Dear Edith Hamilton...Let's squash the beef

Edith Hamilton
Bryn Mawr College
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvannia

Re:  Squashing the Beef

Dear Edith:

I realize you're from the past, but I've got a beef to squash, and I hope you can help.  FYI, in 2019, "squashing the beef" means settling a score or resolving a conflict.  2019 is an interesting place.  You might like it; hair buns are back.  

First, congratulations on your book on Greek mythology.  Do you know that nearly every middle schooler in the world has read it?  Correction - been assigned to read it.  You get the royalties either way, so who cares, amiright?

Okay, brass tacks, Edie.  I realize you did not create mythology, even though to middle schoolers, the fact that you lived in the 1800s means you could have.  You simply compiled the stories.  But to me, Edith Hamilton means Greek myths, so I've turned to you for help.

Edith, I love trees.  In the last few years, I'll admit I've hugged and patted a few.  I've gone so far as to name my favorites.  Sometimes, I go to a little grove near my home, and talk to them, picturing them as strong wise women.  Given that, it may surprise you, as it did me, that I became irate yesterday when I came across the myth of Daphne and Apollo. 
I don't remember reading the story in school.  Probably you covered it, and probably I didn't do my homework that week.  But this is the way I understand it:  Apollo is being a jerk to Cupid.  Cupid shoots Apollo with an arrow, causing him to be obsessed with Daphne and pursue her relentlessly and sexually.  Daphne asks to be turned into a tree to escape Apollo.  Her father, a river god makes her a laurel tree. 

Let's break this down, Edith.  We aren't told much about Daphne.  We know the following:  She is a naiad, a virgin, and the daughter of a river god.  Were Daphne on Tinder, her interests would include hanging out by the water, and not having sex.  But let's be honest, Daphne wouldn't have been on Tinder.  I'm sure she has other interests, but the myth doesn't paint her a deep character portrait, so her main ones are bodies of water and abstinence.

Apollo on the other hand, mythology cannot say enough about.  He is fly, cool and powerful.  His resume is full, and would exceed the character limits of any dating site profile.  He is god of the sun, god of the arts, and head of the muses.  People were droning on about Apollo way before and long after his run in with Daphne. 

Lastly, we've got Cupid.  Cupid might be a puppet master of sorts, but anyway you look at it, he's basically an annoying third wheel on every date.  Maybe this is what Apollo was teasing him about, we don't know.  Regardless, it's easy to see why Cupid might want to take Apollo down a notch.  And this was even before an entire Harlem theatre would be named after Apollo, while Cupid's image would later devolve into a chubby diapered baby.

Whatever the reason, Cupid gets revenge on Apollo by siccing him on Daphne, the seemingly innocent bystander.  Apollo is a real go-getter, so I'm sure he was hard to evade.  In order to escape Apollo's constant harassment, Daphne finally just asks her dad, "Just turn me into a tree or something; this is exhaustifying!"  So, her dad says, "Poof!  You're a laurel.  Have not of the sexing."  Consequently, Apollo is foiled.  Yet, he doesn't lose his obsession completely, because he uses laurel for all of the head wreaths in the Olympic games.
The end.

At first, I thought, "Ooooo!  Woman becomes tree - lovely image!.  I might enjoy being a tree."  So, I couldn't figure why it made me so frustrated.  The way I've told the story, it seems obvious, but it took me awhile to get there.

Apollo wasn't really foiled at all.  He went on to do great things: the Olympics, inspire art, and do whatever a sun god does to the sun to keep it going.  Cupid got to stick it to the cool guy, and move on with his life of archery.  Daphne, on the other hand, got the shortest of the short sticks.  Not even a stick, a little nub of a splinter.

People may say, "Daphne escaped though."  Did she?  This girl, prior to this squabble between two guys, was minding her own business as the daughter of a river god.  River water moves, Edith.  All water moves a little.  She was a happy moving water girl until these two assholes started fighting.  Becoming a tree could be awesome, but maybe not for a water girl.  And certainly not if her choice wasn't a genuine choice. 

