ITALIA!!!!

If you’ve spent any time with me at all, you know there are lots of things I love: musical theater, teaching, writing, laughing, food (minus the meat), adventure, traveling, etc. This may come as a shock to some of you, but there was a time when I didn’t see myself as a teacher or a writer, I ate hamburgers (gag), and I had no desire whatsoever to ever leave the comfort of the United States. Ever.

Hooo-mama can you even imagine?! I look back at that girl, and I barely recognize her. And I know that if someone had told me when I was 21 that in ten years I would be a vegetarian teacher/writer who has to leave the country once a year to stay sane, I would never have bought it. Ever.

But that is who I’ve become, and I must say, I rather enjoy it, not because I think I’m particularly nifty or original, but because I feel like this is who I’m supposed to be. This is who I was made to be. And if I was made to be this kind of person, there has to be some purpose in it and for it.

What I’ve been learning lately is that if God created me with a plan in mind, then every part of me is part of me for a reason. So what may seem to most people like a pointless and insatiable wanderlust is actually a pretty incredible gift. I don’t understand why most people DON’T want to wander around Europe with a JanSport; most people don’t understand why I do. Nobody’s right or wrong. We’re just made differently for different purposes, and y’all, that’s GOOD as long as we’re each fulfilling our given roles.

Here’s how I’m planning on fulfilling mine this summer.

From June 17-26, God-willing I’ll be going to Milan, Italy with a team of folks from my church here in Raleigh (Vintage21). We’ll be partnering with World Team and their team of church planters already in Milan to offer life and hope to a place that is in surprisingly great despair.

In northern Italy, although about 80% of the people would claim to be Catholic, only about 3% of them attend church regularly and even fewer actually know Jesus personally. Rather, the dominant gods are materialism and fashion, and I was shocked to learn that the Satanic church in northern Italy makes regular sacrifices, both animal and human. It’s ironic, then, don’t you think, that the evangelical church is often mistrusted and viewed as a cult.

That’s where we come in.

The purpose of our 10-day trip is fourfold:

  • We will allow God to work and move in us personally, not going with the idea that we will change Italy in a week, but that God will use Italy to change us.
  • We will pray like crazy for the people of Milan (and northern Italy) who have never encountered the risen Christ, who don’t know that there is freedom for them in Him, who are longing for a God big enough to fulfill their needs and faithful to never let them down.
  • We will conduct English conversation seminars with youth and/or young adults in an effort to build relationships with people and show them that evangelical Christians aren’t necessarily crazy or dangerous. We will also make Jesus known by working to clean up parks and local buildings, thus building the witness and credibility of the missionaries who live/work full-time in Milan. Our hope is that this will assist the churches and church planters there in their evangelistic efforts even after we leave.
  • And we will encourage local Christians in Milan with lots of prayer, helping hands, and hugs.

Y’all, I am straight up jumping out of my skin with excitement, but I can’t get there without some help. I need about $3000 to be able to go. I need about half of it by May 1 and the other half by June 1.

I’m not going to ask the whole internet to give me money (mostly because many of you who read Onward Hoe! are complete strangers, and that would just be weird and off-putting), but if you would like to partner with me in taking hope to northern Italy, please email me for instructions on how you can help. We all have our roles to fulfill. I am grateful to have mine pretty well figured out. Now it’s your turn.

Weekend Update

I understand that some of you are upset by my lack of blogging this week. Here’s what you missed:

