Update on the Book

Hi friends,

My blog pace has seriously slackened. I know. And I’m sorry about that. But the good news is that it’s for a good reason.

Is that all there is

I’m starting over on the book. Square one. No notes from the previous version, just the gut memory of the most important parts in order to create a more cohesive whole.

Which means the one day a week I used to spend blogging and pitching articles, workshops and keynote presentations on women & religion, I’ve recently spent writing a new outline of the book. It’s wild to ty to do with just one day (my work on purpose keeps me plenty busy the other six) and as a result, it’s taking up the whole day’s space. Which has left a few of my blog readers asking themselves ”Is that all there is?” when they check in of late.

So I wanted to take a moment to thank you for reading the Man-Made Girls blog, and for hanging in there while the blog’s bushes grow a little long. I promise to come trim them again soon.


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Weaving Your Story Workshop

Lewis and ClarkIn her book God’s Daughters, Princeton religion professor Marie Griffith writes that religions require of their believers a “willingness to join a narrative tradition, a way of knowing and being through storytelling, through giving and taking stories.” But because wealthy men have been the literate majority throughout history, too often it’s their stories we’re talking about here, their perspectives, their tales told over and over again, leaving women stuck in the tired old position of having to claim the identity of either the virgin or the whore as they are still (still!) two of the only stories told about women in so many of our religious communities.

I recently led a workshop at Lewis & Clark’s Gender Symposium on Religion. In the room was a Jewish woman who had been born a boy, a Wiccan woman who had retired from her former role as a Christian pastor, a pastor’s wife who didn’t know what her religion was but she knew what she wasn’t—she wasn’t what her husband said a Christian was, that was for sure—and all kinds of others who stories we don’t see in the tapestry of religious and spiritual history. None of whom identify as either the virgin or the whore.

The amazing thing about a tapestry, however, is that it can be taken apart. Those holes between its threads make it able to be undone and done again, so that old holes close, new ones open, and a new image, incorporating newly colored thread, continuously emerges.

This is what living religion looks like. An ever emerging image, continuously changed as new stories and new perspectives are added even while those of old are passed down.

At our workshop, we started with ourselves. We told our own stories, those that have been unrepresented in our religious communities. And then we wove them through a paper tapestry which now hangs in the college’s chaplain’s office. It’s not much. A small thing. But it represents such a big thing—that none of us fits into either of the archetypes men of old have told about us. And that, if we want people to know this, it’s time for us to get weaving.

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Wanting to Matter

ScotlandI met Jill in Scotland. Gray hair and tight lips, the first thing she did as she entered the room was apologize.

“I’m sorry,” she stammered, “I’ll say it now: I’ve only had an hour sleep, so I’m probably not at my best.” She removed her coat so hurriedly you would have thought she was 30 minutes late for the interfaith women’s event I was helping my friend set up for. In fact, Jill was 30 minutes early.

“I feel terrible,” she continued, struggling to remove her scarf. “I really do, but I came. I came anyway, because I had to come. I just knew, I had to come.”

“Welcome,” I smiled as I unfolded the tin chairs and set them in a circle. Jill followed me.

“I didn’t come because of the faith part,” she continued. “I just want to say that up front. I didn’t come for that at all. I came because, well, I am hoping that this group will be…different. There’s something about it being all women, or maybe it was the way you all wrote the description, talking about creating a place for people to care for one another, but I am just really hoping that I won’t feel like I usually do.”

“How so?” I asked, pausing behind a chair.Scotland 3

“I want to…matter,” she said.

In a small group with Jill later that night, I learned that she lived in public housing alongside old Scottish men whose jokes were lewd and made her uncomfortable, though she sat with them in the stairwell talking all the same. She hopped from one local group to another: The first Friday of each month, she attended a discussion group on this topic; every other Tuesday, she attended a discussion group on that topic; and the second Wednesday of the month, she attended a book club. She liked it, she said, liked having her mind challenged. But she always came home depressed. She was “cerebrally challenged,” but felt empty—she pointed to her stomach—“here. Inside.” Because at the end of the evening, everyone simply put on their coats and went home. She couldn’t talk to them about how hard it was living in public housing and how badly she wanted a different life. She didn’t feel cared about. Seen. Or as though she really mattered.

