Productive Confusion by Sara Frykenberg

My experience of productive confusion, alternatively, shuffles categories. It breaks apart. It is life giving chaos; but god/dess does it FEEL loud (even though it often requires quiet). If I’m not surfing the internet, while watching a show, while having a glass of wine, I might have to hear my own thoughts. I might notice that my internal loudness is also a symptom of the institutionalized trauma, violence and oppression that works to keep me externally quiet.

My head is a little bit too full lately. My classes begin in two weeks and I am determined to create an “Intro to Christian Ethics” class that offers my students at least an idea about hope that resonates with them, if not with me. Trauma is both a daily reality for far too many of us, and the headline or undercurrent of nearly every news report. Images from popular media play against my desires, my training in feminist analysis and ideas about power and empowerment in endless abundance. And I am mothering a joyful three-and-a-half-year-old whose need for liveliness both challenges and taxes me, pushing me and putting me face to face with my own hopes and doubts.

I feel pulled in so many directions, so I get confused about where to start, what to write, or what to do. I am awash in input, goals, and distractions.

Yet, I have also been challenged lately to see my confusion as a retreat from responsibility. Continue reading “Productive Confusion by Sara Frykenberg”

Grief and Rebirth by Gina Messina

Rebirth is challenging. It demands that we be accountable, acknowledge failures and fears, recognize the ramifications of our actions, and the ways we impact those who share our journey. We often don’t realize that denying self-love and care in favor of sacrifice for others results in a double negative. If we don’t care or ourselves, we cannot care for anyone else. 

Warning…TMI ahead. I’ve thought a lot about writing this piece. I believe in the spirit of sharing experience; learning from one another—recognizing our own stories and finding we are not alone—when someone is willing to speak her truth. My gratitude to Carol Christ whose courage to share experience has empowered me to brave (I feel an overwhelming urge to insert emojis to express my emotion and gratitude; and although I am desperately trying to restrain myself… 🤗❤️🙏).

Being vulnerable is scary. It is uncomfortable. It requires us to share our deepest fears, that for which we feel shame. It can be embarrassing. We don’t want to be judged. And yet, our vulnerability can also promote our own healing and offer a sense of comfort to those who share in our struggle. And so, I feel like I should shout out Geronimo…

This month marks eleven years since losing my mother to violence. It also marks fours year since I chose to leave my seventeen year marriage. I hadn’t before made the connection about these two events occurring the same month until this very moment of my writing – but it occurs to me that there is a significance in finding strength during a time when I was grieving the anniversary of my mother’s passing. Perhaps a reflection for another post…

I remember the moment I knew that my marriage was likely going to end; I felt like I was dying. I begged my husband to stay. I recited prayers that have never brought me comfort. I went to a church that offered me no community. I sought counseling from a priest who devalues me because I am a woman. I turned to the traditional interpretation of my religion to keep me firmly placed in an unhealthy marriage. Power structure enforcing power structure.    Continue reading “Grief and Rebirth by Gina Messina”

Holding Two Truths by Chris Ash

Christy CroftLast month, I attended a series of workshops on self-care, family dynamics, and recovery from complex trauma. In one session, someone asked the facilitator, a counselor with over 30 years of experience in mental health fields, how to balance faith, confidence, and belief in recovery with the reality that sometimes healing can be a rocky road, with missteps, false starts, and restarts. The counselor noted that one of the key concepts he’s reinforced in working with people on their recoveries is that to keep moving forward – to forgive ourselves when we make mistakes, to not give up on ourselves when old patterns resurface, to sustain the energy needed to continue The Work in the face of obstacles, doubt, and fear – we need to be able to hold two truths at once. We need to expand ourselves such that we can hold two realities – that our hope in ourselves is not misplaced, that we are strong and can overcome adversity, and that we can move through our lives with grace and skill; and also that we may slip up and fall short of our ideals, that we sometimes may feel fragile and overwhelmed, and that recovery (from trauma, grief, substance abuse, or illness) may include steps backward intermixed with the forward movement.

