Where Logic Meets Love

Blog Comment Carnival: August 2013

Saturday, August 31, 2013

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Blog Comment Carnival: August 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!

The best part of the comments this month was the wide variety of voices who chimed in on different topics. I have a deep appreciation for my long-time readers and regular commenters, but I love hearing different perspectives as well!

I responded to a post from Danielle by saying that Having Children Is a Matter of the Heart, and appreciated hearing the perspectives of readers who know they don't want kids:

Melbourne on My Mind said:
I don't want kids, but I've never been asked why I don't. 90% of the time the response I get is "Oh, you'll change your mind". Which drives me insane - it's like my opinion is completely irrelevant and that my biological clock will force me into changing my mind. It used to be just my parents' friends, but it's increasingly extending to my friends, people I've known since primary school, who've known my feelings on the subject for years.


DarkLight replied:
Ditto. This is often combined with that sort of condescending tone older people take towards younger people whom they consider naive. I have rather often caught the feel of "Silly little girl thinking she doesn't want kids! Of course she's not old enough to know something like that."

I am, as a matter of fact, at the age where many of my same-age friends are having babies. I notice no one has questioned whether they're old enough or mature enough to make that decision, absent specific immature behavior. But in my mid-20's I am not treated as old enough to know that I don't want children.

I shared how a Scripture reading helped me identify Anxiety as a Form of Vanity.

Amanda liked the psychological shift:
That is a little helpful to think about. I mean most of our problems really aren't as big as we think they are, right? The challenging part is getting our anxiety to follow suit with these new positive thoughts. I get the feeling in my chest and my heart feels like it's beating way too fast. Usually going for a run cures it although I come back feeling slightly dead.

Thanks for this piece and I will try to think about it this week...hopefully the feeling in my chest understands I don't need to be anxious!! :)

LL has had the same physical manifestations of anxiety:
I have the yawning/breathing problem quite often, and have only recently started making the connection to anxiety. It's a vicious cycle, because then I get anxious about my breathing in addition to whatever else I'm anxious about! Not that I'm glad you also suffer from anxiety, but it's comforting to hear this is a real thing and I am not alone.

And Rachel reflected on the Scripture passage itself:
Love this wide-angle view, Jessica! That's how the book of Ecclesiastes makes me feel too. In some translations, "vanity" is rendered as "meaningless," and that helped me understand it much better. I used to feel sad at the endless lists of things that were meaningless, but now I see it as a way of pointing toward the few things in life that actually are meaningful and life-giving.

Happy that you have one more weapon against anxiety!

I started a new job and shared my First Impressions of the New Job, and Nikkiana noted one effect of having a new work routine that I've also noticed:
Glad to hear you're enjoying your new job!

I started my new one a month ago, and I'm loving it, too.

I'm finding that I really function a lot better with having the external routine, and the fact that I have limited hours to myself makes me prioritize my off time a lot better.

I liked the advice that Q added to my Advice for New College Students:
The one great piece of advice that I always wish I'd heard when I was beginning college instead of preparing to graduate was from our journalism professor: Don't worry about choosing the "right" major. Take courses that interest and challenge you, and a major can emerge from that, but your major is not the end-all be-all determining factor of your future career and life.

Since graduating, I've always been struck by how people end up working in fields that are wildly different or unrelated to their majors, and yet how something in their college experience did end up being relevant to their work experience.

Finally, Queen of Carrots had some suggestions for Confronting Well-Intentioned Racism (and I'd love to get more!):
This is certainly not my area of expertise, but I can understand why people would be defensive if you accuse them of anything resembling racism--it is the unpardonable sin in today's society. But it seems like the broader issue is failing to see the person as an individual. So perhaps it would be more helpful either to treat it as cluelessness or draw attention to their individuality in some way. (I'm thinking something like, "Well, since there are 450 million people in that country, chances are against it," or "I bet it annoys them that you're always getting their names mixed up--X is taller and has the cute orange backpack.") Does something need to be labeled racism to be dealt with?

What topics have you been discussing this month, on your blog or with people you know?

Confronting Well-Intentioned Racism: Seeking Suggestions

Friday, August 30, 2013

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If you haven't seen it already -- watch this video:

As I mentioned earlier this week, our new students have arrived on campus. This means many new faces and lots of questions to get to know people. Usually it's your standard three: "Where are you from?" "What are you studying?" "Where are you living?" Each of these three provides some opportunity to continue the conversation and make a connection with that student: "Oh, I'm from a town nearby there." "That's what my husband studied in college." "Oh, you've got so-and-so as your hall director; she's great."

However, I've noticed a not-so-great trend with the way a lot of people interact with students who are racial minorities. As we're on the West Coast, this tends to be mostly Asian and Pacific Islander students. White faculty and staff, trying to engage students in conversation, make cringe-worthy statements like those in the video. "Your name is so exotic; what does it mean?" "Oh, do you know [other student from the same country]?" "Your English is wonderful." "I love [stereotypical food of that country or a country in the same part of the world]."

I cringe and I roll my eyes, but I don't know what to say.

I've gotten better at calling people out for saying things that they should really know not to say. I try to follow my own advice to speak up against blatantly homophobic, sexist, racist, etc. remarks. And when I do this, I find that people (at least the people I tend to be around) often get embarrassed and look guilty, and will probably apologize.

I find it more difficult to know what to say when someone is coming from a place of goodwill and genuinely doesn't know or understand why there's a problem with what they're saying. I understand why it's problematic mostly because I read stuff like this giant resource post for "Good White People" in my spare time, but putting it into a few words to explain to someone else can be difficult.

And I do want to put it in a few words because it's not just the same person, where it would make sense to sit down and have A Serious Conversation about the way they talk to minority students. It's just an offhand comment from this person here, that person there, where I'd love to have an equally low-key way of being like, "Actually, that's a really condescending and kind of racist thing to say because..." (Either in the moment or after the student leaves, as appropriate.)

