Where Logic Meets Love

Blog Comment Carnival: August 2012

Friday, August 31, 2012

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Blog Comment Carnival: August 2012 | Faith Permeating Life

At the end of every month, I share my favorite comments from that month's posts, and you're invited to do the same and link up below!

The topics on the blog were kind of all over the place this month, but as usual you all gave me some great comments to choose from!

I found I wasn't alone in discussing The Problem with Christian Radio.

Emily said:
YES YES YES. That's exactly how I feel too! There are times I really do like listening to Christian music - it truly can calm me down and some of it is pretty good. As long as I mix it in with other music that I enjoy - I like it. But yeah, it's so frustrating because they talk about things only from ONE point of view - assuming that ALL Christians feel and think the same way. Guess what? WE DON'T. I feel like it's a reflection on a huge part of the "Christian" culture. As much as I love the church I work at, I usually don't feel safe to share my opinions because it's just assumed that everyone thinks the same way.

jewelfox explained why Christian radio bothers her:
I listened to one K-LOVE host talk about how awesome and necessary spanking is, and freaked out and slammed the car door on the way out as we parked. My dad beat me when I was very little, and used those same "Christian" teachings as justification for it.

And Laura said:
I thought I was the only one who loves Christian music but hates the politics and the Dobsonism! For a while there was a local station that played music only, no talk, but it seems to have fizzled out, with only K-Love remaining. So I stick to mix CDs.

I linked up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Perspectives on Life and Love Carnival to share 3 Reasons I Didn't Get Married "Too Young."

Becca said:
Funny, nobody's ever told me I was "too young" to move in with my boyfriend two weeks before my 23rd birthday! But upon hearing that we've been living together happily unmarried for 16 years, some people say, "Wow, that's a long time!" yet I rarely hear it exclaimed that 16 years is a long time for someone in her late 30s to have been married--even though I think I read somewhere that the average American marriage is 12 years? It's true, though, that most cohabiting couples either marry or split up within about 2 years, so we are unusual in that way and don't mind being congratulated on it!

Like you, I feel that I did my most important maturing before age 23 and that a relationship can become adequately mature in a couple of years. (In our case, we met 4 years before and became a couple 2 years before we moved in together.) As for life experience, a big part of that came from college, and then there's a lot of life that we've experienced together! I don't much enjoy doing things alone, so the "freedom" of being able to move to some other city where I don't know anyone was not appealing at all. Daniel is more of an introvert and does like alone time, but he also highly values having a "companion" (I suspect the female main characters called "companions" in "Doctor Who" heavily influenced his expectations) to share his adventures. Honestly, the life experiences I most wanted to have involved sex and parenting much more than a jet-setting career, and it's a lot more fun and less stress having those experiences with a partner than in the singles scene.

I loved what Queen of Carrots had to say:
Great thoughts. The right time to get married is when you are both sure you've found the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, and planning your lives doesn't make sense without each other, whether you are 19 or 59.

When it comes to whether you need to "live your life" before you get married--being married *is* part of living life. The options are different, but that's the way life is. Every choice we make eliminates others.

I do sometimes wonder whether we had kids too young, but I think it will all work out in the end. Certainly our financial position is much worse now because of it, but I'll be 47 when my youngest two turn 18. I'll still have time for a full second career (or switching my attention fully to what I've been doing part-time). Meanwhile most of our professional acquaintances will just be starting to navigate middle school.

And Lesley found her perspective has changed over time:
Really fun to read about your story in getting married young. I got married young too, and it's been a very healthy and wonderful 7 years since. I appreciate Nikklana's comment above because she acknowledges that everyone's experience with marriage is unique. I loved getting married young but I don't advocate it for everyone. And, as I age, I find myself saying (about other people)... "They are WAY TOO YOUNG to get married!" ha. I forget how young I was too.


Finally, Melbourne on My Mind had some interesting thoughts about Is "Faking Gay" the Best Response to Bigots?.
I'm inclined to agree with you. It's probably not the best way to go about things - instilling further fear in bigots is definitely not going to help the situation.

But at the same time, if the gay employee is upset about the customer's reaction, the co-workers are probably focusing on "How can I make my friend/co-worker not upset in the quickest amount of time?" rather than "I should take the opportunity to teach a bigot about the error of their ways by using a logical argument."

Because let's face it - bigots aren't usually likely to listen to rational explanations once they're on their high horse... *sigh*

Also, a final thanks to everyone who completed the reader survey this month!


Who Are You? Reader Survey Results Revealed!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

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A big thank you to everyone who took my reader survey this past week! There were 42 responses total, though I threw one out because the person wrote some really nice comments intended for Melissa at Permission to Live, who is an awesome blogger but is not me :)

I especially appreciated those of you who took the time to write comments, some of which I'll share below. It was helpful to get a clearer picture both of who's reading the blog and of what you're getting out of it.

The reader demographics were close to what I suspected, but it was good to get confirmation. Here are the stats on FPL readers (based on those who responded):
  • 90% are female
  • 93% are straight/heterosexual
  • 83% live in the United States
  • 49% are married or engaged, with an additional 5 people (12%) in a long-term or life partnership
  • 12% have children

Two-thirds of you are in the 25- to 34-year-old group:

I was honestly a little bit surprised that 80% of you not only believe in a higher power but belong to an organized religion:

And I was more surprised that 18 people said they identify as Catholic, since I have only a few regular commenters who have mentioned being Catholic. Other common responses were non-denominational (4) and Lutheran (3).

Most of you are bloggers or former bloggers, and based on the comments I think most (if not all) of the non-bloggers are my friends and family members:

Another surprise was how many people originally found me through 20SB, since I haven't been on there in forever. Other than that, people most commonly found FPL through a comment I'd left on another blog, through another blogger linking to me, or through my personal Facebook page (friends and family).

The most popular post topics were
  1. Christianity in modern culture (30)
  2. Faith/belief (27)
  3. Marriage -- making marriage work (24)
  4. Privilege and social justice (22)

A few responses to "Are there any topics I haven't written about that you wish I would?"
All the ways you aren't perfect- I know there have to be some!
[ALL the ways?? That might take a while...]

I know you didn't kiss Mike until you were married (and I don't think you'd been kissed at all prior to that), but I don't think you've ever said exactly why you waited for that. I did go back through your dating/engagement posts, but I could have missed it. I was wondering your reasons--if it was something like you didn't want to start down a road to sin or wanted to live a life that was 100% chaste before marriage? Did anyone give you that idea or did you come up with it on your own? I don't know anyone else who waited to kiss until they were married besides those shows on TV, so I am interested in the reasons behind the decision.
[I mentioned it briefly here and sort of here but could write more about it.]

