Monday, February 27, 2012

Gossip, by M

As the season of Lent is upon us, I've been thinking lately about my Lenten resolution last year, which was an earnest attempt to "give up" gossip. I actually have a different resolution for this year (which perhaps I will post about at a later date), but I figured it'd be beneficial to revisit the gossip issue anyway. So, for those of you who never read my personal blog, or those who just need a refresher (like me!), here's my post from last year. I wish I could say that I've noticed significant progress in the past 12 months, but alas... it's hard to tell. Maybe I can get an A for effort? haha


Okay, so I've been thinking about this for a while and have honestly just put it off because I am moderately intimidated by the amount of work, challenge, and thought that must go into it. That said, it's dumb to let those feelings rule over (and overrule?! ha!) the more noble pursuits of self-betterment and righteousness. So, here goes... I've decided that my lenten resolution this year is to curb gossip in my life.

I tell this to all of you because:
1) I want... no NEED for you to hold me accountable to this.
2) I want you to be aware that I will be attempting to not indulge others' gossip... so I apologize in advance if I cut you off mid-story or mid-rant. haha!
3) I'd like to encourage you to try a similar pursuit!

This has been on my heart recently for several reasons. The first is that I just keep bumping into it... in books, in scripture, in Christian blogs, etc. I figure "hey! Maybe God's trying to get my attention!" The second reason is that (and this is really a no brainer) gossiping is not something that is useful for building people up and adding value to the Kingdom. In fact, it very much does the opposite. A month or two ago Ricci (my mentor) and I talked about what it looks like to "offer parts of your body as instruments of righteousness" (Romans 6:13). I think we all have an idea of what it might look like to offer parts of our body to sin (the easiest place to go here is sexual impurity... but that's not the only one, obviously, since gossiping is another great example) but it's a very different thing to think "Am I actually using parts of my body for righteousness? How?" The final reason I want to take this on is because it's become clear to me that gossiping is often a symptom of some larger, more troublesome issues. Gossip is often the vehicle upon which judgment, insecurity, self-righteousness, etc. ride. Gossip shows no grace, and gossip certainly does not view its target as people equally broken and equally loved by the same God who loves me.

So, my hope is that during Lent, I can focus intensely on this issue, and take the time to develop (or un-develop ha!) some habits that will last me far after Easter is over. Now, before I get started, I think it's important to set some ground rules. And let me clarify that the purpose of these ground rules are NOT to give myself some wiggle room... I decided that I must have a CLEAR definition in my mind of what gossip is and what it isn't... lest I get overwhelmed, discouraged, and give in to temptation to rationalize away every wrong move I will inevitably make. Please feel free to comment on and/or add any definitions that you think are reasonable and appropriate.

-Gossip is a statement that is made behind someone's back, which wouldn't be made to their face.
-Gossip is discussing people and events that are, actually, of no concern and consequence to you.
-Gossip is making judgments about people and situations and not giving them the opportunity to rightfully defend themselves.
-Gossip SHOULD NOT be masked as "concerned conversation" about someone and their choices. If I feel concerned, I will pray for them and/or talk TO them, not ABOUT them.
-Gossip is ranting about things and people that we either can't, or haven't tried to, change.
-Gossip is anything that does not "build up" someone in your own mind or the minds of others.

That leads me to believe that the following IS NOT gossip:
-Pure statement of fact: "Mallory went to work today."
-Statements that reflect the person's worth and value in the eyes of God: "Meredith is so talented at the piano!"

The tricky parts, I think, will be 1) monitoring when some "statements of fact" turn into gossip (almost always by adding that judgment component) and 2) keeping a gauge on my heart for why I feel the need to go there in the first place. Is it insecurity? Is it just boredom?

