Where is Your Faith?

Stone tower

I grew up with the unspoken assumption that having faith in anything but God is silly. At best.

Getting worse, I sometimes heard words like foolish, idolatry, and maybe once even heresy.

And that made for trouble later on, because one of my biggest growth-steps well into my adult stage of life was learning to trust myself. I have faith in myself, a phrase I never would have had the guts to say in high school or college, maybe not even for orthodoxy reasons.

It just sounds cheesy and I’ve never liked cheesy.

But I went through this book with a neat batch of women in the fall, and one of the things that came up toward the end was the purpose and place of faith.

In the context of the study, the book was reminding us that we are to live this Christian life the same way we came into it: by faith, not by our efforts to prove ourselves worthy.

This I love. This I can get behind, and cheer, and find relief in.

And I have no idea how to define it.

Image courtesy of Michaela Kobyakov via stock.xchng

But it got me thinking of what we put our faith in, and I realized that for me, real flesh-and-blood people make that list.

For example, I trust that my parents love me.

I know that my husband is going to be loyal only to me as long as we both shall live.

I am confident that various friends [Becky, Kit, Jennifer, Sarah, Tori, Paul, David, Josh, Aaron, and more] are examining themselves thoroughly and submitting themselves to the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit, so that I don’t have to interrogate and squish them through a garlic press before I believe they’re right with God.

I have faith in my parents, my husband, and my friends.

And there is nothing wrong with this.

Like the word love, our language has the single word faith that has evolved various meanings.

I have to have faith in myself if I’m going to trust my own capacity to make meaningful decisions (that’s why this was a personal growth-step for me).

I have to have faith in my husband’s and parents’ love if I am going to talk with them about difficult things and trust that their love for me will endure. Without this I will always be afraid to reveal what’s inside me or seek help with what confuses or hurts me.

I have to have faith in my friends’ ability to grow and individually hear from God, or else I will be forever limited to myself.  I will also be responsible for, or at least carry an undue weight and concern for their spiritual well-being, when their relationship with God is one-on-one and only last because they consistently surrender to his God-ness.

This isn’t about conflict-avoidance or not asking questions or challenging people ever, but it is about basic assumptions and simply being able to trust people.

In all these cases the faith is not based on nothing.

“God demonstrated his great love…”

So have all of these people.

Over the years as I’ve come to know them, I see different levels of maturity, different needs and gifts, and (wonder of wonders) places where our strengths and weaknesses braid together in a beautiful cord that is stronger than the sum of its parts.

And they love me. They value me.

When I have a depression relapse, or find myself in an environment where most people are blind to my value, rehearsing my place in these lives, and the respect they’ve given me, reenforces me to me.

~ ~ ~

I have found one of the most loving, nurturing, gifting thing we can do for each other is to have faith in one another.

Now, none of us want to look like fools. None of us want to discover someone we trusted was able to pull the wool over our eyes. It can shake our faith in all our other relationships, because our ability to recognize a fraud or cruelty is part of what allows us to trust those we trust as much as we do.

Image courtesy of amsphotos via stock.xchng

I don’t give my trust to just anyone. But for the reasons listed above, I need to trust someone, and I am incredibly thankful to have more than one.

In most of my experience this faith doesn’t happen because of a resume, or a creed, or the right number and combination of boxes checked off on some form.

It happens over time.

So this faith thing can highlight a hole in our Christian community: have we cultivated or intentionally created the space for the nearness and openness– the vulnerability and authenticity– of communication and relationship that allows us to build relational faith.

I’m told time is a precious commodity in today’s world.

I can’t imagine this is new to our place in history or unique to me, but I know there’s no other reliable methodology to building this faith.

And you might say that discussing my faith in people gives me a better idea of what faith in God looks like, or could be made of.

Time is a good starting place.

The Gifted Lifetime

Stone tower

Pamela Price at Red, White & Grew asked a hugely welcome question about Giftedness beyond the child-stage:

How do we begin to talk about the gifted lifetime in fruitful ways that benefit a maximum number of people?

She invited comments, but I expected mine would be too long (in full) so I started here.

I have a few bullet points that shape the rest of my thoughts.

