Where Logic Meets Love

Blog Comment Carnival: April 2013

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

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Blog Comment Carnival: April 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!

I've seen several bloggers writing lately about how they wish they had more of a "blogging niche." For my own part, I'm happy that my posts can run the gamut of topics and still always get thoughtful comments to continue the discussion.

I talked about Giving Up Comments for Lent and liked Katie's thoughts on good and bad comment sections:
Comment sections can be some of the ugliest parts of the Internet. On a site that's more moderated (like, I love The Vine column on Tomato Nation), they can be some of the most awesome, but anonymous commenting tends to bring out the worst in people. Sometimes even non-anonymous commenting, for sites that use Facebook.

The worst for me, though, isn't comment sections where people are clearly ignorant and ill-informed, but the ones where people are convinced they're right and that they're the smartest ones in the (figurative) room. That's one of the biggest reason why I stopped reading Jezebel- the unbearable smugness of the commenters.

I apparently struck a BIG chord when talking about why The Wedding Gift Tradition Has Stopped Making Sense.

Emily nailed why it takes more than an individual to change this tradition:
I've been saying this for FOREVER! Granted - I was very fortunate and nearly all of my furniture I didn't have to pay for. Then when I moved to Cape, they had a "pounding" for me. Where everyone in the congregation gave a pound of something, but it was mainly food items. I know when I've talked about this, older women have said "well that's why you have a housewarming party." Which is a good point. But if you are moving to a new town - you can't really give yourself a housewarming party because you don't know anyone! Sigh. I just want a shower because I graduated college with good grades and got a full time job after. Is that so much to ask?

On the Faith Permeating Life Facebook page, Katy shared how much this suggestion fits her life:
Brilliant. I completely agree. At this point in my life, I have all the essentials i could really ever need (with the except of a cool gadget or two) that I financed out of my own pocket when I moved. Especially with, like you said, so many people getting homes or apartments during college or right after when their wallets are slim, but their needs (pots, pans, towels, sheets etc) are larger. And really, how many couples now a days ask for money or gift cards for their wedding shyly... like they feel they shouldn't... It SHOULD be the norm. I'd rather have a savings after my wedding to go towards things I really could use, or even home repairs down the line. Things that married couples tend to find an issue as they build their lives :)

Melbourne on My Mind had some thoughts on the etiquette of asking for money:
The only two weddings I've ever been to, both couples have specified on the invitation that in lieu of gifts, they'd prefer money - the first couple had a "help us buy our first house" wishing well, while the second couple had a "help us pay for our honeymoon" thing.

In both cases, they were in their late 20s and had been living together for quite some time, so had no need of material possessions. I'm pretty sure there were (in both cases) some older relatives who got all "Asking for money is disgusting. Here, have a punch bowl you'll never ever use" about it. But from my perspective? It makes much more sense to ask for assistance with the big things, like buying a house, which is far more meaningful than getting twenty toasters. Especially when the cost of an average Australian wedding is now over $40,000!! O.o

And JeseC pointed out that not everyone ends up getting married:
All of this, so much. I wonder if it couldn't be applied to more personal gifts as well. There's a set of rings from my grandmother that my mother's been holding onto for my wedding. They're the only thing we have from her. It would be a sweet gift...except I'm seriously considering a commitment to celibacy, and in any case I'm not showing any signs of wanting to get married anything soon at all. I wonder how much of our old etiquette is from the days when the wedding was (especially for a young woman) the start of her life as an independent adult, and when it was just assumed that every young adult was setting out to get married and start a family.

It's worth considering, not just how it plays into older couples, but what it might be like for those of us who never marry.

I shared some Thoughts from a Privileged Person Writing About Privilege, and perfectnumber628 said, in part:
I've seen examples in the land of internet feminism where people get super-over-sensitive about everything and it kind of makes me scared to talk to those people- like, if I'm trying to learn and ask questions, and I use the wrong word, are they going to go all crazy and say I'm totally a terrible person and blah blah blah?

For example, I saw one blogger writing about wanting to de-friend everyone who changed their fb pic to the red equals in support of marriage equality. This blogger was saying that the HRC supports marriage equality but hasn't been supportive of trans people and therefore HRC is terrible and SO MUCH ANGER at everyone who changed their profile pic to the HRC equals sign. And I'm thinking, "Seriously? We're trying to help here. We're showing support for gay people. We didn't know all those details about the HRC's history with trans issues."

Finally, I shared 7 Lessons on Music and the Mass from David Haas based on a workshop I took with him in college, and I loved this story about one of his songs from Rachel:
Wow, Jessica, thank you for posting this. I had no idea you'd met David Haas! "You Are Mine" had a really profound role in my coming back to regular worship and Catholic worship in particular. One day right after I'd left college and was in a period of "church shopping," I had "You Are Mine" in my head, which I hadn't heard since childhood. I thought that was really odd. Then I was reading a devotional which just so happened to feature the passage in Isaiah on which that song is based. Now I really thought it was weird. Then I went to Mass the next day, for the first time for years and years, and their Communion song was, you guessed it, "You Are Mine." I lost it and started crying, and on my way back to my seat from communion a random woman gave me a big hug. And that's the story of how I came back to the Church.

The lessons you share are just more proof of all the thought Haas has put into creating his music and encouraging others to use it well, and thus helping bring about profound moments like the one I experienced. Liturgy can be so amazing.

Thanks as always for taking the time to share your thoughts this month. Please take some time to check out the great blogs of some of these commenters!

7 Lessons on Music and the Mass from David Haas

Friday, April 26, 2013

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7 Lessons on Music and the Mass from David Haas | Faith Permeating Life

This is my 400th post. Hooray!

It seems appropriate to use this occasion to tackle a topic that's been sitting on my idea list forever. Pretty much every Sunday I think of it and think I should write about it, and then some other topic comes up between then and the time I sit down to write a post.

