People ask me, “What it is that changes when a person converts?” I’ve struggled with that over the years. Drawing upon my own observations, as well as the literature, I’ve tried to put together four major things that happen in a conversion process.I can't seem to get very far beyond this need to keep thinking about what has happened to me and why... like all the time.
One of the few things that sociologists and psychologists agree upon is that, almost without exception, changing to a new religious orientation takes place through what the sociologists call kinship and friendship networks of one sort or another. Sometimes they’re very intense. Sometimes they’re minimal. In any case, people who convert or change religions usually do so through personal contact, and not through impersonal methods of communication, although that happens sometimes.
Secondly, what is very clear is that virtually all religious groups emphasize the importance of relationships with the leader of the group, and with members of the group. One of the things that is very striking when you go into a religious group is that there is enormous affection. People in some groups will even address one another as brother and sister, or other terms that communicate that relationships are very important. Living in the kind of society in which we do, with the need for relationships with other human beings, it’s no wonder that this is one of the most important attractions, as well as consequences of a conversion process.
I think that, perhaps because of the Protestant bias in the founding of psychology, we have denigrated the role of ritual. But, it’s very clear from the work of people like Victor Turner and others, that what we do has a powerful impact on what we believe, and what we experience. These things just don’t drop from heaven, but rather are engaged in actively. I use a term, which I take very seriously, that rituals are the “choreography of the soul.” It seems to me that they invite people into a new way of being.
The third thing that happens when people become converts, is that the way in which they interpret life—their rhetoric—changes. Now, this varies from group to group obviously. It varies, both in the content, and the degree to which they apply it to different aspects of their life. In some cases, for people who are very totalistic in their conversion, they now have an interpretative system that applies to anything and everything. This is one of the things that is very disruptive to families.
For instance, if I had an automobile accident and somebody asked what happened, I might reply, that the crazy guy was drunk, and he hit me. However, a religious convert may say it was the will of God. That infuriates some people, because it’s an interpretative system that is very discordant with the way in which the average secular person, at least in the United States, operates to interpret life. For some families and other people, it’s like a fingernail scratching on the blackboard. When a person converts, their whole strategy of attribution has changed.
The fourth thing that changes is the notion of role. Social psychologists and sociologists have talked about this for a long time, and it’s really in some ways rather a mystery. For example, if I were sitting in this audience as an auditor, the likelihood of me asking a question in this group is probably one in a thousand. Because my role is to be a presenter, I get nervous about it, but I can do it, and I would probably talk too long. Role is very powerful in shaping peoples’ perceptions and behaviors. When people become a member of a new religious movement, or when they become a passionate Roman Catholic, they have a new perception of themselves that often empowers them to do things, to believe things, and to feel things that they have not have been able to prior to that time.
Let me wrap it all up. I will speak now about the consequences. Suppose person X has become a member of the Mormon Church, and someone asks me, “Are they better off or worse off?” You can imagine that in many of the contexts that I work in, this is usually a loaded question. As a psychologist, I do not want to judge someone by some absolute ideal, but rather to consider what their life was like before they became a convert. Suppose someone had been a drug addict, and now they’ve really reformed their lives. They may still not be a very good person. They still don’t know much about the theology. They still have some habits that I consider atrocious. They’re still people that I probably wouldn’t go out and have a drink with. Nevertheless, I would say their life has been made better, psychologically speaking.
But, I also want to argue in terms of what I’ve been pushing for, and that is honesty. There are some conversions in which one could argue that the convert has psychologically regressed. Now, in some cases, converts temporarily regress, psychologically speaking, but as they are involved in a group over a longer period of time, through the structure of the group, through new disciplines, through new behaviors and so forth, they shape a new personhood. So, it has a lot to do with when the person is evaluated, and how far they’ve come from where they were before. Also, in considering this issue of consequences, I think one of the most important questions to ask ourselves is, on what basis am I evaluating this person? It’s very rare that people will come clean and say, “I am evaluating this person from the point of view of . . .” and then say an orthodox Evangelical Christian, or a psychoanalytically oriented psychologist, or whatever. We just make blanket judgments that are, in my opinion, usually useless, unless we understand the person who is making the assessment, and their evaluation of what is taking place.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Friday, July 27, 2007
Go see it! Liam wanted to go to the movie for his 13th birthday tonight and so we sat in a long row and laughed outloud, sang along (quietly) and walked out of the theater singing and dancing. "You can't stop the beat!" I couldn't stop smiling and had no idea that the subject matter had to do with the Civil Rights movement. How can a musical be wonderfully funny, cheerful, optimistic and important all at the same time? Find out.
