Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jewish identity

Jewish identity is a hot topic around my house lately. Interestingly, two women in my life who are passionate, intellectual lovers of writing have both written on the subject. I've spent a couple of days thinking about their words before responding but have recently left comments on both of their blogs.

If you are interested, Jess writes about it here. An excerpt to whet your palate:
I found it amazing to consider that a man or woman would walk around in a body that was their golden ticket, in the white skin that they wore often without knowing what that white skin entitled them to, and could still feel outcast and in the minority. Perhaps it is a testament to my religious insensitivity that I'm still astonished that a Jewish person could be white and still feel racially different.

Ali responds here.
But this tension arises because we have made race into a visual category into which we toss people rather carelessly. I had friend in college who frequently "passed" without wanting to, despite having a biracial African-American father because of her blond curls and blue eyes. And Jessica's right, white-looking folks tend to "watch purses" (among other things) in response to visual cues about race. But I look at my children, one of whom is Mexican-American and the other of whom is Ethiopian. When they walk around with their white-looking mama, they get tossed into "brown and black" categories or "Guatemalan and Foster Care" categories--none of which fit either of them in their glorious, specific selfhood.

I love these two women and have always loved them for their willingness to be vehement with me while also listening. Although they have never met in the flesh, my relationship with both of them on an individual level is shockingly similar. Go take a look.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Let me count the ways

Several weeks ago, I said to Jacob, "I know why I am comfortable with getting married so quickly but I don't know why you're comfortable with it."

He said, "The way I see it is that two years ago, we weren't right for each other. We were in different places and were looking for different things. But we're right for each other now. Getting married just guarantees that we'll make the decisions that keep us right for each other."


That man.

A couple of weeks ago, Jacob and I celebrated the 1-year anniversary of meeting at Tabitha's birthday party. In 6 weeks, we'll be married.

For a lot of people, this timeline is unthinkable. But for us, there is no reason to wait for a wedding. We had made up our minds to spend the rest of our lives with each other and would rather that happened sooner rather than later.

I know there are a lot of couples that are comfortable and even need to date for 2, 3, 4, 5 or more years before getting married. Of course, I am a huge advocate for everyone doing what is best for their own relationship And personally, I was unwilling to alter again the patterns and decisions of my life to accommodate someone else if there were not long-term benefits. I had reveled in enjoy-the-now relationships for about five years after the divorce and they were good and necessary. However, starting about a year and a half ago, I was really starting to go somewhere with my life. I was putting down roots and growing toward goals. I'd become committed to certain paths like emergent Christianity and training for a certain type of career. Maybe it was turning 30 or maybe it was realizing how much I was spending on grad school that made me think, "I can no longer just pick up and start over anymore without wasting some of the effort spent in my younger years."

So, my Mr. Right Now relationships with men became liabilities for the things I was trying to accomplish. Time spent with them needed to be more than just fun or an escape or an emotional salve. Time spent with a man needed to be as much of an investment as the time I was spending on my homework or the time I was spending building community at church.

But this pace has its downsides. When you melt down a precious metal, generally an artist tries to clean the pieces before exposing them to heat as much as possible to cut down on potential flaws in the finished work. If weddings are crucibles that burn off the dross of a relationship and leave only the pure gold, the chunks of scrap that Jacob and I threw into the pot had barely been touched by steel wool or water. So the fire needs to be a little bit hotter.

Planning our wedding has been a hot process. Three times we've had Serious Conversations about whether or not an interfaith life is what we really want, knowing full well that we would not be able to get married if the answer was no. Some family and friends have done double-takes and needed to be coaxed into a state of mind that is comfortable with the idea of our marriage. A wedding for 225 people that will balance both of our desires for an event and that will resolve even our individual internal conflicting desires for an event takes spiritual energy, and practical get-shit-done energy.

And my soul is tired. I'm tired of fighting to advocate for what I need. I'm tired of feeling threatened. I'm tired of making the right choices, even when they are hard. I'm tired of being the bigger person and thinking of other people's needs. I'm tired of buying things. I'm tired of planning. My soul feels squished like Giles Corey and can only focus on breathing underneath all of the weight.

I realized this about my soul when I went on what should have been an adventure out to the Quad Cities with my friend to do her a favor and to volunteer for an event she was trying to raise money at. A) The Quad Cities fascinate. I never fail to be delighted by the various sub-cultures that I encounter there. One of my best friends lives there and it has never disappointed. B) The event was a giant motivational speaker event with speakers like Robert Schuller and Rudy Giuliani. At one point there was a rap by an Italian woman with a book to promote that warned that you would never be fulfilled by TV but must, instead, look to Jesus to be satisfied.

The combination of A and B should result in at least one, if not two or three, blog posts describing, analysing and applying lessons learned from these adventures. What great stories! I would have my notebook out to make sure I remembered the outrageous details so that you, the gentle reader, could see them in your head as you read. I love adventures and I love sharing them on my blog.

But, you and I both get bupkus from that trip. And thus, I know my soul is tired.

This past weekend, Jacob and I went up to New York to visit his parents. We wanted to make sure that they feel included in our plans and to smooth out some of the bumps that we've encountered with them. But my soul is tired. The first day and a half were really hard for me. I was staying in someone else's house, trying to be a respectful guest, but struggling with whether to say the emotional things that I wanted to say so they would know how much they've hurt my feelings and maybe set a precedent for how I am willing to be treated in the future or whether I should just pretend like everything is OK and establish a foundation of good-will and affection that will ease future conversations about boundaries. This will be one of the last chances we can afford to spend with them at a time that is not a holiday with the whole family present. If not now, when? Right? But my soul was so tired. Jacob was so good and supportive and we brainstormed together what our best tactics should be. But even when we resolved to say something, I literally said the words in my head, "I am not brave enough to blow everything up while everything is so peaceful." Even if blowing shit up was the right thing to do. And I have no idea if it would have been the right thing. Maybe it was and I'll reap the consequences late. I don't know. I just know that I didn't confront them at all about the things that they have waited to say until they can say it on the phone. I just couldn't generate the energy to facilitate a healthy conversation that would involve forgiving them for their defensiveness ahead of time so that we could actually be productive in fixing our relationship. And Jacob couldn't do it alone. That's not how a partnership works.

