Femonite Bites: April 14, 2014

It’s time to share a few of my favorite things heading into Holy Week. Apparently men around the blog-o-sphere were just writing some really great stuff this week. Enjoy!

Toddler E with some chickens.

Toddler E with some chickens.

Isaac Villegas on Misrepresenting Strangers and Jesus

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Important Post: How to Talk to Kids About Sexual Abuse

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Tyler Tully on the “Real Jesus”

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Drew Hart on White Supremacy and the Church

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Rod on what it means to really make space for people of color at Christian conferences

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This song, because it fits the season. Whole album here.

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That’s it for me. What would you add?

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Filed under Church, Life, Racism

What We Might Unintentionally Say When We Gather

Thanks to Eddie Gonzalez for this reminder that Anabaptism is a movement for all people.

Thanks to Eddie Gonzalez for this reminder that Anabaptism is a movement for all people.

Over the course of the last few years, I have been a part of more conversations than I care to admit and/or remember about Christian conferences, gatherings, conventions, etc. and why they lack diversity. Sometimes these conversations have been proactive, with planners asking from the beginning whether or not they are asking the right questions, whether or not their planning committee is representative of the voices they are hoping to see represented and what might contribute to making a space unsafe for some people. But more often than not these conversations have taken place after the fact, when publicity has been launched and an organization or group has come under fire for the lack of gender diversity, racial/ethnic diversity or a number of other factors.

Again, more times than I care to remember I’ve attended and/or been invited to events whose keynote lineup features 90% straight white men, perhaps with a woman or person of color thrown in at the very end to add some “flavor.” Too often these voices are added as afterthoughts to meet some unspoken “diversity quota” and to allow planners to feel like they’ve addressed the “diversity question.”

In truth, when I look at these posters or Facebook events or e-mail invitations, it’s hard to feel excited about attending these events. Why would I want to go some place where my voice – and the voices of other diverse people – are clearly not valued? If it’s true that so many of these gatherings are, in fact, wanting to wrestle with the future of Christianity and the church, then why do their panels reflect an outdated and harmful model of whose voices are valued?

I also realize that it is complex. As a cis-gendered white person myself, I carry a lot of privilege. And I sometimes wonder: when I receive invitations to write, to speak or to contribute, do I pause to think about who may or may not be at the table? Am I willing to turn down a good opportunity for myself to make space for a voice that’s not already represented in the conversation? I’d like to think the answer would be yes, but it’s hard. It’s hard to willfully walk away from the center or any glimmer of the spotlight, no matter how larger or small.

But what I do know is that our current reality is not acceptable. Anabaptism was certainly a movement that began in Europe, and therefore was, at its genesis, primarily composed of white Europeans. However, even then, Anabaptists were pushing the limits of what was acceptable and who could participate. Women were key leaders in the early church, and their stories are memorialized in books like the Martyrs Mirror right alongside the stories of males. But as our structures congealed and became more formal, perhaps so did our rules and our expectations about who and how was an acceptable participant. When our survival was not at stake, we had time to get down to the business of institutionalizing oppression and policing people’s bodies.

As a member of Mennonite Church USA, which is part of the Anabaptist fold, I know that we have worked long and hard to undo some of the legacies of this harm. And so much work still remains. We are not there yet. Unpacking the ways that “isms” are wound into our church will require constant vigilance. But we are taking steps forward. Sometimes they might feel like baby steps, but I believe we are moving. One of our churchwide priorities is a commitment to intercultural transformation.

So it pains me to see the Anabaptist name getting used as a promotional term for gatherings that seem to just repackage and reaffirm the same power structures that have been so harmful throughout all these many years.

Before I go too much further, let me just say: I know firsthand that planning conferences is hard work. I am not exempt. There have been times (recently, in fact!) when I have needed my teammates to call me out and to remind me that the ways I am working are based on privileged ways of knowing and being.

