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Random Tuesday Confessions

Sometimes, I just have collections of thoughts swirling in my brain.  I need to expel them so I can have a clear head.

1. My faith has changed a lot, and I don’t hold the same exclusivist view of salvation I once did.  But sometimes, I’m still scared of hell.

2. Sometimes, I’m even scared I might be heading there myself.

3. I don’t laugh at all my kids’ jokes.  They’re old enough now that I tell them when they aren’t making sense.  I do try not to be mean about it, though.

4. I write a lot of crap that never sees the light of day.  I don’t even show my family.

5. I get nervous about sending my work to people just for guest posts.

6. Writing fiction scares me much more than writing blog posts.  I’m a lot more worried about “getting it wrong” when it comes to how I’ve portrayed people.

7. My favorite genre is contemporary romance, but I prefer stories that have a lot more plot than smut.

8. Editing erotica is not sexy.  Like, at all.  It’s super clinical.  If you think it’s one big hot love fest, you’ve obviously never had to pick at it for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.  Also, you’d be surprised at how many people think they are writing great sex when they’re really just…not.

9. I get embarrassed at writing sex scenes–not because I’m embarrassed about sex but because of what I just wrote in #8.  I’d rather “fade to black” than write something awful.

10. I occasionally write fanfic.  No, you can’t read it.  I use it to play around with concepts before using the same structures in “real” novelling.

11. I prefer writing from a man’s POV.  All that crap about how women are “complex” and men are “simple”?  Nonsense.  The complexity and the challenge is exactly why I like writing men.

12. I’m worried that people won’t like my work, but I’m even more scared that they will.

What’s on your mind today?

A confession

Today, I just feel worn out.  I haven’t been blogging regularly for about five months, and there are a lot of reasons for that.  I hoped that once I began to feel better physically (which I have), I might be ready to blog more.  Instead, I found myself working on other writing projects.  I focused on turning out some short stories, and I currently have two amazing beta readers working on the first draft of a novel.  That left little room for the sort of blogging I used to do.

Another part of the problem was that I felt so burned out from the whole range of people doing any sort of “social justice” blogging.  There are too many tender places where arguments left everyone raw and bleeding.  Because of the type of person I am, I ended up doing a lot of emotional damage control and wound up caught in some of the crossfire.  I only have so much energy, so I had to step away for the sake of my health.

The real issue, though, is that I just don’t feel like I have much to say these days.  I’m not being sucked dry by vampire Christianity (you know, the sort that asks you to give every spare moment to some church-related activity, group or project).  I’m not constantly fed harmful messages about my personhood or my body–or anyone else’s.  I know someone will say that as long as those kinds of churches exist, it’s part of my duty to stand up against it.  I agree, but I’m not sure I agree that blogging is the way for me to do it right now.

Mostly, I just feel burned out from life in general.  Bone-tired.  I’ve been a stay-at-home parent for more than ten years now, and it’s been more than five years since I graduated with my masters.  I can say I’m a writer or a violinist or a Christian or whatever, but the fact is, when you’re a stay-at-home parent, your life becomes defined by the people around you.  I’ve been WifeMommy for so long I don’t know what it’s like to be Not That.  I don’t know where they end and I begin.

The truth is, I have no idea where I want to go or what I want to do.  I know I never want to go back to working as a nurse (though I would if I had to), but that doesn’t mean I have any idea what I want.  Part of the reason for my confusion is having been without any real goals for so long.  I had them once, but they’ve all floated away while I poured myself into taking care of my family.

My words are gone.  I can make up stories; that’s not so hard anymore.  But the words I used to use are gone, dried up and withered.  They are like mist, with no substance behind them as I once had.  I don’t have a good explanation for it other than that I simply ran out of things to say and the desire to say them.  It’s painful to admit, because at one time, that was how I pushed beyond being WifeMommy–I used my words.

I’m sure there are people out there who will now feel free to point their fingers and remind me that I chose both motherhood and staying home, so it’s my own fault.  Or they may say I’m clearly not grateful enough for my children or something; I’ve seen that one before.  That’s not it.  I love my family.  I just don’t love being defined by my relationship to them, and I don’t love being here all the time.

What I want is to have new adventures.  Oh, not the climb-a-mountain or travel the world or go skydiving kind of adventures.  Not even the road-trip-with-the-bestie kind of adventures.  Just something fresh–a different view, a new perspective of the world.  Something that belongs to me apart from my other roles.

In the meantime, I need a break.  I need to put my ordinary life on pause and simply be away from having to take care of everyone else’s needs for a bit, even if it’s only a day or two.  I’m going to find a way to make that happen.

I don’t know what that means for my writing, or at least for this blog.  I suppose if I’m struck with inspiration, I’ll post something.  I just can’t right now.  I can’t force words that won’t come or ideas that have no substance.  I’m not giving up, but I’m not willing to keep pushing something that isn’t working.

