Curiously Strong Podcast

For the last several months,
my friends April and Jess have been working on a new project:

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All ten episodes of season one are available now on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.  Check out episode descriptions below if you want to pick and choose your way through our conversations about identity in our new and confusing phase of life after leaving a lifetime of evangelicalism.

  1. Introductions (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    Meet your hosts: Jess, April, and Trish as we introduce ourselves in this pilot episode of the podcast. Learn about how we met each other and how we got to the point of starting this project as we talk about growing up evangelical and ultimately what led to severing ourselves from that identity. How do people identify themselves nowadays and what does it say about them? Get ready for lots of questions, lots of (loud) laughs, and lots of fun stories about how we cope with the aftermath of a religious upbringing.

  2. Enneagram (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    In this episode, your hosts discuss everything Enneagram related: how we typed and mis-typed ourselves, how we got into it in the first place, how this relates to our evangelical and post-evangelical selves, and what we like most about our own types. April realizes that there is a type pattern in her friends/family circle, Trish has an ability to move from her type to her wing with ease when the situation necessitates it, and Jess is still working on not apologizing so much. Rather than having this be an explanatory episode about what the Enneagram is, we assume that the listener already has a basic knowledge of this typing system and discuss how it impacts us personally. Find out whether there can be a future for this podcast if two out of the three don’t like engaging in conflict (spoiler: there can) and what Trish said that made April respond with: “I’m going to get that tattooed on me.”

  3. Religious Identity (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    Let’s talk about religion, the reason we are all here. You’ll find out what religious climate/culture everyone grew up in and what we would consider ourselves now. A major discussion point revolves around reasons and catalysts for leaving the faith or making pretty big adjustments if not leaving entirely.  While religion certainly has its positive parts, we have also felt the awkward, isolating, and even hurtful aspects of it that influence our thoughts and behaviours to this day. We have all felt the in-between of not belonging to the Christian group anymore but also not really belonging to the secular community, and that can be a lonely place. We raise a lot of serious (and not so serious) questions such as “What the hell is flag-waving?”, “What is the age of accountability and should it be lower?”, and “What does it mean to have an identity as a changing human?” Prepare to either relate to a lot of the facets of Christian upbringing or be pretty weirded out by the stuff we used to do.

  4. Work Identity (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    On today’s episode your hosts talk about our day jobs, what we love most about them, how they relate to our identity, and whether we find them fulfilling. Work is a big part of everyone’s lives because we spend so much of our time doing it, so it is bound to influence us in a major way. But how much of our life is work, really? Does it consume us entirely or do we find a balance to enjoy it when we do show up?  We should be seeking alignment, not have one thing take over everything. But we also recognize that having these choices is a privilege, an opportunity that we are going to take and run with.  Listen to us answer the daunting question: “If you had to step away from work for a period of time, how would you feel/how would it affect you?” As structure and productivity prove to be essential for a fulfilling life, the idea of not having a work identity would be difficult for us.

  5. Sexual Identity Pt 1 (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    Today April, Trish, and Jess spill the tea about all things sexuality. The episode starts off with us explaining how we currently identify sexually and the complicated journey from childhood until now where we are finally comfortable with who we are. Sexuality is hugely influenced by a religious upbringing and can sometimes be incredibly damaging. They bring up the struggles of sexuality, the harmful purity culture, the idea of casual sex, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and why Jess read Every Young Man’s Battle. We realized that much of our sexual “sin” was pure thought crime (i.e. lusting) and how this ultimately led to dissociation from our bodies. Surprisingly there are also some good things about growing up in a conservative sexual culture that come up. But then the conversation shifts back to the weird, heteronormative concept of virginity and how in actuality sex is nuanced, individual, and personal.

  6. Sexual Identity Pt 2 (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    We now talk about what our sexuality means for our day to day mental space and relationships. Hear why Trish thinks it’s different coming out in Canada versus the US. We also discuss the question: “Is it necessarily our sexuality changing or is our relationship to it changing? What situations am I putting myself in that are going to draw out these sides out of it?” Sexuality is very fluid and weird and nuanced and that is okay, because for every human that exists there is a new way of being. And as language changes, so can labels. We also really get into how sexuality relates to feminism, body positivity, and power.

