Friday, December 24, 2010

O Come All Ye Faithful

Most religions develop a liturgical calendar. Liturgical calendars are basically a cyclical journey through a year that creates a ritual scenario in which to experience the major emotions that we tend to feel in life in a controlled setting. The purpose of having a liturgical calendar is to practice for these real life events. When we "cry out" in anguish, the spiritual leader reassures us that our pain has a purpose and that God is in control. When we "shout" Hallelujah, we are accompanied by brass instruments playing in a major key. We confess both our own sins and the sins of our community and a shofar is blown to reinforce both it's importance and it's forgiveness. We "gather in" the harvest and are led to give thanks for the bounty in our lives.

Because we have practiced these emotions, we have an expectation for what comes next: redemption, comfort, joy, gratitude and even repentance. Think of it this way: do you remember mix tapes? Remember how you would listen to one over and over and over to the point that when you heard a song from the mix on the radio, you felt a little disappointed when you didn't hear the next song from the mix at its conclusion? The liturgical calendar is a little like that. It creates spiritual associations for the universal experiences in which we all find ourselves at some point or another. Fasting ritualistically prepares us for life's lean seasons because practice tells us we can look forward to breaking the fast with joy someday. Mourning the death of the deity or even fearing that we ourselves have not been written in the Book of Life this year prepares us for the death of loved ones because every year the spiritual story has a happy ending. The ritual acknowledges the need to mourn and atone and makes space for it but reminds us that ultimately life is for living.

The Christian liturgical calendar has two poles holding it up: Christmas and Easter. Birth and Death. Could there be two more universal experiences?

For many of us, Christmas is an entire season, starting at the beginning of the month of December with the First Sunday of Advent. Advent means "coming" and by ceremonies of anticipation for each of the four Sundays before Christmas, we replay what Mary and Joseph (and all expectant parents) must have felt: excitement, self-reflection followed by a sense that we don't measure up, reassurance from outside sources that we will be fine, reaffirmation of why we made the choice to have children (or embark on any endeavor), preparation of the necessary accessories to the birth including love, swaddling clothes and the gracious acceptance of gifts.

My life feels pretty chaotic right now. Jacob points out that to the outside observer, it doesn't look chaotic but it certainly feels that way. I've lost the list of things to do that I wrote a month ago, my things are strewn around the house because we haven't yet assembled the shelves that should have been done in October. Craft projects are piled everywhere. Stuff I've cleaned out of my purse as I was walking out the door is piled everywhere. Nothing has been cleaned, like with soap and water, in weeks. (The kitchen counters might be the only exception to this.) Work emotionally exhausts me daily. I'm digging into some pretty heavy stuff with my therapist. There are several important friends that I haven't seen in over 3 months and some in over 6. My efforts to do some the work that needs to be done for our church to thrive has been cut back to the bare minimum, which does not feel like enough. To top this all off, my body is becoming increasingly high maintenance, needing food and fluids at much more frequent intervals, which also requires me to urinate much more frequently or experience light-headedness if I don't pay attention to my body's demands. The nausea in the first trimester caused me to stop working out and I haven't yet put that back into my schedule, which makes me feel slow and creaky. I have roommates for whom I don't do a particularly good job of making feel welcome. The Christmas letter is definitely not written.

I'm a hot mess.

I'm happy, which is a blessing. Tired and totally spacey but happy. There is a low-grade despair that seems to be always lurking around the corner because of the chaos in my head, but when it makes a full-blown appearance, Jacob lays on top of me while I cry and then I feel better. He and I are particularly playful and I only yell at him every once in awhile and mostly without the venom and instability that I displayed in the past. We watch TV to decompress and I slowly accumulated the necessary Chanukah and Christmas presents.

But we haven't really celebrated Advent this year.

And I have missed it.

We haven't celebrated Advent because, frankly, Jacob is still uncomfortable with it and I didn't want to fight for it amidst all the other chaos. So, no tree, no decorations, no candle ceremonies, no Christmas music.

I have missed it.

There is an emptiness in me from the absence of the rituals of preparation. My decisions and motivations are built upon a foundation that views Jesus as a divine teacher whose ultimate sacrifice on behalf of mankind was a major example of God's love for us. Opting out of the spiritual practice of anticipation and preparation - especially when, for the first time, I am expecting my own child - was a mistake. My decisions and motivations wobble if I don't maintain the foundation through participation in my own liturgical calendar.

I have absolute faith that Jacob will come around. He has promised to create a home where our children feel comfortable living into their identity as products of both Christianity and Judaism. This will only happen when he celebrates Christmas with joy. He will eventually find values in Christmas that are meaningful to him much like I value food deep-fried in oil for Chanukah and the gathering of friends even though the victory of the Maccabees means nothing to me. I know it's hard for him and I know why it's hard for him. It's worth reading the comments on the Velveteen Rabbi's post on Christmas through Jewish eyes if you want to go deeper into where he is coming from.

And he's trying. Remembering that I expressed interest in the Do-It-Yourself Messiah last year, he got us tickets and doggedly sight-read the entire piece so that I could immerse myself in an experience I haven't had since college. It was phenomenal to flex those muscles again (figuratively and literally). I was astounded to come across passages that I vividly remember being drilled in the rhythms or note patterns to get them right.

My father asked me a few weeks ago if I considered myself athletic and I said that I did. I feel like I have slightly above-average eye-hand coordination and enough hours logged successful being athletic that I have the necessary confidence to tackle physical tasks without the nervous hesitation that will guarantee athletic failure. Also, I have muscle memory. When I pick up a tennis racket, I can shift it to the right position in my hand if the ball comes to my left side rather than my right. I follow through on my strokes without thinking about it. I catch things that are thrown at me. I throw things where I want them to go. In yoga, I can isolate and refine movement such as tilting my pelvis correctly or balancing better by adjusting my center of gravity. I have been seeing a physical therapist for an old injury that pregnancy has re-ignited and she loves working with me because I'm "body conscious."

This athleticism is necessary in singing a piece like Handel's Messiah. How you stand affects the quality of breaths you can take. How you hold your music affects how you well you can watch the conductor. How you hold your head affects the sound of the notes you make.

I remembered all of it even though I haven't been in a choir in 8 years. It was glorious.

In Waiting for Guffman, one of the subtle pieces of humor is that the strange little music director who feels threatened by Corky has built a professional-grade orchestra out of the various members of this little Midwestern community. My childhood experience was like that. I was taught by classically-trained musicians who imparted good technical form, professional behavior standards and a sense of discipline through regular and rigorous rehearsals. Sure, lots of kids goofed off but those of us that wanted to be at the top of our games were given the opportunity. I was blessed with a voice that people like to listen to and doubly-blessed to be born into a community that had the resources to help it flourish. I get so much satisfaction from singing a difficult piece well.

There is no audience at the DIY Messiah. The audience is full of participants. Self-satisfaction in one's own group participation is the only motivation.

It filled in some of the emptiness. For an encore, the director had the audience play the Hallelujah Chorus again. I had already put away my score but actually know that movement by heart. To stand and sing victoriously to the sky with no sheet music to block my communication, "The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our lord," nearly caused me to lose it entirely. It is a ritual that I know by heart to begin quietly for the first half of the sentence because I do not belong in the world. As Yoda says, "Luminous creatures are we." Without fail, the music suddenly becomes loud and the orchestra fully supports us as we sing of the radical transformation and shift of power. Where before the world used to be in charge, I can now choose to put God in charge with the coming of Christ. So powerful. So redemptive. It reminds us of the creation of the world. God (or Aslan) speaks a word and the chaos becomes ordered.

The old pastor of my parents' church would walk into the darkened church on Christmas Eve with one candle and recite with gravitas, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." This piece of scripture explicitly describes Jesus as the Word that brought order out of chaos.

Singing Handel's Messiah again was a spiritual practice to help me remember that I can choose to put God in charge of my life. That I am not left to wallow in this chaos alone.

What is the Word? It can be a lot of things. Certainly, John says that the Word is Jesus and I think he was definitely a physical manifestation of the larger definition. What makes the most sense to me is to think of the Word as the guidelines that God puts forth in scripture for how to make decisions in order to be satisfied with this life. Love others. Make them feel welcome. Take care of the hurting. Work towards justice. Rest. Tithe. Be mindful.

Keeping a kosher home has certainly given me new insight on how to hear God's Word if it is defined this way: as the laws she sets forth. My favorite part of saying the Shabbat blessings is that after I light the candles I say in Hebrew, "Thank you, God, for giving us your commandments." The Word is something to be grateful for.

Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the laws that the Jews followed in an attempt to be faithful to God. Instead, he came to fulfill them. He was born to help give people that next big push that they needed to be faithful to God. For many folks, the Jewish purity laws weren't helping anymore, so like she always has, God sent a new Word to help people create order out of Chaos and to put their relationship with God as the highest priority in their lives by following the teachings of Jesus, which were informed by the Jewish purity laws and, by the way, their liturgical calendar.

