Saturday, May 7, 2022

Faint of Heart

I felt it like the wave-crash of thunder more than I heard it: worthiness is not vanity. 

It took its time in coming to me, a long drawn out delay between sight and sound. The coming as heavy as air before the storm, the arrival unruly as first sheets of rain. Poured from the cupped hands of heaven on the evil and the good. 

All the things withheld by people too small to recognize their sins. Too vain to see their own worth. Withheld from me because I am or am not __________. Fill in your blanks. 

Worthiness smells like vanity to those who deny their own worth. Walking in the other-world of worthiness, sunlight touches upon all the ways you've been robbed. For a while, it sets everything ablaze, the hunger for fullness. For a while, a crying in my quietest places. Then lightning strikes: no hunger, no robbery, no fire, no sorrow, and no vanity unshake the worthiness born in you. 

Purple Iris by Dave Mills 

a woman on mother's day when roe v wade died. a lightning strike pulled from Robert Jones Jr.'s The Prophets. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Female Energy in the Garden of Edena

The iconic graphic novelist Jean Giraud wrote a series called The World of Edena over the span of about 18 years. In his notes about his process, he wrote: 

I purposefully left several points obscure in my story... These obscure areas are like reservoirs of imagination that my unconscious mind creates now for me to explore later. When I try to find my own interpretations, I feel like a witch doctor reading the future in the entrails of an animal.... There are some things I drew in this story whose importance I will discover in the months and years to come...The project will change according to my own evolution. I established some plot developments that exceed my current skills, and that's very interesting to me because, if I want to get to the bottom of this story, I will have to go over my own head. I will have to work and grow up.

I love this idea as an artist, but also as a person committed to growth in a trajectory not completely controlled by myself. I've wanted to write for most of my life, but only settled into the idea a few years ago that what I have to say isn't ready yet because the parts of me that need to come together in order to say it are still forming. I still get impatient, but I'm excited for the writer in me that is learning to speak.

Even more recently, it's begun to dawn on me that the realm of the physical is something I've been experiencing since I became conscious, and yet I feel myself just waking up to it. I am late to considering my own body. She has taken good care of me, and I've been lucky enough to take that for granted. So much so that I rarely associate my self with my body. I think of myself as composed of a body, a mind, and a spirit. I identify my sense of self mostly with my mind. 

As I've started to pay closer attention to my body, not only do I have new questions, but I've found that body, mind, and spirit are more connected than I knew. My body is both familiar and puzzling. I've come at this study-of-self through the practice of rest and the rhythm of my period. 

Sometimes I can't tell if my body is changing or if it's my awareness that's changed. Leading up to a recent period, I felt strange for about a week. At first it was a boiling at my core that persisted with a manic ferocity. The timing of my period is consistent, but the feelings - physical and emotional and perhaps even spiritual - that orbit my period are diverse from month to month in their presentation and intensity. That can make it difficult to decipher whether it's "just PMS" or something else. But as I want to explore, a flippant explanation of "just PMS" is itself a symptom of cultural fear and ignorance, and our tendency to splinter the body, mind, and spirit. 

The days surrounding my period often give me a dual-minded experience. It's not a true out of body experience, but I often get the sense that my self is bigger than me during my period. This might just be an increased awareness of the interplay of the aspects of self, since it is easier for me to see one thread through my body, mind, and spirit during my period. I'm still me, but it also feels like I'm looking at me. I see myself as both fragile and powerful, and potentially dangerous. I carry around my own psyche as if it were a deadly weapon, protecting it from the outside, and protecting the outside from it. 

But even the language of weapons betrays how ingrained the idea of danger or volatility is in the way we view some functions of the female body. Some people reclaim this idea of danger into power, but reclamation or realization needs to be more than mere reaction. There is still an attitude (I know because I often share it) that the intensity I experience or exhibit surrounding my period is a uniquely female malfunction and results in emotion or action that needs to be apologized for. I have an urge to protect and contain myself during my period, but ultimately I want to learn to be in harmony with that energy that I can't yet define, instead of hiding it. 

The humming intensity of my period hormones (that I experience mostly as unpleasant) wears me like a cloak for several days. It's not simply a heightened reaction to ideas or circumstances. It's a thing that comes from me but also hunches over me. I can see its shape, but I can't make it obey me. I tremble at its voltage, but also it is thrilling. Because it's not a demon, but it is energy that is bigger than I know how to harness. It gives me a sense of self that isn't fully in my control. 

Something that interests me about this feeling is that I occasionally sense other women, usually older women, who radiate this energy in a stable form. They've harmonized with it. Rather than a cloak engulfing them, they wear this aura in beautiful, sweeping capes. It doesn't surprise me that women with this aura are feared or praised as spiritual. To be in harmony with your full self and what is beyond yourself - to be at peace in chaos - requires mastery. Or to experience lack of harmony and not be destroyed, but adapt - that also requires mastery. It's a state of neither mind over matter nor matter over mind, but a balance of the two of which the self is an expression, not the orchestrator. It's not a subjugation of energy but a harmony with it.

by Jean "Moebius" Giraud

What's daunting about trying to grow in this ability to harmonize is that the flow of energy fluctuates. When my period ends and the ferocity hibernates, in its place is a yawning valley of tension. Not a high strung tension, but a humming tension.  If I sit very still, I can feel my core humming, like a gear shaft. This hum consistently leads me to write because that is one of the tools I have for resolving tension. 

Some cultures sequester women during their periods, and I never can decide whether I'd like that. Sometimes I'd like to be alone, but not banished. I like to be cared for, though I'm not ill or somehow diminished. I think the cultural current that leans toward hiding or shaming unbridled female hormones are particularly strong surrounding menopause. I'm not immune to the feeling of fear and something more negative toward menopause and women experiencing it. I get the sense that women experiencing menopause feel the same way. But it's not the body breaking, it's the body working. So there must be a way to honor that, and even celebrate it. 

Isn't it interesting how much we associate the energy that some women have with other-worldly beings? Witches, goddesses, oracles, angels, and even aliens. Our collective imagination associates women we can't control or women who harness powers we don't understand into these categories. It's also common that humans fear what we don't understand. Jonas and I were arguing about the intent of UFOs drawn to nuclear power (apparently this is a phenomenon). He thinks it's inherently ominous, but I don't. Since I'm not invested in the intentions of UFOs one way or another, it's easy for me not to immediately assume that the inexplicable is dangerous. 