  • I joined the Y!! I applied for financial assistance and got it in a BIG way. Seriously, if you want to join but don’t think you can afford it, the application process is really easy, and you’ll have an answer within a week or two. AND if you qualify for assistance, they waive the joining fee altogether. In sum, you should join and be my workout buddy. If it sways your decision at all, there are lots of cute bearded guys there (and cute non-bearded guys if that’s your thing, and cute non-bearded girls for that matter…something for everyone).
  • We went to see The Social Network on Movie Tuesday, which is a weekly outing we’ve started taking because the $1.50 theater sells drinks and popcorn for $1 each on Tuesdays. Movie + popcorn + drink = $3.50? Yes, please. Anyhoe, The Social Network was really good. Justin Timberlake amazes me. How are you so flippin’ talented, JT?
  • Tuesday-Friday felt like the looooooooooonnnnggesssssst four days EVER. Seriously. We had Monday off, and the rest of the week felt like three whole weeks. I’m so glad it’s over. My problem, I figured, was at least twofold. I deviated from my normal lesson pattern, which basically meant that where I would normally have built-in things to do, I had to come up with new things to do. This makes planning more excruciating than usual. And the first round of students has started to thin out considerably as people decide that the class isn’t for them or that they don’t have time for it or whatever, so on Thursday (I think), I only had three students. That sucks.
  • Friday, however, was great. We had our second registration, and I got TEN new students!! They might not all get to stay in the program (some might test out on a test they’ll take on Tuesday), but at the very least, a couple of my old students came back, and that changed the atmosphere of the class for the better instantly. And speaking of old students, Sarah, if you’re reading this, where have you been? Don’t make me call you. Just come on back. We miss you.
  • I tried to upgrade my MacBook’s operating system from Tiger to Snow Leopard. I was unsuccessful. However, I know what the problem is, and I am well on my way to fixing it. Just give me a few weeks, and I’ll be running faster than ever.
  • Speaking of running, I bought my plane ticket to New Orleans!! That actually happened a couple of weeks ago, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned it.
  • And speaking of New Orleans, Amaris and I convinced two boys to go with us today. Boom. Peer pressure. It’s going to be a really fun trip.
  • I got a flippin’ sweet fisheye lens camera, and I’ve been taking pictures all over downtown Raleigh. I believe you can view the whole album here if you’re interested. Just don’t go pilferin’ none of ’em.
  • I bought (hopefully) all the groceries I’ll need for the rest of the month so I don’t have to spend any more money on food until I get paid again. Don’t ask me to go out to eat. I can’t. I have to eat all this food I bought.
  • I did laundry.
  • I started reading Water for Elephants. It’s very good so far. You can expect a book report when I finish.
  • I played a dance game on the X-Box Kinect. It is…really cool. You don’t use any controllers. You just move your hands to make selections, and it actually watches you dance and scored your moves. When you’re setting it all up and moving things around without touching anything, you totally feel like Tony Stark designing a new Iron Man suit or something. And then it has a “freestyle” portion of every dance where you just do whatever you want as it records you. Then it plays back a short clip of your dancing, but in super-speed, so you look like a total spaz. Good times.
  • I had a crazy dream that I was running and skipping at a very high speed through a field with my friend Adam. We jumped into a lake, which we had to do to get all the points. Then he was gone, and I was walking through this trippy desert holding hands with some guy while my sister, who was, as best I can describe it, a swirling sand hologram, followed us. We had to let go at some point because our hands got too sweaty, but we were clearly in love.
  • I had breakfast this morning with a really awesome couple from church who worked as missionaries in Italy for about ten years. Did I mention they were awesome? Because they were.

And I think that just about wraps it up. I would very much like to update y’all more than once a week, but between teaching, lesson planning, training for a half-marathon I’m supposed to run in THREE WEEKS (Lord help us) and sleeping at least eight hours a night, there’s not a lot of free time. Once I get a better handle on the lesson planning, things should improve. Keep your fingers crossed.

Little Bethy Snotty Head

Well friends, it’s after 4:00 on a Thursday, so you know what that means…

PLAY CLOTHES!!!

That’s right! I’m on my couch in my jabambas catching up on the TV I missed this week while I was doing big girl work. It’s great. There’s just one problem: I can’t breathe through my nose. You see, that cold I had was apparently just lying dormant for a week or so, planning its nefarious return, and hoo-boy has it ever returned. I’ve been popping generic DayQuil like Voreos, but the cold just laughs at it. And I’ve had a good 4000% of my daily recommended amount of Vitamin C, but the cold just brushes it aside and says, “That’s pathetic.” I even flushed out my nasal cavity with a Neti pot yesterday, and the cold took that as the perfect opportunity to produce ten times the amount of snot I had up in there before. Awesome.

So I know I owe you guys a few posts. Specifically, there are a few more things I need to tell you about Eric Kearns, we need to talk holiday cards, I’ve got a letter to Bon Jovi to write, and I need to answer the next two questions on my formspring page:

  1. What would a 19th century Beth be like?
  2. Would you ever go to a nude beach.

But for now, as long as I’ve got the capacity, I need to go practice my nose trumpeting. I think I’ve almost got “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and I’m hoping to really nail “When the Saints Go Marching In” by the time this cold clears up. If it sticks around long enough, I might just hire myself out to local churches for their Christmas Cantatas.

