Where Logic Meets Love

A Mid-Year Happiness Project Round-Up

Thursday, June 30, 2011

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A Mid-Year Happiness Project Round-Up | Faith Permeating Life
I will be doing my usual happiness project check-in soon for July, but as it's about halfway through 2011 (I know! Can you believe it?), I thought I should take a longer moment to stop and reflect on the progress I've made so far this year.

In the book The Happiness Project, Gretchen talks about how she is constantly asked whether she's happier since undertaking her project. It's a tough question. Unlike what I call joy, happiness is a mercurial emotion that doesn't pervade every moment. Whether you're "happier" could mean whether you have more moments of happiness, or whether you have an overall feeling of contentment about your life, or whether you have a more positive attitude toward everyday events.

(By the way, if you haven't taken the survey of positive feelings yet, what are you waiting for? I'm stuck at 43 responses and I want at least 50 before I do any kind of fun analysis.)

Gretchen posted some questions to help reflect on the year's project so far. I'll use those to help myself think through what I've done so far.

Have you followed any resolutions that have made a particular difference to your happiness?
I would say there's four different ways that my resolutions have helped me to be happier:
  • Some of my resolutions were aimed squarely at reducing negative feelings. Exercising and flossing regularly have eliminated the guilt about what I "should" be doing and just generally help me feel like I'm taking care of myself.
  • Having monthly themes, even when I don't follow all of the resolutions, has helped train my mind on the Big Things that I want to keep at the forefront of my daily life. Faith. Gratitude. Relationships. Laughter. It's like a constant, subconscious reminder of where my life focus should be, which is the first step toward acting in accordance with those values.
  • Just the very act of making small resolutions and keeping them has given me a little push toward doing all sorts of things. Even though I'm terrible at keeping my "pay a compliment" resolution, I have gotten better at making conversation with strangers, even if it's just saying one sentence where I would have previously nodded and smiled. I've been trying to follow the one-minute rule: do something now if it will take less than one minute. Just knowing that I get a boost from doing the things I want to do can be enough to push me to do something at the moment I think, "I should do that."
  • Perhaps paradoxically, feeling like I have more control over my life has helped me to "let go and let God" more than before. Before starting my happiness project I don't think I would have trusted myself to stop nagging Mike for all of Lent, but knowing that I would follow through forced me to trust God that it would work out fine. And it did.

How have you kept yourself accountable?
I used a free monthly calendar template and added in my list of resolutions for each day. I check them off at the end of the day. This has turned out to be an incredibly good system for two reasons:
  • One, just having to be accountable, even to a piece of paper, is enough to push me to follow through.
  • Two, seeing that same list every day for a month get those resolutions ingrained in my brain so I remember what I want to focus on as I'm going through my day.

Have you tried resolutions that didn't work? Or that you just couldn’t stick with?
Reading funny books was pretty much a disaster because my sense of humor is so different from everyone I got recommendations from. Also, as I've said, I haven't been able to pay a compliment every day. And I am going to reformat my gratitude/anticipation journal for the second half of the year. Oh, and I also abandoned the once-a-week Neti Pot idea. I'll just stick to my allergy meds, thanks.

I highly recommend trying out a happiness project, or at the very least, making yourself a chart of a few small resolutions you think would make the biggest difference in your life. You might be surprised!

What small things do you do that make the biggest difference in your happiness? What would you like to do that you think could make a difference?

A Very Special Guest!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

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A Very Special Guest! | Faith Permeating Life
I am very excited to share a guest post with you today! It was written by my wonderful and amazing husband, Mike. He has some great news to share with you and wanted to tell you himself. Please leave him lots of love and encouragement in comments :)

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I told my wife I would write a guest blog for her. The truth is, I am not the best when it comes to these things, so bear with me. (No, this is not going to be a post about how I am a terrible blogger.)

Actually, I got a job! I graduated from graduate school over one year ago with my MA in social work from the University of Chicago. Hmpf. La de da. Impressive. These thoughts might be entering your mind. I, Mike, went to the University of Chicago. I thought it was pretty cool, too. I thought going there was my golden ticket into social work. WRONG!

My new job is a manager of a restaurant. Now, don’t write this off as a last resort, for I am extremely happy. I have worked in food service in high school, college, and graduate school. These places are some of the happiest memories I have. I have met some of the coolest people and have gotten to work around something I love: food.

Yet a lot of people think I am selling myself short, that I don’t know what I am doing, and that I won’t be happy. That is interesting because those people aren’t me. They think I would make an excellent social worker and if I don’t do exactly that then all that school was a waste and I am just another guy working some job any old slob could do. But really, how would those people know what makes and doesn’t make me happy?

My wife can attest that I have been beaming since Friday when I accepted the job. I get excited about things, but this was more than usual. I don’t think I could do this job without all of that education. I am a quick learner, so counting money or working a computer or learning a recipe is fairly easy to me. Over the past 6 years, and earlier for that matter, I have been mastering my skills with people. If you don’t think being a social worker is customer service and people problem-solving, then you don’t know what social work is.

To me, I am a social worker, no matter what I do or where I am. Some of the classes I took on trauma were the most powerful explorations of human emotion I have ever done. Going deep inside to explore all the baggage can be painful, so sensitivity and trust is key. As a manager, I will need my crew to trust me. This will help me home in on the tiniest unpleasantries a guest or a crewmember has. This will allow me to build trust and give great service.

I have had people tell me being a manager is “hard hours” and the “money is not that great.” That’s hilarious. The two most frequent comments I got when I told people I was going to school to be a social worker: 1) you know you won’t make any money and 2) that’s a really hard job. And they always said it like it was a grand revelation or something I had never given any thought to.

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One of the greatest things about being a Christian is the idea of servant leadership. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples the day before his death. Is there no greater example of what it means to be Christian? Jesus refused to be elevated to a king even though he was God, but instead became a servant. AWESOME!

