18 June 2016

a reaction

So, we were out of town on Sunday, down in the States for a week, visiting my family. And then we heard the news about Pulse.

The first news I heard didn't mention that it was a gay club. The next news I heard, about the rising death toll, also didn't mention that. I don't think I realized it until I managed to read something that mentioned that little fact on Monday.

We were down in central-eastern Oregon, out in a rural area, with no cell phone coverage and while there was wi-fi where we stayed, we spent a lot of time hiking and so didn't exactly have 24/7 news constantly available.

It didn't really seem real at first, and like a lot of things for me, it took a few days for the emotional reaction to really hit. And then it did, a couple days ago.

I've never been a club person, but I know how important they are to the LGBTQ community. They're a sanctuary, and that sanctuary has been violated. These are my people, for all that I don't really get much of a chance to spend time with the local community at the moment, for all I wonder how welcome I'd be sometimes, given I'm bisexual and married to a man. But I don't really care right now, about bi erasure and all that.

What I care about now is the horrific loss that we've just experienced. I hate guns, and I hate violence, and I hate the facets of this culture that have helped create an environment in which events like this happen. I hate that so much of the religious right is expressing sympathy now for people in death when they've been doing so much to dehumanize us (and it's seemed so vocal, their hate, in the last year).

I don't like hate. It's one of those negative emotions I tend to shy away from, but it has its place. Anger has its place. And it should be part of the reaction to this. I'm angry, and I'm sad, and I hate that this happened.

And that's where I am now. Perhaps I'll have something more useful in a couple days.

30 May 2016

Lessons Learned from Godly Play: The Flood and the Ark

It's been a while since I've written about Godly Play. We had a bit of a hiatus while figuring out what the best time for it was, and have now switched to holding it during the readings and the sermon, once a month for now. We did a Lenten one, and then with all the busy-ness that surrounds the Easter and Pentecost seasons, we only just managed to schedule one for this last Sunday.

Our congregation's resident woodworker had built the ark and the animals for the story of Noah, so that's the one we went with. I picked up the brown felt underlay from the craft store and made a pair of people and a basket for the dove out of clay and grabbed a few rocks for the altar bit at the end. Then I read through the story the night before, and when I woke up, unable to go back to sleep, at 5:30 on Sunday, I settled down with a mug of coffee to practice the story alone and in peace without E. "helping" me with it.

The practice meant I was able to manage the story without checking the script once, which I was really happy about. The Epiphany and Lenten ones were harder to remember so I kept the script on hand as needed, which technically I'm not supposed to do. I was more than a bit wired from two mugs of coffee and a dose of cold medicine so I could talk around my sore throat, but it went well. Other than E. and one of the other young kids grabbing a few animals to play with during and then E. losing it when I got to the bit where you hold the ark up over your head to show it "floating" on the water. Apparently it needed to be on the floor. The older kids there were tolerant of it, though, so it was fine. And they liked the story. The oldest liked the bit about God wiping out everything and starting over, though, which got me thinking.

One of the things I have loved about Godly Play so far is that many of the stories offer a fresh perspective on the Bible and encourage the kids to engage with the story and think critically about it. "The Flood and the Ark" has the critical thinking questions at the end, but the story is mostly as it is, without embellishments or new ways of looking at it. There really isn't much of an alternative perspective on the flood myth in Genesis. It's the way we explain natural disasters - the people who died must have done something bad to make the gods punish them like that, right?

I didn't come out of the experience with a newfound appreciation for Noah and the ark, like I did with the Creation story. I suppose I was disappointed - Godly Play has mostly been a deeply positive experience for me and to feel unable to really like the story I was telling was frustrating. I came out of the experience with the reaction, "What the hell kind of god just decides to scrap it all and start over, like the thinking people he created are just toys?" The people doing "wicked things" in the story don't really seem like people at all - they're just there to be destroyed.