This concept was especially powerful for me. As someone who spent my childhood and young adult years mired in black-or-white thinking, my personal healing and much of my spiritual practice has been built around reconciling seeming opposites, not by blurring difference such that the unlike becomes like, but by digging into the ways in which the tension between opposites is itself fertile soil for the activity of creation and growth, art and brilliance. Since creation is, for me, the sacred in action, and understanding of self in the context of the cosmos is sacred practice, this gives the tension of two truths a spiritual meaning and the fluid give-and-take that holds them in balance a spiritual wisdom. Continue reading “Holding Two Truths by Chris Ash”

On Being of Sound Mind, Body, (&/or) Soul by Juliane Hammer

hammerAs I write yet another email apologizing in advance that I will miss a deadline, I debate whether to provide a reason. Should I write that I am struggling with sometimes crippling anxiety, that I have physical symptoms related to that anxiety and to depression? Or should I stick with “some health issues”? Or is even that too much information? Is it better not to provide a reason at all?

I have written quite a few such emails over the years and it is only now that I both fear and anticipate the response. If I openly acknowledge what others would call mental health challenges, I usually get no response at all or one that entirely ignores that part of the discussion. Using physical illness as an explanation rarely generates a more direct response either, and if it does, it usually takes the form of wishes that I get well soon, as if I have caught the flu. If only depression and anxiety or even their somatic manifestations went away or could be cured!

When I am able, I analyze such responses for what they can tell me about this society’s willingness and ability to take seriously how we feel, how we function, and what either of those have to do with meaningful living.

There are two main concerns in the above: that we cannot openly discuss our mental and physical health challenges and instead we are expected to suppress them in polite company; and that the boundary between being healthy (mentally or otherwise) and being unhealthy, does not in fact exist despite the language we employ that seems to insist on such a boundary.

As I become a little more confident about sharing my struggles, I find that doing so encourages others to share as well. In conversations with my students, undergrads as well as graduate students, and occasionally with colleagues, I see the light of hope and with that hope, I see relief. I understand that academia, my work environment is as much part of the capitalist system as any other workplace, so the expectation to be functional, perform one’s work tasks and generate profit is not surprising. It is, however, hurting countless individuals, women as well as men, and that, combined with my feminist idealism, has me convinced that a system that enables theoretical reflection and sometimes even induces change in society (however reluctantly) should do better than it does at this point. We may have some access to mental health services (also part of capitalism and thus costing money), but professional services are not all we need.

This brings me to my second point, one which is for me at least more directly related to religion. I realize that the mind, body, and soul division is the product of a particular history, philosophy, and time period. But I do not experience these supposed parts of my being as three distinct thirds that form a whole. They seamlessly blend into each other, all making me who I am and who God made me to be. Why then is it so difficult some days for me to do anything at all? Should it be a daily exercise to determine where I seem to fall that day on a five point spectrum, from mentally healthy (5) to mentally ill (1)? How often do I not have a concrete answer? And whose “mental state” can truly be captured by such a simple scale?

I do not know whether I have ever had a day on which I felt normal or didn’t worry about being normal. Normal compared to whom? Stuck somewhere between protestant work ethic, socialist utility for the community, and gratitude owed to God for being alive, I have serious difficulty relating to modern psychiatry and even conventional medicine. And perhaps the five-point spectrum above exists simultaneously for physical health or even more likely for the same whole. If my body, mind, and soul are all interconnected, it makes sense that my physical health cannot be measured separately from my mental or spiritual health.

Continue reading “On Being of Sound Mind, Body, (&/or) Soul by Juliane Hammer”

One Year After Giving Birth- My Story by Valentina Khan

valantina I sat at the bottom of my stairs exhausted, lost, not knowing what day it was or rather not really caring what day it was. I was the overtired mother, who was still getting the knack of breastfeeding around the clock. Panicking each and every time I heard the baby cry. As soon as I heard his cries, I would think to myself, hurry and grab the boppy, the burb cloth, the iPhone so I could click on the breastfeeding app! Hurry, hurry, hurry….!

My first child was born in March 2013. I thought I prepared myself for his birth. The diapers were stacked, the crib was pristine, his clothes were neatly arranged, the stroller was the best on the market, what else could being a mom be about? This was my naïveté as I entered motherhood at probably not the best time in my life (but when is?). I was in my last year of grad school at the Claremont School of Theology, I also had on my to-do list to take the bar exam and become a licensed attorney should I ever decide to practice, and because my fitness hobby turned into a “job” over the last 4 years, the same year my son was born, my husband and I opened my first brick and motor business- UpLift- body, life, community. Too much too soon? Yes, indeed. Crazy? Absolutely.

Continue reading “One Year After Giving Birth- My Story by Valentina Khan”

Infantilizing Women, Sexualizing Girls By Grace Yia-Hei Kao

Continue reading “Infantilizing Women, Sexualizing Girls By Grace Yia-Hei Kao”

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