Jesus Is Totally Radical

This is not necessarily a story I want to write with my life, but seeing as I do not have that post finished yet, and this just came up the other day, I figured I’d tell y’all about it.

I was talking to Emily Furr Hogan about that summer (I think it was ’98) when we did the BeeGees puppet show for the kids at Vacation Bible School, and Patty Astronaut TP’d the sound booth (naughty Patty). I’m not sure why we were so insistent upon making the theme of VBS that year disco when it was clearly space. I guess we just wanted to have it all. And we did. As the kids were arriving in the morning, we had “Disco Inferno” playing, and when we were put in charge of telling the Bible lesson that day, we worked up a very elaborate puppet show that involved both of us working at least two puppets AND a boom box, which is quite a feat when you’ve only got two hands, and one of them is constantly stuck up in the air. But we did it, complete with “Stayin’ Alive” intro music when each new character arrived on the scene and a duet of “How Deep Is Your Love” with Jesus and Peter center stage and two other disciples singing back-up.

I don’t know if those kids still remember that, but we sure do, so it got us to thinking…we should write Vacation Bible School curriculum! I’m pretty sure all you need is a theme, songs with hand motions to go along with the theme, cheesy videos to go with the theme, Bible stories that can be vaguely related to the theme, and lots of themed…stuff – name tags and cardboard cut-outs and workbooks and stuff.

I think we can do it, and here are my ideas for themes:

  • Roaring 20s – The VBS kids would learn to do the Charleston and steer clear of alcohol (like good little Baptists and prohibitionists). They’d also learn about freedom in Christ through the new-found freedom of women in the 20’s to vote, cut their hair short, wear shorter skirts and go to work. Then they’ll learn about how pride comes before a fall when we talk about the stock market crash of ’29. And that brings us to…
  • The Great Depression – The kids would learn about the danger of worshiping idols and the certainty of God’s provision. The songs might be a little depressing, but I think the message would be powerful. All lesson materials would be printed on the backs of scraps of last year’s materials.
  • Woodstock – Message of the week: Peace and love, kids. That’s what Jesus is all about. Every large group gathering would be held outside in the grass. There would be no videos or mandatory hand motions, just music and free dance time. In craft time, they’d just be encouraged to let the paintbrush do whatever it wants to do (which reminds me of another story I have to tell you later…don’t let me forget).
  • DISCO!! – Clearly Emily and I already think this is a great idea. I mean BeeGees songs are already written in an ideal octave for little kid voices to sing them, and we’ve already demonstrated that “How Deep Is Your Love” is the perfect song to teach the reinstatement of Peter. We can talk about eternal life in heaven with “Stayin’ Alive” though we might need to Christianize most of the lyrics (not a problem, I’ve done it before). And we can learn to resist the devil with “I Will Survive.” The church is going to need a complete overhaul for this VBS week, though, with mirror balls, strobe lights and paneled floors that light up when you step on them. But oh my gosh how much fun would recreation time be? We’ll all do the Hustle and other groovy disco moves.
  • Awesome 80s – Every day, the kids will make a different piece of their totally tubular 80s attire in craft time. One day it’s a slap bracelet, the next they’re bedazzling a denim jacket, then they’re making some crazy asymmetrical sunglasses (to wear at night), and the next thing you know, they’re all decked out and ready to go to the lake or the high school football game! The theme song for the week is called “Jesus Is Totally Radical.” It’s upbeat and peppy and gets stuck in your head whether you like it or not.

That’s all I’ve got so far. I just think the cowboy and space themes are way played out, and EFH and I are just the gals to bring some fresh new ideas to the table. If you’d like to join us, feel free to share your theme ideas in the comments!

Virginia Is for Dancers

Lovers schmovers. I went to Virginia last weekend to see my friend Rachel and her daughter (my goddaughter), Annabelle. Annabelle turned 5 last week, so we had a birthday party, and it just so happened that her dance recital was the same weekend, so I got to go to that too. It was ridiculously cute. She slipped and fell down, but she’s too young to be embarrassed about it, so it was fine.

If you have never been to a kids’ dance recital, let me explain it to you. Lauren-Josh tipped me off to this before I went, so I had the advantage of knowing what to expect, and she was 100% correct. What happens is they put ten 4-year-olds on the stage and expect them to remember choreography that they’ve learned. The only problem with this is that they’ve apparently never done the routine without their teacher doing it in front of them. So whether they actually remember the moves or not is sort of irrelevant. They rely on the teacher regardless.

