Where Logic Meets Love

Blog Comment Carnival: June 2013

Sunday, June 30, 2013

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Blog Comment Carnival: June 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!

Another month has gone by, and it's officially summer! This month's posts stirred up quite a lot of conversation, maybe more than any previous month. A highlight for the blog this month was that my response to Rachel Held Evans and Libby Anne was tweeted out by both of them, bringing a rush of commenters and a handful of new Twitter followers and readers (hello!). Then last month's The Opposite of Empathy post got highlighted over on Slackavist. I also did a guest post on Registered Runaway that generated several wonderful comments.

I started out the month wondering about an unsolved question of adulthood: Do I Pay You? Navigating Friends, Services, and Money.

Emily has had these questions about dog-sitting:
This is something I struggle with too - especially when people watch my dog Bandit while I'm out of town. So far I haven't had to pay for any dog-sitters yet (thankfully, Bandit is VERY well behaved and most of the time my dog-sitters are sad when I DON'T ask them to watch him randomly) but I still feel like I should do something in return. One family, I pick up their kids regularly from school so that's kind of our unofficial deal. My co-worker watches him a lot, but he's like family. Then I have another friend who watches him, and I don't pay her. What I've done is given her gift cards and such when apporpirate. Such as Christmas, it wasn't necessary but I got her a card for Target. When I went to her baby shower this weekend I spent a bit more than I normally would have, etc.

Queen of Carrots attempted to provide some guidelines:
I think it works best to look at it as favors--a relationship works best if everyone is giving something. If its a big, one-time thing, sometimes a formal bartering of services is appropriate. (e.g. we have promised my brother estate planning for moving and constructing a massive climber for our kids.) If it's small, ongoing things like the half-hour-while-running-errands, then having small ongoing nice stuff you do for them is important, whether it's home-cooked food or hosting people often or tutoring or what have you. I think the gift card for the cantor was the right choice--it says thank you but keeps it in the social realm instead of turning it into a business transaction. Cold hard cash tends to be the dividing line.

That said, I'm always paranoid about imposing too much on free babysitters (even family). I like to have a well-paid regular sitter as well, so that I don't have any angst about calling her up even if it winds up being very soon after the last time.

Cathi provided some specific examples of where the line is:
Thinking more about the payment vs favor divide, I think it's easy when you can point to if a service is offered or asked for, and if the mixing of roles (personal vs business) would feel uncomfortable.

I bartend, which never seems like a legit or respected life choice until other people ask me to bartend for private parties. Any time I've been asked, it's been as a business proposition that comes with payment and behavior expectations. Any time I've offered, it's been either a casual thing ("did you know you have all the fixings for a killer sangria? Do you want me to whip one up?") or explicitly as a gift of time and knowledge (for a casual, low budget wedding of a friend).

My best friend and her husband sometimes host nice parties and have considered hiring a bartender, but have never seriously considered me. It would be too uncomfortable to have me work for them (and their friends I've also been social with) in a service capacity, and too much work for me to feel comfortable gifting my services. That's where using your professional friend as a contact/reference comes in as a balance between friendly helpfulness and valuing the work in question.

I linked up with a monthly Christian synchroblog and got some new voices on a post about Everyday Bravery: Overcoming the Fear of Being Wrong.

Paul Meier thinks fear comes from having your faith grounded in the wrong place:
People get fearful when the ground beneath their feet begins to shake. When that ground is the Bible rather than the one the Bible was written to reveal, then they close their ears to anything that might threaten where they place their faith. It takes courage to believe the Word who speaks to your heart, and gives you compassion. When you stand on solid ground, and for me that's Christ, then you can open your ears to anyone.

And Carol Kuniholm was challenged by the post:
Thanks for mentioning Chu's book. It sounds like a valuable book to consider. And thank you for approaching the topic in an interesting way - I'm challenged to pause and rethink my own listening. I know I want to listen well, but you're right, sometimes it's easier to avoid or derail the conversation, or shut down inside rather than really hear what's being said.

I provided A More Helpful Perspective on Diamond Engagement Rings in response to a Business Insider article, and I liked alice's suggestions:
Hear, hear! I'm kind of gobsmacked at the fact that the article glossed over the human rights side of things - it read like a last-minute addition to respond to an editor's note to me. Better than nothing, but rather jarring nonetheless.

I think that there's a lot of room for those of us no longer in the engagement ring market to make a difference - probably the biggest thing is in talking positively about people we know who *didn't* get diamond engagement rings. Folks who put the money towards their honeymoon, mortgage, or who did something symbolic for themselves are all interesting stories that, when shared with unmarried folks, can help normalize the 20% of the population that doesn't get engaged with a diamond. (If you need a real story, feel free to use me - we lived on opposite coasts when we got engaged, so we got each other rings from a street vendor and used the $$ for plane tickets instead. 10 years on, we've still got our cheapie rings and we love them.)

Also, if people are thinking about getting engaged, or when they announce it, you can ask 'oh - are you guys doing rings?' People who are doing the traditional thing don't have to be defensive about it, but it opens up the conversation.

Finally, I wanted to share just an excerpt from a painful but touching comment from Aibird on my Registered Runaway guest post:
Jessica, thank you for writing this. Thank you so much, and thank you RR for giving her this space on your blog. If you can spare a moment and if it's alright, I'd like to share a little snippet of my own story:

To be honest, I left the Catholic Church because of being told over and over again that because I even thought about kissing those of the same sex or even considered a life long partnership, that I couldn't have communion. People kept urging me to confess this in reconciliation, so I can go back to receiving communion. I was told over and over again, by so many different Christians (Catholics and Protestants alike) that they did love me but they just hated my sins, except their words and actions never seemed to be loving. Being yelled at by family members about how being gay is wrong and that I would go to hell if I married someone of the same sex, doesn’t seem loving to me.


Everyone who sought to condemn me, to try to change my mind, to attempt to turn me straight — none of them listened to my story, and often they wouldn't even let me finish my sentences, interrupting me and not allowing me to ever truly explain where I came from and where I stood with God and myself. They were never interested in me as a human being, and that is their downfall I think. You can't love anyone unless you sit down with them and listen to them. Like Christ did with the woman at the well, when he sat down with her and listened to her story, and then gave her something so beautiful that she left with joy in her heart and steps. If you cannot listen to another person’s story, hear and see them as they are, then how can you show love? How can you say you love them and actually mean it?

You, Jessica, showed that you truly love. You listened and when you spoke, you spoke like Christ at the well with that Samaritan woman. Thank you. Hearing how you work hard to help us, to love us as we are, and stand by us in what ways you are able is so heartening and so wonderful to hear. Thank you for that. You are an inspiration, and you are a reminder that there are people out there, people of faith, that are safe to talk with, safe to be myself with, and will still accept me with open arms. Thank you.

Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and stories with this community. You continue to teach and guide me in a multitude of areas of my life.

7 Quick Takes Friday: Oy, What a Week

Friday, June 28, 2013

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7 Quick Takes: Oy, What a Week | Faith Permeating Life

A lot has happened this week, both frustrating and exciting, both for the country and personally. I'm not sure I can fully do justice to everything government-related that happened this week, but I thought it would be good to at least go over the basics and open up conversation on the topics I've heard most about.

