Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Simple Pleasures of Winter

Loving

Settling into a new home, picking paint colors, imagining our dream backyard, the beginnings of toddler autonomy, the first clothesline weather days of the year, quiet Sunday mornings, experimenting with art journaling, making new friends, family visits, contemplating dreadlocks, diagnosing all my loved ones with MBTI (only half-jokingly), meeting Myself for the first time and liking her.


Reading

The Sparrow- I haven't been reading a ton of fiction lately, but this came highly recommended by a friend who thought I might relate to the spiritual themes of the book. I certainly did, and the wild premise (a Jesuit priest on a mission to an alien planet) kept me interested as well. I enjoyed it so much I even checked out the sequel.

Hush, Don't Say Anything to God- As part of my newfound spiritual freedom, I have given myself permission to explore perspectives on God from faith traditions different from my own. The poems of Rumi completely swept me off my feet and have had a profound effect on my spirituality.

Pastrix- This book was so refreshing for me. It was the first book in a long long time written by an enthusiastically Christian author whose words I could swallow. Nadia Bolz Weber is such a beautiful, irresistible mix of redeemed and liberated, I couldn't help but embrace her message.

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter- Whew. This one was intense for me, rich with insight and dense with transformation. Within the first few pages I knew I would be returning to it a second time, not only as a reminder, but also in anticipation of what else it may have to say to me in a later season. Looking forward to reading her bestseller The Secret Life of Bees someday as well.

Listening

This is an oldie, but it's been so true to life for me lately that I've had it on repeat:



"There was a dream and one day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it"

Watching

The Up Series, which has documented the lives of a group of British children every seven years since 1964, completely fascinates me. If you can get over the intrusive interviewer, each one is well worth a watch. Drinking Buddies had me reflecting on (and thankful for) the differences between my husband and I. I also went through a phase of binge watching/gushing over How the Universe Works, because mystery and space and dark matter.

(All these films can be found on Netflix.)

Linking

I always have such a tough time with this section because I read so many unbelievable pieces of writing in the span of three months, but if I could share with you only two things, they would be this and this:



Writing

All my best writing lately has come out of facing the truth of my spiritual doubts. Back in December, I wrote this piece on Miley Cyrus and doubt for Patrol Magazine, and more recently I wrote my own Doubter's Manifesto. But my absolute favorite piece of the past three months is this one, on how I am freeing my self from spiritual formulas. I've also really enjoyed the interviews in the new Women on Writing series I'm doing. If you're a fellow writer, they're definitely worth checking out!

Here's to finding some beauty in our remaining bits of winter! What have you been your favorites of the last three months?

*Delighted to be linking up with Leigh Kramer once again!*

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Women on Writing : Elora Ramirez

Today is the second installment in my year-long Women on Writing series, in which I'm interviewing some of my very favorite female authors on the practice of writing. My second interview is with Elora Ramirez, blogger, author, and fearless leader of the amazing Story Sessions community, of which I am proud to be a part. Her words here are so true to her nature: brave, insightful, inspiring, and deeply relatable. I'm honored to share her wisdom with you here. And if even the tiniest sliver of your heart identifies with the title of writer, I hope you'll continue following along with the series. Each of these women has so much wisdom to offer on the practice of writing.
***

When did you know you wanted to write your book Every Shattered ThingHow did you start? 

One day in graduate school, a favorite professor of mine said something about sunrises. The turn of phrase caught my ear and I began writing in my notebook — sunrises make me come alive. Those words ended up being the first in the novel, and I went home that night and gushed out the preface. For a few years, it sat on my computer as a possible novel. It wasn’t until I started NaNoWriMo in 2010 that the characters began to form and Stephanie really began to show herself. I think that’s when I realized “I want to do this forever. This is almost like alchemy. Like magic.” 

What would be your ideal writing environment? How do you make time and space in your life for the practices of writing? 

Quiet. Secluded. My little Harry Potter closet is close to perfection. I have lots of lights and close-knit space and pictures and art from kindreds hanging on the wall. The only thing that would make it perfect is a view of the ocean. (I know. Stereotypical and cliche. But true.)

What authors or works most inspire your writing? 

