The assorted musings of Hugo Schwyzer: a progressive Anabaptist/Episcopalian Democrat (but with a sense of humor), a community college history and gender studies professor, animal rights activist, ENFP Gemini, avid marathoner, aspiring ultra-runner, die-hard political junkie, and (still) the proud father of the most amazing chinchilla on God's green earth.
Many of these songs are great favorites of mine. In fact, with the exceptions of #3 and #8, I adore all of these. #10 is my favorite U2 track; #5 my favorite Elton John song. I think I'll burn these ten to a CD for the car...
1. "Harmony", Elton John 2. "Playing Your Song", Hole 3. "Free", Train 4. "Swallow", Wailin' Jennys 5. "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters", Elton John 6. "I'm so Happy I can't Stop Crying", Sting 7. "Honky Tonk Blues", Hank Williams 8. "Wisemen", James Blunt 9. "Biko", Peter Gabriel 10. "Bad", U2 (live version)
Credit where credit is due: I'm pleased as punch we Dems have the Senate. And I am grateful to Conrad Burns and George Allen, two Republican senators who went down to narrow defeats, for conceding quickly and graciously.
After the Florida 2000 debacle, I worried that we would never again see quick and graceful concessions. But like John Thune in 2002 in South Dakota, and John Kerry nationally in 2004, Burns and Allen (!) did the right thing at the right time. Thanks for giving us closure, boys, and doing so politely -- and, relatively speaking, fast.
In my Humanities class entitled "The Dysfunctional Family and the Western Tradition", I use the marvelous work of John Bradshaw as a lens through which to interpret four masterworks of Western literature: the book of Genesis, Euripides' Medea, Ibsen's Doll's House, and Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. We're just finishing up Ibsen this week.
I first read A Doll's House in a comparative literature course in college. It was a class taught from an explicitly feminist perspective, and nothing else we read that semester lingered with me as long. (Interestingly enough, it was the only thing we read written by a man.) For those who don't know Ibsen's famous play, it's the story of a married couple, Nora and Torvald Helmer, trapped in a profoundly dysfunctional marriage built on an unhealthy patriarchal model. We meet Nora as a featherweight of a woman, giggly and flirtatious and manipulative, seemingly addicted to shopping and candy. But through a series of stunning revelations, she is transformed. At the end of the play, she leaves her husband -- and her two young children -- to go off and "find herself." Written in 1879 in Scandinavia, it remains a stunningly modern work; it is very useful both in teaching a course on family systems and on feminism.
The famous exchange between Nora and Torvald at the end of the play is much on my mind:
NORA: What do you consider my most sacred duties?
TORVALD: Do I need to tell you that? Are they not your duties to your husband and your children?
NORA: I have other duties just as sacred.... Duties to myself.
TORVALD: Before all else you are a wife and mother.
NORA: I don’t believe that any longer, I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being just as you are—or, at all events, that I must try and become one. I know quiet well, Torvald, that most people would think you right and that views of that kind are to be found in books; but I can no longer content myself with what most people say or with what is found in books. I must think over things for myself and get to understand them.
This week, the students are writing papers analysing this exchange. From a family systems perspective, at least that articulated by Bradshaw, it's Nora who is clearly in the right. Nora's duty to self-actualize did not cease at the moment she married or became a mother. She married and reproduced too young, and now must do later what she ought to have done earlier, but she still must do it.
My students, of course, are conflicted. Having taught this course many times, I know why. All of them agree that if Torvald and Nora had no children, she'd be right as rain to leave him. But she's the mother to two little boys and a girl, and clearly, she's walking out on them as well. My students -- few of whom are parents, but many of whom were children of divorce themselves -- are usually angry at Nora. Most young people, I've found as a teacher, are a charming mixture of cynicism and idealism: while they tend to doubt their own chances of ever finding true and enduring love, they have an almost child-like faith in marriage itself. And they have, not surprisingly, a very elevated sense of what a parent's duties are. They are much closer to the rigid Torvald Helmer than to his suddenly liberated wife.
