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Blending Is Art

In Life in Society, Music on August 5, 2014 at 11:02 pm
Photo by Laurel Greszler

Photo by Laurel Greszler

By Heila Rogers

The documentary 20 Feet From Stardom is about backup singers. Even that term, “back-up singers” can imply, “second-rate” in our minds.

Because people are supposed to be the one and only STAR, right? That’s what success means? For instance, if you’re 4th place in the Olympics, no one knows your name. Having your name known is what matters. “Second-place is the first-place Loser,” as the saying goes.

But the art, the creation of something, can get lost in that way of thinking.

What about the music itself, and all the parts?

All voices, parts and instruments melding together ~ to create a unified and transcendent piece of music – how to quantify that? How to determine its value?

Stardom isn’t bad though. Or is it?

Self-promotion is necessary, there’s a business side to things.

Promoters have a place.

“We can’t let the people decide, we have to tell them what they like, and what to buy.”

What the people often like and decide to buy on their own (is it the advertising or is it market-driven?) isn’t the most uplifting though.

But then again, it often is just that. People often see, buy and like what is uplifting — but it’s sometimes harder to find.

In the 20 Feet From Stardom movie, Sting says about these women:

“There’s a spiritual component to what they do, an inner journey, and any other success is cream on the cake.”

Photo by Heila Rogers

“Don’t Coppy M*” | Photo by Heila Rogers

Maybe we have to be ready to be the star, too. How to do that with grace and integrity, realizing we’re part of a whole — we’re a part along with others, we’re a piece of the bigger world. Not to mention eternity.

In many ways, this story of back-up singers is the story of women. Of being in the background, but maybe not by choice. Sometimes though, being in the background is a choice, both for men and women. There is an evolving awareness of the contributions and value of all voices, including those quieter ones, or those in the background.

When every one can share their unique piece with others as a part of the whole, then we’ll have the best, the most beautiful, music.

Also in the movie:

“It’s up to you to perfect that gift that you’ve been given.” — Stevie Wonder

Photo by Laurel Greszler

Photo by Laurel Greszler


The Science of Art

In Art, Life in Society on February 15, 2014 at 6:47 pm

By Stephanie Martin

E pluribus Unum: words we’ve all heard or read somewhere before. “Out of many, one.” The de facto motto of our nation until, “In God We Trust” was adopted, the phrase is on much of the money we all carry around in our wallets, purses, or pockets. Although physically present everywhere, it appears in conversation only when discussing the cultural, racial, or social diversity of America. However, it seems to me the phrase has an older application, older than our nation, older than its own language, Latin.

Lately, I have been thinking about this phrase because I have been thinking about the idea of “one” and the idea of “many.” And here’s why. In less than one year, I will graduate with a degree in biochemistry and will, subsequently, stumble into a world in which I am not sure I want to practice biochemistry. In fact, I am not sure I know what I want to practice. If you had asked me last semester, or even at the beginning of last month, I would have told you that I was going to apply to film school and get a graduate degree in English. Last August, I would have told you that I was going to apply to grad school for chemistry or biochemistry. My senior year of high school, I would have told you that I might be a zookeeper or doctor. My freshman year, you might have heard me say I wanted to be a cowgirl. You get my drift. I have been living in an identity crisis for as long as I can remember. Although I could blame my identity crisis on being the middle child, I suspect it has something more to do with the dichotomy of my brain. My left brain wants me to be a scientist. My right brain wants me to be a writer.

full mannequin

So what do you do when you are studying science and suddenly want to be an artist? Don’t ask me! I’ve been trying to figure it out for at least a year and made about as much progress as a snail on salt. It’s a slow and painful process, trying to figure out what to do with your life. You may choose one thing and find, three years into a degree, that you may not want to do that at all. Hypothetically, you may then choose something else, and focus on that for a while until, in theory, you visit the Denver Museum of Nature and Science with your family and realize that you love science it’s your life and you could never give it up! There goes six months’ worth of plans down the drain!

Nevertheless, my love of art, literature, and writing has not dimmed. My interests this past year have felt like an oscillation from science to art to science to art again with everything in between. I ask myself audibly, “Why can’t you just pick one?!”

In a recent conversation with a friend, the subject of “art” arose. As soon as she said that word, my brain naturally connected that idea to all of the things I associated with art: painting, sculpture, film, theatre, poetry, literature, music, etc. Somewhere in the middle of the train of thought I realized that she had said, “art, as a way of life.” A beautiful idea I thought. Beauty in every part of life. I like it. It was then that something clicked. I was wrong. Art isn’t just one thing. It’s not something you can categorize. It’s not confined to that list that went through my head. Ironically, neither is science. Science seems to be systematic and fact-oriented, but it’s not just that. It’s a way of thinking and viewing the world. It’s more. That’s when it hit me. I don’t have to choose one thing to do with my life. I don’t have to do just science, or just art. I can do both. I can choose more than one. I can choose many, because life is more. It is more than one occupation or one hobby or one friend or one place. Life is more than one. But that is the beauty of life. Because from these many things, comes one life. E pluribus Unum.


A Masterpiece

In Creative Living, Life in Society on January 30, 2013 at 4:28 pm

By Jane Carter

Eph. 2:10 – “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

While reading Ephesians 2:10, I was struck by the Bible’s description of us as “masterpieces of God.” Merriam-Webster defines a Masterpiece as a work done with extraordinary skill, especially a work of intellectual or artistic achievement. That feels to me like a potentially liberating statement, because it means that in those inevitable moments when I feel invalid (in whatever capacity), I can reflect that I am not a mistake, I am a work done with extraordinary skill. Hence, if I feel as though I don’t have that much relevance, that I’m invalid in the environment I find myself in, I can remind myself that there is more to be seen than I do in that moment.

Even if you believe you are a fine specimen of everything you’re supposed to be, that doesn’t mean you have everything figured out. Actually it does mean that you are precious, and need to be protected and kept in your optimum condition. If you are a masterpiece, it means that you should take care of your surfaces. Exposure to extreme temperatures may dull your beauty and you may need to be touched up, or restored. The challenge for you and I, masterpieces that we are, is to make sure that the conditions in which we are kept and the means by which we are restored do not compromise the original work of art.

The above is a Spanish painting (Ecce Homo, or Behold the Man) originally completed by artist Elias Garcia Martinez in the 1800s. An endeavour commissioned by the church that it has been in for more than 100 years. Recently in August, 2012, a woman took it upon herself to restore the painting (picture on the right). Apparently, critics have taken to calling the painting “Ecce Mono” or, Behold the Monkey, because of the extent to which the church patron altered the work.

