Sunday, December 21, 2014

7 (Not So Quick) Takes: Life-Changing Literary Works

Or perhaps thought-changing would be a better term. These are books that challenged my thinking or shifted a paradigm. (These are not particularly "quick" takes, and it's no longer Friday. Oh well.)

The Giver, by Lois Lowry

I was nominally pro-life before I read The Giver. That is, I thought abortions were tragic, and I certainly would never have one, but I hadn't delved into the root of the issue. I also hadn't given much thought to other "life" issues. If pressed, I was pro-death penalty in specific, severe cases. I was against torture, but I didn't have a clear, compelling reason other than vague thoughts about human dignity. I had studied ethical models in college, and I knew that I was not utilitarian. However, I could not have told you why. 

Reading The Giver as part of a children's librarianship class changed all of that. This children's book about a society that has eliminated suffering should be required reading for everyone. Through the eyes of a young boy, we walk through what it really means to never suffer. If you haven't read it, please, stop what you're doing and go to the library. Or just buy it; you won't regret it. I won't say more for fear of ruining the story.

For Your Own Good, by Alice Miller

Growing up evangelical, corporal punishment was considered as essential to the Gospel as Jesus Christ. WORLD magazine, our favorite news source, published numerous stories about parents who were jailed for "correcting" their children, usually in Canada or Western Europe. I remember one story about Canadian Christians who considered themselves martyrs for the Gospel because the law forbade spanking with implements and leaving visible marks. All these years I've remembered a quote from one of the parents, that they "need to use a stick or belt; a hand isn't hard enough." When people talked about the problems of contemporary society, they never failed to mention that "you can't paddle kids in school anymore." (This isn't even true in many states, certainly not where I'm from. In Tennessee, schools don't even need parental permission or knowledge). Even after I changed my views on Calvinism, I still operated under this mindset. 

Reading For Your Own Good upended everything I thought I knew on the subject. In horrible detail, Miller shows how the "spare the rod," mindset led seamlessly to Nazism. The basic argument is that German parents taught their charges to mindlessly obey authority, always. The authority was always right, and weakness was always abhorrent. I'm normally suspicious of any Nazi analogies, but in this case it fits. For those of us who grew up in poisonous religious environments, it was interesting to see how secular wisdom fit so seamlessly with the fundamentalist mindset that small children and infants are little devils that must be beaten into submission. Of all the disturbing images in this book, the one that stuck the most was that one late 19th century German book suggested having the "the talk" in a morgue so as to instill the most potent sense of shame about the human body. What it instilled instead was comfort with seeing piles of dead bodies. When you dehumanize someone, the results are bound to bring hell on earth.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass 

I recently discussed the racism in my background. One aspect I didn't mention was that many Southerners, even to this day, don't really believe that slavery was so bad. In a vague, hypothetical sense they believe that it was contrary to human rights, but if you discuss it sooner or later someone will say "but their lives were much better under slavery than they were after they were freed" or "most slave owners worked in the fields alongside their slaves." The Gone With the Wind version of history reigns quietly supreme in white, Southern households. I was even taught that the "first KKK" was not so bad, because they were trying to reign in the criminal black elements that were unleashed during Reconstruction. The most insidious notion of all was that history had been "revised" - that prior to about the 1980s, historians understood that slavery in the U.S. not not nearly so horrid as, say, Roman Empire slavery. (In many ways, it was much worse, actually. Among other things, Roman slaves captured in war might one day be free, while race-based American slavery ensured a permanent second-class status even to "freemen.") I also heard that "the winners write history," implying that those damn Yankees made everything about the antebellum South sound horrid.

Frederick Douglass' autobiography was the perfect antidote. It was written during slavery, so you can't discount it was "revisionism." It was written by someone who was actually a slave, giving yet another layer of authenticity. And it shows, indisputably, that the system of slavery itself was a nightmare. 

Of the many realizations I had while reading this classic, two hold fast in my memory. The first was his telling of his childhood, such as it was. I had heard the stories of parents torn from children, but I didn't realize what it was like to be born into slavery and never have a family. Douglass never knew his father, though he heard many rumors about their master. He and his mother did not have a relationship of any depth. He had siblings, but they did not really know each other. His mother was more of a wet-nurse than a family member. I didn't truly realize how much people were treated like farm animals until I read this account. The second thing that stuck out was Douglass' memory of a slave owner who converted to Christianity. I'd assumed that Christian slave owners were kinder to their slaves, but Douglass blew the lid off that assumption. In fact, in his experience religious conversions were a terrible calamity for slaves. Rather than change their behavior, owners now had an iron-clad religious excuse for owning slaves, and even for savagely beating them.

Justice, by George MacDonald

The reason I titled this "literary works" and not books is because Justice is an unspoken sermon. However, I couldn't leave it out of this list. Without this sermon, my spiritual life would look profoundly different. 

During my freshman and sophomore years of college, I struggled to have this thing called "faith." I had slowly realized that the God of Calvinism was a monster, but to my dismay, the non-Calvinist, evangelical model did not solve the problem. There was still this underlying issue of penal substitutionary atonement. This model teaches that all people are born sinners. God cannot look at sin and must punish all sins, but because He loves us He punished His Son instead. The entire reason Jesus came to Earth was that He could live a perfect life and then die the most horrific death. Our sins were placed on His account, and His righteousness was placed on ours.

As I struggled, one of my major problems with this doctrine was that it offered nothing on earth. Everything good about salvation happened after death: there was no healing for the sickness of sins while still living. This seemed fundamentally wrong and, dare I say it, unjust. MacDonald's sermon articulated all the problems that I had noticed, and the relief was indescribable. For one thing, I'd been told that my questions were irreverent, the equivalent of back-talking God, and that every Christian in history had believed in penal atonement, so it was get with it or get out. Later, I would learn that this was historically false, but in that moment I needed some thread to hang onto. This sermon was that thread. 

Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun, by Geoffrey Canada

In this fascinating memoir, Canada shows how violence escalated in the South Bronx through the 60s-90s. I grew up in a poor neighborhood - though it was not as dangerous as his - but the "gun" stage was all I knew. Canada's book traces the problem of violence and gangs and shows how the influx of guns into inner cities created catastrophe. I grew up in the South, where guns are part of the religion, and I've always heard "guns don't kill people" and similar slogans. Canada's book blew this out of the water. If you want to better understand urban crime, gang culture, the interplay of drugs and weapons, and what can be done to improve ghetto neighborhoods, this is the place to start. It should be required reading for anyone who works in public education, as it explains that students are highly unlikely to care about math and English when their very lives are at stake. This book challenged my thinking on multiple areas, but especially that of gun control.

Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller

This book was a tremendous success in the late 90s/early 2000s among evangelicals and post-evangelicals. I didn't read it until college because it had an air of the forbidden about it, even though the author maintains a fairly traditional Christian faith throughout the memoir. It was "forbidden" because it dared to say what so many of us were thinking: that evangelical culture had failed those of us who grew up inside of it. Blue Like Jazz was like a love poem to everyone burned: those who didn't fit into a youth group culture that favored the cool and popular; those whose politics were left of George W. Bush; those who lived in the wrong neighborhoods and didn't get the material blessings promised by health and wealth preachers; those who wanted to be Christians without shutting out the world. This was the book that made me think I could actually be a Christian without being miserable.

And... I don't have a seventh book! Those are the ones that stick out to me the most, and there are no other books that I can automatically think of as "life changing," i.e., that changed the paradigm of my thinking on particular issues. There are many wonderful books out there that I would likewise recommend, but they strengthened or added to a thought pattern that I already had. 

What books changed your thinking? Were there any poems/sermons/short stories that made you question something you'd always believed?

*Don't forget to check out the other blogs at This Ain't The Lyceum!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Importance of the Inessentials

The last two weeks, I spent almost every night either in rehearsal or performance for a community play. It was a Christmas play, albeit a nontraditional one with zombies and salty language. I haven't done any theatre at all since high school, so it was both scary and delightful to get my feet wet again. Doing the first reading in front of the other performers was about 1,000 times scarier than doing the first real performance. Audiences are much less frightening than peers, in my opinion. In fact, that's why theatre is so addictive. There's something sublime about making people laugh, or applaud, or cry.

Now was not a practical time to involve myself in a play. We are poor, and I lost wages because a lot of my shifts conflicted with rehearsal times. I am struggling to keep my head above water, to get things done, to be organized when my default is total disorganization on a massive scale. Our laundry pile is embarrassing, especially considering that we don't have children. Our dishwasher has been coming out of the wall since we moved in, and our apartment complex has yet to respond to my latest plea for help. Meanwhile, my car keeps breaking down, as it has ever since we sent it to the no-good mechanics in August, and I have yet to get my tag replaced. And, you know, Christmas.

It was the best decision I could have made.

If you wait until you have a perfect routine to add something fun, you never will. Human nature doesn't work that way, or at least mine doesn't. Perhaps there are people, real ones and not just robots, that can do all of the things you're supposed to do, can refrain from wasting a single penny on nonessentials, can only eat healthy foods, never pick up fast food when they're tired, always have a clean house, never waste a minute at work, always feel ready to have strangers inspect their closets and kitchen cabinets and basements without a sliver of embarrassment, never get behind on laundry or dishes, and wait until all these things are true before even thinking about "wasting time."

Instead I acted recklessly, volunteered to participate and tried out for a major role, landed it (primarily because they really needed someone, anyone), and found myself in nightly rehearsals, saying lines to myself in the car on my way to work. It's been the first time in awhile that I was doing something that required something of me (i.e. isn't just mindlessly surfing the internet) but was inessential, impractical, and fun. It did not give me exercise (other than simply "being active"), or help my nutrition, or put money in my pocket, or increase my sleep.

What it did do was get me out of the apartment and around people, which in turn helped my depression and anxiety, which in turn helped the rest of my life. I had to keep a commitment, which is something I struggle with, without financial pressure but with peer pressure, i.e., I didn't want to lose face. I missed one rehearsal because of a panic attack, but this is a good record for me.

So go ahead. Stay in the car so you can sing with the radio, even if you really need to get inside and get busy. Say yes to something that seems crazy if there's an inexplicable sense of peace about it.

Friday, December 12, 2014

7 Quick Takes: Doing Advent When You're Broke

Do Your Christmas Shopping at Goodwill or another thrift store

Let's get the shopping bit out of the way, shall we? My husband and I only have a few people to shop for this year since we don't have children: our parents, his sister (who also has a birthday on December 30!), and the secret santas where we work. We are buying all of our gifts at Goodwill to save money and trying to get one thing that's meaningful in an emotional sense. For instance, for my parents I'm making a collage of some wedding pictures that they don't have. For his secret santa, my husband is making the Space Balls helmet for a guy who looks just like Michael Winslow and loves the movie. 

Down to the facial expression 

Embrace Imperfection 

That first Christmas the Holy Family was away from home when Mary was fit to burst. While waiting for the Messiah, the people of Israel were repeatedly subject to foreign powers from the Persians to the Babylonians to the Romans. So if you can't make it home (or you can, and that's the problem), you're in good company. 

Accept that Advent will never be as Holy and Quiet and Meaningful as you want it to be

The entire world is fighting you on this one. While you're trying to limit commercialism and get to the "real meaning of Christmas," you're smacked in the face at every turn by SALES SALES SALES. Don't get bitter about it, there's no point. Just keep your sense of humor and know that nothing this side of heaven is perfect. 

On the Other Hand, You're Poor, So You're Ahead of the Game!

Look, you can't worship the god of commercialism if your pockets are empty after rent and doctor bills, so embrace it! It's OK that you can't afford a bunch of junk, because that's kinda not the point.