So, we made it through the weekend. We had a legitimately good time. We laughed and we talked about some details of the wedding as a group. Jacob talked a little bit about his views on Judaism. We went through old photos and we chose which of Grandpa Manny's quilts we wanted. (We're going to use one for our chuppah.) We ate yummy dinner at Moosewood in Ithaca. It was a lovely time. I perked up a little toward the end of the second day when we went shopping at some thrift stores. Shopping is a little like drugs to me. I stay away from it most of the time because I know it is a slippery slope. But, like a little Valium every once in awhile, it helped the time pass by with a little less angst. (For those of you that don't know me, that was a joke. Kind of. Too much addiction in my family makes that an impossible route for me. However, don't think I don't wish I were the kind of person who could just dabble in a better life through chemistry.) :-)

I don't know if we should have cleared the air in a blow out. Neither does Jacob. One or the other of us changes our minds about that every 8 hours or so. But he and I are tight with each other and I am content with that. I want to marry him and he wants to marry me. That is a blessing that I can count a bazillion different Elizabeth Barrett Browning ways.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The laws of Moses and Israel

In Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian, he tells a fictional story that reflects his own journey in examining the faith he'd always known and realizing that what he'd always believed was actually blocking him from feeling the presence of God. It is a difficult journey and at one point, he is walking along a river with his friend and mentor who acts as a Socratic guide, asking leading questions and being a solid comfort to the grief the main character feels as he watches the life he knew slip away as he confronted things that used to be "needs" for being a good Christian as simply cultural requirements. While walking, the internal pressure he feels to discard his old life feels so unbearable that he picks up a giant tree branch and starts swinging it as he shouts out a catharsis.

Jacob and I have been getting pressure from a couple of different sources that we shouldn't be having a religious ceremony or that we should call our ketubah something else since ours it not really a Jewish wedding and its not really a Jewish document. These are serious requests from people we love and I will not belittle them with an angry rant. Actually, the time for that has mostly passed for me. Early in the engagement, I was much more sensitive, especially at the idea that we might have to look really hard to even find a rabbi that would be willing to perform the ceremony. I cried quite a bit because being rejected by an entire faith community brought up all sorts of other rejections that I had tucked down deep, like my own feelings of rejection from Christianity when friends and extended family alike told me that I wasn't really Christian if I believed that God lets everyone spent eternity with her, or if I believed that God was bigger than than gender, or if I believed that Bible was not a set of rules to be strictly adhered to.

The first rabbi that we talked to - who was a close acquaintance - said that he would consider officiating but that he wouldn't use the language of the traditional ring ceremony: "Behold you are consecrated unto me, with this ring, according to the Law of Moses and Israel." Again, the argument was that since it wasn't really a Jewish marriage, the traditional words shouldn't be used. Anita Diamant writes, "If one of the parties is not bound 'by the laws of Moses and Israel,' the contract is not binding; it is void."

Wow. That really hurts. Our wedding is not binding? It is void?

For a woman whose first husband believed that their marriage vows weren't binding even though it was a "Christian" marriage, I was really hoping for more this time.

I wrote in my journal at the time in protest over all of the Jewish people who do not follow the laws of Moses and Israel. They don't keep kosher. They don't go to services. They honor money and television before God. Some don't even believe in God. Yet they still get to be considered Jewish and their marriage commitment is binding and not void. I pointed out to anyone who would listen that I keep a kosher home. I go to Jewish services. I follow God as best as I can.

These are the same protests that I made to my friends and extended family when they told me that I couldn't be part of their Christian club. But as I searched, I found Christians who believed that I belonged.

Their definitions of who was really Christian were generous because they believed that humans are inherently broken and so shouldn't try to second-guess God. They believed that as humankind grows and changes, so does humanity's understanding of God, so each generation will practice their faith differently than the generation before. The important thing is to be in community, struggling together to figure out God's will, as Walt Whitman says, "re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem." This means using traditions that may have been discarded and discarding traditions that others say are necessary.

Which brings me back to Brian McLaren. I never had that moment of birthing pangs to discover that everything I had believed needed to be re-thought. I had a moment of relief when I found folks who thought the same way that I always had and who were willing to push me to think more. I've had a similar experience with Judaism.

We found another rabbi who had no problem with our interfaith plans and who invited us into their faith community that had a large population of interfaith families. We also found the Reconstructionist congregation nearby where we starting participating that explicitly states that the Judaism their children practice will be different than the Judaism that they practice. We have found online support groups and resources like Interfaith Family and the Dovetail Institute. I can make this journey to acceptance again.

However, Jacob's walking style is a little different. He is more like Brian McLaren. Although he has long had niggling doubts about aspects of his faith and began the journey long before he met me, it is much harder for him to overturn what he has always believed in favor of a new truth that is trying to push its way out of him. I love him for the work that he is doing so that we can have a life together. If he married a Jewish woman, this new truth would still push its way out of him; it might just have a little longer to do it. Marrying me speeds the whole process up and - like inducing labor with Pitocin - it becomes much more intense and painful.

So, what do I say to the people who are telling us to have a civil service? Us, who say the shabbat blessings every Friday night, who keep kosher, who go to services on Saturday and church on Sunday, a civil service? To one or two, I explain that although the group that they identify with believes in a very narrow definition of Judaism, there are other groups that widen the definition. Once you acknowledge a continuum of belief, it's not hard to fathom that Jacob and I belong on that continuum somewhere as a Jewish family, even if our children go to church camp some summers. Thus we are, in fact, really Jewish and our wedding should reflect our spirituality. For other people that I am not as close to, I let Jacob do the talking. His journey is harder than mine and it would be disrespectful if I tried to speak on his behalf. It would be saying that I don't trust him to make the right arguments, which is not true. Jacob is working hard to suss out his identity as a Jewish man. This earns him the right to speak for himself.

And I love to hear him talk.