Jesus broke bread and shared it with his disciples. He shares it with us. We are called to share it with each other. Meals, no matter what culture, play such an integral part of life. If it’s not bread, then it’s sharing turkey, or ham, or TACOS! (I really love tacos.) I have to admit I have shared many awesome meals after breaking tortilla chips (to dip in salsa, of course).

I hope you have already seen where this is going. Being a manager at a restaurant is one of my callings. To me, God seems to think that I would be good at this particular thing. Many different things have had to happen for this all to line up. And here’s the thing: I have accepted this. I have embraced it. Aren’t we supposed to embrace our callings? I have and I couldn’t be happier.

An Intelligent Exchange on Religion

Monday, June 27, 2011

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I don't usually share a lot of videos on here, but this exchange I thought was so excellent I needed to post it.

Mike and I have been big fans of the vlogbrothers on YouTube since they started in 2007. If you have some time to kill and don't mind getting sucked into a community of intelligent, kind people (known as "nerdfighters") who watch two very smart and funny brothers exchange videos and then have respectful debates in the comments... I suggest checking out some of their other videos.



If you are scared easily, I should probably warn you that Hank does a creepy face-warp thing (as seen in the preview) near the end of the video. Otherwise the video is awesome :)

And here is John's response:



What do you think?

...And Then the Bishops Threw a Tantrum

Sunday, June 26, 2011

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...And Then the Bishops Threw a Tantrum | Faith Permeating Life
I've noticed something recently.

Whenever I read an article or blog by someone Catholic, I find myself nervously flinching inside, waiting for them to drop a bomb about gay people.

I hate this because when I was in high school and college, before gay marriage was such a spotlight issue, I loved immersing myself in the writings of different Catholics. I loved learning what I could about how to grow deeper in my faith, about what I could learn from the Mass and from the saints and from the Bible. If I had been an avid blog reader back then, I would have subscribed to a lot of blogs of Catholics and other Christians.

Now I subscribe to a few, but I'm always dreading the day that they will say something totally insulting about my best friend. About my boss. About all of the other LGBT people in my life that I love.

It's like going to a family gathering and seeing an uncle or grandfather that I used to idolize, to sit and listen to for hours. Now I just kiss him on the cheek and spend the evening praying he doesn't start going off on a racist rant.

If you read this article from Catholic.org, you'll see what I mean.

This weekend, in case you haven't heard, the New York Senate passed a bill subsequently signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo, making gay marriage legal in the state 30 days from now. It makes New York the sixth and largest state in the country to allow gay marriage.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, Archbishop Timothy Dolan was a loud opponent of the bill for destroying the "true meaning of marriage."

The link above contains two parts: A statement by the bishops of New York in response to the new law, and a "personal response" by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn. The first part frustrates me, and the second part outright angers me. It makes me ashamed to call myself Catholic.

I don't understand why Catholic officials keep using this line about how marriage has never changed. It's just not true. Marriage, from both a social and a religious standpoint, has done nothing but change since it first came into being. If you need evidence, read Marriage, A History by Stephanie Coontz or Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert.

I will attempt to give an extremely abbreviated history of the key points here.

The bishops' statement says the law "attempts to redefine these cornerstones of civilization," meaning marriage and family. You want to know who really attempted to redefine marriage and family?

The Catholic Church, around the 4th century.

Up until then, Christianity was kind of subversive, not sanctioned by the government, and Christians mostly followed the apostle Paul's encouragement not to get married unless you absolutely couldn't help it. Marriage, in society as a whole, was used primarily for forming alliances, for gaining money or joining yourself with a good family. Those who wanted to be the most "holy" stayed out of it.

Then what happened? Emperor Constantine I made Christianity the official religion, and suddenly the Church had all this power. So what did they do? Suddenly they wanted everyone to start getting married, because then they could control the alliances and the power and the wealth, through marriages.

Marriage went from being this political institution that good Christians stayed out of to something that was vital to the continuing power of the Church. And that was all way before it became about love.

And marriage in the Bible? Definitely does not fit the "marriage is one man + one woman" rhetoric that we keep hearing.

This video does a nice job of highlighting the many different kinds of marital arrangements that occur in the Bible (and is pretty funny). It may not be 100% accurate, but you still pretty quickly see that marriage in the Bible extends beyond the one man-one woman arrangement.

I know the Catholic Church wants to insist on marriage being about creating children, and if they want to use that as their argument against same-sex marriage, fine. At least they're being consistent. But stop with the B.S. about how the "timeless" institution of marriage has "always" been between one man and one woman and that the state of New York is attempting to "redefine" it for the first time ever.

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OK, here's the part that really pissed me off:

"In light of these disturbing developments and in protest for this decision, I have asked all Catholic schools to refuse any distinction or honors bestowed upon them this year by the governor or any member of the legislature who voted to support this legislation. Furthermore, I have asked all pastors and principals to not invite any state legislator to speak or be present at any parish or school celebration."

What. The. Fudge.

As someone on Catholic for Equality's Facebook page noted, this is essentially using schoolchildren as pawns in a political game. And someone else said that this amounts to acting like schoolchildren, or throwing a tantrum when you don't get your way.

How is this helping anyone?

Sen. Mark Grisanti, one of the few Republicans who voted for the bill, explained (watch the video here) that while he opposed same-sex marriage because of his Catholic upbringing, he was able to look beyond that and recognize that there is no legal argument for voting against it, and as a representative of his district, he could not in good faith speak "as a senator who is just Catholic." As a senator, he could not deny gay couples the rights that straight couples have.

This is how our government is supposed to work! It's the whole reason we have a separation of church and state, so that the government can't create a state religion and then impose their morals on everyone through legislation!

So when our government operates the way it's supposed to, you want to punish schoolchildren by not letting them receive awards from people who voted a way you didn't like? Seriously?