Some responses to "What do you like best about reading Faith Permeating Life, or what do you get out of it?"
I like that you're not afraid to share what you believe. You seem to think very carefully about the opinions you form, which comes across in your writing. You also seem quite open to a variety of other opinions.

seeing an approach to religion that really is open to reason and science, rather than rationalizing why the religion's claims don't match up with science/evidence

You have a moderate, reasonable Christian perspective. You're not homophobic, I'm assuming that you're not bigoted, and you don't scream your opinions at people. That's become increasingly rare in the public arena, where believers are portrayed as all of those things (although I could be stereotyping Christians a bit). It makes me think of a quote my mom told me: "Be a spiritual fruit, not a religious nut".

You are a very articulate writer and create well organized and well thought-out points of view, with citations. You invite dialogue.

And responses to "What suggestions do you have that would make Faith Permeating Life better?"
You can be a funny person. Maybe a few more "lighter" posts?

Upon looking over your "What Marriage Means to Me" series, I assume most of the posters are straight, white women. I like the diversity of their views and experience on marriage, but would love to hear from, say an LGBT person or person with a disability.
[I would love that also! I was supposed to get a submission from the gay friend who helped me come up with the series in the first place, but he backed out, as have some other friends. Suggestions for soliciting more diverse viewpoints -- or more guest submissions generally?]

Could you talk more about resolving issues in other relationships, not just marriage?
[The honest answer here is that too many friends and family read my blog, I try not to write about work, I get Mike's approval on most posts involving him, and when I tried writing about some family members previously it went badly. So I'd like to, but... it's tricky.]

----

Interesting stuff, huh? If you didn't get a chance to take the reader survey yet, your feedback is still more than welcome!

I will probably be switching up my posting schedule again soon, once I land a job and figure out which days will work best. Even if no one even knows I have a posting schedule, I like having a regular schedule to keep me writing. Currently my posting schedule is Wednesday and Friday, with (non-existent) marriage guest posts on Monday.

I'd love to start up a new guest post series since What Marriage Means to Me died out -- any suggestions? Given that my posts about religion and faith seem to draw the most readers, something along those lines might be good.

Thanks again to everyone who took the time to complete the survey. I sincerely appreciate all your feedback, and it will make me a more informed blogger going forward. You all rock!

6 Reasons I'm a Happy Housewife

Friday, August 24, 2012

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6 Reasons I'm a Happy Housewife | Faith Permeating Life

Have you taken the reader survey yet?

I honestly never thought I'd find myself in a position where my primary "role" was as Mike's partner. For one thing, with our plans for Mike to be a stay-at-home parent and me to be the primary breadwinner, it seemed unlikely that we'd end up following his job path ahead of mine, but that's what happened. It was unquestionably the right decision for us to move out here, and I know I'll land a great job soon, but it's definitely not a situation I would have predicted.

So my primary responsibilities the past month, aside from applying to jobs and making connections in the area, have been:
  1. Getting us "settled"
  2. Supporting Mike in his role as hall director
The first responsibility has been incredibly time-consuming and actually made me grateful that I'm not working yet. It turns out that it's difficult to switch your accounts to your new address when the U.S. Postal Service doesn't recognize your address format, and it's an even bigger pain trying to open up a bank account when you have no rent or utility bills to prove you live there. We got the university to write a letter saying Mike had to live on campus for his job, but then had to get them to write a second letter, and drive back to the bank, because they forget to put my name anywhere on the first letter. We switched not only our health insurance but our auto and renters' insurance as well. This week I spent two and a half hours at the DMV getting our car registered for our new state and getting my new driver's license; now Mike will just have to go with me and I can basically say, "He lives with me" and show my license and he can get his license.

Of course, I've also taken care of basic errands, running to the post office, the bank, the grocery store, and so on while Mike was in training all day every day. I took our car for an oil change. I take out the trash and unload the dishwasher (we have a dishwasher now! yay!) and try to keep things picked up around the apartment. Mike has done a few loads of laundry, but it just makes sense for me to be doing the household duties when he literally has work to do until late every night in these weeks leading up to classes starting.

The second responsibility has been interesting. Our apartment connects to Mike's office, which he shares with the assistant hall director and his RAs, and we keep the adjoining door and our main apartment door open most of the time. So our living space is somewhat of a communal space for his staff. We've had the RAs over for breakfast and for milkshakes. People are always stopping by looking for Mike while he's off at meetings, and I have to keep up on a general sense of what's going on so I can direct lost students, etc. I baked two batches of cookies for the students on move-in day.

I realized that I was forgetting to tell people my name most of the time because it seemed more immediately relevant to say that I was the hall director's wife. (Example: People knock on the door, then say, "Are you the new hall director?" "Oh, no, I'm his wife.") It cracks me up how many people are surprised that we get to live together, even though we're in a co-ed dorm and the previous hall director was also married. Because we live on campus and most people I interact with are primarily concerned with campus- or hall-related activities in some way, my main value to most of the people I talk with is directly correlated to Mike's job responsibilities, and so most of what we talk about is related to Mike's/their job.

You'd think I'd hate being in this kind of position, and I would have thought so too. But it hasn't been the case, and I think there's several reasons for that.

1. It's temporary. If I was staring down the possibility where my main contribution to the world for the rest of my life was in the form of supporting the work that Mike was doing, I would probably go crazy. But I know that's not the case; I have multiple job prospects, and I'll be back in a job of my own before too long.

2. It's community in action. Despite being a serious introvert, I have surprisingly liked being back in a college setting and having our home be so open. Rather than struggling to find people to spend time with, we're constantly surrounded by people who want to talk to us and hang out with us. I've found that even during the day, when Mike is off running around campus, I like to keep the doors open to stay connected to the pulse of activity going on in the office and hallway.

3. Our marriage is a model. All the RAs and most of the other hall directors and assistant hall directors are single, and many of them seem very interested in our relationship. Everyone here met us at about the same time, so people know me as an individual and actually see firsthand how we treat each other. In previous positions it's seemed that Mike's coworkers would talk about me in some general way that matched the stereotype of what "a wife" is or does: "What would your wife say?" or "I bet your wife..." Here I get to actually "play myself" in the story of our marriage, as well as to be part of this model of what a healthy relationship looks like.

4. I get to see Mike at work. This has been the most fun for me. I knew that this job was a great fit for Mike, but I didn't think about the fact that I actually got to watch him being awesome at his job. It makes me so proud of him.