But I do want to offer at least a few suggestions:

  • Let’s find ways to celebrate difference. There is value in being united behind a common goal, but too often, we let unity become almost a spiritual end in itself. When Paul suggests that there is neither “Jew nor Greek nor slave nor free” I don’t think he was suggesting that we just ignore the different gifts we bring in order to be Christian. Christianity should not try to be a melting pot, which asks people to melt their distinctiveness down so that it can all be assimilated into some “dominant culture stew.” Instead, can we be a salad? Or a smorgasboard? Or something else that doesn’t have to be a food image? Can we recognize that to be together with the complexity and the beauty of our diversity on display is a gift from God?
  • Practically, when planning conferences, your planning committee must represent the people that you hope to see there. Naturally, when we’re excited about something, we want to draw in people from across our networks. But our networks can be limited by our social location, our geographic location, our interests, etc. So if a planning committee consists of a group of people who are all drawing from the same network or communities, it should be of absolutely no surprise when the gathering that they plan fails to reach beyond those boundaries or include diverse voices.
  • Nobody wants to feel like a token. There have been times when I’ve received an invitation and it’s been clear that the only reason I’ve been invited was to fill a quota, and not because the planners had any interest – and sometimes even knowledge – about who I am, what I do and what I care about. Nine times out of ten I’m going to turn an invitation like this down. I don’t want to be someone’s “get out of jail free card” or offer an easy rescue. If I’m included, I want it to be because the planners value having a feminist voice represented and are actively committed to undoing oppression.
  • It is not fair to invite speakers into a space that will not be safe for them. Too often, people invite one or two minority voices to be a part of an event that is largely run and populated by privileged voices, without giving any thought to how the culture of this particular gathering might feel confusing, threatening and downright unsafe to those people invited in. If there is internal work that needs to be done, it seems like planners or institutional leaders must do this ahead of time. It’s important to ask ourselves the question: what about this space and its assumed culture could be harmful? Where is power at play in violent ways? How must we make space?
  • Don’t use universal language to describe something particular. There may be times when a homogeneous gathering is called for. Maybe women want to get together to talk theology, maybe people of color need to be together in a safe space to talk, and maybe men want to get together to talk, too. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with this. But if we’re targeting one particular demographic, then we need to be really clear. For too long, whiteness has been synonymous with a universal subject. For instance, you don’t hear people talking about white theology or white movies or white literature. No. These things produced by and for white people are just called “theology,” “movies” and “literature,” without any qualifiers. This is damaging. And we should not perpetuate this with our gatherings. If we want to host an Anabaptist conversation, then it should represent at least some of the diversity found within Anabaptism. If we want to talk about the future of the church, how can we expect to come up with anything different when we’re only listening to the same people who have held institutional power in the past? Like I said, a gathering for a particular set of people is fine. It becomes a problem when this gathering happens under the guise of universal language which makes it seem like it’s representing a broad movement, when in fact it’s open only to particular conversation partners.
  • Nothing will change until privileged folks start saying no to being a part of oppressive gatherings. It’s true. Those of us who carry a lot of privilege must bear this weight. It is not enough to simply pull new people in if we are not willing to make space for them. As long as straight white men consent to speaking on panels full of other straight white men, and these sessions make money, nothing has to change. We have to vote with our dollars, with our time and with our energy. And sometimes this will mean stepping back and saying no. I’m preaching to myself here, too.

The truth is, it is hard. There will be no such thing as a perfect conference. We all need grace. But I have to believe that – if we’re listening for the movement of God’s Spirit — we’ll hear it calling us and challenging us to keep wrestling with these tough questions so that we might live into a better future together.

What would you add? What have you learned as you’ve tried to bring together groups of people for conversation? You might also be interested in these guidelines for healthy groups and gatherings developed by the Mennonite Church USA Racial Healing Task Group

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Filed under Anabaptism, Church

Four More Things Better Left Unsaid

Huh

It was not so long ago that I released a list of several questions that I felt should just be struck from the common lexicon. Since that time, a few more have risen to my attention, so here we go with round two. Anything else you’d add?

1. Anything referencing original sin, Eve and women in the same sentence. Really? Really? I’d like to think that this would just be common knowledge by now, but as I’ve witnessed in several recent conversations, the trope of Eve as the original susceptible sinner/temptress still carries quite a bit of weight in some Christian circles. So let’s clear the air on this one. This particular take on original sin and the creation narrative was developed by St. Augustine. I think anyone who has read St. Augustine knows that he had some sexual hang-ups. And the story he perpetuated have led to hundreds of years of abuse and mistreatment of women. Rather than reading the creation story as an allegorical exhortation to care for creation and to see the ways that God cares for us, we’ve turned it into a story about evil with the woman as its root. When you pull these examples out, you should know that many people, myself included, don’t hear it as neutral, but as a way to again marginalize people who are not male.

