eating, praying, and loving myself

One of the new and exciting developments in my new life in Little Rock is that I’ve joined a book club.  I’ve wanted to join a book club for years, and I’m so excited to have finally found one.  As I discovered taking my free grad classes in English while working at The College, I believe sitting around talking about books is one of my most favorite activities in all the world.

The first book I’m reading with this book club is Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.  To be honest, I did not expect to like this book.  I’m not even really sure why, because, as you can tell by the subject matter I most often write about, Eating and Prayer (or God) are two of my favorite things to think about, talk about, and write about.  I think I maybe expected Elizabeth Gilbert to be more insufferable? I mean, someone who gets paid an advance to travel around the world eating amazing food in Italy and studying Yoga in India has to be a little insufferable, right?

But, just like my discovery with Julie and Julia, namely, that I AM Julie, I’m finding I really identify with Elizabeth Gilbert.  I feel like her neuroses are my neuroses, like her passions are my passions, like her search is my search.  And then I got to Chapter 64, and I literally read the whole thing out loud to Jon, asking him if, perhaps, it sounded familiar to him.

Gilbert, like many writers, is a talker.  And at this point in the story, several weeks into her time studying Yoga at an Ashram in India, she’s decided that maybe she should try to be That Quiet Girl, because obviously, the truly spiritual and devout are the mystically silent types.

Oh boy, oh boy, have I been here.  In the beginning of my time in Charleston, I found myself part of a Christian Bible study group made up of women married to doctors and residents and medical students.  And, with a few exceptions, I did NOT fit in with these women.  For one thing, they were all a good 5 years older than I, and most were stay-at-home moms with multiple children whom they often got together for play-groups.  Even if I hadn’t had a day-job, what was I going to do, bring my dog and have her lick their children in the face?  How was I ever going to make it to their book club on weekday afternoons, either?

For another, they were Good Christian Wives of the Proverbs 31 Woman variety.  I, on the other hand, am clearly a crazed Feminist harpy who must, to their minds, make her man miserable.  I remember quite vividly one exchange, in which another member of the group confessed that her husband had taken to making strange statements like, “You know, WE should really clean these floors” or “You know, WE should really clean up the kitchen.”  This young wife was worried about these statements, and unsure of what to do.  The general consensus from the rest of the group was that, obviously, she should clean the floors and tidy up the kitchen, because these things were bothering her husband, and she should serve him by taking care of these things.  My response? “Have you asked him what he means when he says these things? Does he know where you keep the broom? Did you hide the cleaning supplies? This all sounds awfully passive aggressive of him and you should tell him so! If the floor really bugs him, maybe he should clean it!” They looked at me like I’d sprouted a second head.  Apparently, my usual approach of asking my husband what he means when he says strange things and then sharing with him how those things make me feel is considered un-Proverbs-31 or something.

I’m not even sure what it was that caused me to leave Bible Study in tears another night and come home and sob to Jon about how maybe I was just the wrong kind of person for that group.  I’m pretty sure it had something to do with another member of the group riding me really hard about wanting to reschedule an event when I’d just lost my job that week.  But I did, I came home and sobbed and told Jon how I felt like none of these women liked me, and how I felt like I couldn’t be myself around them, and how I felt like I was constantly judged.  I asked him if he thought I needed to be some sort of Good Christian Wife.  He hugged me and held me and assured me that I am loved for who I am, and that he’d really be upset if I turned into some sort of subservient wifebot.

Later, I confessed to a fellow member of the group that I was thinking of leaving the group because I just didn’t fit in.  She invited me over to her house for lunch.  Little did I know that this lunch was a pretext for giving me a speech about how Jesus wanted to make me a quieter, gentler, meeker, more wifely sort of person.  Basically, she thought Jesus wanted to give me a lobotomy.  I’m pretty sure I was quiet and meek that day, but it’s because I was stunned into silence.  Here I was hoping this woman had invited me over to let me know I am liked for who I am, and she basically tells me I need to completely change my personality in order to really be a Christian.  I didn’t go back to the group after that.