If You Want Greenery, Ask the Tree Places for Clippings 

I learned this trick from my florist mother-in-law. She's a bulldozer and has no qualms about asking for high-quality tree clippings that fall from Frasier firs at Christmas tree farms, and she gets them for free! After all, most of them die unless someone picks them up. If you can't afford a real tree but you want that nice pine smell, get a handful of free clippings and put them in a vase on the table. 

Nothing Manufactured is Real 

I'm talking about emotions here. You can't force yourself to feel spiritual, no more than you can force excitement or anything else from the inside. You can light a candle, and the very action may bring peace to your home... or it might get knocked down and start a small fire. Who knows. You can drag yourself to midnight Mass and be too tired to enjoy yourself, and then it hits you what you're really celebrating. Or the feelings may not come until the day itself. You may be stuck in your parent's hospital room on Christmas, or working the night shift in the ER, or crying over bills. When Jesus comes back, He won't ask if you felt sufficiently spiritual during Advent. 

Kindness Doesn't Cost a Dime 

You may not have time to volunteer at the homeless shelter. You may dig in your purse for the Salvation Army kettle and come up with Kleenex and a blackened penny. You may not be able to afford a gift for your own spouse that costs more than a card and homemade cider. 

But remember what you can do. You can wait patiently in line at the grocery store and speak nicely to the overworked and exhausted cashier. You can listen to your spouse and kids even when all you want to do is lock yourself in the bathroom and scream. You can be merciful to the choir and priest when the music and sermons are less than exemplary. And if someone wishes you a Happy Holidays, just say "thanks, you too!" instead of filling their ears with a sermon. 

Have a blessed Advent!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why I'm Not Color-Blind

Unless you live under a rock and don't have a TV or internet, you've heard about Ferguson and Staten Island. I won't belabor those events here. Since I was not at either hearing, nor have I poured over the Ferguson grand jury notes, I do not feel knowledgeable enough to comment.

However, I do have extensive experience about what it's like to grow up in the South as a white kid, and I don't think we're "over" racism.

When certain scandals arise, like Paula Deen's "nigger" statement, folks around the country are shocked that someone could ever say such a thing. There's a sincere element of bewilderment. After all, aren't we a "post-racial society"? Didn't we elect a black president? Don't we have integrated schools? Haven't we ended job and housing discrimination against blacks? Aren't blacks given the same benefit of the doubt that whites are given in a court of law?

(Short answer: not really. These rights are enshrined by law but either not enforced or not enforceable. Society has many methods of self-segregation).

The way that we see these instances of racism - indeed, if we call them racist at all - has deep roots in the very core of our being. No meme, or even nuanced article, that you post on Facebook will change anyone's mind, though I've tried. That ship sailed a long time ago, and some of us are honestly waiting for the truly die-hard racists to grow old and die out. Sounds harsh, but I'm talking about people I love and care about, like my granddad, who I'm longing to see again before he dies. In some respects, maybe time does heal all wounds.

However, time moves slowly at best, and meanwhile the next generation is growing up. My generation is raising them, and we learned Racism 101 both explicitly and implicitly from the time we were toddlers. At the same time, those from outside the South who were taught to be "color blind," but never actually interacted with those outside of their race, absorb all kinds of racist signals unawares. And that's the most dangerous problem of all, because it's subconscious and therefore cannot be fought.

A friend of mine from diapers informed me that he was "deleting me" from Facebook because of my posts, that I had completely disrespected my parents and rejected everything they taught me. Though his statement was obviously hyperbolic, it got me thinking. Did my parents raise me to be racist? To be colorblind? Or something else entirely?

I found this quote five minutes ago. I never learned it in school. We never took a field trip to the town's civil rights museum, and I didn't know it existed until I was in college. I had not read the Letter from Birmingham Jail until college. We never learned about the Albany Movement, or that there even was a movement. I heard that Dr. King tried to come to Albany and was derailed, and that was that. I didn't know that the Shiloh Baptist Church was the headquarters for a civil rights singing group that toured throughout the South in the 60s at the risk of their lives. I didn't know about the sit-ins and boycotts. I'd never seen pictures of police carrying black girls out of the whites only library. I'd never seen the images of black children and teenagers crowded into a jail cell in the country outside of town. My eleventh grade English teacher tried to rectify the situation by teaching the Harlem Renaissance, and apparently she had to fight the administration to do so.

Here's what I heard about Dr. King coming to Georgia: 

"Well son," my granddad said to my dad one day, "my brother and I were sitting on the porch watching them [MLK and others march in Atlanta]. My brother said 'look at that, a whole bunch of niggers, only some of them are white'." My dad and granddad laughed. 

My private Baptist school didn't have to teach us about Civil Rights if they didn't want to. Our Bob Jones University Press history books were courtesy of a college that lost its accreditation because they believed that "Biblical" marriages were segregated, that God didn't want "the races to mix." We got MLK Day off, but for the first few years I was in school it was called a "teacher work day." Another private school in the area did not get this day off, but they get a holiday for Stonewall Jackson's birthday. Like most elementary and middle schools, we never managed to get to the 20th century in history classes, which might explain the gap in our civil rights knowledge. I pity the teachers that had to cover the Civil War and Reconstruction. (Southerners don't call it that. The more scholarly ones say "The War between the States," the sarcastic ones say "The War of Northern Aggression," and older generations simply say "The War.") My parents said that public schools had "changed" their history textbooks to make sure they were politically correct, and that the truth was being suppressed. In reality, slavery had very little to do with the Civil War - it was all about States' Rights. We never discussed which rights the states wanted beyond the right to own slaves. Lincoln was not our favorite president, though at school he was moderately praised in vague terms. 