Instead, try: What’s your take on the creation story? How would you read that passage? and/or Simply affirming the gifts of the women around you.

2. Oh, is your baby/toddler/small child doing _______ yet? Again, this comes across differently when shared in conversation with friends who you know. But for some reason, when it comes to parenting, it’s never just the people you really know who want to get in on the action. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had in the past year that have gone something like this:

Stranger/Acquaintance: Hi. What a cute little girl? How old is she?

Me: Thanks. She’s 11 months old.

Stranger/Acquaintance: Oooo, so she must be walking all over the place, huh?

Me: Nope, not yet.

Stranger/Acquaintance: Huh, that’s funny. My son was walking by the time he was 10 months. I’m sure she’s fine…

You could insert talking, climbing, waving, and a handful of other developmental milestones into this same formula. Bottom line: almost never helpful. Because whenever you start a conversation like this with someone competitive and achievement-oriented like myself, there are only a few possible results: my child has achieved said milestone and we all feel good (Win!); my child has not achieved said milestone and now I’m worried (Fail); my child has not achieved said milestone and now I feel protective and defensive (Fail); my child has not achieved said milestone and now I feel like a parenting failure (Fail)… You get the point. The list could go on. Just don’t do it.

Instead, try: Wow, your child is really cute. I bet she’s learning a lot these days. What are some of the new things she’s been doing lately?

3. Hate the sin, love the sinner. I get that there is a loving impulse behind this. I really, really do. But I just think it’s so misguided and full of violence that it should never be used in polite conversation. Often when this phrase gets thrown around, there is a disagreement on what constitutes sin. And more often than not, this phrase gets thrown out when someone’s fundamental personhood or identity is being equated with sin. For instance, this phrase has been applied over the years to women feeling a call to ministry, divorced people, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and the list could go on. We may not all be able to agree, and I respect that, but I would hope that we could understand that this phrase is the direct opposite of loving. It’s equating a person with sin personified, and that is no way to start a “dialogue” or to show love.

Instead, try: Making space for open conversation with those with whom you disagree. It’s not about changing each other, but about hearing one another.

4. How can you handle being away from your child all the time? (to a parent working outside the home) Big sigh. Do I sometimes feel like I work too much? Yes. Do I sometimes feel like I miss things at home? Yes. Do I still appreciate the opportunity to have a career and feel like a pretty kickass parent at the same time? Yes. People parenting children make all sorts of choices. At its core, it seems like this was/is what feminism was supposed to be about: validating everyone’s right and access to a broad range of choices. In our family right now, Justin is home with Ellie during the days while I’m at work. But I still flex my hours two mornings a week to be home with my daughter, and I’ve taken her on 85% of my work trips over the past year and a half. And even if I didn’t do those things, it would not make me a “bad mom.” There’s frankly enough mommy guilt to go around, so let’s help support each other by respecting each other’s choices and not asking questions that are pre-loaded with judgment.

Instead, try: Acts of love and support to help parents juggle it all.

So there you have it. All snarkiness aside, I think these are phrases we could do without. Anything else you would add?

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Filed under Relationships

Femonite Bites: March 29, 2014

Six Things Worth Checking Out This Week

New Nickel Creek Music: Stream it Live (Before you can buy it!) and then pre-order your own copy

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Face Palms and Heartbreak re: World Vision: Thoughts from Timothy, Tony, and Rachel

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An April Albuquerque event that you should put on your calendar

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This sweet baby

2014-03-22 14.48.56

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This sermon by Nadia Bolz-Weber

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This info-graphic

EducateNotIncarcerate

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Filed under Life

Book Review: Disunity in Christ

ChristenaClevelandRecently, mega-blogger Rachel Held Evans announced – after reading Christena Cleveland’s book, Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart, that this was a book that every Christian needed to read. And I could not agree with her more.

