Monday, December 28, 2009

Charter for Compassion

I learned from one of my favorite bloggers, Baraka, that the Charter for Compassion has become a reality. It was the wish expressed by Karen Armstrong when she was selected as a TED Prize Winner:
I wish that you would help with the creation, launch and propagation of a Charter for Compassion, crafted by a group of leading inspirational thinkers from the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and based on the fundamental principles of universal justice and respect.
I remember reading about the process in a fantastic post written by my friend Mike two years ago.

The Charter for Compassion was unveiled on November 12th and is available for all to sign and affirm, online and in their lives. I have signed it because it resonates so much with my spiritual practice that seeks justice and compassion (to feel with) on both a systemic level and a personal level (the second is harder than the first, for me).

In Mike's post, he writes about immigration but his words are applicable to foster care or education or any number of societal ills that are perpetuated by institutions. He writes:
Would you say "Well the law's the law," or would you say "Laws can change, and this one needs to, because justice and compassion ought never to be opposed to one another"?

I think Karen Armstrong says something similar when she writes:
"I say that religion isn’t about believing things. It’s ethical alchemy. It’s about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness.”
It seems to me she is saying that whatever unseen thing into which we put our faith is important to each of us as fuel for our spirit but what we do with that energy is even more important. And no one would claim that we are called to act selfishly when we experience these intimations of holiness and sacredness.

I am excited to see that one of the paragraphs of the Charter addresses our participation in systems of injustice like sweatshops and harmful farming techniques.
It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.
This is the area where I am working the hardest on a personal level, committing to buying organic and fair-trade food(chocolate is a recent tough addition to the list) and buying all of my clothing second-hand or from scrupulous vendors. I will think about how I can live more deeply in accordance with this Charter, which I think accurately describes what God wants for my life.

Please learn more about the Charter below and here and then consider spreading the word to your networks.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Viscious cycle of poverty

When I used to teach high school kids in under-resourced settings, I used to marvel at the stupids mistakes they made. Not on their papers (who hasn't put a stray apostrophe down?) but in their behavior. It was so easy to catch them in their mischief. Sometimes I thought they were doing it to screw with me but the shock on their faces that they didn't get away with whatever petty trouble was palpable. They really didn't expect to be caught. This dynamic was confirmed when they would tell me stories of how unfair the world is to them. So often, their ire was aimed at some consequence that they could have easily avoided.

Today, I found this summary of research here. The first part of the post discusses that people in poverty get caught in the Tyranny of the Moment because there are so many fires to be put out, they can only think of the "now" in order to survive. This completely squelches any ability that they have to plan for the future.

Dr. Reuven Feuerstein, a holocaust survivor who studied the impact of the holocaust and war on children realized that:

If individuals cannot plan, they cannot predict.
If they cannot predict, then they cannot identify cause and effect.
If they cannot identify cause and effect, they cannot identify consequence.
If they cannot identify consequence, they cannot control impulsivity.
If they cannot control impulsivity, they have an inclination toward criminal behavior.

Can you see how the stress of daily life affects how people in poverty act, feel and view the world? What other things can you see being affected by the stresses of daily survival without stable resources?

One of the challenges that the folks encounter at work is that resourced families who take in children of under-resourced parents feel angry that the parents have let the situation get to such an awful place. This kind of research helps them understand where the guest families are coming from.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas tradtions

I recently wrote out the Christmas itinerary when I invited Jacob's brother and sister-in-law and I thought I'd share it with you. I love Christmas.

We typically head out to Mom and Dad's house on Christmas Eve, hang out, eat a bunch of stuff that is casually set out on the kitchen counter and often involves cheese and/or cookies. We go to church, which has candles and whispered jokes. Then, there is dinner. Did I mention dinner? We all head off to bed eventually and wake up whenever we feel like it in the morning. Coffee is consumed and eventually we all wander into the living room where there is a blazing fire. We open some presents, make fun of my dad, open some more presents and then take a break to eat breakfast. My mom traditionally makes a casserole that involves stupendous amounts of eggs, cream and cheese. There is often bacon, as well. Then, we open whatever presents are left and do a short Advent candle-lighting service. After that, lounging in front of the fire is the order of the day unless we rouse ourselves to go see that new Sherlock Holmes movie, or something equally inane and full of violence (one year my mom really wanted to go see Bad Santa).

Merry Christmas, folks!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New job

My first day at work was wonderful. It felt a little like plopping down on the couch. Some of that may be because a few folks are away for Christmas so it’s a little quieter but still, since my office is located in a residential facility for foster kids, I hear them giggling in the hallway quite often and felt so comfortable that I was able to express my delight about the atmosphere to my boss. His response was to roll his chair over to the door and shout, “Hey Davey, comere!” He likes that atmosphere, too.

My office has a soothing and modern paint job but smells a little like farts and old coffee. One of the file cabinets is covered in signs that read, “File at your own risk!” and “Open one drawer at a time!” There are also several sizes of car seats.

I have already been identified as a mark to my colleagues. I think I gave too much away when I talked about my excitement regarding my brother’s child about to be born and my love for babies in general. A few hours later, the social worker who does placements and the head of the program were agreeing that some Friday there will be a baby that needs a place to stay for the weekend and I’ll be helpless. They’ll load me up with equipment and diapers from the store room and that will be that.

A mark.

They see me as a mark.

When I told this story to my husband, while also protesting that I wouldn’t ever actually do it, he said very quietly, “It would probably be OK every once in a while.” I love that man.

I must admit, it’s hard to sit in the office all day and listen to the social worker call around to find a placement from December 23-27 for a quiet teenaged mom of a 3-month-old who is succeeding at getting her life together while she’s living with her current family, who are going away for Christmas. I think, “How hard could that be to take out to the suburbs with us for the holiday? My family would be cool with it? Only monsters would not be.”

This is why I’m a mark.

While thinking about t this girl on the bus this morning, my eyes started to tear a little. This job might break my heart but I think it also has great potential to mend it again and to stitch up the world a little while it’s at it. Because I’m pretty sure that someone will take her in. We have 500 families in the local database who have volunteered to be available for just these kinds of phone calls. How cool is that?

It’s nice to know I’m not the only mark - the only fool for Jesus - out there.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What story are you telling?

So, Meg continues to provoke lots of good thoughts in me. Go read this post about how important the stories are that we tell ourselves. She writes about how so many people in their lives tell them that the choices that they are making (marriage, kids, etc) only lead to boredom and drudgery.

I have to say that this is not my experience and I am grateful for it. When I got engaged this time, I myself felt a little like it wasn't really a big deal. People get married all the time. People get divorced all the time. People live together and it's just like getting married. Gay people can't even get married, for heaven's sake. We're just going to do this thing and get on with our lives.

There might have been just a little bit of self-protection there. You know, if I don't get my hopes up, they can't be crushed again?

But again and again, people acted like it was a big deal. They would get so excited on my behalf. They would ask questions not just about the wedding but about the relationship. They offered amazingly grand gestures of help and really meant it.

Marriage is still sacred in our culture. Why else fight so hard for the right to marry or to retain the definition of marriage that you yourself got married within? If you need further proof, talk to couples that have parties after getting married privately and compare their guest list with couples who wait to get married at the big event. People will plunk down the cash for a plane ticket for a wedding in a way that not all of them will for just a party.

The act of promising scary things for the rest of life is something people want to support and participate in. I was blown away by how even the most jaded and cynical of my friends melted a little when we talked about being married.

My family was recently at a wake where we saw a childhood friend who has now been married for a few years. My younger brother, whose first child is due in April, asked, "So, when are you going to have kids?" He's a 30-year-old guy who waits tables and has come to terms with the fact that he'll never be a rock star but that he can continue to collect novelty wrestling t-shirts. In other words, totally cool and full of sage wisdom that is terribly unexpected because he still looks like a slacking hipster. Afterwards I said, "When did you become that guy? The one that elbows other guys and asks them about kids?" "I don't know. I just think it's cool to have a family and I want to know why other guys don't want to."

I realized that he is also telling these guys the story that it's OK to be excited about having kids. He's doing for them what my colleagues and acquaintances did for me in their excitement about my wedding. When we tell stories with the moral of "life is an adventure; keep reaching for it," we make the world a better place.

Marriage is awesome. Marriage is hard. Marriage is an opportunity that I am glad I didn't pass up.

This is the story that I tell.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A productive member of society

I have the exact same cold that I had three weeks ago. Really. The exact same symptoms that morph into the exact same new symptoms along the exact same timeline. The only good news is that although I know that Wednesday and Thursday I will be in excruciating pain and discomfort, by Friday life will return to normal.

