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.

Friday, September 4, 2020

September 4 Friday Update

I've been playing one long AI Dungeon game for awhile and saving it in a Word doc. It's like 40,000 words. I plan to make it an ebook if it ever finishes.

  • I began as a noble and was promptly murderered.
  • I then lived for centuries as a ghost. My keep turned into a hotel, and the hotel receptionist also got murdered. I helped my ghost receptionist friend open up a restaurant, and then I abruptly woke up back in my old life.
  • A time traveler tried to kidnap me and my 5-year-old daughter Jacquescrappe to go kill Hitler, but the time traveler herself seemed like a Nazi, so we pushed her out of the helicopter and went back home.
  • The peasants overthrew the king and made me king.
  • Jacquescrappe started growing dragon scales and I learned she was half-dragon, but the dragon heat was burning her up from the inside out, so I put her in the ice caverns (in a barrel of alcohol, as per the AI's instructions, though that seems bad for someone on fire) and found a spell to fix her. Once I did, her scales and skin had mostly burned off, so she transferred from the alcohol barrel to a barrel of water and lived there for awhile.
  • Now 8-year-old Jacquescrappe moved to an island of dragons and lived there instead.
  • My wife was killed by a horde of barbarians. I went to fight them and was attacked by a woman named Edolith screaming about how I killed her father. I nearly died, but Jacquescrappe swooped in at the last moment and killed her.
  • Orcs took over my castle. I sneaked over to dragon island to ask for help and Jacquescrappe refused to help me but sent me to ask King Edgar for help. King Edgar was flayed by a bear, so he wasn't helpful.
  • Currently: Jacquescrappe reveals she wouldn't help me because I'm a bad king, so she's making me go on an apology tour to all the cities and tell them I'm going to try to do a better job. The orcs are at the first city I go to and they say they're taking over. The peasants all think they'll be better than me, so this might be the end of my reign as king.
Available in bookstores February 2021?

This week in my anxiety group meeting, we talked about setting goals. We were given several domains in our life, such as "physical wellbeing," "intimate relationships," and "work," and asked to set short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals for them.

Problem is, a lot of my own medium- and long-term goals I'd had before have been hijacked completely by COVID. And since I don't have anywhere near a timeline when that might be over for me, it's... hard to plan around it. I can only really focus on short-term goals for so many things. Or plan for my life with COVID forever. Not sure which is less frustrating.

Friday, August 28, 2020

August 28 Friday Update: Just All the Church Thoughts

This month has been... oof. So much depression. Has made it hard to get any words out. But I'm working on it.

I observed a conversation this week with a group of evangelicals who are, maybe some of them for the first time in earnest, processing and working through how the Christian church can/should be working on anti-racism. I disagree with a lot of members' beliefs on it right now (definitely a few "if we stop talking about it it'll go away" folks which, well, turns out it doesn't work like that) but I think everybody's learning and the conversations are good and hopefully challenging to all of us, including me as I continue to work out how my faith should inform my passion for social justice.

This week, though, a hot-button topic was how churches can be more inclusive. And every suggestion that was made, someone else had a reason that wouldn't be a good idea. And as I'm processing what to say to that, these are the two points I keep coming back to:
  • Inclusivity does not happen without intent. You can't just carry on the same as always and expect that magically, somehow, you'll draw in a more diverse crowd. It hasn't worked before, why would it abruptly work now? That's that "definition of insanity" business, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Choosing to do nothing has the same functional outcome as choosing exclusivity.
  • There will always be non-race-related reasons to avoid making changes. We live in a country (and frankly a world) built on segregation and have really only recently begun to change that. So when we take steps to make a change, we are working against hundreds of years of established systems and, yes, it will be difficult. If we wait until it is easy or until there is nothing we need to sacrifice to make way for diversity and equity, we will never do anything. If we prioritize diversity, yes, it is very likely we will need to listen to other people's experiences or change our hiring practices or repaint sanctuaries or sing songs we don't know or like. Some of those are more difficult than others, but all of them are things I've heard named as "too difficult" or "not important" and thus a reason to not try and diversify. And those aren't good enough reasons, at least not for me.
I had not expected, incidentally, that sitting through a discussion of why churches should not change anything about themselves to appeal to minorities would be as triggering as it was. And then I cried for like an hour that afternoon. But that issue taps into a similar thing as my own struggles with church. Both carry the message, You do not matter, your struggles do not matter, you will fit in to us, we will never adapt to you, and if you think we should, you are the problem. And it just hurts, and I hurt for anyone else who is getting this same message from their white evangelical churches, and I'm sorry I was ever a part of that for anyone else.

I ended up having a good conversation with my dad this week about some of my struggles with those "beauty of church" sermons I stopped listening to. And then we chatted a bit about what we might say if tasked with sharing a sermon on the beauty of church. Like, why do we think it's important that someone finds the beauty of church? And what is it?

I think it is important to find beauty in church, but then again I'm an artist, I think it's important to find beauty everywhere. For me it's about vision casting, inspiration, and fighting disillusionment. It also means that it can be possible to find value in it even in its imperfection (which I think is what my old church is trying to do, we just see very different imperfections and get frustrated by each other's definitions). Like, you'd think a sermons series on the beauty of church would be exactly what I needed. It's probably easier to convince me church is beautiful than it is to convince me it's necessary -- and it's probably a better way of framing it for me, since it shifts my point of view from church as a vegetable I begrudgingly eat to church as a work of art that I just need to find the right way to frame.

The problem is that to believe the church is beautiful, you have to on some level believe its members that make up its pieces are beautiful, and I'm not sure the leadership in that particular church believes that. If they do, I'm not sure they would say it.

A friend the other day shared a post about how we cannot rely on our own feelings, sense, reason, or self, we can only rely on the Bible. And while I know what they're saying, it leaves out two truly important things. First off, we rely on our (and others') feelings, sense, reason and self to interpret the Bible in the first place, so even if you believe in the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture, you have to be willing to question your understanding of it, which for many people equates to questioning it itself.

But secondly... these "we can only trust the Bible" posts always seem to have a conspicuous absence of the Holy Spirit in them. What role does the Spirit play for the people writing and reposting this? And how do they think he/she/it speaks to us if not through a combination of our selves and the Scripture?

The evangelical tradition I grew up with definitely doesn't know what to do with the Holy Spirit. They don't really teach on it, they get real nervous about denominations that do emphasize it. The Spirit is usually only active as either as a conscience to convict you of sin or a guide to bring you to the Scripture you need to hear. So, weirdly, the emphasis becomes not "look to the Bible to find God" but is instead "look to God to find the Bible."

Friday, August 21, 2020

"I Thought About You - Live at Vine St." by Shirley Horn (150 Albums by Woman #131)

NPR compiled a list of the 150 greatest albums created by women. I've decided to listen to these albums, from #150 all the way up to #1. But to give myself a bit of forward momentum and have a sense of when I was "done" with each album, my method is to listen to the album one time all the way through, then with each subsequent listen, I'd remove my least favorite. This lets me listen to the best ones most frequently without having to sit through too many that didn't work for me at all.

