Where Logic Meets Love

Blog Comment Carnival: May 2013

Friday, May 31, 2013

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Blog Comment Carnival: May 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!

This has been a rough month for me personally, and I think my posts have reflected that. So I'm particularly grateful to everyone who's provided support and encouragement to me this month.

But first, I want to share the different game recommendations I got in response to my 9 Tips for Hosting a Kick-Ass Game Night.
  • Emily likes Imaginiff and card games like BS.
  • Queen of Carrots suggested a game called "Succotash," which is similar to the game I'd always heard called "Celebrity" but with more than just famous people.
  • Katie mentioned playing "Sculptionary," like Pictionary but with clay.
  • Nikkiana had several suggestions, including Mao and Fluxx.
  • And Becca recommended Zendo, which led to a conversation about how much I love (and Mike hates) the game Mastermind.

I wrote about people's judgmental reactions to Angelina Jolie's double mastectomy in The Opposite of Empathy.

Becca didn't find the news as new or weird as many people did:
Great point. I know I sometimes jump to judgment and forget the empathy.

In this particular situation, though, my reaction would have been the same as yours if I'd gotten the news the way you did (instead of by reading this post!). I first read about someone choosing prophylactic mastectomy because of extreme family history of breast cancer NINETEEN YEARS AGO in Redbook magazine (which presented it very empathetically, as a difficult choice that made sense for this individual)--so it's old news to me! I can't recall if the BRCA gene had been identified yet at that time or if it was just that all of the woman's female relatives on both sides had died of breast cancer so her likely risk was huge. I remember discussing the article with my boyfriend (the reason I recall exactly when I read it is that I read it in the hallway while waiting for him to finish a final exam) and agreeing that it sounded weird but made sense, since the woman was done breastfeeding so didn't need her breasts--but he wasn't one of those breast-obsessed men.

That's a great cartoon! I think the analogy is reasonable, if imperfect.

And Krys, whom I'd mentioned as the person who taught me about BRCA, shared her own thoughts:
Eeeee, I had no idea that I was the reason you learned about BRCA! I don't know why but I feel like that's kinda cool. :)

I absolutely agree with what you're saying here, too. I understand why it seems like a crazy surgery to some people, especially when they've never even heard of a BRCA gene mutation. But "Why does it matter? and Who are you to care?" is exactly the question for people to ask themselves. Angelina Jolie made a choice. I made a choice. Other people with the same mutation choose no surgery at all, and that's okay, too. What matters is doing what's right for yourself, and your body, and your risk factors. And being empathetic to those who may choose differently.

I talked about how I was struggling with Rejection and the Frustration of Lacking Control, and got a lot of great suggestions about how to deal with rejection, uncertainty, and feeling out of control.

Queen of Carrots validated my feelings:
Rejection and uncertainty both hurt. A lot. I don't know if anyone is really good at uncertainty, but it always helps me to just focus on now. Most of the trouble with uncertainty lies in the future. Is now OK? Can I do something now? Then that's all there is.

Hope new opportunities open up for you soon!

Q understood what I was going through and talked about how she deals:
Ugh, sorry to hear about this string of no's, Jessica. Even though intellectually you might know that you've been doing everything right, it's still difficult not to let it affect your confidence. It's usually hard for me to reconcile disparity between emotional and intellectual knowledge, especially in situations where I'm not in control, so I always end up doing a lot of journaling to process. Because the worst part is the waiting for it to pass/settle.

And maybe this isn't necessarily the healthiest way to cope, but while waiting and sitting in uncertainty and trying to trust (and wait for my emotions to catch up), I go ahead and do something that I enjoy and where I also feel in control, whether that's cleaning my apartment or doing my finances or having a really good discussion about an article or book I read.

And Lozzz123 is dealing with the same thing right now:
I'm getting a lot of job rejections at the moment too and it is very discouraging, so I can understand your frustration.

I guess the main thing that keeps me going during the uncertainty is looking back over past times that were unpleasant or different to what I'd hoped and realising how God worked through those times and led me to an outcome ever better than what I'd hoped. Another thing I used to do (but forgot about until now) was I kept a 'thankfulness' journal where I wrote a couple of good things each day that I could thank God for. That helped me to see that just because things weren't going well in one particular area it didn't mean everything sucked! I think now might be a good time for me to start that again...

Finally, I talked about the different answers I see to the question of Should the Boy Scout Policy Change Be Considered Progress? and really appreciated alice's thoughtful response:
I can definitely see your point, and I wholeheartedly agree that 'progress, not perfection' is the most productive way to look at these issues. That said, I've stayed out of the BSA decision publicly, because although I am *deeply* grateful that gay scouts won't face heart-rending choices about staying closeted or leaving the organization, it's personally affecting that I would still be unwelcome if I wanted to get involved in my nephew's troop. I can't get enthusiastic about this decision because of that.

However, I've only got tenuous connections to BSA - for people who are more directly involved, I can see how they might welcome this incremental change wholeheartedly. (As a girl scout from way back, I've always just been a bit bemused at BSA's overall conservatism.) It's a poor parallel, but I was definitely happy when my city began its domestic partner registry. It's a far cry from marriage (around 95% of the benefits of marriage are still unavailable, it's only valid in our city, and as a policy, it's nowhere near satisfying my desire for equal treatment under the law). But it's something, and it's more than we had before.

Thank you for sharing your great thoughts and ideas!

Should the Boy Scout Policy Change Be Considered Progress?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

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Should the Boy Scout Policy Change Be Considered Progress? | Faith Permeating Life

Last week the Boy Scouts of America voted to end their ban on gay Boy Scouts, a ban that has been in place for decades and that was even upheld by the Supreme Court 13 years ago. Boys will no longer be excluded from troops or denied earned Eagle Scout awards because of their orientation (or at least they shouldn't be under new Scouting policy).