The other women in our small group nodded as Jill spoke. “We didn’t come for the faith part either,” they admitted. Like her, they came because they wanted to matter. And I wondered, Is there any other reason to do anything?

Fast forward three months to yesterday. I am sitting in another interfaith women’s circle, this time in New York City. Many of the women here have come because of the faith element, though they define “faith” loosely. They are in the midst of a heady discussion about what they can do to make more women feel welcome in their midst. Should they use the term “interfaith, or perhaps multi-faith, or multi-religious?” One person says, “We should really be saying trans-faith.” Another person says, “We should really be saying nothing at all. Labels are left over from the patriarchy.” We have been sitting and talking for hours, and all the while, I can hear is Jill’s Scottish brogue  in my ear, can hear her saying: It’s not this hard. They’ll come if you make them feel like they matter.

I try to break in to share this point of view, but I can’t get a word in edgewise, which I suspect is because I am much younger than everyone else in the room and new to the group. And when I do speak, I feel ignored. The next speaker quickly picks up where the person before me left off and I am overwhelmed by a feeling that I, personally, do not matter here. So I stop talking. And it makes me sad. Because I realize that I often feel this way in interfaith women’s circles, and have all five years that I have been attending and organizing them. I realize that I leave these circles with the same feeling that Jill described having when she leaves her various discussion groups–a feeling of being cerebrally challenged but empty inside.

And suddenly I think, “Oh shit. We are not the answer. These groups. These circles. We’re not the ones we’ve been waiting for. At least not yet. Though the women here are good women, we’re…just another discussion group.”

So many of us have left organized religion because we didn’t feel that we can be our authentic selves within it. Now, instead of the hyper-local religious communities we were once a part of as much because we lived in the same neighborhood as anything else, we self-construct communities, hand-picking people with the same interests as us, like these interfaith women’s circles. We can be authentic in self-selected groups, which is important. But as our sense of community shifts from hyper-local to (forgive me for using this word) the glocal, it feels to me like we’re losing that sense of deep mattering that can only come from a face-to-face, come-what-may-I’m-with-you-not-because-I-like-you-but-because-we-are-in-this-together mentality that I have personally only ever witnessed in organized religious institutions—churches, synagogues, temples and mosques.

I’m talking about the kind of stick-with-it-community that provided when my mom free babysitting when her son with born with Cerebral Palsy and both she and my dad had to work and go to school–an Episcopal church. I’m talking about the kind of community that meant one man came over to my parents’ house at 3am one night when my dad wasn’t well and I had called him crying, because I didn’t know what to do–an evangelical (gasp) church.  I’m talking about the kind of community that organized to bring my family meals every night when my mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (I still remember a delicious ham and scalloped potatoes delivered with the potholders stuck in the handles of the serving dish)–a Episcopalian-Evangelical Church. That kind of community. The kind that few book clubs, cooking classes, or interfaith women’s circles provide. The kind that makes you feel like you really matter, because you do.

But how do we create a community in which people can be their authentic selves–gay, straight, virgin, not-so-much-a-virgin, believer in one thing or believer in another–and also have all of the amazing things that good organized religion offers those who believe and behave in very particular ways? Like the room to be a total emotional wreck every once in a while? I loved the allowance for that in organized religion. Like being cared for when you need it and feeling responsible to care for others when it is their turn?

In the interfaith women’s circle in Scotland, I admitted to Jill that I didn’t know where she could go for that kind of community today.

She smiled at me. “We may not have come to an answer tonight, but it is a miracle that we even asked this question together,” she said. “I’ve never been able to do that before.”

She’s right. For now, we start here–with simpply asking the question.