Albany State University under water in 1994

In 1994 we had an historic flood that wiped out whole neighborhoods, and because the poorer areas were closer to the Flint River, it was mostly black neighborhoods that were effected. Jesse Jackson came to town to say that the white leaders in town somehow arranged this catastrophe. He was an example of an "outside agitator," a common designator that also applied to the kids that came down with Freedom Summer in Mississippi. 

Example of outside agitators: nuns registering black voters in Albany

The real education about race happens in day to day interactions, both within the family and in the broader community. My hometown is majority black, and I grew up in a majority black neighborhood in one of the poorer areas of town, though not the poorest. I remember the day that I first noticed race. I was playing with two children who lived in temporary government housing next door, a little girl about my age and her younger brother: I think I was about 5 or 6. The boy touched my face and asked if I was sick, and his sister punched him, apologized to me, said that "he's never seen white people before, so he doesn't know about freckles." Then I learned that I was white, and that I was a different specimen in the neighborhood. The black kids treated me with kid gloves. I was never pushed or shoved even in play.

I also learned what "black" means. The children I played with that day had rotting teeth; they had probably never seen a dentist or a pediatrician. Their house was unairconditioned (in the 90s, in south Georgia), and the word "house" is a generous description for the random collection of painted red duplexes with ratty screen doors that dotted a dirt landscape. The adults sat on porches and drank or used drugs. Fights broke out frequently, and the police were called regularly for noise and other complaints. (It's only fair to add that the worst neighbors we ever had were white, however). Their mother and her... boyfriend?.... didn't seem to work. Like most of our neighbors, they were here today, gone tomorrow, moving from one dilapidated dwelling to the next. Black kids in my town will tell you where they "stay," not where they live. Where they stay can change from week to week, and their fellow housing occupants are just as variable. 

"Modern" housing

In the whiter side of my world, there were black people, but they were shadows on the edges. My grandmama "had" a black man for well over two decades. He was not formally employed, but he started working in the pecan orchard and eventually lived in the white shack across the back yard. In the early morning I would get up to spend time with my grandmama, and she would make coffee for herself and Henry*. He had his own mug and juice jar that no one else used. Like a good Southern kid, I said sir and ma'am to adults, and Mr. or Miss/Mrs. I called him by his first name, unadorned, and never said sir. No one ever corrected me, and everyone referred to him by his first name. I meant no disrespect; it was just "the way it was." When he moved into a place with his girlfriend, an illiterate woman with a difficult past, burn marks on her face and about two teeth, my grandmama insisted they get married. When they had a son, she paid for his yearbook photos and doctor appointments, and always gave him books for his birthday and Christmas. I have pictures of me holding him as a baby on the back porch, when I was probably about 10 or 11, with his mother beside me. The pictures could easily be from the 50s except for the color. 

 The word "nigger" was not something my mother's family said. It was low-class and "common." My grandmama was never mean to anyone, she just believed that black people had "their place." In college I read about paternalism and almost had a heart attack, right there in the classroom. Paternalism is the concept of benevolent white Southerners taking care of "their" black people. I grew up on stories of white folks in that small Alabama town who bailed their black employees out of jail. When my uncle hired a Northern manager at a factory, he had to do the communicating for him because the fellow "didn't know how to talk to blacks." This was my life. And I grew up in the 1990s, not the 1890s. 

An abandoned shack in a pecan orchard, probably an old slave quarters

In middle and high school, my friends and I talked about race from time to time, usually at one-on-one sleepovers when the talk got deep. One friend from the country had a Confederate flag hung over her bed, and probably more black friends in one year than I've had in my life, and we wondered together what our daddies would do if we ever dated a black man, and confessed that we thought some were sexy. Another friend and I wondered what we would do if we lived in the Confederate South, if we would be traitors by siding with the US, if we could be pro-South without being pro-slavery. Another friend's father openly declared his affinity for slavery and wished aloud that he could have one. I had one "black friend" in high school, one of the few black kids at my private school. We bonded over Alicia Keys and basketball (street-style, no fouls for punches) and dancing, and she hung out in the same group with the kids I just described. She sang soprano in Show Choir with me, but on our own we harmonized, and she took the alto or descant, because I couldn't make my voice sling around the room like she could. 

Recording of Albany's Shiloh Baptist Church singing group

Did my parents raise me to be a racist? The question doesn't even make sense. It assumes that some people, "bad" people, in America are racists, while others are "good people" and don't see race at all. I see race. I have seen race since that day as a child, and on very few occasions, with certain people, the consciousness fades. My parents did not raise me to be colorblind: I didn't know any kids that were truly raised to be colorblind. As an adult, I had to make a decision: how to use that information. How would I look at race in America? What are my responsibilities? How should I educate myself?

I've heard that being colorblind is the goal. Maybe it is. But right now, in our society of America, do you think that African Americans see color? Do you think that they recognize a difference between their lives and the lives of whites, especially in the Deep South? Do you think it makes things better to say that you can't see color, or that you know that color makes no difference in America today?

*Name has been changed.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Gifts from Protestants: Hymnody

One of my tropes on this blog has been to rag on my evangelical background, and there's a lot of good material there. However, I have neglected to mention the good things. One of the best things that Protestant churches have to offer is their music.

To be clear, I'm not talking about this:

I'm thinking more about this:

Or this:

Or this:

If Catholics are looking for music to add to their repoirtoire, they could do worse than composers such as Charles Wesley, Isaac Watts, and the many anonymous authors of Negro Spirituals. Of course some lyrics may have to be tweaked for doctrinal reasons, but there is a wealth of musical and lyrical talent buried in the typical Protestant hymnal.

On another day I'll tell you why Protestants have such a rich history of music.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cleaning up My Own Crap

This evening I had a mind-changing conversation with my husband over health insurance. (Stick with me here). As we both cried, as I tried to apologize for forgetting to mail a check almost a month ago, as he tried to express his feelings of hopelessness, the Holy Spirit hit me in the head with a two-by-four, because apparently that's what it takes.

