Where Logic Meets Love

What Do You Call It? Does It Matter?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

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What Do You Call It? Does It Matter? | Faith Permeating Life
STOP! Before reading this post, please take this quick survey:



As a communication major married to a psych major, I understand the effect that different word choices can make.

For example, this is why there's such a fuss over certain gender distinctions, such as having more forms of address for one gender than another (Miss/Mrs./Ms. vs. Mr.) -- this actually makes us more likely to mentally distinguish between women by marital status than we do for men, and to generalize and stereotype those distinct groups accordingly. And working in survey design, I know that you have to be very precise in how you word questions because different words and phrases, even if similar in meaning, can elicit different responses.

This is why I find it interesting that people use different words to describe a state of generally positive feelings about one's life -- and, in contrast, those moments of exceptionally strong positive feelings that are tied to a specific event.

In The Happiness Project, happiness is defined as that base layer of good feeling. The project itself is not necessarily trying to produce more distinct events that evoke positive feelings (though that can certainly help), but raising one's overall level of satisfaction with life. Or maybe just improving one's overall outlook toward life, which I would call optimism. I think those two are interrelated.

On the other hand, yesterday I was listening to the One Extraordinary Marriage podcast, and they were talking about living in the moment and appreciating when things are going well. One of them was using the word "happiness," and the other finally interrupted and said something like, "I think you're talking more about contentment. It's not so much that we've been in this constant state of happiness -- we had some fights and stressful moments this week -- but overall, life is just good."

Contentment. I liked and didn't like this as a contrast to "happiness." Liked because contentment seems like a more concrete and attainable goal than happiness. Maybe a more realistic one? At the same time, I dislike it for the same reason -- it seems very black and white: Are you content with your life? Yes or no?

I like how Gretchen describes "happiness" in The Happiness Project: You can always find ways to be happier. You can start a happiness project even if you're already happy with your life as a whole. It's something that builds and grows over time if you work at it. I don't feel like you get that same idea of continual improvement with a word like "contentment."

I found an audiobook yesterday called Meditations for Happiness, which is kind of lame, kind of laughable, and kind of good (but that's another post). This author also uses "happiness" to refer to an overall sense of well-being and positive feeling in one's life, as something that can help one bounce back more rapidly from times of sadness or stress. Those brief moments of heightened positive feeling (the opposite of moments of sadness or anger) he calls joy. Part of learning to be happier overall involves recalling moments of joy, but it also involves recalling moments of peace, feelings of being cared for, and other flavors of positive emotions.

When I was going through my "think positive" phase in high school, I generally used the words "happiness" and "joy" the other way around. Happy moments were in contrast to sad moments, but the thing that would sustain you long-time was joy. For me, this is very closely tied to my faith. (This is probably why "Joy" by the Newsboys is one of my favorite Christian songs of all time.) According to the New American Standard version of the Bible on biblegateway.com, there are 172 mentions of "joy" in the Bible and 4 mentions of "happiness" (plus 27 mentions of "joyful" and 16 mentions of "happy"). I have always viewed joy as something more visceral, something deeper than happiness, something you could experience even during sadness. Joy is God's promise -- it is being grateful, being blessed, knowing that your life is so much bigger than this one event and that the whole of your life is good and blessed.

So now I'm curious: Is there a relationship between what you call these feelings and how much you feel them? As a researcher and data geek, naturally I had to create a survey to delve deeper into this. It's not supposed to be rigorously scientific, so even if you've cheated by reading through this whole thing without filling out the survey, you can still do it. I haven't looked yet to see if any actual research like this has been done. I'm just satisfying my own curiosity. And of course I will post my results once I analyze the whole thing. Maybe I will try out my new Illustrator skills to create something pretty :)


If you've filled out the survey and have additional thoughts on these words -- happiness, joy, contentment, optimism, or others -- and whether the words you use can affect your outlook, let me know in the comments!

Garage Sales and Friendships

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

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Garage Sales and Friendships | Faith Permeating Life
This post is a bit belated given that our garage sale was two weekends ago, but I think the lessons are still relevant.

In preparation for our garage sale, I forced myself to go through all of the containers that were in the closet of the bedroom in my parents' basement. Most of what was in there was 10-15 years old, maybe even more. Toys and figurines from my childhood bedroom, boxes of crafts that were half used-up -- things that had at some point been stored in my bedroom closet, then moved from one closet to another as I moved bedrooms and then houses, and finally moved into the basement bedroom closet when my sister took over my bedroom and I moved out.

They were things I hadn't been able to get rid of before, despite holding umpteen garage sales in the meantime. Things I would never use or display again, but which I held onto because they reminded me of the past.

I finally let go of them by reminding myself of one simple fact: I had gotten a lot of use out of these items. It's not like they were untouched, never opened. The figurines had been displayed on my shelves for years; the craft sets and toys provided hours of entertainment. Even though I had no use for them now, that made them no less valuable to my life; rather, their time had simply come and gone, and now I could pass them on to someone else without devaluing them in the process. My memories are no less valid because I don't have the corresponding physical items.

You might think these reflections led to my thoughts about friendships, but actually it's the other way around -- I came to the above conclusion by applying a truth I already believed about friendships.

An illustration: When I was a senior in college, thanks to the magic of Facebook, I reconnected with a girl who had been my best friend in 3rd and 4th grade, until she moved to another state. We didn't do much in the way of catching up via the Internet, but shortly thereafter she said she would be in the area looking at grad schools and asked if she could stop by my campus and see me. The weekend she was coming unfortunately coincided with a minor surgery I had, but she was still able to come by for a few hours to see me while I was laid up on the couch.

She and I had stayed in touch for a few years after she moved, and I went to visit her once when I was 13. It was clear from that visit that we'd become different people, and when I saw her at 21, there was no "spark" of renewed friendship, just a pleasant time updating each other on our lives.

Part of me wanted to mourn this "lost" friendship -- that we were so close for a few years, yet ended up being no more than Facebook friends with not much in common. You have to understand, I guess, that most of the friends I made in middle school are still my good friends to this day. We stayed in a tight-knit (sometimes suffocatingly so) group all the way through high school, continued to get together on holiday breaks in college, and still stay in touch and see each other whenever possible.

But I've come to realize that a friendship is not less valuable for being over, if that friendship served you well during its time. A friendship doesn't have to "survive" to present day, or until the day you die, to be a worthwhile friendship. Sometimes God gives you a friend during a time that you need a friend. My family moved to Illinois when I was starting 3rd grade, so having a best friend -- especially one who had also just moved to the area -- during those first few years was a huge blessing.

I had a similar experience near the end of high school. Remember that suffocating group of friends? I prayed to God that I would make a new friend outside of the group, and then I did. Of course, I made the dual mistake of trying to date him and trying to assimilate him into my existing friend group, but nonetheless, the friendship was there when I needed it. Even though I'm sad we've lost contact, I'm exceptionally grateful for the short-lived friendship we had.

A mentor once shared a quotation that encapsulated this idea, and unfortunately I can't find it, so I'll have to poorly paraphrase instead. It compared the whole of our life to a piece of music, and the various instruments and harmonies as the people we meet along the way. Some people provide a constant bass line throughout the whole piece, while others are a short but beautiful bridge that lasts for a short while and then fades away, but all these parts add up to one complete symphony.

I like the idea that this can extend to more than friendships. It is the well-loved toy given away, or the past job where you learned all you could and moved on. Even romantic relationships -- our culture tends to label relationships as "failed" if they end in anything but death, yet the richness someone brought to your life for a period of time is not nullified by the end of the relationship.

With that, I wish you many happy endings and new beginnings.

A Quick-Take Easter

Sunday, April 24, 2011

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A Quick-Take Easter | Faith Permeating Life
I know it's not Friday, but I feel like today is best summed up in 7 Quick Takes.

