Where Logic Meets Love

Blog Comment Carnival: January 2013

Thursday, January 31, 2013

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Blog Comment Carnival: January 2013 | Faith Permeating Life

At the end of every month, I share my favorite comments from that month's posts, and you're invited to do the same and link up below!

This month's posts were brought to you (unofficially) by the Gay Christian Network -- first, a giveaway of the GCN executive director's amazing book, Torn, and then several posts about my experience attending my first Gay Christian Network conference. Also, as it's the start of a new year, I had several posts talking about how my 2012 goals went and my plans for 2013.

Emily had mixed feelings about 2013's Vision Board Plus One Word:
I've been seeing this idea of one word for the year a lot. I see it every year, but I feel it's more prominent this year. Part of me feels like it would be good for me to find one word to really focus on. The other part of me is all "HOW CAN YOU SUM UP A WHOLE YEAR IN ONE WORD???? THAT'S CRAZY TALK!" It's something I'm thinking about though. I think "peace" is a good one - I know it's something I need to work on. However, there are a lot of things I need to work on. Haha. Can't wait to hear about your 2013 board though!

As usual, my best friend Missy totally understood me and the travel anxieties I shared in Traveling to New Places: A Guide for Control Freaks Like Me:
Loved all your strategies! I am definitely an over-planner when it comes to trips and traveling. I get the same sense of anxiety riding any form of public transportation, and don't get me started on my fear of missing a connection or a bus ride. I have definitely found that the more prepared I am, and the more time I give myself to get places, the more relaxed it is. I like to create a Word document that has the addresses, check in/check out times, phone numbers, flight numbers and times, for everywhere I'm going. When we were in Orlando two years ago, I had a list of all the parks we wanted to go to, when they opened and closed, the price, and where to catch the free shuttle to get there. It made it easy to change our plans because we knew what our options were!

Good for you for braving that trip by yourself!!

I was extremely touched by the comments shared on the post 6 Assumptions Smashed by the GCN Conference.

James Walker said:
This is beautiful. I am a homosexual and married to my partner of 8 years. Well, legally, it's been three. I have been reading your posts regularly now and truly appreciate your spiritual insight. I am a life coach, I know how hard it is to give opinion without offense to either party. And you do it so effortlessly.

Mary Kate shared her own journey:
I think you do a good job with this subject, Jessica. Being a Catholic, I believe there is a reason the Church stands where they do on marriage, but I am no longer opposed to recognizing the marriages of same-sex persons legally. There are no easy answers to these issues. It's very hard to remain loyal to the Church and believe that it's okay to be married to someone of the same gender. A lot of times I just have to give it to God and say, please do something with this God, because I don't know what to do or think or say about this. I think that I would probably put it on par with a straight couple being divorced in the Church as far as the issues I have philosophically.

One area that I have become very interested in is the stories of transgender persons. I have a client that is MTF transgender, and she has actually given me a lot of resources so that I can effectively help her, versus someone who is not transgender. The one thing that I find amazing is that transgender folks are still not really recognized as a group within LGBTQ. Someone who is gay actually told her that they thought being trans was a choice. You would think out of all people they wouldn't say that. Sigh. Even the Church doesn't think it's a choice (mostly).

And Ford1968 said:
I just wanted to let you know I think this is awesome and to thank you for writing it.

I got a huge chuckle out of the story about the "overly-understanding" mom. It illustrates your point perfectly: common experiences are by no means universal ones.

Also, I'm sorry to say that being thrown out of churches is not, by far, the worst of the church-based abuses of LGBT people. Hang around with our community long enough and you will hear some horrific stories. It's no wonder why there is such animosity toward the church from so many people who are gay. I give the folks who lived through these experiences a lot of credit. To be mistreated horribly by those who claim to represent Christ, and yet to continue to seek out and form faith communities - that is a true and beautiful expression of faithfulness.

My sincere thanks for being an ally. The church is better because you're in it.

I was equally moved by the comments on the follow-up post, Being a Straight Ally: Lessons from the GCN Conference.

Rachel's gratitude meant a lot to me:
Jessica, I am so touched that you sacrificed time, money, and comfort to go to this conference with no other motive than to learn how to support others better. As you found out, a good ally is an incredible blessing to the LGBTQ community, especially among Christians.

I see a good ally primarily as someone who listens, which includes being humble and open to change, seeking out perspectives different from their own, and staying respectful even when they disagree. A good ally does not have to agree with me, but she does have to care about me as a person and treat me like a friend. And a good Christian ally sees me as a sister in Christ, no matter how different our lives are.

Again, thank you for caring enough to be present and listen.

And I know I've done well if I can make Q think:
Thank you for this and the preceding post, which was especially helpful for me in terms of re-examining myself as an ally and what preconceptions I still have to chip away at. "Listening and speaking" I found to be a great, concise way of describing not only being an ally for the LGBTQ community, but for any other group.

Really listening to someone speaking with their own voice and paying attention to their self-definition is really key for me, and something I continually have to remind myself to do. It's not always easy to silence that (somewhat self-congratulatory) inner voice that proclaims what I know as an "outsider".

I am a better person because of the perspective I gain from each of you who take the time to share your thoughts. Thank you! And I look forward to more great conversations next month.


Why I'm Glad the Ground-Combat Ban Was Lifted

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

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Why I'm Glad the Ground-Combat Ban Was Lifted | Faith Permeating Life

A big announcement was made last week, yet I've seen very little attention given to it across the corners of the blogosphere and social media that I frequent.

The Army announced last week that it was eliminating the rule preventing women from serving in ground combat. This is an important change because, while there is still plenty of gender inequality in all kinds of professional fields, the military is one of the last few holdouts in the United States where people can actually be prohibited from taking on a particular role solely because of their biological sex. The lifting of the ban on ground combat means opportunities are now open to women that were not before.