The organization did not vote on whether to change its ban on gay scout leaders, so that policy remains in place for now. I think it's important to remember that they didn't vote on this -- although the choice not to vote on it says something in itself, it's still different than if they'd voted on both and had different outcomes for scouts and leaders.

In the progressive circles in which I tend to run (and read), there has been a definitive split in people's reactions to this news.

On the one hand, I'm hearing things similar to what Amy at Unchained Faith said: "Either you're ok with gay people or you’re not; let's not have this wishy-washy crapola passing as 'progress.'...this is not a step of progress."

Then there's people like Kimberly, a gay woman who writes at Coming Out Christian, celebrating this news: "Alleluia and praise be! The Boy Scouts of America have agreed to allow openly gay boys as members!!...I am so grateful for this step you have taken. Though I wish you could have gone one step further to welcome gay leaders, I do understand where you’re coming from."

On Facebook, a friend posted that many conservative groups are pulling support from the Boy Scouts of America as a result of the decision to allow gay scouts, and encouraged her friends to consider donating to BSA to show them that they'd made the right decision. One person commented that BSA wouldn't get a penny from them until everyone was welcome, as scouts and as leaders.

Can you guess where I stand on this?

On both sides of this argument, everyone agrees that gay (and lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) individuals should be allowed to be Boy Scout leaders. So we'll start from there. Just like in the contentious issue of abortion, the question (at least within these progressive circles) is not one of right or wrong, it's about the most effective approach to get BSA to allow gay leaders.

So as I see it, the two basic arguments are as follows:

Argument 1: Even though we wish BSA had gone further with their inclusiveness, we are happy for the step that's been taken. We need to celebrate and show support for BSA so they'll see that they did the right thing in allowing gay scouts, and will therefore be more open in the future to voting on and allowing gay leaders as well.

Argument 2: If we celebrate this change in policy and congratulate BSA on what they've done, they'll think they've managed to placate their critics and that they don't have to do anything further. The split policy of half-acceptance will remain in place, and gay leaders will be out in the cold. We need to show them that we won't be happy until everyone is welcome, and then they'll be more willing to vote on and allow gay leaders.

I find a few problematic assumptions with argument 2. One is that BSA made the change solely or mostly to silence the critics who were insisting BSA change its policy, pulling their financial support, returning their Eagle awards, etc. I think this ignores the fact that there were vocal critics on both sides -- those unhappy with the current policy, and those threatening to pull support if the policy was changed -- and that the vote was 61% to 39%, so there was division within the organization about the right path as well. And it was a vote -- it was not a single head person caving to public pressure or saving public face with the media.

Even if this were the case, that BSA was making decisions primarily based on public opinion, reacting negatively or not at all doesn't make sense for working toward the inclusion of gay leaders. There has already been a strong negative reaction from those who think BSA should not have allowed gay scouts. If people who are unhappy there wasn't a vote to change policy on leaders also withdraw or withhold support of BSA, then the larger picture from the organization's perspective is going to be: Allow gay scouts = Drop in support from all sides. I just can't see how this would somehow create a strong incentive for the organization to also allow gay leaders.

But mostly, I reject the argument that progress isn't progress unless it's perfect progress. Looking back through history, it's clear that positive change for any group has always been made one step at a time. The gaining of some rights is not made meaningless by the rights still lacking, and it hasn't stopped people from fighting for further progress.

This policy change is not perfect, and it's not complete. But it will have a real, positive impact on thousands of children who were once told they were not worthy of being a Boy Scout, and are now told that they are. It is a change that has meaning for those who completed their Eagle Scout projects and were denied the awards they'd earned because of their sexual orientation.

Acknowledging progress does not mean you've stopped fighting. Celebrating the new inclusive policy on scouts does not mean I'm giving up on leaders, hanging up my hat, and saying, "Good enough." It only means that I'm happy to acknowledge a milestone reached on the road of progress.

Rejection and the Frustration of Lacking Control

Friday, May 24, 2013

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Rejection and the Frustration of Lacking Control | Faith Permeating Life

More doors have closed for me in the past few weeks.

I was supposed to do some consulting work for the university where we live, but the provost turned the reins over to another administrator, who initially seemed enthusiastic about getting my help and then proceeded to ignore all communication from me. So I've more or less given up on that now.

I didn't land a freelance job I applied for, editing evaluation reports -- which still kind of confuses me, since how many other people can there be locally with as much experience as I have in editing and evaluation? I interviewed well enough to get sent the editing test, which I passed, and then a week later I got a short e-mail that another candidate had been selected, and no response to my reply asking for feedback.

I've put in a lot of work on my great-grandfather's manuscript and sent it to several friends, who graciously took the time to read it and provide feedback. They all said they liked it a lot. I then sent a question to one of my past freelance clients, who's a published author, asking if she had any suggestions on where or how to pitch it, with the understanding that it was going to be a niche piece that wouldn't have broad commercial appeal. She asked for the first chapter and then said it wasn't good enough to get published and she couldn't help me. Even though it was clear from her message that she didn't really understand what I was asking, it was still a punch in the gut and made me doubt whether it was even worth taking the time to pitch to agents.

The campus office that had been stringing me along since I applied back in January, and which finally interviewed me at the beginning of May, told me this week that I didn't get the job. The director was very kind about it, and said that if their existing team had a different balance of skills I would have been a great fit, she was disappointed she couldn't hire me, and that I was a fantastic fit for the university and she'd be happy to recommend me to any other job I applied for on campus. It was basically the best possible rejection you could hope for -- but it was still a rejection, and it sucked.