But my mother's greatest feminist lesson was this: she made it clear that we could not expect women to drop everything for us. Relationships mattered, families mattered, love mattered -- but personal happiness mattered too! My mother knew that someday her sons would be in relationships with women, and she knew enough to know that how she met our needs as small boys would be reflected in many of our choices when we became boyfriends, lovers, and husbands. Soshe showed us two things:
1. She loved us very, very much and always would
2. Her happiness was not solely contingent upon us
I grew up with absolute certainty about both of these things, and it was and is one of the greatest gifts my mother could have given me...my adult feminism is linked in no small way to the lessons she taught me. Motherhood, I learned, is a role -- but it need not be an all-consuming identity. The fact that my mother had a life outside of her children gave me the confidence to live out my life without fear that I would destroy her if I made mistakes or deviated from a planned path. Her commitment to her own happiness allowed me to make a similar commitment to my own -- and for that, I will forever be tremendously grateful.
My parents had a very different marriage from the Helmers. They lived in Santa Barbara in the 1960s and early 70s, not fin-de-siecle Northern Europe. But for feminists, the notion of the "sacred duty to the self" is one that transcends culture, time and place. Then, as now, most people think the Torvalds of the world are right; while the books to which Nora refers demanded women's obedience, the popular literature produced today by pro-family advocates stresses the destructive nature of divorce and the duty of parents to sublimate their own needs for those of their children. We live in an era of reactionary social views, where an increasingly vocal element (the Wade Horns and Maggie Gallaghers of the world) seeks to bolster not only heterosexual marriage, but the notion that divorce is almost always fundamentally bad for all involved.
As someone who was raised by a single mom and has himself been thrice divorced, I realize I could be accused of constructing an interdisciplinary humanities course that justifies both my own world view and my life experience. My fellow Christians, who are often raised with an idolatrous perspective on the family, push me to reconsider whether my own views owe more to my own sinful nature and the secular culture than to an authentically God-centered outlook. But to me, the most important thing Jesus ever said about the family comes in Matthew 10:35-37, a passage on which most pastors ought to preach regularly, but hardly ever do:
For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man's enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
When was the last time you heard a really good sermon on that?
At the core of my being as a Christian, as a feminist, as an armchair psychologist, as a professor, as a youth worker, as a husband and, someday, a father, I believe that putting Christ before family means more than rebelling against a non-believing parent. It means more than being willing to be as Abraham was with Isaac. To be in relationship with Christ is to be on a unique and special journey, a journey of transformation, of change, of redemption. It is a journey that can often be walked with a parent, a child, a spouse, a sibling, a friend. But when husbands or wives or children stand in the way of continued growth, then the duty to the self (in relationship with Christ) trumps any other obligation.
Ibsen, the master psychologist, was hardly a Christian. Nora Helmer's famous decision to leave her husband is rarely seen as a choice compatible with the Gospel. And of course, in my classes, I don't introduce an explicitly Christian perspective on her choice. But here on this blog, where I try (with varying degrees of success) to tie together the various strands of my life, I can make the case that self-actualization and personal discovery are not at odds with the call to follow Jesus. Divorce, especially when children are involved, will be agonizing. But when we leave marriages that can't be saved, when we choose to believe that parenthood and husband-hood and wife-hood do not mean an end to one's obligation to oneself -- these are not inherently selfish choices. Sometimes, following the cross means walking away from everyone who loves you. Sometimes, following the cross means choosing the obligation to transform over the obligation of the marriage vow.
I suspect few who read this will agree with me. My secular friends see no need for me to drag in Scripture; my conservative friends may be angered at what they see as a serious misreading of Matthew 10. But while I may indeed be mistaken, cloaking selfish self-justification in the rhetoric of personal growth and the language of the Gospel, I remain convinced that the "duty to the self" and the "call to the cross" are more compatible than most of us ever imagine.