  7. Relational Identity (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    How has the experience of leaving evangelicalism affected the relationships we have with the people around us? We need to be shifting away from an “us” versus “them” mentality because so much of conervsative Christianity is defining yourself by whether you are in the in group or out group. Whether you are bad or good, right or wrong, saved or lost. Christianity had taught us that everyone is our responsibility because we put them on a path to either heaven or hell purely based on our interactions, which creates an impossible burden. But now we can say: “I can remember someone’s humanity but I don’t have to interact with it. Not everyone is my responsibility.” We also tackle topics like forced vulnerability in small/community groups causing psychological harm and how much we dislike it when people tell us they are going to pray for us. Some questions we consider are: How do we balance real vulnerability and sharing experiences while not having to justify and defend our life choices? How do we say no without having to explain ourselves and how are our boundaries with other people now that god is out of the picture?

  8. Privilege Identity (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    A Canadian, an American, and a German talk about what privilege means to us and where we source it from. Whether it’s the colour of our skin, our respective home countries, or the religion we grew up with, we all had immense privilege in our lives despite our individual seasons of pain. We try to be as honest as we can be with ourselves in this episode and acknowledge the things that have paved the way for us to succeed in this life. We also talk about the rarely discussed idea that growing up Christian gives you the unique privilege of being trusted within your community. There is an assumption of good character as a Christian that influences someone else’s decision to hire you since you share the same values, as we all have experienced.

  9. Online Identity (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    From AOL chatrooms to Myspace to Instagram, we have evolved in how we communicate with and to the world. Embarrassing posts and status updates were a part of all our online lives, but we were lucky that it all happened when no one was really paying attention. We discuss how, because of the compulsive need to share, it makes it hard to “be in the moment” without thinking of the different lenses for this situation. Are we just living for the end product? Or is it possible to actually achieve a balance of being present in a moment as well as capturing it for future memories? Context matters, so we also talk about how we recognize that we may not be entirely the same person online as we are in “real life”. We answer the question: Since becoming an exvangelical, how has your online presence changed? It turns out we all have very different answers.

  10. Religious Identity (the Good Stuff) (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    We have talked a lot about the ways that our religious upbringing has hurt us, but we wanted to dedicate an entire episode to the good things we are taking away from evangelicalism. 
    What did we learn from church? What opportunities were presented to us? Community always has been an important one and one we hear from lots of other exvangelicals and ex-religious people as well. Another facet is the charitable spirit of Christianity (when done right) and how it often changes lives for the better. Trish loves the Bible as wisdom literature and likes thinking about the good things we can get out of it. Jess has been taught that everyone has inherent value and no one is beyond redemption. April values the importance of not seeing people as objects but rather as full human beings. Listen to find out all the other positive things we’re taking for evangelicalism as this season of identity comes to a close. 

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Join the conversation!
Reach out to us on Instagram, Twitter, or email us at curiouslystrongpod@gmail.com.

The Woman Beneath the Recovery Participant

About a month ago, the place I work for held a fundraising event in which we told the pieced together story of the kind of woman who might find herself sexually exploited, addicted to drugs, and in need of a recovery home.  I was in charge of pressing play for the first part of her story, in which two actresses told the story of how they were sexually abused as children, tricked, doped, raped, sold, etc, and wound up gazing out of windows wondering “Doesn’t anyone see me?”

The people who went through the experience were…overwhelmed.  I forget sometimes that the gruesome reality of the women I work with is not a common thought space for many people.  I spoke with one woman afterward who was struggling to process the fact that these sorts of things happen (and I tried not to scream SOME VERSION OF THIS IS SUPER COMMON, YOU HAVE JUST BEEN PRIVILEGED ENOUGH NOT TO KNOW IT), and I realized she was kind of mentally thinking of our women as martyrs.  Or victims.  As someone Other and Pitiable.

It made me realize that what I really want people to know is that these women are women.  They’re human!  They have personalities that delight and frustrate me.  One participant likes my Harry Potter references, and another will always say, “Oh my God, NERDS,” and then we nod and high-five each other.  That same mocking participant UTTERLY geeks out about Vampire Diaries and can imitate the voice and posture of every character on the show.

Another is incredibly organized, and when we went on a picnic outing, she was the only one who brought something to share.  That something was gorgeous plastic plates, utensils, pita bread with homemade dip and sun-dried tomatoes.  Another woman struggles with depression, but we decided to try to learn Korean together, so whenever I say “An-yong!” to her, she breaks into the cutest giggles.

Another decided she wanted to apply for a job (her first ever), so she researched the hell out of what to wear/say/do, and had me ask her questions from a list of fifty she’d printed out and answered.  She got the job despite laying down very strict time boundaries because her effort was apparent.

Another repeatedly assures us that she knows cannibalism is wrong but “I just want to eat my baby so bad.  HIS CHEEKS.”  Another wanders listlessly around until you meet her eye.  Then she smiles peacefully at you and wanders the other way.  Another is an over-achiever, the only one interested in completing my daily spelling lists because “It feels so good to be good at something.”

