Privilege in Arizona (and beyond)

A friend and I have a competition going about whose home state is more crazy (she’s from South Carolina) and last week she ceded that with the passing of SB1062, Arizona was definitely winning.

The legislation is pretty troubling, not to mention confusing. To be clear, SB1062 is an amendment to a previous law, and will allow business owners to refuse service to individuals based on religious beliefs. It now sits on the desk of Governor Jan Brewer waiting for a signature.

In the days since the law passed both houses of the Arizona legislature, many voices have urged Brewer to veto, including both of the states Republican Senators, the conservative Mayor of Mesa, and even 3 of the state senators who voted for the law in the first place. With that much pressure, it’s hard to see the law not being vetoed…though I put nothing out of the realm of possibility for politicians in Arizona.

While the law bothers me, there’s another trend that is much lager which worries me more. In this law, as in laws regarding women’s rights, marriage equality, and basically every issue related to race you can think of, our public sphere has decided that people’s abilities to be in control of their own lives doesn’t belong to them. According to our political debates, women need a government to tell them what they can and can’t do with their bodies, those who identify as gay need the state to tell them whether or not their love is the same as a same sex couple, and people who are Black need to be told whether or not their lives are as valuable as the lives of a person who is white.

I am about as privileged as it comes in this country. I am a straight male who is white. I went to college on the generosity of my parents, and had the social capital to get into graduate school. I am 27, and in an age in which many of my peers cannot find work due to the economic crisis, I am working full time in my chosen career. The social and economic system works for me in just about every way. I have never been pulled over because I looked “suspicious” and no one has ever questioned my ability to achieve what I set out to achieve.

What troubles me about the existence of these debates in our society right now is something I cannot fully relate to, but which I am aware of. It’s not just that these laws exist, or that there are people who have their rights restricted, or whatever; it’s that I am not, nor will I be, the subject of many of these debates. No one will ever debate my freedom to marry who I choose; no one will argue my right to birth control or try to regulate what I can and can’t do with my body; someone who looks like me will never be made to stand trial for their own death (see Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis); and no one will ever argue for whether or not I am allowed service in a restaurant.

Beyond the laws, the fact that we are debating them at all strikes me as undemocratic. Democracy literally translates as “self-rule,” something which cannot exist if those freedoms have to be approved by someone else. How can we practice self rule if the self is not in charge of making the decisions about very personal matters? How can we claim to live in a country that values democracy if we leave decisions about who can participate in day to day life to folks not affected by those decisions?

In terms of the Gospel, I am reminded that Jesus often encounters people whose lives have been controlled by others perceptions and political power. In John he walks up to a woman at a well, someone avoiding a crowd because she has been so ostracized, and rather that dictate to her some command or mechanism of control (which, it seems like she was expecting) he creates space for her to be who she is. In Luke, he encounters a tax collector name Zacchaeus. Rather than pronounce some form of requirement for fellowship, he simply welcomes the worried man to come down out of his tree and join in a meal.

Throughout the Gospels, this is Jesus’ method: folks who have been persecuted, whose lives have been determined from elsewhere, whose statuses have been the subject of public debate and discourse, are welcomed into the presence of the living God. They come into spaces where their lives and identities are no longer the topic of public discourse.

I’m getting tired of hearing debates about who can control women’s bodies, or whether or not those who identify as gay can express their love in a traditional ceremony, or whatever. And if I’m tired of them, as someone whose life decisions and identities will never be in question, I can only imagine how bad it has to be for the millions of people in this country whose lives are up for debate daily.


Real men have bodies

It’s no secret Facebook uses user information to coordinate adds. It’s why I get adds for online Divinity Schools (I apparently have an interest in religion) and adds for Budweiser (for the record, I brew beer and usually post pictures of it). I also run, and to help motivate myself I’ll post about it every once in a while. And I’m sure that’s the reason I get advertisements for ways to transform my body, from the flabby, hairy chested form it now manifests, to a lean, hairless, “built” machine-like physique that looks pretty darn “sexy” without a shirt on. Usually these adds feature side-by-side frames, one with the “before” shot, and the other with the results of whatever program is being sold.

Recently, there’s been another add showing up on my timeline. Instead of the side-by-side results oriented pitch, it shows 3 drawings of different body “types,” which are defined as “ectomorph,” “Mesomorph,” and “endomorph.” (you can check it out here. For the record, I took the test and I’m a fall between an endomorph and a mesomorph)

The first set of adds, the results oriented pictures, make me think immediately of the creation of an ideal male physique, something which may or may not be accomplished in this life, but which we all ought to strive for. Of course, I’m not sure how many men I know who were born without body hair, but I don’t think it was very many, and the punishment a person has to go through to maintain that kind of look (here’s one with The Rock that showed up for a while) seems kind of extreme (ok, so for some people lifting weights isn’t punishment…I’m not one of those people). And so, we accomplish an irony of the past 100 years of advertising: too be beautiful, at least according to the adds, means accomplishing something which cannot happen naturally.

The second set of adds get at another modern problem when talking about bodies: reducing really complicated sets off genetics to oversimplified categories. Roughly estimating, there are 3.5 billion men in the world (assuming the worlds population is 7 billion and that roughly half of those are men). Based on that information, I venture to conclude that there are at least 3.5 billion types of male bodies. Can groups be made? Sure, it’s possible. But why is society so quick to segment large groups of individuals into easily sortable categories? Remember when society did that with race? Or class? Or nationality? Remember how that still serves as a way to exert power and control in really bad ways?

I’m bothered by these adds, partly due to my own insecurities (yes, as a man I have insecurities about my body) but partly because of the power they try to exert on humanity. Can we, as a people, be done with celebrating what for many is a completely unattainable beauty? And please, can we stop lumping large groups of people into different categories based on perceived difference? Please?

From the perspective of the Christian church, we should reject them not only because of their use of power to control (although really, that’s a pretty good reason) but because they don’t jive with Jesus. Contrary to the imagination of those in the media, we don’t have a picture of the actual Jesus. Sure, the modern world has produced their own portraits, from the ‘Swedish’ Jesus (as my friends and I have called this blue eyed figure) to the muscular Jesus and so on.

But the only image of Jesus’ body we get in the bible isn’t toned and controlled; the first real descriptions we get are when he’s being beat and broken by the powers of the world. In three days, despite their efforts to inflict control over his body, he is raised from the dead, seemingly overcoming and (hopefully) ending the violence. The Good News of the cross can be understood as the power to overcome the control the world seeks to enact on bodies.

Why, then, are we still letting bodies be controlled? Why are we still giving in to hairless-muscular-sexy-without-a-shirt-(unnatural)-masculine-beauty?

I mean, come on Facebook? Leave me alone! How about some real men! with real bodies! Like these:

These make me happy!