— 1 —

Happy Easter, everyone! My family and I went to noon Mass today, then out to a late brunch. Mike was able to get off work in time to join us. My sister is 13 and felt deprived of an Easter egg hunt, so she found a bunch of plastic eggs and hid them for Mike to find when he got home. My brother was also home for the weekend from grad school, so it was nice to have the whole family together for Easter.

— 2 —

Near the end of Mass today, the priest said, "Those of you who are in mortal sin may leave before the final hymn." I thought that was a pretty hilarious way to try to keep people from sneaking out early. Unfortunately it didn't do much to dissuade people. My family's of the mind that the best way to avoid a parking lot mess is to stay until the end of the recessional hymn and then take our time leaving church. We made our brunch reservations late enough that we could still stop home for about 20 minutes after church.

— 3 —

Mike decided not to take the restaurant job. He was getting stressed out about giving up his weekends again, and he decided if he really wanted to land a full-time, Monday-to-Friday job, it was better to devote his time to job-hunting for the moment. He's also going to look for some volunteering opportunities, where his schedule will be more flexible but he'll still have the opportunity to make contacts. I don't have much choice but to trust he's going to follow through with this plan. Maybe I can come up with a way to help without nagging.

— 4 —

I got my hair cut yesterday. About 8 inches off. I hadn't had it cut since before our honeymoon, and every since we had an 80-degree day a few weeks ago I've been wanting it gone. It's up around my ears now, and I really like it.

— 5 —

Have you seen the Tweet Topic Explorer? It's supposed to help you decide if you want to follow someone on Twitter. Looking at mine, you might conclude that I often tweet about "gay sex" even though those words have only ever appeared in the same tweet together once (and not in that order). Haha :) Still, it's a fun tool.

— 6 —

I've only got a few weeks left of my programming class, and I'm really glad. The instructor is painfully bad, and it's frustrating that I've learned so much less than I'd hoped to. I wish I had the self-discipline to get myself caught up over the summer before I take another class in the fall, but I don't, or I'd have taught myself programming in the first place instead of taking a class.

— 7 —

I did ask my boss about working from home on Thursdays, and he said he has no problem with it, but he wants to check with his boss about whether there's a policy for our department, and he said they might need to develop one first. I guess this is the difference between working for a VP (who suggested I work two days a week at home when I first got mono) and working for a director not as high up. I didn't tell him it was for health reasons -- I'm honestly glad that no one at work is treating me like I'm going to die anymore. I just said that it's a long commute and I get more work done when I'm not being interrupted all the time. This is partly true -- I don't always get more work done at home, but I do get a lot more work done the day after I've had a restful day at home than if I'm pushing myself through the end of the week. So fingers crossed something gets decided soon!

It Never Ends...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

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It Never Ends... | Faith Permeating Life
I think I have to acknowledge that I'm not totally over mono.

I very much wanted to believe that after about 7 months, my strength was back permanently. I was in the office again five days a week, I wasn't getting sick all the time, and I could get through the week without totally collapsing. But truthfully there have still been days (once in a great while) when I come home too exhausted to walk, and despite getting 8-9 hours of sleep every night this week, I'm still bone tired. There isn't anything particularly stressful going on, but every work day is starting to feel like a burden.

What really hit home for me was when I had my performance review this week, and I started trying to remember when the last time was that I really challenged myself, that I really got excited about ideas I had for extra projects I could do or unique analyses I could look into. All of the projects I could think of were from a year ago, right before I got sick. I don't want to believe I've changed that fundamentally as a person, that I'm just no long interested in trailblazing and being curious. And so I've realized that I'm not back to normal yet.

This is tough for me, because it's hard enough to admit to myself when I'm sick, and I have to ask myself, "Do you feel the way you normally do?" to get me to acknowledge that I'm sick. But when "normal" is some fuzzy memory of what I felt like over a year ago, it's even harder to acknowledge that something's wrong.

So. What to do?

I don't know. Take a few days off work and use up even more sick days? Cancel everything on my schedule outside of work, even when I'm trying to be more social, see more people, strengthen my friendships? I'm already getting as much sleep as I possibly can and sleeping even more on the weekends. I want to believe this will fix itself with time... but maybe I've been making things worse all this time?

Sometimes it seems as if getting healthy and having a life are at odds with each other.

Update: Mike got the job he interviewed for today. He's going to be a server at a restaurant much closer to where we live. Yay! I'm so proud of him.

Ever Bigger Leaps of Faith

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

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Ever Bigger Leaps of Faith | Faith Permeating Life
In case you've forgotten, for Lent this year I decided to stop nagging Mike. This was a big leap of faith for me since Mike, of his own admission, has a hard time following through on things, although he's been working on that in small ways for a long time. But I knew that I couldn't learn to really trust God until I could first trust the person I spend most of my time with.

It's been difficult, for sure. I've bit my tongue probably a hundred times in the last month every time I saw in our entryway the prayer shawl Mike promised to give to a coworker about 5 months ago. But that in itself was good for me, given that one of my happiness commandments is "Hold your tongue." Every single time I reminded myself: He knows it's there. He knows he still needs to give it to her. Your telling him again won't make a difference.

Where there has been a difference is -- well, practically everything else. I've never seen Mike this on top of things. He runs errands unasked. He thinks ahead and makes plans. He actually brought home a container of papers from his childhood and sat down and started going through it himself. This never happens -- he can't tackle a single pile on his desk without my sitting there next to him helping him decide where things go. (He said he pictured me sitting next to him while he was going through the container.) He found his diploma from grad school, decided he wanted a frame for it that matched the one his undergrad diploma is in, looked it up online, then put on his tennis shoes and went out to Target at 10 o'clock at night to buy the matching one. Probably the most shocking one was when we got an invite to a friend's wedding we couldn't attend, and I filled out the reply card and then made an offhand comment that we should still make sure to get them a wedding present. The next day he forwarded me the e-mail receipt -- he'd found their wedding registry online and ordered their gift.

Amazing, right?

I said originally that I was only going to "request" and not "remind," but honestly I've done little requesting the past month, he's so on top of things.

Of course, there is a downside to this. I would find a downside, wouldn't I?

Trust means relinquishing control. Mike doing things means I don't get to say when or how they get done, and as the person who manages our schedules and our budget, this can be a little nerve-wracking. On the one hand, I'm thrilled that Mike isn't even hesitating to go out and buy supplies for projects that previously would have probably been put off for months. But those purchases do add up, and we've ended up about $200 over in our "everything else" budget category. I'm OK with that -- obviously I'm not about to start complaining about my newly proactive husband, plus we got a $200 check for Easter from my generous grandmother -- but looking long-term requires even more trust than I anticipated when I made this resolution initially.

Especially since Mike quit his job today.

Do I sound crazy if I say I'm proud of him for this? Change is really, really hard for him, especially when it comes to employment, and he's never quit a job before. I've always thought he would stay at one place forever if he had the choice.

Even though he was working with nice people and enjoying the work he was doing, he finally saw that he wasn't going to get the opportunities there that he thought he would. His restaurant management's been running him in circles for way too long. He asked to be a shift supervisor a year ago, and they told him he needed to be a server trainer first. So he became a server trainer. Then they put off making him a shift supervisor even longer. Finally, his assistant manager quit, he applied for the position, and they told him he couldn't become assistant manager without being a shift supervisor first, which is what he's been trying to do for the past year.

He finally figured that if he wasn't going to get to be more than a server, he might as well be a server in our town rather than driving 45 minutes each way every day, what with gas prices over $4/gallon. Actually, what he told me was that after reading my post from Sunday, he asked, "God, may I please have a new job?"