I'm rereading She Who Is for the discussion I'm leading in August. I stumbled on these lines and just had to post them for your comments. Johnson is talking about the justification for using extra-biblical language to talk about God (of course building to her point which is women's experience ought to be equally sufficient in the naming of and characterizing of God as men's has been for two millenia). She begins with Aquinas (a giant in her Catholic world).
In one of those myriad interesting little discussions that Aquinas carries on in the formal framework of the quaestio, he deals luminously with the legitimacy of this historical development. The question at hand is whether it is proper to refer to God as "person." Some would object that this word is not used of God in the Scriptures, neither in the Old Testament or in the New. But, goes the argument, what the word signifies such as intelligence is in fact frequently applied to God in Scripture, and so "person" can be used with confidence.I had no idea that the word "person" is never associated with God in Scripture. Mind-blowing.
I should have caught that at some point in four years of grad school. It just reminds me again how easy it is to think we know things that we honestly don't know.
Did you know that God is never identified as "person" in Scripture? If so, how do you feel about using that kind of language for God? How would it change how you see God if you removed the identification of "personhood" with God? How does the idea of "person" shape our view of God (after all, person in our times has to do with rights, identity, individuality, personality, will... it's more than human being, isn't it?)?
I'll be interested in what you all think.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
I'm 45, telling Jon that surprise! the vasectomy didn't work and we're pregnant with my much-wanted number six. I'm happy and perplexed at my happiness, even while calculating in an instant that I'll be 65 when the baby is 20. My dream-self is observed by my invisible self, as often happens in my dreams. I'm asking the dream-me how to rearrange the bedroom to make space for diapers and a changing table, how to run a business and look after a toddler, how to mother a little one when I'm tired and busy. Jon smiles, confused, but then says that it's a privilege to have a baby in your forties... even though he'll be fifty by the time that baby's born.
And then I wake up.
In the last month, I've buckled toddlers into car seats, I've held the hands of tiny children not mine, but who have been entrusted to me. I've seen a miniature Noah climbing concrete walls and Johannah's red hair all curly and uncombed, she so much smaller than me that she fits into my lap.
In one dream, I'm asleep with a baby tanked out on my chest. I wake up remembering that that was my very favorite part of being a new mother: napping on the couch with a sleeping baby nuzzled into me.
Once awake, I usually can't remember if I'm pregnant or not, if Johannah is packing for college or Noah is building houses in California. I pat my stomach to remember the empty womb.
I haven't talked about the dreams. It seems odd to me that they're coming so frequently now, so vividly, so obviously signs of midlife and loss and memory and young motherhood and a page turned that can never be un-turned.
Yesterday morning, Jon rolled over and declared: he had had a dream. That alone was worth noting. I dream in Technicolor daily and remember many of my dreams for years. Jon rarely remembers his dreams and most of them are in black and white. Consequently, I rarely hear him start the day with: I had a dream.
I saw Jacob as a little boy, needing my help. He was so cute, so little, big smile. And then I was crying...
And then so was I.
No one told us about the dreams.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
I pledge to accept the prices as representative of what that company needs to charge in order to create fair compensation for its expertise, materials and promotion of itself for the purpose of remaining a viable business.
I will not make random calculations in my head about the amount of money it takes to produce the materials, distribute the product or how much energy/expertise/experience went into the original creation.
I also pledge never to assume that it is easy to run a business, to get customers, to produce the promotional copy for a website, to keep up a blog, to send out email notifications, to train teachers, to stay abreast of the latest developments in technology and education... as though these are after-thoughts and have no bearing the on the cost of the materials to which they pertain.