To be clear, this isn't a case of "I want to tell them to stop without making them feel bad." Although these tend to be people I need to maintain at least a working relationship with, I'm generally OK with reacting quickly to let someone know they've crossed a line. My concern is effectiveness. If I tell someone, "Hey, that's not appropriate," and they think I'm making no sense or overreacting, they're going to roll their eyes at me and are not going to see much of a need to stop what they're doing.

Also, people are way more likely to be unreceptive and defensive when they mean well than when they already suspect they're saying something off-color. A lot of people seem to have this notion that you can only be offensive when you actively want to harm someone or think badly of them. In fact, you can think positive things about someone as a result of their race, and that is still racism; it's known as "benevolent racism." Sometimes it's done with neither positive nor negative intentions, but just as a result of not putting forth effort, like continually mixing up a person with another person of the same race or nationality. (My French teacher in high school mixed up the two Indian girls in my class the entire year, even though they looked nothing alike).

The problem I run into is that incidents like these are much easier for people to try to explain away because they don't fit with the typical mental model of "what racism is." People don't want to think of themselves as racist to begin with (except maybe in an abstract "we're all racist" way), and they especially have a hard time understanding that something they said while trying to be nice and friendly could possibly be racist.

So, I'm asking for your thoughts, my dear readers. When have you run across these kinds of well-intentioned but ultimately problematic comments? Have you found any effective ways of responding to them?

Advice for New College Students

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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Advice for New College Students | Faith Permeating Life

Classes have started up again here on campus and they're about to start at many more colleges and universities, so I thought this would be a good time to share some advice on being a college student.

I have spent almost a decade living or working on a college campus -- I spent five years as a student, then worked for a college for three years, have been living in a dorm for the past year, and now am back working at a college again. So I feel like I have a pretty good sense of both sides of the fence -- what it's like to be a student, and what it's like to work and live with students.

Here are my suggestions:

1. Repeat after me: "I can always change my mind."

College is the time when people expect you to change your mind. You will probably change your major, if you come in with one. (I was dead-set on being that rare student who didn't change their major. I ended dropping it two weeks in.) You can sign up for a dozen student organizations and then stop attending the ones you don't like. You can drop classes (early in the semester) if your class load is too heavy or you decide the class isn't for you or you want to change your major. Have some spare credit-hours? Try something brand-new like guitar or ballroom dancing or whatever your school offers and see if it's something you might want to stick with. A group on your floor going to a campus event? Go check it out with them, and then head home if it's not your thing or you have more studying to do.

So my point is this: Say yes. Try things. You will have more opportunities in one place than possibly any other time in your life. So pick something and go for it. You can always change your mind.

2. Ask for help as often as you need it.

You know where a good chunk of your tuition dollars are going? To pay the salaries of people whose job it is to help you. Where I went to college, undergraduate students could go to the counseling center for free. Find a good counselor. Does your school have a freshman resource center? They are there to answer your questions. Librarians? There to help you find resources for your papers. Does your professor have office hours? Is there a tutoring center? Can you catch your TA at the end of class? Ask. Get explanations. Learn.

I work in Residence Life, and a good portion of my job is answering people's questions about their housing. I love it when somebody asks me a question because that's one student I probably won't hear from in a panic mid-semester when they realize that they missed a deadline or never got something changed that they wanted to. When I taught, I loved students who asked questions because I knew they were paying attention and actually cared about learning the material, which definitely wasn't the case for everyone.

Seriously, I can't stress this enough -- ask, ask, ask. Get help. Get answers. Some people may not be able to help you, or may (sadly) not want to help you, but no one can help you if you don't ask. If navigating the web of resources is difficult for you, try to find at least one person you feel comfortable talking to, whether it's your RA or one of your professors. When you have a question, ask them to help you find out which office to talk to.

3. Build relationships with staff and faculty.

This starts with #2. When you seek out people one-on-one, you let them get to know you as an individual. This will be extremely helpful when you're looking for recommendations for jobs or graduate school down the road, but the benefits go beyond that. It's just good to have someone a little older and wiser, particularly in your field, that you can go to for advice, and you'll have the advantage of being plugged into their network. I'm still in touch with two of my professors from college that I was closest to, and they've both been instrumental in connecting me with new people in my various adventures after college.

4. Take care of yourself.

Seriously. I meant it when I said to say yes to things, but that you can always change your mind and drop out of things as well. You're probably going to find yourself with a lot of moving parts to juggle -- classes, homework, student activities, a social life, a part-time job. I promise you can do all of these things and still eat and sleep regularly. You will see people who are like, "I AM TAKING 21 CREDIT HOURS AND WORKING TWO JOBS AND I AM PRESIDENT OF FIVE ORGANIZATIONS" and while it's awesome that everyone on campus seems to know their name, you do not have to be like that to succeed, and you will probably burn out and hurt yourself if you try. Unless you have a ridiculous attendance policy (some schools/classes do), you will occasionally be able to skip a class. Use this ability sparingly and wisely, but use it when you need it.

College is a great time to seize the moment and do wild things at 2am, but you also don't want to make this a regular habit. Eat. Sleep. Bathe. Go to counseling. Take time to be active. Give yourself permission to take a day off from studying. Take care of your body -- and your mind -- and you will enjoy everything a lot more.

5. Check your school e-mail.

This might sound like a minor thing, but all the important information you need is going to come here. When you get an official e-mail from the university, actually take the time to read it. Some people are not good at writing clear and concise e-mails, but if you find out too late that buried in an e-mail was the information that you have to fill out a special form to apply for graduation, that's going to be on you, not them. If you can't stand checking multiple accounts and want to keep using your old one from high school, figure out how to forward stuff from your school address. The most common reason I hear for people not checking their e-mail is that it's inundated with irrelevant information (like announcements about upcoming events), but in my experience you can get rid of 90% of those by setting aside 10 minutes to unsubscribe, change preferences, and/or e-mail people to get off lists for organizations and programs you're no longer in.