We have a lot more data about women. Think about "the humors" in antique medicine and smelling salts, and the ways in which women were treated as ill for having big or inexplicable feelings. Or when a woman was in knowing harmony with her energy and used it in social or medicinal ways, it was revered or reviled. The concept of witchiness, both by those that praise it and those that shun it, encompasses the idea of control or cooperation with things that are not reasonable or that we otherwise find mysterious. Before modern medicine in Europe and the colonized United States, midwives and herbalists were often considered witches for their ability to address bodies in ways that we did not understand. Most of us continue to fear the unknown in its modern iterations, medically and beyond.

But even further back, and in some more enlightened cultures than those of my ancestors, women with knowledge of bodies and in harmony with female energy weren't treated as ill at all. I suspect this is because the special powers that hormones can provide were seen as both healthy and even as a gift. I sense that I have this potential, but I don't understand how to guide it. I know that it can be destructive, but I will use it destroy evil. I've never heard of menopause discussed in previous eras, and it may have been beyond the life expectancy of many women in many eras, but I suspect that there used to be a much healthier culture surrounding it.

Recently I read the published journal of a young Ludwig Bemelmans, best known for his children's books about Madeline. I like the way he recognizes sensations he feels when he experiences his surroundings. He says that elation begins like fear, and "in this excitement, many doors open to walk out of the house of reason." 

With my ingrained emphasis on my mind as the primary self, reason has always been a god I seek to please (if only I could find her!). Anything that derailed me from reason was my enemy. I was going to Figure Things Out, and then rest. Rather, figuring things out was sure to bring me rest! Times when my body intervened, either unable to keep up or with hormones, felt like betrayal. Those were times I'd try to push and pull my body up and make her take me where I wanted to go. Anything that beckoned or shoved me off the path toward reason was something I feared and turned from. 

Reason isn't bad, but it is finite. It can only lead you down a straight hallway to a door. It is something else entirely to open the door and step out. Women possess the impetus to take that step (and men too, but I can't speak on it). To wear that cloak of harmony, with the self and with the universe, you have to let go of controlling reason. And for a woman like me, you have to walk down a lot of frustrating halls to get ready to wear that mantle. 

Ludwig Bemelmans noted that the doorways out of reason were accessible through elation, but that that feeling could come from fear, too. Three times at least, in Psalms and Proverbs, we're told that "fear of God is the beginning of all wisdom." But this fear of God isn't assumption of punishment, but a reverence for beyond-reason. Poetically, Wisdom in the scriptures is always embodied as a woman. She who steps through the doorway and harmonizes. 

If you live with attention to each of the three selves - body, mind, and spirit - there's a lot in life that is an invitation to the unknown or the reasonless. I spent a lot of time fearing or ignoring that invitation. I also think I'm more open to it from a place of rest, and if that is a prerequisite, that might explain why so few people say "yes" to that invitation in the end. 

by Jean "Moebius" Giraud

My fullest self, "the best me," is growing into someone different than the me I wanted to be for a long time. A self at rest is not our natural predilection. But leaving space for your future self to fill in the gaps is the work of growing up, as Jean Giraud said:

I purposefully left several points obscure in my story... These obscure areas are like reservoirs of imagination that my unconscious mind creates now for me to explore later. When I try to find my own interpretations, I feel like a witch doctor reading the future in the entrails of an animal.... There are some things I drew in this story whose importance I will discover in the months and years to come...The project will change according to my own evolution. I established some plot developments that exceed my current skills, and that's very interesting to me because, if I want to get to the bottom of this story, I will have to go over my own head. I will have to work and grow up.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

2021 Things

Here's what stood out to me this year....

Our family moved from California to North Carolina in May. Jonas has a wonderful new job here, the boys are going to a public school that all of us love (free lunch! no homework!). We hope to buy a house in Fall 2022. We really miss our California people, but otherwise love it here. I got to see my nephew Francis be born in October and am anticipating a nephew on Jonas' side in early 2022! I turned 30 and visited friends in Columbus, Ohio, where the strawberry cream pastry at Fox in the Snow was the best thing I ate this year. Honorable mention to the Korean fried chicken wings at M Koko in Durham. I also visited Richmond, Virginia very briefly. This year I've been working a few hours a week as a freelance editor, and volunteering with Abolition Apostles, most recently as the co-coordinator of the Legal Working Group. For Christmas this year, all of my siblings were here in Durham, which was wonderful despite some of us getting COVID for the first time since the pandemic began.  

We started taking Soy on short car rides around Santa Maria to acclimate him for our cross-country ride. My brother Bradley escorted the boys on a flight to NC and Jonas and I drove our cars, mine filled with plants and Jonas with Soy. Literally all personal pictures get posted to Instagram

Many people have moved in the past two years, and I know that many of you can commiserate with how difficult it can be to make friends in a new place, especially during COVID. When I was looking back through other year-end posts I've done, I saw that I used to have a "best new friend" category each year. It feels a little childish to do that, but looking at who I named across the years, I realized that I do continue to meet people that I like every single year. Those relationships may not be immediately deep, but they do grow. 

I read a lot (for me) this year! I LOVE the Durham public library system, especially their extensive graphic novel collection. In all my reading, I'm focusing on learning from those who have perspectives I don't have, and the most impactful book I read was recommended by my incarcerated pen-pal. That was The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, and it is an exceedingly important book for anyone living in the United States to read. Other impactful books I read were Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin, The Erotic as Power by Audre Lorde (essay), The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix (graphic novel), and Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel Malory Ortberg. The full list is on Goodreads

On this blog in 2021, I wrote about marriage and anarchy in the Bible, media that helps me process leaving church, why to embrace extremism, being a mom, pre-Reformation prayer, a Christmas carol, and reflections on 2020

Best things I watched in 2021:

  • The Green Knight
  • Tear Along the Dotted Line (Netflix)
  • Midnight Mass (Netflix)
  • The Choe Show (Hulu)
  • Broad City (Hulu)

My top music of the year (Spotify can't know this because Ishmael owns my algorithm, lol) was H.E.R., Jon Baptiste, and James Blake (I'm officially set in my ways). All of my podcast listening is theological; my favorites were the series on Alternative Orthodoxy on Richard Rohr's Another Name for Everything podcast, Carol N'gang'a on the Inverse Podcast, and Faith & Capital. 

Goals for 2021:

  • try more of the Lompoc underground food scene
  • fix my hair
  • source my dream 2-piece suit 
  • plan a Japan trip 
  • more crafts/creative projects
  • focus less on imaginary/undefined evils  (got better at defining them, haha)

2022 Goals:

  • Buy a house
  • Begin prison visitation(s)
  • Make some tactile art
  • Get a new essay published in print 
May we know pockets of peace in 2022, alongside waves that push us into the fullness of our callings. 

