Where Logic Meets Love

Blog Comment Carnival: February 2013

Thursday, February 28, 2013

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Blog Comment Carnival: February 2013 | 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!

There were a lot of great comments this month! It was hard to narrow it down, so this may be a bit longer than usual. As always, I highly recommend clicking back to the original post and joining in the full discussion there!

The responses to Two Sides of the Same Coin were interesting, because the point was "Trust people (women) to make their own decisions" and some people's response was telling me, "You made the right/wrong decision." But a few people really got it.

Rachel said:
I've been on both sides of this coin. Sometimes I'm comfortable with things that shock other people, but sometimes I've been the person who is made uncomfortable by something and other people don't understand why. Intuition is a weird thing, but it's worked for me so far. And I agree with you that the rest of us need to stop imposing our own messages on others, before they lose touch with their innate sense of danger entirely. Actually, a man being overprotective of me and not respecting my intuition makes me feel more uncomfortable than, say, walking by myself at night.

Becca had a long but valuable comment, saying in part:
The Gift of Fear is an excellent book. My parents never read it (and it didn't exist yet when I was a kid) but they taught me basically the same thing: My instincts are there to protect me and deserve to be honored.


In my first semester of college I was sexually assaulted by a man I knew and had invited to my room, not knowing that the punch at the party had been so strong that I would pass out. Of course this incident really shook my sense of safety! But I had to admit that the guy's roommate had told me he was a jerk and that my mother (who had met him when visiting a few weeks earlier) had told me she thought he was very creepy, and that I had ignored my own sense because the guy was tutoring me in calculus and I really needed the help. I should have kept him on tutor level and not been so friendly. Lesson learned--but I modified my behavior toward other men only for the rest of that semester before I began to trust my sense again.

Two years later, I moved off-campus to share an apartment with two men who had advertised for a housemate; I got to know them solely by talking on the 30-minute round-trip walk to see the place. It worked out just fine. But I had rejected a couple of apartments that I would have shared with people who seemed "off"--and some of those were women.

Over the years I've seen more and more reasons to trust my instincts (or God's guidance--may be the same thing). For example, my impulse to get off the bus early protected my then-4-year-old and me from direct experience of dangerous chaos related to the G-20 summit, but on the other hand when I let a neighbor I barely knew lure my child and me into his apartment for a strange reason we were completely safe.

Great article! I'm glad you're thinking and writing about this issue.

Then I wrote about when atheists conflate "Christians behaving badly" with "Christianity is stupid" in Mocking the "Sky Fairy," or How Not to Convert Me to Atheism.

Nikkiana shared an example of this:
I think you're spot on with this. It really bothers me when anyone is arrogant and rude when it comes to matters of belief... Doesn't matter if it's an atheist who's calling anyone who believes in a God an idiot or a Christian telling someone of another faith that they're going to go to Hell.

I had a friend who's one of those outspoken atheists who acts like a jerk... and I remember the point where I lost a lot of respect for the guy was one day he started whining to me because he got kicked off of an internet mailing list because he had responded to a woman who was really upset and asked for prayers and thoughts for a family member of hers who had cancer and was pretty close to death and he decided that it was an appropriate time to lecture the woman as to why prayer doesn't work and just couldn't understand why he'd gotten kicked off because she was the one who went off topic. *facepalm*

On the flip side, Melbourne on My Mind explained how she's more likely to get mocked for not believing in God when in the U.S. than in Australia, where she lives:
Maybe it's just my personal experience, but people would be more likely to look at you a little strangely than be openly mocking. Faith here tends to have very little bearing on personal identity - I don't know that I've met anyone outside the US who would introduce themselves and mention in that introduction what their religion was. (You know, the "Hi, I'm Sally, I'm a Christian, I like to play soccer and my favourite TV show is How I Met Your Mother" kind of introduction that you do at the start of a semester?) It's more of a personal thing.

Obviously, there are still obnoxious arseholes, like the guy in the city who yells through a megaphone about how God is going to send us all to Hell for not going to church. But people ignore him rather than getting into arguments with him.

I guess given that we're a young and very multicultural country, we have something of a "Hey, whatever makes you happy" attitude...

I shared a big announcement that I was Starting from Scratch in how I spend my time.

Sarah didn't think she could do the same:
I really admire you for having the guts to quit like that. It's something I've often considered doing in my own job, but as I would have NO way to pay for rent, bills, etc. since I'm not married, it's really not a feasible option to do unless I have another job lined up. But seriously, I think it shows incredibly bravery to do that, so kudos there! I'll be praying that the right thing shows up for you soon. And you're right, you should never have to sacrifice the things that you care about the most for a job, ESPECIALLY if it isn't something that you absolutely love.

Whereas Queen of Carrots' husband has quit his job twice:
I think you're right to leave a place that is making you less able to pursue your calling. DOB has done that twice as the sole income. The first time was actually kind of similar to your story--in that he thought it was going to be a great chance to do the back-office stuff he was better at (financial industry) while the senior partner did the sales. Instead it turned out he was hired to be the punching bag/spy between two ex-friends who now hated each others' guts. The senior partner just plain didn't like to work, so DOB's small percentage kept trailing off, and when he got chewed out for "leaving abruptly" the day I was taken by ambulance for an emergency c-section, he decided to ask for a percentage that matched the work he did, or he'd quit. Senior partner refused and DOB quit--the week our second was born. He did manage, within a couple of months, to find the opportunity that he had thought that was, only this time with someone who would actually pay him AND appreciated his work. (So you are not the only one to complete misread a work situation. And it's a comfort to know he wasn't, either.)

Then a few years later we decided we really wanted to move back to the west coast and pursue law practice--that meant a cross-country move, a bar exam for him and possibly me (I had an inactive license) and a complete change of industries. We considered different possible ways to stagger those, but finally decided to just take the plunge, sell as much as we could, move into my stepmother's basement, and make it work. It did, eventually, though it was definitely a high-cost and high-risk move. But it was the right move for us . . . we don't do things by halves.

