Christianity, Israel, and Foreign Policy

So there is a huge movement in Christianity that encourages a kind of carte blanche support for Israel.  The reasoning goes like this:  God instituted the state of Israel with his blessing.  Christians who support Israel take part in that blessing, and those that don’t won’t.  This movement terrifies me, because you don’t have to dig very deep to find scary little artifacts of terror.  Google around and you’ll find Christians supporting preemptive strikes, Christians saying that Jerusalem indisputably is the Capital of Israel, and so on.  Even Mitt Romney seems to be on that boat, given his remarks about Jerusalem during his visit to Israel, and the fact that he’s hinted he would support a preemptive strike on Iran.

But are Christians obligated to support Israel in everything it does?  I doubt it.  If that belief is based off of the fact that Israel is the “Chosen land” promised to Abraham I feel the need to go no further than Israel’s history of being captured, burnt to the ground, decimated, imprisoned and exiled throughout the old Testament.  God never gave the nation of Israel carte blanche support when they ignored His leadership, why should we?  If the argument is that in the New Testament you see Christians that honored the Jews receiving the greatest/first blessing, my response is with Romans 10:12 and Galatians 3:28- there is no longer Jew or Gentile.  We are all the chosen children of God, and that includes all of the Christians in Iran, too.  Would God really want His children in Israel given thoughtless approval to kill His children in Iran?  I really don’t think so.  If the argument is that Jerusalem itself is sacred and Jesus went to Jerusalem “first”, I would like to point out that the curtain in the temple was torn at Jesus’ death and that the amazing thing about Jesus sacrifice was it got rid of the need for a sacred home for God’s presence on earth.  Jerusalem is no longer the holy seat of our faith, our own seat is so to speak.  We are the temple of God, now.  His holy city is all around us.

The problem with uniform, thoughtless support for Israel is that it ignores the wide reaching implications of our choices. Israel as a nation does not get a free pass to flout the laws of God in favor of self-preservation.  Christians that support such actions risk doing evil in the eyes of God.  If Israel’s actions lead to a preemptive strike against Iran and the death of tens of thousands, can we really, truly believe that is in God’s plan?

For those that believe the Israeli/Arab conflict is part of the Book of Revelations and that this whole thing is inevitable anyway, all I can say is that no man can know the time or the place.  Such devastation is nothing that any man should wish for or pray for or support, and should it come in our lifetime I wouldn’t consider it a blessing.

I support the faith.  I support my Christian brothers and sisters.  I support the cause of love, peace, stability, constancy, grace, sharing, and comfort.  I do not support war.

That’s all I can say.

Femininity and Conflict in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The following is an essay I wrote for my final English project at the beginning of last year.  A few people have voiced an interest in reading it.  It’s long, it’s formal, it uses citations and the like, and certainly isn’t for everyone.  But for those who like 20 page essays about television characters and femininity in the media… well, here you go:

 

Femininity and Conflict in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

When the popular movie Twilight first appeared in theaters, it did not take long for fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS) to shame Twilight’s Edward with a fan video smackdown (“Buffy Vs. Edward”). The video shows Edward stalking Buffy and professing his undying love, with Buffy responding in sarcastic incredulity and staking Edward. While it may appear that this “remix” of the two characters was about Buffy slaying a juvenile upstart and reinforcing her status as the queen of the genre, there was more at stake, so to speak. Buffy slaying Edward says more about the perceived masculinity and virility of the vampire in question than about Buffy herself as an independent woman. Buffy was never given that much agency in her own show. Buffy’s lovers stalked her, lied to her, and often ignored her own wishes about their relationships all in the name of “protecting” her. Many of these things are what fans of BtVS pointed out as anti-woman flaws in the narrative of Twilight, yet Buffy did not stake the vampires who denied her agency in her own relationships; instead, she pined for them! This is only one area in which BtVS as a vehicle fails to respect the ideals of a generation of young girls who crave a positive female icon. In family life, romance, and success outside of her primary role as Slayer, the show revolves around not Buffy’s strength and independence but the struggle she finds herself in because of it. The constant conflict Buffy suffers sends a mixed message to viewers; women can be granted strength but will be punished for it.