Thursday, December 16, 2021

O Holy Night, Colorized

What a night, Sagittarius emblazons the dark

Somewhere close by, a baby is crowning

It's been years of death, grief, and darkness

But tonight my spirit feels strangely light

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices

Because day is breaking onto something gloriously new

I'm crumpled up, listening to the howling of the wind

I imagine I can hear the baby crying

The swoosh of wings surrounds him, divine comfort

My faith is only a pinpoint of light

But this lightness of spirit leads me to the newborn baby

All of us, once infants ourselves,

Gather here with the same sense of awe

In all our trials born to be our friend

He looks up at us with his scrunchy newborn eyes

It's like he knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger

Behold him

He starts to cry, I squeeze the arm of the woman next to me

I feel a surge of emotion and I want to hold on to everyone in this room

I want to love them

Because his cry is love, and the tidings he brings are peace

He breaks every chain, for the enslaved is my brother

And in his name, all oppression will cease. Think of it!

A lump rises in my throat, an anthem of joy

Let all within us praise this holy thing

Christ is King, praise his name forever!

I am proclaiming it still

Written 12/16/21. O Holy Night was written by Adolphe Adam in 1847, a few of the lines of my adaptation are original to his hymn. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

A Breath Caught in the Quiet Dark

I need to tell you something. I spend an ungodly amount of time, usually in the shower, thinking about how to define myself in my Instagram bio. I am the only person who ever reads it, but it's an exercise in Knowing What I Stand For versus Protecting My Sacred Vocation of Growth. In the end, I almost never write anything, in case I'd then be called upon to give an account of what I mean by such a string of terms and labels, and didn't I know that they're not in the Bible?

It's been too long since I truly embarrassed myself on the internet. Most of my biggest fears are some form of, "someone I care about will condemn me for my faith." Alternatively, I fear that if insist that the Holy Spirit is upon me and that the rest of you medieval fools can't see that, I'm probably just an ignorant heathen woman. Because if the former is actually true, a lot of people might be upset and I'll lose my friends and potential readers. 

Something that made me cry lately actually had to do with medieval fools. First, I found myself praying myself to sleep (I've embraced this as soothing rather than irreverent), asking an unusual thing (welcome, Spirit): that I be shown a way to pray that didn't feel like me. That is to say, an overwrought editor of my own ideas, talking to myself. It is intolerable, trying to anticipate every which way in which the God-Head might misinterpret my wishes and then backtracking through my words to make it more clear. I am sure God finds it amusing at best, boring at worst. The way I pray is the way I talk on Marco Polo, but with less folding of my lips over my large teeth in the cracked reflection of the screen. Meaning, I start to say one thing, hear myself being utterly unintelligible, and try to reverse my language by starting several offshoots of clarifying thought that aren't clarifying at all, but entirely new stories. In the end, I have lost my point, and so has everyone else. All the while, time marches onward in its chilling linear way. I'm probably doing it right now. 

What I had started to say was that I prayed uncharacteristically that God would fix my prayers. Or rather, not fix them, but give me some vision of a different path. And this She did, sooner and differently than expected, which is how all of us can know it was Her. 

Headline: "The Trappist Monks of Mepkin Abbey Taught Me How to Pray Again." Subline: "So Why Didn't I Want to Introduce My Methodist Congregants to Them?" This article by Jason Byassee appeared on The Christian Century (a minor miracle that I would click on such a thing), and whether I cried because the person who recommended it said they cried is ultimately undetermined. But crying is how I know I'm feeling, and I have an out-of-mind experience whenever I cry when I'm not sure why I'm crying. Uncategorized Crying triggers a Tinkerbell-sized me to float up to the upper back portion of my skull, like a helium balloon in the corner of the rec-room ceiling. Then she takes out her notepad and says, "oh, interesting." She observes something she doesn't understand, but has been trained to suspect that the crying is not Nothing, but an invitation to some doorway that's jammed in its socket due to excessive heat. I know all about that now that I live in the South. 

I haven't worked out quite what the crying was for, except that I do have a subcategory beneath Uncategorized Crying that is something like Experiencing Tenderness Connected to Christian History. There are only like three notes in that file, so I'm not trying to be hasty about labeling it a "thing" just yet. Anyway, let's move along. The whole article about the prayer of Trappist monks is worth reading, but two things stood out to me: First, Byassee said, "I sometimes now speak of Reformed Christianity as an experiment in being Christian without anyone anywhere vowing poverty, chastity, and obedience. The early returns, 500 years on, are not positive."

I would like to go to un-reform school, please. For I hate this newfangled Body. More like mangled body. Actually, wait. Does "newfangled" mean something has grown new fangs? Because in that case, newfangled and mangled are both appropriate. At the very same time, if given the option between the establishment and burning down the establishment in ye old 1517, I'd have kindly supplied a spark from my witch's pyre. 

Did you know that when God appointed Malachi a prophet, there had not been a prophet in Israel for 400 years? The poor man. But I'm just saying, it's time again for Malachi, time again for Martin Luther, but, you know, different.... 

One of my other favorite portions of the article about Trappist monks and Methodists is this quote from Thomas Merton, "He prays that there will always be dark, quiet churches, so that even if folks don’t know how to pray, they can step inside a minute and breathe easily." 

That was the swift, gentle, startling answer to my prayer on prayer. A place to step inside a minute and breath easily. Not just a place, but a way of being, I suppose. 

Oh mangled Body, why do you hit me endlessly? Why, why, do I go from doorway to doorway, and never in your shelter can I catch my breath? Why do you push away my brother? You do not recognize the face of Jesus. When you see it at last, you will Cry Uncategorically. When you see his face, you want to touch it. But the mangled Body cries, "no! Can't you see that he's trans?" 

The Body has reformationed itself to death. And thus needs reformation. As if you or I even know what I'm talking about anymore. But seriously, this makes me ask myself two things. First, who am I writing for? And the second thing is, why? To answer the second first, I am not trying to convince you of anything. To leave or to stay. And this answers the first question: if you're reading this, then I am writing for you. Maybe you also love the reformed, but hate the reformation. Or if we're being honest, love the reformation, but hate the reformed. 

No, of course I don't hate them. But they make me cry in all the wrong ways. And whether you stay or leave, maybe you, too, find yourself crying at what could have been, and what could be. 

One of the unused bios I thought of in the shower is: "undiscovered Jesuit nun," which, in addition to being utterly weird and contrived, holds a myriad of troubles within three words. First of all, nuns aren't scouted like Instagram models. Secondly, Jesuits are a male-only order, one of their very few flaws that I'm aware of. And finally, I suspect I like the idea of being a nun better than I would like the reality. We'll never really know, since the Jesuits won't come scouting.  