That does not mean that this was an easy reading experience. In truth, I have 29-years as a bossy know-it-all oldest child under my belt, as well as a good-sized dose of personalized righteous indignation, and a graduate school degree where deconstruction was the norm. But, as one of my professors reminded us, “You all are good may be good at deconstruction, but it is much more difficult and powerful if you can reclaim and construct something new within your argument, instead of just tearing other arguments down.” Touché.

Anyway, I give all this background to say that – as I began to read this book – I found myself acting in defensive ways. I would think to myself, “I get what she’s saying, but that’s not me.” or “Yes, I know a lot of people who do things like this, but I’m not one of them.” This list could go on and on.

But – while reading this book I had a very clear “aha moment” – where I realized that I was reacting this way primarily because so much of what Cleveland says hit home. I was getting defensive, because, if I was a nail, it would have been like she was smacking me right on the head.

What makes this book so powerful (and what should recommend it as required reading for all those who claim the label Christian) is that Cleveland is trained as a social psychologist. So she doesn’t just have to talk about behaviors that she has observed from one community to another, but she can present well-researched scholarship about how humans react in general, whether Christian or not. This means that she can speak from a place of both distance and intimate awareness of the things that she’s naming.

ChristenaCleveland2Cleveland’s premise is pretty simple: we as the body of Christ are becoming increasingly polarized and disagreeable, and this is harming us and killing the church and its witness. This idea is probably not new to anyone who has dipped their toe into so-called “church politics” over the course of the last 20-30 years. Trends would show that – in general- many denominations in the United States mirror the polarized two-party political system we’re also a part of, and that church is still50 years after Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a Dream” speech, one of the most segregated hours of the week.

There’s a lot of good stuff in Cleveland’s book, but here were some of the things that I found most powerful:

  • Ingroup and outgroup distinctions - Cleveland notes that there are some good societal reasons why it’s very natural for us to categorize people and groups. It helps us to know how to respond to people, and it can help us to conserve social energy. She uses the example of walking into a restaurant and being greeted by a host: for most middle to upper class folks, we know something about how we should behave in relationship to this person and what we should expect. This saves us energy, because we don’t need to recalibrate anytime we walk into a restaurant. But problems arise when we categorize other individuals or groups and make assumptions about what we think we know about them, especially when we somehow use these categories to separate ourselves from them. Cleveland notes that even (and perhaps especially) within churches, this can lead to a lot of us vs. them thinking, rather than working at problem solving in ways that make it clear “we’re in this together.”
  • The Gold Standard - Cleveland suggests that – when we define ourselves against another group – we are very likely to exaggerate the differences between “us and them.” This can lean to an ever widening gap between groups, as well as a sort of self-satisfied sense that, whatever group we are a part of is the “gold standard” or the best of the best. This often means we are fundamentally unable or unwilling to listen to one another and sometimes miss out on what Cleveland calls “life-giving information.”
  • Self-Esteem, Group Membership and Bias - Cleveland suggests that a lot of our identity and self-esteem can come to be tied up within the groups that we are a part of. This means that – when we encounter people or groups who are different than ours – it is so easy to move into a defensive and protective mode. Not only are we protecting our groups, but we are protecting ourselves and our fundamental sense of self-worth and belonging. She suggests that, before we engage in any conversation where we know that the ways we view the world and our fundamental biases will be challenged, we should pratice some self-affirmation, reminding ourselves that we and those we come into contact with are made in the image of God and beloved.

Thankfully, Cleveland is also not saying that groups or distinctive cultural identities are not important and should just be subsumed. But she is challenging all those of us who are Christian to be willing to find a broader, shared identity as the Body of Christ, and to find ways to stay at the table and work together in ways that are respectful and loving. She challenges us all to begin crossing borders and engaging crossculturally, just as Christ did.

However, she also cautions that this type of movement does not hold the same risk for all of us.

She writes, “Positive cross-cultural interactions only work if both groups enjoy equal status. Here’s the thing: not all divisions are created equal. Some divisions occur between two equal-status groups that simply disagree on an issue they deem important. However, other divisions (e.g. divisions across racial, gender or class lines) occur between groups that do not share equal status. In fact, in many cases, the divisions are the result of the higher-status group systemically oppressing the lower-status group.”

