January 28, 2010

Thoughts on being a Non-Initiate

Posted in Christianity, faith and doubt, God, interfaith experiences, Mormonism, Relationships, religion, school and academics, Spirituality tagged , , , , , at 6:09 am by Eostre

I am taking a class this semester on the Literature of Mormon Women. It is a great topic, and I am really excited about it. There is one thing that has me a little apprehensive, though. I am the only non-Mormon in the class. I know, this shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is really a strange situation, for multiple reasons.

First, the obvious, it is weird being the only one in the class who isn’t an initiate. I don’t know the lingo, I don’t recognize most of the names, and I didn’t know before last week that the Temple and the Tabernacle were two different buildings. I am on the outside looking in. I have studied Mormonism, but that is very different from actually being a Mormon. Sure, I can name the four canonical texts, but I don’t use them for my devotions. All the knowledge in the world isn’t enough to bridge that gap.

The second, and less obvious reason, is that I have not been in a really religious environment for almost two years. My faith since coming to Claremont has been largely a private thing, I haven’t participated in any faith-based communion for a while, mostly on purpose. Going to this class I have been struck by how far I have gone from when I was comfortable in an insular religious environment. It doesn’t matter that this doesn’t happen to be my religion, the attitudes are strikingly similar even though the trappings aren’t. There is a certain way that religious people speak, think, and act, that I have been away from for a long time. If you are (or have been) religious in America I am sure you know what I mean. There is an insularity, an us and them mentality, that I had forgotten about.

This is challenging me in completely unexpected ways. I expected the discomfort of being the only non-Mormon in a class, but I did not expect the vertigo that I experience when I walk through that door and into a world that I don’t think I belong in any more. That religious life and mindset just doesn’t fit comfortably anymore. It’s like trying to jam my feet into shoes I outgrew a year ago.

The semester has only just started, but I can tell that this is going to be a huge personal challenge. Can I re-enter that world? Do I want to?

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December 11, 2009

Things I am not good at

Posted in Relationships, religion, school and academics, waiting tagged , , , , at 8:14 am by Eostre

There are a lot of things that I am not good at. I am not a very good cook, I am constitutionally incapable of getting up in the morning without hitting the snooze button at least 4 times, I procrastinate and I never “live up to my potential”, but near the top of this list (if not at the top) is waiting. I am really really bad at waiting.

I hate waiting for even the small things, like long lines at Target, so even more so the big things, the things that matter in life. I know, it’s funny, because procrastination is a kind of waiting, but it is self-imposed. I can end that waiting any time I want to. It’s the things that I have no control over that get me upset.

Right now I am procrastinating from writing two papers. I’ve started, kind of, but I have a long way to go before I am finished. And while that is stressing me out, it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the things I am waiting for that I have no control over.

I am waiting to know, for sure, what I am going to do with my life. I am waiting for a time when I wont have to precariously live from paycheck to paycheck. I am waiting to finish my degree, and see what happens next. I am waiting to see if there is or isn’t a relationship in my future. I am waiting on a lot of things, and I don’t like it.

Being made to wait takes away my control, and that is something that I can’t stand. I want to control when things happen, and, even though I don’t necessarily have the best track record with making awesome life choices, I still want to control what happens. I don’t want to wait. But I don’t have a choice, I have to wait. I can’t rush any of the things I am waiting on, and it is frustrating as hell. So, while I wait, I will hit the snooze button at least 4 times, not start papers until less than a week before they are due, over-season my food and under-achieve. But, all too often lately, I just end up waiting.

November 11, 2009

Different is Good

Posted in interfaith experiences, Relationships at 1:45 am by LadySophie

Is there anything more difficult than meshing two differing worldviews? I want to approach our weekly topic from a different direction. Can you be sincere, heart friends with someone who differs with you in deep, meaningful ways? They are liberal and you are conservative. Can you be close friends with someone who has a core religious belief that is directly in contrast to your own? They believe in God and you do not. I always have people in my circles that are quite different from who I am. I love the diversity and the richness of it all.

This romantic relationship in my life has helped me think about meshing two different lives. We are both used to being single and have some deep rooted ideas about how things “should” be done. He is used to being a parent, I am not. He is about to start professional school, I am just finishing. He is Filipino, I am Texan/ Californian. He is a careful saver of money, I am a skilled spender of money. We are talking about merging our lives and it is easy to focus on differences.

The same is true for interfaith conversations. Do we focus on similarities or differences?