It might be worth saying that in the article about Trappist monks and Methodists, the Methodists actually turn out to be alright. At least, they stand on a tradition of alrightness that is not too far reformed as to be un-rescurrectable. Byassee: "I think the reason they took to monastic prayer so profoundly is that Methodism is a revivalist sect. We were born when the Wesleys asked their fellow baptized members of a state church: Are we going to take Jesus seriously or not? If not, fine, but if so, here’s the way to do it: Meet in small groups. Pray. Ask who sinned this week. Make promises to do better. Visit the poor. Evangelize. Encourage prisoners. Teach the illiterate. Since Methodism is a revivalist sect, if we’re not reviving anybody, what are we doing?"

Good questions for all of us prior, current, future Christians-or-not. 

Ok, now I'm pivoting to Christmas, since I haven't given up on being a commercial success as a writer. I gag at every white-people nativity scene I see now, which is like, a lot of gagging. But what I still like is the paintings of fields where shepherds were keeping their sheep, right before a winged host of aliens tore asunder the clouds and all heaven broke loose. And cried, "fear not!" But nobody heard them, or maybe they did but were still sore afraid. 

artwork by Eric 

The fields are all incorrect too, rolling shires instead of tufts of galagat. But I literally do not have time to reform fine art and the American church. What I like about the misplaced shires is the sense of a place to step inside a minute and breath easily. That is the feeling right before I step in sheep shit on my way to see another face of Jesus. 

The mystery of my faith practice - Does She Believe? Are They Looking For a Church? Can Christians Say That? File Under Millennials Leaving the Church, Maybe They Were Never Really Christians - probably gives me an alluring musky scent that attracts people From the Comments Section. I know I reek of it because I've sniffed it on other people and that sort of gossip really lubricates my Reformed veins. 

Reader, do not ask me such things. I am not asking you to stay or leave. I do not have answers, but maybe I will after my next shower? For now I am seeking and finding nothing more than a doorway, or maybe a field, in which to pray and breath easily, like in the good old days of 1516. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The Love of an Astronomer

I have already prepared inside me ticker-tape lists of my shortcomings as a mother; too harsh, too preoccupied, completely uninvolved in the classroom, meaningless screen time, not enough health food, utter contempt for children's musical choices, no instructional flossing, unread books, broken karate lesson promises, and on, and on. The reams of tape don't keep me up at night, and maybe that should get added to the lists. But I know they're there, reminding me, comparing me, to the one in ten women who find their life source in the care of children. How is it that if there are 90 mothers whose life force is elsewhere, all of us are friends with the 10 gifted caregivers? Maybe we 90 want to be mothered by their glow.

Anyway, this is the dim aura that usually settles on the portions of my day spent in proximity to my role as a mother. This week I spent five consecutive hours sweeping piles of dust out from beneath my sons' mattresses and separating the Pokémon cards from the Yugioh cards, the Lego bricks from the Lincoln Logs. I went through every article of clothing they have, preparing socks to be reunited, addressing stains from the red mud of the Eno river, and deciphering which t-shirts are officially too small. I held one up with both hands, squinting my eyes like a surveyor of unpaved roads. The difference between size 4/5, size 5/6, and size 6/7 should be a span of 3 years of growth, but sometimes it's millimeters of cotton.

Only a mother. Yes, suddenly a soft assurance found me. I know my boys. I can close one eye and judge their shape to the millimeter. Not literally, because I have no idea in feet and inches how tall they are. But somehow I hold who they are inside my eyes, and I know. I love them like an astronomer loves stars. I know the shape of their heads and the texture of their hair. I observe them like a scientist and I chart the notes to be stored in the vault of my heart.

by artist, astronomer, and etymologist Étienne Léopold Trouvelot 

I do worry about how they'll remember me. Being loved by a scientist is surely not as comfortable as being loved by warmer mothers. But I release myself from the memoirs they may write from memories, their pens that might slice me like swords. That is then and this is now. When they take up their pens and their scalpels, I will know just what they're feeling. I will be dissected, and I hope they make it to the vault of my heart where I charted my love in millimeters.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Notes On Extremism

Twenty years ago, extremism collided with America. It was a terrifying day. Many things were excavated from the wreckage, things we were ill equipped to confront or lay to rest. 

Extremism by other names already drenched the soil of America, and the United States had been terrorizing for centuries, but we don't talk about that. Someone had to be punished for the destruction we suffered, we said. Who would exact such horror on us? Only extremists. 

Only an extremist would:

  • spend years planning, recruiting, and carrying out violence
  • risk friendships, family, and community for an idea
  • sacrifice their own life on purpose
  • forsake personal gain to dedicate their resources to the cause 

To be radicalized is to change your lifestyle and your choices because of a belief, knowing it will alienate you from many people who don't agree or understand. It's a departure from "normal" into "crazy." It pushes people into a head space and a life space that others can't enter without joining.

What happened on 9/11 was evil, let no one qualify that. But in our grief, we said extremism was the culprit. And that's not the whole picture. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote "So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?”

Do we even know what it means to be an extremist for love? Most of us are wasting our purpose away through lack of extremism. Our numbness to the ongoing destruction of our personal relationships and the social fabric around us is because we stand for not much of anything, other than ourselves. If we are unwilling to face death, we will never taste life. 

Chase Tibbs addresses Jesus' claim that he came to bring a sword (Matthew 10:34). Tibbs notes that what we accept as violence and non-violence has been defined by our government and our social leaders and that feeds our notion that the sword cannot coexist with peace. After 500 years of white supremacy and the harm we've inflicted on the world and on ourselves because of it, the question is not whether we're wielding swords. The question  is: in whose interests do we wield our swords? Whose peace am I establishing with my sword? Whose peace am I reproducing? We do not want to make the belly of the beast more comfortable, we want to destroy the beast.  We refuse to make peace with it any more. The sword that Jesus brought did not defend the peace of the empire. Jesus says in Matthew 10 that this sword of extremist love is by nature divisive. 

If you defend the beast, you are still enslaved to it. 

Photo by Christian Chomiak via Unsplash

Extremism is a narrow path. Extremists put their entire beings into a belief, and we know full well that some of those beliefs are a trap. We see the extremism (long-ago turned mainstream) of white supremacy, we see the extremism of MAGA, we see the extremism of terrorism of any origin, and we are right to refuse peace with those extremes. But you can't neutralize extremism with normalcy. You have to counter it with extremist love. 

What if our response to the searing pain of 9/11 had been a different kind of extreme? A chance to humbly address the sins of our empire through repentance? What if our determination had been to become not what the extremists accused us of? The hijackers were so convinced of the evil of American gods that they sacrificed their own lives. No one deserved the results of their hatred. But we wrote off that extremism as crazy, and we've suffered for it. We chose to meet extreme hatred with extreme hatred, and we reaped and inflicted more sorrow. 