They all revolted when they thought someone wasn’t getting paid enough for her sewing work, and they were all going to donate some of theirs to make up for it.  Another participated in a slam poetry reading at a hipster coffee shop, and at every person before her, she got paler and paler.  She performed amazingly, but insisted we immediately leave because she thought she was going to throw up.

Another grows black flowers.  Another over-tans.  Another comments about how good someone looks “when you draw your eyebrows on.”  Another can’t process quickly in a big group.  Another has to wear our Ugly Shirt often because she runs out of the house last minute in ill-fitting shirts.  Another keeps falling in love with construction workers named Shawn.  Another, another, another…

Some of the stories they tell churn even my hardened stomach.  These are women who have been raised by abusive parents, who have had DESPICABLE things done to them over and over by multiple and varied people, who have DONE despicable things to others as well.  They are wracked by guilt and shame and worthlessness, and they cling to the tiniest hope that maybe they can change their lives into something entirely new so that their kid won’t live through what they did.  They fail and they succeed…and they tell jokes, and they welcomed me, and they’re silly and kind and vindictive and self-deprecating and smart as hell.

I really love them.  Not because of what they’ve gone through.  But because they are each of them beautifully unique humans who deserve to be known and loved and appreciated for who they are underneath all their bad decisions and awful circumstances.

How Black Sails Equipped Me With the Empathy Necessary for My New Job

I am rewatching Black Sails with a coworker, and I’ve been thinking about the similarities between the show’s themes and my work with women recovering from sexual exploitation and addictions.

The overarching question of Black Sails is:  which is worse, piracy or civilization?  History has made pirates into monsters, but the show is determined to make us see that civilization deliberately painted them that way, because civilized people need someone to point to and say: at least I’m not like THEM.  To be fair, the pirates often do monstrous things.  But civilization did monstrous things as well, only they had the resources to cover them up or blame someone else.

I see a lot of similarities in how the world views women who are prostitutes and/or addicts.  It’s unfortunately common to insult or dismiss them, to call them names or use them as examples of The Bad (I’m looking at you, Proverbs).  Adding addiction to the mix just makes it easier to alienate people and make monsters out of them.  At least we’re not like that, we think.

A while ago, I had a conversation with a friend about fostering.  I had always thought the hardest part of fostering would be knowing the relationship was temporary.  My friend said that the hardest part was that often you were not just saying goodbye to a child, you were sending it back into a bad situation.  I agreed with her, and then on my first day at my new job, I saw the “bad situation” children are sent back to.

On that day, a woman in the program tested positive during our random drug screening.  We had to call in her social worker and determine what was to be done with her child.  The woman was devastated, angry at herself for letting her addiction get the better of her, furious that she had jeopardized her relationship with her child for the sake of a temporary high.  An extraordinary solution was found, and since then I’ve had a lot of one-on-one time with the mother and child.  The thing is, she’s a great mother 90% of the time.  She’s attentive and loving and protective.  And sometimes she gets high and is wholly incapable of caring for her child.  I’m not at all advocating that women with addictions should keep their children no matter what.  But the story became much more complicated.

Perhaps it sounds silly to equate pirates with addicts, but if you think that then I have to assume you haven’t seen Black Sails.  Stories matter, and when we make addicts into monsters, they internalize that role.  Both the pirates in a tv show and the women I work with on a daily basis have done some truly horrific and criminal things.  But that is not all that they are, and when those are the stories we tell, we erase the goodness in them and the potential for recovery.

So we have to ask ourselves: why do we tell these stories?  To hide our worst impulses?  To assure ourselves that even though we lost our temper with our kid, at least we didn’t do this?  To make our sexual decisions seem better because at least we didn’t do that?  To minimize our own selfishness and pettiness and vindictiveness?  The thing that Black Sails tells us over and over again is this:  civilization and pirates are not all that different.  We all have the same dark impulses when pushed into a desperate corner.  And if we haven’t yet been pushed into that desperate corner, the least we can do is thank God for our privilege and practice empathy for those that made a bad decision in a bad situation.

Society spins narratives to make sense of the world and our role within it.  As someone who has always fared well from those narratives, I haven’t had to question them.  But there are women and men who live behind the labels “prostitute” and “addict,” and if we don’t take the time to understand their reality and see them as whole people with stories and contexts and futures, we make them into monsters.  And isn’t that a monstrous thing to do?

