President Obama got in some hot water for a compliment he paid California Attorney General Kamala Harris. He said:
You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake. She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country — Kamala Harris is here. (Applause.) It’s true. Come on. (Laughter.) And she is a great friend and has just been a great supporter for many, many years. [via The Los Angeles Times]
A remark like that is never going to go over well. It was just one sentence but we could talk for days about it!
I know that I am an odd bird in that I often see the silver lining in things that other people think are really bad – like taking the Lord’s name in vain. I like that people do it. It means that the name of God still carries some gravity. No one is cursing Thor when they smash their thumb with a hammer. No one is blaspheming Zeus when they get cut off in traffic. Anyway …
I was happy to see the outrage and level of outcry over the President’s remarks. I love when stuff like this happens outside the walls of the church and I think to myself “Ok, it’s not just us that are sensitive, reactive and protest-ant. Good, I was starting to worry”.
You have to forgive me. I come from a very muscular – testosterone – ‘Wild at Heart’ brand of Christianity. In the last decade I have migrated to a progressive – critical theory – ‘She Who Is’ brand of faith.
The thing that has been most difficult for me is to figure out what to do with the body.
As a contextual theologian and an Ancient-Future practitioner, I am deeply concerned with issues of incarnation and embodiment of the gospel. Our faith can not be merely intellectual, super-natural or institutional. Our faith must embodied, or in-bodied and lived-out.
I have figured out, through 6 years of blogging, how to talk with conservative, evangelical, and charismatic Christians about almost everything related to faith and practice in ways that they can hear. The issues of sexuality remain the most illusive.
The problem seems to relate to a giant pot-hole in the road to understanding that is so treacherous it almost doesn’t leave enough room to move without careening into the pit of ‘natural design’.
What complicates matter all the more is that there is a serious ditch on the other side of the road – one that was dug by Augustine’s legacy (I hate Augustine’s influence on church history) regarding the badness of the body, a specifically sexuality.
Here then is the issue: If I am talking about somebody and I’m listing all of that they bring to the table in areas of smarts, relationship, experience, and capacity … am I to act like they don’t have a flesh container? It asks me to act like they have no body.
Yes. That is what we want you to do. Jonathan Chait at New York explains:
For those who don’t see the problem here, the degree to which women are judged by their appearance remains an important hurdle to gender equality in the workforce. Women have a hard time being judged purely on their merits. Discussing their appearance in the context of evaluating their job performance makes it worse. It’s not a compliment. And for a president who has become a cultural model for many of his supporters in so many other ways, the example he’s setting here is disgraceful. [New York]
Even while I write this I can hear my more conservative Christian brothers saying “That is ridiculous! This is the sissy-fication of our culture.” To which I can only reply,”Yes. It is the leveling of a historically unequal playing field.”
I get why culturally, we don’t want the President even acknowledging her flesh container at all. We don’t want pastors commenting on congregant’s looks. I get it.
But as thinking christians, is anyone else worried about the implications for this kind of willful charade? Do we think that President Obama doesn’t see her? Are we under the impression that he doesn’t notice her beauty? Do we think that she, in her private moments, doesn’t want to be found attractive? Do we think that she doesn’t invest time and energy in her looks?
“It doesn’t matter! Just don’t say it. Not ever ever ever.” And I get that. What I am asking about is the ramifications for the embodied practices of the life of faith. What we have learned from church history (and reality TV)- from fundamentalist pastor’s daughters to celibate priests – is that repression of desires in one place (public) is bound to cause pressure which bubbles up some place else (private).
We have to break the ‘old boys network’ mentality. I get that. I am worried about the secondary effect of perpetuating a deadly dualism between body and mind/soul.
I clearly need help thinking this through. Anyone want to chime in on this?