All growing up, I was encouraged as an evangelical kid to be a zealous evangelist (not by my parents, God bless them). The saying went, "live in such a way that people will ask you, 'what's different about you?'" No one ever asked me that because I could not bring myself to drag a cross through Venice Beach. I believed (and I was not wrong) that my peers would not ask because it was too different, and not in a remotely appealing way. Eventually I stopped worrying about why no one asked me why I was "different" and settled into trying to act normal enough that people would want to be my friend. I let go of trying to befriend people in order to perform a spiritual bait and switch on them. That teaching is not just different, it's abusive. Even when I made friends who didn't know Jesus, the Jesus I tried to believe in was not a Jesus that I thought anyone else would want. 

As defined by the Bible Project, "An apocalypse is a confrontation with the divine so intense that it transforms how a person views everything." When I embraced extremism, I went back to thinking the "what's different about you" thing is to be taken literally. John 13:35 "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." A lifetime of "niceness" really wasn't recognizable in me as the love of Jesus. So I got dangerous. I listened to what my friends and strangers said hurt, and I ran there. I fed people. We carried each other's fears. I made friends with violent people and I took up a sword. And some of them know me by my love. 

You know who thinks I'm extreme now? The boards of churches, lol. But I know for certain that other people will love the Jesus I now know. My Jesus despises the belly of the beast. My Jesus wants the church rescued from it's twisted definitions of violence. 

Is extremism for everyone? I think so. Extremism isn't always brash, but it is something any follower of Jesus should take seriously as a personal calling. Jesus didn't call just a handful of us to extremist love, he said it was THE marker of discipleship. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

A Deconstruction Catalog

The Oxford definition of "deconstruct" is: "analyze (a text or a linguistic or conceptual system) by deconstruction, typically in order to expose its hidden internal assumptions and contradictions and subvert its apparent significance or unity." You've probably heard this term by now because a lot of Millennials (and Gen Z?) are finding this name for what we've been doing for the past 15 years in response to the destructive elements of our religious-cultural backgrounds. 

Many people who deconstruct from a religious culture no longer adhere to the tenets of that cultural religion or even the religion itself. Deconstruction is not the only reason that people leave church, but through it, I no longer view "walking away from the church" as inherently a) something to be frowned upon or b) equivalent with losing faith in God. As always, different people and different churches believe different things and act on those beliefs differently. I can only speak from my experiences and perceptions. 

Most of my beliefs that stem from faith in Christ are now practiced outside of Christian community. Ironically, this is what church has often encouraged in word, but seems to find unnerving in practice.  This practice, as a function of my process of deconstruction, has often been scary and lonely, as I know it has been for others. Deconstruction is a continuous exercise in honesty, and it can result in the loss of relationships. Not necessarily in a dramatic sense, but more of a drifting apart because of different ideas that inform lifestyles. Early on, I sensed that my honesty felt dangerous to other people, and that was/is often projected as fear for me. Now, honesty is often a way to find a new community, sometimes among other escapees, and invite those who live in fear to a better way. 

I want to escape the fear and shame-based structure I was used to without minimizing its damage. At the same time, I celebrate the freedom and support I'm growing into as a person of faith. This ongoing reframing of my faith motivates me to follow Jesus in a way my old culture never did or could. This shift, in the simplest terms, translates to more love and less fear. More rescue and less condemnation. For now, less tradition and more mysticism. 

I'm grateful every time I find an idea or expression that serves as a guide in deconstructing. These usually come in the form of questions that lead me deeper into honesty or the work of people who have experienced the same pains and joys I'm experiencing now. I always resented hearing "culture" disparaged in church because most of what excites me about life comes in the form of human creativity. Christian religiosity does its adherents no favors by drawing such a firm line between the sacred and the profane. So, here are some resources and expressions that have brought me to a deeper, truer, more lovely understanding of God and my relationship to Her. 

Silence (2016), directed by Martin Scorsese. Two young Jesuit priests in the 1600s journey to Japan in search of a missionary who they've lost contact with. The cinematography is beautiful and the sound editing (for which it won an Oscar) plays ingeniously with the theme of silence on several levels, including how often Christians struggle with the sense that God is "distant". Then there are several other themes exploring doing God's work vs. professing faith in God's and the gospel's cultural context and implications. I've recommended this movie to a lot of people and I'm not sure everyone loved it as much as I did (it's very long, pace is slow, and it's pretty brutal), but I've watched it several times and have been thinking about it for 5 years now. It plays nicely into one of my deconstructing principles, which is that asking good (hard) questions is at least as important to faith as having answers. I'm fascinated by any mainstream media that engages religion without mocking it (see also the show Ramy). It's currently available on Hulu.

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held EvansBefore reading this book, I had been following Evans on Facebook and heard her on several podcasts. Especially on podcasts, I was struck by how she didn't give air time to railing against trolls and toxic Christianity as much as she invited everyone into communion, and that felt like something GOOD. I am always alarmed by the virtue of gentleness. Were it not for my trust in her tone, I probably would never have read her book Inspired because I am extremely wary of Christian literature. However, I'm very glad I did because it aided me with the confidence and encouragement to approach scripture without some of the filters of what I "should" take away from it. She argues that we should be horrified by some things in scripture (just because something happened or was even condoned at the time does not mean it's acceptable today), it should make us question, it is valid that different people take different lessons from the same passages, etc. If that's not revolutionary to you, then I'm happy for you. A lot of deconstruction for me has been learning how (or if) to re-approach things that might have merit but have often been weaponized or that I have negative associations with. 

POSE (2018-2021) on FX/Netflix. Apart from being a visual and story-telling treasure, this TV show about LGBTQ+ ballroom culture during the AIDS crisis in 1980s NYC has been both a cultural and spiritual education. God save the Queen Billy Porter. Of course I love the clothes, and I'm forever preening at having witnessed a costume buyer for the show negotiating with a dealer at the Pickwick Garden Vintage show. But mostly Pose gave me a glimpse into a world (or a version of it) that I'd never had, and ultimately helped me not only sympathize but see myself in some of the characters with identities that were previously portrayed to me (whether explicitly or subliminally) as disgusting. I don't have a nicer way of putting that. I experience waves in my deconstruction that are simply sorrow over how I judged or avoided people because of twisted beliefs that I adhered to. One of the things that struck me most about Pose was how the community portrayed - though certainly catty and vicious at times - loved, forgave, and cared for one another unto death. You know what that reminds me of? It's what the church is supposed to look like.  