5. Our relationship is great. Even though Mike is insanely busy most of the time right now, I feel a lot closer to him because I'm already connected with his work in certain ways, so it's not like this separate thing that he does that he can only attempt to describe to me, as with his restaurant jobs. And more than that, he is way happier here than in his previous job. Before, he was angry all the time about things going on at his job, and a lot of tension occurred because he would want to come home every night and rant about his job for an hour or more. Now he's energized and excited about his work, and when he does run into times of needing extra help, I can literally step in and help him (e.g., reading a list of room key numbers to him) rather than simply being a listening ear. Plus the fact that he doesn't have to wake up at 4:30 anymore, and I don't have anywhere to be, means we can actually stay in bed with each other in morning until he has to get up.

6. I'm still pursuing my own interests. One of the great things about being temporarily unemployed is that I'm getting to pour my skills and talents into as many different places as I want. I've volunteered at the local food bank twice, helped a non-profit health center fix their website, and signed up to write for the local LGBTQ center's blog. I helped my aunt (non-blood-related) research her family tree. I got through some personal projects like scanning and shredding a bunch of old files I'd wanted to get to for months. And next week I'm traveling to see my cousin and help her out with her new baby, because I can.

So although it's not a position I want to be in long term, I like that my current responsibilities are mainly supporting the home and my husband. As I've been reminded by several feminist bloggers in the past week or so, feminism means having the freedom to choose whatever roles or activities are right for your life. And right now, this is a good place for me to be, and I feel extremely fortunate that I'm not pressured to find paying work immediately.

Have you ever found yourself in a life situation completely different from what you thought you needed to be happy?

Tell Me About You: A Faith Permeating Life Reader Survey

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

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Faith Permeating Life is over three years old now, with more than 300 posts on a wide variety of topics. As I've been writing more and more about things like sex/gender, sexual orientation, and marriage, I realized that I need a better sense of who's reading this blog. Based on the comments, I get a sense that most readers are straight women in their 20s and 30s, about half of whom are married, but I know that the comments only represent a slice of all the people reading. So I put together a reader survey.

I also wanted to give you an opportunity to share your thoughts on what you like and don't like about the blog. I did a very short survey about a year ago asking about people's favorite topics, but I thought I'd take this opportunity to gather some more detailed information about your relationship to Faith Permeating Life -- how often you read it, how long you've been reading, and what suggestions you have for making it better.

Most of the questions are multiple choice, so I don't think it should take you too long to complete the survey. You're welcome to skip any question, but know that the more information you provide, the better I can make this blog. The survey is completely anonymous unless you'd like to identify yourself in the comments at the end.

Whether you're a long-time reader or just found the blog, whether you comment regularly or have never commented at all, I would love for you to take a few minutes and fill out the survey. I'll leave it open for about a week and then share some of what I learn in a future post.

Your responses are very, very, very much appreciated!!

Can't see the form below? Click here!


Is "Faking Gay" the Best Response to Bigots?

Monday, August 20, 2012

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Is 'Faking Gay' the Best Response to Bigots? | Faith Permeating Life

One of the websites I frequent is called Not Always Right: Funny & Stupid Customer Stories. I've linked to it on here once or twice. People who work in customer service submit stories of customers who make unreasonable demands or illogical requests, blatantly try to steal, make inappropriate comments, or are too busy being angry and yelling to understand they're being given a deal or discount.

I've noticed an interesting trend in some of the stories that have gone up on the site recently. The basic exchange is this: Customer realizes employee is gay and makes horribly insulting remarks. Straight coworker/manager pretends to also be gay and thus successfully scares bigoted customer away.

Here are a few examples:
I'm not sure how to feel about these stories.

On the one hand, I think it's evidence of progress that these straight folks are not only accepting of their gay coworkers, but are not afraid of being seen as gay themselves.

On the other hand, I'm not sure this is the best possible approach to dealing with someone who has a problem with gay people.

If this person has such a deep-seated fear of gay people that they would literally flee from a store upon learning that more than one gay person is working there, is this kind of approach dismantling or confirming that fear?

When the straight coworker puts their arm around or kisses the gay coworker, it seems to me to reinforce the misperception that gay people want to shove their relationships in your face. Rather than emphasizing that gay employees are just normal employees who want to do their job well and not be mistreated by customers, it makes it seem as if gay employees are all about showy public displays of affection.

Wouldn't it make you uncomfortable if any employee was serving you and their significant other came up and started touching them and calling them pet names?

Perhaps it's impossible that the customer in question could have their mind changed by this single encounter, but I can pretty much guarantee that scaring them off by making them think the store is overrun by gay employees is not the way to do it.

In several of the stories, the customer appeals to a manager or other employee with the apparent assumption that this (supposedly straight) person will agree that a gay individual should not be working there. By pretending to be gay, this person misses an opportunity to show the customer that there are actually straight individuals who have no problem working alongside a gay coworker. Instead, it "explains" to the customer why this other employee has no problem with it -- because he/she is gay, also.

This other story, by contrast, shows what it looks like when a manager actually speaks up calmly and lets a customer know their discriminatory remarks are wrong, rather than "camping it up" to scare the customer away.

Also, it's telling, I think, that those who submitted stories felt the need to clarify "I'm not actually gay" or "the other employee in this story is straight." If the point of the story is really "Isn't it funny how we scared away this prejudiced customer?" then it shouldn't matter that much whether both employees were actually gay or not. But the clarification smacks a bit of "Look at this great sacrifice I made for my coworker!" It also indicates that this person is willing to pretend to be gay to come to their coworker's "rescue," but they don't actually want to be mistaken for being gay.

And because it's not something that you, straight person, have to deal with on a regular basis, you can laugh about the incident and post it online. You don't have to worry about this or some other angry, deranged, gay-hating person getting you fired, or possibly even causing you physical harm, some time in the future.

The truth is, I think it takes a lot more guts to stand up to someone spewing insults at another person and say, "What you are saying is wrong and hurtful" than it does to say, "Oh, is my boyfriend helping you?"

It takes a lot more commitment to get in there and argue in defense of another person than to simply scare away the bothersome person. It takes more nerve to tell someone they've crossed the line and need to leave than it does to hope you can freak them out and get them to leave on their own.

That's what I think about these stories. What do you think?

Discussing LGBTQ People: 8 Mistakes You Might Be Making

Friday, August 17, 2012

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Discussing LGBTQ People: 8 Mistakes You Might Be Making | Faith Permeating Life

In recent years, I've noticed more organizations and individuals attempting to become more "aware" of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) community. This might include things like asking a group of women about their "significant others" instead of their "husbands" or "boyfriends," or offering options other than "male" and "female" on a form. And don't get me wrong: This is awesome. More inclusiveness and more awareness of diversity is fantastic.