Erika's wedding quilt

When I asked Erika for an important piece of text, she sent me a copy of a note Brian had given her. It was short and sweet and so I emailed Brian and asked him for a note from Erika that was special to him. They were a perfect match of texts, both expressing delight in the high quality of the time spent together so far and looking forward to all of the time they would get together in the future.

I used strips of orange fabric from a kit I bought from trinasdoings on etsy. Look at those cool dogs she sent me! I printed the text in shades of blue and pulled some other blue fabric out of my stash.

Erika has joined Brian in his enthusiasm for the University of Illinois football and they tailgate often. I figured the color combination would be useful.

I love making these and, rationally, I should take a little break. Actually, I told Tabitha she'd get hers by her anniversary. It would have been too much to get that done and to graduate on time. Last night, Jacob and I totaled out the number of weddings we have attended this year. So far, we had my brothers' wedding in January when I was both the sister of the groom and a bridesmaid, his friends' Jewish wedding in Michigan, my cousin's wedding in Florida, Tabitha's wedding where I made the flowers, and Erika's wedding where I was a bridesmaid. None of these were 6-hour commitments. All required either travel or work. And I have loved it. But I'm a little exhausted and looking forward to a little break until my own wedding. After that, we've got two more to attend in October. That makes 8 total for the year, including ours.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Real butter

As a general rule, I hate unity candles.

I have been to too many weddings where the couple goes over to light the candle while somebody sings a pop Christian love song that is 2 minutes and 15 seconds too long for the 45 second ritual. (I have even been that singer once.) Then, everyone has to stand there awkwardly until the song ends. In my most hilarious experience with the awkward waiting moment, the stentorian, charismatic pastor put his hand on the groom's shoulder, closed his eyes and just nodded his head or shook it a little, occasionally uttering little guttural noises that clearly communicated that this was a meaningful moment. I respect this pastor in a lot of other ways but this was a little over the top and I struggled to keep from laughing.

Also, I don't like unity candles because so often the bride and groom blow out their own individual candles after they have lit the center candle. I'm all for putting all your eggs in each other's baskets but, really? Keep a little of your individuality, please.

Finally, another general rule in my life is to avoid accumulating decorative junk and I've seen too many $55 candles that were bought at a kiosk at the mall gathering dust in friends' home. I suppose I shouldn't judge their ceremony because it violates one of my own rules but . . . I'm petty like that. I need to hold it at arms' length in whatever way I can so that I am not tempted back to my suburban, materialist life.

So, with all of this baggage, I found myself moved by my friend Erika's unity candle ceremony this past weekend. Both times at the rehearsal and the real time with actual flame made something catch in my chest. Their mothers lit their candles before the service began and after Erika and Brian lit the center candle, they left their own candles lit and pushed them to the back of the altar and, together, moved the center candle forward a little.

That simple movement communicated so clearly, "We continue to value our individual needs but by this act of commitment, we move our relationship to the front of our attention."

It was stunning in its simplicity.

This simplicity reflected the entire ceremony. There were about 75 people in attendance at the small chapel of North Central College. It took about 20 minutes and, aside from their desire to do the unity ceremony their own way, the service was entirely traditional, with nothing that "reflected their personalities perfectly."

But Erika was a different woman once it was completed. I sat on the hotel bed with my fancy hair and make-up in my pajamas that morning and asked her in a quiet moment what she was feeling so I could use her experience as a reference point for my own in 6 weeks. "Ready," she said tightly. She smiled all morning and was never any kind of bridezilla. Still, after the ceremony, her gait and smile and laughter were all a little bit looser. She actually looked several shades darker, like her tan remembered to shine once she was married. It was the difference between this

and this.

Both are gorgeous, one is comfortable.

I look forward to being comfortable with Jacob. Right now, planning this giant event and trying to get certain people to be supportive of our interfaith plans and trying to find a job and the wrestling and tearing of our relationship as it emerges from its chrysalis cause us to fight and snap a fair amount. On Tuesday night, I went into a 45 minute stretch of being tetchy because he had rung the doorbell to be let in with his bike while he should have known I was in the middle of cooking dinner in preparation of his arrival so it would be on the table when he walked in. It was a visceral response that had nothing to do with how well my day had gone or how I actually feel about serving him (I love it). I know myself too well to think these kinds of moments will stop entirely after the wedding. However, I have complete faith that they will drop off quickly once the stress drops off like the trough after the ocean wave. We will get a chance to be comfortable with each other.

I don't think the transformation will happen after the ceremony, like Erika's did. It will probably start after the last guest has left the morning-after brunch and I wake up from my nap. Still, I look forward to it.

I am grateful to Erika for reminding me of what I have to look forward to. I am also grateful to her because her wedding was WIC (wedding industrial complex) all the way. A hotel reception package, matching bridesmaids gowns from David's Bridal, a suite of printed items that all matched, scads of formal pictures, a head table, manis and pedis the day before with the bridesmaids, party bus with hard-drinking groomsmen and goodie bags galore. It was completely predictable in every possible way.

And I did not have a sarcastic, cynical moment the entire weekend.

Look at how much fun is on my face as we mocked the groom for holding bouquets while the other bridesmaids ran to the bathroom at the park we stopped at to take pictures.

This is not the face of a girl who is experiencing the hell of the WIC, which is what you might expect from the way I describe it with horror at times.

Because at the heart of Erika and Brian's cookie-cutter wedding was Erika and Brian, who were full of love and graciousness to all of their guests. All those goody bags? Full of food to sustain us through the drinking and the photos. At the rehearsal dinner in the restaurant, they gave us gifts that rocked, including matching flip-flops for when our silver shoes got painful and a great big silver purse to haul our shit around on the party bus plus an expensive gift certificate to Hancock fabrics, which had to have been individual to me. Thoughtful and full of love.

WIC weddings are just a medium, like a pie crust or potatoes. If you put crappy ingredients in, it's going to suck but good ingredients like love, consideration and real butter, you can get something amazing. Both my brother's wedding earlier this year and now Erika's wedding remind me of that and make me just a tad less judgmental, which means that actually, I've gotten a tad less insecure in my own choices.