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GUEST POST: Is God a “He”? And Why This Question Really Does Matter by Meagan Manas

Meagan_ManusThis is a guest post by Rev. Meagan Manas

“Words are things, I am convinced…
I think they get on the walls, they get in your wallpaper
In your upholstery, in your clothes and finally…
Into you”  - Maya Angelou              

Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.  How many of us have mouthed this phrase to ourselves like a mantra in hard times, or given them as advice to a youngster? We use the phrase specifically because we know it isn’t true. Because we know that actually, words are powerful.

Yet we consistently throw them around as if they were meaningless.  What if we took our words seriously?  Would we be able to keep pretending, for instance, that using exclusively male language for God was not also communicating that something about maleness was inherently God-like?

“In the beginning was the word (logos) and the word was with God and the Word was God…through [the logos] all things came into being…”    – John 1:1, 3

Remember learning about the Inuit language in which there are about twelve different words for snow—and thus an increased capacity to understand, to see, twelve different kinds of snow?  From my Cleveland upbringing and a slough of NYC winters, I could point out maybe three different kinds.  If I had twelve different words, would I be able to see more?

I imagine myself, a little girl growing up in a church full of exclusively male leadership and male language for God.  Can she see the divine in herself—or is that possible reality closed off to her because she has no language for it?  And when this little girl, 20+ years later, finds herself to be an ordained clergy person, will she be able to understand that as a part of her identity?  Or on some level will a lack of language hide it from her?

“Dear God, are boys really better than girls?  I know you are a boy.  But try to be fair.(signed) Sylvia.”   – Taken from a child’s letter to God

About three years ago around this time of year, I was lucky to get involved in a conversation between many wise women who work in denominations and their women’s organizations, in seminaries and churches, who were concerned about the way words were being used.  Most of them had been active in the “original” inclusive language battles in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.  They had worked hard to write articles opposing male-only language for God, they had passed through denominational and seminary policies that required use of gender-neutral words for God and for people: chairperson instead of chairman, brothers and sisters instead of simply brothers, and the repeated use of the word God instead of any pronouns at all (For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only…etc.)

Each of these women, about 20 of us on a conference call, were deeply troubled at the state of the usage of inclusive language in churches and seminaries today, after all these policies and regulations were in place.  Instead of an improvement, they had seen a decline. Students brushed off the concern for inclusive language as the pet project of one professor, not a central justice issue for people who would become leaders of faith communities.  Pastors and people in charge of denominations used inclusive language when they felt like it, or remembered to do so—which was not often.

That was the problem identified on our phone call; when folks were just handed a rule or a policy, they were not apt to understand why it was important to follow.  We needed a way to not just tell people what kinds of words to use, but to help individuals understand how much was at stake in the language they chose—how the words we use can reinforce the very systems of injustice we say we want to dismantle: patriarchy, racism, ablism, heterosexism, and on and on.

The other problem we saw was the problem of neutral language.  When pastors talked about God and Godself, we all found ourselves continuing to picture a male, often white, God.  The neutral language did nothing to equalize or change; it only masked the systems of power rampant in Christianity.  Instead of neutral language, we determined, what we needed was more language.  More words, images and pictures of God.  A greater diversity.  Instead of simply “inclusive” language, we needed something expansive.

Out of this conversation sprang Words Matter, a project based in storytelling and conversation with awareness and awakening as its goal.  Words Matter gathers a group together and then asks each person to tell the group a short (3 minutes or less) story about a time when they noticed the power or importance of words.  Every time I lead this process, I am surprised again that everyone has a story.  When we give the prompt, we are careful to specify that these can be stories of hurt or of healing, but the vast majority of stories I hear are those of pain.  They are stories of not belonging, of being unworthy, being left out, being discriminated against.