And God said, "First quit the job you have."

So he did.

And my newly proactive husband has already put in several applications to local restaurants and got a call today to interview on Thursday.

It's a risk, and it requires a lot of trust -- in God, and in him -- but that's why this whole thing started, right? I guess God wasn't messing around when He told me that giving up nagging Mike would help me learn to trust Him more.

Every time I start wondering when Mike will get another job or calculating whether we'll need our savings to tide us over, I simply think, "Which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life's span?"

Ask For It -- and You Shall Receive

Sunday, April 17, 2011

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Ask For It -- and You Shall Receive | Faith Permeating Life
It's been a busy couple of days, and I apologize for not posting on Thursday -- I was trying to get my programming homework done, cook dinner (Mike wasn't home), exercise, and pack my clothes for the weekend. I was at a conference all day Friday, then spent two hours driving back in the rain, in traffic, from the conference location to my parents', ate dinner, and helped get set up for the garage sale that we had most of the day yesterday (inside the garage, because it was freezing, with heaters on extension cords pointed at us the whole time). Then I had to make sure all course roster mistakes were fixed by midnight last night because spring course evaluations launched at midnight.

So now I can breathe a bit.

The conference is what I want to talk about today. I didn't go in with very high expectations because the schedule showed there would be one keynote speaker talking for two hours, lunch, and then two hour-long workshops, and that was it. But because the topic was so focused, and the speakers few and well-chosen, it ended up being an excellent conference.

The conference was for women in higher education and was based around Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever's book Ask For It, a follow-up to their book Women Don't Ask. Their research, it turns out, is what I've been quoting for years whenever people talk about the pay gap between men and women's average salaries, because I once read a simple explanation for why this is: Men are four times more likely than women to negotiate their salaries.

The research shows a consistent pattern. Managers are most concerned with their own day-to-day work, and they're not constantly reviewing everyone in their workforce to see if people are all being paid fairly and given equal opportunities and so on. If someone comes to them, however, and asks for a raise, a bonus, a prestigious project, or a spot on a powerful committee, and it seems like a reasonable request and is within the manager's power to grant it, they're happy to do so. They don't say, "Hm, thank you for bringing this to my attention. I'm going to review the qualifications and skills of everyone in your department to see who deserves this raise/project/benefit/etc." They just say, "Hm, that sounds reasonable. I can make that happen." Given that it's more likely to be men doing the asking, they more often get these benefits.

This whole situation fascinates me for a few reasons.

One is the message of the conference: Assume everything is negotiable, think about what you really want, do your research, aim high, and just ask. For my part, I've got my performance review coming up on Tuesday, and while I don't feel the need to negotiate my salary since my bosses already fought hard to get me a title change and a raise, there is one thing I would really like: I would like to work from home one day a week. There are a lot of different reasons for this, both work- and health-related, but I haven't had the nerve to ask for it before now because I didn't see a good reason I should be allowed to. Now I'm like, hell, why not just ask? I can't imagine my boss saying no, especially since I rarely have any meetings on Thursdays anyway, so it wouldn't be disruptive to anyone else if I worked from home that day. And it would make me happier, and thus a better worker. So I'm going to ask for it.

The second reason this topic fascinates me is that it means, without carefully paying attention to these kind of discrepancies and who's coming to ask for things, managers can find themselves out of compliance with equal-pay laws without any kind of blatant discrimination. The whole reason one of the authors (Linda Babcock) started on this research was that her female graduate students came to her and were upset that male graduate students were getting to teach their own classes, while they (the female students) were just TAs to other professors. Babcock had been happy to help out any student who came to her with a course proposal, and it hadn't occurred to her it was only the male students bringing her these proposals. But anyone from the outside could come in, see this discrepancy, and accuse her of being discriminatory and gender-biased and all the rest.

This is another case where I feel like legislation isn't the best solution. Now, I'm not saying there shouldn't be equal-pay laws, because I do think they set up an expectation, provide a bargaining position for women when they negotiate*, and discourage outright discrimination. But in and of themselves, these laws are not the solution to closing the gender wage gap. The book Ask For It (which we got as part of the conference) says that graduates at Babcock's school were surveyed on whether they negotiated their job offers. 12.5% of women and 51.5% of men had. Babcock created negotiation workshops aimed at teaching women why and how to negotiate, and three years later, the survey showed 68% of women and 65% of men had negotiated their job offers, and there was no statistical difference in how much the men and women had been able to increase their starting salaries.

The point is that while these laws are important and even necessary, they don't, by themselves, actually solve the problem. That's why I like this book and liked the conference so much -- they're aimed at educating women and empowering them to feel like they can ask for what they need or deserve to be successful. And you know what? Making change that way is a lot more difficult than passing a law because it requires transforming people's ideas one individual at a time. But I believe it's a lot more effective at creating real change and making real progress toward closing that gap.

The third reason that I found this topic and the conference fascinating is for those moments the gender generalizations didn't fit for me. Some of the things we were told that "women don't do," I do. Like asking for extra projects at work. Asking to move into another department. Asking for a new title when mine didn't make sense anymore. On the other hand, some of the things that "women do," Mike does. I've helped him write practically every cover letter he's ever sent because whenever he writes it himself, it ends up being all about how much he wants the job and not a single thing about what skills and talents he has to offer. He's such a humble person that he's terrible at promoting himself. He falls prey to a lot of the same things that the authors say that women tell themselves, like, "I'll be promoted when my boss thinks I'm good enough" or "If I'm getting passed over for this job, there must be a good reason." We had an honest conversation a few weeks ago about the fact that he wasn't applying to jobs he was interested in because he already thought he knew why they'd reject his application. And so I have to tell him, "Just try. Just ask."

I've mentioned before that I often have some of my best thoughts in church, which, to my mind, is how I believe God talks to me. I'm kind of embarrassed to say that after thinking about this idea for a full day and a half it wasn't until I was in church last night that I made this connection:

"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." (Matthew 7:7-8)
"All things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive." (Matthew 21:22)
"Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you." (Mark 11:24)
"If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." (John 15:7)
"Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full." (John 16:24)
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Philippians 4:6)

Immediately I saw connections between what I'd been reading and my prayer life. For example, in either situation, you're not going to get everything you might want. Even if your boss absolutely loves you, she's not going to double your salary if that would require taking away part of other people's salaries. But does that mean you shouldn't ask for anything? Of course not. And just because God doesn't answer all prayers, doesn't mean He doesn't answer any prayers.

Another message of the book is that women often put up with minor inconveniences because it doesn't occur to them that they can ask to have those things changed. The same is true of prayer. I often make the mistake of thinking things are too trivial to bother asking God about. Which is stupid. My back had been hurting since Friday afternoon from a combination of driving, moving things for the garage sale, and starting my period. So in that flash of inspiration in church, with complete faith, I asked God to make my back stop hurting. And boom -- no more pain.

Some years ago, I read a book called When Children Pray by Cheri Fuller. One particular story stands out to me, and I'll try to remember it as best I can. A women and her children were driving along a deserted rural road when their car broke down. With no phone and no idea when somebody might next drive by, she asked her children to pray with her to send someone to help them out. After waiting for some time and having no one show up, she asked them to pray again. They looked at her strangely, and her daughter said, "But we already asked God. He knows. We don't need to tell Him again." And then the tow truck drove up.

For whatever reason, children seem to have the same kind of faith in God that many men have in themselves -- that anything is possible if you just ask.

How did so many of us miss this memo?

So don't be afraid to ask -- your boss, your spouse, or God -- for what you deserve, need, or want. It doesn't mean you'll get it. But who knows until you try?


