Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Back of 2009

I'm looking forward to the back of this year. The first six months were hell. I spent them in misunderstood grief, anxiety about the future and resentment toward people I counted on who failed me. I spent those months adjusting to separation and considerations for my future and figuring out how bad things were and if they were bad enough to bring an end to a nearly 25 year marriage.

On July 4, Independence Day in fact, clarity came in the form of a short phrase: Growth is not health. Standing on the dirty sand beach in Avalon, Catalina, I realized that what I needed in my life right then and forever was a context of health. I needed to know that I could depend on my life—that it would be nurturing and supportive, filled with kindness and compassion. I had no more nerve-endings left for unpredictability, for one step forward and two back, for failed promises, for "mostly good except..." But how hard to muster the courage to let go!

I read a tweet by a friend later that day and have saved it (perhaps it was a talisman, but it certainly articulated what I was feeling): Choice is rarely the real issue. It's usually the consequences that seem unacceptable. Happy Independence Day.

The consequences. I had to think about that. No matter what one chooses (stay with the status quo or upend the status quo and make radical changes), there are consequences. But usually we feel most comfortable with familiar consequences—the ones that are hidden from public view or the ones we internalize. I'd played it that way for 25 years and where had it gotten me? Too many memories of how it never should be and no more heart or energy to hope or believe for the best. When you put on public display consequences you choose for yourself, you must also contend with the opinions of others, with change (which no one likes), with adjusting to an unfamiliar way of living and being, with requiring others to also make changes that they didn't initiate or want. It means, in short, reinterpreting your life both emotionally and logistically.

It also means taking responsibility for choosing, for giving up hope, for saying "This is how I want my life to be and I'm going to ensure that it is this way."

I wrote on January 4, 2009 that I wanted a whole new life. It's taken a year to figure out what that meant.

2010 looks like it will be the start of that new life. Unfamiliar, but welcome. Goodbye 2009. I don't wish you back.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The darkest night is coming....

but then we move toward the light steadily, every day brightening second by second, imperceptibly yet irreversibly. What relief!

I've spent time researching the winter solstice this month. Many of our Christmas habits find their origin, in fact, in solstice traditions. The lights on our houses and trees, our varieties of candles, pine wreaths, the Yule log, wassail... all of these are related to the quieting of nature, the dimming of light that reaches its depth on December 21. Christmas bears these transported symbols well enough, since Jesus Christ is often compared to light, even the stumbling-over-themselves-with-awe hyperbole offered by the Gospel writers: "Light of the World."

Solstice holds a lot of potential for creating a metaphorical framework of darkness giving way to light. While we still love our Christmas, it felt like a good time to re-up, to take that "longing for light" feeling and do something practical with it. So we're celebrating solstice on Monday night this year. A few of the things we're doing excite me:
  • Giving handmade gifts to each other
  • Creating a huge bonfire with last year's Christmas tree
  • Tossing notes into that fire (one set: regrets from the previous year; one set: hopes and wishes for coming year)
  • Making lanterns out of food cans (using hammer and nails, you puncture the cans in decorative patterns, glue gun a tea light to the bottom and light them, lining your drive and walk ways)
  • Making beeswax candles from Hearthsong
  • Rolling pinecones in peanut butter and birdseed to create ornaments on our pines and firs for our visiting backyard birds
  • Drinking wassail
  • Turning off the electricity for the evening and living by candlelight
  • Reading poetry about light and dark, nature, hope over regret and loss
  • Painting tea light holders for candles
Of course, one of the traditions is to clean your home thoroughly and a friend of mine uses lavender water to make the indoor space sweet-smelling. My kids ka-bashed this idea, saying you don't clean on holidays. :) I'll take care of it for them since my idea of putting away darkness and inviting light includes ridding the corners of dust bunnies and cobwebs.

Since you can't join me, feel free to list your regrets (if you feel inward permission to do it) and your hopes and wishes for the coming year in the comments section. I'll type them up, print them out and toss them onto our bonfire for you. I have been ruminating about both for some time. Even the process of contemplating regrets balanced against hope has been cleansing.

Thank you for being a source of light in a dark year for me (all of you who have been especially supportive). In case you wonder, we are well enough (all of us)... we're coming through the hard part and moving into what feels like release and hope. There's something to be said for going through a passage of dark waters. None of us wants to. We don't volunteer for it. But when you go through, you learn about yourself and about others which promotes awe, compassion and love. So much better than hiding or pretending. (In case you were wondering...)

May you move gently into the womb of darkness this weekend.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Waking up: The shift from one point of view to the another

My Facebook set of friends is one of the more diverse bunch of people I've run across online. That's because suddenly my past and present have collided in conversation in ways that would never happen if we limited our relationships to in-person contact. So what's happened is that my high school friends, who knew me mostly as a short, a-political, theater student without much of a religious agenda, are interacting with my college friends who knew me as this zealot who shared the Four Spiritual Laws with anyone stuck in a bank line with me. My missionary and Vineyard friends are interacting with my liberal theological graduate school buddies. My homeschool momma friends are talking to my business networking friends here in Cincy. And of course, my Obama campaign colleagues are talking to my rightwing radio pals from bygone years.

And like me, many of my friends have gone through significant shifts (either a deepening of loyalty to their original commitments, or a radical reassessment which led to a new, changed point of view).

I respect all of you (even when we disagree). I wouldn't keep you around on my FB if I didn't! In fact, I have kicked a few off my list when they've crossed that invisible line called "Coerce Julie back to what is good for her and tell her she is going to hell if she doesn't listen."

So here's the thing. For years (over 20), I adopted a point of view both politically and theologically that was rooted in a set of assumptions (these assumptions were handed to me with care and conviction, and they were based on the core doctrines of evangelicalism at the time). I remember once saying to Don Carson (some of you will remember him), the head of our Campus Crusade chapter at UCLA, "Why are you telling me that predestination as a theological tenet has to be believed in order to be a Christian? I haven't even had time to think about it yet." I had the same reaction to inerrancy (Is this really necessary to be a Christian? Can I think about it a bit?), to the doctrines of heaven and hell. I still remember saying at my first Bible Study at Kappa Kappa Gamma that I didn't like the idea of hell, after all, that would mean all my Jewish friends from high school and step relatives were going there... and I couldn't quite *get* that. I mean, it was one thing to believe in heaven and hell when you grew up in La Canada or Pasadena, where everyone you knew was Protestant. But what happened when you had to include people you loved, A LOT, in that number?

I found myself suddenly in conflict: to belong meant to adopt (uncritically, really) the values and doctrines that enabled me to remain a part of the community (this new, great group of people who were so much fun to be with), or I could reject those tenets and not be in the group, not have the love, worship, prayer, moral values, and community Christianity offered. So adopt I did (and worked to learn the apologetics for these tenets) and from then on, made it my chief aim in life to save those I loved and those I hadn't yet met from hell.

But time has a way of tugging at the tangled threads. The intellectual conflicts, the theological discrepancies, the arguments online with people I genuinely grew to love about splitting hair differences... how did these show the compassion of Jesus or the relevance of spirituality in a globalized world of diverse expressions of reality? It hurt to think Christians couldn't even agree on very basic ideas and would be cruel and critical of each other arguing over what amount to technicalities, many times.

The rightwing vision of politics has also walked in lockstep with the evangelical vision. Since we grew up knowing we couldn't criticize theology (who could ask if Jesus really rose from the dead with a physical body or if the Bible has mistakes, and stay in an evangelical church?), we are also equally beholden to rightwing politics as naturally right, clear. If someone speaks with conviction, we tend to adopt that point of view as long as it leads us back to reinforcing those original tenets we were told to adopt (our membership in the community is at stake if we challenge those tenets - ask me how I know this).

To inhabit someone else's point of view, to give it weight, to care about its interior logic is not one of the values of evangelicalism. We are taught to convert people to our point of view and to understand theirs only enough to change their minds. We spend countless hours reinforcing our own beliefs in community contexts, privately, listening to sermons and tapes, reading books, listening to music. We adopt these views as our own, but from within the safe protected context of like-minded people (and we elevate those with more education as leaders as a way to tell us that we are thinking critically, to help us navigate the pesky incongruity or penetrating question of someone from the outside). We suppress our own questions. We avoid The Jesus Seminar or Richard Dawkins, because they are dangerous.

This is not to say that there aren't brilliant men and women on the right or in the conservative evangelical movement who have dug deep and have spent time drawing conclusions that they feel are both intellectually sound and honest. There are. I've read them, met some of them. What I reject today is that so many people have adopted their thinking second-hand. (To be fair: on both left and right, though I am less versed in how this happens on the left - what I have seen is much more arguing over nuances on the left - a chief value of theirs is dissent!)

If you haven't sat inside the point of view (letting it be "right" for awhile, looking for its logic, how it hangs together, how it creates a worldview that coheres and supports a vision of life and happiness for the one who holds it), you can't actually know if yours is true (or at least, "true enough" for your life). It's one reason I attend a black church. I was sick of secondhand reports about what black leaders are doing and saying or not doing and saying. I was sick of the myopia of white church that thinks reconciliation means having a sister church that is black, or getting more blacks to attend your white church. I wondered what the black community had to say about it. I wondered how they experienced America, and the church, and "truth" from their experiences.

I spent two years reading pro-choice literature, getting inside the mindset that saw being "pro-choice" as the higher morality (yes, they do feel that way!), as the obvious right belief system that is more compassionate and ethical than the alternative. I did this after we had been actively involved in Operation Rescue. I also wish pro-choice people would spend time understanding the radical commitment of those engaged in civil disobedience to stop abortion, too.