Which is good because I start my new job on Monday!

Wha wha wha what?

That's right folks. I am finally going to be able to dig my fingers and toes into a project and grow with it.

And it came about in the best possible way.

Last week, at an event where I was networking fairly hard, I met my future boss. I had actually attended the gala for his organization three years ago and receive his monthly emails so I started the conversation there. We shifted very quickly to what type of work I was looking for because, honestly, my dad had earlier stood up in front of the 110 attendees of the event and begged them to give me a job.

It was pretty funny.

And full of love.

So, my future boss is asking me about my experience and I tell him about my master's degree. He says, "Oh, I started that program but dropped out."

Probably my humor was unwise at this moment but I said, "Was it the math?" in a mock-empathic tone with raised eyebrows and a knowing grin.

"Yeah but I figured that I already had a doctorate so I didn't need to do all that work figuring out something I wouldn't use."

While we were talking, my dad walked up, put his forehead on the guy's shoulder and said, "Please, please, please. Please give my daughter a job." And I was worried about my professionalism.

The future boss and I continued talking after my dad walked away and then he asked for my card. I gave it to him and moved on to talk to someone else.

Well, he followed up with me that night, sent 2 pdfs describing the program he is working with and asked if I could come in later in the week to talk. After we set up the meeting, he forwards me a working document that he just received from a mutual friend who is helping him with the vision for where the program is going.

I feel pretty attended to by the time I get to his office. I read all the stuff, print out some of it so I can reference it during the conversation and put on my suit for the meeting.

He spends, no kidding, an hour and a half alternately courting me and questioning me on my ideal job. He has an understated personality, which is always hard for me to read since it is so foreign to me. It wasn't until later that I realized that when he said, "It's not very often that you get the chance to actually change the world; it's kind of neat," he might have been persuading me and not just describing his own experience. I don't think he set up the phone call from Katie Couric's producer to come right in the middle of our meeting, but I'll admit, it worked.

I love the work he is doing. I love that it is being recognized as actually creating systemic change that measurably benefits under-resourced kids. I love that he has a secondary goal of revitalizing the Church by entangling people's lives with the lives of the poor. As Shane Claiborne says, "The problem is not that wealthy Christians won't help the poor; it's that they don't know the poor." Jesus knew the poor.

I also love that when he finally offered me the job, he said it like this: "When I met you on Tuesday, I thought, this is someone special. Then I got your resume and thought, here is someone with experience thinking about different forms of organizational design, someone who cares about marginalized folks, and someone with a lot of unique experiences. Also, you're really smart."

I have to admit that I misted up when he said. Professional, I know. It's just that I have spent this entire unemployment feeling like I was uniquely unqualified for every single job that was posted. If the job needed a master's degree, it also needed five years of experience in that particular field. Or they wanted an MSW instead of an MPP. Or it needed supervisory experience. Also, almost half of the reason I went to grad school was to prove that I had the chops and that I wasn't just getting jobs because my dad begged his friends on my behalf.

And here is this guy saying, "I wasn't going to hire staff to expand this program into a nationwide network in a decentralized way because I don't know how to do it, so I don't know how to tell someone else to do it. But I think you could run with this." And it's because of me and the work I've done, not because I'm my father's daughter (although in every other scenario, I am proud to wear that title). And he knows how hard I've worked because he took the same classes I did and struggled with them as much as I did.

After I said I'd go home to my husband and talk about it and pray about it, we bantered a little bit now that the climax of the meeting had been survived. He said that he thought my resume was playing with him since I describe myself as a social entrepreneur and he just won a fancy award for being a social entrepreneur even though he had never heard the phrase before he won the award. I said, "What should really freak you out is that when I reached into my purse to write something down, I pulled out from the linty depths the pen I got at your gala three years ago."

I can really make a difference for kids in this job. I believe deeply because it's been proven to me by all sorts of dry and boring research that the answer to society's problem can mostly be solved if we make sure that all kids are nurtured during their first 5 years. During that time, they learn non-cognitive skills that are crucial for learning cognitive skills later. Skills like delaying gratification to achieve a task, a desire to learn, the ability to sit quietly and listen, the rudiments of language acquisition. This job is preventing trauma in the lives of young children on a measurable scale, which allows them the chance to fulfill the potential that God gave them when they were born.

How could I say no?

So, I have been frantically finishing the Christmas presents that I thought I had another two weeks of unemployment to finish and trying to squeeze in some of the volunteer work I have been doing on my church's behalf.

I have been coughing at night, which keeps Jacob and I awake, so tonight I took the medicine my doctor prescribed which was a cough syrup with codeine.

Apparently, codeine keeps me awake so you all are the beneficiaries of the crash I'll feel tomorrow.

I hope things are going as well for you as they are for Jacob and me. Chag Sameach!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Institutionalizing fluidity

When I tell the story of my faith journey, sometimes I begin to doubt that I was rejected as much by traditional church people as much as I felt like I was. Sure, I have some specific anecdotes. For instance, I clearly remember being told by my friends from youth group that marrying my first husband was wrong because we would be unequally yoked and realizing that such an unsupportive comment was indicative of a deeper judgment that those friends felt for me. I remember being angered by Sunday School classes where volunteer teachers insisted that the interpretation of Revelations in their book were the only possibility. I remember arguing with the new youth director when he brought in a guest speaker who cared more about declaring "right teaching" than about how unwelcome he was making my friend Nels feel. I remember the condescending tone of voice of the member of Intervarsity who told me I used scripture incorrectly in the fundraising letter I had written as a favor to him. I also have a slew of experiences with my extended family (who I am quite close to) where they used dirty argument tactics to try to convince that my liberalism wasn't right in God's eyes. My aunt once told me that if it was right to make condoms available in schools then everything she believed was wrong. That's a heavy weight to put on an 18-year-old's shoulders if she wants to stick to her convictions. An uncle was so insulting as he argued that we celebrated the Sabbath on Sunday because it was literally the day that Jesus was raised from the dead that my father left the table in and announced his protest of the way I was being treated.

However, the vast majority of experiences that I have had with traditional church people have been strikingly positive. I have felt safe and loved and supported in most of my life. People who welcomed me into this world at my baptism are on my Christmas list and show delight at seeing me when I show up at Christmas Eve services. The church I attended in my early twenties welcomed me and valued my participation in the choir and asked me to be a deacon.

Still, by then, I was learning only to bring part of myself to church. I had doubts regarding the fallibility of translation or my thoughts about homosexuality not being a sin or my discomfort with the idea of good people going to hell simply because they hadn't acknowledged Jesus as their lord and savior. I knew, just knew, that if I discussed these thoughts, I would be labeled "heretic" and a gulf in the relationship would widen between the church person and myself because I would now be viewed as the sheep who had wandered from the flock and needed to be rescued rather than being part of the in-crowd. Since I was desperately looking for community, I left these parts of myself at home when I went to church. I did this with all of the churches I attended before I found the emergent movement. And it didn't work.

I was still lonely.

Unless I was being loved for my whole self, it just wasn't enough to feel like actual community.

However, once I reached adulthood, I didn't give any of those three churches even the chance to love me. I had my defenses up and didn't want to give them the chance to hurt me with their rejection. So I don't really know how they would have responded.

So, I come back to my original statement that I wonder sometimes if I'm not remembering my history with the bias that comes from my insecurity. Once bitten, twice shy, you know? Do I think that my experiences were worse than they really were?

The reality is that it doesn't matter if people were as inhospitable as I thought they were. What does matter is that I perceived them to be that way and acted on that perception. If I felt that way even though most people were nice to me most of the time, then other people are also feeling alienated from God and alone in this world even though most Christians are nice to them most of the time. (And this doesn't include people who feel alienated from God and alone in this world because most Christians think they are an abomination just for being who they are.) If I felt this way when maybe I shouldn't have and other people feel this way when they don't have to, they why do so many people feel disaffected with the Church?

For my experience (which is probably generalizable), I believe my fear of being rejected stemmed from two sources:

1. A growing sense that I didn't like the person I was becoming when I did things that traditional Christians were supposed to do. The greatest shame of my life is telling my best friend that I thought she was going to Hell. In addition to feeling remorse that I had hurt her, I slowly (so slowly) began to realize that I was damaging all of my relationships by practicing a faith that was so judgmental. So, I feared rejection from other Christians because I myself had been repeatedly judgmental.