Cleveland goes on to note that there is much more risk involved for historically oppressed groups engaging in this kind of work. For those of us, like myself, who wield a lot of privilege, we need to figure out how to unpack that before we take off on any cross-cultural venture, no matter how well-intentioned (another good example here is Cleveland’s recent blog post regarding urban ministry).

And this is where I would have loved to read more.  I think unpacking power dynamics in the church could be a whole book unto itself, rather than a few chapters at the end, because for me, this is the crux of the issue. How can we engage each other well? How can we do the important work of naming and dismantling oppressive power structures, so that we are truly able to embrace one another in love as fellow followers of Christ? (Christena, if you happen to be reading this, maybe here’s a topic for your next book? I’d love to read further thoughts on this!)

But, suffice it to say, Disunity in Christ is packed with information and observations that I needed to hear and that the church also needs desperately. I would urge you to run out  and pick up your own copy ((or sit on your couch and push “buy”) today!

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Filed under Church, Racism, Theology

Book Review: Ordinary Miracles

Newsflash: Parenting is not easy. This news comes as a surprise to no one who has participated in the hard work of raising RachelSGchildren. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably keep saying it: no one could have described to me just how much my life would change post-child. Sometimes I think back on myself during pregnancy – blissfully snapping “belfies” (belly selfies), sorting clothes, prepping a nursery, and writing out a birth plan – and utterly unaware of how my life was going to flip upside down.

No one can describe to you the ways that deep love, chaos, frustration and worry can all co-mingle into a crazy emotional cocktail in those first days and weeks (and maybe even years?!) after your child springs the womb or is adopted into your family or just walks into your home. And frankly, I’m the mother of only one tiny human. I have no idea how those miraculous parents who tote around multiples do it.

This is one of the many reasons I love Rachel Springer Gerber’s new book, Ordinary Miracles: Awakening to the Holy Work of Parenting. In this book, she totally normalizes the crazy. She shares openly and honestly about the chaos that is parenting three boys. She talks about long days, and even longer sleepless nights (in truth, as I’ve been sitting down to write this post, my now 18-month old daughter has awoken twice after going to bed, in need of comfort and snuggle time). Gerber does not pretend for one minute that motherhood is not hard, hard work.

But she also acknowledges that it’s a beautiful mess. that often in the midst of the most crazy moments, God – often through yourOrdinaryMiracles children – can smack you in the face with such great love. With – as Gerber says – the miraculous couched in the ordinary.

Throughout the book, Gerber weaves in passages from Luke 24 – the story that follows the disciples on the Road to Emmaus as they encounter Jesus. She acknowledges that ways that sometimes we are so “in the thick of it” that we fail to see God/Jesus/the miraculous in our midst.

Perhaps the most poignant meditation or reminders for me were that God seeks us in the midst of any chaos and that we are beautiful and enough, just as we are. Perhaps it’s just simply the reminder that I’m not alone. That God and a whole broad community of struggling parents journey alongside me, through the mundane highs and lows of each and every day.

Gerber writes,

This is exactly why I am ever so grateful for the moments that God breaks into my ordinary and breathes grace over me. For in moments like this, when the Spirit opens my eyes, it instantly reorients, restores and renews. It reminds me that life is good and that children are such gifts. Yes, they are busy and messy — but it is because they capture the zest of life and explore the world with curiosity. 

I pray for God to forgive me, for I am so slow of heart. I pray that God will keep surprising me in these ordinary moments of the holy work I do, so I can get up and put one foot in front of another and do it again. Today. And tomorrow. An the day after that. 

Gerber has given us a book that invites us to sniff out the holy in the midst of the ordinary. A book that challenges us to choose gratitude. To choose to remember and name our blessings. To celebrate the miraculous gift that is this parenting journey, even when our floors are unswept, toys little the floor and sleep is hard to come by.

If you want to read more from Rachel Springer Gerber, you can visit her blog, Everything Belongs. Or read her past post on The Femonite. 