I want to talk about this not only because it's an important milestone in American history but because the debates around this issue so poignantly capture the problems with certain beliefs about gender roles and gender essentialism.

(Note: For the purposes of this post, I'm going to use the word "women" to refer to those who are assigned as female at birth, because that's how it is used related to this particular rule. As I've explained before, biological sex is not always clearly defined, and the gender of one's brain doesn't always match the gender of one's body.)

The primary reason for prohibiting women from certain roles in the military is that on average women tend to have less physical strength than men. This fact is not disputed, but it's vital to realize that we're talking about averages -- generalizations about all women vs. all men.

Here is a basic statistical truth: The fact that there are statistically significant differences between any two groups does not tell us anything about an individual in either group. That is, we may know that there is a statistical likelihood that when any given woman is compared to any given man, he will have more physical strength. But this does not tell us with certainty what a specific woman will be capable of doing.

So the argument that "Women should be kept out of combat because it's a biological fact that they're weaker than men" is logically unsound. How most women are, on average, does not tell us how all women are, and therefore making a rule that applies to all women does not follow.

The new rule now says that any area that wants to continue to exclude women must provide justification for doing so, and I've seen the Navy SEALs cited most often as where this might happen because of its physical demands. But a blanket ban still doesn't make sense.

To explain why, consider the corollary to the argument about women above: "Men are stronger than women; therefore, all men are fit to be Navy SEALs." We know right away that this isn't true. Any man wanting to fill a particular role must be able to prove that he has the physical strength, endurance, stamina, etc. to be able to fill that role. He doesn't qualify solely as a result of his genitals, right?

So it makes sense that the same should be true for women. Assuming a clear and consistent standard, even if women are statistically less likely to be able to meet this standard, this doesn't mean that a woman who is able to meet the standard should be prevented from taking on the role solely as a result of her genitals. (Or chromosomes, or however you want to define biological sex.)

(If this changes, and the standards are lowered to allow more women to qualify, or quotas are introduced so that a certain number of women must be given certain positions, I can understand concerns about that. But at the moment we're talking only about the lifting of a complete ban on women taking on certain roles.)

This situation is a great example of a pervasive problem in how we conceptualize groups of people. Essentially, we run into problems whenever we make arguments that sound like this:

"Because most [members of a certain group] are/can/have [some common characteristic, ability, or choice], ALL [members of this group] should be required to / prohibited from [some opportunity or action]."

This is particularly a problem when our "Most X people..." statement isn't even based in fact, but in assumptions, stereotypes, limited experience, historical precedent, or other faulty sources of evidence. So now we're putting restrictions or requirements on other people not even because of how they are, but how we think they are.

So yes, regardless of my feelings about war or the military, I'm glad that this ban has been lifted so that women who want these roles and are capable of fulfilling them are able to do so. As the Defense Secretary said, "Not everyone is going to be a combat soldier, but everyone is entitled to a chance."

What do you think?

Torn Giveaway Winners!

Friday, January 25, 2013

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Torn Giveaway Winners! | Faith Permeating Life

Two weeks ago, I announced a contest to win a copy of Justin Lee's book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate. It was an unusual contest because I asked people to categorize themselves before entering and for some people entering to make pledges about what they would do after reading the book. I'm very happy with how it turned out!

I owe a debt of gratitude to Rachel Held Evans because I tweeted the link to her and she RTed it. This brought me most of the giveaway entries, as well as a handful of new readers and Twitter followers!

I received no eligible entries in the "1" category (more on this in a moment), which was the LGBTQ/ally group who are not Christian. Given my readership -- and Rachel's -- this was not surprising, but a little disappointing.

On the plus side, this meant I had three additional copies to give to the "3" group (Christians who are not LGBTQ or allies), which was good, because I got a lot of entries! I wanted to pick the people I thought would benefit most from reading the book, and it was difficult to choose, but I narrowed it down to six winners:
  • Christian, who shared how much the book Girls Like Us had changed his view of women, and wondered if Torn could do the same for how he sees LGBTQ people. "I'd love my heart to become softer towards the GLBT community," he wrote.
  • Ruth, a pastor who admits she has been avoiding the topic of LGBTQ people after coming from a "super-conservative" tradition and now living in an area with a large LGBTQ population. "I no longer want to be on the sidelines, afraid to engage in conversations because I don't know," she wrote me. "I want to love people in a radical way just like Jesus does."
  • Liz, a teacher at a Catholic high school who has actually shared some of my blog posts with her students (How cool is that?!?) and who wants to read the book and then contribute it to the school library.
  • Jessica, who grew up in a church that led her to see gay people as "gross," but who questioned what she'd been taught after watching the movie "Blue Like Jazz." She says she doesn't know what to think now, and doesn't know how to relate to her aunt, who is a lesbian, but wants to find out.
  • Leslie, who works at a church, has friends in the LGBTQ community, and feels conflicted. She said she went from thinking "they [LGBTQ people] should not sin as we should all try not to sin" to more recently thinking "we all sin, so it's ok..." but still doesn't think she has it figured out and wants to be challenged.
  • John, pastor of music and worship at a Baptist church "that is struggling to learn how to serve the LGBT community." His best friend also recently came out.
Note: I received permission to share names and quotes.

I asked those in the "2" group to either tweet or write about the giveaway to spread the word. Surprisingly, I only got a handful of entries for this group. I used Random.org to select a winner, and it picked Rachel, who wrote about the giveaway on her book review blog.

