Monday, April 26, 2010

but i'm not the only one


ahg. ahg. ahg.

i want to talk about how the church is generally perceived by the thinkers of my generation and when i start to ponder it, ahg is the first and the second thing that comes to mind.

it's hard because i know that the church has within it many loving, open-minded, compassionate, and communicative people. why doesn't everyone else know that?

i have a theory. well, a theory that is made up of a bulleted list. i love bulleted lists.
  • no one wants to talk about religion--it's pretty much understood that christians have some sort of handicap that prevents them from seeing that what they say they believe can't possibly be true. and so many christians live in this strange state of wanting badly to talk about our faith with people with whom we have any sort of relationship, but at the same time being paralyzed by a fear that we might, in the minds of those around us, join the crazy ranks. and there's little worse than joining the crazy ranks. we work hard for credibility and, whether it's fair or not, we risk losing it when we talk about Jesus.
  • something worse than joining the crazy ranks is joining the crazy and assaulting ranks. "assaulting" isn't quite as fun a word as "crazy," but i can't figure out how else to describe the manner in which some past, present, and unfortunately future christians (individually, or as a church) try to communicate their faith. regardless of who i am, when i start to talk to someone about my faith, i'm continuing a conversation that that person has already been having with any other "religious" person/institution in their life. this is particularly difficult here in the south as these conversations have often been long and damaging - assaulting. it's almost like if i had an identical twin who murdered someone. i would spend my whole life trying to convince people that i was trustworthy and maybe never really succeed. i might just want to hide in my room, only speaking to people who already knew me - to whom i didn't have to explain myself. that's a very tempting option for christians - hide in the church where no one will challenge.
  • this is kind of an extension of the previous point: because one of the biggest complaints that people have against christians is that they talk too much and listen too little, it becomes difficult to talk. but how will people know that we're different, if we don't talk? but how can we talk without making the same mistakes all over again? not without difficulty.
it's risky and difficult. we might say the wrong thing. people may not understand. they may say hurtful things. they don't mean to be hurtful. like i said: not without difficulty.

but it's worth it, right?

isn't it worth it? to let the world know that christians are really just people (regular ol' people) who follow Jesus, someone who, if you read about it, came to love, heal, teach, and to give us a chance at reconciliation. how we turned that into something crazy and assaulting is a mystery but hopefully we can make amends - convince people that we, though not perfect, are not our murdering twin.

Friday, April 23, 2010

now now now

once again, it's very late. i want to be asleep, but it's my final night of the five-blogs-in-five-days challenge, and i couldn't simply go to sleep with such an accomplishment at my fingertips. okay, it's not really that much of an accomplishment. some people blog every day. i'll try to blog more. i will. i will.

i'm not going to write much, mostly because i want to sleep.

what i want to say tonight is really something that i need to internalize, myself. people put a lot of pressure on themselves to make their lives look a certain way - have a certain career, certain body, certain partner, certain home, certain car - the list goes on and on. we all have an idea about what our lives could look like and should look like. take a second to envision that. it might not be specific, it might just be a state of mind, or even just a set of vague characteristics that will make you happy.

now that you have that in your head, you might either be excited, because you believe you're on your way, or depressed, because you just don't really see it happening, or know how to change that. it's the latter group that i often find myself in, and it's the latter group that i'd like to engage right now. so, all of you shiny, happy, on-your-way-to-the-top people can just stop reading right now. not really. that would hurt my feelings and you might become a bounce rate statistic for this blog.

now, second group, in my experience, those negative feelings often rest on me. i'm responsible for the direction of my life, and if i'm not making it happen, then it's my fault. this sort of self-loathing is how unhealthy complexes are born and perpetuated, and that just makes life difficult. i propose, for us, a slight shift in perspective. i've said this before - perspective is absolutely everything.

let us never be upset with ourselves for what our life looks like. that's silly and not constructive.


well, because we, our present selves, really only have control over one thing - the absolute present. the only thing i can control at this very moment is what i write here, because that's what's going on right now. do you see? life is a vast series of very small and very large choices, and if we just focus on making the decision right in front of us a good decision, then we will be well on our way. this attitude may or may not change the course of our life. (that's a disclaimer - i'm not offering advice that will change your life circumstances, per se.) but, it will make the life we have a happier one.

for instance. let's say that i wanted a new job because the one i had was slowly crushing my soul. i could complain to everyone who would listen and be angry with myself for not having a better job, but that wouldn't help anything. it would only make me angry and think poorly of myself and i need to get along with myself because i have no choice but to be myself.

if i, instead, whenever tempted to have this bad attitude of exasperation and self-hatred, were to look online for a job, or work on my resume - that would be me, doing what i can do at that very second to make my life into something that i want it to be.

as i said at the beginning, this is a message to myself more than anything else: i can only do what i can do at any given time, let the rest fall as it will, because it will anyway, with or without a shred of my concern.