2. The larger Christian culture and the traditional institutional framework that churches function within emphasize insider and outsider statuses as a means of reproduction and survival. They need people to profess the same beliefs despite different experiences, and those beliefs need to create an "other" so that folks within the community will bond together more cohesively. This is the definition of ideology, isn't it? A system of living that protects individuals from the hard work of dealing with a changing environment? Traditional church policies ensure that our experience with God is predictable: we will be buried the way everyone else we know was buried, we can raise their children the way we were raised, our spouses expect the same things out of life that we expect. And for most of history, this worked for Christians because the world changes only gradually. However, with the introduction of instant communication, the world changes quickly and traditional church paradigms no longer comfort everyone but instead push out more and more people for the sake of the few who remain within. So, I feared rejection from other Christians because Christian ideology made it very clear that I could be rejected for the sake of the group.

So, although it's possible that many of my fears would never actually come true, I believed they would and that caused me to leave part of myself at home when I went to church, a completely unsustainable habit if I ever wanted to feel fulfilled.

I have since found a church and a movement that are trying to create new Christian norms and new church infrastructures that do not rely on some people being on the inside and other people being on the outside. These inclusive churches try to make everyone feel welcome to bring their whole selves to church, without fear that they need to change in order to be fully loved. These churches know that encounters with God rarely leave folks unchanged but we are content to leave that work of transformation to God and focus on the task we have been given: to love one another.

I have found great healing in being part of this movement and being part of the leadership team of my church, which might be a model for a new generation of churches that are trying to remove the systemic obstacles that our culture has put up to block access to God except to those who are "approved" and safe.

I know that I have healed deeply from my fear of rejection because I have recently begun re-engaging Christians who still function within the old model. I am meeting monthly with a group of pastors who have good hearts and are friendly and want to serve the poor with humility. They know that my theology is comfortable with being married to a Jewish man and they know that I am active in the emergent movement but I'm comfortable enough in my differences from them that I don't need to throw it in their faces.

Occasionally, though, I get surprised. Today I was talking about the new community of young people in which one of the young men was participating. He earnestly described for me his struggle to keep them from "heretical ideas." I think I did a physical double-take. I have spent so much time now with emergent folks who sometimes reclaim the label "heretic" to make jokes about themselves, like gay people call themselves queer or women call themselves bitches. I have spent so much time with people who believe that our understanding of God will never be complete and so the only way to know right from wrong is to be in community, groping for the right path while we keep in sight of each other to make sure that no one goes haring off down the wrong path. I have spent so much time in this new paradigm that I forgot people still talk about "heretical ideas."

I said, "Wow. That is so outside of the framework that I work in that I'm intrigued but don't want to start a fight." (Yeah. I really do talk like that.)

He acknowledged my motives and I asked him for an example. He said that yesterday was the celebration of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which is the celebration that Mary was also born and lived without sin and so was as divine as Jesus.

He expressed discomfort that by saying that Mary was also divine, folks were putting her between them and Jesus. He never used the word, "idol," but I think that's what he meant.

My mind was swirling because I live in this spiritual place where I see Christ as a tool that God used to communicate infinite love and to bring people closer to God. Again. After trying to communicate love and to bring people closer to her in a billion other stories throughout the Old Testament. I guess I don't see Christ as an end onto himself so if some Latino Catholics can get to God through the female-friendly door of an immaculate Mary, I don't really mind if that bypasses Christ.

I expressed some of this and expressed my discomfort with the idea of heresy since it created a divide between people on the inside and people on the outside. I said that if it were my community, I would wonder why people needed to define Mary that way and examine whether or not the God we were worshiping was too small to fulfill them since it was a strictly male god.

He agreed with me that God was neither masculine or feminine but protested that our theology should not be informed by our experiences. I asked him to expand on that chicken and egg idea. He expressed that theology (what we believe about God) should come from what we find in the Bible; that we shouldn't change the Bible to suit what we think the world should be like. I agree with the idea that we shouldn't just justify our desires with new interpretations of Scripture but I do not agree that Scripture is straight-forward enough to extract God's will from it whole, like Athena being born from the head of Zeus. I'm a mystic at heart. I think you can only glimpse truth with peripheral vision. So to believe that Scripture alone can dictate doctrine is a heinous denial of the human element of interpretation. And once you deny that humans are involved in the process of creating doctrine, all sorts of exploitation and oppression can get by unchallenged.

At this point, I must have given off some non-verbal cues of consternation that maybe made him fear a little bit. Or, at least, he should have picked up that vibe because I was nearly bursting to tell him how wrong he was. I am relieved I was able to refrain from talking about translations of the Bible and how they can be used as tools of the hegemony or no one knows what the Bible really means and we're all doing selective interpretation and isn't that a cotton/poly shirt he was wearing and doesn't Leviticus tell us that is an abomination, also? I stayed quiet, though.

Before I could figure out what to actually say, he quickly changed tacks and asked if he could give background about why he was saying those things. I really respected his desire to let me actually see inside of him instead of just insisting he was right. He talked about how he was an Anglican (which set me raging on the inside again but I am constantly groping for a non-judgmental habit so, again, was relieved that I said nothing) and told me a few stories about his experiences that lead him to be disgusted with the Episcopals on their side of the schism. He said two things that sounded like alarmist propaganda and would surprise me very much if they were true. He sounded like a little kid complaining to his parents that his 58-year-old, established, much-beloved grandma of a teacher told him he was dumb and would never amount to anything. It just doesn't make sense within the larger framework of what I know is true. She wouldn't be all of those other things if she went around telling little kids they were dumb and would never amount to anything. The child's statements shouldn't be dismissed out of hand but they should be evaluated with skepticism about his motives. So, the man today said that Episcopals are now stating that unless you are Episcopal, you are not going to heaven. Then, he said that Episocpals have literally re-written the Bible to make it fit their world-view about homosexuals. Actually, I don't think he ever mentioned The Gays out loud but since that is what caused the schism, I'm not sure what else they would have re-written the Bible to support. Neither of these extreme acts seem to fit within the context of what I know about the Episcopal denomination. It felt like the complaint of someone who was trying to recruit others onto his bandwagon because he is feeling a little unstable up there alone.

So, I actually could have gotten pretty righteous at this moment since I would definitely qualify as someone who literally re-wrote the Bible because I look at the historical context of those 6 Bible verses that seem to oppose homosexuality and come to the conclusion that they are not describing homosexuality as we know it in our culture. Luckily, a few more people arrived and I was able to thank him for his story and blow him off a little about finishing the conversation later. Actually, now that I think of it, that wasn't very loving of me. I should probably try to have coffee with him soon and give him a chance not to reject me.

That kind of growth and chance for more healing is why I want to stay with this group, in addition to the other good things I get there. I'm not afraid of their rejection anymore because my spiritual home accepts my whole self. If they reject me, I have a safe place to retreat to.

My church is the kind of place that I want to support and also to dive headlong into building infrastructure to build capacity so that it is sustainable and can make a lot more people feel as safe as I have felt. My pastor calls it institutionalizing fluidity and no one has figured out yet how to do it. I want to try. It's crucial if we want everyone in this world to have equal access to God. It's work worth doing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Forgiveness, gratitude and joy

I'm having some seriously entangled thoughts about gratitude, joy and forgiveness.

The first of these is that I find myself longing for the joy that comes with wisdom and spiritual enlightenment. Descriptions of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu (I love titles) almost always involve descriptions of embodied joy, often in the form of giggling. I find myself longing for that. I'm tired of being offended and upset and brittle. I want the freedom of living out joy.

But wait, Rebecca, didn't you just marry the man you never thought you'd find? Aren't you getting an extended vacation to quilt and bake while you look for a job? Don't you have a great spiritual community that values you? Isn't your family healthy?


And still, I find myself offended and upset and brittle more often than I would like to admit.

Meg, over at A Practical Wedding keeps talking about wanting to have a Brave Marriage and go traveling and having adventures and I love her spirit. It's made me think about what I do not want to regret about our marriage and I find that I'm not all that concerned about travel and adventure. I had a lot of that as a single person. As my friend Jess put it, "It about roots and investments for me now." Will that possibly involve a certain amount of radicality for Jacob and I? Probably. But new experiences for the sake of being new aren't what I'm looking for. I want to find joy in the life that I'm living at home. I want sustainability for that joy. Everything has been in such upheaval over the last year (finishing school, meeting Jacob, moving, marrying Jacob) that I want to spread my toes into the carpet and take root so that I can keep spreading my arms up into the sky and stretching my sideribs into growth. (On a side note, I want to keep practicing yoga, as well.)