Finally, I provided 6 Signs of a Good Counselor after my own positive counseling experience.

Jen concurred that anyone can benefit from counseling:
Well done! A lot of people fear or eschew counseling, because they think "I'm not crazy!" In this post, you clearly show that you can seek counseling for different types of issues, that they don't have to be serious mental health crises. As someone who's dealt with anxiety and depression on and off in her adult life, it's awesome to see such a positive approach to discussing life events with a neutral third party. I too think that counseling could benefit everyone. I'm happy that you found a good fit and that she was able to get to the root of the problem (and how to best help you for the immediate issue) quickly. Even something as "trivial" as voluntary job loss can make us feel a little vulnerable. Good for you for seeing that it would be helpful, not just in the resignation part, but for moving on and finding something else!

Queen of Carrots shared a sign of a not-so-good counselor:
When my husband started looking for a counselor, he did some phone interviews to try to narrow it down. One said, "Well, you're happily married, you have a job, and you own your own house. So why do you need a counselor?" He scratched that one right off the list and found someone that did not assume being a functional adult automatically ruled out mental health issues. :-P

And Sarah had one additional tip:
I think something else that can be very helpful is, if you have the option, trying to find a counselor who shares the same or a similar type of faith to yours. I know a lot of the processing I've done in counseling is specifically related to issues regarding my faith and the negative effects certain situations have had on me. If I was going to a counselor who wasn't a Christian, it's not that they wouldn't be able to help me, but they certainly wouldn't be able to help me in quite the same way that a Christian counselor could.

Thanks for continuing to make this blog a place to have meaningful conversations and a safe space to share experiences. I look forward to kicking off more great discussions in March with tomorrow's post about Catholics, Lent, and not eating meat.

The Shifting See-Saw of Marital Roles

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

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The Shifting See-Saw of Marital Roles | Faith Permeating Life

Sometimes, when you're struggling to make sense of things, someone comes along and hands you a concept that helps you make more sense of your life.

That happened yesterday when Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy posted about the emergence of "see-saw marriages." Anne describes these marriages this way: "These couples are much more open about shifting responsibilities and priorities -- at home and at work -- throughout the different seasons of life."

For example, one spouse's career might take center stage at one point in time while the other stays home with children, and then the stay-at-home spouse starts a business and the other scales back at their own work to help that business grow. Rather than the more rigid gender roles of the past, young couples are now more willing to make adjustments throughout their marriage based on what makes sense at the time.

This is similar to a post I did a year and a half ago called "Unfairness and the Happy Marriage," talking about how Mike and I have alternated "taking care" of each other in different ways throughout our relationship, whether it was me paying his way through grad school or him helping me through mono.

The difference is that we've still kept to fairly stable roles. From the time we met, we knew that we had complementary ambitions: I wanted most of all to focus on my career and be the family breadwinner, and Mike wanted to work for a while and then stay home with kids. And even though our schedules and priorities have shifted over time, we still more or less have maintained those roles -- I've been in the higher-paying jobs and our discussions for the future have revolved primarily around my career with the assumption that Mike would leave his job when we had kids. Our move to Whoville was for Mike's job, but it was a move we both had been wanting to make and it didn't change our long-term trajectory much.

Things have been changing in the last six months, though. Mike is in the first full-time job he truly loves. He's also in a job that requires him to commit to an entire academic year at a time, so when a successful adoption comes through he would not be able to drop everything immediately. I, on the other hand, am struggling to figure out what I want to do with my time. I'm not sure what to do with myself tomorrow, let alone where I want to be in five years.

Our see-saw has tipped.

I've seen articles and such about men who are unemployed or underemployed and depressed because they aren't "providing for" their family, even if their family is getting along fine on their wife's salary. And this always seemed dumb to me -- like, guys, you don't need to "prove your manhood" by making money. It's OK for your wife to make more money than you. I figured their feelings were rooted in cultural gender expectations and that they needed to just let go of the idea that their self-worth as a man is tied to their career or their salary.

Now I see it a bit differently. While cultural gender expectations no doubt play some role, I don't think you have to be a man to get distressed about your role in your family changing. When you've defined yourself as the family breadwinner, as I have, and you suddenly find that definition doesn't make sense anymore, it's hard.

On top of not knowing what job to pursue and potentially re-imagining my whole career, I have to re-imagine my role within my family as well.

I recommend Anne's whole post on this. She shares a great (if heteronormative) quote from a book by Lisa McMinn: "A strong marriage is one in which the husband and wife say to each other, 'I am highly committed to your growth as a person.'"

And that is what I see getting Mike and me through this time of transition. I love seeing him in a job he loves and want him to be able to continue to do this for as long as he wants to. He was very supportive of my decision to quit my job because he wanted me to be happy, and he's made it clear that he wants me to take as much time as I need to figure out what I want to do. We are committed to helping one another grow.

The "see-saw marriage" concept has helped me frame things in a better way. I am not abdicating a role within our family; rather, we are shifting priorities and finding a new balance for the time being. And undoubtedly we will have to shift again in the future. Framing it not in terms of my identity and my career but our marriage and our life better shows how I fit into the larger picture.

What do you think of this see-saw marriage concept? Have you ever had to rethink your role or identity?

Too Many Doors (and Then God Comes in the Window)

Friday, February 22, 2013

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Too Many Doors (and Then God Comes in the Window) | Faith Permeating Life

It's been one week since I left my job. You'd think it would feel strange not having to get up for work every day, but instead it just feels like a long weekend or holiday, and I keep losing track of the days.

I knew I wouldn't immediately find peace upon leaving my job -- I gave myself a whole year to get there, after all -- but I wasn't quite expecting to be launched headfirst into the gaping maw of anxiety right away either.

Part of it is bodily memories from spending so many days at a job I dreaded; I have to remind myself to breathe, to unclench my stomach, my shoulders, my jaw, that I never have to go back there and get beat down again. But a larger part is the simple uncertainty of not knowing what comes next.

