Friday, July 30, 2010

A Rose By Any Other Name

Has the word "Christian" become so baggage laden that it is time for those of us who follow Christ to stop using it as a descriptor?

Anne Rice seems to think so based on her recent comments on her facebook page. She isn't the only one.

One reason I chose the modifier "unconventional" in the title of this blog is that the word "Christian" all too often brings up a negative image and turns people off before they ever have an opportunity to find out who I am and what I believe. Like Anne Rice, I have to say that if being a "Christian" means being anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-artificial birth control, anti-science and anti-life or if it requires being member of a particular political party or well pretty much any of the other crud that has gotten attached to that label then you can count me out as well.

After announcing that:
In the name of Christ I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

I like what she goes on to say in her status today.

My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.

Thank you Anne for putting into words what I think (except for that whole Democrat thing, I'm a happy Libertarian thanks) but don't often articulate. I use the label Christian because it is familiar and convenient but I have begun to wonder if that isn't a cop out. If perhaps it is time for those of us who follow Christ to be willing to let go of the label "Christian" and to simply become known as He said we would be known. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another

Something to consider.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Aha. Ended up figuring out my last post's quandry within 24 hours of posting. It's not leagues-it's levels. Everybody's at different levels in regard to all these life aspects, and it's our individual responsibility to find someone with similar levels, who helps us push ourselves to new heights, and to weed out people who will drag us down. It's just that simple in my mind.

Anyways, the big revelation of the day is courtesy of a certain brilliant 8-year-old friend of mine, who looked at me and said "Clouds change. Just like people!"

I forget that people change. I mean, I know I change, but it always surprises me when I do. Like "oh! I grew a spine and can say no to people now?" That was a good discovery. Discoveries about yourself are awesome, and discoveries about changes in your relationships with people can be awesome. Like discovering that someone you thought you had nothing in common with is actually a kindred spirit.

But I think I'm afraid of other people changing. Even nasty people. It's what's familiar, and familiar certainly seems safe. But then you blink and suddenly people you used to find really interesting don't want to talk about anything but sororities, and somebody you used to look up to keeps on disappointing you. People change, and I find it absolutely terrifying because, for better or worse, it's scary to think the person you know now might not be that person one day. Or what if I turn into a worse person? Yuck yuck yuck.

After all, just look at Saul/Paul in the Bible, who completely changed for the better, going from persecuting Christians to preaching the good news. Then again, look at David, who went from being an incredible guy to a major f$%^ up who had Uriah the Hittite killed so he could get away with having knocked up his wife Bathsheba. So it's not just up to God how we change...we have to take responsibility for our own changes. Even the great can fall...but even the horrible can emerge from the muck.

At least we can hope and pray for changes for the better. I feel like if we use God as our one true compass, then we can't help but change for the better over time, though making those changes can be so difficult. Or at least, that's what I'm hoping.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

This is the blogpost of settling.

I have this obnoxious tendency to settle, especially in regard to the people I date. My friends will look at me and go "what are you thinking? You deserve better."A lot of the time, the person I'm dating will even look at me and go "you can do so much better than me," and I just ignore that self-deprecating talk because I spend so much time focusing on the good things about them that I somehow manage to ignore all the bad things.

Maybe it's the thought that doing better would involve more effort. Not that I'm lazy, but it would be more of a weed-out process, more saying no, more standing up for myself (though I've gotten way better at that).

I also don't want to think of myself as deserving better. That would make me vain right? Because all people are equal. God made us equals right? Or has He specifically placed us on different emotional/psychological/intellectual levels that we're supposed to take into consideration as we develop friendships and romantic relationships throughout our lives? Hmmm...things to think about.

But sometimes, you realize you're honestly out of someone's league in some way. I used to not think that that sort of talk had any substance, but it does. Sometimes you need someone on your intellectual plane, your spiritual plane, your emotional plane, your spontaneity plane, your fun plane.

But there's the rub: What the f#$% is my league anyways? Do I even want to have one? And I'm a pretty gosh darn awful person sometimes and I'm fairly average all around, so do I "deserve better"? And what the hey is better anyways? Would I want better? What if it's scary? And why am I so scared in the first place?

Dear God, please help me figure this out, because I am super confused in the sense that "It's 11 p.m. and I just got my braces today and they hurt like HE-double-hockey-sticks, and then I worked out for 2 hours, so I'm pretty out of it, but I'm tired of dating dinglebunnies and desperately trying to justify these bad matches to myself" kind of way.

Thank goodness I love being single, because this is going to take some major thought, consideration, and prayer, ridiculous a train of thought as this is.

Also, just for fun: I love Death Cab's "The Sound of Settling." I can't help but sway every time I listen to it. If that's what settling sounds like, maybe it's not so bad after all!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

In which I am at home in Mitford

Forgive me...I've found my mind on overdrive lately, and I find myself enjoying blogging and muddling through these thoughts.