6. Find your people.

My biggest fear starting college, by far, was that I would not be able to make friends. I had not really made friends since middle school, and even then it wasn't as much making friends as getting absorbed into the friend group that the people in my gifted program had already formed. When I first got to college, I tried to be friends with this group of super-Catholic girls, and eventually realized that I just did not fit with them and should stop trying to be like them. Eventually I figured out who I actually enjoyed spending time with, and spent more time with them.

Also: Organizations -- join one, start one, find people who love what you love. Even though my school was a "party school" where supposedly "everyone" drank every weekend, I found a group of people who threw wild alcohol-free parties on Saturday nights, and eventually was part of launching an organization to sponsor anyone who wanted to host an alcohol-free party. And my junior year I joined the gay-straight alliance, which was one of the best decisions I ever made -- that group was my family during my last year when I was finishing my master's and almost all my friends had graduated, Mike was two states away, and I was super-lonely.

So what I'm trying to say is: Your people are there. You will find them if you look. Don't feel like you have to conform to anyone else's ideals to make friends in college. Any college campus with at least a thousand people is diverse enough to find people like you.

Captain Awkward recently had an open thread with advice for first-year college students, so if you want way more detail than what I've got here, I suggest you check it out! There are a lot of good suggestions about specific things, like not paying full price for textbooks, developing good study habits, learning to cook, and building up credit with a student credit card.

Current and past college students, what would you add?

First Impressions of the New Job

Friday, August 23, 2013

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First Impressions of the New Job | Faith Permeating Life

Thanks for your understanding that I didn't get a post up this Tuesday. I wasn't expecting my new job to cause such a time crunch for me! Part of it is just the regular adjustment to not having all the time in the world during the day every day, but part of it is that I started in literally the busiest time of the year for the office and was trying to oversee logistics for RA training while simultaneously answering ALL THE QUESTIONS from incoming students and their parents (for all of which I had to find out the answers myself) so I've been kind of exhausted.

But now training is over and the new students are moved in, things have settled down into a steady-busy pace rather than a my-head-is-going-to-explode pace. I thought I should take the opportunity to share my first impressions of the job, for later reference, particularly because there are so many good things about it that I'm afraid I will end up taking for granted down the road.

Here are the upsides and downsides to my new job:


I can walk to work.
The office where I work is a five-minute walk from our hall. I knew that I would like not having a commute, but I didn't realize quite how many reasons there would be for loving this. Here are some of them:
  • I have more time in the morning. I can wake up at the same time I had to catch the bus last fall and still get in a run before I get ready for work. I don't have to take time to pack a lunch, nor do I have to pack snacks because the stretches between breakfast, lunch, and dinner are no longer more than 5 hours.
  • I have more time in the evening because I get home by 4:40pm instead of 6:30pm, so I can get things done and still be ready for bed before 10pm. Consequently, getting a solid eight hours of sleep has become infinitely easier.
  • I can go home for lunch. Unlike previous jobs, where my lunch was subjected to surrounding conversations or could be interrupted by coworkers, I can go home, lock the door, and eat in silence. Since my job requires regularly interacting with people, this midday break is heaven for my introverted soul.
  • I can take a nap on my lunch break in my own bed. I haven't done this yet, but I remember occasions at previous jobs when I felt exhausted but even on my lunch break there wasn't a good way to take a quick nap. When I realized I now have this opportunity, I was so excited.
  • Forgot something? No problem. If I forgot something at home, I can grab it on my lunch break. If I forgot something in the office, I can get back into the building at any time with my keycard and get what I left. This is a big change from "Oh crap, I left my dress shoes at work that I was going to wear this weekend and it's too much of a hassle to go get them."

I love helping people.
I remembered liking the customer service aspects of my work in Chicago, but I'd forgotten how genuinely I enjoyed it until starting this job. I've had to learn a ton of stuff this past week, and I'm still having to put people on hold to ask my coworkers questions, but I get excited when I can answer someone's question on my own. My boss was afraid I'd get frustrated having to answer the same questions ("How big are the beds?" "When do meal plans start?") over and over, but it's the opposite -- I feel great when I am 100% confident that I'm giving someone the right information that they didn't know a moment ago. And even though there are the occasional people who are angry or upset, it's gratifying to hear the surprise and gratitude in most people's voices when they realize that all their questions were answered quickly and cheerfully, and I feel appreciated every time someone says, "You've been very helpful."

I have two student workers.
There are two students who have worked in the office for several years now and who are directly supervised by me. From my interactions with them this past week, they are both incredibly nice and helpful, and being able to delegate things to them has been amazing when I feel like I'm losing my mind. I feel bad giving them some of the most tedious work to do, but they both seem genuinely eager to do whatever they can to help the office run more smoothly. I also like being in a kind of mentoring position to help prepare each of them for work after college.

My coworkers are amazing.
I kind of already knew this going in -- one of the reasons I applied for the job -- but the people I work with are so great. The director and associate directors were in and out this past week, so my one coworker got to answer about 95% of the questions I had, which at first was every single phone call that came in. She is incredibly calm and patient and never once looked irritated at having her work interrupted. Everyone has been willing to answer questions when they're around, and if I manage to tell someone the wrong information they never act like it's a big deal, and just tell me the correct information so I can pass it on.

Mike is a resource for me.
Because Mike works for the same office (in a different way), he is able to be a backup resource for me. We've tried to draw clear boundaries around times when we talk work stuff (during my work hours, since his job is 24/7), but if I need to, I can come home at night and say, "OK, explain this whole process to me" or "What advice do you have about this?" He knows me well enough that he knows how to explain things in a way that makes the most sense to me and he knows which things cause me the most anxiety. Not having to give him a lot of backstory is also really nice.

I get a small meal plan.
Because our office manages the meal plans, the staff each get a partial meal plan that's enough to cover lunch each day. Since I live on campus and like to go home for lunch (see above), I use mine for dinner. This means that Mike and I could make the small but important switch from most dinners in the dining hall to almost all meals in the dining hall, and I no longer have to carefully watch our balance and plan occasional meals at home to ensure we make it to the end of the semester with two people on his one-person meal plan. Also, I had never really understood that feeling that people (usually women) describe when they've been a stay-at-home spouse or parent for a long time and then have their own money they earned themselves for the first time, but the first time I bought myself my own dinner with my own ID I was ridiculously excited. Logistically, this is a big help because it means that if Mike is off campus for some reason, I no longer have to arrange to get his ID ahead of time to be able to buy myself dinner. And I get just enough money that I should be able to have lunch with him one day a week as well.