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OK, I've talked enough. I will say one more thing: When religion is used in this way, as a weapon, it does not bring people closer to God.

Which is a lovely segue into my guest post over at Love Woke Me Up This Morning, one of my very favorite blogs.

Go check her out, because she is awesome, and also read my post while you're over there if you're not tired of hearing me talk yet today. It includes a story that I wrestled with including, because I didn't feel it was mine to share, and yet I felt it needed to be shared because of how deeply it affected me.

Then let's continue this conversation on religion and gay marriage in comments! As always, respectful disagreements are welcome.

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EDIT: Here's one more link to check out: a Huffington Post column on the bishops' reaction. Here's a taste:
According to the proclamation, marriage is a "sacred" institution -- that is, an institution set apart for veneration by God -- and government therefore "does not have the authority to change" it. In other words, in a self-governing society, the democratically-elected representatives of the people do "not have the authority" to change the law in a way that conflicts with the religious beliefs of the bishops. That is not a winning argument.
My thoughts exactly.

Little Joys and Gratefulness

Thursday, June 23, 2011

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Little Joys and Gratefulness | Faith Permeating Life
Mike and I took a walk last night. That probably doesn't seem like a big deal unless you know that we used to take walks together all the time, but haven't in probably over a year. Honestly I can't even remember if we've taken a walk together in our neighborhood since right after we got married.

It's not that we've just been too busy, although we have been fairly busy. After we got married, we went right into autumn, then into a bitter Chicago winter, then I came down with mono, then I got better just in time for winter again, then I started getting tired again.

My doctor officially diagnosed me with hypoglycemia this past Saturday, and making sure I eat healthy food every few hours has made a HUGE difference for me. I had become so used to my dormant self that I'm still surprising myself with the things I want to do now, like taking a walk. Just having energy in the evenings again is such an amazing feeling!

It can be difficult to appreciate what you have until you lose it, and I'm very grateful that I got my health and energy back. I can't imagine what it would have been like if it turned out I had a chronic illness and that there weren't these simple steps I could take to maintain my energy level. My heart goes out to those who are not as fortunate.

If you are healthy... give thanks today.

A Plea for Sanity: Everyone is Not Just Like You

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

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A Plea for Sanity: Everyone is Not Just Like You | Faith Permeating Life
I was recently looking over my keyword analysis for this blog (i.e., what things people Google to end up at my blog), and I was surprised to see that even though I'd gotten no comments on the post Waiting until Marriage: Not as Stupid as It Sounds, a ton of people were discovering my blog via this post.

Why? Because it's the #2 result if you Google "waiting until marriage is stupid."

I'm really curious about what would motivate someone to search that in the first place. Is it because someone told them that and they want to find out why? Or are they looking for arguments to convince someone else that they shouldn't be waiting until marriage to have sex?

If the latter, the people they're trying to convince may be the ones ending up at my blog by searching, "Is it OK if I wait until marriage to have sex?"

You guys, this kind of upsets me that people -- who are probably teenagers -- are turning to the Internet to help them make a decision like this.

I think what upsets me more is that in doing so, they will find people who tell them that no, it's absolutely not OK to wait until marriage. You must have sex before marriage (and should also live together first) for your relationship to stand a chance.

*groan*

In my opinion, the decision to have sex is something so personal that you can't possibly say, "This worked for me, so it has to be the only right thing for everyone."

(I know there are people who would disagree with me and think that because I call myself a Christian I should be advocating that everyone wait until marriage, but I just can't. I know too many people who are in loving, committed, unmarried, healthy, sexual relationships. And if you want to take a Biblical standpoint on the matter, I invite you to go back to this post and then we can have a conversation about where exactly God says, "Thou shalt not have sex before marriage." [Read The Blue Parakeet for a more detailed discussion on this.])

There are two more arguments I've found against waiting for marriage (with my responses):
  • Argument 1: Waiting for marriage causes people to get married just so they can have sex. That may be true for some people, but that doesn't make it inherently true for everyone who waits. Mike and I waited five years to get married and we had a damn solid relationship by the time we were married. I don't think anyone would say we got married for the sex or that we "rushed into" marriage.
  • Argument 2: Waiting until marriage puts sex up on a pedestal and then you're just going to be disappointed. So... the solution is to devalue sex by not saving it for anyone in particular? Some people imbue sex with less value with others, and I'm not going to judge them for that, but I'm glad for myself that I chose to place a high enough value on sex to only give it to one person, making it, in my mind, a more valuable gift than any other I could give him. Did it have to be stellar the first time to be a valuable gift? Of course not. Neither Mike or I thought that we would start out marriage having the best sex of our lives. But we knew that we were both willing to take the time to learn from and about each other.

Regardless of whether you think you did/are doing the right thing, I just want to make these points:
  • Not every person who has sex before marriage is going to have horrible guilt about it, destroy all their future relationships, get pregnant, or contract STDs.
  • Not every person who waits until marriage is stupid, naive, unrealistic, overly religious, or bound to rush into marriage too soon.
I want to bring some realism back to this discussion. By all means, share your own experiences (here in the comments, if you'd like!) and what you're glad about or regret, but please, don't assume everyone else is exactly like you.

P.S. This person does a nice job of deconstructing the opposite arguments: Why everyone *should* wait until marriage.

Guest Bloggers Wanted!

Monday, June 20, 2011

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Guest Bloggers Wanted! | Faith Permeating Life
One of the more popular posts on here has been Balancing Companionship and Autonomy (or Why I Don’t Tell My Husband How to Do the Dishes). Go check it out if you haven't already; it basically says that I've learned to enjoy the benefits of having someone else take care of household chores, and in return I try to avoid giving any input into how those things get done.

But the companionship-autonomy dichotomy extends to more than just chores. This is where you come in!

