There is a kind of writer’s block that comes of having too much to think and say. I have been stuck here for a long while, now. It is a strange summer and a strange bit of life I find myself in, and when I begin to process parts of it here, I lose my way rather quickly.
It’s been hard to write, too, while there’s a breather from school and Deep Thoughts and computers. Much as I think of myself as a creature positively made of words, there is something in me these days that wants to soak in every outrageously gorgeous bit of life in this world and refuses, for a while, to analyze or define or describe it. I want to wander down alleyways of the city and throw flavors together in the kitchen without knowing where I’m going or what the chemistry will produce. I want to twine my fingers into all the thick tangled threads of every day and not let go, not if it’s scary, not if it’s sad, not if the beauty finds a place I never knew could ache with so much longing and so much gratitude.
Call it an experiment, to just feel things for a while, all the smallest things – eyes wide to the absurdity and the tragedy and the wild celebration of every day – and not to have to come up with rationalizations and defenses for the ruckus in your heart. Maybe it helps to work with kids on a river all day, with lots of free time to talk to squirmy animals or wend about the city or take in a sunset until it takes you in. It certainly helps to visit family and oldest friends, and to dance at weddings ’til you’re dancing with a vaccuum at the cleanup after-party. And it certainly hurts when you come back to a stifling summer housed in a dorm room, where all those dear hearts feel so far away; and the sense of purpose you used to feel about this whole Boston escapade leaked away at some point, and there is nothing in its place but a giant cliché cartoon question mark mocking you.
Am I being a little melodramatic about a couple of lazy months with a summer job? Yes, I think so, and I think that is the point. The point is to care too much, because life is important, dammit, and we forget that. We forget that wishing away the days til the weekend is a waste of opportunity. We let our routines take care of us because we have to, we need the brain space while we’re brushing our teeth; but then the routines lull us into trudging through a life meant to be lived abundant. They whisper that life outside the routine is dangerous and unpredictable. And they’re right. There’s no protection. Once you start engaging with things that used to pass you by, once you take down the walls between you and the stuff of life, they’ll just come right up and bump into you. They’ll shock you. You’ll cry, just all the time. Explaining why you’re crying will make you sound crazier than if you just say you’re crying for no reason. “These trees are really really old, some of them are so old, and isn’t that the most wonderful, hopeful thing?”
Part of why it’s hard to write is that all of this has something very directly to do with the childlike faith and unseen trust of Being Honest, something I can’t quite articulate yet. Now, after two years being gripped by the thought, the Spirit-leading, that I must learn to be honest, no matter what, I have slowly felt a sense of release from the intensity of that calling. Not because honesty is less important, but because – well, to be honest – I have learned it. There is so very much I need to write about what I mean by that, and what that journey has been, but for now I will leave it at an inadequate thank you to every reader who has waded into this blog. It started here when I was quite literally too terrified to speak, and this space has been a springboard for every new step on the way.
And that is the other trouble with writing these days: that I feel a slow turning toward a completely unknown destination – this waiting for a direction in several areas of life that leaves me unsure what this blog is becoming. It is becoming something other than To Be Honest. Day to day I decide that it’s just a redesign, or that I’m going to start taking it way too super-seriously, or (when I’m overwhelmed by writing for school) that now is not the time and it needs a very long hiatus. I think that it will stay what it’s been, for the most part: a lifeline to a style and audience of writing that is not dry, pretentious, obscure academia. And we will see what that looks like as life turns, turns, turns.
Meanwhile, there will be a sunset every single day. Also strange little birds and people to miss and this little girl I heard the other day shouting “Wait up, Slowpoke!!”
Wait up, slowpoke. Look up. There’s a world to love.
Some thoughts, plans, and action items to start reorganizing your life around a vision of yourself as adequate, after all.
Fake it. What would I do if I loved myself? What would I do if I loved my body? What would I do if I were a confident person? I’d stop berating myself as if feeling guilty was itself a virtue. I’d eat one Oreo instead of eight. I’d laugh out loud and wear that dress I secretly love that isn’t in style. Act like the person you want to be – it will get easier and easier until one day, you are that person.
Exercise. Just do something. I used to think I hated all forms of exercise, but I never really tried it for long enough to know I hated it. What I really hated was being sweaty and feeling like a failure. But what I needed to do was just to try something. Showing up is success. You don’t have to take up muay thai boxing to impress a boy (like I did); just get some exercise. And if you hate hate hate running, don’t do it! Find something you enjoy and prioritize that. You need to take care of yourself in order to take care of other people – it’s self-defeating to cut out exercise when things get busy. Take care of your body; appreciate what it can do for you; watch it start to change and realize that it’s a miracle.