What's happened to me, then, is that I got tired of secondhand news, theology, sociological commentary. I stopped buying into the scripts I'd been handed and became unwilling to defend something just because it had always been "true" in the community I loved. If I had one piece of advice for those who can't quite grasp what it is that's happened to me, I'd say pick the thing you are most afraid of (the thing you most don't want to be true) and go read about it. Meet someone who holds that viewpoint and let that person influence you. Invite their ideas into your living room, care to understand the world from inside someone else's mind. If you do that for a little while, yes, you will change. But your compassion will also grow, and your insights will be yours, and your spirituality will deepen.

I'm also conscious of the fact that there is so much I can't possibly know well enough to make adequate judgments (how could I ever say if global warming is real or not? I'm not a scientist, have no training or tools to evaluate the arguments, can't come close to making a real case that isn't some watered down version of someone else's). So I hold my current "positions" with some guardedness, knowing that I'm a few arguments away from another shift. But I'm no longer afraid of getting it right or wrong. I love the process, and I feel privileged/relieved/blessed to have been able to leave behind the need to vilify "the other" in order to protect my point of view. (That doesn't mean I won't criticize the other, but I hope I do it knowing that I could again shift my point of view if the facts that I understand warrant it.)


Friday, October 02, 2009

My well-being is MY responsibility

In a follow up to a discussion about well-being on Facebook, I wrote what well-being means to me:
I think of my well-being as knowing what it takes to feel rightside up with the world, where my thoughts, feelings and beliefs are accessible to me and I can express them without anxiety. It means ensuring that the space I live in is one that supports that self-expression. It means living a life where I'm not lying or hiding for self-protection. It means not depending on someone else to create that space for me, nor spending my energy trying to ensure that space for someone else.
Wanted to put it up here to remind myself when I forget, or when it seems more reasonable to just set it aside for the sake of everyone else.

I contend that we aren't really giving of ourselves when we set aside our well-being for someone else. We're protecting ourselves from pain (the painful realization that we aren't needed or don't match someone else's expectations or can't bring happiness or to cover our own feelings of dislocation and not belonging). We aren't protecting ourselves from mistreatment or abuse, either, since love never covers that multitude of sins. Only good fences and a fierce loyalty to your well-being can stop the force of control and anger aimed at you.

Truth is, you can only give if there's something in the tank to give away. If you go into debt to yourself, some day your soul will come to collect. "You can't cheat the dark gods." The price can be high, depending how deep the debt. You wouldn't go into debt to give to a charity, and so you shouldn't go into soul debt in order to love others.

If we safeguard our well-being, gently protecting it like you would your grandmother's nicest china dessert dish, you'll be able to give to others because your spirit will be in good shape, ready and able to be the platter from which love is served. I didn't know this, for my whole life. So I'm way in debt. I'm paying it off slowly now, looking at overdue bills and figuring out how to settle accounts with myself.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

RIP Senator Kennedy

Someone posted the following excerpt from Bobby Kennedy's speech after MLK Jr. died. It seemed appropriate today.

In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black - considering the evidence there evidently is that there were white people who were responsible - you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization - black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.

Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand that compassion and love.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: "In our sleep pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of injustice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black...

We've had difficult times in the past. We will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land. Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world.
Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

In honor of John Hughes and Ferris Bueller's Day Off

I found this wonderful retelling of the whole movie tonight, written by an Aussie. What a refreshing perspective on life! Loved that movie. In our Brave Writer film discussion class, a whole slew of teens led by our intrepid Susanne Barrett, discussed this film in depth (of course, it happens to be her favorite film of all time—natch). Strange timing with Hughes' passing (RIP).

Ferris Bueller's Day Off Redux

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Giving credit to Bill: It's the Diplomacy Stupid

In Release of Journalists, Both Clintons Had Roles

If there's one thing I love , it's good, culturally sensitive diplomacy. We've had too little of it for too long. Too many Americans still believe that talking big and never apologizing is the key to a successful relationship with Asia and the Middle East. As if! Have you not read James Clavell? Leon Uris? The Bible, for heaven's sake?

These cultures are governed by shame and saving face, not by unnuanced self-aggrandizement... and bigger-than-you guns.

And so when Bill Clinton, a man I didn't vote for or like or respect (you know, back when I looked just like a Dittohead), manages to get two of our reporters released from North "Send Nukes into the Sky" Korea, ya gotta give the man props... but even more, wonder how on earth he did it? (And let's just say right here - has there ever been a man more interested in having a legacy than Bill Clinton? I enjoyed his success this week for his ego's benefit, after the thrashing he's been through in his personal life during his presidency—all by his own complexity of failings, to be sure, but still. I'm all about humans fumbling their way toward better choices, growth and contributions that matter. I'd hope we'd all be!)

So anyway, back to what I was feeling, writing. Here's what the NYTimes had to say about how Bill may have pulled this off:
As president, Mr. Clinton had sent Mr. Kim a letter of condolence on the death of his father, Kim Il-sung, according to a former official. For Mr. Kim, the former official said, freeing the women was a “reciprocal humanitarian gesture.”
Did you read that? Try it one more time. A gesture of human caring for someone's father (family being everything in Asia), sending the appropriate human gesture, led to a reciprocal humanitarian release. Americans rarely get how powerful it is to show respect, to honor someone's set of values, to get outside our own western, gun-slinging point of view long enough to be genuinely diplomatic! Bill Clinton! Amazing. The guy has got some of it goin' on.

Now granted, we don't know what that release will cost us. Asians have much longer memories than Americans, and they don't do anything for nothing. We can be sure this "gesture" will go on a tally sheet somewhere. Still, for now, today, a decision Clinton made in office to show respect and care came back to serve America this week. That's a lesson we all ought to internalize.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Checking in... testing 1, 2, 3

Yep still works. Apparently they didn't pull the plug on this dormant thing so here I be, back in the saddle.

Life is crazy busy for me (Brave Writer high season) and kids are ever busy with friends, King's Island, church, and preparation for the fall school season. Caitrin woke up today and before even opening facebook, opened her math book. We started the review. Time to dust off the long division skills and get back to work.

Liam will go to the freshman school for two classes so we'll enroll him this week. He says adamantly, "No one can make me go." But I think I may win this one. :) Oh, I'm non-coercive on the whole. Anyone who knows me knows that. I mean: stay up until 5:00 a.m. playing Warcraft - dooode be my guest! But this time, his main reason for staying home and not schooling it?? Sleeping in! Ha! (Maybe that Warcraft all nighter-ing is starting to take its toll.) So I'm more like, "Uh, not this time, pal." If he wants to ski in January every Wednesday, he's got to rise with the dawn and garbage trucks for the whole year. That's the only way it will work. And that, my friends, is what we call holding your child over a ski barrel.

I head out to be with the crazy liberals who want to impose healthcare on recalcitrant birthers and Republicans next week: Netroots Nation in Pittsburgh. Seriously excited about this. I'm such a complete political novice. But I came to love that "little" (cough sputter) community of 200,000 last year during Campaign "No One Can Stop the Man Born in Kenya." We hung out and bled our veins for Obama and ahhhh. Now he's in office and all the ones who hated him then, hate him more now and they ask me things like, "What do you think now that Obama is ruining the country and everything is worse than ever and no one has jobs and he wants to make us have healthcare against our wills and he's not even American and he has to read all his jokes off a teleprompter?"

I'm kind of at a loss. I mean, for crying out loud in the night! I gave freaking George W. Bush EIGHT years! EIGHT that we'll never get back. I let Bush invade a sovereign nation, allow for the deregulation of energy (which led to the Enron crime of the century - the one crime that made me think the death penalty is not punishment enough for white collar criminals - and the subsequent bankrupting of California), violate our citizens' rights to privacy, support and condone torture, and send our country spiraling into out of control debt as well as bailing out banks! And I'm supposed to convert to being a "hater" of Obama, who's been in office, what, 7ish months because it's taking awhile to get the economy righted after the disaster Bush left behind?

Come on! I gotta give the man a little more time and love than that! You know I do!


Life is actually pretty okay these days despite the obvious sources of angst. Had a great time in CA. Feels good to be home in Cincy. Really good. Like, I'm Beyonce "crazy in love" with this city. I knew it when I got off the plane this time that Cincy really is home now. I heart Cincinnati.

Okay, let's hope this little freewheeling freewrite gets me back in the groove for blogging. I've missed you all.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

California bound

Well, I had a great time at PodCampOhio 09 yesterday. Now I'm packing my suitcase to head out to CA for two weeks. My 30 year high school reunion is in a week and then I head to Catalina for some good time with my family. Between now and next weekend, I'm hanging out with three of my girlfriends (from three different periods of my life). Can't wait.

I'll have my computer with me so I'll try to update as I can. See you all soon!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wasting time online = good business

Here's the question I get asked: How do you use social media to help your business grow?

Social media is so recent, who knows? On the other hand, an active online presence across all kinds of communication technologies is what enhances any online business. Being a person, not a business, is what it's all about these days. In other words, I think wasting a lot of time online as yourself is the key to helping your business grow devoted, repeat customers.

I've logged thousands and thousands of hours online since 1995, when I first dialed up to connect. I've written hundreds of thousands of words (maybe millions, but I lost count after ten). I've posted my heart, soul, thoughts, secrets (consequently, I have few), mistakes, regrets, questions, answers, help, insight, mistakenly-believed-to-be-insightful-at-the-time remarks, quips, jabs, passions, premature commitments, and the odd overstatement-passed-off-as-fact.

