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
Thanks, Birth Control!
It’s still not quite socially acceptable for women to express the desire to use birth control. To do so is to run the risk of being labeled a ‘slut’ — or worse. Forget all the sexual exploitation and objectification of women that’s all over the Internet and the entertainment industry — what’s really offensive in some quarters is the idea that women desire to have sex without having babies.
For more than 25 years, the federal government has funded abstinence-only sex education programs that have mostly proven ineffective (and even misleading). The United States has a rate of teenage pregnancy that’s significantly higher than other developed countries, and roughly half of all American pregnancies are unplanned.
That figure soars to nearly 70 percent when we’re talking about unmarried women under the age of thirty — and these numbers, too, are significantly higher than those in other developed countries.
By some estimates, 40 percent of unintended pregnancies are ended with an abortion.
The Politics of Contraception
NOT LONG AGO, a friend asked my opinion about birth control pills. She and her husband, who have several young children, wanted to use them, but she had misgivings.
She had read an article by a Christian couple that had frightened her. “They basically just blasted the entire idea of using hormonal birth control on the basis that it is pretty much abortion,” she said.
Although evangelical sex manuals from the 1970s, including Ed and Gaye Wheat’s Intended for Pleasure, advocated the pill as a means of enjoying the delights of the marital bed without fear of pregnancy, some evangelicals today have a very different perspective. A recent Christianity Today blog series on contraception that I participated in received vigorous and occasionally vitriolic responses, despite giving voice to a range of perspectives: Advocates of hormonal contraception were featured alongside proponents of natural family planning.
How is it that contraception has become a religious battlefield—even, or perhaps especially—among evangelical Protestants?
A certain myth currently in circulation among conservative Christians (Catholic and evangelical alike) harkens back to a pre-contraceptive past when parents welcomed innumerable children, each as a gift from God. In this mythical narrative, the advent in the 1960s of the modern contraceptive pill fostered in people a “hedonistic mentality” and made them “unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality.” After the pill, children were no longer seen as gifts, but as burdens—“diseases” to be vaccinated against. If, despite precautionary measures, a woman conceived, then her modern “contraceptive mentality” would all but determine that she have an abortion. “Abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception,” wrote Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae.
Echoing Evangelium Vitae, in 2006 Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler called for the “rejection of the contraceptive mentality that sees pregnancy and children as impositions to be avoided rather than as gifts to be received, loved, and nurtured.” He also charged that the “effective separation of sex from procreation” was “one of the most ominous” and “important defining marks of our age,” leading to all kinds of sexual degradation.
The implication, of course, is that earlier ages were more closely aligned with God’s will and with “natural law,” the classical philosophy praised by Pope Paul VI in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae.
Infertility and the Role of the Church
If you’re on social media and have a certain number of contacts of childbearing age, chances are good that there are times when it seems that every other post is announcing a pregnancy, the results of a gender-revealing ultrasound, or a birth.
Chances are also good that you don’t see many status updates about infertility, about the difficult “two-week wait” between ovulation and the time that a home test can announce an early pregnancy — or a woman’s monthly period can let her know that her wait isn’t over.
This week — April 19-25 — is National Infertility Awareness Week. For 2015, the theme is “You Are Not Alone.”
That’s an important message for people struggling with infertility.
“It’s a very private struggle,” one woman told me. “It’s a struggle not many people are privy to, so you put on a smile and act like all is well when really you’re in a constant state of grief.”
“It isn’t only about the second bedroom remaining empty or the ache of your empty arms when you see a friend cradling her newborn. Our culture — from our tax policies to our churches — revolve[s] around families with children. When people experience infertility, they grieve what’s missing from their personal lives and are also shut out from the social experience of parenthood,” says Ellen Painter Dollar, a writer who focuses on reproductive health and ethics.
Yet infertility affects more people than you might think: 1 in 8 — 7.4 million — U.S. women of childbearing age have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy to term. Infertility — defined clinically in male-female couples who don’t become pregnant after a year of unprotected sexual intercourse — is caused by many different factors and confluences of factors. Sometimes, perhaps as much as a third of the time, no identifiable cause can be found.
'Tis the Season
Some Walmart practices show gross disregard for the well-being of workers.
How Should We Respond to the Celebrity Photo Hacks?
When I was a university student, more and more people were getting cell phones that had cameras — a trend I only noticed when signs in the women’s locker room went up, warning that using cell phones in that space was strictly prohibited for reasons of privacy. It’s alarmingly easy to take pictures of someone without their knowing. You can pretend to be writing a text message when, in fact, you’re capturing someone’s image and then posting it on the Internet for anyone to see.
That’s bad manners, of course, if we’re talking about simply posting unflattering photos — and even more morally and ethically questionable if the subjects are in a partial or total state of undress. But even when a person consents to be photographed nude, if those private images end up on the Internet — as roughly 200 such celebrity photographs did last weekend — it can be surprisingly difficult to get them removed.
4Chan, the anonymous message boards where the images first appeared, and Reddit, where they were posted and shared widely, are able to claim that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 allows them to deny responsibility for the content that’s posted to their site by individual users. They certainly have the capability to remove such images, but they don’t want to — and the law doesn’t compel them to.