So these ten 4-year-olds are out on the stage to do their routine, but their teacher obviously can’t stand in front of them, so she’s off to the side, just backstage. But the kids rely on her, so they’re all staring off to one side watching their teacher for the moves, and that means that they’re not doing the moves at the right time because the teacher is doing them at the right time, and they’re a few beats behind. Some are slightly faster than others, and there are maybe one or two kids who know the routine and don’t have to look at the teacher, so they are actually on the beat.

Now, you’ve got one or two kids dancing on the beat, two or three who are just one beat behind, a few more who are slightly more delayed, and the really slow ones who are an entire move behind the pack. So what it looks like is everyone doing something completely different all the time, and then one falls down. It’s fantastic and incredibly cute.

I’m told that in some recitals, they put all the little kid classes in the beginning and all the older kid classes at the end. This one was a slightly better mix, although I’m sure they were saving the really impressive stuff for the finale. They did put one senior solo in at about the half-way mark, which was lovely, but it bothered me because she only did right turns. Like every time there was a rotation of any sort in any form whatsoever, it was to the right. It was like she’d gone to the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Want to Learn Ballet and Stuff.

The whole recital got me thinking that I really want to take dance classes. I always have. But when I told Rachel I wanted to take adult dance classes, I realized that what I meant was that I wanted to take dance classes for adults – like jazz, modern, ballet or tap, and not “adult dance” classes. I’ve already done that. And then it became really hilarious to think about the pole dancing studio giving dance recitals so that all of our friends and family could become acquainted with our sexy sides as well. Emily Furr Hogan asked if we would have them in the fellowship hall of Wilkesboro Baptist Church, which is where we used to have piano recitals when we were kids. I just laughed because there is no dancing allowed there, much less pole dancing. I’m pretty sure someone would have a heart attack if we even mentioned it within view of the steeple. No, we’d have to do it at a “gentlemen’s club,” where there’s already a stage and enough poles set up for the group number.

Let me know if you want tickets.

I have another story to share with you about the drive up there, but I have to wait until someone receives something in the mail before I can discuss it. I’m expecting a call any day now.

Interview With Jason Boyett (aka my best bff forever)

As you may recall, I posted a review last week of Jason Boyett’s new book, O Me of Little Faith. Well, I had the opportunity to sit down with Jason and ask him a few questions. And by “sit down with,” I mean, I sat down and emailed him, and I think he probably sat down to email me back. That counts, right? (Best BFFs FOREVER!!) Here’s what we said to each other. (My questions are all big and important, and his answers are written in a smaller font and confined in smaller boxes.)

You spent a lot of time with O Me of Little Faith. If you and the book were high school seniors, what would you write in its yearbook?

Dear O Me of Little Faith: I told you some things I’ve never told anyone else, ever. You helped me deal with some issues and clarify my thinking on a lot of stuff, so I appreciate that. But you should really put a shirt on.

Really? No “Stay cool,” “RHASL” or “Roses are red, coffee is black, and I’m the first one to sign in your crack”?? Ok then, next question…

Doubt is something that you’ve struggled with for a long, long time. What made you want to write the book now?

Because I’m tired of burying that internal struggle and disguising it behind the mask of a Christian who has it all figured out. I don’t, and I don’t see any use in pretending otherwise. In the process of being honest about these doubts, I’ve discovered that lots of other believers have them, too. So I wanted to write the book as a way to share how I’m learning to deal with it — in hopes that others can walk alongside me in this journey. I hope it’s an encouraging book that reaches out across the loneliness that always seems to be attached to doubt. I hope it provides a safe place for us to start talking about this kind of thing, rather than hiding it.

Right on. I’m a big fan of honesty.

There are lots and lots of (awesome) footnotes in the book. Why didn’t you just include those thoughts in the text? Were you one of those kids in college who gave all your serious psychology papers a title and then a second, snarky, alternate title? I was.

I have never written a serious psychology paper, so no luck there. But I have always loved footnotes. Sometimes, as I’m writing, I think of a joke or an aside that’s only marginally related to whatever I’m writing about. And I really want to use it, but it just doesn’t seem to fit in the text. It might disrupt my precious narrative flow or get in the way of whatever point I’m making. Or it just might not be necessary at all. So what do I do with this frivolous stuff? Either I edit the joke away…or I turn it into a footnote. Footnotes are the clear choice, right? Right.

