This used to be a blog dedicated to one of my interests, dream interpretation. I have decided to expand it to include thoughts about pretty much Everything.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Out of my hands

Today, I don't know why, I thought of him again, and I wondered how he is processing what happened between us.  Maybe I assume too much when I say "is processing."  Maybe he already HAS PROCESSED it, has moved on, and doesn't think about me or us anymore whatsoever.  I've learned that I cannot assume that everyone is as sensitive as I am. (And I wouldn't wish it on anyone!)

But I'm still processing it, unfortunately. I wish I could be done.

Today's angle was wondering what his overall, lasting impression of me is. And, of course, all the old thoughts, wondering what I could have done differently.  When we first broke up, people told me, "Don't think there's anything wrong with you. It happens."  Well, I don't think there's anything wrong with who I am per se, but I do worry about things that I do wrong.  I've done lots of things "wrong." I can be pretty myopic and awkward, and not realize until after I've stepped on toes how I came across to others, not intending to harm but harming anyway.  I know my odd presence is off-putting to some people.

Did I say too much?  Did I move too fast? Did I not say enough? Did I not say the right things? Did I not show him my affection effectively?

And I wonder what it was about me that was the deal-breaker.  I know, it's probably best not to know.  In the past I've had guys who liked me, and I had to tell them I didn't want a romance with them, but didn't have the heart to go on to tell them, "Sorry, you're a great person, I love you to pieces, but you're just not my type."  And it's usually something kind of hard to define that makes them "not my type." And it's not their fault, nor would I want them to try to change. It just is what it is.

So maybe I'm torturing myself unnecessarily by asking myself this question, but part of me feels like if I could answer it, maybe I could do better with the next person who comes along.  What about me didn't "click" for him? (when almost everything about him clicked for me!) Did I come across as neurotic? Desperate? Pompous? Irresponsible? Cold? Boring? Uptight? Eager? Creepy? Clumsy? Clueless? Out of touch? Naive? Lazy?

I had planned to give him a personally-painted coffee mug for his birthday.  It was the perfect gift for so many reasons. I'm a careful gifter, when it comes to those I love, and I had this all planned out.  But the break-up happened before I could make it.  Around the time of his birthday, I went ahead and made the mug anyway, but gave it to myself, to help honor my healing. I used colors I like instead of the colors that he likes. Otherwise, the concept was similar.

I made it at a local business where you can purchase a ceramic object and paint it. Then the people running the business will glaze and fire it for you.  (I think it is done by art students at the university in town.)  Before submitting the mug to be glazed and fired, it looked like this:
Well, I was sick and busy the past few weeks, and only remembered to pick up the mug yesterday.  I was quite surprised by how it looked after glazing.  I had expected the colors to darken (that was in the instructions), but wow, the quality:
The glaze is terrible, in my opinion. (Though I know next to nothing about pottery, so maybe this is how it's supposed to be?)  The strokes are uneven, and they smeared the paint! And they made parts of it transparent, so the white ceramic shows through the brushstrokes, instead of the carefully-even 3 layers of solid color I had applied.

I posted this photo to my FaceBook page, mentioning my disappointment. My dear friend, Michelle, who has been my confidante throughout this heartbreak, said she thought it was appropriate, considering the original recipient of the mug.

Wow. I hadn't even put the two ideas together until she said it.

And somehow, this was comforting to me, a bit.  The bad glaze job was not my fault, and completely out of my hands.  I had submitted it carefully and thoughtfully, but whoever did the glazing treated it casually and clumsily.  The metaphor jumped out to me...  It's not my fault.  I did my best. I presented my heart, my self, my life, in as careful, thoughtful, present, and honest way as I knew how. I made mistakes, but I tried to correct them. How he responded was out of my hands.  I'm disappointed with the results, but I don't have to bear the responsibility.

Please let this sink in. I'm tired of hurting over this. I'm tired of torturing myself, wondering if I should write him back and apologize for my part in the mess.  I'm tired of worrying whether I hurt him.  I'm tired of trying to figure out what the lesson is and what I can change to do differently next time.  I'm tired of enduring retrospective embarrassment due to what I can only imagine that he thought about me. Embarrassment paralyzes. But maybe there's nothing to change after all.

My responses to the debate: "Is God Necessary for Morality?"

 I asked an atheist friend of mine for some resources on the topic of ethics and morality from an atheist worldview, and one of the things he recommended was this debate. This is my first encounter with the official debate on the topic, and I am eager to explore more.

 I like this video because it is approachable (as compared to how heavy, dense, and LONG philosophical readings can be), and it is concise and straightforward.  It also gave me some vocabulary --you know how it is when you have some ideas floating around in your head but don't know how to say them?  This video helped with the intuitions I have had on this topic but didn't know how to express.

 There are a few comments I want to make.

First of all, let me say upfront that I do not like the word "morality," as I feel it is so loaded.  I much prefer "ethics." But in this context, I'll just go with the terminology they used.

It took me awhile to get my mind around the idea of the "Social Contract."  How can one base an entire position about morality on something we know did not actually ever happen, and is only a hypothetical?  I think I got it eventually, though... and then the thought struck me: "God" is a hypothetical too.  We do not know, prove-ably, that there is a man invisible to us who is keeping score and will reward or punish after we die, but we use him to regulate our behavior nonetheless. This is not much different than imagining what a perfectly rational society, where each person is blinded to his/her place in that society, would choose to include in their social contract.

There was a point Dr. Craig kept making, Dr. Kagan kept answering, but Dr. Craig just couldn't seem to get it through his head.  This had to do with his "moral accountability" argument (I paraphrase): if naturalism is true, there is no God, our universe is going to burn up, and all life will disappear anyway, then our moral behavior is insignificant.  Dr. Kagan answered him on this point at least three times: Our moral behavior may not have cosmic, eternal significance, but that is not the same as saying that it has no significance whatsoever.

I think the issue could have been better handled by talking not so much about significance, but about consequence.  We see people doing immoral things all the time, and they seem to "get away with it."  There is something in us that longs for there to be a God who can bring the justice we are powerless to effect.  Many an evil man or woman has died without ever facing justice for their actions. It seems unfair, and we wish for there to be an afterlife where the scales will be balanced.

Of course, there is no way to prove an afterlife, nor what may or may not happen therein, and our mere collective wishing something does not necessitate that to be reality.  But still... How does an atheistic morality deal with moral consequences vis a vis our desire for justice? Perhaps such a mindset brings an urgency to the picture of working for justice NOW.  If there is no justice after death, then we cannot shrug our shoulders when we see a problem that seems too big for us and say, "God will deal with him/her."  Not believing in justice after death compels us to be passionate about enacting justice before death.

But if you are powerless...  If you are the torture victim. If you are the abused child. If you are the peasant whose land has been stolen. There is little comfort for you in the atheistic worldview, as far as I see it.

One angle I could consider the problem is that old axiom "Being good is its own reward." A person who makes moral choices, it sometimes happens, feels clean of heart and conscience. Morality brings a person closer to Love (which I currently define as connection between living beings), and Love infuses life with meaning and beauty. The quality and depth of a life lived morally is better, at the level of the soul, than that of one lived immorally, because it has more Love.

But this leads to the fact that the person who is living immorally does not always feel anything is missing.  Especially if they have physical wealth to bring happiness to their lives, and can shield themselves from exposure to the suffering of others, how could they know how much better life could be, were they to choose to become more moral?  It is the nature of our brains to adapt to our circumstances, and we are notoriously pitiful at imagining contingent circumstances in accurate ways.

So God may not be necessary for morality, but part of me wishes there is an afterlife where justice will be served, because at this point I do not see a satisfactory answer to this problem.  But this is a problem that is unknowable, since, as I said, we cannot prove an afterlife.  And just because I don't like certain facts of life, doesn't make them any less true.