Erika has been one of my best friends for over 10 years. I had so much fun over the two days of her wedding and I am so grateful to her for including me in such an honored position. I danced all night (thanks to the DJ and daily bike rides), grew in kinship with the other (tiny) bridesmaids and got a chance to delight in Jacob. What more could I ask for?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I Live In A Duplex

A few months ago, Jacob and I posed for one of the artists at church. She took hundreds of pictures of us individually as the person "off-stage" entertained the one being photographed. She approached us to do this because she said we had interesting faces.

She has a series of portraits called "I Live In a Duplex" where she paints two heads on the same canvas and lets the viewer draw conclusions about what the relationship is. Her name is Virginia Broersma and she is both super-cool and a really talented artist. You can check her out here.

We've seen her at church a lot but haven't talked much about what became of our sitting.

So, how much fun was it to show up at church to set up for our first baby shower and to see my giant head on the wall.

I don't know who dude is with me. Draw your own conclusions. :-) Investigation on her site reveals that it is entitled "Grasp".

Further investigation reveals that Jacob has been included, as well, although she didn't hang it at church. You can see it here.

Have I mentioned how much I love that my church is full of artists? I should also mention that it was hard to concentrate during our Leadership Co-op meeting because I kept looking at myself.

God works in odd ways.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I heart Jimmy Carter

I agree with my friend, Rachel.

This is kind of a big deal.

Jimmy Carter has left the Southern Baptist Church because of its treatment of women.

In his words:
The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place - and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence - than eternal truths. [. . .]

I am [. . .] familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn't until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

He consistently uses his authority as a former President of the United States for the powers of good. I like that in a man.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A common fear

A couple of weeks ago I was totally rude to a friend of mine. She was all vulnerable and shared with me that she didn't know what to do for a quilt square for our wedding quilt. She just didn't think she could come up with something good enough.

I told her that was bullshit.

I used my nicest voice, though. I promise.

This is one of the women who taught me how to sew and made that first fateful trip to the Renaissance Faire with me when we were in high school. She weaves and is doing the flowers for the wedding.

I could not be more explicit in the different invitations to make a quilt square that whatever folks come up with will delight us.

Sure, my friend gets a little grace for the perfectionism of artists but seriously. One measly little quilt square? Bullshit. She smiled and said she'd get started.

I tell this story to tell folks that if my beautiful artistic, crafty friend is feeling a little timid about this project, there are probably many of you out there who are also feeling a little timid.

That's OK. Acknowledge the fear, know you're not alone and then move past it. It's that teenage voice that still lives in the back of your head that whispers that other people are total monsters who will judge you and chop off your head if you stick your neck out. That teenage voice is not very bright. Are there people out there who will do that? Of course. Are Jacob and I those people? Not a chance.

This is a true case of it's-the-thought-that-counts, only this time it's more like it's-the-effort-that-counts. Seriously, if you took the minimum time of going to the fabric store, selecting a fabric you liked and sending it to us, we'd be over the moon. Measuring and cutting it into a 6 inch square? Delirious. Cutting and piecing multiple fabrics? We'll think you're some kind of super-hero.

While I was in Florida recently for my cousin's wedding, I used 1/4 of my suitcase to take all of my green fabric with me and to walk them through making their squares. I tried to take a picture of their results to encourage you and make you jealous of my time at the beach. Well, I was punished for that thought because the lens steamed up as soon as I stepped out of the air conditioning but I didn't realize it.

This is the square my 12-year-old cousin Jake made.

Isn't that amazing? A 12-year-old boy! I love all of these. My uncle's fruit theme (one quadrant was bugs since I only had three fruit fabrics), my aunt's strawberries and vegetables, my cousin Eliza's huge Hawaiian-esque floral mix,my cousin Eva's random mix. They are all beautiful and have varying levels of quality in their stitching. That's OK, too. I'll reinforce some of their seams on my machine. Also, some of them ended up too big but I'm happy to cut them down to the right size.

So, you can do it. We want you to do it. It will be amazing to gather them all together into one blanket that will keep our children warm on the couch as we read them stories.

A note - I wrote this for the "wedding" blog for our guests but I'm afraid the tone isn't right. I figured I try it out on you all here. What do you think? Constructive criticism? What are your thoughts on the use of the word "bullshit"? It's kind of necessary to the story, don't you think? But maybe it will turn off readers who don't know me. Let me know what you think, please.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Isis Rising

So, one of my closest friends has started a blog with a purpose. She is trying to explore race, gender, culture and identity: all topics that are not strange to the readers of this blog.

She writes:

If you're anything like me, when you start something new, you want to shield it from the world, hold it close to your chest away from prying eyes, and whisper to it gently until you think it can take the real world. But it occurs to me that if I keep doing it, my project is never going to grow.
. . .
The blog is both a launch and sounding pad, and also hopefully a focal point for other people who are interested in participating in what I'm putting down.
. . .
But enough shadow and whispering; it's time for this thing to see the light of the world now. So take a look; and be in touch.

She calls the blog Isis Rising and you can follow that link to find it.

I've looked around some and think it's totally worth your time. Bookmark it or add it to your reader. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Continually mending the world

I've said before that invitations are not really my thing. I can fondle a beautiful card stock with offset printing with the best of them. However, creating a assembly line to put the complicated things together was not high on my list of things to craft for this wedding. (An assembly line for the yarmulkes with my bridal brigade is a totally different matter.) :-)

However, I have a few illustrators that I really love. I approached one of them about custom work and although that was too expensive, she said we could use a digital image of something she had already created for free.


This illustrator is the lovely and talented Johanna Wright and you can view her work here. You may remember her from an earlier post.

So, my lovely sister-in-law is studying medical illustration, which is a really specialized form of graphic design. She graciously agreed to design the invitation and I was just going to use my favorite photo printing shop to print them up as 5x7 photos. Good enough for anyone's fridge, right?

However, I had a moment of inspiration when I realized that I could just as easily and inexpensively have them printed on fabric by Spoonflower. If there is a theme to our wedding, it is mending the world and we're using patchwork quilts to symbolize that. So, we'll send out 5x7 patches. Pretty cool, huh?

