Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I've Moved

Speak What We Feel has a new home!

I've been wanting to switch over to Wordpress for quite some time now. Well, I was having trouble in Blogger uploading my latest post on L'Engle and the semicolon, so after several attempts, I threw in the towel and made the move.

You can still follow it through Google and Facebook; and you can of course still subscribe to the feed. So please update your means of participating in Speak What We Feel, because I value your contributions, without which SWWF would be desperately wanting.

Come see me: www.reneamac.wordpress.com

Books I'm Reading will be moving soon.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Know, Respect, Break the Rules Part Two: CS Lewis & Capitalization

Remember, back in the distant past, the series on writing I said I was starting? The long-awaited part two is here! A quick review: Understanding grammar opens the door for you in your writing to break the rules because you understand language as organic. You understand the reason why grammatical and linguistic structures exist; you understand their purposes. This understanding lends itself to creative writing that cannot be contained by the face value of the rules, but is rather empowered by their exponential value---like the Law and the spirit of the Law.

The writers who taught me the exponential value of capitalization: CS Lewis and e. e. cummings. You know the rules of capitalization (unless you've been corrupted by text-speak---insert soapbox here): the beginning of sentences, and quoted sentences, and proper nouns. Lewis and Cummings allow the capital letter to go deeper in its responsibility in communicating to the reader.

Cummings's contribution is rather obvious. when he
capitalizes a word, you Notice. those
..........words
.....................stand
....................................out

(I should probably do a whole post on Cummings's unconventional structuring.)

Lewis capitalizes words that aren't usually capitalized as well, and I think, for the same reason: because they're significant... and not for the same reason (generally): because they're Significant. For Lewis, capitalization often serves as a signpost of spiritual realities. He uses it to name a reality. Note these examples from The Screwtape Letters (which isn't the only book where Lewis shows this pattern, but the book I happen to have most handy).
  • "We of course see the connecting link, which is Hatred."
  • "This has largely been effected by concentration all our efforts on gluttony of Delicacy, not gluttony of Excess."
  • "He claims to be three as well as one, in order that this nonsense about Love may find a foothold in His own nature."

As I mentioned in part one, reading good literature is a good way to learn about writing, and just as we naturally pick up the quirks and witticisms of our friends, we just as easily absorb and imitate the patterns and nuances of what we read---some of us more fluidly than others. I am one of those some. I absorb and imitate like a chameleon, and I'll admit, I usually get a bit overzealous unawares---like an infatuated crush---but I eventually notice the saturation of a new trick in my work, calm down a bit, and maintain my own style. I did this when I noticed I had begun to Capitalize Everything after my CS Lewis class.

I did the same saturating and cutting back after reading lots of L'Engle and falling in love with her semicolon (and her). Stay tuned for part three and find out more about my love affair with the semicolon.

Friday, August 7, 2009

I'm an Idiot

So, I was in the shower--my think tank of sorts-- thinking of online etiquette, how when commenting on a celebrity or a politician, someone we know but don't know, we should only say things we should say to that person's face (I say should, because there are things we would say to a person's face that we probably shouldn't say either).

The next night, I'm sitting in my living room, reading Thinking Through Christianity, and I'm frustrated about this story. So swiftly, I comment: "This guy's an idiot." Almost before I finish typing, I hear the Holy Spirit echo my own words back to me. I consider it briefly then justify and rationalize and publish.

Well, turns out, the author of the article (the man I so readily called an idiot) found this conversation, and defended his position against the original post, seemingly ignoring my comment, which it deserved, and which no doubt only confirmed many of his suspicions. Brilliant, Renea.

I'm an idiot. And I was wrong. I was reactionary, the very thing I deplore. And I apologize.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Picking up where we left off

Several of my friends from different terms at L'Abri found their way to Dallas last week. I was out on the town all week long having little L'Abri-like conversations about life and relationships and spirituality and sex and Obama and experiencing the 4th of July in Texas... It was wonderful. Chris called the night before, Curtis didn't call at all; Emily and Erin made plans months in advance, John a week in advance. I took them to some of my old favorites: restaurants and pubs, book stores and museums; and they helped me discover new things: Thanks to Curtis's I-phone, we discovered this really cool movie theater off of Inwood where we watched Up and belly-laughed and teared up and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.