To go back to our ideas about masterpieces, some amount of supervision is necessary when you think about restoring yourself to your original glory. If light and moisture (read: the stresses of life) make your colours less brilliant, or etch holes in your canvas, you must be restored. In doing so though, you have to protect the integrity of your original work. To use an argument of adaptive human behaviour, if you find your old methods of behaviour no longer sustainable, as in your actions in relationships are getting you into trouble (read: dulling your masterpiece), then you have to make a change. In this event you must follow a trusted path to restoration, lest you transform or evolve into something altogether separate from your original self.

My position is that you have good inside of you; that the deep seated person that only you can unveil is who needs to come out. Imagine the aesthetic difference between the freshly painted Ecce Homo and the unauthorised restoration of it in 2012. What a tragedy! Now, think of yourself: people walk by, they add a brush stroke here or a hostile environment there, and these things show up on you. Your colours start becoming dull, or you begin to forget who you are, and what you’re worth. When people can’t really describe you when asked, or when they describe you, and you don’t recognise the person that they’ve illustrated, then you know you’re starting to fade. It’s time to be restored.

Do you know where your good restoration is? The kind that will take you back to your original glory? For me, I have several sources of restoration. My biggest source of restoration is to go back to the Artist: Almighty God, my Creator. Notice I didn’t say the church, or religion? No, my source of restoration is firstly from God, and the relationship I have with Him. I often talk to people who have no belief in or understanding of God, and I always say the same thing: ask God who He is. People get very caught up with religion and denomination and I’ve seen far too many people lose their faith because of the religious people around them. God is not a church, I don’t think. God is the Source of strength, the Comforter, the Guide, the Forever Friend. He inspires people to want to come together and I am restored by that. I also think that without a true relationship with God, following the church or even the Bible can become something other than restorative.


Photo by Roger Brown
Alpine Flowers

I am also restored by the word of God. The Bible has so many different kinds of guides, from ways to draw closer to God (James 4:8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you) to normalising (and speaking to) my anxieties (Ecclesiastes 3:10  I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart, yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end). I take much strength from the fact that there is an ancient book that still holds relevance to my everyday struggles. Another way that I am restored is through my relationships with loving people. Nothing helps you to grow more than relationships, and a good relationship will restore you because it doesn’t simply highlight the area where you could stand to grow, but it also balms the wounds you’ve already encountered by speaking love and life into you, in a way that is sometimes more convincing than your own voice. Good relationships, from the bona fide relationship you have with God, to the honest relationships you have with your spouse/friends/parents/children will restore you. A good relationship will always bring you closer to owning three very important self statements: I am enough, I have enough and who I am originally is beautiful.

So, how are you restoring your masterpiece?

Be the Art

In Art, Life in Society on November 4, 2012 at 10:18 am

Photo by Lewis McNeel
“Graft,” by Roxy Paine
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
Washington, D.C.

By Bekah McNeel

“Be the art!” I shout, and two grown-up, educated, professional women (plus I, myself) immediately strike the above pose.

This is a tradition among us. We who travel together, and find ourselves needing to commemorate the moment we saw an amazing piece of art. We decided we didn’t want our pictures with the most inspiring, redolent works of creativity to look uninspired and indolent. We started at the Eiffel Tower when, as my best friend Lee and I looked around we saw tourist after tourist in the same pose with the same back drop. So I flipped her onto my back and we matched the energy and audacity of the tower built to represent the age of Science and Industry and the spirit of France at its centennial birthday party: the 1889 World’s Fair.

That stroke of brilliance soon led to deliberate interaction with art and architecture that, in our opinion was true to the spirit of art. Boldness. Iconoclasm. Embodiment.

This is a contrast to the way I usually look at art, which is quietly.

I’ve heard it said that art museums are the sacred spaces of our day. It’s true in many ways. More than libraries or churches, in our age, the stark white walls and hushed halls of galleries serve as shrines to impenetrable icons deliberately distributed across the wallspace. Philosophy is smeared onto canvas and carved out of stone. Serious people go to museums, the devout. Creative people go to museums, the mystics. Pretentious people go to museums, the Pharisees.

Wherever I first heard museums compared to sacred spaces, it was definitely in the context of a lament. Something to the effect that our godless culture has exchanged God for paint and prayers for wire sculpture. However, I see this reverence as a sign that our culture has not yet completely lost its concept of God. The fact that we can study and be taken in by the ineffable is proof that we hunger for something beyond the finite number of our molecules. So I’m a fan of quiet art museums.

It was in a quiet art museum that I discovered, I mean really discovered, grace. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art was my haven in college. I went to escape the scrutiny, intensity, and conformity of my tiny Christian college. I loved the anonymity of being in the city, and the feeling of being in the massive courtyards, one among many. I went to a Diane Arbus exhibit. It was deliciously brazen, like the way scotch tastes. Around me many people were trying to say intelligent things about the series of photos of wrinkly, paunchy nudists and transvestites. They were trying to be either blasé or profound. When faced with the sagging breasts and dimpled belly of a particular subject, I was glad I was alone, and not having to make some comment to validate my discernment (either to the art crowd or the Christian college crowd).  And I found that I could look at it and see the beauty. I didn’t have to make a list of the flaws before I reveled in the goodness. In fact, if I wanted to just walk away without a list of sins committed by the great photographer, that was okay too. I loved Jesus just as much when I left. Maybe more.

I don’t think you have to be able to find grace at a Diane Arbus exhibit. I don’t think you have to like modern art at all. Years later I would visit the Byzantine Fresco Chapel at the Menil Collection in Houston, where the space is designed to evoke the sacred origins of the art. It was dark, cold, and quiet, an atmosphere all the more potent by the fact that we had stumbled in out of the 3pm August sunshine. We, my architect husband Lewis and I, sat in awe for a long time. A very long time. We were alone and we were worshipful.

Down the street at the Rothko Chapel, we witnessed another version of the modern sacred space, again this time deliberate. The Rothko Chapel welcomes guests to choose from a table of sacred texts, and to use the space for prayer and meditation.

Inside the Basilica, Old Town Quito, Ecuador

Photo by Roger Brown
Inside the Basilica
Old Town Quito, Ecuador

So the question arises: why violate this sacred space? Why transgress the unspoken pact that I the patron have made with the artists and curators to take the art as Mary took the Annunciation and ponder it quietly in my heart?

Because of slides. In 2006 Carston Höller installed spiraling tube slides in the London’s Tate Modern. They carried sliders from each of the four storied floors to the ground floor. Patrons of the museum donned helmets and rode in potato sacks and often squealed as they sped down the slide.

