Who do you want to be?

tysonToday I made a remark about wanting to be a good person and the friend I was speaking to said, “What does that even mean?  How do you define good?”  And you know what?  Not only was that a “good” question (apt, thought provoking, clarifying) but I found it surprisingly difficult to answer.  I finally decided to try to identify ten virtues that I would like to characterize my life.  Far deeper than the way I look, the stuff I own, or the titles I hold, who do I want to be?

You might think this would have been easy.  I’m a Christian, so I should probably just start with the fruit of the Spirit, right?  Or the triad of faith, hope and love?  Well, yes.  But I challenged myself avoid any pre-existing lists and to search deep within.  Setting aside other people’s expectations (or my own, perhaps inaccurate, ideas about other people’s expectations), what do I really value?

So here’s my list.  Maybe if I’d written it 10 or 20 years ago it would be different.  Maybe if I rewrite it 10 years from now it will change.  But this is today, and these are characteristics I want to possess.  This is what it means to me right now to be a good person.

1.  Truthfulness
Absolute, searing honesty with myself and with God.  Complete trustworthiness with other people.  If I tell you something, I want you to know that it is the truth, as much as I am capable of knowing the truth.  While it’s neither necessary or wise to spill your guts to everyone all the time, I also don’t want to feel that I am concealing who I really am.  Remember this tag line from The X-Files – “Deceive, inveigle, obfuscate”?  I never, ever want to be guilty of that.

2.  Openness
This is connected to truthfulness, but goes beyond it.  Not only do I want to engage with the world in an honest, vulnerable way, but I also want the world to engage with me.  I want to hear other ideas, listen to other stories, examine other information, take the risk of having to change my mind.  Repeatedly.  I want my heart and mind to be constantly expanding, not contracting.

3.  Empathy
I’m stealing Frederick Buechner’s line:  “Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin.”  Empathy is the path to developing that fatal capacity.

4.  Passion
Life is too short to be tepid.  I want to feel passion for the people I love, the gifts I enjoy (music, movies, meals, my dog, etc.), and the causes that matter to me.  I want to live with commitment, enthusiasm and a willingness to get carried away from time to time.

5.  Self Discipline
….without which I accomplish very little, as much of my life up to this point has demonstrated.

6.  Gentleness
The world has enough snark and bile.  Even when I’m in a conflict I want my conduct to be marked by gentleness and respect.  I keep believing it’s possible to disagree strongly without ever being cruel:  I’m a cockeyed optimist that way (see #8).

7.  Courage
I’m not going into battle or facing persecution, but I need the courage to do and say what I believe is right even in the face of pressure and disapproval.  I’ll never succeed in being truthful without courage.

8.  Hope
Do I even need to explain this one?  How would I have made it this far without hope?  And how would I face whatever life (inevitably) has coming without it?  In the absence of hope every other virtue will collapse in a big, steaming pile of despair and bitterness.

9.  Humor
The right kind of laughter brings lightness and joy to life, and there is always something to laugh about.  Humor allows me to take life seriously without carrying it like a heavy burden.  If all other material dries up, I will still laugh at myself.

10.  Humility
For real, Sharon, you do not know everything.  Your opinion is not uniquely enlightened.  You do not live on some island of perfect rationality and objectivity.  You screw up all the time, and you are going to keep doing it.  Admit it (#1), apologize if necessary, and move on.

That’s the list.  It’s not a New Year’s resolution because, for instance, resolving to exercise humility is bound to end in either failure or ironic self-defeating triumph.  Either way, the items are all too vague.  There’s not much of an action plan for empathy or humor.  But I do think it’s possible to examine words and actions in light of these virtues.  If I insult the person who insults me,  haven’t I failed to exhibit 5 and 6 (at minimum)?  If I don’t speak up on behalf of the marginalized because I fear disapproval, I don’t just lack courage.  I also lack empathy, truthfulness and passion – again, at minimum.

