Friday, July 23, 2021

July 23 Friday Update

So a lot of times in evangelical culture I got told to basically ignore my emotions, but here's an example of a way in which they can be really useful!

Today I was snippy. I kept finding little things to be irritated about and they bothered me way more than they usually do. On the one hand, I could ignore it or try to steamroll over it and it'd probably be okay... BUT the other thing I could do is investigate it, try to pinpoint why I'm so angry today, and then realize that I'm irritable because I'm anxious and it's difficult for me to deal with small irritations when my mind is preoccupied with The Big Thing I'm worried about. Does it make it any more OK for me to snap at somebody? Obviously not, but now it means that I can try to address my anxiety -- do some breathing, spend some prayer/meditation time, complete a piece of the task I'm stressed about -- and the irritation can die down. I'll feel better. Which matters. And then it's easier to do better.

I wouldn't have been able to feel and do better if I hadn't taken my emotions seriously.

My favorite compliment this week, from a friend who no longer uses Facebook: 
"I do miss some of the stuff like the games and playlists and stuff Hannah does.  Hannah, you truly make Facebook a brighter place. I just wish everyone would Facebook the way Hannah does (and all of you guys, of course.   Hannah just has a particularly special gift for Facebooking)" 
Last November for NaNoWriMo, I wrote a horror play about American evangelicalism and Trumpism. I think I have another one brewing. Also horror, also exploring similar (but different) themes. I may have to get that one written in November. Is this going to be my subgenre now?

Friday, July 16, 2021

July 16 Friday Update

1. Let's do some mini-blogging!

2. Lately I've had all these ideas floating around in my head and haven't quite been able to figure out the outlet for them. Maybe if I keep one of these open it'll help!

3. It's... kind of a miracle that after spending years healing from church hurts and being in a place of maybe wanting to try to step back into a faith community, that the massive wave of "I'm sorry you might die but it's more important to me to be comfortable" from the evangelical community during the pandemic didn't set me back, like, ALL the way. I'm a little amazed I still have any hope in the church left.

Friday, February 12, 2021

February 12 Friday Update

I miss mini blogging! Time to bring it back for a little bit.

I've been thinking a lot this week about how easy it is for us to find loophole-y ways around our beliefs -- finding ways to adhere to the letter, but not the spirit. This came up in two conversations with evangelical Christians over the past week. In one, we talked about how important it was to emphasize that salvation is not a result of works we do. That's always something my church was very good at emphasizing, but even while we adamantly claimed works didn't bring about salvation, there was always a back way into believing that. As people talked about how much they didn't believe works were what saved you, I thought to myself, "Well, OK, so what they'd say is, 'X doesn't save you, but if you are doing X, you must not be saved.'" And literal seconds after I thought that, someone in the group piped up and said, "Works don't save you, but there are things that if you do or don't do them, I would question your salvation." So those instincts were right on.

Technically, letter of the law, nitpicky details, those are different ideas. But in practice, they do the same thing. They deny you salvation based on whether or not you do X. I could believe the exact same things about God doing either, but one means I'm not saved and one means I do. That's a sneaky way to end up with the same functional outcome.

I say "sneaky" not because I think the people saying this are trying to be sneaky, but because human nature often likes to put rules to everything - it's so much easier to figure out what to do, it's easy to figure out if you're on the right track, it's easy to figure out if others are on the right track - and I think that tendencies sneaks into us even when we don't notice it.

My old church is apparently doing a sermon series on mental health, and I'm in a much better mental health space than I have been for awhile, so I'm going to give the first one a shot.

Things I hope will be said: That taking medication or going to therapy is not bad and may be necessary, just like getting treatment for any other physical illness. That having bad days is not your fault or a lack of faith or a sin. An acknowledgement that for some folks this will be a lifelong struggle and that's OK, the church should be a support for that. Tips on how to be supportive. Some comforting verses or suggestions on how to reconnect with God when mental health is bad. Focus on trust in God as a support and a comfort for us, not an obligation to fulfill. If I got EVERYTHING on my wish list, it'd also include an acknowledgement for how badly the evangelical church has often dealt with mental illness and a desire to move forward.

Things I worry will be said: Putting the emphasis on us to fix ourselves by doing the right thing, praying the right thing, remembering the right thing. An almost-but-not-quite declaration of anxiety as "living in fear" or equate it or depression with not trusting God. An admonishment to tell people to stop living in fear, maybe. 

Verses I predict will be used: 2 Timothy 1:7 ("not a spirit of fear but of power & sound mind"), Philippians 4:6 ("be anxious for nothing"), maybe one of David's more emotional psalms.