— 1 —

The week opened with the Supreme Court handing down two decisions that make it more difficult for someone to show they were discriminated against in their job. Both decisions have to do with the fear of retaliation that might prevent someone from reporting harassment they were receiving. You can read the explanations of the cases at the link above.

These decisions are problematic, in my eyes, because in harassment and discrimination cases where evidence is not completely clear, they come down in the favor of the company. They make it more difficult for an individual who is being harassed or discriminated against in their workplace to speak up about it (which, believe me, is already a very difficult thing to do), and more difficult for them to do anything about it if they speak up and are retaliated against. While I do think people need to provide some evidence of discrimination (to protect companies from disgruntled employees falsely claiming discrimination), I think the law should ultimately be concerned with protecting the interests of individuals in vulnerable positions over the interests of companies.

— 2 —

On Tuesday, the Court released another unpopular opinion, striking down the preclearance part of the Voting Rights Act, which said that a handful of states with a history of voting discrimination had to get approval from the government before changing their voting laws or procedures. A lot of people saw this as the Court saying, "There is no voting discrimination anymore," but I appreciated this article from SCOTUS Blog explaining the decision in more detail. Again, I suggest reading the whole article, but essentially Congress was supposed to come up with a new formula for figuring out which states needed preclearance, and they didn't, so the Supreme Court said they can't justify defending a formula based on 1966 information. It's been put back to Congress now to look at more recent information on voter discrimination and figure out where problems still exist, so the next step for us is to put pressure on Congress to follow through on this to prevent discriminatory voting practices. With a different formula, it's possible that even more areas of the country will be found to have problems and have to get preclearance before making changes.

It sucks to be in limbo right now, and it sucks to have to rely on Congress to get anything done, and it sucks that some states where the preclearance provision has been lifted are already making plans to put more voting restrictions in place (which rarely catch any actual voter fraud, and are far more likely to prevent legitimate but disenfranchised voters from voting). But at least on this one, as opposed to some Court decisions, there's a way forward for Congress to act to fix it.

— 3 —

Tuesday night I was away from home, so I was getting information via my Twitter feed about what was going on in the Texas legislature. A special legislative session was called to try to pass a measure that would come close to banning abortion in Texas, shutting down most of the state's abortion clinics and banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy (rather than the current 24 weeks). Although most of the Republican-led legislature supported the measure, there was not a majority of support among the people of Texas. To prevent the legislature from taking a vote on (and thus passing) the measure, Sen. Wendy Davis undertook a filibuster, which required her to stand and speak about the bill for over 10 hours without eating, drinking, taking a bathroom break, or going off topic. Near the end of the night she was ruled as having violated the filibuster rules, but this caused such protests and chaos to break out among the crowds in the capitol that the senators were unable to take a vote on the measure by the midnight deadline. They then tried to change the timestamps to make it seem like they were within time, but so many people had been watching that this didn't fly.

The governor has said he intends to call another special session and the measure will likely pass this time. But it seems that what made this moment so compelling for many people, even some who don't consider themselves pro-choice, was how clearly it put gender double standards on display, with Davis being watched like a hawk to ensure that she didn't break even the tiniest rule related to the filibuster, while the male-dominated senate evidently felt no qualms about trying to get around the midnight-deadline rule. It's a double standard familiar to anyone who's tried to be taken seriously in a situation where the power rests with another group: You must be perfect to be considered legitimate.

— 4 —

Wednesday morning I got up, about ready to give up on organized government as a vehicle for protecting anyone's rights. Then I saw that the Supreme Court had struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as being between a man and a woman for all federal purposes. DOMA prevented legally married same-sex couples (in states where same-sex marriage is legal) from receiving any of the federal benefits associated with marriage. For example, you might have seen the video about David and Jason, the couple who were not allowed to live in the US together even though they were legally married because Jason was a citizen of the UK. The Court's decision does not require any state (or, as should be obvious, any church) to perform or recognize same-sex marriages, but it does confer legal federal benefits on couples in states where their marriage is legally recognized. The Court also dismissed the Proposition 8 case, meaning that the lower court decision, allowing same-sex marriage in California, stands.

For more on the implications of the DOMA and Prop 8 cases, I recommend the Gay Christian Network podcast released later the same day. One interesting implication noted in the podcast is that previously there were no practical implications between states with same-sex marriages and those with civil unions, but as federal benefits now only apply to the former, civil unions are unlikely to be considered equal anymore.

— 5 —

OK, last political thing. The Senate actually passed an immigration reform bill yesterday, and there's a possibility (albeit not a large one) that it will get passed by the House. The bill encompasses what both sides want -- a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the country, with increased border security with Mexico aimed at preventing further immigrants from entering the country unlawfully. It's become increasingly clear (at least in my view) that no matter what Congressional Democrats or the Obama administration does, there will be Republicans claiming that not enough is being done and that Obama is being too "soft" on this issue. The Obama administration has put an emphasis on focusing deportation efforts on criminals rather than those actively contributing to the country, while on the other hand there have been the most deportations under this administration than any previous. I learned from this week's This American Life podcast that part of the reason for this is that while memos have come down from the administration asking Border Security offices to focus on deporting criminals, many of those offices have interpreted that as "but as long as you have the manpower, continue deporting anyone you can."

What most interests me about the politics surrounding immigration is that it is so complex that it seems anyone trying to make any point at all can pull out some piece of evidence to support their position. It is a situation where I think the more that we can keep our focus on the individual people who are affected by any governmental decision, the better.

— 6 —

OK, enough about politics. On the home front, the good news this week is that Mike is finally home after a month of traveling. His job gives him two months off in the summer, so he took advantage of it to spend a good chunk of time traveling the country. Although we've been separated for longer periods before, this is the longest he'd been away from home since we got married. It's been more challenging than I expected to get back into our routines, and we've gotten on each other's nerves a bit as we're readjusting to being in the same space all day long again. Even before his trip, he was still working and so was gone for hours at a time, but I really got used to having a quiet working space while he was on vacation. Now we're both in our apartment all day, every day. But the students are still gone, so when he wants to watch a movie I just go out in the lobby to write. We're mostly back to our divisions of labor when it comes to dishes and laundry. (I had to do it all while he was gone, but I also didn't have him generating dishes and laundry!) Of course, readjustments aside, it's great to have him home. It's nice having him to talk to throughout the day, eat my meals with, and share a bed with again.

— 7 —

The job search is both frustrating and promising. I got yet another job rejection in which I made it to the final stage and then the director called me to say that while they'd offered someone else the job, she wanted to call and tell me personally because I'd been such a strong candidate and interviewed so well and made their decision very difficult. Which sounds great, but 1) doesn't culminate in a job and 2) doesn't give me much guidance except to keep doing what I'm doing and hope the next time is somehow different. I had another interview this week with a different office on campus and they seemed to like me a lot (I always see it as a good sign when they quote my own answers back to me later in the interview), but I've thought that before, so I'm trying not to get my hopes up.

Those are my 7 Quick Takes for the week! To join the linkup or see other links, visit Conversion Diary.

The Good and the Bad of Using an E-Reader

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

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The Good and the Bad of Using an E-Reader | Faith Permeating Life

When Mike and I moved out to Whoville, we rewarded ourselves for taking the leap we'd been wanting to make for so long by each buying something we'd wanted. He got a tablet, and I got a Kindle Touch. It was somewhat of an impulse purchase for me, since I had said I didn't think I'd ever want an e-reader.

Then it sat on my nightstand for a very long time.