I find that it is hard to live this out when so much of my energy is spent being offended and upset and brittle.

On the surface, it seems like these are reactionary emotions. People in my life are offensive. People in my life are upsetting. I rightly need to protect myself from some people in my life.

These people can be found in two different areas right now: my in-laws and friends of my ex-husband.

Let me explain. I have never been more thoroughly disapproved of than I have by my in-laws in the last year. High school was a cake walk compared to this family. Five out of the eight family member have told my husband at some point or another that they were upset by something I did. An email I sent, a voicemail I left, a decision I made, a story I told. Additionally, even though I have asked them to come to me directly, they still communicate their disapproval through my husband, so I have no recourse except confrontation, which has felt inappropriate.

I am not used to being disapproved of. My friends think I'm great and tend to know me well enough to forgive me if I'm insensitive. My family doesn't generally practice disapproving either. My parents have always said explicitly, "There is nothing you can do that can make us love you any less." And living that out has generally taken the form of live and let live. Sometimes my parents aren't happy about choices we've made but they believe their job is to love us, not to judge us, so it doesn't affect how we interact. So, it is a completely new sensation to find myself on the receiving end of disapproval from people whose opinion I care about. I'm just not used to people thinking I should be anything other than who I am and expressing it (however indirectly). Although I know with my head that their behavior probably has very little to do with me and very much to do with a pre-existing dynamic, I can't seem to help myself from feeling wounded by it. As a result of those wounds, I find myself offended, upset and brittle a lot of the time.

On the other side, I went to my friends' wedding last weekend and it was one of the loveliest weddings I have ever attended. It was full of laughter and funk music and a general sense of gratitude on the part of the guests that two people who are loved so well would take this step and make each other even happier.

However lovely the event itself was, it has had a certain amount of emotional upheaval on either side because so many of the guests know my ex-husband. Everyone was very polite and glad to see me and one woman even made vague apologies for how weird everything was, which I very much appreciated. I had a great time immersing myself in their particular brand of humor. But I learned that some of the people whom I really like, who never told me I was a bad person, who indicated that they knew he was lying, whom I would love to rekindle friendships with, are still actively friends with my ex-husband and his new wife. They have monthly dinners together and invite each other to parties. I am surprised by how angry this makes me. I feel like if someone knows how absolutely rotten he was to me, how could they keep being his friend? Who could trust someone capable of such atrocities? How could they reward his affair by letting their babies play with the child of his mistress? It hurts me that they would choose him over me. This hurt leads me to feel offended, upset and brittle a lot of the time.

This is very far from the joy that I would like to be living in.

As luck would have it, a perfect storm of commentaries has come into my sphere of attention to remind me about forgiveness and gratitude.

For the last three days, I have been confined to the couch with a raging head cold. Most of the time, I have not been able to open my eyes because they were so swollen. During this time, I listened to the backlog of podcasts in my iTunes. Randomly, the first three were sermons on forgiveness by Rob Bell.

He started each sermon with a caveat of sorts. He made sure to say that forgiveness is about the state of our owns hearts. It is a personal things. It is about setting ourselves free from the feelings of bitterness that can own us if we let them.

This is not new to me. Certainly, I have dealt with my feelings about my ex-husband with this understanding. But I've not done a very good job of applying it to the rest of my life. When looking for that last link, I found this post, which shows that I haven't grown much in the last seven months.

Anyway, to make his point clear, Rob says that forgiveness is not condoning the behavior. Forgiveness does not require forgetting. In fact, we should set boundaries to protect ourselves in the future. Forgiveness does not necessarily involve interrupting the natural consequences for someone's actions or forgoing justice. Finally, forgiveness is separate from reconciliation, which is a process that requires two people.

In his sermons, Rob speaks about the destructive nature of revenge. How when someone hands us a hurt, we want to hand it right back and that this can be a passive response, as well as an active one. I fear that this is how I feel about Jacob's family. I certainly repeat the litany of offenses in my head as I swim or fall asleep or wash the dishes. I form the words in my head of what I would say to them if I got the chance. And no matter how graceful those words are, no mater how well they utilize reconciliatory language, I mean for those words to hurt them as much as I have been hurt.

It is a form of revenge. And I know it won't work. I know it will escalate the situation, like the story of Sampson.No, not that one. The other one. In addition to escalating, it probably wouldn't hurt them anyway since my retorts all work on the assumption that they care how their behavior affects me.

So what do I do?

I will not act on these feelings. I have come that far in my spiritual journey. I have learned to stay quiet until I can speak from a place of tranquility and stable self-esteem. But if I can't hand the hurt back to them, what do I do with it? How do I keep it from eating me up, as it clearly has been since I feel mostly offended, upset and brittle right now?

This is where the perfect storm comes in. On Sunday, my pastor closed vespers with her usual benediction,
Let us go out into the world in peace;
Have courage;
Return no one evil for evil;
Strengthen the fainthearted;
Support the weak;
Help the suffering;
And in all these things;
Take courage in the Spirit,
Who nourishes us and makes us whole.
May the fire of God
Burn deeply within you
And shine brightly upon you,
Now and always.
There are a couple things there of note. It reaffirms the other things I have been thinking about returning evil for evil and reminds me that I am not alone in this effort. The shekinah of God will help. I probably need to pray to really access this one.

This reminds me of Alcoholics Anonymous advice that I've received: "Pray for the bastard." Of course, this goes along with Jesus's advice to pray for those who persecute you.

Also, I recently finished Eboo Patel's book, Acts of Faith, in which he describes Islam by paraphrasing Fazlur Rahman,
I learned that Islam is best understood not as a set of rigid rules and a list of required rituals but as a story that began with Adam and continues through us; as a tradition of prophets and poets who raised great civilizations by seeking to give expression to the fundamental ethos of the faith.

. . . [T]he core message of Islam is the establishment of an ethical, egalitarian order on earth. . . .The central aspect of this moral order is merciful justice . . . God . . . gives each human an inner light, which the Qur'an refers to as taqwa, the writing of God on our souls. [It] is the single most important concept in the Qur'an. It is the piece of us that innately knows the mercy of God.
I think that if I try to actively remember that God loves me and so forgives me, much like my family and she wants me to love others just as much. In other words, if I develop my taqwa, my sense of merciful justice, it might get me a little closer to forgiving my in-laws and the friends of my ex-husband. Also, I need to remind myself that God has set up a higher order of things and just because I do not see her justice does not mean that it is not being enacted. I do not need to be one more misguided vigilante for God.

I think that fostering this sense of taqwa might involve remembering the good things that I do have. Yesterday, our rabbi posted on the benefits of gratitude journals. Although it feels hokey, I'll do just about anything at this point to stop feeling so offended, upset and brittle.

Finally, I am currently reading Don Miller's new book and he writes, "And once you know what it takes to live a better story, you don't have a choice." I have been thinking a lot about volunteering during this time that I am looking for a job. My life feels so hectic and that it might even be irresponsible to take that time away from the search but I'm starting to think it might be essential. That this might be the better story that I need to be living. That it is part of the roots and investment that I crave right now. If I put my time into the children of our neighborhood at the Boys and Girls club down the street, I will make this place more of my home and find more joy here.

Rob Bell leaves me with this haunting image. When we do not hand back a hurt that has been handed to us, we are left with the agony of holding onto it. That agony is like death. But as people following the Jesus Model, that death can give us hope for a resurrection and a new life and a new world order. I am hoping that my three days are up and this Thanksgiving marks a rolling away of the stone. I am ready to be thankful for what I have and so filled with joy that I have to forgive because there is no room in my heart for bitterness.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Shabbat shalom

Sometimes I think my challah look like Irving Penn's corpulent nudes. Check them out here. I'm serious.

Don't ask why the sewing machine is in the kitchen. It's that kind of week.

Friday, November 13, 2009

24 Hours from Tulsa

I am heading to Tulsa this weekend for another wedding after the wedding tonight. Is it terribly inappropriate to call my cousin, the bride and sing this song?
Just checking.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

But delivered a mule!