Flannery O’Connor. John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Rainbow Rowell. Laini Taylor. Sue Monk Kidd. There’s so many. I’ve recently been introduced to Amelie Fisher and her Seven Deadly Sins series. I’m in love. Fisher writes with the belief of redemption and she hits nerves the reader doesn’t anticipate. 

Photo by Jennifer Upton

Every Shattered Thing is a book that bravely confronts some difficult topics, among them the sex industry, modern-day slavery and child abuse. It’s not what you might call a “beach read.” I’m curious if there were ever days that you simply could not sit down to write? Or days when you had to sort of emotionally disengage from your work in order to face it? 

Um. Yes. Ha! Many times my husband had to pull me away from my laptop because I was weeping while writing. I definitely had to detach myself a little during the editing process, but it was still super-difficult. I found myself cringing a lot and seeking lots of time searching for beauty with friends.

How has the writing process changed you? How has your book affected the way you yourself see the world and the issues you address? 

Writing serves as sort of an excavation. There are thoughts and beliefs and experiences that come boiling to the surface when you’re writing a story and sometimes these things can really surprise you. Writing shapes who I am, how I see others, and how I interact with the world around me. I never wanted to be this kitschy writer who focuses on super-difficult topics like an after school TV special. But our writing takes a life of its own, and learning to let go and let the characters reveal themselves is a whole other level of releasing control.

If you could give one piece of advice to budding writers, what would it be? 

Oh gosh. Keep writing. Keep writing, keep dreaming, keep spilling those words. I’m learning more and more that writing is a practice—no matter how many words you’ve placed on paper or screen. It’s relearning what this character is about, what that plot is wanting to say, what this blog post needs to unleash. It’s different. Every thing is different. Every time you sit down at your desk or couch or table in coffee shop the words are waiting to see how serious you are about them. As Stephen King says, don’t come lightly to the blank page. 

***

What if your story could change the world? Elora believes it can. The one you've been hiding under your heart's bed, afraid that a little air will make it a monster you can't escape? That's the story she wants to hear. That's the story you've got to tell before it sucks the air right out of your lungs.

It was this belief that prompted Elora to launch Story Unfolding, a respite for tired artists aching to be heard. She also runs, Story Sessions, a community for women who create. She's written a novel and writes out her thoughts and the holy & broken on her blog

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Free : Finding the Key

Six weeks in and I can't even begin to explain what the word free (my one word for the year) has done to me.

Free reminds me that my love should be given as a gift, asking nothing in return.

Free reminds me that my sweet toddler boy is his own wild person, made to test and explore the world unfolding before him.

Free reminds me that I am no longer restricted by the spiritual rules I once allowed to be imposed upon me, because I am free to make my own decisions, and I am capable of defining my own relationship with God.

It's this last one that has most revolutionized my world.

Via
Attempting to operate under the assumption that I am free, reminding myself of it again and again and again, has made me realize how truly imprisoned and shackled I have been. I have been bound by my wrists and ankles to the spiritual formula that was presented to me.

I don't blame the Church entirely. They handed over the cuffs, but I locked them on and threw away the key. I was the one who continued writhing pointlessly under my shackles when I should have been searching for a way out. 

You see, the message I heard all my life was that the way to know God (and O how deeply I have wanted to know God), was to read the Bible, pray endlessly, attend church, and serve. I engraved those rules into my heart and I lived them wholeheartedly for many many many years. Then one day, they just stopped working. And the message I received then was try harder.

Draw close to God [in the ways we have taught you] and he will draw close to you.

Seek [in this direction] and you will find.

Knock [in just the right spot] and the door will be opened.

But I felt more and more overwhelmed and confronted every time I opened the Bible. I felt more sick to my stomach every time I tried to pray. I walked out of communion after communion in tears. I left church service after church service exhausted by my own inauthenticity.

So what choice did I have? I felt abandoned, unloved, and condemned, with no end in sight. Forced to choose between my religious identity and my emotional health, I chose the latter. I stopped reading the bible, then praying, then going to church.

I began to art journal. I began to read poetry. I began to glean wisdom from faith traditions other than my own. I began to believe all truth is God's truth. I began to spend my Sunday mornings blissfully away from all the questions about myself and God and Christianity that I cannot answer.