This will be most relevant to Catholics (who make up a lot of my readers), but aspects of it are likely to be of interest to anyone who attends any kind of religious service where there's music.

Way back when I first started college, I had the amazing opportunity to take a two-day workshop with David Haas. That link will give you a detailed Wikipedia biography, but you mainly need to know that he's a composer who has written many of the songs frequently sung during Catholic Masses. (Some well-known ones are "You Are Mine," "Blest Are They," and "We Are Called.")

I was new enough to college and to taking my Catholic faith seriously that I didn't really understand what a big deal it was to have the opportunity to learn from and sing with David Haas, but he was such an engaging speaker that much of what he taught during that workshop has stayed with me for over eight years. And it's those lessons -- the ones I still think of nearly every time I go to Mass -- that I want to share with you.

The workshop was geared mainly toward future music ministers, which means the end result has been less of applying the lessons myself and more of critiquing the decisions made by actual music ministers and others. Maybe this is not helpful. But it's interesting stuff anyway.

(I should point out that everything here is based on my memory of something that happened years ago, so nothing here should be taken as his verbatim thoughts. In some cases I may remember what he taught but not why he thought it was important. There are also undoubtedly many, many parts of the workshop that did not stick in my brain, so if you're considering bringing him in to do a workshop with your group, by no means think that two days of brilliance is summed up here.)

OK, here are the thoughts and lessons that have stayed with me:

1. Stop shushing your children during church.

David pointed out that we want children to sing, yet we spend most of Mass trying to get them to be quiet. So you'll see parents smacking their kids, going, "Shush! Shh! Be quiet!" and then poking them, saying, "C'mon, sing! Why aren't you singing?" The message is one of conformity, not engagement -- that church is not a place to be yourself, but a place to obey orders. And with conflicting messages from an early age about whether or not it's appropriate to make noise in church, the one that tends to eventually win out is silence, and you have music directors tearing their hair out trying to get more of the congregation to sing along.

I don't think he was advocating letting children run wild and screaming through the aisles, but rather treating children like human beings -- that is, listening to what they have to say and responding appropriately (which can mean, "We can talk about that later" or "Please speak more softly") rather than continually ignoring or shushing them in an attempt to maintain the "reverence" of church. In other words, we bring our whole selves to church -- we don't go to put on a show. (See this older, related post about a mother and a teenage son I sat behind in church one time.)

2. The music tempo and style should match the Mass.

One of the key messages that David emphasized throughout the workshop was that music is an integral part of the Mass. It is not just something we do to fill time while people walk up and down the aisles. Music can sometimes reach people in a way that words alone cannot. And thus, careful thought needs to be given to making the music "fit" the tone of the Mass. Sometimes a Mass takes on a more somber tone because of heavy topics in the readings, or a solemn tone for a particular occasion. Believing that "we need some loud, upbeat music to attract the young people!" is going to make the music feel jarring and out of place. On the other hand, some Sundays mark particularly jubilant celebrations, and having slow, contemplative music can detract from that joyful spirit.

3. The only theme is Jesus.

I'm still not entirely sure I understand or agree with this idea, but David pointed out that music directors sometimes get too carried away with "themes" in their song selections. So maybe the Gospel reading is "I am the vine, and you are the branches" and so the music theme is "grapes!" and we sing a bunch of songs that reference grapes and vineyards. Or sheep, or whatever it happens to be. David said that the Mass only ever has one theme, and that is Jesus. The music is intended to point people ultimately to Jesus, not to sheep or grapes.

Personally, I like when at least one song explicitly ties to a reading because it gives me a different way of thinking about that same passage, but I can see how it's possible to get carried away with the theme idea.

4. Don't cut a song short for no reason.

One thing I liked about our previous church was that our priest wanted the choir to do all of the verses of the opening song. The idea was that we were singing the song because we were coming together to celebrate and start off the Mass together, not to fill time while the priest made his way up to the altar and then stop as soon as he got there. David talked about this and said that while he doesn't think it's always necessary to sing every verse of every song, it drives him nuts while it's Trinity Sunday and they'll sing the verses about the Father and the Son and then stop before they get to the Holy Spirit because the priest has finished processing in or out.

5. There should only be one song during communion.

Given that music is not intended solely for filling time, David was adamant that there should not be multiple songs slated for communion time. I see this happen a lot with larger Masses, where there are two songs listed on the worship aide, and we'll go on to the second one or not depending on how many people are still in line for communion when the first song is finished. But music at Mass isn't there just to give us something to do while waiting to receive the Eucharist. The songs are -- or should be -- chosen for their message or their effect, just as the priest crafts a homily to leave the listeners with a particular idea or emotion.

A speaker who sees that they haven't used all their allotted time will use the opportunity to reiterate key points, or they'll wrap up to move onto questions, etc. They aren't going to say, "Since we've got the time, I'll give you the first five minutes of an unrelated speech I'm giving next week." Similarly, if people are still waiting to receive communion, a music director can start the verses over again, or simply continue the instrumental accompaniment for a while longer. But starting a brand-new song devalues the role of music by treating it as nothing more than a way to fill time while more important things are going on.

6. Mass is not the time for performances.

Sometimes after everyone has processed through communion and the communion hymn is finished, the choir will sing another song. David explained that while the Catholic liturgy does allow for a "meditation" following communion, it's intended to be something that the congregation participates in, not something the choir does while everyone else listens. I particularly like when our choir here does a Taizé song following communion, where we all sing a chant-like prayer over and over. But it doesn't make sense to do something that by its very nature is meant to bring people together -- communion -- and then create a separation by having the choir "perform" while everyone else sits there quietly.

