Category Archives: Personal

Protesting too much: Christian leaders on “alleged” abuse

You would think that in the wake of the ABC’s damning report on domestic abuse among evangelical Christians, leaders of evangelical churches would take a moment to ensure they understand domestic abuse, consider the ways it might be hiding out in their congregations, and take proactive steps to help possible victims feel safe within their communities.

Instead, we’re seeing responses like this from a Newcastle evangelical church (published on the cover of its weekly newsletter on Sunday):

Response to ABC abuse claims

Despite the opening sentence, it’s actually one of the better responses–it acknowledges that Christian husbands are sometimes abusive, and that Christian wives sometimes accept it because they believe they should–but it’s also defiant, insensitive, and hypocritical.

It makes no sense to open with refusal to believe clearly presented evidence of abuse (“alleged link”, “ridiculously false”, etc.), while simultaneously promising victims that “we will listen to you” and “take what you say seriously”.

The ABC report was thoroughly researched and its accuracy remains unimpeached, despite spurious claims by Andrew Bolt and The Australian (see the ABC’s response to those). The reporter, Julia Baird, is an accomplished journalist who also happens to be a pro-church Christian, so claims of an anti-Christian agenda are equally nonsensical. And it’s demonstrably true that Christian abusers use the Bible to manipulate and control their partners, so arguing about whether or not this requires incorrect theology isn’t useful.

Stating, without evidence, that Baird’s report was “ridiculously false” creates immediate hostility towards readers who are abuse victims, deepens their sense of isolation and insignificance, and destroys trust in the church’s leadership. It offers the polar opposite of loving concern for victims of domestic abuse, who almost certainly exist in this and many other churches.

The flippant tone of subsequent acknowledgements of Christian abuse amplifies this error (e.g. “this is plain wrong!”). Domestic abuse has devastating impacts and failing to respond to it with proper seriousness demeans victims rather than supporting them.

The opportunity to properly describe the nature of domestic abuse is also missed. Victims frequently assume abusive behaviours from their partners are their own fault, i.e. not abuse at all, so this is unforgivable. Non-violent abuse (whether sexual, financial, emotional or spiritual) is widely regarded as equally if not more harmful than physical violence, but is consistently downplayed by victims and observers. This church’s superficial reference to “emotional and physical abuse” does little to help women who already doubt that they deserve better than what they’re getting from their husbands–a simple list of abuse types would have made a significant difference.

I won’t comment on “headship” as a “stewardship role”. The merit or otherwise of complementarian theology is a topic for another day, but including this sentence when talking about domestic abuse beggars belief: “So by my reckoning the closest person to experiencing abuse in marriage should be the man!” The writer’s point, I think, is that if Christian marriages were to match the metaphor of Jesus marrying the church, the man would be the one crucified (abused), if anyone is. It’s a worthless hypothetical expressed so poorly that it appears to be a flippant reference to male suffering–as if that belongs in a discussion that rightly emphasises the suffering of women in abusive Christian marriages.

The pastor goes on to suggest that although abuse doesn’t belong in Christian marriages, it’s not actually a reason for divorce, officially, but maybe it might be ok, except the Bible says no. In the final paragraph, he adds, “We will not give up on either of you or your marriage”. Or, to paraphrase, “Bringing your abuser into the conversation in an attempt to save your marriage will be more important to us than your welfare.”

Victims are assured that “we will do all in our power to see that you are safe”, but everything else about this response indicates they will do the opposite. They will quickly include the abuser in the conversation (risking repercussions for the victim). They will be unlikely to believe the victim (since abusers are expert liars, distressed victims rarely present as reliable witnesses, and according to this pastor, not even investigative journalists with relevant studies, hours of interviews, and an independent news organisation behind them are capable of providing credible testimony regarding abuse). And they will prioritise keeping the victim and the abuser married (because apparently the sanctity of marriage isn’t compromised by abuse).

But it’s ok, because “we will uphold the laws of our country where domestic violence is a criminal offence”.

Women deserve better than this. We must insist on it.

Adult chickenpox isn’t worth it

Greetings from Day 8 of my chickenpoxalypse.

At first I thought it was just man flu (stomach cramps, thumping headaches, fever, whole body aches), but on Day 3 the spots started coming, and on Day 4 my GP confirmed I had varicella, which is the proper name for that disease you associate most vividly with spotty, contagious children: chickenpox.