I'm looking for four or five guest bloggers for later this summer when I'll be gone on vacation. If you're interested, here's your topic (ooh, it's just like school, a writing prompt!):
Within your marriage/partnership, how do you strike a balance between companionship and autonomy? What are the challenges you still face in finding this balance? And what role, if any, does faith in God play in how you create this balance?
That's it! Feel free to make it as broad or as narrow as you choose. My only suggestion is to keep it under 800 words. (I know, I know, I write a lot of really long posts on here, but that's generally what I attempt to stick to.)

If you are interested, please leave a comment below giving me a heads up and then send your post to keepbabbling -at- gmail -dot- com by July 10. Be sure to include a short bio (2-3 sentences) and your blog URL and/or Twitter name if you have them. You don't have to have your own blog to participate!

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For those of you reading in Google Reader or somewhere else other than my main site, click through and check out the new top navigation bar! I'm not 100% happy with the layout yet, but I had fun categorizing my posts. Let me know what you think!

Integrity: Understanding Why You Believe

Sunday, June 19, 2011

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Integrity: Understanding Why You Believe | Faith Permeating Life
In the past year we got a new priest at our church, and he is awesome. His homilies are extremely accessible and focused while also being very challenging. And he has a strong focus on the importance of the church community and finding God in one another, which I love.

Today is Trinity Sunday, and our priest talked about the community among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit before relating it back to the importance of finding God within community, not as individuals. He emphasized how important this was within the Catholic Mass, giving examples of how the word "we" is used throughout the Mass rather than "I" and how we say "Our Father" rather than "My Father."

You may remember how upset I was to learn that the English translation of the Nicene Creed was changing from "We believe" to "I believe." I thought this seemed like a step away from the focus on community that is so vital to the Catholic Mass.

So after Mass I stopped our priest and asked him what he thought of the coming changes, given what he'd said in his homily. He said that while he is "ambivalent" about some of the changes that will be coming, he does understand this particular change. Because there is so much focus on what "we" do and "we" believe throughout the entire Mass, this is the time for the individual to commit herself/himself to that "we", to say "I believe in what we're all doing here."

I can respect that. That makes sense to me, and it seems congruent with the focus on being part of a community rather than a step away from it, when framed that way.

This is why I like our priest so much: He didn't just try to tell me, "This is the way it is, so get used to it; the bishops know best." He didn't give me some mumbo-jumbo B.S. response. He had clearly given some thought to it and felt that there was an explanation that made sense to him, and could explain it in a way that made sense to me.

I don't mind being challenged or even being wrong, if there's a good reason for it. I wish that more Catholics put some deep thought into what they believe, regardless of whether their beliefs align completely (or as completely as possible) with Catholic teaching.

I'm OK with it if you want to call yourself a Catholic but disagree with some of Catholic teaching, as I do, but if your only reason is that's inconvenient or doesn't allow you to fit in (or you have no real reason), I would challenge you on that. If you want to live with integrity, you need to understand why what you're doing and what you believe is right to you. Your reasons may not be the same as my reasons, but having a reason that makes sense to you is important.

On the other hand, if you want to challenge my own beliefs, I'm happy to have that conversation, but you're not going to get anywhere with me if your only reason for calling me "wrong" is that I disagree with the Church on one thing or another. It's the same reason evangelization doesn't work if you start off by telling people they're going to hell.

I still don't like saying Jesus only died for "many," but knowing now that that is the accepted translation of what He said at the Last Supper (according to Mark and Matthew)... I can get over it.

7 Quick Takes Friday: Job Hunting, Blogging, and Asparagus!

Friday, June 17, 2011

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7 Quick Takes Friday: Job Hunting, Blogging, and Asparagus! | Faith Permeating Life

— 1 —

Mike started a part-time nanny position yesterday for a little boy. I think he will be awesome at it :) He also was recommended for an assistant manager position at a restaurant and has made it to the second step of the interview process. He was going to turn it down because he'd already taken this nanny position for the summer, but with some encouragement he decided to just ask if his prior commitment would be a problem, and they said if he gets the job they could work around his schedule until the summer's over.

— 2 —

When I was prepping Mike for his interview, he made a comment about how I was clearly excited to be doing a mock interview with him. It reminded me how much I love providing job-hunting advice and help, and I decided to go back to volunteermatch.org to see if any new opportunities had been added. I found one place looking for a job coach that didn't list specific times, but they got back to me and said they only do job coaching during the week, in the daytime. I can't understand why everyone only offers opportunities to be a job coach when most employed people are working. I mean, the people job-seeking shouldn't have a strict schedule of when they can come in, right? I haven't given up hope yet, though -- I really want to do this kind of work!

— 3 —

I feel like some of my posts recently have been kind of defensive, aimed at those occasional Catholic bloggers who wander by here and want to attack me for being a bad Catholic. I'm going to try to step back from that perspective and just put my thoughts out there without trying to preempt any possible objections. People who want to accuse me of being a bad Catholic generally don't want to listen to logical arguments in the first place, so what's the point?

— 4 —

On a related note, I'm having a bit of an identity crisis with what I want to do with this blog. Part of me really wants to spiff it up, maybe switch to Wordpress, write my own design instead of using a template, and possibly buy a URL. The other part of me just wants to keep focusing on my writing, to put it out there and not worry about looking "professional." If I'm being honest, it comes down to a fight between two unpleasant qualities: greed for more readers and laziness. If you have any thoughts that can break the stalemate, let me know!

— 5 —

I keep forgetting to mention that I've done a handful of guest posts recently. I will also have a few more elsewhere soon. I'm considering opening my own blog up to guest posts for the week I'm on vacation later this summer, but I want to figure out a good focus -- I've found it's really difficult to guest post when you’re asked to write about "anything." Suggestions welcome!