Oh I concur.

I read the book almost entirely while at my job as a Census 2010 employee. Where did you write it? And what’s the most boring job you’ve ever had?

I wrote it at my desk in my office in my home in Amarillo, Texas. Late at night, mostly. Honestly, I haven’t had too many boring jobs or jobs that allowed me much reading time. My first real job involved delivering prescription medications. It required a lot of driving, which was kind of boring. But reading while driving doesn’t exactly cause the time to speed by. (It does, however, shorten your lifespan.)

Unless you get yourself one of them high falutin’ books on tape. You know, one read by somebody real sexy…like Conway Twitty.

Are you concerned at all that the book will cause doubt where it did not exist before?

Possibly. But, you know, we make it pretty clear on the back cover that it’s a book about doubt. If you are surprised to encounter doubt and hard questions when reading it, then you weren’t paying attention. You can’t say you weren’t warned. But here’s the thing: as believers in Christ, we are supposed to be following and pursuing the truth. Or, the Truth. Capital T. If it’s the truth, shouldn’t it be able to stand up to honest questioning? What do we have to fear? I think the questions I ask in the book are honest ones, born of my desire to understand. So I can ask my questions and express my doubts in pursuit of the truth, or I can hide them in the name of spiritual safety or comfort or peace of mind. Which action is the more truthful one?

Good one. Let’s open that up for discussion, shall we? Hey readers, please discuss.

Chapter 8: “The Paralysis of Weddings and Births” starts out, “I was fearless until I became a father.” But just two chapters earlier, you told us that until 8th grade, you were “soil-your-britches-scared” of roller coasters. Why you gotta be such a liar?

Ahh! Contradictions! My entire thesis has now been ruined! You’ve caught me. I wasn’t actually fearless until I became a father. I was using hyperbole in order to start that chapter off with a bang. Also, you’re mean.

I’m kidding. That’s really picky. But that’s the kind of scrutiny with which (I assume) the majority of intelligent God-doubters read the Bible. The “the-Bible-contradicts-itself-too-much-for-me-to-believe-it” argument keeps them from getting over or pushing through their doubt. What do you have to say to them?

Well, as long as we’re being honest, let me admit that I am one of those kinds of doubters. Reading the Bible is frustrating for me. People tell me the best way to combat my doubt is to “get in the Word.” But I have gotten in the Word. I’ve even written a book about the Bible (Pocket Guide to the Bible, available at fine bookstores near you). But when I read the Bible, I tend to come away with more questions than answers. You’re saying it’s not fair for you to be overly picky about the contradictions and discrepancies that certainly do exist in my book. I agree that there are probably mistakes. That’s because I’m a human being and I mess up. A lot.

But there’s a difference — I’m not claiming my book to be divine. Many people DO claim the Bible to be divine, without mistakes and without error. That’s what I was taught as a child, that the Bible was the “very Word of God.” So when I read the Bible and see these apparent errors or contradictions that require exegetical gymnastics in order to explain away — well, it causes me to doubt. It generates questions and a lot of frustration, because God has given me a brain. Should I just turn it off and ignore the stuff that makes me uncomfortable? I don’t think so, because that’s not intellectually honest. My entire faith tradition is built on what the Bible teaches. If I am going to devote my life to what it teaches, then it needs to be able to bear some close scrutiny. Again — if the Bible is true, it should be able to withstand my honest questions.

So to answer your original question, what would I say to the folks who struggle with faith due to doubts about the Bible? I would say this: I get it. I totally understand. If I have trouble understanding and even trusting the Bible, then of course I’m going to be dealing with some doubt.

What I like so much about that chapter, though, is that it encourages action in spite of doubt. No. That’s not true. It doesn’t encourage – it takes away your best excuse for inaction. It kicks you in the face and says, “Stop being so freaking lame and selfish.” That is not a direct quote or even an insinuation, really. It’s just what I took from it. By the way, Chapter 8: “The Paralysis of Weddings and Births” seriously changed my life. This isn’t a question, just an opportunity to say thank you.

You’re welcome. It’s a fairly philosophical chapter, with all that Kirkegaard stuff, but I understand where you’re coming from. Sometimes you just have to make the leap into the fog of uncertainty, right?