I rode the trolley down town for the first time! We hopped on in front of the Dallas Museum of Art after long-overdue, stimulating conversation about art, and rode it (for free!) until we saw a point of interest to get a cool drink and relax. I rediscovered The Sixth Floor Museum with Erin. I hadn't been there since I was a kid, and I very much enjoyed experiencing it as an adult. It's still an eerie experience, and one that makes me well up; but this visit was even more emotional because of the many similarities between Jack and Barack: during one of the short films in the museum, I leaned over and commented to Erin, "Sound familiar?" She nodded with a knowing and equally appreciative expression. We enjoyed The Crooked Tree Coffee House, free (and very good) jazz, and Pulitzer prize-winning A Chorus Line. I was even able to parallel park downtown---it was a magical affair.


I am thankful for these friends, their conversation, their love, generosity, and like-mindedness, their laughter, and their ability to simply pick up where we left off. I have the next few weeks free too if anyone else would like to swing by D-town. I'm just sayn'. :)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Know the Rules, Respect the Rules, Break the Rules: Part One: Introductions

I'm starting a series of posts on writing called Know the Rules, Respect the Rules, Break the Rules. I used to teach a class called Foundations for Excellence: a required course for freshmen that was sort of like College 101. We had a unit on writing which I always began by saying to my students, "Rules are meant to be broken." In response, I had a classroom full of shocked expressions looking back at me---This is our teacher talking? "It's true," I'd say. "Well, first rules are meant to be known, then they're meant to be broken."

To know something is so much more than to merely have a collection of facts tumbling around in your brain. Knowing is, in a sense, to enter into a relationship with a thing. This is certainly true about knowing the rules of writing. My relationship with the rules of writing is the endeavor of this series, and it starts where all things start: with introductions.


Introducing Mrs. Gilstrap

There are several teachers and professors who taught, corrected, and encouraged me in my writing, who believed in me and were instrumental to who I am as a writer and a person. The one who really got the ball rolling was my High School English teacher Mrs. Gilstrap, who taught me about structure and style and saw something special in my work. Mrs. Gilstrap taught me how to write properly (and well). She really took my work to a whole new level, and gave me a great head start when I started college. She taught me that understanding grammar gives one freedom as a writer to break the rules. It was this foundation that paved the way for authors I would later read to open up my world to the meaningful use of punctuation and linguistics.


Introducing Books

I learn the quite a lot about writing from reading: fiction and non-fiction---literary criticisms, novels, series, memoirs, poetry, essays. I'm a slow reader, in part because I like to read as if I'm reading aloud. With fiction, I like to imagine all the details; with non-fiction, I pretend what I'm reading is a lecture, which often gives the dynamics of a good orator to an otherwise laborious text. Reading slowly also gives me a good feel for the author's particular style. I absorb it without really even thinking about it---like the way we start to pick up the words and phrases our friends use, I begin to incorporate style subtleties of those I'm reading into my own writing, and even words and phrases. Sometimes reading too much gets in the way of writing, because of course, writing is also a good teacher of writing.


Introducing Authors

The following writers introduced me to the subtleties of writing. When I say an author has introduced me to a punctuation mark, I mean he or she has allowed me to see this mark for what it really is---and, what it can be.

C.S. Lewis introduced me to parentheses; he also introduced me to capitalization, as did e.e. cummings. Madeleine L'Engle introduced me to the semi-colon; Mellissa Bank, the progressive participle; and Lynne Truss, the dash -- along with Emily Dickenson. There are others, no doubt, but these are the major players.

***
These are the people and habits which introduced me to writing: to grammar, to structure, to style --- they introduced me to the rules and helped me understand the rules well enough to respect the spirit underneath them, which freed me, led me really, to break out beyond them. The next several posts will give a look at how these specific authors and books opened my world to things so seemingly mundane as punctuation.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hail the Conquering Graduates!

I was asked to put together a few resourses for the high school grads at church. I thought I'd share the wealth with the World Wide Web.