Netflix Rec | 13 REASONS WHY

I heard a lot about 13 Reasons Why before I actually sat down to watch it, both positive and negative.  I read the book when it was published in 2007, and I remember liking it and feeling impacted by it.  Ten years later, though, I couldn’t remember enough of the details to decide whether the story glorified suicide or not.  Now that I’ve binged all thirteen episodes, I feel sure that, despite those few people who will misunderstand its message, this show is incredibly necessary.

13 Reasons Why is the story of a young woman who commits suicide after years of objectification, bullying, and rape.  She leaves behind cassette tapes that are passed among thirteen people who she blames for her action.  Sensationalistic?  A little.  But the series refuses to take a simplistic viewpoint, allowing characters to argue about whether or not it was their responsibility to help Hannah Baker.  Some think she wouldn’t have killed herself if they could have done more, and others believe it was simply her bad decision.

What complicates matters is that we get to see below the surface of every person that Hannah blames for her suicide.  The series does a phenomenal job of finding the deeper motivations for each character.  With one possible exception, we see that the bullies were also bullied, that home lives encouraged or tolerated violent behavior, that each teenager is doing their best to survive the hell that is high school in the technological age.  With this perspective, this Netflix series reveals the true villain of the story:  not Hannah or the people she blames, but the culture in which she lives.

In the end, there’s no use arguing about whether she should have been stronger or if her friends and family should have done something more to reach her.  What’s worth talking about is the cruel hierarchy of high school and how violence, assault, and looking the other way create a climate that some young women and men find impossible to endure.

This is not an easy show to watch, which, according to the “Beyond the Reasons” episode by showrunners at the end of the series, was very much intentional.  Viewers are asked to endure scenes of rape and suicide, scenes that are not gratuitous but are also almost unbearable to watch.  But by doing so, issues that are normally glossed over demand our attention, and hopefully, will inspire preventative actions so that similar scenes will never occur again.

[For more detailed reviews, I suggest you read two very well-written posts:  one positive and one negative.]

Are You a Cat or a Dog?

A roommate conversation at the dinner table:

Me:  I just read an article about how there are five cat personalities, and Hans Harrison is definitely a “human cat” because he loves snuggles and invading personal space.

Roommate #1:  A guy was telling me today about how men are dogs and women are cats.

Me:  Okay, but there are five cat personalities, so, gender binaries are restrictive.

Roommate #1:  He said that men fall in love very quickly, and women are more hesitant.  They evaluate a guy before liking him.

Me:  No, that guy is totally wrong!  It’s not a man/woman thing, it’s just a personality thing.  Think of all the girls who see a guy and fall head over heels in love with him.

Roommate #2:  I evaluate.  It takes me a long time to decide if I like a guy or not.  Don’t you?

Me:  No!  It doesn’t happen very often, but when I do fall in love with a guy, I go from meeting him to realizing we are soulmates within 24 hours.

Roommate #2:  Okay, but don’t you like it when men pursue you and convince you to give them a chance?

Me:  NO.  That is a huge turnoff.

Roommate #1:  Huh.

Me:  Oh no.  Am I the DOG in the house with three cats??  That is so unfair!

Roommate #2:  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Me:  Or maybe it just means that I am attracted to cats!

Roommate #1:  HAHAHAHAHA.

Me:  No, not like, cats, but like you, but not like you

Roommate #2:  We are learning a lot about each other.

Self-Care During This Political Chaos

I almost always feel alone in my beliefs.  I’m too conservative for my liberal friends and too liberal for my conservative friends, but for one reason or another, I typically have more conservative friends than liberal ones.  A lot of the time, this doesn’t cause conflict, because although our politics differ, many of our goals and values are the same.  But the inauguration of the United States’s newest president is not ‘a lot of the time.’  So it is unfortunate that I currently find myself surrounded by conservative friends when all I want is to complain and cry and grieve that a racist, sexist, lying narcissist has been elected into my country’s highest office.  What’s a girl to do to take care of herself?

  • Snuggle with my cat; many faceplants into soft furry sides have occurred these past three days.
  • Watch A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix, and remember that with intelligence, passion, and ingenuity, all sorts of horrible things can be endured.
  • Drink a class of wine, eat a piece of chocolate, and remember that good things exist.
  • Walk outside in the crisp air while listening to podcasts about God, feminism and/or Harry Potter.
  • Scroll through endless photos of women’s marches around the world and get excited about the fact that many a young girls’ career in politics is beginning today.
  • Talk to my female roommate and female friends about theology, about philosophy, and about psychology.
  • Write a message of gratitude to my brother, to my male friends, and to male celebrities who show support for women by joining in marches that do not benefit their exact experiences.
  • Get involved, by writing postcards to my senators so that my voice will be heard.  Too long I’ve tried to avoid being involved in politics, and look what happened.  Everyone needs to speak up, during elections and in between.  That means you too, dear readers, even if you are going to write in the exact opposite of my requests.