I told my pastor friend yesterday that I believe God leads us to our spouses to teach us that we don't always get everything that we want immediately. We have to practice waiting and working in good faith for that which has been promised to us during our marriage vows. This, too, is part of choosing to put God in charge, which will bring order out of the chaos. It is practice for the larger narrative of an entire life. I may feel a little empty without a tree or Advent candles this year but I got what I needed from Handel's Messiah and Jacob is the one who delivered me to that ritual.

I will wait in good faith for the birth of Jesus on Saturday and I will work in good faith alongside my husband to create the interfaith house that we have promised each other.

O come let us adore him.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lunch Lady Land

Because my office is located in a foster home, there is a honest-to-goodness cafeteria here and honest-to-goodness lunch ladies.  The are small and Eastern European and fierce with those people that they don't like. 

I decided early on to make sure that they liked me.

Unfortunately, almost every single lunch they make involves meat: chicken alfredo, turkey ala king, meatball sandwiches, beef stew, hamburger tacos, fried chicken and other classics that you might remember from your own junior high experience.

Although I'm the worst vegetarian that you know, I sensed that the lunch ladies would not understand if I picked and chose amongst their creations.  They were already expressing a little good-natured-but-serious disappointment that I kept walking past them to put my lunches in the microwave.  So, I explained apologetically, "I'm a vegetarian.  I don't eat meat."

"You no eat meat?  Why not?"

"Well, it's just healthier for me."

Disbelievingly, "No!"

Shaking my head, acknowledging how crazy it was, "I know.  I know. But I feel better when I don't eat meat."

"OK.  You have baby.  Then you eat meat."

You heard that right.  They told me that I should get pregnant so that I would then want to eat what they had cooked with their own two hands.

My friend A. has an Eastern European mom who is constantly giving her food and asking her when she'll produce grandchildren.  When I shared that conversational exchange on Facebook, my friend commented, "When did my mom start working in your cafeteria?"

I literally laughed out loud when I read that.

The baby theme is a popular one with my lunch ladies.  I fended them off for awhile when I explained that Jacob and I hadn't yet been married a year and we wanted to get to know each other a little bit before adding to the family.

But in September, they started asking again.

I don't even remember telling them which month I married!

They are a force to be reckoned with.

So, for the last couple of months, they have been eying me speculatively with a slightly suspicious look in their eyes.

"You have baby?"

"No, no."

"Why not?"

I was at such a loss for an answer to this question that I broke my own rule not to justify my personal fertility decisions to anyone nosy enough to challenge them.

"Well, we're ready when God is ready."

I submitted.  They won.  They established themselves as more powerful in the battle for information.

Which is why I have felt terrible for the last two months in keeping my pregnancy a secret from them.

I'm sure they know by this point that I'm lying to them.  They must have keenly-trained eyes for breeding women and I bet my gait has changed.  Plus, I stopped wearing a belt weeks ago.

On Monday, the leader looked me up and down like she was a construction worker I was passing on the sidewalk before she greeted me.

"You have baby?"

"No, not yet."

Then, disgusted and kind of mean, she said, "So is just fat, no?"

Only my shame at deceiving her and my anticipation for telling my boss after my midwife appointment this morning protected me from feeling hurt by her remark.

On Monday, I will take her a Hallmark card that says, "I'm sorry," while I tell them the good news.  They made me promise to tell them first and confided that they wanted to throw a shower for me at the leader's house.

Can I tell you how much that makes me want to weep?  I am so honored that they want to extend that kind of hospitality to me across language, cultural and class barriers.  It makes me feel stingy in comparison that sometimes I struggle with having a couple from church living in our guest room for three months who is demographically identical to us.

So, it's official.  My new identity as an expectant mother is public knowledge.  We're due sometime in early June.  I'm excited and nervous and so in love with my husband.  Sometimes, it becomes very real to me and the "whump!" that I feel puts the "whump" that I felt when stepping under the chuppah to shame.  Jacob told me that he wanted to tell the midwife to stop holding the doppler wand to my belly because hearing the heartbeat for the first time was making me cry.

I was pretty nauseous in the first trimester but no vomiting and I could mostly function.  Also, not too much fatigue.  I think we got off pretty lucky but I would bet Jacob has a different story to tell.  I have already pieced a quilt top and have plans to hand-quilt it to some softsoft minki after I finish the Christmas presents.  Oh, the things I can make!

Since my older brother and his wife are expecting in March and my younger brother and his wife have an 8-month-old, next Christmas will be bustling with grandkids.  My parents just had to wait until they were 63 years old to get that dream fulfilled.  While we're on the subject, let me give a giant statement of gratitude to my parents for never pushing any of us, saying to friends and us that they wanted most of all for us to be happy and in stable relationships before we made the decisions that were right for us.  So awesome.

So, I might hang out here more often, now that I can write publicly about this huge thing that happening in my life.  I saw an ad in a parenting magazine that said, "With every child born, so is a potential mommy-blogger," and I have never felt such doom in the pit of my stomach.  Maybe I'll reclaim the title mommy-blogger by doing what I've always done: tell stories to entertain and to make people feel like they are not alone in the world; explore spirituality based on my experiences; and share pictures of the delightful things that I come across in my adventures.  If that's a mommy-blogger, I'll take it!

Then, I'll eat meat.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

An anecdote

Earlier today, I was hanging out with a group of about 10 people who have similar jobs that meets monthly to support each other.  It's a great group and over time we have really become close as we've shared our triumphs and our challenges.

One of the men was talking about something that has been hard on his wife and expressed how it didn't really bother him.  To us, he said disparagingly, "It's only 3 miles, pfff!"  Someone joked and said, "Did you say it that way to your wife?"  We all laughed, as the guy intended, but the speaker got a little serious and said, "I used to," which made us laugh even harder in recognition of our own stupid interpersonal mistakes of that nature.

He continued, "I just realized over time that what I wanted from my wife was intimacy and closeness. . . but then I say these stupid things that sabotage myself."

I really appreciate his perspective of being married 34 years.  The transformation he described was recent and ongoing.  He certainly expressed that he still sabotaged himself. 

But he's trying. 

Because what he wants from his wife is intimacy and closeness.

I like that.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Janice Ann

Aunt J with my brother Daniel at my wedding.
I am very close with my extended family on my father's side. Twice a year, we get together and spend a few days under the same roof. This can often mean 20 or more people milling around a kitchen, reading books while draped over couches or going on roadtrips to blow off some steam.

My dad has three sisters who live all around the country and decided more than 20 years ago that if their children were going to actually know one another then they needed to provide this kind of intimate experience. And it has worked. For instance, this summer, my college-aged cousin called my husband "beard-face" with a certain tone of derision in her voice. I was delighted to realize that my first response to Jacob was to explain: "That's just Eliza. It's actually a compliment that she noticed you enough to insult you." If we lived in normal families, I would never know something that nuanced about her personality because of the more than 10-year age difference and 700 miles between us. Weddings and funerals wouldn't have been enough to teach me.

Being this close to my cousins actually makes wedding and funerals more intense and meaningful experiences. Many of you may remember that I spent the hour before I married cloistered away with my family, singing hymns, eating lunch and praying because that was the only thing I could think of that would ensure I was myself when I got married and not some stressed-out stranger in a bride's costume. Don't get me wrong, I experience a lot of stress being with them sometimes and I sometimes feel hurt or marginalized by their manic mob-mentality that requires a certain amount of looking out for one's own to have one's need met. But at the same time, I've never met a group of people more willing to make me a sandwich, to pray together that an enema will relieve someone's constipation, to forgive my ex-husband long before I could ever consider the option or to laugh at a self-deprecating story describing a pratfall or total boner mistake. They love me in all of my moods, even if they are the cause of some of the uglier ones. Can there ever be a better definition of family?

When we gather, we have recently begun bringing inspirational stories and obituaries with us to read aloud over breakfast. By the way, breakfast is the best part of the day. My mom makes perfect fried eggs to order with a side of toast grabbed the second the toaster pops and permeated with so much butter that it forms small white peaks. My Aunt Cynthia makes grits that can be garnished with so many variation of dairy, both sweet and savory. We read newspapers and get on each other's nerves as our different political leanings surface. We speculate when the teenagers will emerge from their rooms, bleary-eyed in pajamas with their hair sticking up in mats, looking around to see if someone saved their favorite doughnut for them by hiding it behind the cereal boxes. So, it seemed a natural extension to begin bringing other entertainments to extend that magical time together.

It started as a way to make my dad cry. He's kind of a sucker for a well-written obituary, describing a life of quiet heroism or the small miracles that often accompany the human drama of death and dying. It is family legend to remember the story of the woman who danced with her son at his wedding the day before she died since the couple had changed all their plans to accommodate her illness. Not a dry eye in the house for that one. And a lot of laughter at our own frailty. What goofs to cry. How vulnerable we are to dream that when hardship strikes, we might live up to these stories of everyday people being extraordinary.