In that time, I've cultivated a vibrant online life that has resulted in more in-person meetings than most skeptics of the virtual world would guess (numerous retreats all over the country with online women friends, BBQs with out of state theological pals, meet ups for concerts, coffees and desserts, drop-ins from both a client and two friends moving from point A to point C and Cincinnati turned out to be point B). I've been invited to and spoken at a conference on the strength of a tweet (twitter). I've walked on a beach with a homeschooling mom and her kids when she heard I was in her neighborhood.

I've made local friends and networked myself into a social media community (recent!), I found fellow Obama campaigners through my online life, I discovered fantasy football and U2 fans and the important world of gay rights issues because I loved the movie "Brokeback Mountain." I've contributed to two books as a result of these passions: Get Up Off Your Knees (about U2) and Beyond Brokeback (about the movie's impact) based on posts I'd written. I wound up in a Scot McKnight book because I posted a lot to his blog. Currently I'm working on two projects: Divine Feminine Version of the Bible and a project called Wikiklesia that is focused on women in ministry. Online relationships made both of these happen.

I've made friends in foreign countries and have a strong following of homeschooling mothers in Australia and New Zealand (I will get there and use my business to pay for it, yes I will!).

When someone says to me that they don't have time for a virtual life, I think: I don't have time not to! My richest, most satisfying personal relationships hands-down have come through writing back and forth online. And even the less personal ones have been a rich source of insight, support, and challenge in ways I don't achieve in person. The power of the written word combined with the significance of self-selecting community has revolutionized relationships.

Still, my business is writing and this post is supposed to be about how social media adds value to business. And everything I said above falls into that category. I don't think there is anything you can do to get people to be interested in your business through a couple of tweets a day or a fan page on Facebook. Who cares? You have to start by being interested in other people. The only way to do that is to talk to them about what they care about. For hours. On end. Even when it has nothing to do with your business.

Brave Writer began because I wasted so much time talking to homeschoolers online. I got to know them, enjoyed them, asked them questions, shared my insights; we became friends. We talked about stupid stuff like favorite snack foods we hid from our children. But we also talked about best methods for tackling spelling.

I learned everything I needed to know about how to make a successful writing program by listening to moms tell me what frustrated them about writing and teaching it to their kids. I paid attention. Then I figured out how to meet that need. I ruminated, researched, tested, shared, gave away my ideas, helped moms with no compensation whatsoever. Slowly, I built a little credibility when my ideas worked.

I was lucky. I didn't have to earn money right away. But that first check for $25.00 told me everything I needed to know. I had no website, I had no business name. Yet my first online class in 2000 was full (25 families). And so was the next one, and every one after that for the first five years, even while I raised my prices to over $100.00 per family in that time. I started with my name, and I was known in homeschooling circles because I had spent so much time hanging out, chatting with homeschoolers.

I've hardly advertised (maybe 8 weeks of a banner ad once). Word of mouth, email lists, discussion forums, blogging, and now, the miracle of twitter have accounted for all my business. Simply being transparent, available, and frequently online has been the key to generating interest in Brave Writer. It helps that the mothers (and some fathers too!) I work with are incredibly generous with their ideas, support, issues and needs. We know each other. In some cases, I've worked with every student of a family with eight kids.

To me, the question isn't "How do I use social media to generate business?" but rather, "Who have I connected to today?" Jon used to say that I got paid to give compliments. There's some truth to that. We all need encouragement. If there is one thing I've learned online—most of us are looking for support and reinforcement in our primary commitments. Brave Writer exists to give moms the courage to follow through on their best intentions for writing and language arts, while nurturing their relationships with their kids. Brave Writer provides the resources and support to to get it done. I'm every homeschooling parent's biggest fan and cheerleader. I believe in my committed, devoted, amazing customer/parents. I enjoy them. I learn from them. I like hanging out with them.

To me, that's what it's all about.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

EcclectiCarrie on Marriage and Relationships

Carrie and I go waaaay back online, like to the dark ages before yahoo groups and bulletin boards. We've walked through so many deep waters together, we had to buy scuba suits to hang out. She and I haven't agreed on everything (understatement of the new millenia) yet her friendship (loyal as Paul Newman to Joanne Woodward) has been a challenging and nurturing one for me. She's also been through a few things and somehow, that seems to render any one of us a little more humble, self-aware and compassionate.

So her comments on marriage, health and relationships jumped out at me today (in italics):

I've been thinking about this discussion a lot today and I realized what my answer is. Should we reverence long term marriage? No. That doesn't sound healthy at all. We shouldn't reverence any marriage. What I do think we should do is support and encourage healthy relationships.

I like how you tackled the thorny term "reverence." Well done. When I think about the term, it really does seem that we are elevating the institution (something I criticize in my talk about Religionless Christianity) over the people within the institution.

People are meant to be relational. It's built into us. I don't think many of us can, or want to, escape the desire to belong in some way to another person or group of people: family, community, group of friends, etc. I know we flow in and out of those situation, but losing connections always comes at a cost, even when the relationship(s) has to be, or needs to be, over.

This is a really critical point. It's what drives us to work on our marriages, our relationships with our parents or children, even at times when they stop being within our reach, or good for us. Still, cashing in history shared with your family is an enormously costly choice, as any child of divorce can attest.

Because of the pain of letting go, I think most people hope for long term, committed relationships. In most human societies that includes the family unit and marriage. The history of marriage is probably fascinating, and full or wonderful and terrible things, but right now we'll just accept that it is the "gold standard" when it comes to a committed relationship (at least in modern, western society, which is pretty much all I know). When you add children in the mix, the legality of the institution, at least in theory (and I believe often in practice) does allow some form of safety net for children and mothers (and fathers, too, but usually mothers).

This is an excellent point. I was talking to a friend going through a painful divorce right now about how disillusioned I am about marriage. She quickly reminded me that right now, marriage is saving her. Having made the legal commitment, she is entitled to half of what they've built together over their 25+ years. If they hadn't married, she wouldn't have that legal leverage. In domestic violence literature, women are sometimes cautioned against "living with a man" simply because there is no protection legally should he turn violent or attempt to harm your assets. Marriage does provide (in a backwards kind of way) protection when you are getting out of a longterm relationship.

Maybe it's my E-extrovert personality, but a marriage is what I wanted, and I believe needed, to be content. It's what most people still want. We shouldn't revere it, because then we think the marriage is the only thing worth saving. The people involved become of secondary importance. What we do need is to help, encourage, respect, and support marriages and the people involved. When the relationship isn't healthy, we respect the people and then support them as they work through whatever has to happen.

This was my favorite paragraph.

I'm still a starry-eyed optimist sometimes. I know marriage can work, and that it's an incredible blessing. Working to get there is worth it. But faking it to pretend to be there isn't. I remember how painful that was.

I read once that marriages die two ways: the hot way (arguments, passionate make-up sessions, volatility and drama that eventually exhaust one or both partners) and the cold way (gradual distancing from each other with little connection over time that slowly moves the partners into their own self-protecting cells). Healthy marriages keep an empathic connection alive and avoid the pitfalls of hot and cold.

So no, marriages of any length should not be reverenced. The people involved should be supported and respected. The choice to be married should be respected, the choice not to be should be, too. Perhaps if we knew how to really incorporate our singles in this society, we'd have people who made better choices in relationships because they would already have relational support in community.

I totally agree with this. One interesting discovery of separation is how hard being single is, in this very married culture (particularly in the midwest). I'm not even all the way single, and yet I still feel it. Marriage is a badge of social respectability. Yet even last night, my son told me that one of his friends has parents who have already said they would divorce when their youngest child was finished with high school. This declaration was made when that child was 8 years old. For me, that's an example of thinking marriage itself is the thing, rather than the relationship.

Thanks Carrie.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Long term marriage.... Should we reverence it?

Jon and I are working through some of the deepest waters we've ever faced. I talked to him about whether or not to blog these journeys. He consented... nothing to hide, the motto. We got to talking about our situation - where we are today after about six months of separation (mixed up with some non-separation too). He made a bold statement that echoed something I had just written in an email to a fried: "I'm not impressed with longterm marriages." I blinked and responded, "Me either! I just told a friend that 60 years of marriage doesn't mean much to me, unless that marriage is healthy. I'm all about healthy first marriages or healthy second ones, healthy one year marriages or healthy 60 year ones. But length, by itself, doesn't impress me any more."

I remember last year someone announced on their facebook page that they'd celebrated 24 years of marriage. A commenter wrote: "Good for you, defying the odds." The moment I read it, I thought, "Don't ever let me stay married to beat odds." I don't care about statistics or the status quo or avoiding stigmas. I care about family health, which starts with a healthy marriage.

As Jon and I hashed through the muck, in that early tentative way you have to when separated, he made another startling comment. "I'm so glad divorce is 'no fault' in most of this country and that it's available to everyone. Divorce really may be the best chance for happiness and personal well-being for a lot of people. I wonder if more marriages need to confront their fears and face it down... or get one!" Then he said, "If we can't be happy together, I want us to be happy apart."

It was a moment for me. My parents are divorced. Divorce has loomed as the spectre to avoid in my adult life. Yet in that rigid fear of divorce, neither of us addressed in that radical, no-holds-barred way, the issues that kept our marriage handicapped. We're doing that now. And strangely, neither of us is afraid of divorce any more.