One evening, late at night, I hand wrote the words to a poem by the Muslim mystic Rumi into my art journal. And it was in that moment more than any other in the last four years, that I felt a piece of my heart melt. For the first time in a long long time, I felt a sense of peace and warmth towards God. For the first time ever, I felt comforted, rather than threatened, by boundless mystery.

And that is a gift that free gave me. Free is teaching me to assert the validity and value of my own identity, my own way of looking at things. You can disagree with me. You can object to my theology.  But no matter what I believe, you do not get to take Jesus away from me. No matter how unorthodox my life, you do not have the authority to control my relationship with God. It may have taken me a long time, but I have found the key, I have unlocked the cuffs, and you do not get to say where God can or cannot be found in my life or anyone else's.

That is the truth I am finding in the beautiful wilderness of free, and it is mine to keep.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A (sort of) Doubter's Manifesto

Recently, a dear friend of mine mentioned that, while she was clear on the fact that I was experiencing doubt, she was still cloudy on what it is exactly that I doubt. This was probably subconsciously intentional on my part. It is far easier to let people know I am doubting than it is to bring up my actual doubts. But the truth is, while my doubts (and a thousand other things) may make me feel uncmfortable, they are not something I am ashamed of. So here goes: 

I am a doubter. 

On most days, I doubt some combination of God's love and/or existence. (These days, thankfully, are becoming less frequent [ironically] in my time away from church. I am learning to meet God outside of the world and rules I have always found him in. Which is refreshing and breathtaking and makes me feel that he is good.)

I doubt the true identity of Jesus and the meaning of his words. ( I used to be so head over heels for Jesus. He's the best part of all this mess, right, with his radical notions and his love for the poor and his endless self-sacrifice? I know, I know! But he's also the Jesus of the sheep and the goats, the camel and the needle; and his lines in the sand are forever ruining my beloved ideas of an all-inclusive God.)

I doubt the inerrancy of the Bible. (Is every word really "God-breathed"? Did God really command the violence and hatred he seems to? What is the difference between factuality of events and the truth of how we experience or perceive things? Can the Bible be good without being fact? Can a person be a Christian without believing it?)

Obviously, that last doubt leads one down a rabbit hole of doubts too long to list. And honestly, I doubt nearly every one of the assumptions under which my faith once smoothly operated. It makes the question what it is exactly that I doubt a rather long and complicated one to answer. And this is my life, perpetually in grey ambiguity, every day a different shade. 


Via
There are a few doubts that are becoming slowly clearer to me. Questions like: Is homosexuality a sin? Can women lead? Must men always? These are issues I have long wrestled with, hesitant to take a side. Like all my doubts, I can never be 100% sure I am right, but for the sake of my sanity, I am learning to land somewhere anyway. Spoiler alert: I don't believe what I used to. 

Then there are the questions that keep me up at night, the ones I most need answered, but probably never will.

What happens to non-Christians when they die?

What happens to any of us when we die?

What happens to me when I die?

Can God redeem everything? 

Will He? 

It's enough to make one consider leaving the faith alltogether. Trust me, it's something I've considered. It does seem like the most logical option, considering the evidence.

And yet. Something about this Jesus narrative, the tradition in which I was born and raised, refuses to let me go. So I doubt from within the trenches or, these days, from the vagabond edges of faith. I wrestle and thrash and protest. I experiment and break rules and skip church. I rarely ever pray, at least not in the way I've been taught. I read the Bible even less. 

But somehow, in the midst of all that I am learning to embrace mystery, I am learning to fall in love with mystery the way I once fell in love with God. I am learning to believe that the mystery is God. And that's all that matters in the end, right? 

God.

God.

God. 

God in the everything and God in the nothing. God in, among, and around it all. God outside of any doubts and fears and rules and understandings of who (s)he can and cannot be. 

I am learning to love a God different from the one I once tried to manipulate into loving me by spending enough time with him. The God I love now, he doesn't try to fix me or force me. He holds my questions in his heart like a gift, and he doesn't try to answer them. 

Will you join me? Will you write your own doubter's manifesto? If you do, let me know. I'd love to read it.