Creating Space for Play and Curiosity

Now that it’s summer, the girls and I are in the car a lot together. I drive a Honda Civic, meaning that we’re in close proximity for all music choices and conversation. Recently, I’ve been reminded of what a linguistically fun season we’re in.

Elle loves separating words by syllable and then finding other words that rhyme with those syllables. Most of her rhymes are nonsense words but I love listening to how she dissects and reassembles language. I had forgotten how fun it was to hear kids puzzle out words and language.

Bea adds to our conversation by asking about the etymology of words and phrases we’re using. We wonder why we used certain words in certain ways and why some letters are pronounced differently, depending on the word’s origin. We talk about phrases and where they come from and how they’ve changed.

These conversations aren’t our norm but about once a week or so, we’ll dive into language and it’s been such a good reminder for me about the shifting nature of our communication.

This makes me especially happy because I love thinking and learning about the origins of language. Perhaps that’s why my girls love picking apart words – I happily jump into the conversation, just as curious as they are. I find the history of language fascinating and love that we’re able to reframe words and phrases every few decades or centuries.

I’ve been slowly working my way through Womanist Midrash by Dr. Wilda Gafney. She takes stories of women from the Old Testament and digs into the words and language surrounding them. Using what she calls her “sanctified imagination,” she adds to the story, creating robust narratives around forgotten and abused women. She breaks down the ancient Hebrew words and phrases and helps the reader understand the context and nuance.

Womanist Midrash is the most recent part of my journey in understanding the fluidity of language and belief. If our modern English language can ebb and change as quickly as it does, it’s no wonder there’s such mystery surrounding the language of the Bible. Yes, scholars study and understand the ancient text in its rightful context but for this lay-reader, I’m amazed at all I don’t know about what the Bible is saying, simply through the language and translations given.

A friend and I were recently talking about how we reconcile faith and politics and law. We were talking about specific current events but I think our conversation could be expanded to any sort of Biblical grappling. How do we understand what the Bible was actually saying, especially when we don’t know the language and context fully?

Our conversation made me think of the car rides with my girls, of breaking apart words and thinking about each part, in context and out of context. It made me think about the ways in which rhyming nonsense words helps build a linguistic foundation of curiosity and play which will eventually lead to fluent literacy. For now, my girls love having fun with language and giving them space to figure it out helps me remember the process rather than the outcome.

I think that’s what I’m learning about faith, too. It’s about dissecting and puzzling. Sometimes it’s about making up nonsense rhymes as I work through certain parts. Sometimes it’s turning to the experts and diving into what we do actually know about the language and culture. Either way, I’m leaning into the process. I don’t know where my outcomes will be in ten or fifty years – or maybe I’ll never know.

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe there’s enough ambiguity and space to allow for the play and curiosity. Maybe that’s what faith is all about – not necessarily finding the answers but enjoying the process of puzzling.

How do you infuse curiosity and play into your faith?

Let There Be Fairies!

The other day, we realized that we needed to replace our much-beloved but irreparable Jesus Storybook Bible. The binding was broken and fixed many times, pages were falling out, and the reading experience was precarious as we kept the book together. We got the same version for Elle (who, we realized, has never owned her own Bible!) and got Bea the Children of God Storybook Bible by Desmond Tutu.

IMG_9344She opened it and read aloud, Out of this love, God spoke. “Let there be light.” And there was day. And there was night.

She closed the book and declared in a deep voice, Let there be fairies!

Nothing happened. She looked at me, shrugged and said, Well, that didn’t work!

As we were talking about the creation story, Bea told me she wanted to go to heaven to be with God and Jesus because she was sure they would give her wings. I just want to be able to fly…

Did you ever play the game where you had to choose a superpower? The version we played always gave the choice between the power of flight and the power of invisibility. There are a couple interesting articles about who you are based on your choice (essentially if you choose flight, you’re a leader who doesn’t mind the spotlight) but for me, this spoke less about Bea’s potential for leadership and more about a childlike wish for freedom.