All my life I've been a planner, knowing exactly how I wanted the next five years to unfold. Never has my life gone according to plan, of course, but having a plan, having a goal, has at least told me which step to take next. Even when we moved out here initially and I said I was going to take time to find exactly the right job, I had a vision. I'd loved what I did in Chicago, so I wanted to do the same thing, or as close to it, at a school or a non-profit or something similar out here.

This experience with my last job threw me for a loop, though. After dealing with a long commute and low pay for something that ended up not even being the work I wanted to do, I'm not sure where to focus my energy. Ensuring that the job itself is truly something I'll love? Ensuring that whatever it is will pay me what I'm worth? Ensuring that my work fits into my life and not the other way around?

I'm keeping a lot of doors open while I figure this out, and that's not something I'm terribly comfortable with. The school where we live wants to hire me if they can find the money to create a new position, which will apparently take a month to figure out, so in the meantime I'm applying elsewhere and also trying to determine what I would want my job description here to be (if I get a say in writing it) and what my minimum salary should be (is it worth going a little lower for the ability to work where I live?).

I've found there are things, like editing, I could potentially do from home full time, which on the one hand sounds like something I would love, but on the other hand I wonder if I'd get bored or feel like what I was doing wasn't meaningful enough.

I'm also wondering if I'd be better off with several part-time or freelance gigs, since one of my issues at every job I've ever had is not having enough work to keep me busy. Would I do better having a variety of projects and getting paid directly for my work rather than forever complaining about having 40 hours to fill and not enough to fill them with?

And of course, I already have my own side businesses, with manuscript editing and job search coaching. How much could I grow those if I really put some concentrated effort into it?

My subconscious is not dealing well with this uncertainty. Earlier this week I had a dream that all my teeth fell out, which my dream dictionary helpfully informed me means I'm "full of anxieties about the future." You think? Then I had a dream that I was back working on my old job, and when I remembered I'd quit I discovered that I was continuing to work there part-time in a contract role until I found something better, and as I left for the day everyone just said, "See you tomorrow," which was depressing. Last night I dreamt I was interviewing to be one of Mike's RAs, which is hilarious and sad.

My brain has also unhelpfully been looping the song "Just Around the Riverbend" for the past week for no apparent reason except to drive home the point that I don't know what to do.

One of the things that has helped is to limit my goals per week. This week's two goals were Resting/Healing (from my lingering illnesses) and Applying to Jobs. Next week's goals are Exercising (getting back on a regular schedule) and Editing -- I'm working on this manuscript of my great-grandfather's and want to clean it up to make it publishable. The next week I'm planning to go to daily Mass and the various Lenten activities on campus.

Last night I went to a Lenten prayer service in our building. It was short but vital for me. I went hoping to find some of the peace that has been escaping me in my anxiety over the details of my job search. Instead, we talked about friendship and compassion. What makes a good friend? How is God a good friend to us? What does it mean to be compassionate? How can we be more compassionate to others, more like God and our best friends?

At first I thought, this isn't relevant at all to my problem! This isn't helpful! Where are my answers, God?

It soon became embarrassingly clear to me how self-focused I was being. All of the questions I was asking were about what I wanted and needed and deserved, and I had forgotten to ask, Where does God want me? Where does the world need me?

Regardless of what I end up doing for pay (and what that pay is), there are more important questions to be asking myself about what my life should look like. If I can't see the deep importance and value in being a compassionate friend to others, then how am I going to be fulfilled in whatever I might be doing?

So that's where I'm at right now. The lack of clear vision for my future is still weighing on me, but I'm reminding myself -- and will need to keep reminding myself -- to step back and take a God's-eye view of my life. To go back to that Frederick Buechner quote about my greatest passion meeting the world's greatest need, and not forgetting that second part. Yes, I can still work on building a schedule in which I can thrive -- that elusive "work-life balance" -- but if I'm not building it around something important, how will I know when I'm there?

6 Signs of a Good Counselor

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

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6 Signs of a Good Counselor | Faith Permeating Life

One of the reasons I waited before quitting my job was because I wanted to get in to see a counselor first. Initially this was to help me decide whether or not to quit, but when it took over a month to get an appointment (don't get me started on how ridiculously difficult it is for even a person with good mental health to make a counseling appointment), I ended up going to see her the night before I was planning to hand in my resignation.

I had wanted to quit earlier that week -- it was awkward to deflect comments about whether I wanted to go to an upcoming conference -- but I was such a huge ball of anxiety about quitting that I wanted to make sure I wasn't going to break into tears while doing so, and that I wasn't going to feel horrible about myself afterwards or be super-awkward if they wanted me to stay for another two weeks.

Thankfully, the counselor I ended up with was fantastic. You never know; Mike and I have both had awful experiences with counselors. However, we both went to a counselor during college who was great, and the help she gave me in dealing with the stress of college and with various relationship issues solidified my belief that just about anyone can benefit from a good counselor.

Rather than sharing "red flags" of bad counseling experiences, I wanted to share some "green flags," things that I appreciated about this counselor that I saw recently. This comes with a large caveat that what you need from a counselor may be different than what I need. You may want someone who primarily listens and affirms your feelings, or someone who gives you specific advice. You may want someone who provides examples from their personal life, or someone who doesn't share any details about their personal life. You may want someone who gives you a specific diagnosis to explain mental health issues you may be having, or someone who eschews labels when therapy can be suggested without them.

All that said, I believe the best way to figure out what your preferences are in this regard is to try out counseling and pay attention to whether it makes you feel better or worse, and to what specific aspects you react positively or negatively.

So here are some of the green flags that told me during this one session that this counselor was a good one:

1) She was upfront that she might not be a good fit, and gave me an easy out.
She explained at the beginning that counseling requires a good counselor-client fit, and that if that didn't turn out to be the case for us, she would not be offended and we would probably both be able to tell it wasn't working. She said that I was welcome to tell her directly if I wanted to try a different counselor, but that if I didn't feel comfortable doing that I could call the front desk and ask them to assign me to a different counselor. It was clear from the outset that she wanted to make sure I was completely comfortable while in counseling and not make it difficult or awkward for me to make that a reality.