7. The prayers of the faithful should not tell God what to do.

This last lesson is actually unrelated to music, but it resonated with me so strongly that I remember it every Sunday when I hear the prayers of the faithful. Each week we pray for particular groups -- the Church, world leaders, those who are sick, those who have died, those in the military, those affected by recent tragic events, and so on. What got David so worked up were the words "that they..." Rather than simply focusing on each of these groups and asking us to pray for them, those who write the prayers of the faithful often add instructions for God: "For those who are sick and suffering, that they might be quickly healed." "For the leaders of nations and all elected officials, that they might always protect religious freedom."

This is, one could argue, the opposite of how Jesus taught us to pray in the Our Father: "Thy will be done." We are not asking God to do what is best for each of these people, but to do what we want God to do to them or what we want God to make them do. Sometimes the requests are broad, like praying that Church leaders continue to seek God's will, but some are targeted, like praying before an election that voters vote "to protect the dignity of the unborn" (as if a single vote could do this). In this way the prayers of the faithful can be more about the writer's agenda than being open to the will of God.

I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from David Haas' many years of experience as a Catholic musician and composer. Even where I'm not sure I agree with his conclusions, I've given much more thought to the role that music plays in the Mass and, by extension, the role that everyone in attendance plays in making the liturgy what it is.

What do you think about these lessons?

Looks like Walking, Feels like Running

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

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Looks like Walking, Feels like Running | Faith Permeating Life

When I posted last week about the rough weekend we'd had, I had no idea that the week would turn out to be a rough one for the whole country. While the city of Boston shut down because of a bombing suspect on the loose, friends and family in the Chicago area were trapped inside as roads everywhere were flooded with many inches of water. There was an explosion in Texas, poisoned letters sent to DC, and natural disasters around the world.

Here, we were still dealing with grieving a beloved community member, not to mention the stress of the end of the semester erupting in every way possible.

This weekend I came across a phrase spotted on the T-shirt of a marathoner -- not one leading the pack, but one bringing up the rear: "Looks like walking, feels like running."

I felt that was an apt way to describe what it's like to make it through a physically or emotionally taxing week. Or month. You're focused on putting one foot in front of the other, and you feel exhausted even though you don't seem to have gone very far when you look back.

And I just want to say: It's OK.

Sometimes you have to go into what Jennifer Fulwiler calls Bare Minimum Mode. Life hands you so much at once that you have to ruthlessly cut back until you're just doing the minimum to get through each day. And that's perfectly understandable. Self-care sometimes means that your normal pace of life is not feasible for the moment. It may be because of illness, grieving a loved one, a new child, or simply having a lot of small but difficult things hit you at the same time.

From the outside, it may not seem like you're doing much. Maybe the only thing you've managed to "accomplish" that day is showering and eating. It doesn't seem like enough, yet it feels like all you can do.

That's why I think we have to be careful about using measuring sticks on other people's lives.

It probably looks to many people like I'm not trying very hard on my job search right now. I've been out of work for two months and have only applied to a few jobs. That could certainly look like walking, if not crawling.

Yet from the inside, I feel like I've been running nonstop. I put together a book manuscript and am waiting on feedback from my readers. I signed up to volunteer for a local organization and have had at least one meeting a week for some opportunity or other. I met with multiple staff members on campus to figure out my most and least likely opportunities for working here. I wrote up a consulting proposal that the associate provost appeared thrilled with and then never contacted me again. I led a presentation on Natural Family Planning for female students on campus. I'm spending my time doing things that are important to me, while still watching out for worthwhile job opportunities.

But all that anyone asks me is "How's your job search going? Any leads? Any interviews?"

I'm not running fast enough for it to show.

I know I'm guilty of looking at other people and thinking if they just tried a little harder, they wouldn't still be in that same job they've been in forever. They wouldn't be scraping by financially. They wouldn't be in that bad relationship. They wouldn't be gaining weight. But the truth is that I probably have no idea how hard they're trying, or what else is weighing on them at that moment.

Looks like walking, feels like running.

Maybe it's true. Maybe you do need a kick in the butt today to try a little harder, to re-focus or re-assess your priorities, or to make different decisions. Maybe you don't feel like you're running, or even walking, but just sitting on your butt on the couch. Bored.

But I can't know that by looking at you. Only you can know that.

I love the message that probably originated from Rev. John Watson but is usually attributed to Plato: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." It's something I need to remind myself often as I'm tempted to whip out my measuring stick and judge how much other people are making of their lives.

So my message today is two-fold:
  • Take care of yourself. Take a break when you need it. Cut out the things you can't handle, even if other people think you should be able to.
  • Give others the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the same.

When have you gone through a time that felt like running to you but looked like walking to everyone else?

Finding the Perfect Background Noise for Working

Friday, April 19, 2013

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Finding the Perfect Background Noise for Working | Faith Permeating Life

It's Friday, this is going up late, and the last couple posts have been pretty heavy. So let's just go with a fun productivity tip to end the week. Something to add to the collection of 10 free things I use every day and 5 more free things.

Lately I've been spending a lot of time in our apartment working on various projects on my computer. It can get very quiet and lonely, particularly if Mike's off at meetings or other activities for most of the day. And that can make it more difficult to work sometimes.

Occasionally, I'll go sit out in our residence hall lobby, where I feel more part of the hustle and bustle of the students' day. But the downside to that is that people stop to talk to me and interrupt what I'm working on. So I mostly work in our apartment.

Sometimes I play music to avoid the silence, but the wrong music can be more distracting than silence. Anything with words makes it difficult to focus on something I'm reading, particularly if it's a song I know. Listening to a classical station doesn't always give me the kind of energy I need.

Just in the past week or so, I finally found a solution -- the perfect background noise for me to work.


It's Coffitivity plus the Relaxation station on Pandora.

I was introduced to Coffitivity by a recent post on Smart Pretty and Awkward. As it explains on the site, there's actually research showing that the most productivity happens in a workspace that isn't silent and isn't too loud or distracting. This is why many people like working at a coffee shop. But rather than having to travel to a coffee shop to get the ambience, you can just turn on Coffitivity and get the background noise of a coffee shop while you work.