I did purchase A Year of Biblical Womanhood when the Kindle version went on sale, but as someone who rarely spends money on books, it was starting to look like I'd made a foolish purchase.

Then I joined our local library -- not the campus one, where I'd been getting books, but the local city one. And I discovered that the library was a member of the OverDrive system, meaning I could borrow ebooks for free and have them automatically download to my Kindle without leaving the house.

I went from reading no ebooks to reading a lot of ebooks.

So now that I've got a good six months of ebook reading under my belt, it seems like a good time to share my thoughts on the e-reader, so all of you readers out there who are on the fence can decide if it's right for you.

Things I Like About It:

Instant free books
I definitely did not read this much the last time I was unemployed. There are probably downsides to the fact that I've put off reading things that aren't in my library's digital catalog, but there are still so many books in there. I can put holds on six books at a time, and I try to aim for ones with different hold lengths, so just about the time I'm finishing a book I'll get an e-mail with another one to download. Then either it gets auto-returned on the due date or I can return it earlier if I reach my check-out limit. But seriously, I read a lot before, but nothing like the number of books I'm getting through now that I don't have to physically return or pick up books from anywhere.

The light weight
When I was commuting the past few years, it never seemed like a big deal to carry a book in my work bag (and I always carried a book with me). It didn't seem like lightening the load with an e-reader was necessary or would make that big of a difference. Then two weeks ago I went on vacation for the first time since I really started using my Kindle, and I remembered how two years earlier I had packed four or five books in my suitcase to last me the week. This time I took only a (stuffed to the brim) carry-on and a purse, so having a Kindle was fantastic. And because I had Internet access while on vacation, I could keep borrowing books from my library's site and having them magically pop up on my Kindle by connecting to the wi-fi. I got through four books in my week of vacation and packed nothing more than the slim little e-reader.

I got in the habit of highlighting and writing in my books in high school, when we were encouraged to "annotate" frequently, and got out of the habit in college, where my expensive textbooks could only be resold if they had clean pages. Now that I've started using my Kindle, though, I've turned back into a highlighter. I highlight quotes to share on Goodreads, interesting facts I want to share with Mike later, or clues in a mystery that I want to refer back to later. Because I have a Kindle Touch, it's easy to just drag my finger over the parts I want to save, and then they show up in a nice list in my "Notes & Marks" section for that book.

Word lookup
It's rare, if I come across an unfamiliar word in a paper book, that I'll take the time to stop reading and look up the word. I usually just get a vague idea from the context and move on. But with the Kindle, I can touch and hold a word, and it will give me a dictionary definition. (Most of the time, anyway. Not all words are in there.) Now I actually find myself wanting to press on unfamiliar words on paper! It's helpful both for better understanding what I'm reading and for expanding my vocabulary.

No accidental spoilers
Books on the Kindle start with the first chapter. This means, for fiction, that you don't have to risk seeing chapter titles or other information in the table of contents that could give away information. And I don't have to worry about that dreaded moment when my bookmark accidentally falls out and then have to try to figure out where I was in the book without unintentionally reading ahead. The e-book will always start up right where I left off.

Not being put off by long books
I've noticed that even though I will read thick books, I tend to constantly be aware of the huge number of pages still left to read, and how slowly my bookmark travels through the book. The Kindle provides a progress indicator as a percent of the total book, but because you can adjust the font size to fit your needs, it doesn't give you a number of pages. So long books don't feel that long. I finished one book a while back and was surprised to find out it was a 500+ page book. I've also found that if a book seems to be dragging, I can increase the font size and my reading speed picks up, I think because my brain is used to associating large type with short, quick reads.

The time-left indicator
The most recent Kindle update added a feature I love, which is that in addition to the progress indicator, you can have it calculate your reading speed and estimate how much time is left either in the chapter or the whole book. I don't use the whole-book timer for the same reason I don't like knowing how many pages the book is, but I love the chapter timer. With paper books, I tend to flip ahead a few pages, looking for the end of the chapter, in order to decide whether to finish a chapter before putting the book down. With the Kindle, I always felt kind of lost not knowing if I was nearing the end of a chapter or still had a ways to go. Now I have a fairly reliable indicator of how much longer it will take me to finish a chapter.

Lies flat
After I'd been reading e-books for a while, I got a hardcover book from the library and rediscovered one of the frustrations of this kind of book. I like to read while I'm eating lunch, but with a paper book I usually have to use one hand to hold it open while I eat with the other hand. With my Kindle, though, I prop it up a little bit with my vitamin holder and then can read without needing any hands except to touch for page turns, which I can do with a knuckle if my fingers are food-covered. It's also easier to lie down on my side and read because I don't have part of a book hanging over my head and don't have to constantly move it (or myself) depending on which page I'm reading.

Things I Dislike About It:

Turning pages
A few months ago I had to get fingerprinted for a volunteer organization, and then had to get them redone because my ridges apparently don't stand out enough without being coated in lotion first. So it may just be me, but if my fingers are too dry it takes forever for the Kindle Touch to realize I'm trying to turn a page, which gets very old very quickly. Although I like the Touch for ease of highlighting, I think I probably should have gotten one with the buttons so I could turn pages more easily. If I get really frustrated I'll go put lotion on my hands, which helps for a while but, unsurprisingly, smears lotion on my Kindle.

No easy flipping back
Sometimes I'll be reading and some character or place will be mentioned, and I won't remember who or what that is (especially if it's been a few days since I picked up the book). With a paper book, I'd flip back through past chapters and usually had some visual memory of about where it was in the book and where on the page it was. With the Kindle, I could go backwards, but it would then be hard to get back to where I was (unlike just sticking a finger in a paper book for a moment while you flip back). On the other hand, I recently discovered that the Kindle app on my iPad has a search option, which is much faster than trying to remember where I found something in a paper book. I don't like reading ebooks on my iPad, but the app is useful when I need to search a book to refresh my memory. Some books even have an "X-Ray" option in the app where it will scan the page for people and place names and remind you who/what they are. [Edit: I just realized that there are Search and X-Ray options on the Kindle itself, too! I just hadn't noticed them because they're hidden while reading.]

Accidental jumping around
To turn to the next page, you touch the right side, and to turn back a page, you touch the left side. I know this, and yet ever so often I have a brain fart where I try to swipe down or up to move between pages, or I accidentally brush the screen somehow, and suddenly I've jumped back or forward four chapters and have to try to figure out where I was. I guess it's about the equivalent of accidentally dropping the book you're reading so you have to flip through to find the page you were reading, but it's still quite annoying.

Dust and crumbs
I am overly sensitive about specks of things being on my Kindle screen, which happens a LOT. If you get dust on a paper book you probably won't even notice, and if you get a crumb of something you can brush it off. On the Kindle, though, it seems like there's always something getting on the screen, and I can't just brush it off because then I end up swiping and I get the massive jumping-around I just mentioned. So I have to actually hit the button to put the Kindle to sleep, wipe off the offending particle, and then turn it on again. It can get irritating after a while.

Not recognizing covers
On vacation my best friend and I were talking about our Kindles, and this was something she pointed out. When you read a paper book, you see the cover constantly because the book is sitting out or you're picking it up and putting it down multiple times. On the Kindle, you see the cover when you download it and that's about it. So it's possible you'll see a book cover down the road and not even remember that you've read that book because the cover doesn't look familiar to you. If you remember titles well, this isn't as big of a deal, but if you're more of a visual person you may find yourself picking up books you've already read without realizing it.