Sometimes what looks like a choice, isn't a true choice.  If you are forced into a corner, you don't get a real choice.  Having two options, isn't always having control.  If you are in control, you can choose to remain in a place where you don't have to make a choice at all.  But when someone bigger or with more power or with leverage makes you choose, that's not choosing.

This is my beef, Edith.  I saw many paintings and statues of Daphne as a lovely tree, with Apollo at her side, scratching up her trunk like a dog trees squirrels. There is nothing lovely about being pinned into a role just because someone outlasted your endurance.  One might even go so far as calling that being manipulated.  One might even call that coercion.
One might.
And one should.
Edith -- may I call you Edith?  Because I have been -- Edith, I don't know much about your life, Honey.  I'm sure 1867-1963 was rougher than 2019.  It couldn't have been a great time for women.  Your clothes look very uncomfortable.  But I wonder if you'd be surprised by how little some things have changed.  You'd be surprised how many young women, walking around with their floofy top knots, are blamed for things, held responsible for things, and criticized for choices when their "choices" weren't genuine options. 
So help me squash this beef, Hamilton.  Let's unroot Daphne.  Let's unearth those feet, let her run, and see what she chooses.  If she chooses to be that tree, she is welcome to replant.  If she chooses to go to the water, join the circus or work at Target, she can do that too.
But let it be a real choice.

Write that up, and I'll be glad to check for typos.



just write something, baby, to remind yourself you're here.
use those bony fingers while they still fly.
the bear looks on; he's waiting.
but look at his hands, and the slightest of smiles.
he won't require much.
no one writes,
until they do.

I never noticed 'til now, that Bear's paws hang
just like yours over the keyboard.
if you wait for the right words,
they gonna hang there forever.
start your clicking. before rigor mortis sets in.
and if you still feel frozen,
glance over at Hedgehog,

sticker on forehead and full of pencils.
That face so open and simple-
you can get away with writing almost anything and
she will be pleased.
it's not really about the words after all,
it's about your cheerleaders.

When God Gets Distorted: Warnings on Conservative Doctrine from a Girl Who Excelled at it. (Part 1)

I wasn't raised on conservative theology.  I didn't start sniffing around it until my 20s, and my first exposure to it was (I'm sorry Baptists) a bit too Baptisty for me.  I nibbled the hook, but it wasn't until I hit Calvinism and an ARP Presbyterian church that I was hooked.  Something about an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent god with his hands on every detail in the world and my life made sense to me.  Add to that, he not only controls, but PRE-destined every event, including my faith in him?  It sounded so logical to me.  Finally, something that closed every loophole.  At last a theology that answered every doubt with an unquestionable response.  Sign me up.

Many of you think that sounds ridiculous, cultish, and terrifying, but to me, it was the most rational argument.  The building blocks made sense to me.  I'd hear:

1)  "If you're going to believe there's a god, wouldn't you want it to be an all powerful god?  Otherwise, why bother believing?"
2)  "Wouldn't that god give you his words to live by to help you in life?  Of course, here's the Bible."
And finally,
3)  "If you're going to follow a god and a text, wouldn't you only do that if you believed they were both infallible?  Of course you would, you're too intellectual to follow something fallible."

And when I'd read or hear things that sounded crazy or inapplicable or wrong, the answer was, "Obviously God knows everything and we are only human.  How can we understand all of God's thoughts and teachings and will?  Trust they're true, and follow them now on earth.  You will grow to understand them, or you will understand in heaven."

Again, many people read the above and think, "Watch out, Leah Remini.  I see where this is going."
See how every question ends with an indisputable response, if you buy into the first tenets?  But if you are a person who likes logical answers, it is logical.  Take one young woman in law school in 1996, add a rational argument that comes with a textbook and you get a match made in heaven.
Or you get a recipe for confusion and pain.

There is good and bad to embracing a sovereign, hands-on god.  Or rather, I should say "being embraced by such a god."  Remember I mentioned predestination.  An omniscient and omnipotent god already knows who will follow him, so if you made it this far, he chose you and not vice versa.  And I'm not being snarky; that was a comfort to me most of the time.  If I hadn't created my own faith, I couldn't ditch it accidentally.  And anyone who has "been saved," has worried at times that they somehow "un-did" their salvation, or it "didn't take the first time."  Work with a middle school youth group sometime, and hear them voice this fear over and over:  out of the mouth of babes comes every adult's fear.