My next journey into the Top 150 Albums by Women from NPR's list is a live jazz album by pianist/vocalist Shirley Horn. More than many of the other albums I've listened to, this one really does all blend together. It makes sense, given that it was a recording of a single concert, but it does make it difficult to tease out a top five. Overall the album is pleasant background jazz to listen to but it doesn't stand out for me as much as I want it to if I'm listening to the whole thing. Nothing I didn't enjoy here but nothing I really loved either. But let's look at the ones I enjoyed most.

5. The Great City
The biggest challenge about choosing a top 5 is that a lot of these songs have a very similar vibe. Turns out jaunty laidback piano-based jazz is a definite mood and then everything just sounds like... that. This one is fun to listen to but has the least distinct personality of all the remaining songs, so it falls to the bottom my top five and I struggle to find much to say about it.

4. Our Love Is Here to Stay
This one is the most ballad-y of the songs remaining in this playlist, but there's enough jauntiness that it still feels upbeat. I particularly like how she plays with silence and pauses in the accompaniment in the first minute or so of the song.

3. The Eagle and Me
This kept sticking around largely on the strength of the final 30 seconds or so, when suddenly this easygoing tune tosses in some unexpected syncopation and goes out on a *very* strong note. But the rest of the song is pretty standard and doesn't hold up against the other two.

2. Nice 'N' Easy
I think this might be the only standard on this album I was really familiar with before I started listening, and it's still a great song. The lyrics really lend themselves to the super chill vibe too.

1. Something Happens to Me
The opening song on the album is definitely the strongest tune for me in this bunch. It's such a cheery little tune about love. The lightness of the piano and the dynamics of Horn's voice combine in a really enjoyable way to convey this sense of... surprise and wonder and delight at falling in love. Just charming and fun.

The albums I've listened to thus far in this project, in order (and yes, I've done a tiny bit of reorganizing):

  1. The Roches - The Roches
  2. Robyn - Body Talk
  3. Norah Jones - Come Away With Me
  4. Patty Griffin - Flaming Red
  5. The Breeders - Last Splash
  6. Iris Dement - My Life
  7. Solange - A Seat at the Table
  8. Shelby Lynne - I Am Shelby Lynne
  9. Fanny - Fanny Hill
  10. Alicia Keys - Songs in A Minor
  11. Shirley Horn - I Thought About You (Live at Vine St.)
  12. Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas
  13. The B-52's - The B-52's
  14. The Bangles - All Over the Place
  15. Yoko Ono - Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band
  16. Oumou Sangaré - Moussolou
  17. Terri Lyne Carrington - The Mosaic Project

Friday, August 14, 2020

August 14 Friday Update: What Does Encouragement Mean?

Today's old church sermon intro informed me that if I have trouble seeing the church as beautiful, it's probably my fault because I'm "too focused on the negative." I swear, the subtitle of this series should just be "Every Sermon Talking Point That Gave Hannah Church Anxiety." For being a series of sermons about how beautiful the church is, it's really doing everything it can to convince me otherwise. LOL.

Fortunately I'm in a pretty good mental health space today (wouldn't have attempted to watch it if I wasn't, I learned that lesson last week, haha), and can catalog that shame trigger, sign off, and let the rest slide off of me. I think that's partly because I did make sure to check out my Lutheran service's sermon today. It looked at the disciples in the storm and Elijah hearing God in the silence, and the takeaway was "God is with us, let us look for him and be comforted by him." There is a 95% chance that the takeaway from any of my previous churches would be "Stop sinning by doubting God, get yourself together." Which, I mean, isn't actually comforting.

A Facebook acquaintance this week claimed that capitalism is the economic system that most recognizes an individual's inherent worth, and I just... don't think that's true. Perhaps in some idealized form, but definitely not as it has played out in the US. While, yes, capitalism allows for a lot of freedom and choice, I refer back to my previous blog to say that freedom means freedom for some and not for others. In this case, those who are able to work get more freedom than those who don't. Those who are rich end up with more freedom than those who don't.

And more importantly, I believe that the US' form of capitalism actually encourages us to link the worth of a human with their productivity instead of their actual inherent humanity. We see this in the outcry against providing housing and food for those who cannot afford it, in how those who are too ill to work have much greater difficulty getting healthcare, in the insistence that "we don't want our tax dollars paying for freeloaders" -- essentially, that if someone is not being productive up to our standards, we do not believe they deserve food, shelter, and medical care, at least not enough to do anything about it.

We make basic human needs contingent on whether not people have earned them, and if that's the system that most values humans' inherent worth, then we need a brand new system, stat, because this isn't cutting it at all.

I do keep coming back to the idea that many of my evangelical friends seem to perhaps equate "encouragement" with "correction." Like as possibly the primary meaning? I'm trying to figure out how to ask this of them and do an informal poll without sounding like I'm being a judgy jerk. I've just been realizing more and more that that's usually how my former church pastors used the word, to the point where I tense up a little any time a Christian says to me, "Let me encourage you" because there's a good chance they're about to tell me I'm doing something wrong and I'm actually going to walk away discouraged.

My card memorization skills are not speeding up at all these days, but they are getting more accurate. 14 minutes is still about the minimum I can do, but I usually get no more than one wrong. So... getting there, but it's not very impressive or cool yet.

So this is set to post in about six hours. It's about 4am for me here, and I am just... not sleeping tonight. Stuffed up, congested, feel like I can't breathe, and it's most likely just allergies or anxiety attack, but either way I can't lie down comfortably so I left the bedroom and am just chilling on the living room couch.

I did learn, however, that business-y detail-oriented emails, which take way more effort and time for me than I think they do for most people, are easier to write when you're sleep-deprived at 4 in the morning because you're too tired to second (and third and fourth and fifth) guess everything. So I've just drafted all my emails for the day, read through them a couple times to make sure they don't say anything overtly wrong, and will mail them all out at a more normal work hour. This is not a strategy I typically suggest for anyone after, like, college, but I guess it's a reasonable pandemic work strategy too, should you already happen to be awake way too early/late.

Friday, August 7, 2020

August 7 Friday Update: Don't Forget How Much You Suck

Sermon shame trigger update!

Got about 5 minutes into a 30-minute sermon this time. We're still talking about the importance of/beauty of the church -- apparently last week's sermon (which I lasted like all of 30 seconds in) ended by saying the relationships built within church are better and deeper than regular friendships. This has decidedly not been my experience, heh, but I think it probably has been for some folks, and I can see it as an aspirational goal, and I couldn't even listen to that whole sermon, so I'm not going to really critique that.

This week's sermon began by being about unity, and using our disunity as a reason we present badly to the world, which is... confusing to me because the issue of disunity among believers is an accusation I'm not sure I've even once heard levied against the church. If anything it's usually the opposite -- the issue of Christians who are fiercely loyal to each other and to a system to the point where they will not even consider whether it needs to be broken down and rebuilt. This feels like the strawest of strawman arguments, but it wasn't a shame trigger, just an "I'm not sure that's true" nudge, so we move on.

And then we come to the idea that unity is only possible when we leave behind our arrogance. Because when it comes down to it, we are all sinners, we all suck, we all deserve hell, we are all the most hideous beings on the planet. Nobody has anything good to offer as an individual, it would be better if we were all just erased and it was just God hanging out with God in a church building, why are we even here, we're just in the way, ugh, we're the worst.