Coffitivity is intended to play alongside your own music -- you can hear both simultaneously, and they suggest keeping your music one notch above the coffee shop noise. (You can adjust the volume using the slider at the top of the page.) Already having the energetic hustle and bustle I needed from the coffee shop sounds, I layered a gentle music station over top of it. It's an easy listening station like one that might be playing in a coffee shop anyway.

I've found that this combination makes it much easier for me to focus and work without getting distracted by my own thoughts.

What background noise and environment do you find easiest to work in?

Note: I have no connection to Coffitivity or Pandora. I just think they're awesome.

When Death Reminds Me to Live

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

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When Death Reminds Me to Live | Faith Permeating Life

It's been a rough couple of days here.

Saturday night, Mike had to deal with a crisis situation that lasted until the early hours of the morning. On Sunday morning, while he was still trying to take care of the people involved, we got news that our hall housekeeper had died. We'd known for several months that she'd been diagnosed with a brain tumor, but her prognosis as of just a few days ago was good, that it shouldn't interfere with her life anytime soon. So her death was genuinely unexpected.

She was more than a housekeeper; she was a counselor, confidante, and mother-away-from-home for many of our residents, and she was a funny, sassy person who would play practical jokes on the students. And on top of losing her, one of the residents who was closest to her found out the very same day that a friend from home had died in an accident.

We were still dealing with all of this when we got up Monday morning. Then, of course, by midday the reports starting coming in from Boston, that there had been explosions at the Boston Marathon and people had died, with many more wounded.

No one we know was there (that we're aware of), but coming right on the heels of trying to deal with the senselessness of death itself, particularly when it takes someone so energetic or so young, it was a blow to then try to process the senselessness of someone who actually wants to kill other people they don't even know.

However, having so many deaths close together puts them each, in a strange way, into perspective.

My thoughts about the Boston bombings are similar to my reflections on 9/11 that I shared previously; that is, an incident like this doesn't make me feel less safe or secure because I already have an understanding of both my own mortality and the capriciousness of death. Yes, no one expects that they could possibly die while completing a marathon. We don't anticipate that some other human being could want to cause death and destruction to others. But neither do we expect to get a brain tumor, or fall off a cliff, or get hit by a car. No matter who you are or where you live or what you do, there is always the possibility you will die before you expect to.

I don't know about you, but I find it freeing to remind myself that everybody dies and that no one gets to choose the length of their life. We cannot put up safety fences around our life and somehow live forever because we never took any risks -- everything we do, from eating to traveling to simply inheriting a set of genes, carries the potential for risk.

So to me, this horrible tragedy at the Boston Marathon does not carry the message Running in marathons is now dangerous. It is a reminder that there are no guarantees in life, and thus we have more reason, not less, to get out there and do the things that make our life fulfilling, whether running a marathon or taking care of a dorm full of students.

We have more reason to see each day on Earth as an incredible gift to be spent wisely.

We have more reason to pour our limited time and energy into those things that we deem important.

The fragility of life means that we should not be careless with it, but neither should be so careful that we forget to live.

Many of the messages I've seen in the last 24 hours focus on the fact that in the midst of tragedy there is always evidence of the strength of the human spirit and that we should find hope in how communities come together to support one another. I agree, but not simply because it is nice to have hope and inspiration in the midst of darkness.

Rather, I know that we will continue to be faced with deaths that seem unfair or senseless, whether from disease or accident or malicious intent, and the most we can ever hope to do is live well. And the kind of living we see in the aftermath of disaster -- people taking care of one another, people looking out for those in need, people treating strangers as precious fellow human beings -- is a reminder of the best kind of living we can ever strive for.

It's a rough and beautiful world. Let's remember to take care of each other.

Thoughts from a Privileged Person Writing About Privilege

Friday, April 12, 2013

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Thoughts from a Privileged Person Writing About Privilege | Faith Permeating Life

As someone who writes often about issues of privilege, discrimination, and minority groups, and who is herself a white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied female, I run into a multifaceted dilemma about what I should and should not say and do.

Here are the reflections I find myself having.

If I were to "write what I know" -- that is, write for and about other white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, and otherwise privileged individuals -- I could, perhaps rightly, be accused of ignoring the realities of those who are different and less privileged than myself in a variety of areas. I could be skewered for the fact that I have the luxury of not writing about things like heteronormativity because it does not directly impact my life, and thus I can "stay in my bubble" and ignore the difficulties faced by others who have less privilege in one way or another.

So, instead, I try to be inclusive and write about and for a wide variety of people, and to use my platform (such as it is) to tackle issues of privilege and discrimination. Yet in doing so, I run the risk of putting my foot in my mouth, of being accused of attempting to speak for a group of which I am not a part and therefore cannot truly understand. As much as I might try to be accurate in what I say, I could rightly be told that I will never actually know what it's like to be Asian or transgender or blind from birth, and therefore my attempts to speak about such groups are hopelessly tainted by my privileged viewpoint.

Of course, one solution would be to solicit feedback from one or two people within my network who do belong to the group about whom I am speaking. Then, though, I could be said to be making the mistake that privileged people often make (so I am told) of asking a person to speak for an entire minority group. In other words, when I speak, people recognize my viewpoints as those of an individual and not of "all white people" or "all straight people," but someone who is black or gay might be asked what "black people think" or "gay people think" about something. It would feel too much like this to go to a person and say, "Hey, you are disabled, tell me how this piece comes across to disabled people."

I could instead solicit feedback from a wide variety of people belonging to a particular minority group, but this starts to sound like an in-depth research project, which 1) is too much work to do for every blog post and 2) circles back to an earlier question, asking, "Am I even a legitimate person to carry out such research, or is it better to come from someone within this particular group?"