Treatment: rest + over-the-counter painkillers & antihistamines + soap-free cleansing products.

The fever and aches continued while the spots multiplied. I’ve been lucky; I haven’t had to deal with much full-body itching, but my scalp felt like it was on fire for several days. It got worse when I tried to put my head against a pillow (HELLO INSOMNIA). Now, on Day 8, I can finally declare that no new spots have appeared for 24 hours, that the other symptoms have mostly cleared, and that I’m mere days away from being Not Contagious.

Then I’ll just have to wait for the spots to clear enough to look a little less repulsive.

I do not relate this for sympathy or the joy of storytelling, but to suggest you:

  1. Find out if you had chickenpox as a child;
  2. Find out if you’ve been vaccinated for chickenpox (in Australia this was scheduled for kids in 2005);
  3. If neither are true, GET YOURSELF VACCINATED FOR CHICKENPOX.

I’m looking at 10 days minimum of lost productivity (not just mine) and a LOT of unnecessary pain (not just mine). If I’d been pro-active about getting appropriate vaccinations for myself as an adult, it could all have been avoided.

As a passionate advocate for vaccinating children on the recommended schedule, this has been an embarrassing moment for me.

Don’t be like Luke. Vaccinate yourself! (Or, you know, consult with your GP and get them to do it.)

What am I up to?

My blog has been quiet, and my social media updates have been sparse, but if extrapolating from limited information is in your wheelhouse, you might have guessed that my personal life has been, ah, somewhat complex since early 2016. I’ll have more to say about that in future posts, maybe.

Work-wise, there has been plenty of upheaval too. I left a toxic job as a school IT manager at the end of 2015, and spent 2016 writing code in a workplace that proved to be equally toxic. I resigned in December without another job lined up, just to prioritise my mental health. It was so liberating to tender my resignation that I decided to return to freelance photography and consulting, rather than pursuing another full-time gig.

At first, I was planning to simply revive my photography brands (“one fine day photography” and “LUKE ARMS photographer”), and do some ad-hoc web development / digital consulting on the side. But as I went through the process of getting this underway, it became clear that life would be much simpler if I established one brand for all of my work (including writing, which I’m now studying at Griffith University by way of an online Bachelor of Communication).

I settled on LINA Creative, and have prioritised commercial headshots as the centrepiece of this new brand. I’ll continue to offer wedding and family photography, but won’t be marketing this actively–my aim is to achieve a steady stream of Newcastle and Sydney headshot bookings. Meanwhile, I’ll be studying and keeping my eye open for suitable casual or part-time work to fill up my weeks. I might even find time to write some of the posts / articles that are sitting in my head.

Onwards!

To my former self: be more sure

Hello, 20-year-old me. You’re probably not going to listen to this, but I’m going to say it anyway. You need to hear it.

In some ways, you’re mature for your age. You’ve craved adulthood, with all of its benefits and obligations, for as long as you can remember. You’re not married yet (lucky break last year, dude), but that sort of commitment doesn’t scare you. (You’re also 100% certain that honourable sex only exists within marriage, but I’m not sure why I’m mentioning this, because it’s definitely not relevant.)

You can’t see it yet, but you’re not just an evangelical Christian who feels confident in his faith and values. You’ll hate me saying this–you think you’re pretty edgy, with that earring and all–but you’re also a willing and able participant in the patriarchal systems of family, church and state you were born into.

Your faith? It might be real, but it’s been almost exclusively shaped by individuals and groups you’ve chosen for reasons of comfort and convenience. God hasn’t had much to do with it. Don’t worry, though–you’ll be thankful for that when most of your Christian friends abandon you. Good thing God isn’t in the abandonment business, amirite?

And your values? They are yet to be properly confronted with the realities of life beyond your comfort and privilege. Soon, as your eyes are opened, you’ll find yourself loving and respecting people who used to offend and disgust you, and it won’t be a distant, self-righteous “love the sinner, hate the sin” thing anymore. Your new values will come between you and the patriarchy, and you’ll eventually realise there’s no point hanging around trying to convince people to behave more like Jesus.

I know you’re not convinced, but here’s the thing: you’re going to change in the ways I’ve described, for reasons you can’t even begin to imagine yet, and it’s awful to change like that when you’re in a marriage that depends on you continuing to be who you were.

Add kids into the equation, and it will be even more difficult. Because even if you marry the wrong person, any children you have together won’t be a mistake. They’ll deserve the best their parents can give them, and doing that separately is a lot messier and more complicated than doing it together.