In a flash, I remembered my wedding vows, and it occured to me that those weren't only for my husband. I too had promised things in that ceremony. I know, it's shocking.

You see, in the course of my legitimate health problems and depression, I forgot about responsibility. I believed, with the fervency of a True Believer, that depression was a valid excuse for neglecting my health, my marriage, my friendships, my work, and any other duty or relationship in my life. And if a small voice ventured to disagree, I shot it down with woe is me histrionics that ended in suicidal fantasies, pulling my hair out by the roots, and other constructive behaviors. In addition, I had convinced myself that my husband's job was to put up with it all, because after all he had taken those vows didn't he?

There is more than one way to leave your spouse. There's the one we see in divorce courts, but there's the one I grew up watching my parents model for me. They are still married in a technical sense, and they still live in the same house. But anyone who knows them at all knows it's a farce. The lack of mutual respect is palpable.

I thought that because I'd married "better" (that is, we're more compatible than my parents, though total opposites in many ways), that we'd weather the storm. However, I asked him to do all the weathering. And now he's starting to crack under the pressure.

What's so humbling is that the things he asks of me seem so small. To take care of myself; to get up at a reasonable hour; to make friends locally so that I'm not so dependent on him for social interaction; to get exercise and fresh air; to put in the hours at my job that I need in order to finish my work. You know, to act like an adult.

It's true, part of my problem is depression. Depression/ anxiety/ PTSD make those "simple" tasks seem monumental. However, I threw in the towel before the depression had a chance to attack. My self-respect shriveled so low that I drifted through life, emerging occasionally to decry injustices on the internet rather than face my own problems.

What does God ask of me? The simple and boring, the acts of love that they don't talk about in women's magazines, the daily duties that require perseverance rather than sprints.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Daybook - For the Sake of Blogging Something, Anything

Life has been topsy-turvy, and my husband's job situation is in flux, and my sleep routine is so screwy that I find myself up at 4 a.m. and asleep at 11. No, I don't have a baby. 

OK, that's all my excuses out of the way. Really, the reasons I don't have a sparkling clean apartment or a committed prayer life or an updated blog or a full work schedule or a dedicated volunteer routine boil down to two things, laziness and depression, and damned if I can tell where one problem starts and the other begins. 

Thankfully, I also adhere to the following principle: if something's worth doing it's worth doing badly. Onward! 

Patron saint of internet quoting out of context

What I'm listening to....  Road Trip Hip Hop station on Pandora. (If you incorrectly thought this post would be spiritually edifying, now is your queue to flee). Especially anything by OutKast. This station has the highest success rate of motivating my butt than anything else at this time. What can I say, Nelly makes me shake my tail feather, just more in a "let's clean the kitchen" sense than a twerking one.

What I'm reading....  The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. It's fascinating and hard to put down. I don't know enough about Biblical-era Near Eastern culture to verify its historicity, but as fiction it's damn riveting. 

What I'm pondering....  Whether or not to sublet our second bedroom/ bath in our apartment for financial reasons. 

What I'm taking to my next confession....  The sin of envy, as in why are others able to have full-time jobs/ children/ happy sparkling Pinterest-worthy houses, the perverse will for others to be miserable because I am. If you've never struggled with this particular sin, I envy you. 

What I'm agonizing about....  Churches. As in, should I go to the church where my husband works even though there's a grand total of two other people our age, or should I nose around? How much/ how little can I trust others who may have some say in my husband's job and ministry prospects? How can I keep from wistfully wishing I could still attend my old parish in DC, understanding that God wants me here, not there? 

What I'm thankful for....  Seeing a baby flying squirrel at my last venture to a Savannah bar with friends. He was either someone's pet or soon to become one and submitted happily to being held. I wouldn't touch it because I have a well-developed fear of rabies, but the critter was too darn cute for words. 

He wasn't this plump, but just as darling

What I enjoyed about Halloween.... Everything. Halloween is an amazing holiday, and now that I don't attend a Southern Baptist school or Calvinist church I can celebrate it with gusto. My husband, who has never done anything half-way, dressed up as Awesome-O from South Park for a costume party. I went as Medusa. His costume was completely homemade from cardboard boxes, pipe cleaners, and speakers connected to an iPOD (he actually got it to play The Final Countdown). Mine consisted of a foam green Medusa hat from Target with snakes going everywhere, but it was a sweet hat. 

His was better than this, but close enough

What I'm doing tonight.... A meeting with my boss, in which we'll go over the content I'm producing for a website selling IT products. That sounded more exciting in my mind. 

Have a happy November and a lovely fall! 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Prayers for a Dead Friend

14th Century Fresco, Chora Church, Istanbul

O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death, and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that your servant Elsie, being raised with Him, may know the strength of His presence, and rejoice in His eternal glory; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

For our sister Elsie, let us pray to our Lord Jesus Christ who said, "I am Resurrection and I am Life."

Lord, you consoled Martha and Mary in their distress; draw near to us who mourn for Elsie, and dry the tears of those who weep.
Hear us, Lord.

You wept at the grave of Lazarus, your friend; comfort us in our sorrow.
Hear us, Lord.

You raised the dead to life; give to our sister eternal life.
Hear us, Lord.
You promised paradise to the thief who repented; bring our sister to the joys of heaven.
Hear us, Lord.

Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to you our sister Elsie, who was reborn by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. Grant that her death may recall to us your victory over death, and be an occasion for us to renew our trust in your Father's love. Give us, we pray, the faith to follow where you have led the way; and where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to the ages of ages. Amen.

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints, 
where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.
You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; 
and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. 
For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, 
"You are dust, and to dust you shall return." 
All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: 
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

(From the Book of Common Prayer 1979)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Breaking News: Mark Driscoll Resigned!

Note: some of the content below is pretty racy, so if that offends you here is your warning. There's also a great deal of misogyny and homophobia because, well, it's Driscoll.

Yes, I am excited by the news. I've already explained the general principle of why, but I'll go into specific details for my Catholic readers.