I had been waiting to hear about another job being posted at a nearby university, since the office director had specifically sought me out at a conference I attended last month and urged me to apply when the position was posted. After I got the rejection call for the job I'd been hoping for, I saw that this director had finally e-mailed me that the posting was up. I looked it over and found it was longer hours than I'd expected and paid nearly half what it should. (This is not my wishful thinking -- a similar post on the same site but in a different office, for a job that unfortunately was just filled, listed the salary I expected.) I wrote her back and thanked her for the information, but said it was too far below my salary range to consider applying.

So there go those doors. Slam slam slam.

Objectively, I know that I'm incredibly, incredibly fortunate. Mike is on a 10-month contract but gets paid over 12 months and is staying on in the same res hall next year, so technically neither of us is working right now and yet we have free housing and an income coming in, which just blows my mind.

Everyone in my life is supportive -- if anyone is judging me for quitting my job and not having a new one by now, they're not saying it to my face. I talked to a friend on the day I got the latest rejection call, and she assured me that I was doing all the right things and that she even admired me for having high standards about which jobs I applied to. She reminded me that if I had no standards and just wanted any job, I could get one.

So when it comes down to it, the only thing left to be upset over is my lack of control. I can't make relevant, local job postings appear any faster. I can't guarantee when I'll be bringing in a paycheck again. And I hate that uncertainty, having to trust God that things will work themselves out the way they're supposed to.

That's all for this week. Just wanted to give you guys an update on my life. Words of encouragement, especially about how you deal with uncertainty and a lack of control, are more than welcome.

There's Probably Someone Somewhere Who's Said That

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

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Where's the Space Between Anger and Apathy? | Faith Permeating Life

Remember when I said I didn't get angry about enough things anymore?

Well, there are still a few things. Let's talk about one of my pet peeves: the phrase "said no one ever."

I don't know when this became a catchphrase of sorts, but I've seen it often in the past year or so. A quick search on Twitter turns up dozens of examples in a short period of time:
"'Marriage is AWESOME!!!' said no one. Ever."

"'Irish is easy, I love studying it!' said no one. Ever."

"Yay choir concert tonight I'm so excited Said no one ever"

"Thank god it's monday... Said no one ever."

"'Being naked isn't fun' - said no one ever"

"'I don't like Nike stuff' - said no one ever."

"'I have too many shoes,' said no one ever."

"'Pizza? No thanks.' - said no one ever."
The phrase is generally used as a way of expressing your opinion about something: Take your opinion, say the opposite, and say that no one ever said that. So if you love burritos, rather than just saying, "I love burritos," you say, "'I hate burritos!' said no one ever."

There are multiple things that irritate me about the phrase, but what jumps out first is this idea that just having an opinion about something is not enough. "Said no one ever" is a tired attempt at being funny while essentially saying, "This is my opinion AND EVERYONE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD AGREES WITH ME."

So it's not enough for you to personally like pizza, shoes, or Nike, or hate Mondays, studying, or choir concerts. You want to be right about your personal preference -- even though personal preferences don't fall under "right" and "wrong" the way facts do.

This frames an opinion as being a fact. It is an attempt to turn one's subjective view into objective truth by appealing to the crowd and saying that no one disagrees with you.

This goes a step further than arguing with someone who disagrees with you. If I like Pride and Prejudice and you don't, we can have an argument over whether the book has merit as a piece of literature, but we can still walk away understanding that the other person has a different feeling about the book.

But if you say, "I love Pride and Prejudice! - said no ever," you're not disagreeing with me, you're completely erasing my voice and the validity of my personal opinion.

You might think that it's extreme to say that a phrase like "said no one ever" could erase someone's voice, but it's not a far cry from an experience I often had in college. As a non-drinker at a school known for its alcohol consumption, I constantly heard professors make jokes like, "I'm sure none of you has ever had a drop of alcohol," a comment generally met with laughter from the class.

There was an implicit message that non-drinkers did not exist on that campus.

When I took a survey as part of a research study for psych class credit, two of the questions asked how confident we were that we could 1) stop smoking and 2) stop drinking. There was an "N/A" option for the first question, but not the second, and we were told not to write N/A in anywhere. I had to ask the study proctor how to answer the second question, since I couldn't stop doing something I never did.

The message was as clear as if someone had said, "'I don't drink' - said no [University] student ever."

I've also often seen this phrase used as a way of discouraging people from believing that their voice matters, such as "'Wow, that thing you posted on Facebook really changed my mind,' said no one ever" and "'I've learned so much from Twitter,' said no one ever." The truth is that I personally have had my mind changed because of things shared on Facebook and have learned a lot from the people I follow on Twitter.

I particularly dislike these kinds of comments because they seem to communicate the message, "Your words are worthless. You should just save your breath because you're never going to influence anyone." Would it not be better to help people understand how to best share their beliefs so they're received well?

"Said no one ever" comments also irritate me because they show an incredible narrow-mindedness and lack of imagination. They betray a worldview in which your personal experiences and opinions are so widespread that you can't even imagine a situation, past or present, in which someone might have uttered the phrase in question.

Certainly, if pressed, someone who says, "'Pizza? No thanks.' - said no one ever" could probably come up with situations (such as food allergies) in which someone would turn down pizza, but we don't always go through these kinds of thought exercises when making decisions. Someone whose default mode of thinking is "Of course everyone likes pizza" is likely to order pizzas for an event without even stopping to consider whether an alternative food should be provided as well. This is the problem I talked about in the "You Are Not Everyone" post.

In child development, the term "egocentrism" is sometimes used to describe the fact that young children have trouble understanding that other people have different thoughts, knowledge, and opinions from their own. A child asked about another child's favorite toy would likely point to their own favorite toy, not understanding that someone else might have a different preference. "Said no one ever" comments showcase this same kind of self-focused, limited understanding of other people's diversity of thoughts and opinions that we see in children.