Below you’ll find helpful and hopefully meaningful resources to guide you as you embark on adulthood. I especially recommend the two blogs. The most valuable resource of all, though, is people. Get involved in your own way on campus and in a local church. But don’t just hang out with people your own age---that’ll make you boring. Be sure to introduce yourself to your professors and tell them thank you (will likely turn that B+ into an A). I’ve been teaching and learning from college students for a really long time. So I know quite a bit about college stuff; and a decent amount about life stuff too---you can always ask me anything. The whole world is before you; but you never have to face it, with all its joys and hardships, alone.

Many congratulations and blessings.
Renea



Bookmark This

GoCollege.com
Here you’ll find really good tips for getting the most out of the really (sometimes really, really) expensive education you’re getting. Classroom lectures, writing assignments, and even exams can be a lot different in college than they were in high school. The tips on this website can help make the transition smoother.

Biblos.com
Biblos.com is this great website I’ve only recently discovered. It’s a one-stop-shop for all your biblestudy tools including, concordances, commentaries, maps, pictures, devotions, and of course the Bible itself in several different translations and languages.

EveryStudent.com
I’m really pumped about this website. It’s a place where no question about God or life is out of bounds. When your friends have questions about God and Christianity, or when you have questions yourself, this website can help. In college you’ll do a lot of exploring, discovering, and learning about yourself: what you think about God, Christianity, the way the world is, the way it should be. This website is designed to guide you on that journey. Be sure to check out Life Issues, which touches on topics such as sex, beauty, racism, and shame.

Probe.org
Curious about Genesis and evolution? Need help answering the tough questions your friends have about Christianity? Whether you want to learn more about your friend’s religion, are struggling with questions like –– Why do bad things happen to good people? –– or you need a credible source for the paper you’re writing, probe.org is an excellent resource that can help you think through some really tough topics.


Blogs

Living Spirituality
Living Spirituality offers helpful, encouraging, and even sometimes convicting devotionals. It also provides a weekly discussion about real life stuff. These discussions are helpful as we try to live like Jesus in our everyday lives.

Surviving College Life
Surviving College Life is a really cool blog that’s incredibly comprehensive. Not only will it be helpful as you prepare to arrive on campus. This will be something you’ll find useful throughout your college years as you move from dorms to apartments, friendships to romances, and from major to major. The above link is a list of all the posts divided by topic. So whether you’re looking for time management tips, study aids, roommate advice, financial aid resources, or fitness facts, Surviving College Life can help give you a heads up and point you in a good direction.



Book Buzz
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2

This brief list of books includes stuff I read in college that was really important to my Christian walk, as well as a few books I wish I had read in college. They’re books I hope you will find helpful as you journey with Jesus and strive to think christianly. (Don’t worry; they’re not just “smart people” books. Most of these are very easy to read.)


Don’t Waste Your Life
--John Piper
When Christ gave us real life, he gave our lives meaning and purpose. Don’t Waste Your Life is about living on purpose a life passionate for God and people.








The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God
--Brent Curtis & John Eldredge
This is not a girly book; don’t let the title fool you. The Sacred Romance was a really important book for me when I was in college. It helped me understand the big picture of the Bible: the story of God and the story of my own life. It helped me understand the difference between living by the rules and living spiritually.





Welcome to College: A Christ-follower’s Guide for the Journey
--Jonathan Morrow
Welcome to College includes chapters on the problem of evil and suffering, Christology, ethics and much more. You will also find a broad collection of practical topics: health, sex and dating, finances, Internet use, alcohol. This book provides unique and much–needed help for navigating the head–spinning newness of college life.








Eat This Book: The Art of Spiritual Reading
--Eugene Peterson
This is a really helpful book about how to read and interpret and understand the Bible, how to let the Scriptures nourish and feed us, how to live the Scriptures as they are the Living Words of God.







Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity
--Lauren F. Winner
Winner talks about sex in a realistic way. She sorts through the confusing messages we hear about sex from both the world and the church, and helps us think about sex and romantic love within the big picture of God’s story. Real Sex provides biblical and practical guidance for unmarried Christians who desire to honor God with their sexuality and dating relationships.








Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People
-- Mike Yaconelli
This small book says big things about what being a Christian looks like. It reminds us that we’re all human in need of God’s grace; that there’s no such thing as the ideal Christian---there’s no one-size-fits-all pattern of spirituality.