Mark Driscoll started a non-denominational church in Seattle in 1996, purposefully creating a church in a place that most deemed "unchurched" and even hostile to Christianity. By using various techniques including casual dress, salty language during sermons, and evangelism to social outcasts and the counter-culture, he built a mega-church with satellites in other states. Eventually this because the Acts 29 Network, which also planted a church in my hometown a few years back. These churches were known for their Calvinism, vital ministries to young families, and quick church plant model. They were part of a "network" but otherwise not part of any denomination, unless it's the denomination of Mark Driscoll.

For awhile, his efforts were lauded everywhere you turned in evangelical circles. Even Donald Miller's spiritual memoir Blue Like Jazz, written in the 90s, had a complimentary account of the "cussing pastor's" ministry to "fruitcakes and artsy people," a place where the religiously-burned Donald felt he could breath again. In keeping with his commitment to contemporary-style ministry, Driscoll had a constant stream of podcasts for anyone with a computer access. He and his wife Grace even authored a book called "Real Marriage" which hit the NY Times bestseller list (through nefarious means, it turns out).

Slowly, we started seeing signs that things were not kosher. There were too many stories of ex-parisioners who felt bullied by leadership, who had been shunned by congregants who got their orders from on high. These stories sounded an awful lot like cults. For awhile though, Driscoll got a pass from conservatives because he was preaching "The Truth" on gender issues, homosexuality and other hot button issues. In the past few years, that reputation crumbled. This year it came out that he plagiarized and essentially bought his way onto the NY Times list. However, the real damage was to his character reputation. After awhile, his comments about "pussified" Christian men and "pansy" pacifists were recognized as what he really thinks, not mere aberration or exaggeration.

Before his leadership at Mars Hill, he posted a series of misogynistic rants on his church website under the pen-name William Wallace. The content of these rants is shocking, even for those of us who had been following developments for awhile.

In response to a woman on the discussion board, he said these gems of wisdom:

I speak harshly because I speak to men. A woman might not understand that. I also do not answer to women. So your questions will be ignored. I would however, recommend to you a few versed to memorize: I Timothy 2:11-15 I Corinthians 14:33-35.To learn them, ask your father or husband. If you have neither, ask your pastor. If she is a female, find another church. If you are the pastor, quit your job and repent.

Perhaps she took umbrage to remarks like these: 

The first thing to know about your penis is, that despite the way it may see, it is not your penis. Ultimately, God created you and it is his penis. You are simply borrowing it for a while. While His penis is on loan you must admit that it is sort of just hanging out there very lonely as if it needed a home, sort of like a man wondering (sic) the streets looking for a house to live in. Knowing that His penis would need a home, God created a woman to be your wife and when you marry her and look down you will notice that your wife is shaped differently than you and makes a very nice home....

Can I be a gay Christian? In the infamous words of the now metaphysically challenged and likely kindling ex-pentecostal pastor Sam Kinison "How can one man look at another man's hairy ass and find love?" What an insane conversation. Every man knows you can't build anything with bolts and bolts. Damn freaks. And the pastel cashmere wearing sensible haircut clean shaven loafer wearing minivan driving suburban sympathizers contend "But they really really love each other." I love dogs, but I don't stick my tongue in their mouth and lobby congress for a tax deductible union. "But we need to be nice." What the hell for?  A man is free to knock boots with any sad hairy lump of clay desperate enough to climb in the sheets and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that total depravity is an understatement, but what the hell you want from me? Should we form some form of homo Promise Keepers so we can all climb into a stadium and hug each other and cry like damn junior high girls watching Dawson's Creek. I'd tell you to kiss my ass, but I'm afraid you'd take me up on it.

I always wanted to be a penis-home! 

He called this his "prophecy days" and assured folks that he was a kinder, gentler version of that guy. Well, I believe that they're the same person; I just don't see a change. Neither did the 21 pastors who charged Driscoll with abusive conduct. Neither did any women outside of his congregation when we heard sermons like this:

Men, I am glad to report to you that oral sex is biblical. Amen? [Amens and laughter] The wife performing oral sex on the husband is biblical. God’s men said…Amen. Ladies, your husbands appreciate oral sex. They do. So, serve them, love them well. It’s biblical, right here. We have a verse. “The fruit of her husband is sweet to her taste and she delights to be beneath him.” I’ll tell you a story, if you don’t tell anyone else. [Laughter] Of a man who started attending our church because of oral sex. [Laughter] So many of you women come to church, I think in your country [Scotland] it’s 60 or 70%, “My husband won’t come to church he doesn’t have any interest in the things of God and doesn’t’ see why church would apply to him.” We had a woman like that come to our church, she became a Christian, her husband was not a Christian. He hated the church, wanted nothing to do with the church. She kept browbeating him about Jesus. “You need to get saved. You’re gonna burn in hell.” He had no interest in that. So finally I was teaching a class on sex, and she said, “Oh, so oral sex on a husband is what a wife is supposed to do.” I said “Yeah.” She said, “My husband’s always wanted that but I’ve refused him.” I went to 1 Peter 3. I said “The Bible says that if your husband is not a Christian that you are to win him over with deeds of kindness. [Laughter] So go home and tell your husband that you were in a Bible study today and that God has convicted you of sin, and repent [Laughter] and perform oral sex on your husband and tell him that Jesus—Jesus Christ—commands you to do so. The next week, the man showed up at church. [Laughter, clapping] He came up to me, and said, “Uh, you know, this is a really good church.” That handing out tracts on the street thing—there’s a better way to see revival, I assure you.

His sexual obsessions notwithstanding, the scariest things came from those who formed entire support groups to help each other after leaving Mars Hill. They said the church acted like a prototype cult: lure you in when you're new in town and lonely, provide an instant family via small group assignments, fill up your free time with "work for the church," require new members to sign an extensive "covenant," and intrude on all your personal decision making. And if you step out of line, your name might get put on a shunning list on the church website and email list. Perhaps the last straw for many was in 2007 when Driscoll fired the executive board that was meant to be a check on his authority and installed a group of yes men.