Rarely do I pick as well-known a poem as this one for my Thursday Short Poem offering. But I'm trying to go through favorite poems from different periods in my life. This was the first "adult" poem I loved; my mother read it to me first when I was six or seven, and it was surely the first grown-up verse I was able to understand. It was also the first poem I ever memorized, and it's a good one to recite silently when one is feeling overwhelmed and tired and surrounded by pressure.
Lake Isle of Innisfree
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made: Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee, And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings; There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow, And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, I hear it in the deep heart's core.
This will be my only post for today; I am swamped with work and meetings. I am a bit bleary-eyed from staring at a computer screen until 1:45AM; I stayed up until I was reasonably sure that the Democrats had won all of the statewide races save for Governor and Insurance Commissioner. Happily, things panned out just as I had hoped.
I am overjoyed this morning. Overjoyed not so much because I believe that we're going to see immediate and substantive moves towards the left, but overjoyed because in a high-turnout midterm election, the American people proved to be far less beholden to the far right than I had imagined. The South Dakota abortion ban lost. The Missouri stem cell initiative passed. Arizona became the first state in the nation to turn down a proposed gay marriage ban. Both California and Oregon rejected parental notification initiatives. Voters across the country boosted the minimum wage at the ballot box. Anti-immigration zealots like Randy Graf and J.D. Hayworth (both in Arizona) got badly beaten. Rick Santorum is gone, and by a whopping margin. Bottom line for me: the social conservatives have been rebuked in many places and in many ways. They remain a powerful force, but we learned last night that there are some surprising limits to their power.
The parental notification initiative, Prop 85, lost by a wider margin than did Prop 73, a nearly identical measure on last year's special election ballot. My conservative friends said it lost because of low Republican turnout. Well, we just had the highest turnout in a midterm election in decades -- and the measure failed by a higher percentage than before. Newsflash: try it again in 2008, and we'll beat you by ten points or more.
Two years ago, I was mourning after Kerry's defeat. Many of my conservative friends were gracious to me in their celebrations; I want to extend the same courtesy. To those who are disheartened and disappointed and worried, I remind them of the cyclical nature of elections. You'll have your day again, folks. But last night belonged to the left and to the center, and we're going to rejoice, rejoice, rejoice. And I'm going to take some Advil.
Oh Lord, early exit polls raise my expectations again. Why do I fall for this every time? Will it all turn out to be a mirage, just as it did in 2004? Were those who answered the poll questions deliberately lying, just to excite and then cruelly dash my hopes?
I should stick to grading, worrying about chinchillas, and getting ready for Pilates class.
UPDATE: It's 11:17PM. We've got the House by a wider margin than I had thought, and we've got a better-than-even shot at taking the Senate, something I didn't dare hope for. I'm thrilled with the Senate win in Missouri, thrilled that Santorum is gone, thrilled too that in California we've -- apparently -- beaten the parental notification initiative and the eminent domain initiative. Prop 87, which would have taxed the oil companies, has failed. Though it's going to be close, by the time we count all the votes, I think the Dems will have all the statewide offices save Governor, Secretary of State, and Insurance Commissioner.
Still, all things considered, it's a good night to be a Democrat. My happiest election, certainly, since 1998. More tomorrow. First impression: Howard Dean rocks as DNC chairman.
And I promise, promise, not to gloat.
UPDATE #2: 12:31AM, and not willing to go to bed yet. Not a perfect night, but such a good one... and I'm unwilling to step away from the computer. Guess I'm cancelling my morning run.
I got a long email last week from a woman I'll call "Mara". A lengthy excerpt:
When you are a teenage girl, no matter how much you yourself think or know about sex, and no matter what he says or how many creepy vibes an outside observer would get from your interactions, you really do not believe that your dad, or any significantly older guy, is not "safe." Even their sexual attraction to you, when you are aware of it, doesn't change that feeling of safety. You can know your dad enjoys seeing you in your bathing suit and you still feel safe. (This can make you feel extra like an idiot later when you look back on it, if it turned out not to be the case.)