The very first entry I received for the contest, and the only "1" entry, was from a guy in the UK (who hasn't replied with permission to use his name). I'd only opened up the contest to US residents because the gift card I got is only good for the US Amazon and there's big shipping costs to send something from US Amazon overseas. But I didn't feel right leaving him hanging, so I'm going to chip in my own money to buy him a copy of the UK version of Torn, which is called Unconditional, and have it sent to him from Amazon UK.

A big thanks to everyone who entered, especially those who took the time to write to me with their stories. If you haven't yet read Torn and didn't get a copy in the contest, may I sincerely suggest you get yourself a copy? I don't have any affiliation to Justin Lee or the book; I just really love it and want more people to read it. (Note that I've changed this to an Amazon Affiliate link and purchases made through this link will now support Faith Permeating Life.)

Contest winners -- I'll be placing orders this weekend, so you should get your book sometime next week.

Being a Straight Ally: Lessons from the GCN Conference

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

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Being a Straight Ally: Lessons from the GCN Conference | Faith Permeating Life

OK, one last post about the GCN Conference, and then I'll move on to other topics.

I mentioned in my last post that I wanted to learn to be a better ally by attending the conference. As I've said over and over, I don't think it's necessary (or smart) to try to devote yourself to every cause in order to make the world a better place; I'd much rather see everyone care deeply and take action on one or two big issues.

For me, one of those issues is making our world a safer place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) individuals -- safe not only from physical harm, but from emotional and mental harm stemming from being told hateful and false things about oneself, from financial harm from lacking legal protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, from social harm by being treated as second-class citizens. I do this because it affects people I love, and I especially care about removing the very real stain of discrimination and hatred from Christianity.

But I've always felt like a bit of phony, saying that one of the defining issues of my life is gay rights. "Well, what do you do about it?" asks the invisible devil's advocate in my head. "Oh, I write things... on the Internet... and I share stuff on Facebook." Wasn't there a checklist of "Ally Things" I was missing, like marching in gay pride parades and phone banking for marriage equality?

The conversations I had with people at the GCN conference showed me that being an ally isn't about how many pride parades you've been to or how many volunteer hours you've put in. It's not about which church you attend or what political party you identify with.

Being a true ally means doing two very simple, and very difficult, things.

Listening

and

Speaking Up

Listening:

Being an ally of the LGBTQ community means acknowledging that you don't know everything. It means recognizing that no matter how much you read, and how many people you meet, you must always stay open to learning something new. It means not trying to put labels or categories on other people, but instead letting people choose their own label, or no label, for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

It means trusting and believing people when they tell you about their experiences. It means accepting that someone's experience may challenge your own worldview, or your religious beliefs, or your personal understanding of what it means to love or what it means to be male or female, and it means not treating the story of someone's life experience as a theological debate. It means taking the responsibility to read and listen and educate yourself as much as possible. It means asking those you know who identify as LGBTQ what they need from you, and then listening carefully and taking them at their word that that is really what they need most at that moment.

Being an ally may also mean being the person who listens to those who are hurt or confused that someone they love has just come out. It may mean being the person who's there to allow someone to process their feelings out loud so the LGBTQ person they love doesn't have to be the recipient of their anger or grief or guilt. It may mean having patience with those who are still learning the right words to use, when those who have been personally hurt by the wrong words find it too difficult to hear them.

Speaking Up:

Being an ally can mean speaking out, like I do on this blog, reaching out to people in order to correct misconceptions and create conversation about LGBTQ issues. But most importantly, it means speaking up in day-to-day conversations -- to challenge homophobic comments and jokes, to correct misconceptions, to share stories that don't fit with others' preconceived notions. It is using your privilege to your advantage because you don't have to worry about "outing" yourself if you speak up, and you don't have any supposed ulterior motive hanging over you ("You're gay, of course you want 'special' rights for gay people").*

This is what people told me over and over again at the GCN conference. "My parents don't want to hear what I think the Bible says about gay people. They want to know what straight Christians think the Bible says." "I have to laugh along with the terrible gay jokes because if they even suspected, I could be fired..." Allies create safer spaces for LGBTQ people by letting others know that their hurtful words are not OK. They have the ability to argue for equal rights not because it's of any benefit to them personally, but because it's the right thing to do. They have the ability to create what the Rev. Gene Robinson called "holy confusion" by disrupting others' belief that everyone "just like them" thinks the same way.

Speaking up as an ally can also happen on a political scale. It can include casting a vote in such a way that you make the world a little safer for LGBTQ folks. That doesn't mean that there is always one right way to vote as an ally, but it means that you make the effort to vote when you think that doing so will create a better world for others. It can mean adding your name to a petition that you believe will help create that safer world, knowing that you provide strength in numbers and also that you may be in a safer position to put your name out there than those who need protection. (For a look at some petitions that made a difference last year, check out this Change.org video -- note that it auto-plays when the page loads.)

Who Can Be an Ally?

I think "ally" is one of those words like "feminist" that, while it doesn't carry the same potentially negative connotations, is made far more complex than it needs to be.

Some people believe that to call oneself a feminist means you have to be pro-choice, or you have to believe that gender is socially constructed, or any number of other notions lumped in with the idea of feminism. Different people have different definitions, but to my best understanding being a feminist means that you don't believe anyone should have fewer opportunities or rights solely because of their gender, and you're willing to work to make that a reality.

Similarly, being an ally doesn't mean you have to attend an affirming church (or be an atheist), and it doesn't mean you have to be Side A, and it doesn't mean you have to be a Democrat. It means you don't believe anyone should have fewer opportunities or rights solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and you're willing to work to make that a reality through listening and speaking up. That's it. Even if we disagree on many things, I'm willing to work side by side with you as a fellow ally if you are truly willing to listen with an open heart and to speak up to make the world a safer place for LGBTQ folks.