Lack of the whole "book experience"
I had to include this because this is one of the primary arguments I hear for why people don't get e-readers, and one of the reasons I initially gave for not wanting an e-reader. I like the feel of a book in my hand! I like the smell of books! I like the social aspect of people seeing what I'm reading! I like cool bookmarks! And yes, all of these things are true. But I still own plenty of paper books, and I can still go walk through bookstores and libraries, and having a Kindle has brought to my attention many of the more annoying aspects of reading paper books that I hadn't taken into consideration. So while I would count this a downside, it's not as big of one as I had anticipated.

Those are my thoughts on e-books and my Kindle Touch! What have been your experiences with e-readers?

Note: As always, I don't do promotional posts. I just sometimes write about things I like that I think are relevant to you all. This is one of those times

A Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community

Monday, June 24, 2013

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"I hope you aren't receiving communion," the comment started.

It was on the monthly column I write for my local LGBTQ community center's blog about issues of faith and the LGBTQ community. I don't remember if I actually stated my support for gay marriage in the post -- I try to write about current events and keep my personal views out of it -- but it didn't matter, because this guy had gone to the trouble of Googling me and had found my personal blog, which lays out my views in no uncertain terms.

The comment went on to say how my support of gay marriage was in direct contradiction to the Catholic church (of which I am a part), and then some ramblings about how the fact that I myself had saved sex for marriage didn't make it OK to support gay marriage -- a convoluted argument I've never attempted to make anywhere.

As a blogger writing about controversial topics, I've attracted haters, trolls, and angry dissenters before, but it was that opening statement that punched me in the gut. It's one thing to tell me my beliefs are wrong, but to tell me you hope I'm not receiving communion?


Read the rest over at Registered Runaway, where I'm contributing to his Love Letter series today!

Thoughts on Exodus Apologizing and Shutting Down

Friday, June 21, 2013

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Thoughts on Exodus Apologizing and Shutting Down | Faith Permeating Life

This week brought some big news to the LGBTQ/Christian world. Exodus International, the organization most often associated with the "ex-gay" movement, announced it was shutting down, a day after its president, Alan Chambers, issued an apology for the lives damaged by the organization's activities and message.

I've seen three main reactions to this news.

First are the people who are celebrating. They've seen the damage that Exodus has done over the past decades, and they see the apology and the shutting down of the organization as a step in the right direction. This is what many people have been waiting for for a long time. Some people with direct experience with Exodus or similar organizations are ready to start on the road to forgiveness now that they've finally been apologized to. Others are just grateful that Exodus can no longer be held up as a model for what gay Christians should pursue.

Second are the people angry at those who are celebrating. They're saying things like, "Sorry can't bring back the dead," referencing people who have killed themselves as a result of the shame or despair they felt after not being able to change their sexual orientation through Exodus. They see others' celebration as a sign that they're too ready to forgive and too ready to forget all the damage that Exodus has done.

Third are the skeptics. They see that Alan Chambers and others from Exodus are planning on starting a new organization, and they don't believe it will be that much different than the old one. Some say that this announcement is because orientation-change organizations may be made illegal, and moving to a new organization will allow them to rebrand their work in a way that's legal. They say anyone celebrating this news is just ignorant and doesn't really understand what's going on.

I want to respond to each of these groups individually.

To the first group:

Yes! I know! This is exciting news to all the people who have been praying for apologies, admissions of fault, and for an end to Exodus' work. There are a lot of reasons to celebrate these developments.

I just want to caution you to keep in mind that not everyone is able to celebrate with you. For some people, mentions of Exodus and Alan Chambers in your Facebook and Twitter feeds bring up nothing but memories of pain, shame, and very, very bad parts of their life. For some people, this news, as positive as it sounds to you, will re-open wounds afresh and cause them to revisit times they wanted to forget. For some people, whatever happens to Exodus now is irrelevant, because what Exodus did to them cannot be erased. It cannot be undone.

You are allowed to be happy at this news. But don't assume everyone else will be happy, too, especially those who have personal experience with Exodus. Respect the difference or complexity of other people's feelings.

To the second group:

I hear you. The past can't be changed, and if this discussion of Exodus brings up nothing but hurt for you, those feelings are completely legitimate. An apology doesn't mean we should suddenly forget everything Exodus has done over the past decades.

I want to suggest that even though the past can't be changed, this can still be considered a step in the right direction. There is nothing anyone can do to erase the hurt that happened in the past because of Exodus. But there will be a future generation now for whom Exodus cannot be held up as a model by their Christian leaders or parents. There are people right now who are struggling with whether to enter an ex-gay program for whom the Exodus announcement may have a huge impact on their journey to self-acceptance.

You don't have to celebrate the news. An apology doesn't mean you're required to forgive anyone. But consider that for some people, this announcement is something they've been waiting for, something that they believe will help them find peace. For some people, this represents a shift in the conversation that has greatly needed to happen, and they believe now perhaps it can.

Exodus was not the only "orientation change" or "reparative therapy" or "ex-gay" organization out there, by any means, and there are certainly some that are far worse than Exodus has been in recent years. But Exodus has long been held up as a model, and its closing will send a message to some people, including pastors, about the need to reconsider ex-gay therapy as the default place to direct Christians who share that they're attracted to the same sex.

To the third group:

I don't blame you for having your doubts about this. I can see how it can seem like maybe nothing's really going to change, like maybe Exodus is just trying to save its image by relaunching as a new organization. And maybe you're right; maybe it will turn out that whatever organization the Exodus leadership launches next will be just as damaging as Exodus was.

But personally, I don't think so. I've seen Alan Chambers change his mind slowly over the past few years, and I choose to believe what he says in his apology and elsewhere. I know you may be upset that he still holds a "Side B" perspective (that same-sex sex is sinful), but I choose to believe him when he says it's not his place to force that view on anyone else's life. I choose to believe that he really does want this new organization to encourage "Christians to get together and have conversations across the great divide" rather than trying to force a single viewpoint on them.

Maybe there will still be problematic beliefs or messages coming from Chambers or this new organization. But I believe progress doesn't have to be perfect to be progress. Even a change from "gay people can become straight" to "gay people should celibate" has the ability to make a huge difference in many people's lives, to prevent suicides of some of our future children who would otherwise feel there was something fundamentally wrong with them when they couldn't become straight.

It's understandable that you have your doubts. I get it. But until we see what the future entails for Chambers and the rest of the Exodus leadership, I'm going to choose to remain hopeful that this move will ultimately be a net positive for the Christian world and the LGBTQ community.

To my readers: What was your reaction to this news? What do you think this means for the future?

The Middle is a Big Place: Jumping into the Sex-and-Self-Control Fray

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

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Putting Money Back In Its Place | Faith Permeating Life

I usually don't get involved in the Christian/feminist blogosphere arguments, but this one is something I've written about extensively before, so I thought it might actually help to add my voice to the discussion this time.

Rachel Held Evans wrote a post explaining that because she rejects a shame-based purity culture, people assume she doesn't think saving sex for marriage is important, but in reality she thinks striving for holiness and self-control in relationships is important.

Libby Anne at Love Joy Feminism then responded that Rachel didn't actually make a case for saving sex for marriage and that her focus on sexual self-control seems to be limited to the time before marriage.