I want to close by sending a shout out to my courageous friends who have contended for healthy lives and have used divorce as the tool for getting there. I admire you.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Tiller, "Operation Rescue" and Bonhoeffer

The Tiller murder has caused the pro-choice movement to legitimately question what the label "pro-life" means. Meanwhile vocal pro-lifers are screaming: "That's not who we are!" But I wonder... because in a cold, calculating logic, killing abortionists makes a kind of sick sense if you believe that abortions kill innocent babies.

I've spent years next door to that kind of conviction and so did Jon... We explored the edges of what it meant to really believe that abortion was murder (similar to how I really believed people were going to hell and couldn't sit home comfortably in America while millions of Muslims were flashing Fastrak passes to hell). I mean, if babies are being killed in the womb through no choice of their own, isn't that... murder? Wouldn't killing an abortionist be "defense of an innocent life"?

Jon and I were active in Operation Rescue back in the late 80s and early 90s. Jon spent Easter weekend (1990) in jail along with 300 Christians for blockading an abortion clinic in downtown Los Angeles. I stood with picketers on the sidelines with a baby in a backpack and a toddler in a stroller. An angry pro-choice woman walked by me, pointed at Johannah in the pack, and said to a friend of hers (so I could hear her), "There's one that should have been aborted."

The protest that weekend was peaceful. Think of "sit-in" and you'll have the right idea. Hundreds of men and women sat down on the steps and across the front of the clinic, singing worship songs, mostly, and praying. We'd been instructed to not shout epithets or to engage in verbal battering or debate. The idea was to follow the lead of Ghandi or MLK Jr. Civil (meaning "with civility" in addition to "civic") disobedience meant we would not create violent conditions of any kind and would receive without retaliation any violence dished out against us.

The protesters were rounded up and arrested, of course. The police used num-chuks to wrench the arms of the OR participants behind their backs, for the cuffing. Jon had a strained wrist for years following.

I still remember going to court for the arraignment. Jon had been front and center on the cover of the Orange County Register with his arms raised in worship in front of a clinic. The court found him guilty of trespassing and let him off for time served (LA County jail for a weekend with 300 others who worshiped God over stale burritos).

The heyday of Operation Rescue resulted in little rescue. I mean, we heard about women who turned back from particular clinics. But that wouldn't have prevented them from seeking out other ones. Over time, the arrests led to longer record sheets and fathers in particular, who had families to feed (usually large ones created without birth control), found it harder and harder to risk their jobs (jail time especially created a tension between convictions and practicalities) in order to stop abortion.

Yet the zealously committed (the ones who really did to their very bones see abortion as the murder of an innocent child) couldn't bear that all this effort resulted in... well, nothing. No changes in legislation, no awakening in the culture, no real shift in values among those who professed to be pro-life (you'd be astonished how many pro-lifers have either had abortions or have paid for them secretly).

The first tentative conversations I heard about murdering abortionists happened over dinner at one of the Operation Rescue leader's homes. Jon and I sat among the large family of kids with our own growing one (there were at least 9 kids among us) and Jeff (staffer) said that clearly the movement needed to escalate. Passive resistance was not effective. There needed to be graphic symbols and social/shaming pressure on abortionists to make them give up their abortion practices. This is when picketing abortionist homes became popular (using those graphic signs of aborted fetuses). But Jeff went further. He said if that didn't work, he could understand the need to take this cause all the way to murder (though quickly added that he didn't yet feel led that way himself).

It was a breath-taking statement followed by breathtaking reality when we heard of the first abortionist murder not many months later. Jon and I were rocked back on our heels. The leadership in OR was quick to distance themselves saying they didn't approve of those tactics.... but really? One of our best friends, an avid pro-lifer and missionary, shared on the QT with us that he felt this act was justified, and used Bonhoeffer to defend the position.

From there, I began to hear the drip drip drip of private, quiet support for these heroes, regardless of how the publicity from the pro-life camp was framed for news media and pro-choicers. Behind the public statements of 'we condemn this activity' was a deeper sense of 'this is what it comes to when you follow Christ' and Bonhoeffer served the purpose of theological support very well.

During my thesis writing, I ran across numerous articles about Bonhoeffer and how he did or didn't relate to the pro-life movement and their choices to oppose what they see as immoral (as evil). Most scholars decried the Bonhoeffer connection (saying that those relying on his example hadn't really bothered to study his theology or to examine his historical context or even his role in the resistance!).

Since Bonhoeffer is my main theological squeeze, I thought I'd share a bit about what I learned and read as a way to off-set this erroneous connection between being "pro-life" in an act of civil disobedience, versus being pro-life in an act of "conspiring to overturn evil in a nation."

First of all, Bonhoeffer's mission to overthrow the Fuhrer was philosophically supported by the similar objectives of a concert of nations in the war effort. Bonhoeffer didn't act as a lone agent of justice, but rather cooperated with a consensus of justice-seeking governments, individuals and organizations bent on ending the evil plot of the Third Reich (a mission created by one individual leading a nation and abusing his power to coerce the extermination of entire races, as well as taking over sovereign nations through acts of war).

Though erroneously called "the culture wars," the debate about abortion is not a war! It isn't even war-like. The right to an abortion is rooted in respect for the individual's ability to exercise choice at the deepest level of personal conviction. The choice to have an abortion is not coerced by a tyrant, but is made within the privacy of an individual woman's heart, in concert with her beliefs, her physician's recommendations and her spiritual/ethical values. To prevent this "choice" is to coerce. Certainly the baby (or fetus - you choose) has no choice and is coerced into birth or death based on that choice (the crux of the debate is really - does the fetus/baby have rights? Not, is it a baby or is it alive?). Still, the question isn't about the abortionist. It's about what individuals believe about conception and pregnancy (which is nothing like the death camps of Nazi Germany!).

Whether or not you agree with abortion, and even if you see the fetus as a baby from conception, abortions are not required of any woman and therefore, it is within the context of freedom that she makes that decision (even if it disagrees with your point of view).

Hitler's Germany coerced Jews to be exterminated, required ordinary citizens to participate in their executions and eliminated the possibility of difference of opinion on the topic of the "Jewish question." There is nothing even remotely similar about the conditions in Germany versus the conditions related to the abortion debate in America today.

Secondly, the enemy in World War 2 was a specific target with tyrannical power. Bonhoeffer didn't get a gun and stalk concentration camp guards. His participation in the assassination plot had to do with cutting off the source of power, not merely targeting local neighbors caught in the program of destruction. Killing prison guards would not have resulted in the end of the war or the death camps.

Killing abortionists is like killing a prison camp guard. It doesn't actually eliminate what a pro-life person sees as evil. It may stop abortions that day, but it doesn't change the nature of the laws, or address the reasons that abortion exists. To identify with Bonhoeffer's theological convictions means to wrestle through the complexity of what the topic is, rather than glossing over differences and justifying the murder of individuals acting in freedom.

For the record, I am pro-life. That does mean all life: including the lives of doctors who provide abortions as well as the young women who are overcome with the deepest of agony in making such a difficult decision as well as the babies (that's what I call them) in utero. Bonhoeffer's admonition to future generations was to wrestle through the ethical dilemmas of our time and to take full responsibility for our actions in shaping history. Killing a few abortionists over a thirty year period has more in common with vigilante justice than deeply explored ethical dilemmas and risk taking action for the common good.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The path to authenticity

is paved with lies, betrayals and broken hearts. Harsh words, but I'm not even talking about the people who do that stuff to us. I'm talking about the lying, betraying and breaking of hearts we do to ourselves. It seems like an inordinate number of my friends are in relationship crisis right now (like attracts like), so I'm thinking about what it means to be healthy, authentic, rightside up in all of our lives.

Awhile back I realized that I spent a good deal of my time lying. Oh, I'm not the kind of person who would lie about something like, "Did you leave the milk out to spoil?" I'd say, "Why yes I did. Sorry." I'm talking about this other kind of lying where a person you're afraid of says, "I expect this of you" and you go along with it, not because you want to or believe in it, but to appease that person, to stay on someone's good side. I'm talking about lies like, "I"m happy for you" when really, your heart is being ripped into tiny pieces and you're pretending to be brave when you really want to put dead rabbits in their mail boxes. I mean the lies where you protect or hide part of yourself chronically, secretly.

When you get into the habit of lying, you even start to believe you're telling the truth. You convince yourself that you do want to be inconvenienced, that you're a generous person offering care and support (not that you're a weak person who has no boundaries). It gets even more complicated when you mix in some positive results. You compromise on one issue (because all relationships require compromise, so we're told) and believe you did it out of sincerity and a desire to be loving, when in fact you were hoping to buy some kind of "free from abuse" pass instead.

Compromise birthed from a desire to avoid being punished is not love. It's not even compromise - it's capitulation. Love, in healthy relationships, is genuinely recognizing someone else's needs/likes/habits/desires are different from yours, and that you can celebrate and support those choices, even while possibly not embracing them for yourself. Love is not giving up what you need or violating your conscience or hiding your true self as a way to keep the peace, to paper over differences, to keep the sex good, to preserve the intact family, to avoid ruining your public reputation, to outrun criticism.

Authenticity has such a ring to it, though, doesn't it? Like, who doesn't want to be known as "authentic" or "genuine"? Still, it takes a lot of work once you're in a relationship to preserve your "self." I remember Mira Kirschenbaum wrote that you live a lifestyle, not a relationship. The relationship is a support to a life, not the other way around. When you find that your lifestyle, your life's investments and interests, your values and aspirations, your habits and intentions don't match up to your mate's, the strain to the relationship can be profound.