Focus on your favorite parts of yourself. Dress to show them off.
Learn to take a compliment. I dare you: next time someone says they like your eyes, don’t make them feel embarrassed by making it clear that you’re embarrassed. You have nice eyes! You’re allowed to say, “Thank you. I like them too!”
Fill up your body and your space. Maybe you saw this video go around a few months back. It’s pretty eye-opening if you’ve never noticed before. I see it happen on the train: men tend to sprawl around, legs open, elbows in other people’s laps, while women shrink and shrink and shrink.
Are men terrible human beings with no regard for others’ space? Maybe some of the time. But they’re also just generally not afraid to be the size they are. Whatever size you are, fill up your body. Be all in that space, no apologies. Try this: take the slowest, deepest breath you can. Fill up your lungs from bottom to top until they can’t hold anymore (hint: this requires your belly to get bigger). Breathe all the way into your toes. Throw your shoulders back. Stretch your arms across the back of the chair next to you. No one is begrudging you the right to have mass and volume.
be thankful. Say “thank you for this body” until you actually mean it.
Dance. get dirty. get wet. get ugly. Live your life, looking silly, and if other people are worried about whether you look silly, you’re having way, way more fun than them.
Be naked. No clothes or no makeup. Get used to your “natural look”. The no-makeup thing was really hard for me, but I’ve re-learned how to be OK with looking in the mirror and saying, “hey, that’s me,” instead of diving for my mascara.
Stop your thoughts. “Does he like my hair? Why didn’t someone tell me to stand up straighter in that picture? Would he have flirted back if I were wearing lipstick?” Learn to recognize thoughts that focus on things you don’t really value, or want to value. Focus on whether your charm or intelligence is shining, not whether your hair is. Think about the fun memory the photo represents – do you really wish you could go back to change that moment? When it’s not time to be superficial, let the superficial thoughts pass you by.
Kill the ads. Maybe you can’t escape them, but you can talk back. Go on the offensive when it comes to your own brain space. Someone else is trying to take it from you.
Get over yourself. We all need to do some work to learn to live with ourselves, but you can only achieve so much introspection and self-awareness before wandering into self-obsession. And for some of us, a lot of this is just as much about our own pride as it is about society or whatever. Let go of fear about your looks. No one else even notices all the imperfections that glare back at you in the mirror. Take the risk of loving yourself so you can get on with loving other people. Tell your friends how beautiful you see them, and dare to believe that they see you that way, too.
When everybody everywhere keeps trying to tell us that we should love ourselves and that “confidence is sexy” (while also trying to sell us false eyelashes and Emma Watson’s body), we end up feeling even more inadequate about being unconfident than if everyone had just left us alone with our sickening sense of regret over yesterday’s donut and today’s apparently-new extra chin. The best I come up with, some days, is a sort of resignation to my body, like I’d accidentally adopted an uncontrollable puppy I didn’t actually like but couldn’t really get rid of.
Loving my body some days honestly just sounds like a lot of work – and it is. It’s really hard, and it doesn’t sell much merchandise, which is why no one invests much into telling you how to do it. But it is important. It is a fight we owe to ourselves and the women around us. It might just be the first step in aging gracefully. It is worth it, I promise. And it gets easier over time.
Love your body as your self. Literally. Your body is yourself. You are not a “spiritual” being that belongs in some kind of Care-Bear-pastel, airy, non-concrete, limitless sky-self, who is accidentally trapped in a kind of yucky, small, flesh-case. This attitude (a real live heresy with many names) is the source of about a million problems Christianity has with itself, despite the writers of the Bible trying really, really hard to shut it down. It is also an incredibly prevalent idea in American culture – that the spirit or the mind is better and more important than the body. But the Hebrew Bible, in particular, lends itself much more to an interpretation that views the body as inseparable from the human person. Don’t let your “spirit” get abstracted from the beautiful, sensual earth you are a part of, and from the body God has promised to resurrect*. Paul, Peter, Jesus, a bunch of Church Fathers and Mothers and I are pleading with you.
*Yes, you are really stuck in it.