I think a few of these terms already describe me.  Can I say that without a complete failure of humility?  I think, for instance, that I am fairly open and I try very hard to be truthful. I also, thank God, have a sense of humor.  Other qualities – most notably, self discipline – I’m still working to acquire.  Also, I need much more humility sometimes.  I’m a know-it-all.

What about you?  What qualities do you most want to define you?  If  people were describing you, what kind of terms would you want them to use?

Posted in aging, Christianity, spirituality | 4 Comments

5 of My Favorite (Recent) Things

SoundofMusicMyFavoriteThingsBestOne of my favorite blog friends issued me a challenge after reading my last post:  “…tell/show me five things you stumbled across that left some sort of good taste in your mouth. I find we often need to talk about those things, too.”

Good point.  So I’ve racked my brain for five things that have left a good taste over the  last couple of weeks – things I’ve seen/read/listened to that made me happy or encouraged me.  I don’t know if they’ll provoke discussion, but maybe they’ll cheer you up, at least.  (These are all things I’ve shared on Facebook, by the way.  I’m not always negative.)

1.  This great blog post on the meaning of faith, by Phil Vischer.  Yeah, that’s the Phil Vischer who gave us these guys:

Veggies2.  This wonderful post about love and fear in Disney’s Frozen


3.  This NPR story on one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Josh Garrels

josh garrels

4.  The announcement that this outstanding woman is the new president of our denominational seminary


5.  And this picture of my dog, taken by Cheesy


Posted in Christianity, media, movies, music, religion, spirituality | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

5 Things That I’d Like to Talk About….

….but I’m not sure that’s possible, without starting a ruckus.a-million-things-to-talk-about-300x300

I’ve seen so many interesting things over the last few weeks, during my blogging break.  So can I just leave a few of them here to share with you?

And if someone wants to talk about any of these, maybe we can do that, hopefully in a friendly fashion.  I’m trying to navigate between having strong opinions on subjects that I think matter and desiring to be a peacemaker.  But before I share these items, can I just ask if women who speak passionately on controversial issues are seen as somehow more divisive and more quarrelsome than men who do the same?  It’s just something I’m wondering about these days.

1.  This List of “8 things that reveal a woman’s character” from the Mars Hill Church website.

2.  This Entire Episode including this meme, which was shared over 21,000 times

duck dynasty

…and this video:

3.  Also This Meme, a whopper with over 302,000 shares


4.  This Video (especially from about 9:50 on)

5.   And This Upcoming Event

bill-nye-vs-ken-ham2If any of these items interest you and you want to offer your thoughts, you know where to find me – both here and on Facebook.

Happy New Year, friends.  I hope you’re not freezing on what is, in these parts, the coldest day in 30 years!

Posted in Christianity, feminism, gender, Links, media, patriarchy, religion, spirituality, videos | Tagged , , , , , , | 20 Comments

What’s my drug of choice?

aa-titleHere’s a hint:  I’m using it, right now.

I’ve decided to write another post about the state of my mental health, because nothing breaks up a party like saying, “How are you?” and having someone reply with, “Well, my therapist thinks we’re doing important work, but I’m still considering psychopharmaceuticals.”

For the record, I think “psychopharmaceuticals” is the longest word I’ve ever used in this blog.

Some things are better these days.  I’m slowly learning to behave like a grown up when it comes to dealing with the past.  I’ve spoken recently to other people about some things that I’d managed to keep to myself for decades, and taking the padlock off my memory hoard has been lots of fun, I tell ya.  Whee!  (I kid.  It’s usually awful in the short term.)

However.  Just yesterday I was bellyaching about my emotional flatness, numbness, distractibility, difficulty being present and engaged with my family, my work, or really, much of anything.  I know that this sounds like more of the same from me.  Here’s Sharon, still in a slump.  But yesterday I acknowledged, out loud, that there is something I use to help keep me numbed and distracted.  Something that gives me some satisfying buzzes but that also produces precipitous drops.  It’s my drug of choice.