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Filed under Parenthood, Spirituality

Femonite Bites: March 15, 2014

This week, I’ll just leave you with eight things worth checking out, in no particular order:

1. The only version of “Let it Go” that I may ever like

2. These reflections from Vern Rempel

3. This movie (Veronica Mars!)

4. Some reasons men should care more about work-life balance

5. This. 

"Our deepest fear..."-- we have to read the whole plague to get the essence of the message, so often we just glance at something and then think "oh that's nothing" or "anybody knows that !

6. This interview

7. Mental health and the academy

8. This picture (so much yogurt, so much joy)

2014-03-14 19.35.39

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Living Lent

Wilderness - Fractal Art

Wilderness – Fractal Art

Well, if you are a liturgically minded person, you likely know that Lent really started almost a week ago. The really good and with it bloggers were probably actually writing about the start of Lent way back then. Because really – in the blog-o-sphere – being five days late means that maybe you shouldn’t even write at all, you’re so passé.

The past few years I dove into writing and thinking about Lent. I wrote posts about what I was giving up and what I was making space for. Or my squeamishness about the “blood of Jesus.” But the point is: I wrote things. There were things that came to mind.

This year, I had sort of intended to do the same, but a couple things happened. First, Lent snuck up on me. I mean, seriously, where did February go?! But secondly, whenever I began to think about how I wanted to mark this particular season, I’d hit a mental block. Nothing seemed quite right. I’d think of creative ideas, but my heart wasn’t in them. And I’ve been trying out yoga and evening meditation and weird eating fasts as part of a month-by-month challenge to mark my 30th year of life.

As I’ve tried to unpack why exactly nothing has seemed to stick this particular season, I’ve come to the realization that sometimes a weird thing happens. Sometimes the state of my soul can seem to sync up neatly with the liturgical calendar. And it’s not that I’ve been programmed this way by years of high church liturgy, either. While Mennonites do tend to mark seasons like Advent and Lent, the churches of my childhood, adolescence and young adult years have sort of taken a laissez faire approach to these church seasons. There have been worship resources and such, but the actual ebb and flow of the seasons can take on distinctly different flavors from year to year.

So it’s not that there’s anything particularly embedded in my psyche about Lent. But I’m realizing that this year, for whatever reason, I seem to understand the rhythm of Lent on a different level than I have before. I sort of feel its flavor seeping into my pores.

This is a season that is supposed to be about letting go. About releasing things. About repenting. And most of all, about making space through all of these actions to encounter God. Although I haven’t always been intentional about seeking God, this year has certainly been one where the discipline of letting go has been at the forefront of my thoughts.

Here’s a truth: I’ve never been good at transitions. I like to get to a place and sink my roots down fast and deep. The extrovert in me (back in the day, I tested 100% extrovert on the Myers-Briggs test…although I think I’ve mellowed since then) has a deep need to feel connected and a part of a community, in whatever form. And, given all of these things, I really hate having to pull roots up. I hate not knowing what becomes of the relationships that you leave behind. Will they survive a transplant? Will they still find a way to flower, even when the attention that you give comes from a distance and less frequently?

This year – full of moves and job transitions and learning to parent a toddler who has decidedly strong opinions and surprise surgeries – has been a study in what it means to let things go. To realize on a really deep level that there’s only so much space in my head and heart and body to clutch things tightly. This year, the discipline of letting things go is not something that I needed Lent to remind me of; it has been the stuff of my daily life.

Almost exactly one year ago, I offered a sermon at Trinity Mennonite Church in Phoenix that reflected on the meaning of Jesus’ wandering in the wilderness. And I spoke these words:

“I think that if we reduce the wilderness experience to something that must be raced through, then we are missing a profound spiritual opportunity. So, as we enter this season of Lent, let’s remember that these 40 days – these days spent remembering what it is like to wander and wait in the wilderness – are actually about grace. They are certainly about suffering and seeking direction, too, but the reason that we “give things up for Lent” or take this time out to remember, is not so that we can attain access to any one specific path or find a way to some seemingly unattainable form of perfection. It’s to make space in our lives for a new inbreaking of God. To step back from the paths that seem prescribed for us and find the freedom that can perhaps only come when we are brave enough to forge ahead into the unknown – into the wilderness – and prepare to meet God.” 