OK, maybe everything after "we are all sinners" wasn't said out loud, but it was the thought pattern my brain went on. That one little concept, the idea that unity can only be possible when we remember how unworthy we are, launched all that.

Sometimes I get told that I'm overreacting, that I'm reading stuff into this. But let me point out that I've been listening to sermons for like seven weeks now and haven't been able to get more than five minutes into a single sermon without being overtly told that I need to remember how much I suck. None of those sermons in the first five minutes have overtly told me that I am loved, or that I can do great things, or that I matter to anyone else, or that I even should matter to anyone else. But they've all taken great care to tell me how unworthy I am.

This stuff piles up, you guys.

I went to church my entirely life and didn't realize until college that God liked me. That he enjoyed any piece of who I was. And that felt like a daring and possibly heretical thought, the idea that maybe God didn't look at me and either go, "uggggh gross" or at very best, say, "oh good, you're doing all the right things and are on the right path, I haven't had to fix you yet so I guessssss you're okay at the moment but ANY SECOND you could veer off and then you'll suck again."

This. Stuff. Piles. Up.

No wonder the evangelical church has such a crappy record with mental illness. They tell me the exact same things as my depression does.

There's no such thing as freedom for everyone. There really isn't. Every freedom one person has means somebody else loses theirs. We're just always having to decide which and sometimes whose freedom is more important -- the freedom to kill or the freedom to live? The freedom to keep our belonging or the freedom to take others'?  The freedom to wear no mask or the freedom to safely leave your house?

Stop framing it as freedom vs. lack of freedom. It's a false dichotomy.

I just keep coming back to that sermon I listened to this week, and how it made all good things dependent on constantly remembering how awful we are. Like... how can you believe that so strongly and also have anything resembling a positive relationship? My best relationships are with folks who do not, in fact, spend most of their time reminding me how unworthy of love I am the way the church does. They are the ones who assure me I am worth something, who encourage me (literally "give me courage"), who see me at my best when I see myself at my worst. Is that just "catering to my flesh," as it might be phrased in evangelical lingo?

I cannot be bold or good or faithful to my beliefs while buckled under the weight of my own self-loathing. The relationships that bring out the best in me take that burden off of me and encourage me to not take it back on.

Nobody is ever going to convince me that church relationships based so heavily on how terrible we are is one that is beautiful or worth pursuing.

(And if that's not the church relationship you're advocating for, pastors, then.......... maybe don't make that your main speaking point in the first five minutes of your sermon.)

On a related note, it's probably smartest for me to take a short break on my "can I listen to my old church sermons safely" experiment, ha. While it made for some good blogs and some good analysis, and I think I'm untangling some stuff nicely, this one has now broken me for three days. All I did was hear five minutes of it and none of it was even new to me. I got told all the time in church how little I mattered, it shouldn't hurt as much as it does. But it is stuff I'm fighting to unravel in myself, and stuff I'm fighting my mentally ill brain to stop saying. Fortunately I have some amazing friends able to step in and say, "Yeah, so that's a lie." But maybe I need to take a break from having to face those lies. Heal this particular one a bit longer until it stops being quite so... trigger-y.

Friday, July 31, 2020

July 31 Friday Update: Wanting Friends and Losing Friends

Here we go!

I did not make it very far in this morning's sermon from my old church, ha. I thought it might be a tough ride because apparently they're going to do a multi-week series on the importance of church, which made me go, "Oh, crap, it's going to be saying from the pulpit basically everything that gives me anxiety about church attendance."

The sermon opened by referencing the Cheers theme, the "sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name" bit. When I was in NLDC, we had a skit that used this song to talk about church as well. A character has a really bad day, and in the middle of a sobbing breakdown, the song starts playing, and the remainder of the song was a mimed depiction of him deciding to go to church, where everyone greets him by name, welcomes him, makes him feel loved, and his day is better. Super cheesy but I enjoyed the sentiment.

So I figured that's where this sermon was going and I could get on board with that. ("Wouldn't it be great if church was as welcoming as a bar?")

I was so wrong.

The response to that is apparently "People think of church like the Cheers theme song and want to be somewhere where they're known, and that's bad, because the church isn't about relationships, and sometimes people even leave the church because they feel unknown, or churches, like, change their programming to try to make people more comfortable there, and it's because they don't understand what church is supposed to be."

I'm still somewhat curious as to what he thought the actual purpose of church was, but I was about to explode from anxiety, so I tapped out.

So let me walk through what this sermon intro says to me. Because, yeah, I didn't feel like anybody knew me in the church. Some of that was because I felt pressure to act and be and speak a certain way to be taken seriously as a Christian. Some of it is because the church service isn't a great format for introverts to meet with or connect with people. Some of it is because my personal experiences got dismissed if they had the wrong emotional tone or the wrong "message" at the end of it. But it was an exceptionally lonely time for me, and it definitely made it easier to step away.

This sermon responds to that by saying if you feel unknown and unheard and unloved in the church, you should stop thinking it's about you. Church isn't a social club (direct quote). Church isn't for spending time with friends. If you think it's a big deal that nobody knows you, you're obviously just prioritizing the wrong things, and if your priorities were in the right place you'd be fine with being unknown and uncared for in your faith community.

Another reminder that my anxiety and my struggle with church is a sign to many people that my faith is weak, if even there at all.

It's a problem with me.

This week I had the first instance of a truly close friend who I may have to cut ties with because of pandemic and politics. I am not a blocker. I tend to hold out hope for everyone to have good intentions and am happy if I can be connected to them and share my opinions for them and can trust that if they seem to be acting unempathetically, I am missing a piece of what they're thinking and why it doesn't seem unempathetic to them. I probably give people far too much benefit of the doubt, but I've also seen people change their views drastically and come to me as one of the few people they know in their circle who will be okay with their changes.

So when I do block people, it's as a personal safety boundary for me. It's because their behavior is causing harmful depression spirals. It's only happened a handful of times, and never with anyone I was close to.

Until this week. Not getting into the details of it, but they keep messaging me with "COVID isn't a big deal" propaganda and I have lost at least three full days to anxiety and depression after reading/watching what they've sent. I'm obviously never watching any videos they send me anymore, ha, but it's so depressing to see someone I was very close to spreading things that are actively harmful to me. I've asked them to stop. We'll see if they do.

My boundaries are about self-protection, not teaching lessons. I don't block just because I disagree with someone to make a statement about separating myself from them. I block when being connected to them is actively bad for me. And I'd like to think my friends care about that and would understand if I had to block them for awhile.

But I don't know. They might just say I'm overreacting, that I'm letting politics come between people, that I'm causing more division.

But my other option is letting myself be hurt over and over again. Just because they said I should. And that serves nobody -- not me, not them, not anybody else I could be giving my time to were I not drained from these interactions. That's not a workable answer.

Some of these mini-blogs are basically just regular blog-sized blogs now, huh?

Friday, July 24, 2020

July 24th Friday Update: Showtunes, Memory Palaces, and Shame

Microblogging time!

Just watched a YouTube video where a vlogger named the showtunes that reduce them to a weeping puddle of goo, so I figured I should compile my own list.

Turns out I already had a Spotify playlist of "Showtunes That Make Me Cry" which consists of 26 songs, so I'll pull out my top 10, from "make me cry the most" to "make my cry a little less."