The hope of Words Matter is that once we understand our own stories and can truly hear others’ stories, we might understand in a real way how words matter, and we might change the way we do things as a result.  Words Matter imagines our communities of faith not as neutral, politically correct gatherings striving to be inoffensive, but as wildly dynamic and vibrant places where we use more words, more images, and more stories in an effort to speak to the hearts of so many different kinds of people who gather with us.  Places that spark our imaginations and allow us to see more, different realities, like learning new words for different kinds of snow.

But I caution you.  Once you start to open yourself to how words impact people’s lives, their physical, mental, spiritual and emotional wellbeing, living in the world can become deeply troubling, and it is quite difficult to un-see.  Perhaps you will start to see these connections and get excited, and try to tell someone about it!  Here I caution you again.  It is so easy—so easy—to put together a pamphlet telling people which words they should or should not use and then to distribute it.  But getting people to understand in their core how words they hear and words they choose themselves are participating in systems of injustice, and how these words could potentially be words of life and healing—that is a difficult task.  As far as I can see, our only choice is to try.

It is with this caution that I invite you to join me on this journey.  Words are powerful.  Words are things.  Words shape the way we understand the world.  Let’s use them together, to build a reality with more, more access, more possibility, more belonging, more welcome, more acceptance, more affirmation.  More. Can we do it together?

Learn more about Words Matter by visiting www.wordsmatter.org.

Rev. Meagan Manas is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)  She currently serves in a validated ministry as Justice and Peace Staff Specialist for Presbyterian Women, and is Program Coordinator for the World Day of Prayer USA Committee.  Meagan lives in Brooklyn with her husband Dan, and cats Marge and Arthur, and is interested in eating food, communities, and thinking about how to make religion good for people.

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The Growing Religiosity of Pop-Culture

This essay was first published in Religion Dispatches.

“Why do you think girls like Twilight?” I asked my boyfriend’s 11-year-old daughter.

“That’s easy,” she answered. “Boys without shirts.”

When it comes to the casual fan, I gotta say, I think she’s right. The Twilight series is a kind of fashion show in which men model cloaks of masculinity. Their fictional enhancements represent masculine archetypes: Edward the vampire is cold, brooding, and obsessive; Jacob the wolf-man is warm, earthy, and oh yeah, takes his shirt off a lot.

At a time when masculine and feminine ideals are rapidly being redefined, the invitation for girls and women to observe men, admire them, and be choosy among the various types is enough to fill a movie theater—or thousands.

erzenbook_302But among the horde of everyday Twilighters like my boyfriend’s daughter are thousands of “Twi-hards,” die-hard fans whose dedication to Twilight verges on the religious. These megafans are the subject of Tanya Erzen’s recently published ethnography, Fanpire.

Erzen describes a world in which “Fanpires” make pilgrimages to the real-life town in which the book is set, write blogs and fan fiction (the most famous of which became Fifty Shades of Grey), and buy buy buy branded Twilight merchandise between the release of the books and movies to keep the magic of the series alive. They “Twi-bond,” supporting one another in times of need (TwilightMoms, an online group of moms who read Twilight, ritually send one another cards and gifts when others in their lives forget to), and they study “Cullenism,” the value system of the Cullens, Edward’s vampire family.

Though the Twi-hard fan movement might not seem worthy of a book-length study, it is part of a widespread American trend away from organized religion and toward the sacralization of pop culture that is worth paying attention to.

As religion-watchers know, the percentage of Americans “unaffiliated” with institutional religion has been rising about one percentage point a year for the past five years. Today, one out of five adults, and more than one in three 18- to 22-year-olds, are religiously unaffiliated.

But “unaffiliated” doesn’t mean unbelieving. Many of these same adults are spiritual. Most believe in God. One-fifth say they pray every day. And a version of religious fervor can be found among both secular and religious fans of just about everything.

Religion scholar David Chidester has famously argued that baseball, Coca-Cola, rock ‘n’ roll, Tupperware—and even the Human Genome Project—serve, for their biggest fans, as “religious fakes,” meaning they play the role of religion, though they aren’t the real thing.