There's a final problem I see with these kinds of comments: Failing to acknowledge that other people have different thoughts and experiences means not having the opportunity to learn about and understand another person's point of view. This is similar to what I wrote about empathy last week -- when we seek reassurance that our own views are normal and anyone deviating from them is wrong or strange, we miss the opportunity to better understand and love those who are different from us.

In the case of the person quoted above who thinks no one would ever say being naked isn't fun, making the assumption that everyone enjoys being naked means not bothering to think about what it would be like to be someone who struggled with their body image. By simply taking two seconds to think about what might actually cause someone to say the thing you're about to declare no one has ever said, you create an opportunity for empathy with someone who has had struggles you have not had to face yourself.

Or, on the flip side, in the case of the person who can't imagine someone saying marriage is awesome, think about what a learning opportunity it would be to actually seek out people (like me!) who do think, and will say, that marriage is awesome, rather than simply venting frustration by declaring such people don't exist.

If you are a person who regularly uses the phrase "said no one ever," I hope you'll think of this not as a stinging indictment against which you have to defend yourself, but as a call to reflection and to reconsider whether that phrase is the best way to communicate what you want to say. If you want to state your opinion, can you just state it without announcing that everyone everywhere has the same opinion? Can you come up with a situation in which someone might actually say the thing you're about to declare no one's ever said? If so, how would your comment possibly make them feel?

What do you think about the phrase "said no one ever"? Are there times when it's appropriate to use?

The Opposite of Empathy

Friday, May 17, 2013

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We were hanging out with some friends the other night when one of our friends looked at his smartphone in confusion.

"Angelina Jolie had her breasts removed," he said.

I asked a question, which was drowned out by the chorus of confusion around me.

"It says she had a genetic mutation," our friend continued.

"Did she have BRCA?" I repeated.

He scanned the article. "It doesn't say." Everyone else looked at me.

"I'm guessing that's what it was," I said.

"So... what will she do now?" Mike asked.

"Probably have her breasts reconstructed," I replied.

And everyone shrugged and moved on.

I first learned about BRCA from one of my blog readers, Krys, who blogs at either eat this soup or jump out of this window. You can read her brief explanation about BRCA or go back through her archives to see her thought process leading up to surgery and the difficulties she's faced not being able to get reconstruction immediately following the surgery.

I've been fairly dismayed at some of the reactions I've heard online to Angelina Jolie's decision (and it was a decision, but undoubtedly one made in consultation with a medical professional and after careful consideration, not a snap fear-based decision as some people seem to think). People who have literally just heard of BRCA are ready with snarky comments or happy to say what they would do in the same situation, never mind that there is no way they could possibly know that.

I think this comic sums up well the incredible ignorance of many of the comments made:

And to anyone who wants to jump in and point out all the reasons that having your breasts removed and removing a bomb from your chest are not actually comparable, let me just ask you two questions: Why does it matter? and Who are you to care?

I don't think it's just that we as a society consider celebrities' bodies, particularly women's, as public property over which we have a say. I think that we have a tendency to be afraid when confronted with things that don't fit our schema of the world, and the first reaction to fear is Othering: differentiating ourselves from those who make us uncomfortable, contrasting ourselves with decisions we don't understand by saying we would never do the same thing.

We don't want to think about a situation in which we would ever have to remove a part of our body that was seemingly healthy. And so when someone does this, our instinctual reaction is to find a reason why that decision was wrong, to preserve our belief that we will never have to remove healthy parts of our own body.

It's not that different from the victim blaming that happens as a result of a sexual assault. We don't want to believe it could ever happen to us, so we create reasons why the person it happened to somehow caused it to happen, or at least didn't prevent it, so we can believe it would be different for us.

When someone commits a mass crime, we point to their mental health status or their nationality or their religion as an explanation (even if the explanation is different every time). You did this because you are fundamentally different from me. You are Other.

When I asked last year why people manage money so badly, it came from that same place of fear. I worry about money, and so my brain seeks reassurance that people who go into debt or live paycheck to paycheck are fundamentally different from me.

I believe it is a similar drive that prompts people to post things on Facebook like, "If you had a genetic mutation, would you start cutting off healthy parts of your body?" The framing of the question suggests the desired response: "No. That's strange behavior. No normal person would do that, and since you are normal, you don't have to worry about ever doing that."

This is the opposite of empathy.

Empathy seeks to understand other people. Empathy says, "I don't understand what you're going through, but I am open to learning more." Empathy says, "Even though we are different, we are both human beings; we are both children of God." Empathy understands that what your friend is going through today, you might go through tomorrow.

What I've seen in the wake of this news about Angelina Jolie is the opposite of that. I see people not wanting to learn more, not wanting to know how many other people are living with this gene, how many of them have decided to have surgery, or how much deliberation goes into that decision. I see people wanting to make snap judgments that allow them to remain secure in their belief that this is rare, this is weird, and therefore this is very very different from them and not something they have to worry about.

The difficulty is that this feeling of fear and subsequently of judgment and wanting to distance oneself is an automatic, visceral. However, we have the option of what to do with that feeling.

We can choose to indulge that fear and make snarky or judgmental comments about things we don't understand. Or we can choose empathy.

9 Tips for Hosting a Kick-Ass Game Night

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

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9 Tips for Hosting a Kick-Ass Game Night | Faith Permeating Life

Mike and I started a tradition when we lived in Chicago that we've carried with us to Whoville. Every two to three months, we host a party at our place dedicated to playing games.

We invite basically everyone we know who lives in the area, which can range from family members to friends from college to people we just recently met. We also let people know they can bring friends, significant others, or family members to join the party.

Board games and other party games are a great way for people to get to know each other because they don't require making small talk, but people's personalities come out all the same. A well-planned game night will keep everyone laughing and having fun.

We've had seven or eight of these gatherings in the past two years, so by now we've come up with quite a few rules of thumb to make sure the party runs smoothly and everyone has a good time.