Staying "just a few minutes" longer is possible -- and tempting.
This is a blessing and a curse. I've always had a train or bus to catch, which meant I had to book it out of there right at the end of the day. Now if I need to, I can stay and finish up what I'm doing at the end of the day because there's no rush to leave immediately. I definitely don't want to make a habit out of this; I need to protect my schedule, particularly since living on campus means I could always be in "work mode" if I let myself.

The boundaries can get blurred.
Keeping work within my scheduled hours isn't the only difficulty with my unusual life/work blend. There's also the relationships to balance. Mike and I speak and act differently when handling work transactions during the day than we do at home, but not everyone wants to draw such a clear distinction between Mike-as-husband and Mike-as-coworker, thinking it's funny or cute that we work together and are married, and constantly referencing such. I am also good friends with several of the other hall directors, which is fun when they stop into the office and chat while picking things up, but which could cause problems if one of us screws something work-related up. The hall directors already deal with this somewhat among themselves, but their work relationships are somewhat more cooperational, while their work relationships with me are more transactional (they need me to order this, I need them to pick this up). And it's not yet clear when Mike and I can vent to each other and when doing so has the potential to jeopardize the other's working relationship with someone.

I'm lacking in some potentially important skills.
I'm able to do everything that was listed on the job description -- I'm organized and detail-oriented, and I interact with people well. But my supervisor, by his own admission, places a very high priority on first impressions and how things look (whether that be "fun" or "professional" depending on the particular vibe needed). I am very much not a visual thinker or visually creative, and I also panic when given vague directions, so being told "jazz this up" or "make this look cleaner" is gobbledygook to my brain. My challenge in this job, I can tell, is going to be figuring out how to ask for clarification (and ask again, and again if necessary) in a way that helps me understand what's going on in my boss's brain so I can translate that into actual work.

I'm one of three new people in the office.
Three out of the five of us in the office are new as of just a few months ago, including the director (my boss). In some ways, this is exciting because we can overhaul things that need to be overhauled. (I just cleaned out over 100 outdated posts from one of our websites yesterday.) But it's also a little terrifying because "we're learning as we go" seems to be the name of the game, and this means sometimes I can't give people answers to their questions because we don't know the answers yet. "We're in transition" is a nice catchall phrase for the moment, but I'm not someone who handles uncertainty well to begin with, and when other people are relying on me to help them it can be a little anxiety-inducing to not have a good handle on what's going on.

I have to carve out intentional time for my "commuting" activities.
As much as I love having more time on either end of my workday, there are certain things -- primarily reading -- that I did a lot of while commuting because I didn't have many other options for that time. Audiobooks during my morning runs help me keep up with my reading somewhat, but I can tell that making time to read in the evening when I could be chasing my to-do list and catching up on personal e-mails I neglected all day is going to be a challenge for me. However, once we get farther in the school year I think things will calm down at work and I should have more time during the day to take care of some personal things (like responding to e-mail), which I hope will cause me to take more time to read, knit, etc. in my spare time.

So that's how things are shaping up so far! I'm enjoying myself far more than I expected, but I know that things will change (for better or for worse) once the school year gets up and running and the type of work I have to do changes somewhat.

If you work, what positive aspects might you have started taking for granted about your job? What surprised you -- good or bad -- when you started that job?

Bookish Q&A

Friday, August 16, 2013

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Even though I give you three book recommendations every month, I also love answering questions about reading and books. I saw Kirsti did a Q&A about books that were different than questions I'd answered before, so I'm going to go through the same questions and share my answers.

Favorite book cover?
A graph? About marriage? Excellent!

Then they went and renamed the book and gave it a cover with Post-Its or something.

What are you reading right now?
On audiobook, I'm listening to The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. On my Kindle, I'm reading The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.

Do you have any idea what you'll read when you're done with that?
Yeah, I have to read The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin for my local book club. Then I have How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, recommended here, ready to go on audiobook.

What five books have you always wanted to read but haven't got round to?
This is challenging, as I have 100 books on my to-read list now (which I think you can see on my Goodreads profile). The ones that have been on there the longest aren't necessarily the ones I've wanted to read for the longest, they're just the ones I could remember when I first created an account earlier this year.

Probably the ones I've had on my to-read list for the longest time are
What magazines do you have in your bathroom/lounge right now?
Mike used his expiring airline miles last year to subscribe to three: TIME, Entertainment Weekly, and Sports Illustrated. So we've got a bunch of those in our bathroom; the trick is getting him to get rid of the old ones before they spill out of the magazine holder we have in there.

What's the worst book you've ever read?
Another difficult one. I abandoned 90 Minutes in Heaven because it was completely unconvincing and the majority of the book was just excruciating detail about his physical recovery from the accident that "killed" him. Of books I've actually finished, I have quite a few 1-star ratings in my Goodreads (meaning "I hated it"), but I hate them all for different reasons.

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt may take the cake for the worst; besides just being badly edited, the book basically consisted of creating far more characters than anyone could keep track of, then having everyone have sex with one another for most of the book, and then killing off most of the characters at the end. I also hated Wicked by Gregory Maguire for having zero plot resolution (disappointing when the musical is so intricately plotted and cleverly worded) and The Younger Gods by David Eddings, book 4 of The Dreamers series, for being the worst series resolution I've ever read.

What book seemed really popular but you didn't like it?
Definitely more than one on this one:
What's the one book you always recommend to just about anyone?
Books that I recommend often in the course of conversation are 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam, Quiet by Susan Cain, The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, and Ask for It by Linda Babcok and Sara Laschever. If people specifically ask for fiction recommendations, though, I'll recommend The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, or the Belgariad and Mallorean series (starting with Pawn of Prophecy) by David Eddings.