“For Carsten Höller, the experience of sliding is best summed up in a phrase by the French writer Roger Caillois as a ‘voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind’. The slides are impressive sculptures in their own right, and you don’t have to hurtle down them to appreciate this artwork. What interests Höller, however, is both the visual spectacle of watching people sliding and the ‘inner spectacle’ experienced by the sliders themselves, the state of simultaneous delight and anxiety that you enter as you descend.”

I happened to live in a flat behind the Tate Modern for the entire length of the exhibition, and passed the entrance on my way to classes. I made use of the slides often enough, as there is no admission fee to the Tate. Standing under the silver spirals was stunning. The sort of thing that makes you feel the need to say something profound. But instead of musing about the form, a cascading shriek reminds you of the function.

It was unconscious, because the “Be the art!” movement was not premeditated or in any way serious, but the irreverence of people hurtling down playground equipment inside a bastion of London culture shifted my thinking. Throughout history, art has transgressed social norms and values. Art has poked fun at things we consider important. Surely there is a place for some tomfoolery in the consumption of art.

lotus denver botanical gardens

Photo by Roger Brown
Lotus Flower
Denver Botanic Gardens

If we are free to interact with art not as something austere and high-minded, but instead respond with honesty and enjoyment, even in the form of silliness and play, maybe more people would enjoy it. Perhaps if we were less worried about the appropriate response, and just responded, we would get more out of interactions with art.

On a recent trip to New York, Lewis and I visited two major artistic venues: the Whitney and the Lincoln Center.

At the Whitney, we were taken by a piece of video art that seemed generally pleasing until we realized it was produced in 1926. Oskar Fischinger’s Space Light Art: A film environment was so far ahead of its time it seemed impossible. But it was also playful. Fischinger was enamored with the potential of the new medium to intoxicate the viewer. In the dark of the room we geeked out and surrendered ourselves to the mesmerizing pulse of color and shape on the wall in front of us.

Later, we went to see the New York Ballet. Surrounded by little gray haired ladies who were no doubt responsible for the existence of the New York Ballet, we watched a modern selection of dances, including a particularly affective pas de deux. When we walked out, Lewis turned to me and said, “That was soft porn.” I was tempted to argue with him about the nature of sensuality in art until I realized that he was getting it more than I was. Yes, that was what they were getting at, sex. It was sensual almost to the point of eroticism. Rather than being so consumed with being at the ballet Lewis was interacting with it. And he needed a breath of fresh air.

He had the same reaction to Marilyn Monroe by the way, the first time he saw her in a motion picture. When she sauntered up the stairs in “The Seven Year Itch,” Lewis cried out, “That’s obscene!”  Lewis gets art, perhaps inherently. He feels what it’s going for. That was part of why I fell in love with him. Before him, there was Chagall.

jelly fish

Photo by Roger Brown
Jelly Fish
Monterey Aquarium

I fell in love with Marc Chagall at age seven. My grandmother took me to San Antonio’s museum of modern art, The McNay. There was Dream Village, all colors and broad strokes. With a dancing cow. I loved it then and I love it now. As I mentioned, in college I sought refuge in art museums. After a particularly restorative visit to the Getty, I was looking through the bookstore while waiting for the tram. I found a book that used Marc Chagall’s lithographs Daphnis and Chloe to illustrate the 1956 Paul Turner translation of the myth by the same name. I had no excuse to spend museum prices on a book, but I bought it on the spot. After college I took a trip across Europe to, as my mother put it, see what condition my condition was in.  I found myself at the Albertina in Vienna where Chagall’s illuminated Scriptures were on display. The intersection of the playful style that had delighted me as a child and the sacred text that shaped my life was a near ecstatic experience at a time when I was most in need of one. And even after that, my indie music hound sister gave me a song by the Weepies. Their soulful sound spoke to my heart during a phase of longing, and as I searched for more of their music, I came across their song “Painting by Chagall.”  Over time a dreamy, playful, Chagall motif developed in my times of contemplation and awakening.

Chagall is, to me, an example of the many roles that art can play in our lives. His bold use of color, simplified forms, and dreamscapes are at times exuberant and playful, at times iconic, and at times heartbreaking. He also channeled genuine religious experience, which like stained glass windows and illuminated texts of old, remind us that art has always interacted with the Sacred. Like religion, I think that art must be robust in its place in our lives. In art we can engage not only our more high-minded sensibilities of expression and communication, but also our sexuality, our sense of humor, and, yes, our reverence for the ineffable.

The Basilica and part of Quito

Photo by Roger Brown
The Basilica & part of Quito

Suppressing Art

In Art, Life in Society, Music, Poetry on October 1, 2012 at 4:02 pm
Snow Geese NM:NWR

Photo by Roger Brown
Snow Geese
New Mexico

By Heila Rogers

Why did poets, musicians and dancers of the Stalin-era Soviet Union continue to create? Why not just stop, when they saw their loved ones and other artists being killed, or sent to the Gulag or jail?

What compelled them?

Why is art often suspect?

And… what is art actually … for?

Regimes like the Soviet Union, or Hitler’s Nazism,  – all have controlled, suppressed and hated art and artists.

This suppressive way of thinking is alive and well in every country.

Yet Adolf Hitler painted paintings. Propaganda was used in the above systems. As is sometimes the case in advertising, images were made especially to sway or manipulate.

If that’s not what art is for … then what is in fact its purpose?

Artists have been referred to as “parasites upon society.” There is a perception of making art as being a waste of time.

Glimpses of a world without art can be seen when looking at the functional-only blocks of apartment buildings in former “Soviet Republic” countries.


Much of nature consistently inspires people. Looking around us, at gloriously different varieties of creatures and plants; or unique, everyday sky and cloud patterns, we feel hopeful … and often moved to create.


Photo by Roger Brown
Sandstone Formations
Petra, Jordan

When we feel, think and conclude – from an artistic place within us – we make things.


Photo by Roger Brown
Petra Cave Entrance

Why is this threatening? What causes such a strong reaction against art and artists?

Human beings want to control other human beings. Perceived control makes us feel safe. When we tell others what to do, we have an illusion of safety. Really, we all think we know best, and how the world should be run. Therefore we’re ready to organize everyone and everything accordingly. So when someone (or something) challenges that, it must be suppressed. Or else we won’t win or succeed. We think.

This is the fatal flaw of totalitarianism. All forms of it eventually fail, because they don’t take into account (or understand) long-term reality. There is a force in the world and in human beings which will resist inappropriate control.

Whereas within art, although there are certainly elements of control and discipline, it’s viscerally about freedom. About exploring, questioning … and listening.