And I know it's a myth, probably born out of stories of a massive local flood that forced the relocation of many people. But myths are one of our ways of describing who we are, what our values are, and how we should live, as well as ways to explain the world we inhabit. I have a difficult time finding something to take away from the story of the flood, other than that I need to remember to be compassionate towards those who experience tragedy, because it's not about angry gods punishing them. It simply is, and that shouldn't stop me from acting to help.

music education


 Recently, I decided to try to get E. listening to more music, in an effort to help her improve her speech. So I pulled up some children's music on YouTube and tried listening to it with her. After a few songs, I went back to the computer and switched to a channel of Broadway songs. Much better. But it got me thinking.

I was a 90's kid, but I know next to nothing about the music of 80's and 90's. My family listened to NPR and to a collection of records, tapes, and CDs that, while diverse, skewed heavily towards classical, folk, and Broadway music. I could blame my lack of knowledge about pop music on my parents (Mom always said she needed to give me something to talk to my therapist about), but that's not really fair. They love music and listen to a lot of different things, but they also have well-formed opinions about what they want to listen to, and well, a lot of pop stuff isn't really on that list. We did listen to a number of Christian artists, but all of them were more musically interesting than a lot of the popular worship songs today seem to be (at least as far as I remember; I've been in the Anglican world of hymns for the last couple years and completely out of touch with what's in with the rest of the North American church right now).

I was content to listen to what we had available at home for a long time and didn't start seeking other genres out until I was nearly out of high school, and even then I limited myself mostly to Christian pop music because that's what a lot of my friends listened to and I wanted to know what they were talking about. And it seemed safer; like I was exploring something that was off-limits but wouldn't actually get me in trouble. My teenage rebellion was very reserved in that way (my really big rebellion was going to a play audition without permission and then I felt horrible about it and cried for hours).

These days I'm thinking about how I knew most of the words to all the songs in The Secret Garden and Les Miserables but had only the faintest idea of who Madonna was. Angsty teenage me wasn't listening to Ani diFranco but to Simon and Garfunkel. I was busy memorizing lyrics to traditional British folk songs while some kids I went to school with were starting a metal band. Picking up a few CDs of Christian rock music when I was about sixteen seemed edgy in a weird way. It wasn't what my family listened to, and Avalon and the Newsboys were out of place in my collection that included the cast recordings of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Wicked and the second CD by Nickel Creek. I was still the geeky teenager blasting PDQ Bach's "1712 Overture" out the windows as I drove to community college. But I listened to my new music religiously (hah) and sang along when I was alone in the car and then when I went off to university, I got another music education from my peers.

My roommate introduced me to a few other Christian bands whose music I still actually enjoy sometimes and my boyfriend made me listen to The Arrogant Worms. I listened to more Celtic music and cemented my love of it and then borrowed my brother's Celtic CDs whenever I was home from school. I got more daring in the music I listened to - I learned that I really did enjoy rock music and sometimes found it excellent for studying. Another friend was playing Regina Spektor once and I found myself hunting through the CD section at the store for one of her albums.

Later my knowledge of music broadened as I listened to podcasts and then more as I watched the first seasons of Glee and got my first real exposure to pop music. I swear, I don't think I'd ever really heard any of Brittany Spear's music until the episode featuring her songs. I admittedly don't like all pop music but I do enjoy some of what's out there. I sometimes pick up other songs that I like from music used on television shows that I enjoy. I found a couple of artists I really enjoyed from watching Castle, for example.

These days, our go-to car music is CBC Radio 2. E. is growing up listening to the variety of music they have on offer there, paired with whatever my current obsession is. Last winter it was most of the songs in Rent. Right now it's a mix of folk and indie music, and occasionally Broadway songs and a lot of Great Big Sea. I'm sprinkling in some children's music, too, just so she has stuff with vocabulary that she can follow more easily. There was a mix of children's music I picked up at the library recently that's performed by a variety of different artists and I liked most of that.