So that’s where I am.  I’m glad I can share my journey with you all, and I hope that you don’t give up on me.  I promise that when I find what I’m looking for, I will share it with the world.  For now, thank you for being part of this phase of my life and may hope follow you wherever you go.

The art of critique

Over the last five months or so, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with online “dialogue” that feels suspiciously like fighting.  As I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of policing every single word that I speak or write in order to achieve some Platonic ideal of non-offensive communication.  It would be impossible to please every person in existence, and by attempting to satisfy one person I will inevitably alienate another (often from the same circle).  I would much prefer to make a mistake and have someone point it out to me than try to read minds ahead of time.

There’s no shame in being told that our words have hurt someone, even if it was unintentional.  If someone is upset or angry and points out the flaw, that’s an opportunity to grow, learn, and (hopefully) deepen a relationship.  I hesitate to use the word “blessing,” because some find the connotations offensive, but I do consider it a blessing when someone corrects me, even using strong language or statements.  Ideally, it’s proportionate to the offense (that is, a tweet for a tweet or a blog post for a blog post) and a critique of my words, not my character or my presumed intent.

I’ve been going over and over in my mind what exactly has been so upsetting to me about many recent interactions on social media.  After all, I’m rarely directly involved, and even when I have been, no one has told me that I’m doing anything wrong (aside from one very snide and hurtful exchange).  Yet something about it has been triggering panic, sadness, anger, and desperation like I haven’t experienced in years.  I tried considering it from a workplace standpoint–if tensions on the job are high, it creates an unpleasant work environment even for those not involved in the situation.  Twitter may not be my job, but as a stay-at-home mom and writer, it can be like a “workplace” among fellow bloggers.  That doesn’t fully explain why it was so painful to witness, though.

I tried unfollowing several people regularly involved in these controversies, but it hasn’t helped so far.  I would have to unfollow about 200 more people in order to feel completely safe from any and all triggers.  I’d be left with mostly famous people and my local grocery store chain, which–let’s face it–isn’t all that interesting  (sorry, Wegmans).  It’s impossible to escape disagreements, and it’s impossible to be the “perfect” blogger.  So, if the problem isn’t who I’m following (and can’t be resolved by unfollowing), then what is it?

This morning, it struck me.  The specific way of pointing out flawed ideas brings back my childhood in vivid detail as though I were living it over again.

Allow me to explain.  There are two different ways in which people engage with posts and ideas with which they disagree or even find offensive.  This is what happens in the first situation:

  • Person 1 makes a statement or comment people disagree with.
  • Other people reply that it was a Bad Thing to Say, sometimes even with strong language or harsh words or anger against the original statement and the person posting it.
  • Person 1 either apologizes or doesn’t, takes down the tweet/post or doesn’t.
  • Discussion may or may not ensue around the original statement or the arguments against it.
  • Life goes on.

Here is the second version:

  • Person 1 makes a statement or comment people disagree with.
  • People passive-aggressively tweet or write blog posts about how terrible Person 1 is.
  • Person 1 feels personally attacked and fights back.
  • Other people jump in to defend both parties involved.
  • Nothing gets resolved, tensions remain high, people distrust anyone still friends with either person/persons involved.
  • Life goes on, but people are unfriended or unfollowed because of their involvement or refusal to get involved.

Sadly, this happens more frequently to women.  It’s particularly bad if the person who makes the original statement is already part of a marginalized group–for reference, see what has happened pretty much every single time a black woman speaks up publicly about an important issue.  I really don’t know how to say this without someone feeling like I’m “calling them out” personally.  I’m trying to point out the difference between telling someone their words or actions were offensive and making bold statements about that person or their character.

Why this is so upsetting for me personally is the name-calling and the fault-finding in regard to a person’s humanity.  I spent years being told that I was ugly, worthless, stupid, and deserving of mockery.  Is it any wonder that it hurts to see anyone using the same language and then justifying it by saying, “I have a right to be angry” or “This is a healing step”?

We also need to stop saying that everything someone says is justified because of their personal history or even because they are right.  Being right doesn’t justify verbal violence.  Would we be okay with a person pulling a gun on someone else because they’d said something offensive?  I doubt it.  Yet we’re fine with someone pulling a verbal gun because it “isn’t as bad.”  I am going to tell you that anyone who believes verbal assault “isn’t as bad” because you don’t die from it has not spent a childhood being verbally abused.  They probably also haven’t been subjected to rape threats in the comments section of a popular blog, either.

