrow, and what I hope for today might be disastrous for me or someone else if I actually get it. I shudder to think where I would be now had some of the previous years' hardest prayers been answered affirmatively. Probably dead. If not, certainly miserable. As it is now, I have more blessings than I can count, including full-time work and a roof over my head, and a family I can always count on. I feel closer to my creator, and my faith continues to grow. It just might decide to settle in a Catholic church, because it's surprisingly comfortable there. It might not. I think the truest truths hang out in the pretty, grassy areas between churches and temples. Where it's quiet.

Oh, sinners, let's go down
come on down, don't you wanna go down?
Oh, sinners, let's go down
down in the river to pray

What is certain is that I'm very much enjoying the nights Brett and I lounge on my couch, both of us reading from my RCIA books, his arm around me and his fingers idly playing with my hair. We read quietly, one of us pausing here and there to read aloud this or that, and then we discuss; frankly, thoughtfully, hilariously. We don't always agree. I'm still having a difficult time understanding why Mary and the saints would have to even take my texts now that they're in heaven, or how someone else's prayers can change your soul's status once you've died. I may never get it, but I'm trying to understand, at least conceptually if not with my heart.

What is also certain is that of all the things for me to be grateful for, grace is the biggest. It's a concept I've managed to grasp, and I'm not likely to start understanding it less. It's a gift I didn't earn and don't deserve. I think I'll name my first daughter Grace.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

In which I get cozy with camels.

Because it's that time again! Tonight, Corinth remembers the casualties of the Battle & Siege, with the placing and lighting of 12,000 luminaries throughout downtown and the historic district. A lot of work goes into it, and it's Dad's baby, so if you're reading this before tonight, come show some support. The 43rd Mississippi Camel Corps will be at the Interpretive Center, so if you've ever wanted to pet a camel, now's your chance.

Seriously, this is a gorgeous event.

In other news: Amendment 26 got voted down!! Mississippi women are still allowed to make choices concerning their own reproductive organs!

My car has broken down. Tuition remains unpaid. These two factors collided, with the very distressing realization that in order to have my car fixed, I would have to forgo school next semester or get a loan, something I'm very reluctant about doing.

And then Brett stepped in. He's been in D.C. and Wisconsin for most of the past couple weeks, and we decided that was a good time to take a step back and really start considering things in terms of seriousness. It turned out to be very beneficial. We found out that we missed each other a lot more than we thought we would, and thought about each other more than we had anticipated. He nearly got tackled when he got home. And now he's assured me that my car is getting fixed and that I am absolutely continuing my education. And that I don't have to pay him back. I will, of course. But it's really nice that he offered to make a gift of it. That's too big a gift for me to accept, and I will cover as much of the costs as possible and then pay him back the remainder. But I'm floored by his generosity. It seems lately that I've been taking blow after blow (car stuff, old bills, etc.), and sometimes it's hard to stay chipper and smiling. I succeed most of the time. Knowing someone has my back is...beyond comforting. When he walked into my bar at The Mango's Young Professionals party, I just thought he was a nice guy with a great smile. I had no idea what a wonderful friend he would turn out to be.

And now we're going to go get my car fixed, and I'm going to make a hot meal to enjoy after we walk around downtown and look at the pretty luminaries.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The 26 issue.

A lot of my most surreal moments happen in the Kroger on Hwy 72, and I kinda blame the strangeness on that particular branch's insistence on playing the Embarassingly Likable Tunes of the 80's mix at such a noticeably loud volume. Maybe there's something about striding through the fluorescent-lit aisles, cantaloupes and paper towels balanced impudently in your arms, to the rising crescendo of Toto's "Africa" that brings out the misguided confidence inside. Folks get to thinking their opinions are wanted. I still bristle at the recent memory of a morbidly obese woman who had the tardacity to tell me that the cigarettes I was buying would kill me. I glanced at the sugary neon carnival of her cart and said nothing back, reasoning she'd probably be dead sooner than me anyway. I've had people comment on my reading material (I'll read an Us Weekly now and then. What of it?), vent their frustrations about food stamp abuse while the person in front checks out with an EBT card, and offer me some of their unpaid-for grapes to munch on while we wait. Hungry strangers can be weird.