Anyway, check these out and leave a comment if you feel so inclined, so I don’t look like the loser with no friends :)

The Sunset Won’t

TwentyTwenty

Quarterlife Crisis Series

— 6 —

One of my good friends from high school got married last weekend. It was a blast! It was the first wedding we've been to since I got over mono, so I made the most of it by being out on the dance floor most of the night. Spending time with this group of friends, many of whom I've known since middle school, is always a mixed blessing: It's an amazing thing to have people who have known you for 10+ years and share history with you, but they also have the ability to dredge up painful memories that you've otherwise managed to let go of. Anyone else have this experience?

— 7 —

I have always hated asparagus, but I'd heard that locally, organically grown asparagus was far more delicious. I had my first chance to test this theory out for myself when our CSA gave us asparagus last week. And the verdict is... it's delicious! Mike cooked it with onions and garlic, and it was soft and meaty, not thin and tough and bitter-tasting like asparagus I've had before. I am totally sold on buying locally grown organic veggies!

How was your week? What are your weekend plans?

Why All Christians Are "Cafeteria Christians"

Thursday, June 16, 2011

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Why All Christians Are 'Cafeteria Christians' | Faith Permeating Life
I recently mentioned I was reading a fantastic book called The Year of Living Biblically and promised to talk more about it when I finished. Unfortunately I procrastinated a little because I had the NFP posts scheduled, so now the book has been returned to the library and I will have to do my best from memory.

The premise of the book is that A.J. Jacobs, who wrote his first book about reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, decides to spend a year attempting to follow every rule in the Bible. Since some Old Testament and New Testament verses contradict one another, he spends three-quarters of the year following the Old Testament rules and then the remaining months adding on the New Testament commandments.

Jacobs makes a few discoveries during this year:
  • Even though he spends a few months of prep time creating his list of rules, it is impossible to begin following every rule at once. It's just too much to get your head around. He decides instead to add them to his daily life in layers, focusing on certain ones at any given time.
  • There are a lot of different groups attempting to follow the Bible literally. Here's what's so interesting: None of them live exactly the same way. Jacobs visits with many of these groups and each of them put more emphasis on some rules than others, and some dismiss as irrelevant ones that others view as central.
  • There are varying degrees of how much to take as literal:
    • Even the most fundamental Christians don't literally follow Jesus' command that "If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out," although there have been cases of mental patients trying to remove their eyes.
    • Some people believe that if a Biblical prophet is described as doing something, we should do it too, even if it's not specifically commanded, while others only adhere to verses that literally say, "You shall" or "You shall not."
    • Even "you shall" verses may be interpreted as moral -- applying to everyone, in every era -- or historical, only applying to those who were first commanded to do so.
    • Biblical stories are open to interpretation -- if somebody in the Bible did something and God punished them, there may be six different interpretations of why exactly that person was punished and as many opinions on whether it's necessary for us to avoid that behavior.

At the end of the book, Jacobs directly acknowledges what I had been thinking for most of the book: It's common to condemn someone as being a "cafeteria Christian," only following the Biblical rules that fit with their viewpoint, but every Christian is a cafeteria Christian. Everyone who wants to follow the Bible has to make decisions about which verses need to be followed literally and what behaviors constitute "adhering to the rule."

For example, Christians have to decide how much of the Old Testament law they believe Jesus' sacrifice or teachings wiped out. Jews have to decide which rules became irrelevant when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. (Almost all believe that animal sacrifice was no longer required after the Temple was destroyed, but other areas are not as clear.)

There are two main ways you can make these decisions:
  • You can figure it out for yourself, as Jacobs does.
  • You can allow someone else to interpret the Bible for you and just tell you what to do.
The latter option is where a religion like the Catholic Church comes in. You can choose to save yourself the headache of interpreting the Bible for yourself by instead committing to a prefab set of rules.

The issue, of course, with having a religious group that tells people what to do is that they aren't required to adhere strictly to what's in the Bible. They are the experts, after all, on what God really meant and really wants from you, and so their teachings encompass more than the topics covered in the Bible.

One orthodox Jewish man that Jacobs meets talks about the order in which you should put your shoes on and tie them, according to rabbinical teachings. It's not in the Bible, but, he says, it saves you from spending mental energy wondering which way God wants you to put your shoes on. As if the average person is devoting lots of brainpower to that decision.

(All of this assumes, of course, that you care about following the Bible in the first place. Jacobs is not a particular religious person when beginning his year -- a secular Jew, he calls himself -- but he finds many unexpected benefits from following Biblical rules, overall finding a greater sense of peace, contemplation, and even deep gratitude, though he's not entirely sure to Whom.)

For my own part, this whole reflection helped me to better understand my own relationship to the Catholic Church. I don't wish to spend time puzzling out God's message on every single aspect of life, so I start with Church teaching. And where it makes sense I try to apply it to my own life. Where it doesn't make sense -- where it is discriminatory or harmful or flies in the face of what I know to be true about the world and other people -- I choose to listen to God and hash those things out for myself.

In the end, I think all people of faith, of all faiths, are doing their best to live in a way that is congruent with their deepest convinctions about what they are called to do. Namecalling and judgment serve no purpose in bringing another person closer to God. Jesus said to remove the plank from your own eye before taking a speck of dust out of another's eye; if you are tempted to call someone else a "cafeteria Christian," I invite you to pull out your Bible and see all of the rules you yourself (or your chosen religion) have decided are irrelevant. Or just read Jacobs' book -- you'll get the idea soon enough.

Where do you stand? Do you try to follow the Bible, a religion's teachings, your own calling from God, or a combination?

NFP: The Real Deal

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

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NFP: The Real Deal | Faith Permeating Life
Welcome to Part 2 of my explanation of Natural Family Planning! (Here's Part 1, in case you missed it.) Today I'm going to tackle what, in my experience, turns people off from NFP: What exactly are you supposed to do if you’re not prepared to be pregnant but the Fertile phase seems way too long to go without any sex?

(By the way, this would be one of those posts you may want to avoid if you know me in real life. Just warning you.)