This is absolutely not about anyone’s right to say that something was offensive or in poor taste or triggering or otherwise upsetting or harmful or even that we just plain didn’t like it or don’t agree with it.  It’s not about tone-policing or suggesting that anger isn’t healing or holy.  It’s about how name-calling, passive-aggression, mocking people rather than ideas, and assigning motive to people is not a healthy way to interact with the world.  That’s very different from telling anyone not to be angry or not to express their anger, and it’s not even asking people to “just be nice.”  Niceness is not required in order to attack ideas instead of people.  “That’s a shitty thing to say” isn’t especially polite, but it sure beats “You are a shitty person for saying that.”  It’s also a lot better to say, “That statistic you cited sounds like someone pulled it out of their ass” is also kind of rude, but it’s much better than, “You ignorant ass, smart people know that’s not true.”

I’m not going to spend 2014 grinding my gears on this issue.  Although it’s not my preference, I’m happy to thin my social media to close friends, celebrities, and the grocery store.  Either way, I’m taking myself out of this completely.  Follow me or don’t; be my friend or don’t.  All I ask is that if you step away, you extend me the courtesy of not talking about me behind my back, sending me manipulative emails through my blog, or tweeting thinly-veiled mockery of my personhood.  After all, that’s the same respect I’ve already given to you.

Why I’m not writing a “best of” post this year

Last night, I saw a whole bunch of posts from my fellow bloggers highlighting the best, most-read, and most-commented-on posts of 2013.  Instead of feeling inspired, I felt defeated.  That’s not typical for me.  I’m one of those people who feels other people’s emotions strongly, so I rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.  I also often dismiss my own feelings as being selfish or wrong in some other way.  Yesterday, though, I couldn’t feel anything except discouraged.

Morning brought a bit of perspective.  Part of the problem yesterday was lack of sleep and overdoing it physically when I took my daughter out yesterday.  A bigger revelation was that 2013 was not a stellar year for me.  I don’t really want to relive it, even through my blog.

Instead of combing through my stats to find my best/worst posts or most frequent referrers or hottest topics, here is what I learned this year (and hope to carry into 2014):

1. Sometimes there really is something wrong.

I told myself repeatedly that I was fine, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  I’m happy to be in a better place now that I have a diagnosis.  Following my rheumatologist’s very sound advice, I’m now having more good days than bad.  There’s always a low-level set of symptoms, of course, but I’m actually managing them rather than fighting them.  It’s good, but chronic illness still sucks.

2. Internet drama isn’t healthy for me.

My biggest physical crash came right after a huge blow-up among some of my fellow bloggers.  I had to block several people–not out of spite but because I simply could not have their tweets showing up in my feed at all, even as retweets or because others had replied to them.  I’m not sorry; they weren’t people who were healthy for me.

3. People take things personally even when it’s not intended.

That means I need to be more careful with my words.  I need to be clear when I’m not aiming a comment at a specific person.  I made the mistake of critiquing one blogger and ended up with someone else angry with me because she assumed I meant her (she’d said a similar thing).  I thought I’d mentioned the person I was actually referencing, but I hadn’t.  I had a similar experience in a non-blogging context.  It’s hard to tell when it’s my problem (I wasn’t clear, I was too harsh) and when it’s the other person reading into it something that doesn’t exist.

3. On the other hand, some people really enjoy drama.

And they need to be avoided at all costs.

4. Not everything needs to be blog fodder.

I can think of a whole bunch of things that I probably just shouldn’t have said.  That’s okay; I can work on that.  I just wish other people would do the same.  I refuse to apologize for thinking that in some of the Internet ugliness there is not one person at fault but many, and even people who have been hurt by others can be abusive themselves.  Some things that I found particularly disturbing:

  • Hashing out problems on the Internet instead of with a competent therapist, including policing what everyone else’s healing ought to look like.  Also: Meanness but claiming that it’s part of your healing to be an ass to other people because they remind you of someone else.  People shouldn’t have to put warning labels on their personalities; we should be mature enough to just not engage with people we don’t like.  Similarly, we should be mature enough to accept it if someone says, “I don’t really like you or want to interact with you. Please stop contacting me.”
  • Outing your kid on social media.  I’m all for being more inclusive, loving/accepting our kids as they are, and making it safe for them.  But telling their stories–without their permission–before they’re even old enough to decide who they tell for themselves?  Horrible.  Do parents even get what kinds of problems they could be causing with that?  No; just no.  That needs to go away immediately.  It’s entirely possible to talk about how we might respond if/when the time comes without telling the universe our kids have an Identity and what it is.
  • Abusive behavior under the guise of “calling out” (no, I’m not talking about anything in the last month, so stop assuming it’s you).  This is a Very Serious Problem among cis-het white people interacting with each other and presuming to speak for those who are not cis, het, and/or white but failing to include all voices or just friggn’ stepping aside and letting them talk about the issues.
  • Twitter “parody” accounts that bully, harass, and mock people (rather than concepts).  Yes, maybe even hateful public figures.  Parody accounts are largely not funny, and too many people stand to be hurt.  Not only that, they are often poorly written and don’t convey the sense of irony they think they do, even when those who run them are otherwise witty people.  In my opinion, even the ones for public figures are unnecessary–ass-hats are entertaining enough without parodying them, and sometimes we need to see their real words in order to understand how they are doing harm.  You want humor, even of the snarky kind?  There are plenty of those sites and Twitter accounts out there.  Go read those.