Rent- I'll Cover You (Reprise)
Godspell- On the Willows
Avenue Q- Fantasies Come True
Fiddler on the Roof- Chava Ballet Sequence
Matilda- When I Grow Up
The Last Five Years- Nobody Needs to Know
Rent- Will I?
Dear Evan Hansen- Words Fail
The Last Five Years- I Could Never Rescue You
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog- Everything You Ever

Kudos to Rent and TL5Y for being the only ones who needed to be on the list twice.

This last week or two has just, like, sucked for depression stuff. I'm just completely out of spoons to do much of anything but also full of anxiety and panic at how little I'm doing. And it sucks.

I ended up writing this as a comment on a friend's post but wanted to share a slightly amended version of it here, too, it encapsulates some of what I've been thinking about this week:

I admit I've been struggling myself with "God is in control" language, as so many of my evangelical friends and acquaintances have turned that into their reason for not being cautious or look out for each other, and now those words actually bring up more fear. So while I do believe God is in control, I've found myself needing to reframe the concept a bit before I can really let go of my anxiety. So for me, my mantra has been that God is the only one that can pick up where my efforts end. That doesn't mean I can't or shouldn't fight HARD for safety procedures, or feel stressed or angry about where things are, or research overseas grad schools. But it means that when I come to God, sobbing that I've done everything I can and don't know what else to do, he's like, "Yeah, I know, you've done everything you need to, I've got it from here." And I've been working on leaving that with him. So difficult, but working on it!

So my policy over the last couple weeks for watching my old church's sermons is "I watch until something triggers shame, then I turn it off, document what that was, and return next week." Some weeks I can get through 3/4 of the sermon. Other weeks I'm done 5 minutes in. I have not yet made it through an entire sermon.

I think there are two pieces to this. On one hand, I am well-versed in training myself to feel ashamed (or "convicted" as I would have framed it as a teen). Could you even call yourself a Christian teen leader if you didn't repent after every sermon and repent of like a whole BUNCH during every summer retreat? I mean, you probably could, but the vibe I got was that the more often you were convicted, the better a Christian you were, so I got so, so good at narrowing in on the part of the sermon meant to make me feel bad. I never really sought to be encouraged. (I'm suddenly having memories of pastors saying "I want to encourage you today" in a context which clearly really meant "I want to convict you today." ...I wonder if people think they are the same thing?)

So on the flip side of that, while I definitely am good about ferreting out the language I'm supposed to use to shame myself, there is a lot of that language in the evangelical church. Like we can only make God look good by making ourselves look bad, or we can only motivate people to do good out of fear of doing bad. So the church trained me to read these sermons this way, and I eagerly accepted, and we worked together to build a really strong shame response to, like, everything, and called it the Holy Spirit.

So I'm documenting the phrases, the analogies, the verse interpretations that I'm trained to respond shamefully to, in the hopes I can undo some of that conditioning.

Reposting this thing I wrote on my Twitter. I quote-tweeted someone saying, "Normalize 'hey can we reschedule I don’t feel like hanging today' without people getting offended cuz some days I really wake up and don’t feel like doing anything" and then wrote the following:

So this is getting just CRAPPED on in the comments. "Don't make plans if you can't follow through." Which, I mean, you obviously should follow through on commitments as much as you possibly can.  But on the other hand, the logical conclusion of that is believing "people with chronic illnesses shouldn't make plans or try to hang out with people." Because life can be unpredictable for us!

If you would rather we show up to hang out with you but be miserable the whole time, then that's fine, you just maybe shouldn't be a friend to vulnerable people, because what you value most isn't what they can provide.

And there are compromises. If you keep moving your schedule to spend with them and they keep needing to flake, start scheduling your times with them for when they're truly convenient for you is you won't be resentful if they step out.

I've been the one who flaked. I've been the one who pushed through and was glad she did, as well as the one who wished she hadn't. I've also been the one who's been flaked on and just started relabeling people in my life to "don't count on them but I hope they're there" status.

And sometimes it's just a friend incompatibility. There are friends I can't make space for for months, because I don't have emotional spoons to carve out time to be with them and have them not be there. But when I do, I will. And if I never do, I hope someone else will.


So I just finished reading this book about memory competitions and techniques, and it was intriguing, and I need like a party trick because I don't have any, so I am teaching myself to memorize shuffled decks of cards. At this point I can do it, just verrrrrrrryyyy slloooowwwwlllyyyy -- not a good party trick yet, it's like 15 minutes of memorization and then another 5 to recall them.

The basic idea is to use visual and spatial memory to create associations with the cards. So for each card, you're supposed to come up with a specific visual image of a person doing an action with an object. So, for example, my ace of spades is "The Phantom of the Opera playing music on an organ." And then you memorize them in sets of threes -- so you imagine the person from your first card doing the action on your second card with the action for your third card. So then for each of set of three, you place them along a mental pathway with a clear linear progression.

The one I've been practicing with is a walk around my house. So, for example, I imagine my front door, and with the cards in front of me, I see Lady and the Tramp (2 of hearts) stabbing each other (nine of spades) with beer steins (seven of clubs). Which is a truly bizarre mental image, and it sticks. Then I mentally walk through my front door, and directly to the left, in my front closet, there's Christine Daae (six of diamonds) trying to warm herself up (ace of hearts) with mustaches (three of spades). That's my second set.

I was kind of startled how well it worked. On my first try, I memorized about 24 without going back to them or trying to remember them at all, but then when I did my mental walkthrough, there they all were.

Right now the slowest part is remembering which cards goes with which image. I had to redo my images a couple times just because I could NOT remember them, so I ended up grouping them by numbers -- so all my tens are Steven Universe characters, my nines are Star Wars, my fives are New Life friends, my Jacks are people who make me laugh. And then I even tried to think about associations I'd naturally make between suits and those characters. The diamonds characters usually have something to do with money, the hearts are often people whose central storyline is about love, spades tend to be stabby people, clubs tend to be strong. Whenever I could make an association, I did.

It's fascinating and I love it and I am going to be so cool in an exceptionally nerdy way when I can get my time down.

While "2020 sucks" is pretty widely-agreed upon, I'm learning that some people mean "2020 sucks because people are dying and I can only do so much to stop it" and some people mean "2020 sucks because masks are annoying."

We're not in the same boat.

Friday, July 17, 2020

July 17th Friday Update: More School Questions!

Microblogging, whooo! Lots of CW for depression.

I wish I had the spoons for my friends' problems. I just feel like I'm shutting people out a lot these days, because I have to, because I'm going to explode. But I wish I had more. I'm trying to figure out how to recenter things in my head to make space for... something. I just don't have it yet.