It’s this darned internet.

I’m not trying to make a point or inspire people to put down their electronic devices and live their best lives now.  I’m just being honest about myself, because – as I recently told a friend – if I can’t be perfect (rats!), maybe the next best option is to be truthful about how imperfect I am.  And there’s something spectacularly imperfect about the way I’m using the internet these days.  I’m staving off the need to make decisions and complete tasks and deal with difficult emotions by sitting in front of this screen – oh, beloved screen on my dear, precious laptop – until my eyes burn and my brain is shot and whatever was bothering me has been pushed off to another day.

I’ve been feeling guilty about this for months now.  No joke.  Not guilty enough to do anything differently, obviously – just guilty enough to spend more time reading articles in my Feedly and chatting on Facebook until exhaustion makes the guilt fade.

I am not an internet hater or a social media mocker.  I read some great blogs and news sites, and (I sheepishly confess) I pride myself on staying in the know on my pet topics.  I write at this blog because I love writing as I love few other activities, and I feel good about many of the blog posts I’ve written.  As for social media, I have the most delightful group of Facebook friends, people who endlessly entertain, challenge and encourage me. So, yay internet!

This post is not about “internet addiction” as a social problem.  It’s much more self-absorbed than that.

Because I live with people who can’t get my attention.  Above all, this bothers me.  Poor Bee, in particular, is so hungry for me to spend focused time with her; and yet the drive to escape the here and now makes me inaccessible.  “Just a minute, let me finish reading this article.  Hold on, I’m writing something.  Wait, I have to get this posted.  Someone asked me a question on Facebook; give me five minutes.”  And so it goes.  I’m sure I’m not really trying to avoid Bee, though, or the other people who love me.  I’m trying to avoid myself.  And the internet works well for that.  It’s a bottomless pit of information to be acquired, humor to be enjoyed, conversations to be had with people who are wonderful, don’t misunderstand me, but they need me less than my children.  If I stopped posting on Facebook tomorrow life would go on quite well for my 415 Facebook friends.  My inability to focus and talk to my family is a more significant problem.

I think you get the point.

I’m going to try to do something hard.  I’m going to try to significantly cut back on my internet usage for a while.  Yep, that’s how pitiful things have gotten – getting on the computer less frequently sounds like a terrifying, arduous trial.  The thought of going all day without checking Facebook or reading some blog posts makes my heart race and my stomach hurt.  I’m jonesing already, and I haven’t even left the internet yet.

So I’m going to quit blogging for a while, just for a break.  And I’m going to stop checking my Feedly more than once a day.  I can’t leave-leave Facebook, really.  I receive and send practical information over Facebook these days.  But I think, perhaps, I can limit my Facebook time to early morning and late at night.  I hope I’ll be able to relax those restrictions eventually, and use the internet like the great resource that it is, rather than as a narcotic.

The question is, how am I going to control what has become a compulsive behavior?  Good question.  I don’t know yet.  I’ve made a number of resolutions that haven’t amounted to anything.  I suppose I’m hoping that talking about this openly will put my feet to the fire.

I have other hopes, as well.  I hope that less time on the computer will mean more time paying attention to the people around me, and more productivity in areas I’ve been neglecting.  I also hope that I’ll be forced to figure out what I’m trying to avoid, what uncomfortable feelings or ideas I’m desperately trying to keep at bay.  I think I need my crutch yanked out from under me even if it means I fall flat on my face.

There’s no big ending to this post, beyond wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  I won’t be posting here anymore in 2013, although I do reserve the right to reply to comments (if there are any).  And I ask for grace from my Facebook friends if my cutting back seems a little three-steps-forward, two-steps-back.  Some people die trying to kick drugs cold turkey.  At least that’s what I’ve heard.