Even in situations where I'm not writing about privilege, discrimination, and the like, I try to be inclusive in my language but fear that I will never be inclusive enough. Will I offend a trans person if I mention "women" and don't clarify that I mean everyone who identifies as a woman and not those assigned "female" at birth? Will I offend someone who is physically disabled by an offhand remark about walking or hearing? Will I offend a genderqueer person when I say that there are Nice Girls as well as Nice Guys and don't digress to note that not everyone fits into one of two genders?

The more time I've spent in the activist/feminist blogosphere, the more I have these kinds of thoughts. I see comments like "I won't read this activist because he uses transphobic language" or "I recommend this article on privilege, except for the use of bi-gender language" or "This discussion of self-care is ableist because it doesn't apply to such-and-such people."

While I appreciate and understand the importance of inclusive language and do my very best to be mindful of it myself, I fear that there has developed a kind of impossible standard -- the "perfect activist" -- whose language is inclusive of everyone and offends no one. But I don't think such a person can actually exist. After all, as we've just discussed, the people who make up any given group are individuals, and thus there may very well be someone in that group who is offended even when most are not. And as anyone who has tried to be ultra-inclusive knows, you can end up with so many parenthetical clarifications and equivocations that your main message may be in danger of being lost.

I fear that setting up such an impossible standard may actually discourage the very conversations that need to happen about topics like privilege, discrimination, and how people with different backgrounds, abilities, and identities interact with one another. I fear that those who are just starting to become aware of their own privilege, or who may even be fledging activists broaching topics on what platforms they have, are going to be beat back by any and all of the above criticisms.

I'm not trying to argue that we should throw out the attempt to be inclusive altogether. Not at all. But I do want to suggest a few guiding principles for fostering these needed conversations while not avoiding the need for inclusion.

Be tough on problems, but gentle with people.
By all means, use your platform -- whether a blog, a Twitter account, or a newspaper column -- to explain what ableist language sounds like, to break down the problems with assuming a bi-gender society, or to educate people about their invisible privilege. But unleash that fury on the problem itself, not on an individual person who says the wrong thing. As an analogy, people who find out I'm an editor often fear that I'm going to get upset if they speak or write something without perfect grammar or spelling. But while I would gladly teach a class or write an article on the proper use of a semicolon, I would never blast an individual person for misspeaking or not writing properly. To do so would be a misuse of my own literacy privilege, particularly when I don't know whether or not the other person was ever even taught proper grammar in the first place.

Focus on the message more than the messenger.
I am a member of a less-privileged group as a woman, and this can mean that I sometimes view a man writing about gender or male privilege more critically and suspiciously than a woman writing about the same topic. But I don't think that's right. If an argument is legitimate and well-reasoned, it's legitimate and well-reasoned whether it's written by a man, a woman, or a genderqueer person. If it's faulty, it must be faulty on its own merits, not solely because of who wrote it. It would not help to further the conversation to make personal attacks, like, "You clearly don't understand this because you are a cisgender man and have no idea what it's like to be female." If there's something wrong with the piece, I should be able to explain the problem by referring to the words themselves.

Avoid labeling and writing off a person forever.
People learn, change, and grow over time. Slapping a label of "classist" or "homophobic" on a person -- as opposed to on something they wrote or said -- disallows the possibility that their language may become more inclusive over time as they learn more. And if you are tempted to judge someone for having a limited, privileged, or discriminatory viewpoint but can't point to anything they have actually said or done, then perhaps you are making assumptions about how another person sees the world because of the privilege you believe to be inherent in their position.

Don't lose sight of the forest for the trees.
There are times when a message is so exclusive and riddled with a privileged perspective as to be almost meaningless, and times when a message is so overtly offensive that it's not worth digging through for seeds of truth. But there are plenty of times where a person might not recognize how their message is privileged or potentially problematic in one way or another, yet they still have important things to say that are worth listening to. That message is not completely invalidated by the language used, and I think it's important to engage with people where they're at rather than faulting them for not being further along the path of inclusive enlightenment.

To be clear, this is directed less at people who are speaking up on their own behalf and more at activists who want to be the knights in shining armor of every single underprivileged group. I do not think it's the responsibility of any person to educate those who are more privileged (which is why I try very hard to educate myself as much as possible, and why I read so many activist-type blogs in the first place), but I don't have an issue with the person who speaks up to say, "I felt excluded by what you wrote, and this is why." I am more concerned by the overzealous desire of some to be so inclusive that they would point out all the ways in which my writing falls short of the "perfect activist" standard without stopping to address the substance of my message.

I will continue to write about issues of privilege and discrimination, even if I do imperfectly, because I think they are important topics. And I will continue to educate myself by reading perspectives different from my own. I hope that you will help me continue to learn, by engaging with the main message of what I write (whether you agree or not), by giving me grace for the things I say imperfectly, and by speaking out and sharing your own perspective on your platforms.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome!

Related reading: Grace for the privileged too? by Rachel Held Evans

The Wedding Gift Tradition Has Stopped Making Sense

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

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The Wedding Gift Tradition Has Stopped Making Sense | Faith Permeating Life

When we first moved into our new apartment, many of the other hall directors came over to introduce themselves. We did the rounds of each other's apartments, comparing and commenting, and served each other drinks and snacks as we got to know each other.

Inevitably another hall director -- almost all of whom are single -- would comment on something or other in our kitchen.

"I love this spice rack."

"Thanks. It was a wedding present."

"You own a cheese slicer?"

"Yeah. Wedding present."

It soon became embarrassingly clear that just about everything filling the drawers and cabinets of our kitchen and lining our counters was a wedding present.

"Man," they would say, "I want to get married, just so I can get all this stuff."