He loves to learn and so do I. He keeps his faith at the center of his life and so do I. We have no idea where our lives are headed, but that doesn’t seem to bother either one of us too much. We keep circling back to those things and finding common ground.

Can we apply the same strategy to interfaith relationships? To friendships with political opposites? I think we can. I have some kind of tireless hope that people can overcome differences and arrive at sincere, meaningful relationships. 101_0109

October 27, 2009

9 Months Later…

Posted in birthing, mothering, Parent, Relationships tagged , , at 5:04 am by LadySophie

As a 34 year old woman, I realized recently that my “clock is ticking” for birthing children. I have always liked kids and imagined I would have my own. I do not have that burning desire that I see in so many of my friends – the deep need to be a mom. I always figured that I could adopt if I marry too late. Should I feel so ambivalent about something so important?

The closest experience I have had with my own children is the birth of my nieces. They are twin girls (one has my name!) and they are about to turn 8. I remember the night they were born. I was driving to Dallas for a conference when I got the call. I diverged from my path and drove to Austin instead. After a few hours and surgery, we had twin girls. Right then and there – my life changed.

Driving on to Dallas later, I knew that my life would be worthwhile if I could influence and be a part of their lives. No other great thing in life would matter, as long as I could have that role in their lives. I wept the whole way to Dallas. I love them with a passion and would do anything for them. If they just call me Tia – they can have almost anything they ask.

I have done lots of birthing in ministry. An Asian youth camp grew from 100 to 300 in four years. Timid middle school students became capable leaders as a result of concentrated effort and time. Right now, I am birthing a dissertation. I have a 9-month plan on my wall – ironic it would be exactly 9 months.

I am serious about a man with a 9 year old son. What would it look like for me to be a step-mom? It seems like the perfect plan for this ambivalent woman. I don’t think I have missed the boat. I am not worried about the “clock”. What I have learned is that there are so many people in need of love and I have it to give. That will be my impact. That will be the result of my life’s work – the love I have to give.

October 23, 2009

Infertility: Have you tried standing on your head?

Posted in Family, Genesis, Infertility, Matriarch, Mother, mothering, Parent, Relationships, Sarah in Genesis tagged , , , , , , at 7:22 am by Gina Messina

infertility

In Gen 16: 1 it reads “Now Sarah, Abraham’s wife, bore him no children.” The simplicity of this statement fails to communicate the complicated and devastating situation Sarah faced. The woman who became the matriarch of the Judeo-Christian tradition was barren, unable to fulfill the one duty that gave her worth within her community. With no understanding of biology, infertility was viewed as a curse by Jewish culture and as the fault of the woman. While women were already devalued by society, the social status of a woman struggling with infertility was even further diminished.

Sarah is a woman I have come to identify with. I share her plight of infertility and feel a hopelessness that can only be understood by women in a similar situation. Like Sarah I have been desperate to become a mother and although it is the 21st century, as a woman I have felt pressure to do so. Feelings of inadequacy and lack of worth have been overwhelming at times as family members and friend have felt it necessary to not only acknowledge my struggle but also offer commentary on what exactly they think my problem is.

It is difficult to describe the rollercoaster of emotions I have experienced in the last eight years that I have hoped to become a mother. I have felt sad, angry, hurt, disgusted, fearful, relieved, cheated, optimistic, disappointed, remorseful, irritated, exasperated, hopeful, punished, envious, despair, confused, indifferent, tormented, guilty, nervous, surprised, stressed, appreciative, resentful, bitter and the list continues. While societal pressure has certainly added salt to my wound, the most difficult part of dealing with infertility has been my unwavering knowledge that I a meant to be a mother; there is a child that is meant to grow in my womb, a child that I am meant to nurture and love. I intuitively sense it, it must happen, it is fate, I feel it in the depths of my soul, I am a mother, it is who I am. So why have I been unable to conceive? Why are so many other women privileged with the ability to choose whether or not to become a parent and why have I not been blessed with that same choice?

I have continually struggled with these questions as well as with the highs and lows of the infertility roller coaster. Recently my husband and I have come to the decision to adopt (which warrants numerous blog posts in itself). While we have felt a multitude of emotions (which of course excitement is one) over our decision; the people in our lives have felt it necessary to share their own thoughts on what we have been experiencing. I have been amazed, shocked, horrified, by some of the things people feel it is appropriate to say to me given my struggle to get pregnant. Thus, I feel it necessary to share here some things that you should avoid verbalizing if you know someone dealing with infertility. So for what it is worth, here is my personal top ten list of things you should NOT say to women dealing with infertility (all things that have been stated to me):

10. “Wow, you are so lucky your husband has not divorced you. Most men would not tolerate a woman who could not give him a child.”

