Tuesday, December 24, 2013

OneWord 2013

At the beginning of the year, I wrote an awkward post about how the word "weave" was going to be my word for 2013. I had a vague idea of how it was going to go: I would figure out how to put myself back together and I would write about it. I wasn't so naive to think I completely knew what I was doing, but I figured that was okay because I would work it out as I went.

I was wrong.

I managed to write about my word several times, but I did not figure out how to put myself back together. I have not figured out much of anything.  All I did was begin the year with a certain thought in mind and take a few steps I thought might support it. From the outside looking in, my life probably seems the same now as it was in January.

And yet, I feel as though nothing is the same at all.

I cannot possibly view the world, other people, or even myself. the way I did a year ago.  I've started grasping the hem of writings on incarnation and intersectionality and prayer and true self and peace and so much wisdom from those whose life experience is vastly different from mine, and yet still connected to mine through shared faith. At this point, I can offer you neither proof nor a coherent explanation of how this wisdom is weaving together in my life.  All I can offer is that my spirit feels different - both restless and at rest, both filled with doubts and grounded in truths, both tangled in questions and buoyed by hope.

I've found a home in the Episcopal Church. I've discovered that I better engage with the mystery of Christ through the seasons of the liturgy and I've found people with whom I feel an inexplicable kinship.  In many ways I feel like a refugee seeking solace in that tradition, yet I also feel like a person born in exile, who has finally been welcomed home.

I know I should be attempting to summarize my OneWord experience, but I simply cannot.  I feel this year has been a gift in ways I completely do not understand, but I hesitate to name it thus because I'm still trying to figure out how it has come about. I longed for these changes, but I did not know they were what I was longing for, nor did I cause them to happen. The weaving, the peace, the hope - it has happened and is happening as I read the words of monks and prophets and saints, and as I discover new insights that I am only beginning to comprehend.  I am at once thankful and in awe and humbled and borderline incredulous.

In one of my earlier posts about my OneWord, I wrote:
There was a time when.... I tried to believe that God was up there directing every detail of my life – from the grade I got on a test to finding a pair of shoes in my size on sale.  But I just don’t believe that now.  I do believe we are created in God’s image and I do believe that God is there, but I also think many things just happen. 
I still don't believe that God is directing every single detail of my life like some kind of cosmic puppeteer, but I can't deny that there seems to be no logical explanation for how how certain things have come together this year. I have to admit that in the past twelve months I've seen glimpses of what, despite all my doubts, I can only attribute to the Divine.

Considering my life as a weaving-together instead of an unraveling has made me more open to the ordering of what had previously been a tangled, unraveled mess.  It has caused me to look for connections where I never would have before. I know I'm not done. I can't wrap up this word and put it on a shelf on December 31st as though it were a completed project and all the pieces of my life are now woven into a finished product.

The weaving will continue at its own pace and in its own time. I have no idea how different or similar my life will look next year at this time, but right now, in this moment, I'm so very thankful for whatever or whomever promoted me choose the word weave.

It's been quite a year.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

An Advent Reflection: Hope

O come, O Come Thou Day-spring bright
Pour on our souls Thy healing light
Dispel the long night's lingering gloom
And pierce the shadows of the tomb
 - From 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel,' origin unknown

Every year I dread when the days turn cold. The weight of darkness seems to increase as the daylight hours decrease. The chill and the gloom close in all around, and even inhaling deeply or lifting my eyes to look for beauty seems difficult.

Everything feels too heavy. Everything feels too cold. Everything feels too dark.

Yet in this, my first year observing Advent, there is a barely perceptible shift. I can sense moments of peace when I call to mind that I am intentionally observing this low time—that I've embraced this waiting in the dark, this participation in an age-old and sacred longing.

I am merely one of multitudes who have defied the gloom and shadows with hopeful expectation.

Being present to this yearning does not make me continually cheerful or warm or bright, but it does increase my awareness of the presence of Hope. I know Hope is pressing in close, right along with the heaviness and the chill and the darkness.

This Hope calls to mind the love and compassion of God. This Hope whispers reassurance that the darkness will not consume.

Hope waits with us, unfailing, as we anticipate the moment when Divine Light pierces the darkness and heals our souls with Love.

Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
Lamentations 3: 21-26

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I Am Not a Fighter of Giants

I keep hearing people talk about having a place at the table. I’m not arguing that they shouldn't pursue a seat.  I know that a lot of good could come from more diversity at that table and I know some people have a calling to face off against giants.

But I don’t think that table is where I want to be.

I am not a fighter of giants.

I hate being in any situation where I don’t feel welcome. I’m not going to spend my days trying to get the attention of someone who ignores me when I extend my hand. I will let people exclude me, because I know I cannot make someone see me if they refuse to look or hear me if they refuse to listen.

I also hate to be in a place where I am welcome, but others are not. Even at a table where everyone is allowed a seat, if some of those seats are offered grudgingly, with averted eyes or conditions or shying away, I don’t want to sit at that table. That kind of table will not feel like home. I don’t to be where I know anyone else feels unwanted or where I am only welcome if I close ranks and ignore others who are still standing, unwelcome. 

want to sit at a table where we see and honor all the ways we are different, as well as all the things we have in common.

I want to sit at a table where we see each other’s identities and bodies as reminders of Incarnation, without designating any single type or expression as the norm from which others vary.  

I want to sit at a table where pain can be spoken of freely and is heard without hostility or excuses, where we truly listen to each other and value each other as individuals. I want us to celebrate each other's joys and triumphs as though they were our own.

I want to sit at a table where we see the world as it could be, should be, as a beautiful tapestry with all of us woven together to make something strong and breathtaking out of whatever expression of God’s image we experience in our embodied selves.

I want to sit at a table where we are siblings in humanity and love is our language, where even if our names for God are different or even if people join us who don’t believe in things like Incarnation or the Imago Dei, they still feel welcome to pull up a chair.

I want to sit at a table where there is always more room for people who want to experience family and speak to each other with love.

Yes, I know many will scoff and say it is impossible. I will be called an idealist and a dreamer for wanting that table to exist and thinking people might join each other there. 

I don't care. 

I know there are others who also want that table and are already showing up, making connections, doing the work to try to make it reality.

So maybe, at least in some moments, it already is.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Book Club: Telling God's Story

I'm part of a group reading through the book Telling God's Story (by Peter Enns), in effort to gain some insight around how to teach our kids about our faith in a way that (we hope) avoids some of the misconceptions we grew up with.  If you are interested in following along, you can find the group Facebook page here, and you can find links to some of the other members' thoughts here.  I didn't write anything about chapter one, but I finished chapter two this weekend, and below are my thoughts. 

Recently Luke was filling out an activity-book survey.  He asked each of us if we believe in ghosts, then tallied our answers: I don't. Ryan and Luke aren't sure. Owen does. He looked at the page for a few minutes, before saying that the dog probably believes in ghosts, so his mark would be with Owen. Owen responded, "And if he does, then mom loses! Two, against two, against one."

I know it was an innocent comment, but I still questioned his statement that just because more people think something, that makes it right. We discussed it and agreed that the only way I would really "lose" in that scenario is if we had a way to prove that ghosts exist. And if we could prove that, then yes, I would lose because I would be wrong. Conversely, if we could prove ghosts do not exist, but then he and the dog would "lose," and I would "win," even though a larger group thought the wrong thing.