I’m often in awe of how Bea interprets the Bible. She picks out details and asks questions that I have long forgotten. She reminds me that, to have “faith like a child” means she interacts with the stories and text with deep curiosity and big questions. Somewhere along the journey, those questions become more thoughtful and based on experience and research. Somewhere, the curiosity becomes hedged as answers are expected.

The older I get, the more I’m able to let go of the answers. I’m even learning to let go of the questions. I’m learning that approaching life with a lens of curiosity is amazing. Bea doesn’t even ask the question, Can I create a fairy? but simply declares, Let there be fairies!

Maybe this is what it means to have faith like a mustard seed. I need to let go of the structure of the questions themselves and approach life with more of a declaration.

What would your superpower be? What does having faith like a child mean to you?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “fly.”

Books Referenced:

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Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Balancing Conservation and Progression

Mom, are giraffes endangered? Bea asked the other morning at breakfast. Is that why they’re in zoos?

IMG-7431As I paused to answer, Bea continued to ask what made animals endangered; how do they end up threatened? We talked about hunting and climate change and how zoos keep a lot of animals safe. But we talked about how zoos are feeble, at best, at replicating a native environment. I asked her if she’d rather live in the wild or at a zoo.

I’d rather live in a zoo! You have people to feed you and play structures.

We moved on to other topics but I started thinking about her response. After reading Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman a few years ago, I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable with our zoo membership. Yes, there’s some great research and preservation happening in zoos. But there are a lot of depressed animals. What is the cost of preservation?

When I visited Estonia in high school, we went to a zoo that was all concrete cages. The animals may have had a branch to climb but ultimately, the tiger, the elephant, and the sloth all had about the same square footage. It was pretty depressing. I’m sure that zoo has changed in the decades since I’ve visited, just as our city’s zoo has expanded and created more thoughtful spaces for the animals. Conservation is still at the heart of the zoo model but best practices have changed and created a more authentic environment for the animals.

The question of responsible conservation isn’t just a question for zoos and animals. In the art world, there are divided camps over the philosophy of preservation. How much do we meddle? When do we recognize that an artist’s experimentation with paint isn’t sustainable? Does a painting need to last longer than 500 years in pristine condition?

One of the most famous debates in the art world is the conservation of DaVinci’s The Last Supper. The past 500 years have been spent preserving a painting that began disintegrating 20 years after its installation. Yes, it’s an incredibly important piece of Renaissance art. But at what cost do we continue to preserve something that was an experiment in itself?

Lent starts today and this year, I’m not giving up anything big or adding any grand project to my days. It’s been a season of lots of change for our family in many ways but mostly because it’s our first tax season as business owners. In a hectic time of year, we have new layers of questions and unknowns to contend with.

So, I’m working my way through a traditional Bible study. I’ll be reading the plan each day, journaling, answering questions and reflections. I purposefully chose a plan from a more conservative point of view. I’ve been reading a lot of books that have stretched my thinking and am so glad for them but I’m recognizing the need to balance progression with conservation. What are interpretations that have pushed us in good was and what are interpretations that are solid foundations?

One of my hopes for this Bible study is to dig into my own views of Biblical conservation. What is worth preserving? What was truly an example of cultural context? What is the overarching storyline and takeaway? What I’ve learned about conservation is the imperfections of it. We conserve art and animals the best we can with the best resources we have. But when we learn new things and better ways, experts reevaluate those practices and implement new ones.

I’ll be spending Lent digging into the Bible, examining my conservative roots, and really trying to understand which pieces are worth conserving and which pieces of the story could be brought to light as we learn more about the history and storytelling of this era. I’m no theologian so, at the end of these forty days, there will be no radical reformation. But I’m hoping that there will be a deeper thoughtfulness to the story and the overarching plotline God is building.

How do you conserve what’s important while learning new things? What are your thoughts on preserving artwork?