Once you believe you followed God because God made you, it is no leap to believe he ordered your circumstances and relationships as well.  Before you were saved you were dead in your sins.  A dead man can't do anything, but be dead.  God must breathe the breath of life into him/her.  This was my favorite quote by the way.  Not to brag, but I am really good at learning "right answers."  And if you know me, I'm super participatory, so I was the first one with my hand up in every bible study and small group.  Okay, we all know I didn't raise my hand, because I'm always too jacked up on caffeine and just blurt things out, so it was more like, "Adeadmancan'tdoanythingbutdieuntilGodbreatheslifeintohim.Goldstarplease."

Before people think I've lost my faith, or turned against everything I believed, I need to tell you something VERY VERY IMPORTANT TO ME TODAY:

Maybe I am wrong.
All of the conservative doctrine may be true.
There may be a hell.
God may control every single thing including my ability to even believe in a supernatural creator.
Maybe sexuality and genders matter a lot.
Maybe not making wedding cakes for sinners is the sword to fall on  (okay that was snarky).
But y'all...
I just don't care.
There's too much at stake.
And frankly, it all just seems...wrong.
And if something feeling wrong isn't a good enough answer, and it'll send me to hell in a hand basket, I

I mean, I care about you.  I pray for my people.  I see the world and I love it. I love it sooo much. I believe only a loving artist could have made it and us.
Someday, I may tell people again, "Consider the lilies.  See how they neither toil nor spin?"  But I will never again tell them to consider hell.  To be fair, I was never big on hell anyway, nor evangelizing.  I hate confrontation and conflict, so I like to believe I didn't do too much damage outside my family.

But y'all, I took my tiny children  to classes and preschool where they heard graphic descriptions about Jesus dying on a cross.  They heard about the whips, the nails.  They heard that his father did it to his son, because of them, so they wouldn't have to get that and much worse in hell.  They heard they were born enemies of god with no good in them until they were saved by Jesus, and Jesus had to go through horror and hell for them.

I have the most clever children.  They are teenagers now; they question things, and I'm glad, but they admit that they've spent plenty of time worrying about hell.  Unfortunately, they will in the future too.  I know, because I will.  I had the benefit of not even being taught the concept until I was 25.  They were exposed before their minds were fully formed.  I can't undo that for them.  And some of you are thinking, "It's scary, yes, but hell is real.  It's good they know."
Y'aaaaal.  No.
We don't even let them see inappropriate movies, hear about sex, or say mild curse words until they are older.  Yet, we pour that fear of hell right into them.  The love of god we think we pour into them along with it, in my opinion, is no compensation at that age.
At any age.

I feel like I've gotten off topic now.  There is coffee involved.

When my ex-husband met me, he said I was one of the most conservative people he'd ever met.  My father-in-law asked me once about free will.  He asked, "Does it really matter if you chose God or he chose you?"  I actually gasped.  "Of course it does!  It makes all the difference about what type of god you believe you're following!  Why would you follow one that didn't have that much power!"

Bless his heart.
Bless mine.  I was an earnest little thing.  I wanted to do things so so very right.  I wanted to please that god so much.  I never believed I was successful, but I don't think the god I was picturing was accurate anyway.

And that's my point.  I don't want to spend time anymore studying to find verses about hell and seeing if it's real.  I don't want to find verses to back up beliefs that homosexuality or transgender issues are wrong.  I don't want to study the bible to follow a god that I believe has all the power, and I have zero. 

For me, the more power I gave that misconstrued view of god, the less I felt capable of anything.  I felt completely de-selfed and powerless.  Maybe it isn't supposed to work that way.  I heard teaching that it truly is NOT intended to have that effect...
but it did.  It can.  And that's enough for me to ditch it.

Because a person who believes they have no power and no self, can get into a lot of trouble.  A lot of shit happens that does NOT have to happen.  Don't go looking for sanctification or creating messes and then say, "God works it all for good."  Because he might, does NOT mean you were right. 