I confess that I now understand why teachers are paid so little when compared with the universities and schools for whom they work, who must take the lion's share of the tuition to run the business side of the school, and to recruit students. Hello. Who can teach without students?
This summer I live with the daily awareness that the changes I'm making to my business have the ability to either make it or break it. The stress of being in charge is something I have never felt in 7 and a half years of running Brave Writer. I feel responsible for the salaries of my teachers and their general happiness with the job they do so well for Brave Writer, the satisfaction of my customers who are both amazingly supportive and enthusiastic, the need to consider the tight budgets of most homeschooling families, the responsibility to sustain income we've come to depend on, and the need to create materials that serve the purposes for which they are designed.
Suddenly, in an attempt to stay current, I find that I'm on the edge of a breakdown. I don't think it's possible for me to do any more work than I am. I literally can't turn off my brain. I wake up with whole new sets of considerations I must take into account.
Every time I turn around, I think of another permutation that ought to be considered in the redesign of my website, of the registration process (which is effing - excuse the language - complicated), of the new learning platform (which has a learning curve of about 90 degrees straight up!). And every time I think of another change to the existing structures, it's $500-$1000 more to a developper than I planned to spend. Worse, I can't even tell if the end result will be experienced as better (it may look better, but will it accomplish the things I hoped it would alleviate as well as enhance?).
I'm exhausted, stressed, tired, worried, anxious and sick of being a business owner today.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Julie Bogart, recent masters in theology graduate, will be leading us in a look at how gender impacts our conceptions of God and personal spirituality. We'll examine the impact of gendered language for God as well as how modern gender stereotypes have harmed both men and women spiritually. This is not a discussion about how to add a few feminine images to our catalog of terms for God, but rather a reconceptualizing of who God is and how we relate to God. Discussions will be drawn from the text, She Who Is, by Elizabeth A. Johnson. This book has an academic orientation so purchase is left up to the individual and not necessary for discussion. Men and women are welcomed to this study and we’ll meet at Julie’s house on Aug. 2nd and 23rd and at Union Centre Panera community room on August 9th and 30th.If you are local and want to come, we'd love to have you! Email me for details.
PHEN (Post-Homeschooling Entrepreneurial Network)
Also, I'm starting a networking meeting for moms who are ready to earn money now that they are homeschooling less (or not at all). If you are interested in that, you can also email me. We'll meet monthly and discuss stuff like how to set up a business, taxes, health insurance, marketing, pricing and more.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
I took the surprising role of defending my friends who are fundamentalists to help her understand how these Christians arrived at their convictions and why they are so devoted to what appears to be folly. And that led to a rabbit trail I might never have discovered otherwise.
"It just reminds me of all that fundamentalist type stuff I grew up with; you know the scapular and the fasting and the making room for your Guardian Angel and stuff..."
"Excuse me? Whoa, what? Did you say, 'scapular'? What on earth is that?"
"You know, those wool patches you wear under your clothes, with the saints' faces printed on them - or Jesus's. I forget."
"Mom, I have no clue what you're talking about."
At this point she proceeded to tell me that when she was a kid (1940s) in Catholic school, each morning children put on scapular. The description given by Wikipedia is better than my attempt so here it is:
It consists of two small squares of cloth, wood or laminated paper bearing religious images joined by two bands of cloth. It is worn so that one band is across each shoulder and that one square rests on the chest and the other on the back. Older forms of scapular exist that have extra bands running under the arms and connecting the squares.In my mom's case, her scapular was wool and was worn in winter and summer under the clothes directly against the skin. The point? To irritate the skin at all times so that you would remember that you needed God, that you should never be fully content with life and therefore forget that you needed God.
She said they scratched and itched all the time. And in summer, they were hot. She wore these starting in Kindergarten. Not optional.
My mouth dropped open.
So I pressed on. "What is this about fasting and your Guardian Angel?"