And don't many of us often make that type of mistake, thinking we must be right when more people agree with us? We look around at the people we interact with and when we discover areas where we agree, we feel like we win, and we feel like those who disagree with us lose.

Even though, realistically, we know that being in the majority doesn't automatically make a person right.

When I was growing up in the midst of Conservative, Evangelical, Homeschooling families, I saw this "majority is right" thinking often. Whatever was the new darling book or speaker or conference or curriculum, seemed to work its way through most of the families -- the families who were "right."  And while some of those things may have been right for some of those people, I now think that some of those things were wrong, or at least wrong for some of us.

This probably contributes to why I am so very skeptical of bandwagons.

So when I found myself rather enthusiastically agreeing to join a book study on teaching the Bible to one's children, I started questioning myself. Even when the book arrived and I started reading the introduction, I couldn't quite shake the anxious feeling that I was treading a little too close to that line of joining in with other like-minded people and jumping on a bandwagon.  And despite that I appreciated the first chapter, I still had my doubts -- not specifically because of the content, but because I was concerned about following a majority of people I respect and setting aside any reservations I had about doing so.

Then I got to the second chapter and read this:
The Bible is not a book on how to invest your money, which political party to join, whether to homeschool, where to go to college, whom to marry, where to live, whether you should buy that car, America as God's chosen people, or a blueprint for present-day world events. It is not, in other words, a "Christian owner's manual." Too many Christians assume that the Bible is the guidebook to address all of life's questions. But that is not what the Bible is designed to do.... 
In this light, I want to introduce what I think is the single most important biblical concept for living a Christian life, not only today, but during any era: wisdom.
When we get down to it, much of our lives as Christians requires us... to "wing it." I don't mean that the Christian life is haphazard with no guidance. I mean that many of the decisions we are called to upon to make every day we make, not because of a verse here or there, but because of the wisdom we have accumulated over the years. That wisdom is acquired through the study of Scripture, prayer, life in a Christian community (not just "going to church"), and plain old life experiences...
And there it is. Wisdom. That is what I want my kids to see in the Bible, to see in Jesus, to see in my faith, and learn for their own lives. Peter Enns is not advocating in this book a blanket set of moral codes or a checklist of behaviors. He even acknowledges that what wisdom might allow for one child or family, it may not for another.

This is so refreshing.

Enns is not asking me to jump on a bandwagon, but rather to use the means available to me to do the reading, research, living, asking, observing, and praying necessary to understand my faith, and then to apply all of those in my interactions with my children as I strive to share God's story with them.  This doesn't mean that I will simply go along with whatever I hear from a popular speaker or automatically go wherever the majority is headed.

I must use wisdom to determine what to do for my own life, majority or not, and I must use wisdom to teach my kids wisdom and discernment for their own lives.

I'm still overwhelmed at the thought of being primarily responsible for teaching my children about God and the Bible.  I still have so many questions and I still ask myself all the time if I'm getting things wrong.  Most of this stuff cannot be proven, only lived and experienced for ourselves, so there are no clear winners or losers when it comes to all the ways Christians can disagree over the Bible.

In light of this, I'm thankful for this book and this group and I'm looking forward to what other insights I can glean from it in the coming chapters and from the others who are reading them.  We may not entirely agree, but we are seeking to gain and share wisdom.

That's really the best any of us can do.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


I know everyone loves the colors and the days so brilliant and crisp they seem like a fairy tale. I know the grass is still green. I know the sun, when not hidden, still filters through the leaves with golden shimmers.

I know I should love it.

But to me it feels heavy.

I realize these are the year's last nice days.

I lace up my shoes. I force myself out into the wind, under the clouds. The puddles spray leftover rain onto my calves as my feet strike the pavement and propel me forward. Sometimes I can focus on my stride. On beating my time. On pushing myself to run faster, to stretch, to feel only the air enveloping me and the rhythm and my breath.

But sometimes I don't care how fast I am.

Sometimes I get distracted by the red-tailed hawk swooping gracefully to a tree and calling for its mate. Sometimes the clouds are too ominous and the colors too striking and all I can feel is the brilliant yellow and red against angry, dark skies.

Sometimes all I can see is a final, defiant display of beauty in the face of winter's inevitability.

And when I see that, I feel both exhilarated and defeated.

The dull, gray winter will come regardless.

The gloom will settle in and all will be shades of white and shadows and endless months of chill.

The weight is almost too much.

Yet I can't deny the faint whispers of hope in the falling leaves.

This isn't final.

Spring waits in the shadows.

Nothing can stop it.

It will come.

It always does.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

What if I'm Wrong?

“From keeping nativity scenes in public buildings to keeping “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, defending America from the perceived takeover of secular humanism became the purpose of the modern church… Evangelicals read Christian books and listened to Christian music. They sent their kids to Christian colleges, where they received Christian educations.  Apologists and theologians talked about the biblical approach to homosexuality, the biblical response to global warming, and the biblical view of parenting… 
It was within this social context that I and an entire generation of young evangelicals constructed our Christian worldviews. You might say that we were born ready with answers. We grew up with a fervent devotion to the inerrancy of the Bible and learned that whatever the question might be, an answer could be found within its pages... To experience the knowledge of Jesus Christ, we didn’t need to be born again; we simply needed to be born. Our parents, our teachers, and our favorite theologians took it from there, providing us with all the answers before we ever had time to really wrestle with the questions.”
– Rachel Held Evans in Evolving in Monkeytown

If there were a sentence in the above quote about the Evangelical homeschooling movement, it would perfectly describe my upbringing.  I grew up hearing the story of how I would tell people, when I was only four years old, that Jesus climbed down a ladder from heaven into my heart.  God was a character in my life who was always there.  I did not, in any serious way, allow myself to entertain the notion that God might not exist or that God might not be who I was told he was until after I had graduated from (Christian) college and gotten married. 

The absurd thing to me now, is that I honestly, with all my heart, believed that I knew God existed because I believed I had considered all the evidence and come to that conclusion myself.  I would hear other people talk about their experiences with God and I would incorporate that language into my own talk about God, not really understanding that I was equating believing the right answers about God with believing in God.

I think I’ve come a long way since then.  I wrestled with my questions and discovered a faith that is entirely different from what I was taught, but one that I embrace with all my heart. 

One of my biggest struggles now is how I teach my kids about God.  All that stuff that Rachel Held Evans explained happened because parents wanted their kids to know God in the way they had come to experience God.  They thought they were doing what was best for their kids.  With the homeschooling and the Christian everything, my parents thought they were doing what was best for me.  But I do not want to indoctrinate my kids into my faith; I want to help my kids understand God in a way he is real to them.

Yet, what if, by attempting to discard most of what my parents did and take a different approach, I'm just screwing my kids up in a different way than the way I was screwed up?

What if embracing their questions and not forcing them to accept my answers leaves them wishy-washy and completely unsure of anything?

What if not insisting they attend church with me every Sunday leaves them without a love for The Body of Christ?

What if allowing for discussion and not expecting immediate, unquestioning obedience undermines their respect for authority?

What if teaching them to respect other religions leads them away from Christianity?

What if I’m doing it all wrong?

These are only some of the questions that keep me from going back to sleep when I wake up at 3AM.  