As Emily Bazelon noted in Slate, Reddit moved quickly to delete nude photographs of Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney taken while she was underage.
“It’s not that Reddit is too shady to care about the law,” Bazelon writes. “It’s that there is no clear legal risk in continuing to host involuntary porn of adults.”
Showing Deference to the Rich: 'Affluenza' and 'The House I Live In'
I recently watched Eugene Jarecki’s remarkable documentary, The House I Live In, which is about the American ‘war on drugs’ and the burgeoning prison population it engendered and continues to engender.
Rarely do I find myself murmuring and tsk-tsking during a movie, but this one was highly affecting — an intimate look at how history, racism, economics, and politics have created a system that no one is proud of and no one really likes. Even the cops and prison guards who claim to love their jobs express unease with the human suffering and unbalanced scales of justice that lead to it.
One particular story has stayed with me.
A man named Kevin Ott was found in possession of a small envelope of meth; prior to that he’d been arrested twice, again for possessing small amounts of illegal drugs (meth and marijuana).
He’s been in prison for seventeen years. And he will be there until he dies: Ott is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Because he was a three-time offender, his state’s mandatory sentencing laws required that he be put away for life.
Non-Guilt-Trippy Ways to Live Lightly and Consume Less
Many Christians these days are trying to consume less, and they’re doing so for a variety of reasons. For some, in the wake of the economic downturn, thrift is a simple necessity. Others, inspired by books such as Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution, Jen Hatmaker’s 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess strive for simplicity for the sake of the health of God’s creation and for the sake of our neighbors, both local and global, who must do without even the basic necessities of life. It’s no secret Americans spend — and waste — a lot.
But how do we begin to consume less? And once we become aware of the horrific conditions under which much of our stuff is made, how do we avoid being overwhelmed by all the injustice that may lie behind our new phone or pair of jeans? And even if we simplify by paring down our wants, what do we do when we actually need to buy something?
Here are some simple strategies to help you live lightly without being overwhelmed by it all.
Please Stop Calling Your Relatively Privileged Life 'Crazy' and 'Messy'
A few weeks ago, I asked folks on Twitter, and specifically, my colleague Amy Simpson, who has recently published a book on mental illness and the mission of the church:
What do you think about the way people use words like “bipolar,” “crazy,” and “manic” when they really mean “moody,” “energetic,” “quirky” and even “fun?"
It’s part of a pattern I’ve noticed lately — and maybe you’ve noticed it too.
People with beautiful head shots, flawlessly designed websites, and enviable accomplishments insist that they are really just a ‘mess.’ Or that their families are ‘crazy.’ Or that their homes and lives are every bit as complicated and frustrating as everyone else’s … meanwhile, their Instagram feeds show nothing but beauty; if ‘chaos’ is there, it’s only ever of the picturesque kind.
There are no birdcages sprouting stalagmites and stalactites of bird droppings. There are no snotty-nosed, unwashed, half-dressed, hungry children who’ve never visited a dentist in their lives. There is food in the fridge and on the table, and it isn’t even growing mold or crawling with roaches or undulating with maggots. In fact, it’s from Trader Joe’s and may even be organic! There is no broken glass or police officers showing up because the neighbors heard screaming. There is electricity and running water and indoor toilets.
Yeah, there’s raised voices and tempers and conflicts. But that makes you human. Not crazy. Not dysfunctional. Not “a mess.”
Kicking the Outrage Habit in the Blogosphere
“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits,” wrote the psychologist William James.
I think that may be as true online as it is in real life. We tend to do things in a fairly regular pattern; log onto email first, check the news, browse social media, read blogs, get outraged.
Some days I am amazed at how much potent vitriol gets spewed all over the Internet. (Other days I’m just used to it.)
One of the strangest of online habits may be when people repeatedly get upset with the same bloggers and websites, and exclaim their feelings in the comments section and on social media. It’s as if they are going into McDonald’s every day and complaining about all the fast food that’s in there.
The upside of websites you find horrible is that you don’t have to read them.
'You've Got Mail,' A Swedish Movie About Death, Kissing Dating Goodbye, and Finding Love Despite Pride and Prejudice
My husband and I basically fell in love via AOL instant message conversations that led to daily email missives and then to phone calls and then, you know, to actually hanging out in person.
We knew each other in ‘real’ life but I was so afraid of saying something stupid in front of him that I basically ignored him, which, as it happens, is not a great way to indicate that you actually really like someone. But IM-ing made me bold.
So, in a way, You’ve Got Mail feels like one of “our” movies since it parallels our story just a little.
“Our” real movie is Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, which is a 1957 Swedish movie about a knight returning from the crusades during the Black Death who is engaged throughout the movie in a chess match with Death, so, yeah, basically the opposite of You’ve Got Mail.
We were both at a “movie night” at one of our professor’s homes. I’d known he was going to be there and wrote in my meticulous, OCD handwriting in my journal:
I’m so nervous because Tim Stone is going to be there and I don’t want to find him attractive.
Heaven forbid I find him attractive, right? I had clearly been a little too good at "Kissing Dating Goodbye" (thanks, Josh Harris!) In those days when someone asked me out for coffee I usually responded with horror, like they’d just ask me to help dispose of a body.
- 1 of 4