I used to wonder how to reconcile what the Bible seems to say about sexuality (and how it's been taught to me) with wanting to be inclusive. In the end, I was simply released from asking that question at all, nor do I try and answer it for other people. Someone else's sexual preferences don't depend on my understanding or acceptance. My aim is to respect others' identities and to recognize the image of God in everyone. That's very liberating for me, both theologically and practically.  

The documentary Disclosure on Netflix is also an astounding, eye-opening resource and education on how to treat Trans people with the dignity they inherently command as human beings. It really does need to be taught since many of us are subliminally, if not overtly, accustomed to dismissing their humanity. 

The Bible Project videos explore books and concepts of the Bible in 5-10 jam-packed minutes. In my opinion, they could be interesting to non-Christians because they explore narrative and imagery in a way that is independently compelling. They are also engaging for kids without sacrificing complexity. This style of learning appeals to me because it contextualizes concepts that are often pulled out of scripture and used as soundbites. I especially liked their explanations of apocalyptic literature as a genre, which I explored a bit more in this post. 

I've benefitted from Scott Erickson's (@scottthepainter) work. It is full of symbols, which I'm always drawn to. His perspective draws me out of box-thinking, affirms the possibility that God is good and loving, and invites me to engage in wonder and celebrate mystery. 

May my growth be matched in depth ⁣
as much as it is in height. ⁣
And may I weave this dual growth ⁣
in everything I do. ⁣

(Image and words from Scott Erickson)

I believe I discovered Scott Erickson through @cultrkpr, aka Jonathan Randall Grant. He's an Anglican artist "exploring aesthetics for the future of a queer, creative and anti-racist faith practice." I find the things he shares in his stories to be jarring in the most compelling ways, and I love that so much of what he shares leads me straight to something I love, but have never heard of before (that's rare when Instagram for artists feels like a closed loop sometimes). 

Cindy Wang Brandt and the group she admins on Facebook have been instrumental in guiding my practice of parenting while deconstructing. What do I believe that I want to pass on to my kids? How do I guide my kids in what I believe is right while respecting their autonomy as humans? So much of my experience growing up in Christian culture was spun as my personal choice, but it would have been absolutely unacceptable to *not* choose it. Cindy's group was my introduction to Gentle Parenting, a philosophy I'm trying to embrace and am pretty bad at, but ultimately follows the example of Jesus more than "Christian parenting."

Luxury, the band. They started putting out music in 1995 but I didn't hear them until they were on NPR for their 2019 album release. Their song titles, lyrics, album covers...I wish I could retroactively be a life-long fan. These guys met at a tiny Christian college and originally signed with Tooth & Nail, but most 90s Christians were not prepared for Luxury's content and they never became widely known. The band suffered a terrible car accident and the members moved on to - you'll never guess - become Eastern Orthodox priests!? Then they got back together and kept making punk albums. There's a documentary about them called Parallel Love, which a band member explained this way: "The film is called Parallel Love, [because] you have two different trajectories that run parallel to one another. They're not exactly the story of bringing rock and roll into Orthodoxy. It's people of faith living authentic lives and doing the things that they feel gifted to do." For me, watching their story is like looking back on my own, but cooler. Their catalog as a band and as individuals or offshoot projects is immense (The Shroud, Lee Bozeman, They Sang They Slew, Canary, All Things Bright and Beautiful, Champion Leader, Orient Is His Name), and also old-school in that most of it is only available on bandcamp or on CD. 

Ginseng Roots by Craig Thompson is a comic series. Thompson is one of my favorite graphic novelists in general, but this series is about his childhood in a tiny town in Wisconsin that produces the prized ginseng root and remains home to his cultishly-Christian parents. The Chinese connection and how Thompson uses Chinese mythology to mirror Christian concepts are especially intriguing to me, but the overall tone is sadness as he reckons with memories and characters that can't acknowledge the pain they caused. So far I've only read the first 6 issues, but they prompted me to write an almost weepy fan letter which is pretty much always the reaction I have to feeling seen in very specific ways. 

As I wrap this up, I'm wondering whether these materials that have helped me have anything in common. I feel let down by the material that was available or condoned to me within Christian culture in my younger years. I wanted something beautiful and what I got was so sterile and boring and I was told that was beautiful. I needed to feel and express when I was in pain, but I was too often told I was expressing it wrong and that I couldn't trust the "un-saved" to express it either. In Philippians, there's a verse that says, "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (4:8). If you are seeking honesty, allow yourself to seek the excellent things worthy of praise in places and people that you were not allowed before. It is all around us. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

A Mysterious Love

Nothing comes from nothing. I am often nervous to publish my thoughts because they are always evolving, and fed by many sources. I wonder if it makes any sense to others or if it might seem like I make great leaps of thought without any supporting structure between them. Lately I'm drawing on themes of mysticism and anti-hierarchy as an expression of love, so that's informing my processing. 

About a year ago, I finished Rachel Held Evan's book Inspired which is about learning to read the Bible again if you've been burned by the way it was taught to you. I was encouraged that it is a proper and valid response to the Bible to be appalled by parts of it. The fact that something is recorded in the Bible does not mean we should like it or emulate it (lesser repercussions for abuse of sex slaves than regular adultery in Leviticus 19:20-22, for example). 

Recently I was writing about marriage for a work project. I have been "unequally yoked" for 12 years with a partner who wants screen captioning on at all times. Nevertheless, I'd recommend marriage if you find someone who is willing and able to grow with you. I noticed while digging around for my project though, that if I was going on scriptural references of marriage alone, I would not want anything to do with marriage. Almost all scriptural references to marriage allude to a sort of bizarre power dynamic that doesn't seem to play well with the gospel at large. 

There are 3 possible reasons for this, as I see it, baring in mind that I believe there is something good in the practice of a healthy marriage and that there is truth in the Bible. First, scriptures were recorded in a cultural context that is different than present day; maybe the emphasis in passages about marriage are very particular to the ethos in which they were recorded.  Secondly, the time in which I am reading and writing has it's own cultural context; maybe I can not help but see these passages in a certain light because of ethos of my religious history (less than stellar). Third, maybe neither of those first two is the case and I am simply not understanding what scripture is saying about marriage.

Here is 1 Peter 3:7 (ESV), which is strange and doesn't make sense as a progression of thought to me. It barely makes more sense in the context of the rest of 1 Peter 3, either. My thoughts in parenthesis:

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way (good advice for anyone), showing honor to the woman (yes, good) as the weaker vessel (???), since they are heirs with you of the grace of life (true), so that your prayers may not be hindered (what does this have to do with anything?). 

Scripture holds contradictions and does not break. That's not unique to scripture, it's the reality of nature. We live in a both/and world more than an either/or world. For example, we are to obey the law of the land (Romans 13), but also it's right to go against bad laws (Exodus 2, lots of Daniel, etc.). They don't negate each other, they both hold wisdom. When I accept that the Bible encompasses a multitude of truths, I stop treating it like a legal document. I can set aside the fact that marriage in the Bible is distressing and return to what I know is solid ground - the way the trinity engages with women. 