In a healthy space, those differences are not up for negotiation. They need to be looked at squarely, then taken seriously. If you have a significant overlap in basic outlook and lifestyle, the finer points can be negotiated from the point of view of how to help your mate get what he or she wants out of life even if it isn't what you want. That can't happen if one is a controller, or if what you love/like fundamentally clashes with the value/belief system of the other person.

What I notice in me is that relational peace has been such a driving concern of my life, I've not known where I begin and end. My yearning to extend grace (believing it would be reciprocally extended to me) has led me into lying to myself, betraying some of my deepest felt convictions, and even to heartbreak (not attending to myself well enough for the sake of what I thought was love). I'm noticing even in my friends going through this same kind of sifting... authenticity at first looks like showing up in your own life. Then you can begin the hard work of saying what it is you need and want because you start to know what that is. Expressing that to a partner after years of "going along" takes so much time. It can't be worked out in a few weeks or conversations or therapy sessions. Sometimes it can't be worked out. But it has to happen in order for love to be real.

It's hard to know what you really want when coming out of the fog of appeasement. It seems to me that the first tentative steps to authenticity sound more like: "Not that, not that, not that..."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Overwhelmed with email

The response to my Bonhoeffer talk has been nothing short of astonishing. The depth of questions, comments, sharing and interest has startled me. I didn't really expect anyone to watch a 47 minute talk on a computer monitor let alone engage the ideas. Thank you for being interested!

Over the next week or so, I want to explore some of the feedback to Bonhoeffer. Excellent thoughts, ideas and of course, now new questions. :) If you have ideas or thoughts you want to explore with me, please post them in the comments section or send me an email juliecinci [at] gmail [dot] com. Also, yes, I enjoy speaking and if you want me to come to where you are, I will.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bonhoeffer: Religionless Christianity

This is an audio of my talk from the Truth Voice (Subversion) Conference in Dayton last weekend. We have a video of it, but right now only 12 minutes are posted. I'll put up the embed once they have re-uploaded it. I think audio is less distracting anyway (I use my hands so much! lol).

Bonhoeffer: Religionless Christianity

The meat of the material really gets going after minute 13. I give an introduction that includes personal story and some biographical detail of Bonhoeffer's life. I'd welcome any engagement with these ideas. Am slowly putting together a little dossier of materials, insights, writings and stories to include eventually in some sort of book. Yes, the elusive book goal! :)

Anyway, enjoy!

Here I am!

Julie Bogart: Bonhoeffer's Letters from Prison from Virgil Vaduva on Vimeo.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The way it is

I've started about five blog entries in the last several weeks. Here's the thing. I don't do well with secrecy, with protecting my inner life from view. I'm a bit of a soul-exhibitionist, in case you hadn't noticed. Yet these last several months have required a bit of delicacy in what I share. I've slowly let the story out with those who've asked privately. I'm finally to a place now where I can share more. So let me do that so you know what's going on with me.

In January, my husband and I separated. We've had a little back and forth since then (where he's lived at home again) but as of April, the separation became certain. We are living apart and sharing the kids. No one does this kind of thing lightly. The articles, books, radio show hosts that talk about divorce being too easy these days and how marriage partners dump long-term commitment for a younger model or because they're bored and want an "easy way out," are insensitive jerks. They're living in some fantasy I call "ideological-land" where they create a narrative to back up their defensive apologetics to describe the world as they would like it to be. It would be far more helpful if they stopped talking about how easy it is to leave a marriage and focused on how heroic so many people are for staying in them while in excruciating, soul-alienating pain.

Truth is, I have yet to meet anyone who has cavalierly tossed a marriage aside. Who does that? The ones that do must not be well-publicized, because by now I would have met this overwhelming majority. Rather, most people I've met, read, had the privilege of knowing who've been through separation and/or divorce, agonize over the loss of history, shared story, children, couple identity, joint assets and even that happiest of experiences: familiarity. For longterm marriages like ours (24 years), upsetting the apple cart of our family's story has been the most emotionally exhausting and painful thing we've ever done.

It's a myth to think that people move on to avoid the hard work of repairing their marriages. Did you know statistically, for instance, that married men who have affairs are far more likely to return to their wives than to leave them for the other woman? FAR more likely. Even when they are still in love with the other woman! The reasons to stay married are compelling and powerful, even when there's violence, alcoholism, drug addiction, emotional and verbal abuse, and extramarital affairs. So imagine some of the lesser reasons couples become dissatisfied (growing apart, financial instability, fundamental differences in lifestyle or religious outlook, trauma in the form of illness or wayward child, job loss...) and realize that people do tend to figure out ways to put up with a lot of crap for the sake of the "institution" or more poignantly, their families that they love, or more cynically, their fear of the unknown.

In fact, now that I'm in the whirlpool of marital dysfunction, I can't believe the divorce rate isn't higher! One of the most startling discoveries during this process is how many friends have shared their marital stories with me and how many suffer... a lot. Yet they stay married. (Many of them can't think of anything else to do since they haven't worked in 20+ years, either). Clearly the social pressure to protect the status quo "works" (I use that term loosely) a lot better than most of us give it credit for.

In my case, having been a child of divorce, I've never ever ever imagined that my life would include a separation. In fact, if I had one goal in my life that was immovable, it was to make it to the end with Jon. And that is still my hope... that somehow out of the ashes, we'll be able to rebirth a marriage worth sharing, keeping and protecting. For now, though, I live in a shattered dream state. It takes a lot of mental and emotional energy. I thought you should know.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Finding yourSelf

In the 70's, I "got saved" during the "I Found It" campaign. My very Jewish community put bumper stickers on their cars that said, "We never lost it."

Sometimes when I think about "finding myself" (that birthright of all Californians), I waver between these two feelings: "Aha! There I am! I found it!" At other times, I cynically look at the ways other people try to define me, tell me how to feel, what I ought to know, who I ought to be... and I feel like saying, "Buddy, I never lost it. I know who I am."

I don't know why it is that I'm compelled to work on mySelf. (Is it DNA? culture? growing up near the ocean? my astrological sign: Scorpio? my myers briggs temperament: ENFP? being parented by a mom who read I'm Okay; You're Okay at a critical juncture in my teen years - "You're in your child!" "But Mom... I AM a child!"?) So many people are completely able to disregard themSelves. They make big mistakes, they have affairs, they rage, they get addicted, they overeat, they lose jobs, they obsess over porn, they shame and abuse, they cavalierly break promises... and still don't go to private therapy, aren't compelled to drink cafe latte at Barnes and Noble poring over books in the "help thyself" section, seeking an answer for how they allowed themselves to wander into the black hole of dysfunction, abuse, and secrecy.

Sometimes these perpetrators of relationship dysfunction pop into the local counselor's office for a tune up (guilt combined with "relationship pressure" leads to a couple of sessions for many of these types). But that sustained curiosity for how their souls function, for why brokenness attends their most intimate relationships, for how they cause pain to the people they say they love is absent. In some cases, the partner who had an affair and returns to his wife is so relieved to escape detection, he lies in therapy! Not much self-understanding getting through there!

And weirdly, even with dramatic measures, some of these people continue on their self-creating, medicating, papering over, reframing, bubbling optimism ways about their newfound selves rather than the necessary deconstruction of their cavalier mistreatment and secrecy that would bring genuine healing to the people they've hurt.

Meanwhile, I know women who didn't have the affair, but who have read every book on affairs to try to understand the husband who wants to be forgiven and to come back (he doesn't read the books - she does!). I know men who were berated and beaten down by controlling wives and the ex husband lands in therapy for ten years, while the ex-wife carries on secure in their old friendships with seemingly few consequences. I know verbally abused wives who spend money, time and energy on becoming strong enough to withstand the nutbrain who will dog her life with complications for as long as they share children, giving away valuable hours and brain cells to the blackhole of brokenness, instead of her artistic talents or her generous nature.

I'm the therapy and self-help section gal. I've spent countless (really!) hours working on mySelf, wanting to understand how to be good, decent, fair, healthy, assertive, self-protecting, kind, generous, forgiving, line-drawing, boundary-making, communicative... hours I will never get back for writing books, painting paintings, horse-back riding, and surfing. The quest to know mySelf, of course, has yielded good things too. I have a firmer sense of what I will and won't tolerate, of what it means to hold out for healthy relationships, of what it means to be self-reliant in that "I know I can count on me" way.

But today... I'm sick of finding mySelf. I've put in a lot of time on this endeavor and so much of that work has been to shore up relating to broken people not similarly invested. I surveyed the landscape of my relationships. My yoga instructor gave us the following meditation on Wednesday:
I will protect myself from people who take more than they give.

I will surround myself with loving, giving people.
If you aren't invested enough in giving more than you take, you're on notice. I won't waste more of my life working on mySelf to adapt to you. Finding oneSelf is about becoming a peaceful, whole, authentic, ethical person of substance who can see across the chasm to another person's pain (particularly if you caused it)... and then doing something about it.

My mother, five years after her divorce, gave me the greatest gift of all. She told me that she knew the divorce caused me pain. She also knew the pain would come in waves for the rest of my life. She said, "Julie, while I'm living, you may come to me at any time with your pain related to the divorce and I will hear you. I will hold it for you and let you express it. There will never be a day when I am done listening to you or what you've suffered."