Dressing to Kill

One cannot watch BtVS without noticing the sometimes outlandishly girly way that Buffy is costumed, as well as the berating she often faces as a result. It isn’t uncommon for Buffy to climb into the sewers to head off an impending apocalypse wearing a pink sequined halter top. It is also likely that Buffy will face criticism from her watcher, mother, friends, or teachers the more girlish her garb becomes. While Buffy’s wardrobe may seem to contradict her warrior role, in actuality her feminine appearance helps to “normalize” her in the eyes of the viewer by reassuring them that she retains her female self despite her masculine strength (Jowett 23). When asked to patrol with the military Initiative, Buffy rejects their offer of camouflage garb, stating, “I’ve patrolled in this halter top before” (“The I in Team”). This rejection of the male warrior’s need to wear protective clothing in battle does not weaken Buffy, it instead positions her as a transgressive icon of female strength (Early). Buffy wields her girlish appearance like a weapon, using it to disarm and distract her opponents. Buffy’s unique approach to her role is also evidenced in the way that she and her friends often “resolve conflict nonviolently, through rationality, tactfulness, compassion and empathy” (Early, 20).

Deborah Tannen explains the way in which women are denied a “default” state in the way they dress and portray themselves, stating that “if a woman’s clothing is tight or revealing (in other words, sexy), it sends a message… …If her clothes are not sexy, that too sends a message, lent meaning by the knowledge that they could have been” (622). If Buffy were portrayed as butch, she would just be a girl pretending to be a man. If she were portrayed as too vanilla in the way she dressed, spoke, and acted she would be less interesting; her plainness would also send a message to the viewer by making her more androgynous. Buffy may be saucy and sexy and contrived in the way she dresses, but that is part of what makes her character complex. She is a warrior but also, undeniably, a woman.

Thus it is interesting that the plot and dialogue of the show often does not reinforce Buffy’s feminine dress as a positive thing, but instead condemns her for it. In the episode “Bad Eggs” Buffy and her mother are shopping and Buffy wants a new outfit. Joyce says no, “it makes you look like a streetwalker”. Buffy pouts and replies, “but a thin streetwalker, right?” This scenario is sadly common. Buffy’s peers, her mentors, and authority figures criticize her appearance as if it were offensive, and Buffy deflects such comments with sarcasm instead of defending her right to determine her own physical appearance.

Life Outside of Slaying

The punishment Buffy receives for her appearance is the least troubling aspect of the way in which Buffy is treated. From the first episode, Buffy is perceived of as a delinquent by those who do not know her dual identity as student and slayer. Buffy burnt down the gym of her old school, forcing her mother to quit her job and move to Sunnydale. Despite the fact that telling her mother the truth would assuage some of the resentment Buffy faced at home, Buffy chooses to lie to her mother to “protect” her. This pattern, in which Buffy stoically faces the judgment of others without defending herself repeats with her principal, teachers, and peers; in this way, Buffy accepts punishment that could have been avoided while reinforcing the idea that her treatment, while not deserved, is just.

As the show progresses and Buffy moves out of high school and into college and pursuing a career, she continues to encounter difficulty in her everyday life because of the dual identity slaying forces her to concoct. When her mother dies Buffy takes on the role of provider for her household. Buffy works a minimum wage job at Double Meat Palace to make ends meet as she is incapable of securing better employment. Buffy is eventually offered a position as a school counselor by the new principal in town, Robin Wood. In the episode “First Date” Principal Wood reveals that he knows that Buffy is the Slayer, and this is why he offered her a job. Buffy says, “so you didn’t hire me for my counseling skills?” and Principal Wood responds with a chuckle. Buffy may be powerful as the Slayer, but as a provider for her family and as an employee, her skills are portrayed as laughable.