Dwell in God’s love for your body. This is not a silly or sinful thing to pray about. It is a cultural sickness. By all means, pray about it like you’d pray about contracting an epidemic. Ask God to show you God’s love for your body, for every bit of it which was formed with care and gentleness and delight. Keep this truth near to your heart, that God shaped your eyes and your curves and the back of your neck with immense fondness and love. Find a way to believe it. Find a way to look at yourself with God’s eyes. Put a reminder on the bathroom mirror for everyone who passes through.
Your body is not your enemy; it is your home. Your real enemy is a culture that tries to tell you you’re not good enough. What if you stopped fighting your body and started taking care of it the way you take care of your home? Snuggle into your body the way like it’s your favorite chair. What if getting dressed meant adorning your body for the simple pleasure of it, instead of feeling desperate to cover over all the “bad spots” and then trying to use your angry-eyes to laser-beam away that one spot of fat you especially loathe? Take joy in the creativity of getting dressed; let go of insecurity.
Make Peace. Turning your body from an enemy to a friend requires taking intentional action to change the way you see it. This is hard. This is super hard. For some people, this may be months-of-therapy hard. And, honestly, it never ends. I constantly have to remind myself that my love handles and my crappy joints and the right side of my face really mean well, and that I appreciate them for coming along on this ride*. But as long as you are treating parts of yourself with hatred and contempt and “torture” that will “blast” them into “horrible fat oblivion”, you are divided against yourself. I’m of the hippy-dippy school that thinks even the parts you still hope to change will be more apt to do so, once you’ve accepted them as they already are. If, when you’re being honest, you’d say “I love myself, except…”, then you need to keep making peace. Maybe you can’t love that one scar or your thighs right now. At least call a truce in the battle against them.
*Anne Lamott has a lovely/hilarious piece on this in Traveling Mercies - you can grab a copy here.
Still to come: some more day-to-day experiments and habits for learning to see ourselves new.
Every time I do my online Pilates workouts, I think that I would not be friends with the instructor in real life. I like the workouts*, but I have a pretty unreasonably low ~GLITTER~ and *NAIL POLISH* threshold.
For a moment a few weeks ago, I was reading her blog and I thought I’d found a connection between us: Cassey went hiking. She was shooting a Pilates video on top of a mountain (as one does), and it was a pretty difficult hike, she said. I felt unreasonably proud of her for going out among the spiders and dirt to use her impressive muscles to do actual work.
Next, I was sure,
we she and her cameramen were going to have beers together and talk about how lame society is, because that’s what you do when you go hiking. But I was wrong. Here’s what happened next – after the hike up the mountain, the perfect-form Pilates workout, and the hike back down – “WE HAD A LATE LUNCH. THE BOYS HAD PIZZA, AND I ATE A SALAD.”
Now, I’m sure that Cassey loves salad. There are three things I’m sure Cassey loves: nail polish, keeping her belly button tucked in, and vegetables. And if Cassey’s idea of a perfect end to a day of hard work in the great outdoors is to eat a salad while her guy friends gobble carbs, then I’m glad she got what she wanted.
But that will never be me.
Every few months I read Cassey’s blog because this is all oddly comforting to me. It reminds me that she does not only “work out for an hour six days a week and eat clean” (as she recommends we regular folk take up doing). She structures her whole life around having a perfect body, and she manages to live up to society’s standards of beauty. And I’m simply not willing to do that. When I start to feel jealous that she enjoys a perfect body, I think about all the things I enjoy that she doesn’t – plenty of time with
large obscure books friends, a career with other fringe benefits*, and I EAT THE SAME FOOD AS BOYS.
But as much as I like those things about myself, I can still end up being just kind of resigned to my body, barely not-resentful of it for having fat on it. Some days, even this minimal level of tolerance is a hard-won accomplishment; there were years in the past when it was an impossibillity. Like most people, I guess, my history of body issues is long and painful and not very original – the brushes with anorexia, the generally-loathing-myself – which doesn’t make it any less real to me.
These days, though, I am determined to love my body, to really be confident about it, if only because it pisses me off that advertisers and TV producers think they can capitalize on my insecurity by telling/showing me I’m not good enough. Because I am. I’m not overweight by any medical standard, and I have a full, multifaceted life for which I will not apologize just because it only included 30 minutes of exercise two days this week.