The Green Letters
--Miles J. Stanford
The Green Letters is about spiritual growth. It’s one of those books you can pick and choose what you want to read by scanning over the Table of Contents; that is, the chapters don’t necessarily have to be read in order. This book will challenge you to live less selfishly, or we could say, less as a self-follower and more as a Christ-follower.







5 Paths to the Love of Your Life: Defining Your Dating Style
--Alex Chediak
There are basically five different approaches to romantic love from the Christian perspective. This book gives you an overview of these five views, their advantages and disadvantages, and the logic and Scripture behind them. So you can decide for yourself which path you relate to most, which enables you to be intentional about biblical, christianly romance.


Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin
--Cornelius Plantinga Jr.
What is sin? What are the effects of sin? How do we think and talk about sin (if at all)? How do we deal with sin? These are some of the questions discussed in this small, but impactful book on sin. You’d think a book all about sin would be depressing, but Plantinga understands that sin is only the distortion of something originally good; and that though things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be now, they will be one day soon when Christ returns.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Watch Your Toes

I'll say it again because I'm not sure anyone heard me the first time. Because of which I'm afraid I cannot be quite as diplomatic as previously; so watch your toes.

Regardless of who you voted for, we have a new President, poised in the highest office in the land. This office and the person occupying it ought to have our unwavering respect. If the leader of our nation fails us with scandal or betrayal or incompetence, he or she has perhaps forfeit much of our respect, but there is a level of common decency that should never wane -- a human level if nothing else.

Regardless of who you voted for, January 20, 2009 was a fine day, not only because we elected the first non-white to the Oval Office, but for many reasons. I'm amazed that anyone is able to deny the positives. I suppose it's less a matter of denial and more an issue weight. I suppose many of my readers believe President Obama's liabilities outweigh his potential contributions. Well, either way, I believe it is crucial to our humanity, and thereby crucial to our Christianity, to take moral high ground, to affirm the good, more than that, to look for it! Jesus said, "Seek and you shall find." And it's true. Seek the negative in a person or a situation and you will find it.

I'm tired of hearing well-meaning people from my beloved state (and I mean that; I'm not being sarcastic) bash or belittle our President in one breath and in the very next breath attempt to present the gospel of of our Lord Jesus. I'm tired of hearing negative commentary about our President every time I turn around and never (I wish I were exaggerating) hearing anything truly positive. If I do hear someone I know say something positive, it's delivered in such a back-handed way, it's worthless. Let's be honest with ourselves. If President Bush had made that comment about the Special Olympics, which we all know isn't hard to imagine, we'd be defending him: "Oh, well, he shouldn't have said that, but..." But because it slipped from the lips of a democrat -- and we're sore losers (republicans and democrats alike) -- we're indignant: "I can't believe... blah, blah, blah." As if we all don't make light-handed comments about the short bus, etc. And I don't hear anyone give respect for President Obama's quickness to apologize. We like that about Senator McCain, but ignore it in Mr. Obama. We are hypocrites. Everything President Obama does is disgusting to us because he's overturned policy on abortion and stem-cell research, policy which I think is less black and white then we wish it were. I know people who refuse to even hear him speak. I know others who listen to his addresses only with ears perked up to pick on and put down the President and his administration.

I'm sick of it.

I will reissue my challenge. Let us avoid the temptation to attatch ourselves to each and every small opportunity to boast childishly, "I told you so!" Let us not be people who delight only in pouncing upon the shortcomings of another so that we can proudly declare our right-ness, wearing our superiority like a badge of consolation. How petty. I don't care if you think the honeymoon phase we're in right now with our new President is annoying. What kind of bitter old, love-less bachelor/spinster/married couple goes around vehemently tearing down and grounding newlyweds? So what if everyone is infatuated with Mr. Obama? If it really is something that will pass and wear off, let it pass and wear off. On the other hand, I'm not saying some of the inordinate infatuation ought not be tempered, but it should be done gently and lovingly, with generosity and perhaps even with a good dose of good-natured humor, not biting sarcasm. Our present attitude is one that shouts, "We won't be caught in the snare of his charm; we're not going to risk being made fools of! No. We are smarter than that." It's an attitude that whispers, "Everyone else is stupid."