2) She balanced structure with letting me lead the conversation.
I appreciated that she outlined at the beginning that she would have some basic information to give me (the part above, and information about confidentiality), then she would ask me some background questions to get to know me a little better, and then she would leave time for me to discuss the specific reason I'd come. This made me feel like she had things under control and I knew what to expect, without feeling controlled or boxed in. If she'd spent the whole session asking me detailed questions about my family and we never got to talk about work, I would have been frustrated and panicky since I'd come specifically to prepare for the following day. At the same time, I understood that she wanted to get some context from me first -- like how old was I, where was I from, how big was my family, how long had I been married -- to better understand the larger scope of my life in which this particular issue fell.

3) She trusted me and didn't talk down to me.
This was extremely important to me. When I told her that I had no major mental health issues, she accepted this as fact rather than saying, "Well, we'll see about that." She treated me like an expert on my own life. When I said I'd had counseling before and that it had gone well, she took the cue that she didn't need to go over Counseling 101 with me, and framed the information above about good fit and confidentiality in a way that communicated "You probably already know this, but..." not "Here are some brand-new concepts I'm going to introduce you to." Even when she was providing me specific suggestions, she did it with an attitude of "Here's something you could try to see if it helps" and not "OK, here's the part where I solve your problem." Overall, I felt that my maturity and intelligence was acknowledged and respected.

4) She asked really great questions.
The standard joke about counselors is that they just sit there and repeatedly ask, "And how did you feel about that?" The questions she asked were not just randomly trying to flesh out details of what I was telling her, but were directly connected to trying to help me better deal with the situation. For example, she asked me how I'd gone from giving my workplace the benefit of the doubt that things were going to improve to feeling completely demoralized, which helped me pinpoint how starting to apply for new jobs had revealed the beating my self-esteem had taken. Then we could talk about how to reframe my view of myself to help me with my job applications, recognizing that the stellar work I'd done at every other job was a much better indicator of my abilities than this one place that wasn't allowing me to demonstrate my skills.

5) She helped me recognize disordered patterns of thinking.
This is what I love most about good counselors and why I sought one out initially. I recognized that my anxiety was driving me in circles of "I hate this job - I'd be happier if I quit - What if I end up in a bad job again - At least I'm getting a paycheck - But I hate this job" and I needed someone to break me out of it. She helped me acknowledge things like no one knows what the future will bring, but you know whether you're happy right now, and you're not. When I said something about how, if I couldn't find another job, I would be upset with myself for leaving a perfectly good job, she pointed out that I'd just spent 10 minutes outlining all of the ways that it was not a perfectly good job.

6) She isolated the problems and provided concrete suggestions.
A lot of my anxiety came from the uncertainty of not knowing how my bosses were going to react, whether they would want me to stay another two weeks, etc. She helped me separate the things I had control over (my decision to quit, how to word my resignation letter) from the things I had no control over (how they would feel about me leaving, what they would say). We talked about how I knew intellectually that this was the right decision, that I couldn't predict the future, etc., but that I was having a hard time getting my emotions to that point, so she gave me specific mind and body techniques for reigning in my anxiety when I started worrying about things in the future or things I had no control over. She also helped me identify that I felt unsure about what to say when handing in my resignation and how to explain to my coworkers why I was leaving, so we practiced what I wanted to say until it sounded natural. This came in extremely useful when my boss wanted to grill me about the reasons I was leaving and, having already determined that giving specific reasons would not be productive, I was able to keep repeating the irrefutable "It's just not a good fit."

By the end of the session, I felt much better and told her enthusiastically that it had been helpful and that I would like to schedule a follow-up appointment in a few weeks.

Clearly I am a big proponent of counseling/therapy, and I'm happy to answer any questions you might have about what (good) counseling is like. I also recommend this post on how to find a counselor you can afford if it's not covered through your health insurance.

What are some other signs of a good counselor? What do you look for in a counselor?

Starting from Scratch

Friday, February 15, 2013

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Starting from Scratch | Faith Permeating Life

An interesting thing happens when you set up a clear vision for your life. You suddenly have an image against which to compare your current life. Like a Spot the Difference picture, the things that are wrong inevitably begin to jump out at you.

In my own Spot the Difference picture, there was one glaring blemish separating the two pictures, my life-as-it-is from my life-as-it-should-be. And that was my job.

I mentioned that the reason I'd chosen "Peace" as my word of the year initially was because of the anxiety, anger, and dread caused by my job being very, very different from what I thought it was going to be. But suddenly it wasn't just a small problem to be dealt with, but The Thing standing between me and peace. As I started looking for other jobs, it became clear just what a beating my self-esteem had taken in this job when I was having trouble coming up with good things to say about myself for my applications.

So yesterday, I quit. Just like that. Today's my last day of work.

Is it worth going into why? I try to avoid discussing work on here unless it's positive, thus the vast absence of references to my work in the past few months. But I know people are going to want answers, especially when I made this out to be OMG the best job ever and then didn't talk about it for months.

The short answer is that I was given very little work to do, and the work that I did do, most of the time one of my bosses would partially or completely redo it, either out of a need for control or the apparent ego boost of telling me all the ways my work was inferior. Not only was my work unappreciated (when it was acknowledged at all), but it was not even clear what purpose I served being there, if they had nothing for me to do and were just going to redo what I did anyway.

And as much as I tried to tell myself to be grateful for having a job and a paycheck at all, I couldn't deny that 1) I'd taken a pay cut to take this job because I thought it would be so great, and I knew I could find something better and better-paying, 2) all my happiness and self-esteem were being sucked away by this job, and 3) I wasn't able to do a lot of things I wanted to because most of my time was spent commuting, working, or sleeping. As I said in my love vs. money post, what's most important to me is how I spend my time, and I don't want to spend the vast majority of my time doing something I don't enjoy.