The Platinum Rule

We’ve all heard the Golden Rule: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” While that rule is a good start, I’ve always been a bigger fan of the Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.”

heart-1567215_960_720Living life by the Platinum Rule means setting aside my own preconceived ideas for what others need and want. It forces me to stop and listen, to put aside my own life experience and allow others to fully live out their own life experience.

When I treat others the way they want to be treated, I put aside my notions of historical significance to manmade objects and listen to how people feel when they see oppression objectified.

When I treat others the way they want to be treated, I put aside my own reality of comfort and safety and listen to how people feel unsafe walking in their neighborhoods, driving on the other side of town, living their daily lives.

When I treat others the way they want to be treated, I put aside an ideal that learning a new language is an easy thing and I listen to stories of learning three or four other languages before tackling English.

When I treat others the way they want to be treated, I recognize that my marriage and family fit into societal norms and I listen to the heartbreak of families not recognized by their churches and faith communities.

There’s been a lot in the news the past couple days about how we want others to live their lives – from the distribution of resources in a crises to the way we choose to interpret the Bible that cuts out whole sections of the population, we are living the way we want to be treated. My rights are so rarely infringed upon that I can easily treat others how I want to be treated because society treats me pretty well.

But when I treat others how they want to be treated, that can make me uncomfortable. It can force me to recognize that my neighbors want to be treated with dignity because their rights are often diminished. It forces me to recognize that my LGBTQ friends want to worship without condemnation because they are so often shut out of the community of God. It forces me to recognize that our system is built on a history of racism and oppression and that I have both directly and indirectly benefited from this.

Treating others the way they want to be treated doesn’t make me less than. Building others up and honoring their experiences doesn’t diminish my own or rewrite history. I think about the way Jesus lead by example, how time and again he treated the “other” with dignity and respect. He didn’t treat them the way society demanded but with grace and love. How can I do any less?

How do you honor those whose experiences are different from your own? What are some ways you’ve learned to listen to the experiences of others?

The Sacredness of the Ordinary

We just got back from a camping trip out in the wilderness of Colorado. Our campsite didn’t have many amenities – just a vault toilet and a fire ring. We spent a few days playing in the dirt, using wet wipes the best we could, and letting our kids explore. We unplugged because we wanted to and because there’s no other option in these woods.

IMG_5065My friend and I were laughing at the amount of work that goes into a weekend camping trip. The baking and shopping and organizing beforehand and the unpacking and fifteen loads of laundry when we get home. How does a weekend of fun translate to a week of prep work?

But our girls, though exhausted, had an incredible time. After two nights, Bea wasn’t ready to come home to our ordinary routine.

I have a planner produced by a group called Sacred Ordinary Days. It follows the liturgical year and has helped me be more attuned to the church calendar. I love learning about the seasons – from the well-known Christmas and Lent to the emerging Advent and Epiphany, I’m noticing a new rhythm in my outlook.

Right now, we’re in the season of Ordinary time. This happens twice: Once in the weeks between Advent and Lent, known as Epiphany, and the much longer Pentecost, which stretches from Easter to Advent.

According to Sacred Ordinary Days, ordinary has two meanings: It serves as the contrast between the extraordinary times of feasting and remembering Jesus’ life and ministry on Earth. The second meaning comes from the word ordinal or counted time. This time isn’t about feasting but about remembering the role of the church in this world and our ongoing relationship with the Holy Spirit.

I get caught in a desire to live an extraordinary life. I don’t want to be ordinary – I want to change the world! To leave my mark! To make a difference! My reality is that our days look very similar to each other. Perhaps the nouns change a bit but the verbs are more or less the same.

I like the idea of viewing ordinary as ordinal. What am I counting? How are my rhythms shaping my days? Those flows and cycles and routines that lay a foundation for feasting and extraordinary celebrations.

If we lived in extraordinary time all the time, I would be exhausted. I’d always be preparing and anticipating and cleaning and busy.