What are your three favorite poems?
Not sure I can narrow it to just three poems, but I've previously shared my three favorite poets!

Where do you usually get your books?
The library, in particular the OverDrive/Library2Go digital system. Just a couple clicks and a new ebook is sent right to my Kindle, or downloaded to put into my iTunes. So laziness tends to prevail in which book I read next. Now that the campus library's back open, though, I may start picking up books from there on my way home from work.

When you were little, did you have any particular reading habits?
Like Kirsti said, "Read All The Things All The Time?" I'd get a big stack of books from the library and blaze through them. Mysteries were my favorite for a long time; I think that phase finally petered out once I'd read Agatha Christie's complete works.

What's the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was too good to put down?
I can't remember when I last stayed up super-late reading, but the last book to really absorb me was probably Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Before that, I couldn't put down the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.

Have you ever "faked" reading a book?
No, and in fact, I found out near my college graduation that I was one of the few people (if not the only person) who did all of the reading for my scholars program; apparently since I participated in class so much, everyone was just taking cues from me what the book was about and adding their own commentary accordingly. I had no idea until a bunch of them told me. It would not have occurred to me to even try that -- I'd be too worried about getting caught.

Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover?
Not for a long time -- I rarely buy books nowadays unless I've read them already and want my own copy. But I have picked up library books based on the cover/title, including Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog and I Had Brain Surgery, What's Your Excuse? by Suzy Becker (both of which are good).

What was your favorite book when you were a child?
I liked the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary, and anything by Roald Dahl.

What book changed your life?
Funny you should ask... Here are three books that literally changed my life.

What is your favorite passage from a book?
I don't think I could pick one favorite. There is one passage that comes to mind from King of the Murgos (part of the Mallorean series) that had my friends and I cracking up for weeks, but as it contains a fantastic plot twist (or maybe "character revelation" is more accurate) I don't want to spoil it. I also entertained my friends in high school by reading the "Sex" passage from Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys. Neither is particularly profound, though; for that, I've started using the Quotes section of Goodreads to record favorite lines and passages.

Who are your top five favorite authors?
Last time I was asked this question, I gave 10, and I think those are still pretty accurate, so here you go:
  • William Shakespeare
  • Agatha Christie
  • David Eddings
  • Bill Bryson
  • Barbara Kingsolver
  • John Green
  • J.K. Rowling
  • Malcolm Gladwell
  • C.S. Lewis
  • E.L. Konigsburg

What book has no one heard about but should read?
The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield. I don't remember who recommended it to me, but it's incredible. Look for it on an upcoming 3BoT list.

What books are you an "evangelist" for?
Definitely Torn by Justin Lee. I think it's one of the most important books written in the past year about the church in America, which is why I ran a giveaway for seven copies of the book in January.

What are your favorite books by a first-time author?
I was surprised to learn that Jenny Wingfield (The Homecoming of Samuel Lake) was a first-time author. The Help by Kathryn Stockett was also a debut novel. And as much hype as John Green's The Fault in Our Stars has gotten, his first novel, Looking for Alaska, is pretty amazing as well.

What is your favorite classic book?
Probably The Count of Monte Cristo or The Scarlet Pimpernel. I don't remember much about either of them, just that I read both of them in middle school and loved them.

Five other notable mentions?
Have I not named too many books already?? OK, here are five more books that got five-star ratings from me:
Want even MORE book recommendations? Check out my monthly Three Books on Thursday posts, or visit my Goodreads account for more in-depth reviews and recommendations.

What do you think about any of the books mentioned here? If you answer the Q&A, leave a link in comments!

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

The Parables of Jesus: Not Like Today's Sermons

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

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The Parables of Jesus: Not Like Today's Sermons | Faith Permeating Life

This month's synchroblog is on parables, specifically Jesus' parables as recorded in the Gospels.

Reflecting on these various stories, I noticed how they differed from stories in most present-day sermons and homilies. These sermons might start out with a joke or a personal story of something that happened to the priest or minister, which then ties into a broader theme of "sacrifice" or "unconditional love." The joke comes fully formed with a punchline; the personal story happens as it happens and then must have connections drawn to the topic at hand by the speaker. They are not created from scratch; they are included for illustration of a broad idea.

This is not the role Jesus' parables took, however. Jesus used familiar elements from the lives of his listeners (e.g., seeds, sheep, coins), but he created brand-new stories out of them. His parables were used as analogies to explain very difficult concepts. He spoke much more in the style of a classroom teacher, one trying to convey a difficult mathematical or scientific concept through the use of a story, where the different players in the story represent the interacting pieces of a concept or model.

This contrast, between Jesus' parables and the stories in today's sermons, tells us a number of things.

One, these ideas were new to Jesus' audience. Priests are taking well-worn ideas from the Bible that they themselves will never fully understand and trying to find new ways to shed light on them, new ways to think about them. They know that we've all heard the story of the prodigal son before, and so they crack a joke that may be only tangentially related to get our attention before revisiting an old theme about God's unconditional love.

But for those Jesus was speaking to, this idea of God was novel enough that Jesus had to weave a whole new story about a father and two sons in order to attempt to explain it. He was trying to use a new, surprising story to explain something as broad and abstract as God's relationship to us. Whereas we've probably had every parable dissected for us in one sermon or another, these stories were brand-new to Jesus' listeners.

Two, Jesus spoke with authority. We hear this about Jesus from the writers of the Gospels, but we can see what is meant through the parables. He does not speak as someone who's right there with us trying to puzzle things out, nor as a tutor trying to reframe familiar material in a new way. He speaks as a teacher, one who has the degree and the teacher's manual and is trying to come up with an analogy that will explain this broad and unwieldy concept he already understands deeply to students who he knows will find it difficult to grasp.