Buffy’s necessary efforts to cloak some of her actions and engage in subterfuge to protect those unaware of vampires also constantly weaken her standing in society. Dramatic irony is often engaged as a plot device in BtVS, wherein Buffy is posed almost clownishly trying to hide the truth from an ignorant and often judgmental public. It is humorous as well as endearing to see how poorly Buffy lies, and Buffy’s lack of finesse outside of slaying does lend her character a great deal of humanity. Yet one must question why dramatic irony so often has Buffy playing the part of the bozo. Buffy is too often percieved of as flaky, inconsistent, or downright delusional. As one character says, a lot of people think Buffy “is some kind of high-functioning schizophrenic” (“Potential”). While Buffy may be possessing of super-human strength and a higher calling, it greatly impedes her ability to function as a normal member of society. She faces humiliation, prejudice, and conflict on a daily basis.

They Say Not to Take Work Home

As JP Williams writes in Choosing Your Own Mother (Mother-daughter Conflicts in Buffy), Buffy is “over-fathered and under-mothered” (61). She is reliant on the men around her for her survival, but denied an adequate female role model. For the first two seasons of BtVS, Buffy hides her true identity from her mother, Joyce. When Joyce does find out the truth about Buffy’s powers, they fight bitterly. Joyce tells Buffy, “if you walk out of this house don’t even think about coming back” (“Becoming”). Buffy has to leave or risk the world ending; so she walks out of her home and does not return to it until the third season. Buffy’s powers in this case strip Joyce of the ability to mother because Buffy’s calling must take precedence over her family obligations. Yet Buffy’s relationship with her mother suffers from far more than just the tension created by slaying. Joyce doesn’t seem to know how to properly communicate and often offers meaningless anecdotes, with Buffy reassuring her mother in an apparent role reversal. In “The Witch”, Joyce is attempting to encourage Buffy to follow through on trying out for cheer squad. Buffy says, “what was I trying out for?” and Joyce fumbles for words, having already forgotten. Buffy says, “that’s okay, your platitudes are good for all occasions.”

As the series progresses Joyce becomes portrayed as less neglectful, but in the first few seasons especially there are serious questions to be asked about her role as a mother. She has a teenage daughter who sneaks out nightly, lies to her, skips classes and bucks authority and Joyce is largely incapable of informing her daughter’s actions. Much of the early dynamic between mother and daughter comes down to the fact that Joyce does not realize the reality of Buffy’s “dual identity as Slayer and Student… a greater failing than Lois Lane’s traditional inability to envision Clark Kent without his glasses” (Williams, 64). The fact that Joyce is kept ignorant and Buffy routinely shuns her mothering is not entirely Joyce’s fault. The Slayer cannot respect her mother’s authority because the Slayer’s role is more important than mother-daughter relations.

Buffy the Relationship Slayer

Buffy’s relationship with her mother is not the only one which is strained. If her relationship with her mother is tense, then her romances are strenuous. Her first romantic pairing is with Angel, a vampire who is cursed with a soul. Unbeknownst to Angel, he will lose his soul if he experiences even a single moment of pure happiness. He finds this happiness when he and Buffy consummate their relationship in Season 2. When Angel then transforms into the demon Angelus, Mary Magoulick writes, it “culminates in a graphic, brutal, and bitter fight scene” (738). This is “particularly disturbing” as it comes in the second part of the episode in which Buffy makes love to Angel for the first time, giving the viewer the message that “being in love is more torment than pleasure” for Buffy (Magoulick 738).