The fabric arrived the other day and I am chomping at the bit to start cutting it.

We'll have simple postcards for RSVPs (we have too many non-tech guests for online RSVP to work for us). I'll show you the design for those when I have it. A little cliffhanger: it also features the art of Johanna Wright.

This process just keeps getting more and more exciting. Recently, I read a profile of a wedding that just sounds torturous in its attempts to be "offbeat" and just comes off sounding disorganized and poorly thought-out. With this project I realize that when I look back on this wedding it will have a lot of unique elements but none of of them will have been included just to be different. Each will be an organic development of what Jacob and I are already doing in our lives. I have been using Spoonflower to make fabrics for quilts for other couples. And eureka, we can also use it for our own! Cool!

That's how I like things. Comfortable.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Compare and Contrast

A couple of weekends ago, the woman who introduced Jacob to me got married. She and her husband are both pastors and their wedding was exactly the one that - when I pictured another wedding - I pictured for myself before I met Jacob.

Since I had sworn off men who wouldn't understand my desire for the spiritual, I assumed that I would marry another Christian, you know, if I could find one who didn't have any weird, latent misogynistic tendencies. We would do Bible studies together at the kitchen table and volunteer to be counselors for the high school camping trip at our church. More importantly, when I needed to talk about the decisions I had to make in life, he would understand the language I was using and the framework that I was making the decisions within. I would be known and my future husband would be able to support me fully. This would be reflected in our wedding that would be casual and liturgical, with both of us participating fully in its solemnity and fun. It would be very church-y with communion and the guests singing hymns (I had to settle for hymns being played by the organist as mood-setting music before the ceremony in my first wedding). There would be prayer and people would know that God was there. The very sure knowledge that I have that God loves me and that I know she loves me because she sent us Jesus would be felt by everyone who attended. There would be no altar call but my friends would more fully understand the appeal of the religion to me because they had experienced this wedding. (My cousin's pastor used to shout, "Play it again Ramona!" as they sang Victory in Jesus. We all loved the story so much that this Presbyterian knows all the words.)

(By the way, these three old white people crank it OUT. My family was not this funky. Just as weird; not as syncopated.)

But then I did meet Jacob and my desire for a man who held spirituality in the same spot on his priority list was fulfilled in a way that I never expected. As the months of our courtship went on and we began to imagine what our lives would look like if they included each other for the rest of them, I quickly lost track of that earlier relationship fantasy. The project of discovering a joint spiritual practice was so delightful and difficult that it dominated my field of vision.

So, Tabitha and Shane get married. She carries the bouquet I made and he wears the boutonniere I crafted. They had a praise team from their other church leading us all in song. They had two officiants who know them personally because both Tabitha and Shane are pastors themselves. In fact, they met in Divinity School. It was a raucous time since so many guests pitched in to create the event and finally got to enjoy the fruits of their labor. The more charismatic and evangelical pastor jokingly(?) attempted to convert the more WASP-y, non-denominational pastor (who I know and who does amazing social justice work) to his "one, true church." I loved the Jesus banter that arose out of a culture that I know so well. It was all in my language. Then, they serve communion to the congregation. They were so comfortable in their roles as spiritual people that the ritual of blessing the elements was both casual and sacred. At one moment, they messed something up and Shane leaned over out of habit to kiss Tabitha in what must have been a private ritual of reconciliation and love. They caught themselves in time so that they wouldn't kiss before they were announced formally.

In short, it was the wedding I always thought I'd have.

And I'm OK with that. However, I felt out of sorts for most of the evening and the next couple of days. I never doubted my choice of a life with Jacob. That wasn't it. But being confronted with a realization of one of made dreams forced me to consider it again.

When Jacob and I were first getting serious, I struggled with the transition from a life of personal independence to a new life of inter-dependence and compromise. My friend Shawna, who had just finished her chaplaincy at a local hospital, said, "All change, even good change, requires a period of mourning for the future you thought you would have." I knew this to be true because of my divorce. I will always say that the hardest part was picturing a future different from the one he and I planned together. For instance, while I was on the island, I had an intense experience in a spiritual circle with 4 other women in which they created a safe space through song and incense and I wept for the children that my ex-husband and I had already named and imagined distinct personalities for but whom I would never meet. So, I knew this to be true but had never applied it to good change.

That conversation made me comfortable with allowing myself to struggle internally without doubting the decision. That early experience helped me with Tabitha's wedding weekend. I knew that my mind and my heart had to compare what could have been with what will most likely be. The compare and contrast in itself does not signify that the choice is wrong. In fact, the process led me to a place of greater confidence in our relationship because in every comparison, life with Jacob was far and away a better option.

For instance, in addition to the wedding as option, my study group that I used to be close to were all in attendance. Jacob and I had arrived earlier than they had and so sat with his friends from college who were already there. I felt myself feeling a little resentful that I couldn't sit with my delightfully sarcastic friends and make snarky comments during the service, which is by far one of the most entertaining things that I ever participate in my life. Instead I had to sit with my earnest fiance who occasionally tells me that something I've said was mean, rather than laughing like I wanted him to. Worse, I have to sit with his friends who will probably think I'm mean to. If I sat with my friends then I would be able to be appreciated and loved since they love snarky comments as much as I do. That was part of our chemistry. We functioned at a level of trust that we were all good people and that our jokes were just jokes, not devious flank attacks.

This struggle was a perfect example of comparing a life that I used to want to the life I have chosen. I won't give up being sarcastic completely and I won't completely forgo my friends in favor of his. But the reality is that in a life with Jacob, I will be less sarcastic because he doesn't laugh as often at those kind of jokes and sometimes they hurt his feelings. And I will spend less time with my friends just like he will so that some of my friend time can be spent with his friends.

So, since the service hadn't started yet, I went over to see my friends and made some jokes and thought I was pretty cool. But when I went back to sit with Jacob, I realized that whoever else we sat with, I wanted to sit with him. I wanted to feel him squeeze my hand whenever the pastor says something that applies to us, too. I wanted to lean my head on his shoulder and dream about our wedding and know from his small sighs that he was thinking about the same thing. I just wanted to be with him.