this is where, as a christian, i should have some sort of advantage. though i'm kind of unclear as to what God actually moves and changes in my every day life, trusting that things that i can't control will work out - looking for the good in everything, for the hand of God, is healthy. it, when done properly, allows me to focus only on what i can do in my tiny little sphere of influence, and if we all did that, all the time, our tiny spheres would make up one, giant, worry-free world.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

katie and the south

i wrote a blog, a while back, entitled "katie vs. the south." it was about gender roles and sexism in the south - misogyny, to be more precise - as a woman, after all, i have no clearer view of discrimination than of the sort which is inflicted upon me. i was rather hung up on gender questions, as you can tell from the content of my blogs during that period.

this post, however, will be nothing like that. i would like to balance things here by discussing some positive observations that i have made during my time below the mason-dixon. i decided upon this topic today, as i drove from durham, north carolina, to johnson city, tennessee, through virginia. i've made the drive from here to there and back again several times and have never been through virginia - thank you, GPS. yes, i was in three states today - of america, that is. i will make no comment on how many states of mind i have visited since waking this morning :)

i was driving through beautiful mountains, windows down, hair dangerously flying in front of my face, singing along to wagon wheel by old crow medicine show. i began to realize that i really have come to have a very special place in my heart for the south.

it wont deny that it's been a long process, and there is still something inside of me that feels akin to shame when i make this confession. (i suppose it's that feeling that causes me to refer to it as a confession.) i think that when you're raised in the northeast, you are programmed to believe that all other areas of the country are inferior to your own. (except maybe the west coast because california and seattle seem pretty hip.) the south is no exception, and is actually, i would say, at the top of the unwritten list of regions to which the northeast is superior. i say the list is unwritten, but i'm sure you wouldn't have a problem getting one of us to write it out for you.

for these reasons, combined with the misogyny, country music, and artery-clogging food, i was somewhat slow to come around. i viewed my life in the south as a horizon-broadening sort of experience, but certainly not something that could in any way compare to living in the great northeast. the proud yankee in me is by no means dead, and i'll argue the outstanding merits of the region with anyone who will fight back, or even listen, but my attitude toward the south has gradually, certainly, and unexpectedly changed.

who could possibly hate the south while listening to wagon wheel? it's just not possible. even my proud clam-chowder-filled heart swells when the banjo starts to play and my mind relives even just a small fraction of the good things i have experienced here. i smile bigger than i usually ever do when i'm alone and i get all happy inside.

the landscapes around here give me this warm feeling. the landscapes look pretty much identical the ones i enjoyed growing up in new england, when they weren't under feet of snow, of course. and what i can't figure out is how looking at basically the same thing, only in two different places, can make me feel two, both delightful, but distinct feelings? it's strange, but it happens. i think that the drive between ashville and johnson city might just be the most beautiful on earth.

the culture is interesting. i believe that one of the reasons that we northeasterners feel so justified in believing that we're the greatest is that we have such history and culture all around us. the south certainly has no shortage of culture and, while i might not understand or appreciate all of it, i can definitely see the value in it, especially after spending a year in florida. (it was a great year, but trading the freedom trail for strip malls wasn't the best deal i ever made.)

the weather is generally pretty great. i wish there was more snow and snow plows, and maybe a little less humidity, but i can't complain when i get to wear t-shirts in march. maybe that's why the landscapes make me feel warm - because i'm actually feeling warm.

i already knocked the food, and i have a standing rule that, if i can help it, i try to avoid restaurants with "biscuit" in the name, but i will say that the southern culinary tradition of "casserole" and "salad" as words that can aptly be applied to just about anything on the table, is quite impressive. the word casserole used to make me cringe, but now it just makes me get ready to cringe because it could be delicious or disgusting, you just never know.

alright, i think that's all for now. i'm sorry, my dear southern friends, if this wasn't mushy enough for you. i'm getting there, bit by bit.

it doesn't help that i'm living in the triangle, which, as i am reminded every time i venture beyond it's perimeters, doesn't really count as the true south. i do love it, though - the pseudo-south is just great. i could write a-whole-nother post about that, but i fear it wouldn't be of interest to those of you who don't live there. it would kind of be like if i wrote a whole post about why the patriots are awesome. not great for, umm, wide readership.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

almonds and pistachios

i drive myself absolutely nuts.

i am constantly having epiphanies about what it is, exactly, that is wrong with me.

i think it started kind of late in college. i thought it was interesting to evaluate myself, examine how i interact with people, identify a certain weakness or tendency, find the cause, and then try to fix it. then, in the beginning, i think, it was a good and healthy practice. it was like i had a small man in a lab coat inside my brain, nodding, and taking notes on a clip-board. it wasn't so bad. it was nice to be figuring out what made me tick. as i get older, i am fascinated by how much i have learned about myself recently, even though i have been myself, now, for over two decades.