So, back to Elizabeth Gilbert in India—she’s decided that she needs to try to become That Quiet Girl, but on the very day she makes this decision, she receives a new assignment at her Ashram to be a kind of hostess for visiting groups, a job that actually requires her to be a regular Chatty Cathy.  In fact, she realizes, her personality is basically required for this job.  Gilbert writes:

“If there is one holy truth of this Yoga [it is that] God dwells within you as you yourself, exactly the way you are.  God isn’t interested in watching you enact some performance of personality in order to comply with some crackpot notion you have about how a spiritual person behaves.  We all seem to get this idea that, in order to be sacred, we have to make some massive, dramatic change of character, that we have to renounce our individuality…To know God, you need only to renounce one thing—your sense of division from God.  Otherwise, just stay as you were made, within your natural character.” (192)

Yes! My personality is not some sort of flaw. Neither is yours!  God, if God’s creation is any indication, is a fan of variety.  I can only imagine that there are so many species of birds and plants and animals and even varieties of people because our creative God delighted in creating them.  God desires an intimate relationship with ME, as I was made to be, not as I imagine God might like me better, because the truth is, God couldn’t love me any deeper.  And rather than break my back (and my heart) trying to conform to some narrow idea of what a godly woman looks like, I should instead look for ways my unique traits can be used in the service and blessing of others and the world, just like Gilbert found a role as a hostess at the Ashram.

Still, Gilbert does point out that there are ways to grow into a better, more spiritual person while still being accepting of who she was created to be.  Part of it rang especially true to me:

“Or here’s a radical concept—maybe I can stop interrupting others when they are speaking.  Because no matter how creatively I try to look at my habit of interrupting, I can’t find another way to see it than this: ‘I believe that what I am saying is more important than what you are saying.’ And I can’t find another way to see that than: ‘I believe that I am more important than you.’ And that must end.” (193)

Not interrupting others is something I’ve been working on for a while.  It’s something I’ll likely be working on for a long while to come.  It’s a way I can hone the shape of me while still respecting the basic outlines of my design.  It’s like sanding my rougher edges without obliterating the sculpture altogether, because I’m a work of divine art.

I look forward to finishing Gilbert’s book, and I can’t wait to discuss it in book club next week.  Here’s hoping they like me the way I am.  I’ll do my best not to interrupt anyone during the discussion.


we of little faith

Image: BBC Cross, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from ihar's photostream

This week, my latest issue of Relevant Magazine came in the mail.  I took it out to the beach on Saturday, and when I turned to the Deeper Walk column written by Jason Boyett, I felt I could have written his piece word for word.  It was called “O Me of Little Faith” (that’s a link to the piece in the digital edition of the magazine, just zoom in and read!), and in the very first line, Boyett confesses:

I am a Christian. I have been a Christian for most of my life. But there are times when I’m not sure I believe in God.

Me too.

In many ways, the same things that drive me toward a life of faith often also pull me in the opposite direction, particularly my curiosity and my questioning nature. I’ve been known to practically give myself panic attacks thinking too hard about whether or not what I say I believe is really true.  I’m prone to many dark nights of the soul.  I’m prone to praying, “Lord, I believe, please help my unbelief.” And yet, something always pulls me back to God. You could probably say God always pulls me back to God. No matter how deep my doubts, it’s always to God that I pray, begging God to please just give me my faith back.

And yet, I’m often jealous of those for whom faith seems to come easily, even as I’m frustrated that what so often seems obvious and unshakable to them comes so hard to me. Continue reading “we of little faith”

for i know the plans i have for you?

Image: freedom, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from bexross's photostream.

When I was a teen, had you asked me my favorite Bible verse, I would have rattled it off for you immediately. Jeremiah 29:11-13. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will come to me and you will pray to me and you will find me. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.'” (That’s a paraphrase based on what I remember.)

As I’ve grown older, my understanding of that verse has seriously changed. For one thing, I’ve learned the danger of pulling a Bible verse out of its context and attempting to apply it to my life as if it was written to me as an individual in the modern world. In the case of this verse, I have to remember that this is from a piece of prophesy to the Israelites, and the “yous” in it are all plural. It’s about a plan for a nation, a people, who at the time were in exile and suffering, letting them know that even though they, themselves, might not live to see it, one day their people would be back in their land, back into the relationship with God that they craved. It’s not a promise about my individual prosperity, but a promise that even in the darkest times, we can trust that God wants good things for and a right relationship with God’s people, and is always at work to bring them, as a group, back where they were created to be.  You can read more about understanding this verse in context in this piece, The Most Misused Verse in the Bible, over at Relevant. Continue reading “for i know the plans i have for you?”

this i used to believe? goalposts, grief, God, and Godwin’s Law

Image via
Image via

As I was cleaning my house Sunday morning, sweeping floors, vacuuming up dog hair, doing loads of laundry, unloading dishes, dusting, I was catching up on listening to several of my favorite podcasts.  In particular, I listened to an episode of “This American Life” called “This I Used to Believe.”  It’s a take-off from the NPR series “This I believe” about people who used to believe strongly in something, but no longer do so.  You can listen to this episode at this website.