There are TONS of verses in Proverbs, the book of James, and sprinkled throughout the Bible that talk about the pitfalls of gossip and the beauty of those who don't succumb to it. My goal over the next several weeks is not to "win" at Lent... not to count the number of days I go without messing up (I fear I will likely not even be able to start a tally)... but to learn dependence on God for victory over this sin, to experience the grace of God when I fail at resisting the temptation, and to open my heart to the value God sees in ALL His children. I hope and pray that you will hold me accountable... and I'm serious about that!!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Politics, by M

As election season is almost upon us, I find myself talking about politics kind of a lot these days. (Now, "kind of a lot" is relative, as it’s actually like half an hour a week as opposed to… well, mostly never). I’ve been doing a little bit of reading about the Republican candidates, through the headlines of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (ha!), random friends’ posts on facebook (ha! again) and various articles in Newsweek (which mom and dad kindly gifted me for Christmas). To be perfectly honest, I’m kind of over the whole deal already.

…which, I suppose wouldn’t be all that terrible if not for one thing. My super sweet and awesome boyfriend is a professional editorial cartoonist. Ie: he gets paid to know what’s up in politics and have a super strong opinion about it. (If I may brag on him for a second, you should check out his website here or see some of his work in The Best Editorial Cartoons of 2012 on Amazon here.) His undergrad degree was Political Science and he absolutely loves thinking and talking about current events in politics. This is something that I like about him because it makes him really great at what he does. However… let’s revisit my point about how I’m tempted to just really not care about the presidential race, current events, foreign affairs, etc. Haha

We’ve spent some time talking about this, and the conclusion that I always come to is that my desire to not care comes from feeling like caring is a fruitless pursuit. It seems to me that wars will always continue, the poor will always exist, inequality will never be fully eradicated… and no country or government or army or president is going to fix that. Different political parties have different ideas for how to fix these problems, but I’m hard pressed to believe that any party or person actually will. We live in a broken world and no US president is going to be our Savior. Fact.

So, I end up feeling defeated by the whole thing (very Ecclesiastical haha) and it makes me want to throw in the towel. Moreover, something inside of me feels like maybe I'm secretly a better Christian for not caring... like I should just get a "Jesus for President" bumper sticker and be done with it already.

Well, this little theory was challeneged recently when I came across a couple of quotes from Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest and world-renowned theologian. I've been reading his book The Return of the Prodigal Son (it's great, by the way) and in Part III, he examines the attributes of the father in that famous parable. Naturally, he's talking about God and this is what he has to say about God's response to the world's brokenness:

“God rejoices. Not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, nor because thousands of people have been converted and are now praising him for his goodness. No, God rejoices because one of his children who was lost has been found.”

And thus, here should be our response:

“I have to learn to ‘steal’ all the real joy there is to steal and lift it up for others to see. Yes, I know that not everybody has been converted yet, that there is not yet peace everywhere, that all pain has not yet been taken away, but still, I see people turning and returning home; I hear voices that pray, I notice moments of forgiveness, and I witness many signs of hope. I don’t have to wait until all is well, but I can celebrate every little hint of the Kingdom that is at hand.”

Well, shoot. I'm thinking that this means that I can't just thow up my hands and walk away from the whole politics scene. Though we are not to take our government as our Savior, perhaps we have a godly responsibility to participate nonetheless. I can't let the depth of the brokenness stop me from participating in God's plan for this world's redemption. I can't let the pain and suffering I see steal my joy at God's promise of a better hope and future for us. I guess that means I need to keep on doing my research about which person is going to be the best choice to help us get there. Dangit.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Idea of a Married Name

It's W here, obviously, as I am the only twin in my family with both a married name and a maiden name.

I've been thinking recently about how weird it is that one random day 7 months ago, the name that I'd used and identified with for nearly 25 years just... stopped being my name. Have you ever really thought about how strange that it is? Even with the years of doodling Mrs. so-and-so in my journal for every crush I ever had, it's so bizarre, after decades of being called a certain name, to switch over to something else. What's even weirder is that there are people in my life now who never knew me by any other name, and who don't know or care what my name used to be.

For me, it never really seemed like a choice to keep my maiden name. I never thought about it, never considered it, never wanted it. I didn't even keep it as a middle name. For all intents and purposes, my former name occupies no part of who I am legally. That said, I can think of at least 10 female friends or acquaintances who chose not to take a married name.

And it makes me curious.  There are a few reasons under which I could understand not taking your husband's name. These are:

1. You come from a family with a very respected and recognizable name. You better believe if my last name was Kennedy, I would be keeping that baby around in some form. Why give up the benefit of public adoration and prestige that your forefathers worked hard to earn?

2. You have established yourself in the public eye or your community using your maiden name. If I were a doctor who got a lot of clients via word of mouth, a radio personality, a well-known lawyer, an author or anything else like that, I'd probably keep my name professionally. If I thought it would help me keep or bring in new business, I would probably not change it.

3. Your married name would be the same as your first name, or if it would create a play on words. There are definitely some last names that are also first names-- my own first name is one of them. Had I fallen in love with someone whose last name was the same as my first, I wouldn't have changed it. Same with names that are nouns and could become adjectives by adding the last name "lee." Heaven Lee? No thanks!

4. Your future husband has a REALLY terrible last name. I'm not talking a bad last name, I'm talking a TERRIBLE name. Any word that would be offensive in another context, any number of words that, when put together as a name, is just not acceptable, any name that has so many consonants that 80% or more of random people will mispronounce it...I'd probably decline.

Those are my 4 reasons. I know a big one for other people is that "taking my husband's last name is against my belief in gender equality," but considering that our maiden names are passed down paternally (patri-linearly? Should've stuck with "from our fathers"), this argument doesn't hold much weight for me.  

I can definitely see how keeping my last name would probably make me feel more independent, but sharing T's last name makes me feel like we're a family. Keeping my maiden name would probably make me feel more hip, but it also would make me feel like I've made a commitment while keeping one foot out the door.

All in all, I'm glad to have a new name, and I lucked into getting a great one at that. What are you thoughts about this topic? What does it mean or not mean for you to keep or change your last name upon marriage? I'm curious to hear your thoughts!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Thoughts on the Old Testament, by M

At the beginning of 2012, I started a "Bible reading plan." No, not the read-through-the-whole-Bible-in-1-year kind (although, there's nothing wrong with that attempt. I wonder what the completion rate on that one looks like, though?) This one is called a 180-day "bird's eye view" of the Bible. I am LOVING it. You can check out this plan and others, if you're interested, here:

I'm loving this Bible reading plan for a few reasons:
1) I'm reading and learning lots of Bible stories that I've never actually read before
2) I'm discovering more about God's character
3) I have direction for where to go when I open my Bible in the morning

It has seriously been a really great (and easy - it's only one chapter per day) addition to my daily faith life in the past 5 weeks. Since I started, I've read chapters in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, and Psalms. While I'm pretty familiar with the gist of Genesis, Exodus, Ruth, and Psalms... it's safe to say that those other books have not been on my must-read list lately. I'm so glad for a little nudge to check them out... I'm learning so much!

So, here are my three big takeaways from my first 5 weeks in the Old Testament:

1) The Israelites were a hot mess... and we are the Israelites. So, this "birds-eye view" plan just gives the general through-line of the Bible story. And let me tell you, so far the story is going a lot like this:

-Israelites whine and complain
-God rescues them
-Israelites turn away from God
-God redeems them
-Israelites forget God's blessings
-God reminds them
-Rinse and repeat.

It's seriously ridiculous. I want to be like "HELLO! Are you all idiots!? Do you not remember what God has done for you over and over and over again?" And then, just as that rampage is flying through my head, I'm reminded that this is the story of God's chosen people. This is my story. I'm just as bad as they are, if not worse, and God's grace, mercy, and forgiveness for me is never-ceasing. When will I remember and believe?

2) I'm not sure that God's reverance for human life is quite as strong as we think it is. I believe that it's part of our nature to think that God thinks of death in the same way that we do. As I learn more of the Old Testament story (and reflect upon those New Testament stories that I already know), I'm growing more and more convinced that God cares deeply about eternal life, and cares... well, less deeply, about our life-span on earth. I'll tell you what, people die in the Old Testament like it's no big deal. People are burned, cities are ravaged, innocent children are slaughtered left and right. And, for what it's worth, God certainly doesn't even spare his own people most of the time. It's just interesting... and it's changed my previous conception of God's perspective on life and death.

3) God's story is absolutely full of unlikely heroes. Holy cow! I am loving learning more of the Bible stories that I suppose lots of people learn (or remember?) from Sunday school. I'm so intrigued by Joshua, Gideon, Esther, Samson, Hannah, Samuel, David, etc. (I've omitted the other awesome and wonderful people that I already knew a lot about lol). It is crazy and ridiculous the people that God chooses to do his work. If you think the apostles were a rag-tag army... the prophets and people carrying on in the Old Testament are no better, for the most part. And I love that. It is SO COOL to me. I guess what I'm learning (backwards lol) is the consistency of the Bible and God's story for our redemption. It's not just that God's power is made perfect in Paul's weakness... it's that it has been made perfect in human weakness from the dawn of time and will continue to be so through the end of time. There are so many themes that I've attributed to God through my study and knowledge of the New Testament that I didn't even realize were played out long before Jesus came on the scene... it's really awesome and reassuring to recognize that consistency.

So, there you have it. Who knew the Old Testament was so rich!? haha

Saturday, February 4, 2012

My Phone and my Faith

I don't know about you, but the way my life operates has changed dramatically since I started using an iphone in July. Those of you who have the pleasure of using an iphone or a similar android model know that it's seriously like having a tiny computer in your pocket. I can pull up websites or find directions or edit photos in the snap of a finger. It's kind of crazy how much a person is capable of doing with a phone like this.

Before the iphone, I had one of these:

And yes, it was that color.

As you can see, the screen was about 1.5 square inches and was mostly black and white. The keys were small. The "application" selection included a few necessary built-ins like calendar, camera, and contacts. I could pull up the internet, but there was no way to zoom in and so everything appeared in size 2 font on that little screen, and you had to scroll using a stylus. As such, I didn't use it very often.

When I first got the iphone, I was astonished by all it could do. Just six months later, I'm astonished by how quickly my faith journey has been impacted by this one simple change in my life.

I don't know about you, but suddenly it's like I cannot stand a single minute where I am not occupied. Waiting in line? iphone time. Tyler goes to the bathroom while we're at a restaurant? iphone time. On hold with customer service? iphone time during iphone time. The opportunities are endless-- play a game, scroll through facebook, read some blogs, send photos to friends, check three different email accounts, look at the weather for the upcoming week, watch a youtube video, or any number of the millions of other things this little piece of technology can do.

Now I find myself uncomfortable with down time. I've become that person that so is absorbed in something all the time that I don't know how to simply be still anymore.

Have any of you guys felt like this as a result of your technology?

In my many years of therapy (unashamed! I love therapy), pretty much all of my counselors recommended some form of meditation. Apparently if you have trouble getting your mind and/or heart to stop racing, it's a good idea to take a few minutes several times a day to simply "be." You know, to assess how you're feeling mentally and physically, to be present in your surroundings, and to absorb the fundamental truth that you are okay.

Not only have I ignored this advice by not taking purposeful breaks, but I am now refusing to accept accidental downtime as just that-- downtime. It's become another chance to do something other than think, be aware, and relax. And what I'm doing instead-- the games, the texting, the internet surfing-- are NOT life-giving pursuits.

As I have realized this, I've been trying hard to PUT THE PHONE DOWN. I've been rather appalled by how tough it is. In any case, I'm working to not buy into the idea that downtime is wasted time, because I don't want to be a slave to a phone. And I don't want my future kids to learn that it's a bad thing to be unoccupied. And because I don't want to trade those quiet minutes with God that I used to have while waiting for the next teller for the lesser pursuit of a high score in Scramble.

We're quickly becoming a culture-- Christian and otherwise-- that is so technologically focused that we're ignoring our own fundamental need of communion with one another and communion with God in exchange for immediate entertainment.

What do you think? Have you experienced this?