What's interesting is that both women describe -- and reject -- the same two ends of the spectrum: a purity culture in which your entire self-worth is dependent on what you do with your body, and a free-for-all in which you have sex with as many people as possible and it never has any effect on your life.

Yet both woman also seem to consider their own position to be "the middle ground" between these two extremes, and lump each other's position in with one of the other groups: Libby Anne groups Rachel's "self-control" position with the purity culture extremists ("what she's saying here really isn't that different from the purity culture rhetoric"), and Rachel emphasizes sexual holiness and warns those stepping away from purity culture to avoid "swinging to the opposite extreme to endorse an anything-goes sexual ethic."

In fact, there are a multitude of possible positions that fall somewhere in between the extremes.

Where distinctions can start to be made are in answers to these two questions:
  1. Is saving sex for marriage a valid choice?
  2. Is saving sex for marriage the best choice for everyone?
(You may remember from my previous posts that my own answers to these questions are Yes and No respectively.)

Rachel clearly answers Yes to the first question, but I'm not sure her answer to the second question is as clear-cut as Libby Anne implies. What Rachel does say is that "some have wrongly concluded that I don't value saving sex for marriage" and that she gets frustrated (as I do!) that TV shows "take it for granted that characters attracted to one another [will] sleep together after the first date."

In my view, she (or anyone else) could answer Yes to the second question and still not be anywhere near as extreme or damaging as the purity culture she's worked to combat. There's a big gulf between "this is the ideal situation" and "if you don't do this you are damaged for life and all of your relationships will be ruined." Ideally, Mike and I would always be loving and patient with one another, but that doesn't mean either of us thinks our marriage is destroyed if we fail to live up to this ideal.

What's interesting is that I don't think Rachel and Libby Anne are that far apart in their beliefs, even while painting each other as being on the far ends of the spectrum. They both agree that a healthy sexuality involves some measure of self-control, and that your overall approach to sexuality is far more important than any particular act that you do or don't do.

The main difference, it seems, is how they each interpreted the point of Rachel's post. Libby Anne seems to see Rachel's post as "Here is why saving sex for marriage is the right decision," and then points out that it really doesn't do a good job of making that argument. Which is true.

However, I read Rachel's post as having a different message, which was, "Here's why I haven't thrown out the idea of saving sex for marriage yet, even though I reject purity culture messages." Some of the criticism -- of equating self-control with abstinence-before-marriage -- still stands, but I think it's easier to know how to respond when you understand the angle Rachel is coming from.

I'll close with this: What Rachel is describing -- what she calls "holiness," in contrast to virginity or purity -- already has a term in the Catholic Church, which is chastity. Chastity is not the same as virginity; it's a kind of sexual ethic that applies whether you're married or not. You can disagree (and I do) that a healthy sexual ethic necessarily includes waiting for marriage to have sex, but the concept of chastity addresses Libby Anne's concern that these ideas about holiness and self-control deal only with what you do before marriage.

Here is the explanation of chastity from Catholic.net:
Chastity is a virtue that directs all our sexual desires, emotions, and attractions toward the dignity of the person and the real meaning of love.

That means that all of our sexual desires, emotions, and attractions to others are supposed to be at the service of the dignity of the other person and the real meaning of love -- not at the service of what we want! Chastity is a deep respect and admiration for the person AND for the gifts of our sexuality and sex.
That is a sexual ethic I can get behind.

Putting Money Back In Its Place

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

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Putting Money Back In Its Place | Faith Permeating Life

"Money is a good servant, a dangerous master." - Francis Bacon

On this week's This American Life podcast, there was a brief interview with a man named Jason Pittman. He had won multiple awards for teaching and just this past week won another one, and he clearly loved his job very much. The reason This American Life was interviewing him was because he'd decided to quit teaching to find something that paid more.

Now, I don't want to cast any judgment on whether Pittman is making the right choice for his life; clearly, it must be something he's given a lot of thought to, and he knows better than anyone else what he wants out of his life. The way his position was funded, he essentially had to campaign to secure his job every year, so I don't blame him for wanting to get out of that situation.

What I found interesting was why he said he wanted to leave this career he loved so much (to the point that he was crying about leaving) to make more money: "I want to be able to pay a mortgage and have a car payment."

Leaving aside for the moment whether that's possible on his current salary ($58,000), I was struck by how this wish was phrased. Not "I want to be able to afford a safe place to live and a reliable car," but a focus on wanting to be able to afford to have and pay off loans. These would be in addition to his student loans, which the program said he's still paying off at age 38.

Mike and I have talked a lot lately about our possible future plans, as I weigh my options for jobs and we look toward adopting our first child. In all our discussions, we focus on what is going to make each of us happiest in terms of how we spend our time, what's important to us in raising our kids, and where we would want to live that would make the most sense for both of those other factors.

Money plays a part in this equation, of course, but as a facilitator in creating the day-to-day life that we both want. Some of the paths would probably require us to take out loans, while others wouldn't. But getting to a financial position that would make it reasonable to take out loans is not a goal unto itself.

This may not be what Pittman meant exactly, but I felt like he put his finger on something I have struggled to understand about American culture. Just as getting married isn't necessary for being an adult, having a mortgage isn't either. Yet this has somehow become part of the narrow Path of Adulthood in so many people's minds, like a game of Life where you can't move on until you Stop and Buy a House.

There is such a huge emphasis on this that I don't think it's unreasonable to think someone would actually leave a career they love and are extremely good at in order to be able to secure that mortgage.

I worry that as a society we've lost touch with what money is for. As I said last week about the article on engagement rings, gaining more money is not, in and of itself, always the right path -- only to the extent that it aids in the creation of the life that we seek. This is why I like Ramit Sethi's work so much; he challenges people to define what a "rich" life means to them before working on gaining more money.

The fact that he even has to say this -- and that his message seems so unusual in the realm of personal finance -- points to the unspoken and often unquestioned message it is countering: that more money is always better.

As I'm evaluating my different job options right now, I have to constantly remind myself not to fall into this trap of thinking that the highest-paying job is necessarily the best one I should pick. Yes, more money would make some of our long-term goals more feasible more quickly, but recent experiences have taught me that a full-time job takes up a huge chunk of my time and thus has a huge impact on my overall life satisfaction. Picking the job that's the right fit for me, as long as it doesn't actively hinder our other life goals, will always be the best decision.

I'll finish with this excerpt from Laura Vanderkam's excellent book 168 Hours. It raises a question about whether Pittman may decide to go back to teaching down the road if his mortgage and his car payment don't bring him the same satisfaction his 10-year teaching career has.
If you take a job you don't like just to make money, there is a good chance you won't do it very well, and it will suck the life out of the rest of your 168 hours.

That's what Danny Kofke discovered. A few years ago, he was teaching first-graders to read and write in Sebastian, Florida. He loved seeing their eyes light up when they figured out the connections between letters and the concepts they represented. Unfortunately, as a teacher, he was earning only $35,000 a year, so when his first daughter was born, he decided to try something more lucrative that he felt would better support a family. A friend who managed a company that sold high-end floor coverings offered him a job. Some of the salesmen were making six figures.

Now, there is nothing wrong with selling flooring. In the case of high-end, hand-crafted rugs, it's like selling art. Plenty of people become obsessed with the intricacies of Oriental rugs, and would consider expertise in this art form to be a core competency.