I realize that raising kids is a process, not a project.  Some things I will certainly mess up no matter how much I don’t want to and some things I will get right on accident.  I keep coming back to these words from Brian Zahnd that give me hope that allowing my kids to grow up in the way that they should go, will at least be less damaging than the heavy-handed approach I was raised with: 
Perhaps we will have to believe that the gospel story itself, faithfully told, still has the capacity to astonish. Perhaps we will have to believe that the risen Christ can still make himself known in astonishing ways.  When we take it upon ourselves to explain the gospel so we can promote its benefits and get people to sign on, we unintentionally but inevitably diminish the mystery and beauty of the gospel.
I had to realize for myself that even though I’d known about God my entire life, my faith was not my own.  It was indoctrinated into me and wasn’t something I understood for myself. 

It wasn’t until I discovered for myself the astonishment, beauty, and mystery of the Gospel that I was able to know in the depths of my being that I wanted to be a Christian.  It may sound somewhat reckless, but I don’t even care if it is true.  It is faith.  I cannot prove it.  The acknowledgement that it may not be true in no way diminishes my hope that it is or my certainty that this is the way I want to live my life.

If I try to make anyone else, my kids included, experience God my way, I’m not leaving space for them to be astonished by God in their own way.  Drawing again from Zhand: 
Christianity is not a science; it is a faith…. Christianity is a confession, not an explanation. We confess Christ; we don’t explain Christ. We confess the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and the Ascension, though we cannot fully explain these mysteries. We leave room for mystery. We honor the mystery. We recognize the beauty in the mystery. 
Perhaps I’m not doing everything right.  Perhaps my kids will have to spend years unraveling the way they were raised and will have to find their own way that looks nothing like mine, just like I had to do.  I hope not, but I acknowledge that it is possible. 

All I can do now is to keep raising them in the most loving way I know how and continue to confess Christ and Incarnation and Resurrection and all the other mysteries in my daily life.  I can leave room for them to be astonished by the beauty and mystery of the Gospel in their own way and remind them it is okay if we don’t always come to the same understanding. 
And I can trust that if it is true – that if God is who I believe he is – that it’s enough.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Prayer Attributed to St. Francis

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
– A Prayer attributed to St. Francis

Grant that we may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

I feel increasingly isolated from people I used to feel close to.  I don’t know what to say to anyone, so I’ve barely been saying anything at all.  I spend a lot of time reading, a lot of time "listening" on various websites, but not a lot of time on Facebook and not a lot of time engaging in conversations.  I have emails and messages that have been sitting unanswered for weeks.  It isn't that I don't want to connect with people; it really is that I have no idea what words to use. 

I'm afraid if I start talking, I'll say what I really want to say.  I want to say that I feel I was sold distortions of Scripture, but that I have a different understanding now and for the first time in a long time I don’t feel I have to apologize for being a Christian.  I want to say that our preoccupation in this country with guns and violence and personal liberty in the name of God grieves my heart.  I want to say that I do not see love in exclusion, I do not see truth in nationalism, and I do not hear the Gospel in every-man-for-himself.  I want to say that I am falling in love with psalms and collects and the Church and – maybe for the first time – with my faith. 

But when I've floated variations of these words to the people I used to talk to, I’m often met with cautioning admonitions or incredulous looks or side-glances or criticism for sounding like I agree with the “wrong” people.

I keep asking myself if it’s me.  I wrack my brain, going over conversations word-for-word in my head, asking if anything that came out of my mouth sounded like I was judging.  Did I speak words that sounded like disapproval?  Did I sound like I was insisting on agreement with my point-of-view?  Did I seem insincere when I said, “I understand why people think differently, but this is how I understand it”?  No matter how lightly I tread on the eggshells, they end up broken and slicing tender flesh.

I want to say out loud the things my heart keeps repeating.  
I want to speak Mercy.

Mercy, not sacrifice.   

Lord, have Mercy.  

Lord, in your Mercy, hear our prayer.  

I want to say that sometimes in the way-too-early morning, when I’m awake because my mind started racing at 3AM and rendered going back to sleep hopeless, I get up and walk outside and it’s dark and calm and I hear “be still” echoing in my thoughts.  I want to say that in those moments I realize I am finally starting to believe that this faith, this hope, may actually be a beautiful way to spend my life. 

I don’t want to argue.  If other people experience God in a different way than I am or if they have a different understanding than I have, I accept that.  I am not trying to convince anyone of anything or talk them out of what they think.  We can disagree.  All I want is to look at someone in the face and tell them how wrecked I feel and see understanding instead of disapproval. 

And on one level, I know it isn’t wrong to want to talk to someone who understands.  I know it is okay for me to wish for that connection.  Yet, this isn’t really about me and I don’t know how to balance it.  I’m failing miserably.  I can’t avoid people I love because it hurts to get those looks and feel their judgment.  And if another person isn’t offering understanding or consolation or love to me, I should still be seeking to understand and to console and to love.  But how do I remember to listen to understand instead of talking to be understood? How do I learn to soothe and comfort when tensions are high?  How do I communicate love in the face of disapproval? 

I think it may have something to do with a table. 

And breaking bread. 

Perhaps I should start there.

Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love. 

Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Where to Go From Here

After we got married, Ryan and I rented one half of a duplex in a tiny, map-dot-of-a-town, right off US 68, forty miles north of Cincinnati.  We thought of going on a vacation early that fall, but then remembered we had recently graduated from college with a stupid amount of student-loan debt and he was getting ready to go back to school and we had no money for a vacation.  Instead, we both used our paid vacation week to stay home and tackle painting white the hideous grease-brown cabinets in the rental kitchen.

And we seriously underestimated the investment of time and effort required for that task.

Thoroughly exhausted and with our patience wearing dangerously thin, we decided to take one day and do something away from the house and away from those damn cabinets.  We got in my old Nissan and started driving south on US 68.  (Because obviously, if you're sick of working together for 18 hours a day on a tedious project, the ideal break from that would be to spend an entire day together in the car.)

I don't remember anything we talked about.  We probably spent a lot of time listening to music and not talking at all.  I remember we pulled over at a few places along the way to take photos, as well as taking a lot of drive-by pictures out the window.  I remember that by the time we got to Lexington, Kentucky the trip wasn't seeming like such an awesome idea.  While we could drive away exhaustion and frustration for a little while with the open road ahead of us, we still had to drive all the way back home to our bills and our real life and those damn cabinets.

And it was a long drive back.  

Sometimes I think about what it would have been like if we hadn't gone back.  I'm not talking about actually running away, I just wonder what it would have been like if we hadn't felt like we had to do the standard jobs-kids-house thing and had done something totally different instead.  There were times we talked about it.  We talked about moving to the city, where I'd go to grad school.  We talked about moving to North Carolina so he could pursue a different type of job opportunity.  But we didn't.  We always went back to real life -- near our families and where we grew up -- just like we did that day when we got to the other side of Lexington and turned around.

Our road-trip experience is only going to get me so far as a metaphor for my spiritual journey, but as I was reading the Daily Office this morning, something reminded of that trip and that same feeling of wanting to keep going because there were so few good reasons to go back.

In terms of my spiritual life, there are days I ask myself what was the big deal with how things were, back when I was still trying to fit that ideal of the good Christian girl my parents tried to raise me to be.  Some days I wonder what the hell I'm doing with all this unraveling and shattering and searching and weaving.  I am tired.  I feel alienated from a lot of people I used to feel like I was close to.  Would it really have been so bad to have stayed where I was?