But someone who hasn't really familiarized themselves with the "lingo" of the gay community, or who doesn't actually understand what it means to be transgender, can end up making some awkward mistakes. I see this happen a lot with straight Christians who want to be affirming but don't really know what they're talking about. They might still be using the language they hear other Christians using, which can be incorrect or hurtful.

So I felt like, for the sake of conversations on this blog, a post to clarify some things would be helpful.

Huge Disclaimer: I do not personally identify as any of the letters in LGBTQ or related initialisms*; I am a straight ally who writes and reads a lot about issues affecting those who do identify as LGBTQ. Some of what I'm about to say is a generalization, as people's personal sexual and gender identities are unique and don't always fit labels. So please
  • correct me if something I say here seems way off base
  • and don't assume that every individual who identifies as LGBTQ would agree with everything I say here.

With that out of the way, here are some of the most common mistakes I've seen, and how to address them:

Using the Word "Homosexual"
Justin Lee, director of the Gay Christian Network, talks about this in this great presentation on how churches can be more welcoming. If you look at LGBTQ-friendly writings, you'll find that almost everyone uses the term "gay" (or "gay and lesbian") to describe someone attracted primarily or solely to people of the same sex. If you look at Christian writings that paint this kind of attraction as a sin, you'll find that a large majority use the term "homosexual." So be aware that many people have a knee-jerk negative reaction to the word "homosexual." If you want your message to get across, use the same terms that the people you're writing about most often use: "gay" to describe attraction to the same sex, or "LGBTQ" to be refer to all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning individuals.*

The same stigma does not apply to the word "homosexuality" (which I myself use in my Resource Guide to Christianity and Homosexuality) since there's not a clear substitute noun, but if you are using the word "homosexuality" a lot, you're probably going to come across similarly to those who say "homosexual" all the time.


Talking about "Transgender" as a Third Gender
There is no universal definition of "transgender," but probably the most accurate I can be is to say that it means identifying as something other than the gender you were assigned at birth. This could mean being assigned the gender "male" at birth, but identifying as female. So having gender options on a form that say "Male," "Female," and "Transgender" is confusing. A person could be a trans woman, thus being both transgender and female. I think when people include this kind of option, they are trying to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone identifies as male or female. The term I've seen used most often by people who do not identify strongly as only male or only female is "genderqueer," but not everyone uses that term.

A more accurate, though certainly not perfect, form might have the options "Male," "Female," "Genderqueer," "None of the above," and "I prefer not to respond." I've also seen forms with "Transgender FTM (Female to Male)" and "Transgender MTF (Male to Female)" as options, but realize that adding these options could make someone feel they need to either "out" themselves as trans or lie.

It might also be helpful to ask yourself whether it's necessary to find out someone's gender at all; sometimes people collect demographic information by default and not because it's needed for anything.


Referring to a "Gay Lifestyle"
Not even because it's offensive so much as because it's meaningless. There is no "gay lifestyle." Again, I only hear this term used by those trying to shame or judge, since those connected with the LGBTQ community seem to understand that there is no single way to be gay, bi, trans, or queer. And as Justin Lee explains, when people refer to being LGBTQ as a "lifestyle," they generally mean something like "a lifestyle of sexual addiction and escapism." Some people do have this kind of lifestyle, but they come in all orientations and genders. Most people who identify as LGBTQ have a life that looks identical to the average straight person, except for whom they date or are married to (if they are not celibate).


Using "Gay" as a Noun
This is another common pro-gay vs. anti-gay writer difference. I have pretty much never seen anyone in the LGBTQ community use the phrase "the gays" except in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. "Gay" should be used only as an adjective. "Bisexual," "transgender," and "LGBTQ" should also be used only as adjectives, while "lesbian," for whatever reason, can be an adjective or noun.

It should go without saying, but if you're talking about an individual, you should only include their sexual orientation if it's relevant to the story you're telling or point you're making. If it would sound ridiculous or out of place to say that someone is "a straight man" in place of where you've said "a gay man," then do you really need to include that?


Talking about "Sexual Preference" Instead of "Sexual Orientation"
I find it hard to believe this is still necessary to discuss, but just about everybody who's ever studied this in-depth (scientifically or qualitatively) agrees that almost nobody actively chooses to be gay, bisexual, or transgender. Even most "conversion therapy" programs don't claim to change who people are fundamentally attracted to; their "success" (if you can call it that) comes when gay people stop pursuing same-sex relationships and start pursuing opposite-sex ones. Using the term "sexual preference" implies that a person prefers to be attracted to the same gender or multiple genders, not that they simply are attracted to that specific group of people.

The other problem with this phrase, in my opinion, is that it reinforces the notion that LGBTQ individuals are obsessed with sex. (See also: Talking about a "Gay Lifestyle.") If my husband and I were to discuss with each other our "sexual preferences," I would take that to mean "what we like to do in bed." Using the term "sexual preference" to talk about the gender(s) to which someone is attracted makes it sounds more like a sexual kink: This person likes having sex with women just like this other person has a foot fetish. And that's not at all the case. That's like someone saying I married a man simply because I'm turned on by the thought of having sex with a man. I married a man because I'm attracted to men. (Or, more accurately, because I'm attracted to my husband!)

Also in this category: If you want to talk about someone being very public about their sexual orientation, use the phrase "openly gay" or "openly bisexual." Phrases like "avowed homosexual" make it seem like someone has staunchly committed themselves to being gay no matter the cost, whereas the reality is that many people facing severe discrimination have gone through periods where they've wished they could stop being gay, no matter the cost. And using the term "admitted" makes it sound like being LGBTQ is something to be ashamed of -- which it's not.


Conflating Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Maybe having everyone grouped together as "LGBTQ" makes it confusing, but I see this mistake a lot. A trans man attracted only to women likely identifies as straight, as does a trans women attracted only to men. If you're using the term "LGBTQ," it's important to talk about "sexual orientation and/or gender identity." Also, it's extremely inappropriate to try to define someone else's sexual orientation for them; if someone was designated as female at birth but identifies as male and is dating a woman, it would be wrong to say they are "really a lesbian." If mentioning someone's gender is important, use the gender they identify with. Ditto to sexual orientation.


Using Words like "Normal" and "Alternative"
Those designated as female at birth and who identify as female are not "normal women"; when discussed in contrast to trans women, they're "non-trans" or "cisgender." A man in a relationship with another man is not living an "alternative lifestyle"; he's living a life that makes perfect sense to a man who is attracted to men. There's no reason to use value-laden words to contrast people by gender identity or sexual orientation. The fact that one group constitutes a majority (heterosexual) doesn't mean that group constitutes a "norm" from which others vary. The majority of Americans are white, but you wouldn't ever say someone was of an "alternative race" or "deviating from the ethnic norm." It sounds just as ridiculous to use these kinds of phrases when talking about an LGBTQ individual.