*One of the two workshops at the conference was led by an attorney who educated us on these laws and kept saying, "I'm not telling you this so you can sue your employer. Don't sue your employer. It's a terrible idea. Just be educated about your rights." This reminded me of a story a faculty member had told me about some decades ago when she'd approached her department chair about why two male colleagues received a raise and she hadn't. The chair told her, well, she was married, she had a husband to support her, she didn't need to be making as much money. She told him he was breaking the law and she had every right to sue him. He gave her the raise.

The Stepping Stones to a Change of Heart

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

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The Stepping Stones to a Change of Heart | Faith Permeating Life
Thanks to everyone who left such thoughtful comments on my previous post. I provided some updates in my replies, but I wanted to mention those here as well.

Mike and I just sent off our subscription for a Community-Support Agriculture (CSA) share. We're going to get six months of meat and five months of produce, plus a "storage share" at the end of the growing season of squashes, potatoes, onions, and such that will last us through the end of the year. We're also going to get eggs, honey, and jam from the farm. The farm is farther away than I'd hoped -- about 150 miles -- but given that I was initially operating under the assumption that we couldn't get local farm food, finding one that delivered close to us at all was a revelation and allowed us to make this positive change.

If you add up the total cost for our subscription and divide it over the amount of time we hope to make all that food last, it comes out to roughly $114 a month. (It's about $170 a month just counting the months we're receiving food.) Since we have a budget of $280 a month but have actually spent under $150 some months (which includes meat and vegetables), it's not going to affect our budget as much as I'd anticipated. We have $50 set aside each month for a good cause, so we're borrowing that money for the CSA subscription. $280 + $50 = $330; subtracting $170 leaves $160 for all of our other groceries, which is do-able.

This is good news for Mike, our resident chef and grocery shopper, who had just subscribed to a $5-a-month meal plan that sent recipes using what's on sale at Aldi. We figured switching to Aldi was going to save us money anyway, so if Mike is able to sub out the meat and veggies in the recipes for whatever we get each month and buy the rest at Aldi, we should actually end up in pretty good shape budget-wise, not to mention health-wise.

Because I feel good about 1) supporting a local farm, 2) getting humanely raised meat, and 3) getting organically grown vegetables for our main groceries, I don't mind continuing to get other groceries from the store. I do see more small steps coming in our future. There's a place near us that makes bread and other baked goods with all local ingredients, so we'll probably check them out. I'm sure we'll stop by at least one farmers' market this summer, and maybe try to get some extras to store for the winter. (This is something Kingsolver mentions quite a few times -- stock up at the farmers' market and then can or freeze the veggies, and you'll have organic veggies through the winter plus increase the chance that that farmer will be back next summer.)

I also made the decision to avoid meat -- within reason -- at restaurants. I was never comfortable with the idea of becoming a full-blown vegetarian and having to worry about getting enough protein and other nutrients in my diet, but knowing we're going to have this stash of meat at home (which is where we eat the majority of our meals anyway), I feel like I can forgo meat while eating out. I am still OK with participating in a few meat-centric meals, like summer barbecues and our family's occasional buffalo wing night. (My husband's family is from Buffalo, so I feel like I'd be a traitor if I gave those up!) For me, it's about those small steps, with the hope that if I don't make my choices look too difficult or strict, it will encourage others to follow suit.

There were a lot of different factors that led me to make these decisions; here are a few big ones:
  • Obviously, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle played a big role in educating me about local eating, but a few key points stood out to me. One was reading about the United States' absolutely ridiculous regulations (or lack thereof) regarding testing meat for BSE, or mad-cow disease. Another was discovering the many different options for eating local, from farmers' markets to CSAs to restaurants that use all local ingredients. Another was simply being educated about when things are in season, so it didn't seem so daunting to try to eat in season. And finally, finding out that Kingsolver still bought energy bars at the grocery store and ate out at restaurants (minus eating CAFO-raised meat). That made a local lifestyle seem less extreme and more do-able.

  • I got in a conversation with my boss when our department went out to lunch a week or so ago; he ordered a vegetarian item and then explained that since he's been teaching an Environmental Science class, it's kind of guilted him into wanting to become vegetarian because of everything he's learning and teaching. He said he has a hard time reconciling that, though, with the fact that our biology is made for eating meat. I told him about the book I was reading and said something like, "Well, it's not really about the meat, it's about where it's raised, and really you should be eating local produce too, if you're concerned about the environment." We had a long and really interesting conversation about this, comparing what Animal, Vegetable, Miracle said to what his class's textbook said, and he ended up sounding really overwhelmed by how he couldn't make all the changes he wanted to. I found myself coaching him about taking small steps and doing what he could, then walked away from the conversation feeling ridiculous because I wasn't doing any of those things myself.

  • Ever since I started reading this book and talking about it, Mike has started planning and researching more about what animals he wants to raise when we have a house. (Apparently what we've been calling a "mini-farm" is properly called a "homestead.") I got so frustrated with the idea that we had to wait to make changes to our lifestyle that I finally got on the Internet, "just to see," and discovered LocalHarvest.org, and the CSA that delivered near us. Then I started doing the math, and finally went, OK, let's do this.

I can't help but again draw comparisons to Christianity in my "conversion" to eating more local food and less CAFO meat. I appreciate that no one -- even Kingsolver, in her book -- aggressively tried to convert me into being either a locavore or a vegetarian. There were just these small pieces along the way that all eventually led to a change in my behavior. I've heard that more than once from people talking about converting to Christianity, that it was small things that formed a path to believing. In fact, I don't recall anyone ever saying, "So-and-so got up in my face and told me I was going to Hell, and argued with me, and then finally I realized I was wrong and I believed." Have you ever heard that conversion story from anyone? I'd be interested to know.

Before my grandparents were married, my granddad converted to Catholicism from something else -- Episcopalian, maybe -- and it wasn't because my grandmom issued any sort of ultimatum that he had to become Catholic; it was because my grandmom's mother had such a strong faith, always saying her rosary and talking about the Virgin Mary, that it left an impression on my granddad, and he started talking to his Navy chaplain about Catholicism. He ultimately went on to become a Catholic deacon and a devotee of Padre Pio, healing people with one of Padre Pio's gloves. In a lot of ways I see this story as similar to that of Kingsolver's daughter's friend, who went from never giving a second thought to where her food came from to "volunteer[ing] on local farms and develop[ing] a sincere interest in agricultural methods that preserve biodiversity." This was sparked by a conversation about why Kingsolver's family wasn't buying bananas at the grocery store. Changes of heart can be dramatic, but they often start with small pieces that fall into place along the way.

My challenge to you, if you haven't already done so, is to go on LocalHarvest.org and just see what's around you. Of course I would also highly recommend Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. But I won't recommend any specific changes. Do something, even a small thing, that works for you. Or just start thinking about it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Meat, Alcohol, and Jesus

Sunday, April 10, 2011

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Meat, Alcohol, and Jesus | Faith Permeating Life
In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Kingsolver talks about how there is a stigma against becoming vegetarian (or otherwise making restrictive food choices) for environmental reasons:
Our culture is not unacquainted with the idea of food as a spiritually loaded commodity. We’re just particular about which spiritual arguments we’ll accept as valid for declining certain foods. Generally unacceptable reasons: environmental destruction, energy waste, the poisoning of workers. Acceptable: it’s prohibited by a holy text. Set down a platter of country ham in front of a rabbi, an imam, and a Buddhist monk, and you may have just conjured three different visions of damnation. Guests with high blood pressure may add a fourth.
I think I understand why there's this discrepancy. If someone is abstaining from meat for religious reasons or avoiding salt for health reasons, then you can draw a distinction between them and you: I'm not that religion. I don't have those health problems. And you can go on your merry way with your Big Mac and fries.