So, are you sure? Are you sure your values aren’t going to change so much you barely recognise yourself? Are you sure the bond between you and the partner you’re considering could survive that much change? And if you’re not, are you sure you can live with hurting her in ways she doesn’t deserve?

There aren’t many certainties in life, but take it from 33-year-old you: you can be more sure than you are right now. And if you don’t take the time to figure out who you really are–if you start a family now, while your worldview is so narrow and ill-informed (sorry, but it is)–you will burden many others with pain and regret that shouldn’t be forced upon them.

Please, be more sure. I’m begging you.

PS: To the handful of Christian friends who haven’t abandoned me: thank you. To the others, whether you’ve responded with judgemental silence or vicious vitriol: thank you for validating my concerns. The pain is already worth it.

Losing my religion (part 1)

I’ve been reliably informed that “losing my religion” means something else entirely, but it should be taken literally here. And if I lose my mind along the way, consider it a tribute to R.E.M.’s intended meaning.

Also: tribes are great. I don’t have anything against tribes. I’m just looking for a new one is all.

Last month, I came to the realisation that after 3 decades of committed involvement in Christian churches–my entire adult life and most of my childhood–it was time to leave the tribe.

Over the years, I’ve preached, been on music teams, done beach missions, led youth groups, attended conferences, and done heaps of other Jesus-related stuff, so this is no small thing. Reaching the point where I no longer consider myself a Christian represents a pretty major transition. (An “epic fall from grace,” you might say, if you’re a Christian.)

I’m not writing about my “unconversion” with a particular agenda. Many others have shared similar stories, and I’m not delusional enough to believe I have an Edgy New Angle on quitting the church that definitely deserves to go viral. I’m simply trying to straighten out my thoughts. I’d also like to avoid explaining myself hundreds of times.

So, what does it mean to “leave the tribe”? Some of my Christian friends have tried to comfort themselves with the notion that this is only about taxonomy–that I’ll be calling myself something different but carrying on as I always have. I’m sorry to disappoint, but I’m not going to be rebranding myself as a “Jesus-follower” and living up to anyone’s expectations of such a person.

What I believe (or don’t) about spiritual things will be between me and a handful of others. Although I currently consider this to be more “identity crisis” than “crisis of faith,” I won’t be keeping you posted on how I’m tracking in the faith department. This is partly because I expect my spirituality to be a moving target (the more I learn, the less certain I am), and partly because I can’t see a good reason for you to know.

I’ll simply be another person trying to live a compassionate, wholesome, and balanced life. Please don’t assume that I’m an atheist, an off-brand Christian, or something in-between–I have no interest in the expectations or baggage of any religious (or irreligious) monicker.

I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to continue many friendships with people of faith, but I realise that some friendships won’t be the same anymore, and others won’t survive this change at all. There will no doubt be moments of grief as the reality of this hits home, but I’m sure the pain will pass.

Becoming progressive

Over the last 10 years, I’ve slowly but surely transitioned from “conservative straight white Christian male” to “progressive pro-diversity anti-patriarchy straight white Christian male.”

At first it was only my politics that changed, but my faith was gradually overhauled too. Although my theology remained conservative (mostly), I became less dogmatic and accepted the legitimacy of alternative views in many areas.

There were several critical moments at which I consciously chose to remain among conservative Christians. I believed it was important to challenge the idea that conservative morality could only be expressed through conservative politics, so I resigned myself to bringing that challenge from within. It was uncomfortable and multiple friendships evaporated, but I pressed on anyway.

Late last year, I become increasingly discouraged with the collective resistance of my fellow Christians to critical thinking, genuine compassion, and real-world action.

I was constantly locking horns with Christians, mostly online but also offline. The battle for Just A Little Bit Of Progress was unrelenting and mostly unrewarded (despite quiet encouragement from a few like-minded friends). My patience was waning, my ability to engage respectfully with bigots was slipping, and my mental health was suffering.

At first I thought it might just be my local church, so I disconnected for a few months and sporadically tried a few others. None of them felt right, all of them would have struggled to have an open conversation about issues that I consider important, and honestly, the weeks I stayed home were more beneficial.

Eventually, I accepted the reality of the situation: I just don’t belong in the Christian tribe anymore. That’s not to say there aren’t Christian individuals with whom I share common views / hopes / dreams. But, ironically perhaps, I’ve lost confidence in institutional Christianity as a vehicle for outcomes that align with the words of Jesus.