My father is the oldest of the four children and the eldest of his younger sisters died over the weekend. It seems like she's spent the last 20 years fighting one form of cancer or another but, honestly, I still sometimes forget about the cancer when I think of her. It never defined who she was. Her personality was so strong and her relationship with God such a prominent part of her experience that the cancer seemed like a secondary characteristic of her identity, like the color of her eyes or her favorite book: cancer was a fact of her existence but not a defining feature. She could have gone into complete remission and it wouldn't have changed how she interacted with people. She loved people and wanted them to know God. I can only hope to want that for others as passionately as she did. She also had a wicked sense of humor, which included an inexplicable love for Vern and Ernest movies.

Now, let's be clear, of all my aunts, I butted heads with Aunt Janice most often. She had a lot of opinions about how life should be lived and these applied to everyone. None of this live and let live garbage. She was often vehement that people needed to be on the right path and I often disagreed - almost violently - with her definition of what "living right" entailed, as well as her own ability to fulfill her stated values.

But where else but in your family can you feel that way about a person and feel just as strongly that the world is a better place for her contribution?

As I have thought about my grief and the implications of my loss from the death of my aunt, I have pictured my extended family as a whole cloth that now has a little hole in it. The frayed ends at the edges of the hole are the people in the family for whom she was part of their daily life: Grandma, her daughters, her husband. They must be feeling so ragged. But her absence will also affect the experience of being with my family that I wrap around myself twice a year. Aunt Janice had patterns and rhythms to her participation that we have all come to rely upon. The whole cloth of our family will be changed. We will have to change to accommodate what's now missing.

One of my favorite sites is called Craftzine and it has all sorts of news and tutorials about how to make cool stuff. One of the tutorials shows how to fix a hole in a sweater by attaching yarn to the ragged edges and creating the patch within the hole. (Take a look here.) 
You can't go back to when the cloth didn't have a hole but you can restore the integrity of the garment. My family will be like that as we adjust. We've done it before when my grandpa died so I have no doubt that we'll do it again. Our resilience is why I keep coming back to my extended family: it keeps being strong enough to support me, as well as to make space for me to support them. 

We will begin gathering tomorrow for a funeral on Thursday. Aunt Janice's obituary was published today.
I hope that some other family reads it, tears it out to read over breakfast when they're all together and then laughs at this line, "Many people benefited from her 'lectures' whether they wanted to or not," and cries at this one: "She treasured her family. Her grandchildren brought her tremendous joy. Above all, her priority in all things was to serve and bring glory to her Heavenly Father." It would be a great tribute.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Crunchy new leaves

So, the initial twinkling in my gut offered by the prospect of rallying to help American take it down a notch has grown into a sparkly new equilibrium that I’m so relieved has arrived.

Shortly after we made that decision to go an adventure, we tore the entire house apart.

Actually, those activities are not related. Several months ago, Jacob and I were in a middle of an argument and the topic shifted to the condo, it’s state of cleanliness, whose jurisdiction various cleaning tasks fall under, the piles of junk that have no home and whether or not I have ever felt really welcome to live into the space. In a “Fine!” “Fine!” moment, we decided to resolve the issues by marking off an entire weekend to buy some shelving units, buy some new furniture, get rid of awful furniture and reorganize in general. I also intended to give away copious amounts of stuff since I feel liberated when I do that.

We did not have an entire weekend to do that until 2 weeks ago. However, before we could get down to it, we invited a couple from church to move into our guest room for the next three months before they move to California. This added a certain amount of urgency to find new places for all of the stuff that was stacked up in the guest room.

So, reorganizing weekend rolls around and I feel great. I move from task to task with verve. I borrow my brother’s car and drive not just once but twice to IKEA. I stay up working until 10:30 on Saturday night, sweeping and setting little things right. Jacob’s head cold doesn’t bother me at all. I just pick up the slack. There is a powerful feeling infusing my muscles that sings, “This is finally going to be done.”

Sunday moved a little slower but still powerfully. We fought a little because, seriously, I was upending the environment that Jacob has been living in the last five years and, although we discussed every decision, it was still hard for him. I totally empathize.

By Sunday night, we were in a good place. We had the major shelves up in the living room with everything cleared out of the guest room. Jacob had gotten rid of the gigantic and superfluous couches and I had gotten a couple to pick up the broken kitchen table on Saturday night. We made the old dining room table into Jacob’s new desk that he didn’t have to share with anyone and we anticipated building the new dining room table sometime during the week before our Shabbat dinner for about 10 people.

On Monday morning, Jacob started having abdominal pains. By 9:00 that night, he no longer possessed his appendix.

This was not part of our plans.

Still, I was feeling good. Tranquil. My feet were completely on the ground so I did not get knocked off-balance.

This is an amazing feeling, people. One can handle being exhausted if one hasn’t been knocked over.

By Thursday, Jacob was feeling well enough to help his brother put together the new dining room table. All the people coming for dinner were intimates so I didn’t mind them seeing the chaos of our possessions that were still out in the open. Because Jacob’s brother helped out, I could make soup to be warmed on Friday and lay out the ingredients ahead of time for the challah that Jacob could mix and set to rise before I got home from work.

Since then, our roommates have moved in and are wonderful. Jacob and I have had little tiffs but have worked them out without much ado and I have continued to make forward progress with the house while feeling comfortable to just sit and rest when I need to, knowing that it will all get done eventually now that it’s started.

I guess I wanted to share my new state of mind with you all since so many of my recent posts have shared my interior struggles. I credit lots of therapy, difficult self-reflection, amazing support from my husband and a sense of comfort in my relationship with God for giving me a framework to cradle me and gently push me upwards until I was above-ground again. I'm sure I'll fall into the depths again but I will not take this season of golden autumnal sunshine for granted. It has been long-awaited and sought after.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Intervarsity vs. Habitat for Humanity

Last night, I spoke to a group about 200 evangelical pastors at a conference about evangelizing. I was part of a panel that consisted of 2 atheists and a Christian that most Christians would not consider Christian. I was the latter.

During the panel, I talked about my time in college and why I chose Habitat for Humanity over Intervarsity as my main social group. I said that when I looked at both groups, I think I chose Habitat because I wanted to be more like those people, while I definitely knew that DID NOT want to become more like the Intervarsity folks.

The list of why I was repulsed by Intervarsity is easy to come up with:

Girls were weirdly perky
Guys were kind of assholes but with a moralistic veneer
Girls and guys were separated and traditional gender roles were clearly the norm
I hated praise songs

In the Q&A sessions afterwards, a woman asked me what was so attractive about the Habitat for Humanity group.

I bumbled the answer so I thought I'd record what I should have said here:

They were fun and funny. This may be relative as I'm sure the IV folks experienced fun. But my personality liked the kind of jokes that were made at Habitat.
I had a liberating sense that I could be myself. The only social limit I saw was that you couldn't be an asshole. I sensed that in the IV crowd, I would have had to use clean language and did not see potential for personal exploration that I thought should be part of the college experience.
They were smart and wanted to change the world.
They actually worked at making the world a better place every Saturday. My first year, we raised $27,000 and built an entire house in partnership with the neighboring college.
They liked me for me rather than for how I might be lauded as an example of the success of their ideology.
There was a potential for me to be a leader there, even though I was a woman.

Unfortunately, this was the best question that a conference on evangelism could ask so I'm sorry that I bumbled it. If more churches were like that Habitat for Humanity group, more people like me would go to church.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity

Just a quick note to let you know that Jacob and I will be attending the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington DC. Actually, Jacob will be attending the concurrent March to Keep Fear Alive, hosted by Stephen Colbert. I have never attended a rally of any sort but found myself weirdly moved to act when I heard about this one. Jon Stewart of The Daily Show is hosting it and writes,
"We're looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn't be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it's appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles."
This describes me perfectly.

Also, when I started doing some research, I found that the idea originally came from a Reddit user and that members of that forum donated over $200,000 to Donors Choose in order to persuade Stephen Colbert to make this idea a reality. I really like that model for change. I hope it catches on.

Lately, I've been feeling pretty paralyzed when it comes to making decisions. I've talked about it with my therapist and have all sorts of complicated explanations for it but the basic problem is that I just can't discern which consequence I will regret more. Whether it is choosing dinner, sorting out my stuff for what to give away or making financial or social decisions, while I can imagine what possible outcomes might arise from making one choice or another, I can't imagine how I will feel about those outcomes.

For a girl who is used to going with her gut, this is perplexing. I have never really found it difficult to decide what to do next. As I have said before, one idea just seemed like the next thing in front of me and so I did it. Anne Lamott writes about her pastor's decision-making process and says that she gets very quiet and breathes in and out slowly. Then she looks down at her feet and imagines her options as stepping stones on either side of her. The stone that appears to have a spotlight shine on it in her mind's eye is generally the path she should take. Or maybe I am remembering that all wrong. Still, I've used that advice before. But now, there's no spotlight at all. Is it too melodramatic to say THERE IS ONLY DARKNESS?