Let me preface this by saying that I know that Mike and I don't do NFP "the right way," aka the Official Method in Line with Catholic Teaching. I will explain why, but I just want to put that out there so nobody feels the need to say, "OMG Ur Doin It Wrong." If you want to condemn me for not listening to and obeying every word that comes out of the Catholic Church, there are plenty of other posts you can consult on here for further proof of this.

Specifically, when it comes to the Fertile period of NFP, we don't ascribe 100% to Catholic teaching. (I should point out that most Catholics I know use artificial birth control, so I feel like we're a step "ahead" anyway, but I know that's not really the point.) Catholic teaching, to my best understanding, says that all sexual acts need to be oriented toward procreation. This raises a whole lot of questions in itself -- like, are you really oriented toward procreation if you're only having intercourse during your Infertile phase? -- but of course people have come up with all kind of explanations as to why practicing NFP this way still falls within Catholic teaching, so I'm not going to go down that path.

Traditionally our culture has labeled everything sexual other than intercourse "foreplay," which fits nicely into the Catholic idea that it all better be leading up to intercourse in the end.

Here is the main problem I have with this: It is male-centric. Intercourse is generally more pleasurable for the man, whereas other sexual acts that directly stimulate the clitoris are more pleasurable for the woman. (I don't want to get into the whole argument about how some positions can stimulate the clitoris. That doesn't work for everyone and is an unnecessarily complex way of achieving something more easily achieved in other ways.) Saying that God designed our bodies in such a way that pleasuring the woman is only allowed as a step on the road to the main event -- pleasuring the man -- just doesn't jive for me.

Mike and I both, before we were married, agreed that we define sex more broadly than just intercourse. We both believe that sex is a gift from God and a way of strengthening our relationship with each other and with God. God could have made sex not particularly pleasurable, and then I think we'd have a lot fewer unintended pregnancies, since people would only bother with sex when they actually wanted children. Instead, God gave us the ability not only to physically unite with our spouse, but to serve our spouse by helping them feel great pleasure.

Thus Mike and I are not abstinent from all forms of sex during my Fertile period (which, for me, is about a week and a half to two weeks). This means that period of time is not a time of sacrifice but a time of service.

There's nothing wrong with sacrifice, and I do think periods of abstinence can be valuable at times, but I'd rather use this particular time every month to strengthen our marriage rather than test our marriage.

It's probably harder on Mike than it is me, just biologically, to go without intercourse for most of the month. I think that being mindful of this and taking the time to give him sexual release is a way for me to be a loving spouse. In return, he avoids taking matters into his own hands and instead trusts that I will give of myself when he needs me to.

On the other hand, Mike doesn't pressure me. He keeps an eye on my chart and knows not to push me too far when it's not time yet. And when I know that intercourse isn't the end goal, so to speak, I'm more able to enjoy whatever we do without worrying about Mike having ulterior motives or thinking to myself that maybe he'd rather rush through the "foreplay." This means sometimes I'm the only one who ends up being "served," and then we're tired and we just go to sleep.

I don't know about you, but to me that seems like a marriage in harmony, not some kind of selfish lust-fest (which I would imagine is the main argument against sex-not-oriented-toward-procreation).

I think that, within a marriage, it's kind of silly to require that sexual acts lead to intercourse or else be avoided altogether. After all, what constitutes a "sexual act"? If I kiss my husband and that doesn't lead to intercourse, is that a sexual act not oriented toward procreation? What if we're making out? What if we're making out and touching each other? It starts to sound like a teenager playing the "how far is too far" game. We're married, for goodness' sake. It seems a lot more practical to me, if we're avoiding pregnancy, to simply avoid getting sperm inside me.

I actually have yet to learn of a single couple who is practicing NFP to the letter and avoiding pregnancy. (Edit: OK, now I have.) As I've explained in other posts (here and here), even the couples that the Couple-to-Couple League held up as models in their magazine's articles typically couldn't hold out until the Infertile phase and ended up just rationalizing having intercourse during the Fertile phase, then deciding that God must have wanted them to have a child after all.

Before I wrap up I should mention one other thing that often comes up regarding NFP and Catholic teaching, and that's the idea that you should be having intercourse during the Fertile phase until you have "grave reason(s)" (sometimes also called "just reasons") for avoiding it. I wrote more at length about this in this post, but basically I think this idea leads to unhealthy guilt about not constantly being pregnant, and I'm perfectly comfortable with our plan to avoid pregnancy indefinitely and begin adopting children when we've been married long enough. However, if we did decide to have biological children, we're confident that using NFP would make it easy to conceive.

Anyway, I just wanted to put this out there because I've talked to several women who hate being on birth control but have a perception of NFP as being this strict, sexless way of living. And I will admit that it's probably more difficult to switch to NFP if you've been married and on the Pill for a while than it was for us to start out marriage this way. But I think it's worth it. I feel completely at peace with my body and with the intimacy in our marriage.

Questions? Please, ask away!

NFP: Explained (Part 1)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

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NFP: Explained (Part 1) | Faith Permeating Life
A handful of people I know "IRL" read this blog, and occasionally I'll get together with one of them and they'll ask, "So what is this family planning thing you're doing exactly?"

It seems like I should probably try to explain NFP a little better. I am no expert and I will point you to other sources, but I figure a basic explanation is in order so my posts make a little more sense.

Natural Family Planning is based on the fact that women's bodies go through predictable changes during different points of their menstrual cycle. Notice I didn't say that your cycle itself was predictable. Even women whose cycles are irregular lengths get their period because at some point they ovulate, and around the time they ovulate their body will show certain symptoms letting them know that this is happening.

There are three main stages of the cycle, usually referred to as Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III, which for clarity I will call Menstruation, Fertile, and Infertile. Some people have a period of infertility between the time they're done menstruating and the time they become fertile, but this has always seemed dicey to me and I choose not to take any chances.