I was standing in line to not buy cigarettes a few days ago, staring into space and genuinely enjoying the Yacht Rock flowing smoothly, so smoothly, into my ears (Rich Girl, by the incomparable Hall and Oates). I was aware of a conversation going on behind me, but had no idea what was being said. Don't you knoooow, don't you know, that it's wrong...to take what he's giving you, so far go-
"Miss? Would you like a flyer?" I was rudely pulled away from my revery. There was a trim, fiftyish woman trying to hand me something. I looked down and recoiled a bit. A flyer shouting "Yes on 26!" was being offered to me. I smiled politely and shook my head no. She blinked and said, "Amendment 26 is Mississippi's chance to be first at outlawing abortion." I just smiled again and said, as simply as possible, "I don't support 26." She then shuffled through the stack of angry-looking, multicolored papers in her arms and handed me a cute FAQ. She said, "You may want to have a look at some facts. It might change your mind about killing babies." Whoa.
"Ma'am. I've never killed a baby. I'm not going to kill a baby. I wouldn't even have a problem with 26 if it were just about abortion, but it's not. It's about birth control too. The only thing that needs to change about birth control is that it needs to be more available to anyone who wants it."
She giddily pointed at the FAQ. "It says right there that birth control won't change."

"I've read it. It says that it won't outlaw most forms of hormonal birth control. Which forms, exactly? The wording's unclear, and it calls for declaring personhood at fertilization, not conception. I know how birth control works, so I can't get behind that."

She rolled her eyes and walked away, shaking her head at my unreachableness. I moved up and purchased my items, while the clerk gave me the stankeye. Just to add to the sudden bad vibe, The Doobie Brothers came on. Ugh. "What a Fool Believes" has got to be one of the worst songs ever written.

This issue has been weighing heavily on me. My own feelings about reproductive rights have gotten increasingly more conservative as technology advances and shows me pictures and studies that make it impossible for me to say a 12 or 14-week fetus is not a baby (especially when it's heart has been beating since week 5), but just the makings of one. We keep seeing, earlier and earlier, that that's not the case. Admitting this to myself (and others) has been a very difficult process that's been several months in the making. So yeah. I'm undergoing a lot of changes where my feelings on abortion (and when abortion may still be acceptable) are concerned.

But Amendment 26 ain't just about abortion.

Straight from Mississippi's Secretary of State website : "Initiative #26 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to define the word “person” or “persons”, as those terms are used in Article III of the state constitution, to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof."

Now, I don't expect everyone in Mississippi to be an expert on reproduction and conception. But when we're putting these items on a ballot, it's pretty important to at least attempt to familiarize yourself with what the hell you're voting on. Note that this ballot language uses "fertilization." Not "conception." For those who didn't pay attention in eighth grade, or for whom eighth was a really long time ago :

Fertilization = sperm and egg get together and decide to hang

Conception= fertilized egg attaches to uterine lining= lady knocked up

So, we're not talking about conception. We're not talking about terminating a pregnancy. When we use the word "fertilization," in this context, we are saying that as soon as sperm and egg meet, the fertilized egg is a human being and needs to be protected by the law. Ok. Well, the difference is a matter of hours or maybe a couple of days, right? So what's the big deal? It's almost the same thing as conception.

Well, the big deal is in understanding how hormonal birth control works. Primarily, it prevents ovulation. In a nutshell, every month, an egg manages to get past the gates and run down the hallway, hoping to meet a new (male) friend: sperm. No ovulation means no pregnancy. But sometimes there's a fluke, and an egg goes rogue anyway, reminding us of Jurassic Park's Dr. Ian Malcom warning us that "life finds a way." But while the birth control has been allegedly preventing ovulation, it's also been thinning the lining on the uterine wall as a failsafe. If an egg happens to sneak out and get itself fertilized, it still has to attach to something before anything can happen. If it cannot attach to the lining, it simply gets flushed out with the rest of the riffraff. If it manages to latch on, that's conception. That's a pregnancy.
So an amendment that specifies every human from the moment of fertilization as a person...that's gonna suck. If we determine personhood as beginning at fertilization, that calls birth control into question.

Are you feeling me, Mississippi? Even the most adamantly pro-life types have got to see how that's problematic, and how this initiative, pushed by an organization that clearly says it does not advocate birth control, is deliberately vague. And even the most adamantly pro-life types have got to see how birth control, by preventing unwanted pregnancy, prevents abortion.

Guys...use your heads. If you want to make abortion illegal, push for an initiative that proposes that and only that. Don't support something that's insulting your intelligence by assuming you can't read and comprehend what you're tacking your name onto. This isn't about abortion. Seriously.