Real art loves, expresses truth, explores truth, attempts to honestly communicate what is true.

That doesn’t mean everything created is good or used for good.

It also doesn’t mean that everyone fights or resists wrong control. In the short-term, or without a certain perspective, it feels better to control others or to submit to (undue) influence.

Very obviously: humans can warp or misuse … well, pretty much anything and everything. But, the grace to create is there. It’s there for everyone. This might be a strange thing to say, but what if Hitler were not suppressed himself as an artist? His father forbid him go to art school. Might history have been different if he himself were not abused and wrongly controlled?

Take for example the swastika – the flag of the Third Reich, created by Hitler.

The arrangement of colors and the symbol together are visually attractive. The bent cross symbol is actually an ancient one – the root Sanskrit word “svastika” means  “to be good/lucky.” Many cultures use variations on the form:

[symbol, origin]

The Nazi swastika is self-described as being, “the symbol of the creating, acting life.” Wow. Wishful thinking on Hitler’s part? The four-arm crooked form was already being widely used in a folk-national movement, among others, when Hitler adapted it for his now infamous emblem. It is still used widely in Indian religions. [Wikipedia]

Hitler wrote (in Mein Kampf) what he wanted the symbol to mean: “As National Socialists, we see our program in our flag. In red, we see the social idea of the movement; in white, the nationalistic idea; in the swastika, the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man, and, by the same token, the victory of the idea of creative work.” [63]

He robbed from widespread, already popular images to make, in an evil-genius way, a powerful (albeit warped) standard. He wanted so much to be an artist. Instead of representing what he stated above, the Nazi flag now represents horror, evil and … suppression.

Divergent or analytical thinking – a part of art – is discouraged and punished. As well are disagreements with policies. This intolerance for disagreement instead of being a strength, in fact indicates weakness. If someone called Stalin “a murderer and peasant slayer” (O. Mandelstam below) and the words were not true, what power would they have? But then, because propagandists have experienced success using words cleverly to manipulate people into believing certain ways, they suspect others of doing the same.

Regardless, during times of persecution and distress, the following artists were a part of creating – which sometimes did mean protest and disagreement with governmental policies or actions:

(Data, except as cited, from the book, “The Soviet Image: A Hundred Years of Photographs from Inside the TASS Archives,” by Peter Radetsky © 2007)

Anna Akhmatova:

A preeminent Russian writer of the twentieth century and a renowned poet, “In the presence of [her] I looked at the world as if I were on a new planet,” said writer Lydia Chukovskaya. Her husband was executed for alleged antigovernment activities, her son was exiled to Siberia, many of the people closest to her would be imprisoned or killed, she suffered a ban on her poetry that lasted, on and off, for three decades. She never left her home country and wrote the following in her poem “Requiem”: “No foreign sky protected me, / no stranger’s wing shielded my face. / I stand as witness to the common lot / survivor of that time, that place.”

Photo by Roger BrownPetra, Jordan

Photo by Roger Brown
Al Khazneh Ruin
Petra, Jordan

Osip Mandelstam:

Was arrested and died in the Gulag in 1938. “Poetry is respected only in this country,” he said. “There’s no place where more people are killed for it.” Circa 1925.

‘This is what I most want’

This is what I most want

un-pursued, alone

to reach beyond the light

that I am furthest from.

And for you to shine there-

no other happiness-

and learn, from starlight,

what its fire might suggest.

A star burns as a star,

light becomes light,

because our murmuring

strengthens us, and warms the night.

And I want to say to you

my little one, whispering,

I can only lift you towards the light

by means of this babbling.

Note: Written for his wife, Nadezhda.


The treasury, Petra, Jordan

Photo by Roger Brown
The Siq (The Shaft)
Petra, Jordan

Lydia Ruslanova:

Folk singer who toured the front constantly during the war and performed for the troops. A beloved entertainer, she performed on the steps of the Reichstag in Berlin while parts of it still smoldered. Because of her popularity and friendship with Marshal Zhukov, Stalin began to regard her as a potential threat. She and her husband were sent to the Gulag in 1948. Upon Stalin’s death, she was released and resumed performing until her death, in 1973.

Dmitri Shostakovitch:

In August 1942, during the darkest days of the siege, his Seventh Symphony was performed in Leningrad’s Philharmonic Hall. Loudspeakers broadcast the concert throughout Leningrad and, as another act of defiance, to the German troops stationed outside the city.

“Regardless of when Shostakovich initially conceived the symphony, the Nazi attack and consequent relaxing of Soviet censorship gave Shostakovich the hope of writing the work for a mass audience instead of a primarily esoteric one. To do so, he had to express his hidden feelings in a way to make them accessible to the audience, allowing it to experience catharsis. A model on how to do this was Igor Stravinsky‘s Symphony of Psalms. Stravinsky’s compositions held considerable influence over Shostakovich.[13] and he had been deeply impressed with this particular work.[14]

Shostakovich’s plan was for a single-movement symphony, including a chorus and a requiem-like passage for a vocal soloist, with a text taken from the Psalms of David. With the help of his best friend, critic Ivan Sollertinsky, who was knowledgeable about the Bible, he selected excerpts from the Ninth Psalm. The idea of individual suffering became interwoven in Shostakovich’s mind with the Lord God’s vengeance for the taking of innocent blood (Verse 12, New King James Version).[14] The theme not only conveyed his outrage over Stalin’s oppression,[16] but also may have inspired him to write the Seventh Symphony in the first place.[17] “I began writing it having been deeply moved by the Psalms of David; the symphony deals with more than that, but the Psalms were the impetus,” the composer said. “David has some marvelous words on blood, that God takes revenge for blood, He doesn’t forget the cries of victims, and so on. When I think of the Psalms, I become agitated.”[17]

A public performance of a work with such a text would have been impossible before the German invasion. Now it was feasible, at least in theory, with the reference to “blood” applied at least officially to Hitler. With Stalin appealing to the Soviets’ patriotic and religious sentiments, the authorities were no longer suppressing Orthodox themes or images.[18] Yet for all the importance he placed on them, Shostakovich may have been right in writing the symphony without a text, in view of the censorship that would eventually be reimposed.[14]”

The treasury

Photo by Roger Brown
Narrow gorge, East entrance
Petra, Jordan

Artists who are trying to express and share light and beauty as real and existing; along with describing the human condition, and grief, and the wrongs they see — speak in important ways for all of us.

Art lifts us, and somehow helps us to be free.