It's a sentiment I've since heard echoed by my single Twitter friends and others, and I've come to the conclusion that the tradition of giving wedding gifts is completely outdated.

In a time when people often didn't move out of their parents' home until they were married (which tended to be at a relatively young age), I can see how it made sense to equate the occasion of one's wedding with the bestowing of gifts to equip one's home. It was the first time in one's life that necessitated furnishing an entire home, and gifts from friends and family helped offset the cost of starting this "new life" -- not just as a couple but as primary owners or renters of a residence.

But in today's day and age, moving into a home of one's own and getting married often do not coincide. For us, they happened to, since Mike lived with my parents for his first year of grad school while I was still in university housing, and then we both lived with my parents for a short time before finding an apartment a few weeks before our wedding. It seems pretty rare that the timing works out this exactly, and even in our case I had to borrow a bunch of stuff from my mom to be able to cook meals for myself in the few weeks before my new husband -- and all of our wedding gifts -- moved in.

Most people I know got a place of their own either during or after college without having a spouse or significant other living with them. They may have shared with a roommate, but they had to buy a lot of things out of their own pocket -- pots and pans, silverware, towels, lamps, you name it. Then, those who did end up marrying and/or moving in together with another person already had two sets of most things and didn't have a whole lot to fill a wedding registry.

This system, this tradition, that we've had for so long has ceased to make sense in the modern world.

If I could wave a magic wand and change our cultural expectations about the way things are done, this is what I would propose:

We should throw a shower not for brides but for anyone moving into their own place for the first time. It's already customary to bring a "housewarming gift" to someone's new home; why not go a step further and throw an all-out celebration when it's someone's very first new home? Let's replace marriage as some kind of rite of passage into adulthood and instead focus on living independently as the time to bring everyone together to celebrate. This, after all, is the most logical moment at which someone would need a slew of household gifts -- when they are starting their own household. If this does happen to coincide with a marriage, then gifts could be given to the couple together, but that wouldn't be the expectation.

We should give cash gifts (if any) to couples on the occasion of their wedding. I don't want to do away with the tradition of wedding gift-giving altogether. After all, we often give people cards and sometimes gifts in celebration of the anniversary of their birth, so why not give a gift to commemorate this milestone in their relationship? But I think the customary wedding gift should be money, not household items. Couples who need to buy household items could do so, but those who already have one or two sets of household items could put the money toward paying for the wedding or their honeymoon, or building their savings for their life together. This would simplify things by eliminating the issues of duplicate and unwanted gifts, something a couple leaving for a honeymoon doesn't want to have to worry about.

What do you think? If you like this idea, I invite you to share this post -- maybe we can start a revolution!

Ask Google Jessica: The Marriage Edition

Friday, April 5, 2013

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Ask Jessica: The Marriage Edition | Faith Permeating Life

It's time for another edition of Ask Google Jessica, where I take the questions that people actually asked Google (and ended up landing on my blog) and attempt to answer them myself, since whatever post they landed on probably didn't answer their question.

Previously, I responded to questions about Christians and sex and about weight, which consistently keep my posts titled "How Do Christians Have Sex?" and "Stop Telling Me I'm Too Skinny" the top two most popular posts I've ever written. (I wrote them back-to-back, too. I was apparently having a really good week.)

The two most common tags for posts on this blog are "marriage" and "husband," so it should be no surprise that I also get a lot of Google searches about marriage ending up here -- usually in conjunction with the Christian sex post, but not always. I've gathered a handful of these questions, which I will now endeavor to answer. Please share your own responses in comments!

Why shouldn't I have sex before marriage?
Look, I'm not going to be the one to tell you what you should and shouldn't do with your body at any point in your life. I'm much more concerned with whether you're at peace with the sexual activities you're engaging in than whether or not you're legally married while doing them, and this requires developing your own sexual ethic (which may be largely informed by a particular religion's sexual ethic).

If you've already decided that waiting until marriage is the right option for you and you're looking for reasons to defend that, I can share with you my own reasons for making the same decision to help you explain it to others. However, I'm not going to lie and tell you that if you do have sex before marriage, you are guaranteed to destroy your future relationships, have enormous guilt, and suffer negative consequences for the rest of your life as a result. Nor will I tell you that if you wait until marriage, everything is guaranteed to be perfect sunshine and rainbows. No one should make such sweeping statements about other people's experiences.

Is getting engaged at 23 too young?
I got married when my husband and I were 23, and we're still blissfully married three and a half years later. We got engaged at age 22. People mature at different rates and in different areas. There is no magic age at which all people are suddenly ready for marriage. People meet their future spouses at different ages; at 23, you may have known each other a month or, in our case, almost five years. I don't think I got married too young because we were both mature enough to make a lifelong commitment, we'd known each other long enough to know enough about the person we were committing to, and we wanted to experience life together, not "live our life before settling down forever." I can't tell you whether you're ready to be engaged at this point in your life, to this person, but I can tell you that the number of years you've been alive is not a good way of answering that question.

My cousin didn't buy a wedding gift. Should I buy one for her wedding?
Ah, wedding etiquette. So fraught with controversy and confusion. I'm not Emily Post, but I can speak to larger issues of life and relationships that go beyond the do's and don'ts of etiquette books. Let's talk about your wedding first. (I am assuming it was your wedding she didn't buy a gift for.) Did you invite your cousin to her wedding because a) it was an important day for you and you wanted the most important people in your life there to celebrate with you, or b) because you were hoping she would buy you something? Even if the answer is c) to preserve the relationship with my mother/aunt/grandmother who made me invite her, it probably had more to do with wanting to acknowledge and celebrate the relationships in your life than as a sort of money grab. So if you wanted her there, and she attended, then mission accomplished. Certainly it is traditional to buy the couple a gift as a way of congratulating them on this step in their relationship and/or preparing them for their new life together, but there may be a number of reasons your cousin didn't buy you a wedding gift: She couldn't afford it. She felt that the money she spent traveling to attend was a gift. She contributed money to a group gift and that information wasn't shared. Her parents gave a gift and she felt that was on behalf of the whole family. And so on.