9. “Why would you waste so much money on adoption when you could just spend a little more on invitro and have a baby of your own?”

8. “Why not just let me carry a baby for you?”

7. “If you are going to adopt you better make sure you don’t get a kid that is a lemon.” (Yes, a lemon as in if you bought a car with a lot of problems you would describe it as a lemon.)

6. “Oh, your adopting…well I hope you stay within your own race.”

5. “Are you sure you are having sex on the right days? Are you using the right positions?  Maybe you should do some research on the internet.”

4. “It is hard enough to love your own kids, are you sure you will love one if you adopt it?”

3. If a woman struggling with infertility mentions she may try artificial insemination don’t say “Are you really sure you want your child to be conceived that way? I mean, don’t you want it to be conceived out of love?”

2. “You just need to relax.” (What exactly does this mean? I am not sure myself but it is the one quote I have heard more times than I can count. Apparently, if I  just relax and stop worrying about it, a pregnancy will magically occur.)

1. “Have you tried standing on your head?”

I hope the list gives rise to thought offering humor in some areas and anger in others. I am not sure where my continued struggle with infertility will take me, but for now I am a mother. Although I may not yet have a child, I mother other areas of my life, with my partner, my family, my friends, my research, this blog.

For more information on infertility see:

http://www.womenshealth.gov/faq/infertility.cfm

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/infertility/DS00310

http://myinfertilityblog.wordpress.com/

October 9, 2009

Coming to Know Goddess Mother

Posted in Catholic, feminism, feminist theology, God, Goddess, Relationships, religion, Spirituality, Thealogy, Theology at 6:07 am by Gina Messina

Goddess Mother

Goddess Mother

Growing up in the Catholic Church I always believed God was a man.  God was always spoken of as male, and although Catholic teaching states that God is genderless, as a child growing up in the Church I never knew this.  No one ever told me that God was genderless; I only heard over and over again God referred to as Father, him, he, himself, etc.  There was never gender neutral language, there certainly was never female language.  Why would I have thought any different? 

I was also very confused by God’s attributes.  Although I heard that God was benevolent, I also heard that God punished.  I found it very distressing that God had stricken Moses dead one step outside of the Promised Land.  I was also troubled by God allowing Satan to torment Job.  However, what garnered my attention most was the crucifixion of Jesus.  Why was such a violent and horrific death of the Son of God the only acceptable sacrifice, the only way to redeem humanity? These actions seemed cruel and led me to question God’s benevolence; I feared God.

I was in college the first time I was told that God could be imaged as a woman; it was a shocking revelation.  I had always pictured God as a man, looking perhaps a lot like what I had been told Jesus looked like (what I term the “Hollywood Jesus;” blond hair, blue eyes, nothing what the historical Jesus looked like).  What would a female God look like?  If God could be imaged female, would God’s attributes be different?  Since that time I have spent a great deal of time wondering who God is.  How should God be imaged?  What is an appropriate name for God?  What are God’s characteristics? Would a female God have demanded a blood sacrifice?

While it has taken quite a bit of time and while I am certain my thoughts will continue to evolve, I have come to know God in a very different way.  For me, God is no longer male and no longer vengeful.   Instead I have re-imaged God as Goddess Mother and Goddess Mother possesses attributes that allow me to have a loving relationship with her, a relationship I had not been able to develop in the past.   

I no longer feel disconnected and fearful of God.  Rather, I encounter Mother Goddess daily through my interactions with others and my experiences with nature.  I encounter her through the support and friendship I share with the women of this blog and through my husband’s loving embrace.  I experience the Goddess in the sun that warms me and in the water that quenches my thirst.  She is loving, nurturing, sustaining and continually present.  Although there were times that I felt lost and did not know who Goddess Mother was, I know now that I was never a stranger to her.

October 1, 2009

Hi, My Name is Kate, and I Have Body Image Issues

Posted in Body Image, Relationships, sexuality tagged , , at 4:37 am by Eostre

me at ginas            There should be a group like AA for people who have serious body image issues; it could be called BHA, or Body Haters Anonymous. As someone who would have been a lifelong member, I am just now realizing how much of a disease it is.