The appreciation of music I gained from my parents' choices in music has made me want to impart that to my own child. My parents didn't censor our music - I learned about prostitution and suicide from Les Mis and adultery from Into the Woods, and realized after a while that one of the really lovely songs from Once on This Island was basically about the main characters having sex with each other (also learned quite a bit about racism from that musical). Our family typically didn't listen to things with profanity in them (other than Paul Simon's The Capeman but my mom usually skipped the songs with swear words or very explicit lyrics in them when we kids were in the room), but otherwise didn't fuss so much about the content of the songs. I don't object to the occasional swear word, so there are a few songs that I will listen to around my child that other parents would probably skip over (though there are some that I still object to, like Book of Mormon's "Hasa Diga Eebawai" because holy profanity, Batman! That one goes way too far for me - there's judicious, thoughtful use of profanity and then there's that).

I'm still searching out more children's music that we can all enjoy. I can listen to Raffi and Fred Penner without the songs driving me nuts, but there's a lot of really mediocre children's music out there. To be fair, there's just a lot of mediocre music out there in general. If that means we're listening to Candide instead of whatever's in for E.'s generation, well, she can always catch up later, like I did. And then she can complain about how we deprived her of the music her peers liked to her therapist when she grows up.

10 May 2016

family bugs and a guest post

Life's been a bit miserable over here at Epenthetical House over the last while. We all got some kind of stomach bug. E. had the mild version, but J. and I got the horrible kind. On Sunday night, we took turns in the bathroom and spent a while lying in bed trying to sleep between times with the puke bucket. Then we spent Monday watching cartoons with E. in a daze while being grateful that we could at least keep water down by that point.

Today's been a bit better, but a trip to return books to the library kind of exhausted me and J. was still a bit too sick to go back to work. So there were more cartoons, and I kind of let E. eat bananas her own way, which involves taking a few bites out of one then demanding a second one (as Ramona says, "The first bite tastes the best!"), because I was too tired to argue with her. Tomorrow's plan, if I'm still on the mend, involves taking her to the library for storytime and then to the park for a few hours. She needs outdoor time, and so do I.

On a happier note, I have a guest post up over at Unfundamentalist Parenting. It's about my struggles with the Bible and its many stories and sources and how I handle talking to my child about that. It's going to come up, given that we are practicing Anglicans. I'm still sorting, so we'll see where it goes from what I've expressed in this essay. Check it out if you're interested!

Now I'm off to drink some more water and then convince my child that it's bedtime. Good night!

13 April 2016

Adulthood, one bowl of pasta at a time

While making spaghetti sauce this evening (Bolognese-ish style), I suddenly found myself remembering one of those days when it had hit me that I was turning into an adult. I don't ever feel entirely like an adult, but I have moments where I have the sudden realization that I am not a child. Oh, I know that, all the time, and go about my day, but it's the sort of knowledge that resides in the back of my mind.

The day I remembered was an afternoon in late autumn when I was in my third year of undergrad. I was hanging out and doing homework in the common area of my boyfriend's dorm. At that time, he lived in a dorm with a big shared kitchen, and it was always fun to camp out and watch the guys he lived with figuring out how to cook edible food. While it wasn't a new skill for many of them, some of them got more than a little creative in their efforts. We kept wondering if the guy who literally lived on meat and potatoes, no salt, would develop a vitamin deficiency. J.'s roommate seemed to mostly subsist on instant kimchi noodles. And J. himself was a big fan of orange juice smoothies. Made mostly with a can of orange juice concentrate and very little else.

Anyway, that day, J. was still in class and I was doing homework, and one of our mutual friends was making spaghetti. He could definitely cook, and cook well, but he preferred non-Western food. This was his first time making a spaghetti (Bolognese) sauce. He called me over to taste it. He felt like something was missing but didn't know what. "Needs more oregano," I said, almost without thought, after tasting the sauce. So he added more oregano and went on with his dinner preparation.