You might be wondering if I’m still “following Jesus”. My answer is no, because it’s a phrase that comes with baggage. All I can confirm is that my “Christian worldview” hasn’t been discarded. (But it’s under ongoing review.)

To my Christian friends: I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not sorry to have made this change. I already feel more authentic, more healthy, and more useful.

Welcome to Luke 2.0. The old has gone, the new has come.

Confessions of a sexist feminist

I have zero qualifications to write about feminism.

I’m a privileged white male, comfortably inhabiting a man’s world. I enjoy the benefits of winning the chromosome lottery 32-ish years ago, and I’m often blind to the ease with which opportunity, recognition, and remuneration fall into my lap, just because I’m a man.

I’m not being sarcastic. There are no mind games here.

I accept that simply having a penis makes my life easier in ways I might never understand. I accept that the challenges I face as a man don’t compare with the daily realities of women in pretty much every society on earth.

So why am I writing my first piece on feminism?

It would certainly be easier to remain on the sidelines, cheering feminist women on, rather than adopting their cause as my own. Women feminists, after all, know exactly what they’re fighting for. I’ve never experienced the reality of casual sexism or blatant misogyny. What could I say or do that would actually help? Won’t I somehow be guilty of mansplaining if I try to speak up?

It’s worth noting that as an amateur feminist (and a male human), the sexism in me is not yet dead. Patriarchal patterns of thinking and behaviour I’ve inherited or absorbed have not yet been eliminated. My eyes have not yet been opened to every form of sexism as it exists around me, and I will never understand it as well as women do, because I’ll never be able to experience it as they do. So it’s almost inevitable that I’ll be complicit in sexism without realising. Even this post might contain accidental sexism.

But as I acknowledge my imperfect feminism, thanking several women for opening my eyes more and more every day (you know who you are), I’d suggest that I’m not alone.

Are you a quiet male feminist too? Are you hesitant to be “out and proud” because professional feminists might point out the flaws and inconsistencies in your feminism? Are you afraid that your words might be too feeble, or that they might be misunderstood and used against you?

I ask because I’m no longer convinced that these are good enough excuses for merely shaking our heads while SO MANY women around us are underpaid, undervalued, abused, harassed, assaulted and killed–usually by men. Do we really think it’s okay to abandon women in their fight for basic rights and survival, just to minimise our risk of hurt feelings?

Men, it’s our duty to be active feminists. Not because women are dependent on us–far from it–but because our sexism is responsible for making feminism necessary in the first place.

Uncomfortable as it may be, we need to take a back seat. We need to educate ourselves about the ways we’re limiting, demeaning, and damaging women. We need to listen when they tell us how to clean up our act. And we need to actively call out men who fail to grasp the value and importance of women.

Here’s my personal “Male Feminist Charter”. Will you join me in committing to this?

  • I will respect women and fight for them to be seen by other men as equals in every way, especially when no women are watching.
  • I will value the opinions and contributions of women. I will see women as assets in every workplace, community, and family. I will do everything in my power to open doors that are currently closed to women.
  • I will listen and learn and change when women point out sexism in my words and actions.

On failure. And starting.

When you’re as prone to failure as I am, it’s easier to stop trying than to press on.

It might not look like you’ve given up – with practice one can appear remarkably confident, busy and purposeful while avoiding a meaningful existence – but in truth, the pressure to be creative, decisive and generally winning can be utterly immobilising when your lack of prior success is staring back at you from every direction. Soon, your lack of purpose creates even more failure, which adds its voice to the failure that went before, insisting that your good intentions and well-made plans will amount to nothing.

I don’t share this for sympathy or encouragement. I wouldn’t be writing it at all if remembering my successes were enough to shake the sense that my career trajectory plateaued shortly after high school; that I’m a disappointing husband and father; that I’ve failed to complete more projects than I can count [including some I’ve attempted on this blog].

Are my standards for “success” too high? Yes.

Does it all stem from my weird childhood? A lot of it does, yep.

Are there successes I can be happy about? Sure.

Do I follow enough blogs about productivity and being a winner? Hell yes.

Am I taking enough happy pills? My GP thinks so.

But still, in too many moments, week after week, month after month, I struggle just to start – even on the smallest of jobs and ideas – if my Ghosts of Failures Past lurk nearby.