getting back to dr. katie's-brain: now, it's like the dear doctor decided that the job was too big for just his little self. so, he got some funding, posted an ad, sorted through resumes, and hired a whole team of little doctors in lab coats to live inside my brain, nod, and take notes on clip-boards. too often, they present to me their dissertations regarding why i am any number of things: single, afraid of failure, insecure about my abilities, just to name a few. i take these theories, i mull them over, and they seem to make a lot of sense. "i mean, there must be some reason, right? and this is as good as any. nay, it's the best there is, surely," i think, like every other person whose head turns into a dollar sign when they are looked upon by self-help authors.
then, once i finally have everything figured out, i present the idea to someone, like i'm some sort of self-analysis guru. they don't know about the team of doctors, after all, so why shouldn't i take credit? the response is never, really, what i expect. it goes something like this:

me: hey, alisha. so, i've finally figured out why i sometimes have a hard time getting to know people. i think it's because i'm generally pretty awkward when i meet new people.

alisha: that's not true at all, and now i think you're nuts.

like i said - not what i expect, after long hours of self-scrutiny.

so, i've decided - me, NOT the team of tiny doctors - that, in an effort to be less crazy, i'm actually becoming more crazy. go figure. i will call it ironic in the actual sense of the word, and not in the alanis sense of the word (awesome, but lacking a certain using-words-correctly quality).

there you have it. and, before you think you're so clever: I know that this whole post in itself is me practicing the self-destruction i just spent at least some time describing.

i get it. and to you, oh clever one, i say: baby steps, dear, baby steps.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

i almost waxed indignant while eating triscuits and swiss

okay. i'm having an issue here because the only thing that i really want to write about is my job, but i can't really bring myself to do it. isn't that a cardinal rule of something? don't blog about your job! i'm pretty confident that no one in authority over me cares enough to find my blog and read it (if they did, i might have less to write), but still, i am nervous.

so, here it is: the blog i began to write but then couldn't tell how far was too far and so decided to quit while i was ahead.

sorry it's not complete, maybe i'll finish it one day.


it's impossible for me to gauge how much of what i have said about my job without going back and reading old posts, and i'd much rather just not know.

no job is perfect, i'm pretty sure of that. i know that some people absolutely love their jobs, but even then, i don't think they'd call them perfect. i don't blame the jobs - we humans are pretty fickle beings who don't like being told what to do, even by ourselves. so, we are left in a state of trying to discern whether or not the good outweighs the bad. unfortunately, for many of us, the big, heavy scale-tipper on the "good" side is that staying at the job we have means that we don't have to get another one. we become snared by a combination of laziness and fear of the unknown.

i have been working at this discernment/balancing act for some time now. i've been at my job about a year and a half and have wavered between enthusiasm and disdain. i am fickle, this i know. sometimes i find this cute and charming about myself, as i'm sure does everyone else, but not when it comes to my job. the pure frustration of being satisfied one day and fighting tears the next makes it difficult to find any sort of peace.


there you have it, or, don't have it. if you, for some reason, are unbearably intrigued, feel free to email me or something and i'm sure i'll have too much more to say on the topic.

Monday, April 19, 2010

one would think

one would think that spending most of my time with people who don't share my faith might weaken or dilute my faith.

the opposite is true.

filling my life with conversations with people who don't claim Jesus has had a very interesting effect: my faith has been affirmed, so very affirmed.

this is surprising because, before this season of life, i spent most of my life with very few significant relationships with those outside of the church. no one ever told me to be afraid, but i was, a bit. i was afraid of being in a place where i would be judged and rejected, and where everything i held most dear would be mocked.

i fear no more.

sure, i am not completely un-mocked, un-judged, and un-rejected, but the discomfort, the pain, even, is nothing, really, compared to the relief i feel, knowing that i can really belong to truly secular communities.

Jesus lived as though every person was worth seeing and loving. i say i serve Jesus, and that means i serve people. i connect with something inside of me that says that my well-being should be inextricably bound up in the well-being of other humans, any other human that it is within my sphere to impact - be they a friend, co-worker, or a poor farmer on a continent i may never visit.

when i connect with other people, even people who generally avoid christians like the plague, and when we discover that we're really not that different - we share that concern for the friend, the co-worker, and the poor farmer - my faith is affirmed. i was created to love, and so were they. they might not see it that way, but they inspire me because their compassion makes them more faithful followers of Christ than some people who claim His name.

sometimes i think, as christians, we lose the forest for the trees. we concentrate too much on the means, and not enough on the end. if we lift our gaze just a bit, to what it is that we're really trying to bring to pass, we might lock eyes with others who are looking there too, others with whom we never expected to share anything. and isn't that what Jesus did? share with the unexpected?

*therefore, i urge you brothers, do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought, but give those around you a chance to surprise and inspire you. let us allow ourselves to think that we might just have as much to learn as we do to offer, when it comes to our exchanges with the "outside world."

*Paul wont mind the plagiarism, I'm sure :)