Peace as Seasonal and Feelings as Nouns

In ancient Greek mythology, Irene is the goddess of peace. Significantly, she is one of the Hours, who govern the seasons. This felt especially meaningful to me because I am learning that in whatever season we find ourselves this moment, peace returns eventually. Sometimes that thought is very comforting. Sometimes it feels terribly unfair, like going to a funeral on a cheerfully sunny day. But I’m learning that peace looks different with each iteration, so I experience it differently each time around.

I talked with E yesterday about some overwhelming feelings she was having and we were talking about the idea that feelings are nouns you can turn into verbs. The really great thing is when we can choose intentionally which feelings we want to turn into verbs, though some of us need years of therapy or medication to begin to figure that out. One hard thing I’ve found about feelings-as-nouns is when there are too many nouns for me to deal with. At six weeks postpartum, the nouns have definitely piled up (it is so smart that the postpartum visit with the midwife is generally scheduled at this point). It begins to feel as though I’m walking through a minefield and if I’m not perfect something will blow up. What if I can never form coherent sentences again and have to stop writing? What if I can’t make a “plant perfect” (no, really, people call it that) meal tonight and my kids get heart disease? What if J helps me too much and is too tired to take care of himself? What if my friends need something and I’m too tired to help? What if S doesn’t just have seasonal allergies? What if?

Because I have other friends with busy brains, small children, and the sense to turn off their phones when they sleep, I felt comfortable calling my friend M at 2 a.m. (don’t worry if I have your phone number as well…in these moments I only call people who have promised it won’t wake them if they are sleeping because I’m anxious, not a barbarian). She asked me if I could walk out of the minefield. As I breastfed Irene, it occurred to me that in my arms I held a tangible reminder that peace exists in the world whether we can see it or not in a given moment, and that we can work to bring it about. The idea that there is safe footing outside the minefield helped me to figure out where to put my feet.

So if you’re reading this, and bombarded with nouns (my high school English teacher would probably ask with exactly what else one could be bombarded besides a noun of some sort), I wish you 2 a.m. phone call kind of friends. I wish you safe passage. But most of all, I wish you peace.

“Life is a cookie.”

 

 

Unfinished Conversation

Even the title’s a little uncomfortable. We like things to be able to be checked off. But what I learned from sitting with Vincent this week is that sometimes a conversation is left incomplete in service to the bigger picture.

Above on the left is a picture I took at the Cleveland Museum of Art of The Large Plane Trees because I am fortunate enough to live in the same city as that piece. On the right is the same section of The Road Menders, which he painted later in the studio, using his earlier painting as a guide. I’ve written before about how much I love The Large Plane Trees because of its passion and very obvious need to capture the moment before it disappeared. He had to catch the colors of the leaves changing and was so desperate to do so that he used a tablecloth rather than wait for canvases to be delivered. There are places where you can see the pattern of the cloth beneath because portions of the painting were left as rough sketches to be returned to later.

And he did. On the right, because he was working from memory and because he had his earlier work as a guide, he was able to flesh out a great many more details. I was especially struck by the two road menders in each iteration of the work. On the left, they look very…unfinished. Because they are. On the right, the lines are clearer and you can see much more clearly what the two figures are doing.

I think certain conversations are like that. When you Just Begin, sometimes you have only a very rough idea and it gets to a point where you have to stop. The light looks how it looks only for a brief time and sometimes you have to direct your attention elsewhere or you’ll miss it. When I have been in a conversation that has stopped (who goes through their whole adult life without having that experience at least a few times?), I work hard not to begrudge a person this. Maybe at some point we will pick it up in a different context to make the lines clearer, but maybe not. Either way, my hope for each of us is that we catch the light in whatever way speaks beauty to us.

On the Rise of Seeker Sensitive Social Justice Work

In case you don’t know: in Evangelical Christianese, there is something called a “seeker sensitive church.” It basically means that the main focus of a church is to get people in the room and keep them there at all costs. A main reasoning behind this is that if you keep people around, you have a chance to effect a change in them. There is some logic in that. You can’t have productive conversation with people who won’t talk to you.

But.

In order to keep people in the room, many times seeker sensitive churches will be super careful not to say anything too challenging, ask too many uncomfortable questions, or push people too far too fast. Therefore a main criticism of seeker sensitive churches is that they tend to produce Christians who never mature in their faith.

I’m seeing this as a trend across several areas of social justice work, especially since the election. Look at all these new people! Caring about All the Things! How can we keep them engaged? The biggest and most obvious example was the often chaotic unfolding of the Million Women March Women’s March. I have been to a handful of white people anti-racism meetings where we spent the first 10 minutes clapping for ourselves simply for being there. Why are we doing that? I don’t go there to feel good about going there. I go there to do the work. Leaders of social justice work, hear me if you have ears to do so. Please, please learn from the fact that seeker sensitive evangelical churches are no small part of what led to a significant number of American Christians who are so disconnected from what the Bible actually teaches that they will vote for Donald Trump.

White people new to thinking about this stuff: we don’t have time to sit around indefinitely theorizing in abstract ways about how racism may or may not be present in our lives. Here’s a spoiler alert. It is present. Racism is all around us. At our dinner tables. In our inner ring suburban schools where middle schoolers are telling concentration camp jokes at the lunch table. In our anti-racism meetings. In our book clubs and passive-aggressive conversations where we all try to be the best at not being the smartest anti-racist in the room. Racism is the toxicity in the water we all swim in. Please swim anyway. People are dying. Asking them to be patient so you can work on your butterfly stroke is….inappropriate.

I’m not saying we as white people shouldn’t analyze or think deeply about how our whiteness affects the way we walk through the world, and how it affects people around us who are not white. We absolutely should be doing that. As we go. In a way that allows us to get rid of our nonsense, not wrap it up in other nonsense and keep carrying it with us. It is essential to this work that we find ways to cultivate a stillness inside us that doesn’t need to disregard the voices of oppressed people in order to exist. We are all bombarded with the false idea that we can only be one thing at a time. We are acting or we are thinking. We are reacting to what happens now or we are considering the long-term implications. If that is the way we understand the world, it is so hard to take the long view in a way that doesn’t erase the people right in front of us. Please try anyway. There is work to do.

I am not without compassion. I get that many people are shocked. The world is a shocking place. Here’s the thing. If your body goes into shock you have to find out why and deal with that. A good first step in most cases of physical shock is to huddle under a blanket and call for help. But most of the time, you have to seek further treatment or your body will go deeper into shock until you die. I repeat: you have to huddle under a blanket and call for help. When help comes, you have to accept it. Very often you have to find the underlying cause and treat that or you will not get better.

Creating a seeker sensitive social justice movement runs a high risk of just putting a blanket around ourselves and never seeking further treatment. I know it’s hard to move when you feel small, scared, and trapped. I spend time feeling that way too. But to quote our favorite misanthropic tv doctor…

Patient: I just want to talk.
House: About nothing. If you talk about nothing, nothing will change.
Patient: It might.
House: How?
Patient: Time. Time changes everything.
House: That’s what people say. It’s not true. Doing things changes things. Not doing things leaves things exactly as they were.

 

 

 

Operation Chin Down: Losing Your Mind to Find It

It’s come to my attention that my preferred mode of processing is Quickly and All at Once. I think about things thoroughly, and have a hard time letting something rest until I’ve really processed it. So with something life-changing like heart surgery in the family, what I really want to do is to completely shut down for at least a week. Except I still homeschool my kids. I still have to drive places, make the meals, do the laundry, take the dog to the vet, call the doctors, fight with the insurance company, etc. etc. etc. (etc.). Life doesn’t stop because I’m a mess. Still, I’ve realized that in order to move forward, I need to prioritize being a mess for a while.

When E was a baby and I had postpartum depression, a really smart friend told me, “you have about a hundred hours of crying to do about this. If you work really hard at it, you could be done by the fall.” That was such good advice. The point isn’t to keep track of how long or how many tears. The point is to frame this time as long and intense, but not permanent. It’s a tunnel, not a dead end. There may be cave-ins and things that have to be dug through, but if you keep going there’s light eventually.

I’ve kept my chin up. My chin, literally and metaphorically, hurts. It’s time to stop trying to hold it up all the time.

So I present, mostly for my own benefit (if you’re reading along please note that these are my rules and aren’t meant to apply in a broadly prescriptive sense):

Operation Chin Down: The Ground Rules

  1. By all means, make a few terrible decisions. Allow them to remind you (usually by the lingering bad feeling afterward) why you make good decisions most of the time.
  2. Own your selfish, unhelpful thoughts. Recognize them. Just don’t always act on them. Tell your partner you don’t want him to go play cards on a Sunday afternoon, when he watched the kids all morning so you could get out by yourself. Then tell him he should absolutely go anyway because he deserves a break too and because you’re overwhelmed, but you’re still a grownup.
  3. Repeat after me. “No, Dear Daughter, I don’t want to play Monopoly right now.” In point of fact, I never want to play Monopoly. Ever. It sucks away a little of my life force every time I even see the box. Someday I may again have the patience to play anyway, but today is not that day. Don’t say this part out loud.
  4. Create and listen to a playlist of empowering songs that encourage you to feel whatever you feel and not apologize for it. Do NOT listen to this playlist when the kids are around. They don’t need to be repeating that shit at Thanksgiving.
  5. Say curse words when you need to. It really is kind of like the steam valve on the pressure cooker. Better to curse a little than to let your head explode completely.
  6. Try to have a care where you direct your intensity. Not everyone can handle it, and not everyone should have to. People have their own stuff going on and it makes sense to establish that it’s a safe space before you just start erupting like a volcano of neuroses.
  7. You will likely make mistakes in regards to number 6. Forgive yourself. You’re doing the best you can.
  8. Be honest about whatever you think and feel about God. God is big enough to be able to handle it, and won’t hold it against you. Having faith, for you, has never been about being ‘fine’ all the time. Having faith is about being able to move through things, and about being able to recognize that what you see and comprehend can not possibly account for everything that is. You’re allowed to feel bewildered and unable to form prayers. That’s what liturgy is for. “Amen” doesn’t always mean “this is how it is”. Sometimes it means, “I sure hope so.” Amen. Lord have mercy.
  9. You’re allowed to mourn the clarity that you had before all of this happened. You’ll find a way forward eventually; that doesn’t mean that you weren’t doing a good job before (thanks to my friend Sarah Wilson Belzile for that language).
  10. Go to therapy. There’s no shame in this. Find the right psychologist…you can tell it’s the right person because you can tell they get you and because you believe they are smart enough to tell you things about yourself (lots of therapists are smart enough…but not everyone will make you feel that way…that’s where the “getting you” part becomes especially important).
  11. Go to yoga.
  12. Eat all the carbs.
  13. You’re an extrovert. You have a lot of people. Ask a couple of them to come sit with you, even if you’re in a bad head space. You’ll be able to tell who can really be present in a helpful way, because they won’t need you to be smiling before they leave (it’s ok if you do smile, obviously, but the pressure to appear completely fine according to someone else’s definition is really unhelpful to the healing process).
  14. Have people around you who will tell you if they become worried you’ve gone too far off the rails. Believe them when they tell you that you haven’t.
  15. Recognize that the rules may need to change as you go. This is not failure. This is progress.