I know that Jacob had similar second thoughts when we attended an Orthodox Jewish wedding a few weeks ago. We talked and talked and talked through that and now it was my turn. These experiences make us stronger and I'm glad for them. This process is so much more than I could have ever fantasized about. Jacob prays with me and is learning how to speak my faith language so that when I need to suss something out with someone who understands the framework I'm working within, he'll be able to help. But in addition to this, he can see my moral quandaries with an outsider's eye and help me out of the box when I get stuck. Our wedding reflects this. Our ketubah says more than simple vows could have said. We will complete the ritual of getting married by signing it there during the ceremony. We'll probably have a laying-on of hands so that present clergy can bless us. Our chuppah will be a symbol of the community that surrounds us. It will be comfortable and sacred. It will be the wedding that I never knew I wanted.

God is good and unexpected. I appreciate her grace in having offered Jacob to me.

Thursday, July 09, 2009


Yesterday, I gave away my car.

Jacob and I don't need two to exist in the city since he normally takes the bus or his bike to work. (I hope to get a job in the Loop so I can green it to work, as well.)

We knew this when I first moved to his condo in December but it was too early then for me to get rid of all my assets on this love affair. My kick-ass apartment and much of my furniture were already gone. I had too much sense to risk having to buy a new car if things didn't work out. Luckily, my friend Tabitha had her parked car completely totaled by a passing snow plow in the middle of the night(it ended up turned around 180 degrees and in the middle of the near-by intersection). Actually, there was no proof that it was a snowplow but, come on. What else could it have been?

So, it wasn't lucky for Tabitha. But she needed just an interim car since she'd move to Minnesota after graduation and her wedding to be with her husband and wouldn't need a car there. This was lucky for us. She rented my car from me for the cost of the insurance, ensuring it would be there for the next six if I needed it. A win-win scenario.

But now, it was time to give the car away. If things don't work between Jacob and I now, I'll have much bigger things to worry about than buying a new car. And since Jacob doesn't drive stick-shift and his crappy old car (as opposed to my crappy old car) needs less work/money to get it to peak condition.

Willow Creek runs a ministry called the C.A.R.S. ministry that fixes up cars like mine and gives them to single moms that need them. They use volunteer mechanics and sell some cars that are not appropriate for families in order to raise the cash to cover their expenses. It's a pretty good non-profit model that is large enough to reap the benefits of the economies of scale. They had a tow-truck come and pick up my car this morning.

I have loved this car. It has taken me to Orcas Island and back and been a zillion places in between in the last 10 years. But after 107,000 miles it is time to say good-bye. Good-bye to the I Love Portillos sticker, the Shearwater Kayaks sticker and the Illinois Wesleyan Alumni sticker that was purchased shortly after my divorce when I was groping for an identity, any identity since I couldn't be Dennis' wife anymore. Good-bye to the slow-leaking front tire and the slow-leaking, sometimes overheating coolant system. Good-bye to the new rack and pinion steering and the prematurely new timing chain. Good-bye to stick shift, a loss I will actually mourn as I drive the automatic transition of a tiny Nissan.

Good-bye, Jolene. You have served honorably and well.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


Jacob and I have finalized the wording of our ketubah! A ketubah is a formal wedding contract in the Jewish tradition. Many people say that its original incarnation was a feminist act since it belonged to the wife and guaranteed that the man she married would provide for her or at least think twice about divorce since it would be costly. Still, the version that is acceptable to Orthodox rabbis in Israel (oddly, a more important distinction than you might think) states that the man acquires the wife and only men can witness the contract.

Since our marriage is considered illegitimate by Orthodox rabbis in Israel, anyway, Jacob and I decided to create our own contract and to sign it during our ceremony. We might also read it to our guests like my friends did last weekend with their "family mission statement."

We borrowed some lines about the history of covenants from a version that A. is using for her ketubah and used some texts from as a rough draft. Then, we changed words and altered sentences until it felt right. At one point Jacob said, "Those sentences don't sound right," and both of us together said, "Could we use a colon?"

I suppose that we should have made a list of everything that we wanted to be included and written from scratch since I do claim to be a writer. However, that seemed a little daunting and I wasn't sure that I could get the right feel of a spiritual contract. It probably would have turned out more like a family mission statement. Using someone else's structure to build upon was very helpful.

As it was, we found that as we were adding and subtracting, each of us actually did have a list in our heads. Jacob pointed out that one draft didn't say anything about the children we hope to have. I really needed to have the hard work of marriage specifically committed to. After we thought we had a final draft, I realized in a frenzy that nowhere was our love for each other mentioned, even though both of us believe strongly that love is a deliberate action in addition to being a feeling. It was a good process and not very much stressful. The conversations stretched over two or three session over several weeks. I think the only contentious moment was when I wanted to include the name of Jesus. The name itself is really threatening to Jacob (and other Jewish people that I have met) and it took awhile for us both to calm down enough to include it.

When issues like that came up, we asked, "What do we want our children to get out of this document?" In that case, we decided that it was important that the document be undeniably interfaith.

Jewish tradition states that whenever a commandment is being fulfilled through a physical object, it should be made as beautifully as possible. To that end, many ketubot are gloriously illustrated, framed and hung in prominent places of the house. Ours will be no different. Our friend from church is both fluent in Hebrew and a stunning artist. She has agreed to create our ketubah for us. I couldn't be more pleased.

So, here is the text:
This ketubah witnesses before God and all present that on the sixth day of September in the year 2009 in the community of Chicago, IL, the holy covenant of marriage is entered into between R. and J. This agreement into which we are entering is a holy covenant like the ancient covenants of our people, made in faithfulness to stand forever. It is a covenant of protection and hope like the covenant God swore to Noah and his descendants. It is a covenant of devotion, joining hearts like the covenant David and Jonathan made. It is a covenant of mutual loving kindness like the wedding covenant between God and Children of Israel. It is a covenant of grace and peace like the covenant made between God and all humanity in the story told about Jesus. Because of this covenant, we will celebrate the flow of the seasons: in times of happiness we will cherish each other and in times of trouble we will protect each other. We will create a home built on the foundations of our traditions, and nurtured by the values of our families. We will love our children and teach them to embrace gratitude, humility, tolerance and forgiveness. We will love each other and do the hard work necessary to stay compatible. We commit to following God’s commandments and to working together toward the task of mending the world. Surrounded by family and friends, we affirm our commitment to each other as partners.