The Art of Faith

In Art, Life in Society on October 1, 2012 at 4:02 pm

A Day is Like a Thousand Years and A Thousand Years Like a Day*

By Laura Senti

Usually when I hear someone say that God is working things out, or that God operates on a different sense of time, I think, “Yes, God is slow.” I’m even a little patronizing: “Be patient, it takes God awhile to get things done.” If I’m feeling frightened or doubtful I think he is inactive, and “his own time” means “He’s paying no attention and is absent from the scene.”

My life seems to me to be eerily still lately. I want something new to come along. I’m struggling to see what is next for me. I crave a stronger sense of direction and purpose, yet the days and months pass on in much the same way as before. I watch what I perceive to be dynamic action and movement in others’ lives and wonder if God stuck me on a shelf in a rarely-opened closet.

It seems to me that God is slower than me.

But what if he is in fact, being lightning fast and I’m the slow one? We know that time is relative. Speed is relative, too.

What got me thinking about this was watching the SlowMo guys on YouTube. One of my favorite clips is Lloyd the Cat jumping to the top of a tall fence. At 2500 frames per second—100 times slower than we normally see–I could see the unfolding miniscule movements of the spring, the boost midway up the fence, the light landing on top. A cat in motion is power personified, a beautiful thing to watch.

All the frames together add up to a beautiful tableau, but what if I could see only one frame per hour? Might I lose interest and forget that the cat is in fact, in the midst of that energetic jump to the top of the fence? And what if I didn’t even know, to begin with, what I was seeing, and just saw one frame out of context? I don’t think it would be that riveting; it’s the fluidity of the action, the succession of frames, that gives meaning to each individual frame.

I am impressed by quick changes, quick growth: explosions, that experiment in high school science that suddenly changes the color of the solution; the factories and machines that pop out products and whip through tasks. Why am I so impressed by fast? Maybe because that’s what I can see most easily in our human time. But the deeper, more fundamental time frame is God’s.

If in the physical realm I miss so much and see so coarsely unless events are slowed way down, might this also be the case in the spiritual realm? Maybe our sense of time is actually slow motion. We see things unfold bit by bit, assuming that we’re perceiving time as real. But what if God’s time is real time? He’s doing countless amazing things millisecond by millisecond, whereas in human time that translates into day by day, month by month, year by year. His time frame is so much bigger, that we have to have faith to believe change and growth is actually occurring.

So in the midst of this time in my life when I perceive God to be excruciatingly slow, He is actually in the middle of his usual giant, slow-motion-to-me action, one that I don’t yet know and never will fully know because it’s so grand and complex, involving far more than just me. Maybe the cat is only poised at the bottom of the fence, so I’m not noticing any movement yet. I am seeing one frame, maybe two, on this still September day in His lightning-speed, dense movement, specially slowed down for human minds to watch, wonder and savor.

I’ll trust that He’s up to something good.

*2 Peter 3.8

Running horse

Photo by Roger Brown
Running Horse

Children’s Literature – Illustration

In Art, Education, Life in Society on August 7, 2012 at 3:06 pm

NCCIL Art Camps

Wonderful video, featuring a marvelous teacher, about an art workshop for kids at the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature. Future professional (or everyday) artists learn from the work of established ones. Students make art and enjoy themselves doing it.

~ H.R.

Feminism – Part Three

In Life in Society on August 7, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Photo Courtesy Teen Missions International

By Bekah McNeel

Feminism is still the F-word because it threatens our sense of worth.

Before she gave his hunting trophies the premier position in our living room, my mother would say, “Your poor father has lived in a pink and floral house his whole adult life.” She was correct. My mother was an interior decorator of the 80’s and 90’s and got really into mauve, Laura Ashley®, and Waverly. My dad didn’t decorate anything. He was a football player, turned boxer, turned tile-importer. He’s color-blind too, so mauve wasn’t exactly a concern to him.

Meanwhile, we were becoming teenagers with a love of movie posters. After a year of looking at my “collage” of handsome men, my mom’s solution was to customize our bedrooms so that the only place to hang an obnoxious oversized George Clooney was in the closet. Regardless of the level of permanence, no one made an aesthetic decision in our home without consulting the mom. She once made the tile setter redo the tile three times because he got the design wrong.

The house was my mother’s domain exclusively. Not that she was a fainting violet. She did her own fair share of the “hard hat” work, serving as general contractor for our rustic reconstruction of a demolished 19th century Texas Hill Country home. She did a lot of the labor herself. This was the point at which she decided to display my dad’s hunting trophies. And then she began making statements like, “You know what would really look great in here? A ram.” So my dad went to Colorado and shot a ram. He’s an ethical hunter, which meant that we ate ram that year…all winter. The next year we ate black buck antelope. And so forth until the wall was full of memorials to dinners gone by. That was my parents’ most collaborative decorating effort.

So imagine my surprise when, upon marrying an architect with a reputation as an ascetic, I found that even a simple trip to IKEA was an event worthy of its own C-SPAN channel. I knew from the look on his face when I pulled out my box of picture frames and colorful world-textiles that decorating the house was not going to be left to my discretion. In our house, instead of Laura Ashley® and mauve, it’s stainless steel and white. The nacho-cheese-colored cabinets and the winterfresh-chewing-gum blue wall in the bathroom are my hunting trophies.

[Before anyone pities me, let me run that by again: nacho-cheese and winterfresh-chewing-gum. Yes, left up to me our home would look like Frida Khalo’s house. I’m not the designer; he is. I don’t read the directions; he does. I don’t straighten up before we have guests; he does.]

It took me a while to embrace this, because all my life aesthetics and home were within the woman’s domain. Men were the more pragmatic, proud, tough sex. Women made things beautiful. When my husband put together a home worthy of a newspaper write-up, a little part of me questioned my femininity. If this desert-wandering, cargo-shorts-wearing, unshaven, creature could put together a dining room, what was I going to do?

My anxiety reflected a very complex worldview that is more common than it is rare. That there are certain things that make women “feminine” and things that make men “manly.” And without those things, we would have nothing to give each other. If I lack feminine charms, then I’ll have men as colleagues, friends, and brothers…but never as a romantic partner. In short, it’s my sexually-defined uniqueness that makes me attractive. And I believe that we are terrified to lose it.

For many people feminism is still the “f-word” because “it makes women act like men.” And I think a lot of would-be feminists shrink from the label because they’re afraid of being labeled “bitchy” or “butch.” They don’t want to be undesirable, because that would decrease their worth in a world where we are all competing to justify our existence.

Many women have bought the lie that their worth lies in how much men desire them. Not just for their physical appearance, though that is most obvious in places like Hollywood, but also for the distinct feminine qualities that they will bring to a man’s life.