  • Have a common definition (so we can unblushingly agree that humanity contains both gifted and non-gifted individuals).
  • Create a safe place where understanding is the primary goal. Competition or one-upmanship needs to find an outlet somewhere else.
  • If the non-gifted want to observe, they must assume good-will (the gifted people in these discussions are working out their own issues, not denigrating people different from themselves).
    • We will get so much farther, faster, if we don’t have to saturate our observations and discoveries with disclaimers.
  • Trust each other: our experiences will be different, and if we expect to police each others’ diagnoses, that leads to insecurity and back to competition.

Stone towerSome adults (without using the word gifted, or acknowledging their own giftedness) say that feeling alone is just part of adolescence, or part of the human condition. Religious/Christian people will have very specific ideas about what’s missing in one’s life.

These two bits (smart– in my experience, gifted— people who acknowledge the ‘off’ while invalidating the accompanying confusion, and religious people who expect their tested formulas to fix things) are the two halves of my own experience.

Between excellent honors-track teachers in high school and talented professors at college, I was surrounded by a very comfortable level of challenge and growth. I was kept busy enough through that era of my life that the discontent buzzing in the back of my mind was kept decently managed.

I’m one of those who can’t not-believe in God (and I think that’s a good thing). All my life I’ve been involved in Church, and done what I can to make it (find it?) challenging. So when I started learning about giftedness (well into adulthood) I was giddy to realize that the small church I currently attended was easily 70% gifted. More if you included the mass of kids.

That explained to me why we were so many on the same “wavelength” in intensity, intellectual demands, high conviction, with a level of educational rigor (sense of personal responsibility) for our children, many of us homeschooling, many of us eschewing the Standard American Diet.

[To this day I’m convinced that the cohesiveness of the group is tied at least in part to the shared giftedness, and the feeling of having found one’s “tribe.” This was especially notable because we varied, sometimes significantly, in our theology– usually a reason to “break fellowship.”]

According to the one book on adult giftedness I’ve read, the level of giftedness in the general population is 10%, so I imagine finding a group where nearly everyone was your kind, well, I will personally attest it is hard to walk away from (and I’m still trying to find my land legs).

The odd thing to me is that when I tried to have this [Yay! Look at us, we’ve found each other!] conversation with various gifted members of the congregation (much more calmly and maturely, I assure you), I was immediately shut down.

I can see, now, some sociological/psychological reasons for their dismissal and denial, but at the time I was deeply confused.

It is in this background that my summary of “conversation-starters” is rooted (with a tiny bit of repetition).

  • Provide a vocabulary. Tie it to everyday living.
    • I think the best way to start this conversation is to include people and give them a context for this “otherness” they’ve felt much of their lives.
  • Let people identify themselves– and believe them.
    • Yes, some will be wannabes, but as long as we manage the competition/one-upping side of things they will either benefit by association, or drop out on their own.
  • Validate– agree that there are good things and commiserate with the disappointing stuff.
    • My first two years investigating this topic I had this imaginary conversation in my head: “So you just figured out you’re gifted, huh?” “Yup.” “Just now? Are you sure you don’t need a second opinion?”
  • Provide models (alternatives to the TV-reinforced stereotypes) of successful gifted-lifetimes.
  • Brainstorm how to become those models
    • My primary motivation for trying to convince my fellow church members about giftedness was that nearly all our children were gifted. I felt we had a unique opportunity as a close-knit, gifted population to raise our children in a way that might inoculate them against the shame or embarrassment we received for our eagerness or “over-achieving.”
      • All of which that continued into adulthood, by the way…
  • Create a culture of mutual creation rather than comparison.
    • I keep harping on this angle, but I think it’s crazy-important: we are all so different from one another (along with having things in common) that if we are going to make progress in any meaningful way it will not be through propping ourselves up via the battered bodies of lesser mortals.

So there you are: Where I think the conversation should start. Where it goes from here I’ll be fascinated to watch.

Better

Teacup

ball of twineBetter is a funny word.

It can designate improvement (“I’m feeling better than I did yesterday.”) or it can say you’re done with what ails you.

“Do you still have the flu?”

“No, I’m better, now.”

I’ve been dealing with depression in some form or other since June of 2010 (When it smacked me upside the head, and that ‘others-have-it’ problem became mine).