I think it's incredibly important for adult men to realize this because, after all, the same behavior from an adult woman would be expressing an intention. (I don't generally have intense sexual discussions, hand-holding, bathing-suit exhibitions, etc., with men I don't want to go to bed with now.) From a teenage girl, it is (usually or always, I think, in the case of a healthy girl) not an expression of intention, and, as you said yourself, it's so important that the men do remain safe. (I have had men in my life play this role of being safe, and I'm very grateful for it - not just the safety, but the depth of the safe interaction.)
But what do you do about women of legal age who want to date older guys? It's true, as you said in afollow-up, that there aren't a ton of mature, interesting 18-year-old men around, and an 18-year-old woman may really desire those qualities.
But I feel pretty strongly that the attraction to older men is one that isn't healthy, no matter what excuse is given for it. When the "mature" 18-year-old starts to date the great 30-year-old man she has found, odds are he's not mature either, but instead of recognizing this, as she would in a guy her own age, she'll see him as mature and think he is wise and listen to his opinions and laugh at his jokes and adopt his taste in music and fall for all kinds of bullshit she wouldn't go for in a peer. (Ispeak from personal experience here.) It isn't many people who are really blind to age differences, and the balance of power is bound to affect the relationship.
Why does this happen to women more than men? Obviously because, whether for cultural or biological reasons, women in our culture seek men who are stronger, bigger, etc. (I call this all "larger" in my mind.) Being older makes you larger.
Is it always wrong for men to have relationships with much younger women? It's hard for me to say. If it feels good and nobody is harmed, who am I to say it's wrong? But I guess what I wish for is a kind of ethic or even just an aesthetic preference that says,I don't want to be in a relationship with a power imbalance.
Bold emphases are mine. It's a great set of points Mara makes, and I'm very grateful to her.
Because my posts (particularly my first one) continue to get regular comments even months and years after they were originally put up, it's clear that there's still so much more to be said on this topic. And Mara reminds me of another vital point that needs to be made: a relationship that seems exciting and fulfilling as a teen may seem exploitative and harmful in hindsight.
In the wonderful collection New Versions of Victims: Feminists Struggle with the Concept, psychologist Lynn Phillips (who also wrote the magisterial Flirting with Danger) has the essential study on just this topic. She interviewed a series of teenage girls in relationships with substantially older men. She also interviewed a group of "older" women who, in their teens, had been in sexual relationships with older guys.
The results were astonishing: the overwhelming majority of teenage girls described the relationships they were in as "mutual", "exciting", "fulfilling." They insisted that despite the age gap with their partners (which ranged from as little as 6 years to over 20), they were "in control" and were "getting what (they) wanted." To put it in academic jargon, they were adamant about their own agency; they saw their ability to attract older men and to handle a sexual relationship as evidence of their own special maturity. Almost all of the girls Phillips interviews tended to have a sense of themselves as different from their peers -- most had few age-appropriate friends. They generally professed to relate better to older people, and usually had little that was positive to say about their peers.
But their older female counterparts had a very different view. By the time they were a few years removed from these age-disparate relationships of late adolescence and very early adulthood, most of these women saw these affairs with older men as fundamentally unhealthy, even damaging. Like Mara, their perceptions of what was healthy shifted dramatically as they aged and gained life experience. The younger women uniformly refused to label themselves as victims; they preferred to flatter themselves with a narrative of their own agency. The older women were considerably less concerned with maintaining that pretense! Only in retrospect were they able to acknowledge the hurt that they had endured, and begin to come to terms with the possibility that they had been used and exploited.
I'm not in the least bit afraid of the accusation of paternalism. I am convinced that Mara and Phillips are both right: even past the age of legal consent (16 in most states and the UK), older men cannot assume that a young woman's "yes" is authentically in her best interest. Her "yes" may be sincere, even enthusiastic -- but it is also likely an enthusiasm born out of a complex mix of libido, a longing for attention, and an intense desire to "feel like an adult." Older men (be they 30 40, 50) in relationships with those in or immediately out of adolescence have a responsibility to do more than negotiate verbal consent to a sexual relationship. They must consider the overwhelming anecdotal (and peer-reviewed academic) evidence that suggests that what seemed exciting and fulfilling at 19 may seem hurtful and exploitative at 29.