That's what I believe it means to be a straight ally.

What does "being an ally" mean to you? For my straight readers, do you consider yourself an ally? For my LGBTQ readers, what makes you consider someone an ally?

*Note: Of course, do so only to the extent that you are able in your particular situation. If you are in such a toxic environment that even being perceived as an ally could get you fired or physically harmed, do what you need to to keep yourself safe. But I also challenge you to push your comfort level a little bit and let others' capacity to change surprise you.

Don't forget that the contest to win a copy of Torn ends at midnight Pacific Time tonight! You still have a great shot at winning, especially in the 1 and 2 groups!

6 Assumptions Smashed by the GCN Conference

Friday, January 18, 2013

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6 Assumptions Smashed by the GCN Conference | Faith Permeating Life

A week ago, I was at the Gay Christian Network annual conference, held this year in Phoenix. (Next year it'll be in Chicago, so start planning!) I went with very few expectations in mind; I just knew that my heart has drawn itself into the intersection between faith and the LGBTQ community, and this seemed like a place I should be.

Someone asked me the first night what I hoped to get out of the conference, and I said something about learning to be a better ally. I think I expected that that would come wrapped up in a breakout session with a 10-point bullet list. Instead what happened was that this community absorbed my heart, told me their stories, and smashed a bunch of assumptions I didn't even realize I was holding.

Here are six beliefs I had going in, and why I discovered I was wrong.

Assumption 1: Everyone Regrets Ex-Gay Therapy
It's hardly disputable that ex-gay therapy has been incredibly traumatic for large numbers of people. And I met way more people than I expected who had gone through some form of ex-gay therapy. If you want a thorough critique of the ex-gay movement, you can find one in Torn (don't forget you still have time to enter to win a copy!).

But what surprised me was the number of people who talked about ex-gay therapy as a positive, if not ideal, experience. Some ex-gay programs, I guess, hardly mention sexual orientation at all, instead operating under the idea that same-sex attraction is caused by bad past relationships with parents, romantic partners, etc., and if those issues are worked through than the person will magically become straight. One guy I talked to said that the program taught him to see all the problems with his previous romantic relationships, so now he's in a healthy 3-year relationship -- with a guy.

Now, in all these cases I think these people would have been served equally well, if not better, by a regular therapist (a good one, who was accepting of their sexual orientation) rather than an ex-gay therapist, so I'm not arguing for the continuation of ex-gay ministries. But Jennifer Knapp, who performed the second night of the conference, talked about the problem of letting other people rewrite our stories for us, and I don't want to try to rewrite the stories of those who have gone through ex-gay therapy by saying, "No, you must have had a horrible experience! You must have had terrible guilt!" That's just as bad as the ex-gay folks who say, "There must be something traumatic that turned you gay, and we're not going to stop until we find it!"

Assumption 2: Everyone Appreciates Accepting Parents
I attended one session by a mother and son telling the story of his coming out. It was the complete reversal of many of the coming out stories I heard during the conference (LGBTQ person struggles to reconcile faith and sexual orientation or gender identity, finally accepts self and comes out to parents, parents reject them). This guy had decided he needed to tell his parents about his same-sex attraction before leaving home, but he put it off until the very last minute. Why? He knew his mom, a psychologist, would be completely accepting, whereas he felt that his attractions were wrong and he wanted to fight to change himself. And that's exactly what happened -- he came out, she told him it was perfectly normal, and he got angry that she wasn't on the same page as him about it.

This story caused me to rethink what would play out if one of my future children came out to me. I think I always assumed that because I was accepting, my child wouldn't have any qualms about coming out and it would be happily ever after. But I had to stop and think -- if my child wanted to try ex-gay therapy, would I try to stop them, or would I have to accept that they're ultimately in charge of their own life? That's a tough question for me.

Assumption 3: LGBTQ People Always Leave Church Voluntarily
In my writings about reconciling Christianity and the LGBTQ community, I tend to assume that LGBTQ people leave church because the church is so hostile to them that they either find a more accepting one or give up on Christianity altogether. I knew that there were people who were kicked out of their homes when they came out (though I hadn't known anyone personally, so it didn't seem real to me), but I was horrified by the number of people I met who had been told explicitly that they were no longer welcome in their faith community anymore -- period. Many more were told they had to give up positions of leadership or anything that made them visible; they were allowed to stay in behind-the-scenes ministries like washing dishes and running sound. I guess I had too much faith in the Christian community in general to think that they were actually, literally prohibiting people from being in their congregation because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It's... horrific.

And now some smashed assumptions that were more personal:

Assumption 4: I'd Be a Better Ally if I Weren't Catholic
I've explained on here many times my reasons for remaining Catholic despite having issues with a handful of tenets of Catholic teaching. But I always have in the back of my head that LGBTQ folks are looking at me going, "How can you call yourself an ally and stay in the Catholic church?" Even knowing LGBTQ Catholics, particularly at the gay-straight alliance at my Catholic university, I still had this nagging feeling that I wasn't really doing all I could until I had left my church for a more affirming one. But how could I do that when I find God in the Mass?

At the GCN conference, I found people who got it. There were not only a surprising number of Catholics there (surprising because of my previous experience that non-denominational = 99% Protestant), but there were also people from a vast range of denominations, including those far more conservative and anti-gay than Catholicism. There were people still in the closet at their churches so that they wouldn't be kicked out (see above), because they wanted to stay despite whatever anti-gay rhetoric was thrown around. Never once did I feel judged for being Catholic, which is a feat even in an average group of mostly Protestants, but which really amazed me from a group of mostly LGBTQ Protestants. Instead, there was a feeling of being in a completely judgment-free zone, with the understanding that "we're all doing the best we can for where we are in our life right now."