What is interesting about Twilight as a religious fake is that it is distinctly women-centric—a series written by a woman for women. As such, the stories of Fanpires can shed light on what women are lacking in their religious experience—and what leads them to sacralize Twilight, even as many of them remain in traditional religious communities.

Erzen’s 2009 online survey, completed by almost 600 fans, shows that 98 percent of the US Twilight fanbase is made up of women; eighty percent identify as nondenominational Christians or Catholic, while the remainder identify as spiritual. Meanwhile, Erzen one estimate says that over 90 percent of Mormon women have read the series.

So, why Twilight?

To find out, read the rest of this piece in its orginal home, as my first piece on Religion Dispatches!

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VIDEO: Live the Questions by Linda Kay Klein

LKK_TEDx_BarnardBack with another video….

I spoke at a TEDx event organized by Barnard College‘s fabulous Athena Center and the video is now live!

Check it out and please let me know what you think!

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VIDEO: The Divine Feminine by Meggan Watterson

Meggan-Watterson_bw-512x198After far too long an absense–blame the holidays and my week-long trip to London and Edinburgh (!)–I wanted to share a TEDx Women video that particularly moved me this month.

It is from my dear friend, the gorgeous Meggan Watterson, spiritual mentor, speaker, and scholar of the Divine Feminine who inspires women to live from the audacity and authenticity of the voice of their soul.

Meggan facilitates the REDLADIES, a spiritual community that encourages women to reclaim their bodies as sacred and to be led by the soul-voice inside them without compromise or apology–of which I was part for many years. (Some break bread together; REDLADIES break dark chocolate.) She is also the founder of REVEAL, an event in New York City that gathers together the fiery voices of women’s spirituality–I’ve been every year and even did PR for the event one year. Meggan received a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary. Her work has appeared in media such as the New York Times, Forbes.com, and Feminist.com. Her first book, Reveal: A Sacred Manual for Getting Spiritually Naked, is due out this spring 2013 with Hay House, Inc.

Have warm and happy winter everyone!

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GUEST POST: After 84 Years, Time to Leave the Church by Julia Cato

This is a guest blog post by the fabulous Julia Cato.

A friend of mine recently stopped going to church. She’s 90 and worshipped at the same Church of Scotland congregation in Edinburgh for 84 years. Twice a week she went to church and involved herself deeply in congregational life. Now she says she can’t cope with sitting through a service. Physically, she’s doing extremely well for 90. Mentally, the darkness creeps in. I wonder if the weight of a lifetime of expectations and labels have just become too much. In a time when her faith and the church should be carrying most of her burdens, she seems to be crushed by them.

She still lives on her own in a lovely neighbourhood with plenty of shops, cafés and public transportation at her doorstep. So many lovely people visit her and pitch in with errands and chores. Scotland is part of a national healthcare system that provides her with excellent home care and costs her almost nothing. Imagine that. She is loved and supported. And yet, it is not enough. One of her friends from her church once sadly reflected, “Where is her faith?”

She is often anxious and depressed. No amount of attention, care and love seems to lift the heaviness from her mind and heart. No one can quiet that terrifying loneliness. I sometimes find myself whispering a desperate prayer: “Please don’t let me get old like that.” I don’t want to be that kind of unhappy at the end of my life.

There may be many other reasons why she is where she is, but I wonder, is she a woman whom the Church has failed?  She’s been widowed for over 20 years. Her husband played the central role in her life along with the Church, which our religion too often requires of women. Together they wove a complex patriarchal net of expectations of how women should think, act, speak, and worship. She never had children, so she was never a “mother” (another role the Church makes room for), and then when her husband died she went from “wife” to “widow.” Now she is just “old.” She is an old woman with no children or grandchildren. I’m afraid she might be thinking that her church and society no longer have any use for her. And she might be right. There are not many labels left at this stage and without any labels, who is she? Especially in the church, which is not always a welcoming place to single women. God seems so far away.  The Church too often stands between us and God, if we allow it. How tragic we so often believe the illusion that we could ever be separated from the love of God.