I loved the part when Dr. Kagan led Dr. Craig into the trap of inadvertently admitting that the Christian doctrine of substitutionary atonement is actually immoral and it annihilates all three points Dr. Craig had been trying to make.  Dr. Kagan did it gracefully and without even pointing out the conclusion, but I, for one, felt the conclusion hanging in the air. Brilliant.
(Dr. Craig should have acknowledged, though, that not all branches of Christianity believe in substitutionary atonement. He, rather presumptuously IMO, said "Christians believe...XYZ" rather than "the Christian tradition I am part of teaches...XYZ".)

At the question, "Why do people break the moral code?" I was irritated when they started talking about sin. When Christians use the word "sin," all logic, problem-solving, cooperation, and creativity is instantly short-circuited.  Why did that child his his sister?  Let's not try to figure out his motivation, the developmental level of his brain, the factors leading to his impatience such as hunger or tiredness, none of that.  Nope.  It's because "he has a sin nature."  Puh-lease. Sin is such a non-thing.  It is an abstract concept that explains nothing and solves nothing.  It's a huge cop-out.  It's one of my pet peeve words.  Was Dr. Kagan trying to be deferential by saying "I, too think it has something to do with sin."  Really?

There are all kinds of reasons people do not keep the moral code.  Morality, as they were defining it in this debate, is largely rooted in reason, which is a function of the neocortex. (If I know my rudimentary brain physics correctly... errrmmm...)  But we are not creatures of pure reason. We have many impulses and desires living inside us at once.  The reptilian brain desires survival and reproduction. The mammalian brain desires pleasure and approval.  On and on.  When faced with moral choices, there are many internal factors to weigh, in addition to external ones.  People break the moral code because the moral code is not the only possible choice.

Otherwise, it was a good debate, and I plan to read more on this topic.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Putting men in a box

I was rereading my post a couple days ago about how I was processing my cancer scare, and I noticed something that bothered me.  I made the assumption that most men would not consider a relationship without sex to be worthwhile, as if that were the main point for most men.  Wow, what a blatant, ugly stereotype! I realized that I still operate on gender stereotypes unconsciously, even though I do not consciously endorse them.  I'm ashamed of myself!

How often did I hear my dad or other well-meaning people warn me growing up "Watch out, men have a one-track mind!"  I remember reading a book by a Christian author, trying to enlighten Christian woman on what men were "really" like.  It included phrases like (I'm going from memory here, not quoting verbatim), "every man, no matter how holy, has your body sized up in the first glance when he meets you. If he's holy, he'll refrain himself from undressing you in his mind, but, being visual creatures all men can't help but notice your body."

All men? Really?  Can you prove this?  Have you talked with each of the 3.5 billion men on Earth to ask them what they do when they first meet a woman?

And why is this supposed to be only a man thing?  Couldn't a woman be a visual creature too?  I'll admit, I notice people's appearances when I first meet them. Full body, not just faces, not just the style of clothes, and I do it to men and women.  If it's a man I find attractive, I might actually undress him in my mind, though my "holiness" usually restrains me. Does that make me less feminine?

I have a lot of male friends who have never asked me for sex, but we have an enriching relationship nonetheless.  Are they not getting any pleasure from the relationship, just because I'm not having sex with them?  In that case, they are being very generous with me, enduring my presence so that I can derive pleasure from their company, while they suffer miserably without sex.

What about life partners, though?
Again, why do we have this assumption that men are the only ones who just couldn't bear to have a long-term life partner if no sex were involved?  As if women have no libido!  Honestly, I'd suffer in a long-term life partner situation without sex too.  But that doesn't mean that the relationship wouldn't be beneficial in other ways.  I'm able to absorb benefits from a variety of life domains, without making any one of them THE primary focus of the relationship. It is insulting to men to assume that they are too stupid and animal-like not to be able to enjoy the same depth and openness of experience.

I have betrayed the humanity of both men and women by my statements. I apologize.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Dream interpretation--"The Mirror and the Pedophile"

A few days into the semi-freak-out process I had last week, I had a dream.
I was chasing T, my 2-year-old, down a hallway, yelling for him to come back.  I sensed danger was near.  Sure enough, near the end of the hallway, a door on the right opened up, and I saw the face of a bearded man whom I knew, for some reason, to be a pedophile. He saw T, and grabbed him, to pull him into the apartment.  I screamed at the man to stop, and ran as fast as I could to the door and got there just as it was closing with T inside.  I knew the man was about to lock the door, so I urgently turned the doorknob and slammed myself against the door.  Fortunately, I was able to open the door just in time.  I managed to grab T's arm and pull him out of the apartment.  I held him close to me.
The scene then switched, and I was in a dressing room, like they have in the back stage areas of theatres or concert halls.  I was naked and looking into the mirror, but I could only see myself from the waist up.  I was holding my right arm straight up, and was leaning it against what I thought was another mirror on my right.  However, I felt a kind of tickle on my armpit, and I looked over, and realized I was actually leaning against the arm of a man.  The tickle was his armpit hair. He was in the same posture as myself, though reversed--his left arm was straight up, and he was leaning it against me.  I peered my head around, and the man peered his head around, and I saw that his face was someone I admire (who shall remain nameless on this blog). I said, "Oh, it's you."  He started saying loving admiring words to me, like "You've always impressed me," and "I think you're amazing."  And soon we were down on the floor...  At this point, I became semi-lucid and said, "I don't need to continue this dream, because I already know what sex feels like." It was almost a bored feeling. So I woke up.

At first I chided myself.   I'm not "getting any" these days, why not let myself enjoy it in a dream?  Ha.  But I know that dreams are symbolic, and even my rejection of going through the actual experience of sex was part of the meaning of the dream.

In a way, though, this is huge progress for me.  As far as I can remember, I have never had a sex dream end well.  Usually I'm just burning for a guy, and he ignores or rejects me.  Or there have been dreams where a guy and I will start to kiss, but then he decides he's not interested, or something else happens to stop it.  So at least this time, I had someone very interested, and we were actually well into the process!

Unfortunately, I've also had quite a few pedophile dreams in the past.  This has really freaked me out, but I've decided that the pedophile energy that spooks my dreams occasionally has to do with my judgmental attitude towards pedophiles in waking life.  I'm opposed to the death penalty, except in the case of pedophilia.  There's just something about that crime that infuriates me beyond reason.  As far as I know, I wasn't molested as a child.  But I relate to the innocence and vulnerability of children, and for anyone to take advantage of them just puts me beside myself with rage.  There's also the issue that child sexual abuse seems to be a perpetuating cycle.  Many victims grow up to victimize.  So why do we let these creeps out of jail, ever?  The only way to stop the cycle will be not to allow any more children to get molested.  Lastly, my association with pedophiles is "they can't change."  As far as I know, pedophilia has an abysmal recovery rate.  Another reason to never ever let them out.
So a pedophile, as a personal symbol for me, is an energy that "deserves harsh judgement," has a history of destruction, and is impossible to change.  It's probably how my dreaming mind portrays my Shadow. My Shadow is so repulsive to me, and it feels so impossible to change, the closest figure to describe it, one that will generate strong emotional reaction in me, is a pedophile.

I think that T, as a dream symbol, calls upon a very special moment in my life.  T was born at home, and the birth experience was one of the highest points of my life.  I'll post the whole story later, but for now, one of the major things that I took away from the experience was a recognition of my power.  "If I can do that, I can do anything!"  This inspiration was what gave me courage to divorce my husband.
How appropriate that after a few days of fretting about not being able to fight cancer on my own, I dream about T running away from me.  I'm losing a hold on what I used to understand viscerally via giving birth to T-- I am more powerful than I give myself credit for.  This revelation is in danger of being absorbed back into my Shadow in the dream, but I manage, barely, to snatch it back to myself.
Good work, Abigail!

Dream sequencing should usually interpreted with a "because A, then B" approach. Meaning, what happens in the first scene "causes," or "leads into" the second scene, and so on.  That's not always the case, but it's a pretty good rule of thumb, and I'm going with it in this dream.