The least distressing (but still sort of weird) theme surrounding marriage in scripture is the relationship analogy of Jesus Christ and the church (the collective of disciples throughout the ages).  Ephesians 5:25-33 gives a not-very-clear explanation of this. It tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church - that is the ultimate love, and a lofty and noble goal between humans. How to go about that, according to Ephesians, involves purification, and I'm not sure I'm tracking with that part, but neither does it trip me up too much. 

Then we reach verse 31, which is a quotation from Genesis (strange, but not that difficult to understand). “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Then verse 32-33: "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband."

Note that the author himself (Peter) acknowledges or admits that this is a "profound mystery." Even though Peter is referring to the relationship between Christ and the church, husbands and wives should go ahead and get back to this lopsided expression of unity. Maybe that is the point. The church can not love Jesus as much as Jesus loves the church because we are not perfect in our loving. That makes sense to me, but it is unfortunate if the party lacking in perfection is associated with a female partner in a human marriage. If that is what scripture is alluding to, it's an analogy that sets up a false and harmful distinction between men and women. 

Let's revisit the "mystery" part, even though this mystery is currently reading like a gas station romance novel. I am interested when scripture makes a point of saying something is hard to understand. A search of the terms "insight", "understanding", and "mystery" is worth making. Many things of mystery in the scripture are revealed even within scripture. Other mysteries remain mysterious, as far as I can tell. 

This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate.... (Revelation 13:18, 17:19)

He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 11:15 and 5 other instances)

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding. (Philippians 4:7)

He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. (Isaiah 40:28)

You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children. (Luke 10:21)

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed... (1 Corinthians 15:51)

They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. (1 Timothy 3:9)

Part of the practice of mysticism is embracing the unknown. A mystic's lens toward scripture and faith is also profoundly accessible. As image-barers of God, we each have innate access to God. Some of the tricky ideas confound the learned, but are obvious to hearts that have no frame of reference (Luke 10:21). Even though I don't fully understand what Jesus was talking about when he stated that kind of revelation of mystery, Luke said that it filled Jesus with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Whatever it is, it is a good, good thing. 

Illustrated by Natalia Ramas for Esther Perel

One of my sisters is a member of the Anglican church. In the Anglican tradition, sacraments in the church carry an aspect of divine mystery, almost as if something magical happens. The sacraments of marriage and communion are considered especially magical (my words) because within those practices, God is imparting divine grace to those partaking. 

Divine grace and the relationship between Jesus and the church are not gender specific or exclusionary. It can be true that marriage is a union in which we are gifted divine grace, but it is also true that we can access divine grace without experiencing marriage. Covenant male-female unions are not more divine than other unions, such as the union between an individual and their community, for example. The innate worth and God-reflection of each individual stands alone. Marriage is not more holy than celibacy or singleness. Men are not more holy than women. Women are not more holy than men. Men and women are not more holy than non-binary people. 

I do think that part of our God-reflecting nature as humans is that we're created for relationship. We are not worth more because of our affiliation with others, but we can compliment one another. I use the term "compliment" gingerly since Complementarianism as a theory is a mine shaft. I'll start by explaining what we already know - from individual to individual, we have different personalities, giftings, interests, struggles. Human diversity is amazing. My friend Mark described our souls as shards of light broken off from a prism. We are each born of this original whole (God), and the full realization of our beings is to regroup as the Whole (oneness with God). I asked him to repeat it like 3 times, so I hope I represented his idea correctly (he doesn't describe the original whole as God, but the analogy works for me). 

If we think of ourselves as these light reflections, each of us is already In The Image, but we are a brighter segment of light when we gather. Complementarianism makes sense if we think about it like pieces of light. Unfortunately, it's often used to make small the union of male-female marriage. I think partners within a healthy marriage can and should compliment one another's skills and nature and grow in the ability to work together toward the best representation of a team that they can. Who holds each portion of the complimentary whole should not be bound by gender, nor should it be static. Women are not by nature better at caring for children. Adults working as a team generally benefit children. Men are not by nature better leaders (and exploring "leadership" is a whole other thing). There is nothing that I know that nature or the gospel supports as more suitable behavior or aptitude for one gender over another. 

Within marriage I think complementarianism of gender is somewhat redeemed if we get rid of the "two halves make a whole" idea and embrace the yin-yang. It's not perfect, because you're still looking at two "opposite" parts creating a whole, but it's better. The yin-yang illustrates that within the light there is dark, and within the dark there is light. Within the female there is male, within the male there is female. The portions are not mutually exclusive. The yin-yang also illustrates contrast over opposition. "The small dots represent the idea that both sides carry the seed of the other. The curvy line signifies that there are no absolute separations between the two opposites. The yin-yang symbol, then, embodies both sides: duality, paradox, unity in diversity, change, and harmony" (source).

I don't mean to be esoteric as I'm making up words to try and capture ideas, but I am eager to embrace the freedom of mystery. I think God is most accurately Beyond more than God is my understanding of Whole. Both wholeness and beyondness mean that God is not only genderless, but contains all representations of gender because God is the source of our light fractures. God contains the divine feminine, even though God is not only feminine. I think that when we crave to be viewed apart from our gender (and its cultural associations), part of that longing is us reflecting our original state and connection to God's Beyondness. My identity is my worth as an image-barer, not in my womanhood. If there are no boundaries, we may risk shapelessness and maybe nothingness. Even so, there is something holy in the notion of fluidity and pinging between boundaries. "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).  

I have a hard time thinking about relationships outside of the context of hierarchy. That is part of why passages about marriage in the Bible are so difficult to grapple with. Men are clearly above women in most cultures, including the human cultures recorded in the Bible (I say "human" because I do think the gospel/Jesus upends that). Teachers are clearly above students. Adults are above children. The free are above the slave. All of those things are true in so far as they usually play out in our world. They are not true in terms of human worth. Why then, do we distinguish between positions of worth (universally equal) and social roles? 

Part of the practice of living in the Kingdom of God (here and now) is imagining Beyondness before it is achieved. I feel the same resistance against dismantling of hierarchy that you probably do, because life as we know it would unravel without hierarchy. But isn't our end goal exactly to transcend life as we know it, in part by remaking the world we are in? Since we did not create ourselves, I don't know that we can or want to ever be equal with That which created us. But MAYBE that is part of profound mystery of love Peter referenced...."the two shall become one...This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church."