So I'm starting from scratch and asking myself what things I want to make room for in my life.

Sleep. Exercise. Prayer. Time with Mike. Choir.

These are what nourish me. And so I need to find a job that fits around these. Maybe something on campus, if I'm lucky. Maybe a telecommuting job. Maybe a part-time job. Something that doesn't require me to be gone 12 hours a day, 5 days a week. Even something I love doesn't necessarily deserve that much of my life.

And you can bet that I'm making phone calls to former employees of every place I apply to get an honest perspective on what it's like there. No way do I want to repeat this experience.

Boy, what is it with Lent and quitting jobs in our family? I guess God knows how to get our attention and remind us to trust.

I know this was the right decision, and I'm happier than I've been in a while. I'm looking forward to seeing what God has in store for my future.

Have you ever quit a job without having another one lined up? How did it feel?

3BoT Vol. 16: Three Books to Celebrate Black History Month

Thursday, February 14, 2013

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3BoT Vol. 16: Three Books to Celebrate Black History Month | 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.

OK, I'm a week late on this because of The Foggy Brain of Sickness, but better late than never, right?

I decided to go with 'Becca's suggestion of making this month's theme related to Black History Month. I picked three of my favorite books whose authors are black, and each book also speaks more generally to aspects of the black American experience. I would love to get your recommendations in comments!

In celebration of Black History Month, here are three of my favorite books by black authors:

#1: The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines
This book -- which, despite the title, is not an actual autobiography -- is memorable for its historical breadth. If you're looking for an introduction to black history told in story form, this is a good place to start, particularly as the first-person narrative makes the experiences vivid. The eponymous character is born into slavery shortly before the Civil War and lives up until the civil rights era. This was valuable for me because I feel like my history classes would talk a lot about slavery during the Civil War, and then would completely ignore black Americans until we got to the 1950s. Jane spends most of the book as a sharecropper on two different plantations, which isn't that different from her experience as a slave aside from being paid a pittance for her work. It's a compelling and well-told story with memorable characters, with the added benefit of a realistic historical background.

#2: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Unlike the previous book, this actually is an autobiography, that of the brilliant and talented Maya Angelou. I read this book in middle school, and it was possibly the first book that introduced me to the idea that I led a privileged and sheltered life. Angelou's young life involved both cultural problems -- dealing with the terror of racist violence in the American South in the 1930s and '40s -- and personal problems, including being raped by her mother's boyfriend who is then murdered, causing her to retreat into complete muteness. The book deals with both tragedy and triumph, however, as Angelou becomes more self-assured and aware of her own ability to fight back, including defying racist hiring practices to become the first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco. I haven't picked up the book in over a decade, but I still clearly remember certain scenes from this book that have stayed with me through the years.

#3: The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
A major moment in black history happened not too long ago, with the 2008 election of the first black U.S. President. The year before Obama became president, though, I was a college student reading and enjoying his "thoughts on reclaiming the American dream." It's a treatise on what it means to be an American, and subsequently what the role of government is in creating good lives for Americans. Looking back through it now, I wonder if Obama could have written this same book after four years of the presidency. There's a chapter on faith and the role in plays in our lives as Americans; did he suspect how his own faith would be put under the spotlight and that so many people would try to assign him to an entirely different faith because of their own suspicions and prejudices? There's a chapter on race, but Obama has made almost no references to his own race during his presidency. I'd be interested to re-read this book now and compare.

What other books do you recommend for Black History Month?

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Hi, I'm 27 and I Live in a Dorm

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

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Hi, I'm 27 and I Live in a Dorm | Faith Permeating Life

We've now been living in a college residence hall for seven months, since Mike took on his position as hall director. I made an offhand sarcastic comment in my post on being sick about how much I love living on a college campus, but in truth, there are a lot of things I like about our living situation. And not just that we get free housing and food :)

Mike and I both spent time living in residence halls as college students (you may recall this is how we met), but it's a different kind of experience to live in a dorm as adults. I'm in a unique position, as I'm neither a student nor a staff member like Mike, so I get the full-fledged experience of living on a campus without having any other ties to the university itself.

Here are some of the pros and cons of living on a college campus when you're not a student:


There's always someone around.
After the loneliness of knowing no one in our building in Chicago, and only making friends with one couple shortly before moving, it's been very different to know so many people who live in the same building as us, and even more throughout campus! It's nice to come home and be greeted by friends who are hanging out in the lobby or working the front desk. Guys stop by often to invite Mike to play video games or watch a movie, and it's easy to throw together an impromptu board game night. It's also nice to have lots of people around to ask if you need a hand or need to borrow something (although I think they borrow from us a lot more often than vice versa!). When I was sick with the stomach flu and Mike was gone one day, I was too weak to get my bottle of Gatorade open, so I shuffled out to the lobby in my pajamas and was thankful to find that the person working the front desk was one of our good friends, who happily opened my bottle for me.

We're behind double-layer security.
Like in Chicago, we can lock and deadbolt our apartment door, but there's also a front desk where every person has to show their ID or fill out a visitor form when entering the building, or else swipe their ID card to unlock the front door during the hours the desk isn't staffed. This, of course, made it extra-freaky when Mike's brand new Wii U got stolen out of the basement over winter break, when student card access was blocked and only campus staff could access the building. So we try not to get too lax. But it is nice to know that during the semester there's someone seeing every person who comes into the building.

Evening and weekend activities? Take your pick!
I love the entertainment/cultural enrichment aspect of being on a college campus. The residence hall staff puts on events every Saturday night, so we usually at least stop by whatever's going on, which might be a barbecue, a craft night, an improv show, or something else. We've attended several orchestra and choir concerts, which is where I learned about the women's chorale that is open to community members and which I joined this semester (though sadly I'll have to miss our first concert as my voice still hasn't returned). I've gone to at least three speakers, although two were pretty terrible. Mike went to a lot of soccer games during the fall. There are talent shows, open mic nights, and more. And everything's less than a 10-minute walk from home, so I can go to a 7pm event on a weeknight and still get to bed in plenty of time.