I'm not a person who makes lists of pros and cons, nor am I someone, not do pareto analysis or decision trees appeal to me very much. The best I do is some sort of back of the napkin cost benefit analysis.

So, I spend a lot of my non-work hours pretty overwhelmed and sometimes a little panicky. Where did that confidence go? I've asked that question a couple of times here in the last several months.

But when I heard about this rally, I just knew it was the next thing in front of me. I feel so bewildered but grateful for the light shining inside of me when I think of it.

So Jacob bought the tickets (choosing from the different options was too much for me) and I asked a dear from from junior high and high school to put us up on her futon. I'm excited about the atmosphere that we'll be a part of: funny, smart people who believe that this slightly ironic gesture will actually make a difference. I think it will be festive and ridiculous. I missed the celebration in Grant Park when Obama was elected. I'm hoping to find some of that jubilation and the experience of being part of a crowd all feeling the same feelings at this rally.

No follow-up obligations. No homework to do before-hand. No family to be in relationship with. Just an experience. An adventure, one might call it. A real vacation.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The right question

Lately, I have had a couple of people look at me strangely when I tell them that I often sit quietly in meetings at work when evangelical Christians assume that everyone else in the room shares their religious and political opinions. I think that my friends know me as outspoken and also an advocate for marginalized folks and so the idea that I would sit quietly doesn't jive with the persona that they know. Of course, they could also rightly see me as bossy and tactless and have a similar response. I'll hope for the former.

However, my position as director of partnerships means that when my professional hat is on, I have to put the relationship of my organization with their organization as the top priority and challenging the beliefs of the representative of another organization puts the mission I'm working so hard to achieve at risk. I know that some folks might worry that this suppression is hurting my soul but I don't grit my teeth while keeping my mouth shut, nor do I seethe with unexpressed loathing. I'm really comfortable that as I get to know people, my testimony will be more easily heard because it will be in heard in context with the way I live my life, which is as a mostly loving, mostly gracious Christian.

The annual Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference is here in Chicago this year and it is again a mix of delight at catching up with my growing network of friends and colleagues in the industry, fun in hanging out with my dad and angst at feeling a little bit on the outside of this predominantly evangelical crowd.

For the last several years, I have been hearing about a guy named Andrew Marin, who is becoming a leader at CCDA. (It's worth doing a google search to see how many different people on the spectrum have an opinion about the guy's work.) I know that at some point I should read his book but it just hasn't gotten to the top of the pile yet. Instead, whenever anyone asks me about him, I ask about him right back. I tend to say something like, "I hear a lot of good things about Andrew but I am a little fuzzy about what he actually believes about homosexuality and the church. Everything I read online seems to dance around that issue." I haven't gotten an answer to that question yet that has let me feel comfortable forming an opinion about his work.

He works to be a bridge between the evangelical community and the GLTBQ community. As far as I can tell, he encourages the evangelical Christian community to drop their fundamentalism and reflect God's love to all people, including gay folks. He doesn't seem to feel a need to assure evangelicals that he believes homosexuality is a sin but he doesn't affirm it either. I call that progress.

Yesterday, I was asked about Andrew Marin by a former supervisor whom I really respect and feel pretty comfortable with. When I asked, "But how does Andrew actually feel about homosexuality?" he gave me a typical response and said, "You're asking the wrong question." I like this man enough to push back. I said, "As a person whose church welcomes and affirms gay people, I have to say that I think it's the right question. If someone does not feel like the marriage of Michael and Rodrigo is worth our community's support then we might need to protect them against you." I probably didn't say it that well, but I hope I got the gist out.

My friend referred me to Andrew's interview on Moody radio, which I haven't got a chance to listen to (I'm taking advantage of a rare and limited quiet moment to write this post) but hope to soon. I appreciate the help.

I want to say again, I think it's the right question. I think Andrew's work is great progress for the evangelical church. Lots of people need to hear that the way they act on their beliefs hurts other children of God and are, thus, actions that aren't Christ-like. However, I think that message needs to be a gateway to folks examining their actual beliefs and determining if they are themselves the beliefs Christ would hold in this day and age.

This may seem hypocritical to some folks that have been reading this blog for awhile. As an emergent Christian, I am adamant that all beliefs about God are the result of our experiences with God and are therefore totally unique to each person and should not be used as a basis for whether or not we are in relationship with one another. We shouldn't judge each other's experiences with God as valid or invalid. It may seem like I am saying that Andrew Marin's relationship with God is not as enlightened as mine since he seems to believe that homosexuality is a sin.

I am not saying this. Andrew Marin is just as good a Christian as I am. Probably better. However, beliefs about other people are not on the same level as beliefs about God. I am asking the right question because it is essential that we human beings continue moving along the path toward believing that other human beings are equal to ourselves in the eyes of God and that we believe that we are fully loved for exactly who we are, without ever needing to change to maintain that status of being loved. As Christians, we need to be constantly moving toward dropping our agendas for how to change other people, which means that we need to move toward changing our pesky habit of believing that we know how other people need to change. Only God knows that. We delude ourselves into thinking that we ARE God when we take on that mantel.

Early abolitionists advocated on behalf of the rights of African slaves while still believing them to be an inferior species. Those of us engaged in racial reconciliation from the social context of membership in the privileged, dominant culture (i.e. white folks) still struggle with our complicity in the structures that have been created over time that continue to treat African-Americans as second-class citizens as a legacy to that racism of the past. We acknowledge that everyone is still a little bit racist. Even puppets acknowledge this. Acknowledging this flaw in our characters allows us to be on the look-out for how it hurts others. However, if we tried to say it was OK to be racist, we would begin heading down the slippery slope of excusing our mis-treatment of others, which stops our forward progress of becoming more Christ-like.

As far as I know, Andrew Marin is doing great work in helping Christians examine their actions. The oppression of homosexual children of God is a problem that needs to be attacked by people from all points on the spectrum. However, I will continue to insist that until it becomes as appalling in our society to be against gay marriage as it is to be against interracial marriage, the positive outcome of the battle is still far from being inevitable.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

And your heart was an open book

I used to feel like a vibrant compilation artist, moving fluidly from adventure to reflection to expression, experimenting and experiencing whatever circumstance brought me and as my whimsy took me. Now, I feel like an accumulation of skills and talents learned on those adventures, made useful by practice and with a responsibility not to waste that utility because of the concomitant knowledge gained over the past 15 years about the suffering of so many other people.

I fear that this is adulthood. I fear this hardening. It is so new and I don't know yet how to reliably find joy within it. When I thought that adulthood was being married and owning a house and having kids and being respected for my opinions, I welcomed it. I can see how one would find joy in all of that.

Now that I understand that adulthood is commitments, I have been feeling bereft. And, let there be no mistake, I don't mean commitments as in a lot of things to do; I long ago learned basic time management skills.

I define "commitments" to mean "things I have given my heart to and so desire to pour my best effort into." There are only so many things you can pour your best effort into. Right now, I feel like I am filling holes to keep the ground level rather than building anything worthwhile.

When I told Jacob last night that everything moved too fast, I couldn't explain the metaphor, but just knew it was true. I can't catch up and I can't slow down and absorb the life that is all around me. I make lots of stupid mistakes, like forgetting to tell Jacob that I already ran an errand and wasting his time or forgetting to tell him that I need something that he would have been happy to have the opportunity to provide for me. Jacob can't and shouldn't have to do all the housework himself so the house is a complete sty. I am also unconsciously avoiding simple tasks that have any chance of difficult emotional underpinnings, like basic implementation of financial decision that Jacob and I have made.

This will not end well.

So, I am hoping that identifying this new state of being will be the first step toward accommodating it and finding balance. My parents checked in on me last night since they hadn't heard from me in awhile and my best friend in Minnesota called. That helped, too. But my best friends in Chicago, the people who have poured their best efforts into me, are moving tomorrow. My grief is embarrassing and doesn't help with the larger problem.

I'd like to be an artist again. How does one find the necessary liberation to experiment and express when one has commitments? Do you know?