There was even a Mass offered on Saturday night during the breakout sessions, although it was an Old Catholic (also called Independent Catholic) Mass, not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church but using the same liturgy as before the newest Roman Missal. I was amazed and grateful that that was offered.

Assumption 5: I'm Invading a Safe Space
The only reason I went to the GCN conference in the first place was because Justin Lee asked on his blog for more straight Christians to attend the conference. It would not have occurred to me that I could go if he hadn't said that; I figured, you know, this is a place where LGBTQ Christians can go and spend time together without having to deal with us straight Christians. But I had an absolutely mind-blowing number of people come up to me throughout the conference, after finding out I was straight, to thank me for coming and tell me how much it meant to them that I had made the effort to come. Far from making people uncomfortable or invaded, my presence there seemed to make people feel like they were less alone in working to make the world, and particularly the Christian world, a safer place for LGBTQ people.

Assumption 6: LGBTQ People Don't Want to Hear My Straight Person Thoughts
When I write on here about the LGBTQ community and Christianity, I address my remarks primarily to straight Christians, figuring that my role in all this is to educate other straight Christians to break down misconceptions and stereotypes. However, I also write about faith and gay rights for my local LGBTQ community center, and I've obscured my own sexual orientation in those writings with the idea that people would consider my thoughts invalid if they knew I was straight. Much of this notion came from seeing what happened to Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, who got skewered for being a white woman trying to tell black women's stories. I figured that I'd get "booed off the stage," so to speak, if people knew I was a straight person writing about reconciling faith and sexual orientation.

This changed for me when I attended a session run by the women behind Love Boldly. The founder, and main session presenter, was Heidi Weaver, a straight woman. The session was a modification of a workshop they normally do for straight Christian audiences, this time talking to a largely LGBTQ audience about how they can have better, more loving conversations with those who have hurt them, and how to talk about their faith and sexuality in a way that respects the other person's dignity and point of view. I honestly expected the reaction to be something like, "How can you say I need to respect and love this person who has said these evil things to me? What would you even know about that?" Instead, lots of hands went up during the Q&A and people asked Heidi's advice on their different situations.

I think it helped that Heidi admitted upfront that her privilege as a straight person prevents her from being fully able to empathize with her LGBTQ Christian brothers and sisters and that she is always open to feedback and criticism. She didn't pretend to know everything, but she didn't hide what she did know, and that was the revelation for me. I've actually done more research into aspects of LGBTQ issues than some LGBTQ people (see my review of God Believes in Love and some of the problematic language Rev. Gene Robinson uses), and I have a God-given gift in the areas of writing and research, so I've realized that my sexual orientation doesn't completely invalidate my ability to write to an LGBTQ audience, as long as I stay open and humble about what I don't, and can't, know and understand.

You can expect more thoughts on the conference as I organize and process them. It was a fantastic experience, and I'm so glad I went!

What is an assumption about the LGBTQ community you held that has been smashed by your experiences?

Traveling to New Places: A Guide for Control Freaks Like Me

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

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Traveling to New Places: A Guide for Control Freaks Like Me | Faith Permeating Life

This past weekend I went to the Gay Christian Network conference. It was... amazing. I'm still processing, and you can be sure there will be several posts rich with insight in the next week or so. But for the moment, I wanted to share something completely unrelated to LGBTQ issues or Christianity that I gained this past week, which came from the experience of traveling to and from the conference.

It turned out that Mike was out of town on a retreat the day I left (with the rest of Res Life), which meant getting a ride to the airport was not an option. So I had to take two different buses to get to the airport, and then when I arrived in Phoenix, take two different buses to get to the hotel (at least, this was the cheapest transportation option).

This kind of thing terrifies me. I am the kind of person who thrives on routine, on the familiar. I hate not knowing what I'm doing, afraid of missing a connection or wandering around in circles looking for signs. I'm afraid of getting on the wrong bus, afraid I'll have to rush to catch something else going in the opposite direction, afraid I'll miss my flight.

But I did it anyway. Here's what helped.

Not Being Ashamed to Be Nervous
There is no rule that says that to own a new situation that scares you, you have to do it and not be afraid while you do it. Screw that. While on the bus, I told myself, "Yes! You are nervous and afraid! But that's OK because you're doing it anyway! Go you!" How much more awesome do you have to be to be super anxious and still do it anyway, than to do something that doesn't make you break a sweat?

Extremely Detailed Plans
I owe a debt of gratitude to Daniel, the guy who compiles the annual unofficial guide to the GCN conference. His guide not only included every possible option for getting from the Phoenix airport to the hotel, but it was complete with Google Street View screenshots of what the bus stops looked like. I need that kind of detail. I did the same thing for getting to the airport in Whoville, using Google Maps and writing out in excruciating detail for myself where to get on the bus, which stop to get off at approximately what time, and where to walk and stand to get on the next bus.

If you're like me and the thought of getting lost or getting on the wrong bus freaks you out, one way to look at it is as if you're arranging a trip for another person who is not involved in the planning at all and has a tendency to get lost. You'd write up a lot of details to get them where they're going. You can alleviate your own anxieties some by doing the same.

Big Time Pockets
I make fun of my dad for needing to get to the airport ridiculously early, but when it's me by myself going to a new airport, I do the same. At every step of my itinerary, I had listed which bus to take, and then which bus to take if I missed that one. And if that happened, I was leaving early enough that I'd still get to the airport in plenty of time to check in and board. My flight got in several hours before I had to check in at the hotel, which meant I had a cushion of time to get lost or miss a bus connection and still make it to there before the start of the conference. This turned out to be a blessing when it turned out I needed to be on the complete opposite side of the airport to catch the bus I needed, and had to take a half hour shuttle ride to get to the right part of the airport.