But if the person is making those decisions for the environment, for human rights, or for better general health, well, then you're not exempt from that reasoning. Even if they never imply you should be doing the same, you immediately get the feeling you should be. And you feel guilty. Or at least I do.

I think this why many vegetarians I know seem reluctant to explain their decision -- especially since the topic often comes up when we're all seated around a table and everyone's got some form of meat in front of them except one. Unless they're really gung-ho about promoting The Cause, their decision is a personal one. And yet others immediately feel that they're being judged for not doing the same, since, after all, they aren’t exempt from any of the environmental, human rights, animal rights, or general health reasons. Those others get defensive and start arguing with the person's reasons, trying to bring them back over to the Meat side so they don't have to feel so guilty.

It's the same reason I avoid announcing that I don't drink alcohol. The truth is, my reasons are 100% personal. I don't enjoy the taste of alcohol, and I don't enjoy the effects. That leaves me with pretty much no reason to drink. ("Fitting in" has never been much of a reason I do anything.)

I have no problem with other people's drinking. Yes, I worked in alcohol abuse prevention for two and a half years in college, but our office never took an abstinence approach; instead, I sat with group after group of underage drinkers sanctioned to "alcohol education classes" and discussed what they wanted to get out of drinking (be social, relax, have fun), then helped them figure out how much they could drink without suffering too many of the negative consequences they said they wanted to avoid (blacking out, embarrassing themselves).

Yet time and again I see people -- especially if they're heavy drinkers -- get instantly, visibly uncomfortable when they find out I don't drink. Without my saying a word about them, they start making assumptions: I'm judging them. I think I'm better than them. I think they're a terrible person for consuming alcohol.

Why is this? Is it because they've actually had conversations with holier-than-thou nondrinkers, and they're lumping me in with those people? (For the record, I don't think I've ever met a holier-than-thou nondrinker, and that's after not only working in alcohol abuse prevention for two and a half years but living on a floor of nondrinkers for a year and then being for four years in a student organization that organized alcohol-free events. Everyone I know has been cool with drinking alcohol as long as it's done responsibly, and almost all of them began drinking when they turned 21.)

My guess is that anybody who feels threatened by my personal decision has doubts about their own decision. I know for me, anytime I've felt uncomfortable around someone who's a vegetarian, it's because I was reminded that I believe that I shouldn't be eating meat, or should at least, like my one friend, only eat meat that's locally and humanely raised. Their decision holds a mirror up to my own inconsistencies between what I feel to be right and what I actually do. Even if ultimately I think I'm doing the best I can right now.

(By the way, Mike has gotten really into planning out what's going to be our mini-farm when we finally have land. That makes me pretty excited.)

All of these musings lead me to this: I think this is why there's such a social stigma against talking about religion or faith, or at least being "too into" religion. In my experience, the people least perturbed by talk of strong faith are committed atheists. They've made their own decision, so someone else's deep faith doesn't bother them. The people who are made uncomfortable, I believe, are those who kind of believe, who want to believe, who think they should believe, but just haven't put much effort into it. Or who do believe but don't really put much thought into what that means for their day-to-day life. And in America, from what I can tell, that's most people. Raised in some religion -- usually Christian -- and would tell you they're Christian if asked, but don't really see that as a fundamental aspect of their life.

OK, buckle your seatbelt, 'cause here's where I ruffle some feathers.

I hear a lot of people talk about how it's OK to forcefully proclaim the Gospel to others, because after all, that's what Jesus did, right? Made people uncomfortable? Got in their face? And if people don't like that, well, that's not your fault, you're just following your call to evangelize.

Here's the thing, though: Yes, Jesus had a challenging message. But He also showed God's love, over and over again. He got down on His knees and washed His disciples' feet. He was forgiving, even when His disciplines screwed up and ran away from Him. He performed miracles for people who were grateful--and for those that weren't. He had many ways of bringing people to Him and showing them the truth. He didn't adopt a holier-than-thou position even though He was, and He condemned those who did so.

The whole notion of evangelization is a tricky one because it can so easily become about you and not about the people you're trying to show Jesus to.

Here's what I'm trying to say: People who have even the slightest notion that they would like to believe in God or would like to live a Christian life are already going to be uncomfortable and feel judged by others' proclamations of their own personal faith, even without that person telling them they should believe. And that's OK. It doesn't have to be swept under the rug because it makes people uncomfortable. If your goal is to make people uncomfortable enough that they re-examine their own life and see something missing, then having a strong personal faith is already going to do that, just like avoiding meat and alcohol will make people uncomfortable if they have doubts about their own decisions.

The catch is what to do next. I've seen people get so intent on telling another person that they need to believe, that they're going to Hell, and all the rest, that that person is turned off even more from the whole notion of Christianity because of the negative association they're now making between this person's judgment and Christianity. As the Facebook profile of one of my gay friends says, "I love Jesus, but I hate some of the people that work for him." It frustrates me so much how many gay people have been turned off from religion because of those who use the Bible to cast judgment.

Anyway.

The approach I've taken is that I'm comfortable talking about my faith, but I don't ever tell someone else what they should or shouldn't believe or that they're going to Hell because the Bible says so. I might tell them what I believe, or what the Catholic Church says, or what the Bible says, if it's appropriate to the conversation. But I try to avoid turning them off from the idea even more.

Instead, I just try to live it. I try to live a Christian life the best I know how, and I know I fall short, but that's my goal. That's why this blog is "Faith Permeating Life." Because I don't think faith can only be discussed separately from the day-to-day goings-on of life.

When I was a senior in high school, I was coming back from a dance with a friend (actually the same friend mentioned above), and he said to me, "Can I ask you something? How is it that you have such a strong faith in God?"

This took me aback completely. I don't believe I'd ever had a single conversation with this friend about my faith. I don't remember it even coming up in conversations among our group of friends at that point. I mean, I attended church regularly, and I'd helped lead the past year's sophomore Confirmation retreat. I'd also written a lot about my faith in a project for junior year English class, but he couldn't have known that. I honestly don't know how he'd come to that conclusion about me, even though it was true. The only thing I can reckon was that I was very vocal about joy and having a positive outlook, and I also really enjoyed giving gifts and doing things for others. Both of these aspects were strongly rooted in my faith, and I guess that must have come out somehow.

I'll leave you with a link to an interesting article on the subject of evangelizing through words vs. actions. This isn't something I have completely figured out yet, but I do know what I see not working, and I try to avoid doing anything that's going to drive people away from faith in God.

Your thoughts, as always, are more than welcome.

How Not to Get Hired

Thursday, April 7, 2011

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How Not to Get Hired | Faith Permeating Life
Job hunting has been on my mind a lot lately, even though (thankfully) I'm not currently job hunting myself. Mike is. Every couple of months he gets a new idea for some kind of full-time job he'd like to have and will apply to a job (or two or three, with my prodding). So we're in the midst of that right now. I'm also on a search committee at my work to hire someone who's essentially my replacement for my original job, and I just got done helping with a year-long search process for a much higher-up position. Plus, as I've mentioned, I taught these skills for a year in grad school and have considered finding a volunteer position where I could use them. I already get lots of practice from friends sending me their resumes, and even sending me their friends' resumes. Heck, even my dad had me help him revise his resume.

When I started teaching, I hadn't gone through a ton of job searches myself, so I read every career advice article I could get my hands on. I've been glad to see that in the several searches I've been a part of since then, the search committees have focused on exactly the things I told my students they would. I have also been amazed to see how little effort some people put into their applications. I thought it was just my students not taking their 1-credit course seriously, but I see the same problems in actual job applicants.

In any case, I thought I would use this platform I have to summarize what I usually see going wrong on job applications, and what helps applicants stand out above the rest, in hopes that it might help others who are in the frustrating process of searching for a job.