I remember the moment because I then noticed I had become someone who could figure out what a sauce was missing, a skill I had mostly attributed to adults. And all of sudden, I was one of them.

My current version of spaghetti, which includes carrots, cheese, and pork.
Adulthood, in my experience, is something that comes in small experiences which add up to a large whole. It doesn't happen instantly, overnight. It's a process. It doesn't mean I have to act like the token grownup 24/7, but it does mean that those responsibilities of adulthood, of being the grownup, become more familiar every day. Sometimes it means that I floss my teeth every day, whether I want to or not, as an example to my daughter and to avoid massive dental bills in the future, and sometimes I means I can tell when a sauce needs another spoonful of oregano.

07 April 2016

assorted things I read and write

It feels like most of my recent posts have been on the heavy emotional side. Well, that's where I was when I wrote them, so it's fine, but I'm having a good day, so I figured I'd write something less serious. Earlier this week I had a couple of bad days which reminded me to appreciate the good days when I have them (oh, the joys of depression).

My recent reading has been a tad bit eclectic. I skimmed through The Selection by Kiera Cass after picking it up on a whim at the library. Hints of fairy tale plus the Book of Esther plus a dash of dystopia with a side of teenager. Enjoyable but not particularly remarkable. Typical for a lot of the romance dystopia teen books that seem to be popular right now.

I'm working my way through Kate Bowler's Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel. I've never completely understood the full-blown prosperity gospel, though I do get some of its milder forms. My parents have never been excited about it. I remember my brother once saying, "God is not a vending machine." At any rate, this text is certainly informing me about where on earth this all came from. I'm still in the section on the late 1950s/early 1960s. I hadn't ever noticed the connection to the Pentecostal movement but that actually makes a great deal of sense. I might write a little more about it once I've finished the book.

And, as usual, I've been reading fanfiction here and there because I am hopeless geek. It's my friend Sarah James Elliot's fault. Years ago she got me into Harry Potter fanfiction, which eventually led me to Sherlock fanfiction, and it sort of went from there. I've been reading a lot of Avengers stuff lately. It's addictive, I swear. Plus, in the universe of fanfiction, Tony Stark does things like invent sentient toasters. (This, among other reasons, is why I haven't finished Ley Lines yet).

I tried reading a chapter book to E. recently. She was really into it until the last few chapters and then she got bored. She's only 2 1/2 so it's a tad early. My Father's Dragon seemed like a good start (she likes dragons, she likes animals, there are pictures) but she prefers Where the Wild Things Are most nights. I have that and a few other picture books just about memorized.

I've hit pause on my NCIS watching for the moment. I did seven seasons, one after the other, as I got them from the library (have I ever mentioned just how freaking awesome the library is?), and I think I need to take a break. Otherwise I'll end up dreaming about a body turning up at Rock Creek Park (is there no other park nearby for the show's killers to dump bodies?). I have a book to finish, a couple submissions to tweak and send out, and a handful of knitting projects to complete.

I worked on Ley Lines this week. Really. But then I got lost in a side story about a character from what will be a companion series to Comrades. After Ley Lines, and the third book, Sword Song, we're scooting back in time to check out some of Peterkin's predecessors and their adventures. I have a couple other plans in mind for different books that are unrelated to the Comrades universe, so I don't know if we'll be getting the Greatmagi series going right after Sword Song or if I'll tackle something different first to take a break from that world.

And with that, we'll call this update complete. Time to do something besides typing for a little while.

18 March 2016

Lessons Learned from Godly Play: The Holy Family

As I've stated in a few earlier posts, my experience with Godly Play, a Montessori-inspired method for teaching kids about Christianity, has been primarily positive. It's been a way to re-experience stories from the Bible in a positive light and to embrace that, whatever I think or feel about religion, there are parts of that I don't experience as damaging. However, during the certification process, I had a negative reaction to a Godly Play story. This was primarily because of one of the props and the angle at which I saw it, but it's worth exploring the what happened, in part because the negative experience had positive aspects to it. (I did start writing this earlier but then had to let it sit for a while, which is why I'm writing about something that happened months ago now).