I’m not sure when I’ll resume blogging.  Maybe in a month?  I’ll be looking for some sort of sign that I’m ready, whatever that might be. If all goes as planned, you may be spared another uncomfortable post about how out of whack I am.  That’s my  hope.  And hoping is one thing that I still do well.

Addendum:  A word of praise for my very private husband who never tells me I should be more private, too.  I worry sometimes that I’ll embarrass him by exposing to the world what his wife is really like.  And maybe I do, but if so, he never shows it.  He’s a gift from God, that guy.

Posted in blogging, mental illness | 4 Comments

Radio Silence and Advent Hope

Annunciation_to_ZechariahDay 2 of Advent, my favorite season on the church calendar.  Yesterday I taught a lesson on Zechariah and Elizabeth and one of the commentaries I read mentioned the “400 years of prophetic silence” that Israel had endured before, suddenly, the angel Gabriel showed up while Zechariah was trying to perform a once in a lifetime job in the Holy Place.

How could Zechariah be skeptical when the angel told him he was going to be a dad?  This was the question we bandied about in class, and Zechariah didn’t get a lot of sympathy.  He was a priest, for crying out loud, in the Holy Place, talking to a bona fide angel.  Was this any time to be dubious?  I understand that argument, but a couple of people also mentioned his age as a reason that he should have had more faith.  He was an old man, Zechariah.  Doesn’t wisdom come with age?

I think, just possibly, getting worn out comes with age.  Getting tired of waiting comes with age.  Fading optimism comes with age.

400 years.  No prophetic voice.  Israel gets passed around like a bad wedding gift, from the Babylonians to the Persians to the Greeks to the Romans.  And all the while, God – Israel’s God – is quiet.

Zechariah the priest serves this silent God even as the decades pass and nothing changes – not for Israel, and not for Zechariah and his barren wife, Elizabeth.  Or nothing changes until suddenly, crazily, it does.  Gabriel shows up, a prophetic baby is promised, and Zechariah’s skepticism earns him a temporary silencing of his own.

I can identify with Zechariah.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m wired for doubting.  I’m likely to be the last person to jump on a bandwagon, and the first person to tick off an angel with my crotchety questions.  And I’ve also been experiencing radio silence for a while now.  I’ve mentioned that, too – how barren the last year or so has been, spiritually.  How quiet God has been.  Like Zechariah, I’ve been trying to show up and do my job, anyway.  Put on the robes, burn the incense, hope it matters to the unspeaking God.  Teach the class, lead the prayer, hope that God is receiving the offering of this tired, waiting servant.

But the great thing about Advent is that it transforms waiting into something beautiful, something meaningful.  Waiting for the Messiah becomes our “reasonable service”:  waiting on God to move, to speak, becomes the incense we burn.  We hope, we expect, we wait.

Zechariah didn’t have to wait forever, of course.  The God who was always present in the silence acted and the fulfillment of Messianic promises was set in motion.  I won’t have to wait forever, either.  The God who has spoken to me before will speak again.  He is not finished with me.  He will come, my weariness and my ragged-edged optimism notwithstanding.  He always comes, because – as Zechariah was reminded – He keeps His promises.  Zechariah’s name meant “God remembers”, and He certainly does.  He remembers His purposes for us long after we’ve started to lose sight of them.

So I have big plans for this Advent season.  I’m going to wait.  With Zechariah and Elizabeth, with Simeon and Anna, with all the other old folks who hung in there until their waiting made sense. It’s not flashy, it’s not exciting, but it’s what’s often required of the people of God.  I’ll hope, I’ll expect, I’ll wait.  That’s the plan and I’m sticking to it.

Posted in Advent, Bible, Christianity, religion, spirituality | Tagged | 1 Comment

A Patriarch Takes a Fall: Doug Phillips Resigns

doug phillipsDouglas Phillips resigned as director of Vision Forum Ministries a few days ago, citing a “lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman” other than his wife, Beall.  You can read his statement here.