Monday, August 09, 2010

25 new things about me

1. I have witnessed the laboring of two women in the last four months and helped with the actual birth of one's child.
2. I am no more baby-crazy than I have been my entire life; the people closest to me are just beginning to have babies that I feel I have a right to obsess over.
3. I remember being angry with the old lady who babysat for a whole group of us kids while our moms had a Bible study upstairs. I was only 3 or 4 years old but I was indignant that she wouldn't let me hold the babies.
4. I have been married just shy of a year.
5. Dude, this marriage shit is hard.
6. And I have a lot of fun.
7. And I'm not lonely anymore.
8. And I like having the opportunity to care for my husband and to do things simply because they will make him happy.
9. And that scritchy-scratchy feeling of wariness from a constant expectation that life could jack-knife and go shooting off in any direction while leaving me behind has also significantly decreased.
10. However, I am fully aware that this new-found sense of stability is merely illusion; the easiest way to make God laugh is still to tell her your plans.
11. I believe in a God who wants the best for me; my explanation for why bad things happen to good people is that we live in a broken world (for some reason) and so consequences of that brokenness hurt folks, often when they didn't break a thing in the first place. It's not a satisfying theology but I'm learning to live in the mystery.
12. After I met my husband, his Judaism taught me the phrase tikkun olam, which is a concept that God wants all of us to participate in mending the broken world. This is part of why I need Jacob and his faith: to give me words for what my Christianity has neglected.
13. I have somewhat traditional beliefs about God and Christ. You know, the Trinity, the co-existent divinity and humanity of Christ, death and resurrection, and the persistence of the Holy Spirit.
14. I do not need anyone else on the planet to believe the same things that I do.
15. I think that beliefs are a direct result of experiences. Therefore, everyone's beliefs are slightly different.
16. So, my Christianity gets expressed by gathering with other people who all start from different places but who are all heading in the same direction - toward God - rather than being expressed by clustering with people who are exactly like me.
17. I make quilts.
18. I recently knit a sweater for the first time even though I have been knitting hats for years.
19. I used to live on an island in the Pacific Northwest.
20. I have a job that perfectly melds my profession passions and skill sets: I build capacity within an organization that is just beginning to succeed at effecting policy change at a systemic level regarding how American society views vulnerable children by challenging Christian to live into their faith and care for a child in their homes for a little while so the parents can get their feet back under them.
21. I am very close to my family.
22. I struggle a lot with treating other people well. I just can't seem to get the hang of seeing things from others' perspective. This sucks for everyone involved, myself included.
23. I fear that if most people had to describe me with three words, the first two would be "abrasive" and "intimidating."
24. That fear probably explains a lot to anyone who is trying to figure me out.
25. I laugh a lot over the course of a day.

Previous descriptive list posts can be found in these posts: 25 Things About Me, Because My Old One Is Woefully Out of Date, and 100 Things About Me.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Happy birthday

When my friend finally gave birth today, I had my face next to her face, holding her shoulders from behind and cradling her head with one arm to help her to curl up to push. There are images in life that never leave you and seeing the tiny ear, so perfect, so defined, emerge from the mess of flesh and hair is one of those images. I whispered in Jess's ear, "There's an ear!" And when the baby slithered out, I was the first one to tell her, "You have a baby girl!"

Her water had broken 34 hours earlier and she labored that whole time. I joined them for the last 5 hours, bringing fresh energy, telling funny stories in between contractions and then just sitting quietly as things progressed sooooo slowly and my friend began to struggle. She became a Woman Giving Birth, beyond humor, focused on getting it right, focused on the intense work of pushing and focused on the animal fear caused by pain. She was exhausted and glorious. More than once, I teared up when all my eyes could register was how strong she was. Instead of thinking, "That is Jess," I thought, "That is strength." Also, I was profoundly aware of the honor of being allowed to work with her, lending her my muscles to help her change positions or to hold her legs up and out. I felt such keen affection for her body, kissing her ankles and massaging her feet, smoothing her hair and wiping a cool washcloth on her forehead, neck and wrists.

I also almost passed out but we don't need to talk about that. :-) I had locked my knees while standing at the side of the bed to hold her leg and between that and the tiny breakfast, I felt the world swim and recognized what was going on soon enough to ask her mom to take my place so I could lean against the birthing tub with my head between my knees. The sweet and awesome midwife called out a little later, "You OK, Rebecca?"

"Yes, but this isn't about me anyway."

But it was a little bit, too. My perception of my place in this world has mostly involved feeling like I was not #1 on anyone's list. I have had few seasons with best friends and many of those BFFs had other totally legitimate relationship priorities going at the same time. Have I ever told you about when I was 11 and offered a best friend charm with a heart in three pieces to girls from church and they turned me down?

My friend who gave birth today is particularly talented at making friends. And she chose me to be there. And expressed earnest gratitude when it was all over and she was herself again. (I mean, she was always herself. The worst her language got was when she shouted, "Oh! Goooosh." It was just an unfamiliar self.) This made me feel special in a way I have not felt before. It made me feel like there was something good about me that shined brightly enough that they saw it through the abrasiveness and whatever it is about me that intimidates most folks. I didn't want to be trite when they thanked me by saying, "No, thank YOU," so as I stumbled to find something else to say, all I could come up with to explain my feelings of reciprocity was, "I love you."

And isn't that the reason we want to be important to other people? We want to be given deep enough access to fully love them. The act of loving is crucial to our well-being. When too many people in our lives consider us to be in the third or fourth tier of intimacy, we don't have the chance to love them.

But today, I got to tell a friend that she had a daughter and give her periodic sips of water and so I'll say here what I didn't want to say there, "No, thank YOU."

Happy birthday.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The battle is already won

Remember how I wondered in my last post about how one takes a vacation from the continual process of fitting a chipped cog into the broken machine that is this world? I have to admit that grace has allowed me to stumble into an answer. Wednesday night, while feeling hormonally miserable and wandering around the house aimlessly waiting for Jacob to come home so we could talk about the dreaded finances, I looked into our Jacuzzi bathtub and thought, "Hmn. Why not?" I filled the tub, added Dr. Bronner's lavender soap and read Anne Lamott's Rosie until Jacob came home and climbed in with me. At that point, I was positively playful even though an undercurrent of insecurity remained.

As an aside (I'm not finished yet describing my return to being fit for human consumption), we seem to be in a new season in our marriage. I think we started with sorting out the logistics of life together combined with tapering stress-adjusted adrenals then moved into a phase where we were both sorting out our roles within the relationship and now I'm in a place where I need to be assured that this is for real. Whatever love is, right now I need to know that Jacob has something to smooth out my rough spots in his reception of me. I hate to be so cliche, but as a girl who has been left by a husband before, there is something primal within me that just needs to hear, "I will never leave." Unfortunately, we're both learning that Jacob speaks with action and I hear with words. I know, it would make sense that since my ex-husband was so good at telling me what I wanted to hear and so bad at actually following up on any of his promises, I would now be looking for a man who spoke through actions.

It would make sense.

But no one ever accused my emotions of using much sense. My choice to marry Jacob was very much a choice of the head. I love him but I have loved men before who would be terrible life partners. Slowly, I learned from my dating experiences how to discern a bad partner and when Jacob came along as the antithesis of that archetype AND I loved him, I chose to pursue marriage with him.

When I spell it out that way, our relationship seems pretty unlikely and therefore magical. He is my great exception.

But sometimes my emotions are still patterned around the men of my past, who were mostly good at making me feel better with their words. Jacob is honest, which cannot always coexist with making me feel better. So, I have to learn how to make myself feel better most of the time. That's a compromise I'm willing to work towards since the reward of never having to doubt him is so great.

But on Wednesday night, after our financial talk had worn down the protective layer of playfulness (finances are just inherently stressful for me), I was exposed again and feeling unsuccessful and I was worried that Jacob had made his decision about me like I made my decision about him: with his head. You see, if he used his head he must has been basing his decision on faulty data because who would marry someone with as many neuroses as I have and as many bad habits and character flaws that I do? (The Imp of Insecurity was working overtime whispering persuasively in my ear at that point.) And if he based his decision on faulty data, by now wouldn't he be discovering the truth and wouldn't that mean he would feel justified in terminating the contract?

I laid in the bed and he laid his weight on top of me over the covers and I babbled all of this to him with tears dripping into my ears.

And do you know what my man of action told me, "Honey, you didn't look very good on paper when I made the decision to marry you." Then, he listed all of my faults.

It was the best thing I have ever heard.

Because if he can list all of my faults and married me anyway? Then I have nothing to worry about. He can't feel deceived or resentful. He loves me just the way I am and we can move forward from there as equals in this relationship. I don't have to struggle to be the best me all the time for fear that if I slip, the scales on his eyes will be lifted and he'll leave. I can be myself, knowing that it is enough, growing at a normal speed into a better human being. Before I was feeling like I had to use fertilizer to be as impressive as possible but scared because modern farming technique aren't sustainable and deplete the soil. Now, he and I can work the farm organically.

I will slip into insecurity again and have the same feeling of relief and comfort again because that's the way life works. Things change incrementally. I'm OK with that because the next time I feel this insecure, I have a history of knowing that although Jacob speaks with actions, sometimes his actions are to use words to reassure me. I can trust in that.

When I started writing this post, I thought that I would tell you that the solution to the puzzle of how to take a break from being oneself in the world was to sleep until noon (like I did today), babysit for one's baby niece (like I'm doing right not) and get a phone call that your husband is returning early from his hiking trip and wants to spend the evening relaxing together (like I just got). But it turns out that's not the solution. I can enjoy those things because my soul is at peace but that peacefulness comes from having chosen a good partner.

How lucky am I that the answer to my problems is a choice that I made almost a year ago? The solution is now always there, I just need to remember to reach out to him.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Thread through a needle

I have been working on a mix CD for my best friend entitled, "Aren't We Aging Well?" because of a Dar Williams song and it's got me thinking about emotions.