I read the words of other people who have left behind a lot of the same things I have discarded and they seem so sure of their journey.  They are so sure of it that they can blog about it almost every day while writing a book about it and debating their thoughts about it on social media.  They have answers and direction and purpose.  It's not that I want to be those people, it's just that their certainty makes me wonder how I am still so unsure.  If I made the conscious decision to unravel it all and burn down what was left and leave all those paradigms in the dust, why do I still have that feeling in the pit of my stomach that I have no idea where I'm headed?

And that's the thing about going somewhere without any real plan.  At some point, the sense of adventure loses its luster and you get tired and irritated at yourself for agreeing to such a thing and you can't decide if it is worse to keep going or to give up and turn around.  Even if you're mostly sure it is worth it to press on, you can't be sure that what's ahead is actually better than what you left behind.  Perhaps what you're getting away from was painful, but maybe the unknown isn't actually better.

I am not sure.  I continue reading and questioning and praying and processing.  I'm squinting, trying to determine if this direction is really where I should be going.  I have this feeling that it's right there.  I can't see it, I can only sense that ahead is a better understanding of this beautiful mystery of the gospel and that this journey is about grasping the hem of Incarnation and astonishment and redemption and love.

I recently read Beauty Will Save the World by Brian Zahnd.  In it, he writes, "To rediscover Christianity in all of its astonishing mystery and beauty will utterly overwhelm us and make all of our notions about its devaluation feel completely redundant. It will leave our skepticism in shreds."  That is exactly how I feel.  Everything is slanting and my cynicism is falling away and it seems that rock around my heart is starting to crumble.  I can feel myself being broken and wrecked and I feel raw and exposed and I'm quite honestly a little frightened, but I keep going.  In a way, I'm not sure I could turn around, even though it seems that might be easier.

At this point I can't tell if it's me and my stubbornness or if the Holy Spirit may actually exist in the way I've always wondered was truly possible.  I really hope it's all true.  I really hope that if I keep going, someday, I'll manage to reach the point where my awareness of the mystery and beauty assures me I'm going in the right direction, even if I'm still not sure of where I'll end up.

I really don't want to go back.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Belonging Together

In An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor writes of making a practice of standing naked in front of a full-length mirror with a sense of reverence for the physical body one lives in.  She goes on to observe, "One of the truer things about bodies is that it is just about impossible to increase the reverence I show mine without also increasing the reverence I show yours."  When the narrative for a reverence of my own embodied self is based on the belief that God loves and cares for people – people in their skin-and-bones physical entirety and not only their heart and soul and mind – it is impossible for me to view others with less reverence and autonomy than I allow myself.  

When this reverence is my narrative, I cannot think of others only for who they are in my life or what interaction I have with them. 

While embracing this narrative has broadened the way I view everyone I encounter, I've spent a lot of time reflecting on how it has changed the way I think of my family and my role in it. I never fully bought in to the teaching that a wife belongs to her husband and children belong to their parents, but it was part of my framework and influenced my thinking and my actions.  The way I now see myself as a person and a woman has helped me better understand the way I view marriage and motherhood. 

I know I've explained before that I do not belong to Ryan, my husband, but then it follows that neither does he belong to me.  I've always known this, but wasn't sure of how to explain it when “belonging to” was my default understanding.  I don't want to trivialize our relationship by arguing "we don't belong to each other," but I feel it is important to make the distinction between belonging to another person and choosing to belong together. 

Ryan’s role in life is not “Trischa’s husband.”  Yes, we said vows that we would build a life together and incorporate the role of husband or wife into who we are, but we did not take on the role of husband or wife as our entire identity.  It would be wrong to reduce Ryan from a person with his own passions and thoughts – many of which have nothing to do with me – to a role he fills in my life.  We choose that we belong together in our marriage, but we do not belong to each other.

Our sons, Luke and Owen, do not belong to me either.  Yes, I grew them inside my own body for a time and gave birth to them and nurture them and love them with a connected, reverent-awe kind of love.  I am their mother, but their role in life is not to be my children.  They belong to their own, autonomous selves and to the stardust from which their atoms were formed, and to God, who breathed life into their lungs.

They do not exist to exhibit behavior that would give me bragging rights or make me proud or conform to the way I think.  Treating my sons in that way would be to objectify them, to act as though they serve a function the way possessions do, which is not showing reverence for them as individual, embodied people.  I am responsible to actively teach them essential values and skills and celebrate with them when they excel or when they act with compassion and responsibility.  But I believe they learn much more about equality and consent and autonomy for themselves and others when they are encouraged to experience life within a framework of reverence, rather than training them to meet my expectations. 

My sons and I are in a life-long process of learning to love each other and figure out how we belong together as flesh and blood, but they do not belong to me.

Thinking that I belong to someone or that someone else belongs to me discounts that we all are unique individuals created in God’s image. I am better able to love with a deep, encompassing love when I embrace the incredible people around me as those I have the privilege of belonging with and when I allow them to determine how they belong in life with me.   

Note: I started writing this post last week, but just recently read a similarly-themed piece by Ben Irwin on why he does not intend to “give away” his daughter at her wedding.  It is beautiful and I highly recommend you read it here.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

More than 'Just' Friends

Relationships between men and women that do not involve romance and sex are usually referred to as ‘just’ friend relationships… few people seem aware that ‘just’ friend relationships can blossom into relationships of dialogical love. Those of us who have experienced the abundant being that can come from a deep personal relationship with a person of the opposite sex would never speak of our relationship as ‘just.’  Calling these relationships ‘just’ is not only misleading; it trivializes the relationship in a way that seems sacrilege. – John Scudder and Anne Bishop quoted in Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions
Some of my dearest friends are women whom I deeply and intimately love.  Because of the deep bonds we have formed, I would never say these women are ‘just’ friends.  I also have several dear friends who are men.  Yes, I am committed to honoring the vows I've made to my husband – and my cross-gender friendships my be of varying levels of familiarity and physical proximity – but I could never with good conscience say they qualify as ‘just’ friends simply because these friends aren't women.  

Several years ago I reconnected on Facebook with someone from my high school years.  It was right at the beginning of all my unraveling, when my process looked ugly and angry and I often argued with people who still believed all the old things I was in the process of discarding.  Even though he is hundreds of miles away, he was a gracious and calming presence, never balking at my anger or turning away when I was far from gracious.  From his years of religious study, he generously shared his perspective in response to my theological questions when I asked.  He introduced me to Volf and Keating and kindled my love for theological reading.  He would gently rein me in when I was disregarding the value of another person's unique life-experience for the sake of winning an argument.   

There is an undeniable bond that forms when someone can look past your pain and ugliness while you burn down the framework of your life, and treat you as though you've already risen from the ashes.  A person who does that is not ‘just’ a friend.

Five years ago, over shared office observations and a similar sense of humor, I became friends with the guy who sat on the other side of my cubical wall.  We don’t sit near each other anymore, but we still chat with each other every work day.  We share stories of what is going on in our lives outside of work and try to add a little levity to the daily grind.  Sometimes we go to lunch and talk about our kids.  Sometimes we grab a beer after work and commiserate about our jobs.  We talk a lot about beliefs, which can be a challenge considering that we could not be more different from each other when it comes to faith and politics, but we navigate the conversations with a great deal of mutual respect. 

There is an undeniable bond that forms when someone becomes a witness to your daily life and allows you to be a witness to theirs.  A person who does that is not ‘just’ a friend.