Pretty stinking cool, isn't it? This makes me even more excited to marry this man.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Not So Frequently Asked Questions, Part 2

This is continuation of an interview that A. sent me. See Part 1 here with the complete explanation. I'm happy to interview you for your blog if you leave a comment with the request.

Her second question is, "How did you get into quilting, and why do you do it?"

I honestly don't know. I remember being in the craft section at Wal-Mart in what must have been 2001 and seeing a set of clear plastic charm quilt templates on clearance from $15 to $2 or $3. I know that I couldn't ignore a deal that large. I don't remember if I already knew about charm quilts or if I read the package insert there in the store before deciding that they were for me. The combination of using lots of different fabrics, the ability to hand-piece it easily (I didn't have a working sewing machine at that point), and no need for keeping track of a rigid pattern, which allowed for my own geometric creativity was irresistible.

In 1996, I had begun tentatively dipping my toe into the water of believing that I might be capable of being an artist. Before this point, I insisted to anyone who asked that I wasn't. The problem was that one of my brothers was a very naturally talented draw-er, as well as being 8 years older than I was. This was a deadly combination. I have a very vivid memory of painting with watercolors when I was seven or eight. He came up to the table in the kitchen where I was working and demanded to know what my pitiful brush strokes were trying to be. When I told him that it was a log cabin, he said, "That's not a log cabin! I'll show you a log cabin." He took the brush from my hand and painted a gorgeous scene that used perspective and shading to create a very accurate representation of a log cabin with a stream running along beside it. I can see every detail of that painting perfectly in my head.

Now, my brother loves me and he certainly didn't know he was scarring me permanently at the time. He was just being an older brother. It's what they do. I don't resent him in the slightest. Probably, I would not have exploded so forcefully into crafts when I discovered them if I weren't reacting to this early discouragement. But since I was already frustrated with my inability to make my fingers recreat what I saw in my head and I lacked any sort of work ethic, he words gave me the excuse I need to give up and hide behind my own words, "Oh no, I can't draw."

But I was drawn to ceramics my senior year in high school and felt slightly successful and then start working at the local bead store a couple of years later. There I discovered color and had the time and resources to experiment with it. I read some books and magazines about the theory and process of designing jewelry. People loved what I created and I found that working with pliers and string was a totally different experience than trying to draw.

These lessons learned over several years making jewelry transferred easily to small, brightly-colored pieces of cloth. I went on tour and took them with me to keep my hands busy on the bus. Over those 5 months, I made a baby quilt and hand-quilted it. I can't remember how I bound the edges. I do know that my closest friend on that trip was the Costume Head and let me use the company's sewing machine for that part.

Now that I tell that story, I remember that I also made a baby quilt for my favorite teacher in high school my senior year when she had a baby. It was a log cabin style and I have no idea why I thought it was something I could do. Although, again, log cabins don't require exact patterns. Plus, at that point, I was making a lot of jumpers for myself and my first RenFaire costume. Actually, our high school theater director empowered a group of us to feel like successful seamstresses by letting us sew period costumes for our production of The Heiress. I didn't actually participate in that but all my friends did and then they showed me how to follow a pattern and use my machine. Thanks Tricia, Elena and Janstee! For the quilt, I remember sitting in the basement with my machine set up at the ping-pong table, having learned the phrase "stitch in the ditch" and doing my best to execute it correctly. I used soft baby flannel that had the alphabet since she was my English teacher.

So, after the baby quilts, I was ready for big ones and I started my first in 2002 but since I was still hand-piecing, I didn't actually finish it until 2008. I remember trying to impress Jeffrey with my hippie street cred by talking about it in the back seat of a Jeep after white-water rafting the Ocoee River with his sister and her new husband. While on the island, I borrowed one of Jefferey's many machine and worked on a quilt made out of my ex-husband's boxer shorts. I knew that I had to make art out of my grief or it would fester. It is 97% done and I've just started wondering if I should finish it before my wedding to Jacob.

I've only really picked up heavy-duty quilting since I finished the big charm quilt a year ago. I suppose some of the inspiration is the craft blogs that I have begun following. Again, the colors of the fabric appeal to me, as well as the joy of seeing it transformed from a project into a wrinkly, cuddly blanket when I take it out of the dryer for the first time after it is finished. The hand-work is soothing while I watch TV after a long day. And people love them. This is a satisfying life.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Diet for a Small Planet

In this week's New York Magazine, Anthony Lappe, interviews his mother, Frances Moore Lappe. She wrote the book, Diet for A Small Planet, a book about how our eating habits affect both our own health and the world. She wrote it in 1971 and it is credited with being the first large-scale attnetion that Americans paid to the subject. I haven't read it but a fair number of first edition paperbacks used to float through the re-use center I worked at on the island.

It's a short little interview and sweet. What drew me to notice it out of my other breakfast reading was that Ms. Moore completely embodies my parents' parenting philosophy. Her son pokes at her a little bit, trying to get a rise out of her because he became a carnivore later in life. He implies that she loves her other child more because she is still vegetarian. (That favoritism thing is an awesome trick, by the way, guaranteed to make my mom go nutso.) But his mom replies, "Well, I’d love you if you ate Big Macs, honey. That’s the definition of unconditional love."

Until I started quoting her, my mom said more than once in kind-of mock frustration, "We taught you kids to think for yourselves and now we don't like what you think!"