            I am 24, 5’11”, and weigh in at over 200lbs. That shouldn’t have been hard to say, but it was. I was one of those girls who developed early, was wearing a B Cup by the 5thgrade, and had full curves by the time I was 13. As such I was always larger, and more developed, than my peers. I was dealing with my period and underwire bras at a time in life when most girls are still secretly playing with their My Little Ponies, and kids are cruel about stuff like that.

            So from a very young age I have had some serious issues with my body. We are ingrained so young with the socially constructed ideals of feminine beauty, that I never had a chance.

             I dated a little in high school (way too serious way too young) and much less in the beginning of college, but it wasn’t too long before I took myself out of the running, so to speak. You see, the Evangelical Church has a male to female ratio problem, and there were always far more girls than boys in the social circles in which it was acceptable to date (it being completely out of the question to date a non-Christian) and at my Private Evangelical University there were about 3 girls to every 1 guy. In a climate like that most guys weren’t interested in the smart, sarcastic, chubby girl.

            So when familial stresses offered me an out, I took it, and recused myself from the dating competition. It was easier to say that I wasn’t interested than face the near constant dashed hopes that had characterized my youth.

            All of that to say that it has been some time since I have been on a date, and I don’t know if I even know how to go about this whole dating thing anymore. I have gotten used to thinking of myself as off the market, that I have internalized those attitudes and conceptions.

            Over the last year I have had so many new experiences, I have found a wonderful group of friends, I have been in challenging and humbling classes and my life has stretched and changed in ways that I had never thought possible. I now regularly go to the beach and wear a bathing-suit in public, something I almost never did before. In fact I have worn things that previously I would never have even considered (pink tube top and borrowed black concert dress, I am looking at you!).

            So while I have, in some ways, gotten more comfortable with my body, I still have a hard time seeing it as attractive or desirable. I have internalized the Beauty Myth.  I know in my head that it is a false construct, I haven’t been able to shake it. I still have a really difficult time posting pictures that show my body on sites like facebook (or here, for that matter), and that is just one off-shoot of the internalized problem.

          Coming from any of my friends I would decry this blog, and it is true that I am surrounded by beautiful (and not even remotely similar) women, but a lifetime of negative reinforcement is blocking my way, and I can’t view myself through the same lens that I view the rest of the world. 

            I have been happy, this past year (and I continue to be very happy), and I can’t say that I have felt the lack of romance in my life. But part of me has to wonder, is that because I truly don’t miss it, or because I have given up on looking for it? Perhaps a little (or a lot) of both, I’m not sure.

            My name is Kate, and I have body image issues. I first realized I had a problem a week or so ago, and I am trying to make a change.

September 29, 2009

Trouble with a capital “T”

Posted in Relationships, sexuality at 8:52 am by LadySophie

Our topic this week is body image, relationships and something else…all I can think about these days is my new relationship. I had to remind myself that I am still a PhD student yesterday – seems to slip my mind. The  newness and intensity of those first dates is something worth focusing on. I had just declared to a friend that I was “done with relationships, done with men” and then I met one hot Asian boy the next day. Trouble.

I have had a lot of experience with singleness. I have even taught workshops on it – yikes. People were frustrated that I didn’t have a lot of answers for them. I have been a Christian single, devoted to waiting until marriage for sex. That adds a whole new layer to the mix. I have had significant relationships and even been engaged. But mostly, life is pretty great as a single. I make my own decisions, I choose how I spend my time and money, I have lots of time for my girlfriends. I am the strong, independent woman – because how else would I be?

So this new…thing…is shaking up my world a little. There are things that I have looked for before and not really found. But then I met him. I am not saying this is IT or that he is the mystical ONE – but I have been shocked by my reactions so far. The power of the voices in my head.

“You are too old to get what you want” is the phrase that bothered me the most. My friend calls it an “error of scarcity” and I believe it. Deep down I believe there is not enough love for me. Not enough of me that is worth loving. That I am too much or too little of what I should be. I live under these lies at times and it keeps me from giving a lot of people a chance. This new relationship has reminded me of the truth – that there is an abundant, loving God that never intended that I live a scarce life.

So why is new boy trouble with a capital “T”? He takes care of me even though I am independent. He tells me I am beautiful even though I am too tall. He gives freely even though I expect so little. He does not fit my previous self-destructive patterns. One hot Asian boy can shake things up and make for a LOT of interesting days.  Trouble.