I have an ongoing dialogue with a long-distance friend I met over social media.  He messaged me one day to say he’d read some of my posts and that my thoughts and unraveling process resonated with him. We have swapped stories about our similar youth experiences and navigating family relationships while straying from our upbringing.  We check in with each other regularly, discussing work and faith and posts we read online, and we frequently swap prayer requests and commit to praying for each other.

There is an undeniable bond that forms when one person is vulnerable enough to reach out to another person and say, “Yeah. Me too.” and the two of you commit to regularly praying for each other.  A person who does these things is not ‘just’ a friend.

The reason I’m sharing about my experience with cross-gender friendships is to bear witness to their significance in my life.  They aren't taking the place of my relationship with my husband, but they are extremely important to me.  If someone has looked close enough to see all of my messiness and chosen to live life with me anyway – that person is dear to my heart.  The appropriate response when I reflect on all my close friendships should be to readily acknowledge that she or he is a dear friend or a kindred spirit or even a person I love deeply.  Life is too fleeting to distance myself from people who mean so much to me because I’m clinging to a religious or cultural narrative that is preoccupied with sex and only allows me to see my friends as “men” or "women" rather than individuals with whom I've formed a relationship that is a vital part of my life.  


Several weeks ago, Natalie Trust wrote a blog series prompted by Dan Brennan's book Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions on the subject of cross-gender friendships.  This book was already on my to-read list and after reading Natalie’s posts (herehere, and here) I moved the book to the top of my reading stack.  I appreciate Natalie for inspiring me to read it sooner rather than later and I’m thankful to Dan Brennan for writing it. For most of my life, the most prominent narratives about relationships between men and women have been ones that are narrow, contradictory, and often promoted shame and confusion.  We are often cautioned against cross-gender friendships because attraction or closeness are equated with sex, even though the same type of relationship with someone of the same gender would be encouraged.

What Dan Brennan does in his book is provide historical, social, and spiritual reasons – ranging from an exploration of pre-Freud friendships to insights we can glean from teachings on chastity in the Catholic tradition – for why we should reevaluate how we think about cross-gender friendships and embrace a new narrative; he does this while providing a depth of insight to help establish that narrative.  Reading Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions and engaging in Natalie's discussions has been extremely valuable to me as I continue to unravel much of what I was taught about gender and relationships.  
I appreciated the analysis and criticism of the romantic myth an how it affects both our romantic and non-romantic relationships.  Dan explains, 
Idealizing romantic passion as the unique, one-and-only, exclusive form of love between a man and a woman has created a pervasive romantic myth in our contemporary world when it comes to male-female paired relationships…This is the fruit of romantic idealism, not romantic realism. The notion that one idealized relationship is the be-all, end-all for passion, intimacy, emotional commitment, friendship, happiness, fidelity, and depth, has a cluster of powerful myths supporting it…
The myths to which he is referring are found both in Christian culture (which tends to idolize marriage) and also in popular culture (with the idolization of romance and sex in movies, books, television, and music). I have seen personally the devastation the romantic myth can cause to marriages and the tainted light it can cast on friendships.  

I know that words like “passion” and “intimacy” have become synonyms for sex and can make some uncomfortable in the context of friendship, but the real synonyms for those words are actually: affection, fondness, love, familiarity, belonging, warm friendship, faithfulness, and loyalty.  In fact, the definition for the word 'intimate' includes phrases like: “belonging to or characterizing one’s deepest nature" and "marked by a warm friendship developing over a long association.”  Aren't those desirable characteristics in all close friendships? I think it is beneficial to examine the religious or cultural myths that might hinder intimate cross-gender friendships. 

While the criticism of the romantic myth can apply equally to any cross-gender friendship regardless of religious belief, one of the other points I've spent a lot of time reflecting on relates directly to my faith.  Brennan notes the “one-another’s” in scripture and how we often overlook the obvious inclusion of both genders when we read them:
Consider all the “one another’s” – none of which have a sex-segregated command embedded in them.  Here are just a few: “welcome one another” (Romans 15:7), “pray for one another” (James 5:16), “be kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32), “greet one another with a holy kiss” (I Corinthians 16:20), “teach and admonish one another” (Colossians 3:16).  None of these contains transcultural  sex-segregated warnings to keep men and women from meeting privately or in public, or from avoiding the powerful intimacy that may grow because male and female friends seek to be obedient to these commands in their nonromantic relationship.
At least five times in the gospel of John, Jesus implores his audience to “love one another;” and other variations of this phrase can be found throughout the New Testament.  It strikes me that there are entire books centered around a very few scriptures that speak specifically to one gender or the other and that those verses dominate admonishments for the interactions of men and women.  In contrast, it seems these multiple “one another” verses are viewed in the abstract, as an almost sterile “love” for some mythical “other.” I had not previously dwelt on these “one another” verses as a call to deep friendship with other embodied people, regardless of gender, but now I can think of them in no other way.  I’m learning to embrace an understanding of cross-gender friendships that can be both encouraged and celebrated within my faith tradition. 


I know Christians are the intended audience of Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions, but there is a lot to learn from this conversation even if you don't view cross-gender friendships through a religious lens.  It could be invaluable to your emotional health to evaluate what narratives govern your relationships.  If shame or the romantic myth are keeping you from forming intimate connections in your life, it may be time to look at things from a new perspective.  

As a Christian, the book left me hopeful that we won’t always be trapped in a destructive narrative where we idolize romance and are taught we should avoid cross-gender friendships.  As Dan points out, “The mystery of incarnation is that God in Christ overcame the boundaries between heaven and earth, between the spirit and matter, between flesh and spirit, and between men and women.”  The example of Christ is deep friendships with both men and women, who he lived life with and embraced and loved.  I truly believe that through understanding a narrative based on Christ's example the Church can see the truth of how cross-gender friendships can be deep and intimate, as well as holy.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Word Made Flesh

"Let us try to grasp the significance of the Word made flesh" - Thomas Keating

There are many topics being debated these days – self-image, modesty, purity, sexuality, relationships, rights, responsibilities, the circumstances of others, the autonomy of others, and so on. Even if we try not to get drawn into the debates, we are often forced to consider our own views on these matters and, if we are parents, will eventually have to discuss them with our children.  Our views on these topics are usually a result of the framework we use to evaluate and process life.  Increasingly I feel that if this framework is too narrow, too focused on one aspect of morality, it is easily distorted and leaves us ill-equipped to make determinations of how to respond when life doesn't fall neatly into our pre-defined criteria.
Over the past few years I’ve been in the process of dismantling much of what I was taught while growing up in Evangelical Homeschooling culture.  I’ve had to discard a lot of baggage associated with the popular “Godly” methods that were promoted by various groups over that time.  The framework for most “Godly child training” I encountered involved a focus on obedience – obedience for the sake of raising children who are obedient to their parents (and thus, to God) – in the ways defined by the specific methods of each group.

It is clear to me now that whether or not I am living my faith well or raising my children successfully is not determined by how we measure up to a trendy method established by some other person’s interpretation of “God’s Way.”  I understand that I need to replace that old, discarded thinking with something new, for my own faith and in raising my kids.  But rather than embracing a new “method,” what I’m attempting to define are the basic beliefs that provide a general framework for thoughts and behavior.

I’m increasingly drawn to the study of Incarnation and the way it so beautifully incorporates how I want to live and what I want to teach my children about everything from making wise choices for ourselves to how we treat others.  I don’t want to be ashamed of my body and I don’t want my kids to be ashamed of theirs, but I also want us to understand that the body is sacred.  I don’t want us to behave as though other people’s bodies exist for our judgment or pleasure.  I want us to care about the physical needs of others and make choices that are good for our bodies and our spirits.