Misunderstanding "Transition"
Someone who is designated as one gender at birth but who does not identify as that gender may choose to begin expressing the gender(s) with which they identify. This can take many forms: Asking others to refer to them with different pronouns and/or use a different name, dressing in clothes more typical of a particular gender, taking hormones such as estrogen or testosterone to change one's voice and/or develop bodily characteristics (hair growth, breasts) associated with males or females, having surgery to remove one's breasts, or having surgery to change the shape of one's genitals. Not all trans people take all of these steps. If someone identifies as male and asks you to use male pronouns to refer to him, then you should do so, even if this person does not wear what you consider to be male clothes and even if this person has not made any hormonal or surgical changes to his body. Some people need surgery to feel comfortable in their body, but others do not; you should never assume someone has had or wants to have sexual reassignment surgery, and it's rude to ask someone if they've had "the surgery" or are planning to.

On a similar note, some people prefer dressing in a manner more typical of another gender but do not identify as that gender. A man may be straight and identify as male but like wearing clothes that are more stereotypically female. Again, it's best not to make assumptions about people's sexual orientation or gender identity based on superficial things such as how they dress or talk.

----

Those are the primary things I would look out for. As I said above, this is far from being all-encompassing, either of the potentially offensive or incorrect terms or of every person's experience or identity. The most important message here is simply to educate yourself; if you're going to write or talk about or to any group of people, it makes sense to learn about their experiences as much as possible and get to know what terms are acceptable and which are offensive.

Understand that this is not just some abstract notion of being "politically correct." This is about respect: respecting people's identity and personal experiences, just as you would want your own identity and experiences respected. For many in the LGBTQ community, it's also about not aligning yourself, through the language that you choose, with those who have insulted, discriminated against, denied rights to, or physically assaulted them.

This might be difficult to understand if you've never experienced it yourself. An analogy (albeit a weak one) that comes to mind for me is that my name is an important part of my identity, and I dislike the nickname "Jessie." If someone continued calling me Jessie after I'd asked them not to, that would be incredibly rude, though not unforgivable. But if that nickname was something I'd been called by someone who verbally and physically abused me, and another person knew that and still insisted on calling me Jessie, it would not be unreasonable to say they were intentionally inflicting pain on me. This is why I say that, regardless of your personal views, if you care about LGBTQ individuals, you will be as accurate and respectful as possible with your language.

***One final important note:*** As much as I want to hammer home the importance of using accurate and respectful language, I also don't want to scare you. Keep in mind that because so many LGBTQ individuals have faced discrimination and hatred, saying something in love, even imperfectly, is often better than saying nothing at all. As long as there are still people experiencing hatred and crying out for "positive, affirming Christians" in their life, speaking up out of true love and support can never be wrong.

Here's some suggested additional reading:

*Not everyone uses the same initialism, but LGBTQ is the one I currently see most often. You might also see LGBTQIA, which includes intersex and asexual individuals (or allies). The longest one I've seen is probably QUILTBAG, which adds a U for undecided/unidentified, although I'm sure there are some out there that squeeze in Pansexual and Omnisexual as well.

The Olympics, Politics, and Attribution Error

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

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The Olympics, Politics, and Attribution Error | Faith Permeating Life

During the 2012 Olympics the past two weeks, a lot of people took to social media to become amateur judges, tweeting about where athletes slipped up or who was underscored.

It wasn't just the competitions and performances that were deemed comment-worthy, though. There was plenty of judgment on people who didn't seem thrilled enough to receive a silver or bronze medal or who were more unhappy about their own failures than happy for others' successes.

And so I heard this over and over: "I would be happy just to be in the Olympics!"

The implication, of course, is that the competitors who didn't seem perpetually happy to be there -- regardless of the outcome -- were utterly ungrateful for their great fortune to be competing on an international stage.

This seems to me to be a kind of attribution error, this idea that we, the commentators, are somehow cut from a better cloth, so that in the same exact situation, we wouldn't be so focused on winning, or so disappointed with coming in second, or so ungrateful for the opportunity to be on TV. That it's something fundamentally inferior about this person that is making them act differently than what we perceive to be the right way to act.

We, however, are probably wrong.

Humans are pretty terrible at estimating how we would feel in some future or hypothetical situation, something laid out in great detail in Daniel Gilbert's book Stumbling on Happiness. Basically, when we think about how we would feel about competing in the Olympics, we're thinking about our current self being plopped down into the Olympic games.

And yeah, if I suddenly found myself competing in the Olympics, my first thought (aside from, "I am completely and utterly unqualified to be here and will probably make a complete fool of myself") would probably be how exciting it was to be competing in such a globally important event, televised throughout the world, not "MUST WIN GOLD NOW."

But the amazing athletes in the Olympics aren't just like me. Many of them, particularly those from the United States and other affluent countries, have been training for years and years -- some practically since they could walk. They practice for hours every day. Everything from what they eat to how much sleep they get is intended to help them perform their very best. And they've been competing -- again and again and again. For some of them, this is their second, third, fourth Olympics, and they've got personal bests and past failures looming over them. When they're not practicing, they're talking to the media, where interviewers ask them over and over whether they think they'll bring home a gold medal.

In other words, their life essentially revolves around the goal of doing their very best on the field, the track, the pool, or the rings. And at the Olympics, the very best you can do is gold. So can you or I really know what it's like to fall short of that all-consuming goal of getting gold?

This is what I've been thinking about lately, and it's seeped into how I think about politics.

(In my attempt to be nonpartisan here, this may come out like a sweeping indictment of our entire political system, which is not my intent. My intent is, as usual, to make you stop and think about your own assumptions.)

I've been thinking about how much of the U.S. political system -- that is, a republic -- requires one person assuming they know how someone completely different from them feels, thinks, and goes about their daily life.

Let's start with Congress (for my non-American readers, or those that skipped government class in high school, this is the branch of government that makes laws). Rather than attempting to make a blanket statement that it's impossible to get elected to Congress without being personally wealthy (because there are exceptions to everything), I'll let the average wealth of members of Congress speak for itself: millions of dollars. And the net worth of those in Congress went up while most Americans' net worth was falling. Fifty-seven members of Congress are in the wealthiest 1% of Americans.

OK, but we all know this, right? Congress is full of rich people, mostly white men, and they're attempting to make laws that affect an entire country of people who are very unlike them in many ways. There are a lot of complex reasons that things are this way, and that they haven't changed much over time.

While it concerns me a great deal that our lawmakers by and large have no idea what it's like to be [a factory worker, a single mom with two jobs, an inner-city high school student... fill in the blank], it concerns me more when they THINK they do.