It's like a mini-town.
Since many students don't have cars and it's a good long ride to take the bus anywhere of interest, most of the basic things you could want are right on campus. We eat dinner in the dining hall most nights and go to Mass at the campus chapel on Sunday. There's a post office window that's open during the week, and a library open every day and fairly late. There's even a little grocery store where we can use our meal points, though everything's unsurprisingly overpriced and heavily packaged and their hours are weird. And, of course, there's a concert hall, a theater, and a stadium for your various entertainment needs!


There's always someone around.
Yes, this can be a good thing, but then there are the times that Mike and I are trying to have a conversation and we're interrupted every two minutes by a resident knocking on the door. Or the times when we want to have a serious discussion over dinner and someone invites themselves to sit with us. Or we're walking somewhere and Mike is stopped every few feet by people wanting to talk to him. Thankfully the students in our building tend to be fairly quiet, and our apartment doesn't back up to anyone else's room, but there are still times when the front lobby can get a little noisy even with our front door shut. And don't get me started on finals week, where there's 23-hour quiet periods and then a 1-hour "blowout" period where the students get to scream and shout and blare music -- during the hour I'm usually trying to fall asleep!

We can't have pets (or kids over 2).
Although I'm happy we found a great new home for our rats, it was still a bummer not being able to take them to Whoville with us. It's not too big of a deal for us, but I feel bad for the hall directors who don't have partners and can't adopt a furry friend to keep them company. (I'm not saying there's something wrong with being single/alone! But other hall directors have made this point.) We should be able to adopt an infant while still living in the dorm, but as the rules stand now we can't have a child over 2 years of age, even if we moved to one of the other halls that have 2- or 3-bedroom apartments. So if we did want to stay here longer, and we might, that would put a cap on our time here.

3AM fire alarms.
Thankfully the university is not cruel enough to have fire drills in the middle of the night, but there have still been a handful of late-night/early-morning alarms, at least one of which was due to a problem with the alarm system itself! Our residents have now seen me in my pajamas and retainer a number of times, and I've seen more of them in their boxers than I ever wanted to. But that's living in community for you, I guess...

Sickness travels fast.
I'd never had the misfortunate of having back-to-back illnesses before these past few weeks, but it's not that surprising since I chose to eat in the campus dining hall before my immune system was 100% back to normal. Having that many people in close quarters for long stretches of time -- living, eating, studying together -- it's difficult to prevent the spread of illness. It's right up there with preschools, hospitals, and cruise ships. On the night in question the university had staffed the normally self-service salad bar and put up a sign explaining that they were trying to arrest the spread of the norovirus, but I was still packed in a room with hundreds of college students, breathing the air. So during the rest of my illness(es) I quarantined myself in our apartment, which was very, very lonely when Mike was off at meetings and I was used to people stopping by all the time. Even now I'm still not daring to venture back to the dining hall until I'm sure the rest of this sinus infection is out of my system. Too many germs!

All in all, I'm glad we're here. It's definitely a different experience than the whole roommate/shared bathrooms/general stresses of college experience of being a student in a dorm, and for myself an even different experience than Mike has as director of the building. While a lot of people look at me with trepidation when I tell them where we live and say that they could never do that, it's a pretty good gig if you can get it and don't mind the idea of living in community with lots of college students.

If you've lived on campus, what do you remember liking and disliking about it? Would you ever do it again?

Mocking the "Sky Fairy," or How Not to Convert Me to Atheism

Friday, February 8, 2013

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Mocking the 'Sky Fairy,' or How Not to Convert Me to Atheism | Faith Permeating Life

I read a lot of blogs, and I find that most blogs attract communities around them that are similarly minded to the blogger(s). So Christian blogs like mine tend to have mostly Christian readers, along with some people who are at least open to and/or tolerant of the Christian faith. Gay rights blogs attract people who care about gay rights, and so on.

Then there are those times when a post goes viral and starts drawing in readers and commenters from all over the place.

I saw this happen most recently when Justin Lee's post on the "tipping pastor" incident went viral and was eventually re-posted on the Huffington Post. (He has a great follow-up post here.) And when a post about Christianity starts getting lots of comments by non-Christians, it's only a matter of time before someone uses the opportunity to make derisive comments about faith in general. This often comes in the form of a sarcastic quip about the "sky fairy" or some other dismissive name for God.

Look -- you're totally allowed to believe what you want. It's a free country. But don't make yourself look like an idiot while trying to imply that you're too "enlightened" to believe in God.

Making a "sky fairy" comment doesn't make you come off as superior or more intelligent, except perhaps among your friends who also draw their self-worth from thinking about how smart they are for being atheists. It just makes you sound ignorant and close-minded, revealing your narrow worldview in which explanations other than your own are always wrong. You are operating under a closed system of Truth in which you must deride or ignore anyone's experiences that don't fit into your model of the world.

In that way, you're very similar to those whose religious worldview is so fixed that they feel they must sarcastically mock things like evolution, rather than seeking to understand why someone might believe in it, or else risk having their entire concept of Truth shattered.

Other than trying to make yourself sound enlightened, what exactly are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to convince me that my faith is wrong? "Wow, you're right, my faith in God sounds so silly when you put it like that, therefore I am going to immediately stop believing everything."

Trying to get people to see the error of their ways by putting it in overly simplistic terms works about as well for converting people to atheism as it does for converting people to Christianity. I don't know anyone who has been shamed-and-preached-at into suddenly becoming a Christian, nor do I know anyone who has been sarcastically mocked into becoming an atheist.

I think the biggest reason the "sky fairy" comments bother me is that they flagrantly conflate Christians and Christianity.* So in the case of Justin's post, which was about Christians being bad at showing Christ's love to the world, the kind of comments I'm describing tried to imply that you can't expect anything more from people who are stupid enough to believe in God in the first place.