The first two years were pretty solidly bad depression. I started with my first counselor within two months of symptoms showing (which I’m given to understand is unusually good. I credit a combination of Becky pushing me, and good insurance coverage).

I went through a couple counselors before finding a good fit (and no longer have the good insurance), but I recognized counseling’s benefit, even when it was uncomfortable.

Side note/pet peeve:

Being able to receive instruction or derive benefit from “less-than-ideal” should not be a life-sentence to be stuck with it and “appreciate what you have.” If anything, the miss-matched individual ought to get extra points for humility and the openness to persist into usefulness. {GRRR}

What I ran into a lot was an attitude my chronic-illness/chronic-pain enduring friends continue to face:

Suffering can be very isolating, because [outsiders] are often afraid of seeing people suffer in ways they can’t fix. Sometimes things aren’t ok, and aren’t likely to be ok any time soon, if ever.

We are surrounded by people who don’t want to see us suffer (this is a good thing) but who may also (not good) end up in their own denial about the situation, and try to bring us with them.

If we refuse to come along for the ride (nope, already worked that stage of grieving), we become the difficult ones, and have to deal with disappointed other-people along with our disappointed selves. But there is a better way.

Continue reading »

I am a Christian Feminist

broken bridge small

cherry blosomsIf there was another word, I’d be happy to use it, but since there’s not, well, I feel like I need to redeem it.

I am a feminist.

I have been for years and years, I just didn’t know it, because I never actually looked up what the word meant, I just listened to scared people talk about what they didn’t understand, and became one of them.

Contrary to how I imagined feminism to act, this movement isn’t about how we women treat other people (though the decent ones among us work within the Golden Rule: treating others the way we want to be treated). It isn’t about bringing men down or punishing them for the sins of their fathers.

Feminism (the ideal and the activism) is about changing the way people are treated.

Women in particular, yes, but ultimately all marginalized people.

TeacupFeminists are speaking the obvious, because it keeps being ignored. They’re saying that women have historically been treated as less than men (anyone who’s paid attention already knew this. Google is your friend if you weren’t one of them. I won’t judge). We’re pointing out that “humanity” has meant men by default (Medical studies are a terrific example of this bias). And we (some of us) are pointing out how males are getting a bit irrationally testy at being limited to 50% of the good stuff.

I use the “Merry Christmas” kerfuffle as an analogy.

At some point, retailers noticed that some people spend money for reasons other than Christmas. Not being the types to discourage consumption for any reason, these proactive capitalists modified their advertizing materials to be as inclusive as possible. The use of the words “Merry Christmas” plummeted.

The pro-Christmasers fought back with their dollars, which is totally their right, but others (inappropriately) called the change in language religious persecution.

I argue that the majority simply got a taste of what the (holiday) minority lived with for generations. For me, it was an education, not an assault.

Pro-MCers can totally ask for respect and acknowledgement. Feedback is a great way to teach people who want our money. The point is that MCers were used to being the default, and I wonder sometimes if the outrage expressed isn’t about change and demotion along with all the other loaded elements of the shift.

As for my brand of feminism and faith, I have often rejected the role of activist, but I have walked for a while now as an advocate.

It makes sense if you think about my role as a writer, as someone who offers words as bridge between people and ideas.

I was gratified this weekend to read a list of [faulty] reasons attempting to explain why women’s gifts are largely ignored by the Church.

Calling them what they are (largely fear, and lack of experience or imagination) really put things in perspective for me.

Then a dear Christian lady, who would never approve of women in leadership, asked me what kind of female leadership I was advocating within the church.

It made me frightened and angry and sad, all at the same time, because I knew there was nothing I could say that would make her approve of my position, and I didn’t want this issue to be a relationship-breaker between us.

I went with the truth anyway, wording my answer as carefully as possible.

Anywhere a woman is gifted, that is where she should work. God gives gifts to be used, and scripture has examples of women at every level of leadership.

This is a painful subject for me, because management (specifically of food and children) is all women are typically allowed in the church, and is something I am distinctly *not* gifted in.

Not where I am now, but both for teaching (even beside/with Jay) and for music (songs a man picked) I was told “No-because-you-are-a-woman.”

It left me useless, which is nothing I wish on anyone.