Buffy’s later relationships may not be equally as tormented in terms of scale, but they do continue to revolve around themes of pain and conflict. This conflict is evident not only in romantic relationships, but in all her close relationships with men. Buffy even comes to blows with her mentor, Giles. While often their fighting is only in words, twice she resorts to hitting him. The first time occurs in the final episode of season one, “Prophecy Girl”. When Buffy realizes that Giles is going to sacrifice himself to save her life, she knocks him out in order to protect him. This action does lead to Buffy’s death by drowning, but she is resuscitated by her close friend Xander. The second time Buffy punches Giles echoes the first. In “Passion”, Giles is inflamed with rage after Angelus kills the woman Giles loves. Giles pursues Angelus in a suicidal rage. Again, Buffy resorts to blows in order to get through to Giles where words failed, to save his life. No matter how close the relationship, how deep the trust between two people, Buffy always seems to have to resort to her role as Slayer and her superhuman powers in order to make herself heard. This repeated theme has a serious connotation; Buffy as a girl is powerless. Her authority is intrinsically tied to her physically strength, which comes from her role as Slayer.

The Troubling Issue of Being Female On TV

One might ask how much any of this matters. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a television show, and much of the drama it depends on for ratings necessarily comes from conflict. No one watching the show should be surprised that Buffy’s interpersonal relationships are constantly disrupted, that she wears revealing clothes, or that she has to struggle in some areas of her life. The only problem with such thinking is that it assumes that such tensions could not have been written in a way that strengthened Buffy’s character rather than weakened her. It was not necessary to deprive Joyce and Buffy of a healthy mother-daughter relationship. A strong mother who supported her daughter’s calling would not necessarily have been less interesting to viewers than a mother who fumbled for words and appeared helpless. Nor was it necessary for Buffy to date men who stalked her, lied to her, and deprived her of agency in her relationships. While there is inevitably a price to pay for living a double life, the way in which Buffy is punished for her duplicity speaks volumes when viewed as analogous to the feminist struggle.

Often Buffy resorts to saying “I’m the Chosen One” when her authority is questioned; she is the Slayer, and that truth defines the way in which she acts and relates. Because of her power Buffy is forced to struggle in every area of her life. What message does this send to a young girl watching the program who is imagining being as powerful as Buffy? Rather than being an encouragement for girls to picture themselves as superheroes as boys so often do, BtVS sends the opposite message. Don’t pursue power, because that power will define your circumstances and those circumstances will define you. You will be forced to lie, to cheat, to sacrifice healthy relationships and to face constant conflict as a result of your independence.

It is unfortunately true that many shows that feature women as primary characters employ the same kind of storytelling. Xena: Warrior Princess, La Femme Nikita, The Closer, Alias, In Plain Sight, Saving Grace, Weeds and Battlestar Galactica all feature women as primary characters. All of the women in these shows have just a few things in common aside from their beauty: their intelligence and capability is challenged regularly; they face conflict in their private lives and homes; and they are punished for their physical and emotional strength. It is almost inevitable that any strong woman on TV would face the same treatment, especially those who play a traditionally masculine role. Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica, Xena, Nikita, Sidney Bristow of Alias, Mary Shannon of In Plain Sight and the Closer’s Brenda Lee Johnson all play traditionally masculine roles. All of those women face conflict and physical violence in almost every episode. Not only do they have to fight for respect, but their good works are seldom rewarded. Appreciation, respect, achievement, and victory are few and far between and must be won at high cost; home is not often a safe haven and interpersonal relationships are constantly disrupted. What is true for all of these female characters is especially true in the case of Buffy; she is a singular icon for female strength as well as for the punishment of feminine power.

Male Superheroes do not receive the same treatment. Spiderman, Batman, and Superman may engage in conflict in their everyday lives as a result of their necessary deceptions, but it is certainly not to the measure which Buffy does; their familial ties are free from extreme stress. They all have close relationships with older figures who mentor them and preserve their familial ties (Aunt Mae, Alfred, and the Kents respectively). They have places they can go home to which are a respite from the pressures their dual identities create. Each of the male superheroes mentioned also receives a certain measure of success both in their chosen careers outside of crime fighting and their romantic lives. While Batman does not have any long term romantic relationships he is a millionaire and dates often; he is rewarded for his power. Buffy is not afforded the kind of pleasures these male superheroes enjoy. It is because of that truth that Buffy’s story is far from empowering. Rather than showcasing a character who has achieved full agency as a woman and been rewarded for it, Buffy the Vampire Slayer instead chronicles one girl’s fight to be respected; a fight it sometimes seems she will never win.