So, because I managed to remember my power, then comes the scene where I am seeing myself as I really am, and this leads to an integration (which is what sex usually symbolizes in a dream) with an energy that has long evaded me.

I look back on all the guys I've ever fallen in love with or had crushes on, and most of them were guys who did not (seem to) have the struggle that I deal with the most--isolation.  Most of them were very outgoing, and magnetic, and everyone liked them.  The guy in my dream is like that.  I very much associate him with charisma and a magnetic personality. And yet, if he's showing up in my dreams, I must have that energy inside myself somewhere too!  It gives me hope that I'm seeing myself start to integrate it at the dream level.  Dreams are usually ahead of our conscious minds--I certainly don't feel any more magnetic or charming than I used to be--but I've worked with my dreams long enough to know that this is indicative of a new beginning.

It's interesting, this dream showed up the day after I told a few friends what I was struggling with.  Their positive, supportive attitudes must have been what inspired the dream.  I may not have a partner, but I have good friends and the ability to draw them to me (magnetize) when I need them.  And I have my inner strength (represented by T).

The only problems I see in the dream are:
1) I saw myself only from the waist up.  Could there be a pun on the word "waste"? I've often felt like I have wasted a lot of my life, which gives me shame. And not seeing the lower parts of my body indicates a disconnect between my higher and lower "selves."
2) I didn't feel the need to actually go through with the sex, because "I already know what it feels like."  Again, there is a disconnect between thought and action.  I can mentally agree to something (the higher self--head in the clouds), but walking it out (the lower self--feet on the ground), I'm apparently not too sure of.  Or unwilling to engage with.  I guess I need to embrace materialism more!

(Oh, and eventually I'll get around to facing my Shadow, because I don't actually believe that anyone is fully hopeless, including myself.  I'll need to work through those feelings, fears, and issues at some point.  It's on my to-do list... ha...)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Facing mortality

(Warning, TMI ahead...Probably not one of the wisest self-exposés I've ever written...)

Six months ago my pap smear came back abnormal.  (Apparently, my ex gave me one of the nastier strains of HPV, one of the strains that can cause cervical cancer. So I need to make sure to check on that regularly.  I've had an abnormal pap once before, back when I was pregnant with my first child, and it cleared on its own.)

So last week I went in for my follow-up pap smear, feeling a bit nervous.  (Really, who likes paps?  Geez.) And this one being a follow-up, I was nervous because it would determine whether I was looking at an ongoing problem with cervical cancer.  I wondered whether my body had managed to fight off the precancerous cells like last time, or if this would start a new season of concern. After prodding around down there, the doctor said, "we'll send these labs in, but I do want to say, your cervix looks pretty friable."  That's not a good sign.  I have to say, despite my efforts to stay calm, I got scared.  What if I have cervical cancer?

This brought me into a kind of existential crisis of sorts.  Or maybe that's not really the right word--I'm constantly in an "existential crisis" anyway, though I don't really feel it as a "crisis" most of the time. It's more of a knowing.  I am convinced deeply that life does NOT have meaning beyond what we, both individually and collectively, choose to create from it.  And that doesn't bother me at all.  I guess the crisis comes when that knowing collides with my biological desire to survive, and my biological and emotional desire to protect my children.  I'm not scared to die, (at least, as long as it's not too painful,) but I do feel a strong sense of responsibility, especially towards my children.

Of course, over the week, I researched cervical cancer. Lovely disease, that.  Untreated, it can spread to other organs. It can eat away at the walls dividing everything down there, causing feces to spill into the vagina, or cause bouts of bleeding.  Fortunately (?) it tends to be a slow-growing cancer, and it would take years to get to that point in most cases. But still...

I don't have health insurance.  If this pap showed pre-cancerous cells again, the next step in the medical recommendations would be to see how far the precancerous area had spread, and how deep it was into the skin, via a colposcopy.  Not only is this a very uncomfortable and intrusive procedure that the patient is awake for the whole time, it's also expensive.  From there, the treatments vary, depending on how widespread the cancer is.  If it's small, it can be as as easy as gouging out the affected chunk of skin.  If it's large, more drastic treatments may be called for.

All week, despite my efforts to remain positive and suspend any thoughts on the matter before the labs came back, my mind couldn't help but go to thoughts of what I'd do if I found out I had cervical cancer.  Death was the main thought.  Honestly, I think I'd rather die than go into hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical debt, and endure the horrible-sounding process of treatments. Even taking the risk of trying alternative treatments (which I am in favor of anyway) sounds too stressful.  I'm sure I'd be asked to change my diet, consume lots of supplements, possibly even douche with essential oils or something.  A big stinking hassle.  Especially alone.  Death would just be easier. How long would it take to die? How old would my kids be by then?  What kinds of things would I need to make sure to arrange?  Write a will. Pay off my debts. Make peace with a few people. Sell all my stuff and start trust funds for my children...

But part of me was uneasy with how quickly I was able to choose death.  As I thought through all the ramifications of what would happen if I died, I realized that this is really not a good time!  Mostly because my kids need me!  They are so young!  They would probably have to go live with their dad!  No, if I did get that bad news, part of me decided, I would go ahead and fight.

And the dark side of me responded, "Fight?  I am already fighting. I'm fighting to pay the bills. I'm fighting to have enough energy to go to work.  I'm fighting to raise my children in as healthy a way as I know how.  I'm fighting to maintain interest in my classes, so I can get a degree that will land me a good job.  I'm fighting to maintain hope that a better future is coming.  I'm so tired of fighting.  Adding one more thing to fight in my life sounds completely impossible. There's simply no way I could do it. Period." And a further realization: "I will be completely incapable of fighting this alone. If I don't have a partner to support me, there's absolutely no way I could maintain my fighting spirit. I just know that about myself."

This spiraled into depressing thoughts of, "but who would choose to be with someone who has cervical cancer due to a virulent strain of HPV? What sane man would intentionally risk exposing his most valued body part to a nasty virus?  And anyway, if I do have cervical cancer, it's possible that sex would become painful for me at some point. We all know that's why men partner up, right?  Without sex, what kind of partnership would it be, at least from a man's perspective?"  So finding a partner is out of the question.
Which leads back to the question of, "how would I even find the strength to fight it?"

It's been an interesting week!

I eventually came to a place of (somewhat uneasy) peace with the situation, though.  (I'll explain how in tomorrow's post.)  Nonetheless, when I went back to the doctor yesterday to discuss the results of my labs, I was bracing myself.  He checked on my cold, which has lasted almost 3 weeks, then we talked about the labs.


My body fought it off!

What a weight lifted off me!  Nothing to worry about for now!  I'm going to live!  I need to keep getting pap smears every 6 months to make sure, but there's no cancer at this point!  I asked him about his comment that had triggered the entire worrisome process for me--that my cervix looked really friable.  He said the only explanation he could think of is that maybe it is scarred from the process of my body fighting the virus.

So am I embarrassed that I spent all week pondering what I would do if I got bad news, all for naught?  A little.  I think it was a blessing in disguise, though.  It is healthy to face one's own mortality.  It brings a soberness to life, causes you to evaluate what is really important, and what you really want.  (It also spurred me to get serious about writing a will and a living will.)

In my case, this event has forced me to admit something that has been flitting around my thoughts rather un-solidly lately--it is really important to me that I find a life partner.  I do not want to do this alone; I've been humbled enough now to realize I'm not nearly as strong as I thought I was.  And I know now that relationships are the only things that give life meaning.  For someone as low in inherent meaning-making abilities as myself, that is important. This isn't just an "it would be nice" deal, this is a serious, legitimate need.  I don't know how to make that happen beyond what I've already tried, but it will be an even more major focus now.  More on this later.