I’ve put together a few words for the aforementioned ghosts. I’m planning to repeat them all year [language warning for my mum]:

Hello, Failure Ghost. I know why you’re here, but it’s 2016, so now would be a great time for you to kindly FUCK RIGHT OFF.

Here’s to a year of starting.

Thank goodness it’s only February.

Jessica Jones

Krysten Ritter has come a long way since playing Rory’s weird college friend in Gilmore Girls (not that I’m admitting to watching every episode of Gilmore Girls, or even knowing who Rory is).

Michelle and I are 3 episodes away from the finale of Jessica Jones (thank you Netflix), and to say its considerable powers have drawn us into the Marvel universe against our will would be an understatement. Or an overstatement, depending on how you look at it (and your proximity to Killgrave).

Superheroes and science fiction have always been a hard sell in this household (e.g. I’m 32 and have only recently started watching Star Wars), but Jessica Jones has won us over. Jessica herself is a mess (she can’t even think of a decent superhero name for herself, much less stop drinking), but she also totally kicks ass, genuinely cares about the people she helps (or can’t help), and is ruthlessly independent. She’s everything a semi-plausible superhero should be, and the feminist in me loves that her gender is never a limitation.

Of course the backstory to her messy life is, ah, complicated, mostly because of the nefarious Killgrave, apparently. Through him, the writers experiment relentlessly with just how deadly a world inhabited by mind-controlling psychopaths could be. David Tennant’s alternately charming, hilarious, diabolical, and maniacal character is infuriatingly irresistible, even without the mind control (which thankfully doesn’t work through soundproofing or television screens).

Two Australian actors star, too, so that’s a bonus. If you’ve seen Red Dog or All Saints, you might even recognise them. STRAYA.

I’ll spare you any further spoilers, but if you’re in the market for a TV show that’s smart, fast, unpredictable, intense, beautifully filmed, mildly disturbing (don’t worry, there are just enough likeable characters), and generally brilliant, get on it. Fair warning, though: there are a few very gory bits and some heavy sexual themes (but not many visuals).

Next stop: the rest of the Marvel empire universe.

This is the 7th post in my November/December writing challenge series.

The November that was

November didn’t quite go to my original plan.

First there was a brief but debilitating bout with tonsillitis. Then there was the realisation that I could no longer carry on working at this place, no matter what, which meant resigning without another job to go to. (That was an 80% over-the-moon, 20% shitting-my-pants moment. More on that another day, probably.) Finally, I got busy applying for jobs, and ultimately succeeded in landing a web developer position at this place (more on that later, too).

When it came to writing, my best intentions took a big hit, obviously. But my desire to write more hasn’t changed, and you’ll see it here first when time permits. Hopefully I’ll even make it to 30 posts in my “November” writing challenge before the end of December.

I’m counting this as no. 5.

Update (8-Dec-15): I’ve received complaints about this post from anonymous co-workers at the workplace I’m leaving. I’ve removed the link to that workplace but won’t be removing the post. Offended? Don’t be a coward. Better yet, find something else to read on the Internet.

The Voices: even the genre is schizophrenic

This is the 4th post in my November writing challenge series. Yes, I’m a bit behind. I’m OK with that. Hope you are too.

Michelle has had the hots for Ryan Reynolds since Two Guys and a Girl, so when our Apple TV offered up The Voices as a “Top Movie”, the horror / psychological thriller / crime comedy become our Friday night entertainment.

It would be fair to describe it as Dexter meets Ted, which I say as a bigger fan of Dexter than of Ted.

We knew from the trailer that it was going to be bizarre, but we were still in disbelief when The Voices lurched from comedy to horror and back again. Given the main character (Jerry, played by Reynolds) is schizophrenic, and the movie carries us deeper and deeper into his alternate realities, this volatility makes sense, but it’s very confronting at times. Especially when there is blood. Lots of blood.

Most of the comedy is delivered through Jerry’s cat and dog, who provide the main “voices” through which he does battle with his delusional thoughts. Their good cop / bad cop routine moves briskly between hilarious, crude and dark, but as we get to know Jerry better, it’s increasingly tragic — these voices, after all, are torturing him and have made him (and several others) their victim.

I don’t know enough about schizophrenia to offer any comment on how realistic the portrayal of mental illness in The Voices might be, but I can say that Ryan Reynolds created deep sympathy for his character – while not diminishing or trivialising the horror he brought to those around him.

The ending of the movie is just weird.