Here we go.
  • We start with pastor asking us if Jesus stays in our mind. Obligation red flags sprouting but not in full form yet.
  • Defining what a "mindset" is, including all our thoughts and feelings (special emphasis on "the things you think nobody else knows about," which I suspect is in a "your secret sins you're hiding" way but I would also like to emphasize "your secret insecurities and fears that make you feel alone").
  • ...I completely forgot how emphatically we were taught that Satan can't read your mind because he's not all-knowing. I'm not sure of the biblical basis for that, I think it's more just, like, lore? Because obviously somebody could read minds and not be all-knowing, all-knowing encompasses more than that.
  • He's emphasizing a lot that feelings are part of your mindset, and I'm very curious as to whether that means he thinks a mindset focused on God can also yield feelings we can trust, or whether that's going to mean "and therefore don't trust your mindset." No idea yet!
  • "My thoughts and feelings matter to God." I agree! In a positive sense as well as negative!
  • "Your mindset can be good and acceptable and perfect doing the will of God." I don't... really know what he means by this.
  • Ohhh, the "don't be conformed/be transformed" verse. Missed that on my bingo card, but that makes sense.
  • We're spending a lot of time focusing on what "the world" says without actually saying what the world says, so I'm not sure what exactly he's getting at.
  • This is... very culture wars-y but also so vague!

Friday, October 2, 2020

October 2 Friday Update

All right, starting off with Old Church Sermon Dissection! I was able to get through all of last week's, may this one be equally less-triggery!
  • Acknowledging that right now is a difficult time and turning to Matthew 11:28 (the "Come to me & I will give you rest" verse). Rest has been a historically difficult thing for me to find in church, as well as something I think evangelical churches struggle to preach. The most difficult part of that is truly letting go and not letting the weight of what I "should" be doing hanging over me.
  • Tying it into Phil 4:13, which is not about rest but accomplishment, so... I guess we're not actually talking about rest today. "Get some rest so you can do more later" is sometimes the only way I can justify rest to myself, but that's not, like, a healthy attitude.
  • Reminding and recapping that we are loved by God. Good!
  • Reminding and recapping that we should love God. Not hitting too shamey here, framed more as a natural consequence of understanding God's love for us. Good!
  • Circling back around to surrender and, for some reason, "here I am, send me." Still very much not about rest.
  • Interesting... He talked about finding balance in our lives after talking about God loving us so I thought maybe it was going to be about the balance between resting in God and actively working for God, which would be interesting, but instead he appears to be looking at the balance between "love the Lord your God with all your misc" and "love your neighbor as yourself," which... I don't know if that's a balance so much as continual reinforcement? Like what does he think it looks like to love God too much or love your neighbor too much? Guess I'll have to listen and find out!
  • Talking about what it looks like to love people, including the good stuff that gets missed in a lot of evangelicalism like "care for the poor." This is all pretty good so far.
  • Talking about agape as unconditional love from God that we should then be passing on toward humanity. Still good.
  • Going to 1 Corinthians 13. The first three verses have been my life verses for several years, partly because I've needed to claim it as a bit of a shield against the pervasive belief that bullies who "speak the truth boldly" make good Christian leaders. These verses make it pretty darn clear that that's not the case.
  • We're returning to "love your neighbor as yourself," and... it's kind of weird. I think the charitable read is that he's trying to steer us away from loving yourself taking precedence over loving your neighbor in a selfish "only me" way, but I get concerned about anti-love-yourself messages because an upsettingly high percentage of the church kids I know grew up to have exceptionally low self esteem and bad boundaries because we felt obligated to put others ahead of ourselves to the extreme. Talk about needing to find balance!
  • Huh, the reason to not worry about loving yourself seems to be because... other people might not love you? Not quite tracking this train of thought. Like if you love yourself, you might think you deserve love and then be upset because other people aren't loving. But I mean... you can absolutely think you deserve love because you think all of humanity deserves love just by virtue of being created in the image of God, and that doesn't mean you have to like melt down screaming that everyone should be nice to you.
  • Talking about being called to love each other even if we never get loved back in return. Again, I mostly agree with this, love shouldn't be transactional, although I do want to add that boundaries are good and necessary to put in place to take care of ourselves. But they're not intended to, like, punish people or "get what we're owed." Pastor doesn't want us to use the word "self-preservation," but I think that's actually an important piece of being able to love others as fully as we can.
  • OHHHH crap. Here we go, we've made it to the Remember How Much You Suck, Always portion of the sermon. "You don't deserve anything good," verbatim quote. Meant as a motivation to take Jesus' love for us and spread it around because he loves us when we don't deserve it so we should love other people when they don't deserve it. But wow, was it harmful for me to think of anybody "not deserving" love, that being fearfully and wonderfully made by God bestows no value upon us, that the small amount of sins I can manage to commit in the exceptionally short time I have on this earth are big enough and bad enough to completely obliterate the value of an infinitely good God in me. Ew. Ew. Ew.
Here's where I tune out for the week. Made it like 15 minutes in.