I completely identify with Barbara Brown Taylor when she writes, "I do not recall ever being told that my flesh is good in church, or that God takes pleasure in it. Yet this is the central claim of the incarnation—that God trusted flesh and blood to bring divine love to earth." 

Incarnation is not something that was specifically discussed in my home or in my church growing up.  Of course I was taught that Jesus was God in human form, but I can think of no deep discussion of what that truly meant for humanity, other than Jesus coming to die for our sins.  I was never instilled with a sense of awe for what it means for “the Word,” present with God and one with God from the beginning of time, to be “made flesh.”  (I’m not even sure if anyone would have been okay with using the word “flesh,” because it has such scandalous connotations in those circles.) 

Yet as I've studied the writing of Barbara Brown Taylor, along with Richard Beck, Thomas Keating, Brian Zahnd, and others who write of Incarnation, I'm struck by how their understanding of it is woven through their work, even when they are addressing other topics.  The way they view humanity and their belief that God cares for our physical bodies has transformed the way I understand my faith.  I have no delusions that I have new insight to offer the world on Incarnation and I realize I do not fully comprehend it, but I can feel it continuing to transform my thinking and the way I view humanity.  I’m still trying to grasp the full significance of passages like this:

The lost beauty of God’s good creation is what is recovered in the Incarnation. The beauty of the image of God marred in man through the Fall is what the Incarnation redeems. By a deep appreciation of the human vocation to bear the image of God, we realize that the value of a human being is in no way determined by what he can do—this is the sin of objectification (treating humans as objects). Human value is derived from the image all humans bear—the Imago Dei.  It is the image of God deformed in humanity that Christ recovers through his Incarnation. - Brian Zahnd
Or this:
In Christian teaching, followers of Jesus are called to honor the bodies of our neighbors as we honor our own. In his expanded teaching by example, this includes leper bodies, possessed bodies, widow and orphan bodies, as well as foreign bodies and hostile bodies—none of which he shied away from. Read from the perspective of the body, his ministry was about encountering those whose flesh was discounted by the world in which they lived. - Barbara Brown Taylor

When I read and meditate on these words, I cannot help but be convinced that I was getting it wrong by attempting to adhere to a faith framework based strictly on morality or obedience.  Not that morality and obedience are wrong in themselves, but by using those things as the lens to view myself and others, I was focusing on how well we measured up to those standards, rather than beginning with an understanding that we are all human beings created in the image of God.

When I think of my own self-worth and teach my children about theirs, the belief that Jesus loves and redeemed our humanness must influence that.  When I consider my interactions with other people and how I teach my children to treat others, my belief that God loves and values not only the inner life, but also the physical existence of both ourselves and others will necessarily be part of that.  Drawing again from Taylor, "One of the truer things about bodies is that it is just about impossible to increase the reverence I show mine without also increasing the reverence I show yours."

Internalizing a sense of reverence for the human body allows me to see the human form of everyone else as a gift God gave to that person.  I can never view their body as an object, as something that exists to please me or meet my personal expectations or preferences.  They may be any shape or size.  They may be considered attractive or not.  They may use their bodies to practice the rituals of a religion different from mine.  They may have different anatomy than I have or experience their sexuality differently than I experience mine.  They may love their own body or they may feel they were born in the wrong body.  But each person I encounter has a body and I cannot love that person in some abstract way as though his or her body were an afterthought or is somehow subject to my approval. 

And when I teach this sense of reverence to my kids, when I tell them the stories of Jesus in close fellowship with the marginalized of society, when I tell them of the woman washing his feet with her hair, I can remind them that Jesus was just as human as they are and that he was the example of how we should value and respect the humanness of others.  Jesus didn't see our flesh as dirty or wrong, but as something beautiful and in the process of being redeemed.  As Brian Zahnd has written, "In the Incarnation Jesus makes beautiful all that it means to be human."

What I am now attempting to discern is how to continue to apply the insight and wisdom others have shared about Incarnation.  One of my favorite passages from Thomas Keating reads, "Once God takes upon himself the human condition, everyone is potentially divine. Through the Incarnation of his Son, God floods the whole human family -- past, present, and to come -- with his majesty, dignity, and grace.”  Our bodies are the basic component of the human condition, and therefore we must learn to respect and honor our own bodies as well as the bodies of other people.  Truly grasping this undermines the temptation to dismiss others, to objectify others, or to turn a blind eye to their physical needs.

I have only scratched the surface of all there is to learn about Incarnation, but I keep coming back to how it reminds me that I’m connected to God as well as to others and how that connectedness should influence every aspect of my life.  As Zahnd points out, Incarnation shows us “what God is like and how to be human,” and Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us, “wearing skin… is what we have most in common with one another.”  My hope is that rather than focusing too narrowly on current trends or hot topics, I can live my faith in a way that exhibits a deepening understanding of the way my human flesh connects me to God and to other people.  And I hope living this out will help my kids understand and see the beauty there as well.

Note: Thomas Keating quotes are from The Mystery of Christ, Barbara Brown Taylor quotes are from An Altar in the World, and Brian Zahnd quotes are from Beauty Will Save the World

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Between God and Me and No One Else

A recent conversation with my husband, Ryan:

Me: "I have a hair appointment Thursday.  I'm going to have her cut my hair even shorter this time.  And dye it a little darker, too."
Ryan: "Okay."
Me: "It's kind of annoying having to go in for appointments more frequently to keep it shorter.  And always having to flat-iron it so it doesn't look weird.  I have honestly considered just shaving it off.  That would be way easier."
Ryan: "Haha.  Okay.  Your hair, your head."
Me: "Good answer, Babe."

And that is representative of how Ryan always responds in this type of conversation, not just regarding my hair.  My fitness level, my decision to have a permanent contraception procedure, my tattoos: I cannot think of anything having to do with my body – appearance or otherwise – that he has ever made me feel was anything other than my own decision.  And not out of indifference, either, but in a way that makes it clear that he will support whatever I decide.

It would simply never occur to my husband to think that I need his permission for any of these choices.  I'm only recently beginning to fully appreciate this about him.

When I was twelve, I wanted to start shaving my legs.  I tried to talk to my mom about it, but she told me I had to ask my dad.  My dad examined my shins (yes, really), said he didn't think they were that bad, so no shaving.  The discussion continued off-and-on for a few days, but he just didn't think it was necessary yet.  His mind was made up, the answer was no.

This is just one example of the many ways I was taught that choices about my body (or really any woman’s body) could not be made without the “wisdom” of a male authority.  In such teaching, the father is the intermediary until a girl is married, then her husband fills that role.  I still feel a twinge of humiliation about some of these things and still wrestle with the effects of being taught these (and other) distorted views about my body.  I know that my parents’ actions were a result of what they were taught in Evangelical/Homeschooling culture.  I know that they were not trying to humiliate me and they truly believed they were teaching me “Godly” principles.  I know I should be thankful that there are other areas where they did not adhere so strictly to the teachings from that culture. 

But still.

For years now, I have shaved my legs every single day.  Even during the cruel Midwestern winters when layers of warm clothing prevent so much as an ankle from peeking out.  Even when I was nine-months pregnant and unable to see my feet.  Even at times when Ryan and I are on completely opposite work schedules and don't see each other for days.  I shave my legs every single day for no other reason than I absolutely hate the way it feels not to have my legs shaved.  Read into that whatever else you will, but it’s my body and I’ll shave my legs if I want to.  I’ll also shave my head if I want to and get tattoos if I want to and never be pregnant again if I don’t want to.