Things are changing in the Church and, for me, participating in this is a good thing. Being the creators of our own stories and the owners of our own faith is as vital to our lives as the air we breathe. And maybe, if we  work to create space for people to be more fully themselves—even without the labels that make us “safe” or “acceptable”—now, things will be different when we reach the age of my friend.

Julia A. Cato holds a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York City.  Her background includes women’s issues, human rights, multifaith relations, communications and development, and writing.  She currently works as a freelance consultant in Edinburgh and her recent clients include: the Festival of Spirituality and Peace, the Church of Scotland and the Edinburgh Interfaith Association.

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How Growing Up Evangelical was like ‘Twilight’

I had my first piece, ”‘Twilight’ and Evangelical Christianity’s Eternal Girlhood,” published in The Huffington Post this week! Here is a teaser…

I see my teenage self in “Twilight.” I never fell in love with a vampire per se, but as an evangelical Christian teenager I was taught that all men were vampires of a sort — threatening and hungry — but that the right vampire would, like Bella’s Edward, protect me from himself.

Author Stephanie Meyer has said that her Mormon faith played a role in the creation of her characters, but I didn’t have to hear that to recognize in Twilight’s erotic mix of want and withholding the stuff of religious girls’ lives.

Perhaps I see myselfmost in Bella’s desperate desire not to grow up. Bella begs Edward to grant her eternal girlhood, making her a vampire before she turns 20. Likewise, my friends and I “girled” ourselves — giggling, pretending not to understand sexual references and more — in an attempt to avoid becoming the thing we most dreaded becoming: women.

Whereas good girls were prized in our community, women were often mistrusted. We were warned that if not careful women could be sexual temptations to men and boys, and the especially brazen ones might even try to take men’s rightful places of leadership. A friend of mine was once told she was getting dangerous close to this and could no longer lead her Bible study because her voice was too low. Good women in my community retained the qualities of little girls — sweetness, purity, receptivity and a certain degree of passivity. It was these qualities that allowed the adolescent mother of Jesus to be chosen by God. It was these qualities that gave her life purpose, that gave her life power. By the time the Virgin Mary grew up and demanded Jesus to turn water into wine at a wedding, even calm and patient Jesus was annoyed. Mary had become pushy, too bold for her own good. My evangelical friends and I were determined that these things would never happen to us.

But could we avoid it? we wondered. How could we-junior high girls growing breasts, teenagers picking up sass, and fully grown women who knew suffering and had developed a wisdom and confidence that made us feel like anything but kids-force our fleshy bodies into the shape of children?

The answer was: we couldn’t. Whereas Bella was successful in stopping time, my girlfriends and I failed. And the consequences of this failure lasted well into our adult lives.

I was 21 when a college performance poetry professor played me a recording of my voice, demanding to know why I spoke in such a squeak when my singing voice implied that my true vocal register was actually much lower. (In fact, she was right, though it took me many more years to come into my authentic voice.) I was 25 when an evangelical friend and I went to a fairy festival wearing homemade wings and discovered that we were the only adults there without a child. And I was 26 when I quit my job at a library in Montana after having left the evangelical community and returned to my Midwestern hometown, driven by my desire to know how many of the young women I grew up with were struggling with issues of sex, sexuality and gender the way I was.

I spent the following year sitting in coffee shops, bars and living rooms interviewing evangelical and ex-evangelical women in their 20s, all of whom had grown up in my own church. The next year, I moved to New York City and performed two more years of interviews with evangelical and ex-evangelical women from various backgrounds. Among the many issues that came to light was the recurring issue of eternal girlhood.