I feel sorry for his wife and kids. Hell, I feel bad for him, in that many of his quotes and actions indicate someone in dire need of counseling. But mostly I am overcome with relief that, for now, he is no longer able to bully anyone but his immediate family. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What Not to Say to a Pastor/ Priest's Wife

"Honey, I don't mean to be forward, but.... are you pregnant?"

Quickly followed by:

"Oh my, I didn't mean to imply that you have a little pooch.... I think it's just the style of dress."

What I wanted to say in response

Monday, October 13, 2014

Request for Prayer

Without going into details, I ask for your prayer for myself and my husband. We are going through a very difficult time, partly related to his ministry. For the next nine days I'll be doing a novena to Mary undoer of knots. I've never done a novena before, but let's just say I'm desperate. :) 

In whatever way you can, please pray for us. 

Pope Francis' prayer: 

Holy Mary, full of God's presence during the days of your life, you accepted with full humility the Father's will, and the Devil was never capable to tie you around with his confusion.

Once with your son you interceded for our difficulties, and, full of kindness and patience you gave us example of how to untie the knots of our life. And by remaining forever Our Mother, you put in order, and make more clear the ties that link us to the Lord. 

Holy Mother, Mother of God, and our Mother, to you, who untie with motherly heart the knots of our life, we pray to you to receive in your hands (the name of person), and to free him/her of the knots and confusion with which our enemy attacks. 

Through your grace, your intercession, and your example, deliver us from all evil, Our Lady, and untie the knots that prevent us from being united with God, so that we, free from sin and error, may find Him in all things, may have our hearts placed in Him, and may serve Him always in our brothers and sisters. Amen.

Friday, October 10, 2014

7 Quick Takes: Weddings as Sacrament


Well, I hadn't done a 7QT in awhile, and since my blogging has been sporadic at best lately decided it's now or never! 


In my defense, I've been to two out-of-town weddings in the same number of weeks. In the first (which was also out of state), my husband was best man, and in the second I was a bridesmaid. Both weddings were lovely though very different, and both did an excellent job of highlighting the personalities of the couple while providing a gracious environment for guests. Naturally it got me thinking about weddings, and marriage. 


My father walking me down the aisle. It doesn't show faces so I'm OK with showing it.

I married an Episcopalian before I'd ever been to an Episcopal wedding (or a Catholic one for that matter). In my Protestant, Southern experience, the ceremonies were short and almost informal. There might be a little special music (heaven help us) or a congregational hymn, probably a reading of 1 Corinthians 13, the exchange of rings and vows, and sometimes a short talk (we don't say homily) given by the preacher/ celebrant. Weddings are a big deal, but they aren't sacraments. I'd certainly never heard of taking communion at a wedding. Why, that would seem sacrilegious! Weddings might be held in churches, but they don't hold the same reverential value that a regular church service does; it would seem profane to have the Lord's supper mingled with a wedding service. 

Like most converts though, I was determined to go full bore. We had the full shebang, communion and all, which caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth among my more Protestant family members. (In their defense, everyone was sweet the day of, although they all decided not to partake of communion. I guess they thought it was idolatry or something). It just made so much sense to start off my new married life with a miracle. The moment that my husband and I knelt and partook together was like nothing I have ever experienced. 


My husband is not the "strong and silent" type. In our wedding, I was dry-eyed and grinning from ear to ear, and he was the one tearing up. He's a very emotional soul, which I adore. During the wedding of his best friends, I caught his eye once or twice from the congregation, and we were both thinking the same thoughts. How has our marriage held up? It's been a very hard two and half years, what with my mental health issues, family problems, three moves across states, job changes, his time in seminary, preparing for ordination to the priesthood, etc. It's easy for us to be jealous of other couples who seem to have it easy, to groan when we hear yet another preacher talk about the trials of newly weds including toothpaste brands. Mental health problems are a heavy burden on a marriage, even with the support we've been blessed to have.


Thinking of marriage as sacrament helps. When you were baptized, you were promised grace, not freedom from sin and trouble. The sacraments never remove our trials, do they? (Sometimes it feels like they add to them!) The Christian life is not easy, and in fact can be an inconvenient faith as Chesterton said. Sacraments give grace upon grace because that grace is needed so desperately. 


My husband and I were blessed (in retrospect) to have weathered trials as an engaged couple. However, nothing can prepare you for the work of being married, no matter how much pre-marital counseling you receive - though it helps! The joy and hardship of being two people and yet one flesh is something that must be lived out to be believed. Before we got married, I trusted on faith that marriage is sacramental, but I didn't really get it. Like any sacrament, until you make that "leap of faith" it won't really click. 


In closing, pray for your spouse! One thing I've started practicing is offering a Rosary up for our marriage. Funny how spending time meditating on God's grace changes your perspective on marriage and love. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Accepting Grace, in spite of Pride

I finally went to confession. It had been a few months, and I felt particularly nervous since this was a new priest, a new place. Therefore, I wanted to plan, to spend several hours examining my conscience.

One morning I got up and went to the Catholic cathedral in downtown Savannah. It's open all day to visitors, and there are always tourists taking pictures. I had been meaning to go, so I went, lit a candle, prayed a Rosary, admired the iconography and statues. Thinking that was that, I got in my car and started home. Halfway there, I felt a tug to call and see if any priests in the area were available to hear my confession that day.

Confused but feeling strangely urgent, I parked in a strange neighborhood and started searching for churches on my phone. In no time I saw a church with which my husband and I have no connections and called the office. To my surprise, the priest himself answered. Yes, he would be happy to hear my confession, no, he had nothing going on at the moment, why not come on over?