When I hear political rhetoric that makes it sound like getting a job is easy if you just try hard, or that assumes everyone has access to an adequate education, or that all poor people believe wealth comes through hard work, or that people who rely on government services typically do so because they're too greedy or lazy to spend their own money on the same things... I get frustrated.

Because often, I think, the speaker is thinking about what they would do in that kind of a situation, if they were suddenly plopped down into someone else's life.

When privilege is invisible, you can forget to subtract that out of the equation when imagining what someone else's life is like. But even then, I don't think it's possible to even start to understand what it's like without talking to people. A lot of people.

Lest you think this is just me being on my liberal soapbox again, this is not just me saying, "Congress doesn't understand poor people." I think there are a lot of different people that we, as John Green would say, fail to imagine complexly.

What about wealthy CEOs? Some of the people in Congress may have personal experience being in those shoes, but I don't. I don't know a lot of any wealthy CEOs personally. So when I'm tempted to be utterly flabbergasted at somebody's willingness to put profits above people, I have to stop and remember that I have zero idea what it's like to be under that kind of pressure from stockholders, that insulated by people who all think the same way and have the same goals. I can't say what I would do as CEO of a company any more than I can say what I'd do as an Olympic athlete.

And the president. People love to criticize the president and say what they would do if they were president, but I don't think the average American citizen has any clue what it's like to actually be the president. To have that much responsibility and pressure, to have your every word scrutinized, and most of all, to have to work within the structure of the government -- all branches -- in order to make change happen, which might mean coming up against people who seem to want to do whatever is the opposite of what you want to do.

This misconception about the president's authority means we have this system in which presidential candidates can promise just about anything because most people have zero conception of how the branches of government actually work. (Case in point: People who think the president is responsible for gas prices -- if their party's not in office.)

It also means that most candidates can be accused of having voted "for" something objectionable because people don't realize how many parts most laws have to them, and that someone might have voted for [insert objectionable law] because it was a rider attached to another, completely unrelated law, and in the end it was better to vote for it than be accused of voting against said other law.

And once again we have an attribution error, which causes us to paint other people as "good" or "evil" without feeling we need any situational context. Because clearly it's not what we would have done.

The attribution error is everywhere, but I would venture to guess it's doing the most damage in politics, where average Americans who don't know what it's like to be president or Congressional representative (but think they do) elect a lot of people who don't know what it's like to be an average American (but think they do).

And then, rather than attempting to overcome these limitations of living in a republic, we all continue to make assumptions and sling accusations at one another.

What steps can you take today to be aware of your own attribution errors? How might we account for the attribution errors in our government?

Political topics can be touchy, so if you are new here, please read the comment policy before commenting to avoid getting deleted!

Recommended reading linked in this post:

3 Reasons I Didn't Get Married "Too Young"

Friday, August 10, 2012

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3 Reasons I Didn't Get Married 'Too Young' | Faith Permeating Life

Today's post is part of Modern Mrs. Darcy's Perspective on Life and Love Carnival. She got married at 21, and her friend is about to get married at 34, and she started thinking about how different her friend's experience will be from hers.

Here's the prompt:
Tell us about why you got married at 21, or 34–or why you didn't. Tell us about your first kiss, about falling in love, about breaking your heart (or someone else’s). Tell us about how you found The One, or about how you’re still looking, or how you’ve given up.

Mike and I just celebrated our third wedding anniversary, though we've known each other almost eight years. Here are some flashbacks on our relationship:
Mike and I were 23 when we got married. I don't think that fact tells you much of anything, but people seem to think it does. Specifically, those that tell us we got married "so young" or, more annoyingly, "too young."

It's true that you can make some generalizations based on age -- for example, a 5-year-old and a 50-year-old will have very different life experiences and maturity levels, barring perhaps some mental disabilities. But the vast majority of people getting married (for the first time, at least) do so within a relatively small range of ages.* I don't there's enough consistency among 23-year-olds or 28-year-olds that you can reliably tell anything about a person's individual readiness for marriage, or a couple's collective readiness for marriage, simply by the age at which they got married.

Here are the reasons I think people believe we were too young to get married, and why I disagree:

1. Personal Maturity
The Belief
I get this idea. When I was in high school, I had too much of my self-worth wrapped up in getting attention from the opposite sex, and that wouldn't have been a great attitude to bring into marriage. When you make a lifelong commitment to someone, you intertwine your life with theirs, and if you have serious insecurities, unrealistic expectations, or lack of emotional control, those are going to negatively affect your spouse's life as much as your own. Yes, some people are still quite emotionally immature at 23; some remain immature into their 30s.

The Reality
Both Mike and I were often told growing up that we were mature for our age, and by the time we got through college we'd each overcome most of our major issues and insecurities. There was a point at which I felt completely unprepared to be engaged, and a time when I felt more than ready to be married woman. Truly, I did far more maturing throughout college than I have in the past three years, and I think the same is true of Mike. In my opinion, we were both plenty mature to be getting married when we did.

2. Relationship Maturity
The Belief
I know there are plenty of couples out there who got married after knowing each other a fairly short period of time and had a long, happy life together. But it makes sense that you want to know someone fairly well before making a lifelong commitment to them, and that it takes time to really get to know someone. I think some people -- especially those who didn't meet their significant others in high school or college -- hear "I got married at age 23" as "I got married as soon as I met my husband."

The Reality
Mike and I had known each other about five years when we got married, and we'd been dating almost as long. We'd been planning our life together for over two years at that point, and between our communication and psych courses and my devouring of relationship books, we'd talked through most of the potential relationship issues we could have. Certainly we've grown as a couple as new experiences have come up in our marriage -- my getting mono the first year was a big one -- but we'd definitely established healthy communication patterns and expectations by the time we got married.

3. Life Experience
The Belief
The final reason I believe people call 23 too young to get married is the idea that you need to "live your life" before you get married. I call complete BS on this idea. I certainly had this same notion previously, that getting married would make me unhappy by limiting what I could do professionally and my freedom to move or travel. I didn't start my first post-college job until two and a half weeks before we got married, so my professional career has always been shaped by my marriage in some way.

The Reality
I've learned that the limits of marriage help me focus and succeed. The year before we got married, we were each in graduate school in different states -- one of those "life experiences" we supposedly couldn't get once we were married. Doing my master's classes, thesis, and teaching assistantship with only long-distance support from Mike was incredibly tough. And it was because of Mike's new job that I had the opportunity to pursue my dreams in quitting my job and moving to Whoville. With our housing and food taken care of, I have the luxury to take my time finding a job I truly love. I'm getting the chance to do exactly what I want with my life, not in spite of my marriage, but because of it.