Finally, Jesus wanted his listeners to understand specifics. Jesus spends a lot of time trying to explain the "kingdom of God" or the "kingdom of heaven." As many scholars have suggested, I don't think he was talking about some place we go when we die, but a vision for what can be created on earth in this life. After all, why spend so much time and use so many different parables simply to give his listeners a glimpse of the afterlife? No, he wanted to make sure people understood their marching orders: This is how you are to treat each other. This is the relationship God wants with you here and now.

It would be a mistake to see Jesus' sermons as just like today's sermons, and his parables as the same as the stories that illustrate those sermons. He was sharing brand-new ideas that only he understood, trying to use familiar concepts and language to explain them so that people would see what they needed to do. This means that no matter how often they're unpacked for us in church, it's worth revisiting them from the perspective of those first listeners to see how amazing and radical they really were.

Check out the other contributors to this month's synchroblog:

Anxiety as a Form of Vanity

Friday, August 9, 2013

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Anxiety as a Form of Vanity | Faith Permeating Life

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!

Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill,
and yet to another who has not labored over it,
he must leave property.
This also is vanity and a great misfortune.
For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart
with which he has labored under the sun?
All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation;
even at night his mind is not at rest.
This also is vanity.

(Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23)

When I first heard this Sunday's reading, I was thinking of "vanity" in the way the word is typically used, to mean pride in one's appearance. But when I went back and reread the passage, I realized that it was used in the context not of "being vain" but of "things done in vain" -- that is, things that are fruitless and will come to nothing.

(As a sidenote, this sheds new light for me on what's meant by "taking the Lord's name in vain" -- that is, using God's name as if it were empty and meaningless.)

I had forgotten until now that the first reading and the Gospel reading tend to be linked, which makes sense. I wrote about this past Sunday's Gospel reading the last time it came around the Catholic reading cycle. Both readings touch on the "can't take it with you" theme, reminding us that once we die, everything left behind becomes meaningless. But while homilies on this Gospel reading tend to focus on the problem with placing value in our possessions and money, something very different struck me with the first reading: the lines "[E]ven at night his mind is not at rest. This also is vanity."

When I heard this reading last Sunday, I was about two weeks in to what might be described as an anxiety attack slowly dragged out over a long period of time. It's not the first time it's happened, but it lasted the longest: a compulsion to yawn followed by difficulty breathing and a hyperawareness of one's breath. This time I was at least aware that anxiety was the root cause of it, but even after the main reasons for the anxiety dissipated, I was left with this horrible cycle of the breathing difficulties contributing to constant anxiety that my breathing would never return to normal, which perpetuated the problem.

After hearing this reading, I had the thought: "Anxiety is a form of vanity."

A caution against anxiety and worry by no means an isolated message within Scripture, from where we get the familiar verses, "Do not be anxious about anything" (Phillippians 4:6) and "Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" (Matthew 6:27). But (perhaps because they are so familiar) these verses have never been much help to me; does telling anyone "don't worry" ever actually make them stop worrying? If anything, it makes it worse: I'm anxious, and now I'm guilty about feeling anxious because the Bible says not to.

But this new thought I had after hearing the Ecclesiastes reading was, for whatever reason, more helpful to me. "Anxiety is a form of vanity" works in both senses of the word "vanity" -- that is, it is both useless and self-centered.

I was suddenly able to see my life, my worries, with a wide-angle lens. I saw my present situation as a blip in the long reel of my life. I saw the low place they held in the ranking of my life priorities. I saw how they measured up to other problems in other lives across the world. Devoting excessive mental energy to something that was likely minor and temporary suddenly seemed absurd. It was like staring at myself in a mirror when there was so much more world around me to see.

I'm not suggesting that everyone who struggles with anxiety can overcome it by this small change in perspective. I went to a counselor for several months this spring and worked hard core on strategies for dealing with anxiety, and clearly it's still a challenge for me.

But for me personally, this particular perspective was helping at pulling me out of an anxiety spiral. It took a few more days, but my breathing returned to normal. And this week, whenever I feel anxiety creeping up on me, I would think about this idea of anxiety as vanity. Even trying to get this blog post out before leaving for vacation, I thought, "Are you so important that the world will crash around you if you don't get a post written?" And the answer, of course, is no. But I get so tied to my to-do lists sometimes that everything on there takes on a vital importance, so much that I start to panic about getting through all of it.

This was the reminder I needed this week, and I'm putting it out there in case you need it too. Whatever is stressing you out right now, is it likely to matter a year from now? Ten years? How about at the end of your life, looking back? How important is it to your family, or to your community, or to the whole world, compared to how important it is to you? Sometimes we need a reminder that we matter, but sometimes we need a reminder that what we are worried about may not matter that much in the grand scheme of things.

Having Children Is a Matter of the Heart: A Response to "The Baby Question"

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

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Having Children Is a Matter of the Heart: A Response to 'The Baby Question' | Faith Permeating Life

It started when I was in college. The constant question: "Why don't you drink?"

I was in a non-drinking group of friends in high school, so the topic never came up. But when I started college, my choice not to drink alcohol suddenly put me in the minority and thus demanded an explanation.

Another friend who also didn't drink at the beginning of college expressed frustration at getting this same question. He pointed out that drinking alcohol is a conscious action, not a default state, and thus people should have to have reasons to drink, not reasons to refrain from drinking.

When I turned 21, I tried alcohol (and tried and tried and tried, thanks to the persistence of family and friends who were sure I'd like this drink). I determined that I liked neither the taste nor the effects of alcohol, and I certainly didn't care about drinking to fit in. After working in alcohol abuse prevention education for over two years, I knew that these were the primary reasons people gave for why they drank. None of those reasons applied to me, so I didn't drink, and still don't.

But my choice not to engage in this intentional action still marks me as unusual in most social circles, and people assume I must have a reason. I guess they're expecting me to produce some explanation like "I'm allergic" or "alcoholism runs in my family." The fact that my reason for not drinking is simply a lack of a reason to drink tends to baffle them.