5. Having people unfriend you because of your religious beliefs really, really hurts.

I lost at least 10 friends in the last year because they couldn’t deal with the fact that I’m no longer a conservative evangelical.  That includes a couple of people I’ve known for over twenty years.  At the same time, though, my friendship with at least 3 people has deepened due to my openness about my changing perspective.  I won’t name her here, but one friend’s private messages on Facebook have meant a lot to me over the year.  I credit her with helping me learn how to pray again, even though she never said anything specific.  Anyone who knows her is very lucky indeed to have her as a friend.

6. Getting braces off after 3 years is among the best things I’ve ever experienced.

I am still–nearly a month later–finding foods I can eat now.  I’m still having small joys over what isn’t on my teeth.  I’m still looking in the mirror and going, “Wow.”

7. I have no real idea what’s next.

I love to write, but the combination of illness and online tension pretty much sucked out my creativity.  I noticed in the last quarter of the year that I had grown fearful and my writing was suffering.  I didn’t have the mental energy to write much, and what little I did write felt lifeless.  I even stopped blogging on Fifty Shades (though I hope to pick that back up in 2014).  I also didn’t do as much editing in the second half of the year as I had been doing.  I don’t know what that means for the coming year or my future in writing.  When I started this blog, I never meant it to become anything much.  “Blogger” is not my dream job.  In fact, I have no idea what my “dream job” is.  Maybe I’m not ready to figure that out yet.

8. New Year’s resolutions are not for me.

I’m making no promises for the coming year.  I don’t know what it will bring.  I’m working on a novel (which I’ve been previewing on my other blog).  I’m writing a short story or two.  I’ll keep writing this blog for now as inspiration hits, though probably not on a daily basis as I once did.  The one thing I do think I’m going to do is step away from the “blogging community” (whatever that even is).  I’ll keep the ones I like to read in my emails and on my “follow” list, but I’m not sure I’m going to get involved again.  I got as hurt by that as I had been in church, and I don’t care to repeat that.

And there you have it.  2013 may not have been my best year, but there are things I will keep and carry forward.  The rest is going in the “burn it” pile.  I’m having a do-over in 2014 while I figure out where I go next.

Popularity

I’m supposed to be doing something else right now–working on editing the next chapter of my novel, maybe, or getting started on school for the day.  But I can’t concentrate.  Every time an online blow-up happens, I feel sick.  Distressed.  Afraid.

The weird thing is, there’s not much for me to fear.  I typically stay out of it.  I may throw in a comment or two, but I don’t choose a side and then engage in battle.  I don’t find that kind of thing meaningful, and it often takes away the limited energy I already have.  In fact, I more or less quit tweeting for two months, in part because of my health issues but also because the constant tension was making my health worse.

Last night, I tweeted this:

tweet 12_16I know I’m not the only one.  When I’ve mentioned it before, I’ve gotten–not surprisingly–unpredictable results.  As I reflected, though, it occurred to me that it isn’t (for me) as much a volatile parent as a hostile school environment.

For many years, I was bullied at school.  The terrible thing was that I could never, ever figure out what I had done wrong.  I couldn’t think of some thing I’d said or some person I’d hurt that caused the problem.  I thought maybe I just wasn’t cool enough or pretty enough or trendy enough.  Funny thing was, I wasn’t even popular enough for other kids to “ruin” the way bullying seems to be portrayed in movies–you know, the popular girl whose friends turn on her.  I wasn’t even good enough for that.

The funny thing is, when I decided to become more serious about my writing, I ended up inadvertently sitting at the popular table.  I made connections.  I became one of the “good ones,” landing on several people’s lists of bloggers to watch.  I never enjoyed the kind of success some have, but that wasn’t terribly important anyway.  I was at a season of my life when I was stuck in an offline social environment that wasn’t good for me, and I needed the shelter of like-minded people.

Through that, I discovered that I never, ever want to be popular again.

Being popular is not at all the same thing as being liked.  It’s merit- based–you are only as popular as your followers want you to be.  We can argue about whether or not some people deserve pushback (hint: they do), but that really isn’t what scares me.  I’m absolutely not anywhere near the top of the power structure in terms of blogging.  So I’m a lot more concerned with people bullying at the micro level and whether or not that could potentially happen to me.

As much as it is not okay for powerful people to bully those with less power, it is also not okay for less powerful people to bully each other.  There is absolutely no excuse for that behavior.  “He did it first!” is not a reason, especially if the recipient of the harassment isn’t even the one who attacked.  Neither is “But that person over there needs to stop!”  Of course they do.  There is no question about that.  But that isn’t license for passing it on.

I quit the popular table.  Keeping up appearances is wearying.  I’m not going to police every word I say to make sure that a particular subset of a subset of the population isn’t upset, bothered, or even offended by what I say.  For example, if I want to write about forgiveness and healing, I’m not going to try to contort myself finding a way to say it that validates the small number of people who actually enjoy carrying so much turmoil around that it spills onto everyone else.

That kind of emotional and intellectual pretzelizing has stunted my growth as a writer.  For months, I refused to write fiction because I lived in terror that some people–again, a small but vocal number–would read meaning into it that I never intended.  There’s a common belief that if someone writes something, it must automatically mean an endorsement for that thing and that thing alone.  All writing must, in some form, be a kind of social critique.  Well, I don’t write that.  I write the sort of fluffy, cheesy stories one might choose to read curled up with a cup of cocoa or to pass the time on a long flight.  It’s not rife with hidden agendas.

This fear was causing my soul to shrivel.  I needed time to clear my head and discover what it is that I’m looking for.  What I want, I think, is not to be popular.  I don’t want to be heralded as a blogger who “gets it right.”  I’ve lived a lifetime of trying to meet someone else’s standards for being a good person–whether it was the popular kids at school or the leadership of my churches or the self-appointed Guardians of the Internet.  I’m done with that.

What I actually want is to be liked.  No, I don’t mean my blog.  Hey, that’s great if it gets read.  I don’t mean my fiction, either, though that would be cool too, if I ever publish.  I mean I want other real people to like the real me.  Not because I’ve earned my Ally Cookie or my Feminist Badge or whatever but because we both enjoy My Little Pony, the New York Yankees, and long walks on the beach.

Is that even possible?  I don’t know.  I’m determined to try, though.  While still writing about the injustices within the church–which, let’s face it, I do better than trying to be the perfect activist anyway–I’m going to reconnect with people who I might find enjoy the same things.  I had that, once upon a time, but I let it go.  It’s time to find it again.  This time, I’m going to hold on to it.  Having something real is more important than being popular.

Battle Hymn of the Church-public

By Micha L. Rieser (Own work by uploader (wreath and picture)) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I waged an internal debate this morning: Do I post about Dave Ramsey or the War on Christmas?  Christmas won.  Other people have already addressed Dave Ramsey better than I could, and well, I’m in a holiday mood.

Oh, sorry.  I’m in a Christmas mood.  Because naturally, that’s the only holiday happening right now.  Wait.  It’s not even Christmas yet?  Well, shoot.  And here I was all ready to sing a few rounds of Silent Night.

I’m glad we have a few well-meaning folks to remind us that everyone should wish people Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays.  Unless, of course, you know for a fact that your friend celebrates something else.  Then you should probably (grudgingly) accept that fact and wish your greetings accordingly.

Never mind that the same people shedding tears over the loss of Merry Christmas are also probably watching Elf or How the Grinch Stole Christmas, both of which mention Christmas but with nary a word about Jesus (who just kinda happens to be the reason for Christmas, no?).  Of course, that hardly matters–why, Christmas is as American as baseball and apple pie!

Here’s the cold, hard truth: It isn’t really about Christmas or any other holiday celebrated at this time of year.  If it were, people would quietly honor their religious and/or family traditions on the actual day.  It wouldn’t matter one iota what people celebrated or didn’t celebrate, what greetings they used or didn’t use.  I guess it would be a lot more like Thanksgiving–you know, the day that falls between Get Lots of Candy Day and Buy Lots of Stuff Month.  Fairly unnoticed and not particularly commercial.

If it were really about the religious holiday, theoretically, we ought to find Christians being glad that their holiday greeting isn’t being taken in vain.  After all, isn’t one of the premises of evangelism that most people do not already know Jesus?  Why invoke the percent of people identifying as Christian now?  Sadly, this is actually about a small number of very vocal people looking for another way to play Persecuted Christian.

There are several other things to consider in talking about this supposed War on Christmas:

  1. I don’t care how you greet me.  Wishing me Happy Holidays is fine by me–it makes me feel warm and squishy inside.  We may be strangers, but it feels for just a moment like you actually do care whether I have a happy time.
  2. Only about half the people I know are Christians.  Sure, some of the people who aren’t also celebrate Christmas, but not all of them.  When I’m with people I know personally, I’m free to wish them whatever holiday greetings they prefer.  That’s not always the case.  Why should store employees need to ask personal, invasive questions about your religious affiliation when a simple, generic greeting will do?
  3. Have you all noticed the sheer volume of Christmas-themed stuff in the stores?  It’s truly staggering.  How about the television ads, social media promos, and mailers?  Where is this alleged War on Christmas?  They may be using the words “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings,” but the intent is certainly clear.
  4. Don’t any of you War on Christmas types ever celebrate the New Year?  That’s not an extension of Christmas; it’s a holiday of its own.  I’m just guessing here, but aren’t a lot of stores/people/places that use “Happy Holidays” probably including New Year’s in their generic greeting?
  5. As far as school is concerned, I’m happier not having my religion stepped on.  In exchange, I won’t step on anyone else’s.  I also prefer that school be a place of learning.  Do they really need to have a party with a lot of sticky candy canes?  If my kids want to celebrate Christmas, we have friends and a church for that.  School really isn’t the place.
  6. Have we forgotten that there are lots and lots of people who might prefer not to be greeted seasonally at all?  This is a pretty hard time for many people.  Fixating on the words used by store employees detracts from the love and care someone may need.  Don’t waste time and energy crying foul over Happy Holidays–do something to show love to someone instead.
  7. Finally, a big old what. the. hell.  Are you kidding me?  This is really an important issue?  So, rampant holiday consumerism is less significant a problem than the type of greeting the store employee offered you.  I see.  Well, good luck with that, then.  I hope you have a damn skippy “holiday” filled with luxuries I probably can’t afford.

I’ll admit, I love this season.  I like driving downtown at night and seeing the streets festooned with lights.  I enjoy putting up the tree and bringing out the special decorations.  I appreciate the neighbors’ outdoor displays (yes, even those giant inflatable snowmen).  The song “Silver Bells” sums it up pretty well for me.  Guess what, though?  None of that has anything to do with my religious beliefs.  It’s just a fun part of the transition from fall to winter.  Spiritually speaking, it’s the traditions of Advent that draw me back to the awe and wonder of my faith.  Perhaps the ability to separate the commercial from the sacred is why I don’t believe there is a War on Christmas at all.

This might be a shortcoming of conservative evangelical Christian culture–more often than not, the actual reason we get a whole month is lost on people who think High Church tradition is “irrelevant.”  Those churches that do not teach or understand the liturgical year have caused their own problem.  How many people in those churches know that we just celebrated the Christian New Year?  This is our season of hope and anticipation, yet it’s full of shopping sprees and fighting about Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas.

Here’s my charge to you: Go do some research.  Google is a wonderful thing.  Search for Advent, and read about the traditions.  Take a break from your usual daily devotional (if that’s your thing) and read the Advent Scriptures instead.  Create an Advent wreath with your family and light the candle each night, adding another every Sunday.  Read the prophets and the Magnificat.

And then do this:  Enjoy the hustle and bustle of the outside world.  Have fun shopping and wrapping and baking and partying.  Drink egg nog and mulled wine.  Sing “Jingle Bells” (and maybe ride a sleigh with actual jingle bells).  Watch Ernest Saves Christmas (you’ll thank me later).  There is nothing wrong with any of that.  Just do it knowing that really, cookies and egg nog and sleighs and Rudolph have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the miraculous event of God descending to us as a tiny babe.

Happy Holidays, all.

Blank

For the last two days, I’ve been struggling to find something to write about.  The weird thing is, I don’t feel burned out or stressed, the typical causes of writing failure.  I just . . . don’t have anything to say right now.  Go on, you can make fun of me for that–especially if you know me offline.

I suppose part of it is that I’m working on some fiction and I’m pouring my energy into that project, which I’m currently having beta-read.  I’m excited about what I’m writing, and I’m enjoying the process.  (Nope, not going to tell you yet–I’d like to get the whole thing done and beta’d.  I may post it as a serial on my fiction blog.)  I only have so many hours in the day, since I also need to work on editing projects and homeschool my daughter and drive the kids around to their activities.

Another part is just a function of not having much to say.  I’ve spent years deconstructing a shaky faith built on a legalistic version of Christianity.  I’m now in process of reconstruction.  I was at church the other night and I mentioned to a couple of people there that coming into a church that doesn’t teach salvation based on receiving Christ as personal savior has been alien to me–in a good way.  Being in a place where the emphasis is on “God is awesome!” rather than “You are unworthy!” has been refreshing.  To an extent, I still don’t fully trust church as an institution.  I’m still guarded when it comes to participation in church activities.  But I’m healing, and that’s what matters to me.

The third piece is that I think I’m softening on some things and learning as I go.  When I left legalistic Christianity, I temporarily exchanged it for legalistic feminism.  That’s not healthy.  I discovered that feminism can be just as much a belief system, in a sense, as religion.  I needed to distance myself from people claiming to speak for me and from terminology (which I’ve used and now regret) that I view as harmful.  No matter how many times women tell me that they have the right to be angry, I can’t see how “kill all men” is helpful in any way.  I’m not talking about “being nice” in hopes of getting people in our corner; I’m talking about how anger can be expressed without that kind of hyperbole.  I don’t feel pressure to conform to someone else’s feminism any more than I feel pressure to conform to someone else’s Christianity.

I’m still figuring out how to write from this place.  It’s where I started–the gap between my faith and my experiences of the world.  Now I need to learn to write from the gap between my feminism and my experiences of the world.  It’s the place in which I don’t want to hurt other women, but in which I need to protect my own spirit as well.  I learned that being angry all the time made me self-righteous and burned me out to the point that I had to block people on social media because they were indirectly causing my anxiety to peak.

Anyway, I’m sorry about the crickets in here.  I know that if I’m patient with myself and allow for the time I need, I’ll be able to write in here again.  For now, I’m going to work on other projects while I enjoy the beautiful sunshine streaming in my windows.  Whatever today brings for you, may you find your small ray of hope in it.

New school year, new leaf

By Ktsquare from Canada (Autumn canadian maple in Ontario Canada, own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. I picked it because I like maple trees, I like red leaves, and I like Canada.

An hour ago, I sent my big kid off to his first day of fifth grade.  As I type this, my newly-minted third-grader is playing brain games on the computer, gearing up to start school at home.  She’s already had her first dance class of the season (big brother’s is today).  In less than a week, Girl Scouts and piano lessons begin, followed by music lessons and band practice.  I’m already two weeks into orchestra rehearsals.  Yes, I can tell it’s a new school year.

Which brings me to my blog post for today.  I had in mind how I was going to roll this week.  Today is my first official day back on the job–blogging, editing, and keeping up with life in general.  That was blown out of the water when I posted yesterday and nearly 17,000 people viewed, shared, and commented on my post.  I honestly wasn’t expecting that.  I am in awe, and I want to say thank you to everyone who was part of that.  I even received several personal messages and emails.  You, readers, amaze me in all the best ways.

There’s no way to follow that up with anything nearly so brilliant–at least, not immediately.  Stay tuned, though, because I might say something awesome and snarky and intelligent at any moment.  I’m stealthy that way.  I’m sure I learned that from having kids and from having to tuck that part away for so long in conservative religious circles.

Anyway, the big thing I’m doing is cleaning things up a bit.  Not here–I plan to be my regular old self on my blog.  I want to be more authentic, though, and to do that, I’ve needed to clean up my social media.  Over my vacation, I discovered that a big source of my distress whenever going on social sites (Twitter in particular) was my fear that I was going to say something and piss off the Royal Gatekeepers of Activism.  I’m not honestly sure what I thought they could do to me, other than possibly make me cry (they’ve done that to others) or gossip about me (yep, done that too).  I couldn’t place what it was, though, that kept me trying to fit in there.

And then it hit me.

I grew up with a parent who had unpredictable mood swings.  I have always been drawn to unpredictable people and situations, because it feels familiar.  On vacation, I learned that such vacillation isn’t actually normal.  Huh.  Go figure, right?  So I’ve now excised the scary, unpredictable people from my life.  I stood up for myself.  I pushed back on another blog.

It felt great.

My next order of business is going to be to message several people who I’ve hurt deeply in my quest to stay on the good side of the Pretentious Activist Brigade.  I don’t actually expect forgiveness, but I hope for reconciliation and a future of mutual respect.  Caring for people who I’ve personally hurt is a lot more important than trying not to offend total strangers on the Internet.

I hope all my lovely new followers will stick with me.  In case you’re new and didn’t know, I like to shred the Fifty Shades series on Mondays (once a week is all I can handle of that trash).  I link to my favorite posts of the week on Fridays, and I try not to link to already-thriving blogs (unless I know the blogger; I do enjoy posting my favorite Naked Pastor cartoons, particularly since I consider David a friend).  If you are a blogger, feel free to shoot me an email or a comment with your blog link and tell me which post you’re most proud of this week.  Similarly, if you’ve read something you liked, let me know so I can read it too and link up.  Between Monday and Friday, it’s a hodge-podge, but I mostly post about issues of gender, sexuality, and faith.

Anyway, thanks to everyone for making yesterday so fabulous.   Now, go make it fabulous for each other!

 

Notable News: Week of August 17-23, 2013

Here we are at the close of another week.  It’s been a busy one for me, with my volunteer work at the kids’ last summer camp of the season.  I can’t believe that school is just around the corner for us.  Two weeks from today, my kids will be finishing their first week of classes.  The summer has flown by.  Meanwhile, I’m trying some new things in my life outside of blogging.  I’m looking forward to new challenges and opportunities.

This week, there have been some great posts.  Here are some of my favorites:

1. Religious privilege

This is a great summary of the privileges enjoyed (often unawares) by most Christians (other than those considered too “fringe”).  Because I still identify as Christian (even if I don’t always know how to define that, even for myself), I have definitely experienced many of the things on the list.  Although I’ve done well as an ally to people of other faiths in some ways, there are places where I can improve.