Little did I know how profoundly I would need to remember these words for myself. That these times of not knowing what comes next or exactly where we’re going and what it will be like, are also times of profound possibility. So I may not be giving anything up or adding any new spiritual practice this year, but I’m still living into Lent, just in a more “enfleshed” way than usual. And I hear Krista Dalton’s reminder to remember that it is a privilege to be able to think about giving things up and not simply surviving, and this is a truth I need to carry with me as well.

This poem from Jan Richardson in honor of last year’s Ash Wednesday seems just about right:

Blessing the Dust
A Blessing for Ash Wednesday

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

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Filed under Church, Life

Femonite Bites: March 9, 2014

Well, better late than never, right? Here’s what’s been on my radar this week. Anything you’d add or give a shout out to?

Things I’m Reading in Print

It’s been all about the Pulitzer’s this week. And, in a rare show of reading form, I’ve knocked out two novels in one week. Both are excellent and worth reading:

Olive Kitteridge - Glimpses of a life told through short stories. Packs a powerful punch in a short read.

A Summons to Memphis - A tale from the deep south of a woefully un-self-aware middle aged man and his family as they deal with the impending second marriage of their widowed father. A fascinating portrait of the way families wound and care for one another.

Things I’m Reading Online

A beautiful poem: “Please can I have a God not fossilized, hardened, stiff, unshaken, not contained in creeds and testimonies, judgments and stone tablets, but in the wound breaking open.”

Yet another reason to love Anna Kendrick:  her Oscar online diary

My husband, Justin, started a blog about his epic book list. Check it out!

An interview with Sister Elizabeth Johnson, author of She Who Is

A good reminder from Jennifer Yoder that the language we use is never neutral

Krista Dalton on When Lenten Fasting is a Privilege

The “I, Too, Am Harvard” Campaign

39 Shirts Feminists Won’t Feel Guilty Buying

IWDquote

Other Things Making My Life Better this Week

(Too many) of these chocolate peanut butter cups

DarkChocolatePBCups

This song from Janelle Monae

I can’t even describe how beautiful this birth video is.

Favorite Toddler Snapshot O’ the Week

2014-03-09 17.30.07

We learned to blow (or sometimes eat) bubbles!

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Filed under Feminism, Life

Question and Answer Time with Dr. Monica Coleman

Dr. Monica ColemanOne of the things I’ve wanted to do more of on this blog is to interview people who I consider (s)heroes/mentors/inspiring folk. There is a lot to be learned from sitting down and talking with people I admire. This point continues to be driven home to me. So when one of my former graduate school professors, Dr. Monica Coleman, approached me about hosting a “blog conversation”, I was flattered and it seemed like a good fit.

Dr. Coleman is gearing up to host an online reading group during Lent that will study her devotional guide, Not Alone: Reflections on Faith and Depression (if you’re interested, check out the book trailer which features the other half of the Heinzekehr household). If you are interested in joining this reading group, more information can be found here. Also, note that readers of this blog are eligible to enter a raffle to win a chance to participate in this reading group free of charge. You can find more details and enter the raffle following the interview.

Here’s a few fast facts that you might want to know about Dr. Coleman:

  • She is Associate Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies at Claremont (Calif.) School of Theology.
  • She is an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Dr. Coleman has earned degrees at Harvard University, Vanderbilt University and Claremont Graduate University.
  • She has been featured as an expert in religion and mental health on NPR, blogtalkradio, BeliefNet.com, PsychCentral.com, Huffington Post and HuffPo Live.
  • You can follow her blog on faith and depression at www.BeautifulMindBlog.com.
  • She is the author or editor of five books, including Not Alone

And here’s one more fun fact for you: it was in Dr. Coleman’s class on “becoming a public scholar” where I was given the assignment to start a blog and post on it once a day for one whole month. I entered this assignment begrudgingly, but almost two years later, The Femonite blog is still alive and kicking. Who knew?

But enough intro stuff, let’s dive into our “blog-versation.”

Hannah: Talk a little bit about the reason you wrote Not Alone.

Dr. Coleman: Toni Morrison says, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I wrote NOT ALONE because it was the book I wanted, the book I needed. I often have difficulties finding devotional literature that I like, and there is very little written about being faithful while living with depression. Living with depression has been one of the biggest challenges to my faith, but I couldn’t find other people with whom to talk about this; little to read.  So I started writing about it.