Danny Kofke was not one of those people. He started out enthusiastic, but "I slowly realized I wasn't passionate about it. I made a pretty bad salesman," he says. When people came in wanting a four-thousand dollar rug, he'd find himself thinking, "I don't care if you like it." There was no way he was going to hit the top end of his potential income range, and looking forward, he realized that if he hated his job, he was going to be spending a lot of the additional salary he earned above his teaching income trying to make himself happy.

But he figured the opposite was true, too. "If you do have a job you like, if you're happy in life, you don't need those materialistic things to make you happy," he says.

So when a job working with autistic children opened up, he quit and went back to teaching. Now he's supporting his family on about $40,000 a year and has written a book called
How to Survive (and Perhaps Thrive) on a Teacher's Salary. The Kofkes live frugally, but when you love what you do, it's a lot easier to come home and sit on a secondhand sofa than if you're miserable for 8 hours a day.

A More Helpful Perspective on Diamond Engagement Rings

Friday, June 14, 2013

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How I Got Engaged on Holy Thursday | Faith Permeating Life

Many cultural norms, things we take for granted as "the ways things are done," are habits that didn't exist hundreds of years ago. Some of these, like regularly washing our hands, are positive developments. Others are more questionable or even negative developments.

One of these is the topic of a Business Insider article that's been making the social media rounds: Why Diamonds Are a Sham. The article essentially argues that the only reason diamond rings are expected as a symbol of engagement to be married is because the people who wanted to sell diamonds convinced everyone that they should spend their money on them. The article concludes that diamonds have no value and so we should stop buying diamond rings as a symbol of engagement.

Although everything in the article is, as far as I know, true, that doesn't mean that it's a particularly helpful or effective article.

One obvious issue is that, because diamond engagement rings are so prevalent, a large percentage of the people reading this article are going to be wearing diamond engagement rings. The writer, Rohin Dhar, doesn't provide any suggestions outside of not buying a diamond ring, basically communicating "Diamonds are bad, and everyone who buys them has been duped." Someone can't un-buy the ring they're wearing, so this immediately creates a kind of cognitive dissonance wherein the only resolution is defensiveness and trying to discredit the article's conclusions.

I want to separate the idea of "Diamonds have no intrinsic value" from "You are bad if you buy/own a diamond engagement ring." There's no point in shaming people for past purchases, and it doesn't help make changes for the future -- it may even hinder the effort.

Let's proceed on the assumption that the information in the article is true, and talk about what that actually means for us, today (whether or not you currently own a diamond ring or ever want one).

I'm in a unique position to facilitate this discussion, I think. I have a diamond engagement ring; however, the diamond is taken from an old ring, my grandmother's engagement ring. Although I wanted a single-diamond engagement ring, I was aware of the connection between the diamond industry and human rights issues (something that gets just a passing mention in Dhar's article) and didn't want to contribute to that. Also, Mike had little money, and it didn't seem like the cost of a ring should be a hindrance to our timeline for marriage. I can't say for sure what we would have done if my grandma's ring wasn't an option.

To my mind, the human rights issues are a far more pressing concern to changing the cultural expectations around diamond engagement rings than the idea that "You're only doing this because someone else convinced you to." That's true of many other things as well, most notably the oft-discussed commercialization of holidays. Yet I don't think the fact that my purchases are influenced by marketers and advertisers is inherently bad.

As I've said before, I don't think the commercialization of holidays necessarily undermines any spiritual/family/other non-purchase-related aspects of a holiday. It may be true that my family buys plastic Easter eggs because they've been convinced by the manufacturers that this purchase is necessary to the celebration of the holiday, when it's really not. But that fact in itself doesn't mean that purchasing the eggs is bad or that those who do so are bad people. I have many, many fond memories of the giant cousin Easter egg hunt that happened every year at my grandma's house. There is a social and cultural aspect to the Easter eggs that transcends whether or not the eggs themselves have "intrinsic value" or whether the tradition originated because of a marketing ploy.

So too are there social and cultural aspects to diamond engagement rings that cannot be easily ignored.

Here are just a few reasons that making a switch to not buying diamond engagement rings is not as simple as "Oh, I'm only doing this because some company wants me to? Never mind then."
  • It is a social ritual among women that when someone gets engaged, every other person you talk to will ask to see your ring. There is an expectation to show interest in someone else's ring when they've just gotten engaged, and an expectation to let people examine your ring closely when you're the newly engaged one. Again, I'm not saying this ritual should exist, simply that it does and that this is one consideration people have when thinking about whether to have an engagement ring and what it should look like.
  • There are all sorts of cultural expectations and etiquette surrounding all aspects of marriage. Depending on your social circle, you may face varying amounts of judgment for flouting any one of these expectations. Mike and I ignored a few traditions at our wedding, and while no one even noticed or cared the day of, some of those who found out ahead of time were horrified and tried to talk us out of it. So someone who chooses not to have an engagement ring or to have a non-diamond ring has to be comfortable facing some level of judgment, ranging from occasional passive-aggressive comments to a steady stream of outright criticism.
  • An engagement ring is a symbol of a commitment, and a diamond engagement ring communicates this to others most clearly, given our cultural norms. During the year and a half we were engaged before getting married, Mike often remarked that he wished he also had a ring. He had no way of communicating to the larger world that he had selected a life partner.

I also don't think it's fair to say that simply because the money spent on a ring could be invested elsewhere and gain interest, etc., that that automatically makes it not a worthwhile purchase. What is gaining more money for, except to allow us to purchase the things that create the life we want? What Dhar says of rings is true of any number of non-essential purchases we make throughout our life, but this one is something that has strong emotional value and which you'll likely have and use (wear) for the rest of your life.

I would like to see a movement away from an expectation of diamond rings, for reasons mentioned earlier, but I don't think the answer is as simply as telling people, "Diamonds are bad, so stop buying them."

Here are some specific changes that could help make other types of rings, or no rings, more acceptable, and these are things that anyone (married or unmarried, diamond-ring owning or not) can do.

Before an engagement:
  • Allowing couples to decide for themselves if they want a ring and what kind, without providing unsolicited advice about how much it should cost or what it should look like.
  • If someone asks for your advice on buying a ring, encouraging them to talk with the person receiving the ring about what kind of ring they'd like, rather than pressuring them to choose a traditional diamond ring.

After an engagement:
  • Not assuming that everyone who is engaged has a ring.
  • Not asking to see people's engagement rings. (Not everyone will agree with this, as some people like showing off their rings, but you can gauge if someone is very excited to show it off. Personally I got tired of people grabbing my hand and examining my ring closely.)
  • If someone does show off their ring, admiring it regardless of whether it is a "traditional" type of ring.
  • Avoiding questions like, "Why didn't you get a ring?" and "Why isn't it a diamond?" that reinforce the diamond ring norm.

I don't think that the cultural habit of buying diamond rings to signify engagement is going to change overnight, no matter how much evidence there against it. But I think that changing the expectations and pressures on couples will allow alternatives to more easily flourish.

What are your thoughts on diamond engagement rings?

Surviving Your 5-Year College Reunion in 23 Easy Steps

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

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Surviving Your 5-Year College Reunion in 23 Easy Steps | Faith Permeating Life

Step 1: Get a single giant stress pimple on your face three days beforehand. Think how that hasn't happened since college. Think at least people will recognize you now.