I have been thinking about so many mixes made in the past. Mixes made out of infatuation, mixes made out of grief. Mixes made for my car stereo and not to give as a gift because I wanted to wallow in their emotion and not feel as alone.

I made break-up mixes in honor of my college boyfriend that included the Indigo Girls singing Love-Struck Romeo and shouting in my heart, "But it was just a scene to you!" When I left my first job bitterly, I made a mix that highlighted Ani DiFranco's Million That You Never Made. I made a mix for my ex-husband before I knew our marriage was dead with Garth Brook's Rodeo mixed with Dolly Parton's Touch Your Woman inexplicably mixed with Aretha Franklin's Rock Steady because he still gave me joy but I couldn't say out loud that he was growing distant. After the divorce, I made a mix with the Rolling Stones's Sympathy for the Devil because I discovered it helped to put it on repeat and turn the stereo up - way up - in the car. My first mix for Jacob had Thao's Bag of Hammers because I really really wanted him to stay and not get on that interstate bus when the inevitable fights came up because I was so delighted with him and wanted it to work but knew that I was was like a bee sting sometimes.

The emotions that we make mixes to reflect are powerful. They inform our day to day living. We sing songs in our heads while swimming and driving and filing and we want those songs to be appropriate to our mood so we craft little soundtracks for ourselves or as gifts for others, trying to help them feel less alone and more loved. They are big emotions.

Now that I am married, I wonder if these big emotions get short shrift. Now that the break-ups are done, what is left to make mixes about? Logically, there should be plenty of stuff since big emotions are probably pretty evenly distributed throughout life and not front-loaded to life before marriage. I wonder if I bury them under the equally large but more culturally acceptable emotions of love and contentment. We all fall into the lie that life is a Disney movie that ends with a happily ever after and I wonder which parts of that I have not been unpacking.

I'm not asking for tragedy to strike but I think I need to start noticing other events in my life that need mix tapes. I have walking around in a low-grade rage for a couple of weeks after a lovely stint of calm and serenity brought on by intensified therapy. It has had me puzzled until I started to think about mix tapes. What lyrics are speaking to me in the music I'm listening to? For one thing, the other day I realized that I had never uploaded my Alanis Morrissette or Violent Femmes albums. That should tell you something about what my sub-conscious mind is asking for. The Dar Williams song above makes me cry every time because I feel both that I AM aging well but also that I'm not. The rest of Susan's mix that I'm working on now has some pretty hard-driven funk like the Chili Pepper's version of Higher Ground and Ida Maria's I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked but also has fun dance songs like Kermit and Fozzie singing Movin' Right Along.

So, what emotions am I brushing off because they seem less important than happily ever after emotions when really they deserve their own mix tapes? Well, I have stopped engaging a dear, dear friend of mine because we had a blow-out and she insists on treating me like a monster that she doesn't feel safe with unless she hides behind email or has a mediator in the room. I can't handle being the bad guy for her anymore. There is real sadness mixed with real relief there but I don't know how to process it. Or, out of his own intense emotions, Jacob said something deeply insensitive on Friday. We have talked about it and grown closer but I find that the wound still stings. Also, I feel pretty unsuccessful in my interactions with folks in a variety of communities, like I am not navigating well the narrow line between being myself and not offending or upsetting others.

None of these powerful emotions are really attached to an inciting incident that would typically be noticed in the story arc of a normal life. I mean people all around me are having babies and moving and dealing with cancer, for Heaven's sake. I would have expected that the emotions associated with my situations would flare and then dissipate since they are not as huge as, say, getting married. They are part of day-to-day living, not events.

But as I think about mixes, about soundtracks, these little tensions inform everything I do when I succeed at being present in the now. Like the WS Merwin poem says, they are "like thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with [their] color."

This will require me to change the lens on the camera aimed at my inner landscape. I'm so tired. I would love to just be. How does one take a vacation from the continual process of fitting a chipped cog into the broken machine that is this world? Maybe not so strangely, I have been finding comfort in a Vance Gilbert song: Your Brighter Day.

Monday, July 26, 2010

I won!

Since entering the wonderful world of crafting blogs, I enter giveaways all the time. I have never won, though.

But today, I won! How exciting is that! Free fabric for me! I'm getting a charm pack (small squares of a bunch of different fabrics from the same design line) of a gorgeous fabric that is also environmentally friendly. Could there be a more perfect giveaway for me, given my charm quilts?

Take a look around at the site of my benefactor. They are one of my regular reads because it is just pure delight to see which fabrics are out there. It's probably not very good for my pursuit of materialist freedom since it is a very real example of a burgeoning desire to collect once I begin seeing just how much is out there. What was once contained to what I could find in the local craft stores has opened up to actually searching for online stores that carry a particular designer (Heather Ross, anyone?). Still, I rarely make anything for myself and instead goes out as gifts, so, it can't be that bad for my spirit, can it?

Thanks, Kim. I'm super-excited.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hath no fury

One of my favorite things to do is to really point out to someone that they have been hurtful and are therefore wrong. My therapist describe it as coming out of his shoes. (He likes to do it, too, so we understand each other.) It feels so good to describe my expectations and then to carefully analyse for them just exactly how someone doesn't measure up.

The last time I really let myself go to do this was in college. A mutual friend hurt my best friend and I went over there and made her cry.

In my pursuit of grace and peace, as well as my desire to prioritize relationships and making people feel as loved as God makes me feel, this practice has laid mostly dormant. It comes up in fits and spurts if someone provokes me over email, which is why I have requested to all of my friends that they not say potentially hurtful things over email. I've worked really hard to get good at accepting criticism to my face so that people can actually feel like they can take me up on this request without getting burned. I stumble here and there but I have lots of success stories to tell, too, so I know I'm on the right path.

I have also cut back on this activity because it just doesn't work. Most people, myself included, respond more to body language and tone of voice than they do to carefully crafted sentences. Words just don't mean much in the heat of a disagreement between intimates. Finding closure after my divorce required embracing the futility of finding exactly the right words. My ex-husband was never going to admit that he made certain choices even though he knew they would hurt me. He was never going to give me a carefully crafted apology in response to my carefully crafted dressing-down.

So, I am a better person for refraining from making people cry. But sometimes I miss the white hot intensity of righteous indignation. It recalls for me the rapture of writing my first letter of civil disobedience during my sophomore year in high school when the stupid cheerleaders screwed up and none of us got to have initiation weeks for our clubs. I was an International Thespian, damnit and I deserved to be publicly humiliated! Now, I usually write the email or blog post but then not send it or publish it. I try to make phone calls before misunderstandings get out of hand.

Still, yesterday I made an exception. I posted over at my blog for interfaith families if you'd like to see the result. Like my episode in college, I don't like it when the silent minority gets brushed off because there is no spokesperson. So, I became that spokesperson.

It was fun and I appreciated that the object of my anger was willing to comment so that I could also engage him with a more conciliatory tone so that something might actually be accomplished besides simply making oppressed folks feel validated (which has lots of value on its own, though).

Friday, July 09, 2010

My oldies station

I started high school in 1990 and graduated from college in 1999. I think it's fair to say that if you pull together the greatest songs of the 90s, it will be the proverbial soundtrack of my adolescence.

Luckily for me, VH1 has done that work for me. I'm at my parents' house tonight all alone, by a fluke of scheduling. Since they actually receive a TV signal here (as opposed to our house, where we revel in Netflix), I stumbled on this paradise of mindless television and been on the couch for the past two hours knitting my first baby sweater and living the memories.

Since I'm still alone, I thought I'd share some of them with you. I should preface this by telling you that I am not in the slightest bit a music elitist. It plays in the background when I do stuff and there are a few albums that are written on my heart but I have never sat down and listened to an album, or even a song, just for the experience of listening to music. I used to try when I was in junior high because my brothers all did that but would not realize until the third or fourth song of whatever album I was listening to that I had gotten up off the floor during the first song and begun playing with my dolls or, often, reading a book. Needless to say, I do not keep up on the latest bands, even though two of my brothers actually know people who are actually in bands that other people have heard of. Since these two brothers will probably come up in this post a lot, I'll introduce them to you:

David is 8 years older than I am, a genius artist with a brilliant sense of humor. He was a "skater" when he was in high school in the 80s and built a 12 foot half pipe in the back yard for all his gorgeous skater friends to hang out at. Being surrounded by these suburban rebels with their asymmetrical haircuts and the scrawny but somehow muscular chests during my formative years can probably be blamed for many of my romantic mistakes once I came of age. I still resent Matt D. for not following through on his promise to marry me that he made when I was 8 and he was 15. David went to college in Champaigne during those years in the late 80s when bands like Smashing Pumpkins were playing in bars in Champaigne. We're still pretty sure one of our dogs is prominently featured on a vinyl release of a major single from that time. However, it should be telling that I can't remember which one. I still have my turquoise Powell-Peralta t-shirt that he left behind when he went to school.

