"To suggest that all non-Christians will be tortured by God for eternity is a horrible slander against the goodness of God." Brian Zahnd
The last five years has taken me on a journey questioning everything and resurrecting a faith based on what I have experienced and known to be beautiful and true, and a large part of the last year in that journey has been questioning the eschatology I learned in evangelical church spaces.
The teaching I inherited was that Jesus died for my sins, so I could go to heaven and not face eternal punishment for rejecting God.
Jesus died so I didn't have to; a belief which I know know to be called penal substitutionary atonement, a theological theory about 500 years old. As Brad Jersak puts it, this propitiation is like appeasing an angry god by throwing a virgin into a volcano.
I have been asked what led me to change my mind about these issues, so I want to share the very best resources and theologians who have helped me shed these ideas and adopt a more beautiful, loving, and merciful vision of God and justice. I am very thankful for them. This did not change overnight, and I certainly experienced much of the resistance in my heart to this theology that David Bentley Hart recently wrote about in the New York Times. But once my heart was ready to change, I experienced this new message as a beautiful, freeing gift.
Hell and the afterlife:
Pete Enns - Video about Hell in the historical context of Gehenna, the trash dump outside the city of Jerusalem
Almost Heretical Podcast - 3 part series on Hell from the context of Gehenna, Hades, and Sheol, the 3 words in the bible that have all been translated into English as "hell".
Son of a Preacher Man Podcast - Hell, Judgement, and Atonement with Brad Jersak
Almost Heretical Podcast also has a 3 part series on Heaven, if that is of interest to you.
Brian Zahnd sermon - Word of Life Church Podcast- What About Hell?
Paschal Sermon from St John of Antioch (Crysostom)
Almost Heretical Podcast - Mako Nagasawa - Beyond Penal Substitution, first of their series on atonement
You Have Permission Podcast - The Argument for Universal Salvation with Brad Jersak
You Have Permission Podcast - To Consider All the Atonement Theories
Another Name for Everything (Richard Rohr) - Hell, the Devil, and the Afterlife
Brian Zahnd - Monster God Debate
The above are all audio/video resources because that works for me, but if you're looking for books, I would recommend Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God by Brian Zahnd, A More Christlike God and Her Gates Will Never Be Shut by Brad Jersak, The Day the Revolution Began by N.T. Wright, That All Shall Be Saved by David Bentley Hart, and Pete Enns' books on the bible.
Brad Jersak says in one of the podcast linked above, that you not only have permission to believe where your heart leads you to, but you are required to. Ephesians 3 says that the love of God is higher, wider, deeper, and longer than we can grasp. If you take two competing images of God, ask yourself: which one is the higher, wider, and deeper view of God's love?
"Salvation is the kingdom of God. It's the only thing Jesus ever preached about. Salvation is not about getting a ticket into heaven, it's about experiencing the rule and reign of God here and now." Brian Zahnd
If you ask what I believe, I would quote Teresa of Avila - Does hell exist? Yes, but no one's there.
One of my greatest joys during college, and now, is to help women (and all people) come to a freer, more egalitarian view of women in the bible, women in church leadership, the gender of God- all that good stuff. I've been asked enough times for my best book and resource recommendations on this subject that I figured I should publish it here!
There are a TON of subcategories within this scope and I am happy to answer questions (to my best ability) on any of them - Genesis and Adam/Eve, language translations, Paul's teachings, Jesus and women, God's gender and the trinity, women in the old testament, etc. But for a general overview, here are my best resources.
Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry by Aida Besançon Spencer - this book is it. Spencer is an incredible scholar who blows my mind with every chapter - her translation of ezer knegdwo is so helpful. This one's a bit more academic, but really rich and thorough.
Powerful and Free: Confronting the Glass Ceiling for Women in the Church by Danny Silk - a good primer for people looking into this topic for the first time. It's short and sweet but really centers the troubles women in church leadership face and the reasons they are just
Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women by Carolyn Custis James - Half the Church is modeled after Kristof and WuDunn's Half the Sky and I love the way James takes issues facing women and girls around the world like female infanticide or domestic violence and relates them to scripture and gives
There's a ton more I could recommend, I've read some great books on Paul and women, I'm currently reading on Mary Magdalene. But those are GREAT starters, wonderful and thoughtful and brilliant overviews on many topics.