She told me that once children had received first communion, they then took communion every day in mass at school. But before Vatican 2, no one could eat any food or drink after midnight before receiving the host. That meant small kids (starting in first grade) would eat dinner around 6:00. They went to bed at 8:30 and woke up, dressed and went off to school without breakfast or even a glass of water.
Communion wouldn't come until nearly 10:00 a.m. Mothers packed jelly sandwiches as breakfast to be eaten after mass. And as my mom went through this dispassionate explanation of what can only be thought of as cruel and unusual religious punishment of children, she commented, "I was famous for fainting. I fainted all the time. The nuns thought I was just not trying hard enough."
I kept driving and had almost nothing to contribute to this shocking revelation of her early childhood life. She added, almost as a post script, that she remembered being in Kindergarten when her teacher, a 25 year old nun that she loved, told them to always sit to the righthand side of the desk chair leaving at least half a chair for the guardian angel who needed a place to sit beside them. Being a 'good girl,' my mother scooted to the edge of her seat imagining that she might not be giving the angel enough room. She never sat comfortably in her chair because she believed her nun and wanted to have a happy guardian angel.
It was at this moment that I finally understood why my mother has no comprehension about why any Protestant would convert to Catholicism. To her, Catholic conversion is equivalent to hurtling oneself back into irrational self-abuse designed by those in authority, disguised as devotion to God.
...whereas Protestant fundamentalism is the conscious and deliberate choice to turn grace into law for the sake of feeling morally superior, more secure and closer to God than the other people in your church. At least, that's how it felt when I was a fundamentalist.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
I know, I know... I should be grateful. It's my husband wanting to spend the money. He isn't looking down his nose at me saying "You clean" so he can put that $150 toward a new putter.
But honestly, I'd take the putter on his behalf.
Cleaning help does two things I hate: 1) It raises my hopes that I won't have to clean and will be "wowed" by how many nooks and crannies are now dust and grime free, and 2) Cleaning help breaks stuff.
With regard to number one: This morning in my newly "clean" shower, I squirted Lime Away on all the shower door surfaces because there is so much untouched gunk on the runners and the metal frame. Even the glass doors still have water spots.
I have to vacuum and dust the whole house save one room because "the maids ran out of time." I cleaned my oven since the self-cleaning timer was set too late and went off after they left. I cleaned my kitchen because with two hours remaining, I had to tell them where to put their energies since they couldn't do it all. I swept and mopped the hall and the kitchen floors because they were too busy wiping down baseboards.
::wrirck, reik, wrick:: Rewind that tape. Did someone mention "baseboards"? If so, I may now have to wrench one from the wall to bat said person over the head.
I have no clue why anyone cares about baseboards. In my house, they are dusty "down at the bottom of walls" planks, which aren't even well-painted. Wiping them provides virtually no change in appearance to the rooms. When I do bother to squat in their general direction and wipe them down, it takes me about ten minutes per room.
Yet this crew of three (then two, because one left after breaking my window fastener - Number Two on my list of things I hate about cleaning help) took (I kid you not) the whole day to wash doors and windows (forgetting a couple), and wipe baseboards (though for some inexplicable reason they did not clean the baseboards that go up the stairs). When they had two hours left, they had not yet dusted or vacuumed a single room, cleaned any of the three bathrooms nor glanced at my kitchen.
In other words, you could not tell I had hired cleaning help for the day. In fact, I had more work ahead of me once they left than before they came.
Because I expect a clean house as the result of hiring a maid service, I was stunned into speechless whines of hysteria on the back porch while I'll stomped around in agony realizing I'd need to actually clean the house once they left. In those precious two hours, they cleaned three bathrooms and dusted/vacuumed one room. Turns out, they didn't really clean the bathrooms as I discovered this morning in the shower.
And so today I will be dusting and vacuuming, washing windows left undone, cleaning the kitchen more thoroughly, mopping the kitchen floors, wiping and vacuuming the stairwell, and preparing a room for my mom.
Soooo glad I had cleaning help this week. It's made everything so much easier.
Monday, July 09, 2007
We had a great time.