I have been thinking a little bit about my first marriage lately because on Friday, I will attend a wedding of a friend from those days and will see a bunch of people that I have not seen since before the divorce. I'm a little nervous because my ex-husband spread a lot of lies about me (For example, that I had an emotional affair with a co-worker, that I was a bitch in various ways including how I talked about people behind their back and how I demanded total control over decorating the house, etcetera) and I don't know how many of these lies have since been debunked for the folks attending the wedding. Even if they are no longer friends with him, unless misstated facts have been specifically retracted, they might still passively believe them. Because of these types of lies and the lies that he told me daily about himself and other people, a huge part of the healing process for me has been about letting go of my desire for control over how other people think about me. This has not been easy because I have always felt a strong desire to have people think the best of me, even if that meant emphasizing the "weird" part of my personality so that even if I could never successfully come across as polished and successful, like everyone else, at least I'd come across as interesting. However, I think I have made progress in letting go of that which I cannot control and have found a reasonable balance in my life to be comfortable with who I actually am. Still, when confronted with socializing with a bunch of people who may believe terrible things about me, I have found myself trying on a lot of different outfits to try to communicate that I am someone different than who I was.

Today, I was having lunch with a friend and she asked me how my relationship with my in-laws has changed now that the wedding has passed. I described for her the slackened pressure but also a couple of ways that Jacob has really stepped up and been an advocate for me, without my prompting. She said, "Well, you have told me before that you thought he was the kind of guy who, once he made a commitment, lived into it completely. This just shows that you were a good judge of character."

I broke out into tears there in the restaurant.

I was such a bad judge of character the first time around. It doesn't matter that everyone else made the same mistake about my ex-husband that I did. I paid for a bill of goods that was never delivered.

I am so grateful not to have made the same mistake twice and Jacob just keeps showing me that I haven't. A couple of days ago, I told him how much I loved his new business cards because although he uses his new married name on top, his URL and email address are still based on his bachelor name. Giving up the privilege of keeping his name for the sake of gender equality in our society makes his story (of being a newlywed) that much more transparent to folks and, as he looks for a job, makes him vulnerable to the same misgivings that women in the workforce have faced for 50 years. Will he want to start a family soon? If he's so progressive to change his name, will he want paternity leave? What if his partner makes more money than he does and gets transferred? Will our investment in him pay us back in the long-run? As I talked about this with him, he shrugged his shoulders and told me I was being silly. Once he made the decision, he was all about moving forward.

Further confirmation that what my friend said at lunch today was true.

I have chosen well and this good choice will affect my life so much more than my bad choice ten years ago ever will.

With that in mind, I think I can attend Friday's wedding in peace and with absolute joy for a couple that are making the same kind of good choice. (Of course, having a killer black dress doesn't hurt, either.)

Monday, November 09, 2009

Still moonlighting

I hate to send you somewhere else again, but I finally responded to a request for my spiritual bio. You can check me out here. The woman who pulls these biographies together is pretty neat and I'm happy to contribute. It's interesting to see who else is out there. I love being amidst the same ranks as Arloa Sutter, Julie Clawson and Bruce Reyes-Chow. I had listed the first two as some of my favorite websites even before I knew they had already participated. It is also interesting to to acknowledge that almost all of us are selling something. Maybe not money but everyone seems to self-describe as a writer or speaker of some sort, which means we're trying to get folks to see the world through our eyes. I bet most of us do it because we have been changed in some way and want to offer that opportunity to others but still, we're selling something.

At synagogue yesterday, we were made a little uncomfortable because a man joined a conversation we were having, which was fine at first. Then, he shifted the conversation to the Leadership Institute that he is involved in and even went so far as to hand us brochures for an upcoming conference at the low, low price of $995. I was simply uncomfortable because he had clearly lost all perspective on interactions with other people except as a means to sell his viewpoint (literally) but Jacob was offended that the man would be selling at temple and on Shabbat. When the man followed up with Jacob asking again for his phone number instead of just his email, Jacob explained his feelings directly and I was really proud of him for that.

As an update, I have to tell you that I'm starting to feel some of the magic of marriage. Being home so much with Jacob is allowing us to work out a harmony of movement in our home with the chores. We have also had the opportunities to have some big fights that have gotten a good portion of my insecurities out into the open. Second marriages are hard because it has been difficult to believe that this one is for real. My pastor once said, "Sometimes we push against love to see if it is fragile." I have been pushing a lot and Jacob has been so good about proving that our love is not fragile by wrapping his arms around me and pushing back that way.

Last night, during the 10 minutes of silent meditation at church, I ran through a series of words to focus on for my centering prayer and settled comfortable onto "closeness." I sat with Jacob and felt closeness. I sat with my community and felt closeness. I sat with God reflected in the candles and the music and the icons and my husband and my community and felt closeness.

This is what everyone has been talking about.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Chicagoland peeps

First of all, is there anyone who lives near me who needs packing plastic? You know, bubbles and those little packets of air that come with your mail-order stuff? If not, does anyone know an organization that re-uses it? Pottery studio or something?

Second, as my unemployment stretches on, I am getting to practice more and more domestic skills like cooking. I'm making some pretty amazing soups and breads and I am finding that buying grains and legumes in bulk in good both for our pocketbooks and for the environment (pesky plastic bags). However, our appetite for dried bits in overcoming our appetite for the spaghetti sauce that provides the jars to store them in. Does anyone have jars - spaghetti, canning or otherwise - that they'd like to donate to our increasingly earth-mother-y kitchen?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Where's Rebecca?

Folks, unemployment is hard. I'm super-busy trying to do all of the networking necessary to find a job, acknowledging the "who you know" part of the success equation. Also, Jacob has recently been downsized so we're home together, which is delightful and a little scary. We're trying to take advantageous of this unique opportunity to extend the honeymoon-ish period and to get to know each other better in a setting that is not vacation and where individual work still needs to be done while we are in each other's presence. Mostly, we love being together and sometime conflicts arise. I am confident that we are setting good precedents for the rest of our lives together because we have the space to do it deliberately and for that, I am grateful, even if the opportunity costs of our salaries seems a little steep.

I have recently begun to realize that my family has had a similar unique privilege of getting at least a decade to be in an adult child dynamic without the distraction of little kids. My youngest brother is 30 and my oldest brother is 42 and in April, the first grandchild of my parents will be born. We have had the luxury to mostly grow out of our childhood insecurities, jealousies and baggage and get to know each other as adults. This includes my parents, who are remarkable in their willingness to be self-reflective about their habits and the way that they raised us, examining and acknowledging the mistakes they made and accepting our thanks for the vast majority of things they got right. It would be so easy for them to settle into their senior citizenship with blinders on like so many people do and yet they do the hard work of continually changing and becoming more loving so that we are sustainable as a family unit.

On another note, I have been spending some of my energy creating a new online community with another blogger. We are done debating whether or not intermarriage is killing the Jewish community. Nowadays, fifty percent of marriages that involve a Jewish partner are intermarriages. Folks like Jacob and I are intractably part of the Jewish community and now the hard work needs to be done to change the community norms to value what families like us have to offer rather than continuing to hold us at arms' length for fear of contagion. Hannah and I have started a blog that discusses how that work is being done through stories and thoughts from our own lives. We hope to create a forum for others like us who want to be constructive in determining the Judaism of the next generations. Please visit us at and participate in the discussions or just read what we're up to. If you have a blog of your own, I would appreciate if you would link to us in your blogroll and consider writing a short post about our project.

I love this blog and this community that has been created around my adventures. So many of you have expressed privately that you gain something important from my writing. Do not fear that I will love my new child more than my older child. It's just not possible. Hang in there. We'll sort out this new family dynamic and be rolling again soon. I couldn't be gone for too long. I promise.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Blogging to you live from CCDA.

John Perkins is teaching about 1st John 4 and stopped to get on his "hobby horse" about prosperity gospel. He said, "If you send me five dollar, the only thing I can promise you . . . is that I will have five dollar."

Dad and I have loved the preaching of John Perkins this week because he is an 79 year old man who wrenches every bit of meaning and color from this language that we all speak. He'll go into a piece of text and say, "Listen at this," and say some of the most brilliant things, followed with a joke about his wife of 58 years with an impish grin in his eyes. He nearly bounces as he talks. It is a joy.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Blogging live from CCDA.

Yesterday was a big day. By about 6:00, I was exhausted and it was difficult to process messages any further. I'm on the hunt for a job, so I am talking about that constantly and these reminders that I am adrift accumulated and weighed me down by the end of the day.

Lots of people here have also known me for a long time and so I am also talking a lot about being married. I am trying to be transparent in my responses and the reality is that right now, marriage terrifies me. There are so many ways I can screw it up.

A couple of my online newlywed friends speak in entirely authentic ways about how magical being married feels to them. It is sparkly and neat. Sweet A. wrote about how special it was to fall asleep next to her new husband while looking at their chuppah and I thought, "Wow. That is absolutely not my experience."