This event also brought to light an attitude that I've long known has been lurking halfway in my shadow, halfway conscious-- the attitude of longing to escape.  Part of that just goes with having a Pisces Moon.  Part of it has to do with my disappointment with how my life has gone, where I am now, and the large amount of work it will take to get where I need to be.  And part of it is rooted in a trait that is VERY much in my shadow--playfulness.  I'm not playful.  I'm responsible, with a strong work ethic and a good case of leisure guilt.  Having kids has exacerbated this problem, because kids respond really well to play.  They also take lots of time away from you that would otherwise be devoted to work.  And that aspect of being a parent DRIVES. ME. CRAZY.  So... I'm probably out of balance on the work-play polarity, I'll admit it.  Too much work, though, wears the body down, and then the play energy raises its head and screams in whatever way it thinks I might listen, "I want to escape!"
I don't know how to heal myself in this area.  But at least the issue is fully conscious now.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Schooling options

If I'm determined not to send my child to a mainstream public school, and if I continue living in the city where I am now (a big "if"... I'm job searching...), then I see only a few other alternatives.

One of the Christian schools in town.  (Even if I could afford it) from experience, I know that most Christian schools don't differ much from the objections I have to public schools, with the exceptions being that they aren't as immediately affected by political whimsy, and they usually have smaller class sizes.  However, over-stimulation is still a potential problem, if teachers aren't conscious of how to create a peaceful environment (and I am quite dubious in most cases). Behaviorism, check. Structuralism, check. Technology... that depends on the wealth of the school, but most of them that I've run across REALLY WISH they could include more technology into their classes (i.e., more computer-led learning, etc.)  I'll need to check to make sure...  3-1/2 strikes. Oh yeah, and there's that whole sticky religious indoctrination issue. 4-1/2 strikes.

Turning Point Learning Center, a charter school very  near to where I currently live.  They use Project-Based Learning, which is a really awesome approach to education.  I love PBL for many reasons... a few of the main ones are:
    • PBL teachers don't have to worry nearly as much about motivation issues, because motivation is driven by the curiosity of the students and the relevancy of the projects to the "real" world.
    • PBL encourages holistic thinking--how each part of the project interacts with and affects all the other parts.  Huge plus in my book.
    • Students in PBL build a sense of community, as projects are often done in groups
    • Students in PBL learn early on to develop their own systems of self-organization, self-regulation, and time-management.  This is a skill set I am particularly grateful I developed, due to the the educational approach of the homeschool co-op I was part of during junior-high and highschool.
I also like that TPLC puts Kindergarten-4th grade in the same classroom, then 5-8, then 9-12.  While dividing grades up one at a time isn't necessarily a deal-breaker for me, I think it is anomalous and unhealthy to put a children in a group of people who are only their own ages. In what other constructive context will they ever find themselves in a group of people with an age window of only 1-2 years deviance from their own? Interacting with, learning next to, people of other ages has a higher chance of instilling wisdom and a more sensitive cultural awareness in children than the divide-and-conquer approach used by most schools. Plus, staying in the same class with roughly the same group of people over the course of several years really helps with forming strong healthy attachments.  (You probably get the idea by now that I'm a fan of attachment theory.)
The concerns I have about TPLC are:
  • They have changed management recently, and from the shushed whispers of gossip I've managed to collect, it's in a bit of chaos and having an identity crisis.
  • Will it be a community that is supportive of my attachment parenting efforts?  I called the school to ask a few questions a few days ago, and the secretary told me that the first thing they have a prospective family do is send the child to observe the classroom for half a day.  I asked if I could go along, since my child is only five, and she said no, they always have the child do it alone.  This raises a red flag for me.  Not only for the obvious reason that I am curious about what happens in the classroom as well, but also because it might demonstrate an anti-attachment attitude that is so prevalent in our society.  "Get the child as independent from his parents as soon as possible."  A well-meaning approach, but very unhealthy.  ESPECIALLY when we are talking about a FIVE YEAR OLD.  He doesn't have the schema built up yet to be able to make sense of what is going on around him.  If I were there I could answer his questions about what the other students are doing, what the pictures on the wall are about, and so on and so forth.  He wouldn't ask the teacher, a stranger, that I know for sure.  What a ridiculous policy, Turning Point!
  • I do not like their stance on technology for the younger grades.  Of all the things they could say on their "about our program" page, they brag about every student doing "enrichment" (oh if only the heavy sarcasm I feel could come through my typing!) on their own computers every day.  Kind of like "enriched" flour, I suppose...
    (Although, both of my children have 3rd-house suns, and my eldest has moon in Gemini; so it's unlikely that, long-term, he will share my cautious attitude towards technology. That's OK.  He can go gung-ho when he's older; I just don't want it over-used at his age.)
Homeschooling.  If I did this, I could do whatever I wanted! The only problem? I'm a single mom who has to work.  And I'm going to university to get a master's degree so I can actually get a job that will support my family.  So there's a bit of a time problem.
Actually, that's not the only problem.  I have a space problem too.  My house is tiny, and bursting at the seams, even though I am constantly getting rid of stuff and trying to live as minimally as possible.  Where would I keep textbooks, learning aids, manipulatives?
Another problem: I really, really, really don't want to home-school.  I love my children, but I need a break from them too.  I'm not a kid person, to be honest.  I'd rather not be a parent at all.  It happened, I'm making the best of it, I'm going to turn out some amazing adults in 18 years, but that doesn't mean I like parenting. My eldest, especially, seems to be able to push my buttons pretty easily. It might be easier for him to learn from someone else, with whom he is not so ready and eager to ARGUE!  The whole "prophet is without honor in his own country" phenomenon.
Also, one thing I'm looking forward to about Kindergarten is having a built-in group of friends for ME.  I've mentioned I struggle with loneliness and isolation.  (Probably partly because I'm too damn picky, and too damn intense...) Parents of  other students in your kid's class is a great way to get connected with other people.  I guess there's always home-school co-ops for that part of the picture...

If only I could afford the Waldorf school!  I have my reservations about them, too, but they are probably with me on all of the most important priorities I have.  It would sure be a long commute to Lawrence every day, but it might be worth it!  But yikes, what a high price tag on tuition!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Why I probably won't send my kids to public schools

I can't believe it. My oldest child will be starting Kindergarten this autumn.  I'm trying to figure out what school to send him to.  Me being myself, of course I have a lot of lofty stipulations.

Public schools are probably out. Here's a list of a few reasons:
1) Overstimulation.  He is a sensitive child, like his mother, highly aware of his environment and all the stimuli therein. I want to avoid situations (emotional, social, or physical) that will encourage him to put on his defense mechanisms, such as defiant attitudes, sullenness, or aggression.  Mainstream public schools have large class sizes, and the tendency to cram the classrooms full of garish, loud objects, with not a peaceful negative space in which the eyes can rest.  People think this is good classroom protocol. 

I'd much prefer THIS Kindergarten!!! (Click this link for an amazing real school).
Too bad it's in Austria. Boo.

2) Technology.  Many public schools have jumped onto the hype about teaching our kids technology at earlier and earlier ages.  I'm concerned about some preliminary scientific studies linking "screen time" with altered brain development. And we already know that staring at a glowing screen is physiologically addicting.  I do not think kids need to be trained in technology as soon as possible. Developmentally, what they most need at the early ages is a solid emotional foundation (attachment) and lots of physical movement(s).  Technology is largely a mental game, and kids can easily "catch up" in that area when they are older.  I just don't see many mainstream forces speaking out about this. Probably because it's way too convenient to use screens as babysitters.

3) Behaviorism  Most schools--public and private-- still control their classrooms via external motivators, such as rewards or punishments.  Children are treated like animals to be trained.  This is an idea based in behaviorism, and while I recognize that humans are actually, in very large part, animals, I do not think training them primarily via external motivators is, ultimately, very healthy.  Most people just think that's the only way to "control" children, but it's not. There's a small (but hopefully growing!) number of schools that are taking a deeper, more affirming approach, but they are hard to find.