Basic ways to get rejected
Do this, and you automatically go on my "no interview" list.
  • Don't follow directions. An astounding number of people don't follow the application directions. I used to specifically teach this to my students by bringing in copies of a bookstore application I'd printed off. It said something like, "List three people who have known you professionally for at least a year. If you don't have three people, list people who have known you in other contexts for at least a year." I would say to my students, "Here's a lesson in reading directions. If you don't have three people who have known you professionally for at least a year, what should you do?" They'd start shouting out answers: "Just name one and leave the rest blank." "Write 'N/A.'" "Include people who haven't known you a year." Finally someone would read the directions aloud. For the position my work is seeking right now, our directions say to upload a cover letter and resume as one document where it says "Resume" and literally only about half of the applications, if even that, have cover letters. Which brings me to...
  • Don't bother writing a cover letter. I don't care if the directions say so or not: Write a cover letter. You may think it's obvious why your experience is applicable to the position, but the person looking through resumes may not. Even if they do, they want to know that you understand what's needed for the position. If your experience isn't a perfect match, but you still have the skills and still want the job, the cover letter is your chance to explain that. Even with a super-experienced person, if there's no cover letter I start wondering why they're applying to an entry-level position and whether they'd actually follow through once they heard more about it.
  • Write an objective and forget about it. Whether you should even have an "objective" on your resume is hotly contested, but one thing's for sure: If you're going to have one, make sure it matches the position you're applying for! I've seen objectives for my replacement position ranging from a filmmaker to a paralegal to a chef to, literally, "any job." Nothing screams "I'm desperate and I'm submitting my resume everywhere" like having an out-of-place objective.
  • Ignore the minimum requirements. To some extent, you can have some wiggle room -- if it says 2-3 years of experience and you've got a year plus a summer internship or volunteer work here or there, it can't hurt to apply. But if it says a bachelor's degree is required, and you won't be graduating for a few more years, then don't waste your time applying. Some electronic systems will eliminate you automatically before the hiring manager even goes through the applications.
  • Tell me upfront what salary you expect. General advice is that it's tacky to bring up salary in an interview or basically anytime before you're made an offer. Bringing it up in your cover letter? That'll get you circular filed quick.
  • Make spelling or grammatical mistakes. I know my students thought I was crazy when it came to spelling and grammar, but there's a good reason they'd get an automatic F on any resume or cover letter they turned in with glaring errors. I've seen time and again on search committees where no one even wants to consider a candidate who made any kind of spelling or grammatical mistake on their application. It shows that you don't take your work seriously if you didn't bother to re-read your stuff before submitting it, or worse, that you didn't know it was wrong. Proofread your shit, and have at least two other people look it over as well.

Intermediate ways to get rejected
These things won't get you rejected immediately, but more than likely you'll end up getting passed over for other candidates.
  • List tasks instead of skills. "Answered the phone." "Made pizza." "Patched holes." If the job you're describing isn't the same as the one you're applying for, I want to know that you gained some sort of skills that are going to make you better at this job. And even if it's the exact same type of job, I want to know that you see the job as more than just an endless list of tasks. What were your goals? Where did you go above and beyond? Where did you see results? When I was hired in my original position and part of my job was nothing more than adding workshops to a database, advertising them, and tracking how many people showed up for them, I started devising ways to increase workshop attendance, and over the course of the year, my initiatives increased attendance by 25%. Sure, maybe you can do the job, but if it's between you and someone who's going to go above and beyond the job requirements, I'm picking them.
  • Tell me what you were "responsible for." After spelling and grammatical errors, few things grate on me more than the words "responsible for." These words don't say what you did, they say what you were supposed to do. They don't say what you accomplished, just what you were assigned to. Every person who has had that type of job has been responsible for the same list of tasks. What did you do that makes you better than everyone else?
  • List out-of-date or irrelevant skills. Maybe you've mastered every audio-editing software out there. That's great, but if you're not going to be doing any audio editing in this position, I don't care. Tell me that you can use Microsoft Office. In the same vein, I recently saw a resume listing "Netscape" as software the person could use. Netscape was last released in 2007. If that's the only Internet browser you can use, I'm sure as hell not hiring you.
  • Focus on the negative and make excuses. "I know I'm not as experienced as some other candidates..." "I moved to take care of my mom, and I thought I could get another job quick, but then the job market was so bad, and I kept sending out resumes and getting rejected..." I don't want your sob story. If you've got something to explain, fine, but don't draw unnecessary attention to it -- your cover letter real estate should be mostly, if not all, your strengths, skills, and what you do bring to the position. Don't spend most of it waving a red flag over your weaknesses.
  • Use big, fancy words wherever possible. Trust me, I can pick out the people who got Microsoft Word thesaurus-happy when writing their cover letter. Certainly, you should be professional and avoid text-speak and abbreviations, but that doesn't mean you have to talk like you swallowed a dictionary. Use normal language and stop trying to make every other word a 5-dollar word. I know you don't talk like that (and I don't want to hire you if you do), so stop making yourself look like an idiot.

OK, enough with the bad stuff. If you avoid all of the above, you're going to get at least a second glance. But the truth is, if there are hundreds of applications (and with the current job market, few advertised positions don't get at least 100 applications), you really have to go above and beyond to stand out and make it to the next level. So here are some things that stand out to me in a positive way.

Advanced tips for getting that edge
Make yourself stand out from the crowd; make the hiring manager sit up and take notice
  • Tailor your resume to the position description. I wish I could say everyone did this, but honestly so few people make the effort that those that do get my attention. Read carefully through the job posting. Make your vocabulary match the company's. Where they list responsibilities of the position, try to demonstrate that you have the experience and/or skills to tackle each aspect of the job. Talk about why this position at this company strikes your interest more than others. It will become clear you've put at least some extra effort into your application and not just sent off your resume to a bunch of different places. Similarly...
  • Be enthusiastic. This may be the single most important thing you can do to stand out. I don't care what the job is -- it could be shoveling poop at the zoo. There are going to be a few rare people who find that job fulfilling and enjoyable, and those people are going to be the top picks for the job. When you're faced with a stack of a hundred people who can all do the job, you want to find the people who will love the job. Happier people make for a happier company, and if you love the company to begin with, that's even better.
  • Stay away from templates. If the job you're applying for requires any sort of computer skills, avoid the Microsoft Word resume templates like the plague, or at least modify them. I can tell right away when someone has above-average computer skills because their resume doesn't look like the last 10 I just went through. Don't overuse bold and italics, but still make use of them where appropriate to provide a visual organization to your resume. Speaking of visual organization...
  • Use bullet points. Even though this won't necessary make you stand out by itself, not using bullet points or at least new lines to break up a list of skills or responsibilities makes it that much more difficult for the hiring manager to focus on and absorb what you're trying to communicate. Make it as easy as possible to skim your resume and cover letter -- which, I promise you, is all they're going to be doing anyway, if they value their time at all.
  • Use a reasonably sized font. Using a tiny font is another thing that won't necessarily preclude you from getting an interview, but it will make me a lot happier if I don't have to squint or manually increase the font size or zoom ratio on my computer. In case you're not getting the theme here, what I'm basically trying to say is, the easier you make it for the hiring manager to review your materials, the happier they're going to be, and the happier they are, the more likely they're going to look favorably on your application, assuming you haven't mucked it up with any of the things mentioned earlier.
  • Save it as a PDF. This may seem like a minor detail, and it is, but if you've ever exchanged Word files between a Mac and a PC, you know that they don't always agree with each other. Without having a guarantee that the person on the other end is going to have the same type of computer -- or the same version of Word, for that matter -- you're better off saving it as a PDF, where everything will be preserved in exactly the format you want. At the very least, don't save it as a .docx file, as there are still people who haven't updated from Word 2003 and will have to hunt down a converter to open your application. They may not even bother.

I know this was a long post, so thanks for sticking with me, and I hope this was of some use to at least one person. There are lots of career advice articles out there, but I think sometimes the discussion can get so focused on whether your resume should be one page or more than one page, or whether or not you should have an objective, and so on, that it can help to just have the basic do's and don'ts set out for you.

I will leave you with one final piece of advice, and this is what I keep telling Mike. Don't try weighing jobs against each other before you've even applied. The only question you should ask yourself is, "If I were offered this job, would I want it?" If the answer's yes, and you meet the minimum requirements, then apply. Better to apply to your first- and second-choice jobs and be offered only your second choice than to apply to only your first choice and get no job offers at all. You can always weigh offers against each other if you get more than one. The more you apply to, the better your chance of finding something you love. This also helps keep you from pinning all your hopes on one job, and then being devastated when you don't get it. Or if you prefer a more faith-based approach: God has a plan for you, and the jobs you don't get aren't part of that plan -- but God can't provide you with the right job if you don't put yourself out there and apply. As the famous Gretzy quote says, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

Good luck, and feel free to add your own tips or stories in comments!

P.S. I told Mike what I was writing about tonight, and he wanted to add his own tip: "Marry someone who is good at helping you apply for jobs!" :)

Big Heart, Small Steps

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

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Big Heart, Small Steps | Faith Permeating Life
I am an incurable perfectionist. I blame this in no small part on the fact that growing up I was labeled by family, teachers, and friends alike as The Responsible One Who Follows All the Rules. This became key to my identity and was a significant contributor to my being a compulsive rule-follower today.

The problem is, as I grow older and read more books, articles, blogs, and the like, and listen to informational podcasts, I find that there are always more things to feel guilty about not doing.

Right now I'm reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which is superbly written and well-researched, but manages to make you feel like everything you're putting into your body is not only so lacking in real nutrients that it's practically poison, but it's going to bring about the downfall of the United States -- nay, the world!

The premise of the book is that Kingsolver and her family spent a year eating only locally grown and raised foods. It helped that they had moved onto a farm, already had a lot of experience with farming, and lived in a community of farmers. Certainly, everything she talks about in the book makes perfect sense. Rather than eating a variety of species of foods that have been bred for their tastiness and ability to withstand natural diseases, we in America generally choose from among one or two species of each type of food, which has been bred to allow it to be shipped in refrigerated trucks across the country so we can have any food we want at any time. In the process, we're sacrificing taste, taking in far fewer nutrients than we realize, encouraging the use of farming practices that are detrimental to the land and to animals, and supporting the consumption of far more fossil fuels than we actual use getting ourselves around. Just to name a few problems.

I am all for becoming a "locavore," as it's called, but it seems there's no really easy way to go about it. The more I read, the more it seems to require extensive research, a lot of frustration, and being very pushy with your local grocery stores and restaurants. Oh yeah, and it costs a lot of money. Right when we're trying to cut down our grocery spending.

I mean, I get it. It's totally worth paying more for food if you're supporting your local community, getting more nutritious and tasty foods, and sticking it to The Man who is putting us all in massive trouble if our few main species of corn or soybeans ever got attacked. (Potato famine, anyone?) And I am all for "slow food," taking time to prepare meals as a family and make things from scratch, and learning about where you're food comes from. It's just that it's... exhausting to think about.

I know that's a terrible excuse.

The thing is, this is just one of the many things we "should" be doing. There are too many things to get upset about in this world, and if you think about too many of them at once, it's so overwhelming it's paralyzing. Education, for example. Have you seen Waiting for "Superman"? It's heartbreaking, not just that there are so many problems in our public education system, but that it seems near-impossible to be able to do anything about it. Even within my own college it can be like beating my head against a brick wall to try to do anything on behalf of students sometimes. The difference being, those students have a choice -- they can leave. And, unfortunately, many of them do.

When I think about it, so much of how I spend my time is already chasing after the "should"s. I mean, that's what much of my happiness project is based around. I exercise twice a week. I floss. I recycle. I vote (just today, in fact!). I go to church. I knit prayer shawls for my church ministry. I support a World Vision child. I listen to daily NPR podcasts to keep up with world news (but have no time or energy to do anything about it or even care too strongly). I made an emergency plan and am slowly assembling emergency kits. I just signed up with VolunteerMatch to edit educational materials, but I was thinking I should also try to find an opportunity to help unemployed people with resumes and cover letters, since I really enjoy that and have a year's experience teaching that.

I could add more to the list, but the point is that there will always be more things I'm not doing, that I feel guilty about not doing. So how does one decide how to allot not only time but caring? You can't care about every problem in the entire world or you'll go crazy. I think the world would be a better place if everyone cared very strongly about one issue, but people want you to care about their issue, and as much as I may agree that something is a vitally important cause, everything can't be my cause. I have too many causes already. Educational quality. Gay rights. Preventing alcohol abuse. Comprehensive sex ed. When we become parents I'm sure I will add open adoptions and some aspects of parenting to that list.

I care about having a fair healthcare system. I care about not denying people access to food and shelter because of where and to whom they were born. I care about finding a way to promote faith without completely alienating people.

Do I care about the government's scramble to agree on a budget? Or what's going on in Libya or Yemen? Or Japan? Do I care about people who don't have enough to eat across the world? Do I care about global warming? Yes -- and no. I care, but don't judge me if I'm not doing anything about it. I am one person, and I am doing the best I can about as many things as I can.

This brings me back to the food issue. I found this article on 10 steps to becoming a locavore. I'm willing to take a few of these small steps. Am I terrible person if I buy a few things from a farmer's market, educate myself about what's in season, plan to have a vegetable garden and raise some chickens when we finally have a house, but I still want to eat at Taco Bell every few months?

I don't think so. I think everything in life, for the preservation of sanity, has to come down to compromise. It's OK to alleviate your guilt by taking small steps toward solving a problem, even if you're not willing to become a gung-ho champion of the cause. If everyone cared deeply about one thing, and took small steps toward improving a few other things, we'd all be a hell of a lot better off.

What do you think? What do you care about, and do you ever get overwhelmed by the things you aren't caring about? Or is it just my crazy obsession with following rules?

No, "I" Don't Believe He Died Only for "Many"

Sunday, April 3, 2011

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No, 'I' Don't Believe He Died Only for 'Many' | Faith Permeating Life
Although it may not seem like it, there are actually very few aspects of what's generally called "Catholic teaching" that I disagree with.
  • I believe that we should allow same-sex individuals to marry.
  • I believe that while artificial contraceptives aren't great, they really shouldn't be the main focus of attack if our goal is for people to have a healthier, God-centered understanding of sexuality.
  • And I believe, clearly, that it's OK to seek your own best understanding of what living a Christian life means, as long as that's really what you're trying to do and you're not just trying to make things more comfortable for or easier on yourself.
(As a side note, I find it interesting that when Catholics say they disagree with what I write on here, they often have no actual basis for disagreement other than "You don't agree 100% with everything the Church says." Well, no shit, Sherlock.)

Being a good Christian, in my mind, doesn't mean waiting for the Church to tell you what to think about everything because, let's be honest, the Church doesn't always get things right the first time. No shame in that, it's just the truth.

Somehow I had missed the notice that the International Commission on English in the Liturgy had finally (after 10 years) agreed on a new English translation of the Latin version of the Mass, until an explanation of some of the changes appeared in our bulletin this weekend. Well, now you can add a few more disagreements to my list. (I should emphasize that this isn't exactly a disagreement with "the Church" or the Pope per se, but simply with the English-speaking bishops who agreed on this new translation.)