Feminism matters, in life and in the Church, because change does not happen spontaneously, and our culture, both of faith and general practice, is anemic. We are sick and undernourished because fully half of all the population is excluded by default, or challenged to “do better” with fewer resources.

broken bridge smallWe have people, valuable contributors, who never reach their potential because enough other people have made decisions before considering the individual.

It is a logistical nightmare, but that is part of why it takes so much energy to sustain this movement, why some people complain feminists are fixated on one problem, how this one way the world works is all they see.

There is nothing easy about telling the world over and and over again that the sky is blue, that water is wet. There may be “bigger” things going on every minute, but what is closer to home than our value and identity?

This is what we are fighting for as feminists: to do what we were created to do, and not be patted on the head (or carefully not-touched if “they” are male and are scared of being seduced by even a condescending touch) as we’re told by someone not-our-creator that the way He made us doesn’t fit their plan.

The Necessary Fight: Helping My Depressed Child (Wyn Magazine)

I had to have enough conviction for the whole family when I knew it was depression. That effort on top of the grief, guilt, and personal disappointment was so draining, I couldn’t do anything beyond the naming. I felt helpless, and was silent.

As has been true in so many areas of my life, it was a story that brought clarity and gave me the images and language to move forward. Bearskin, a picture book illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, crossed our collective laps at this very opportune time.

The title character is raised by a bear, and early in the story he chooses to fight a dragon (“I will go myself if nobody better is to be found.”). The interesting thing is that his Mama Bear does not fight for him. She’s not that sort of mama bear.

She has raised him on bear milk (making him strong), and before his fight, she provides him with armor and weapons, but then he faces the dragon on his own.

I remembered the dragon that stalks me.

Recognizing that it was now going after my kids, my first response was fear, because I knew I would not be able to fight the dragon for them. Even if I had unlimited strength rather than my present weakness, there is not enough “environmental shaping” or help I can give them to keep the dragon away. It attacks from inside them.

Somehow I had to train them. I had to make them strong. And how could I do that when I can’t slay my own dragon?

(Read the whole article at Wyn Magazine)

What Women Want from the Church: to Celebrate Emotions

This piece should be read from the front of every church.

Not because every church is dismissive of emotion, but because every gathering of believers should proactively affirm the rightful place of emotion alongside learning, growth, and our aging human bodies: they are part of how we’ve been created, an important way we interact with the world and circumstances we’ve been given.

Without emotion we are less than God created us to be. To deny its role is to reject part of God’s plan.

By Becky Castle Miller via Elora Nicole.

What women want: for you to know we aren’t drunk.

Becky Castle Miller is the Managing Editor of Wyn Magazine (wynmag.com), providing resources and hope for mental and emotional healing. She and her husband, with their four kids, are American expats in the Netherlands, helping with an international church. She is part young executive and part five-year-old playing with kittens.

“Misanthropy Was so Much Easier.”

Flanderization is the process by which a legitimate, often fully developed, character becomes a parody of him- or herself.

I believe this is what has happened to the cultural perception of Sherlock Holmes.

John and SherlockHe is portrayed as a brilliant but socially and/or relationally irresponsible individual who redeems himself (reaches “likable character” status) through selective niceness. It seems to me that those who don’t identify directly with Holmes frequently do with Watson, and so any harshness or undiluted rudeness to others is glossed over. Sherlock (BBC iteration is freshest in my mind) has proven his worth by being willing to die for the few he loves.

That action is enough to redeem all his other faults, apparently.

Sherlock’s familiar attitude is well summed up in a painfully honest assessment of another admirer, Jane Eyre, speaking of her employer, Edward Fairfax Rochester.

RochesterHe was proud, sardonic, harsh to inferiority of every description: in my secret soul I knew that his great kindness to me was balanced by unjust severity to many others. He was moody, too; unaccountably so.

…I believed his moodiness, his harshness… had their source in some cruel cross of fate. I believed he was naturally a man of better tendencies, higher principles… I thought there were excellent materials in him; though for the present they hung together somewhat spoiled and tangled.

janeAs the more Sherlockian of the Watson/Holmes pair, and the more Jane of the Eyre/Rochester pairing, I see a great deal of personal indulgence on both sides.