The part that made me hit pause, walk away from my chores, and sit down to blog was the second segment of the show called “Team Spirit in the Sky”.  It was about a woman who saw a story on the news about a Texas football coach (I can’t help but picture Coach Taylor from “Friday Night Lights”) from a Christian school who touched the lives of an opposing team from a juvenile lock-up by having fans from HIS team learn their opponents’ names, cheer for them, form “spirit lines” for them, and root for them when his team played them.  For many of the lock-up’s players, it was a unique experience to finally be rooted for in any sense of the word, and for the coach, a chance to live out in some small way the biblical idea of loving one’s enemies.

The woman telling the “This I Used to Believe” story was a woman wrote to the coach after seeing the news story to tell him that though she was a lapsed Catholic who became an agnostic following the death of a close friend to cancer, she is glad that he is living out an authentic Christian faith for his players and everyone else in his community.  And at first, the coach responds, and I, the listener was thinking, “YEAH! This guy is getting it right!” The coach says he feels that God is speaking to him about this woman who has emailed him, and they begin a correspondence.  She even agrees to talk on the phone with him, intrigued that God has been waking him up many nights in a row, bothering him about what he needs to say to this woman who has lost her faith because of one of the most classic questions in theology: why do bad things happen to good people?

But then the coach totally drops the ball. Continue reading “this i used to believe? goalposts, grief, God, and Godwin’s Law”

some thoughts on the state of church (and state)

This started out as a bullet point in today’s “bufflo tips,” but then I realized I had a whole lot more to say on the subject than could be tied up nicely in a sentence or two.

If you ask me, the Church needs to do some turning.  Via Afroswede @Flickr.
If you ask me, the Church needs to do some turning. (This picture is actually of a church in a town I consider one of my homes, Little Rock, AR) Via Afroswede @Flickr.

This post by Courtney E. Martin at The American Prospect about the much-hyped Pew study on Americans’ religiosity or lack thereof, was very interesting to me as a Christian.  In particular, this portion of the report on why so many people have recently left the faith:

About half … became unaffiliated, at least in part, because they think of religious people as hypocritical, judgmental or insincere. Large numbers also say they became unaffiliated because they think that religious organizations focus too much on rules and not enough on spirituality, or that religious leaders are too focused on money and power rather than truth and spirituality.

In particular the bit about rules over spirituality speaks to me in ways similar to the kinds of things I have been reading and thinking lately. How have we, who claim to follow a Savior who told us that his yoke (his list of rules, each rabbi had one) is easy and his burden is light, become known for our Pharisaical emphasis on rules rather than for echoing our Savior’s emphasis that following him leads to a right heart from which right actions automatically flow? Again I’m going to pimp Dallas Willard, who argues against our petty gospels of “sin management.” We should be known for freeing people of their burdens, not for adding to them with lists of rules, because without the life-transformation that comes from being a disciple of Jesus in the truest sense (not merely an intellectual agreement with the idea that Jesus is Lord and died for our sins, but truly a modeling of one’s life to be like Christ), following the rules is impossible.

Also, Martin writes:

The report, which indicates that one-fourth of adult Americans have changed their religious affiliation from what they were raised with, also explains, “The unaffiliated population is a very diverse group. Not all those who are unaffiliated lack spiritual beliefs or religious behaviors; in fact, roughly four-in-ten unaffiliated individuals say religion is at least somewhat important in their lives.”

I would say this is definitely true for me.  If you asked me today, I’d probably claim “unaffiliated.”  I grew up in a Presbyterian, PC(USA), church in which I was very active, and for which I am very thankful.  I was encouraged to ask questions, to learn about theology and church history, and even to doubt.  I attended PC(USA) churches in college, and now that we have moved far far far from home, we sporadically attend an Episcopal church and go to a small group hosted by a Baptist church.  Even though I’m not attending church services as regularly as I did growing up, I’m reading my Bible more than ever and also reading books about theology and Christian living.  In particular, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Dallas Willard have been topping my reading lists.  For the time being, I’m experiencing remarkable spiritual growth also remarkable because it’s taking place outside of a church. Continue reading “some thoughts on the state of church (and state)”