Pastors. You can't stand there and tell us word-for-word "You don't deserve anything good" and then be, like, startled that we don't feel love in the church. Like... it's right there.

Friday, September 25, 2020

September 25 Friday Update: I Made It Through a Whole Sermon!

I checked out Old Church's sermon from last week because members kept posting an "#iamlovedbygod" hashtag and I wondered if maybe it was an actual "you are a beloved child of God" message, which I'm down for.

  • Looked at the "come to me all who are weary" verse and followed it up with "Have you gone to Jesus every day this week [for rest]?" which again puts the focus not on taking comfort in Jesus as our provider but on following up on our obligations to look to him. Which, in fact, makes the concept not seem very restful!
  • Oh, here's the hashtag part. We're all being told to take a selfie and add the hashtag. Focus is on reminding ourselves we're loved by God and reminding others that they are as well. I have no qualms with this, this is super necessary and important. (I do think the shame language also being used in so many of these sermons is unintentional. Shame is baked into the evangelical church language in such a way that it often colors even unshameful concepts.)
  • "If you believe you are loved by God, you will have a desire to love him" -- teetering on the edge of something shamey, but hasn't gone over the edge yet. Depends on whether this will ultimately be framed as "Resting in God's love will strengthen your love for him" or, a la Daria:

  • ...Oh. Yeah. We're landing in a "Do you want God? If not, why not? What are you doing wrong?" space. Which is difficult for me to hold in conjunction with accepting God's love because it makes it... transactional. And weirdly re-centers God's love onto being about me and my decisions, which I think is actually the opposite of the goal.
  • Huh. Yeah. We talked about "God loves you" long enough to make it a hashtag and now it's all admonishing us to love God more. Hashtags are fun but they are not, in fact, powerful enough to overcome the shame of 20 years of evangelical sermons (and probably the rest of this one). Can't God just love us sometimes without us having to Do Everything Perfectly in response? Can't we talk about that for more than 30 seconds? Does every sermon need to center on a "do better" action point?
  • We're being asked to consider whether we'd be willing to do what God asks us to. This is only tangentially related to God loving us, now it's all about obedience and surrender, which is such a narrow understanding of our relationship with God!
  • Talking about re-understanding our identity - "who you think are vs. who God thinks you are." I am sure they're thinking of it in a "we think we're self-sufficient and God thinks we need him" way or something, but I'm hooooooping it's going to be "we think we are weak evil sinners and God thinks we are his children created in his image and made perfect through him." 
  • Oh, good, he's going to Gideon, which is about God having a more positive belief about us than we do. PHEW.
  • "Whose voice are you listening to about your own identity?" Well, for a long time it was the church and that messed me up, LOL! Fortunately I came around to being able to hear what God himself is saying about me.
  • Ooer, we are maybe getting into some weird territory about disability being caused by God for his purposes, which gets... real messy. And it wasn't even the main point, it was just a random example. Probably could have made the point about not being defined by our weaknesses without making that a centerpiece.
Final thoughts: Some good moments, some bad moments. Glad to hear that God thinks better of us than we do ourselves, but I'd rather the emphasis wasn't on us having to do things in response. The pressure to do things is, for me, exactly what contributes to my anxiety that I'm not enough.

My palate cleanser worship song for all this, btw: "A Little Longer" by Brian & Jenn Johnson. The verse from the point of view of the worshiper is this sad, mournful tune that keeps landing on "I can't thank you enough" but it's not in a joyful overflowing way, it's sorrowful. It's hyperaware of not being able to do enough. The singer's tone is so upset and dismayed at her inadequacy to praise God to the level he deserves. This is how I felt at basically every church service, every youth retreat, every worship night, for most of my churchgoing years.

And then in the second half, the tone changes to a much more peaceful tune, and we transition into this, from God's POV:

You don't have to do a thing
Just simply be with me
And let those things go
'Cause they can wait another moment

It always makes me cry (I had to pause writing for a minute and just sit here crying at it). There's such a sense of palpable relief at the idea of God saying, "You. Don't. Have. To. Do. Anything. Just be with me."

And that, my friends, is where I feel God's love. There's no admonishment, no "have you read your Bible today," no "have you fully surrendered to God," none of that. Just... being with him. Because being with him, truly with him, is going to change my life and my heart more than any sermon or any pastoral instruction. And it wasn't until I actually let go of those sermons and pastoral instructions and let myself be with God that I found him.