Step 2: Fly from the West Coast to the East Coast to the Midwest, because apparently that's the most efficient route.

Step 3: Reunite with your husband, who's been traveling for the past two weeks.

Step 4: Arrive on campus and immediately see someone from your freshman year dorm floor. Suddenly get excited about the whole reunion thing.

Step 5: Check into your on-campus housing. Discover that the (two twin) beds appear to each be covered with one rough sheet and a tablecloth.

Step 6: Head over to the party tent for your class, where the music is approximately 1,000 times louder than it needs to be, so every conversation will consist of yelling directly into people's ears.

Step 7: Have the same conversation twenty times in a row, quickly perfecting your responses to, "So where are you living now?" and "What do you do?"

Step 8: Find that no one seems to care that you are unemployed, and that every single person has heard good things about the place you live. Invite approximately a dozen people to come visit you.

Step 9: Have the thought "Living well is the best revenge" on discovering that life has not been kind to certain people who were not kind to you. Then feel bad for thinking that.

Step 10: Never quite master the art of gracefully exiting a conversation after the two topics of conversation (where you live now and what you do) have been exhausted. Have a lot of awkward smiles/staring and saying it was so nice to see them and that you need to go find your husband.

Step 11: Say hello and hug people you were never really friends with because what the hell.

Step 12: Go in a desperate search for water because you're sure you're about to lose your voice from all the yelling. Find more people you know over by the bar.

Step 13: Head back to the dorm after midnight. Decide between sleeping in separate twin beds, sleeping on the uneven crack between the two pushed-together beds, or sleeping in the same twin bed. Opt for the latter because it's freezing in the room and you need all the body warmth you can get.

Step 14: Wake up at 2 in the morning to a drunk alum yelling and throwing things in the hallway. Be glad you don't live in a dorm anymore. Then remember that you do live in a dorm, and thank God that your students are way better behaved than this.

Step 15: Spend the day seeing the changes around campus. Realize how old you are when you think, "These kids don't know how good they have it! Back in my day..."

Step 16: Take a 4-hour nap.

Step 17: Go to another giant tent party, this one for all classes. Do the math and realize that because reunions are for every five years, you won't know a single person except those from your class, so the only benefit to throwing everyone together is that there's more oldies music.

Step 18: Figure out that wearing a skirt was a good decision after seeing every single other woman in a sundress or skirt.

Step 19: See a dozen more people you know who weren't there the night before. Yell your standard questions over the music and have some more awkward conversational exits.

Step 20: Hug a bunch of people goodbye.

Step 21: Stay up past midnight reminiscing with two friends who are staying across the hall from you.

Step 22: Spend another cold night in the tiny, tablecloth-covered twin bed.

Step 23: Bid farewell to campus for another five years.

Have you attended a high school or college reunion? How was it?

Everyday Bravery: Overcoming the Fear of Being Wrong

Friday, June 7, 2013

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(TW for spiritual abuse related to sexual orientation)

Today I'm linking up with this synchroblog on Ordinary Courage.

For a while I was stumped about what to write about that wasn't cliche. As the prompt says, what Brené Brown calls ordinary courage -- being vulnerable, taking a risk, speaking up -- manifests in a myriad of ways every day. And I think you know that already. That's like every commencement speech ever, right?

But then I read some things that got me thinking about the opposite of ordinary courage. Sometimes because this kind of courage is so ordinary, it goes unnoticed. But you can recognize it in its absence.

First was in the book Does Jesus Really Love Me? in which Jeff Chu travels across the United States to interview people and capture the spectrum of ways Christianity and homosexuality can interact.

Throughout the book he shares parts of an e-mail exchange he had with a young man who is gay, Christian, and closeted at the start of the book. One of the most difficult parts to read was when this guy, Gideon, goes to talk with a Christian counselor, and the counselor keeps twisting his words and asking him the usual cringeworthy questions about his relationship with his parents. Then the counselor pulls out his Bible and starts rapid-fire going through the "clobber passages," as if he assumes Gideon hasn't read them and if there could be no other possible interpretation to them than his own.
We moved on to the verses in Leviticus that state "lying with a man as with a woman is an abomination" (Leviticus 18:22-24 and Leviticus 20:13). He began to talk about how holy and perfect the union between one man and one woman was. I agreed, but said, "This is not a verse about homosexual love, or being gay. This command is there with all kinds of connotations of adultery, promiscuity, and idol worship from the surrounding nations."

"Let's move on to 1 Corithians 6:9-10," he said, the passage which lists the types of of people who will not inherit the kingdom of God, the "unrighteous, sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, or men who practice homosexuality."

Once again I asked to bring the context and cultural influences into play, but he interjected, "In every instance of scripture, homosexuality is spoken of in a very disapproving way. There is no 'good' homosexual mentioned. If we let ourselves think that way, does that mean there are good thieves? Good liars?"

Then this past week I read Registered Runaway's posts about how his mother wanted to meet with the pastor who had opened their church service by attacking same-sex marriage. The pastor refused and told them to read a book on homosexuality.

He did not want to sit face-to-face with them and listen to what they had to say.

In these instances, where people respond to disagreement with an attempt to silence others' voices, I see a lack of courage. I see people acting out of fear, doing the equivalent of putting their hands over their ears and talking louder so they don't have to even acknowledge that they could possibly be wrong. They are afraid of what they might hear, afraid of finding a crack in what they call truth, so they take the coward's way -- they refuse to even listen.

Listening with the honest possibility that you might be wrong takes ordinary courage.

Courage because it's difficult.

Ordinary because it should happen every day.

You don't need to change your mind to demonstrate this kind of courage. You can walk away from a conversation without the exact same views you walked into it with. The part that shows courage is really, truly making space for another person's words, and making space in your mind for the serious consideration of their perspective.

I struggle with this, and that was actually one of the best things I got from reading Does Jesus Really Love Me? -- not the part about the "Lalala I can't hear you" pastor, but the part where I actually heard the stories, in the own words, of people who were content in their decisions to be in a mixed-orientation marriage or live a celibate life. I might not have said it before, but I didn't believe in my heart of hearts that those were the right decisions for anyone to make.

Now, having taken the time to read and consider these stories, I can at least say, "I truly believe that you have chosen what you think is best for your life."

So I'm grateful to everyone who takes the time to listen with an open mind. It may be a small, everyday thing, but it takes a certain amount of courage. And for that I say thank you.

When has someone shown ordinary courage to you by taking the time to really listen?

Check out the other contributors to the synchroblog:

This Is Courage by Jen Bradbury

Being Vulnerable by Phil Lancaster

Moving Forward Takes Courage by Paul W. Meier

How to Become a Flasher by Glenn Hager

Ordinary Courage by Elaine Hansen

Courage, Hope, Generosity by Carol Kuniholm

The Courage to Fail by Wendy McCaig

The Greatest Act of Courage by Jeremy Myers

Sharing One's Heart by K. W. Leslie

All I See Is Rocks by Tim Nichols

I Wonder What Would Happen by Liz Dyer

What is Ordinary Courage? by Jennifer Stahl

Loving Courageously by Doreen A. Mannion

Heart Cry: The Courage to Confess by Elizabeth Chapin

The Act to the Miraculous by VisionHub

the spiritual practice of showing up & telling the truth by Kathy Escobar

It's What We Teach by Margaret Boelman

3BoT Vol. 20: Three Books to Harness Your Unconscious Mind

Thursday, June 6, 2013

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3BoT Vol. 20: Three Books to Harness Your Unconscious Mind | Faith Permeating Life

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

I love books that take fascinating research studies in the social sciences and share them as easy-to-understand stories. There is so much great research being done on how humans think and interact with one another that it only makes sense to try to look for lessons we can apply to our daily lives.