The point of all this is not to say that 23 is (or is not) a good age at which to get married. It's that age by itself is not the only factor in whether you picked a "good" time to get married. And that it's ridiculous to try to tell someone they got married "too young" when age is simply a proxy for the factors that go into a long-lasting, healthy, happy relationship.

As Anne says in the original post, she and her friend are going to have different experiences getting married at 21 and 34, but that doesn't mean one is better than the other. And the differences come not just from age, but by the fact that they're different people, in different relationships, who have had different life experiences. Even two 21-year-old brides could have vastly different marriages.

Mike and I got married when the time was right for us. And that's all I can wish for anyone else.

Want to read some great reflections on what marriage even means, anyway? Check out the What Marriage Means to Me guest post series -- contributors are always welcome!

Visit Modern Mrs. Darcy for more great perspectives on life and love!



*You know I like to back everything up with evidence, but strangely the only distribution graphs I could find were for age of first marriage in New Zealand. Here's probability of marriage by age for the United States in 2002. I still think it's safe to say that a majority of people get married within a pretty small window of life, considering life expectancy.

The Problem with Christian Radio

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

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Today I want to talk about Christian music stations.

This is not a discussion about the entire industry of Christian music. It's not about the quality of contemporary Christian music or the careers of Christian music artists or the dual goals of praising God and making money.

It's about my experience as a Christian wanting to listen to Christian music in my car.

Yes, I know the critiques of Christian music: that all the songs sound the same, that all the singers use the same weird breathy way of singing, that radio stations have been playing "I Can Only Imagine" 50 times a week for the past decade. I don't care. I like it, and I like having it on rotation with my classic rock and oldies stations in my car. It makes me calmer, it makes me happy, it helps me put my life in perspective, and it keeps me close to God.

What I've discovered in the past few years, though, is that listening to Christian radio is one piece of the lifestyle of a "proper" conservative Christian in America -- the lifestyle package that includes how you dress, how you date, how you speak, how you parent, and how you vote. And as a result, that lifestyle is reflected back by Christian radio itself.

When after college I re-discovered Christian radio, something that had occupied three of six saved stations in my car in high school, I found that either I had changed or the stations had (probably both). Suddenly I had to have quick reflexes to change the station in order to avoid getting angry and/or offended at the parts other than music. It might be a Focus on the Family segment telling me what my God-ordained role as a wife was. It might be a "positive and encouraging" news segment creatively edited to be about how awesome churches are or celebrating that some religious organization had earned the right to discriminate against people for being gay or not Christian enough. Or it might be the morning show hosts making an offhand comment that they didn't even realize was political because an issue's been twisted up to be one and the same with Christianity.

I thought I'd found a Christian station I felt safe listening to out here in Whoville, up until last week when suddenly the DJ started talking excitedly about "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" and how we needed to show our support for Dan Cathy for saying he supported the "biblical definition" of marriage.

I swore loudly and banged the power button to shut the radio off.

All I want is to listen to Christian music. I should be able to do that without being made to feel that my family isn't holy enough or my political beliefs are sinful.

Here's something else: I've never heard a Christian station call themselves "Christian." They're always the "family-friendly" station, or the "positive and encouraging" station. The one that's "inspirational" or "safe for the whole family." But the irony? It's the Christian stations that I feel the least safe listening to.

When I'm listening to a classic rock station, I may not be hearing music praising God. I may not be challenged to reflect on Jesus' sacrifice or how I'm loving my neighbor. I may hear swearing or references to sex and drugs. But I know that the DJ isn't going to start making political comments, casting judgment on my friends, or celebrating someone's discriminatory actions. Somehow the things that secular radio realizes are completely inappropriate are more than fair game for Christian radio stations.

Christians come in all flavors, so why is Christian radio dominated by a single perspective?

Being a Privileged Job Seeker

Friday, August 3, 2012

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Being a Privileged Job Seeker | Faith Permeating Life

I'm currently knee-deep in job searching, which is exciting and terrifying for the same reason: I have multiple pathways open to me right now, and I have no idea which if any will eventually lead to a job. Or, if multiple ones do, if they will do so within a close enough time frame that I will actually get to choose between them rather than having to simply decide whether to take the first offer I get. As a result, I'm trying to get in as many applications as possible right now so as to maximize the likelihood of having options, while still being selective about applying only to jobs I would actually enjoy and be qualified for.

All of this to say: When I find a job opening that is an exact fit for my skills and interests, I want to jump on it right away.

So this brings me to Wednesday, and how I discovered firsthand (1) some obstacles that can exist in a job search and (2) the privileges I have in conducting my job search.

It's around 12:30 on Wednesday, and I'm dressed up for a 2:30 interview, taking a break from prepping to run another search for openings. I come across an opening that is a perfect fit for my experience and see that the deadline is THAT DAY. (Somehow I hadn't found this opening before, despite searching every day.) Then I see that I can't apply online because all applicants have to be pre-screened by another organization. The webpage provides a list of phone numbers for the organization's various locations.

So I call up the closest location and, after two attempts at navigating their phone menu, get connected to a guy in the employment center. I explain that I found this job online and it says I need to get in contact with them to apply. He asks for my name, confirms the spelling, and finally says he can't find me. Am I registered with them? I say no, I just moved here. He says I have to come into their center to register.

I do a quick Google Maps search, then look at the clock and think there's no way I can get there and back in time to catch my 1:30 bus downtown for my interview. A 2:30 interview will probably go until 3:30; it's an hour bus ride. They close at 5. I explain that I have an interview at 2:30 and there's no way I can get in register, but that the job closes today. He seems unconcerned and says, "Oh." I say, "So... I guess I can't apply." He says, "OK."

I take the bus downtown, do my interview, which lasts all of 20 minutes, and take the bus back to campus. Seeing that I have time after all, I get in my car and drive to the center to register. I get there about 4. The woman there is confused, and sets me up at a computer to register, then after I discuss the job with her tells me I don't have to register, then finally looks up the job herself and agrees that yes, I do have to register. Also I have to take a skills test. But the computers are going to shut down at quarter to 5.

So I get my profile set up and do as much of the skills test as I can before the computers automatically power down. She checks my ID and says she'll have to get on the next day to verify it once I've gone home and completed the skills test, and hands me a paper confirming she's referred me to the job.

I go home and do the skills test. Mike and I go out to dinner for our anniversary, and then before I go to bed I look at the paper she gave me and realize it says that I need to go to a separate website in order to actually apply for the job, which she never mentioned. I go to that website, and it lists the deadline as "open until filled," so I have no idea if I have to try to get an application in by midnight or not, or if I even can without my profile being fully verified yet. I opt to go to bed. Then the next day I check the registration site and see that my ID was never verified, so I have to call and leave a voicemail explaining the situation.