Exactly. Ok. This might be a long shot, and it’s totally not related to the book, but I have to ask: Do you know Don Miller, and if so, could you set me up with him?

Don and I exchanged emails right after Blue Like Jazz was released, way before he became the super-famous DONALD MILLER. So he probably knows my name, and we have some mutual friends, and as writers we’d probably have a lot to talk about. But we’re not buddies or anything. So for me to attempt to set you up with him would be all kinds of awkward. For him. For me. For you.

Which is to say, of course! If we’ve learned anything from watching “The Office,” interpersonal awkwardness is hilarious. So let me get in touch with him right this minute.

Ok I know that’s a joke, and that you’re not going to get in touch with him about setting us up, but I have to admit, I might have just had a small aneurysm from the excitement. We should move on before I go into cardiac arrest as there is no one here to find me and take me to the hospital.

This is only quasi-related to the book, but do your kids have pet turtles? Do you ever stack them up on each other to teach them about faith? Have you chosen someone to take care of them after the rapture?

I have had several pet turtles in my life. Actually, they were tortoises — the kind we discovered crossing the street and felt sorry for so we took them home and put them in the backyard. And then they disappeared from October to May. And then we saw them again, maybe, twice more before they disappeared forever. Turtles are mysterious creatures.

I have never stacked a turtle, because I am haunted by what happened to Yertle. I couldn’t live with those consequences.

I haven’t taken steps to care for my pets after the rapture, but if I were to do so I would definitely go with my friend Bart, the guy behind Eternal Earthbound Pets, which is an actual business created to take care of Scruffy after you’ve gone to meet Jesus. Bart’s an atheist, so he pretty much figures he’ll be left behind. I interviewed him at my blog, by the way. Here and here.

Awesome. And finally, my roommate and I discussed the choreography of an interpretive dance during a roadtrip we took over the weekend. Do you have a song preference?

No preference, as long as it’s either Michael W. Smith or Kool Moe Dee. If you can find a way to do a mashup of those two, then I’ll be happy.

I’m on it. If your book tour brings you to western NC, let me know. I’ll make you a PB&J and have my dance troupe ready to perform our MWS/KMD/OMOLF liturgical dance.

Doubt: Just a Dirty Word for Honesty

Is it ironic that I was skeptical about a book about doubt? That’s fine. I fully admit that I was. I was excited to read it, don’t get me wrong. I mean, this is what happened when my copy of Jason Boyett‘s new book, O Me of Little Faith, came in the mail:

But as excited as I was to read it, I have to say that I wasn’t even through the Introduction before I got a little uneasy about the whole thing. Ok, so raise your hand if you’ve ever taken a test to discover your spiritual gifts. I have taken several, and they’ve always had different outcomes. My theory is that you either are given or develop different gifts based on the roles you have at the time, so that makes sense. But one of the gifts I’ve always had is faith.

I would never have classified myself as a doubter. I still wouldn’t. So when the third page of a book about doubt said, “if you are rock-steady in your faith…then by all means, put this [book] down. Put it back on the shelf. Walk away slowly and enjoy your blessings,” I considered taking it up on the offer. But I’d promised to read it, and the part I left out in the ellipsis there said, “…and [if you] have no interest in reading a book about doubt…,” and I was interested. Wary, but definitely interested. So I kept going.

One of my college English professors told me at the end of the course that he wished I was as open-minded as I was intelligent and analytical. I said I could say the same for him, he threatened my grade, I laughed at him, he gave me an A. Looking back, several things occur to me:

  1. I think he was flirting with me. Creepy.
  2. I was definitely more closed-minded and legalistic in college.
  3. But I wasn’t judgmental of other people. I just kept myself on a short leash.
  4. I don’t look back on that closed-mindedness as entirely a bad thing.

My mind has always been closed in a healthy way from SO many harmful things. To discuss all of that would be irrelevant, but all’s I’m sayin’ is that I think there’s a difference between being closed-minded and having a mind that’s guarded or shielded. To me, the former implies ignorance and prejudice while the latter implies informed decision and strength. If you disagree, then forget the words “closed-minded” and “guarded,” and just consider the difference in implications.

(I know I’m rambling a little. Stay with me.)

