Rules by Sarah Schwartz

Keep your legs shut, you are only as good

as the parts you keep covered up

only as pure as what hasn’t been

touched, won’t you tell me again

the rules for my body?

Tell me how I should

be treated with respect, unless

a Supreme Court Justice is on the table

until, you have to treat them like shit

won a primary,

before

just locker room talk became the

unrepentant prayer that covered

a multitude of sins.

You forgot to mention, that if

there ever came a day where

a powerful man promised to make

you great, you’d offer me up

like Lot’s daughters to a hungry

crowd, my soft frame not too high

a price to pay if it meant we could place

our hands over our hearts & say in God we trust

hang the 10 Commandments high in the city square

and forget all the chapters before and after

where the instructions read to care for the

immigrant and the refugee.

Go ahead, protect the frail bird of my body

from transgender bathrooms, but shrug your

shoulders at the you can do anything siren song

reverberating off of the ears of every man

who will look at me today, and only see

permission.

Tell me how it’s okay for one hand to paw at

my pussy, as long as the other is

signing papers to keep brown people out,

how it’s ok for him to touch me, if you

receive a fair price in

exchange.


believe women: a lament by Sarah Schwartz

‘Why'd you wait so long?’

Here's a big part of why: Because for years I watched family and friends eviscerate sexual assault victims who spoke up against a candidate, team, pastor, ministry or local friend they liked, and I got the message loud and clear.

-Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly come forward and accuse former USA Gymnastics coach Larry Nassar of sexual abuse

***

Shortly after the 2016 election, I wrote of the whiplash of being a young woman in conservative evangelicalism—the mind game that is being told that my sexual “purity” is to be protected at all costs, and that my body is acceptable sacrifice on the altar of political power.

When the tape of now President Donald Trump boasting of “grabbing women the pussy” leaked in late 2016, I remember thinking, surely this is the end to all reasonable consideration of this man for public office. This is bigger than partisan politics. The American public will not tolerate sexually predatory behavior from a presidential candidate. Especially those who claim Jesus as Lord!

This week, with the accusations that have come forward regarding supreme court justice nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh, I will not be so foolish—and I grieve my naïveté. I miss believing that most people find women to be human, and their abuse, intolerable.

But I am older now. To old to confuse the pageantry of “family values” with “valuing the safety and dignity of women” ever again.

I want to live in a world where, when a woman summons the courage to come forward and say “this horrific thing happened to me” we value her enough to at least make space to listen without immediately concluding that she is a vicious shrew, out to ruin the lives of unsuspecting men for shits and giggles. But that is not the world, yet.

***

When we say believe women, what we mean is don’t reflexively disbelieve women, or immediately assume women are lying. The bar could not be set any lower for human decency.

Do false allegations happen? Yes. But according to the best available data, only 2%-8% of all sexual assault allegations are found to be false—you know, the same percentage as other felonies. Women are no more likely to lie about being assaulted than someone who has their car stolen or home burglarized.

Because women are not out to get you.

The only thing we are out to do is survive, whether it be through car keys clenched between knuckles as we navigate dimly lit parking structures, or by watching every motion of the bartender as he makes our drink, or teaching our baby daughters the anatomically correct terms for their body so they can tell us, should they need to tell us.

And every now and again, we are out to tell the truth—even though we know our character will be maligned, our families upended, and the most vulnerable pieces of ourselves made available for public fodder. (Which is why, while 1-3 women experience sexual violence in their lifetimes, less than half come forward.)

Because every time a woman tells the truth about her life, she is demanding better for the lives of the women who will follow.

In the words of Oscar Romero, she is a prophet of a future not her own.

***

You will know when the time comes.

Your throat, an indignant fist, will forget its grip.

The stories will flood finally from your mouth.

Whoever told you not to tell will die to you.

Whoever told you that no one would believe you,

that you deserved it, that you would pay,

will be crushed under the weight of it,

suffocated under the rush of it, this hard

thing unleashed and furious and not yet

the shape of the truth, but it’s wild mother.

You, too, will be pummeled by the telling,

the surrendering to the righting of the world.

An exposing. A skinning. Take exquisite care.

The voice, unafraid, changes everything…

You will be more vulnerable now than ever,

sensitive to the edges, but able, at last, to spend

it, this new currency, this crackling power,

just at the tip of your

-Mindy Nettifee, Tender

The Old Testament, Justice, & Grace: a guest post by Julie Dykes by Sarah Schwartz

Earlier this year, my friend Julie tweeted about her decision to write her master's thesis on the woe oracles of Isaiah 5 & Matthew 23. As she made her way through seminary, she realized just how little she had been taught about God's passion for justice, particularly as it is displayed in the Old Testament. 

She wrote, "This language, harsh as it is, has a critical role in Scripture: it reveals God's justice. It shows that he cares about the poor, the downtrodden, the vulnerable. He won't sit idly by while people exploit one another. And he doesn't expect his people to do so, either—to fellow evangelicals who have (un)intentionally avoided these passages: sit with these words. Let them make you uncomfortable. Let the Holy Spirit agitate you about the things that agitate God. And then start learning how you can partner with God to advocate for his justice."