There are two main indicators of where you are in your cycle: basal body temperature (your temperature when you first wake up) and vaginal mucus. You can also use changes in cervix (whether it's low and soft or high and hard) to make extra-sure, but I don't find that I need to. Some people use only one indicator, but again, this seems a little too chancy to me, so I use both. Using both mucus and temperature is also known as the "sympto-thermal method."

If you really want to practice NFP, you should read more in-depth than I'm going to explain here about how to tell when you move from the Fertile to Infertile phase. I'm going to simplify out of necessity. I recommend The Art of Natural Family Planning Student Guide because I find their charting method simple to master and understand.

I take my temperature every day at 6:15 a.m. and record it along with a mucus notation every night on my chart. It takes about 15 seconds in the morning and 30 seconds in the evening.

I'm able to tell when I'm about to ovulate because my mucus will get really thick and slippery. This is my body naturally doing its best to get pregnant, as that mucus provides a place for sperm to hang out for a few days while they wait for the egg to come by. (Not wanting to get pregnant, I do my best to keep sperm out of that mucus.) Once my mucus starts to taper off I'm able to look back and pinpoint which day was the most fertile, which is called the "peak" day.

Right around the peak day, I'll see a spike in my basal body temperature. How much it has to go up by and how exactly that relates to the peak day is something you'll have to read more about, but essentially I count three days from the peak day and make sure my temperature is still high enough. Since I have a patient husband, we usually wait four days just to be safe. (This also means I don't have to be as exact with the temperature increase.)

At this point (four days post-peak) I'm in Infertile phase and we can have intercourse anytime up until I start menstruating again.

I feel very confident about NFP as a way of postponing pregnancy. I can't imagine going on the Pill and losing track of what my body was doing. (You can't chart when you're on the Pill because the Pill makes your body think you're pregnant, so your temperature is elevated for your entire cycle.) I'm thankful that I don't have to put artificial chemicals in my body on a daily basis. As I once heard it said, "Birth control is a rare situation where your body is working properly and you take something to make it stop doing that."

It always kind of surprises me when people think NFP is a risky method of birth control because I know so many people who have gotten pregnant while using some kind of artificial birth control. I also know multiple women whose cycles have gone haywire from the Pill and they never know when their period is going to start. This is why I believe in comprehensive sex ed -- genuinely comprehensive, talking honestly about the risks of various form of artificial contraception and introducing kids to Natural Family Planning as an option.

You may also hear Natural Family Planning called Fertility Awareness Method (FAM). From what I can tell, this is more the "secular" version of NFP. It generally encourages using a barrier method (such as a condom) during your Fertile phase if you're wanting to avoid pregnancy. NFP, on the other hand, is rooted in Catholicism, and so of course they would not be down with you using a condom during your Fertile phase. Either you're prepared for a pregnancy or you're just going to have to wait all month for the Infertile phase to arrive.

So what if you're not down with using a condom but three weeks without sex (give or take) seems like an impossible goal?

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I veer off the Catholic road and tell you how we make NFP work in real life.

Update: Here's Part 2!

"Do not be excessively righteous..."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

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'Do not be excessively righteous...' | Faith Permeating Life
I was listening to K-LOVE on the way to the train station yesterday morning when their news segment came on. Usually I don't listen too closely to this, but when I heard the word "adoption" I turned it up.

It was a brief segment talking about a group called Hope for Orphans, which is providing aid to families wanting to adopt.

A couple of things initially bothered me about the segment -- the reporter made it sound like the only children who need adopting are orphans (obviously not true, or there would be no such thing as "closed" and "open" adoptions), and I cringed when she talked about "special needs children," having been reprimanded for this phrasing when I was younger by the mother of a "child with special needs." I'm more attuned to the misconceptions about adoption now that I've immersed myself in reading adoption blogs, and it would be easy to come away from listening with a perception of all adoptive children as poor, helpless, disabled orphans languishing in foreign orphanages until they were rescued by good Christian American families.

The segment basically talked about how Hope for Orphans is working with churches to help get children adopted and provide support to families willing to adopt. They played a few sound bites of the co-founder of Hope for Orphans, who near the end said, "The Church is the only solution."

Wait... what?

I can understand saying, "The Church should be a leader in this," or "Church communities are a great place to generate this kind of support for adoption," or even "Christians make great adoptive parents," but... really? The only group of people who can do the kind of good they're talking about?

I went and listened to the full 15-minute interview on K-LOVE's site, and the whole rest of the interview is actually really good. This guy explains that many people, especially Christians, want to adopt because they're trying to be good people and do God's will, but they don't really realize what they're getting themselves into. They aren't aware that they may end up with children who have severe physical or emotional problems. Churches can help by providing adoption education to prospective parents ahead of time, and then by providing support services to families after they've adopted.

Now, I majored in journalism, so I understand the need to cut things down and pull out sound bites, but K-LOVE managed to avoid all of the really good things this guy said about adoption and instead make it all about how important churches are. It's no wonder they chose to play the thing he says about how the Church is the only solution (which, in context, is really about how churches should have a responsibility to look out for their members).

This may not seem like a big deal, but it fits with a theme I've encountered before: the notion that only Christians do good. That we Christians have to provide social justice not just because it's the right thing to do but because no one else will.

While I see value in motivating Christians to do good things for others, I also don't like the idea of devaluing others in the process. It's always bothered me when I hear people talking like this, as if all non-Christians were just self-serving, self-absorbed individuals, and Christians are the only ones able to look beyond themselves to help others. I know plenty of people who don't fit this model -- on both sides.

And what would happen if we left all social services up to the Christians?

Joliet Catholic Charities Puts Brakes on Adoptions as Civil Unions Begin

As gay marriage and civil unions become legal in various states, Catholic Charities and similar organizations are opting to shut down some services rather than pay benefits to employees' same-sex partners or place adoptive children with gay couples. Thankfully there are other organizations (probably both religious and non) that can pick up the slack.