I’ve been sad the last couple days, but also inspired.  I feel alone, but in truth, millions of women all around the world marched to make their voices, and the voices of those who could not publicly join them, heard.  I stand with many brave, smart, sassy, angry, passionate, happy women who are going to change history.  This is going to be great.  Let’s not give up or shut up – we are blessed to live in a country that allows us freedom of speech, so for the first time in my life, I’m going to take advantage of that.  Tammy and Richard, I am so excited to write to you!

We Remember: A Ceremony to Lament and Honor Women

One of my least favorite things about the Bible are stories where women are neglected, abused, raped, and chopped into twelve pieces.  Worse than the stories themselves is the way in which God is silent about these stories.  When Abraham sacrificed his son, God saved the day by providing a ram.  When Jephthah sacrificed his daughter…she died.

One of my favorite things about the Bible is that it is full of people screaming at God, desperate to know why things happen and where we can find meaning in the midst of misery.  Although I still don’t understand why these stories are in the Bible, or why God allows so much abuse to continue today, I know that one way I can find meaning in all of this is to remember their stories and tell them again to a world that so often doesn’t want to hear.

“Those who seek to glorify biblical womanhood have forgotten the dark stories.  They have forgotten the concubine of Bethlehem, the raped princess of David’s house, the daughter of Jephthah, and the countless unnamed women who lived and died between the lines of Scripture exploited, neglected, ravaged, and crushed at the hand of patriarchy are as much a part of our shared narrative as Deborah, Esther, Rebekah, and Ruth.  We may not have a ceremony through which to grieve them, but it is our responsibility as women of faith to guard the dark stories for our own daughters, and when they are old enough, to hold their faces and make them promise to remember.”

-Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood, pg 66


After reading Rachel Held Evans’ book, a friend and I decided that we wanted to recreate a ceremony she describes, a ceremony meant to lament the fates of women in the Bible and in present times so that their stories will not be forgotten.  It was an incredibly moving experience, and I encourage anyone interested to consider trying it yourself.

Based largely on the suggestions made by Evans, this is the layout of our ceremony:

Should we remember Hagar, Tamar, Jephthah’s daughter, and Lot’s?
Should we tell of their wretched lives to our daughters?
Should we speak on our lips the tales of torture, misery, abuse, and violence?
Would we do better to consign them to silence?
We will listen, however painful the hearing,
for still there are women the world over
being raped
being whipped
being sold into slavery
being shamed
being silenced
being beaten
being broken
treated as worthless
treated as refuse.
Until there is not one last woman remaining
who is a victim of violence.
We will listen and we will remember.
we will rehearse the stories and we will renounce them.
we will weep and we will work for the coming of the time
when not one baby will be abandoned because of her gender
not one girl will be used against her will for another’s pleasure
not one young woman will be denied the chance of an education
not one mother will be forced to abandon her child
not one woman will have to sell her body
not one crone will be cast off by her people to die alone.
Listen then, in sorrow.
Listen in anger, Listen to the texts of terror.
And let us commit ourselves to working for a world
in which such deeds may never happen again…

  • Read the story of Jephthah’s Daughter (Judges 11)
  • Light a candle: “We remember Jephthah’s daughter.”
  • Read the story of the Unnamed Concubine (Judges 19)
  • Light a candle:  “We remember the unnamed concubine.”
  • Read the story of Hagar (Genesis 21)
  • Light a candle:  “We remember Hagar.”
  • Read the story of Tamar (2 Samuel 13)
  • Light a candle:  “We remember Hagar.”
  • Light candles for any other women who you want to remember

We ended our ceremony with discussion.  I felt drained by the horror of the stories we’d read, but also furious.  The male privilege throughout was infuriating – men mourning the death of the son but not the rape of their daughter – men throwing their concubine to a crowd to be repeatedly raped and then using pieces of her body as a spiritual warning – men taking God’s will into their own hands and then discarding a woman when it is clear she is no longer necessary – it is MADDENING.

But I remember their stories.  And I let this despair and outrage fuel my work with HD, reaching out to women who have been sexually exploited and abused.  Their stories are also too often forgotten.  Their actions are explained away, their experiences become statistics, and laws never change.  But each of us can make a difference, beginning today, by giving some of your time to remember the dark stories of women who came before us.

“From this comes the Israelite tradition that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah” (Judges 11:39-40).