A few more questions I've seen for those pushing to open schools in the fall:
  • Most classrooms are barely big enough for desks as is, let alone desks that need to be 6 feet apart. Are class sizes shrinking? (If so, where are the extra teachers coming from?) Are they moving to new larger classrooms that don't exist yet? Are we going to say we're social distancing but we just don't?
  • Do students get masks at school? Do teachers? Do student masks get replaced throughout the day when inevitably they take it off and lose it or another child thinks it's funny to take it off them? Obviously you can't guarantee kids wash their masks at home, so if schools provide them, will they be cleaning them as well? How?
  • Will there be any additional PPE for teachers? And are teachers paying for that out of their own pocket?
  • How are we dealing with poor air ventilation in schools without ACs or classrooms without windows?
  • Are lockers still being used? How and when? Kids will have more supplies to haul around now that they can't share.
  • Who is having the conversation about how to reevaluate testing for this year and next? Nobody thinks we can just continue on as normal and apply last year's standards to this year's kids, right? ...Right?
  • What about very young students who need assistance opening lunch, using supplies, tying shoes? Teachers cannot help them and social distance, so what's the plan?
  • How about kids with special needs who needs hands-on caregiving at school? 
  • How about young students with separation anxiety? How are they to be comforted from six feet away?
  • How are school discipline policies being reevaluated during this time? Student behavior can be heavily influenced by stress and trauma, which every child is currently dealing with, and calming a panicked or furious child is much tougher from six feet away.
  • Will school libraries still be able to be used?
  • What about playground equipment? How are kids going to play at recess if they cannot share equipment or be near each other?
  • Buses. We don't have nearly enough buses or bus drivers for students to be able to social distance in a vehicle. Are more buses being purchased or rented from other locations? Are more drivers being hired? Will bus routes be adjusted so that buses make multiple separate rounds? 
  • What is the procedure for if a student comes to class sick with COVID symptoms?
  • Schools don't have enough sinks and students can't congregate around them. Are classroom times or passing periods being expanded to allow for the abundance of hand washing needed? Are classes relying solely on hand sanitizer?
  • Let's talk school nurses. Some districts share a handful of nurses between all of them. What is the plan for COVID-symptomatic students when the nurse is at a different school? Are the nurses getting additional PPE?
  • One of the reasons for getting back to school is so kids can socialize again. Is socializing six feet apart wearing masks, unable to share any playground equipment or supplies, truly going to meet that need? Enough to run the high risks of opening?
  • With the shortage of teachers and subs but the higher need of monitoring, are there plans for additional hall monitors that ensure students are keeping masks on/social distancing/not touching each other's stuff?
  • Substitutes usually serve multiple schools. Will they be restricted to one to limit exposure in case they test positive?
  • Is anyone in education doing re-training on instruction and classroom management during social distancing? It requires just as much re-doing as Zoom classes, since it eliminates the possibility of group projects or pair work entirely.
  • I saw one plan that indicated that children whose family members are exposed should quarantine. If a child or child's family members test positive or are exposed, will parents of that child's classmates be notified?
More to come. Inevitably.

It's hard these days to distinguish between depression and just "I live in the US in 2020."

I'm intrigued that some of those advocating against mask wearing as an inherent violation of freedom are also those who adhere so strongly to modesty culture. Being told to wear or not wear something specific because it might hurt someone else is hardly new. We've just got life and death stakes this time, and it affects everybody.

Even more about masks and the pandemic and stuff!

There's an article going around now where the CDC is saying we could, in fact, beat the virus with 4-6 weeks of everyone wearing masks and social distancing. There's a part of me that doesn't want to believe it because it's so depressing to think we could be that close to being done with this but that it will instead drag out for months, maybe years, because somehow masks have been politicized so nobody's going to follow those restrictions. It's hard to know that and not feel angry.

Additionally, may I just add, there is no better way to reinforce my brain's depression lives of "You don't matter" and "Nobody likes you" and "Nobody wants you here" than to be vocally anti-mask. Because that does indicate I don't matter and those people don't want me here, not if it's going to inconvenience them. Had a massive depression breakdown yesterday because I just didn't have any more ammo to throw at that. I still don't. It's a very very very good thing my depression has never come along with suicidal ideation. Like... very very very.

Friday, July 10, 2020

July 10th Friday Update

Yes! I am able to blog this way, it looks like! At least for now! Here we go!

Watched my Lutheran church service this morning and right off the bat the minister says, "This day has been set aside to celebrate the founding of our nation, and yet perhaps this year in particular we also must recognize our failures, and acknowledge our call as followers of Christ to do better."

An immediate welcome for where I am in my walk with God and mental health.

The Scripture for this service focused on Matthew 11, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." In discussing the heavy burdens we may be carrying at this moment, the issue of self-loathing came up and was immediately refuted with the reminder that God created us, looked at all he had created, and said it was very good. This was followed by whoever is running the church social media posting in the chat, "That means all of you... you are very good." What a contrast to the struggles I continue to have with the church's constant encouragement of self-deprecation.

And the funny thing is, I don't feel like that being reminded that God calls me good gives me a pass to do whatever I want, which is I think is what people fear will happen. ("If you think you're good on your own, you won't need God!") It's a much better motivator for me to do better. If I can hold in my heart that God sees me and calls me good, it gives me the strength to do what is right and to stay connected to God. If I hold in my heart that I am always unworthy, I shrink away and hide and try to not bother anyone, let alone God, because I don't deserve that attention.

Even if things go well with continued reopening and it doesn't result in millions of deaths, I am dreading the moment where everyone else has moved on and I'm left behind.

Where church services stop live streaming because it's too much hassle and people are there anyway.

Where no one will have Zoom game times with me anymore because they can just go spend time with their real life friends.

Where theater goes back offline and I lose my access to the shows and readings I'm able to watch now.

Where none of my healthy friends are worried anymore but I still know it's not safe for me to leave yet.

Some legitimate questions for those advocating for opening schools in the fall. If I could get answers to these I'd feel a lot better about reopening:
  • Are exceptions being made for kids who are immunecompromised or have family members who are?
  • What happens if (more likely when) a teacher gets COVID? Does their entire class get tested? Does the class quarantine?
  • How about a student?
  • How about a student's parent?
  • How about a student's parent's coworker? 
  • If it's in a middle or high school, students are seeing multiple teachers a day. If one of them contracts it, does the entire school get tested/quarantine?
  • If an elementary school teacher gets it and lives with a teacher at a different school, does that other school also then need to following testing/quarantine procedures? 
  • How are sick days working for teachers who need to quarantine for testing or exposure?
  • Who is doing the cleaning? Are additional janitorial staff being hired or are teachers expected to disinfect their classrooms as well?
  • Who is going to pay for additional hand sanitizer and school supplies now that class sets of supplies can no longer be shared? Teachers have been buying these on their own for years because of lack of funding, let alone buying separate sets for 24 students.
  • If many teachers choose to quit or take early retirement rather than risk their lives to teach in person, what is the plan for replacing them?
  • The already stretched substitute pool is full of retired folks who are at higher risk for COVID complications. With fewer substitutes, are students going to miss out on days of school or combine with other classes against social distancing guidelines? Will teachers be forced to teach sick?
  • Lunch protocols. Just... how? How are you planning on social distancing during socializing time when no one can wear masks? Is the lunch area being expanded and each child eats alone or with siblings only? How many staff members do you plan on assigning to the lunch area to monitor this?
  • How are additional emergency protocols being rewritten to accommodate this? Active shooter protocols, for instance, often involves locking doors, closing windows, and huddling together in corners of the room to be left unseen. Tornado protocols crowd students together in sealed-off hallways. 
  • If emergency protocols stay the same, will there still be emergency drills in the fall, thus putting students at risk without an emergency?
I have more. But this is a start.