The church was in south Savannah, so I did have some time to consider my recent past as I drove. It's been a chaotic last few months: moving from D.C. to Savannah, my husband's graduation from seminary and ordination to the diaconnate, my sojourn in a mental hospital. There were many opportunities for sin, but as I drove the thing that reverberated in my heart was my intense self-hatred.

I met the priest, talked a bit about my situation, made my confession. To my consternation, he was more concerned with my suicidal tendencies than with anything else. He gave me his card and made me promise to call him, day or night, if I was in any way tempted to end my life or hurt myself.

One of my religious quirks is the desire to earn my own way. Maybe it's part of overcorrecting from my Calvinist past, in which man could do nothing and had no free will. Or maybe it's human nature that cringes from gifts and would rather give to charity than be charity. I would rather be given a harsh penance than be told that most of my confessed "sins" require being more merciful to myself.

Maybe that's why it took me so long to confess in the first place: I know from past experience that the grace found there is abundant and embarrassingly free.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Don't Look Away

From The Telegraph

Friends, we forget so quickly. We would rather waste time on the internet, play games on our phones, have political fights on Facebook. 

What is it that's keeping you from saying a prayer, or writing your congressman? What's keeping us from fighting the evil in our own hearts, and from standing up for those who are victims? 

I have been convicted by two things I've read this week. The first is a piece by Samantha at Defeating the Dragons about Ferguson (remember that?). This is a problem in our own backyard, and she exhorts us to make personal changes, to consciously chose justice over racism at every opportunity. 

The second is a piece by Julie at These Walls. She discusses the source of the evil that we see in ISIL, in Ferguson, in Central America, in the Ukraine, and how it infects us in many ways. She reminds us to stop looking away. 

My personal commitment is to use my writing. To write to my congressmen, to write letters to the editor, to write on this blog, to submit a writing to my church's newsletter. I have more time than many of you because I don't have children. It would be a shame to let that time go to waste. 

Please consider what you can do personally, even if it's just thoughts and prayers. Pray that God will show you something you can do (a scary prayer!)

Here is some information on ISIL (very preliminary)

From CNN: a timeline and other quick facts 

From BBC: Why is ISIL so violent? Some facts on its dogma

From Huffpost: a link to 11 free documentaries

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Soundtracks for seasons

One reason I joined the Episcopal church was to participate in a rhythm of faith: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost. It makes sense to worship in a rhythm because we humans do almost everything in rhythms. We celebrate birthdays and the New Year and the Beginning of School and spring because they are new beginnings. We happily set off firecrackers every Fourth of July, carve pumpkins every Halloween, roast turkeys every Thanksgiving, decorate trees and hang up stockings at Christmas. We all need liturgy and rhythm and tradition, no matter our religion. It made sense, though, to recognize this human need at church as well.

In addition to the church year and the secular holiday calendar, I find myself listening to different music cyclically, based on the seasons. Come fall, I always turn on the Cranberries. Don't know why, it's a thing. Today I found Linger stuck in my head, and it occurred to me that it's September, even if Savannah's still hot and humid. 

Fall in general has me nostalgic, and something about the 90s feels cold.  Maybe it was all those denim jackets? There's something particularly aching about the Cranberries that seems autumnal. 

This is one of my favorites. Don't you love the opening scene where she pops the CD in the walkman? 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Abortion and "The Health of the Mother," in scare quotes

I have never been in a crisis pregnancy - or in any pregnancy. For physical reasons it's unlikely to happen any time soon, and I ache for a child. Holding a baby is a spiritual experience these days. Seeing a toddler at the grocery store makes me giddy or depressed, sometimes to be point of sobbing. My friends talk of "the horror" of being saddled with pregnancy, of being "tied down" to a child, and I never know what to say. When my twenty-something co-workers talked about children, it was as if they were discussing a flesh-eating bacteria that must be kept at bay. When I said that I would be happy with "even more than" four children some day, it was as if I had sprouted large antennae.

However, the thought of pregnancy also fills me with dread: I am a woman with severe mental illness, whose equilibrium is largely dependent on medication. This medication is not compatible with pregnancy or breastfeeding. I also think of my childhood. My mom is/was depressed and, though she was never suicidal, it obviously impacted my life in dramatic ways. I worry about the effect on our children. Moreover, my husband already carries the burden of my health and the stress of never knowing when I'll crack again. To put it mildly, getting pregnant right now would be devastating. 

At the same time, I am also fiercely pro-life - the very idea of killing my own baby makes me physically ill. Almost every day something reminds me of the fact that in our country it is legal to kill developing babies, even those capable of feeling pain, even those viable outside the womb. The tragedy of this cannot be overstated: it is our genocide. The weight of slaughtered infants grows every day, and yet there are people I know and love who don't even see the problem.

That's why it fills me with rage when Republican politicians mock the problem of pregnancy and mental health, or when McCain put air quotes around "the health of the mother." The problem, apparently, is that "the health of the mother" can include mental health, and therefore we can't use the health of the mother as an exception to possible abortion bans.

What many people don't realize is that mental illness is fatal if left untreated. Most medications are incompatible with pregnancy, which means that a depressed woman in a crisis pregnancy situation has the rug jerked out from under her in more ways than one. The risk of suicide - of the deaths of BOTH the mother and child - is huge.

Does this mean that I think abortion is the solution? No, I don't. Our culture of death looks to abortion as the quick solution to our ills, and we can do better. Women need mental health care in addition to obstetrics. We need to find alternatives to medicines during pregnancy that don't leave women in the lurch. It's not fair to expect women to chose between themselves and their unborn child.

At the same time, I don't believe in mocking the plight of women in this terrible situation. If you don't care about the health of the mother, then you're not pro-life. Stop pretending to represent us. Start putting your money where your mouth is and actually listen to those who deal with these issues. Listen to those who struggle with suicide, to mothers who put their own lives on the line for their children every day. Get the fuck off your pedestal and stop pretending you have even a clue what you're talking about.