Beyond books, I've loved several online resources. Christians for Biblical Equality is an incredible organization and their website, is my first stop for any questions. They and the Junia Project have a TON of blog posts and scholarly articles on biblical egalitarianism. If I'm wondering about "submit to your husbands" or "Bathsheba", "God's gender" "headship" or "authentein", I'll type that into the search bar on those two sites and always find excellent scholarship on those subjects! Mimi Haddad, the president of CBE, and Aida Besançon Spencer both have incredible work on those sites.
I also have some favorite video resources! J.R. Daniel Kirk is another one of my favorite scholars on the topic, find his blog here, has a video on patriarchy and culture on CBE's Youtube channel here that I love! It's super academic and low-budget, but he is just so brilliant and insightful. Here's another one from Egalitarians for Jesus Christ on the Sin of Patriarchy. Just great stuff to orient your thinking toward the worth you know within yourself and the ways that the bible and God are more affirming of that than the modern church would make you believe.
A little more dry, but here are a few essays on women's ministry, here from NT Wright, and here by Catherine Booth.
And when someone tries to tell you that women can’t be pastors-share this just for laughs :)
I'm sure I'll continue to add to this list as my study continues and questions arise. I'm grateful for my mom for her patient explanations and translations which helped shape my interest in these topics and feminist hermeneutic, and for the work of all these scholars and more which have made a huge difference in my life and the Church at large.
A few weeks ago, Avery and I were out walking to date night and I got thinking about patriarchy.
I've thought before about how the rules and standards we have for equality and "success" for women in the male-dominated public world are invented by men. Our measuring sticks for success come from questions like - How many women are Fortune 500 CEOs? Women's labor force participation in general? How many women in legislative bodies or women heads of state? What do women make for a man's dollar? How do media portray women and represent them? What level of formal education and literacy do women have, and how to they compete in sports?
These are perfectly good categories in which to seek equity, and I certainly hope we can have more women Fortune 500 CEOs than ones named John one of these years. However, these are just ways of measuring whether women can survive in a system of success built and defined by men. In other words, how well can a woman play by a man's rules?
Just try a quick google image search for “successful woman” - no surprise, you’ll find a young, beautiful white woman in a suit, succeeding in her office (perhaps my critique of society’s definitions of success go deeper than just gender- I griped about how “most likely to change the world” wasn’t a category when I was chosen as most likely to succeed in high school and we had to pose throwing cash in the air).
I thought about this frequently during the 2016 presidential election. Hillary Clinton illustrated for me the woman who played the impossible game of trying to succeed in a political world defined by masculinity: wear a pantsuit, look pretty, don't show too much emotion, support a strong military. And still she could not succeed. Could any she succeed in a game so unfairly stacked against her?
So the question I found myself pondering and the world I was imagining on that walk a few weeks ago was: What if we started from scratch and formed human society without patriarchy? How would our families, political systems, workplaces, art, and rules for success look? The privileging not only of men over women but of masculinity over femininity has touched everything know.
Masculinity is about rejecting emotion and softness. Holding power for one's self instead of sharing, giving it away. Strict maintenance of hierarchy and control. Unequal Power structures. Capitalism, markets, advertising, profit, accumulation. Violence and conquest and war. Disembodiment. A lack of work-life balance stemming from a belief that productivity is everything and the whole of one's identity and worth.
These ideas are intertwined with power and whiteness, patriarchy and capitalism. They are the result of a world shaped and designed largely by men and valuing what men value.
The opposite is hard to imagine. Here are some of my thoughts: Embodiment and one's physical and emotional feelings being valued just as one's intellect and mind. Peace and collaboration. Experience as a valid form of knowledge. Family above work. Value defined relationally, not by productivity. Relationships above accumulation of power and wealth. Workplaces built on equal status and power sharing. Communities built around connection and shared experience. Maybe even SENSIBLE SHOES? Fashion and design of outward appearance not centered on the male gaze. Fair compensation for caregiving and equal sharing of emotional labor. What do you think this world would look like, for better or for worse? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
One of my projects for self-improvement at the moment is something I heard Michael Gungor call "divesting from my personal whiteness". To be honest, I'm still learning what that even means, but as I understand it, there is whiteness- a socially constructed, powerful reality which gives people like me tremendous undeserved privilege . I do not choose whether or not to have this. But divesting from personal whiteness is a choice to give up power when I can, uplift and the perspectives of people of color, and examine my orientation towards my whiteness. This is part of what inspired this thinking about what I might call "divesting from personal patriarchy"- something that my husband does very well. I think it's worth thinking about, imagining, and examining - a world that refuses to achieve gender parity by patriarchy's rules, but one that truly rids itself of patriarchy. And that always starts within ourselves.