4) Structuralism  Most schools --public and private-- have a huge focus on getting the child to fit into a hierarchical, self-serving structure of some sort, be it the broken American economic system, a religion, or some other large structure that dehumanizes the individual.  I recognize the value of helping a child learn to adapt to his/her environment.  I recognize that we are by nature cultural beings, and it is impossible not to have an identity rooted in a some kind of collective.  I recognize that structure is a necessary part of life.  But the structure should always serve the people, never the other way around.  Unfortunately, our public schools too often are like factories, when they should be more like families.

5) Political war zones.  Some day I'll write my opinions about how this country's educational system could be improved.  Meanwhile, the public schools are unfortunate victims of political point-scorers.  Public schools are like marionettes with each string being held by a different puppeteer with a different script-- constantly being pulled in different directions. Every new president seems eager to show his dedication to "improving" the education system in America, and implementing top-down "reforms" that are so wildly uninformed by the real world.  Any teacher who's been around the block can tell you.  Every year there's a new hot-shot theory that everyone must suddenly conform to.  It's a little ridiculous.  And it's unstable.  I don't want my kids stuck in the middle of that mess.

There are other reasons I'm not considering public school, but those are the main ones. My next post will outline the alternatives I have available to me.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thoughts on Subverting the Norm--layer 8: broken pedestal

I remember when my pedestal broke.
I was probably about 16 or so.  The church I attended through high school had been involved in a revival that was gradually becoming more and more famous, eventually attracting people from all over the world.

I remember every few months my youth group would pack up into a van and drive several hours to attend the electrically-charged worship services at this revival-struck church.  We would twitch and shake. We would jump up and down and scream wildly for Jesus.  We would shout our "Amen"s to the pastor as he preached.  We would rush forward at the altar call, to the heavy beat of deafening praise music, to receive prayer from the native revivalists shouting passionately into our faces, imploring the spirit of God to infuse, heal, ignite, empower, embolden, and restore our souls. We would go home and beg God to let us be the carriers of revival to OUR church, our schools, our city.

pedestalMy pastors were friends with the pastor of the church where we went to get fueled up on revival.  This guy had a magnetic personality.  He was articulate, fiery, deep, well-reasoned, and had this je ne sais quoi about him... that thing, whatever it is that most great leaders seem to have... that ineffable quality that compels other people to admire them.  He had it.  He was the one God was using.
He was on my pedestal.

Sometimes after one of the revival services my youth group would be invited to go out to eat with the group of pastors associated with the revival.  I remember one such late-night dinner.  I was feeling elated at being included in an inner circle of sorts, (even though it was just a bunch of people eating together.  But these were the important ones. The anointed ones.) I was feeling elated at the great spiritual experiences I had had in the revival service.  I was feeling elated to be sitting just a couple chairs away from... him... The Pastor.  And then it happened.  I don't really know exactly why it happened.  I looked over at him, right in the middle of taking a big bite of his burger, and in a moment infused with the depth of eternity, it struck me that The Pastor was just a human.  A normal human like everyone else.  He came tumbling down, as my pedestal he was on shattered into pieces.

And I felt angry.  Surely he's aware of his humanity... How dare he allow himself to be elevated by all these people?  How could I have been so naive? How could everyone else in the room play into this game?  (It's only now that I see that the reason people play this game is to try to inflate their own perceived importance by associating with someone "important.")

Since that moment, I have continuously, stubbornly refused to put anyone on a pedestal again.  I will happily admire their talents and their discipline in exercising their talents.  But I refuse to let myself be too impressed.

There were several times this attitude really helped me.  I remember two particular classes--one in my undergrad, and one at the audio engineering school where I got certified--that had professors who had built up quite fearful reputations.  "Watch out," the gossip whispered, "Dr. So-and-so is a real hard nose. You will DIE in his class!"  In both occasions, this reputation merely reinforced my already-obtained value of not putting anyone on a pedestal, and I entered the classes refusing to be afraid of the professors.  In both cases I sat up front, instead of cowering in the back with everyone else.  Spine erect, eyes flashing, pencil and paper in hand, I was ready to learn.  In both cases I made sure my mind was sharp for the classes, and I pushed back at the professors when they showed their tough sides.  In both cases I earned huge respect from them, not to mention high grades.

What is this tendency in us, to build pedestals and put people on them?  What creates and feeds a celebrity culture?  Is it because most people are blind to their own inner brilliance, so they seek it in others?  Why is it so easy to buy into the idea that some people are more important than others?

And yet, even I, defiantly earthy as I am, still occasionally fall into the celebrity mindset, despite myself.  Let's be honest. Would I have been as attracted to attend the Subverting the Norm conference if Peter Rollins weren't going to be there?  Peter is another of those guys with that celebrity magnetism. 
I'll admit... At least once the thought went through my head, "this is the closest I'll probably ever get to him."  Yikes! How could I let myself do that again?!! 
But if even I was partially motivated by celebrity, I can imagine many many others at the conference had similar motivations, at least in part.  Peter Rollins and Phil Snider were the only "famous" people I had heard about from the conference before I went, but when I got there, I realized that there were a few other lightning rod speakers whose personalities could easily allow them to gather followings of groupies.  (Not that I'm saying any of these speakers play this game or want this to happen.  It's a hard thing to get people not to do...)

Ironically, the celebrity mindset is antithetical to the very nature of the conference.  How often did the speakers talk about a weak God, a God of horizontal (not vertical) transcendence, a God of the marginalized, a God who rejects the powerful structures that dehumanize the masses and create hierarchies of importance?  And yet, knowing all this, we are still all too ready to ascribe worship...

This is a tension that the conference attendees would do well to explore.

In this light, I see the story of Jesus as an incredibly powerful reproach to our celebrity culture.  Remember that famous Messianic Secret, that has befuddled many a New Testament scholar?  Why would Jesus not allow others to announce that he was the Messiah?  Maybe because he was actively FIGHTING the celebrity culture.  He, apparently, had that magnetic draw as well, as we see thousands of people flocking to listen to him speak.  And yet, rather than allowing them to put him on a pedestal, he made every attempt to prove himself as humble as they were.  He fought the urge to be exalted, even to the point of death.  The ultimate crushing of the pedestal.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Thoughts on Subverting the Norm--layer 7: outsider

I am beginning to get at what I feel is the main reason (of many reasons) why I was led to attend Subverting the Norm 2 (and I only realized after I'd already committed to going, that I had "been led.") This is difficult to explain, and I hope this post makes sense.  I'm a pretty straightforward person, and I'll be as clear as I can, but when one talks of one's own shadow, it can be incredibly difficult to bring clarity to the issues.  Please understand that it can be painful to be vulnerable, and I'm being as courageous and open as I know how to be.

A major pattern throughout my life has been "feeling like an outsider."  Very few people have ever outright HATED me, but I've never been popular.  I've never been someone who fits in. Since Kindergarten.  I can remember the other girls in class not playing with me and wondering why.   And later on I managed to internalize that "why" and make it something that was more my fault. (The classic feminine response--whereas the classic masculine response is to externalize their pain.) I rationalized that I must be intentionally withholding myself; I scanned the environment, perceived I was different, and needed to protect myself by censoring certain parts of myself when I was in that particular environment.
There was always something I needed to censor myself for.  I'm the only girl not allowed to play with Barbies.  I'm a Pentecostal in a non-Pentecostal environment.  I'm a female in a mostly male environment. I'm the only one who doesn't understand all these pop-culture references. I'm the only one who can't afford to go out partying all the time.  I'm the only college-educated person. I'm the only undergrad. I'm the only parent who has chosen Attachment Parenting.  I'm the only skeptic ...on and on... I have never found a group that was close enough to my identities to allow me to feel fully safe.  It's just something I've learned to live with.  (The closest I got, in all fairness, was The Mustard Seed Christian Fellowship in Lawrence, KS.)