And yet, being married to Jacob is the right choice.

To back up a little, I asked Jacob shortly after the wedding if he felt any different and he agreed that he didn't. My theory is that the process of planning this wedding brought up a lot of big issues that had to be worked through as if we were already partners. And like with so many other things, when you behave as if something is already true, it becomes true. By the time we got married, the ceremony simply confirmed a partnership that already existed. Now, don't get me wrong. I hate it when men say to women, "What's the big deal? We're already married." I know they are saying the same kinds of complicated ideas like the one I just wrote out but, you know, they're boys. Like Hermione says to Ron, "Just because you have the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn't mean we all have." So, in my best moments, I have grace for those types of statements. But in my human moments, I would shout at Jacob, "Then why I am spending all of this time and energy planning this f---ing wedding event?" I don't even want to think about what happened when he -out of an earnest desire to cheer me up and makes me feel loved at a time when planning was particularly hard- formally slipped the newly delivered wedding band on my finger when I wasn't looking, just for practice.

So, that being said and the goodness of our partnership affirmed, I want to be honest about the fact that these first six weeks are muchmuch harder than I expected them to be. I am plagued by the idea that if we do not set up the right dynamics now, the rest of our marriage will be like the leaning tower of Pisa, or actually, like the thousands of poorly constructed buildings that have fallen into rubble over the history of human civilization. I don't remember feeling this way during my first marriage (which wasn't actually toppled by this problem) so I wonder if it simply a natural fear of all divorcees in new marriages. There is no naivete of the possible pain keep us from flinching.

So, one of the topics of contention between us is the division of domestic labor. I like cooking us dinner and doing the laundry and hosting the parties by choosing the dishes and the tablecloths. I read all sorts of family porn blogs and dream about creating a nest of bright colors and textures to stimulate and nurture our children someday.

However, I've been looking around at the mothers at this conference, which makes me doubt my visions. There are about 2,500 people at this conference. Our society is still rampant with assumed gender roles and the folks here are no different than the larger society. Also, there are probably women here like me who really want their role as primary caretaker. There is daycare here for children who are old enough to be potty-trained and so the only children I really see are infants and toddlers. And 25% of the infants are held and comforted and walked up and down during the plenary session by their fathers. This is great. But 100% of the toddlers are being chased out in the foyer by their mothers. Something happens from the age when a child's needs are simple (being held, being warm, being dry) to when they begin to develop the difficult combination of a will of their own and mobility. It seems like the mothers have become experts in comforting their children as they grow but the fathers have devoted their time to other pursuits. (I know this is hetero-centric but I'm fairly certain their are no homosexual families here at this evangelical conference.) I fully support families that choose this kind of task differentiation and specialization. Like I said, I want it for my own family. At the same time, I fear being the kind of mom who has to always miss out on a speaker or an experience because Jacob and I have painted ourselves into a corner and Jacob cannot take responsibility for our child. I want us both to remain at least competent in any task that the other has primary responsibility. I don't want Jacob to ever feel alone in any of his tasks and I don't want to be stuck in my role.

Combine this resistance to getting stuck with my desire to set up the right patterns now and I fight with Jacob a lot to get him to validate my at-home work while I'm unemployed and even to get him to share it with me, even though it brings him no joy. I am brittle and snap very often.

Add to this, though, my desire not to make Jacob conform to my way of doing things and there is much more than a teaspoon of an emotional range. I see too often relationships that have lost their intimacy because the wife demanded that the counter-tops be disinfected her way and that the diaper be fastened completely straight. I hear my friends talk about this and see the rolling eyes of their husbands behind them. And the women usually win that battle but lose the war for closeness. The guys always put the milk back in the same place in the fridge but feel like strangers in their own homes. I don't want that for Jacob and I, but, as my dad points out, once I want him to take ownership of domestic tasks, I've already crossed the line of coercion. Then, it is about the tricky work of balance. This does not ease my sense that we could really screw this up in the next few months.

To be fair to myself, Jacob gets to determine some community standards, as well. We keep kosher. We live in the condo he bought in a neighborhood he chose. The house is, for the most part, furnished by his sense of aesthetics. He has expressed implicit desire for me to take ownership of these life habits while still giving me freedom within those constraints to do it well. There is nothing that says he can't step up to my requests with the same acceptance that I have stepped up to his.

And I have every indication that he will. He is, again and again, a good partner: willing to examine his motivations and to look out for my interests, willing to challenge me when necessary and show me that he's listening and thinking about when I least expect it. Last night as we talked about my experiences of the day, he spoke out loud my insecurities that cause me to yell at him so much. He spoke with forgiveness and understanding. He compared it to his own insecurities and assured me that we would find a way heal both.

Yesterday morning, I was standing at the breakfast table of friends of my father who have been married for at least 50 years. He complained about his food and the service and twice his wife said, "You're grumpy today." Both of them spoke with an underlying light-heartedness but both were also very serious in their complaints. I long for that security in our marriage. He could be himself utterly in relationship to the situation without fearing that it would affect how she felt about him. She could call him on his behavior without expecting it to change or worrying that he would take offense.

It is a beautiful thing: marriages that have been proven by the test of time. My parents have one. My grandparents had one. This couple had one. I think I have the making for one and it is that faith that keeps me going through my brittleness and complete lack of honeymoon sentimentality. I can't wait to get back home to my husband tomorrow night and that is proof enough that we made a good choice 6 weeks ago.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Blogging to you live from the CCDA conference.

John Perkins
just said, “We have over-individualized Christianity.” He is speaking out of 1st John, Ch. 1-Ch 2:6

He is saying that this scripture points to the idea that God is transforming the world by kneading together people to sharpen each other’s lives. (Dude, he’s old and awesome and totally allowed to mix metaphors.)

This is an idea that is extremely important to Emergent Christianity. Once we say that the Bible is not a rulebook but instead worthy of study as a holy book of stories about people who struggle with how to align themselves with God’s plan, the ethical world at first seems a little fuzzy and, frankly, scary. Alluva sudden, not only to we have to do it right, we have to figure out what right is. And right changes from situation to situation. There are not many Emergents who deny that there is absolute truth somewhere. Most of us try to distance ourselves from relativism with nearly slapstick comedy. I think many of us have been hurt by someone responding to our testimony of hard-earned theological rebirth with, “But that’s just relativism.” How dismissive. How hurtful. So, we tend to affirm the idea of “right.” However, like God, right (as opposed to wrong) is a lot larger than our churches or our scripture can contain.

So what keeps us from haring off onto a path that leads away from God? How do we avoid getting lost in the woods during our explorations?

Community. John just read the verse, “My children, I am writing this so that you won’t practice sin.” If we have friends who are close enough and love us enough and make our lives bigger because we love them so much, they can help us keep moving in God’s direction. Conversations with these folks over dinner or coffee or at potluck help us craft a spiritual practice that does not involve sin. Experiences lived together with other people helps us see the world through their eyes so that we can understand better why an action might seem right to them but odd to us. The better we know each other’s patterns, the better we can help them determine right for their situation. The better we are known, the better someone can help us determine if what feels right is actually right. “When we obey God, we are sure that we know God.” In this case, obedience means living in community.

This is an old concept. Post-modern folks from Christian backgrounds often have to struggle with the words “accountability” and “submission” because traditional churches that focus on the Bible as a rulebook use those words to create an institutional framework to help folks follow the rules. Real community often grows within this framework but often people have been confronted about their spiritual practice and their lifestyle choices without actually being known by the people who are confronting them. How dismissive. How hurtful.

I love CCDA. I have grown up with its community development values ground into the moral lens through which I view the world. I love hearing John Perkins say that we need to live in community as a means to transform not only ourselves but also the world because sometimes I struggle with this community of people because they are overwhelmingly old-school Evangelical, concerned about winning souls for heaven. Justice and alleviation of the strife of poverty and even repairing the systems that cause poverty are the means by which these folks save souls, as well as a spiritual practice for them. It’s sometimes hard to feel at home in this altar-calling, praise-teaming, women-in-the-foyer-with-the-toddlers community. But when John Perkins says to them that we have over-individualized Christianity, I think maybe I could belong here someday.

Monday, October 12, 2009

nuChristian by Russell Rathbun

For the first time ever, a publisher read something I wrote and asked if I would be willing to read an advanced copy of a book and make a review on my blog. Pretty cool, huh?

So, the author is a guy named Russell Rathbun and I have met him before. I wrote about it over on the up/rooted blog. Then, he had come to Chicago with his co-pastor Debbie Blue and one of their congregants, Linda Buturian. I bought and read both of the women's books but, for some reason, was not drawn to Russell's book, even though my pastor and several other folks that I know liked it quite a bit.