The fact that women recieve unequal treatment in today’s society is made wholly apparent in the fact that feminine strength is not showcased or rewarded in television media as masculine strength always has been. Until women are allowed to be feminine and strong without fear of their homes and lives being disrupted, or facing constant judgment and critical backlash, women will remain less than men. While Buffy the Vampire Slayer may have gone further than any show before it in creating a female character who was independent and powerful, the fact that her strength could not go unpunished leaves a gaping hole. Young women are still hungry for a role model who can navigate all of the complexities of modern womanhood successfully. Buffy’s final fight, the fight for respect, must not be left unwon. It’s time for a female superhero to get equal treatment: strength, intelligence, achievement, and reward.

Works Cited

“Buffy Vs. Edward”. Jonathon McIntosh, ed.

http://www.rebelliouspixels.com/2009/buffy-vs-edward-twilight-remixed viewed 10/28/11

Early, Francis. “Staking Her Claim: Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Transgressive Woman Warrior.” Journal of Popular Culture 35.3 (2001): 11-17.

Jewett, Lorna. Sex and the Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer for the Buffy Fan. Middletown: Wesleyan, 2005. Print.

Magoulik, Mary. “Frustrating Female Heroism: Mixed Messages in Xena, Nikita, and Buffy.” Journal of Popular Culture 39.5 (2006): 729-55.

Tannen, Deborah. “There is No Unmarked Woman.” Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers. Ed. Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford St. Martins, 2009. 620-24. Print.

Whedon, Joss. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Seasons 1-7. Television Program.

Williams, JP Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Ed. Wilcox, Rhonda, and David Lavery. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002. 61-68. Print.

Act out the Gospel, not a Battle.

“I have come into the world as a light,  so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.  If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.”  (John 12: 46-47)

I once heard someone say that anyone who lives in the United States and does not follow Christ’s teaching has chosen a life of sin over God’s love with no excuse, because no one who lives in this fair country could possibly have missed hearing the Gospel.  I wonder at that kind of attitude.  For one, the Bible is clear that it is nobody’s business judging those outside of the church, they are subject only to the laws of man and should not be judged by God’s law.  Second, the simple fact that they live in this country does not mean they ever experienced God’s extravagant love at the hands of one of His children.  The “gospel” that they’ve been exposed to is likely the sort of contemptful attitude that birthed the judgment now being heaped over them.  No thank you, ma’am!  If that were my primary knowledge of God I’d be an atheist, too.  Third, do you think that God has ever stopped loving them and desiring to express His love to them?  Do you think that God Himself has judged them as unworthy?  Do you think God takes their rejection of the consumerist, judgmental, and self-involved face of American Christianity personally?  Honestly, most of the time when I speak with people who have rejected the American church I hear their words not as an offense against God but as a pretty righteous condemnation of all of the behaviors which the Bible itself warns against.  Should we have church leaders with private jets while there aren’t enough shelters to take in the homeless?  Should we be picketing gay rights?  Should we be judgmental of single mothers, of the poor?  Should we be glossing over the pain that humanity experiences with hyperbolic praise songs?  Should the music we put out in God’s name be so homogenized, bland, and stripped of multi-cultural influences?  Should we be so uninterested in protecting our planet, which we claim God gave to us as a good gift?  And on, and on.

As Christians, we should hear the argument against the church not as an attack by enemy combatants who need to be neutralized immediately by any means necessary, but as an opportunity to learn and grow.  Too often we label anyone who reacts with skepticism as an “enemy of the faith”, sometimes going as far as to name them as an agent of Satan.  Who benefits from this?  The Bible does not command us to destroy our enemies with words, but instead:

Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.  (2 Timothy 2:25-26)

Even if you do believe that anyone who speaks against your beliefs is an agent of the devil, the Bible still doesn’t justify the kind of hateful rhetoric that colors Christian debates.  (Especially debates with non-Christians.)  We are commanded to gentleness and love, and prayerful consideration.  Always.  We are to lead people to a place where God grants them repentance, not to hammer it into their faces with the Bible.