I don't want to get into it in detail but I am genuinely very, very worried for how things are going to go down in November, because if Biden wins (and I think it's likely) I can't see a scenario in which Trump gives up his power, nor one in which the people who wouldn't stand up to him the last four years suddenly stand up to him this time and make him. And even if they do... the fanbase is going to be mad, and many are likely to be violent.

So even as I'm planning my NaNoWriMo, there's definitely a "worst case scenario" thought in the back of my brain that who knows if there'll even be a US in November...

I'm hoping. And I'm praying, because I truly think a miraculous softening of hearts across the country might be the only thing to get us into 2021 in relative safety.

In case you missed it... I have a TikTok now. Specifically for a series of videos I've been making and posting as an easy, quick creative project. I've been taking some of the Zoom-style celebrity interviews happening on late night talk shows since the pandemic and editing in my own questions. (And, yes, I definitely took some inspiration from Weird Al.) It's been stupid and ridiculous and a ton of fun and has become part of my "winding down from work" routine every day. So I'm sure there'll be more of them to come.

Friday, September 18, 2020

September 18 Friday Update

My next page in my anxiety/depression handbook asks me to do the following:

"On this page, describe yourself when you are feeling all right.  Use descriptive words (e.g., bright, talkative, outgoing, energetic, humorous, reasonable, etc.) as well as notes about how you feel, think and behave when you are feeling ok (e.g., dress nicely, take a walk at lunch, respond to texts right away, tend to give others the benefit of the doubt, able to keep problems in perspective, feel confident about my ability to reach goals, etc)."

My list includes:
  • energetic
  • decisive
  • creative
  • able to listen to other people's struggles without internalizing them
  • strong
  • open
  • clearer thinking
  • can imagine positive outcomes
  • peace, feeling like things will ultimately work out
It follows it up with:

"On this page, describe those things that are important do every day to maintain your wellness. Use your Wellness Toolbox for ideas. Writing these things down as a daily reminder to do them is an important step toward wellness. When you start to feel 'out of sorts,' you can often trace it back to not doing something on this list."

Adding anything to a daily list feels a little overwhelming, but I think I can make a list of essentials. Let's see.
  • eat at least two meals
  • fill up my water bottle twice because I'm drinking it
  • spend at least 15 minutes moving
  • meet any today immediate deadlines for work
  • spend time checking in with my regular group chat
  • spend quality time with Jacob
  • engage with something creative (read, watch a movie, write something, etc.)
  • spend time with God
And the final piece we got to in my mental health handbook:

"On this page, make a reminder list for yourself of things you might need to do on any given day to keep yourself well.  Check this list daily to see if there is anything on it that would be important or helpful to do that day. You'll avoid a lot of the stress that comes from forgetting occasional, but important tasks."
  • schedule a virtual hangout time with someone
  • clean a space that is making me feel stressed
  • do laundry
And I guess that's all I have so far. We'll see if I come back to add any more.

Friday, September 11, 2020

September 11 Friday Update

In my anxiety/depression group today, we started making a list of "wellness tools" - things that make us feel better or are good for our mental health. So I'm going to toss my list in here:
  • Yoga
  • Jackbox nights with my core group of friends online
  • My socially distanced salons
  • Finishing a creative project
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Watching a musical
  • Watching musical clips
  • Listening to music that touches me emotionally (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is great!)
  • Writing something
  • Listening to podcasts: The Robcast, Small Triumph Big Speech, GCF
  • Finishing everything on my to-do list
  • Meditation
  • Finding something on Stitch Fix that I really love
  • Getting a new nail polish from Fanchromatic Nails
  • The Abide app
  • The Centering Prayer app
  • Finishing a project that scares me
  • Improv
  • My Lutheran church service
  • That Rob Bell quote I come back to all the time
  • Planning my future tattoo*
  • Exceptionally vulgar rap from female rap artists (seriously, there's something amazing about this)
  • Playing Megill Scattergories with my family
Have I mentioned I want to get a tattoo? I can't remember if I've blogged about it. I've never been opposed to tattoos, I just never had anything that felt like it made sense to add -- either it seemed not important enough, or it seemed so obvious that it felt stupid to tattoo. I don't need to have, like, "I love my friends" printed on me forever. Like duh.

But then an idea came to me. I want to remember the shows I've directed. Maybe the ones I stage managed or acted or whatever, but mostly directed.

So what I want to do is get like a charm bracelet-esque series of mini tattoos that wind around one of my arms. One small symbol for each show I've directed. An umbrella for Mary Poppins, cat ears for The Aristocats, etc. And then as I direct more I can add on to it.

When the pandemic calms down and this is a safe thing to do again... I do want to get started on that.