Here are nine tips I'll pass on to you in case you're thinking of hosting your own game night:

1. Potluck it.
For the first party Mike and I ever tried to host after we got married, we invited a bunch of people and then bought and made a whole bunch of food. Only one person showed up. After that experience, every party we've hosted has been a potluck, where we ask on the invitation that each person or couple bring a side dish or drinks, and then we make a few things ourselves. I use Evite, which allows me to create a list of things people can sign up to bring (I usually list non-alcoholic drinks, alcoholic drinks, chips and dip, veggies and dip, other appetizers / side dishes, and dessert). This works well for a number of reasons -- the amount of food is more or less proportional to the number of people who show up, and people tend to bring foods that are easy to eat while playing games and easy to grab between rounds. It also lets people know upfront that there will be food. Mike and I provide serving utensils, plates, silverware, napkins, glasses, ice, and water, as well as whichever food we've made.

2. Prepare your space.
We rearrange our living room furniture before every game night and bring in dining room chairs to fill out a circle of seating. We try to make sure there's enough seating for everyone and that everyone is reasonably close to a flat surface to set plates and drinks on. We have a stack of coasters on each of our four end tables so people don't feel weird about setting their drinks down. We clear everything off the coffee table so that game boards or cards can be set down. We put our dining room table against the far wall for food, and set up a counter for drinks in the kitchen. Mike is good about picking background music that keeps things upbeat without being distracting.

3. Don't plan to start games for at least an hour.
We had a party this past weekend that started at 7pm, and we started our first game at 8:30pm. First of all, most people show up late because they don't want to be the first one there, so by now we expect people to start showing up about half an hour past the start time. (This may be a regional thing.) Secondly, people are introducing themselves to new people, catching up with others, and filling up on food. They want to stand or sit and talk for a while before they're ready to get in game-playing mode. It's like your standard cocktail party, where you're snacking and chatting with people, but then eventually people start getting bored of small talk, and it's the perfect time to shift to a game.

4. Pick games ahead of time.
Mike and I have a large collection of games, but not all of them are suitable for large groups. We'll usually pick out about five games and plan on playing three over the course of the night. We try not to repeat a game at consecutive parties. Games that work well are ones that can be played by a large number of people (or a smaller number of pairs or teams), can be understood by a newbie in under five minutes, and don't require sharing personal information with people you've just met. (I avoid Loaded Questions for this reason.) I also generally avoid games like Scattergories and Boggle where people are silently thinking for the majority of the game, and go instead for ones that involve a lot of interaction. Depending on your setup and how many people you're expecting, you may also want to avoid games that require everyone to crowd around a single table to quickly react to something, the way some card games do.

Some party games we enjoy:

We also like the Picture-Sentence game, alternatively known as Telephone Pictionary, Eat Poop U Cat, Telestrations, or various other names. Each person has a piece of paper and writes a sentence across the top, passing it to the next person who illustrates the sentence in the inch or two underneath and then folds the paper so the next person sees only their drawing, and so on until the page is full. There are no winners or losers; it's just a funny game.

5. Consider your guests' comfort level and abilities.
I put this separate from choosing games because this is something you may need to gauge as the night goes on if you don't know all of your guests well. Some games that you may be comfortable playing with your closest friends -- like Cards Against Humanity or Dirty Minds -- can make other people uncomfortable or even offended. Other games, like Guesstures / charades, that require one person to stand up in front of the entire group, may not be enjoyable for people who are very shy or who don't know many other people there. Also, if your group contains a wide range of ages or education levels, consider whether anyone would have such an advantage or disadvantage in a particular game that it would stop being a fun experience.

6. The first game should accommodate a changing number of players.
There will inevitably be people who show up late, as well as people who can only stay for the first hour or two. It helps if you start with a team game like Pictionary or Scene It? where people can join or leave at will without throwing a wrench in the game. After the first game, late guests are less likely and people who haven't left generally settle in for the next game, so you don't have to worry as much about fluctuating numbers.

7. Know, and explain, the rules of each game.
I am the designated rule-explainer in our family, which means it's my job to make sure I understand the rules of the game. Sometimes this requires refreshing my memory by looking over the rules while people are refilling on snacks and drinks between games, but I try to have the basics down well enough not only to explain it but to anticipate questions or issues that will come up. (For example, I always stress that the person reading in Balderdash should look over people's answers before reading them out loud, so they can clarify any handwriting questions in private without ruining the secret.) Even if everyone has played before, I'll go over the basics to make sure we're all on the same page about how it's played, house rules, etc. If we're deviating from the written rules, it's good to say that upfront.

8. Have an end point in mind for each game.
Some games come with a game board that has a clear Finish at the end. Others rely on scorekeeping and may not explicitly tell you what score to play to. Some, like Taboo, say to play until everyone's had a turn reading, but in our family we like to play to a specific score and go around the circle multiple times. Figure out ahead of time what will constitute the end of the game so it doesn't drag on indefinitely. But be flexible, too -- if it's the end of the night and people are getting restless, tired, or drunk (see next point), it may be time to say, "OK, last round."

9. Plan ahead for the effects of alcohol.
Mike doesn't drink very often, but he'll drink the beer or wine people bring over for our parties, and it takes only a drink or two to get him really, really silly. This isn't necessarily a problem, and can in fact make games even funnier, but it's something to keep in mind when planning the order of games. If you're going to have alcohol there and know you have some heavy drinkers and/or lightweights who will get intoxicated easily, put knowledge or critical thinking games like Smart Ass or Trivial Pursuit earlier in the night when everyone's thinking straight, and creative or flexible games like Balderdash or Apples to Apples later on. If you have friends who get unreasonable or angry when they're drunk, then avoid games like Such a Thing that involve a lot of debate and judgment calls. And please practice safe hosting, just like with any party, and don't allow people to drive home if they've had too much to drink.