As older men, our obligation to be safe, loving, and utterly non-sexual in our relationships with younger women doesn't change when or if a young woman is attracted to us. It is not our job to "initiate" or "teach", though we sometimes flatter ourselves by dressing up our predatory motives in the language of initiation or mentoring. For our own sakes, who among us would want to be confronted by a former lover with whom we imagined we had a loving, equal relationship, only to be told that in her full adulthood she had realized that she had been exploited and hurt?
To older men, I say this: a younger woman's "yes", no matter how enthusiastic, is not a license. To younger women, I say this:though it reeks with paternalistic condescension, I believe that what most of you think is good and healthy at 17, 18, 19 will look very different to you at 27, 37, 47. I'm asking older men to consider the long-term consequences not only for themselves, but for the much younger women whom they choose to pursue
Gosh, I can really work myself into a tizzy over elections!
Last night, my wife and I were up late supervising "out time" and "bath time" for all of our chinnies. We introduced Racheli, our newest little rescue, to Chihiro, the first of the "new brood" of Schwyzer chins. Given that the four chins we adopted from Michigan are happily paired (naturally, in our inclusive household, one same-sex and one opposite sex couple), we want to see if Chihiro PangoMassionfruit and Racheli Scrappy Doo can be cage mates. The first meeting ended in furious chasing, snapping, and mutual attempts at dominance, so the short term answer is that these two gals would rather be single. But we're not giving up just yet.
So it was a late night, and we were both up at five this morning. I did an easy 7.5 mile run through the Arroyo as the sun came up on what will be a warm election day; I tried to use the rush of endorphins to calm my nerves. It didn't work as well as it usually does! I came home, showered, dressed, and stopped by my polling place in Northwest Pasadena to cast my ballot. No need to wait, but a steady stream of folks were making their way in and out. Though I can think of occasions where I've had last-minute changes of heart in the booth, I had none this morning, and voted exactly as I suggested in my Sunday post. I have the little "I voted" sticker riding just below the Lacoste alligator on my lucky lime-green polo shirt.
I have followed elections since I was seven years old. Raised the son of a mother who loved politics, I worked on my first campaign in the 1974 California Democratic Primary; we were supporting someone named "Roth" who lost the gubernatorial nomination to none other than Jerry Brown, who all these years later is now running for state Attorney General. I remember meeting Mr. Roth (what the heck was his first name?) at a campaign rally at the Monterey Peninsula Airport. He flew in on a tiny plane and came out to meet us. He shook my hand while a straw hat band played, of course, "Happy Days are Here Again". (Oh, how I still love that tune!) Two years later, my mother and I worked on our first successful local campaign: we helped elect Leon Panetta, later Clinton's chief of staff, to Congress. Leon Panetta was the first candidate I can remember supporting who actually won; my memories of disappointment are older and more ubiquitous than memories of triumph.
I do have happy election memories: 1976, when all the kids in my school wore Ford-Dole pins and I was teased for my Carter-Mondale button. I remember lying on the dining room floor on election night thirty years ago this month, my dachshund curled up next to me. I was allowed to stay up very late on a school night for the purpose of listening to the results on the radio (we had no TV at the time). I had a map of the 50 states with their electoral votes listed, and as Carter closed in on his win, I colored them in for him. We were jubilant that evening!
The 1986 and 1998 midterms were also filled with relief and pleasant surprises. Of course, my happiest election memory remains 1992, when we swept Clinton (and a lot of terrific women senators) into office. Fresh out of my first marriage, living in a tiny studio apartment in Van Nuys, I danced in front of CNN in utter elation.
And of course, I'm used to having my heart broken: 1980, 1984, 1990, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2004. Though some good things happened in those years, for the most part, they summon up memories of bitter disappointment. Alas, that's what it has been to be a bleeding-heart liberal these past three decades: defeat after defeat, with the occasional sweet victory. (It's a lot like being a Cal fan, or worse, loving -- as I still do -- the Golden State Warriors.)