The publisher tells me this about Russell:
Russell Rathbun, MDiv, is a founding minister with Debbie Blue of House of Mercy, a pioneering emergent church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Rathbun is also the author of Mid rash on the Juanitos (Cathedral Hill Press, 2009) and the critically-acclaimed Post-Rapture Radio (Jossey-Bass, 2008). He lives with his wife, two kids, and dog KoKo in St. Paul.
At the time I met them all, I wrote this about him:
Russell started out the conversation by describing their church, which they formed when they got out of seminary because they wanted a church where they would actually want to attend and that their friends, who were artists and stuff, would also want to attend. Russell, who looked like he would fit in quite well in Wicker Park with his black cowboy shirt with embroidered banjos and funky glasses, pointed out that their church had been around for 12 years, which is ancient for an emergent church.

I liked watching the energy of the two pastors: Russell and Debbie. Both were a little twitchy and awkward. Obviously, they wanted to be there and had such beautiful, honest and vulnerable things to say. But, part of that honesty and vulnerability involved allowing themselves to be the self-proclaimed introverts that they are, even in front of a group of strangers. As someone who has been trained to pull out my most charismatic identity when addressing groups of people, I admire their courage to simply be themselves.
Now, Russel has written a book as a response to David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons' book, unChristian. I haven't read the first book, but Russell has written this small chapbook to be part of the conversation that unChristian has started.

The basic premise of unChristian is to look at detailed survey data and determine how non-Christians in their late teens to early 30s perceive Christianity. Although I have my reservations about Barna statistics, the method is one with which this little University of Chicago graduate is very comfortable: ask a bunch of multiple-choice questions to a huge bunch of people. Then, figure out trends in the data.

What Kinnaman and Lyons figure out is that Christianity has a huge image problem amongst young adults. This is not a surprise to many of us. As a Christian from this demographic, I constantly encounter people who are clearly surprised and intrigued by the inclusive religion I practice that fully acknowledges that human beings are imperfect and that God doesn't really seem inclined to change that, even after someone has made a profession of faith. Christians who practice in a religion that preaches rules and that conversion will fix everything that is wrong in your life tend to be pretty loud, dominating mass media with TV shows, guest appearances on conservative talk shows, books and advertisements for megachurches. Folks like the people at my church are quieter and have smaller in population size. Kinnaman and Lyons document this imbalance of awareness by documented public opinion. They find that non-Christians in their late teens to early 30s think that "Christians are only interested in 'saving souls;' they are hypocritical, anti-homosexual, sheltered, too political and judgmental." Russell seeks to explain these complaints to more traditional Christians and suggest some ways to counter them. The book is entitled nuChristian and is available here.

What is most valuable about this book is the perspective that Russell is taking (I suppose using correct journalism means that I should use his last name. But I've met the guy! It feels weird. I'm going to go ahead and keep breaking the rules.) Russell is not writing this book for people who do not like the church. He is not trying to convince anyone they are wrong for thinking such things. He is also not writing for an audience full of emergent Christians: preaching to the choir, as it were. Russell seems to be trying to explain to folks like his own father what is going on with this new generation of young people and to insert his own experiences as a pastor to these folks as illustration for how these young people can best be assisted in living lives that are more spiritually fulfilled. Personally, this book is most useful to me as a resource to hand to someone I love who is a Christian but who just doesn't understand why I am so excited about emergence.

I think it is most useful as that kind of resource because Russell speaks the language of more traditional Christians. I think he must be in his 40s (about a decade older than the folks he is writing about) and he traveled the traditional path to pastorhood, even though he started a ground-breaking church once he graduated from seminary. I don't know how to say this but the rationale behind a lot of the things he says is very Jesus-y. Also, his vocabulary sets up a dichotomy of spiritual identity. He talks about Christians and non-Christians. I am much more comfortable with talking about spiritual identity as a continuum since I believe that we're all moving forward and backward on our paths in relationship to God. To create an arbitrary milestone that everyone has to have crossed and can never go back to in the form of saying the words, "Now I follow Christ" seems unnecessarily exclusionist to me. But I am not the target audience of this book. Folks who have never tried to wrap their heads around that idea (and many other emergent ideas like how culture affects church life or Christianity as something other than a rules-based religion) are the audience of this book. And I think Russell reaches out to those folks well because I can't connect with some of mechanics he uses to get his message across. I am too deeply entrenched in the post-Modern mindset that he is describing to be an effective translator. It's like listening to your own voice mail. The things Russell says are accurate just like it is actually my voice talking but because it coming from a different context, I get agitated at its unfamiliarity. However, my agitation is the price I pay for recommending this book as a resource to Modern-thinking folks about why emergents are the way they are.

My father read "Chapter 6: Sheltered from God's Children" and brought up what I think is the only weakness in the book's focus. He said, "I can't tell if Russell wants me to be more like a nuChristian or not." nuChristian is Russell's word for folks who identify as Christian but who are part of the post-modern generation and, therefore, different than Christians that have come before. My dad's confusion is totally understandable. To Russell's credit, he publishes a conversation he had with his father and it turns out the generational misunderstanding is common.
DAD: It seems that there are a lot of differences. In some ways you are saying to be able to reach out and minister to these new generations, I have to change my theology.
ME: I don't think I'm saying that.
DAD: It sounds like it. I have to change what I think about homosexuality , abortion, politics, the Bible, salvation . . . [laughs]. . . about the belief in absolute truth.
ME: That does seem like a lot of things. But I am not saying that you have to change what you think about these things. I am just suggesting what I think most postmoderns think about these subjects. And I am not trying to suggest that they all think the same way on any particular subject, I am trying to talk more about how they approach things.
I'm looking for a final quote where Russell clears this all up and there isn't one since the way we approach things is often entangled in what we believe. So, folks with Modern perspectives like our dads are always going to feel that if their approach has to change, so will their beliefs and it is always scary to consider one's beliefs changing since then we will probably have to change the way we live our lives, which is always uncomfortable. And isn't changing the way we live our lives equivalent to changing our approach to things?

It's a difficult task to resolve that circularity of intent and I do not blame Russell for being unable to do so. There were several brilliant moments in the book where he put concepts into words with a clarity I envied. Because of that, I do recommend the book as a great resource for folks outside of the movement or the generation or for folks inside the movement or from the post-Modern generation who need some help in translating their experiences.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

One Great Month

Yesterday, I had lunch with an old friend of mine. He is getting married in a little over a month and I loved listening to him talk about how excited he was about his wedding. None of this my-job-is-to-show-up bullshit. We reminisced about my first wedding when there was an entire CD burned (this was before iPods) entitled, "To give Marty a heart attack" full of funk songs that this 6'3" guy with a wrestling manager's build wouldn't be able to resist. "He was sweaty," is how my friend remembered it. Then, he talked about why he liked the DJ they were probably going to go with. At some point in the conversation, he said the words, "I HAVE to send you a picture of the favors; they are perfect!" He told me about specific vows that he was particularly excited to agree to and how he was looking forward to the way certain family members would react to the audience-participation nature of the ceremony. He almost cried when he talked about his fiancee's dress and how beautiful she looked in it.

This is a beautiful thing in this world of ours.

Yesterday, Jacob and I went to Social Security to change both of our last names to a hyphenated common name. It was hard for him. He used the word, "trepidation." He acknowledged that my desire for this was mostly to mend the world by being ground-breakers by modeling new options for families that want an alternative to a societal norm based upon a belief that women and the children they produce are property. We decided this months ago after long nights of discussions that included some shouting and tears. We think the choices anyone makes are good as long as they are good for them but we want a world where every choice is actually an option that folks can choose without getting weird feedback. That's only done by making an option mundane instead of exotic, which means folks like us have to do more than just talk about changing the world until we reach a tipping point. Although Jacob agreed to this and his new Social Security card will arrive in the mail in two weeks, he needed to tell me yesterday while we waited on uncomfortable chairs, anxiously watching the early-model LED "Now Being Served" board, that he was doing it 80-90% because he loves me not because he's passionate about changing the world this way.

Both of these kinds of grooms are beautiful things in this world of ours. Weddings are important. Marriage is important. We do newly-created families a disservice when we delegate all of the hard work and excitement over to the brides. I am looking forward to this wedding in November because both partners will be fully present in the party that they are planning. I am looking forward to the rest of my marriage with a deep-seated conviction that Jacob is fully committed to this thing that I never had with my first husband. It helps me move past the last of my fears that history will repeat itself and I will be left alone and devastated again. With those fears so clearly unfounded, I can commit MYSELF fully to this relationship rather than sandbagging parts of myself in case I need them intact to survive another divorce.