Nay! Rather let us be first to seek out the good and acclaim it! not to disregard or ignore negatives and shortcomings and wrongs and mistakes, but to keep balanced perspective. We would certainly be a better witness to a world that expects so little of us based on the bitter bile we normally spew. Let's surprise them. They expect us to seek out the negatives. Let's raise their eyebrows, turn their heads, and peak their interest by making use of the bridges of Common Grace which already exist rather than burning them down. And let's take humble, patient, loving responsibility toward one another by encouraging others in the Body to do the same. Let's be the change.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Part Two

I want to really drive this idea home, so I'd like to read a story from -- yep, you guessed it -- Lauren Winner's Real Sex.

I recently attended a women's retreat where one of the workshops was about singleness. The speaker, whom I'll call Myrtle, encouraged the single women in the audience to think carefully about what type of guy they're looking for. "You want a Prince Charming," Myrtle said, "and Prince Charmings are attracted to modest women. You might attract certain men by sporting skimpy skirts, but you won't attract the kind of man you really want to be with."

It's encouraging to think that mature Christians are more interested in character than cleavage; yet there is something unsettling about this assurance that chastity will be the erotic mystery that will lead Mr. Right (or Miss Right) to our door. Prince Charming can begin to rival God as the object of our attentions. Myrtle ended her talk on this note: "What we single women have to do is no more and no less than faithfully pray that our perfect guy is out there. We don't need to hunt him down, we just need to wait for the Lord to deliver him to us. [Is he a pizza?] We don't need to worry about him. Instead we need to focus on ourselves, becoming the pure, modest woman that our Prince Charming will be on the lookout for. We need to devote ourselves to prayer, humility, and grace. We need to continue becoming godly women, so that when the time is right, we will have those godly characteristics that the godly man we dream about will love."

[And that sounds right doesn't it? I mean, that does sound like what we ought to be doing: focusing on prayer, humility, and grace. But this is the point:] I'm not disputing the desirability of the chaste woman or man. It may well be that one of the benefits of practicing chastity is that you attract friends and admirers that admire chastity. But attracting others is not the goal of chastity. Indeed, if Myrtle is focused on catching the eye of the guy who likes chaste women, she may not be inhabiting chastity at all.
...

Myrtle seems to be working toward becoming, principally, the kind of woman Prince Charming wants, which incidentally may be the kind of woman God wants. Her priorities, I would suggest, need to flip-flop. We are to become the persons of God, and this may bear the incidental fruit of attracting a great partner. The point of chastity is not that you turn your attention away from other people to make you more attractive to them, but that you turn your attention away from sexual and romantic entanglements with other people, and orient yourself toward God. (129-131, bracketed parentheticals mine)
What does it mean to “orient our lives toward God”?

Right. It means we align ourselves to God’s ways. Why would we do that?

[Silence.]

It's a tough question, I know, but an important one. Why does it matter? Why should we bother? Let me help you put words to what I suspect some of you know in that deep, unspeakable way. God’s way is the way it’s supposed to be. We talked last week about the physical reality of sex being evidence that God’s creational intention for sex is good and right and true; how sexually transmitted diseases evidence the fact that when we misdirect our sex-lives, something isn’t right. Look around you. Look around you and you’ll see things aren’t the way they're supposed to be. There’s so much hurting in the world. There’s so much hurting sexually; things are no longer true -- or straight -- they’re bent. Jesus came and he began the process of righting all the wrong and healing all the hurt. Those of us who believe are called to continue the work Christ began until he returns, when everything will be made right at long last! We do this by orienting our lives toward God.

Here’s where I get back to why it’s important to have standards concerning who you will and will not date. Because purity, sexual purity, is bigger than sets of dos and don’ts, rights and wrongs, standards and judgments; it’s about shaping our lives to the themes of the Gospel, themes such as love, mercy, justice, healing, forgiveness; themes such as defending the oppressed and supporting the weak; themes that express God’s way. Learning how to do this is a life-long process. Jesus promises in Matthew 6 that if we will orient our lives toward God’s kingdom, everything else will work out. In light of this promise, let me challenge you to commit the rest of your lives invested in communities dedicated to learning what it means to pray and live out, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth...” Marry the man who has oriented his life toward God and journey toward the Kingdom together… for as long as you both shall live.