I know that there are people who firmly believe in authoritarian parenting where the parents make the rules and the children obey them. For many of them, that works. But I am so grateful that my parents chose the authoritative route, trying to work with us as partners with wisdom in our upbringing. They didn't always succeed but for the most part, we have been able to skip that stage of rebellion where I discard everything they've ever taught because of my inevitable disillusionment when I discovered that they were human because obeying their rules actually screwed me up since they are human and imperfect when making the rules in the first place. Or, at least, that's the pattern that I see a lot between authoritarian parents and their kids. After that estrangement (which varies in degree from kid to kid), these families have to live the rest of their lives being constantly disappointed in each other. The parents are always taken by surprise and upset when the kid has a new idea and the kids always feel like their parents don't approve of them.

It wastes a lot of time that they could be enjoying each other.

Let's me be clear: I don't think my family is better than those families. I think I'm lucky to have ended up in one that complemented my inborn personality so well. A million little things could have changed the circumstances I was born into dramatically. I'm just lucky.

But this feels especially like grace when I talk to people about their wedding experiences. So many parents make so many demands and, in the process, push their children away. Because who wants to feel bad? And if your parents are making you feel bad, you're going to limit the time you spend with them. Duty and guilt have to be really powerful to overcome this basic human desire for comfort and well-being.

I have heard and read some really sad stories about this lately so I wanted to take a moment and just thank my parents for loving me regardless of the choices I make. I want to take a moment to thank them for having no expectations for me except that I should be content and happy. I believe this rises out of a security in their own identity so that they don't need me to be a certain way in order to make them look good.

Thank you for that. Because of your parenting choices, I do not have the emotional turmoil that so many brides and grooms have, trying to please their parents while still being true to themselves. I will love you whether or not you eat Big Macs, too. But we can be friends because of your parenting choices and that makes me content and happy.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Not So Frequently Asked Questions, Part 1

So, my favorite wedding blogger is A., who writes at Accordions and Lace. I love her blog because she is not trying to sell anything but is instead trying to process her own experience through storytelling. She is honest enough to be both excited and frustrated by the process and displays a true understanding that most opposing forces in this world need to be held in tension rather than allowing one to overcome the other.

So, she participated in a sort-of chain mail wedding interview. I stuck my hand so high in the air that my shoulders were actually perpendicular to my desk and I sort of hopped around a little without actually leaving the seated position so that she would call on me next.
In gratitude, I will happily return the favor to other brides and grooms who want to be interviewed. Just leave a reply and I'll get to work on it. Here are the rules:
* leave me a comment with your email address saying: “interview me”* I will e-mail you five questions of my choice
* you can then answer the questions on your blog {with a link back to my blog}
* you should also post these rules, along with an offer to interview anyone else who emails you, wanting to be interviewed
* anyone who asks to be interviewed should be sent 5 questions to answer on their blog
* it would be nice if the questions were individualized for each blogger

So, A.'s first question is, "You seem to have gone in a lot of different directions and gone through many transitions in your (young!) life. How did you get here?"

One of my favorite singers is Barbara Cook, who quoted Stephen Sondheim on the tribute album that she recorded when he said that he never felt like anything that he wrote was particularly revolutionary. He just did the next thing in front of him. Of course Sondheim had certain things that guaranteed that the next opportunity in front of him had the chance to be revolutionary: talent and a supportive social and professional network being at the top of the list.

I feel a little like Sondheim. A solid family that gave me the ability to adventure outside my comfort zone and a probably inherent sense that I should live a life as interesting as the heroines' in the novels I read were the reasons why the next thing in front of me on my path was different from the last thing. So, although I started a little boring as a teacher, I married a poet who was also an actor, which made my life interesting in my early 20s. Interesting does not always equate to happy, remember. When telling the story that way, I don't think anyone would be surprised to learn that my ex-husband told me lies about himself on our first date in order to impress me, then had to build on those lies by building a fictional life that he lived when he wasn't with me in order to support those original lies. At some point the lying became a habit and when he left it was a complete surprise to me that the relationship was even in jeopardy because he always told me what he thought I wanted to hear. By that point, unbeknownst to me, he was doing drugs regularly and had a mistress that he quickly married after the divorce. It turns out that he had never gotten the Bachelors degree, Masters degree or coursework toward a teaching certificate that he told me he was getting when he was gone at nights, even though he gave me tours of the campus and told me stories about being a TA.

But the women in the novels pick themselves up from being knocked down by dramatic adversity and find interesting tasks to occupy them until they heal. I had already done this once before when I left my first teaching job completely burned out and responded a few months later to an ad in The Reader looking for teachers of child actors in plays. That adventure took me on tour with a great group of roadies and actors and renewed my vigor for teaching. However, when the next teaching job also turned sour after two years and within a year of my husband leaving, I accepted an invitation from the son of a family friend who I met at a wedding to go visit him on Orcas Island. There I found a community of artists, organic farmers, trustafarians, Microsoft retirees, actual retirees, hippies and any number of solid folk who shared a common desire to live surrounded by the beauty of oceans, mountains and trees and equally surrounded by the beauty of a community forced into closeness by its small size (only one grocery store) and remoteness (1.5 hour ferry ride available only four times a day). I started my blog when I moved there so that I could allow the rhythm of that life to lull me back to a place of equilibrium while still paying attention to the experience. I was writing the story that I hoped my life was interesting enough to sustain. I give my family credit for my sense of self-assurance that anyone would want to read my story because they exposed me to lots of adults who told me I was interesting as a kid and for believing it themselves, even if they expressed it by shaking their heads in bewildered disbelief at the ideas I would come up with.

The decision to come live in the city of Chicago came from the fact that I missed being an active part of my family and because after awhile it became clear that I couldn't change them world from a tiny island on the border with Canada. I had regained my vigor again. After a stint in a local non-profit, this naturally led to a Public Policy program at the university of Chicago and to my current status as a job-seeker. While I was doing all of that, more of my adventurous focus was on finding a spiritual home first by trying to push my way into a community that was not right for me and sinking into the comfort of the emerging Christianity movement when I fell backwards from the attempt. This new-found validation of my leanings toward pluralism and universalism made my interfaith relationship with Jacob possible.

Storytelling and family. These are the things that brought me here.

Thanks for asking.