I finished my certification for Godly Play back in September, last fall, and we currently have a once-a-month program with it at church. During the last training workshop, we went through some of the liturgical stories, the ones that help teach kids what the heck is going on with the church year (there's a fabulous one with all the Sundays represented by little coloured blocks using the altar cloth colours; mostly it's green, but the one red Sunday really stands out). Most of the liturgical action stories are very well thought-out and are very interesting. I did the Epiphany one back in January with the kids and the process of lighting incense and candles went over very well with the kids (anything with fire, apparently).

One of the liturgical stories for the Christmas season got to me, though. One of the people in the training class performed the one about the Holy Family. The story involves a Nativity scene, and focuses on the roles of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. One of the points of the story is that the baby Jesus grows up to be the risen Christ. This is illustrated by holding up the baby in the manager against the figure of the risen Christ, an angelic-looking figure with its arms outstretched. From my angle, it looked like a cross. My brain jumped to "baby Jesus on the cross" to "holy shit, child torture and death" to "oh dear god, that's basically what we claim God did to their child" to "I think I may need to vomit or have an anxiety attack quietly in the bathroom."

I mentioned this line of thought during the debriefing session. The "baby Jesus on the cross" imagery had a couple of the priests going, "Oh, crap, there goes Easter! Can't go to Easter services anymore!" They were joking, a bit, but they took my response seriously and didn't ignore that this is part and parcel of this religion. My feelings of being disturbed at this imagery were acknowledged as valid. I was in a place where I could admit my upset, and I wouldn't be shut down. This is a startling difference from the last church we attended, where I was so upset by a sermon on Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac that I had to leave the room, but I didn't feel like I could openly state why I was unhappy.

Over the last while, I've wandered over into alternate views of the Incarnation and the Atonement. I grew up with the general penal substitutionary view of the Atonement and it was a revelation to discover that there are other ways to see it. It doesn't have to be that "Jesus died so God could forgive our sins." Other views involve the idea that Christ died because we humans have this sacrificial idea that we've developed and that if forgiveness needs to happen, God already forgave us. Christ came to change our minds about who and what God is, rather than coming to change God's mind about us. This concept resonated with me when I first heard it. 

To be fair, I'm vaguely agnostic these days. I have had some experiences that make me think there's some kind of god (or gods) out there, but I'm not really sure. I'm not interested in constantly trying to talk myself into believing on the days when I don't. Faith is or it isn't, and I think it's more important to spend my time trying to love others and do right by them rather than expending effort on mental gymnastics trying to force every little point of Christian doctrine to make sense. I've let go of a lot of things in the religion already - hell, for example - and settled in to admit that I just don't know. I'll do the best I can, and try not to worry too much about the rest of it.

So why am I part of the church if I don't exactly believe? Well, I do get something out of being there. If it was an empty experience, I don't think I could go. The rituals of the church make me feel centred, grounded. I feel at home there. I've deliberately chosen to be part of a church where I can acknowledge my doubts, my lack of belief, and my frustration with various points of doctrine without being censured. It's the sort of place where one week we have a guest speaker come to educate us on what we can do to help with the Syrian refugees, and another week a speaker is there to talk about First Nations spirituality and how she's rediscovering her heritage after what her parents and grandparents lost because of the residential schools. It's a place where we do our best to acknowledge where we have hurt others, and try to make amends in whatever ways we can. And it's not perfect, and we make mistakes, and yet...I feel more whole for being part of the community.

So there I am, for now. My faith, like my sexuality, is caught in the middle. I can't land on one side or the other. I stand in the middle, with the tension that creates, and yet, feel more whole, and less likely to break, for standing there rather than retreating to the edges.