Part One

Below is a talk I gave recently to our high school girls. I thought you all might appreciate it.
____________________________________________________


Today we’re going to talk about boundaries and expectations. Both of which cause us to be selective.

I have to thank Brad Paisley for a song of his which has provided me with this metaphor: dating is a lot like shopping for new clothes. The line from the song goes like this:
When you go out shopping, you try on brand new clothes.
To see if something fits or not, there's just one way to know.
Why's it any different when someone asks you out?
You might as well just try me on before you turn me down.
I appreciate this metaphor. I walk into a store -- even ones I frequent -- and sometimes I don't know how something is going to fit until I try it on. Other times I can tell simply by looking at a piece that it isn't my style or is too big or too small. You know, there are some stores I don't even have to go into because those clothes aren't for me: they might be too trashy or too preppy or whatever. Also, having friends with me whom I trust is helpful. They're honest with me and will encourage me to try things I might not otherwise; items they know will look good on me when I may be unsure -- and they're almost always right! I also depend on them to tell me, "No, Renea. That dress doesn't do you right; that color is not for you. Renea, seriously; put that one back." :)

You see where this is going don't you? Okay, so dating, well, living really, is about risk, but it's calculated risk -- more or less. To say that it's important to take risks... in any relationship, dating or otherwise, is not to say we should be uncritical or haphazard. Not being selective about who you’ll date is like letting a perfect stranger pick out all your clothes for you; whatever that person brings you, that is what you have to buy, take home, and wear. You don't do that. Why would you be unbiased about who you date?

Okay. So let’s talk about dating non-Christians. How many of you think it’s probably okay to date unbelievers? You can be honest. Come on. Forget for a minute that you know what the right answers are supposed to be, or that you think you know what I want you to say. ‘Cuz let’s be real, if you’re unconvinced about what the church has to say about dating unbelievers, chances are we’re dropping the ball in some way. And hey, we aren’t right about everything; that’s impossible; maybe we’re wrong about this. So if you think we are, let’s talk about it.

Worldview. Whole persons. Intimacy. (Sorry, I did this part extemporaneously.)

The author of our book puts it this way: “If you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it. Is that how you want to aim for your husband – with an open, blank slate? Or do you want to dream of someone who is just right for you, who complements your weaknesses, and who fulfills your hopes and desires” (63)?

And the point she’s making is the same one Brad and I were making with the shopping illustration. If we don’t have certain standards, goals, ideas and expectations for our lives, including our love-lives, we’ll be directionless. We’ll zig and zag here and there following any story about sex and romance that’s compelling in the moment. And that makes us incredibly vulnerable to believing the lies and distorted views the world has about who we are and how we should live, distorted views about who we are sexually and how we should live our romantic lives.

I’d like to take this thought a bit further, if you’ll let me. I’d like to suggest a bigger target. That instead of aiming for a husband who will fulfill the hopes you’ve pinned upon him, we aim for the Bridegroom of the Church, Jesus, and put our hope in him. As you release your arrow in the direction of the Kingdom, if you happen to snag a husband by the shirt collar, GREAT! More to the point, if your arrow becomes intertwined with another going in the same direction, WONDERFUL!

______________
Stay tuned for part two, and see where we go from here.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The P.E.A.C.E. Plan

This is a teaser vid. Go to the website, get yourself something to eat, get comfortable, and watch the whole sermon.

video

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Communal Sex

To borrow from Lauren Winner's Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity (who is building upon Wendell Berry), "Sex is communal rather than private, personal rather than public."

It's time for another shout out to my community, both among those who meet together with me in the same building on Sundays, and those in the Body spread out near and far. Being 27 and single -- and chaste -- is not easy. I certainly couldn't do it alone, so fortunately, I don't have to. I'm surrounded by married and unmarried, young and old, very young and not old, but not... well, you get the idea. And these people invite me into their lives (and I invite them into mine). And so, I have community; community with other single believers who take the exhortation to live lives worthy of Christ's sacrifice and calling seriously, which includes, for various reasons, chastity; community with married Christians who live with a likewise intentional desire to align themselves wholly to Christ, which also includes chastity -- instead of abstaining from premarital sex and all that includes, abstaining from extramarital sex and all that includes. Even being in community with my 1st graders impacts my calling for this time of celibacy: conversations like, "How do you liiveee!?", but also simply serving, so I'm not constantly thinking on myself. Furthermore, living at home, with Mom and Dad, is helpful -- not living alone, and not simply sharing space (house), but sharing life (home); the same was true of L'Abri.