Who do you hope will discover and read this book?

Originally, I thought of this book as being for other people who live with depressive conditions – unipolar and bipolar depressions.  But I also think this book is meaningful for people who love people who live with depression.  It can be meaningful for people like therapists or clergy who serve people who live with depression.  I think it can give a window into how we often feel, how we wrestle.

You are both a pastor and a public academic scholar. How do you feel like both of these arenas talk (or don’t talk) about depression?

I think many clergy are doing a better job of addressing depression. Yes, there are many clergy who still say negative things about depression. Many clergy imply that depression comes from a lack of gratitude or faith. But many clergy are also well-trained in pastoral care and they can give very sympathetic responses.  I don’t feel like the academy talks about depression enough. There are a lot of articles about the post-tenure let-down and there are increasing articles about the challenges of adjunct faculty (including attendant depression), but not much about academics living with depression.  I think there is still a lot of stigma out there.  After all, depression affects the mind and the academy is supposed to be “the life of the mind.”  It’s hard to admit something might be wrong with our minds.  When I wrote an article in Inside Higher Ed about facing tenure with depression, the responses suggested that few academics had heard this experience enough.

Was it easier to be open and honest about depression in one setting vs. another?NotAloneCoverFINAL

I find it easier to be open about depression in church settings. I am probably more vulnerable in churches in general.  Because faith is so close to my heart and so close to who I am.  Within the academy, there are still so many ways that my reputation matters – promotions, fellowships, committees, appointments, etc.  I feel more … guarded.

What are some of the worst things that people can say to someone with depression?

I’ll respond with some of the things that I have heard:

“Just get over it” / “Suck it up”

“Depression is a tool of the enemy (i.e. devil)”

“All things work together for the good of those who love God”

“Everything happens for a reason”

“Did you pray about it?”

Any key cautions that you’d offer to people?

Don’t say those things.

Fair enough! On the flip side, what’s helpful?

Saying these things:

“I’ll keep you in my prayers.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

Any recommendations for how individuals or congregations or communities can care for those living with depression?

Yes.  I actually wrote a blog about it: 10 ways you can pray for people living with mental illness

Here are three:

  • Donate money to a mental health advocacy organization like National Alliance on Mental Illness, Depression Bipolar Support Alliance or Mental Health America.
  • Bring a meal (or order food delivery) for someone who you know or suspect is depressed.
  • Drop by and take a walk with someone who you know or suspect is depressed. 

You’re a theologian. How do you see God fitting into all of this? How has living with depression shaped your theology?

Funny you should ask that. I wrote an article for Jesus, Jazz and Buddhism about that featured on Monday, March 3rd.  The short answer – living with depression helped make me a process theologian.

You’re also a public figure. How do you balance what you share publicly about this journey and what you keep private? Talking about your own journey with depression is obviously very personal, so what limits or boundaries do you place on the conversation?

It’s scary. I resisted writing about and talking about it for a long time because it makes me so vulnerable. I usually write about depression issues after I’m experiencing them. (For example, I’m writing about depression during pregnancy now that my daughter is 18 months old.)  It’s really hard for me to write or speak or be creative while I’m depressed.  When I do write about it, part of me imagines that no one is reading what I write. This helps me feel better about it. So I’m always a little surprised when people talk to me about things I’ve written. I try to write about myself and how I feel – without involving much detail about people around me. I also don’t write or talk about depression academically. I know a lot about depression and I try to stay up on the news, but I’m not a researcher in this area. For me, this is ministry. So when I feel like writing about talking about it can help other people, then I’m a lot less scared.

Monica A. Coleman is hosting an online reading group this Lent through her book, Not Alone.  Participation includes the eBook of Not Alone, daily inspirational emails, vegan recipes (for those who may give up meat), a resource list and a weekly conference call with the author. Learn more information here. Readers of this blog are eligible for a raffle for one FREE participation. Click the link below to enter the giveaway. Winner will be chosen randomly and notified with 48 hours of the end of the raffle.

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Filed under Spirituality, Theology