Defining success and equality for people of all genders without the constraints of patriarchy and toxic masculinity is difficult. I’ve been trying to free myself from this lately, and constructing my own definition of success based on wholeness, faith, freedom, love, and experience of beauty. I encourage you, regardless of your gender, to try and do the same.
I am a strong believer in not praising men profusely for things that are simply expected of women, for things they should know to do without prompting or praise. Like parenting- men taking care of their children or changing diapers is not babysitting, it's the bare minimum. Or sharing household duties.
I married a good man. He is a better feminist than me at many times, and though he is not perfect I am grateful for all the ways he pushes our partnership toward greater equality. One of my favorite qualities about him is that he lives his life in ways that challenge norms and seek counter-cultural change, rather than just accept the way things have always been. He is totally comfortable questioning patriarchy and toxic masculinity without taking those conversations as a personal attack - an emotionally mature and rare stance. I know that changing your last name to your spouse's is something women have ALWAYS been asked or pressured to do - and so perhaps, I thought, not worthy of praise or a blog post, but- the sacrifice of this kind of totally unheard of, counter-cultural act meant that he had a lot more to give up.
I always intended to take my husband's last name someday. It was just the thing to do. I would imagine my first name with the last names of various boys, including imagining being Becca Davis when things got serious with Avery. My whole life, I've loved my last name- I love the spiritual metaphors it evokes, being God's little lamb. As the youngest in my family, being a "little lamb" has always been a sweet part of my identity. I don't have as much attachment or meaning to my first name, but have always thought sadly about the inevitable day I would leave behind the name Lamb. Until I met Avery.
Isaiah 40:11 "He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young."
I tell people it was Avery's idea to take my last name, because I had never thought about it before him. I was in a gender studies class freshman year that got into a quite heated debate about patriarchy and the passing of family names through men, with several women in my class saying they would never take a man's last name. I was skyping Avery, whom I had been dating for about 9 months, and told him about his, saying that I've always planned to take my husband's last name. He just calmly thought for a minute, and said to me, "I would take my wife's last name." It was so casually stated and I was incredulous- "You would? That's so weird. Well, I'm gonna take my husband's last name, I know it will be sad to leave part of my identity but it's just what I want." I didn't want to take a man's last name because I just didn't want my marriage to be a big political statement that I'd have to defend again and again.
As my feminism evolved and grew, Avery's thought stuck with me and more of my friends started to get married. Seeing wedding hashtags centered on a woman "ditching" her last name or bridal shirts, crowns, and various paraphernalia all centered around being "Mrs. Husbandsname" had me rolling my eyes. I'm never gonna be Mrs. Avery Davis, I thought. I didn't every want to give up my identity, becoming his property or somehow being subsumed into him. It's an icky patriarchal tradition, the passing of ownership of women from father to husband, and it no longer sat well with me.
I want to be very clear that every decision about this is so personal, and it is right. Not everyone will do this, and that's totally fine. I do not ever want to shame any woman for taking a man's last name, or for hyphenating, or for keeping her own. It just became clear to me that none of those options sounded great to me. I had a great last name, it meant a lot to me. It was unique in a way I've never felt my first name is. And, he had offered to do it years ago. So I brought those things into our discussion about our names.
It was important for us to have the same last name. It was important for us also to honor and keep the Davis name- Avery is the only male in his generation on the Davis side, and we will give our children Davis as a middle name. Our decision was one of bringing both families into our marital unit- while also subverting patriarchy. It wasn't a huge deal or big statement we find ourselves defending all the time- I think because to people who know us well and know how Avery chooses to live, it just isn't that surprising.
That being said, I do know that there are sacrifices Avery had to make and continually makes in this decision. His new name is professionally Avery Davis Lamb, which takes some getting used to. It's not something people expect for a man who is newly married. There are so many double standards and norms around this - Avery now has a
"maiden name" since men's names are supposed to last their whole lives! So I want to share what his doing this means to me.
