Sheltered (?)

‘I unfollowed her from Instagram because I was starting to question some of the things she said.’ I read that comment on an article about a current bestselling book by a Christian author. Said author has some beliefs that don’t exactly line up with what Jesus said, but I’m not here to talk about her. I’m here to talk about that comment.

It’s a mindset I see more and more among fellow Christians –  although I think it’s always been there, and I’m just noticing it more the more I pay attention. It’s the concept that if we disagree with something, or aren’t sure of it, we avoid the subject entirely. It’s the idea that if someone believes something we don’t, we have nothing to do with them. It’s the idea that anything contrary to our beliefs should be shied away from immediately.

I understand where this idea came from. I saw a lot of it in my early years; the conservative Christian homeschooling community, while eager to do the right thing, got an awful lot wrong. ‘Shelter’ was a buzzword, the goal of every good conservative Christian homeschooling parent. And why wouldn’t you want to shelter your kids? There’s some dark, disgusting, perverse stuff out there in the world. There’s also some dark, disgusting, perverse stuff inside each of us that no amount of shelter is going to hide us from. I know from personal experience and the experience of people I know that you can get into anything from the ‘shelter’ of your own home.

Now I’m not advocating that parents shove their young children out into the world. As my mom has always said, ‘You can’t be salt and light until you’re salty and lit.’ The idea that toddlers should march into kindergarden prepared to Witness™ is fundamentally flawed and probably not what Jesus had in mind.

What I am advocating is that Christians stop being afraid of ‘the other.’ You can’t make a difference if you’re no different. You can’t share if you aren’t close enough to reach out in some way. A lighthouse that faces the land and not the sea does nothing.

The lie that we should do nothing but ‘shelter ourselves’ takes many forms. You shouldn’t go there, you’re a young, attractive woman. You shouldn’t talk to them, you’re white and they aren’t. You shouldn’t step inside that place, nobody there is a Christian. It’s not safe. It’s not Christian. It’s not for you.

Should we throw ourselves blindly into mindless danger? Of course not. But if we’re supposed to be Jesus here on earth, if we’re Imago Dei, if we’re stewards of the heaven we believe in, if we serve the omnipotent God we claim we do, we can’t be afraid to talk to someone different. To do something others might find stupid. To shine love and care into places that never see sunlight. To let someone who isn’t ‘just like you’ lean on your shoulder. To help someone to their feet who might not fit the mold you were taught was ‘acceptable’ to help.

Because here’s the thing – Jesus didn’t tell us to love some people. He didn’t say ‘let your light shine before mankind, unless you’re a young, attractive woman,’ or ‘unless you’re a different color,’ or ‘unless people believe something different than you.’ Jesus walked into a graveyard to talk with a possessed wild man. Jesus ate with thieves and hookers. Jesus conversed with adulterers. He healed anyone who came up and asked to be healed.

His life would have been a whole lot different if he had only hung out with the apostles. Jesus doesn’t once call us to be sheltered anywhere except under His wing. I’m learning to love my neighbor as myself, wholeheartedly, even when my current neighbor (i.e. person I’m next to) is different than I am. That was the whole point of the Good Samaritan story, wasn’t it? And not just to love your neighbors, but to love them as yourself.

Am I totally there? No. Some days I don’t show love to people in my house the way I want to. Sometimes I fail or weeks at a time. It’s not about getting it right 100% of the time. It’s about being unafraid to keep at it, because shelter isn’t a building we live under. It’s the God we believe in.

The world will figure out what we really believe by watching what we actually do.

— Bob Goff

A PARTING NOTE: Like I stated previously, I don’t believe in flinging oneself into dangerous situations ‘just because.’ I also don’t believe danger should mean the same thing to Christians as it tends to. Jesus wasn’t about safety, and that’s something we tend to forget. He also wasn’t about stupidity. It’s not an exact science, but I believe when He wants you to go do a thing, you’ll know. It isn’t always about ditching your life and going to minister to big-city gangs – it’s usually about reaching out and loving on someone near you who hasn’t seen what love really looks like.
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A Brief Guide to Mansplaining

It happens on a near-daily basis, both on the internet and out and about in daily life. I say something – anything, really; an opinion, a fact, a remark about a book or a comic character or a historical figure – and it happens. I think my knowledge of things must have some kind of scent, because it draws in a certain kind of creature called the Mansplainer.

Now, I didn’t notice the phenomenon of Mansplaining much in my teens. I was – well, a teenager, and assumed there were many things I didn’t know. However as an adult woman, I’ve become keenly aware of how much I really do know – and how much the average male does not want to believe I know.

