Rachel Marie Stone is a writer, editor, and speaker living near Philadelphia. Her first book, Eat With Joy: Redeeming God's Gift of Food won the 2014 Christianity Today Book Award for Christian living and was named one of the ten most intriguing books of the year by Religion News Service. She is also the author of The Unexpected Way, a book about Jesus for children, and contributes regularly to Books and Culture, Christianity Today, her.meneutics, The Englewood Review of Books, Washington Post's "Acts of Faith" blog, and other publications.
Posts By This Author
How to Make Space to Create, And Why It Matters
My children spend more time building with Lego than just about anything else. Almost always, what they make is surprising, unexpected, startlingly new.
I want to share some observations from when a totally different thing enters the picture: the Lego building challenges.
For days after they read about a new “challenge” (build a dream home, build some kind of robot, etc.) they’ll work and re-work a project and pester us to photograph them and worry about whether or not they’ll win. Here’s the surprising part:
When they are building for the contest — for that $100 gift card and their picture in the magazine — their creations are startlingly less creative. All of a sudden, they are timid and anxious about their creations. Honestly, their for-contest work is always inferior to their regular work.
Why does this matter? Because I think it shows us something important about motivation and its effect on creativity.
3 Reasons I Really Did Not Like Michael Pollan's Newest, 'Cooked'
I really did not like Michael Pollan's newest offering, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. Here are three reasons why:
1. The premise feels phony and staged.
Pollan has said that he is “more at home in the garden than the kitchen” (In Defense of Food), but this modesty about his cooking skills is less than convincing to those who read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, in which he prepared a highly local meal of wild pork cooked two ways, bread leavened with wild yeasts he captured himself, and a sour cherry galette with fruit from Pollan’s own trees.
Why Is It So Hard To Say Things? Thoughts On Newspeak, AIDSpeak, and ObesitySpeak
I am not shy about using the saltshaker, and neither I nor anyone else in my family has any sort of problem with blood pressure. That’s because we mostly don’t eat things that come out of packages or from fast-food places (where someone else takes them out of packages), and the salt that is a problem in the North American diet doesn’t come from the saltshaker but from the extreme levels of sodium in packaged foods.
But you will never hear Michelle Obama say that.
There was a similar unutterability to everything having to do with AIDS back in the day. Even when scientists had a fairly clear understanding of the nature of the threat and how it was spread, most “official” speech tended toward a hedging: “we don’t know what causes it; we don’t want to say what’s causing it …” Even today people don’t get tested because they don’t want to know, even though getting tested obviously doesn’t give you the virus — it merely points out that it is there. It seems to point to so much more, though.
When We Are More Interested in Evangelical Infighting Than Serious Issues of Justice
My dad used to tell a joke from the pulpit, back when “damn” was a much stronger word in evangelical/fundamentalist circles than it is now.
It went roughly like this:
“Millions of people die every day from preventable causes without ever having heard about Jesus’ love, and most of you don’t give a damn, and most of you are probably more worried about the fact that I said ‘damn’ than about the fact that millions of people die daily from preventable causes without ever having heard about Jesus’ love.”
I have a new post up at her.meneutics, Christianity Today’s women’s blog that, quite frankly, I don’t expect too many people to read.
It’s about how it’s perfectly legal in most states to shackle pregnant women while they are in labor.
'If You REALLY Love Jesus, Click and Share!'...And Other Abominations
One of my favorite comments from yesterday's post on Seven Deadly (Social Media) Sins:
"My biggest annoyances are those "If you love Jesus, 'like' and share" posts. My faith and my love are not to be measured by whether I like your cheesy photo/slogan/tool of judgement."
Amen, sister. I think these are even more annoying than those “Just checking to see if you will even read this…if you are reading it, comment and then copy this exactly and paste as your status update. 95% of you will ignore this. Just trying to see who my real friends are” updates. Sniff. Sob. Poor me!
What Anxiety Feels Like (For Me and Maybe for You. With Cartoons.)
I often think that anxiety probably has some helpful prehistoric function, like sensing that a large, hungry carnivore is on the prowl and being the one to let the rest of the group know.
But in the absence of large, hungry carnivores (or other clearly perilous situations) anxiety sometimes feels as useful as the appendix, though it flares up even more often, and can’t be easily removed.
For me, anxiety can run in circles, like a sad, neurotic dog in a too-small pen, or a hamster on a little exercise wheel. And there are different paces–different circles, different wheels–that my anxiety puts me through. Because my dad is awesome, he illustrated it for me thus.