That's a woman who knows herSelf.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

On being a mother

Oprah featured moms on her show a couple weeks ago. The two "experts" who "wrote the book" were bubbly, sharp, blond business-type women who wore chic outfits that had never seen spit up or spaghetti sauce stains. They rallied the audience into a frenzy of confessions about motherhood which variously decried the hardships of this "first order of creation" occupations.

"I hate the fluids of babies: pee, spit up, spilt milk, snot."

"I cried the day I drove to the car dealership to buy a mini-van."

"There were days I wanted to 'send them back to the hell from whence they came'."

On and on the tales of woe pored from the mouths of devoted parents. Video clips of small kids on bikes, disastrous laundry rooms, "stuffed to the gills" cars with seats and sippy cups floated by, making one wonder why anyone would sign up for the task of mothering, let alone sustain it for decades. Moms confessed things, too, like the one who said she didn't want to wake the sleeping baby by stopping the car for a potty break, but she needed to pee so badly, she took a Pampers diaper, stuck it between her legs and let it "go" as she drove. Yeah, I thought that was way more information than I needed to know about her, too.

There was a surprising lack of joy represented in the discussion of mothering. Mostly being a mom was held up as the hardest job on earth, the most demanding, the most self-sacrificing, the most misunderstood and overlooked work on the planet. A kind of shared martyrdom, underdog status united everyone and Oprah, never having mothered anyone, had to declare that indeed, they were right. Mothering equalled sainthood (which we all know implies burning at the stake and smiling through it!).

With my kids in the room, listening to the pain of childbirth and engorged breasts, the relentlessness of little voices, the demandingness of the small child's need for food, sleep and comfort, the annihilation of a woman's identity and sense of self, I couldn't take it any more. After all, far from being the hardest job in the world, mothering has been the happiest, most satisfying, life-giving, joyful, rewarding, fulfilling and (dare I admit it?) easiest job I've ever had. Oh sure, the hours suck, there are anguishes deeper than the ocean, there are seasons (years!) of such utter exhaustion you can't imagine ever being rested again... but all those discomforts are easily and unequivocally overturned by my children, themselves.

I punched pause on the DVR to set the record straight:

"Being your mother has been the single greatest joy and privilege of my life: not a burden, not a perennial unrelenting source of emotional and physical agony, not the 'hardest job in the world', not the knee-capping blow to my 'adult individuality' nor has it been the thankless, under-appreciated, most overlooked profession these mothers would have you believe. In fact, my sense of personhood, identity and self-knowledge have grown more through mothering than any business I've started, any degree I've earned, any relationship I've pursued. I thank YOU for being the best people to ever happen to me."

Then I spewed in bullet style the privileges and unique joys that came with mothering them (all five of them, each one popping into my life like a fresh daisy, every two years for 10 years).

Cuddling: Being your mom means I got to have someone to cuddle non-stop for 12 years while sleeping with at least one of you at a time, nursing you, carrying you, holding you, helping you in and out of car seats, backpacking you.

Sleeping together: There is nothing more divine than a baby who falls asleep on your chest while you fall asleep and the whole world stops while mother and tiny child become fused as one content, quiet, shared being. No meditation, yoga, prayer circle, private retreat has ever come close to providing me with the depth of peace, pleasure and abiding hope that sleeping with a baby has given me.

Playing: Board games and hopscotch, dress-ups, face paint, finger paint, walks in the woods, trips to the zoo, picking up bugs, rolling down hills, blowing bubbles, eating too many cookies, watching Arthur on PBS, rewatching Disney movies, cards, chasing a dog in the backyard, trampoline jumping, creek splashing, snowman building, skiing, middle of the night slumber parties, bike rides, soccer in the backyard, soccer on the official fields, ultimate frisbee... What adult gets to do any of this on his or her 9-5 job? Talk about luxury!

Conversation: Oh it starts off good - why do bubbles float? How did I get red hair? Why doesn't Santa Claus visit Moroccans, too? But boy does it keep getting better! I've learned about human rights, veganism, Role Playing Games, Shakespeare, Klingon, fashion, exercise, lacrosse, birds, fantasy novels, conspiracy theories, atheism, feminism, linguistics, alternative monetary systems for world peace (serious!) and more by talking to my kids.

Mothering is the job that means taking the dog and kids for a walk in the woods is on task. It's the one where teatimes and picnics are considered achievements worth trumpeting to friends and family. It's the job where even on bad days, someone tells you "Hey, I love you Mom" and then hugs you so tightly, you believe it.

There is no comparison to the jobs I've had in business and writing. Sure, affirmation and personal achievement are nice... but they are nothing like the bond that comes from the devotion of loving people who live every day looking for you to see them for who they are. I've found that the easiest thing in the world is to love my kids. All it takes is entering into their lives on their terms and giving all I've got. I get it all back and more.

Yes, there have been nights where I cried myself to sleep over a non-stop crying toddler or a teenager's emotional pain. There are times when I feel out of control and invisible and fearful for my child's future or welfare. But the rewards of mothering so far outweigh any of its challenges, I can't relate to the repeated refrains of "how hard I have it" simply because I chose to have five kids. Instead, I just feel perennially lucky that my lifestyle has included such richness, tenderness and connection to immortality through my children.

I think it's time we blew the whistle. Mothering isn't a job. It's a privilege.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Wikiklesia: Volume Two

Taking Flight: Reclaiming the Female Half of God’s Image. A Journey of Freedom and Reconciliation

The Wikiklesia Project: Volume Two

I'm one of the editors on this project and would love for any of you who feel qualified and interested, to submit articles. All details are on the website.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"It's Good to Be Free"

About a year ago, I went to California to begin my midlife crisis. I didn't consciously plan that activity, but it appeared on the itinerary anyway. I felt an inner "snap." The band holding my life together burst.

I turned the "purse of my life" upside down, gave it a good shake, and all the jumbled contents scattered across the floor in every direction: lipsticks, loose change, market receipts, old "to do" lists, paper clips, keys, sticks of gum, reading glasses... No way to squeeze it all back in and I didn't want to. The purse had become cluttered, crowded and unmanageable. High time to clean it out.

So I've spent a lot of this year sorting. The sorting process is tricky. I'm used to saving stuff, pushing it down, cramming it in to be looked at later. But later had arrived. I took it an item at a time: "Does this go back in?" Sometimes, even if I wanted to keep a thing, it had spoiled and I had to simply toss it and face the truth: it was not what I wanted after all.

It takes radical self-trust to believe in your own perceptions. For years, I've been trained not to do that. Someone outside of me can and should tell me what is good for me, what I ought to tolerate, what I must be willing to live with—as though someone else knows, someone who isn't inside me. But a year ago, on a beach, alone with my sacred cigarette, I knew I couldn't live like that any more. I had to take the first awkward steps toward reclaiming my voice, toward sorting my life.

I remember last April walking the streets of San Francisco while the Final Four were playing, hurrying back to a hotel room to catch the second half where my team, the mighty UCLA, went down. A bit metaphorical, after all. That school bound to make it with Kevin Love at the helm, fell apart. Expectations weren't enough to carry them. I knew I couldn't make it on reputation and habit alone.

Still, it had been such an incredible ten days in California: soaring with emotion, relief, freedom, and peace - an awakening to how life could be, yet with a dawning awareness of the cost to get it to be that way all the time.

A couple weekends ago, while little Villanova stunned the nation beating Pitt, I had a similar, and yet new, feeling. I was also out of town, watching a game on a screen in a sports bar at a hotel. This time, the team I rooted for won. The evening felt unburdened by my past year. It strangely liberated me. A flood of feelings followed: relief, escape, confidence, optimism, and admittedly, fatigue, too. In that space, I felt free to let down, to recuperate. I had spent myself, but I also liked what was emerging from the depths: my own, original (though still small) voice, undiluted by what others tell me to think or be. I let it all go - the bad, the good, the confusion. I embraced myself and knew I'd be okay.

"But the little things they make me so happy
All I want to do is live by the sea
Little things they make me so happy
But it's good it's good it's good to be free..." (Oasis)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Twitter: I type, therefore I am

I took a hand count in my homeschool sessions (APACHE conference over the weekend) to see who had heard of Twitter. Many homeschoolers still (how to put this delicately) tend to be Luddites. Still, the techno-ones who were Twitter fans jiggled their hands in the air with the enthusiasm of anyone who has joined a craze. I felt a kinship with them. I get the same way... that is, happy to be in the know when the know is in! We bonded. We knew we weren't wasting time, doing nothing, all day, for no good reason.

The next morning, I ate my stale English muffin in front of the hotel TV and listened to a commentator condescend to the "crazed" as she raised her eyebrows mouthing the word "tweet" like it was a juvenile playground term six floors beneath her, that had somehow wormed its way onto her teleprompter, forcing her to say it Against. Her. Will. She derided the "updating" process, making the tweet all about stale English muffins at breakfast.

Yet just the day before, one of my homeschool moms had told me about a Twitter identity that tweets a different opening hook from a novel every day. I had just taught the "opening hook" in that session and she was positively gleeful to tell me about this resource that would add such value to the ideas I was suggesting. Of course! That's the point right there. Someone else is compiling opening hooks from children's novels, publishing them every day, and all any of us has to do is read them. Genius!

I got to talking to a man later in the day who had heard of Twitter but had yet to succumb. He wanted to understand how on earth I had time for all this social media (blogging, facebook, twitter, forums). Of course, I spend more time on the computer than should be humanly permissible so that makes it easy for me. But I went on, in my Brave Writerly way.