Using these guidelines, we've had some really fun game nights and look forward to many more. Hosting game nights works for us!

What are your favorite party games? What else should people keep in mind when hosting a game night?

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

Where's the Space Between Anger and Apathy?

Friday, May 10, 2013

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Where's the Space Between Anger and Apathy? | Faith Permeating Life

Lately it seems as if my well of blog post ideas -- indeed, the motivation to blog itself -- has been slowly drying up. In trying to figure out why that was, I was reflecting back on those moments when I was most inspired or motivated to blog, and I realized what the missing ingredient was.

I'm not that angry.

My most passionate and (I think) eloquent posts have been about things I'm ticked off about. Problems I see within the church, within American culture, or simply within day-to-day interactions with people. I'm prompted to write because I want to see change, or at the very least, I want to help other people consider a different way of thinking about things. Or I want to give people straightforward, logical arguments they can make against problematic rhetoric or twisted reasoning people use to cling to the status quo.

Slowly but surely, though, I've been isolating myself from the things that make me angry, as part of my larger attempts to have a happier and more peaceful life.

I've hidden most people from my Facebook newsfeed except for those whose opinions I value most -- not necessarily those I agree with, but those who challenge me in ways that make sense and rely on logic and statistics. Not the people who piss me off or who post lots of inflammatory rhetoric or false information. (This also prevents me from being that person always sighing and linking people to Snopes, now that I've decided I don't need to be everyone's teacher.)

I've also -- partly to minimize my time spent on online distractions, but also to avoid getting worked up -- stopped clicking on links that show up in my Twitter feed accompanied by messages like, "THIS MAKES ME SO ANGRY" and "THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS WRONG WITH THIS."

I've worked on spending more time with the people whose company I enjoy, and less time with people who stress me out or frustrate me. I left the job that was making me miserable and am trying to be careful that my next job will be in a good environment.

There are a lot of good things to be said about minimizing negativity in one's life. Reducing stress has a positive effect on one's health. When I'm less frustrated, I'm more patient, and that makes me a better friend and spouse. It's also just more enjoyable to be around someone who's not constantly angry or miserable or complaining.

But I don't want to chase positivity to such an extent that I become disengaged. Especially as a Christian, I have to acknowledge that my life is not all about me and making myself feel as safe and happy as possible. Building the kingdom of God means going beyond a superficial acknowledgement that things in the world are imperfect, to actually working to change things for the better, and that generally requires becoming emotionally engaged enough to want to make things better than they are.

I recognize, as I've said before, that we each have limited time, money, and energy, so we can't do everything. It seems counterproductive, then, to get angry about things you're not going to do anything about. The anger doesn't go anywhere, doesn't change anything, just sits there inside you, or perhaps spreads to other people in the form of complaining to people who care less than you do and aren't going to do anything about it either. But neither is it good to protect yourself by being apathetic about everything, and never seeking to change anything.

So the challenge becomes minimizing counterproductive anger while maintaining productive anger. In other words, allowing yourself to become emotionally involved in the areas where you are motivated to do something to make a difference, and avoiding negative emotional involvement in things you have no control over.

And this is the balance that I haven't quite figured out how to strike.

What do you think? How can one cultivate positivity in a healthy way while still working to make the world better?

Seeking Peace: An Update

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

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Seeking Peace: An Update | Faith Permeating Life

I jumped on the One Word bandwagon for 2013, choosing the word "peace" and building another vision board around it. As we're now a third of the way through the year, it seems like a good time to stop and check in on how things are going.

Back when I did my happiness project in 2011, it was easier to see my progress because I had lots of checklists for telling me whether or not I was meeting my goals -- forming the habits I wanted to form. But when it came down to it, the end result -- happiness -- was just as fuzzy as my current desire for peace, and as hard to measure.

Do you know the difference between weather and climate? Weather describes what's happening in the short term: it's sunny outside, there's a 50% chance it will rain tomorrow, etc. Climate describes a long-term pattern: Buffalo is more likely to get snow than Phoenix, the average rainfall has gone down in this area over the past 100 years, etc. (This is why a cold day has nothing to do with global warming, which refers to a steady increase in average temperatures across the world over time.)

It's a lot easier to capture the weather of your life than the climate. At a given moment, you can tell me if you feel happy or sad, anxious or calm, patient or impatient. But knowing how you feel most of the time, or whether the frequency or intensity of a feeling has changed over time, is much harder to pinpoint.

One thing I've learned since the beginning of the year is that there is more than one opposite of peace. When I was working, I knew I did not have peace because I had a terrible gnawing dread of going to my job each day. But when I quit my job and the dread went away, it was replaced with anxiety, a feeling of not knowing which path to take and worry that every path would be a dead end. Anxiety about finances, about people's opinions of me, about repeating the mistakes of my last job.

When I try to see the whole picture of my life, looking back over the feelings of peace and not-peace since the beginning of the year, I do think I'm getting closer. Counseling once a month is giving me tools for managing anxiety day to day. I have had nothing but support from friends and family over the choices I've made. The weather has been beautiful the past few weeks, and Mike can hardly go a day without exclaiming how incredibly fortunate we are to live here and what a good choice we made to move out here.

Probably the most helpful things for pointing me toward peace have been prayer and reading. Both of these, practiced in abundance during this unstructured time, have helped me to maintain -- or at least, continually return to -- a broad (climate, forest) perspective of my life.

I am reminded of how the specific circumstances of my life, at the end of the day, have no bearing on my call to love and to serve in whatever way I can.

I am reminded of how many different ways there are to live a life, and how the paths for my life cannot all be dead ends because the paths are infinite.