But the fact that we fall short of the standard set by our religion doesn't tell you anything about the veracity of that religion itself. And people who are rude or make stupid mistakes are by no means limited to Christianity. It would make equally little sense to say of an atheist who did something stupid, "Well, what do you expect from someone who doesn't believe in God?" The truth or falsehood of our religious system is not dependent upon the actions of those who adhere to it.

In short, I don't think these comments accomplish much of anything short of making the commenter feel better about themselves and their close-minded view of the world. They certainly don't make me think anything positive about the commenter, nor cause me to re-examine my own beliefs.

Do you know the kind of comments I'm talking about? What is your reaction to them?

*Christianity is, of course, not the only religion with a God and therefore not the only one attacked by ridiculing belief in a higher power, but it's the one in this particular example and most often the context in which I see these comments being made.

No Books Today, Just Sickness

Thursday, February 7, 2013

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Sorry, I don't have a 3BoT post for you today. My brain is kind of fuzzy and I don't have the energy to go through my book journal and bookshelves to put together some recommendations. Fortunately I already have a Friday post written and queued up.

If you follow me on Twitter you already know that this past week has severely kicked my butt.

Last week I started feeling sick on Monday night, and then woke up after midnight to spend the next few hours throwing up. At first I thought it was food poisoning, since I'm pretty prone to that, but once I got hit with a fever, chills, body aches, etc. it was clear that the norovirus going around campus had gotten to me. I spent Tuesday (which happened to be Mike's birthday) feeling so sick that I couldn't do anything -- read, listen to podcasts, talk to Mike -- without wanting to throw up.

Wednesday was better except my entire body hurt like I'd gotten beaten up and it hurt to breathe/laugh. By Thursday I was feeling mostly better, just tired, and decided to go back to work on Friday. I ventured out of the apartment Thursday evening for the first time to have a real dinner in the dining hall.

Having spent most of the past few days sleeping, I had trouble falling asleep Thursday night. After I finally did fall asleep, Mike woke me up to say that the fire alarm was going to go off in a few minutes because residents had smelled gas and the fire department was going to evacuate the building. So I got dressed and evacuated the building along with all the students, who spent the next hour in the dorm across the quad. Once they'd determined that there wasn't any gas leaking into the building, we went back to bed, but since it was foggy outside, the tugboat going down the river near our dorm was sounding its foghorn every 30 seconds.

So I went to work on Friday exhausted, and about halfway through the day I developed a cough and the beginning of a sore throat. I left work early, came home and took a nap, and then went to volunteer at a campus event I'd signed up for. I ended up calling bingo numbers, which of course is exactly what you want to do when you have a scratchy throat and are losing your voice. By the weekend, I had a full-blown sore throat, swollen glands, fever, chills, body aches (c'mon, didn't we just go through this??), and no voice.

So yes, not only did I catch and recover from the norovirus going around campus, but I then proceeded to catch the flu, which was also going around campus. (Did I mention how much I love living on a college campus?)

Thankfully, the sore throat went away by Monday. It was replaced by a sinus infection. I finally went to the doctor on Tuesday (who told me that everything -- my sinuses, my ears, my throat -- is inflamed) and got some antibiotics, but have had to cancel all of my plans this week. I've also missed more than a week's worth of choir rehearsals at this point, which means I probably won't be able to be in our upcoming concert.

The best part? I only get five paid sick days a year at work, which I used up in a single week, and I had used up all my vacation time to go the GCN Conference. So rather than taking a pay cut, I opted to go to work on Wednesday, pick up my laptop, and bring it home, where I attempted to work while blowing my nose every 30 seconds and trying to see through my watery eyes.

Can I just say how much I hate the system of sick days? I am a salaried employee. My responsibility is to get all of my work done by the various deadlines, and to do it well. So long as I accomplish that, then I should be able to take care of my health when I'm sick, not have to choose between health vs. money. I realize I am in a position of privilege to receive a salary rather than an hourly wage, and to work at a job where work doesn't have to get done during a specific time block, and to get paid time off at all. But given that I am, it doesn't make sense to me that by virtue of having the misfortune of back-to-back illnesses during a week in February, my choices for any illness I might get the rest of the calendar year are 1) come to work sick, 2) use vacation time if I have any, or 3) have money taken out of my paycheck. None of which is tied in any way to whether I'm completing all of my assigned work for my clients, which, you know, is what they hired me to do. /end rant

So that's how my week has been. At least my Twitter feeds have shown me I'm in good company -- Rachel and Kirsti and Dianna have all been sick and seem to be experiencing my symptoms right along with me. Yay blogger solidarity?

I hope you are all staying healthy!

Two Sides of the Same Coin

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

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Two Sides of the Same Coin | Faith Permeating Life

Side One:

Here's a story about how Mike met some of our first friends here in Whoville.

He went to a Meetup event that I had no interest in going to, and as it was downtown and he really hates driving downtown Whoville, he took the bus that picks up right on campus and dropped him off near the restaurant. Not many people showed up for the event, so it ended up being just him and three other guys. One of the guys was kind of douche-y, but the other two guys, who were a couple, were extremely nice, if a bit quiet, and Mike hit it off with them. When it came up that Mike had taken the bus (about an hour ride), these guys offered to give him a ride back to campus (about a 15-minute drive). Mike said it was out of their way since they lived only a few blocks away, but they said it was no problem and they really felt bad about him taking such a long bus ride back, so he said OK. After the event, he walked back with them to their place to get their car, talking with them, and they invited him inside to meet their new puppy they'd been talking about during the event. On the drive to campus he talked with them some more, and as they arrived he told them we regularly host board game nights and said he'd be happy to get an e-mail address from them and invite them to our next one, which he did.

OK. What's the point?

This story didn't happen to Mike. It happened to me. I went downtown for an event that ended up being me and three guys, and really hit it off with these two guys, who offered me a ride home.