Avery changing his last name to Lamb tells me that my full identity as a woman is valued. It means that he loves me and believes in me enough to change his social and professional identity in order to honor me and join my family as I join his. It means he believes what he says he does about equality and living in a way that changes norms. We didn't go half and half- he took my last name. He did for me the same thing women everywhere do for their husbands, without complaint.
It also has meant a lot to the women in my life- my friends who have reacted with such joy that he did this, telling me it gives them hope for finding a man like Avery someday. I know how lucky I am to have him, and I'm grateful for the true partnership we have, one that he is committed enough to tell the world about through being my Mr. Lamb.
"It was assumed that I had some power or privilege to lose in changing my name that my wife did not and that my masculinity rested in a continuing tradition of superiority over women in general and my wife in particular. But it does not. My masculinity, my own power and strength comes much more from standing up for what I believe in and demonstrating the strength of conviction." Rob Lore, Good Men Project
Have you ever loved a band so much it became a part of your identity?
I’ve known a few people like this. When you think of them, that band or artist is part of what you think. They can’t shut up about how great they are and how everyone should listen to them, Well, now I’m one of those people. Hi, I’m Becca, and I love The Collection. A lot.
In July, I tagged along with Avery and his Sojourners intern cohort to the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina. It was described as a “Christian woodstock,” a camping-style music and speakers festival for progressive people of faith in the mountains of NC. I didn’t have much information before going on what to expect but I was SKEPTICAL. I was happy for the free ticket but didn’t think the festival was for me, didn’t expect to get anything out of it or have a deeply spiritual and meaningful experience. However, after a few days, I surprised myself. I let go of judgement, took things from the messages, took my shoes off and danced barefoot in the grass with the music, sang along loudly at Beer and Hymns, met with a spiritual director.
The music was the best part of the festival. The Goose, as they call it. Some of my favorites were performing (Lobo Marino and John Mark McMillan) as well as many others I discovered. The best discover was The Collection. They played the mainstage Friday night and their music was so upbeat and fun that I pulled Avery up close to the stage and we danced along. I didn’t pay close attention to the words, but loved their sound and the singer’s voice. They seemed so fun, so talented, and to truly enjoy themselves while performing. After their set, the lead singer came back up for an encore and blew me away. He said, “I don’t usually play this one too much anymore, but this is the place to do it,” and sang a song called Dirt. Here are some of the lyrics:
Abraham was scared to die, forsook his wife within a lie
I think I know the reason why; cause he was made of dirt
Joseph's coat was full of pride, the blood of goats won't wash you white if I was his brother, I'd have lied and left him in the dirt
Moses never entered in to land he thought was promised him; he took his people 'round again to pick manna from the dirt
Solomon became so wise with many wives and concubines, he fell for every single lie, yeah, his head was full of dirt
David's where I got my name, abusing power, abusing fame he stole a girl, her husband slain, left six feet in the dirt
and peter fell to his own shame, denied his love, denied his name, he ran away when the people came to nail him to the dirt
Samson only thought it fair to let that witch come cut his hair and look through eyes no longer there as he crushed them in the dirt
and paul would sit upon his throne and kill us with the biggest stones and wrestle with a thorn unknown, a thorn up from the dirt
It was stunning. And so powerful. Here’s a video of him performing the song:
After coming home, I downloaded all their songs on Spotify and have probably contributed to half their streams in the time since. I fell in love. I didn’t realize that they came from Christian roots until he played Dirt, but upon listening to their music I found that all their lyrics are profound stories of spiritual wrestling, doubt, faith, and exploration of important questions. They are filled with biblical allusions and deep understandings of the tradition I grew up in. I relate so much to David Wimbish’s writing in his songs and listen to them every day.
I’m pretty sure the WGF back in July was their most recent show together. I’ve been checking their website regularly since then, hoping to see them again because WOW I need to! I was slightly worried that they had stopped touring, had gone their separate ways and wouldn’t make more music together. To me, they are so important, so relevant, and should be a huge success among people who grew up Christian and have ever asked big questions of faith. I want everyone to listen to them! But they seem like a well-kept North Carolinian secret.
So I was ELATED when a few weeks ago, David Wimbish announced that they would be touring again. They won't be in DC, but I got tickets to their Baltimore and Philadelphia shows because I can't just see them once! Seeing them live will be such an important and beautiful spiritual experience for me as I have come to love them so much and know all their lyrics by heart. I’ve told so many friends about them and bothered too many people by saying have you heard them?? They’re touring! You gotta come! But if you’ve read this far, please check them out. I hope their music blesses you like it’s blessed me!
