My creative playground: delight and this blog space

Over the past few years, I’ve been on the search for delight. I keep gratitude lists on the back of my prayer lists. I use the hashtag #chasingtinydelights on Instagram. I’ve turned into the woman who points out sunsets and birds and fascinating bark on trees, not just to my children, but to other adults as well. I no longer apologize for loving the things I love or reveling in some experience or appreciating some part of myself that I’ve learned to enjoy.

There are many reasons for this. The world can be a difficult place. This has always been true and it’s more true for some people than for others. Right now, we are starting the second year of a pandemic. It feels like the world as we know it is splintering apart. Some of it needs to be splintered and I can rejoice; some of it doesn’t and I can mourn. Any kind of splintering is terrifying in the moment though.

Not only is that how the world is but, by personality, I lean toward the serious. I see stacks of problems far beyond my reach all around me and my own personal responsibilities tower above my capabilities some days. That, combined with the splintering world, is enough to be crushing.

Delight and wonder and gratitude are the supports that resist the crushing. Of course, it’s God that sustains us and carries us, but I believe they are part of His method. They infuse strength that helps us carry the weight. I do not pretend that this is true for everyone. That would be ludicrous. I’m acknowledging my limits. Like all writers, I write from my context and my experience. It isn’t universal. It won’t apply to everyone. That’s why we are all here. All of our stories combined make up the human experience, not just my own. But delight is not an extra; it’s fundamental to living well.

Asking questions about sticky issues: is the man more responsible for the family?

One task I want to (continue) do this year is help us grapple with some of these issues and questions surrounding women and the Bible. I know, technically, it’s what we believe about women and men, but practically, it turns into rules for women. The burdens these decisions place on men are more invisible.

One of the best ways to approach these topics is to ask a lot of questions. Often we repeat statements we’ve heard and the statements become so familiar we don’t how to analyze them. This won’t be me telling you what to believe (though that will probably be obvious; I’m not pretending to be a blank slate), but instead providing questions to help you evaluate the story of Scripture.

It may make some of you uncomfortable to even question these statements. Sit in the discomfort. Truth is not challenged by questions. Your faith and your ability to interact with people who don’t share your positions is strengthened when you don’t run from discomfort.

I’m 35! (and still struggle with social media)

Today, I turn 35. It’s been a long road since I started writing in a blog over a decade ago in order to update family about our oldest son’s rare disease. The blog has taken a lot of twists and turns and I would never have imagined that now I’d be writing about women and the Bible, chronicling my journey through seminary, and talking about books.

I tried my best to write a post for Instagram and I couldn’t do it. This happened earlier this week as well. I feel quiet. I think about all the ways what I want to say could be misconstrued. Of course that is part of writing publicly, part of being human. One has to be willing to be misunderstood. But in this case, I think of people it could hurt. If I post a beautiful series of stories of things I’m grateful for on this birthday, context is absent. There is no accompanying version of the hard parts of my life because I only talk about those slowly and thoughtfully and sometimes never on the internet. Show up in my kitchen for that. The internet doesn’t get my whole life and I have never pretended it has, but it does tend to pretty up my life more than I am comfortable with. What if that beautiful snapshot is what causes someone to be discouraged about their lack in a particular area? Yes, ultimately that’s on them, but it’s on me a little as well.

I logged out of Twitter on my computer browser this week. I’m sure my password is saved somewhere but I don’t know where. This is a culmination of moments realizing that I finished seminary work and then browsed through Twitter for 20+ minutes. How much of my life has been spent there, gaining nothing and getting angry? I don’t post so I’m contributing to thoughtful interactions or making the space beautiful or nourishing.

If you’ve been here, you know I have mixed feelings about Instagram. I love how easy it is to talk to readers. I love the conversations we’ve had. I love how it hands out information, though that used to be better than it is now. I love how creative one can be, the friends I’ve made there, the things I’ve learned. I love adding music from the Hamilton soundtrack to my stories. I love finding newsletters to subscribe to.

I hate spending my life looking at my phone. I hate feeling discouraged that I don’t have more followers. I hate the algorithms. I hate how it gathers my information and then “owns” my content that I post there. I hate spending my life looking at my phone. The “metaverse” feels the worst thing we could have imagined. What happened to being human, living tangible lives, putting down roots? Of course, I know you’re still reading this on a screen. And far fewer people will read it here than would on Instagram. But this format feels slower, more thoughtful, more intentional.

Right now, I just can’t muster the energy to post on Instagram. I feel quiet and it disturbs that. I may go back and forth being on Instagram for as long as it exists. But for today, here I’m saying that I’m 35 now. I love my birthday. I’m having cherry pie instead of cake because I love pie and there’s a beautiful bakery about a mile from my house. I ate a brioche bun there for this morning with two friends in celebration.