First, you have an adoring subordinate who revels in the superiority of the other. This is an egotistical indulgence on the part of the writer who is (perhaps) an unacknowledged genius, creating a socially-acceptable display of their deepest hungers and wish-fulfillment.

Then, for Jane’s, or John’s (or Sherlock’s fans) part, they latch so much on to the selective kindness of a man “harsh to inferiority of every description” that they seem to let themselves be flattered at his mere acceptance. It is high praise to escape his harshness, and that awareness only magnifies the felt-kindnesses of a man who actively proves his ability to be kind when he wishes to.

An interesting thing about Sherlock’s kindness is that it is not so much overt choice (“I should be kind to this fellow creature”) as it is his form of need (he needs a mirror, a prism, a case, applause), creating a vacuum for another individual to fill. The reason he has so few connections in his world, so few deep friendships, is because he acknowledges so few needs.

The magic of John and Sherlock’s relationship is that they are both content with what the other is naturally willing to give. It is a nearly effortless exchange.

Most relationships require giving a bit more than we’re ready or comfortable to give, and that is why most relationships grow and shape us. But there’s no denying the rest of an unchallenging, natural friendship. Continue reading »

Defy (Reading Notes)

Fantasy and wish-fulfillment done well.

You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you.

— Eric Hoffer

Each book, movie and television show, we love reveals some of our own desires, hopes and fears.

Every story is a fantasy.

We don’t read fantasy (just) to escape reality. We read to experience a reality we understand to be true and can’t access as often as we wish for it.

The fantasy in this story is a girl becoming one of the Boyz while still maintaining her attractiveness and desirability, evidenced through the two good men who both honor her and value her skills.

(Full review with spoilers at Writing Hope.)

 

Alienated (Reading Notes)

Alienated (Alienated, #1)Laugh-out-loud funny and emotionally relatable.

Most of the time when teenagers feel alienated, it’s because they haven’t found their niche: they’re running in that in-between zone that doesn’t fit the cliques or stereotypes of their school or culture or region.

Cara, in contrast, is at the top of her game. She’s not driven by “the crowd” but she’s not self-isolated or socially inexperienced either. She’s got a workable plan for her future, and becoming a world-famous host can only help that plan.

It’s because of her personal drive and ambition, along with her killer public speaking skills (she’s captain of the debate team, too) that she’s considered the ideal host for an intergalactic exchange-student program. While her older brother goes to live on another planet, one of that planet’s young people comes to live in Cara’s home.

(Full review, with spoilers, at Writing Hope.)

Noveling Update

I have officially finished the first draft of my 2013 NaNo novel (Sherlockian Daze). Word count is just under 120K, and I did that in just under 5 months.

Which is a super-exciting first for me.

Next order of business is to finish last-last edits on Lindorm King.

I don’t remember if I’ve said here, but a friend of a friend did one last beta and gave me some very meaningful feedback:

I love it when people *get* my story:

“So, I had a bit of time on mine hands, took a look and then was thoroughly hooked. Meaning I read all 344 pages last evening.

I totally adore your women characters. They are strong, but not in the way that “Now I do stuff like the boyz” that so often gets mistaken for strength. I’m fascinated by how they struggle and try to cope with the roles their restrictive society cast for them.

Also, I wanted to hit Tykone over the head frequently for all his subconscious sexism. Very good job on that one, maybe one day a guy reads it and has a d’oh-moment.”

[This last, in particular, was an awesome affirmation to specify on her own: it was an experiment on my part, since I wasn’t sure it would even be recognized as sexism since it’s so “normal.”]

She also had some very useful structural feedback that was very meaningful. Moving back to revision is already proving to be a blast!

It was this reader who pointed out the main (male) character had the only name in the story of Celtic origin, so I’ve renamed him, and it’s going to be interesting as I reread/revise to see a familiar character with a different name.

That said, I started revisions this morning before the kids were up. Got through about 30 pages in an hour. At this rate the revision will take about 12 hours total, which seems painfully slow, since I can only count this as a minimum.

But… after 7.5 years, can I really complain about another 12 hours?

That thing about “momentum” is true. Once you get started, once you’ve proven to yourself what you can do, a lot of the sluggishness falls away.