Some of my favorite songs:
Dirt / Lazarus / Capernaum / The Borrowers / To Dust / Mama / Birds / The Alchemy of Awe
And David Wimbish’s song 2:4
OUR WEDDING DAY - My memories
Our wedding day was beautiful. I had been checking the weather twice a day for a week, praying away that 10-40% chance of “AM showers” and watching it fluctuate. LA weather in January for an outdoor wedding is generally not a worry, but I still didn’t want the ceremony area to be wet for the guests. I woke up on the morning of the wedding and there was a shining sun and blue skies out my window- no dark clouds to be found. It was 75 degrees and sunny. It was perfect.
I was so lucky we were able to have our rehearsal and party two nights before- our rehearsal dinner was a New Year’s Eve party, and the wedding was the 2nd, so people had the 1st to celebrate the new year and rest how they chose. We got all our tasks and partying out of the way, and I was able to spend the night before the wedding with Alex (my MOH and best friend). We went out for an early dinner at a fun LA vegan spot nearby and came back the hotel to do final prep. Alex set out breakfast for the bridesmaids and I wrote my vows into my vow book and my note for Avery, and we were in bed before 10. I was so happy to wake up well rested (around 7:30) and have plenty of time to prepare myself for people to arrive.
My bridesmaids, hair stylist and makeup artist, and videographer showed up and we talked and got ready till around 11:00. Alex and I then (VERY carefully) loaded up my dress into my car, and we drove over to the venue, only about 10 minutes away. We took getting ready photos in the bridal suite, I peed for the last time before getting into my dress (pro tip for brides), and then my bridesmaids and my mom helped my get into my dress!
I opened Avery’s gift while he was in the groom’s suite next door, getting ready and opening my gifts. I loved the sweet card he wrote for me and was so excited for our first look. He got me a beautiful pair of earrings from a jewelry company that employs survivors of abuse in Asia. I got him a nice watch (which looked so good on him that day and now he wears it every day!) and a handkerchief that has a note his dad wrote him, in his dad’s handwriting, embroidered into by a woman I found on Etsy. He also wore his dad’s pocket watch, engraved with “my only love”, which his dad wore on his parents’ wedding day. It was so special to have these piece of his dad with us on that day.
Avery and I were lucky enough to have Cava (yes, Cava in LA!!) brought to us for lunch by our housemate Drew. I scarfed down as many bites of yummy mezze as I could without messing up my teeth and makeup, touched everything up, and went out to meet Avery for our first look! His back was toward me, so I saw him before he saw me, and my heart was aflutter. I was so excited to see him and oh man, he looked gooood. Our first look was so sweet, we just laughed and took each other in and prayed together, thanking God for this gift of our wedding day.
We went off and did photos just the two of us while everyone else had lunch, then did wedding party and family photos by the barn. It was a little bit of a struggle getting the smallest ones (Rylie…) to behave for the photos, but we got to laugh and have fun with it. It just felt so easy and I surprisingly felt very calm. We could hear Zoe and the musicians practicing Be Thou My Vision for the ceremony. It was lovely.
We got out of the way and lined up in our processional order before the guests arrived. Aiyana and Jenica fixed each other’s flower crowns and we made sure everything was in order.
For those who don’t know, we had our processional song composed originally for us. Zoe, a friend of friends in LA, is starting a music composition company and offered to write our wedding song. She met with us and asked about our story, our relationship, and our music tastes and came up with a beautiful song for us to walk down the aisle to (and also have forever!). Since we first said “I love you” while watching shooting stars in a meteor shower, and our rings represent the stars and the earth, she titled our song “Stardust”. It was a recurring theme on our wedding day, with mentions of stardust in Alex’s toast and my mom’s sermon. But anyway, our song. I heard it played as my mom and Mike, Avery and his mom, and the wedding party entered in. And then the tempo changed and it was my cue. Everyone stood, and my dad and I began walking in. The first face I saw sitting by the aisle was McKinnon, full of emotions, and it made me so emotional. I was so excited to see her, and everyone, and Avery at the end of the aisle. My dad passed me over to Avery and we walked up to the altar.