The way I usually respond to this feeling of non belonging is by trying to be of service. In an odd way, helping others is one technique for distancing oneself from them.  Being the humble servant allows you to hide, even though everyone can see you serving. (My Sun is in the 6th house).  (And I'm a practical person anyway, I get antsy when I'm not being productive. But that's another story...)

About a week before the Subverting the Norm conference, I began to get really anxious.  "What have I done?  Signed up for a stupid conference at the height of the semester's busy season?  I must have been crazy. This is ridiculous.  A huge waste of time and money, and nothing will come of it. Another dead end, I'm sure of it.  Oh well.  Too late now.  I'll just have to swallow my disappointment, accept the emptiness of life once again, and move on."  I was getting buyer's remorse... in advance!

My dreams and my intuition told me, though, that what was really happening was I was stirring up all those old painful places of rejection again. I've gained enough wisdom in life to know that this is a good thing, even though it's hard.  In one sense, what was really going on was, my heart decided it needed to be triggered, to try to reenact my wounds, but with a better ending this time.  For this, all I needed was a conference, any conference, it didn't matter the content.  A Large Group of People that could potentially reject me and make me feel marginalized and worthless, but hopefully this time I could forge my way through creating new reactions and feelings.  (I've reenacted this attempt many, many times in my life... so part of me was really skeptical that anything would be different this time.  But my life has been going through SO much transformation lately, I dared to have a tiny sliver of hope that maybe... something would happen this time...)

To be continued!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Thoughts on Subverting the Norm--layer 6: art, smart, and heart

On Saturday of the conference I had the incredible pleasure of meeting one of the conference presenters, Barry Taylor. It was a short, mundane conversation before his presentation, to discuss how to set up the stage for him.  Nonetheless, he managed to make an impression on me.  I had never heard of Barry before this event, but I found him extremely likable.  (And I'm not just saying that because he has a British accent, though I'm a real sucker for accents!)  He exudes a strength of heart that feels like it has seen much darkness and lived to shine on anyway. (I know almost nothing of his life story, but that was the impression I got.)  His presence was so accepting, so balanced, so authentic, so mature.  I hoped some of his quiet fire would rub off on me.  I wished he were my uncle so I could see him every Christmas.

His presentation was unique from all the others that I saw.  He wasn't painstakingly eloquent, obsequiously academic, or pretentiously anti-normal.  He was just solid as a rock in being himself, and that was enough for him, so it was enough for us.  He stood up there and just talked about art.  Art!  He admitted that he's not an art historian or anything --he just likes art.  He showed us pictures from the repertoire of two of his favorite painters.  It was like we were all invited into his living room, and he was showing us some of his most beloved paintings, and what they meant to him.  Along the way, profound philosophical insights peppered his talk, with astuteness that took my breath away.

I must admit, I have a hard time with visual art sometimes.  It can be hard to figure out how to interact with it.  That's why I appreciate when someone who seems to "get it," like Barry Taylor, can come alongside and help me experience it the way it was meant to be experienced.  (I probably assume too much, though, when i say "...the way it was meant to be experienced," as if there's only one acceptable way to experience a piece! Maybe I should say "...help me experience it with a depth of insight" or something like that...)

When he spoke of the shadows in Caravaggio's paintings being infused with the personalities of hundreds of other subjects (not his exact words... something to that effect), I was struck with the spirit of the art.

And his explanations of Mark Tansey's works transformed my initial confusion at the monochrome impressions into true awe for Tansey's brilliance.

When Barry juxtaposed the painting called "Doubting Thomas" by Caravaggio with "Doubting Thomas" by Tansey, I cried.

It's one thing to be touched by an artistic presentation.  It's another to come to realization of a personal transformation based on that presentation.  I had a very meaningful affirmation occur in me, due to Barry's presentation; to describe it, I'll need to explain a struggle I've had.

I majored in Piano Performance and Music Composition during my undergraduate degree.  I thought I was going to go into an artistic career, but I've long had doubts plague me related to "my" art. (Not that I consider myself at a level to wear the label of "artist"!)  On one hand, I love the high-brow world of art; I feel comfortable there, having been classically trained.  On the other hand, I have a lot of low-brow in my heritage and personal experience.  I write classical music, but I also write songs in a more popular vein.  I've long had a hard time reconciling these energies within myself.  Many people have told me I should put more efforts into being a singer-songwriter at some sort of professional level, but one (of many) internal restraints for that idea has been this stereotype from who-knows-where that singer-songwriters are not academic.
If I have any vanity in me left, it is fueled by the attempt to appear smart.
The point of art, though, from my perspective, is to create an emotional experience that moves one beyond the realm of analytic thought.  Logically speaking, there doesn't have to be a problem between the two elements of being "smart" and being "emotional," of course, but for some reason, this has been an issue for me.
Barry's exposé of Tansey helped move me forward in that battle a few steps.  Here is an artist who is using texts from philosophers superimposed upon each other, to create backdrops for his pieces.  His works reference history, theology, sociology, philosophy.  He could in no way be labeled as un-intellectual, and yet his art is still powerfully emotional.  His example gives me a bit more courage to go ahead and be smart, and make art, both.

Finally, I can't explain what this has to do with anything, but Barry's presentation, for some reason, also clicked something in me. I decided to collect all the disparate areas I've spread my life out, and be unashamed about how complicated and multi-faceted I am.  I've kind of been living multiple personalities and trying to keep them unaware of each other-- a singer-songwriter here with one pseudonym, a dream interpreter there with another pseydonym, my private music teaching studio here, my astrology interests there, and so on.  It's almost like I have a deep belief that nobody could accept or understand me if I prove to be more than meets the eye.  Or a belief that people only want to interact with 2-dimensional figures who fit their schema based on first impressions and labeling.  Maybe some people want to relate to others that way, but I don't think all people do.
I don't know how this will all end up looking, but my first step in that regard has been to try to bring out the newly integrated voice of Abigail onto this blog. Stay tuned as I work it out.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thoughts on Subverting the Norm 2--Layer 5: Why Churches?

After yesterday's post, I want to hasten to clarify, lest I portray the wrong idea-- I do not feel like I had a bad childhood.  Nor am I ungrateful for the upbringing I had.  My parents are awesome.  They loved us kids, sacrificed for us, and nurtured us. They did an amazing job with what they had, and through it all, they stuck to their beliefs.  And considering that their beliefs were rather in the minority in society, I admire their courage for sticking to them.  The fact that I feel called to walk a different path should not be taken to mean that I scorn the path they started me on.  So much of what they taught and modeled is still strengthening and empowering me today.  Love you, Mom and Dad! (Whether or not you're even reading this.)

Now, back to the question of why I attended a conference about "Can Post-Modern Theology Live in the Churches?" when I am moving away from "churches."

March 20th, 2013. Insomnia.  I had awakened from a bad dream (that I didn't remember, otherwise I'd analyze it!), and was trying to reset my internal clock by looking at the glow of my computer screen. (This is a trick to help you not re-enter a nightmare, by the way.) I checked FaceBook, and one of the posts was from Peter Rollins' page (not that I actually read his books--too Christian for my taste [isn't that ironic]), advertising an upcoming conference called Subverting the Norm.  I read through the description and some of the comments on the page.  Part of me felt like rolling my eyes... another church event... but part of me was curious. One of the biggest problems I've faced throughout my life has been loneliness, and it has become acute lately. Part of that is due to my situation, and will be alleviated when I get a more social job... But part of it is because I've not felt safe talking to anyone about this issue of my faith and beliefs. This conference seemed like it might be a group of people who'd dealt with similar experiences, questions, logical processes, and emotional grapplings as myself.