I realize that will sound dangerously rebellious to some people; even as I wrote it, I could hear the teachings from my youth in the back of my mind trying to make me feel guilty for the boldness with which I am so publicly defying them.  But I've come to believe that much of what I was taught about bodies is a distortion of the truth.  Jesus was the Word made flesh, the mystery of the divine in physical, human form.  Why would God choose that if human bodies were something to be ashamed of?  Why would he give me a body if I couldn't even be trusted with the opportunity to make good choices with it?

I do not need to be ashamed of my body, nor do I need to look for the permission of some falsely-established human authority (father, husband, or otherwise) for the choices I make regarding it.  As long as I am not inflicting harm or dishonoring my commitments, no one else has a right to tell me what I should or should not do with the body God entrusted to me.

In fact, no one else has the right to make decisions for another person's body at all.  At my most basic, I am a person in a body – before I am a woman, a wife, or a mother.  A person’s body requires neither the approval nor the permission of another person. Maybe some of the choices I make (like my tattoos) are, at least in a way or in part, a physical symbol that I’m learning to embrace my body as a gift God gave to me and that I refuse to go back to a time when I was made to feel I couldn't be trusted to decide what is best for it.

And if I live more fully in my body with tattoos and shaved legs, that is between God and me and no one else.

"I do not recall ever being told that my flesh is good in church, 
or that God takes pleasure in it. 
Yet this is the central claim of the incarnation—
that God trusted flesh and blood to bring divine love to earth." - Barbara Brown Taylor

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Speaking the Same Language

I was homeschooled beginning in forth grade until my senior year, when I enrolled in the local public high school. I went to classes there in the morning and took courses at community college in the afternoon. During that one year in public high school, I shared a table in study hall with two exchange students, Andre' and Maria. I know what you’re thinking and yes, that does tell you everything you need to know about how well I fit in that year. Lucky for me, Maria and Andre' are fun, friendly, welcoming people and became some of my dearest friends that year.

Andre' was from Brazil and spoke Portuguese and Maria was from Spain and spoke Spanish.  I am not a linguist, so forgive me if I don’t explain this well, but apparently the more Cuban dialect of Spanish that Maria spoke was enough similar to the Portuguese Andre' spoke, that they could have conversations with each other in their own native languages and almost completely understand each other. They weren't speaking the same language, but their own knowledge of words and phrases, along with context and possibly some English thrown in from time to time, allowed them to communicate with each other more effectively that way than in English.  It was fascinating to observe their interactions when they did this.

Several weeks ago, while discussing my new church with a friend, he asked me why I feel it is so important to go to church when I can clearly maintain my faith without attending church (as I have been doing for almost a year), through reading and personal study. He then admitted that it has always surprised him that I identify as “Christian,” because I don’t put off a “Christian vibe.” 

Back in my youth group days, a comment like that (especially from a "non-Christian") would have sent me into some sort of existential crisis, but I knew exactly what he meant. He and I have always been able to communicate well and discuss various topics even though we have some fundamental differences on faith and politics and social issues.

Something about this reminded me of Maria and Andre'.

I realized that the most meaningful conversations I have about my faith tend to be with people who do not share it. I think the reason I connect so well with my non-faith friends when we talk belief is that these friends care about the process by which we arrive at our beliefs in the same way I do. We may not have arrived at the same conclusions or share the same faith, but we understand each other because my sick-soul, messy, uncertain faith-process quite similarly mirrors the journey that led them to choose not to believe. Parallel journeys with different conclusions, similar enough that we can understand each other even if we haven't arrived at the same place.

Different languages, but with dialects that allow for connection and understanding and community. It is beautiful, and I would argue, holy, even if they would not use that same word.

I know. None of that explains why I need church.

As much as I care about and need my Atheist/Agnostic/Other friends, I've come to see that I also need to be part of a community where I can discuss my faith without the necessity of translating our dialects back-and-forth between faith and non-faith language. I have found a few of these people via blogging and social media and I don't mean to downplay how much I appreciate those connections, but I need some of those in-person connections as well.

I do have people in my life with whom I have Christianity in common. I have my family and I have friends from previous church communities. Yet even though we share the language of faith, our dialects are so drastically different it can be difficult to communicate without misunderstanding each other. We may try to have discussions, but we’re often left gazing at each other over a seemingly untraversable chasm of theological differences. I may have a close enough relationship with some of them that we can talk to each other without shouting angrily over the chasm, but our attempts can leave us exhausted from the effort required to make sure we are questioning thoughts and belief rather than attacking each other. It is often easier to find a common, non-faith-related topic to discuss to avoid making too much of our differences.

I need to be in community with people of faith who speak the same faith language and dialect that I speak. This is not to say that I do not love those who speak their faith differently or will stop trying to connect with them over our differences This is not to say that I no longer need my non-faith friends, because I do need them, and I love and appreciate them more than they could know. Yet I am also longing to sit at a table and hold hands in prayer and break bread and make eye contact with at least a few people who speak faith with the same dialect, accent, and syntax I use. I know we won't agree on everything, but we will be able to speak freely without translation required.

And that is why I need church.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Come September

I am falling in love.

I did not intend for this to happen.  If I’m honest, I did not think it was possible.

When I said I was going to play the field, it was grudgingly and because it seemed like a requirement, not because it was really what I wanted to do.  I honestly felt like it was hopeless.  

I know it's only been a couple of months, so I'm constantly reminding myself not to be overly optimistic.  I know the happy, fluttery feelings go away after a while and you start to see the flaws and the shortcomings. That's how the falling-in-love thing goes: After the initial starry-eyed euphoria, you're left trying to figure out if the good outweighs the less-than-perfect reality and if there is enough substance to sustain the relationship after the infatuation fades.

Only… falling in love with a church isn’t exactly like falling in love with a person.

It wasn’t as though there was any flirtation or wooing that took place before I gave it a shot.  I just showed up that first day, unannounced and without any kind of advance notice that would allow the dirty laundry to be hidden before I arrived.  The imperfections I've noticed to this point seem insignificant in light of the love and acceptance I've been experiencing.

Even now, after a couple of months, I feel more welcome each week.  No one is rude when I'm fumbling with the Prayer Book to find The Collect of the Day because I forgot to mark the page after the Opening Sentences.  No one gives me a weird look for needing to read along as we say the Nicene Creed or the Prayer of Confession, even though they all know these things by heart from years of hearing them.  People I've met in the previous weeks go out of their way to hug me when it's time for The Peace, even if I'm not sitting directly near them. 

I had no expectations.  I wasn't even entirely sure of what I was looking for.  I was not planning on this happening and yet I don't think I could stop it if I wanted to.

In attempt to reign in my enthusiasm, I've given myself six months.  I will not say out loud to anyone that I want to become a member of St. Patrick's Episcopal Church.  I will not allow myself to be impulsive, but it is so, so difficult.  I want to throw caution to the wind and commit.  I can hardly explain how unlike me all of this is.

I am not that person.  I am the eternal realist.  I am not the kind who turns a blind eye to any potential risks and runs headlong into the unknown.  I am not the person who assumes it is all going to turn out okay.  I am the person who is rarely surprised by disappointment because I'm usually anticipating it.  I know that many things never work out.  No one would ever seriously describe me as romantic or optimistic or perky.