I thought of this when reading Danielle Vermeer's latest post called The Baby Question: Asking "Why" Instead of "When" to Have Kids. She points out that the expectation that married couples will have children is so ingrained in our culture that it's typical for couples to be asked when they plan to have kids from practically the moment they say "I do." And the question is not "whether" they plan to have kids but "when," as if this is the only decision regarding children these couples will have to make.

This expectation of having children as a default action of married couples is so strong, Danielle notes, that many couples seem confused by the question of why they decided to have kids. And not surprisingly, as it's fairly uncommon that such a question is posed to parents. Instead, those who choose not to have children, like us non-drinkers, are the ones who are constantly peppered with the question "Why not?" and the admonition "You'll change your mind."

Now, as many people in the comments of Danielle's post pointed out, having children (unlike drinking alcohol) is something that often happens unintentionally -- I've seen statistics that almost half of all pregnancies in the U.S. were unintended. So plenty of people have children for no other reason than they had unprotected sex or their birth control failed.

Still, I would guess that many of those people had planned to have children eventually, if not right then. And another portion of unplanned pregnancies result in abortion or adoption. So while the question may not be phrased exactly as "Why did you decide to have children?" the point still stands that it makes sense for having (and keeping) children to be considered a conscious decision rather than the default.

Now here's where I think Danielle makes a very interesting jump that I want to explore more. She equates making a conscious decision to have children with having a logical reason for doing so. These might sound like the same thing, but they're not.

You may remember a while back that I answered a reader question about how I know that I want children. Or at least, I attempted to answer it, because it's a very difficult question.

I pointed out that there are certain situations where one's feelings and intuition are a much better guide to decision-making than lists of pros and cons. These situations can be loosely defined as "personal preferences" -- that is, decisions where there is no objectively right answer, and where your answer is likely to be different than someone else's. These kinds of situations range from picking a favorite TV show to choosing the person you want to marry. And in fact, trying to nail down good reasons for your preferences can cause you to change your mind for the worse, as in the study where people ended up changing their mind about which kind of jam was their favorite (and actually picking the one rated the worst) once they were forced to explain their reasoning.

Given that my blog's tagline is "Where logic meet love," it might sound odd for me to say that there are situations where "love" (or preferences) outweighs logic to such an extent that logic is actually detrimental. And usually I'm not a big fan of trusting one's intuition -- a number of books I've read recently, including The Hidden Brain and Thinking, Fast and Slow, focus on how bad our intuitions typically are. But a review of another such book, The Invisible Gorilla and Other Ways Our Intuition Deceives Us, points out that even a book on the problems with intuition recognizes the limits of logic in aiding decision-making:
Interestingly, the jam study carried out by Wilson and Schooler (1991) represents one of the few attempts in the book to actually determine the type of situations in which "intuition" might actually be superior to deliberate analysis. While rational analysis may be absolutely necessary in some situations -- hiring an employee based on his previous experience, rather than on a deceptive show of self "confidence" -- when deciding between the taste of two jams or two lovers we might question how far rational analysis can be applied. Until determined otherwise by the "fully functioning person", these may well be considered to be "matters of the heart" (to the extent that no single right answer can be determined using logic or the facts of science). [Emphasis mine]
So here's what I think: Having children should be considered a choice -- that is, no one should be expected to have children, regardless of their marital status. Those who don't have children, or who have more or less than people consider "normal," should not be shamed for their decision. And no one should have to give a rational, deeply logical explanation for any of these decisions either. They are "matters of the heart," where intuition and love matter most, and we need to trust people to make these decisions for themselves in whatever way makes sense to them.

(Note: I've given this a lot of thought because I know that, given that Mike and I plan to adopt, we will be asked why we want children. I'm still not sure I have a "good" answer to this question, but I have a feeling those doing the screening will be mostly looking out for "bad" answers than wanting thoroughly logical answers when we're asked this question.)

If you have, or want, children, have you been asked why? If you don't want children, have you been asked why? Either way, do you have a specific reason, or feel like you need one?

7 Quick Takes: The Good News Edition

Friday, August 2, 2013

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7 Quick Takes: The Good News Edition | Faith Permeating Life

— 1 —

Drumroll please... I have a job! Finally! I'm not going to gush and tell you it's the best job ever because 1) we saw how that went last time and 2) it's not exactly my ideal job -- I'm back to doing what I first did out of college, which is being an administrative assistant. But I resonated with this post from Adulting, and at this point in my life the top of that triangle is my priority. So I focused on getting a job on the campus where we live. Funny story, Mike and I now have the same boss and work for the same office (which has led the other Res Life staff to make lots of jokes about how I'm not allowed to sleep with anyone on staff, haha). I already know basically everyone I will be working with and a lot about the university, which is a win-win for everyone. I will now get off work at 4:30pm and walk five minutes to get home, which makes me want to cry tears of happiness because I will still have time to do all the things that I've made time for in the past six months (choir, Zumba, running, seeing my husband, etc.).

— 2 —

Now that I will have an income again, we can stop draining our emergency fund and actually start saving up money again, which is exciting. We should have our portion of Mike's student loans paid off by next February (we paid off all the ones with interest, and are just paying my parents back now), which will also boost our savings rate. It was unfortunate that my lack of income coincided with a summer involving a lot of travel (our college reunion and two out-of-state weddings, plus trips to see family nearby), but then I didn't know back in February when I quit my job that I wouldn't start a new one until August. July was the only month where we went so over budget that I insisted we use up everything we possibly could in our pantry and fridge before I would go shopping again (and then just for bread, milk, and toilet paper). Can I just say that these peanut noodles (minus the garnishes) were a lifesaver? Mike's meal plan has started back up again, we only have one more wedding to attend, and then I'll have a salary again, so things are looking good finance-wise.