And yet, these people seemed to be choosing, nonetheless, to stay in The Church.  I guess the question that roared from my heart was, "WHY?" Why why why why why--after you wake up to the fact that The Church is not godde's only way of working in the world, that godde is (probably) not at all like what (today's iterations of) Christianity portrays, that there is (probably) no post-death consequence for choosing not to believe, and so on and so forth-- why would you choose to stay in an outdated system? I understand that many people are economically trapped, since they get paid by The Church, and don't feel they have any other means of providing for themselves and their families.  But for those who don't work for a church...  What brings them back if it's not truth claims? Is it cowardice? Sentimentality? Having a social group? Convenience? Amusement? A passion for reform? What is it?

Myself, I'm almost ready to walk away, and I'd love it if I never had to enter a church or be exposed to Christian-speak again (as unlikely as that actually will be.)  I'll join parenting groups, gardening groups, book clubs, sewing circles, musical ensembles, and so on, for my social needs. Cowardice and sentimentality are not part of my normal modus operandi, so that part doesn't apply to me. (Though I'm deeply compassionate for those who do deal with these personality traits. I have flaws that are much worse than these two.)  I can relate to wanting to reform or reach out to those still caught in their identity traps.  But I have kind of assumed that the best way of doing so is to call to people from the outside, rather than try to deal with the messy process of redefining or re-framing everything inside.  
If it's all made up anyway, why bother?

There were people at this conference from all over the world, many different walks of life.  Why? What brought them together? What compelled them to contribute?  I really want to know.  I got a few great answers from some incredible people at the conference, but I still want to hear more.
What compels you to continue to identify with Christianity?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Thoughts on Subverting the Norm 2--Layer 4: concentric identity traps

I grew up a devout Christian in the Word-of-Faith movement.  From birth, I was steeped in positive confessions, manifestations, Bible memorization, commanding demons, dancing in church, and healing people.  I remember showing my dad a wart on my finger when I was probably only about 5 years old. He said to "curse it in the name of Jesus," which I did; the wart was gone the next day. This was my world.

In Kindergarten I started attending a Christian school at an Assemblies of God church.  To get a tuition discount we became members of the church.  Once when I heard my parents disparage one of the AoG pastor's sermons about redemptive suffering, I began to realize that it's possible to be Pentecostal but not Word-of-Faith.
Because my grandparents attended churches in mainline Protestant denominations, I eventually realized it was possible to be a Christian, but neither Pentecostal nor Word-of-Faith.
The older and more experienced I became, the more nuanced a picture I had of Christianity.  By the time I was in high-school, I had an image of God's Kingdom that was something like this:

And then there were other religions. (I wasn't quite sure where to put Catholics.)
But around all of these, there was this huge exterior circle.  The World.  That's where people went to work, played, ate, slept... and pretty much everything that wasn't going to church and/or worshiping God. (Thank you, Enlightenment, for separating the sacred and the secular.)
My circles pretty much saw the world as evil.  Parts of it, like eating and sleeping, are necessary evils.  But the truly important part of life is Christianity. God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, prayer, evangelism, the Bible, Worship, and so on.  Anything in The World that doesn't prop up the "Kingdom of God" is wholly superfluous.

Along the way, while absorbing these identity concepts, I also absorbed messages of opposition and persecution.  Non-Pentecostals persecute Pentecostals, calling them crazy holy-rollers.
(Of course, they just don't understand; if they would just get baptized in the Holy Spirit and learn to read the Bible right, they wouldn't say such things.  "Forgive them, for they know not what they do.")

Mainline denominations persecute Evangelicals.
(Of course, they are just blind liberals who care more about a non-Biblical Social Gospel than actually saving souls for heaven, which, clearly, is the most important thing in the Bible.)

Catholics (I finally settled on, yes, they could actually be Christians) persecute Protestants.
(Of course, they are just confused by the traditions of men into thinking that Mary actually has ANYTHING to do with Christianity.) 

Other religions persecute Christians.
(Of course, they are just deceived by Satan into believing anyone besides Jesus could save their souls.)

And all of us are persecuted by The World.
(Of course, people in The World just want to revel in their pagan lusts, unfettered by the pesky morals proffered by the loving God who weeps when he's forced to send them to hell for their sins.)

That's a lot of persecution.  You can understand why I grew up feeling so stressed out.

Throughout my childhood, lots of people told me "You'll probably become a pastor's wife someday!"  They probably said that because I was a true believer-- earnest, devout, pious, radiant with zeal and knowledge. I studied the Bible deeply, on my own volition (one Christmas I asked for a Strong's Concordance for my gift. I used that thing a lot!)  I was outspoken about my faith, and I was concerned about people. (Yet, of course, being female, I couldn't actually be a pastor!)  Oh yeah, and I played piano. Perfect pastor's wife material.

But even way back then, I vehemently rejected that prediction over my life.  I felt deeply that I didn't want that role, for reasons I couldn't articulate.  At a profound level, what I was really interested in was... The World. The Real World.  Somehow, I just knew that The World had to be more important than The Church--it is bigger! And I intuitively concluded that if I achieved anything in The Church that did not also affect The World, I would have achieved nothing.

My heart knew what it was doing, even though my mind has been confused about what's going on. It's been a long struggle, figuring my way out of the maze, and I feel like FINALLY I'm able to connect with The World.
I'm here.
In the flesh.
I'm not separating myself, psychologically, hoping for a better existence after death, or some kind of divine protection from the realities of existence. I don't believe what I was told so often, that "nothing that happens here is of importance except for spiritual things."  Contrary to a beloved Christian song, this world IS my home.
I see all those Christian identities as mere constructs of human imagination, stories people tell themselves, robes they wear. For varying reasons-- many of them, I'm sure, very good reasons.  But still... Constructs. Fictions.  A math friend of mine once said, (mostly) tongue-in-cheek, "I was never able to go into the humanities because I get the sneaking suspicion they are just making everything up."  That's where I feel I am now, regarding religion. There are so many other ways to interpret the phenomena that Christians hold up as "proofs" of the "truth" of their fabrications. (Imagine my feelings a few months ago when I heard a doctor who studies the mind-body connection say that warts are one of the easiest things to cure using placebo.)

I've dated a few atheists in the past few years, and I find their groundedness so refreshing. When faced with the solid perspective of naturalism, it's easy to look at religion and think "they are freaking making this all up!"

I'm not giving up on spirituality.  But I've decided not to put my identity into a religion.  It took too long, too many tears, too much anguish, to disentangle myself from it.  I feel like my decision is firm.

So why did I decide to make the large sacrifices necessary to attend a conference concerned with how postmodern theology could live in today's churches?  Why bother with churches at all?  Let them die of natural causes, the lot of them, as far as I'm concerned! (...The institutions, not the people!)
To be honest, I'm still wondering that myself.
To be continued... this post is already too long.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Thoughts on Subverting the Norm 2--Layer 3: giving birth

This conference was very much a gestalt (the whole is greater than the sum of its parts).  Many of the effects I'm going through will probably seem unrelated, or merely loosely related, to the actual content.  I guess that fits in nicely with a key phrase from the conference itself, "event, not content."

I'm going to jump all over the place as I scribe my impressions.  Right now I'll turn to one strata of experience that occurred on Saturday.

Somewhere into the first hour of Saturday, my mind began... I don't know how to describe it... I want to say "buzzing."  It was like so many stimuli were demanding my mental attention, there was no way to handle them all.  Kind of like if you're standing in a crowd and everyone is brushing against you, you begin not to feel any one particular person.  It wasn't unpleasant enough to be called "overwhelmed," just kind of like a threshold had been reached. (My friend Michelle might call it a mental orgasm. Ha!)

This state kind of led up to an emotional state that I can only compare to when I was in labor.  (And here, I'll probably lose most of my readers! Sorry!)  Every woman reacts differently to being in labor when it finally sets in, but my emotional reaction was heightened feelings of love.  (Probably all that oxytocin...)  I remember during my labor looking around the room and feeling almost ridiculously in love with everyone I saw, even my (now ex-) husband, towards whom I otherwise spent most of the rest of our marriage feeling scorn, anger, and resentment.  I was so grateful everyone was there, I thought everyone was just beautiful and wonderful, and even though I was working hard through the contractions, I soaked in the presence of the others around me.