Everyone pretends to say all these things to women* – “love yourself”, “be confident”, “don’t compare yourself to others” – but they rarely mean it and they never tell you how. Cassey herself says all these things, but her workouts all have names that have little to do with loving yourself (“Torture”, “Attack”, “Destroy”) and everything to do with comparing yourself (“Victoria’s Secret Angel Arms”). So in the end, it all just makes us feel even more inadequate, because we not only have jiggly butts or weak arms, but we also can’t just up and “love our bodies” and “be confident” and “shine from the inside out”.
Without getting into a lot of feminist and communication theory, please trust me when I say that our world is structured to make you feel terrible about your body. We can argue about whether this is intentional or cultural or just sort of unfortunate, but there are a couple things you can’t argue – that it is immensely profitable, and it is everywhere. Cultural and media influences are working every day to shape the way you think and act. One* Dove ad or one Sunday school lesson about being God’s handiwork is not going to work effectively against this barrage. We have to work at reshaping our habits and our thoughts, rather than conforming any longer to the patterns of this world.
Part Two: The Actual Suggestions Part is on its way!
*They’re hard enough that I feel like I’ve gotten stronger, and I admire the incredibly hard work Cassey’s done to build a brand and a business using YouTube and a simple blog. The videos are on YouTube and Cassey’s site is called Blogilates.
*I know guys have their own issues here. I have no idea if my thoughts will be helpful to you, gentlemen.
*very, very profitable
Hey friends, I was traveling last week, but while I was blissfully ignoring my computer, I had a post go up at On Pop Theology. It’s about evangelism, and hopefully will not make you feel guilty or awkward!
I’m going to be doing a lot more blogging over the summer, as well as redesigning the site, using my
completely nonexistent meager design skills. Any tips/tricks/suggestions on writing consistently/webpage design?
In the weeks before finals, when you are wrung out, too often the litany of bad news reigns. But it seems today is my day to have faith for all of us; so let me shout for you the good news.
Isn’t it easy to believe, here in the springtime, that the world is shot through with miracle? Count your miracles, friends, as if your life depended on it, for surely it does – depends on earth, wind, water, depends on food become effort become muscle, depends, God knows, on coffee and midnight slaphappy laughter. Count the cheap microwave life that you’ll miss in fifteen years and find yourself crying, why me? How did I earn such riches?
I hope it is easy, here in the springtime, to know the world itself is good news, this most extravagant festival of beauty. That even if God were always and only a child, fashioning bright baubles in space and dropping them behind – never to return – it would be right to give God thanks and praise.
And yet we have found God with us, with all of us, murdering brothers and exiled slave women, idolaters, grumbling nomad-people and mourners of a defeated nation. Always God remains one more day, weaving the threads of ruined lives into something that looks like hope. Even if these were only marvelous stories from a far-away people in a time of magic, do they not speak beauty and mystery enough to keep us secretly searching for signs of this God? Are they not just strange and startling enough – transcending their own culture in all the oddest places – to convince us non-believers? Somewhere in our ancient child-hearts, we still know wonder.
But you will say I have meandered into glibness. What if, you will say, the great God dies? What if your country, your people, the land from which you were formed, become occupied by God’s own enemies? What if 400 years pass without a prophet?
I don’t know. For the suddenly light-drenched, here in the springtime, it is too easy to tell the still winter-laden to wait. I suppose I would say to get up again tomorrow, make your little breakfast, and say the prayers anyhow. Tell the old stories over and try, only try, to wait, for I AM will be with you. God will be with you. God loves you too much to stay out of it. God is too big not to care for all the little things; and at Christmas, God joined the project for once and for all.
Do you ever wonder why Jesus wept? If he knew he had come to fix this Lazarus-dying business, why stop and cry? Yet he arrived at Bethany, he collided with the grief of Mary and Martha, and suddenly the ice-cold truth washed over him: Lazarus is dead.
What if Jesus found himself doubting, there at Bethany? What if everything he said to Mary and Martha about faith, he was really saying to himself? I wonder if he did not discover finitude in that moment, in the really true death of the one he loved – shut up behind a rock together with his spirit, his laugh, the way he whistled in the mornings and spoke his sentences slow, brow furrowed, when he was thinking. All gone, just stolen by disease, no sense to it; I wonder if Jesus, encountering the magnitude of this thing, was not stricken with a sick fear: I am a lunatic after all.
He was perturbed. “Take me to him,” he said; and he wanted to stride confidently ahead of his disciples, but he found himself stumbling through his tears, desperate to make his way to his best friend. “Take away the stone,” he said, only because he had thought this was why he’d come so late.