Daniel is two years younger than I am and followed David's lead a decade later. He and I had many of the same friends since we both hung in the "alternative" crowd but he lived the lifestyle while I watched from the sidelines. Daniel is a true musician and his explorations into musical discovery and expression made me as cool as I am, even though that's not very cool. When we were still in junior high, he spent the entire summer learning Jimi Hendrix's Star Spangled Banner with the amp turned all the way up. It was a long summer. I am his biggest fan and stood in the front row for all of his shows, which included his first album release party at a local VFW hall as a sensitive singer-songwriter, his country band called Barely American and his glam rock years as Glam Dan and the Fancy Lads. You can actually buy one of their albums on I-Tunes. It's the best concept album I've ever encountered. Of course, remember that I have never actually sat down and listened to another concept album in my life.

So, without further adieu, let me attempt to paint the pictures that rise up in my mind as I watched some mindless television. If those C-listers can tells their stories, I should be able to, too. I just won't have M.C. Hammer adding some totally vague and affirming compliment at the end of each African American artist's song. You'll have to imagine that for yourself.

VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the 90's...

Nirvana - "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (1991, #6 US)

My main memory of this is hearing it at a party (I did not go to many of these and I think this was a pseudo-party hosted by some kid's mom in her basement) and hearing the other say it was amazing and realizing that I had heard it before. David had brought home the first two albums at Thanksgiving the year before and played it for my cousins and I listened from the doorway and marveled at the little naked kid on the cover.

U2 - "One" (1991, #10 US)

I got nothing.

Seriously, I know U2 is the shit but although I could probably sing most of their many hits word-for-word, I have never been a fan. I have never been emotionally moved by one of their songs.


Backstreet Boys - "I Want It That Way" (1999, #6 US)

Again, nothing. The boy bands were simply something to be mocked and endured at basement parties. I remember responding enthusiastically with my friends when some headbanging song came on because it was such a relief from music like this.

Whitney Houston - "I Will Always Love You" (1992, #1 US)

In college, I lived in Suite 3D with a bunch of other girls including Erika and Amanda, who were both bridesmaids in my first wedding and I performed that role in their weddings. Erika was in the Bridal Brigade for my second wedding. We used to sign this at the top of our lungs to each other, relishing the dramatic key change toward the end. At Amanda's wedding, we stood on chairs and sang it to her during the reception.

Madonna - "Vogue" (1990, #1 US)

Dan K. was bosom buddies with Daniel the summer this song came out and we changed the words to "Don't just stand there, let's get to it, pick your nose, there's nothing to it. Nose." We were all in the summer art and technology class for gifted kids and thought we were very clever, with our opaque projector and our video scanner that printed out pictures of our faces on the 8-bit printer. Dan, of course, came out of the closet 10 years later, a fact I learned when another fabulous friend told me that they had literally made out in the closet in high school.

Sir Mix-A-Lot - "Baby Got Back" (1992, #1 US)

Cliff C. and Brad D. were the two sociopaths of my church youth group. I felt tormented by them but desperately wanted their attention because they were just so fucking funny. And ridiculous. We were on a mission trip to Mississippi and in the kitchen of Canton Bible Baptist, Cliff did KP while wearing a walkman and occasionally shouted out lines from the songs. This is where I first processed the meaning of the line, "My anaconda don't want none unless it's got buns, hon." Actually, I'm not sure if Brad was there at that moment but I have other memories of him singing ridiculous things in that kitchen with the same energy so he's included in the nostalgia.

Also, Cliff used to sing Smells Like Teen Spirit in an astonishingly annoying repetition. I remember my youth director, Malcolm, trying to catch him up by asking him what a libido actually was. He might have been hoping to embarrass him but I can't imagine that tactic actually working since Cliff seemed to have no shame. He also did not know what a libido was beyond the fact that it rhymed with mosquito.

Britney Spears - "...Baby One More Time" (1999, #1 US)

Missed this entirely. I think I was planning my wedding at the time.

TLC - "Waterfalls" (1994, #1 US)

For some reason, I was listening to the local Black music station my first couple of years of college. This struck me as a bad attempt at poignancy and I couldn't figure out what all the fuss was about. It just seemed too obvious. I had NO cultural context to put it within.

R.E.M. - "Losing My Religion" (1991, #4 US)

Dan S. was one of my best friends and Michael Stipe 100% mimicked his physicality in this video. Dan was emo before emo was a thing and there was not one iota of affectation about it. He was just a shy kid who ran cross-country and talked late into the night on mission trips and retreats about important and intelligent stuff. He is possible the only male friend I hung out with in high school that I did not have a crush on. Sorry, Dan.

Sinéad O'Connor - "Nothing Compares 2 U" (1990, #1 US)

I remember mocking this for her weird voice. Then, it was the cool thing to do to mock her for her weirdo stunts. I learned from VH1 that she released an album recently called Theology and I'm actually kind of curious how she thinks about God because in maturity I realized that she must have been kind of interesting. (Although I don't buy her denial that she ever wanted to be a pop star. What? You stood in front of a camera and cried while you sang a Prince song because you were just looking to entertain the local yokels?)

Pearl Jam - "Jeremy" (1991, #79 US)

Uah. So tragic. So narrative. So comprehensible. So true. So true.

Alanis Morissette - "You Oughta Know" (1995)

I was a freshman in college and loved the surge of angry girl rock. This was just sexually explicit enough to titillate my slowly fading Vestal virgin persona. I borrowed the CD from the girl down the hall to put this on a mix tape. Oh yeah. Transitional audio technology. I was right in the middle of it. After my divorce, I listened to this album a lot.

Dr. Dre (featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg) - "Nuthin' but a "G" Thang" (1992, #2 US)

Guys in the youth group sang lines from this a lot but I didn't have a lot of experience with it. Their gangsta love felt vaguely exploitational and pathetic for a bunch of suburban white guys and it made me uncomfortable but one's last name was Guillemette so the G-Thang, G-String joke was pretty funny.

Mariah Carey - "Vision of Love" (1990, #1 US)

Nothing but mockery for this one. A 7-octave range meant nothing if it sounded screechy. I was just beginning to take voice lessons as a locally acclaimed soprano so I should know.

Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Under the Bridge" (1991, #2 US)

The cute senior in the theater class I took freshman year recited the lyrics as his dramatic monologue. What was disturbing was that he pantomimed shooting heroin before he began. In a world without internet, I'm now a little disturbed to wonder where he learned how to tie a tourniquet around his arm and tap a vein.

MC Hammer - "U Can't Touch This" (1990, #8 US)

This was just ubiquitous. I don't have a specific memory attached to it except to recall the trend of Z. Cavaricci pants. I suppose this is what grunge was rebelling against. My friend Carrie once went on a field trip with our girls' Bible study group to buy a pair at the Stratford Square mall and counted out over a hundred dollars in cash. For pants!

Destiny's Child - "Say My Name" (1999, #1 US)

Like I said, I was listening to a lot of B96 at this point but now it was because I had a job teaching African-American high school kids and I wanted to be up on the lingo. Also, I really liked it. So, this song is solely associated with being in my '92 stick shift Saturn that I bought off my dad when I graduated from college.

Metallica - "Enter Sandman" (1991, #16 US)

This song literally frightened me. I watched the video tonight and the strobe-light haunted house effect brought it all back. I remember being vaguely uncertain of whether or not this counted as "evil."

Beastie Boys - "Sabotage" (1994)

Again, my knowledge of the Beastie Boys came almost solely from the guys in my youth group. From them, I learned to prefer Paul's Boutique over the other albums. It was good to have a preference. If you have a preference, people think that you know something. Since I didn't actually care enough to explore new music on my own but still wanted to be cool, I needed to project that I knew something about music. This I could do by insisting on Paul's Boutique.

Hanson - "MMMBop" (1997, #1 US)

These guys came from Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is where my aunt, uncle and their five kids live. They used to hear Hanson play at the local water park before they were huge.

Celine Dion - "My Heart Will Go On" (1997, #1 US)

I think that my first real experience with irony occurred listening to Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On. I loved it with all of my dramatic adolescent self. All of the interior urges that caused my to become a member of Thespian Troupe #233 - building sets and acting in high school plays, as well as a community theater production of Godspell - these urges were massaged by the drama . . .

Wait. That's not right. I'm thinking about It's All Coming Back to Me Now. My Heart Will Go On got mocking because it got played so incessantly because of it's association with Titanic, which I still haven't seen.

So, let's pretend we're talking about It's All Coming Back to Me Now. The video was created by the same guy who did Meatloaf's I Would Do Anything For Love and involved a castle and a hot guy dying in a motorcycle crash. It pushed every romantic button in my newly adult heart. At the same time, I knew it was incredibly cheesy. So, I lived in that tension. I think it was my first guilty pleasure that I mocked with a wink wink nudge nudge so that I could listen to it more. Irony. Or maybe camp. I borrowed the CD from the same girl I borrowed Alanis Morissette from and put the song on the same mix tape.

Beck - "Loser" (1994, #10 US)

Pretty incomprehensible. I have never liked songs that I couldn't understand the words. So, I didn't pay much attention to it.