2. Love and Marriage

This story from Lana Hobbs is incredibly moving.  I’m not posting it here in order to “prove” to anyone that courtship works.  I’m posting it because so often lately, I read black-and-white pronouncements without any sense of the varied experiences of real people.  Lana’s story is one of hope in which despite her feelings about the process, she and her husband value and affirm each other.  There is rich beauty in that.

3. Leaps of Faith

I wish erinrebecca a blessed, hopeful journey this weekend in coming out to her parents.  I don’t have any special words of wisdom or deep, meaningful prayers to offer.  All I have to give is support from one writer to another, a thin line of Internet hope, and an affirmation of God’s love and mercy.  Grace and peace be with you as you go.

4. Jesus’ Gag Reflex

One of many fine responses to the gag-reflex-worthy poo fest that was Thabiti Anyabwile’s dreadful Gospel Coalition article.

5. More Gag Reflexes

And, of course, this one.  A friend of mine made a similar comment about his gag reflex for het sex.  Gee, thanks, guys–you’ve cleared things up for me.  Now I know I’m the one sinning because I’ve tripped your gag reflex!

6. Misogyny of the Week

I honestly find purity, modesty, and “courtship” culture kind of trips my gag reflex.  I’m glad my parents didn’t encourage any of this.  I’m also glad I married a man who even thought it was weird to ask my parents for permission to marry me.  After reading this dreadful post, I’m currently glad I will never have reason to allow this man to counsel either of my children.  I’m still laughing about how he calls this post “PG-13.”

7. Virgin Sacrifice

I’m glad I wasn’t drinking hot coffee when I read this.  Also, I misread “virgins” as “vaginas,”  to which my brain helpfully supplied, “That too.”

8. Christian Music

Apparently they meant “Grew Up A Christian Music Fan After 1992,” as I didn’t relate to most of this.  But I was a Christian music fan in the late 80s-early 90s, and I was one of those die-hards who refused to listen to secular music.  Other than the Billy Joel I used to sneak in.  And whatever my sisters happened to be listening to.  And U2 after they weren’t Christian anymore.  And Metallica.  And REM.  And…oh.  Never mind.

Have a great weekend, everyone!  See you on Monday.

Eight

My apologies for skipping out on my Fifty Shades post yesterday.  It was a busy day, and I didn’t have the chance to do much other than hold things together.  I’ll do my best to have one for next week.

Meanwhile, today my amazing daughter celebrates her eighth birthday.  As I type this, she’s enjoying a gift from her aunts–a large box that once held a portable air conditioner.  Honestly, I sometimes think I shouldn’t bother buying my kids anything.  I could just call around to stores and ask if they have any boxes they’re throwing away.  I assumed kids outgrew the stage where the packaging was more interesting than the toy; apparently not.  Today alone the box has been a monster storage unit, a rocket, a car, a tunnel, and (folded flat) a bridge.  Her brother and cousin have taken off to play something else; she’s bringing her little plastic animals inside the box and setting up a complex world.

Eight is an interesting age.  She’s still young enough to enjoy her toys, but sometimes, she seems surprisingly grown up.  She has an impressive vocabulary for a girl her age.  Yesterday, I was reading to the kids.  We came across the word “propitious”–definitely not a word one finds in most stories for third graders.  She asked what it meant then said, “Wait.  I think I know.  I’ll bet it means ‘right.’”  She’s pretty close, actually, and that is more or less how the word was used in the context of the story.  The best part is that she’ll probably start looking for ways to use the word.

She’s always been that way.  She talked early and often.  I have to admit, I was happy her first word was “mama.”  Her big brother had at least five words before he said it!  After that, it was obvious she was going to be just like me–a talker.  She has something to say about everything.  She also has a pretty good grasp on sarcasm.  I don’t know whether to be pleased or not that she has my sensibilities (okay, I am pleased).  I think the way she speaks is one of my favorite things about her; she and I can sit down and talk in a way I really can’t with her brother, even though he’s older.  That’s not to say he and I don’t talk–it’s just very different.

It’s been a long road parenting kids with such intense personalities.  I used to watch friends who had these quiet, gentle kids or easygoing kids or mostly obedient kids and think maybe I’d done something wrong.  How come mine didn’t act like that?  Was it some mistake of mothering I’d made early on?  It’s not, though.  These are the people they were meant to be.  That just happens to be a little noisier, a little more stubborn, and a little more passionate.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Happy birthday to my wonderful girl–the world is wide open to you, sweetie.

Fly to who you are
Climb upon your star
You believe you’ll find your wings
Fly to Your Heart*

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*”Fly to Your Heart,” Selena Gomez.  And I’m not ashamed to admit I love that song.