“But Jesus…” Martha spoke gently, in her sensible way -
“Take away the stone!” Jesus said, driven on by Spirit’s mission and the mad fire, fighting helplessness, in his eyes. He prayed as they struggled against the rock: “Father, I know that you hear me. I know that you hear me. Hear me.”
They finished with the stone. Did the stench she had spoken of roll out over them all? Did Jesus look into that black cave, trembling, staring down the darkness that had swallowed Lazarus with such indifference? Fists clenched, desperately, Father, hear me, then, “Lazarus! Come out!” – his lurching, strangled cry of grief silenced the murmuring crowd.
And Jesus waited. He had done what Spirit had brought him to do, and now the command was out of him. He stood before the blackness; he began to feel foolish and another rising sickness battled the fast-waning hope inside him.
Until, by the grace of God, Lazarus came out.
Before the crowd could be confused, could be frightened or appalled at this prank, Jesus’ dying hope heard the footsteps first. “Unbind him!” Jesus shouted. “He is free”, Jesus wept.
I think Lazarus was freed by Jesus’ compassion. We are all freed by Jesus’ tears; there is no pain God has not felt. Creation is God’s wound – she weeps for the abused, for the sick, the hopeless, the tired. She weeps for mountains leveled by greed for coal, for people hollowed out by lust for money, for those who have lost their best friends. And dare I say that God has felt the pain of the small – that God can weep, too, for lost teddy bears, college rejection letters, homes we loved – all the things we think we should be bigger than? I think this is grace, that God has been small with us.
Seminarians, you are not so big. And that is OK. The voices that tell you you are not big enough, not good enough, not politically correct enough, not suspicious enough, not worried enough, not smart enough, not busy enough – they are not humble. They are not grace. Grace does not shame. Grace gives gifts.
It is true that God wants holiness. It is also true that God gives holiness. Holiness is grace; it is freedom – freedom from the patterns of this world. Yes, it takes courage, effort, discernment, and time. But God has lots of these, and you have only a little. Will you keep trying to muster them, or will you simply ask for them? Will you let yourself be small? Will you let others carry these burdens with you? If you cannot let yourself be small, you will never excuse others their smallness.
We hear much bad news in seminary. And it is sometimes important to know. But only God can absorb all the world’s bad news. And only God can transform it into good. For creation is God’s million wounds, and yet it is, ten times over, her delight. She holds it; she sings over it; she sings over you with joy in all that you are, for you are hers, and she is with you. Even before we finally see life rising out of the darkness and death, God is with our shrinking doubting band of faith-in-resurrection people.
The good news – the reason you are here, I hope – is that I AM made the universe, and God loves it, and God loves you. I AM is with us, healing us, and God will make all the small things new.
Yes, I know this little blog has been nothing more than a sometimes trampoline the past few months, bouncing you somewhere else every once in a while. I’m really grateful for those assignments, forcing me to write something - sit down, decorate a balloon and let it go into the wind.
I know that I haven’t said too much about grad school in the nine months I’ve spent here; a bit about the experience, but maybe less than I’d hoped about what I’ve learned. I’ve been turning over why that is, and when I’m optimistic I’ll say there’s a humility in a first-year’s silence, a listening, learning, letting the questions be. When I’m cynical, I’ll say there’s nothing like the liberal arts academy to badger you out of any opinion at all, picking and policing til you wrap up everything authentic in a kerchief, hide it in your cedar chest, and batten down the lid with obscure, obscuring vocabulary spoken in a cadence of clever disillusionment.
There may be more about that later; all I’ve got now is I’m ready, so ready, to get out for a bit. It’s a sort of boot camp, a sort of monastic vow, that I really don’t resent. It’s just how this works. But I might just have found my limit for reading, writing, and overthinking things. I’m tired of the incessant demand for an immediate response. I’m craving plants and dirt, baking, people who’ve never read Foucault, people with real problems, Psalms, and the seeking after God that is just being. Going about. Waiting on wordless revelation to appear in the drugstore or the park.
One more month – finals – to lean farther into the things I’m completely tired of. This is its own discipline, one I still believe I’ve been called into. And the white-knuckled wait for spring is finally over; we’re remembering how to stroll, faces up toward the sun.
But some days and weeks and mercifully-warm months, you have to let yourself be tired even as you tell yourself to keep going, keep going, keep going.