So, it's easier.

My church doesn't do everything perfectly. The sermon illustrations are still about marriage and family 99 percent of the time, which despite my belief in the skills of transference, can still be largely alienating. People -- married people -- still ask me things like, "Well, do you want to get married?" and are baffled when my answer is "yes and no" and not one or the other: like, "Come on, Renea, it's simple, either you're called to be single or you're called to be married; either you want to marry and will make choices accordingly, or you don't, and won't." I want to be like, "Really? How long have you been 'called' to retire, rather than 'called' to work?" But I can't help but smile to myself about how funny and fatalistic we get about romance; we forget our vow to one another in marriage is "until death do us part," not "happily ever after;" that even marriage is seasonal, just like the rest of life, "not because of divorce, but because of death" (139), and ultimately, because of our New Life upon Christ's return.

But they do a lot of things well. They don't ask me upon first seeing me, "Are you seeing anyone?" They ask after weeks, months even, usually as the conversation lends itself, rather than out of the blue. I appreciate that. I appreciate it on two levels: one, it's a tiresome question when it's always the first one you hear, no matter how much I try to tell myself, 'They just think you're cute and likable, and want to know, naturally, who you're dating.' :) and two, I like being asked about my life, even the really personal stuff, by people who've earned the right to do so. I mean, OK, when it comes to confessing, I don't always like it, but who doesn't thrive on feeling the vested interest of others who love them? (By the way, this derives in part, no doubt, from a sermon exhorting non-single folk to think of other questions to ask. Bravo, Pastor.)

They do ask me about the hard stuff: What am I watching? How have I been imaginatively virtuous today? How have I been vicious? How do I treat the men with whom I interact while dancing, or at the library, or at Starbucks? This could probably be done more, but we're slowly overcoming the trappings of our over-individualized, over-privatized society. If I were seeing someone, I am confident they'd ask about what we do behind closed doors. To borrow again from Winner, when I was baptized into the Body, what I do with my body becomes your business to a degree, not in explicit detail, but insofar as we all have been unified with Christ's bodily burial and resurrection. Since, "what we do with our bodies, what we do sexually, shapes our persons" (50), sexuality is a communal affair; it matters; and we have, not only the right, but the obligation to ask each other what we did last night, not in a policing way, but as an extension of Grace.

They invite me to dinner, but more than that, they invite me to life: dinner with the kids going crazy, dinner and games and talking, dinner and working together -- preparing for and cleaning after. This kind of doing life together keeps us from being boxed into separate packages of block cheese over there and Kraft Singles over here. Which brings me to a similar point, the "life classes" at church, or whatever they're called these days, aren't split up demographically either. Or at least, that's the intention. It may take several years for people to change their ways, but God promises to honor the vision -- and the works -- of the church when they align with his. We gain perspective from each other. I have insights that my family-focused friends need but can't get without help of an "other," and I too gain glimpses of Truth from their married lives which can be gained no where else!

So I just wanted to say thanks, because there aren't many un-married Christians over the age of 23 (in the South) who feel content, or as valuable members of the Family. It's a two-way street. I make myself available; I involve myself in the women's biblestudy at church, even though there's no one else there my age. I try to be vulnerable and open and "authentic," instead of complaining that no one is being "real." I ask if we can get together, which often leads to doing life together, rather than sitting at home, growing bitter about never being asked. And I admit, these things may be easier for my personality, the last in particular, but there's responsibility on the part of single Christians and non-single Christians alike to foster holistic community, so let's keep on working on it together.

Monday, January 5, 2009

First Grade Sunday School

Here's a funny story from my first week back on rotation with my favorite first graders:

The kids got out of Sing Time a bit early, so we're sitting around the table catching up. They seem just as happy to see me again as I am happy to be with them again, which is nice. As we're chatting, one of them pipes up: "Are you in college?"