One of my friends and interviewees, a 28-year old woman, told a story of being at a Christian conference when she realized what her future would be were she not to address her own girling. My friend sat down at a workshop beside a woman in her 50s, who was wearing sparkly red slippers. Throughout the workshop, the woman kicked her feet out from under her chair and asked the group if they agreed with her that her shoes were just the sweetest, cutest, prettiest little princess shoes they’d ever seen. Every time she kicked out her feet and again asked the question, my friend said she felt like throwing up. Then she remembered: Just a couple of months earlier, we were at the fairy festival. She gulped.

This may seem relatively innocuous. Harmless even. Who cares if there are a few girly women out there? What am I, afraid of the color pink?

My concern is not about girliness. My concern is what happens when this girliness cannot be turned off, when a desire to avoid womanhood overwhelms an individual and seeps into her life in ways she is not even aware of, and sometimes cannot escape.

Within today’s overall culture of eternal youth — with its proliferation of anti-aging products, Cover Girls, Hooters Girls, and even knee-scraped roller derby girls — the way in which girling plays out in religious communities is unique. Sexualizing secular girling sometimes verges on performance; girlhood can be put on and then taken off. Whereas de-sexualizing religious girling goes deep. Real deep. Girls are told that if they become the wrong kind of woman not only will their eternal life be threatened, but the eternal lives of men and boys who trip over them on their path to God will be at risk. (For this reason, women and girls in my church were often called “stumbling blocks,” a term that makes me shudder to this day.)

But we are set up to fail. We can’t actually remain girls forever. So we develop into women, and hate ourselves for it. Read more on The Huffington Post….

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The Storm

With one big gust, the storm shook the living room window right out of its frame and it came crashing down on my boyfriend’s head.  Blood.  Glass.  Our lights blinked.  On the TV, the newscaster reporting on the hurricane yelled, “Five minutes ago, nothing!  Now I am standing in half a foot of water!” Her image froze and she crackled off the air. “Looks like we lost her,” another newscaster said. Wrapping my boyfriend’s hand in a rag, cutting a box full of books open to cover the window with cardboard, sweeping and vacuuming glass as quick as I could before the lights cut out, I thought to myself: “This is not really a great way to start my birthday.”

Every year on my birthday I select a theme for the upcoming year (2010 was Say ‘Yes’; 2011 was Love), but this year, the storm seemed to be doing it for me. “Give me a metaphor, quick,” I whispered to my boyfriend later that night, as we sat on the couch under stacks of blankets listening to the wind. “A metaphor that bodes better for the upcoming year than the obvious one.” Neither of us could think of anything good enough to overpower our sinking feeling.

I feel incredibly blessed to have been relatively untouched by the hurricane while so many faced horrors. And in its wake, I see that it wasn’t the storm outside that bothered me, but the one inside of me. Let me explain.

Growing up in the evangelical church, I struggled with my religion’s premise that there was an answer to every question. In fact, one of the main reasons that I left the church was because I was so certain that very little was in fact certain. And today I often tell people that every time we think we have an answer to one of life’s biggest questions it is nothing more than an indication that we need to ask more and better questions.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still want answers.  I totally want them! They are deliciously comforting, answers, even when they are discomforting, and quite frankly, I miss having them.

So I pick up heads up pennies for good luck, and turn over tails up ones for the next guy. So I catch and wish on fluff (literally, fluffy white seeds that float through the city) and I count white horses because when I was a kid Mom told me that when I see 100 of them, I’ll get a wish.  I write strategic plans for my life; I make and meet monthly goals; I manage daily to-do lists.  And yes, I make metaphors, little things to make things feel just a little bit more manageable.  As though all this can give me a glimpse into the future, an answer to that terrifying question: What’s next?

I’m on the constant lookout for answers.  Prophesies of a kind, promises that things will be okay, or even that they won’t, just so long as I know and can prepare myself accordingly.

This year, I’ve decided that my theme will be cutting that out already. That I will focus on simply showing up, answering God’s call each day, and trusting that the rest will unfold in its own time, quieting the storm inside. In the famous words of my all-time favorite poet, Rilke:

Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart…. Try to love the questions themselves…. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given because you would not be able to live them—and the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers.

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