Loads of Chicago memories for me. My parents grew up in Chicago so we spent summers and Christmases there many times. I went up the Sear's tower just after it was built, for instance. I also remembered shopping in Marshall Field's. This time, we shopped in H&M and the Apple Store (more suited to my kids' tastes for sure).
Hope you all are well.
Friday, July 06, 2007
but we visit every Hard Rock Cafe we can find in any city we visit. (See us? We're in the middle, round table.)
Chicago is great! I'll have pictures to post eventually but thought some of my musical readers might enjoy seeing this picture. The Chicago HRC has guitars owned by Tom Petty, Van Halen, Petra, and Poison. There's a scary looking leotard by Madonna, Elton John's orange jumpsuit from "Rock of the Westies" and those ugly brown cords of John Lennon's with Yoko Ono's striped cords in front of them. Fun.
We went bike riding this morning along the lake shore (gorgeous weather) and then spent the afternoon shopping. The entire family played with the iPhone at the Apple store. :) That's a vacation for us.
See you Sunday night!
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
I have a series of photos to share from last night's hilarious X rated fireworks display on our driveway that I hope to post when I get time. (I say X rated because I cower in anxiety like the fuzz are on my case when I see boxes of fireworks for sale - I come from the CA indoctrination program that says anything requiring a match is the equivalent of dropping the A-Bomb on your neighborhood...)
When Jon and Caitrin, who seduced him into the purchase with her girlish fluttering eyelashes, entered the house with a big box (of essentially smoke bombs and sparklers), I pursed my lips like Cinderella's step-mother. But they dragged me out to the driveway and we threw those pop rocks to the ground, making all kinds of explosive sounds (and none of the kids had shoes on and Jon didn't even freak out!). We ignited multiple matches at once, sending up sparks and smoke and we laughed and played.
My word. Too much fun. Only the hair on the back of Jon's hand got singed.
Those CA fire fighters. One more time I've been lied to. :)
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Do you know what it means? What do you think its definition is? What should it be? If you were to guess its meaning, what ideas does it conjure?
The word mission has clearly been a big part of my biographical lexicon. The whole idea of missions appealed to nearly everything about me as a young twenty-something: to be a blessing to the nations as God has blessed me (us); to do the most noble, rightest, goodest, truest act, not for money or even for this-world's glory, but for God, for eternity, for truth (and to keep decent human beings out of eternal flames and gnashing of teeth) - well how could you beat that as an ENFP? The only better combo is mission and Irish rock star. (Freaking gorgeous....)
The point is (where were we again?) that the ideals of "mission" appeal to an innate desire to be of good use to others. Today's missional Christians have expanded the mission of God to global warming, the environment, voting for the occasional democrat, serving the poor, building homes for Habitat for Humanity, giving away groceries to the poor, free ESL lessons, day-care for single mothers and more. They've added a social justice vision to the idea of missions, but the heart beats the same blood.
The insidious side of the missions appeal is the need to be the one bringing the help, ergo, the one who is doing the glorious work. When the task is combined with an unwitting sense of superiority (no matter how humbly cloaked) the experience of mission Dei (I can use Latin too) can lapse into dangerous territory: the land of "I know more than you, what you need for you."
Keren, in the comments in the previous post on the "pursuit of happiness" pointed to an article by John Barlow where he states:
Having a sense of mission has served me extremely well, even better than I thought it would when I wrote Adult Principle Number 15 and bound myself to purpose rather than its by-product. Often I would have been hard-pressed to define mine and it has certainly taken on many different manifestations in the course of my careers, but I have taken a lot of happiness from a sense - often grandiose and sometimes illusory - that I am, by my various actions, helping create a future that will be more free, more tolerant, more open, and more just.And herein lies the rub. We do take a lot of pleasure in being of use (grandiose and illusory even). Bono knows that absurdity better than the rest of us (which is why he is so cuddly and adorable).
Still, for recovering mission-aholics like myself, the danger of "seeing" self in a role of Significant Helpfulness is that I mistake my happiness in helping for real help. In other words, I don't know how to be content when others lead the way, shape the future, change the course of their lives nearly as well as when I have a hand in doing it for/with/to them.