But what does that even mean? Is it acting like a man to get a paycheck, enjoy exercise (not just to keep a slim waist!), and stand up to bullies? What does that mean for being a woman, I wonder? We’re supposed to work for free, diet ourselves to death, and cry to get our way? And what about asking men to help around the house? Is it asking a man to act like a woman to do the dishes? To talk to his children? To be a warm and welcoming host?

Inherent to the argument are that women are to be passive and preoccupied with beauty while men are to be aggressive and preoccupied with function. So what to do with the masculine beauty of my living room? Or the seven-page spreadsheet prepared by one of our female friends as evidence in a court case? We have plenty of evidence around us to prove that the world is not gender-specific. Katherine Hepburn became a women’s fashion icon in men’s trousers. Jon Bon Jovi became a male heartthrob with long, flowing blonde hair.

Femininity is more than lipstick and giggling. Masculinity is more than red meat and grunting.  They are qualities from within the man or the woman themselves; they are instincts, ideas, and inclinations as well as a set of biological necessities. Outside the biologically obvious, we could argue all day about what exactly defines femininity and masculinity. Is it feminine to be collaborative and masculine to be hierarchical? Maybe. But more importantly, do both men and women have the ability to work collaboratively or function in a hierarchy? I think they do.

That’s not to say that some women (and men) don’t try to purposely defy their sex. But trying to transgress my own womanhood is different than trying to transgress its limits. It is a very different thing to say, “I want to be a man,” than to say, “I want to build race cars.” Can a woman build race cars as a woman? Is there something inherently unfeminine about machines?

For years I’ve relished men and women who defy gender roles in ways that do not compromise their sexuality. My hairdresser is a handsome, well-dressed, floppy-haired guy with a wife and two kids. He hunts and kayaks too. Katherine Hepburn in her famous men’s trousers is one of my heroes, but not nearly as much as Ruby Bridges, the African-American little girl who stood up to the bullies of segregated New Orleans to attend an all-white elementary school. That’s bravery. That’s politics and confrontation. What’s more, is that Ruby Bridges did it with grace and poise. She went into battle her way, and her example is all the more poignant because against the screaming crowds, in front of the dominating stone building stands a little girl, in a little school dress with all the power to inspire generations. Ruby Bridges redefines power by contrasting the big bold action with the humble, delicate actor.

In the words of Charles Wright, “It’s not how you look when you’re doin’ what you’re doin’. It’s what you’re doin’ when you’re doin’ what you look like you’re doin’.”

There are lots of examples from the world of politics, arts, and culture of individual men and women refusing to acknowledge the false boundaries of what their gender “can” and “cannot” do. But perhaps the main way I see this difference played out is in the workplace. While we are getting past the stigma that once made made high-earning women undateable (, we have a long way to go in considering that being not just a woman or a man in the workplace, but a person is a battle for one’s identity. I think feminism goes off the rails when it touts that getting into the workplace will solve a woman’s problems. Even that getting to the “head of the table” will solve her problems.  Even for the traditional “liberated” woman who has made peace with living in “a man’s world” and even succeeded beyond what our mothers thought possible another snare looms, threatening her worth. This is the same snare that men are beginning to question as well: does my financial contribution/compensation tell me what I’m worth?

For decades in the United States, women have faced the false dilemma of being a mother or a worker. Women have been made to feel that they are somehow deficient in one arena if they pursue the other with any seriousness. However, in other countries men and women are expected to play roles as mother and father as well as workers. When Save the Children recently put out it’s State of the World’s Mothers report (, the U.S. ranked embarrassingly low on the roster of places that made it possible to work as a mother. For a nation with the world’s largest economy to rank 25th on places where it is good to be a mother is a disparity worth noting. Have we drawn the dichotomy between mothers and workers because it’s what’s best for the kids? I don’t know. Is it best for the kids to have fathers who do not know how to interact with them because they are at work before the child wakes and home after they are asleep? I’m not making a statement about what’s best for kids. I’m just questioning who is getting to decide. It’s a hard sell to say that our commitment to family leads us to make the workplace difficult for mothers. I think it’s our commitment to Profit. And Profit is a King whose demands know no limits. We tend to treat the workplace like it is a predetermined set of standards, practices, and norms. Like we have no control over the market and what it demands of us.  We do what we have to do to make more money, and biology, family, and personhood will have to accommodate.

Feminism is still the “F-word” because it is an enemy to the bottom line. In 1969 when Carol Hanisch wrote, “The Personal is Political” (” CHwritings/PIP.html), I think the market let out a huge groan. They knew that this was going to muck up the works. After all, people are messy, and if they brought that mess with them to work then “work” was going to change. It was going to have to slow down and take some things into consideration. Humanity is bad for the bottom line…or at least we’ve been trained to think so. But in a changing world, people (men and women alike!) are starting to realize the high value of a balanced life, which is really part of the feminist argument.

When Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook addressed Harvard Business School before this years commencement, she said this,

“We need to start talking openly about the flexibility all of us need to have both a job and a life.  A couple of weeks ago in an interview I said that I leave the office at 5:30 p.m. to have dinner with my children.  I was shocked at the press coverage.  One of my friends said I couldn’t get more headlines if I had murdered someone with an ax.  This showed me this is an unresolved issue for all of us, men and women alike.  Otherwise, everyone would not write so much about it.” (

In other parts of the world, countries have made steps to encourage personhood in the workplace.  Paternity leave makes maternity leave look less like a luxury and more like a basic necessity. Women are encouraged to nurture and breastfeed their children, and workplaces make that possible. Because women are part of their workforce. Think about it: if an office building goes to all the trouble of putting urinals on the wall in one set of bathrooms, doesn’t it make sense that they would accommodate women’s biological needs as well. Working doesn’t mean that a woman is trying to be a man. She can work as a woman, if the culture will let her, rather than penalize her for it with lower wages and inflexibility to accommodate her biological role as a mammalian mother. Maybe the classic picture of the disengaged dad wouldn’t be so sadly common if paternity leave were more available and men assumed that their role in their children’s lives was as vital to their manliness as their paycheck.

The brittle social fabric of an overly gendered world has benefited no one. Talent has been wasted, children have been ignored, marriages have suffered. If we had a more supple fabric, one that could twist and stretch to accommodate the various changes in a human’s life –maturity, education, family– we might be better equipped to lead the world, not with force and coercion but with innovation, prosperity and equity.

So, who shapes the workplace? Who decides the length of a workday, the number of vacation days, the length of medical leave and company insurance plans? We have the ability to change these things, but it will not be without a fight.