One of my friends teases me because I’ve talked about turning 40 this whole past year. Suddenly 40 seems so close- and in the best way. I don’t have qualms about getting older, though concerns have grown heavier. My gray hairs are on my head and I’m not stressing about my wrinkles. But I do want to live well and mature, not simply get older. These next five years feel significant in a way I can’t fully describe. I bought a “line a day” journal to use for the next five years, to keep a record.

This year, I want to do what I want with this space because I love it here too Maybe I’ll post my Instagram-esque captions here. Maybe they’ll be on Instagram. Either way, thanks for being present with me. Let’s spend less time on our phones, ok?

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Seminary Notes 8: Embracing limits

I accidentally took a full load of classes this past quarter. I registered for Women in Church History and Theology and was promptly waitlisted so I signed up for two other classes and did not give it another thought. Until the Friday before classes started. That afternoon, I got an email saying that I was now registered for Women in Church history and Theology. I was thrilled and debated what to do for a few minutes. I didn’t want to drop either of my other classes because I had already bought books and prepped due dates but I also didn’t want to miss this opportunity. My husband gently reminded me that I could try to take all three and drop one if it was an unsustainable load.

So I took three classes. It was a squeeze. It was doable but at the level where it was also annoying. I had to carefully block out my time and I said “no” to so many things so that I could complete my work. I had a conversation with a friend of mine who works and I laughingly pointed out that my background as a stay-at-home mom was showing. Staying home with children, and even homeschooling in my experience, is a lot of work but it’s also very flexible. She said she went through the same thing when she went back to work a few years ago.

The creation of humanity: how we read the Bible

Not long ago, I sat down and did a slow reading of Genesis 1 and 2. Despite how well I would have said I knew the creation story, only as an adult did I realize that the entire order of creation is different in chapter 2 than it is in chapter 1. (Seriously, that’s not a joke. Go look.) My guess would be that this is because as a child I memorized the days of creation from chapter 1 and no one ever talked about that part of chapter 2.

Despite gaining that knowledge over the recent years, I would have still claimed to know the story well. And yet, when I sat down only a week ago, reading slowly, I noticed two things that I hadn’t before. I think I need to stop claiming that I know anything well.

I have heard people teach about the theme of separation in Genesis 1: day and night, light and darkness, earth and water, etc. It’s a story of binaries, opposites. Then frequently, man and woman are included in that list. The idea would be that as earth and water are different, so man and woman are different too. The problem is that the text presents man and woman as similar, corresponding. The separation is between animals and humans. In Genesis 1, God made all the animals and then shifted gears to make another type of creature in God’s own image. Being made in God’s image both separates humanity from the animals and joins women and men. In fact, after making humanity, God commissioned them to “be fruitful and multiple and fill” just as God commissioned the animals (compare Genesis 1:22 with the opening of 1:28). But then, he gives humanity a separate calling as well: rule creation. Humanity was to steward God’s project; they were created to be God’s partners (see also Genesis 2:15). Humanity is to represent God; the animals are not. There is no separation made between woman and man in this story.

Reading The Art of Biblical Narrative: how story shapes Scripture

Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Narrative has been sitting on my shelf of to-be-reads most of the year. As people who follow Jesus, we inherited God’s story. It’s not a dissertation, an instruction manual, a bulleted list of doctrine. When we open its pages, we step into a story that came from a culture radically different than our own with different styles of storytelling. Saying that Scripture is story doesn’t mean that it’s not true; it means we need to read it the correct way. Alter is here to help us learn to read the narrative that we find in Scripture.

The Art of Biblical Narrative is a meaty read. I saved it on purpose for a break from seminary classes because I don’t work through this type of material on top of coursework. My brain needs a break. (Here’s what I’m reading for a “break” now so take that for what it’s worth.) But I picked it up between summer and fall classes and quickly realized, however uncomfortable I occasionally felt with some of Alter’s assumptions, this book will change how I read Scripture.

Dismissing My Own Disdain: when words ruin witness

I promise not to become a person who constantly critiques how we use social media simply because I’m pausing my own use of it. However, I think most social media users will admit some parts of it do deserve critique. Screens make it easy to treat people who do not share our positions with disdain. Memes reduce solid positions to straw-man arguments. Biting captions chew up and spit out those who may be wrong, but need our compassion. Disdain, treating people with contempt and as unworthy of respect, never wins people to our side or to the truth. It is more likely to gain applause from people who agree with us than to start conversations with those who don’t.

It is far more helpful to consider our words on social media or the internet in general, (this is my goal here as well) not as shouting from a stage in front of a cheering crowd, but as words across a dinner table with a person we love who holds a different viewpoint. Those are radically different conversations and tones and intentions. The goal of a dinner conversation isn’t to win or to convert, but to fellowship and know each other. You want to leave the table understanding something that you didn’t before even if you still don’t agree. These are the people who come to your house in the middle of the night during a medical emergency to sit with your kids or drop off coffee when you’re sick. Some of those people are hopefully not just like us. Yet we can learn to live well with them.