What this month's recommendations have in common is similar to a previous 3BoT about creating change, except this time they all deal with the unconscious mind. All three authors make the argument that if you want to change something in your life, you have to start by becoming aware of things you normally don't think about. Then, when you better understand what's influencing you without your awareness, you can make adjustments so that the behavior you want comes more naturally.

Here are three books for understanding -- and taking advantage of -- your unconscious mind:

#1: Mindless Eating by Dr. Brian Wansink
The number of factors that influence what you eat and how much of it you eat is much higher than you might imagine. Wansink first introduces the concept of the "mindless margin": on either side of the point where you would exactly maintain your weight, there are a number of calories you can cut out or add without feeling starved or stuffed. This is why you can gain weight over time without feeling like you're overeating, and also how you can lose weight without feeling deprived. He then shares studies that have been done on every imaginable factor influencing what and how much we eat, from plate size to the number of food options to what you're doing and who you're with while eating. The idea? By changing your environment, you can start to eat less and/or healthier without having to consciously think about it.

#2: The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam
Vedantam systematically dismantles the idea that we only do things because we want to do them. He illustrates through a large number of research studies and anecdotes how external forces we're not even aware of influence our behavior in a number of different ways. This book is perhaps most valuable in its invitation to empathy -- a better understanding of others who seem radically different from us but just have a different set of experiences and influences operating on them. But it is also a useful weapon against the problematic rationalizations we are all prone to. When we assume human beings always act rationally, then we may attribute our actions to conscious decisions we never actually made, and we may overlook the influences actually driving our behavior. This book gave me a sense of relief (thinking, "Why in the world did I do that?" is normal and doesn't mean I'm careless or stupid) but also challenged me to look for deeper assumptions and biases underlying my behavior and work to change them where necessary.

#3: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Why do habits form, and how can we consciously form new ones? These are the questions tackled by Duhigg in this book. Through various stories and studies, he outlines a framework for thinking about the creation of habits at an individual, organizational, and societal level. While the stories of individuals building new habits are interesting and even inspiring, perhaps the most valuable part of this book comes at the end, when Duhigg explains how to use the information in the book to create new habits in your own life, and uses a case study from his own life to show what that would look like. I do think that at times he shoehorns certain examples into his framework, and I still recommend other books more for creating change on an individual or larger level. But this book will get you thinking more consciously about your existing habits, from why you use toothpaste to brush your teeth to whether you're able to stick to an exercise routine.

What other books have helped you understand the unconscious influences on your life and how to have them work in your favor?

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!

Do I Pay You? Navigating Friends, Services, and Money

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

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Do I Pay You? Navigating Friends, Services, and Money | Faith Permeating Life

At 27 years old, I feel like I've got an OK handle on the whole being-an-adult thing. I get oil changes, pay bills, manage my insurance coverage, and spend too much time on the phone with customer service.

There's one thing that still confuses the heck out of me, though, now that I am a working professional and have working professional friends. How does one determine when to pay people (or charge people) for services? In other words, where's the line between a favor and a paid service?

I understand that closeness of relationship is one indicator. When you get a taxi to take you to the airport, you pay this taxi driver you've never met before for driving you there, or they're going to be very upset. If your best friend gives you a ride to the airport, though, they'd likely be horribly insulted if you asked how much money you owed them for the ride.

And the type of service is another. Someone who's sick is going to pay to see their doctor, even if they're friends with their doctor, because that's a highly specialized and regulated type of service, and a doctor expects to get paid while they're on the clock. But if a friend mows their lawn while they're sick, something they'd normally do themselves, they're likely to see that as a nice favor, not something that needs to be paid for.

In the middle of these stranger-best friend, specialized-unspecialized spectra, though, there seems to be a lot of gray area, and I have no idea how most adults go about navigating when pay is expected and when it would be insulting.

I first ran into this dilemma during wedding planning. One of the regular pianists at the church where we got married happened to be my former middle school music teacher and choir director, with whom I'd been quite close and who had remained sort of a friend of the family by virtue of playing for the church my family attended. We asked her to play piano for our wedding. Then we asked a friend from college, who was not a professional singer but often sang at Mass on campus, to be our cantor. I also asked my great-aunt, who plays the organ, to play the procession music at the beginning of the wedding.

My former choir teacher was paid to play at Mass every weekend, so it seemed appropriate to pay her to play for our wedding, but I felt too awkward asking this woman I'd known for a decade how much she charged and so did my mom, so my mom said she would ask the church how much her rate was. My great-aunt, who regularly plays organ for her church, was honored just to be asked to participate in the wedding, and even wrote me a thank-you note in which she talked about how happy she was that the pianist had asked her to play some of the prelude music before the wedding started.

Our friend whom we'd asked to cantor was not a close friend, but it seemed like it would be potentially insulting to offer to pay her since she, unlike the pianist, would have been invited to the wedding anyway and also didn't do this for a living. Cantoring, like lectoring (reading), is something that's generally done by volunteers, not paid staff, during a Mass, and we certainly weren't going to pay our friends and family members we'd asked to do readings. Eventually we settled on giving our friend the cantor a nice restaurant gift card as a thank you, though I'm still not positive that was the right choice.

More recently I've run into awkwardness with my job search coaching business. Soon after I announced to friends and family I was launching this business, my younger brother was finishing up graduate school and starting to look for jobs, and my mom asked if I would help him. "But don't... charge him," she said awkwardly. "Oh no, of course not!" I said. It was hard enough even getting my brother to take my advice for his job search, which I wanted to do!

Later on, I helped out one of my closest friends whom I've lived with for years in college and had helped with multiple prior job searches. She then told me she wanted to pay me for my help, since I had this business now, and I insisted that I couldn't take her money. It felt too weird to start charging a friend I'd helped numerous times before and who was constantly recommending me to other people.

I'm particularly worried about this as we started planning for kids. Friends on campus have already insisted that we let them babysit when we have kids, but I'm not sure who will expect payment and who will see it as a favor or even a treat (little children are a rare sight on a college campus). One of our residents we're closest to, who will be an RA next year, is an experienced nanny, so I feel like of course we should offer to pay her if we ask her to babysit while we go out for an evening, but what about asking her if she can watch our child for 15 minutes while we go run an errand? Half an hour? An hour?

I realize there's no black-and-white handbook for this sort of thing, but it's an aspect of adulthood where I don't feel like I've gotten much guidance at all. I'm curious: What guidelines do you use to know when someone expects payment and when someone's doing you a favor and would be insulted by money?

Edited to add: While I'm thinking of it, at my last job two coworkers would make a Starbucks run several times a week and sometimes ask if I wanted anything. I never knew if they expected I'd give them cash upfront (which I rarely had on me), pay them back later, or buy them a drink some other time (which seemed unlikely since they were the ones always going). One time I did have cash when another coworker went to Starbucks and she picked me up a tea, and then when I asked how much it was she seemed awkward taking money from me and said it was an early birthday present. What is the expectation in your office for something like this?
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