Asking for Help
I have a hard time talking to strangers, but I've learned to get over this when I get lost or confused about which way to go, or I just want to double-check I'm on the right bus. There's no shame in saying, "Excuse me, where do I catch the bus that goes to the airport?" "Excuse me, do you know where this gate is?" I do this even if I'm pretty sure I'm in the right place, just as I way to reduce my anxiety.

Self-Care
I did everything within my control to make sure I wasn't going to be uncomfortable, hungry, or tired on top of being anxious. I got lots of sleep the night before. I picked out an outfit that I look and feel good in, that wouldn't cause too many problems in airport security. I picked an aisle seat when I made my plane reservation so I could use the bathroom as often as I needed to. I got myself something to eat as soon as I got off the plane. After all, while it's a little disconcerting to take public transportation in a new city by yourself, it's downright miserable to do so while you're hungry and have to pee.

Travel Light
When I travel by car, I have a tendency to take everything but the kitchen sink. I pack a suitcase, I have my small purse, I fill my shoulder bag, I bring my laptop, and when I remember I bring my own pillow because of my neck. For this trip, I packed everything tightly into a carry-on suitcase and transferred what I needed from my purse into my shoulder bag. It helped because I didn't feel like a big lumbering fool getting on each public transit at each leg of the trip, and it helped me feel reassured that I hadn't lost or forgotten anything because I only had two bags to keep track of. I then checked my carry-on suitcase at the gate so I only had my big purse to worry about. Also, without Mike there to take over if my bags started hurting my shoulders, I put as much as possible into the suitcase and the bare minimum in my shoulder bag.

Know Your Limits
You may notice I was trying to save money wherever possible, since I'd already put a lot of money toward my conference registration, flight, and hotel. But after it took me several hours to get from the airport to the hotel, including having the bus route end earlier than expected and having to walk the last half mile, I decided that laying down some extra money was well worth the headache and anxiety it was going to cause me to get back to the airport. I booked a reservation on the airport shuttle, and as it turned out I shared the ride with two of the friends I'd made at the conference.

All of the above helped to make the process of traveling by myself, to a new place where I knew no one, less scary. And since I'm trying to find more peace this year, I need as much of that as I can get.

How do you feel about traveling alone to new places? What do you do to make it easier for yourself?

Giving Away 7 Copies of Torn

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

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Giving Away 7 Copies of Torn | Faith Permeating Life

As soon as I read Justin Lee's book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, I knew I wanted to get this book into more people's hands. You can read my full review here and the stellar reviews on Amazon here. (Note: This is an Amazon Affiliate link.)

The subtitle of the book comes from the fact that many people believe there's this big war between "gay people" and "Christians," and that there's no overlap between these two groups. It stems from a belief that God doesn't approve of homosexuality (an ill-defined term in this context), and that a Christian attracted to the same sex must either fight those attractions (become/act straight) or renounce God.

Yet, as Justin lays out well in this book, that's not true at all. There's plenty of overlap between lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) folks and Christians, plus many Christian allies. Like this:


Note: The proportions of these circles and the overlap may not reflect actual numbers.

I didn't want to just run a regular giveaway of Torn on here because most of my readers would probably consider themselves in this middle "2" section of the Venn diagram. Those of you who do would undoubtedly enjoy the book, but it would be more or less "preaching to the choir." And real change, real healing, doesn't come from people only reading things that agree with their existing beliefs. (If this describes you, keep reading, as you can still enter!)

So here's how this is going to work.

Thanks to a generous Amazon gift card I got from my parents for Christmas, I'm going to give away three copies of Torn to people in the "1" group, three copies to people in the "3" group, and one copy to someone in the "2" group. I'm limiting this to my U.S. readers, but I still highly recommend everyone buy a copy of the book for yourself if you're able!

In particular, I'm interested in giving away copies of the book to people who consider themselves close to the center section but not in it.


This might describe you if you are a straight Christian who does not consider yourself an ally of the LGBTQ community, but you have changed your views about homosexuality over time or are willing to be open-minded about possibly changing your beliefs. This might also describe you if you grew up Christian but left the church behind when you came out (or when you became a vocal ally), but you are willing to revisit Christianity again with the understanding that not all Christians are the same.

This isn't a requirement or anything; I'm just most interested in giving the book to people who may be challenged by the book but are willing to read it with an open mind.

I don't know if this is going to work! But I'm excited to try it.

If you consider yourself to be in the "1" or "3" area of this graph (you are LGBTQ or an ally, or you are Christian, but not both), here's how to enter:
  1. Send me an e-mail at jessica@faithpermeatinglife.com.
  2. In the subject line, put "Torn Giveaway" and the number 1 or 3 according to which group you fall into.
  3. In the body of the e-mail, include these three things:
    • A brief explanation of why you're interested in reading the book.
    • A statement agreeing to write to me when you finish the book with one thing you learned or one thing you will do differently as a result of reading it. (If you get nothing from it, you can tell me that too.)
    • A statement agreeing to lend the book to someone else when you've finished it.
If you consider yourself to be in the "2" area of this graph (both Christian and LGBTQ/ally):
  • Get one entry if you tweet a link to this post saying you want to win a copy of Torn by Justin Lee, and include @keepbabbling in the tweet so I see it.
  • Get two entries if you write a blog post about the giveaway and why you are interested in reading the book and/or why you think other people should check it out as well, and share a link to your post in the comments of this post.
  • You can do both for a total of three entries. If you do only the blog post, make sure to include your e-mail address with your comment.

