I’m Baaacck….

Hello again, blog world. Summer is officially over, classes have started, we’ve moved to another city/state, and my need for writing/reflecting time is back! I’ll be writing more regular entries on this site again and adding more content as time allows; for now there is some updated info on the author page and a new page with a link to some photos.

Last weekend I stayed at my parent’s house one night in between various other events going on with friends and family. I went jogging the next morning in the neighborhood that I grew up in and was struck by how strange it felt to trace the same route I had run since I was in middle school (we called it junior high back then). I knew each curve on the road so well, where the slight incline would begin after the stop sign, which few blocks to add on by the Mormon church to extend the distance another half a mile – it was so familiar. And part of me felt overwhelmed by the sameness, the repetition, the coming back to the same route – it’s been over fifteen years of running that route! Now, as I retrace those cement sidewalks, I am even slower then I once was and my calves burn sooner then they did as a teenager. I started to wonder if I was making the opposite of progress; if I was stuck running the same route, unable to keep up the time I once could, and falling behind.

Lately I feel a little like that about my life as a whole. I am not sure if it’s due to getting closer to being thirty years old, gaining sharper vision on just how much work I still have to complete to earn this PhD, or if it’s the inevitable reframing that happens from various transitions in life. It’s not a negative feeling necessarily, but the thought has crossed my mind that I am re-running the same routes in my life, working on the same issues I always have, feeling slower in some ways instead of like I’ve conquered or improved or overcame those cracks in the sidewalk. Then I realized that this feeling betrays my faulty assumptions that everything in life is supposed to go faster, become easier, be different and new, or be ‘done’ in some way. I know many greeting cards and fridge magnets say that life is supposed to be a journey not a destination – but at least for me, I tacitly expect to be growing, moving, changing, improving, and arriving – somewhere! And then it hit me – I am growing. My time huffing through the neighborhood back to the driveway might take longer, my Asics might rub blisters on my feet faster, but I am different – so different – then I was when I ran that same route fifteen, ten, even two years ago. As C.S. Lewis points out, even though each person often re-encounters the same issues, questions, and matters of faith throughout her life, she comes to them in a different way. Instead of marching up a staircase toward our victorious progress in Christ, Lewis suggests that we continually spiral upward, moving and growing and changing, but maybe coming round to the same questions or inclines that we always have, maybe not ascending quite as quickly as a direct stairway might. My husband says that too – between Clive and Peter, two wise men I admire, I’ve decided it must be true.

So I’ve decided to declare – world, I am back. Back in a city that I love, but missing a town that grew on my heart. Back in academia, where I am still encouraged even as it overwhelms me. Back asking questions about meaning and priorities and relationships and my possible role to play in the church and in the world. Back with some of my favorite people in the world, missing some of my other favorites. Back doing things that I love and still struggling to keep balance. I am back, but I am not the same; neither am I done yet. I am back slapping that same pavement as hard as I can, bringing the old and the new me along the spiral journey.

Imperfect, ordinary freedom

Below is a lenten reflection from ‘The Project on Lived Theology’ that I enjoyed. I preached last weekend on a similar topic from the lectionary texts about relying on faith through grace, not our own works, and how starting from a place of being broken, flawed, and imperfect can actually be what frees us in the church to do ministry – and love others who are broken and flawed. I think this idea of claiming and starting out in a posture of being ordinary, being imperfect, just trying to do our best, but ultimately reliant on God to do much of anything – this is part of the journey of Lent. It’s a freeing reminder, that instead of the lie that we need to know it all or be better or do more, we need God for all good that we do. It is okay to be flawed – and that truth and that freedom helps us be who we are, and also reminds us to let God be God.

Here is another reflection on next week’s reading, in a similar vein:

“Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were buying and selling there.” Matthew 21:12

“We read in the Gospel how Holy Week began with Jesus entering the temple and driving out all those who bought and sold. He rebuked the vendors of doves; ‘Get these things out of here!’ He was so crystal clear in his command that it was as if he said, ‘I have a right to this temple and I alone will be in control of it.’