Instead, I’m reminded that I count breaths and sit in the sunshine. We play outside and ride our bikes. Our adventures at home are laying the foundation for bigger adventures later. Our simple meals make the feasts more delectable.

I’m remembering that ordinary time is when we are healthy and ready for the next big thing. As Christians, it means that we are living in these days, preparing for a new Heaven and new Earth. As a mom, it means that I am doing the slow work of building confidence in my kids so they can go out into this world.

Now that we’re bathed and the laundry is finished and our sleep is restored, my girls are happy to be home. We are remembering the beauty of home, of our ordinary life, and of our quiet routine. We are also eagerly anticipating our next adventure, knowing that our ordinary home is here, waiting.

What is something ordinary you are thankful for? How do you recognize ordinary time in your own rhythms?

Heaven is a Wonderful Place

We used to sing a song in Sunday school called Heaven is a Wonderful Place. The gang from Psalty the Singing Song Book would sing about a place filled with glory and grace and Jesus.

IMG_3567After college, as I read more and matured, my view of heaven shifted from a place we go to a restoration of what God has given us. A place filled with glory and grace? Isn’t that what Jesus called us to do, here and now, on this earth? Or, I love N.T. Wright’s image of a place of rest before the restoration.

My maternal grandmother died this week. She was 92 years old, missed my grandfather for the past 12 years, and was ready to see Jesus. And I’ve found that all my intellectual images of heaven leave and I hope that she is actually seeing Jesus and my grandpa and her brother and sister and friends who have gone on before her. I want her to be dancing and eating incredible foods.

Those images give me comfort and hope. But I still grapple with the idea of heaven as our only future goal. What about this earth God gave us? What does John 3:16 mean when it says,

God so loved the world

It doesn’t say God just loved humanity or God just loved Christians. It says God loved this world. It reminds me that, while I do long for heaven and restoration, I also long for restoration now. And maybe that’s what the glory of heaven is. Finally seeing that restoration.

How has your view of heaven changed as your faith has grown? What gives you comfort?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “future.”

 

Review: Reclaiming Hope by Michael Wear + Giveaway

As a child of the eighties, I have never known a time without the Religious Right. Politics and religion have always been intertwined. If you believe certain things then people assume you most likely vote a certain way. This is starting to change, as people in my generation are redefining faith and redefining political allegiance. And, like many in my demographic, I find myself wondering more and more often, How did we get here? What made this divide between ideologies so wide?

fb4In Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America, Michael Wear sets out to provide insights to those questions. A self-described conservative Democrat, Wear worked on President Obama’s initial campaign in 2008 before working within the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. His inside view into our most recent President’s faith, values, and attempts at partnering faith and politics is eye-opening.

Not only are there plenty of stories about working in the White House and the challenges of defining the nearly-impossible topic of an individual’s faith to a public policy, but Wear gives insights into the millennial view of faith and politics. We live in an era where politics is part of our everyday life. There is no separation of church and state; there is no way of separating our political values from our spiritual life.

Wear accepts this new way of interacting with politics and offers guidance and optimism to a weary population. People are tired of the divide, no matter which side of the aisle they fall on, and Wear gives hope. Not to battle each other but to recognize the significant importance of our differences and how they can honor God and offer hope to our nation.

Wear doesn’t provide the magical answer to solve all of our political problems, but he does shed light on ways we can shift our own perspectives. He introduces a new way of doing politics – not one of either/or, church/government but of a both/and approach of partnerships with the church and government. This new way forward is a big shift in thinking but one that, if we’re willing to take the journey, may be more world changing than we realize.

How does your faith reflect your politics? Are you able to separate to two? How do you support your values and your voting habits?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away a copy of Reclaiming Hope. Leave a comment about your journey in faith and politics and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, January 20, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

As part of the Reclaiming Hope launch team, I received a complimentary copy of the book. All opinions are my own.