August 16, 2009

The Christianities I’ve Lived

Posted in Faith Transformations, feminist theology, Relationships, religion, Soul tagged , , , , , at 9:54 pm by Lakshmi (LaChelle)

Since 6th grade, I have grown up in the protestant evangelical charismatic movement. For all of you who don’t know, or need to be reminded of what that means, well, for me at least it included the following: mission trips, FIRE (which was a 6 month period of no television, no music or reading not Christian-focused, and weekly meetings), Bible Quiz, youth church on Wednesday nights, Sunday morning and night services (where the night service was more Holy Spirit filled and might go on until who knew when), raising hands and falling slain in the spirit, speaking in tongues, dancing and waving flags around or whatever you wanted to do during praise time in the church, sorrowful deep weeping confessions, loving Jesus more than anything, revivals, big televangelists coming as visiting preachers, MY preacher on television, prosperity preaching (preachers with big beautiful white houses and large Washington D.C sized gated lawns), the Left Behind books, Christian romance, praying and telling other people about Jesus, speaking about abstinence at Youth Leadership Conference, listening to on the radio and singing at school talent shows CCM (Christian Contemporary Music), buying clothing at Mardel Christian bookstore, knowing that it was creation and not evolution that caused the world that breathed God, understanding the devil was a real entity that wanted to bring you down and especially would be after you the more you belonged to Jesus, being awed and terrified of my literal reading of Revelation, and reading the Bible everyday and everywhere, and praying/talking to God as much as I could.

Christianity, in some ways, is a culture with language and dress and behavior, definitely a worldview, of its own. Like a person from any country will have adopted and understand the codes of her country’s culture/society, the Christian culture has been inside of me, and I have not and will not probably reject it. That said, where I am at now in my late 20s is a very different place than I was ages 12-18. How?

UNDERGRAD: I went to a private Christian church that allowed my evangelism to pause since everyone around me was already a Christian (scotch-taping the “footprints” poem to the inside of bathroom stalls would be “sweet” and not subversive). And the conservatism of the school (women were not really allowed a leadership role, Christian music was actually of the devil) allowed me to see myself not as self-righteously more conservative/pure/godly (I just couldn’t be!) than those around me, but rather as more liberal. Which in a way, pushed me to a certain freedom to explore that liberality. Also, (thank godde), my professors were progressive Christians. They challenged me to question the assumed male gender of “god” and asked me to respond to the parallels between the stories from the Bible I had known to be sacred and absolute and the stories from classical Greek and Roman and even earlier mythologies; they allowed me to see evolution and sexuality as something other than a threat to my faith. And just being in college in general helped me realize that there were so many ideas out there and so much knowledge I didn’t know, uncertainties that were real.

GRAD SCHOOL: I moved from the midwest to the east coast and came into contact with people very different than me. My Christian undergrad was a safe place to start wandering around in possibilities because I knew that my professors and the people around me were exploring and they were so strong in their faith. In graduate school, I did not have any Christians around me. I was forced to look at people of different religions and views or no religion at all and see them as okay people, even good (whatever that meant), even more moral than I. Which was a new idea, because I had been taught growing up that it was religion, the Christian religion specifically, which made people moral. I took an interest, via my feminist classes, in feminist theology (I hadn’t even known there was such a field), and started to let myself be critical of my faith tradition, understanding that the sacred text was also a historical text in the sense that it was created in a specific time and has been used for specific reasons not necessarily inclusive or liberating for everyone. Graduate school was a rich time of awakenings and explorations, and so it was also a gorgeous time of fear and depression too. But it was something I needed to go through.

MY RETURN TO UNDERGRAD: But this time as a professor. And as a professor, I was to integrate faith and learning, which I enjoyed doing, especially since Christianity had started to become so nuanced for me. I tried out serious theological issues with my students and encouraged them to consider alternatives to what they had thoughtlessly assumed previously. During my time there (about two years), I realized that I wanted to completely focus on religion, but this time, from a feminist standpoint.

NOW, NEW GRAD SCHOOL: So here I am, in a Women’s Studies and Religion program, with girls and professors who are all together considering the endless possibilities of what godde, spirituality, Jesus, and our relationship to other faiths and people mean. I love this exploration, and it feels good and safe and right. And I want to continue to see where it leads. My theology now is more defined by social justice and Jesus not as one who wants to be worshiped, but as one who gave up being God for a moment to show us that idolatrous worship was not what he wanted. He demonstrated the message of liberation for the impoverished, for women, for all who are oppressed. And my theology is also pluralistic, because I feel, even though Christianity is the right path for me, other faiths carry a similar message. Evangelism is no longer a part of my Christian faith. That is just how it is, and I’m sorry if you don’t agree with it or feel that it is wayward or something. But evangelism does not feel ethical for me personally.