Note: The rest of the post has trigger warnings for discussions of rape and assault.

When I've told people this story of how I became friends with these guys, I get a pretty consistent reaction of fear and concern, particularly if I include the part about going in their apartment to meet their puppy. I can't be sure, but I'm going to guess that most of you didn't feel fear and anxiety while reading the above story about Mike making some new friends. But we are fed such a steady media diet of stories about women getting raped and killed, and women receive so many "tips" on how not to get raped, that people have this notion that the only reason a woman would ever willingly enter the residence of a male person she had just met is if she's completely naive and the possibility of getting raped or killed has never entered her mind. And so when telling this story I get these reactions of, "Oh my gosh, you need to be careful!"

The only reason I said yes to any of it -- getting a ride home, going to their apartment -- was because of Gavin de Becker's book The Gift of Fear, which told me to stop being afraid of everyone and to pay attention to whether my body was actually telling me that something seemed wrong or that I had a real reason to fear.

The truth is, I was still completely apprehensive the entire time, even though I had absolutely no reason to be. I wasn't getting any sort of gut reactions of something not being right, and I felt 100% safe and comfortable with these guys. Even then, when they offered to give me a ride, my brain started whirring and trying to figure out if I was being lured into some kind of trap, and the "be safe" part of my brain told me I should say no, just in case, and wait the half an hour for the hour bus ride back to campus (although, was I being unsafe by waiting at a bus stop in the city after dark?). Despite these guys being some of the nicest, gentlest human beings I'd ever met, I was still massively apprehensive about going up to their apartment even though they were not insistent about it in the slightest and seemed only eager to show off their new puppy, which, in fact, was exactly the case. And in their apartment, my brain was going, "OK, are there any signs they're trying to keep me here? What will I do if they suddenly try to attack me or block the door?"

This is what it means to be a woman in a society that tells you that women are to blame for the things that happen to them because of their own lack of caution, and that men all secretly want to rape you if you give them the chance.

People mistakenly thought I did what I did only because I was too stupid to be afraid enough for my own good. But I did it in spite of my fear, a fear which was in spite of having any good reason whatsoever to fear, other than a glaring cultural narrative telling me that my gender made me vulnerable, and their gender made them dangerous.

Side Two:

We were at a campus event on a Saturday night, sometime between 11 and midnight, at a building about a 7-minute walk from our dorm. One of our female residents, who was also at the event, came over to talk to Mike and mentioned not feeling comfortable walking home alone this late at night. Mike went off to find someone to walk her home, and one of our friends, another hall director, started going off about how utterly ridiculous it was to be uncomfortable walking alone on campus when it's a short walk and the campus is well-lit along the way.

Any guesses as to the gender of this friend?

Although I wasn't personally uncomfortable walking home alone, and did so shortly after midnight while Mike was still helping clean up, I completely understood this girl's anxiety about it. It doesn't matter how well-lit the campus is or how short the distance, because she's been the recipient of the same "advice" I mentioned above about how if you don't want to get raped or attacked, you have to follow a checklist of things like "Never, under any circumstances, walk home alone at night."

She also knows, I'm sure, that even if she faced up to her fears and made the walk by herself, if God forbid something did happen to her, she would be blamed. For not following the checklist. And then people, possibly even the same people who mocked her for her fear of walking home alone, would be quick to say, "Well, of course she got raped. A 19-year-old girl walking alone at 11:30 at night? She could have easily asked a friend to walk home with her and then this wouldn't have happened."

The Coin:

When people talk about things like "rape culture" and "male privilege," this is the kind of thing they're referring to.

For your average woman, there's no good way out of this bind. If you are unafraid, or if you continue to live your life as if you are unafraid, then you are "naive," "ignorant," or "careless." If you are afraid, or take the steps you've been told you're supposed to take to protect yourself, then you are "overreacting," "ridiculous," or "letting fear rule your life."

I don't have an easy answer to what is a huge cultural issue, but I do have one basic takeaway from these stories, and that is to trust adults to run their own lives. Which is, obviously, applicable in many situations, but I think it's particularly important when talking about and to women about how they assess and manage risk in their lives, specifically regarding physical safety.

"Trust" doesn't mean "never say anything ever." But it means that when someone tells you that she was in a situation that, theoretically, could have been risky for her, keep in check that instinctual response rising up that says she must not have considered the risks of the situation, and that you need to tell her to be more careful. Assume unless proven otherwise that she was well-aware of the potential risks of the situation and made a decision that she felt was in her best interest in the grand scheme of things.

And when someone does take precautions that allow her to feel safer or more comfortable, trust that she is the best judge of what she needs. Don't lecture her about how the risks she's worried about are small, or about how most rapes are not actually strangers jumping out of bushes despite what the cultural narrative may tell us. Depending on your relationship with her, there may be a time and a place for that discussion, but in general, allow people to do what they need to do to feel safe. Trust that they know themselves better than you do.

Do you have a story about either side of this coin, or what we can do to address this double-bind?

A Modern Version of 1 Corinthians 12

Friday, February 1, 2013

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A Modern Version of 1 Corinthians 12 | Faith Permeating Life

Last Sunday, the second reading in church was from 1 Corinthians 12. As I heard it, I thought about how it could be applied to some of the struggles going on in the modern-day Christian church.

The original text uses a metaphor of the different parts of the body to illustrate how all people have a role to play in body of Christ. But the disputes that this passage was meant to settle are not the same ones that our churches are currently struggling with. What if we were concerned not about divisions between Jews and Greeks, slaves and freepersons, but between other differences that now divide us?
For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether men or women, whether gay or straight, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body is not one member, but many. If the woman says, "Because I am not a man, I am not a part of the body," she is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the gay man says, "Because I am not straight, I am not a part of the body," he is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the straight man cannot say to the gay man, "I have no need of you"; or again the man to the woman, "I have no need of you."

On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

(Adapted from 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, NASB; the last paragraph has not been altered)

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