Every election night, I call my mother -- I will call her tonight. Whether we will rejoice or lament together, I don't know. In a little more than 12 hours, I will.
Reading the comments section below my post this morning makes me, well, really sad. The thread stays open, but I'm not in the mood to comment there further. Sometimes, the width and breadth of the cultural divide in this country breaks my heart.
The Dems get five seats in the US Senate, one short of what's needed for control. We do recapture the House, but with a slim majority -- say 222 seats. I don't want to be greedy.
I am very nervous this evening! It will be a very long day tomorrow, and I will be up late into the night monitoring returns. If things go "our" way, I will be up later than if we are to be disappointed. If that is the case, an earlier and sad bed for me. The chinchillas will be comforting me regardless.
I haven't had a "good" general election since 1998. 2000, 2002, and 2004 were all crushingly disappointing, albeit in different ways each time. It has been eight long years since that impeachment-era triumph, when we collectively rebuked the right for over-reaching in their response to the Lewinsky scandal. That seems another world ago. We're overdue for a celebration!
That said, no matter what, I promise not to be bitter in defeat or maliciously gleeful in victory. True, I want Rick Santorum out of the Senate with every fiber of my being. But I don't hate him. I've spent much of my life loving conservatives; conservatives have shared my bed and my breakfast table; conservatives are among my dearest and closest friends. Around election time, there are many in my life to whom I can say: "I love you, and I am going to the polls tomorrow to cancel your vote!" (Technically, I can only cancel one set of Republican votes. But who can say which one?)
Please don't mistake a commitment to geniality as a sign of a lack of genuine conviction. On November 18, for example, my Trojan wife and I will watch the Cal-USC game together; I will desperately want Cal to win. I will root, in a sense, for my wife's heart to be broken. But my love for her and my intense dislike of her beloved alma mater's sports team can coexist without the slightest shred of cognitive dissonance! Similarly, I think we ought to seek out ways to be loving to our political opponents without compromising our ideological commitments. As I've said to many a loved one:
I adore you. I really, really, hope you lose. And win or lose, I'm gonna love ya regardless.
Though many things are percolating in my brain this morning, foremost on my mind is the Ted Haggard story. By now, surely, almost everyone is familiar with the story; a quick and basic summary is here.
Some folks I know are delighted when stories like these come out. In a sense, a certain amount of schadenfreude is understandable. When the very people who condemn sexual sin are themselves brought down by that very sin, it's hard not to take a certain degree of satisfaction in hypocrisy exposed. I have friends -- mostly secular -- who regard hypocrisy as the greatest of all possible sins. Though it surely is no virtue to live a double life, I am less certain than they that to fall dramatically short of one's own professed ideals is the worst thing one can do.
Yesterday, in a letter to his congregation, Haggard said something remarkable, something that resonated with me instantly:
There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult life.
I nodded with recognition when I heard that line. Ted Haggard is my brother in Christ; he and I have been washed in the blood of the lamb. Of course, my views on faith and sexual morality are quite different from the ones that he and his massive New Life Church profess. But I understand what it is to fight an outer war against an inner demon. That's the sort of struggle Haggard seems to refer to.
For years and years in my life, I struggled with boundaries. I had very poor emotional, physical, and sexual boundaries with virtually everyone in my life. From my teens until I was 31, I didn't lead a double life -- I led a triple or quintuple one: affairs; inappropriate relationships with students; regular patterns of betrayal and deceit; addiction to alcohol and other drugs -- and a series of lies that created the most extraordinary house of cards. God's grace, a great therapist, a wonderful Twelve Step program, and my own willingness to go to any lengths to turn my life around saved me. I don't live as I once did.