Religion covers a lot of aspects of life, which is why you can find conservatives and liberals quoting the same Book to make contrary arguments. Sometimes one command can conflict with another, and you may have to choose between the letter of the Old Testament and the spirit of the New Testament. So while I think that Christian churches can do a lot of good, I think it's better if we are open to everyone doing as much good as they can.

It reminds me of Luke 9:49-50:
John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us." But Jesus said to him, "Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you."
What do you think? Is there a value in talking about Christians being responsible for doing good in the world, or does this just invite us to think too highly of ourselves?

On a related note, I am loving the book The Year of Living Biblically. Look for a post on it when I'm done, but in the meantime, I highly, highly recommend it. [UPDATE: Here's the post on The Year of Living Biblically.]

(In case you're curious, the post title is from Ecclesiastes 7:16. The author of The Year of Living Biblically says Ecclesiastes is his favorite book of the Bible, and I can see why.)

I Hem Who I Hem

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

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I'm currently in a programming class where I'm the only female. I don't have a problem with this; I'm comfortable in a group of guys. However, I try to avoid drawing attention to the gender difference just because I want to be recognized for my ability and not set apart from everyone else.

So for our most recent assignment, we had to come up with two classes -- basically, categories of objects -- and write a short program with them.  Our stipulations were that the classes couldn't be similar to the examples from Monday's lecture (dog and chair) and they couldn't be related to each other. The idea was to generate as many unique attributes as possible.

Our instructor suggested using something we know a lot about because we'll be using this for future projects. Unfortunately most of the things I came up (like knitting) kind of screamed "female."

On the way home I was looking around for ideas and saw a guy wearing a red shirt, and I was like, "Oh, shirt. That's a generic thing."

Then I tried to come up with something that was nothing like shirt. I came up with pasta. Everyone likes pasta, right?

I didn't realize my mistake until we were going over everyone's homework in class. Part of the assignment was to write methods (actions) that things in that category can do or have done to them that will change their attributes somewhat.

The attributes I'd come up with were that the shirt had a color and a sleeve-length. Pasta had a noodle length and a total amount of pasta. So what methods did I come up with?

Why, you can "chop" the pasta to cut the noodle length in half, and you can "dye" and "hem" the shirt!

*facepalm*

The thing is, I feel so far removed from some female stereotypes that I don't recognize them as applying to me until I'm in a room full of men. Yet now that I think about it, what are the chances that one of the guys in my class would come up with "hem" as a method? It may not be something I myself do, but I still come up with it probably more readily than any of them would.

I don't know, I just find it funny that even as much as I try not to distinguish myself by my gender, I can't help being who I am.

The Happiness Project: June is Faith Month

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

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The Happiness Project: June Is Faith Month | Faith Permeating Life

Thanks for bearing with me while I took a short hiatus! My stress level has gone down somewhat and I feel like things are under control for the moment. I had a very busy and stressful work week last week despite working only three days, but then it was over and we had a fantastic time with Mike's friends this past weekend.

I missed June 1, so here's a belated update on my happiness project for this month:
  • January: I am still doing Wii Fit twice a week, taking my vitamins, and flossing. After this ridiculous saga trying to get reimbursed for my vitamins, I have a new doctor's letter in hand and will have to sit down and get my paperwork together again.
  • February: I'm still keeping my gratitude and anticipation journal. Still want to develop a better format.
  • March: Forcing myself to double-check that I have everything I'll need each day has helped alleviate some stress, although I still have days where I'm too rushed and forget things.
  • April: Even though I rarely succeed in paying a compliment, much less striking up a conversation with a stranger, keeping this resolution on my chart continues to push me to talk to others. Also, I'm still ensuring I always have an e-mail draft to a friend, but I need to work on finishing the e-mails sooner.
  • May: My goal of reading funny books was kind of hit-or-miss; my sense of humor must be pretty unique. However, I found that having this focus on laughter in general was good for me. I indulged the desire to click on links to funny videos and articles from friends on Facebook, and when I found myself laughing at something I placed a great value on that moment rather than trying to steer myself back to more serious matters. We've been playing a lot of board games with friends and family the last few weeks, which generally leads to a lot of laughter, and I consider that time to be incredibly important, especially as we don't often get to spend time with a group of friends or family.

My goal for June is to focus on my faith. This may seem paradoxical for me, since I believe in faith "permeating life" rather than being its own separate category, but I think it could be really valuable for me to intentionally focus on my faith for a month, as this can be a great source of happiness for me. I have two main goals:
  • Pray with Mike every night. This is something we used to do and just got away from. It's difficult because we don't go to bed at the same time, but I want to make it a priority because it's a tangible reminder for us that God is the center of our relationship. It's also just a nice way for us to recap our day, cultivate gratitude, and share our thoughts and concerns with one another.
  • Read Bible-based books. I decided not to make my goal "Read the Bible" both because I'm less likely to follow through with it and because I feel I get more out of engaging with someone else's thoughts on the Bible. Without having easy access to a Bible study group right now, I think this is a good option. And it brings me back to something I used to love when I was younger, which Gretchen often cites as a way to pinpoint sources of happiness. I used to head straight for the Christian or Religion section whenever I'd go to a bookstore. I found that section of our library and discovered this gem: The Year of Living Biblically. I figured it was a good one to start with since it's Bible-based (literally), supposed to be very funny (in keeping with May's resolution), and it's a "yearlong project" book, in line with the whole Happiness Project thing.

At the end of June I am going to revisit my whole list of resolutions to figure out which resolutions I want to carry forward into the second half of the year. Then I'll develop my resolution charts for July through December. I have ideas for four more areas to focus on, so I'll need to figure out two more by then. Suggestions welcome!

If you can think of additional simple ways I can focus on increasing happiness through faith this month, please share in the comments!
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