I've been self-indulgently re-reading Jan Karon's Mitford series. The books are ridiculously, almost painfully charming. A small Southern town populated by characters who are lovable and fascinating...Mitford is one of those series where you open up and suddenly you've got an extra 20 friends sitting next to you (which I've particularly enjoyed today since I'm sick. Ugh.). The series centers around Episcopal priest Father Tim Kavanaugh, and it's steeped in religious quotations and moments of conversion, church politics and crises of faith.

And frankly, I absolutely adore it, ridiculous as it may be at times.

Anyways, I was reading the 8th Mitford book today, Shepherds Abiding. It's Christmas themed. Usually I hate seasonally specific books-I find them a little hokey. But this one was lovely. And there were two moments that struck me as particularly poignant. Usually I'm obsessive about reading with a pen in my hand, marking everything I love, but this is a library book, so for posterity, I'm recording my favorites here.

"for many things that deserved to be believed, he had believed with all his might" pg 144
It reminded me of Lewis Carroll's infamous "sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." And then I smiled.

"When you love somebody, your eye lashes go up and down and little stars come out of your eyes. When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth." pg 156

I couldn't stop thinking about how God calls us by name, about how names, picked by our parents, become a part of us, and how as others become a part of our lives, one of the first things we do is to share our name. But names are so intimate, revealing, powerful. Just a whisper of your name sets your head turning, your mind going "who is that who's calling for me?" When we're little, we learn to scrawl those sacred characters in their own special order in a word that means "this is mine, this is of me." We write acrostics featuring our own special letters. We find out our names' origins and meanings. We get called by our full names when we're in trouble, have our names read over microphones as we graduate. "What's in a name," wrote Shakespeare. What isn't? Though it may be a simple word, our lives are marked by our names, right down to when God calls us.

One of the characters in Mitford says that the Lord always calls her by her first and middle name. That tickled me, especially because I find my middle name kind of funny. But how sweet to have a word for ourselves, a word that God knows, too, and how much sweeter to know that our names are safe in his mouth.

my useless major of choice

My family's been getting on my case about being a religion major. My mother thinks I should double major in ENGLISH (because that's clearly even more practical than religion?).
And they won't back the f off about what am I going to do with my life. I'm 19. Like heck if I know. Grad school is definitely a must. But after that I don't know yet.

No, it's not a business degree, or a degree in some science-type thing. Or even a language. It's a humanities major, and since I'm a sophomore, I see no reason to panic yet. Silly family.

I may go to seminary. Or I may be a professor. Or I may follow a ridiculously crazy dream and try to start a ministry to young people that encourages questioning and exploration...I have yet to find anywhere that truly does that, a place that doesn't say "this is the answer" but instead says "Here are lots of things people have considered. What do you think? Let's all think about this together, and pray about it, and talk about it, and read about it, and see how it shapes our faiths." Maybe a place with incredible music, a combination of old school church music (I have a distinctive fondness for the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal), modern religious music (dcTalk, Newsboys, Matisyahu etc.), and music that isn't technically church music at all like Daniel Bedingfield, Mason Jennings, Avril Lavigne...

Anyways, that's the dream. But for the next few years, I've got a lot of learning to do, and I don't intend to worry more than necessary (admittedly, I worry plenty on my own) about the future. I never cease to be amazed by the way God works, and I am confident that no matter where I end up, it will be the right place, the right vocation for me, so long as I work diligently and faithfully and just trust that it will be all right. After all, that's just what Matthew 6:25-34 says, for goodness sake!

And just for fun, since I mentioned my favorite non-church music that I find religiously inspiring, here's a few of my personal favorites!:
"Draw You" by Daniel Bedingfield
"I Love You and Buddha Too" by Mason Jennings
"How Does It Feel" by Avril Lavigne
"You're Not My God" by Keith Urban
"Faster than Angels Fly" by Big & Rich
"The River" by Garth Brooks
"Standing Outside the Fire" by Garth Brooks
"Shower the People" by James Taylor
"Everything I Own" by Bread
"When I Look to the Sky" by Train
"Jumper" by Third-Eye Blind
"Beautiful Thing" by Sister Hazel
"I Knew I Loved You" by Savage Garden
"Seasons of Love" by the Cast of Rent
"Sooner or Later" by Michael Tolcher
"Feel the Silence" by the Goo Goo Dolls
anything by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo (I adore their chanting albums.)
"Angelina" by Earl Klugh
"Love Comes" by The Posies

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

perfect imperfection

I did something I had never been able to do before in my entire life, something that has plagued me since elementary school. I ran a mile. In 13 minutes and 20 seconds. And let me tell you, minute 13 second 21 was one of the best moments of my entire life.