Here’s a quote from another “go get ‘em” speech delivered at the Barnard College commencement ceremony by President Obama:

“Those who oppose change, those who benefit from an unjust status quo, have always bet on the public’s cynicism or the public’s complacency. Throughout American history, though, they have lost that bet, and I believe they will this time as well.  But ultimately, Class of 2012, that will depend on you. Don’t wait for the person next to you to be the first to speak up for what’s right. Because maybe, just maybe, they’re waiting on you.” (

Part Two

Part One

Comic Book Art

In Art, Life in Society on August 4, 2012 at 4:10 pm

By Heila Rogers

Wonder Woman was my favorite comic book hero growing up. She was my superhero of choice. I’d buy the newest Wonder Woman comic every week, when with our weekly allowance my sister and I would ride our bikes to the 7/11 store. She’d choose from a selection of more expensive candy on the top row, whereas I’d get a few single pieces from the bottom, because after 35¢ for the reading material, there wasn’t much money for candy left over. We were both happy. Sometimes on our way home, we’d settle in a circle of bushes on the adjacent college campus and spend a few minutes enjoying our purchases.

It was an easy spending choice for me, I looked forward to reading the new stories. Years later, I now wonder if it was a true choice. Wonder Woman was the only female superhero with her own adventures. Batwoman and Supergirl were around, but they didn’t appear very often and were very secondary characters.

I still enjoy and seek out different kinds of art and reading. At first glance, comic books seem to be an art-plus- reading match made in heaven. From what I understand, graphic novels are now popular at least partly for that same reason, which is the combination of art and story.

But then I researched modern comic books, after recently visiting a workshop given by a well-known comic book artist. Beforehand when checking out his work, I’d felt slapped in the face. My impression was certain drawings were sexist, women were undressed, artificially and pornographically drawn, and firmly objectified. His talent and technique were good, but I found a lot of the subject-matter appalling. When I investigated further into the current comic book world, I found even worse distortion and perversion. Wonder Woman back in 1976  definitely had elements of sexism, but the old costumes were almost like Little House on the Prairie outfits compared to now.

Woman on street of old town Quito

Photo by Roger Brown
Everyday Heroism
Quito, Ecuador

Please beware that the following examination of this subject will contain tacky and offensive content, because that’s the nature of the beast.

During subsequent online research I found this hilarious-but-important article by Luke McKinney in about the “Power Girl” character and her lack of a decent costume. I thought his perspective was especially provocative because a) he’s male and b) he’s not “a conservative:”

Charged with making a female Superman, Power Girl’s costume designer’s only thoughts were “breasts” and “done.” They’d already given Supergirl a miniskirt (and, as a consequence, the entire population of Metropolis got a panty shot). With Power Girl, they upped the ante and opened a tit-window. Most spandex heroes have a symbol on their chest summarizing their character, and so does Power Girl: an empty hole full of cleavage.

There is no counterargument. Fans and writers have tried to explain Power Girl’s breast-viewing port several times, and each theory is more ridiculously unsupported than the breasts they’re attempting to justify.

The most common (and ridiculous) explanation is, “I am strong and empowered and therefore love being naked and stared at.” You know, the same reason Superman flies around in a thong. One writer claims it’s to show that she’s healthy…

A cursory look at today’s comic books reveals females looking like they’ve all had boob jobs and males looking inflated on steroids. Yes superheroes are supposed to be supernaturally strong, but this is different, unnatural and over-the-top. Plus, they’re often dressed like on-duty strippers. This is heroism?

People don’t want reality though, one might say. That’s what fiction is for, escapism.

Except for the truth that the best ‘creative unreality’, the best fiction, the most enduring literature has a universal, real element to it.

The human factor is paramount.

Back to Wonder Woman’s 1970’s costume. She had the American flag-inspired swimsuit and the red boots. Also the golden wrist cuffs which were impervious to bullets and a defensive weapon, and the golden lasso. She had her invisible plane which she could summon from afar. Her tiara could be thrown like a combination boomerang / ninja star. The unbreakable lasso was also a kind of polygraph device. A handy tool to use with recalcitrant villains. And a great literary tool.

Notice that all the male superheroes have full bodysuits. Their skin is covered from neck to toe. In fact, their costumes are often imbued with special powers (or they have the ubiquitous cape – Wonder Woman did occasionally wear a cape, too – but mostly for “dress-up”). I imagine the extra fabric covering their arms and legs at least offers some protection from burns, weathe,r and other dangers they encounter while saving the world.

A bit of humor from the film: The Incredibles:No Capes!

Let’s look at something else. Not just how female superheroes are dressed, what their costumes look like, nor even their bodies — but how they are “arranged.” How they are drawn, in relation to other characters. In the case below, we’ll compare and contrast “posing” in new and old comic books.

Posing is a term this blog author discusses:

In contrast female superheroes are generally not posed like athletes or superheroes, but as pliant submissive porn stars and preening supermodels. With alarming regularity they don’t look like athletes, heroes, conquerors, or badasses, but as nothing more than soulless beautiful objects and sexual temptresses, and so that is the assumption readers can make as well. Women as objects. Women as sexual. Women certainly not as heroes.

A 1970’s copy of Wonder Woman that I came across since beginning this article (above) shows a green-suited villain crouched on a rooftop, clutching a small blond girl wearing a bright pink dress. The child dangles wide-eyed over the street below. At the bad-guy’s feet is an open briefcase, full of obviously stolen, glowing jewelry. The dastardliness of it!! Wonder Women has apparently just arrived. She leaps onto the roof brandishing her shining golden lasso in a loop above her head, cowgirl-style, her other arm raised, fist-clenched.

“STAY BACK, WONDER WOMAN… OR THE KID DIES!” says the bubble above “The Bouncer’s” head.

Contrast this type of art, with the consistent and … boring … sexualization of female comic book characters I came across in 2012.

 On the left: Wonder Woman’s obviously flown up there for a rescue reason and is doing something brave and strong. Tension is heavy in the time-is-running-out scene. She’s a woman in a swimsuit, but she’s got a job to do and she’s doing it. Versus on the right: Uh … there’s a plane far below in this picture, so we know she’s … posing … in the sky now. The body looks unnatural, a floating object.

On the left, “It’s my job to Bring You In!” versus on the right, Nothing? Could the caption be, “My mammary glands are what’s most important about me,” and, “I’m frowning?” No story implied on the right at all.

Linda Carter from the Wonder Woman TV show (1974 – 1979) on the left. This shot seems to say, “I stand for truth and justice. I am strong and capable, don’t mess with me.” Also design-wise, her costume has value – the eagle on the bodice, the star-patterned fabric. The second picture seems to say, “I am … breasts?” Or maybe, “I am … about to start a high-kick routine?” Not even that. I can’t even see her moving at all, or doing anything but … posing.