The hardest thing for me right now has been feeling like my time is spent jumping through hoops I myself invented. My momentum feels driven by obligations, but they're obligations I created, whether running three times a week to prepare for a 5K, blogging twice a week to maintain a consistent schedule, or dealing with the various headaches from the organizations I signed up to volunteer with. It's a double-edged sword because when I accomplish things I feel like I'm using my time in congruence with my goals, but when they're hanging over my head unfinished I have no one to blame but myself for putting them there.

So I'm learning that achieving the kind of peace that comes from living in accordance with your values, answering to no one but yourself, and spending your time only how you choose to spend it requires dealing with the not-peace of taking sole ownership and responsibility for every one of your unfinished to-do items, with no one else to blame or delegate to.

The way I see it now, peace is a way of life, not a state of being. So as with my happiness project, rather than striving to "arrive" at peace, I'm working to cultivate the habits and the mindset that will create more peace in my life.

I welcome your thoughts. What does peace means to you, and how do you cultivate it in your life?

Deconstructing the Desire for Christian Sex Rules

Friday, May 3, 2013

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Deconstructing the Desire for Christian Sex Rules | Faith Permeating Life

Here's a snapshot of some of the search terms that land people on my How Do Christians Have Sex? post:

having sex as a christian
can a christian talk dirty to their spouse
can christian married couples have sex for fun
how should christians have sex
what kinds of sex are allowed in christianity
are christians allowed to have passionate sex
christian way of doing sex
how christians should make love
how should married christian couples have sex?
is it wrong for christians to like sex
sex activity allowed in christian marriage
sex the christian way

You get the idea.

There are a lot of people out there wanting to know what rules their sex life should follow if they're a Christian.

We talk a lot about rules in Christianity. The Old Testament, in particular, is full of rules -- the book of Leviticus is itself essentially a long list of very specific rules about how God's people were to behave. And today's Christians spend a lot of time debating which of these rules, if any, Christians are supposed to follow today. We debate whether Jesus overrode the old rules by giving us a more important commandment (Matthew 22:37-40, Romans 13:9) or if Jesus reaffirmed the importance of the old rules by saying not a single one would be erased (Matthew 5:18). Sometimes Christians say that other people aren't Christians if they don't follow specific rules.

Of course, there are plenty of people who are ready to tell you exactly which rules you should and should not follow to be a true Christian. It's no different than in areas outside religion -- how many parenting experts are there, ready to share the one right set of things you should do to be the best parent ever? We know that people raised in any number of different ways grow up to be healthy, happy adults. And yet when people are faced with too many possible options, they often look for rules to follow, to spell things out in black-and-white. And thus there will always be someone there to provide that security by doling out rules.

In the case of parenting, the end goal is clear: People want their children to be happy and healthy, and so they want to find out what rules to follow to "guarantee" a happy, healthy child -- or at least to maximize their chances of such. What I want to know is, what exactly are people seeking when they look for faith-based rules about sex?

Here are some possibilities.

Identifying Oneself as Christian
The purity codes in the Old Testament were, among other things, a way of marking the Jewish community as different -- set apart -- from the surrounding cultures. By observing certain restrictions in food and clothing, marking the males' bodies through circumcision, engaging in certain rituals, and abstaining from behaviors common to other cultures' worship rituals, the Jewish people signified that they were God's people.

Some elements of Christianity retain this idea. (Think "They will know we are Christians by our love.") And when it comes to sex, premarital sex (or the lack thereof) is one way that some people assert their Christian identity -- in a culture where most people have sex before marriage, proclaiming, "I'm saving sex for marriage" can be a way people choose to show "I'm different! I'm a Christian!" But other than these kinds of proclamations, sexual activity is generally something private. People wanting to know what kind of sex to have with their spouse as a Christian are unlikely to be thinking, "Which kind of sex will show our neighbors that we are Christians?" since their neighbors will almost certainly have no idea what goes on in their bedroom.

Securing Salvation
Many of the "rules" in Christianity nowadays are focused on defining sin so that it can be avoided, since much of the Bible talks about God telling people to turn away from their sin (which, in the Old Testament, about 90% of the time involves people worshipping other gods). Of course, not everyone can agree on what the rules actually are. And when there is a rule, it's a little bit murky what actually happens if you break that rule. When people turn away from God in the Old Testament, God generally responds by punishing people in this life -- killing them or their families, bringing plagues on the Jewish community, etc. Now we tend to talk about an afterlife and how the actions of this life determine where you end up after death. Or your actions have no effect on your salvation because it's all about what you believe. Or that's true, but how you act is an indication of whether or not you actually do believe.

It depends on who you ask.

So the desire to have and follow a specific set of rules around sex may come from a desire to avoid sin (whether you can sin unintentionally is another debate) and thus secure salvation (if salvation is actually dependent on not sinning). Yet I believe this kind of thinking is problematic because it leads to people talking as if there were such thing as heaven points, where God was adding points for not having oral sex and subtracting points when you enjoyed sex too much. Is having "perfect" sex really necessary for salvation?

Having Better Sex
Here's another argument often made both about the Levitical purity codes and when drawing an analogy of God as a parent. It's the "rules are for your own good" argument. So people might point out that in the days before antibiotics and disinfectants, not touching a person's exposed sores or bodily fluids was a good strategy for limiting the spread of infection. And just like your parents wouldn't let you eat all the candy you wanted because they knew it would make you sick, the analogy goes, God gives us rules because God knows better than we do what is best for us.

Following this logic, someone seeking a set of God-given rules about sex might be thinking that they will have the best (most enjoyable, most fulfilling, however you want to define it) sex if they follow those rules.