But I remember what it was like to live in a world with fluid boundaries. I remember what it was like to have only a passing relationship with the truth. I remember what it was like to spend my days saying to myself, "God, if they (my family, friends, wives, lovers, students, colleagues) only knew the truth, they would all hate me!" I remember the hypocrisy and the self-loathing very well. And though I trust my God and I trust in my conversion, I don't think I am invulnerable to a dramatic, spectacular relapse. Though I am more relaxed today than I once I was, I am always alert to the signs that I may be slipping back into old behavior.
So yes, I write a lot here on this blog about boundaries. Writing as a Christian, writing as a man, writing as a pro-feminist, writing as a husband, writing as a former addict, I try and make a compelling case for boundaries. My writing about older men-younger women relationships, student crushes, pornography,self-mutilation, and so forth is based on a mix of intellectual convictions, spiritual commitments, and painful personal trials. I write because I recognize a part of me that is cold, cruel, and predatory -- what Haggard called "repulsive and dark." My commitment to being a safe, loving, trustworthyman is in no small part rooted in my clear memory of my years as a dangerous, narcissistic, dishonest, boy.
I am happy to say that I don't lead a double life today. Follow me around with a camera; listen to my phone conversations; track my website visits; chart my spending habits. What I say I do I generally do and what I say I don't do I don't do. Does this make me more virtuous than, say, a Ted Haggard? No. Ted is in the midst of a spectacular public fall. My fall -- which ended with a 1998 suicide attempt and hospitalization -- was far less public. It's only as a consequence of my humiliation and near-death experience that I am as committed to accountability as I now am.
And of course, accountability is a hugely important tool. I check in a lot with a lot of people. I make sure I get asked questions regularly about where I've been and what I've been doing. I recommend, for example, the Covenant Eyes program, which is installed on both my work and home computers. I have people in my life who monitor me -- not out of hostility but out of love. They respect my transformation but know that a certain amount of darkness is always present inside of me, and as a result,to paraphrase Reagan, they "trust but verify." Sometimes being held accountable feels intrusive. But I know that giving up a certain amount of my privacy to loved ones and mentors is a small price to pay. Today, I enjoy freedom from that crushing sense that I am leading multiple lives. I don't worry about what lies I told to whom. And I don't wonder "What would they say if they knew?", because I know that all who ought to know, know.
Do I think Ted Haggard sinned? Of course. He betrayed his wife and family and congregation. The guilt must be devastating for him; the pain enormous for his loved ones. But if he and I are at all alike, I suspect that in the midst of his hurt and shame, there is an undercurrent of elation. To finally have it all come out, have the secrets revealed, have the light shine in -- as awful as it is, when it happened to me it left me feeling giddy with relief. I hope that on the next stage of his journey, Ted Haggard feels some of that giddiness along with his hurt. I hope that he remembers the shame, too, and allows that memory to encourage him to surrender his pride and accept strict accountability measures.
Ted Haggard preached about the evils of homosexuality. Perhaps, on his recovery journey, he will realize how dangerous it is to confuse one's own self-loathing with a political agenda. Even now, as my MRA critics point out, I too can veer dangerously to confusing my personal narrative of transformation with a lack of sympathy for men who have not reached the conclusions I have reached. My commitment to seeing men change is, I note, not solely rooted in my own story! It would be pop-psychology and reductionism at its most superficial to suggest that those of us who are passionate about any given issue are only acting to resolve inner emotional conflicts. There is such a thing as a genuine conviction that is separate from one's own peculiar pathologies, and I am convinced that both my faith and my feminism fall into that category. But there is no question that for many of us, our own private pain and our public politics are often tied together.
Marianne Moore famously wrote that
There never was a war that was not inward; I must fight till I have conquered in myself what causes war.
To put it far less eloquently, if we are going to be truly effective evangelists and teachers and politicians and activists, we must wage an inner battle as well as an outer one. This is not a recipe for self-involved navel gazing at the expense of public service. It's a recognition that it is in our nature to hate what we are, to rage against the very things we fear most about ourselves. Ted Haggard admitted as much yesterday, and I am reminded I must regularly do the same. I must fight -- we all must fight -- till we have conquered in ourselves what causes all the wars, big and small.