So for now, I will err on the side of loving.  I will believe in a broad, wide non-detailed love.  I can live with the discomfort of not knowing answers for things.  And it is uncomfortable sometimes.  But too much is at stake, for me to grab onto answers for comfort.

My kids can believe what they want.  Their beliefs will grow and develop and change over time like all of ours.  They know they are free to question, and I believe in a creator who is totally comfortable with questions, belief, and even disbelief.  He's no wimp; don't get too worried about him.

If I'm honest, since I have stepped outside of the conservative doctrine, life has made so much more sense.  Had anyone told me that a few years ago, I would have sworn they were wrong.  And if you worry about me, pray for me.  I believe in prayer, and I believe in a Creator. 

I have a pretty hard time using the male pronoun Him for that creator though, so this whole essay has made my spleen ache a tiny bit.
I better go pour some more coffee on it.

snakes and stones

9"Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?

If she complimented her father's sweater,
he'd say, "Here!  Have it, don't be cold."
When her mother finally got that new car,
she told her, "I want you to drive it and enjoy it."
As they sat with sandwiches, if she walked through the room,
they'd say, "Sit, eat these, we will make another."

She grew up with only bread and fish
and sweaters and love.
So when she was older, she gave her own
sweaters and fish and bread willingly.
It was never a challenge to share.
It wasn't sacrifice to give.

It seemed like only good people bumped up
against her all her young life.
They always gave more than she needed
in hugs and understanding,
kindness and grace.
It often felt unfair to her that she
received good when so many others lacked.

It couldn't last, of course.

Maybe she was naive,
but she'd only received fish so long,
that she didn't even recognize the snake when it was handed to her.
To a person who would die before they'd
intentionally hurt someone,
a snake is just confusing at first.
When it bit, she assumed it was scared.
When it whispered lies,
she tried to decipher them and siphon off
the selfishness, attribute it to misunderstanding.

If she received malice, she adjusted her approach.
Perhaps she'd said something to cause the evil.
Perhaps she'd misinterpreted it.
Perhaps she was being sanctified, and
when she was less sinful, what looked like evil
would finally appear as a good gift from God as he had intended.

But that couldn't last either.

Sometimes you are handed a snake
and it is just a snake.
Not because god is angry with you or wants to shave off
your rough edges.
Some people will hand you bad,
force it on you,
fill your hands and pile it on your back
until you are carry the twisted heavy insides of their own mind and heart.

But you will learn what she did:  Discernment.
Sadness that discernment is crucial.
Disappointment that safety is so necessary in even the most intimate
Weariness that her glasses have come off and she sees less rose-color around her,
and more snakes than she realized.
But vigilance that her children will watch for them,
and not open their soft pure palms to them.

Because now she knows, and unknowing isn't an option.

Cody and the Giant Magnet

The dog isn't sleeping.
Yes, she's splayed on the den carpet, on her side, flat as a rug and not moving.  But she isn't sleeping.
The kid in the apartment downstairs is working the magnet again.  No one has figured out her dilemma, and she's given up at this point.

Cody, because of course the boy's name is Cody, usually roams the parking lot writing swears in dusty car windows, but often he's indoors in "time out."  And when he's in his room, it's a different story.

Roxy knew the moment after she ate the refrigerator magnet shaped like a hotdog that something was wrong.  Hotdog wieners were never hanging on the outside of the fridge.  The lady never put them there.  It seemed too good to be true, and it was.  Now Roxy was paying the price.

In his room, Cody loves to play with the giant magnet his uncle gave him.  He's discovererd that when he stands on his bed and runs it along the popcorn ceiling, he hears a strange corresponding sound-- like something heavy and soft being moved across the floor upstairs.  This makes him feel powerful and in control.  He drags the magnet slowly, practicing writing invisible swears.  Upstairs, a small heavy dog is dragged along the beige carpet in the shape of invisible swears, wondering what she's done to deserve this, and when the lady will be home to save her.