It was as if all those voices in my head, both my own and others', faded away in that instant. I could do it; I could do anything. I remember one time when I tried to run somebody telling me it was stupid and that I'd never make it. And I heard that voice on the treadmill, and I said screw you and ran right past it. And I could hear my own voice going "just quit, it's no big deal." But that was a lie, or as a dear friend of mine would say "a lie from the pit of hell." It was a big deal, a HUGE deal.

I spent years feeling like "the fat kid" and having a grandmother who loves me better when I'm thinner. (You think I'm kidding. I'm not.) Then I spent years with people who told me I was perfect just the way I was, even when I wanted to change and feel stronger and healthier. Neither is good, and I finally realized that no one but me could decide to make this change.

I feel like I've hit the point of perfect imperfection-the point of striving for something, seeing the goal, and at the same time, acknowledging that after that goal, there will be another goal to achieve. I feel like that's where God wants us somehow. Not despairing about our lowliness, our sinfullness, but not complacent and boastful, content to just do nothing. We are to give our best, and nothing less. One of my favorite hymns opens with the words "Come, labor on. Who dare stand idle on the harvest plane while all around us waves the golden grain. And to each servant does the master say 'Go work today.'" It is not a command, but a glorious invitation to work, to serve, to better ourselves and our communities, to celebrate our successes as they come...and not to let ourselves get overwhelmed by our all too human tendency to fall short.

The true success is to keep going, to persist in time of failure, and to cheerfully press on without allowing apathy to creep in during times of success. That said, I'm aiming to run it again in 12:45 since I'd already done a killer elliptical workout before I ran yesterday. Here's hoping I do it! If not, here's to a new goal!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Life Rule

I have had an incredible weekend, complete with attending a Jewish service Saturday morning that was led by a friend of mine, and I've also gotten inspired to post about making judgments about people sexually or politically based on how religious they may be.

But, I thought I'd spend a couple of posts devoted to a few of my life rules. Yes, I have life rules. If you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything, and exceptions are for people who don't have real standards. They're not particularly religious, beyond the fact that I think taking care of one's self and setting standards is a part of any spiritual journey.

So, I went through my voicemail box tonight (I hadn't cleaned it out since October...oops), and I found one that I'd saved just because it served as a reminder of one of my favorite life rules.

The rule is this simple: no manipulative people. No being manipulative, and no letting manipulative people stay in my life (that's where burning bridges can come in handy if need be).

Ain't nobody gonna tell me what I "should" be doing. God made me smart enough to have my own life, and I am incredibly capable. I resent people who can't just be open and honest about what they want, who use people and push them around and claim it's "for their own good." And anybody who's pulling the whole "the ends justify the means" thing needs to read up on Stalin as far as I'm concerned.

Furthermore, I resent people who manipulate my friends. Hell hath no fury like a woman who's realized her friend is getting used or played in some way. This year, somebody was using my friend, and I got so pissed off that I told them off at 3 am, and I put on my high heeled boots to do it. And my accent came out and my voice got low.

But sometimes you can't help somebody as much as you want to. You can't just jump in front of them like a crazy person and go "RUN AWAY!!! RUN AWAY!!!" and hope they'll pull a Monty Python and the Holy Grail and run the f$%^ away. It's that person's own decision, and one can only hope that one day he or she will realize what's actually going on. And you can't think less of someone for getting manipulated. To deal with a truly manipulative person is like swimming against a riptide.

And you can't possibly understand it until you've lived it. From terrible friends to abusive partners, it's hell itself, and so many people just don't get it. (For example, I had someone tell me recently that abused women who stay in an abusive situation are morons who clearly just didn't get it.) It's virtually impossible to get out of such a situation without a lot of help and support, either divine or mortal, and sometimes it's impossible to see what's going on until you are safely on the shore again.

Hindsight is 20/20 after all.

Sometimes, I wonder if Jesus would've changed anything he did. Not that I'm suggesting he made mistakes, but if he could have a second go at everything, would it be different? Would God have done things differently if He could re-do the adventures of the Pentateuch? Not give Miriam leprosy? Not drown all of humanity besides Noah? Not let that goshdarn snake in the garden? It's kind of fun to imagine God thinking about such things, though I'm guessing he's far too busy working on the future.

Then again if you take a cyclical view of time that's a whole different story...

Anyways, I don't think God wants people to be manipulative. He's got enough of a plan to not need us to take others' lives our own hands. Take the story of Joseph. So many people tried to manipulate him, including Potiphar's wife and his brothers, to take his life out of his own control, but God still kept him on the right track. People don't have a right to meddle in other people's life tracks, no matter how well meaning they may be.

So that's one of my life rules. No manipulative people.

N.B.: For a more musical rendition of this life rules, I would recommend Sarah Bareilles' new single "King of Anything."