My most memorable thought from that moment, is WOW this place is beautiful. I could not help but look around, stunned at how incredibly well decorated as well as naturally lush the ceremony area was. I loved the arch at the altar, decorated with sunflowers, and all the green surrounding us. It was perfect. The ceremony was perfect- my mom’s homily was beautiful and represented us so well. The worship and communion was beautiful. Wendell Berry’s poem The Dance was read, as well as a section of his writing on marriage and community. It just felt so perfectly us. I loved Avery’s vows and reading mine to him. I kept having to breathe, make sure I wasn’t locking my knees, and look around at the friends and family with us to just take it in and remember those moments.
And then we were married! We processed out of the ceremony to Lord of the Rings theme music. We took more pictures. Mom and Alex and Joe signed our marriage license. Our DJ brought us drinks and we had a few minutes of calm just to ourselves before getting introduced into the ceremony, so we looked around and took in all the beautiful decor.
This is already really long, so I won’t go into too much more detail on the rest. It was so, so fun. We got to finally hug and greet everyone. We danced, we ate amazing yummy food, we took polaroids, we heard toasts. Our first dance was so fun and special, dancing to our song, Strangers in the Night. I never wanted it to end. My dad and I danced to Make You Feel My Love and Avery and his mom danced to Dear Avery. Our friends and the kids danced with us to Cut to the Feeling and Jai Ho, which was a blast. There was a full moon that night, and it was so beautiful watching it start low and huge in the sky and rise as we danced. My uncle Wayne, who is Lakota, gave us a blessing in Lakota, for a long and prosperous life together. It was so special. We tossed the bouquet (together, to all the singles) and took the mic at the end of the night to thank everyone and express how meaningful it was to have people there. It was a perfect day and we didn’t want it to end. Avery looked so good and I felt so beautiful. Some of the most important people in our lives were there, to celebrate us, in a day which beautifully represented our relationship. But then it was time to leave, so we said our goodbyes with tight hugs and gathered our things. And then it was just us.
1.2.2018 the best is yet to come
Two weeks ago, I went to Buzzfeed India and had the coolest day yet in my time abroad. I didn't want to say anything online until the videos were public, but now it's official! Here's a bit of the story behind how it happened.
Early on in the semester, one of my classmates met and hung out with Sumedh Natu, the director of video for Buzzfeed India. They started to talk about doing "Americans react" videos, and a series of events led to the five of us going out to Mumbai to film.
We woke up and got in a private car at 7am and drove the 3 hours to India's film capital (and my new favorite city here). Their intern, Shambhavi, welcomed us and took us in to show us around the studio. Over chai, Sumedh gave us the run down on the videos we were going to shoot. Each person would shoot for an hour and a half, and we'd film three videos. He warned us about how many people would see the video and the hate comments we would inevitably receive. "They may call you out individually. The first several comments you feel like a horrible person, but after the 8th or so you just shrug it off." We kept looking at each other and nervously laughing, still in denial about how crazy the day was.
While the first person filmed, we watched for a bit to get the feel of it, then Shambhavi took us around the city. We drove by the home of Shahrukh Khan, India's most popular and successful actor- and, as I learned, the second richest entertainer in the world! We walked around the beach a bit and headed back to a cool cafe where I ate an amazing bagel. Yes, Bombay has bagels, Krispy Kreme, and wifi everywhere :O The city made me feel right at home all day. It reminds me so much of LA- hot and happening, home to the nation's film industry, diverse and welcoming, right on the beautiful coast. There were non-Indians everywhere and it was honestly so nice. I wasn't stared at or singled out the way I am daily here in Pune- I got to blend in and enjoy being present there. It was the first time in India I really felt like I could make my home here.
When I went back to film, I powdered my face, got mic'd up, and sat in front of two big lights. I answered questions about my host family, expectations vs experience, rickshaws, dating, sexism, festivals, toilets, food, censorship, and other things that have been new for me here. I reacted to videos. I was really worried about saying anything offensive, so I think I may have just been boring, but it was so fun to do.
After we all finished the shoot, we went out for dinner and drinks, and then got back in the van and headed back to Pune, arriving just after midnight. It was such a wonderful, surreal day and I was honestly so happy the whole day. A much-needed break from school and normal life here and an abroad experience unlike anything I could have expected. I'm super grateful I had the chance to do it.