We're living in an epoch when more writing is being created and disseminated than in the history of the world. Really. I'm not overstating it. Kids especially (our reluctant writers, our kids who say they hate writing) are writing constantly (won't even use the phone as it's impolite so they text instead). Yes, much of what is written may as well be speech (they're not writing for pay, after all). Still, the craving to be known, to record what and who I am through the written word is taking over; putting myself in print or pixels has become one of the ways I know I exist. Writing is competing with speech for the first time in history.

And I'm one of those people who thinks that's incredibly good! For one, we take more responsibility for what we think when we commit it to writing (ask anyone who has made the mistake of pontificating on a forum without nuance). We express a point of view (even in 140 characters) and are accountable to those who read it (was it good to read? did it inform? did it inspire? did we connect?). Writers online share a passion, looking for that corresponding "yes" and experience the community creating happiness that comes from knowing that what I love, others love too.

Twitter, FB status updates, blogs: they let us play with words. God! Why is word play so undervalued? The heart of a vibrant community is its vocabulary. Truly. The more ways you can express your devotion to your passion, the more trivia you accumulate, the more insider-lingo you master, the greater your pleasure. It doesn't matter if you're a NASCAR fan or are all about container gardening. Pleasure multiplies when you talk about it in depth, using all your words (technical, slang, jokes and trivia), with other people equally zany for your chosen enthusiasm.

Twitter is genius since our attention spans have been shortened by the media saturation we live with every day. So now, in 140 characters, we must become good writers. Can you get it done and hold the reader's attention? For people like me, that's the game. It's the sudoku of language (and let's just ask: why does sudoku get to be famous and people admire those who do the silly puzzles daily, but twitter is seen as a waste of time?) We wordy people must rise up in protest. No more "math" beats "language arts" - the injustice!

So yeah, I love Twitter and Facebook and blogs and forums and texting on the phone. Finally - we can all be published. And read.

I write, therefore I am. Or... I type, therefore I am.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Virtual Lives

In cleaning out some old files on my computer, I ran across this journal entry from five years ago (Feb. 2004). It stunned me. I remember very clearly what prompted the insights and thoughts at the time. Yet it spoke to me on another level now. See what you think:
Dr. Dewey [professor of New Testament] commented: “God is not in any book but in the Reality of our lives. Trouble is we tend to lead virtual lives. Wouldn't know Reality if it knocked... yet when it does, well, it does. When the baby decides to come, when the water breaks, when the contractions start, you have to face Reality and go with the waves... The stories [in the Bible] are told to help people identify the waves in their lives... the beauty and the horror...”

Last night I had such an "Aha" about what it means to lead a virtual life. I kept playing over and over again in my head: what does he mean we wouldn’t know Reality if it knocked? And then the realizations of my own virtual existence poured in.

How many times have I felt someone else’s feelings instead of my own when relating to that person? I find myself out of touch with what I want, need or think and totally adjust who I am to what that person says, does or is. How often have I pretended that a viewpoint made sense when underneath was a horror or shock that I knew wouldn’t be acceptable?

I’ve lived in a world of faith that put more emphasis on the invisible that I can’t know or touch or see than on what I can know, touch and see. I’ve invalidated what I know to fit with what I’m told I ought to think.

I’ve not trusted my experiences – I’ve allowed other people to tell me what is right or wrong. I let people tell me what was right in my sex life. I let people tell me that my reasons for a move [to Ohio from CA] wouldn’t be good enough – I must let God have his way. I was told that my ideas about a career were inferior to God’s ideas of a career for me. And ironically, those who play the virtual reality game well figure out ways to get both – getting what they want in the guise of God’s giving it to them. This is my particular world of the virtual. There must be others that aren’t bound in religion. [And yes, those are the ones I'm getting know now.]

Am I saying that I am the final word on my life, my authority comes from within? Scary thought! A hundred voices immediately jump in front of me to warn me of the danger of being autonomous.

Yet I might be. And it is such a deeply ingrained wrong way to think (being responsible for self) that I'm almost nervous to write it out. But the truth is that we all submit to authority – only most of the time we pick an illusion – as though we can submit to something outside of self – something we deem bigger and more real than our own authority, even though our personal sense of right and wrong guides even that choice. To own our responsibility, as Bonhoeffer suggests, is too big for most of us. We have been trained not to trust self and we willingly turn over our consciences, our guilt, our aspirations to the stewardship of others pretending that we are not choosing, are not in control, are not risking being bad or making bad decisions.

Who gets control?

Pop stars
Fear of Rejection

Reality: what is it? It’s the bottom rung on the ladder of experience and thought. What is the stuff that gets in the way? What do we heap up on top of it (like drugs to dull the pain of the contractions) to avoid living it and being responsible to it?

I love the idea of birth: the water breaking, the baby coming and going with the waves. Oh my God! I know that feeling totally. The baby is coming – I can’t stop it. I’ve lived this experience five times without drugs, without intervention. It was the most miraculous experience I’ve ever had. To let go of control and to completely yield to the process, to recognize that I could only cooperate or inhibit but that it would happen no matter what. My births were the most “in the moment” experiences of my life and the result was sheer exhilaration, power and joy!

What baby is on its way in my life right now? The profound disillusionment with literal faith is what is at work in me [Feb. 2004]. It’s shattering the old attachments and interpretations and ways of thinking… about everything.

Biblical literalism is such a scary place. The worldview that literalism represents has invaded every aspect of how I live and think. It has a strong hold on my thinking. I have a fog settle in any time I move out of it too far. And it is subtle. I thought I had let it go by letting the Bible be fallible and errant. But no! I then want to literally affirm the metaphorical truths in the same way I held to the literal history or geography.

I work hard to do things “right” so that I can control the outcomes. If I parent correctly, if I homeschool conscientiously, my children will not do drugs, they will love me, they will have friends and go on to college. I expect my obedience to the demands of these “promises” to pay off literally. No mystery. No chance to fail.

But what if Reality woke me up? What if there is more there than what I do? How will I respond? Will I suddenly wake up from my virtual existence and realize that there is something else more real?

And isn’t that what happens so often? My parents are “happily married” for 17 years and then Wham! Reality intrudes and my mom discovers my father in bed with another woman. What illusion were they living before? What virtual life had they tricked themselves into believing?

We pile up debt and believe we own things. We promise ourselves that next year will be better and then miss what’s happening today. What is today teaching me?

I find myself consulting experts and trusting someone else’s word over my own. I don’t want to follow my thoughts - I want someone to tell me how it is. But the baby is coming. I will be born. The “I” I’m supposed to fear, call sinful, distrust… that me is the baby this time. Can I trust that Reality is my greatest teacher, that I can find my way through life with as much honesty as I can muster? Direct access to reality! What a concept.

Dorothy Sayers says:

“And to every man and woman to whom integrity of mind meant more than material gain, defenders in the central keep of man’s soul, personal differences forgotten in the face of a common foe, to be true to one’s calling whatever follies one might commit in one’s emotional life, that was the way to spiritual peace.”

“There are a number of people who are disconnnected between what you do feel and what you ought to feel. It is fatal to pay the smallest attention to them.

“Yes, said Harriet. “And I am one of them. I disconcert myself very much. I never know what I do feel.”

“Oh I don’t think that matters, providing one doesn’t try to persuade oneself into appropriate feelings.”

Virtual living: persuading oneself into appropriate feelings.

And isn’t that the nature of not knowing Reality?

We have to learn the language game of the group we join and then reinterpret our experience of life in light of the new “proffered” reality. We aren’t free, we can’t speak, we don’t share. We conform, adhere, play by the new rules and find safety and protection from a direct experience of Reality.

This must be what E. M. Forster is about. He constantly challenges people to have their own opinions, to face their hypocrisy in the face of truth and beauty. Is it better to love a painting because someone famous paints it or because it speaks to you – you, the one for whom it was painted – the viewer, not the student or priest or tourist.

Oh my! It’s coming to me now. I know I may have a piece of it.

The truly free thinker, or free mind is the one that can stay open to self and not give in to the pressures of the group. On the other hand, we need each other to help us see reality. We need others to help us not be bound by our group think tendencies. But what are friends for? They aren’t supposed to exclaim loudly “How can you think that?” They are supposed to be the midwives of a birth. They don’t know ahead of time what the baby will be. If they do, they aren’t midwives any more. They are the ones who will rob you of the truth once it’s born. They will tell you what baby you should have had.

But real friends will marvel with you and help you see Reality as it unfolds in your life.

That’s it.
Hmmm. So many thoughts. I'll leave those for another day. What is your version of virtual living? How has Reality awakened you?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Is it ironic....

that during the Bush years, the Republicans oversaw the multiple fronts of the so-called "War on Terror" (the one thing I would never want to trust a Republican to oversee given their myopia, inability to see "the other" and their "bomb first, ask later" style of international diplomacy), while we are now in the Obama years, and suddenly the Democrats are in charge of the largest money crisis since the Great Depression (honestly, my conservative roots still make me a bit queasy turning over that power to the gov't, despite wanting to trust the president on this one)?


It's like a big cosmic joke.