That state of mind was similar to how I began to feel on Saturday.  I felt like I loved everyone around me, even though I didn't know them.  I was so grateful and awed by their presences.

And yet, at the same time, just like being in labor, I felt like I was being stretched open.  I started crying several times on Saturday.  I cried a lot Sunday at home too.  Not even sure, exactly, why.  (Of course, I have some ideas, which is why I'm exploring them in this blog series.)  I don't know what I'm giving birth to here, but even viscerally, in my body, I'm feeling like something is being born.  Is this even making sense?

Back to the topic of love.  A realization struck me on Saturday. Love is not always a pleasant, positive emotion.  Pain is embedded into love's very nature.
Love wants to unify with the beloved.  That's why it's painful, because achieving unity is impossible to do.  It is impossible for me to merge with you. Love requires a plural-- at minimum a lover and a beloved. If the lover merged fully with the beloved, there would either be no more lover to love, nor beloved to be loved. If love attained its goal, it would destroy itself. The ache of love is the recognition that the object of your desire is actually beyond the object, and into the impossibility of unity.  
The Fibonacci series is about love, because it is about endlessly approaching something that is impossible to attain. The golden mean, pi, and every imaginary number is about love.  Paradox is love. Nothing is love. Godde is love.
 When I looked around at all the amazing people at the conference on Saturday, seeing them, somehow, through eyes of love, the pain of it struck me.  There's no way I could ever get to know all of these people at the depths that love demands. There's no way I could ever even fully know myself and the small circle around me at such depths.  We live imperfectly, in an orientation towards love, but never fully achieving it.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Thoughts on Subverting the Norm 2--Layer 2: theology of privilege?

Several times in the conference I heard the question come up in various forms: "Is Radical Theology a theology of the privileged? Can it work for the downtrodden, the poor, the unfortunate?"  I think I have some small ideas to contribute on that topic.

I'm living in Emporia, KS, because, after the divorce, my ex moved to France, and I needed to be close to my mom for help with my two babies.  I live far below the poverty line.  I'm currently studying towards a degree that (I'm hoping desperately) will provide me the opportunity for a job that will lift me out of poverty.  While working.  While raising two children aged 2 and 5.  I don't even get weekends to catch up on anything, since the ex is gone.  Someday I might post my story, to provide explanation for why I am where I am.  For now, my point is, in certain lights I could be considered one of the poor, the downtrodden, the unfortunate.
Well, perhaps not, because I'm white, and I have a college education.  So I'm not as far down as I could be.  But I'm far down enough to, I think, be able to claim experiential knowledge of need and lack.  Maybe I can serve as a bridge.

One thought that comes up from my opening question:
Actually, ANY theology, philosophy, or academically-informed orientation to life is a theology of the privileged.  We only have time or energy to work out some kind of systematic approach to interpreting life if we aren't slaving away all day just to bring in the bare essentials of survival.  I've been feeling guilty lately, because I never read anymore.  I think I've read maybe 3 books in the past 5 years.  My time is just so filled with making ends meet, when I sit down to read, it's hard to focus.  (And I have it fairly easy compared to the horrible life conditions of some, thanks to our country's social safety net, and the loving help of many around me.)  So whether it's radical theology or any other kind of systematic theology, or philosophy, or whatever, a life of the mind is usually only possible if the life of the body is somewhat secure.  (And I realize there are exceptions.)

However, I DO think that this kind of theology could be a difficult sell to those lacking education or privilege.  Positivism is simply easier to understand.  All the psychological responses that postmoderns are trying to get people to see beyond (externalizing a god figure, clinging to belief, rationalizing systemic injustice, and so on, and so forth) are pretty normal psychological responses for anyone who's human.  They just seem intuitive, and, therefore, normal.  Getting people to question the responses that arise within them unconsciously, could be difficult without some kind of academic thought habits to appeal to.

What I think people of lower privilege CAN understand, though, is a suffering God and a God of solidarity.  Maybe the majority of humans can't follow the logic of Nietzche or Caputo.  But we can tell someone suffering that God is suffering with them... and that might make sense. (Though it raises the Problem of Evil...)  And we can tell them that when humans band together and work together to solve our problems, that is when God is most present... that might make sense.

Myself, I'd just prefer not to bring God into the conversation at all. Makes things messier than they already are.  I'd just prefer to demonstrate love, solidarity, and the bringing about of justice for the marginalized.  But we see from statistics that religion is growing, not diminishing, among that demographic.  We can't go among them and just not address their culture, which is becoming more religious.  So maybe we do have to work to ensure that dangerous, structure-enforcing interpretations of religion are questioned, and that "subversive" interpretations are offered.  I'm not sure how that is possible, again, because positivism is much easier to grasp.  But we might have to settle for some compromises along the way.
Sometimes it could just be a matter of finding clever ways to turn things on their head.  The simpler the better.  For example:

Maybe we don't have to argue about how God is weak, etc.  Maybe we can just point out another way of seeing things in a specific situation, and, if it's simple and powerful enough, "you can never un-see it."

Also, education would help. A lot.

Ultimately, I want to think that the goal is not necessarily to get the poor and marginalized to (dis)believe the way we do.  The goal is to get the poor out of poverty, and to give the marginalized a voice.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Thoughts on Subverting the Norm 2--Layer 1: meeting the unknown

I got back home at 1:15 a.m. this morning from the Subverting the Norm 2 conference in Springfield, MO.  My heart and mind are full, and I am trying to process what happened to me.  There are so many layers to my experience there, it will take awhile to unpack.  This has fueled a desire to begin blogging regularly.  More on all of this later.  I'll try to post a blog every day until everything I want to say is out.

But to kick it off, here's a story.

The reasons I went to the conference are numerous.  The practical purpose of being there was to help set up and run the audio/video equipment and record the sessions that occurred in the ballroom.

On Friday, between two of the sessions, as I was fiddling with the audio equipment, a cute little old man came up to me and asked if he could plug his phone into the powerstrip by my feet.  Of course I said yes.  He chatted with me about almost forgetting his phone before leaving, and how absent-minded he could be.  I empathized with him, stating that I, myself, had forgotten important items more often than I care to recall.  I said, "I just console myself by saying, 'I'm not stupid. My mind is just on higher things!'"  He chuckled.  I then took a tangent and told him that my grandfather is a handwriting analysis specialist, and one of the things he has said is that people whose handwriting is low and round are often practical people who do well at handling material details, while people with lots of upward points in their handwriting enjoy probing "higher" mental realms.  My charming conversation partner said he thought that was interesting, and said, "You should see my handwriting."  Then he wandered away, and I went on with my work.

I did not find out until a couple hours later that I had been chatting with the super-rock-star of the conference... Jack Caputo!  (Not sure why everyone called him "Jack" Caputo, when it's "John," but whatever.) I thought that was kinda fun, and I was actually a little embarrassed when I realized what had happened.
This experience brings up a few ideas for me.

First, a question.  If I'd known how influential and famous he was, would I have interacted with him differently?   Hell, no.  I'm not a star worshipper.  I believe firmly in the equal "profanity" of all human beings.  In fact, if someone is famous, I immediately have some visceral suspicion towards him/her. (More on this later, this is one of the layers I need to unpack).

Second, might this experience be a kind of metaphor for how humans might relate to godde/the ineffable?  We don't know it was "a godde thing" until after the fact.  Meanwhile, it's just part of going about our normal lives.  (The Matthew 25 story about people not knowing they were serving Jesus when they were serving their neighbor, and blah-de-blah-de-blah...)  The sacred is infused into everything.

That's all I have time for right now.  More to come.... Thanks for reading.