The first video is live and was obviously way cut down from everything I shared, and I've definitely seen a fair amount of negative comments. I've had to remind myself more than I thought this semester that those people don't know the full story, they just get the edited, jump-cut 3 minute version and for whatever people say about my time not being long enough to know "real India," I know my experiences here are totally real. Anyway, I've received way more love than hate from all my friends (who DO know me) and I'm super grateful. Stay tuned for more videos!
The Ganpati festival lasts ten days and honors the elephant god, Ganesh, who is especially celebrated in the state where I am living. Yesterday was the last day, and a group of us went out to see the festivities in the center of the city. Drum groups proceed through the crowds with parade floats in between. Half the residents of Pune were out of their houses, on the crowded streets that were entirely closed off to vehicles today. Every vendor that could be out selling something was out selling it: corn, ice cream, jewelry, balloons and all kinds of festival decorations. Fighting to stay with the group (that stood out quite obviously from the crowd), we pushed through throngs of hundreds of people jumping and dancing to the drums and the loud EDM music blasting. Yells of “Ganpati bappa! Morya!” broke out every few minutes and the hundreds of people dancing through 90 degree heat left a strong scent in the air. Members of our group got tapped on the shoulder every few seconds, “M’am, one selfie please” and had phones constantly on us. I must have been in at least a hundred strangers’ selfies today.
Enjoying the festival crowds and parties is for those with male privilege- boys and men with bright colored powder on their faces who yell "hi!" and "one selfie please!" and take my photo as I pass by. I am not my own here and I generally oblige, but can't help but wonder if those photos will appear online with claims that I am their girlfriend. Privacy and individual space are not Indian priorities and the city has too many people for that to work anyway.
The city is the most trashed and fragrant it's been since I arrived, with litter and confetti lining every street. I crossed several barricades to get to school on the morning and got lost on the familiar route- all the city streets look different than normal. They have donned festival attire, dressed overnight by the handiwork of men on wooden poles.
We were told festival celebrations would go through the night and until 7am the next morning. I woke this morning to loud speakers still blasting, continual firecrackers and streets blocked off for parades. It's currently 2pm and they still are out with their music and dances.
Indians, expats and foreigners alike describe India as an experience of sensory overload- many glaring sounds and smells and bright colors and difficult sights. This festival was the epitome of all things you think when you think India. It is loud and wild and chaotic, but it is not exclusive. It is a party for everyone who chooses to join, it is a beautiful array of unified culture and society, dancing and playing through the night until their ears are deaf and they can dance no more.
Sunday night, September 6
This weekend has felt the most like home in this city since I arrived. Friday night I got to set up camp in The Chocolate Room and talk to Avery and my mom, which was awesome. Before talking to Avery, I met Pratiksha, a friend of one of our interpreters. She’s my age and studying photography in Nottingham. We got to talking and she asked me what was on my before-leaving-India bucket list. I’ve always wanted to go to an Indian wedding, and she mentioned that one of her father’s friends was getting engaged on Sunday and invited me. Of course, I thought, okay, this guy is proposing and I get to watch, awesome. But I was happy to take her up on the opportunity to see how that kind of thing is done over here.
Saturday, we went for a group hike up to the top of Parvati Hill. There were lots of goats and dogs just lounging around the whole (short but very steep) way up, and at the top was a temple and stunning 360 degree views of the city. I had been itching to get up high and see how the city looked from up above since I arrived, and it didn’t disappoint. Pune is HUGE and as far as we could see in every direction lay the sprawling city. We walked around the temples and museum on the hill and took pictures for a while, soaking it in. I definitely want to come back up there for sunrise or sunset, to write or read or do yoga.
After coming down, we all went to two of the guys’ home and had tea and samosas with their lovely host parents, and then all went out as a group. We met two Americans and met up with one of our interpreter friends. It was such a fun time to be independent and have fun together in a new city.
Sunday morning, I got ready and met Pratiksha at her house. She has a beautiful home and very hospitable family. She gave me a festive kurta outfit to wear to the engagement and told me about the ceremony. Engagements are like mini-weddings in India, with many guests and many traditions celebrated with the exchanging of rings between the couple and gifts between the family.
We arrived and saw beautiful flowers decorating a large hall and about 300 people dressed in gorgeous and elaborate traditional clothing of every color. I was the only non-Indian and felt a bit like Rancho crashing a wedding in 3 Idiots, but Pratiksha explained every part of the ceremony for me and showed me what to do. We gave the bride and groom-to-be gifts and took pictures with them on stage when it was our turn, then ate the delicious engagement party lunch.