For me, the Gospel and postmodernism have flipped all that on its head. The addiction to being of use, to being in a role that changes lives, that brings love, that serves, that acts as change-agent, that "embodies the heart of God for all peoples".... all of that feeds a dangerous self-concept that says "my life has meaning insofar as I impact yours for the better." That means I have to determine the better for your life and be about impacting it.
Grad school showed me how addicted I've been to mattering, to being important in someone's universe. I recognized what a truly lousy listener I've been in a "global" way, in a specific way. I show little interest, for instance, in what Muslims are doing to make the world a better place and think about them in terms of their deficiencies, what they do wrong. I thought my role in racial reconciliation was to be a leader, to figure out how to fix race problems in my city. Then I found out that blacks would like me to shut up and listen for a change... and let them take the lead. What a notion!
Here's a thought. Instead of white churches attempting to create churches that "welcome blacks," what if those whites closed up shop and attended black churches? They could be members and let black pastors and congregation members lead. That would be a whole lot different than having a mission of "racial reconciliation... over at my white church led by my white pastor."
Postmodernism requires us to see that our angle of vision cannot be the only and right one for everyone. The formerly silenced get to lead, speak, take the initiative. We deliberately make space for that to happen in our own lives, if we are to be true to the values of tolerance, openness, generosity. I don't know how to do that and be a change agent in other people's lives at the same time. Postmodernism encourages us to stop teaching and start learning.
So I ask: What if serving and loving and giving meant giving up my right to have a mission? What if the detox program for junkies like me (in order to get a glimpse of what Jesus might have been about) is to give up my right to matter, to make a difference? Maybe letting someone else be in charge and figuring out how to fit in is more "missional" than planting a church or starting a dialog group or leading someone to Christ? Wouldn't it be a total flip if we let someone lead us to yoga.... really lead us not so we could find its errors and use those as opportunities to pounce with the 'good news' but so we might grow and be benefited by that person's gifts? Period.
I don't trust the word "missional" in the hands of Christians because Christians are hooked on power. Power makes mission into a drug that feeds self-importance, no matter how many toilets you scrub to show God's love in a practical way.
The Gospel is about divesting oneself of power. If we give up our right to change the world and instead find those nooks and crannies where we can shut up and listen, learn and be changed, support and admire the good works of others, we might not only find happiness, but get the heart of the Gospel tossed into the bargain.
Monday, July 02, 2007
Sunday, July 01, 2007
"Live Free or Die Hard" was worth the $18.50 we sprang for two tickets. Loved it! My kids said when we got home late last night, "Must have been better than 'Knocked Up'. You're happy!"
Indeed. What makes this popcorn summer flick so much fun is that you feel utterly free to laugh at the outrageous special effects and action sequences whose only real goal is to surprise the viewer (since credibility is out the window). Success! You need to see this film, if only to discover how a car takes out a helicopter. :)
Unlike Mission Impossible 23 (or at least it felt like the 23rd time we had to sit through Tom Cruise's self-indulgent smile), the dialog in this film is snappy, even when campy. Willis gives just the right understated "I'm the only one willing to be a hero-thing" while hidden in his eye-twinkle is an awareness of how absurd it is to be in yet another action flick at his age. I appreciated that layer.
The real star of the picture for me, though, was Justin Long. First smitten with Mr. Long when he became the human Mac-icon, I found myself even more enthralled with Long now, as the twenty-something anti-hero sidekick (Matt Farrell) to Willis. He looks scared - really scared - most of the movie. He has the right wide-eyed growing realization look as he sees "old man" McClane's perspective vindicated at every turn. The writers exploited the generation gap which at times felt obvious and other times clever. I liked it nonetheless.
The evil chick in the flick is 95 lb. Maggie Q whose Kung Fu antics against hefty McClane are as entertaining as they are incredible. Timothy Olyphant is terrific as the smoldering, under-appreciated, government-slandered evil lord of the technological underworld.
If you're looking for fun action where good guys are more creative than the bad guys, where the action sequences surprise you and make you laugh with their improbability as much as their skill in pyrotechnics, this movie is perfect for the Fourth of July weekend.