What does this have to say to us? The temple God wants to be master of is the human soul, which he created and fashioned just like himself. We read that God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image.’ And he did it. He made each soul so much like himself that nothing else in heaven or on earth resembles him so much. That is why God wants the temple to be pure, so pure that nothing should dwell there except he himself…

But who, exactly, are the people who buy and sell? Are they not precisely the good people? See! They strive to be good people who do their good deeds to the glory of God, such as fasting, watching, praying and the like–all of which are good–and yet do these things so that God will give them something in exchange…

Lest we forget, we do what we do only by the help of God, and so God is never obligated to us. God gives us nothing and does nothing except out of his own free will. What we are we are because of God, and what we have we receive from God and not by our own contriving….

Jesus went into the temple and drove out those that bought and sold. His message was bold: ‘Take this all away!’ But observe that when all was cleared, there was nobody left but Jesus. And when he is alone he is able to speak in the temple of the soul.”
– Meister Eckhart (ca. 1260-1327)

Are Women Human?

I’ve decided that being/becoming an authentic woman is a full-time job. Not to say that men do not have their share of cultural roles to overcome, social norms to redefine, and expectations that can be debilitating; but becoming a woman is my role in life, and I am constantly amazed at how complex it is. As I get older, it feels like there are any number of dualistic decisions forced in my path; are you relational or career-oriented, soft-spoken or confident, gracious or firm, judgmental or open, spiritual or secular (whatever that means), organized or fun-loving? Why can’t I be all of these things – not all at once, not all the time, not everything to everybody (which is another idea that most women have to fight off), but all of these things – as much as they are me, when they fit my context, when it fits my true feelings, choices, and calling?

I came across this quote from D.H. Lawrence this week and it stuck in my head as a sharp image of what women have to fight against to be authentic: “Man is willing to accept woman as an equal, as a man in skirts, as an angel, a devil, a baby-face, a machine, an intrument, a bosom, a womb, a pair of legs, a servant, an encyclopedia, an ideal or an obscenity; the one thing he won’t accept her as is a human being, a real human being of the feminine sex.” I would add that, sadly, this rhetoric comes from many audiences – from expectations of both men and of other women. One of the most unhealthy realities that I have noticed myself fighting against is how some women sabotage or wish harm on other women as part of a culture of comparing and competition; whether its passive and in “catty” forms, or in direct and mean attacks, women should reject this message that we don’t want others to do well or succeed or “have it all.” I think its another part of the limited dualistic ideas that most women have to fight against; we are tempted to resent women who seem to cross barriers that we thought we couldn’t ourselves.

Last night Peter and I saw the new film version of “Pride and Prejudice,” and watched the heroine Elizabeth (we share names as well as some formative personality traits), struggle to incorporate her many loves for family, fun, wisdom, and independence in a reality that tried to narrowly define her into someone else. Instead of being married off to an influential cousin, cow-towing before a wealthy woman’s critiques of her upbringing, or feeling ashamed of her family when compared with the style of wealthy visitors, Elizabeth is fiercely loyal, gracious, funny, loving, forgiving, fun-loving, wise, articulate, and of course – proud. I was struck that she was rarely rude or demanding; she still adapted who she was in order to help others, be appropriate to the social context she was in, and she chose to sacrifice for family and friends repeatedly. But she also rejected some ideas forced on her from family and her cultural world, she said her opinions and stated her differences, and she was not afraid or shaped by what others expected her to be – she remained fully who she was even as she adjusted herself for others. Maybe that is the role of all of humanity; being fully who we are alongside others being fully who they are, knowing that our spoken and unsaid wants, judgments, thoughts, opinions, boundaries, wishes, regrets and actions all affect each other. For Elizabeth, being fully herself shocked many others, but made her stand out as such a beautiful person; she voraciously read, danced for hours into the early morning, enjoyed tight relationships with other women, respected and was affectionate with her father, responded to critique with wisdom, supported others, stood up for herself, and loved her flawed family. She also accepted appropriate criticism and did not hesitate to say when she was wrong, she had mis-judged Darcy, and when she was changing the limits she had put around the value of marriage. I identified with this part of the show in particular, as it reminds me of my journey (strange to some), of having to admit my unfair judgments about others, my fears about losing my identity in marriage, and my worries about the future going a certain way as no longer valid. It is scary to be wrong – and also very liberating to grow, change, mess up, and reconcile with others who you trust so that you can see who the “real you” is on the other side of it all.

Being an authentic woman is at once a very human, and almost a super-human, feat.