Of course Cody's attention span is short and fickle.  Inevitably he loses interest.  He runs back outside to wreak more havoc, but leaves the jumbo magnet hanging from the ceiling for hours at a time.  Upstairs, Roxy with the wiener magnet holding her snug to the floor above Cody's room, lies resigned, dreaming of real hotdogs and freedom.  Cursing gravity, which seems to attack her on her personal level.

Streaming: When you are leaving something wrong or starting something right

For the friends starting a new art, new job, new life role, or even life in a new country...
For those who are leaving wrong relationships or starting a new phase of an existing one...
For when you start a new school or degree and you're scared shitless...
On the days you've started a new diet or lifestyle, and you're pretty sure you'll have blown it by 10am because that annoying lady is forever bringing donuts to the work break room...
For when you look around you and think, "Something has got to change, or I will lose my freaking mind!"
So for all of us, starting out bravely and blindly and for when the first or thirtieth speed bump comes:

You're in a stream, and it's a good stream.
You did a good job choosing this stream, and you're headed forward.
You're walking up the stream, because that works better for my analogy, and because riding in a kayak is a sure way to flip upside down and bang your face on a rock.

When a rush of water and strong current come, don't go backwards.
I know you see that tree behind you.  It's where you held on for years.
It wasn't the worst tree, but it's no longer your tree.
It may look strong from here, but it's skinny and weak and worn out.  You knew that, that's why you started upstream in the first place.
You knew something better was up ahead.
Don't you want to see what it is?

I know you're worried you headed the wrong direction.  No one made you.  Maybe people even warned you against it, but you've started now.  You knew you needed it, and you were right.

If the current is too strong now, be still in this spot for today.  You don't have to make it all the way upstream in a week.  I didn't want to tell you this before you began, but it's a long ass stream.  If you're like me, you like to check things off.  You like a stream that ends each day nice and neat, with closure, a check mark and a gold star.  But listen, honey.  You had nice and neat back at that old tree.  Or you had something you no longer wanted.  Don't you want to see a new way?

Not everyday will be full of music and gold stars.
But listen, look around.  Where are you?  Look up.
Is it sunny?  Find something that's going well or at least not shitty,
Dig those toes into the muddy river bed a moment.
You're stronger now.  Kelly Clarkson said so.  You can handle this current passing through.

Maybe you brought your partner, spouse, kids, friends, coworkers, or pets with you.
Oof.  That's enough to weigh you down with guilt and question whether you should've come at all - much less drag others with you.
But listen, they can learn too.
Hold their hands tightly, teach them how to dig their feet into that ground.  Wait together and appreciate where you are a moment.  It's easier, or at least distracting, to learn and develop those digging in muscles together.  Being still isn't going backwards.  Even waiting out the wave takes growth and strength.

Quit looking back at the "safe" tree.  The fact you left it, shows you'd outgrown it.  It wouldn't hold you now anyway.  At some point, you will be ready to move again.  If there are others with you, sometimes one of them will be ahead, sometimes you will be.  Even the youngest or smallest will pull at times.  They're already growing; you've seen it and it's a gift.

what kind of god could you trust? a hodge podge of requests

He must be as kind as me on my best days, plus many times more.  If he isn't, who will take the reed from our hands, say "Enough, Honey, stop the penance," and tuck us into bed when all we need really is a nap?

He must be as strong and determined as my father to protect me from evil, and as feisty as my mother and sister to protect me from the occasional asshole.

He must be as able as the people I love best, to laugh at the weird and absurd, and to find animals highly amusing.

He must be half male, half female, half they, half trans, half hermaphrodite and half still-figuring-it-out.  (He must not be obsessed with mathematical accuracy and fractions).

If he - nay "they" was Creator, they must be all of us and more.  Otherwise, how can we believe they made us or understand us?

If I've spent hours imagining holding a twee tiny sparrow or a sassy round robin, they must have spent a week, and consider it time well spent.

If my blood boils and a dull headache begins when I think of injustice...when I think of how people or their bodies have been used by other people and other bodies, then I'd need god to want to throw down lightning and slam thundering fists together in rage at the thought.

I'd need them to look at a sleeping child's unfurrowed brow, and weep with remorse knowing ours were intended to look like this all day.  But I'd like god to weep also with hope, knowing we can learn this.

This seems so little to ask.
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