Monday, April 14, 2008

Missing the Message

Last night I heard from an old friend, an SF editor in NYC, to whom I'd sent the essay I read at Mythcon. I've been wanting to market it, but I've gotten such mixed reactions that I was alarmed. She had very mixed reactions, too, but she also gave me some very good revision suggestions.

In the essay, I talk about writing fantasy, and also about being Christian and how my faith motivates me to volunteer at the hospital. My friend (who's an atheist) felt offended by this material, which she interpreted as "preachy." She thought I should talk about volunteering without mentioning religion, since she and other people who aren't Christian volunteer too. My take on the issue is that I'm not saying what anyone else's motivations should be; I'm describing my own, and I'd be false to myself if I falsified that. But, I told her, the comment was helpful, because it suggests that I should send the essay to a faith-friendly publication.

She wrote back, asking anxiously if a faith-friendly publication would be open to fantasy.

To which I responded, laughing aloud as I typed, "I write fantasy, and I'm Christian!" She apologized, but pointed out that her initial reaction showed how many people automatically equate Christianity with narrow-minded literalism, thanks to the Christian Right. I told her that one of my reasons for identifying publically as Christian is to try to help change that perception. Yes, the Christian Left exists. We're really out here.

And then, today, my car was vandalized.

I've talked here before about my bumper stickers, which read CHRISTIAN, NOT CLOSED-MINDED and FEMINISM IS THE RADICAL NOTION THAT WOMEN ARE PEOPLE. I also have a Planet Earth decal on my car.

While I was teaching today, someone took a red magic marker and crossed out the "NOT" on the first bumper sticker.

When I saw it, I felt ill. Someone who didn't even know me just assumed that I'm the opposite of what I profess to be. How closed-minded is that? Who's being intolerant here?

I got home and remembered that I have another bumper sticker that says, COMFORT THE DISTURBED, DISTURB THE COMFORTABLE. That's going over the old sticker. Meanwhile, I went to the wonderful Northern Sun site, home of progressive mottoes, and ordered a new NOT CLOSED-MINDED sticker, along with one that says JESUS IS A LIBERAL and another that says WE MUST BE THE CHANGE WE WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD. I won't have room for all of those on my car, but if my bumper stickers keep getting vandalized, at least I'll have fresh ones.

I also e-mailed my editor friend about the incident. She wrote back, ruefully, "I’m afraid the right has been around so long and so loudly that it’s going to take a while for the rest of you to overcome the fear they instilled in the rest of us."

While that's certainly true -- it's the reason I put the Christian bumper sticker on my car in the first place -- I wonder if it applies in this instance. Surely the feminism sticker should have demonstrated that I am, indeed, left-leaning? The vandalism seems more like pure spite to me.

In any case, it left me feeling lousy, which was presumably the point.



  1. Good luck getting that essay published, Susan. It's a crying shame that the minute you mention your faith in clear terms the writing seems to change genres.

    Sorry to hear about the bumper sticker but I'm glad you've got a better one to take its place. Maybe we Christians should start touting our liberalism more. I'm getting sick and tired of the loud majority too.


  2. Anonymous5:36 AM

    When I was living in Reno, I was chased - chased - through traffic by a car full of presumably Christian older men who wanted to argue my "Eve Was Framed" bumper sticker. I also got notes under my windshield. So both sides can get "het up" by bumper rhetoric.

    BTW, as some (usually RWing) Christians subscribe to the notion that God has planned every detail from Eden to Armeggedon, she was framed, as was Judas.

  3. This is a really great post. Do you mind if I link to it off my LiveJournal?

  4. Arthur: Go ahead! And thanks for the compliment!

    Inez: There are, unfortunately, dunderheaded bullies in every political camp. This kind of harrassment shouldn't happen to anybody. And I hope you remember that I always loved your bumper stickers!

    Lee: Yep, it's definitely time for the Religious Left to become more visible!

  5. Anonymous5:08 PM

    There's always going to be someone who's touchy. At a networking (job hunting) meeting a Hindu griped to me about how he felt threatened by the ostentatious cross a woman was wearing. He felt she was in his face with that cross.

    I said that maybe she wasn't professionally dressed and that it takes all types. But really, how many times have I felt threatened by a display of some belief that's not exactly my own? Plenty. And I've avoided further displays. So maybe that's what your friend is worried about. She may be wrong but there is a lot of hypersensitivity about religion.

  6. Anonymous12:30 PM

    This conversation comes at a moment when I've just been talking to my spiritual director about how I used to wear a cross all the time and now I no longer do. As an innocent high school student, it never occurred to me that anyone could be offended by what I wore. Somewhere along the way as a college or more likely graduate student, I came to worry that I was participating in a dominant culture of which I did not approve.

    As a professor, many of my conversations about teaching strategy have to do with how much of my own experiences and opinions I should reveal and how much I should suppress in order to make appropriate space for my students to share their experiences and discover and develop their own opinions. I see the issue of whether or not to wear a cross to class as part of the larger issue of how to create safe space for my students to speak. That being said, I find it's a tough call - because a cross means comfort for some and alienation for others.

    What to do? What to do? I don't know yet, but thank you all for the conversation here. Susan, I will look forward to reading that essay!



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