For those of you who don’t know, Mansplaining is the particular activity many men have when a woman says words, and a man feels the need to either a) correct her b) take the subject matter and discuss it as though she knows very little about it and he knows everything, or c) ask why she feels the need to talk about a thing at all.

Not every man who Mansplains is a terrible person. Often I think they simply don’t realize it’s what they’re doing – but not only does it make them look insecure and small, it has the opposite effect of what they probably wanted. Instead of seeming like a Superior Intelligence, they look foolish. Instead of seeming well-educated or well-rounded, they come across as desperate and threatened.

Are they always desperate and threatened? Of course not. Like I said, I don’t think most Mansplainers even realize they’re doing it and if someone were to point this out, they might be horrified. It isn’t just ‘one type’ of man who does this, either. I see equal culprits from the public-schooled guys as I do from the homeschooled ones. One is a culture of beer-chugging horn-honking pick-up lines (or even suit-wearing despot types), and the other comes from the uber-Patriarchal ‘women are your lessers, you are the Man and therefore the Better Creation’ mindset.

Both are equally bad.  And here’s the thing – everyone does this at some point. I’ve done it before – and when I realized it, made amends. That’s the important part. Just because I know something more about a subject (or think I do) doesn’t give me leave to trample over someone else or make them look stupid in a public setting. It’s bad manners, it’s rude, and it makes the person doing it look like an idiot.

If you find yourself being Mansplained to, don’t roll over and take it, but don’t get nasty either. Gently, calmly assure the man doing the splaining that you do know what you’re talking about. (If you do NOT know what you’re talking about, then feel free to ask questions and learn more – turning away good lessons just because you don’t like the teacher is a mistake. But you should still point out the fact he’s being less than stellar.) If he insists he wasn’t doing anything and you’re overreacting (which happens, even when you’ve been extremely kind and subtle about how you feel), shrug, let out a deep breath, and tell him (kindly – again, you don’t want to stoop) that he’s assuming you’re stupid, you don’t appreciate it, and ask him not to do it again.

He probably will do it again, but next time you have a good base for saying ‘Hey, look, I asked you politely last time not to treat me like a moron,’ and you can have no qualms about letting him have it. (Kindly. Always kindly.)

If you find out YOU’RE the one doing the Mansplaining (even if you’re a woman. It happens) then just fortify yourself and apologize. Because in the immortal words of King Arthur,

Why have enemies when you could have friends?

Or, as my friend Lex added, when you could at least have not-enemies.

A Staff, a Sling, and Five Rocks

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Who else takes pride in their individuality? I know I do. Being something Other, going against the flow, has always been important to me for reasons I’ve never been able to put my finger on. Being unique is important to me, although it used to be moreso. Nowadays I don’t think about it nearly as much; I don’t feel the need to let other people know when I have a specific Quirk. It’s not urgent for me to let anyone know.

That said, the Christian community often has a problem with individuality. Not everyone is ‘out to get anyone different,’ but there’s a common mindset that claims things like You must do everything like X Great Person or, You must have these habits or, You must walk/talk/eat/dress like/sound a certain way.

These ways aren’t usually bad, of course; that’s not what I’m saying. They’re perfectly fine – for some people. But not for everyone. ‘God wants Unity in his children,’ I hear, and that’s true. It’s a common theme throughout the New Testament. One thing I don’t read, however, is ‘God wants all his children to be the same.’

How do I know this? Because He created us all in vastly different ways. He made us individuals. He made us unique; and the beauty of unity doesn’t lie in a bunch of perfectly cookie-cutter people being perfectly cookie-cutter, but in unique and multi-faceted individuals coming together because their goal is God. Their reason is God. Their work is God.

My favorite illustration of this is in 1 Samuel 17.

David, after he goes up to give his brothers lunch, finds a Philistine giant laughing at the terrified Israelites. David decides hey, nobody else is killing him, so I will; and then one of my favorite things happens – Saul puts his own armor on David. He gives him his own sword. Both are honors; but David walks around in them for a minute and says, “I can’t wear these; I’m not used to them.” And he takes the king’s armor off. He picks up a staff and a sling and some rocks – because he’s used to those. He’s grown up with those.

You all know how the story ends; David defeats Goliath with the first stone. He does it without armor and without a sword, with no real protection except God and the tools he already had. God wants us to do things our own unique ways. He doesn’t want us sitting around trying to mimic someone else; putting on their armor. He wants you to use your staffs and slings and pens and pencils and music and crafting and whatever it is you are called to do; the things you love doing, the things you’re good at. God doesn’t want you wielding someone else’s weapon.