When I asked Julie to expand on her tweets, and give us a glimpse into the inspiration behind her thesis and the ways it's shaped her, she kindly agreed. I can't help but wonder how different our current cultural moment might look if those who espouse "Biblical values" counted Yahweh's demands for just living among them. May we allow the Spirit to agitate us, and move us to action.

***

In May, I had the privilege of graduating with my MA in Old Testament and New Testament. (It’s unusual in biblical studies to do both, but I’m a nerd/glutton for punishment, so…) The day before my graduation, an article was posted online describing a sermon that famous pastor and preacher, Andy Stanley, had preached. Stanley had argued that because people do not understand the Old Testament, they’re turning away from the faith. Stanley’s solution, therefore, was to urge his audience that they needed to “unhitch” themselves from the Old Testament.

After all, he said, “Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well.” Even the New Covenant Jesus established “does not need propping up by the Jewish scriptures.” Moreover, to “unhitch” ourselves from the Old Testament is not just necessary, it’s “liberating for people who need and understand grace.”

My first reaction: *Insert white guy blinking gif here*

My second reaction: What New Testament is Stanley reading that he thinks the New Testament authors “unhitched” themselves from the Old Testament? Does he not realize how many Old Testament quotations, allusions, and echoes permeate the entirety of the New Testament? Is he not aware that the New Covenant was established at the Passover meal, and that the symbolism behind the elements rests on images found in the Old Testament?

My third reaction: What a tragically shallow understanding of the Old Testament, to think that it lacks grace.

On one level, I get it. After all, although I grew up in church all my life, I knew relatively little about the Old Testament by the time I left for college to be a Biblical and Theological Studies major. There just wasn’t as much of an emphasis on preaching the Old Testament. If the Old Testament was preached, it primarily stuck to the prominent characters of the historical narratives, the happier-sounding psalms, or the prophetic passages that dealt with messianic prophecies and/or promises of restoration. Everything else generally got neglected.

Then in college, even though I was a Bible major, I still didn’t learn much about the Old Testament. I gravitated toward New Testament electives, partially because of interest and partially because of the professors I came to know and like. However, during my last semester, I took a class on the Gospel of John, and the professor highlighted how much John depended on the Old Testament in order to fully portray who Jesus was.

I realized how anemic my education had been. My program had been a wonderful experience, but in order to understand Scripture – both Old and New Testament – I needed to study the Old Testament more fully.

So I found a masters program that would let me earn an MA in Old and New Testament together. I studied under brilliant Old Testament professors. I wrote my combined thesis in Old and New Testament and, while this may sound odd, I genuinely had fun writing it, despite the inevitable stresses involved. I studied Hebrew and found that I loved it. I took classes where I studied everything from Old Testament social ethics to the Hebrew text of Ecclesiastes.

And through it all, I realized I had been robbed.

Not only is the Old Testament beautiful to read and highly relevant for learning to live faithfully and ethically as God’s people, but it is necessary for fully understanding who God is, who we are in relation to him, and how we are to respond to the world around us. And by not studying it in its entirety, I had developed serious holes in my theology and hermeneutics, preventing me from seeing the entire, beautiful tapestry of Scripture.

Take, for example, the topic on which I wrote my thesis. I focused on the texts of Isaiah 5 and Matthew 23, which are both primarily occupied by a series of woe oracles against those who socially abuse (Isaiah 5) and spiritually abuse (Matthew 23) the people that they are supposed to care for. When I would share what my thesis topic was during my program, I would often be met with looks of confusion, as if to say, “Really? That’s what you went with?” One person even told me, “That sounds depressing.”

In reality, it was the exact opposite.

Both of these passages revealed to me God’s sense of justice, his concern for the vulnerable and oppressed. They are hard to read in a sense, but they contain a kind of terrible beauty with their use of poetic features, creative imagery, and powerful emotion. These passages are absolutely necessary to getting a full picture of God and a robust understanding of who we are supposed to be as his people.

What stands out about Matthew 23 in particular, in light of Stanley’s comments, is that Jesus’ series of woes is extremely similar to those found in the Old Testament. In fact, I spent two-thirds of the New Testament half of my thesis arguing that Matthew, drawing upon the images and texts of the Old Testament, presents Jesus as the Old Testament prophet par excellence. It is simply impossible to read Matthew well – or, I would argue, just about any New Testament book – without understanding its Old Testament background.

What stands out about Isaiah 5, in light of Stanley’s comments, is that Yahweh speaks out against his people in judgment because of their mistreatment of the vulnerable in society. He had laid out for them in the Torah the ways in which they should emulate his justice through their laws, and yet they had failed to do so; therefore, he would judge them. Is this not its own kind of grace, that God would defend the cause of the vulnerable against those abusing their power?

And how much more grace that, despite the people’s constant rejection of Yahweh and their continued social injustices, which resulted in their exile from the land, Yahweh still refused to abandon his covenant with his people. Instead, he promised to be with them through the exile and to bring them back out of it.

How is this not grace?

I won’t deny that there are elements of the Old Testament that feel particularly foreign, confusing, and/or challenging to us in light of our modern Western sensibilities. But to neglect or abandon the Old Testament is to develop an anemic faith, one that both misses out on the beauty of the Old Testament and misunderstands much (if not most) of the New Testament.

Understanding the Old Testament, especially its historical background, requires work, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. It is therefore the responsibility of those who have studied, or have the means to study it, to help those who don’t have the same opportunity to better understand the Old Testament, with all of its depth, intensity, and beauty.

My hope is that, as someone with an MA in Old and New Testament, I can help people develop a fuller understanding of the entirety of Scripture, Old Testament included. I hope others with the opportunity to educate others likewise will do the same.

In the meantime, let’s continue to study the entirety of God’s Word, Old and New Testament alike, and help each other to find the beauty in both.

***

Julie is a California native currently residing in Colorado. An aspiring biblical scholar, she recently graduated from Denver Seminary with her MA in Old Testament and New Testament, and she is hoping to apply for PhD programs this fall. In the meantime, she spends her time working at a local library and as a research assistant for Dr. Lynn Cohick at the seminary. Most of the rest of her free hours are currently dedicated to learning how to be a puppy parent to her new little girl, Leia.

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why it mattered by Sarah Schwartz

This is why "they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists" mattered.

Because taking someone's baby isn't that hard, when they were trash to begin with. 

There's nothing new about peddling a tale where it is all Their fault

that your job pays crap

and your taxes are too high

and you have to say happy holidays.

Locking a child in a cage isn't that hard, when they're snakes.

It's the easiest and oldest human inclination—create monsters out of those you do not understand. Be sure that different means bad, means wrong, means crime & violence and threat to everything you hold dear, facts be damned. 

Ever Cain's indignant sons and daughters, we shout at the sky, am I my brother's keeper? when what we really mean is, how dare you suggest I am. 

We approach the Rabbi and inquire, but who is my neighbor? hoping he'll draw a small circle around our family and friends and people who speak our language and pray to our God and stand for the anthem and don't marry the same sex or cause a fuss about their lives mattering and leave us unchallenged and comfortable.

Certainly, teacher, you did not mean my brown neighbor, my poor neighbor, my undocumented neighbor.

Ripping a family apart isn't hard, when love your neighbor as yourself is drowned out by he's just rough around the edges and I like that he speaks his mind in the face of rhetoric that chipped away at our neighbor's humanity.

It's not hard, when it's not people.

***

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)

 

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2017 by Sarah Schwartz

I began 2017 with love and lament—wrestling with the evangelical tradition that birthed me, and so often looks for reason to give up the very people our faith calls us to protect for political and cultural gain.

I ventured into poetry with Rulestell me how it’s okay for one hand to paw at my pussy, as long as the other is signing papers to keep brown people out... (I also marched with 750,000 Angelenos who believe that "defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.")

Life came back through the hard work of dragging my ass to therapy and taking my medication, the faithfulness of friends and worn edges of poetry books, and plenty of stopping to breathe and admire the bougainvillea.

I flew home often to visit my Grandmother, and we sorted through the trash and treasure my Grandfather left us when he passed last spring.

I started shopping ethically, thanks to my friend Ellie over at Selflessly Styled.

I got to be a part of creating and launching my alma mater's first women's resource collective, GRIT. (File under "life long dreams").

Charlottesville happened, and we do not get to go back to sleep.

I officiated my friends Natalie & Joey's wedding, and became an officiant for hire through Young, Hip & Married! (what's up Southern CA, hire me to pronounce you wed!)

We began a public reckoning of a culture that allows the Weinsteins of the world to prey on women with little to no consequence.

I took up arms in the War on Christmas—banning refugees in need of sanctuary.

As part of the completion of my master's program, I got to write a short statement that was read as I was hooded.

Oh, did I not mention that I finished my M.A. in Theology? I have not even begun to process the closing of that four and half year chapter of my life, but for now I'll just say hither by Thy help I've come.

As we dream of what 2018 might be, I'm meditating on the words of Dr. Mika Edmonson,

"You cannot love your neighbor while supporting or accepting systems that crush, exploit, and dehumanize them. You cannot love your neighbor while accepting less for them and their family than you do for you and your own."

In 2017, we saw women, immigrants, the poor, and communities of color exploited and dehumanized, but we also saw a flood of resistance, of neighbor defending neighbor, of hope and love and the unsexy work of day in and day out activism.

In 2018, let's renew our commitment to radical neighbor love, and all of the humility, sacrifice, and hard work that it entails.

***

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

-Matthew 25, The Message