Might I suggest that artists and others in the industry help themselves break out of a single, repetitive mold of falsely drawn and conceptualized female characters? There are no two women (or men!) the same and they are ALL beautiful. Base some interesting and exciting characters on that. Who would argue that people you meet who are chock-full of love for others and enjoyment of life are not brimming with beauty, and powerful in a good way? We’ve all experienced this, and are attracted to it. I’d like to suggest that reinforcement of false ways of looking at people limits the good experiences that can be had in life. It also makes for a warped society and dull, offensive comic book art.

How did we get this way? How did it get to this point?

Let’s have some real heroes and more exciting stories and drawings.

Irena Sendler

Click here to read about Irena Sendler (above at age 95 in Warsaw) and a group of young Polish women who saved the lives of thousands of Jewish children during World War II.


Photo Sources:


Wonder Woman

Part Two: Is Feminism Still the F-Word?

In Life in Society on April 10, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Answer: Yes, because systems of oppression still exist.

By Bekah McNeel

Here’s an underdog for you: An androgynous victim-turned-vigilante whose ideas of retribution are merciless and often gory. Lisbeth Salander is the anti-heroine of the book Men Who Hate Women, also titled The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. We cheer for her because we know how wounded she is, and the book makes little mystery of her oddity being the manifestation of the psychological effects of violence.

It’s tempting to see this violence as a modern perversion brought on by media violence, the sexual revolution, and video games. It’s tempting to hearken back to a sweeter time when a woman could go for a walk at night without fear, back before people were evil. But the heart of oppression is more native to our species. It’s more basic.

When asked about motive behind domestic abuse, men’s answers included anger, fear, insecurity, frustration, and other emotions triggered by desires for power, sex, or control.

(CNN Living, “Men Tell Oprah Why they Beat the Women they Love”,, accessed 3/30/12)

Abuse happens in cycles and abuse happens collectively. It happens to random strangers and to cherished spouses. There is no one answer as to what makes men want to beat or oppress women as a people group or as individuals.

Here is a concise list of disturbing facts lifted from the Oxfam Canada website:

16 Facts about Gender-Based Violence

1.     Around the world, as many as 1 in every 3 women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in some other way – most often by someone she knows, including by her husband or another male family member.

2.     Women are more susceptible to violence during times of emergencies or crisis due to increased insecurity.

3.     1 in 5 women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.

4.     About 1 in 4 women are abused during pregnancy, which puts both mother and child at risk.

5.     Laws that promote gender equality are often not applied.

6.     At least 130 million women have been forced to undergo female genital mutilation/cutting.

7.     ‘Honour’ Killings take the lives of 1000s of young women every year, mainly in Western Asia, North Africa and parts of South Asia.

8.     At least 60 million girls who would otherwise be expected to be alive are ‘missing’ from various populations as a result of sex-selective abortions or neglect.

9.     Over half a million women continue to die each year from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes.

10.  Rates of HIV infection among women are rapidly increasing.

11.  More often than not, perpetrators of gender-based violence go unpunished.

12.  Worldwide, women are twice as likely as men to be illiterate, limiting their ability to demand their rights and protection.

13.  Early marriage can have serious harmful consequences including, denial of education, health problems, and premature pregnancies, which cause higher rates of maternal and infant mortality. The power imbalance also means that young brides are unable to negotiate condom use or protest when their husbands engage in extra-marital sexual relations.

14.  Violence against women represents a drain on the economically productive workforce.

15.  Each year, an estimated 800,000 people are trafficked across borders 80 percent of them women and girls. Most of them end up trapped in the commercial sex trade.

16.  Gender-based violence also serves by intention or effect to perpetuate male power and control. It is sustained by a culture of silence and denial of the seriousness of the health consequences of abuse.

(, accessed on 03/30/12)

For further exploration of these and other statistics, readers may visit the below sites:

International Justice Mission

United Nations Women’s Development Fund

National Organization for Women

Photo by Kent Bartlett

Feminism is still “the F-word” in systems where it threatens a broken status quo. No one would say that a woman fighting for equal pay is in the same straits as a young girl trapped in the sex trade, but there is some solidarity there. Any system, even a family system, that says that women are inherently less valuable, capable or dignified than men is a system that makes way for abuse. Any system that sees education, health care, and legal rights as strictly belonging to men is a system that fosters oppression. A woman’s health and welfare in this world should not be dependent on the good will of the men around her.

I’m not saying men are evil. I’m not saying women are virtuous. We are all human and prone to abuse each other in large or small ways. Which is why we have to plan for the failure of our own virtue. We have to plan boundaries, structures, and accountability to keep us safe from each other. We cannot assume that we are incorruptible. This is not a new idea. This is why the United States has a Constitution. It’s not perfect, and it’s malleable. Some of the changes to it have come from surges of conscience that propelled us forward and made us better. Like the 14th and 19th amendments, which recognized that unless these people were citizens, they would be vulnerable and unprotected.

Around the world, women are without rights. I’m not talking about the choice to wear a hijab, or stay home to raise children. I am talking about the women who do not have that choice. Women for whom what they wear, say, and do is all limited and mandated by a system designed to control them. Not in the way that we all have to obey laws. Not in the way that we all have to submit to systems for the good of the whole. There are systems that deny women basic human agency. (For that matter, there are systems that deny whole people groups basic human agency … another essay for another day.)

If there are mandates that apply only to women, then that begs an explanation which may contain the DNA of oppression. If the explanation is that women are less capable, valuable or dignified, then a door is open to the stripping of their rights. The dehumanization process can begin with a simple statement about what women are “better suited” to do. So we must be very careful with our choices and how we explain them. We who have choices owe that much to the women who do not.

There are systems that need more than redefining and explaining. In another lesser-known novel, A Walk Across the Sun, by Corban Addison, economic systems built around supply and demand keep sex trade the booming industry that it is. Furthermore it brings women into a world of violence, where they then play an integral role in continuing their own oppression and the oppression of others, whether as brothel madams or teenage “mean girls” critiquing each other’s body shape and hair style.

This can happen on small scales too: women who are abused become abusers. The men who are abusing them were often abused themselves. Inside a system of oppression, there is rarely a simple dichotomy between perpetrator and victim. Inside the system of oppression, whether it is economic, social, or domestic, almost everyone needs rescue on some level.

The rescue begins by acknowledging that the brokenness is real and that it is closer than we realize. There are enemies to violence and oppression: justice, empowerment, and a place to heal. In so far as feminism is promoting these things for women who are denied them, it will always be “the f-word” to systems of oppression.