In my current understanding, ultimate love erases hierarchy. Anarchy, by one definition, is a society or group of people that rejects a set hierarchy. I think a healthy partnership within divine grace (marriage) is an erasure of hierarchy. Recognizing the worth and dignity of women, children, the impoverished, the unwell, and the imprisoned is an erasure of power structure and an act of holy love (Matthew 25:31-46). Instead of descent into chaos, I think radical love is an ascent into anarchy - a mysterious love without hierarchy. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

2020 Recap & 2021 Hopes

Around New Year's 2019/2020, we asked the boys if there was anything they'd like to do in 2020. While I was hoping for "be kind to each other" or something like that, I had fully intended to honor Ishmael's actual wish, which was "go to Chuck-E-Cheese." That was literally the only ambition he named for 2020 and it kills me (both humorously and with sadness) that despite the fact that I *hate* "child and mechanical rat casinos" and we have a Chuck-E-Cheese within a block of our house, it was a uniquely impossible goal for 2020. 

Most of my ambitions for 2020 were similarly unmet, but I walked away from what was undeniably a wrenching year for us all with more clarity and purpose than I could have expected. In therapy there is a practice of speaking to your childhood self to try and relay the message you had needed to hear that maybe you didn't hear in childhood. I haven't done that in therapy, but I have wondered if there is anything my childhood self needed to hear. In other words, what was my greatest fear or longing? I heard the affirmation that I didn't know I needed in 2020, and that was:

You will find your place in the world. 

It took me a long time to even name my fear that I might have no place or no purpose (at least not one that I genuinely believed in). Now that I'm learning my space, it's not always what I thought it would be. Through a series of events and learning and growing, I find myself engaging in the prison abolition movement. This feels informed by (and informs) my theology, my family, and my nationality. I feel like "finding my place" has not been propelled by my own hand, and I hope that that means it is the work of the Holy Spirit. Here's my meme-format summary of my face effected by the events and trajectory of 2020. 

If a pandemic happens roughly once in a 100 years, many people will be born and die before we see another one. I don't want to rehash all of 2020 - all of us who survived it know it intimately - but I don't want to forget it either. I've wished there was more information and personal accounts of the 1918 pandemic. I imagine it reached China, but I've never heard those stories. This year I read an autobiography of Don Freeman (renowned children's author and illustrator) who arrived in New York City to find his way as an artist on the very day in 1929 that the stock market crashed. He acknowledges the struggles and the chaos and the upheaval, but also life went on in the midst of that. 

What stands out in my mind about my experience of a pandemic year; being sick in March. Jonas almost certainly had Covid, my symptoms were less classic. There were not tests available to us yet to confirm. Both Jonas and I were furloughed from work roughly from March to August, and I was ultimately laid off from the food-service industry. Grade-school for our kids became at-home school for... everrrrr. We ate a lot of fried chicken sandwiches in 2020. There were blessings in the close quarters, but also much frustration, heartache, and uncertainty.  My creative outlet was themed dress-up outfits at home. We got our cat Soy who has been a wonderful addition to our family. I started a new job editing radio scripts from home (which I love) that has also given me opportunity to engage with the Bible in ways I've never been interested in doing before. Our community work in our neighborhood shifted with Covid of course, but that also held hidden opportunities. Some friendships deepened as we clung together over Facetime and Marco Polo. Others were strained as beliefs about Covid (and how to live in light of it) diverged over the months. For me, the daily mind games I play with myself are the hardest side affect. I am immensely grateful for the nurses and teachers in my life. Even with (or because of) the extra head space and slower pace of parts of 2020, I drastically rethought how I view money and hope that I can continue to grow in generosity. It felt like every day held a momentous political or economic world event. The Beirut chemical explosion sticks with me as gut-wrenching. Certainly the murder of George Floyd awakened much that was asleep behind White eyes, propelling me to new reflections and actions. Uyghur genocide began to get the global attention is warrants. US politics were chaos, but I felt freedom from expecting otherwise. 

The best thing I read was James Baldwin's A Fire Next Time. Other things I read are logged on GoodReads. I've listened to Hannah Bowman's theology of abolition at least 3 times already and was encouraged by the Bible Project, particularly their explanation of the meaning of apocalypse. Of course there was a lot of TV watching. I can't possibly recall it all, but things that stand out are the shows Jiri/Haji and Bob's Burgers, and the movies The Pillow Book, My Octopus Teacher, A Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and Mirai. I listened to a lot of Rosalia, Joni Mitchell's Cactus Tree album, HAIM's Women in Music 3, Joao Gilberto, Gillian Welch, and the Chick's Gaslighter album. I spent almost a month cross pollinating a rainbow of flowers in Animal Crossing and then creating an in-game replica of the Huntington Gardens.  

My niece Beatrice Jane Sears was born on January 30! We visited my sister in North Carolina in February to meet Beatrice, right before the pandemic. We ate at Roses', which was the best new (to me) restaurant of the year for me. I visited my brothers San Diego in August, my parents and sister Annelise visited us from NC in the fall, and we spent Christmas with Jonas' brother and his family (with many precautions) in Los Angeles. Written out in a list, that sounds like a lot of travel for this year, but I think I left Santa Maria about 6 times between March and December, and several of those drives were to neighboring Central Coast cities.

Things I blogged about in 2020: my grandmother, artist Sam Szafran, early pandemic feels, the set designs of Bernard Evein, changing my mind on purpose, apocalypse and revelation and service (church history and church future), reflections on wealth, pandemic feels in the style of dark mythology

Review of 2020 goals. 

  • SLOW DOWN. I want to have and make the time to play, engage in my hobbies, explore, entertain, cultivate relationships. I've been too drained and busy and stressed to do those things and I want to fight through the things I *have* to do to get to a place where things I *want* to do are woven in. I want to feel the peace and contentment that comes from not being over-scheduled all the time. 
  • Write a book outline.
  • Build a good credit score. Getting a credit card has been such a huge obstacle for me. 
  • Spend intentional time with each of my boys, not multitasking.
  • Take a digital design class. I doubt this will happen in 2020, but it's a goal to keep in my head.
  • Get a website and a start a mailing list. 

I'm thankful to feel like I've found security in my purpose recently. With that, my need to map out my future feels diminished. After thinking for a few days, I still found some goals for 2021, but they're less work or growth related than usual. It goes without saying that I'd like to grow and mature in the areas that I am "finding my place" in the community and the personal and practical work that entails. 

Goals for 2021:

  • try more of the Lompoc underground food scene
  • fix my hair
  • source my dream 2-piece suit 
  • plan a Japan trip 
  • more crafts/creative projects
  • focus less on imaginary/undefined evils (I can get caught up in railing against ideas instead of loving whoever is right in front of me)
And to all, an apocalyptic new year. 

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