Bringing Fistula into the Light: International Day to End Obstetric Fistula
“An obstetric fistula,” I said, standing in the pulpit of my 200-year old church, “is a hole between a woman’s vagina and her bowel, or between her vagina and her bladder.”
The congregation’s discomfort was palpable. Later someone told me that they couldn’t believe that I’d had the nerve to say the “v-word” twice! It wasn’t exactly the effect I’d hoped to have, but it wasn’t entirely surprising.
Fistula is a childbirth injury that’s unknown today in the developed West, though before the advent of modern maternity care, it affected women — especially poor women — in America as well as Europe. It was likely the reason, at least in some cases, for a woman being euphemistically spoken or written of as an ‘invalid,’ or as having been ‘invalided’ by the birth of a child. Fistula’s story has always been one of (usually secret) suffering; even the surgery to repair the injury, developed by American gynecologist J. Marion Sims in 1840s Alabama, was performed experimentally upon slaves that Sims purchased for the express purpose of perfecting his technique before turning to white patients.
It’s women of color who still all but exclusively suffer fistula’s life-destroying effects.
Fistula happens when a baby gets stuck while being born, often because a girl is either underage, has a pelvic deformity, or has had her genitals deformed by female genital cutting — and there’s no trained person to help. She’ll labor for days without success. Only after the baby is dead and partially softened does it slip out from the exhausted mother, whose suffering has only begun. Days of pressure from the baby’s head have killed blood vessels in her vaginal tissues, which now decay, leaving a hole — or holes — from which urine and feces leak. She has become incontinent. Her husband divorces her. Her family makes her leave the house because of her stench. She can’t even keep herself clean enough, because the water she walks some distance to collect each day is just enough for basic use. The village children mock her for her stench; her neighbors ignore her.
Her story is multiplied between 50,000 to 100,000 times each year.
The Everyday Famine
Every day, or nearly so, women and men look in mirrors, step on scales, count calories, and worry about body fat and about their appearance. It happens enough that children as young as four begin to develop anxiety over food, or express fears of being seen in a bathing suit. Even eating healthfully can become an unhealthy obsession. And often enough, people become so desperate to get control over their eating as to spend huge amounts of money on drugs, diet plans, and surgery. Occasionally, the burden of eating, of bodily existence itself, is too much to bear, and people lose their lives to anorexia — the deadliest of all mental illnesses.
How to Get Skinny and Get into Heaven
The top 10 or 20 bestselling books at Amazon.com vary slightly from hour to hour, day to day, but one thing remains pretty constant: There are always several books on spirituality, often with Protestant evangelical leanings; and there are always books on diet, promising either dramatic weight loss or astounding well-being through some “revolutionary” plan.
Even within the category of “Religion and Spirituality,” some of the most popular books focus on diet and bodily health, and when they don’t, they focus on happiness via the most direct route. They’re all about “how to be successful and happy,” “how to make miracles happen,” and “how to know that there really is a heaven, and that you’re going there.”
Having been a skeptic for as long as I can remember, I’ve never had much patience with those books. If books (and checkout-stand magazines, for that matter) really held the secrets for people to “get skinny by this weekend” or “beat cancer with these super-foods,” why did people from my church choose gastric bypass surgery, and why did my father (a pastor) perform so many funerals for the non-survivors of cancer? And if miracles could happen, and people could find success, happiness, and assurance of a place in a heaven that’s “for real,” why, throughout the course of my pious Bible-reading upbringing, did I never seem to find anything in the Bible that sounded remotely like that?
When I was growing up, the only thing that could be said about clothing was that it should be “modest,” and ideally not too “worldly.” “Modesty” was proof-texted from 1 Timothy 2:9: “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes.”
Not looking “worldly” usually meant not being too fashionable — neither dressing in accordance with what was popular in the mainstream nor wearing anything with strong counterculture associations: no skater pants for boys, no ripped jeans for girls. This is what was meant, apparently, by 1 John 2:15-17: “Do not love the world, or anything in the world.”
While it seems that fewer churches are pushing the second issue — except, perhaps, to offer OMG-wear and other Christian versions of whatever is popular — modesty continues to be a topic of interest. Most American Christian definitions of modesty involve “not showing too much skin.” The question of male lust is often a part of the discussion. But in context, that doesn’t seem to be what Paul is talking about at all: modesty, in 1 Timothy 2:9, is about not flaunting your wealth, which is a surprisingly important thing in the Epistles as well as the Gospels. Braids and gold and pearls have nothing to do with not looking like the other, non-Christian, worldly women. The opposite of “modest” is not “sexually provocative,” but “flashy.”