Saul said to David, Go; and the Lord be with you.

//angels in the wilderness

There are many good ways to start off a weekend, but waking up with severe pain, unable to use my right leg, wasn’t one of them. As I hobbled on crutches from the car to the emergency room, I found it almost funny – and if my leg hadn’t been hurting so badly, I might actually have laughed. The situation was almost absurd – I’ve used the phrase ‘one thing after another’ to describe 2016 for me, and each time I think What’s the worst that could happen now? The question is answered in the form of another blow. Like finding out you have some kind of arthritis in your right knee, and needing to take anti-inflammatory painkillers while you prop your leg up at home and wait for the bloodwork results.

I mean really, on top of everything else, now I’m laid up and unable to be physically comfortable? WHAT DID I DO? Granted, I would rather handle some physical pain than another emotional whammy, but this was insult to injury. Or rather injury to insult.

I find myself asking why fairly often these days. Why me? Why us? Why now? But in the midst of all the questions, I found an unexpected response. The other night when I couldn’t sleep, I finished reading Matthew and began reading Mark – and three verses struck a very relevant chord.

And there came a voice from heaven saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.

Talk about one thing after another. Jesus hadn’t ‘done anything’ to deserve this, but it happened anyway. His father was pleased with him – pleased enough to send a physical envoy from heaven to tell him just how pleased – but he didn’t say ‘Now you can rest for a while.’  No – immediately the Spirit drove him into the wilderness, where he was tested and tempted for forty days. There’s no human sense of ‘fairness’ about it. And yet, moving on, we read, ‘…and the angels ministered unto him.’

God sent his son into the wilderness for forty days in a seemingly unfair move, but he didn’t leave him alone. I believe we, too, are cared for by angels when driven into our deserts. This ministering comes in the form of encouragement from family, from friends. Of unexpected little good things happening – of a good book, or an excellent idea, or finding a great new song, or a surprise letter. I think sometimes we’re so busy waiting for a ‘Sign’ of God’s presence to hit us between the eyes that we forget he’s a still, small voice – and sometimes he ministers in still, small ways.

It’s been a rough year, and the last few months have been even rougher than the rest; and the desert may be dry and vast, but I am still alive, I am still breathing, and I am still working. Nobody said life was fair, but his eye is on the sparrow, and so it is on you. And me. And I’m learning to see the touch of ministering angels, whatever the disguise.

 

//in which I am a dropout

I hate quitting. Even when I pile my metaphorical plate higher than Vesuvius, I hate to remove even a single thing from that plate. It feels like giving up. It feels like failure.

Which is why it took me two weeks to realize I had to strategically retreat from quit NaNo.

The setup was perfect – I was raring to go, my heart was 100% in the novel. I’ve done it many times before and only ever intentionally dropped out once, in 2014, when I realized the subject matter was too heavy to rush in a month.

Well, Mirriam, psychopaths aren’t exactly a fluffy subject either. You probably should have guessed this would happen.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t the subject matter this time around that caused the problem. It was several factors.

  • I wrote 17k+ words in The Dying of the Light – and subsequently finished my year-long project – in the three days before I started another novel. Having never done this before, I can safely tell you now – with experience – that it’s a terrible idea. You can’t just dive from one novel right into the next and expect it to work out – or at least I can’t. My mind was still in another world, along with most of my emotions. Not to mention I’d all but burnt out – which is a terrible way to start NaNo
  • Sometimes I take firm hold of a novel, only for it to change on me. Several times. Nihilum forced me to re-start it twice. (If I have to re-start a novel three days after I start it, it’s usually a good sign the novel isn’t ready.) I could have forced it, I could have wrung the words out for a month and struggled the whole way – but the novel would have been a sad, deformed shadow of itself. It deserves to percolate and be born as healthy as possible. Is it shelved? Not in the least. Is it still growing? Yes. And it will continue to grow until it’s ready.
  • This year has been a series of unfortunate events; some big, some small, all amounting to a very large pile. Every time I think things are evening out…they aren’t. And when something becomes a stress factor I can actually remove, I have to take it. This month that meant dropping NaNo.

So now what? I need to focus on the art commissions at hand, so that’s mostly what I’ll be doing for the rest of the month. I have a stack of books to finish, and I have a novel I can toy with (only plotting, at least until the month is out) on the side. Soon I’ll need to read back over and revise The Dying of the Light, and then find an editor, as it’s the next book I’d like to publish. (Although it may be harder than most, since it’s….long.)

So that’s my update – and I’ll keep telling myself that quitting NaNo isn’t failure. It’s the equivalent of retiring before your boss can fire you.