If you know who Douglas Phillips is at all, chances are you know exactly who he is.  He is a celebrity within conservative homeschooling, a proponent not only of homeschooling but of a very rigid family structure that he calls “Biblical Patriarchy”.  According to Phillips the righteous will live by rules; lots and lots of rules:  biblical manhood and womanhood, homeschooling, family integrated church, courtship, young earth creationism, stay-at-home daughters, quiverfull, Reconstructionism.  He speaks widely and has been, perhaps, the most powerful single figure in the shaping of the Fundamentalist homeschooling subculture.

It would be hard to overstate how strenuously I disagree with Douglas Phillips on almost everything.  I think his teachings are not just wrong, but poisonously wrong.  I write, in part, to fight the influence of Douglas Phillips and his fellow “patriarchs”.

So hearing that he’d resigned from his ministry and cancelled his speaking engagements, it was difficult to sort through my emotions.  I’m not happy.  Phillips has a wife and eight childen, and they all get dragged through this public scandal with him.  I’m not gloating, I’m not gleeful.  But do I think the world would be better off if Douglas Phillips never wrote another book or gave another speech espousing Biblical Patriarchy?  Yes, I do.  I really do.

Still, there’s been a little unseemly rejoicing among those of us in the anti-patriarchy camp (we need a better name!).  Because of that, and because the details of the story are so sketchy, I didn’t plan to write anything on the subject – until I read James McDonald’s blog post, When Heroes FallMcDonald is another leader in the Biblical Patriarchy movement;  yet another pastor/author/king of the castle who has made a career out of telling the rest of us that we’re doing it all wrong.  He’s less charismatic and polished than Phillips but they’re definitely on the same team.  I encourage you to read McDonald’s post.  It’s elegant spin, and it turned out to be only the first such post from those who are in support of Phillips’ theology.  One of the most common themes is that “the man is not the message”, that people shouldn’t doubt Phillips’ teaching just because he fell in to sin.

Here’s the problem with that argument:  Phillips’ “ministry” was built on the idea that he had tapped into God’s one and only model for the Biblical Family.  He was the most high profile and influential advocate of what are perhaps the most oppressive and legalistic models of marriage, parenting and gender in all of Protestantism.  And yet, he failed to live up to the most basic Christian marital ethic.  I have two thoughts about that.  1)  Can we stop pretending that rules, rules and more rules are the path to Christian purirty?  Law never works.  2)  I don’t know how long Doug and Beall Phillips have been married, but lets just ballpark it at 25 years.  That’s how long I’ve been married, and I suspect we’re around the same age.  Every person who has made it that long without cheating on their spouse is now, in my eyes, a more qualified “marriage expert” than Doug Phillips.  If you can’t even pass that one simple test, mister, you should never, ever presume to tell the rest of us what we’re doing wrong in our homes and families.

And I worry that he will be telling us again; that in a year or two he’ll be back to teaching men how to take dominion over their households, raising up another generation of domesticated daughters and silent wives.  His fellow patriarchs will help him in this “restoration” because they have to defend the system they’ve built.  They certainly aren’t defending Jesus, who treated women with respect.  And they’re also not defending the gospel of the Kingdom, which is nothing like the cult of Biblical Patriarchy.  Ultimately, they are defending their own power, because that’s what the patriarchy is about:  power.

Okay, I’m a little more het up about this than I thought.  So I’m going to suggest that you listen to the always calm and reasoned voice of Karen Campbell.  She’s been writing about Biblical Patriarchy for years, and she knows of what she speaks.

Look at the teachings that have come out of patriocentricity, especially in the last 6 or so years. Teaching that men are the prophets, priests, and kings of their homes, daughters are helpmeets to their fathers, women are here primarily to fulfill the creation mandate and are expendable if threatened with ectopic pregnancies, women do not have their own callings from the Lord but rather are to fulfill a man’s calling, and a strident hierarchy that hearkens back to the antebellum south, these are just the tip of the ice berg. They certainly reveal a heart attitude toward women that can lead to unfaithfulness to a wife and broken dreams for a younger woman taken as a mistress, emotional or physical. Though many are spinning it otherwise what has been taught and promoted by the patriarchs absolutely does matter and absolutely can lead to adultery!