So the issue of whether to buy her a gift should essentially be separate from whether she did or did not buy you one. Wedding gifts are not a business exchange. I disagree with the advice that says you should buy a gift that equals the cost of the meal provided during the reception. If you are planning a wedding, you should plan one that you are able to afford and invite the people that you want there to celebrate with you, without an expectation of the amount of money or gifts you will get in return. If you are attending a wedding, you are going to celebrate with the couple, not broker a deal whereby your meal for the evening is purchased with a toaster. If you are able to afford it and want to show an appreciation for your relationship with your cousin and/or congratulate her on her marriage, then do buy her a gift. Or think of it this way: Would you buy her a gift if she were the one who had gotten married first?

"Everyone is getting married, so you should get married too" is an example of which fallacy?
I believe that would be the bandwagon fallacy, which some good-old hyperbole ("everyone") thrown in for good measure.

Although this was probably somebody's rhetoric homework question, it's worth pointing out that this is a terrible thing to say to someone, logical fallacy or not. Somehow our culture decided that there were certain milestones all adults needed to hit -- get a job, get married, have multiple children, buy a house -- and in the same way we get anxious if children aren't talking and walking by certain ages, we rush one another to hurry up and complete these adult milestones already. It's problematic for a number of reasons, chief of which is that plenty of people never do one or more of these things and have perfectly happy and productive lives. It also takes the focus away from an individual's own goals and priorities -- finding out what's important to a person and celebrating them for where they are at that moment -- and instead imposes artificial, external benchmarks of worth that make it seem as if people aren't "measuring up" or progressing quickly enough.

In other words: Marriage is a lifelong commitment two people make when it makes sense to them for them to do so. It is not something everyone does, nor is it something one must do in order to be fully an adult, no matter how many other people marry at a particular age or point in time.

Once you get married, how does your life plan change?
It doesn't necessarily, and it certainly shouldn't change the instant you get married. A wedding marks a particular moment in a relationship with another person, but your life plans may begin shifting from the moment you meet that person or begin dating, even if in small ways, like changing a weekend routine to include time with this person. As you begin to think about wanting this person to be a larger part of your life, and you discuss getting married and/or moving in together, you may have to make choices about career opportunities, distance to family, and desire to travel in order to mesh with this other person's opportunities and desires. But in a loving, supportive partnership, your dreams and life goals should be taken seriously even when they cannot be easily or immediately accomplished. Getting married should not mean having your life plans unilaterally changed by the other person; however, it may mean a change in priorities that places being with your spouse and caring for a shared living space above the opportunity to travel or move on a moment's notice.

What percent of marriages end in divorce because of school reunions?
I don't know what this question means! Does this person somehow think that school reunions are a common cause of divorces? Or, more likely, did attending a school reunion where many people were divorced cause this person to wonder how many marriages end in divorce? In any case, I can tell you that the only thing we know for sure is that we don't know how many couples married today will eventually get divorced. But it's probably not 50%.

Those are my thoughts -- what would you change or add?

3BoT Vol. 18: Three Books for Revamping Your Life

Thursday, April 4, 2013

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3BoT Vol. 18: Three Books for Revamping Your Life | 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.

As I'm sure is probably evident from some of my recent posts, I'm using this time of transition to step back and take a broader view of my life. Am I spending my time, and thus my life, the way I want to be spending it? Am I living authentically and cultivating strong relationships? Am I appropriately assessing what I do and do not have control over in my life?

Today I'll share some books that help answer these questions, and the good news is that you don't have to be in a big life transition to find value in them. They can meet you where you are, and then help you move closer to where you want to be.

Here are three books for re-assessing and revamping your life:

#1: 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam
How much time do you spend working each week? How much time do you spend sleeping? Watching TV? Eating? How much free time do you have? The answers might surprise you. Vanderkam draws on research and statistics to show that how people estimate their time use and how they actually use it are vastly different. She destroys both our misconceptions about our own time and our false beliefs about the "norm" or "ideal" that we think we're striving for, and then provides practical, small changes we can make to start moving toward the way we want to spend our time. I've heard the critique that this book is only for freelancers with flexible schedules, but a whole section is devoted to the importance of finding work you love, with full-time job examples. She's not productivity-obsessed either (another critique); she just wants you to stop wasting time checking your phone so you can do what you want to be doing, even if that's wandering aimlessly through the park.

#2: Daring Greatly by Dr. Brené Brown
If you've heard of Brown, it's probably from her viral TEDxHouston talk on vulnerability. This book is a more in-depth explanation of her research on shame and vulnerability, including a whole host of stories to illustrate her findings. She explains why vulnerability is actually the opposite of weakness, why over-sharing is a shield from true vulnerability, and why shame doesn't motivate like people think it does, as well as the implications this has for leaders, teachers, and parents. Perhaps most valuable are her findings from interviewing people who have what she calls "shame resilience," who neither hide from shame nor become consumed by it. If you don't find something in here that resonates deeply with your life experience, I will be surprised. Brown will expose and destroy the false beliefs you hold about yourself and about what it means to be a worthy person.

#3: The Luck Factor by Dr. Richard Wiseman
Are you a lucky or an unlucky person? After reading this book, it's unlikely you'll believe that either exists. Through a series of studies, Wiseman illustrates how what we think of as luck -- good or bad -- can be almost entirely explained by a person's attitudes and behaviors. If you tend to strike up conversations with the stranger next to you, is it any wonder when one day you "luckily" meet the right person to hire you or date you? If you tend to be lost in thought and narrowly focused on your destination, should it surprise you that you fail to see the $20 lying on the ground -- or the puddle you step right into? Wiseman has not only identified the specific principles that distinguish so-called lucky people from unlucky people, but he has also developed a way to teach these attitudes and behaviors through a series of exercises, some of which you'll find in the book. Perhaps today is the day your luck begins to change...