Friday, July 3, 2020

July 3rd Friday Update

Last week's microblogging throughout the week was so successful, it even inspired me to write a whole other blog on Monday! Let's do this for another week!

I always think I'm going to be better at microblogging than I am, but then I get going and I have too much to say and before I know if I've got like a whole page and a half of random musings and it's just a regular blog.

Made it through my old church's whole sermon this week! This doesn't need to become a random church sermon review blog, ha, but I am trying to continue to process. In the past I would take in my church's sermons and believe and take to heart every bit of it unless my parents specifically said not to (every so often they'd disagree with an interpretation), so it's good to be able to have the freedom and ability to dissect and process.

I did have strong feelings during a short section that pitted my way of living against God's way of living and said I couldn't do both. While I believe I know what was meant (that if God and I disagree, there's not a compromise option, I'm either choosing one or the other) it is another instance that assumes that I, to my very core, am eternally in opposition to God. Even as a Christian, even as a born-again new creation, my desires will never be good, and if they are, it's because they aren't mine, they're God's. It's a tiny distinction but, again, it matters to me. At its worst, we get these weird situations where I am hesitant to do anything that makes me happy because that's following my own way, which is always, perpetually, without any exceptions, in opposition to God.

If we really truly believe in the transformative power of Christ, why do we continue to speak as if no transformation has occurred? Why do we continue to set ourselves up as the enemy?

In contrast, I also watched the service for the Lutheran church I'd been attending off and on before the pandemic hit. I have found more and more joy in liturgy in the past several years as I've been deconstructing and reconstructing my faith. There's a tendency in non-liturgical evangelical churches to come across as very stressed that we're not listening or connecting to God enough, and so everything can be very... forceful and pushy and loud and engineered. The liturgy is a way of refocusing me without making me feel bad about my lack of focus. It's like in meditation, where you're told "your mind will wander, just become aware of that and bring it back." One kind of church service understands that my mind will wander and will be there when I return. The other panics that I might not be listening and yells and shakes me until I do.

The Supreme Court just voted to strike down abortion restrictions in Louisiana.

I don't want to get into details about any of it... but I have all the feelings about all those times people told me they were voting for Trump even though they hated him because he would overturn abortion rights and then it would all be worth it.

It hasn't come up very often since I stopped being in a classroom every day, but for the last couple years I have refrained from saying the Pledge of Allegiance. I do it for reasons of faith -- I cannot in good conscience pledge total allegiance to a country when I believe that my faith and my God transcends human-made borders. Additionally, more and more I feel like I am being asked to choose between my country and my God (while pretending they are one and the same). But if that is ever my choice, if I am being asked to be a good American or a follower of Jesus, I will always choose Jesus.

Weirdly, almost the only friends of mine who have problems with this are Christian.

Reading through Reddit's AITA subreddit, where people ask for judgments on whether or not they are acting like a jerk in particular scenarios, always makes me supremely grateful for the people I have been fortunate to have around me or have chosen to surround myself with. In particular, my parents, who have always been there to support but have always urged me to make my own choices. There are so many stories of parents who are making decisions for their kids on who to marry, how to raise their kids, the careers they need to pursue, and I just can't even fathom my parents being overbearing like that, and I'm so grateful for that.

I have just realized that when talking about my feelings about pandemic stuff (and I have lots of they're), I nearly always frame it in terms of sadness, not fear or anxiety, even though it does cause me fear and anxiety. But sadness is deemed a more acceptable emotion, so I feel like I'll get taken more seriously if I frame it that way. I've been doing that subconsciously for weeks and didn't even realize it.

I figured I should add in here that even though I'm processing and struggling with the stuff I was told by my church community growing up (and still get told when I occasionally venture back in), I don't think any of them intended harm or wanted to hurt me. I think a lot of people share faith as it works for them. They lean on the things that got through to them or motivate them throughout their lives. My identifying something they said isn't an attempt to attack or pull them down or implying their faith experience is a lie or anything like that. But the way they choose to motivate is often deeply demotivational for me, the way they speak of God is often deeply disheartening for me, and too frequently one person's interpretation of God and the Bible and the Christian life is taken to be the sole way of viewing God and the Bible and the Christian life, so any disagreement or dissent or even "uh, maybe phrase that differently" is viewed as a direct attack on God.

That's not what I am doing. This is for my own processing purposes, and perhaps for those who feel a similar disconnect and discouragement.

Independence Day weekend is always a little rough for me. I'm definitely not going to be watching my former church's service this weekend, as they nearly always lean way too hard into the patriotism for me to be comfortable with in a space meant to focus on God.

But it's hitting harder this summer with the pandemic and the protests, where it's become clearer to a lot of people that we are really bad at taking care of our own citizens, and when there's a decent chance I will either be locked away forever or will get sick and possibly die because of our country's strong sense of individualism and staunch refusal to lay individual rights aside, even temporarily, for the sake of others. It's an attitude that, while obviously not only in the US, is very baked into our soul - freedom is our entire rallying cry, freedom is our innate good in and of itself. And it's one that I believe to be antithetical to the Christian faith.

I'm not in favor of, like, surrendering all rights ever to the government. But as people cheer for the freedoms of America this weekend, I'm mostly going to be remembering all the people I know who would rather die than wear a mask. There's a very good chance that some of them will die, and kill other people in the process. Maybe me.

Independence Day is just going to be difficult.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Top 10 Songs From Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season 4)

I typically write this after I've had about a year to listen and process and fall in love with that season's tunes, so it's time to pull this one together! Every season I start off thinking, "This has some good tunes but it's not as good as last year," and then end up falling in love with all the songs anyway. So here are my top 10 from the final season.

...Okay, I cheated and included 11, because I wanted to include two songs that are joke songs even within the CXG framing.

10 (Tie). Apple Man/How to Clean Up

For some reason, Apple Man has maybe gotten the most plays of all the season four songs despite not being an actual song. It's parodying those cheesy character songs in musicals that serve no purpose and just let a character actor goof around, and this is exactly what they all sound like. It's just so weird and funny to me. Rachel Bloom has said this is the song that gets stuck in her head the most.

How to Clean Up maybe got the biggest belly laugh from me this season. Josh is living on his own for the first time ever and doesn't know how to keep his place clean, so he asks Daryl to help him. We get the beginnings of a perky inspirational montage song, only to then learn that cleaning up is actually really, really straightforward.

No best lines for either of these, they're too short.

9. Sports Analogies

This one was in competition with "The Group Mind Has Decided You're In Love" for this spot, but this one won out thanks to the joy of listening to Scott Michael Foster leaning into his inner crooner and the hilarious visual gag of them Dean Martin-ing hard with a cigarette and a drink in EACH hand. This one doesn't require a lot of context, it's a pretty self-contained joke (and kind of one-note, thus being further down the list) but, again, love that crooning.

Best line: "We're American men, we like all sports except for soccer."

8. No One Else Is Singing My Song

I have always loved how compassionate this show was toward its characters while also not giving them a pass on bad behavior just because of their own mental health issues. This song is all about the tendency to see our own insecurities and problems through the lens of "Nobody else could possibly understand what I'm going through," while in actuality a lot of difficult feelings are a lot more universal and relatable than we think, and if we allowed ourselves to believe that instead of holding onto our individuality, we might feel less alone. It's a funny and occasionally needed reality check for me.