Emotional Safety

I read this quote yesterday and thought it perfectly described the heart of a good relationship:
Oh, the comfort - the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person - having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.
~Dinah Craik, A Life for a Life, 1859

Monday, March 23, 2009

Quiet and silence

So the kids survived their media fast. In fact, they happily reported that it wasn't "so bad" and that, in fact, they might do it again some time. I wondered what they liked about it. They read, the house was quiet, they didn't feel pressure to check up on friends, they were proud of themselves for sticking to it. All good stuff. At the meeting where they gathered with their other media fasting friends, the pastor asked if the kids had spent more time in prayer or reading the Bible. My kids told me, "I wished he'd have mentioned that we could be doing THAT while fasting. He never told us that BEFOREhand." Ah well. I majored on what they did experience and told them their pastor is still growing in his leading skills too.

This morning, a friend sent me a couple of quotes that I had supposedly sent her years ago. I mean, I'm sure I did. It's just that I don't remember either of them and clearly didn't learn a thing from them on the first pass. Let me post them first:
Unfortunately, in seeing ourselves as we truly are, not all that we see is beautiful and attractive. This is undoubtedly part of the reason we flee silence. We do not want to be confronted with our hypocrisy, our phoniness. We see how false and fragile is the false self we project. We have to go through this painful experience to come to our true self. It is a harrowing journey, a death to self—the false self—and no one wants to die. But it is the only path to life, to freedom, to peace, to true love. And it begins with silence. We cannot give ourselves in love if we do not know and possess ourselves. This is the great value of silence. It is the pathway to all we truly want.

--M. Basil Pennington

Silence is the measure of the power to act; that is, a person never has more power to act than he has silence. Anyone can understand that to do something is far greater than to talk about doing it. If, therefore, a person has a plan or idea and is fully resolved to carry it out, he does not need to talk about it. What he talks about in connection with the proposed action is what he is most unsure of and most unwilling to do.

--Soren Kierkegaard
I've spent time being quiet. My kids were quiet last week. I know how to turn down the sound. In fact, for years I called my Bible reading and prayer hour, a "quiet time."

I remember naps with little kids. My whole "ragged, on-the-edge" goal by 2 p.m. - get kids into beds and knocked out. I'd be unraveling so fast by that hour, that all I could do was hurl myself onto the floor of the bedroom that had three, four, and finally five kids stuffed into it, letting the current baby nurse while a soft lullaby tape played, hoping the bouncing, questions, tossing and turning would finally collapse into gentle little one snores. I'd extricate myself from the suctioned baby, careful not to disturb a single muscle, and walk into the other room, sighing deeply. Quiet had descended on the apartment. I could draw breath. For a moment.

Silence, though, seems to be another whole level. Silence is not just being quiet, but being with self, alone. Being confronted with hypocrisy? Oh sign me up! Really much easier to be busy and noisy than that. I love that nearly last line of the Basil quote though: "We cannot give ourselves in love if we do not know and possess ourselves." That seems to be the key to living a rich life, doesn't it?

I'm realizing quiet is not silence. Silence is shutting down communication that distracts me from being with mySelf. I want to cultivate a little silence in my life (probably have to start in small doses - I'm pretty addicted to "noise"). What do you do? Anyone practice silence as a discipline?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Irish rambles

I don't wear green on St. Patrick's day. I figure being Irish is enough. I remember clearly in 5th grade that I very much wanted to wear a little pin my mother kept in her jewelry box. The pin was a circle of white with the word "Sweeney's" stamped across it. The apostrophe, naturally, was a shamrock; Sweeney, my last name. This little pin had been a gift from my dad to my mom when they were dating, picked up at an Irish pub and brought home as a gift to let her know "she was his."

So I loved the idea of wearing the token on St. Patrick's Day and begged my mother to let me wear it to school. Being one of those moms who likes to make her kids happy, she acquiesced but not without a little pressure: "Please don't lose it. It means a lot to me." I assured her that I would not and pinned it to my blouse.

During the day, I'd check my lapel to see that the pin was still there. It was. It drew attention and I got to repeat the little romance story of my parents' love to anyone who asked. By the afternoon, I felt so good. I'd kept it securely fastened in spite of morning recess and lunch. Now it was time for kickball and then a run around the field at Round Meadow (the name of my elementary school - I've always loved it). I'm competitive when I play so I never paid a single bit of attention to my blouse and instead, dove at the ball with all the power a 4' body could muster. Sweaty and happy, we finished the game.

As I walked back to class, I glanced down at my lapel. You already know what's coming. The pin had vanished: somewhere in that round meadow called the back field, my little pin lay lonely under a sea of green grass. Panic swept over me. I got permission to comb the field. I scoured it the way a 5th grader does - not really seeing, not really knowing where to look. Mostly I cried.

Eventually, I got on the bus to head home, scared that my mother would be heart-broken. When I walked into the kichen, she had little green shamrock cookies at our table (she's like that, so thoughtful). I couldn't hold back the tears. And she knew, right then, the whole story. Yet she hardly said a word about it. Not a bit of scolding. She was glad I had gotten the chance to wear the pin to school. She reminded me that she hadn't looked at it in years and at least on its last day, it got some happy use.

I hadn't thought about that story until today when Jon and I were talking about the fact that I never wear green on St. Patrick's day. Made me think of the pin that I did wear. Then I gently chuckled realizing that my parents are divorced and the pin would mean next to nothing now, anyway. I really did enjoy it at the height of its meaningfulness to me. In a strange way it reminded me of how temporary everything is: declarations of love, souvenirs, tokens, seasons of life, irresponsibility, childishness, celebrations, even parents who love each other. Enjoy them while you can, when you have them, then... let them go.


P.S. We used to always say to my little sister, named Erin, "Erin-go-braless" on St. Paddy's. ;-)

Friday, March 13, 2009

TED Talk: Unveiling the Sixth Sense

Coolest, crazy thing ever. Clearly this is the future (as radical as the Internet for the next generation... or sooner!).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

You mean God hates happiness?

So my kids came bounding out of "Reset," their Wednesday night "small group wrapped in a big group wrapped in an enigma" at their church. They hurled themselves into my car, which literally rocked sideways by the force of their exuberance, oh wait, scratch that, their energetic gleeful annoyance. They relished their anger, diffidence, outrage.

"Mom, Mom. You can't believe what Carl (youth pastor) is making us do! He's soooo mean!"

Laughter, lurching bodies, locking doors, punching radio buttons, zwipped seatbelting ensued.

They were ooc. "Carl is making us love God this week."

Oh the horror.

"He says we can't do ANYTHING that we like. We can't go on Facebook, can't watch TV (even American Idol!), can't play Halo or the Wii, can't use the computer for any entertainment. We have to turn off our cell phones, can't text or IM, or even listen to our iPods (unless it's [here they did the mocking voice of preteens] 'Christian music' which totally sucks because we hate Christian music). This week, we have to give up anything that makes us happy so we can learn to be happy with God only. It SUCKS!"

Not to be stopped (because believe me, by now I was ready to kneecap Carl and give him a supreme noogie on his head for wrecking God by inferring he(sic) hated happy kids), my two wild-haired middlers went on, "We HAVE to do it. If we don't, Carl won't let us come back next week. EVERYONE has to. We don't have a CHOICE!"

My brain worked itself into a tizzy - two contradictory threads of thought:

1) What an idiotic idea - that God is somehow squeezed out of life because you are happily engaged in activities that bring you joy and connect you to other people.

2) My kids LOVE this. They can't wait to suffer!

A delicate balance had to follow. How do I subvert heresy (yes, I get the irony of calling it heresy since I don't subscribe to orthodoxy) while joining in on the fun of exuberant self-flaggellation? Basically I did a lousy job of both, but saved it by singing really loud to Flo Rida's "Right Round" as we got near home.

Kids flopped on the couch once inside to indulge in their last moments of electronic saturation (they had until midnight), literally clicking the remote, setting up the DVR, writing elaborate FB status updates to reflect their newly adopted ascetic zeal.

I asked at one point: "How will you know you're loving God better than you were when you were happy?"

Blink, blink.

Carl forgot to mention that. They had no idea. I asked if they were supposed to pray more, read the Bible, use their time to serve the needy... They couldn't remember, even between the two of them. Liam said, "I'm pretty sure he does want us to read the Bible, but he never said so." Caitrin rejoined, "I don't pray to their idea of God anyway. I pray to the Universe, to karma, to Buddha." The next thing you know, we were talking about God (what God is, how to define God). I shared about this translation project I'm watching unfold on a e-list where all the God references are being changed to Godde to reflect the divine feminine, not just masculine.

Liam mentioned that God is neither male nor female and we all know that. Caitrin countered, "Yes, but if you say 'God,' your imagination goes straight to the beard." Which is why, currently, she prays to the universe. :)

I found the whole thing a crazy study in how too many people miss the point. If God, if Godde, if Goddess, (invisible, not audible - except perhaps for a few lucky people in history who report otherwise), how else would you experience happiness in the divine than happiness in the fullness of life? Wouldn't joy at singing the lyrics from Rent at the top of your lungs count as connection? Wouldn't chatting eagerly with friends online represent a reaching out to community in love and fondness? Wouldn't time with family in front of a TV count as a happy expression of bondedness? Why do we assume the divine isn't already being loved, felt, honored and known when we are happy?

I don't get how teaching children, especially, to distrust their happiness (to see it as competing with love of God!! What a charge!) is productive spiritually, emotionally or mentally? In fact, I'd say the opposite. It creates that strange split where any time you feel good, you have to call it sin... And that leads to all the stuff we deal with in mid-life. But Carl is too young to know it!

And well, there is a certain happiness to be found in abstaining... we love that at that age.