What other books have helped you step back and evaluate your life as a whole?

Click here for other 3BoT posts! Also, I've recently created a Goodreads account, which you can check out for more in-depth reviews and recommendations.

Please note that this post contains Amazon Affiliate links. If you click on a book cover and make any purchase at Amazon (including but not limited to the books suggested here), your purchase will be supporting Faith Permeating Life. Thanks!

Giving Up Comments for Lent

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

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Choose Your Own Adventure: Real Life Edition | Faith Permeating Life

I try to be purposeful with my Lenten practices. I don't want it to turn into something like "Catholic New Year's Resolutions," where it becomes a not-very-spiritual self-improvement project. And neither do I want to deprive myself of something solely for purpose of feeling deprived, which can lead to irritation and complaining and lead me further away from God rather than closer.

So I usually try to listen for a clue from God about what my Lenten practice or sacrifice should be. Two years ago, this meant giving up nagging Mike for Lent, which was extremely difficult but ultimately very beneficial not only for our relationship but also for helping me cultivate trust, something I struggle with spiritually as well as in my earthly relationships.

This year, I hadn't made any decisions until something popped up in my Twitter feed on the second day of Lent and I knew it was the answer.

I would give up Internet comments for Lent.

I didn't give up responding to comments on my own blog or Facebook page, but other than that I tried not to read or write comments on other people's posts. I eventually installed a comment blocker on my browser so I wouldn't have to exercise willpower to avoid comment sections. (The good thing about that extension is you can still click to reveal the comments, so if it blocked something I needed -- like a forum with the answer to a tech troubleshooting question I had -- I could still get to it.) I ended up using Twitter a bit more than usual so that I could respond directly to a blogger if I really wanted to say something about their post.

Here are the reasons I gave for doing this:

Acknowledge my own insignificance. As summed up in the classic xkcd comic above, I can sometimes get an overblown sense of the role that I play in online communication. Oh no! This person believes something completely false! I must send them the Snopes link and set them right. Oh, I have the perfect suggestion for this person's problem -- I must tell them now and solve everything for them. By forbidding myself from leaving comments everywhere, I had to acknowledge that what had to say was not really that important in the grand scheme of things, and people all over the world go about their lives without having me to correct their misconceptions or offer solutions to their problems.

Force myself to form my own opinions about things. I realized that the Internet has slowly been eroding my own decisiveness and critical reading abilities. After reading a book or seeing a movie, I like to read reviews to see what other people noticed that I missed, whether symbolism or plot holes. When I read an article, I also want to see what everyone else has to say about it. Are most people agreeing, or are they pointing out a bunch of logical fallacies that I missed? But I wanted to get away from that and force myself to read something, form an opinion, and then walk away. If I enjoyed it, then there's no need to wade into the comment section and have it be picked apart. Besides, how much more effort goes into an article vs. a comment? If something genuinely needs to be responded to, better to write a full-fledged, thoughtful, researched response than dash off a quick comment.

Simplify. I spend a lot of time reading blog posts and articles (in my Google Reader -- damn you, Google!), and I am OK with that; I see sitting down at the table with breakfast and my iPad and going through my subscriptions as not much different than those who open up a newspaper and read during breakfast, except that it's tailored to things I find relevant and valuable to my life. But comments are a different matter because long comment sections can turn into a rabbit hole of things I haven't cultivated as relevant and valuable reading material but which end up sucking up a bunch of time. Avoiding comments means tailoring my reading material to the things I want to read, and no more.

Aside from the above, here are some things I learned from this Lenten practice:

There are few comment sections I actually missed. There are a few sites, such as Rachel Held Evans and Captain Awkward, where the comment sections are rigorously moderated and thus the conversations that happen there tend to be vulnerable, meaningful, and informational. In other words, I learn as much from the community of commenters as from the bloggers. But in the vast majority of cases, I was OK with not reading comments. I got the information I needed from the post and then, without the aid of comments, decided what I thought of the post, and then clicked away. In other words, the time I spend reading comments normally is not time intentionally or mindfully spent.

I want other people to say critical things I wouldn't say myself. This was an eye-opening realization for me about how I use comments. For example, if I heard a podcaster continually mispronounce a word, I would go on the show's page to see if any commenters had pointed this out to the speaker. But I wouldn't ever want to be the one to point it out. Without being able to see the comments, though, I had to ask myself, "Is this something that is actually worth taking the time to e-mail the person about, or can I let it go?" And the answer was always "I can let it go." I didn't realize how much I did this kind of "Please tell me somebody has already pointed out this wrong thing" thinking until I had the comments taken away. Sometimes it was more along the lines of "I wonder if this annoyed anyone but me," and instead of getting that satisfaction of seeing that I was not alone in being annoyed, I had to just acknowledge my own feelings to myself and then decide what to do about them (say something, or let it go).

When I cheated, it was never worth it. There were a few times when I somehow talked myself into the necessary of unblocking the comments on a particular site. Whatever I thought I was going to find there, I never did. Even if it was something like, "Wow! This was such a powerful post and I learned so much; I bet I would learn even more by seeing the responses to the post," the comments would end up just being some variation of "This was a great post! Thank you for writing it!" It was a good reminder of my own fallibility and the fact that temptation rarely leads to something as good as you think it will.

This Lenten practice has been valuable for me, and I've decided to leave the comment blocker extension installed, knowing that I can always unblock a page's comments if I feel I need to. Even if I do decide to leave a comment, it's valuable to have that extra second of reflection to say, "Do I really need to say this? Why?"

Did you adopt a Lenten practice and/or sacrifice this year? How did it go?
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