Best line: "It's logistically impossible, I am super unique."

7. I Want to Be a Child Star

This episode has my favorite throwaway joke in the whole series ("Boy? Boy? Why are you crossing?") and this insanely catchy tune, in which we see a little of Rebecca's obsession with following specific narratives to the letter reflected in her half-brother, who is determined to be a big name child star... including the stereotypical young adult meltdown, spiral, rehab, sex scandals, and attempted comeback. It's just such a cheerful energetic tune, and the kid's hopeful "Someday I will achieve my dreams" vibe cracks me up. It's framed and performed with the same innocent idealism as, say, Little Orphan Annie sings about finding her parents someday, but... with a very different context.

Best line: "I want to squander everything I've worked for and spiral out of control!"

6. Time to Seize the Day

This is one of the most relatable songs of this season for me. Like... Some months, this is every day getting ready for work. In context, Rebecca has been the subject of some nasty online writings and is now terrified to leave the safety of her home. She keeps psyching herself up to leave, but, wait, no, she has to clean the fridge first. And then maybe she needs to order a new fridge. And then maybe she needs to look up some facts about sting rays. And then before she knows it, it's nighttime, she's missed her chance to go out with friends, and she doesn't actually feel better. It's SUCH a familiar routine and thought process, which is always a little startling (and sometimes comforting) to see reflected in someone else.

Best line: "Just take one step forward, two steps back, now two steps forward, four steps back, five more steps back and now I'm back in bed."

5. I've Always Never Believed In You

I really loved Paula's plotline this season of re-establishing a healthier relationship with her kids, only to immediately have to say goodbye to one as he goes off to do great things she honestly never thought he was capable of. This song is not only a heckuva powerhouse anthem, it's also funny and down-to-earth and a good reminder of how people can surprise us and grow into much better people than we ever knew. And I love how it is honest about parents' fears for their kids and taps into Paula's awe at who her kid is now along with the regret for not having more faith in him so she could be there through his transformation. It's such a heartfelt moment tinged with humor and it always makes me tear up a little at the end.

Best line: "The moment you were born, they placed you in my arms, and I looked into your eyes and thought, 'Well, there's a murderer.'"

4. Love's Not a Game

White Josh didn't get nearly enough musical numbers in this show, so it's super fun to watch him take on this Guys and Dolls parody in the show's next-to-last episode. It's just a fun number with fun costumes and a cheerful recognition of how skeezy it is to get your entertainment from your friends' lives... and how many of us do it anyway. Only thing that could make this song better is some tigher choreography, which I desperately miss -- a lot of this seems like some sort of weird freestyle. But that's a minor nitpick in an otherwise really fun song.

Best line: This time it's a tie between "Is nothing sacred to you, lady sir?" and "Josh should be wary of parasails!"

3. I Hate Everything But You

The decision to re-cast Greg as Skylar Astin in season four is a controversial one, but I really love it for creative reasons, and that was solidified by this song, which is So Very Greg that it made it much easier for me to see Skylar as Greg rather than just a new character. It taps so beautifully into the grumpy old man/edgy teen crossover vibe Greg always had, but I also like this sweet undercurrent where Rebecca and Greg have the potential to bring out good things in each other through this contrast in their personalities. When their relationship worked, it WAS because Rebecca's enthusiasm inspired him and his grumpiness grounded her. That can also go off the rails (as it has many times for them) but this song feels like the truest version of their relationship. Plus it's just really fun to sing along with when you're driving home cranky on a long commute after a stressful day.

Best line: "I hate the phrase 'Love conquers all' and I hate that it's true, 'cause I wanna not hate things when I'm with you."

2. Anti-Depressants Are So Not a Big Deal

This one took inclusion on a survivor playlist to really sink in for me, but once it did, WOW, did it. This show really excels at destigmatizing mental health issues and normalizing taking care of yourself, and this song is the epitome of that for me. While obviously medication doesn't work instantly or for everyone and the journey of finding one that does work can be exhausting, the stigma of "this is weird and I'd be embarrassed to tell anybody about it" stands in a lot of people's way, and the joyful embrace of medication with singing! And dancing! And bright colors! is so good at cutting through that perception. And some days I just need to be reminded of that. This song feels like a musical theater ensemble giving me a big comforting hug, and I have to admit I cry a little bit most times I listen to it.

Best line: "Some say that in the past we didn't medicate everyone -- cool, witch trials and the crusades sounded like so much fun!"

And before I get to my #1 pick, some honorable mentions, as always!
  • As mentioned above, "The Group Mind Has Decided You're In Love" was in the running. It's such a funny takedown of the weird fetishizing of LGBT couples.
  • "Eleven O'Clock" and "The Darkness" didn't hit as hard as Rebecca's serious ballads have in previous seasons, but they're both good and were in contention.
  • "Gratuitous Karaoke Moment" goes in waves for me where I love it and then waves where it dies down. When it works, it really works!
And now, my #1.

1. Don't Be a Lawyer

Yeah, yeah, besides "Anti-Depressants..." this is everyone's favorite from season four. But that's because it's great! Lawyers are held up in so many narratives as The Best of All Possible Professions, so it's fun to see someone tackle the fact that, really, most lawyers are doing pretty boring things, and hardly anyone is able to make big bucks AND use law to change the world for the better. But, like so many others on this list (season four really brought it with the upbeat songs, huh?) this song is just so upbeat and fun and cheery singing about the soul-sucking nature of the profession. It just puts a smile on my face every time I listen to it, and even more so when I watch it and get to enjoy the choreography as well. So good.

Best line: "There are so many other professions that don't turn you into Jeff Sessions."

Well... that's my top 10 from every season, folks.

Next up, I guess, is making a giant Flickchart-style ranking of every individual song.

So that's what I'll be doing for the next... quite some time.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Friday Update!

Another smattering of thoughts from throughout the week. Is this a sustainable blogging pattern? Maybe not, but maybe!

It's easy for me to be pacifist because I also believe in a deity that can dole out justice. So I can do what I need to do, I can persuade and fight and not have to take a life. I'm not sure where I would land on that if I didn't. I think it would be reasonable to believe in taking the lives of a few to save the lives of many -- I think I'd feel more urge to engage with the trolley problems of life. I'm trying to parse out how that affects (or should affect) how I think about violence in protests and/or war.

I checked out my old home church's Sunday morning sermon this week, just out of curiosity. As I'm cleaning out the old pieces of hurtful theology that goofed me up, I've felt a little bolder about being able to go back into those spaces without hurting myself. I am pretty good at sensing when something's going to touch upon old wounds, though, and this week's sermon pretty early on hit on some mildly triggering stuff, so I "noped" out of there after about 5 minutes but I wanted to chat about it VERY briefly here...

The analogy being used for our relationship to God was the potter/clay one, and was used in such a way that it conjured an image of me just... being just a big gross blob of nothing with literally no value until God twists us around into whatever shape he feels like. And I think I know what they're getting at, but it's a framing that encourages me to dissociate my spiritual self from my non-spiritual self, that pushes me to see myself as a hideous husk that fortunately gets to wrap myself up in a pretty cloth that is God. But any second that cloth slips, the hideous husk remains. It is nearly impossible for me to hear these analogies and not hear again the message that the very core of my being is seen by God as useless, disposable, ugly, gross.