I have no idea how much of any of this actually affects my ability to be considered for this job. It may be a lost cause at this point.

Whereas I had a previous opportunity to reflect on how many obstacles someone could have to applying for a job, on Wednesday I was acutely aware of the privileges I had that helped me at each step of this process. Here are some:

I have a computer with Internet access.
Because I didn't have to travel anywhere to access a computer, I could leisurely flip through job postings an hour before I had to leave for another interview, which meant I was able to find this position before it closed. I was able to quickly look up the number for the nearest registration center, as well as directions for getting there. Then, when I didn't make it to the registration center in time to complete my skills test, I could do it at home rather than having to go back the next day to finish it. I could also check on it the next day to make sure everything was set.

I have access to transportation.
I can afford bus tickets to take me to an interview 8 miles away and back. I also have a car, so when I had to get to the center quickly to register before it closed, I didn't have to try to figure out a bus route and wait for a bus. If I'd needed to come back the next day for any reason, it wouldn't have been a big deal.

I have a phone.
I was able to call immediately about finding the job posting and get the information about what to do next. When I saw that my registration hadn't been completed, I could call right away to get it fixed.

I can type quickly.
Growing up with constant computer access means that I've learned to type very quickly, so when I had to fill out pages and pages of profile information in about 20 minutes, I could get it done without any problem.

I can read quickly.
I had to take a reading comprehension skills test and a math skills test, and I was trying to get through them as fast as possible to make it in under the deadline. I don't have any learning disabilities, reading issues, or vision problems that could have hindered me in completing the skills tests.

I'm (probably) not discriminated against.
I touched on this briefly when talking about privilege and work, but I can't imagine if I'd gone through this entire process and then, when the specific organization offering the job opening was actually revealed (which didn't happen until the very end of the process), found out that it was an organization that was known for discriminating against women, Catholics, white people, or whatever other category I might fall into.

What's amazing to me that even with all of these abilities and resources, I still didn't manage to get registered and apply for the job by the deadline. And if that actually matters (which is still unclear to me), that's a loss for everyone -- for me because I need a job, but also for this organization, who would presumably benefit from someone coming in with all of the skills, experience, and education they're looking for.

It's not that I have an issue with having a pre-screening process, but when it's complicated, confusing, inconsistent, and inflexible, it's an obstacle for everyone. And I can see how it might be too large of an obstacle to overcome for people who are already lacking resources and/or abilities.

I'm also privileged in that I have other options; although I would like to apply for this job, not doing so wouldn't be a huge deal, as I have several other applications in already and have made other contacts that may lead to job offers. That's because most of those applications can be completed on my own computer at home, and I can make connections by driving places to meet people. If every job application took as much effort as the one I described above, I'd have a lot fewer done. And that means less chance of multiple offers, which means less choice in what job I take and less leverage to negotiate my salary.

I felt I needed to write this to round out the previous discussions on the obstacles someone can face when trying to "just get a job already." If we want to do something about the inequality of employment opportunities, it's not enough to point at problems: Some people are poor. Some people didn't have a great formal education. There is racism and sexism and heterosexism and ableism.

It also requires pointing at the privileges that can be invisible when assumptions are made in constructing a hiring process: Everyone has access to transportation, or a phone, or a computer, or a permanent address. When applications continue to come in, it can be easy to forget about the applications not coming in -- the ones from people equally as educated and skilled, maybe even a better fit for the position, who have been unintentionally screened out by some facet of the application process itself.

There's not one perfect solution here, but I still think it's a conversation worth having. Let's continue that conversation in comments.

When have you run into obstacles in a job search? What other privileges do I or you have in this situation that run the risk of being invisible when they're not discussed?

3BoT Vol. 10: My Three Favorite Poets

Thursday, August 2, 2012

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3BoT Vol. 10: My Three Favorite Poets | Faith Permeating Life

The first Thursday of every month, I share three related book recommendations with you. You are invited to link up at the end of the post with three recommendations of your own! Click here for more info about Three Books on Thursday.

I am breaking tradition this month because I wanted to do a poetry theme, but I discovered that I couldn't recommend just one book of poetry for each of my favorite poets. Without having read every book of poetry by, for example, Robert Frost, I couldn't tell you definitively which one is the best or my favorite. Just that I like his poetry.

I will, however, tell you which books introduced me to each poet, so you have a place to start, if you like. And I won't spend a bunch of time here extolling the greatness of poetry; I'll just say that, if you haven't read much poetry before, give these folks a try.

Without further ado, my three favorite poets:



In the Clearing
#1: Robert Frost
I read Frost's In the Clearing collection in middle school, and I think what I liked so much was that I could understand the poems. His words paint pictures of scenes from nature and everyday life, and they're not super-dense, but they do have layers of meaning that you can dig into. So I don't have to struggle to figure out what the heck is going on, but I'm left with things to think about. A good example is "In a Glass of Cider," which on the surface is about being a bit of sentiment riding on a rising bubble in cider, but which has a lot more meaning about the highs and lows of life. Of course, Frost's most famous poem is probably "The Road Not Taken," and most people know the closing lines without having studied the entire poem and realizing just how tricky it is. He's pretty clever.





Sonnets from the Portuguese
#2: Elizabeth Barrett Browning
If you've ever heard, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways," you've had an introduction to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. That is from Sonnet 43 of her Sonnets from the Portuguese, arguably her most well-known collection. My personal favorite has always been Sonnet 14, which essentially says that if you love someone for how they look or some mannerism they have, you may be disappointed if they change down the road. For me, this ties into how marriage made my love for Mike unconditional. I find her poetry absolutely lyrical, as well as thought-provoking and romantic. Not all her poems are love poems for her husband; others include a poem about her dog ("To Flush") and one about the gift of sleep ("The Sleep") that will make you want to close your eyes and float away on a cloud of iambic quadrameter.






#3: Shel Silverstein
I grew up with Shel Silverstein's poetry, and I'm grateful for that. His poems are cute, funny, and fanciful (as are the accompanying illustrations), but he also perfectly captures many moments of everyday life. I love that many end with a twist or punch line of some sort. Although his poetry is aimed at kids and doesn't have the deep layers of meaning of Frost and Barrett Browning, he still ranks up there for me because some of the images his poems evoke have stayed with me for, literally, decades. When we were moving in 104 degree weather, I kept thinking about how I'd probably still be hot if I stripped all the way down to my bones ("It's Hot!"). Where the Sidewalk Ends was his first collection, but A Light in the Attic and Falling Up are great too. And of course, Silverstein is also the author of The Giving Tree, as well as other great books.


Those are my three favorite poets. Who are yours?

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