— 3 —

Because I now know what my job and salary will be and what my weekly schedule will look like, and because we will be able to start saving money again, we are now actually, really ready to start the adoption process. Mike's new boss (now my new boss as well!) is very supportive of this and may even lift the age restriction on kids so we could stay in the residence hall longer if we wanted to. Mike and I are both anxious to get started, but wanted to be in a better place financially and also to have some idea of what our schedules would be like. Since I'll be getting off at 4:30 every day (and coming immediately home), it's possibly Mike could schedule some of his meetings in the evenings and we could minimize our use of the on-campus daycare, which would be nice. I will probably set up a separate, private blog for our adoption process so that I don't overwhelm you all with details, but I will try to give you the highlights for those who are interested :)

— 4 —

Another thing I'm excited about is that registration has opened for next year's Gay Christian Network conference. I went last year and loved it; you can read my posts on assumptions smashed by the conference and lessons I took away about being a better ally. You don't have to be LGBTQ to attend; you don't even have to be Christian (though you should probably have at least some interest in the intersection between the Christian faith and sexual orientation / gender identity). I don't attend a lot of blogging conferences or things like that, so this annual conference is the best place if you've ever wanted to meet me in person. I'm trying to get a couple of friends to come with me this year, but I went last year not knowing a soul and still had a great time and made a number of new friends I've kept in touch with since then. Super Early Bird registration ($99) ends August 7, although it's only $39 if you've never been before and go as a guest of someone else who's going. It's five months away and I'm already incredibly excited. Check it out!

— 5 —

Speaking of gay Christians, it was fascinating this past week to see the reaction in my feeds to Pope Francis' comments about gay people in response to a question about gay priests. The reactions ranged from "Oh my gosh, the Pope is OK with people being gay!" to "Why are we happy about this when the Catholic church still condemns gay relationships?" to "The Pope only reasserted existing Catholic teaching, so this isn't even news." I think this breakdown touches on most of the relevant issues, and this article has an even longer and more complete quote and discusses the media coverage in depth. In brief: What Pope Francis said is technically in line with existing Catholic teaching (being gay is fine, gay sex is not), but the fact that he said it in response to a question about gay priests illustrates a big shift in tone from Pope Benedict, who was not OK with gay priests. The gay priest ban upset me because 1) priests are celibate, so gay priests would already be in line with the Catholic requirements that gay people be celibate and 2) it was done in reaction to the sex abuse scandal and hugely conflated homosexuality with pedophilia. Obviously I'd like to see more substantial changes than just a change in tone, but similar to what I said about the Boy Scout policy change, I think a movement in the right direction should be seen positively even if there are still a lot of problematic policies in place, and that's why these comments from Pope Francis are worth being cautiously optimistic about.

— 6 —

Other good news: My parents and sister, who have been living with my aunt and uncle since moving out here in June, are finally moved into their new house! They had it built new and had to wait for it to be finished before they could move into it, but they got out of Chicago as soon as my sister's school was out and their house was sold. Mike and I will be able to see the new house for the first time next week. They seem very happy with it, and it's nice that the whole moving process that started back in early June is now more or less finished!

— 7 —

Mike and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary yesterday. We went out to our favorite sushi place and had a nice dinner. Then we had a bunch of friends over to play games until after midnight. Because our friends and family were such a big part of our wedding, we thought it would be good to celebrate by inviting our new community (fellow hall staff) over for our anniversary. It was really nice! We feel very blessed to be supported by a strong local community of people around our age.

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

3BoT Vol. 22: Three Books About Making Marriage Work

Thursday, August 1, 2013

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3BoT Vol. 22: Three Books About Making Marriage Work | 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.

It's Thursday, August 1, which means two things: It's time for a Three Books on Thursday post, and it's our wedding anniversary! Happy fourth anniversary to my wonderful and amazing husband!

In celebration of our marriage still being awesome four years later, and inspired by a friend's wedding we attended last weekend, I'm dedicating this month's recommendations to books about making marriage work. I've recommended books for couples before, and books about marriage as an institution (the history and science of marriage), but these books touch on something different: how to keep on keeping on when you've made a commitment to someone for life -- and then life happens.

Here are three books that will get you thinking about what makes a marriage last for the long haul:

#1: The Journal of Best Practices by David Finch
Like several other books I've recommended, this was originally recommended to me on a previous post. Finch's marriage was nearly at an end when his wife realized that he, like the children she worked with, might have Asperger Syndrome. One diagnosis later, she had an explanation for his irritating habits and he had a new goal: Become a better husband. Recognizing that his social instincts were not the best and that he functioned well by obeying rules, he set out to find out what his wife needed from him and write it down in his "journal of best practices." Even though Asperger's was the catalyst for his particular journey, his lessons about really listening to your partner and not always thinking of yourself first are readily applicable. And it's a good reminder that no matter how long you've been together, there's always the possibility of learning something new about your spouse.

#2: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
It's hard to describe this book without it sounding boring, so you'll just have to trust me that it's excellent. This novel is the story of two couples, from the time they meet as newlyweds to the death of one of the foursome. Although the book is very much about friendship, there is a lot in here about both of their marriages, the good and the bad. It's clear that so much of what makes a marriage -- or a friendship -- last a lifetime has to do not with large gestures but how they handle the everyday ups and downs of life. There is an overriding message throughout the book about "what really matters" in life (prestige? happiness? security?), and by taking the long view, the book shows how the strength of one's relationships matter far more than anything else. The writing is beautiful, and even though there's no huge drama or climax to the book, it contains a lot to think about regarding life, friendship, and marriage.

#3: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
This book could be classified as a "Christian romance novel," though it was edited a lot to make it "appropriate" for Christian bookstores (because, you know, married Christians having sex is totally scandalous). It's based on the Biblical book of Hosea, which is often cited as an allegory for God's unconditional love for humanity. Although it's not without its problems ("God totally told me to make you marry me"), the message of marriage as a commitment of unconditional love is one that resonates with me. The main character marries a prostitute who believes that all any man, including him, could possibly want from her is sex. Even when she goes back to prostitution (as in the book of Hosea), he insists that there's nothing she could do to make him want to end his marriage to her. The story is that of her learning to accept that she is loveable, and the two of them learning to make their somewhat unusual, God-appointed marriage work.

What are your favorite books about making marriage work?

Click here for other 3BoT posts, or check out my Goodreads account for more in-depth reviews and recommendations.

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