I am frankly appalled at the tone of some of the discussions going on in the church.  Gay people, poor people, and people of different ethnicities are metaphorically strung up as if they were terrorists who need to be tortured into submission before a metaphorical bomb explodes and destroys our society.  What is the defense for this?  Are they not also Gods children?  Are they not also people who are capable of recieving God’s conviction?  Are they not also desired and loved?  This is the Gospel, not warfare.

It is to be spread through love, not with fists.

 

Free Advice Friday: dealing with conflict

Everyone ends up in arguments.  Every personal relationship has it’s moments of extreme tension.  How we confront them and the way in which we cope afterwards says a lot about who we are, our maturity, and our ability to maintain intimacy overtime.  So how to approach conflict?  Here are a few things I’ve learned in six years of marriage:

  1. Tell the person who hurt you that you are hurt.  The assumption that offense is known and acknowledged is a dangerous one.  No matter how intimate the relationship, your spouse, family and friends are not mind readers.  If there is pain, allow it to be exposed.  Be frank.  That is when healing is possible.
  2. Acknowledge wrongdoing. If you bring up thing (A) and your spouse brings up thing (B) that you did to hurt them, stop.  Breathe.  Apologize.  A true and heartfelt apology will open the door for your own hurts to be dealt with and healed.  What is more important, that you immediately achieve recognition of your own pain, or that intimacy can continue?  Be willing to be wrong, and you will find your spouse (or friends, or family) willing to admit their wrongs to you, as well.
  3. Deal with the fact that you only control yourself. You can’t force humbleness, you can’t evoke change, you can’t create better intimacy by requesting it from others.  The only one you can birth those things in is yourself.  If the most important thing is the continued relationship, you will have to make sacrifices.  If the only thing that matters is your own perceived needs…  You may just go on needing, forever.
  4. Always use a soft tone. You may be angry.  You may be red-in-the-face screaming angry.  You may be throwing the chairs up against the wall angry.  But if you approach the conflict that way, you immediately put everyone else on the defensive.  Use a soft tone and a gentle touch.  “Demonstrations” of anger don’t have to be loud and rude.  Softly saying, “I am angry.  I cannot deal with (this) or (that) and I need you to hear me.” will allow for the conversation to grow.
  5. Use personal language– don’t say “you did this, you did that, you hurt me.”  Say, “I was hurt when this or that happened.”  “I had a bad reaction to your words.”  “You may not have meant to hurt me by saying this or that, but I was hurt.”  Do not immediately place blame.  Speak sincerely about yourself and your feelings and needs, and allow an opportunity for the offending party to take blame.
  6. Don’t bring in a third party– don’t immediately bring other people into your personal problems.  It may be tempting to call your mother before broaching a subject with your spouse, but if you do and then say, “mom said this about what you did” expect the fight to continue.  If you must call someone else for emotional support, leave them out of the discussion.  Your problems with your spouse or family should remain between you and the people involved.
  7. Learn how to calm yourself down.  The heat of anger can be dangerous.  Figure out what calms you down, be it breathing slowly or cleaning or fishing or yardwork or painting or handling your Wii (gaming system, for the uninitiated), and if you feel yourself losing control- go do that thing-  BUT-  never just walk out on a conversation.  Tell your spouse (or friend, or family) what you are doing.  Say, “I really want to have this conversation, but if we keep talking right now I will say things to hurt you that we will both regret and be unable to unsay.  Is it okay if I take a few hours to do (this) or (that) and we can talk after?”  If you want to sweeten the deal, you could even say, “here, take this twenty and go see a movie or get dinner while I calm down.”  That way you both feel taken care of, and the discussion can take place over calmer waters.

So, this weekend, have a happy relationship!