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?

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Transgenderism and Church Membership

On Sunday, my home church is voting to update its constitution, and if it is approved, I will no longer be a member of the church.

Here are the proposed changes to the section about gender and sexuality in full:

We believe that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female.  These two distinct, complimentary genders together reflect the image and nature of God.  Rejection of one’s biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person.

We believe that the term “marriage” has only one meaning and that is the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union, as delineated in Scripture.  We believe that God intends sexual intimacy to occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other.  We believe that God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of a marriage between a man and woman.  We believe that marriage ceremonies are Christian worship services that celebrate the covenant made between a man and a woman before God.

We believe that any form of sexual immorality, including but not limited to adultery, fornication, homosexual or bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, pornography is sinful and offensive to God.

In order to preserve the function and integrity of [CHURCH NAME REDACTED] as the local Body of Christ, and to provide a biblical role model to the church as a whole and the community, it is imperative that all persons employed by the church in any capacity, those who serve the church as volunteers, and all members of the church should abide by and agree to these statements of belief and conduct themselves accordingly.

Although I have many grievances with these statements, some as foundational as my basic belief in the church as a place of radical grace, I will vote against it for two basic reasons:

  1. I do not believe transgender or transexual people to be a “rejection of the image of God within that person.”
  2. I am deeply worried against qualifications of church membership extending beyond some few core Christian doctrines.

Is Being Transgender a Sin?

I have expressed my opinion on homosexuality elsewhere, but I have not yet expressed my theology of transgenderism.  The thing is, while I can see where Christians read the Bible and can come away thinking it is a sin (though I believe the issue is not so straightforward, again, see my other post), I do not see similar evidence against transgenderism.

To “reject the image of God” within oneself implies that God made you correctly and you are trying to change it.  I’ve heard that said explicitly, that “God doesn’t make mistakes.”  Except…he does.  Or at least, to avoid a theological minefield, because we live in a fallen world, babies are born imperfectly.  Babies are born without brains!  And in less dramatic cases, babies are born with irregular heartbeats, with blood diseases and cleft palates.  In each case, Christians affirm the goodness of doctors who do their best to “correct” the problem the baby was born with.

Lest one argues for a differentiation between physical and sexual issues, we cannot forget our intersex brothers and sisters who are born with both male and female genitalia.  God allows babies to be born who are neither exclusively male or female, and unfortunately, they are largely ignored in theology.  Such is the case for my church’s constitution, which leaves no room for their existence.

All of this is to say, my theology easily allows for a baby who is born with a gender that does not match its sex.  In every other case of a “problem of birth,” our cultural and spiritual answer is to do what can be done to fix it.  I see no reason for us to deny this privilege to men and women who were born into bodies that did not belong to them.

(If I have misrepresented the experience of transgender men or women, I ask forgiveness!  If you have the emotional energy, please know I would love to hear from and learn from you.)

What Doctrines Determine Church Membership?

For that issue alone, I would vote against these changes to the constitution.  But according to these same changes, my disagreement means forfeiting my church membership.  After all, “all members of the church should abide by and agree to these statements of belief.”  I don’t agree, therefore I no longer qualify to be a member of this church.  And honestly, if membership is determined by lesser doctrinal issues such as these, I’m not sure I want to be a part of such a church.

In my mind, belonging to a church naturally necessitates believing in core Christian doctrines:  that God is the Triune Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that God revealed himself most fully to us through the Bible, and that God offers us salvation from our sins through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  In short, church membership should be extended to those who read the Nicene Creed and say, “Yes, that.”  We can, and should, have opinions about everything else.  But to make anything else into a matter of membership strikes me as excessively legalistic and exclusionary.  So for this, too, I will vote against these proposed changes.


I know that in many ways, my beliefs do not align with my Southern Baptist Church’s beliefs.  But I have found such beauty and encouragement in the fact that, although our opinions might differ about homosexuality or the role of women in the church, we can still meet together as sisters and brothers to worship the God we agree is more important.  It is incredibly sad to me that I will be denied membership of this church if these changes are passed.  But looking at the evangelical culture around me, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

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.

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).

Sunday Summary #41

1|  9 Brutally Real Reasons Why Millenials Refuse to Have Kids

I LIVE.  If you like babies, you probably need a sense of humor (or empathy) to read this article, but as someone who has always been deeply ambivalent about having biological children, I was screaming in agreement throughout the whole thing.

2|  Marvel movies have boring soundtracks – here’s why!

How to Flirt with a Total Stranger without being an Asshole

When I think of men flirting with some on the street, I think of catcalling and stalking and rude gestures. I think of feeling uncomfortable at best and unsafe at worst. So when in public, I tend to avoid meeting men’s gazes because I want to minimize those possibilities as much as possible. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when an encounter in Italy, country of notorious womanizers, taught me how to enjoy being flirted with!

In Venice, I stood in a shop waiting for my mother to buy us water taxi tickets. A man walked in a stood next to me, also waiting in line. He was well-dressed, with a button down shirt, khakis, and grown-man shoes. He caught me looking, and as always, I cut my eyes away in order to pretend nothing had happened. But when I glanced back, he was still looking at me. He held eye contact and smiled. I smiled back. He turned to the counter. A few minutes later, he paid for his whatever, and as he walked past me, he made meaningful eye contact again, smiled, and said, “Ciao.” I whispered “bye” after him and was left with a really pleasant heart palpitation. 

That’s how flirting should be!! I was left feeling admired AND empowered, and I thought long and hard about what set this apart from other unwanted male attention. Here are my thoughts. 

  1. He looked like he cared about his appearance. There is some kind of weird power imbalance when schlubby men catcall women in dresses. I’m not saying you’ve got to be hot to flirt with someone, but the attention feels a lot more flattering coming from someone who looks like they understand personal grooming.
  2. He made eye contact. There was no gross lingering looks up my body. He looked at my face. 
  3. He smiled. Smiling is so hot. Yelling or sticking your tongue out is not.
  4. He didn’t expect anything. He left the shop, and we got to have a nice “ooo opposite sex attraction feels!!” moment without making a big thing of it. 

And…that’s it. It’s REALLY that simple. I dream of a world where male/female interactions are characterized by pleasant flirtations more than “oh God is he a rapist?” fears. And I think if everyone follows these four steps, we will be a little closer to getting there!

Let’s Talk About…PRO-LIFE: YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG

I will not apologize for the fact that my conversations with Elizabeth frequently revolve around Tom Hiddleston and other men blessed by God’s artistic prowess, but you know.  Sometimes we talk about slightly more important things, like politics, abortion, and social change! 


Tricia:  THIS is our next Obama/Biden bromance!?

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 10.21.07 PM

Elizabeth:  NO.
No, because you’re going to help elect Hillary, right?
And then we never have to hear from these idiots again.

Tricia:  Should our next Let’s Talk About be about politics?

Elizabeth:  Hm.  Maybe.  About 80% of my conversations about national politics these days devolve into me ranting about the hypocrisy of the allegedly pro-life party blocking birth control access.  Is that on brand for your blog?
Because it is an OUTRAGE.

Tricia:  Ooo yes!
What’s your definition of pro-life?   Continue reading