The potter/clay analogy is Biblical, of course, so I'm not comfortable hand-waving it away, but I always think of it much more in terms of that old story about the artist who was asked how he made a particular elephant sculpture: "You just chip away everything that doesn't look like an elephant." That there is a core piece of us that God already sees (he made us in his image, and something of that must remain), something valuable he is fighting for, and when he changes us and grows us it's because he's clearing away the pieces of us that cloud who we really are, who he made us to be.

That tiny reframing makes a difference because it means that we are not fighting our own nature when trying to follow God. We are instead fighting for it. And it means I'm not trying to reject my feelings, my experiences, my melancholy, my introversion, my relationships. I am trying to full realize them as they were meant to be, without being clouded by the guilt or pressure or fear of "doing things wrong" that obscure so many pieces of my life.

I hadn't processed out exactly why that sermon intro bothered me so much until just now, but that's it. It was an instinctive reaction against that idea I've wrestled against for so long: That the enemy is me.

You know what I've realized stresses me out more than it should, given how mundane it is? Paperwork. I have an innate ability to screw up simple paperwork, and as my job has gotten more paperwork-heavy over the years, it's stressed me out more and more.

I'm still ruminating on that Sunday sermon and the way I've reframed that sense of identity. I feel like it all comes down to the question of am I, at my core, evil, and God covers it up? Or am I, at my core, good, and sin covers it up? Which is my true self and which is the modified version of it? I feel like the doctrine of original sin, which was taught to me with great emphasis growing up, leans toward the first one, in which case of course you can't trust yourself -- you're evil to your core and there is nothing good in you. But I don't think it has to be taught that way. We are, after all, created in God's image, and what on earth does that mean if we are also simultaneously created evil? I think perhaps my parents might say we begin as evil at the core but then can be truly transformed into our Christlike selves which is also the deepest part of us, but too often that transformation gets painted in a way that still encourages us to deny our deepest wishes, fears, hopes, and emotional responses, not because they're returns to bad habits, but because they are us and we are evil.

This reframing matters to me. It matters whether my Christian faith as it matures will lead toward better hiding who I am deep down or better revealing of who I am deep down. It matters whether I as a Christian of 20 years will be better at covering up my feelings vs being better at understanding my feelings. It matters whether I'm just piling on layer after layer of new paint vs scraping away the old ugly paint to reveal what's truly underneath. One leaves me in despair and self-loathing. One inspires me to move forward toward what I was created to be.

Moving from one side of the political spectrum to the other is often framed by those who didn't move in terms of that person becoming an "angrier" person. I think largely because they suddenly get passionate (and sometimes, yes, angrier) about things that their previous community didn't prioritize so now it feels like they're getting "all worked up over nothing."

But I want to take a moment to acknowledge the effect that moving further left has had on my art consumption. Deliberately diversifying my film, TV, and book reading as a part of that has brought me a great deal of joy. I love finding a new story that I feel like I can connect to in a way I know I wouldn't have before because it was dealing with experiences outside of my own. I would not have adored Black Panther and Blindspotting and Sorry to Bother You (2018 was a powerhouse year for mainstream African-American cinema!) five years ago the way I do now, but now they reach me. I would not have appreciated the quietness of Tomboy five years ago, or fallen in love with how Steven Universe plays with gender expectations. I was not as wildly delighted for the Spanish-language West Side Story or the Deaf West musical productions when they first happened as I am now. I feel like my art consumption has grown richer and deeper and more challenging and more beautiful.

It's so surreal sometimes to hear things like "the Left just wants to be outraged at everything all the time," because I associate my beliefs so strongly with this new growing feeling of love and joy at realizing the world is not all about me. (And then of course I try to take that belief into the rest of my world as well as I try to connect with those unlike me and understand what it is important to them and try to support them as best I can.)

I feel like I used to have a lot of non-judgy Christian friends. Then as we all got older, either they all got judgy of me or they stopped being Christian, and now I'm just... alone.

Friday, June 19, 2020

So Everything Is Crazy Now

It's been... quite a few months. Between the pandemic and the protests and everything else the world's been throwing at us, my mental state has just been gone since my last blog, but here are a handful of random thoughts and experiences, stuff that hasn't felt like I had the spoons to do a full blog on. This may be my blog state for a little while.

I'm immunecompromised, and so the pandemic has been scary, but it's been way scarier to see people I've previously thought of as friends fighting really hard against my safety. The few times I've felt okay enough to be like, "Hey, um, so this affects me," they have responded with essentially, "That sucks for you, but freedom is more important." Knowing that not wearing a mask is more important to them than my life is... not something that stops being scary when the virus itself stops being scary.

As churches have been fighting to open up, there's a part of me getting angry about it not just because they're endangering people but because most of the reasons have been essentially "Fellowship isn't easy on Zoom," and when I tried to say "Fellowship isn't easy at church" I was told to it isn't about me and that I should stop being selfish. So I guess what that means is that it really is just me personally church isn't about. That it will always be about everyone else (to the point of endangering people's lives) but never me. Obviously this is a strong reaction and not entirely fair, but I truly struggle to see this and think anything other than, "I will never matter to a church."

The protests and the calling out of the racism entrenched in our country has been a whirlwind of emotions too. This wave has been different from past ones in that it's reaching places and people that didn't seem to be on board before, and the social media response has been loud and overwhelming. That is great in that it may lead to some actual change, but it also means I have had to be careful about what I'm reading about it for my own mental health. And then if I take a step back, I feel guilty for even being able to tune it out, not everyone can, and so it's a constant journey of trying to be a good ally and not turn a blind eye while also making sure I take care of myself so I CAN be a good ally. Some days it's easier to balance that and acknowledging what I am doing and can do, and other days I feel weighed down and then guilty for feeling weighed down. (Incidentally if any other white folks are feeling that too and want to talk about it without making POCs responsible for your emotions -- feel free to talk to me. I don't feel like I can do much these days but I can cheer you on and give you water so you can head back on out to do the work.)

I was fully an "I don't see color" person until shortly after college. I was very well-intentioned, I just didn't get it. My Christian university even did a year-long focus on diversity in its chapels and I just. didn't. get. it.

I have one particularly embarrassing memory of speaking up in a class to posit that doesn't talking about racism so much just lead to more racism? I think for me it was tied to the fact that I had always thought of the non-white people I knew as being like me, and being told, "No, they're not, they experience racism and you don't get it" forced me to mentally put them in an "other" category because our experiences were so different, so I felt like that must be wrong if it was encouraging that. Turns out I needed to find a way to resolve that within myself in a way that didn't invalidate other people's experiences. But the answer I got in that didn't clear it up for me, hand it would be another year or two before I realized, "Oh, wow, I SUPER missed that boat. Ooooooof."

I've come a long way from that kind of thinking but it means as I run across a source that would have convinced me then, I hold onto it, because I can hope maybe it'll reach someone else who is in that same place now.

Anyone remember that Internet game Pandemic, later re-branded Plague Inc? I feel like the game needs to be updated to include the fact that too many people in the US apparently think you can fight viruses with freedom. We're the anti-Madagascar. The easiest to get into and take down.