I don't claim to be an expert after only a few years of having sex, but it seems to me that basing your sex life on what is supposedly the "right" or "wrong" way to have sex is unlikely to lead to the best possible sex. Good sex requires a lot of things -- open communication with your partner, an awareness of your own body, balancing an openness to novelty with knowledge of your and your partner's comfort levels -- and relying on some external list as some kind of guarantee for good sex seems like a disastrous proposition. This is particularly true if this is accompanied by an anxiety about "getting it right," as I can't think of a situation in which adding anxiety into the mix makes sex better.

Having a Better Marriage
OK, so maybe these rules about sex aren't actually supposed to make the sex better, as that would imply some sort of hedonistic self-centered pleasure-seeking intentions that are supposedly antithetical to living a Christian life. But maybe people are seeking guidance about having sex as a Christian because they believe that having the right kind of sex will have positive effects for their marriage as a whole, or maybe just their life generally.

Again, I'm not going to pretend to speak for anyone but myself, as there are most certainly people out there who believe that they are having the holiest kind of sex (whatever that is) and that that is bearing fruit in other areas of their life. It just seems to me, from my own experience and from all that I've read about other people's experiences, that any time a person or a couple is trying to fit into some one-size-fits-all model, they're going to encounter more difficulty than when they're seeking the right fit for themselves. For my own marriage, I see more benefits when I treat Mike as a unique individual and seek to serve and engage him as such -- and when he does the same for me -- than when trying to apply some model of "how men are" or "how a Christian marriage should be." And so it makes sense that the same should be true when it comes to sex, that seeking to love and serve my spouse by approaching him as an individual with his own unique body and mind is going to bear more fruit for the whole of our relationship than by trying to make a pre-set list of rules work for us.

There may be other reasons that someone would seek a detailed list of what Christians are allowed to do sexually, and I welcome your insights. But as you may have gathered, I think this approach to sex is unlikely to produce the end result a person seeking such rules is looking for. And I think it's a shame that Christian culture has tended to place such an emphasis generally on rule-following, such that people are seeking more rules for something that is so intimate and so unique to each relationship.

I believe that reducing anything, including sex, to a list of do's and don'ts is in direct contradiction to the message repeated over and over and over again throughout the New Testament, the message that acting out of love is far more important than going through the right motions. Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath," and I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say the same thing about sex. Sex is a gift from God given for us; we were not created for the purpose of having perfect, righteous sex.

What might cause someone to seek a set of rules about what they can do sexually? Do you think there is a value in such rules that I'm missing? If so, how do we know which are the right rules to follow?

3BoT Vol. 19: Three Books to Shake Up Your View of Christianity

Thursday, May 2, 2013

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3BoT Vol. 19: Three Books to Shake Up Your View of Christianity | 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.

One frustration of mine (and the topic of a future blog post) is how much time and energy some Christians spend telling other Christians that they're not actually Christians. Christians from all different denominations draw a box around themselves and try to insist that only the people in their box are Christians, and all those other people clearly haven't even read the Bible or they wouldn't believe some thing or other.

That's why, as someone who wants to be open-minded, I try to spend time revisiting what I believe and why, as well as gaining a better understanding of what other people believe. It helps me to be able to say, "Even though your beliefs are not my beliefs, or your worship is not my worship, I understand why you believe what you believe or do what you do, and that we all belong to the same family of faith."

Today's three books challenged me to ask difficult questions about my faith, such as "How much of my understanding of the Bible is based on the assumptions I bring to reading it?" "What relationship does, or should, the Old Testament have to my life today?" and "Is the Mass actually the best form of worship for me, or is it just familiar?"

Here are three books for revisiting what it means to be a Christian:

#1: The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight
The eponymous blue parakeet is a metaphor McKnight uses for all of those Bible passages we tend to ignore because they either make us uncomfortable or don't fit with what we already believe the Bible says. The author's accessible prose walks the reader through revisiting the Bible, if not with our blinders removed, at least with an awareness of what they are -- such as a tendency to view the Bible as a puzzle we have to put together or as a very long to-do list. He points out uncomfortable truths, such as that the Bible doesn't actually have a black-and-white commandment on premarital sex, and then walks the reader through figuring out how to make decisions in the absence of a clear-cut prescriptive. By laying open the process of Biblical interpretation and challenging preconceptions, McKnight makes it clear that it's not unreasonable for two different people to walk away with two different convictions about the right course of action.

#2: A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans
It's no secret that I love Rachel Held Evans, who tackles many of Christianity's thorniest issues on her blog with an astounding amount of grace. I knew I would enjoy her latest book, but didn't know how much it would get me thinking about what relationship the Bible -- specifically, the Old Testament -- should have to my day-to-day life. Held Evans spent a year trying to follow the Bible's instructions for women -- like A.J. Jacobs, but gender-specific. Most vitally, I think, she demonstrates how frustrating and potentially damaging it can be when Bible passages are applied to life abstractly, such as pointing women to Proverbs 31 as a model, while neither considering historical context nor thinking through what the practical implications are. Any book that makes me both laugh and cry has to be good, and one that makes me think about my faith and my life is even better.

#3: Sundays in America by Suzanne Strempek Shea
This book was recommended to me on a past 3BoT post, and I'm glad, as it gave me a lot to ponder. Strempek Shea, who grew up Catholic, spent a year traveling to different non-Catholic Christian churches across the United States. Across denominations, from tiny churches to mega-churches, it's astonishing to ponder that a religion with a single source could end up looking so very different depending on where you are. For me, at least, it's hard to come away from this book thinking that there is only one true denomination, when people are clearly finding and worshiping God in many different ways. Although it solidified for me that the Mass is my home (though I wouldn't mind checking out a Quaker service), I gained a deeper appreciation for the diversity of the Christian community and the way God meets each person where they are.

What other books have caused you to think more deeply about your faith and/or better understand the diversity within Christianity?

Click here for other 3BoT posts, or check out my Goodreads account 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!

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