I pray that the Phillips family finds a way through this very public crisis.  I pray the same for the unidentified woman and her family.  But as for Wilson’s career “restoring biblical manhood, godly femininity and the Christian home”?  I hope it’s over, for good.

Posted in Christianity, church, education, family, feminism, gender, homeschooling, patriarchy, religion, spirituality | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments

Who’s Afraid of Halloween?

photo courtesy of Flickr

(This is one of the first posts I ever wrote, for Civil Religion.  As I’ve started to see a few anti-Halloween items show up in my Facebook feed, I thought it might be time to share it again.)
When I was a little girl Halloween was all about candy and costumes.  The high point for costumes was the Halloween march around the school gymnasium, showing off our finery.  The candy came on Halloween, of course, when my brother and I would walk the streets until we could walk no more – no adult supervision required.  Back at home, we’d spill our loot on the floor and  start working out trades.  Our mother would confiscate anything unwrapped in order to protect us from razor blades and poison,  the only perils that my Christian parents associated with Halloween.

As a teenager, my enjoyment of Halloween was less about candy and more about costume parties, many held at church.  I didn’t see any evidence that celebrating Halloween was incompatible with being an evangelical Christian.  But something changed in the ’80s, as I was transitioning into adulthood.  By the time I became a parent in 1991, a discussion among evangelicals about celebrating Halloween could stir up the kind of passions that would later come with mentioning Harry Potter.  Concerned with what they perceived to be the satanic roots of the holiday, many Christians opted out of Halloween all together, or joined in church harvest festivals (an attempt to give children the fun of Halloween without the spiritual danger).

I’ve always come down on the pro-Halloween side of these discussions, though I have ambivalent feelings about the state of Halloween in the 21st century.  Would it sound odd to say that I think Halloween has become too commercialized?  Who could have imagined 30 years ago, when I was going door to door in my cheap plastic Cinderella costume, that Halloween would become such a big business?  It’s almost impossible to see the hand-carved pumpkins through the forest of inflatable witches and animatronic axe murderers.  And as the mother of three girls, I have serious misgivings about the direction costumes have gone in recent years, a situation illustrated in this clip from “Mean Girls” (note:  some may find content offensive).

But are there other concerns for Christians?  In the past several years it seems that the Christians I know have relaxed in their attitudes toward Halloween.  Is that a healthy openness or a thoughtless assimilation to the culture?  Some clearly still feel that Halloween should be avoided.  Consider this post, from the Christian Broadcast Network.  But information about the origins of Halloween (even when accurate – and there’s a lot of misinformation available) doesn’t take in to account the various meanings and traditions that have been added to Halloween through history.  What does Halloween mean now, if anything?

For one view of Halloween from a Christian perspective, I recommend Lint Hatcher’s book “The Magic Eightball Test:  A Christian Defense of Halloween and All Things Spooky”.  I heard Lint present a talk on this very subject at The Cornerstone Festival’s Imaginarium in 2006 and was delighted to hear a joyful  Christian faith combined with a love for what Flannery O’Connor might have called a “proper scaring”.  Lint even has a website entitled ChristianHalloweenFan.com.  If you are interested in hearing a variety of Christian voices address Halloween, dig into this synchroblog on the subject put together in 2007.  The synchroblog even links to a neopagan’s reponse at MetaPagan.   Between these sites there’s enough about the history, traditions and meaning surrounding Halloween to keep you busy all week as we approach Halloween day.

As a fan of candy, a well-chosen costume and a proper scaring, I wish you all a Happy Halloween.

photo courtesy photobucket
Posted in Christianity, church, holidays, movies, religion, spirituality, theology, videos | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments