Saturday, March 7, 2015

Personal Piety as a Bedrock of Oppression

Exodus 20:1-17
John 2:13-22

*****

Those who forget history are destined to repeat it.

There is a trend in the church, in the last one hundred years or so, to focus on one's personal relationship with God, to memorizes verses of scripture, and to take single phrases or sentences or promises completely out of context.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. If memorizing Jeremiah 29:11 ("For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not to harm you....") is of comfort and gets someone through a rough patch in life, it's a lovely thing. Faith should be a source of strength. Faith should carry us through the hard times.

But if that's the farthest faith takes us, there's a problem.

The issue of divorcing scriptures from their context prevents us from understanding the wider social issues the scriptures were intended to address when they were written, and in so doing, can prevent us from understanding how those same scriptures can address wider social issues today.

The reality is that everyone subscribes to a method of biblical interpretation - a particular lens through which they read the bible. I'll be honest about mine - I read the bible, by and large, through a lens focused on social justice. This is in part because social justice is generally important to me and in part because it's an overriding theme of the text, whether you approach it with this view in mind or not.

A funny thing happens when we approach the lectionary texts for today from a social justice perspective - these two seemingly unrelated texts begin to make sense as a pair. Furthermore, the issues inherent in personalizing texts out of context become clear.

When we read the Ten Commandments as personal mandates, a couple of interesting things begin to happen:

First, we divorce the entire list from the context in which it was given - an entire people group, a nation, a whole culture has been delivered from slavery and oppression and is given a new way to live in the world, as a collective, as a group who are going to be held accountable to these laws.

While it is certainly a good thing to be mindful of our personal idols - the things we love more than we as individuals love God and God's people - and while I would certainly never suggest that honoring one's parents isn't, generally speaking, a wise course of action, the simple fact is that this is profoundly different from and has gravely difference consequences than reading this text as a collective - being mindful as a culture of what our community loves more than God and God's people, forgetting where our ancestors came from and how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt.

There is a world of difference between actively seeking as individual not to covet your neighbor's wife or servant or ox or donkey and actively seeking as a community not to covet the systems of oppression rampant in the neighboring nation that allows them to amass grotesque wealth at the expense of the poor, which subjugates women and makes them property of men, which enslaves people for the purpose of benefiting the few in power.

Reading the Ten Commandments as mores for the collective, rather than rules for the individual, allows us to keep them in the context of a nation that was just delivered from those same oppressive and abusive systems of injustice. God delivered the Israelite people from that system and then tells them "Yes, change is hard, but don't go getting nostalgic for the very injustice I just delivered you from."

Those who forget history are destined to repeat it.

Second, reading the Ten Commandments as personal rather than political allows us to focus on the letter of the law rather than spirit or heart of the law and in doing so, we begin to engage in the process of "othering." In taking the commands as personal dictates, we begin to compare ourselves to our friends and neighbors, setting ourselves apart as better than, and creating in groups and out groups.

What starts as a small matter of personal pride can quickly devolve into systemic injustice and oppression of entire groups of people as an in group seeks to gain or maintain wealth and power at the expense of the out group(s). The law, rather unifying a group, instead drives a wedge between them. Rather than bringing a community closer to God, creates roadblocks for the least of these, and even separates those in power from God as well.

The problem with systems of oppression and injustice is that while the view might look good from the top of the pile, in dehumanizing others so that we can justify our acts of oppression, we inherently dehumanize ourselves in the process.

Divorcing the scriptures from their context, holding to the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the, creating in groups and out groups, using the law to solidify unjust systems of oppression is a perpetual reality.

We see this time and time and time again.

We see this when Jesus comes on the scene in John 2. Jesus shows up at the Temple during Passover, a time when the Jews celebrate their delivery from slavery in Egypt, a time when Jews remember and honor the sacrifice of their ancestors, a time when the recall the faithfulness of God in delivering their community from an unjust system of oppression.

What Jesus finds when he arrives at the Temple is the very definition of irony.

Jesus found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. The Temple system, which had been intended to keep the culture accountable, to protect the weak, the widow, the orphan and the poor, and to aid the culture in maintaining their relationship with God and with each other, has been turned into a system of oppression.

The Temple became a system in which the “haves” ruled over and against the “have nots.” The wealthy and powerful used their position as the in group to penalize the weak and poor. In othering the least, the in group found new ways to oppress and enslave the out group.

Part of Temple worship included animal sacrifice. The rules for sacrifice were laid out in the Hebrew bible. Animals set aside for sacrifice had to meet certain standards in order to be acceptable. This goes back to notion of giving God your best - choosing the most perfect cow, sheep or dove as the offering to God.

Those who had wealth and power in the Temple, however, began inspecting these sacrificial offerings and over time began insisting that the animals brought on long journeys were not fit for sacrifice. This put them in a position of demanding that more fit animals be purchased from them, at a premium of course.

For their part, the money changers had determined that coins bearing the visage of Caesar was tantamount to making an idol. They declared that these could not be used to purchase the animals required for sacrifice. Instead, they insisted that worshipers exchange such currency for Temple gold, at an exorbitant rate of exchange.

Is it any wonder that Jesus responded with anger and violence when he saw that many of the priests and pharisees appeared to see some worshipers, especially those who live in the predominantly poor outlying areas, less as faithful congregants to be protected and aided in worship than as potential sinners and sources of revenue?

There is much to be lost when we treat faith as a personal issue only and fail to consider the wider social implications inherent in texts written to a community for the purpose of building and maintaining a more just community. Treating faith as a personal issue only, without also engaging in faith within community, leads to an in-group/out-group, us/them mentality in which we seek to elevate ourselves above others, which in turn allows us to be blind to our own privileges and societal sin. This kind of thinking has always and will always lead to dehumanizing and oppressing entire people groups for the sake of maintaining the status quo.

Those who forget history are destined to repeat it.

Where are we, collectively, forgetting history today? And how are we repeating it?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

GF Lemon Blueberry Pancakes

I love pancakes.

I do not eat them often, but they're one of my favorite breakfast foods. Right up there with scrambled eggs with ham, chihuahua cheese and green chili sauce; scrambled eggs with ham, goat cheese and chives; scrambled eggs with ham, cheddar and sriracha; Eggs Benedict; D's waffles and fried ham; scrambled eggs with any assortment of tasty things and potatoes fried in duck fat.

Okay, so the truth is, I actually just LOVE breakfast foods. And D does scrambled eggs SO WELL. And he makes amazing waffles. And we collaborate weekly on Eggs Benedict because I'm good with tempering things and he's good at poaching things.

But his birthday was earlier this week, so I wanted to make him breakfast and I wanted it to be something I thought he'd really enjoy.

Since I know his love of all things lemon, and since I know he likes blueberries, I decided I'd have to find a way to make gluten-free lemon blueberry pancakes.

As the company whose gf all purpose flour blend I like best seems to no longer make gf all purpose flour, and as I can no longer find their pancake and waffle recipe to use as a baseline for using a different flour, I had to go a different route.

So, I visited another site that I've good luck with and decided to modify this recipe as follows:

GF Lemon Blueberry Pancakes:

  • 140 g white rice flour
  • 50 g potato starch (the original called for 47 and I spooned it in too quickly and couldn't retrieve the extra)
  • 23 g tapioca starch
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup vanilla sugar (talk to AB about this one)
  • 5 tablespoons butter flavored Crisco (don't judge me), melted and cooled
  • zest of one lemon
  • juice of 1/2 lemon mixed with enough whole milk to make 1 1/2 cups fluid
  • 1 large egg slightly beaten
  • fresh blueberries
  1. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the wet ingredients and whisk to fully combine.
  2. Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat until hot. Lube the skillet with a little oil.
  3. Pour batter into skillet, about 1/3 of a cup per cake.
  4. Sprinkle 7-10 blueberries in each cake.
  5. Cook until the cake is bubbly and the edges have become noticeably dry.
  6. Flip the cake and cook the other side until it stops emitting steam.
This recipe makes approximately 8 good sized pancakes. Enough for 4 people (technically), but who really wants to eat leftover pancakes? And who wants to risk the batter going funky in the fridge overnight?

Nope, as their were just 2 of us at the table this morning, that made for 4 pancakes a piece. Pure bliss.

Next time I might cut back on the sugar and increase the lemon. Just to see how it goes.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Lemon Thyme Pudding

Lemon is amazing. Pudding is delicious. Thyme is delightful.

And since I had a few leftover yolks and some lemons in the fridge and a few sprigs of thyme that were quickly headed toward "beyond the point of usefulness," I decided to make a lemon thyme pudding.

It's phenomenal.

*****

Ingredients:

  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cups demerara sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 5 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 2 Tablespoons very fine fresh lemon zest
  • 1 generous pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
In a medium saucepan, heat thyme, half-and-half, and milk until it just reaches a simmer. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

In a medium saucier, whisk the sugar and cornstarch to combine. Pour the milk mixture through a sieve to strain out the thyme and whisk thoroughly into the sugar mixture.

Add the egg yolks, zest, and salt. Mix until fully incorporated.

Place the saucier over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened and holds to the whisk.

Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the lemon juice and butter.

Divide among dessert dishes (6-7 4oz ramekins or similar) and allow to come to room temperature. Cover loosely and chill for several hours before serving.

*****

Chef's Notes:

This recipe used slightly less than 2 1/2 lemons worth of zest and juice, using a very fine microplane to zest the lemons and wooden reamer to juice them. (I would have just used to two whole lemons and called it good, but I had a 1/2 lemon left over from our Sunday eggs Benedict and I wanted to get it used up).

I might up the amount of thyme with the next batch, as I'd like a bit more of that flavor. However, since the point of experimenting with this today was to use up all of the thyme in the fridge (which I did), I'm extremely pleased with the results.

With the remaining zest and juice, I made a loaf of gluten-free lemon poppy seed pound cake. Because I'm awesome like that.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Expectations

"Resolve to Adventure" the Eddie Bauer coupon on the dining room table reads.

What is a resolution other than our stated intention to meet some expectation?

Expectation are heavy burdens.

I once knew two sisters who were as different as night and day.

The older of the two was beautiful and artistic. She could paint, draw, and was incredibly musically gifted. She also really wanted to be an only child. And she made certain everyone, especially her younger sister, knew it.

The younger of the two was an awkward child. Neither beautiful nor artistic, she was your classically fumbling fat kid. And she knew it.

While the older sister made friends everywhere she went and captured entire audiences with her voice and her talents for any and all instruments, the younger often stayed back, away from the fray, and poured herself into her academic studies, as that was where she felt safe and comfortable.

The older sister was often praised for her beauty and her talents; she even earned a full scholarship to an elite institution to study music.

The younger sister was rewarded with high grades, told she could do anything, be anything she wanted, that education was the key to any life she chose, and was otherwise left to her own devices as she seemed to being so well.

The older sister eventually fell in with the "wrong crowd" and began using drugs and alcohol. Despite all the previous accolades, it was the voice of her first serious boyfriend that stuck with her. Told she had no talent and would never amount to anything, she quit high school a few weeks before graduation and proceeded to live down to every societal expectation of a drug addicted, high school drop out, single mother.

The younger sister did "everything right," striving to live up to every expectation placed upon her: graduating from high school, going on to college, and an elite institution for graduate school.

Expectations are heavy burdens.

Living down to the low expectations of others nearly killed the older sister as she fell deeper into drug use and moved from one emotionally and physically abusive relationship to the next. Eventually, she had had enough and began to listen not to the voices of those outside of herself, but to the voice within. She got clean and sober and created a life for herself and her children that, while less than what she might have had with more education and fewer children, was enough and more than anyone had told she had a right to in a very long time.

Expectation are heavy burdens.

While desperately seeeking to live up to the expectations of greatness placed upon her from her earliest years of formal education, the younger sister became perfectionistic and more than a little neurotic. Anxiety plagued her at every turn and she became, in many ways, independent to a fault. She was never one to ask for help, because if she wasn't strong enough to manage the burden on her, or smart enough to find a way to outwit any obstacle, what was she?

When a medical crisis forced her to take a leave of absence from her studies, the younger sister (for just a moment) considered the possibility that suicide would be a better alternative to disappointing everyone who knew her by admitting weakness, defeat, failure.

Expectations are heavy burdens.

I wonder if this is the reason the Christ child - Jesus - grew and became strong. Expected to cause "the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that [would] be opposed so that inner thoughts of many would be revealed" must have worn on Jesus. Yet "he grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him."

How does one carry the burden of expecations of an entire family, society, world? Do we strive to live up to or down to the expectations set for us?

This is the time of year when people are beginning to resolve to meet certain expectations in the coming year. How do we strive to live up to or down to the expectations we set for ourselves? And how much do family and societal pressures influence our New Year's Resolutions?

If I resolve to lose weight in the coming year, am I doing so because I want to be healthier? If that were the case, knowing the power of language as I do, I would likely resolve to eat more vegetables and lean protein, walk more often, and dust off the weights.

Usually, when I resolve to lose weight, it stems from the expectation set for me when I was an awkward, fumbling, fat kid that I would be pretty if, more valuable if, worthy of love if.... I would just lose the extra weight.

If I resolve to do things right, if I read everything I can find, if I seek out the best advice and follow it to the letter, am I doing so because I believe that anything worth doing is worth doing well? If that were the csae, I'd likely resolve to give my best effort to the things that matter most.

Usually, when I resort to unreasonably high expectations of myself, aiming to be the best, when nothing apart from something better than absolute perfection will suffice, it stems from a belief that following the law will ensure success, and that I will be successful, valuable, worthy of love if I can do all things right.

Expectations are heavy burdens - or they can be, when they come from the unrelenting voices outside of ourselves. Jesus certainly had unrelenting voices with which to contend. And yet, he was strong and wise; the favor of God was upon him. Different from the rest, Jesus seems to have mastered the art of living up to the expectations set by his Father, god. Jesus listened to and followed the inner voice of the divine that every child of God, every heir to God's kingdom carries within them. And by "every child of God" I mean everyone, no matter what.

Expectations can certainly be heavy burdens. And yet, here we are, at the close of another year, and many are making resolutions - stating their intention to meet some expectation in the coming year.

If you resolve in the coming year to do anything, I hope you'll take time to deeply contemplate the source of those the expectations, and choose wisely the voice you will heed. And remember, regardless of the expectations of others, "the greatest gift you ever give is your honest self."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When Loss is Gain

The thing about pastors is, we're human, too. We're actually no different from the people who sit in the pews of churches. We just have a different view on Sunday mornings.

Any pastor who tells you they've never doubted God is either lying or has a faith not worth trusting, in my humble opinion.

Any pastor who pretends they never have evil thoughts is full of shit.

I am not a nice person, but I like to believe I am incredibly kind.

Today, I may not even be all that kind; in reality, as a child in early elementary school, I was not all that kind. I was angry and violent a lot of the time.

Things changed when I was ten. There are reasons for the change, but I'll not go into those now. Suffice it to say the rage and violence remained, but I chose to direct them inward rather than outward. It took a very long time for the violence to end and the rage to dissipate and healing and joy to take their place again.

Two years before the change, however, there was one boy in my third grade class. His name was Andrew. This is the only time in this blog I will ever use a real name.

I do not remember Andrew's last name, but I was mean and hateful and cruel to him. For many years now I've wished I could look him up, find him, and apologize for the way I treated him. I carry the shame of my childhood sins with me.

But that is not what this post is about. This post is about this morning.

The thing about being a pastor is you end up on everybody's email list. Every church you've ever served, every church you've ever attended, every church you've ever preached at. They all get you on the roster, and the roster never gets cleaned out.

I received an email this morning from the church I grew up in. A young man passed away this weekend. He was thirty-four years old.

And I thought to myself that the world had become a kinder and gentler place with his passing.

This man was a year ahead of me in school. He was cruel to me. Not in the same ways I was cruel to Andrew, but in other ways. Constant torment and verbal abuse that was ignored by the adults in every setting.

He largely ignored me at church, but during the summers, he and his step-siblings would dunk me in the pool and hold me under water, they would taunt me about being an overweight kid from a dysfunctional and incredibly impoverished family. The lifeguards did nothing but tell me that if I didn't want to be picked on, I should go on a diet and not be so fat. The pool management said the same thing.

During the school year I only had interactions with him on the playground because he was a year ahead of me. That is until we were both transferred to a different school district some 20 miles away.

I tried to think kindly of him. He had a physical disability and came from a family not much different than my own, though perhaps slightly more well off. I didn't like the way he treated me, but I couldn't bring myself to be cruel to him. I couldn't bring myself to be cruel about him. Mostly, I just felt sorry for him, because I knew what had caused me to become an angry, bitter, violent five year old.

This all changed one day on the way home from school. There were three of us being bused from our district to the district up north. We rode in a white minivan with "SCHOOL BUS" magnets on the panels of the van.

This particular day, this boy had ridden to school, but he was nowhere to be seen in the bus on the way home from school. I asked about his very noticeable absence, and was told by the driver that he'd gotten sick at school and gone home early.

I genuinely hoped he was okay.

Then, the 25 minute ride home. I was grilled relentlessly about how I felt about this boy. I was goaded and picked at and pressured to say terrible, mean, hateful, hurtful things about him. Repeatedly I was asked, "But you really hate him, don't you? You think he's terrible, don't you?" These questions were asked by the third student and the bus driver, a woman in her late 40s.

I had never thought such things about him and I said so.

The onslaught of questions continued, but I heard a scuttling on the floor and looked under the seats. There he was, this boy of eleven, who had conspired to get me to say terrible things about him; there was the bus driver, a grown woman with adult children of her own, colluding to make a fool of me.

"It was just a joke," they said, trying to pass off their horrendous behavior as something we could all laugh about.

But it wasn't a joke when I was pressed into saying thing I hadn't thought - until that moment; when it was demanded that I admit to feelings that I did not have - until that moment.

I wasn't so angry with this boy or our fellow student for their stupid and childish prank as I was with the bus driver, a grown adult who sought to humiliate me, who intentionally created circumstances and participated in behaviors designed to trap me into saying something they could use against me later, an adult who was supposed to be a safe person, who had insisted this bus was a safe space, and who violated that safety with trickery and abuse.

I exploded when I got home and screamed at her about what a vile and disgusting human being she was.

As for this boy and the third student, I cried a bit. I couldn't understand their betrayal. Weren't we all in this together? Hadn't we all been kicked out of one school to be bused to another, one with more resources for "problem children" like us? Why was I the one singled out as the object of torment and insult? Weren't we all struggling with similar things?

The next day we had a new driver, the adult son of original driver who gave me an earful about how disrespectful my behavior toward his mother had been. I laughed in his face. Defending myself was not disrespectful. What she had done was disrespectful.

I read on the bus from then on and refused to speak to either this boy, the other student, or the new driver who continued to pick us up and drop us off for the remainder of the year.

But I never forgot that experience.

Some years later, while I was in seminary, the new pastor at my church mentioned that this boy, now a grown man, was in a facility, got precious few visitors, and since I was in the area often, it would probably be appreciated if I stopped by.

I never did. I didn't owe him anything.

This morning, I wanted to feel compassion. He's someone's son. He's someone's brother. He's someone's uncle. I thought briefly of sending my condolences to his family, telling them I'm sorry for their loss. But I'm not sorry.

And I do not feel compassion.

I feel relief, because my world feels a little safer and a little kinder without him in it.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Precision of Language and the Power of Voice

I am self-conscious about a number of my traits: physical attributes, personality quirks, and things that are uniquely me. The one thing I am most self-conscious about is my voice.

There are a lot of reasons I'm so self-conscious about my voice. My voice, for what it's worth, is not only uniquely me, and not only a significant expression of my personality quirks, but my voice is what it is precisely because of the unseen physical attributes of my vocal folds and diaphragm.

My voice tells people more than I want it to. Others hear my anxiety when I am trying to keep it together; others feel my excitement when I'm trying to express something important without overwhelming; others hear the irritation and impatience when I'm trying to be polite and respectful while explaining for the fortieth time in this conversation that I do know what I'm doing and I do not have to justify my knowledge to anyone; others hear and know and sometimes they even understand when my voice goes silent.

My voice has gotten me into trouble in nearly every place I've ever been. My voice has been a source of immense pain in every relationship I've ever had.

I was repeatedly silenced and made invisible as a child when I used my voice to speak out again abuse and injustice in my home.

I remember clearly one moment when I was about eight years old: though I did not want to, I was forced to give voice to sacred hymns that felt like lies and tasted bitter in my mouth or risk public humiliation and chastisement from my grandmother in the middle of a church service.

Once, in my teen years, I stopped speaking entirely for two weeks because I was in so much pain all words were lost to me. I received praise from those closest for the fact that I had begun to whither and fade.

In college I was told to stop asking so many clarifying questions when a professor would make two completely contradictory statements in the course of a lecture, leaving me to wonder how we ought to weight the information he was providing us.

I used to like some forms of music in some contexts and I used to love singing. Until I was told, every single time I sang for the pure pleasure of engaging the music, that I was flat and could sound so much better if I'd do a little work. This was told to me by a vocal coach who even offered to give me a few lessons. When I sought to accept this gracious offer, I was turned away. The criticism, however, continued, until I stopped singing entirely.

I do not sing now. And I rarely listen to music.

At work, my boss greeted me early one more as he came into the office. I greeted him back quite cheerfully and within two minutes received an email that if I continues to be disruptive in the work environment corrective action up to and including termination would be issued.

I've never greeted my boss again.

A few months later, I received a call from a very angry individual. Rather than get caught up in the anger and anxiety, I chose to modulate my voice, speak soothingly, and try to maintain control of the call so as to find a satisfactory resolution that met both the caller's and the company's needs. In the middle of the call I received a message from my boss telling me I wasn't being loud enough and he expected me to be more myself immediately or HR would be involved.

Those two incidents occurred in the same work place; the remarks were made by the same boss.

I hate my voice in almost every context in which I use or refrain from using it.

I am careful and intentional in how I use it in almost all situations.

It is not just the tone and volume that I seek and so miserably fail to modulate. I am also incredibly intentional in the words I choose when I give voice to my thoughts, feelings, ideas, and needs. Perhaps because the tone of my voice is often misinterpreted by so many I have become more careful and intentional in how I use my words.

I had been uninterested in reading Lois Lowry's The Giver because the synopsis read like a teen-ified, watered down version of George Lucas's THX 1138.

By happy accident, my niece and I were at a book store and upon seeing the book, she passionately urged me to buy and read it. She had enjoyed it immensely and thought I would love it as well.

So, I picked it up and when I was done with two books on my "Next to be Read" list, I started it.

I loved the book and perhaps if I were younger or less well read or completely unfamiliar with Utopian fiction, I would not have known what was going on from page one. As it was, I enjoyed it despite the fact that I could see the big reveal coming from the start.

Though I knew what was going on, I was actually quite drawn to the community Lowry had created. After all, release seemed a small price to pay for a community that operated so smoothly and in which precision of language was such an extraordinarily high value.

I began to feel drawn in and even found myself desiring such a community in my own life, where people say what they mean and mean what they say; where words are chosen carefully, intentionally, and precisely; where tone and feeling are less important than sentence structure and diction.

Until I read Asher's review at the ceremony for Twelves:
"When the committee began to consider Asher's Assignment," she went on, "there were some possibilities that were immediately discarded. Some that would clearly not have been right for Asher.
"For example," she said, smiling, "we did not consider for an instant designating Asher the Instructor of Threes."
The audience howled with laughter. Asher laughed too, looking sheepish but pleased with the special attention. The Instructor of Threes was in charge of the acquisition of language....
The punishment used for small children was a regulated system of smacks with the discipline wand: a thin, flexible weapon that stung painfully when it was wielded. The Childcare specialists were trained very carefully in the discipline methods: a quick smack across the hands for a bit of minor misbehavior; three sharper smacks on the bare legs for a second offense.1 
Honestly, even at this point, I was still enamored of the community Lowry had created. Though the discipline seemed harsh for one so young, the payoff for precision seemed well worth it.

I continued to read:
Poor Asher, who always talked too fast and mixed up words, even as a toddler. As a Three, eager for his juice and crackers at snacktime, he one day said "smack" instead of "snack" as he stood waiting in line for the morning treat.
Jonas remembered it clearly. He could still see little Asher, wiggling with impatience in the line. He remembered the cheerful voice calling out, "I want my smack!"
The other Threes, including Jonas, had laughed nervously. "Snack!" they corrected. "You meant snack, Asher!" But the mistake had been made. And precision of language was one of the most important tasks of small children. Asher had asked for a smack.
The discipline wand, in the hand of the Childcare worker, whistled as it came down across Asher's hands. Asher whimpered, cringed, and corrected himself instantly. "Snack," he whispered.
But the next morning he had done it again. And again the following week. He couldn't seem to stop, though for each lapse the discipline wand came again, escalating to a series of painful lashes that left marks on Asher's legs. Eventually, for a period of time, Asher stopped talking altogether, when was a Three.2 
I cried. I cried for Asher. I cried for myself. I cried for all those whose voices have been silenced through the years and whose voices continue to be silenced today. I cried for all of the words that are used in place of discipline wands and which leave scars much deeper on the soul.

I sought out my partner and a hug of comfort.

The next morning, I went to church, a place where my voice is not only accepted and encouraged but sought out for the purpose of reading scripture.

I feel at home in this community that sees my greatest weakness as a strength and a gift. I feel grateful to have found this place.

*****

1. Lois Lowry, The Giver (New York: Laurel-Leaf, 1993), 54.
2. ibid., 55.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Therapy Session that Wasn't

I am confident that I have a self-confidence problem.

I am also confident that my former therapist would COMPLETELY agree with me on this point. Though she considered it her job to challenge distorted thought patterns in our sessions, I considered it her job to assure me that I was doing it "correctly" when I challenged my own distorted thought patterns. Our sessions often looked something like this:

Me: So.... This is the thing that happened, and this is how I felt, and I realized this is what I was thinking, and I realized that wasn't accurate, so I changed my thinking to this instead, and then I felt better.

Therapist: That's exactly how healthy people confront their thoughts. Therapy is for people who need someone else to challenge their thoughts. WHY ARE YOU PAYING ME WHEN YOU'RE DOING MY JOB FOR ME?

Me: Because it's worth it to me to have the assurance of a trained professional that I'm doing it right?

Therapist: And it's worth the cost to you?

Me: Absolutely.

Therapist: Okay.... If it's really what you want to do, but you do not need my services.

I haven't been to see my therapist in quite some time. Life was plugging along at a good pace and I had nothing going on in my life that made me think seeing my therapist might be necessary to manage distorted thoughts and resulting negative emotions.

Then, I met the most incredible man. And we talked and talked and talked. And then we decided to go on a date. And then he asked me to go on a second date. And then he asked me to be in a committed, mutually monogamous relationship and see where things go. And I said yes. Because when a kind, gracious, brilliant man who makes your brain light up like a Christmas tree clearly states his intentions and is as attracted to you as your are to him and whose relationship interests and life goals are compatible with your own, and when he wants to pursue a relationship with you and you want the same with him, and he's clear, direct, and honest about all of it and asks you to date him, the only answer one can give is, "YES!"

Add to this the fact that he's perfectly beautiful and an excellent cook, and exceptional communicator and willing to have awkward conversations, and he's so unbelievably respectful, puts up with all of my annoying quirks (I talk to my books when I read, I'm not overly fond of music outside of a car - and then low volume, and I ask really awkward questions on a regular basis) and he loves cheese as much as I do, and it was only a matter of time before the freak out started.

I was on the brink of calling my therapist this week. "I can't do this," I thought, a bit panicked. "I'm not made for it. I have no idea what I'm doing. I've never done it before. And it's not as though this kind of thing has ever been modeled for me in healthy ways. I'm going to fail and it will the most terrible thing ever!"

I pulled out my phone, because I could feel the panic rising.

Then, I stopped to consider just what a conversation with my therapist would look like.

Therapist; What brings you in today?

Me: I've started seeing this guy.

Therapist: How's that going?

Me: Amazing! He's fantastic and we're highly compatible, and I enjoy spending time with him. He's kind and smart and funny! What's more, he's super supportive of me and my life goals and encourages me regularly. He asks good questions and invites me to share myself with him. He doesn't shy away from my questions and he's willing to share himself with me. We're both aware that it's new and we're in the early stages which means everything is wonderful, but we're both committed to being open and honest with one another about our needs and expectations and addressing conflict in an open, honest, healthy and respectful way when conflict does eventually come up.

Therapist: That's fantastic. So, why are you here today?

Me: Because I'm dating this amazing guy.

Therapist: So, you came in to tell me that you're dating an amazing man? I'm happy to celebrate this news with you. What do you want to talk about for the next 45 minutes of your 50 minute session?

Me: Ummmm.... You know, that was it. I'm dating this amazing guy. And.... I don't know. You know, I don't know how to be in a relationship. I'm terrible at these things. I've tried before and it's never worked out and so clearly I can't do this.

Therapist: But you ended your relationship with the butcher because he was disrespectful and violated your boundaries despite you telling him in a clear, direct, honest, open and respectful fashion what your boundaries are.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: And you ended your relationship with the mustache because he wasn't interested in being in a relationship with you and he was simply avoiding talking about it, so you called him out on his lack of interest and ended things.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: And you have other relationships in your life that are deep and committed and emotionally intimate - with your best friend for instance, and your friends from grad school, and some of your co-workers.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: So, you clearly know how to engage in intimate relationships. You clearly know how to be clear, direct, honest, open and respectful in communicating your needs to your partner. You clearly know how to respectfully end a relationship that isn't healthy.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: And from everything you've said, you're still in the early stages of a relationship, you're cognizant of the realities of the "honeymoon" phase of a relationship, you're committed to engaging in this relationship in a healthy way and your partner is on board. He's demonstrated kindness, respect and clear, direct, honest and open communication with you to date?

Me: Yep.

Therapist: So, why are you here to see me today?

Me: So you can tell me that I'm doing this right?

I closed my phone and put it back in my pocket. I've decided it's time to trust myself and my skills and my abilities. It's time to affirm my reality for myself and stop relying on a professional to tell me I'm healthy. It's time to stop listening to the voice of self-doubt in my head and trust both in myself and in my partner, that even if I haven't had great role models for healthy romantic relationships, we can work together to figure out how we work together.

And I'm going to trust that I can do this thing, because I've done millions of things before that no one ever modeled for me, things I had to figure out on my own, and it wasn't always easy, and it wasn't always pretty, and I didn't always manage such things with all of the grace I wish I had, but I did them and I learned and I grew and I love the life I have and nothing can change that. And this time, I'm not doing it alone (not that I ever did any of the other things alone, despite what it felt like at the time). I'm doing it with a kind, brilliant, respectful, incredibly sexy man at my side.

I could not be happier to trust in myself and to trust in someone else.