Only… I can't stop thinking about St. Patrick's Episcopal Church.  I find that I am bummed if I have to miss a single Sunday, even if it is because I am out of town doing something fun.  I find myself thinking about the sermon for days.  I find myself fondly remembering conversations I had with people while I was there.

I grew up in church.  I've spent months of Sundays in a sanctuary, dutifully participating in worship services, but I was never in love The Church.  I never "got it" when people said they couldn't wait till Sunday.  I never understood why anyone would look forward to the end of the weekend.

Now I get it.

I guess falling in love with a church is a little like falling in love with a person. 

Falling in love with a church has helped me see that, even when so many other “little c” churches were a large part of what made me so cynical about the whole church thing, that doesn't mean there is nothing for me in The Church.  Finding St. Patrick's has helped me realize that it's not that there wasn't a church out there for me, it's just that I wasn't looking in the right places for where I fit in.

Come September, I expect I will be a member of a church for the first time ever.  Come September, I expect I'll be officially part of a church that is beautifully flawed and wonderfully perfect for me -- a place that I've already fallen in love with and is, already, unofficially, my home. 

I honestly never thought this would happen. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Real Men"

"Look at you, helping your mom like real men!"

Yes.  Someone said that to my boys this past weekend when they were helping me carry our luggage.

Oh, how I grow weary of this “real men” talk.

"You mean they are helping me because that is what we do… right?  We help each other.  And they are really good helpers."

Yes.  That was my response. 

Oh, the looks I receive for my gentle corrections of “real men” talk.

And no, this is not in the general public.  I do not fight those battles.  If some stranger makes a comment in passing that is especially bothersome to me and I know the boys hear it, we discuss it later, privately.  I only attempt these corrections with people who spend a lot of time around my kids.

I simply do not understand why it is so upsetting to some people that I refuse to raise my sons to think they should offer help or courtesy to others on the basis of gender.  I cannot understand why it bothers some people that I refuse to teach my sons that in order to be “real men” they should do things for women because women are somehow weaker and need them.  (I am apparently also harming their real manhood by my refusal to glorify guns and war and certain “manly” types of violence, but that is another post.)

Yes, I am a feminist and that does influence the way I raise my kids.  But I'm not trying to use my kids, who happen to be boys, as some kind of political or social statement.  I don't force them to read feminist literature or tell them negative things about men or try to make them “girly” or whatever else it is that people scared by feminism think that feminists do.  All I'm trying to do is raise my kids with values that promote equality, mutual respect, and healthy views of gender.

So when friends or family say things to my sons about being men in a context that makes it seem that the way we treat others hinges on gender instead of shared humanity, I am going to say something.  Not because I am trying to be difficult or because I am angry, but because it is contrary to the values I am trying to teach them.  I want my boys to know that showing kindness and courtesy to others – regardless of who they are – is part of how we value the image of God in others and in ourselves. 

I want my boys to be good men because they are good people who happen to be male, not because they fit a certain social or religious stereotype. 

I'm not trying to turn my kids into feminist activists, harm their sense of manhood, or teach them women are better than men; I'm trying to raise kids who truly understand equality. 

Yes, I am teaching them to hold doors open and help carry luggage and lots of other things many may consider chivalry, but not because those are things “real men” are supposed to do.  I'm teaching them these things because those are just a few of the countless ways to show we understand the inherent value of every other person.  And if someone doesn’t want the help they offer, that is okay as well.

Behavior matters, but so do the attitudes and thoughts behind that behavior. I am trying to teach my boys that the behavior they exhibit toward other people should come from the desire to show respect, kindness, empathy, and love, rather than teaching them attitudes that assign worth to others based on gender or how well a person fits into certain roles. 

So really, there is no need for eye rolling or concerned looks when I politely dispute the “real men” comments directed at my boys.  It is fine to complement their kindness and helpfulness or to tell them it is appreciated when they do something nice without being asked, but there is no reason to use their positive behavior to create differences where none need to exist. 

I may not be out there on the front lines, fighting the good fight against patriarchy, sexism, male privilege and the like.  I may not be able to single-handedly eradicate from this earth all the attitudes and views that are harmful to both women and men.  But I will speak up when people say things to me or to my children that promote and reinforce them. 

And I hope my sons are learning to do the same.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Go Do

I work in IT.  That is not to say that I am an IT person, because I am not.  I simply work for an IT company, writing reports about things that go wrong and tracking identified actions to completion.  As part of the training I’ve received in this role, I finished course work and two projects to receive a certification for Lean Six Sigma Green Belt. 

Stay with me here, I promise the entire post is not about this. 

Lean Six Sigma projects are quite detailed with specific steps of data gathering and planning and risk analysis and result measuring and progress reporting.  If you manage a Lean Six Sigma project, you will likely be involved for months, possibly years, completing all the steps and requirements before achieving the desired outcome.  In the course of planning a project, however, if you identify what is called a “go do,” you can simply get the people you need and go do it, without all of the following of steps required for a full project.

I’ve been thinking that for quite some time my blogging has been similar to a drawn-out Lean Six Sigma project.  I’ve spent a lot of time researching and analyzing and writing, mainly regarding my faith, but without identifying or completing any go do items.   Not that I haven't been doing anything.  I work full time and have kids.  What I mean is that I haven't completed go do items resulting from all of this unraveling and listening and reading and weaving I've been writing about.

It is not necessarily bad that I’ve spent so much time writing in this way.  Sometimes writing is the only way I can organize my thoughts and figure out the how and why behind my feelings.  I type and type and type until things start to make sense or until I get to the root questions and then I can go back and cut and paste it into some kind of meaningful thought.  Writing is very important to me.  I don’t intend to stop writing.

What I do need to figure out is what direction my writing needs to take.  I have been moved or inspired or infuriated by news stories or other blog posts I’ve read and have started writing responses to many of them.  I have numerous drafts sitting in my dashboard hashing out my thoughts on everything from gun control to abortion to modesty culture to motherhood.  Some of these drafts are even completed and edited, but I always hesitate to click "publish" and almost always talk myself out of it  I’m simply not sure that is the direction I should be taking at this point. 

There are some truly amazing bloggers out there who have a calling to delve into these topics and turn them over with their words to expose the hurt and truth and complexities.  I appreciate those writers and reading their perspectives is extremely beneficial to me as I wrestle with where I stand.  But I also read books and listen to sermons and have conversations with people, often stopping just short of certainty or complete agreement on any of the seemingly urgent topics of the day.  It seems to me that if I’m unable to come up with an explanation that does justice to the complexity of how I arrived where I am with my beliefs, I’m not sure it is helpful for me to write in a way that is anything other than trying to make sense of my personal struggles.

So instead of writing to convince others to think what I think or to criticize what others are saying/doing/believing, I need to focus my writing on what allows me to work out where I should be going and what I should be doing.  And then I need to go.  And do.  Again, I love to read what is written by the people I respect and admire and I love to write.  But more and more I've realized that I need to focus on doing.  Not that writing isn’t doing anything, but I can't only read and think and write without it producing action on my part. 

Now that I think of it, it’s not entirely accurate what I wrote earlier about not finding a single go do in all this time.  I did identify one: find a church.  And I did it.  And it feels awesome to have stopped obsessing over the whole church thing and to actually have done something about it.  Now I just have to figure out what is my next go do and go do it.