To celebrate our one-month anniversary, I made Jacob this mix and since my music collection comes more and more from legitimate sources due to Jacob's beliefs about intellectual property, I was actually able to publish it as an iMix. You can purchase it for yourself here.

January Wedding by The Avett Brothers
Sing by Travis
Sweet Revenge by John Prine
Cinnamon Girl by Neil Young
You've Made Me So Very Happy by Blood, Sweat & Tears
Let's Get It Started by Black Eyed Peas
Dance Me to the End of Love by Misstress Barbara
Sexy M.F. by Prince
Let's Get Married by Al Green
Let's Get It On by Marvin Gaye
Hit the Spot by Leslie Mendelson
Love Will Keep Us Together by Captain & Tennille
Knocks Me off My Feet by Stevie Wonder
In My Life by Nina Simone
At Last by Etta James
Married by Judi Dench

I call it "One Great Month" and last night we danced around to it as I finished our celebratory dinner of "well-cooked" beef stew, fresh bread out of the bread machine and fruit salad. I'll be listening to it for at least a couple of days on repeat because I like it so much. It's so danceable in the middle since it's an electronica version of our favorite Leonard Cohen song, which is Jacob's favorite genre even though I hate it. It reminds me of our wedding when I was so awe-struck at how well The Beatles' "In My Life" applied to my life and I sang it to Jacob. When Judi Dench sings, "And the old despair that was often there suddenly ceases to be for you wake one day,look around and say: 'Somebody wonderful married me,'" I cannot remember feeling any other way.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Do It Together

Just in case you're putting me up on a pedestle, let me tell you that I was not my best self today. I did not love another like I would want to be loved.

The day started off well. I was really moved to read a bride write about a friend who helped with her wedding. It perfectly described my best friend Susan: "She didn't say, "What can I do, what can I do?" She just stood quietly by with her ears open and her mind working and stepped in as needed." I don't think I knew what a gift that was until it was put in just that way. I think back on all things I did myself because I was pretty sure that it would be more work to get someone on board and explain it and risk possible complications (which would suck time and energy) than it would be to just churn it out. Also, I had lots of people offer to help but when I asked some of them, they said, "Well, that's not really the kind of help I had in mind," either with words or with their behavior. Humorously, they often signed off the email or the phone call or the visit in which they declined to help with, "But let me know if you need anything!"

This did not bother me at all, actually. At another stage in my life it might but mantra of always trying to assume goodness first and try to puzzle out extenuating circumstances that caused the deviation later seemed to work with these cases. They were quickly forgiven for not bending to my will. Plus, maybe I didn't give folks enough permission and affirmation so that they felt like they could just step in and offer to do something specific. Also, lots of people did help when I asked. A roomful of yarmulke-covered heads is proof of that.

But Susan? She was the kind of friend who also listened and stepped in. And I love her for that.

I also love my friends Jake and Jess. They comment quite a bit around here so if you read the comments, you've probably already experienced their enthusiasm. When they came over the weekend before the wedding to help get stuff done, I had fallen into the pattern of assuming this was another ingenuous offer, which is completely contrary to the evidence of their lives and personalities.

So, after hanging out for a little while and shooting the shit and enjoying this dynamic because I assumed this was what I would be doing all afternoon, Jess looked at me and said, "No really. We want to help. Put us to work." So I did. Jake and Jacob made the quilt square display board. Jess worked on the final yarmulkes with me and we all made tablecloths.
So, when my chuppah stand went missing, and it was a three hour round-trip to rent one and I couldn't find anyone to do the same to return them on the day after Labor Day, I knew that if I called Jake and Jess for help, they would not let me down.
Here is Jake building my chuppah four days before the wedding while I looked on semi-helplessly from a pool of despair that I was wallowing in. Even with his own exhaustion from nursing school and frustration over design obstacles, he assured me that it was no big deal for he and Jess and Rachel and Cory to stain it on Saturday morning and assemble it on Sunday morning and disassemble it on Sunday night.

See how good it looks?See the yarmulkes, too?

So, you would think with all of those thoughts of love and cooperation floating around in my head, I would be primed for keeping my ears open, using my smarts and stepping in to help others, right?


Again, I started off well. On my way to my therapy appointment, I stopped at my brother and sister-in-law's place to use my spare key and drop off the chocolate ice cream I had made her. It smelled a little funny when I first walked in but my brother smokes and they have a dog that swims in Lake Michigan and they cook Indian food so I thought it was just a fluke combination of those elements. After I deposited the quart of ice cream in the freezer, I went to go say hi to the dog who was emotionally stuck to her bed (this is actually not all that weird: she's a rescue pit bull). On my way there, I notice a giant, stinky, runny, oddly gray pile of dog poo in the middle of the hardwood floor. Poor Beatrice had been so sick and not that I looked at her, she wasn't wagging her tail and she was ducking her head instead of looking at me expectantly for love, like she usually does. It was huge. More than the volume of ice cream I brought. And - the longer I was there - just as hugely disgusting to smell. It was starting to make me heave a little.

Because of my thoughts this morning, I really wanted to stay and clean it up. It was what I would have wanted someone to do for me. I even started to problem-solve about finding something to scoop it up with since a paper towel just wasn't going to cut it. Then, my eyes really processed the pool of liquid excrement surrounding the pile and between that and my olfactory experience, I was practically pushed out the door by my self-preservation instincts.

Not a good neighbor. As Anne Lamott would say, Jesus is sucking down a little medicinal whisky right now because he's so disappointed.

Poor Beatrice has to experience unfounded doggy shame all day and my brother had to clean it up. I called him at work to apologize and warn him what was waiting for him. (Can you imagine having a bad day and coming home to that without warning?) I then promised that I would never do that to Baby Shashi once s/he gets born.

Laugh all you want but some days we just cannot be our best selves. I thank God that Jess and Jake and Susan and all the other folks who helped with my wedding had better days then than I had today.

Monday, October 05, 2009


Last week I was working at my dad's office on a grant proposal for his organization. I love doing this because our desks are right next to each other and we can talk while we work and, more importantly, I can hear how he makes his phone calls. I have been taking advantage of this set-up for almost 15 years and almost all of my professional mannerisms come from observing my dad talk on the phone with colleagues, donors and strangers.

Last week, someone called him mistakenly because the name of his organization is similar to the name of another organization. Instead of graciously taking his leave when the mistake was discovered, the caller kept my father on the line for 15 minutes, describing the work he does and asking questions, trying to get my father on board anyway. Dad is polite and gracious but kept making faces at me and shaking his head. (This is the exception to my use of him as a role-model; I know that I am not yet skilled enough to pat my head and rub my belly on the phone: my facial expression will be belied by the tone of my voice.) When he got off the phone, he bemoaned "you young people, you zealots." I deserved to be lumped in with that guy. I'll talk about my church or the Jewish community's response to interfaith marriage until someone's eyes glaze over. I hope that when I get a job, it is one that serves a cause that I can also get excited about.

But today, I read this quote in my Geez magazine, from the Orthodox saint, Isaac the Syrian:
Someone who has actually tasted truth is not contentious for truth . . . once he has truly learnt [what truth is really like], he will cease from zealousness on its behalf.

It seems that my dad is wiser than he looks. I look forward to seeing the world from his perspective at some point in my life. If God is ineffable and unknowable and we can only catch glimpses of her through our peripheral vision, like watching the invisible wind move the trees or like Moses being allowed to see only the afterimage of God's passing, then how could we put that experience into words that we were certain enough about to fight for. As a zealot, I ignore the needs of others and try to manipulate them into believing what I believe, if only through the hope that they might lend the argument credence simply because my passion and enthusiasm is unlikely to be utilized on behalf of a dumb cause. Someday, I will trust that my work is worth doing, even if no one else joins me, because I finally trust that God would not tell me to do something if it were not worth doing and I will desist from my zealotry. Saint Isaac trusts that God will show all people truth and that their normal interactions will pass it back and forth between them. Zealotry is simply another way of making ourselves more important to the process of redemption than we actually are. God redeems us and the world. We are lucky enough to be invited to join in the task but our participation is not at all necessary. The work will get done either way.

Thank God for that since I do a pretty terrible job of mending on most days. Maybe one day, I'll be as good at it as my dad is.