Salt-N-Pepa with En Vogue - "Whatta Man" (1993, #3 US)

I have come to love Salt-N-Pepa much more in my later life than when they were an active music group. I found them to be catchy in my youth but was too intimidated by my lack of membership in African-Americanism to actually go out and buy an album. They were a little raunchy and that secretly appealed to me plus I could understand all the words and the words made me laugh. Delayed gratification is just as sweet, though.

House of Pain - "Jump Around" (1992, #3 US)

I don't know. Fraternity house basements?

Soundgarden - "Black Hole Sun" (1994)

Ubiquitous. Somewhat overly depressive. I didn't respond much to music that seemed like you needed to have taken drugs to understand what it was communicating.

Eminem - "My Name Is" (1999, #26 US)

Again, I didn't come to love Eminem until much later in life. At first, I rejected him because he was so totally offensive. Later, when I calmed down a little (you know, in general, with my personality) I realized that he was really clever and that I liked his use of assonance. My boyfriend on the island watched 8 Mile constantly, which again seemed odd for a white guy who was a professional sea kayak guide from my home town. Still, I watch a movie about a goblin king surrounded by Muppets who falls in love with a young girl (who looks suspiciously like an idealized version of me) and sends her on a quest because he is so conflicted about his love. So, who am I to judge? Has anyone else noticed that my relationship with music revolved a lot around my racial identity?

Counting Crows - "Mr. Jones" (1993)

Again, ubiquitous. Not very interesting.

Ricky Martin - "Livin' la Vida Loca" (1999, #1 US)

Loved this. It felt sexy just as I was getting sexy. It made me want to move my hips.

Vanilla Ice - "Ice Ice Baby" (1990, #1 US)

Some kid named Jason used to breakdance while singing this in the cafeteria in the 6th grade. I always felt bad for him because I think he thought he was secretly cool all along and the rest of the kids were finally recognizing his true self when the truth was that we were laughing at him. I think I projected a lot of my own fears in this scenario.

*NSYNC - "Tearin' Up My Heart" (1998)

I got nothing.

Radiohead - "Creep" (1993)

Ubiquitous. Nondescript. Again, it felt drug-induced and I never really jived with the Gen X loser sentiments. However, now I fully claim my Gen X status. I might have been on the tail end but I definitely relate more with the generation older than me than the one younger than me that has always had email and CDs.

BLACKstreet - "No Diggity" (1996, #1 US)

LOVED this. At one point, I think someone calculated that B96 played this 5 times every hour. I could understand the words and they sounded extremely sexual even though I couldn't quite map what was being said to my very limited understanding of what sexual acts were options. The rhythm was intoxicating. Again, this is absolutely associated with driving in my car. When iTunes made finding songs easy, I put this on the first CD I made from purchased digital music.

Spice Girls - "Wannabe" (1997, #1 US)

This song went on the same college mix tape as You Oughta Know and It's All Coming Back to Me Now. (Susan, did I get all of those from you?) It perfectly expressed the joyful silliness I felt after I found some friends in college to celebrate being a woman out on her own. My whole being felt this exuberant at times.

Third Eye Blind - "Semi-Charmed Life" (1997, #4 US)

Again, fraternity basements come to mind. Only a third of our campus went Greek but since it was a technically "dry" campus, the only real accessible parties were at the fraternities. Also, my close friend Emily join Sigma Kappa and took me along with her. They used to dress me in borrowed baby t-shirts since I still had yet to figure out how to communicate my personality through fashion in a way that could be understood by other people given the current style context.

Oasis - "Wonderwall" (1995, #8 US)

Another in the same camp as the other druggy, whiny, incomprehensible and dark grunge songs. I was firmly in the grunge demographic in high school and college. XL t-shirts that were tucked into the front of my baggy boy jeans with a flannel shirt were de riguer for me. I also had a great pair of railroad overalls purchased at the Big R in Danville, IL to give them authenticity. I have never felt comfortable with posers.

One of my best memories was hanging out with a guy named Paul, who was one of the first openly gay men I knew. Looking back, he was clearly in the natal stages of his fabulousness but it gave him style cred in my 19 year old mind. I was wearing a pair of grass-green corduroy short-alls with a white midriff baring tank top. Over it all was my favorite oversized flannel from the Gap, which was mostly white with the plaid being different shades of the same green as the short-alls. The shorts were only just longer than the tails of the flannel. Paul told me that he loved my outfit and then talked about it for awhile. I felt a blanket of justification wash over me. Like the break-dancing Jason in the cafeteria before me, I secretly believed that I had recently found my style groove and Paul validated that. Ah, grunge.

C+C Music Factory - "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" (1991, #1 US)

This is where I came into the program. I'm just going to pick and choose from here on out.

L.L. Cool J - "Mama Said Knock You Out" (1990, #17 US)

My youth director Malcolm used to sing this ridiculously. Mama said knock you down and so forth. He was interacting witht the aforementioned Cliff and Brad.

The Presidents of the United States of America - "Peaches" (1995)

Totally catchy. I had forgotten about this song. It felt just right for my alternative suburban, grungy soul. Playful and ironic without actually saying anything that I understood. But I could sing along.

Digital Underground - "The Humpty Dance" (1990, #11 US)

I have to tell you that this plays in a steady rotation on my iPod currently. It makes me laugh all the time. It's a song about being ugly but still having sex all the time. What could be better? I only have a vague memory of it from this time period.

Deee-Lite - "Groove Is In The Heart" (1990, #4 US)

I have never danced more ridiculously than I danced to this song and the B52s Love Shack. I have never felt more myself than while dancing this way. High school dances were actually quite fun for me because I was surroudned by a group of people who just danced in a big group and didn't have to talk. You could just run around and chase each other and laugh just like you were kids again. A few drank but you didn't have to in order to get a rush of endorphins and sexualized dancing was out of vogue at the time. You just stood in one place and bounced while moving your arms as the spirit moved you. I still dance like that.

Will Smith - "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" (1998, #1 US)

Similarly, this is totally danceable and I never felt the racial awkwardness with Will Smith that I did with the other Black artists.

Lenny Kravitz - "Are You Gonna Go My Way" (1993)

I owned every Lenny Kravitz album and went to see him in conert 3 or 4 times. This should tell you a lot since I rarely bought albums and didn't go to a concert until my freshman year in college. He was odd and sounded like the soul music that I liked on the oldies radio stations but he still rocked. I realize that my brother Daniel hasn't actually made an appearance but I've realized that is because he introduced me to older rock and roll classic like Led Zepplin and David Bowie. Lots of David Bowie. He also gave me Lenny Kravitz (and then stole my conert t-shirt that cost $25 bucks!)

Paula Cole - "I Don't Want to Wait" (1997, #11 US)

I preferred Where Have All the Cowboys Gone. The bleak portrayal of rural life for a woman combined with the conflicting longing for a strong man expressed the strange feminism I feel that I live with still.

Prince & The New Power Generation - "Gett Off" (1991, #27 US)

Too sexy for me. I love love loved this with all of my suppressed Christian loins.

Lisa Loeb - "Stay (I Missed You)" (1994, #1 US)

Janstee and I drove everywhere with this cassette single in her car's tape deck. I think her car was named Skippy and she used to hit curbs all the time when she turned. She was the first friend in high school that I felt totally at ease with. I felt like she genuinely enjoyed having me around even though she was much cooler than I was. We gossiped and girl talked and liked the same boys. And learned every word to this song. I recently bought a copy of the soundtrack to Singles at a garage sale just for this song.

The only song I can think of that is missing for me in Nine Inch Nails' Closer. It is the sexiest song I can think of besides anything made by Prince. The pulsing rhythm felt like everything I imagined sex to be. I remember gettign into a huge argument with Mike B. in my youth group because he and Brad thought it was evil and shouldn't be listened to. They thought it was written from the point of view of Satan and existed to encourage teenagers to have sex. I could see the Satan point but felt like it was a Satan who looked a little more like David Bowie in the earlier described Labyrinth: fallen but regretful and longing for the goodness he could no longer have. One of the lyrics is quite literally, "You get me closer to God." If sex was everything they taught me it would be in youth group, Nine Inch Nails expressed the transcendence perfectly to my imagination. I think Dave P. would be drunk at high school dances and grind with me, probably because he ultimately turned out to be gay. It was safe and experiemental. I remember being frustrated with the youth group argument because the guys wouldn't even consider my perspective. That was the quintessential gender dynamic in that group so should be recorded in this reminiscene.

So, that's it. More than you ever wanted to know about my adolesence and how it related to sex, race and music.

I realize that a lot of formative music for me was created in the 80s: Violent Femmes, Depeche Mode, They Might Be Giants. These came from my brother David's group and my friends who were following in his path. We would buy the albums on cassette and copy them onto tapes for each other. One alubm usually fit on a side of a 90 minute tape. It was great. David also bought me a Lemonheads album for Christmas one year and I listened to it so much that it is written on my heart.

What memories do these songs bring up for you?