"No, I've finished college."

"Oh, then you're married."

Grin. "No. I'm not married."

Now everyone is enticed by their own intrigue into the conversation. There are many guesses at my age, and someone asks, "Are you in high school?"

Chuckle. "No."

And again, "Are you in college?"

"Nope."

With my help, they finally guess my age with proud smiles and are now willing to believe I am indeed old enough to have finished college. The girl sitting next to me is catching up. "Wait, you're not married?"

"No."

"Do you have a boyfriend?"

"No."

"HOW DO YOU LIVE!?" Eyes wide and arms stretched out toward the sky in desperation.

Now I can't help myself. That's the funniest thing I've heard in a week! With smiling eyes I laugh heartily as I look at her and reply, "I have lots of friends." I resign to also respond: "I have a job..." not wishing to further instill the idea that we're defined as who we are by what we do, but not knowing how else to assuage their confusion about my 'young--but out of college--but not married' status as a person, their being wholly unacquainted with any other such persons. And this does seem to satisfy them, even the wide-eyed girl whose flair for the dramatic completely made my morning. And my hope is, that she will continue to encounter more holistic examples and ideas of what it means to be a woman.

At any rate, that was just one of the hilarious moments of my Sunday morning. Another was the spontaneous dance party that erupted when the calm background music for the game we were playing suddenly became upbeat. Wonderful. Just wonderful.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

President Elect

This is my thought. Regardless of who you voted for, we have a new President Elect, poised and seemingly ready to take office in a few weeks, the highest office in the land. And this office and the person occupying it ought to have our unwavering respect. If the leader of our nation fails us with scandal or betrayal or incompetence, he or she has perhaps forfeit much of our respect, but there is a level of common decency that should never wane -- a human level if nothing else.

Regardless of who you voted for, January 20, 2009 is going to be a fine day. I'm amazed that anyone is able to deny the positives. I suppose it's less a matter of denial and more an issue weight. I suppose many of my readers believe President Elect Obama's liabilities outweigh his potential contributions. Well, either way, I believe it is crucial to our humanity, and thereby crucial to our Christianity to take moral high ground, to affirm the good, more than that, to look for it. Jesus said, "Seek and you shall find." And it is true. Seek the negative in a person or a situation and you will find it.

A challenge: Let's avoid the temptation to jump quickly upon each and every small opportunity to boast, "I told you so!" Let us not be people who delight only in pouncing upon the shortcomings of another so that we can proudly declare our right-ness, wearing our superiority like a badge of consolation. How petty. Let us rather be first to seek out the good and acclaim it, not to disregard or ignore negatives and shortcomings and wrongs and mistakes, but to keep balanced perspective.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

My New Bike

Today I took the brand new bike I got for Christmas out for a lovely spin. (This is the great thing about living in Texas; it's a sunny 78 degrees F. I think I even got a bit of a tan.) First I did some errands, using turn signals and everything. I rode my bike over to Walmart to buy a lock for my bike, then to a specialty shop to buy incense for my 1st Grade Sunday School class tomorrow. We're doing the story of the Wise Men, and I actually found a stick called Frankincense & Myrrh. Cool! The kids are going to be in such awe.

Then, I rode over to the city's bike trail, which is quite nice, and rode around for a while amid lots of other cyclists (and just plain cyclers, like my self), all of us with our cool helmets on. "On your left." I'd say, whizzing past dog-walkers, speed-walkers, runners, and regular walkers. The dog park was packed with Frisbee-toting twenty-somethings and sun hat-wearing older couples. Every park I rode past was filled with whole families: Moms chatting and Dads swinging their young ones to their hearts' delight.

There's no room to store my bike in the garage, so it stays in the dining room next to the kitchen table. I'm pretty sure I have the coolest mom of anyone -- she puts up with a lot. On my way here, I rode through neighborhoods that my brother and I rode our bikes through as kids. My memory was swarmed with images of all our neighborhood friends riding in a pack to the park or to nowhere, and I was thinking, "I don't remember it being this difficult." I'm typing this at the library right now, and am getting ready to ride home. I may have to sit on ice packs for the next few days, but it was definitely worth it on this splendid January afternoon.