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.