From what I can tell, most of the (negative) buzz surrounding the changes has to do with the fact that they've moved away from the vernacular into more stodgy-sounding language. That, I don't care about. I'm fine saying that Jesus is "consubstantial with the Father" and "incarnate of the Virgin Mary." And saying "And with your spirit" to the priest instead of "And also with you." The things we say now seem natural, to some extent, because we've been saying them for so long, and if these are somehow more accurate word choices, then fine.

I haven't found a full list of the changes anywhere -- if anyone could provide a link, I'd be grateful -- but there are two I've uncovered that don't sit right with me. In trying to find a list of changes, I came across this article from America magazine about one of the changes from the Liturgy of the Eucharist: the priest now will say Jesus shed his blood "for you and for many" instead "for you and for all."

I won't go into all the arguments in the article (or on this priest's blog post), but suffice it to say, this is a big change. You could try to argue that it's not a theological change because the original Latin it's based on hasn't changed, but for English-speaking churchgoers, there is a huge difference between these two words and the implications for salvation. "Many" is by definition fewer than "all," which means that there are people who are not included in that "many." How can we say there are people Jesus didn't die for? Maybe theologically we're not saying that, but literally, in English, that is what we are saying.

The other change, which was listed in our bulletin and which was the first to upset me, is a change at the beginning of recitation of the Creed. Rather than starting with "We believe," we will now say "I believe." The explanation in the bulletin was that, well, we're all saying it together anyway, so that community part is taken care of and we can emphasize that it's a personal expression of faith.

But it's not! The whole point is that it's a communal expression of faith. It's not something we each came up with on our own. It's saying that we may each come from different backgrounds and be at different places in our relationship with God, but these are the things that we all believe. It's why we're here, worshipping together, because there are things we all believe to be true, and we're coming together around that and because of that.

One of the major reasons I connect with Catholicism over other denominations is that most Protestant churches I've been to put an emphasis on one's personal faith. Most songs we sing in church, in any Catholic church, sing about "we" and "us." Most songs in the Protestant services I've been to are about "I" and "me." In many other churches that have communion, you drink out of your own individual tiny cup instead of a shared cup. In my time at a Catholic university (especially in the Catholic scholars program I was in), and in many of the Catholic books I've read, there is a lot of emphasis on the "we" and the community as a defining aspect of Catholicism. It comes up in the explanation of why we confess our sins to a priest and not just to God. It's why we do the same motions and say the same words together. It's one of the main reasons I've stayed connected to the Church, continuing to attend Mass rather than retreating into my own private prayer bubble. In essence, it's one of the key reasons I love being Catholic.

So now we're not saying "We believe" anymore, but "I believe"? Can you see why this seems wrong to me?

The irony is that when people find out I don't agree with 100% of Church teaching, they accuse me of putting my own beliefs first and believing I know better, when really I think it's important to always look outside oneself for the truth. When I say "We believe" it's an acknowledgement that my own personal beliefs are superseded by being part of a community that has a strong history and knows a lot more than I do personally. The few things that I disagree with, listed above, come not from my own "armchair thinking" about whether the Church is wrong, but from the totality of all the people I know and learning from their experiences and seeing a larger truth about life than what Church teaching seems to acknowledge.

I know there are a lot of people who will think I'm a "bad Catholic" for not swallowing this new translation without complaint, but changes are never made within the Church without controversy, even from within Church leadership, and this is no exception. Yet as always, I have the choice either to leave or to stay and fall in step with the changes, and for now I will stay.

Comments and reactions welcome -- as always, it's possible I got some fact or other wrong, and I appreciate correction before I go make a fool of myself elsewhere :)

UPDATE: I had a conversation with our priest about the changes.

The Happiness Project: April is Relationships Month

Saturday, April 2, 2011

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The Happiness Project: April Is Relationships Month | Faith Permeating Life

I know, I know, I'm late on this post -- I have been so wiped out the last couple days. I got home from class at 7:30 last night, ate dinner, and went straight to bed. I spent most of today sleeping. I'm really praying I don't have a relapse back into mono. Poor Mike is sick of me not having energy!

Anyway, without further ado, it's time for a happiness project check-in!

I'm still keeping up with my January and February goals. March was devoted to what I called "preparedness," and I did OK with it. I think God must have been having fun with me because practically every pair of tights I owned got a hole in them at the beginning of the month, along with a pair of pants and a few other things. While I didn't get everything repaired immediately (that might have been overly ambitious), I did make myself stop wearing anything that needed repair and got it sewn up within a few days.

I've been doing well with making sure I have everything I need before I leave the house. (I came up with a simple at-the-door question, "Tea or tissues?" as a check of the two most common things I forget to replenish: tissues in my purse and tea bags at work.) And forcing myself to save every new document I open at work has given me some peace of mind.

I put off the emergency plan until the very end of the month, but I finally got on ready.gov and discussed with Mike what our meeting places would be if our apartment, neighborhood, or city were evacuated, respectively. I put together a list of emergency supplies we need to have at home and in each car, and we bought some of those supplies today (including, finally, a fire extinguisher). He asked if he could pretend we were preparing for a zombie apocalypse so it would be more fun for him. I said sure.

I realized that I should also expand the notion of preparedness to non-emergency situations. For example, neither of us drink coffee, but we have a little coffeepot for guests -- but we own no actual coffee or coffee filters, so it's kind of useless. We also have an air mattress for guests but no clean set of sheets designated for guests. (We have two sets of sheets for ourselves that we rotate, but I'd feel better having a separate set for guests.) So stuff like that I want to work on getting together.

Moving on!

April is dedicated to relationships. This means both strengthening existing relationships and being open to new ones. With that in mind, here are the three daily goals added to my resolution calendar:
  • Pay a compliment. A while back, I read the book The Luck Factor, which talked about how the difference between "lucky" and "unlucky" people really lies in a few key differences in how they approach life. One area where I decidedly fail the "luck test" is in being willing to strike up conversations with strangers. One of the main reasons lucky people are lucky is that they make friends with everyone, so when they're looking for help with something, they "just happen" to meet someone who can help them. I decided that one way I can get myself more comfortable talking to strangers is to pay a compliment to someone every day. So far, I am 0 for 2. I keep forgetting I'm supposed to do this, and when I think of it, I don't see anyone or anything in particular to compliment. So I will work on this!
  • Always have an e-mail draft. Like everyone else, I'm always thinking of people I haven't seen in a while that I should catch up with. I think, oh, I should send them an e-mail and see how things are going, just let them know I'm thinking of them. The problem is, I always think I need to devote a long amount of time to composing such an e-mail, and since I don't seem to have the copious amounts of time needed, I just never do it. My solution: Require myself to always have a draft of an e-mail in my gmail. This way I've always at least started an e-mail, and since I'll have that bold "Drafts (1)" staring at me, I'll be more likely to spend a few minutes working on the e-mail whenever I have a chance.
  • Say yes to social events. I am an introvert in the truest sense; that is, being around a lot of people drains my energy, and being alone re-energizes me. This means that when presented with a social event -- more often than not, getting together with coworkers after work -- I tend to say no, because after a long day at work I would rather go home, eat dinner with my husband, and curl up on the couch with my laptop. In the back of my mind, though, I realize that this could be detrimental to my career, or just generally to establishing more solid relationships with people. So my goal for the rest of the year is, whenever possible, to accept an invitation to spend time with other people.

And that's it! That's my roadmap for improving the relationships in my life, beginning this month. You may notice I didn't mention my marriage as a relationship, but that's a whole other ball of wax, as they say. I may devote a month later this year to my marriage, if I can come up with a few specific resolutions I'm not already trying to work on. (I'm sure Mike could come up with some for me!)

What other suggestions do you have? How do you work on improving the relationships in your life?
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