Sunday night, she had me over again for celebration of another puja. We have celebrated 3 festivals since arriving here. First was Raksha Bandhan last Saturday, a festival to celebrate brothers and sisters. Sisters tie a bracelet around their brothers’ hand and their brothers promise to protect them for life. Last Tuesday, my roommate Laura and I went to our Auntie’s relative’s house to celebrate a puja (festival) for women recently married. They play traditional Indian games (lots of spinning around, singing and dancing) and eat a meal together. It was really fun and cool to see and be included in. This festival is for the birth of Krishna and it is a huge celebration all over India. The streets were covered in new statues, ribbons and displays and loud celebratory music was played just for the day.
At her home, we watched a housewarming puja ceremony with lots of offerings and rituals presented by priests to bless their home. We met lots of family and friends and they took us out for a large meal afterwards.
Meeting local students my age has been the best experience so far here and led to many great adventures as well as so much learning about the culture. I hope to continue these friendships during the whole semester.
Home is such a weird, elusive idea to me these days.
I recently listened to the podcast sermon from Mosaic's series "A Place Called Home", talking about the idea of homelessness, yearning to leave home but at the same time yearning to come back, and the prodigal son. I haven’t lived in the same place for more than a few months since college started, and when I get back to school, I’ll move into another four month home.
I’ve thought a lot the past two years about American individualism. The glorified ideal of leaving our comfy nests for school, going somewhere else to do something great and then going somewhere else when you’re done. It made perfect sense to me, and as my dad would call it, was the “moving walkway” for my life based on what was expected of me.
Here, things aren’t so transient. I am so used to the icebreaker question, “so where are you from?” back home (in every home I’ve had) that it’s hard to shake not saying it here. But it’s a silly question, because almost everyone who lives in Pune is from Pune. They go to school in Pune. They get a job and settle down and start a family in Pune. You stay where you’re comfortable.
I’m not saying one path is good and the other is bad, it just has made me think about all these things we assume are normal. Especially since studying abroad a cultured SIS student is completely assumed and expected, I really wanted to make sure I knew why I was choosing to do so, if I did. I didn’t want to just do what was expected of me, like when I decided to apply to be a Chi Alpha small group leader.
And I really did that. I’m here for the opportunity to take such awesome classes and interact closely with people whose culture I claim to love, and really live in this place I claim to see in my future. But as I settle in, I realize there’s so many things I didn’t take into account. People think about safety, language, class options when studying abroad. Sure. I thought about weather and timing and travel opportunities- but I didn’t realize what it would change for my mental, emotional and spiritual health. Not having the support I am used to forces me to grow and lean on what’s really true, but it sure isn’t comfortable. I didn’t think about what it would cost me to not have the community or mentorship surrounding me that I’ve been so used to and taken for granted the past, well, 20 years. I did think about what it would do to my relationship with Avery, but didn’t really think it would be as hard as it’s been to connect well.
I keep feeling like my heart is presently homeless. I’m yearning for the past or some future time when I’ll have a place called home- whether it’s being back in my childhood home, or building a space of my own. Somewhere safe. Somewhere I can cry and be understood and eat what I choose and take care of myself. Things that I’ve always had, and really not realized that they could be taken away.
Pune is wonderful in a lot of ways. It’s hard in a lot of ways. There are many slums that I pass by around the city that are difficult to see and grapple with in the contrast to many wealthy Indians that we interact with. Crossing the road is like real-life frogger, in absence of care for pedestrians or crosswalks. I don’t fit in here. In Kathmandu, they are used to foreigners of all kinds and shades. In Pune it is not quite so. I have seen three or four non-Indians besides our group the week that I’ve been here, so we are definitely a spectacle in the city, constantly eliciting stares from those who see us passing by. There have been so many times where I feel like I keep breaking cultural rules and can’t do anything right. I miss a lot of people, and places. Home.
There’s a James Bay (bae) song I keep listening to and thinking about in relation to this trip. He sings, the world will turn and we’ll grow, we’ll learn how to be… to be incomplete. I feel that. I’m hopefully growing, without those I’m used to leaning on, and learning here how to be incomplete.
Christian, feminist, idealist, wife, poet, abolitionist, dreamer, adventurer.