From the first group (1 and 3), I'll pick the six people I think can most benefit from reading the book. From the second group, I'll select a winner randomly.

This giveaway will run for two weeks, from January 8-22, ending at midnight Pacific Time on Tuesday, January 22. Winners will be notified by e-mail or Twitter within 48 hours of the end of the giveaway and will have 48 hours to respond with a valid mailing address before a new winner is picked. Books will be shipped directly from Amazon.com to a valid U.S. address, and I'll announce the winners here once the books have been sent off.

Note: This giveaway is not sponsored by or associated with Justin Lee, Jericho Books, or Twitter.

I'm looking forward to sharing this book with you!

There will be no Friday post this week as I am off to Phoenix for the Gay Christian Network conference! If you're going to be there, let me know!

2013's Vision Board plus One Word

Friday, January 4, 2013

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2013's Vision Board plus One Word

Because my vision board went well in 2012, I decided it was worth taking a little time to make a new one for 2013.

This time, though, I didn't pick pictures to illustrate specific goals, but used the broader idea of an overall vision of what I want my life to be like (how you're "supposed" to do a vision board). And to guide this overall picture, I decided to focus on a single word.

This is something I've seen, particularly in the Christian blogosphere, for several years now, and I just learned from Danielle's post that this comes from a project called One Word 365. The idea, as far as I gather, is to choose a single word that sums up where you want your focus to be for the next year.

My word came to me some time in December, before I'd even decided to do the One Word thing for 2013. It came, as many of my best ideas do, during prayer in church.

My word for 2013 is PEACE.

When I finished my happiness project in 2011, I noted that while I wasn't sure if I was "happier," I was definitely more at peace. I was calmer, I had more patience, and I felt more content.

I need to get back there.

When I started my new job at the beginning of November, I was overwhelmed with anxiety. I feared that I'd be in over my head, that I wouldn't be able to do the work, that I'd be immediately pegged as a bad fit. That didn't happen, but so much of what I'd been told about my new job turned out not to be true, and my anxiety gave way to anger, and finally, to a kind of dull dread, combined with tiredness and frustration.

My job has gotten somewhat better, but the feeling of being unsettled hasn't gone away. And the stress is clearly taking a toll on me, as my cycles have been out-of-whack every since I started my new job.

I'm not sure whether "peace" this year will mean making peace with where I am in my life -- focusing on my enormous blessings of living in a place I love with a great marriage and great friends -- or making big changes to how I spend my time. Either way, it will probably require a combination of therapy, exercise, and prayer.

I do know that we are not too far away from starting the adoption process, and while I know that (statistically) that will probably take a few years, I want to reclaim that peace before becoming a parent. I need to re-dig out that well of patience from which to draw before I put that patience to the (ultimate) test.

So I've made myself a new vision board with images evoking a peaceful life. Whatever shape it may take, that's what I plan to move toward in 2013.

What form do your goals take this year? A list, a word, an image?

3BoT Vol. 15: Three Books to Start the New Year Laughing

Thursday, January 3, 2013

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3BoT Vol. 15: Three Books to Start the New Year Laughing | 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.

If you've been around this blog long enough, you may remember that time I tried to read more funny books and ended up hating all the books recommended to me. Humor is a tricky thing, as what's funny for one person isn't always funny for someone else. So I'll put that disclaimer out there for these recommendations

These books, however, are ones that genuinely made me laugh out loud repeatedly, and which I know have made others laugh as well. These books all come with a "Don't read on public transit or anywhere else people would be bothered by bursts of laughter" warning. There are very few in this category, both because I tend to read more serious stuff and because, as I said, what other people find funny I often find disturbing or sad. But it's worth making room in your reading rotation for funny books, as the benefits of laughter are well-documented.

Want to start the new year off with a good laugh? Here are a few options:


#1: Bossypants by Tina Fey
This book is awesome because not only will it make you crack up, but it also provides a fascinating look at how far the world of comedy has come in its attitudes toward female comedians. And it will make you want to be Tina Fey's best friend, if you don't already. Bossypants is Fey's memoir that is part hilarious and past inspirational, sometimes at the same time. In particular, she shares advice for women about not buying into the various messages thrown at us by others that are meant to make us be quiet, fill the roles we're given, and fit into other people's definitions. She also responds to criticism by saying things like, "To say I'm an overrated troll, when you have never even seen me guard a bridge, is patently unfair." In short: This book rocks and will also make you laugh hysterically.




#2: Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys by Dave Barry
Some of Dave Barry's stuff I don't find funny at all, but for whatever reason, I find this book hilarious. In it, he attempts to explain why guys act like they do -- "guys" being a subset of adult men who have failed to mature in certain ways. I think I enjoy this book so much because of how often he draws on real-life examples (e.g., a biology textbook photo of a male toad looking "passionate" while attempting to mate with a human finger) and the fact that he breaks down ridiculous unspoken assumptions built into our culture, like how a guy should "take a look" at a broken-down car even if he's never looked at a car engine in his life (he explains that the guy will "take a look" anyway with the hope that the broken part will be waving a little flag saying, "Help me!"). You're bound to find at least one thing in this book that makes you laugh because of how much it rings true for you and the guys in your life.




#3: Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
I read this at my aunt and uncle's house on Christmas, and everyone there wanted to know what I was reading because I could not stop laughing. It's the memoir of Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, whose blog I had actually never read before picking up this book. Mike, who rarely reads, insisted on reading it after me because he flipped it open and immediately started laughing at what he read. Seriously, I don't know what to say except that Lawson has a way with words that can make any situation hilarious, mostly by sharing every single thing going through her head. I've seen her writing compared to David Sedaris, which I can totally see, except I'm not a big fan of Sedaris and yet I loved this book. So either way: You should read it.




What books have made you laugh out loud repeatedly?

Click here for other 3BoT posts!

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!

How Did My 2012 Vision Board Turn Out?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

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How Did My 2012 Vision Board Turn Out? | Faith Permeating Life

Happy New Year!

I am a person who likes celebrating New Year's because I like goals and I like self-reflection, and the new year tends to prompt people to do a bit of both.

In 2011, I used the new year to launch a happiness project. That was a great exercise in finding the little and big things that get in the way of, or contribute to, my happiness. At the end of the year, I wrote a project wrap-up that includes steps for creating your own happiness project.

In 2012, I opted to go in the complete opposite direction and make a vision board. I made it as the wallpaper on my laptop for the entire year so that I would see it daily.

Surprisingly, the vision board worked very well. That is, it moved me toward having more of the kind of life I wanted. Except that in some cases, it worked in ways I could not have anticipated!

As I explained in my initial post, I didn't do the vision board exactly the way you're supposed to because many of the pictures represented concrete goals I had rather than a general "feeling" about how I wanted my life to be. Here's how those goals/pictures turned out:

Clean kitchen counter: Inspired by this post from Modern Mrs. Darcy, I found a picture of a long, clean kitchen counter as a reminder of what a difference this makes visually to one's home. While I have been making an effort to keep our kitchen counter clear of stuff, this picture "came true" in a completely different way (this will become a theme, as you'll see in a moment). When we moved into our new apartment, it turned out that we had one long wall-length back counter, exactly what Mike had been wishing for when talking about our future house. We lined up all of our kitchen appliances -- blender, toaster, food processor, rice cooker, you name it -- along the back of the counter, so we no longer avoid making certain things because of not wanting to get down the heavy appliances. Win!

More sleep: Thanks to my new job's hours + commute time, I still struggle to get to bed early enough to get 9 hours of sleep, which is what I really need. However, this particular image has helped me to feel less guilty about sleeping in later on weekends and holidays. It's helped me remember that taking care of myself is equally or more important than Getting Things Done.

Art: I picked some pictures of colorful craft supplies to remind me to take time to be creative. This did lead to me taking time to put together an awesome meal plan display, but other than that I didn't do much with this. I think I need to change my focus from "be more creative" to "work with my hands more," because it's that disconnection from technology and making something physical that helps me de-stress.

This goes along with another goal, knit more, which I definitely didn't do. However, I finally came to the realization that I don't have to consider myself a "knitter" just because I know how to knit and do so occasionally. So rather than thinking of myself as a "bad knitter" who doesn't devote enough time to my projects or learning how to do new things, I'm reframing this as an awesome skill I happen to have and can whip out when it's convenient / I feel like it.

The Message: I included the cover of The Message Remix because my goal was to read through the Message version of the Gospels this year. As it turned out, I loved The Message so much that I read through all the Gospels and on to Acts and then the entire New Testament, then started over at the beginning. I'm into the book of Joshua now. Definitely a success!

Our rats: Here's another came-true-in-a-completely-different-way goal. I included in my vision board a picture of our pet rats because I wanted to make it a priority to spend more time playing with them. I felt like we were not great pet owners (keep in mind this is when Mike was working 12-hour days including weekends). As it turned out, when Mike accepted his new position, we found out we wouldn't be able to take the little guys with us, so we set about finding a new home for them. We found THE BEST home for them with a girl and her family who had been taking care of rats for 10+ years. She sent us an update about a month later about how every week she'd bring home cardboard boxes from work and construct a brand-new playhouse for them, and about all the things she'd learned about their personalities and habits. It was the best possible scenario for everyone involved.

Me and Mike: I wanted a reminder to keep a focus on our relationship. As I explained in this post, this are so much better than they were when Mike was unhappy with his job. Success!

Mailbox: One of my goals going into the new year was to stop getting so much junk mail. I used my winter break when the college where I worked was closed to call every company that sent us things we didn't want. However, weirdly, I wasn't able to find a picture of an empty mailbox for my vision board. So I settled on the next best thing, which was a mailbox full of postcards, to represent wanting to get only good mail from family and friends! Well, these postcards in the picture all happened to be identical, and they had on them the name of the place where we ended up living! Which was completely coincidental, since at the beginning of 2012 we weren't considering moving to anywhere but Seattle. So this was a double success -- we get much less junk mail, and we live in an awesome new place!

Board games: I included on my board a picture of a stack of board games since that's something I love to do and wanted to make time for this year. Again, this turned out even better than expected because we now live in a residence hall where there are always people around, so spur-of-the-moment game nights with 8-10 people are easy to arrange!

Warmth: Finally, I chose a picture of a mug of tea held by someone wearing a sweater to symbolize wanting to keep myself warm. You may remember that my previous job was in a freezing office all year round. In my new job, I get my own office complete with a space heater, plus I brought my electric blanket to work since the space heater takes a few hours to get the office warm in the morning. And no one can see my blanket behind my desk, so I don't get comments on it all the time like before. Not to mention, we now live in a warmer climate and don't have to deal with the Chicago winters anymore, which was a huge incentive for wanting to move in the first place. Hooray!

I included one concrete goal on my original post, which was to launch my job search coaching business. I did officially launch it, but I haven't done much with it. I spent several months helping Mike land a new job and then moving across country, then spent several months trying to get a new job myself, and I provided free coaching to a handful of friends during the year. Right now I'm trying to look at this as "This is something I enjoy doing, but I'm not a failure/horrible person if I don't succeed in creating a successful business around it, even if it is due to my lack of effort."

So that's how everything turned out for 2012! Next up, I'll share what I'm doing for 2013.

If you had goals for 2012, how did they turn out? Links to posts welcome!
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