What I’m getting at is the difference between me and Jason Boyett. You might not know it based on any number of ridiculous conversations or activities I’ve been involved in, but I’m smart. Jason’s the same way (no offense, buddy). He’s funny and goofy, and there’s a kid on the front of his book with band-aids on his nipples, but this is a guy who’s been on the History Channel as one of those experts they bring in to sit in leather arm-chairs and talk about the Apocalypse. He knows stuff.

And curious minds like that are not often satisfied with Sunday School felt-board answers to big theological questions like, “Why did Satan and hell not appear on the scene until the New Testament if God was the same God and reality was the same reality all along?” and, “Is Christianity just one, crazy, made-up thing that developed out of centuries of cultural mixing?” Indeed, I’d love to see the look on a Sunday School teacher’s face if an 8-year-old brought up such questions.

But the difference between me and Jason is that while his honest questioning causes him to doubt, mine causes me to trust. I’m not saying one is better than the other. I envy his passion for learning, and honestly, my faith and my mind would probably be stronger if I had that to the same degree that he does. I AM saying that he and I have different faith paths, different journeys, and I learned a lot from reading about his.

In no particular order, here’s what I learned:

  • I do have doubts. They’re not crippling or faith-shattering, but sometimes things don’t add up like I want them to.
  • It’s ok to doubt. It means you’re thinking.
  • It’s not ok for doubt to be the end. That means you’ve stopped thinking. Doubt is not a decision you make to live by. It is a step in a process. When you doubt whether your dryer is actually drying your clothes, you don’t just turn it off and give up. You run some tests. You put it on different settings with different clothes inside. You unplug it and plug it back in. You kick it. You stand back and stare at it for a moment, then kick it again. Determining conclusively that your dryer is broken is completely different from doubting that it works. Doubting God’s existence is totally different from determining it conclusively. And if you have determined conclusively that God does or does not exist, I’m sure we’d all love to hear about it.
  • It’s ok to be honest about doubt. It won’t make you a bad Christian (or a bad Atheist for that matter). In fact, it’s much better to have other people to discuss things with instead of going round and round in your own mind about it until your brain begins to resemble the jell-o you’ll be eating in the asylum before long.
  • Lying about your doubt doesn’t make it go away. It just makes you a liar.
  • Doubt does not cancel out faith. Faith does not indicate an absence of doubt.
  • Faith is a choice and an action. We are never guaranteed another year, another day, another breath, but we live as though we believe we will have them by making plans. We don’t sit around paralyzed with indecision about tomorrow’s lunch because we don’t know whether tomorrow will even come. That’s just silly. We believe we will have more time because we always have in the past. Personally, I have never felt let-down by God, so for me, faith is living in the belief that this will continue. If you do feel that God has let you down, you have every right to doubt, but like I said, don’t stop there. Keep running tests. Keep searching.

If you struggle with doubt, seriously, read O Me of Little Faith. If you have no doubts at all, awesome. Keep it up. But if you’re interested in reading about it, this is a good place to start. It’s funny, it’s deep but still easy to read, it’s totally honest, and it has the most footnotes of any non-academic book I’ve ever read. Fun footnotes, though, not the boring kind that make you wish you hadn’t wasted your time and lost your place on the page.

Next week, I’m super-excited to share with you an interview with Jason Boyett in which he answers some big questions like how he responds to the Bible’s many contradictions and whether or not he can set me up with Donald Miller. Stay tuned!!

1000 Ways I’m Better Because of Blogging

Ahem. Do I look any older today? Any wiser, perhaps? You may notice that I have a new banner up at the top there, which is all thanks to my awesome sister, who is much better at that sort of thing than I am. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

This is my ONE THOUSANDTH BLOG POST. I wish I knew how many words that was, but I have no idea. To be sure, it’s enough to fill multiple books, which is very encouraging. I know that I am capable of writing a book. It’s just going to be a matter of time and diligence. And that leads us directly into today’s actual post. I’m not really going to list 1000 ways I’m better because of blogging. You can read back through the past six years to see my journey if you want to. I’m just going to hit five highlights that I think encompass them all.

I’m More Confident in My Writing Ability

I started blogging in 2004 after meeting some girls in NYC who had blogs and couldn’t believe I didn’t have one. I think we’d met just once or twice before they both recognized that I would either love it or be good at it (I’m not sure which – maybe both). And for the first little while there, I really didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t set out to make this website what it is. It just evolved. In the first few months, I blogged about two things: Christianity and community league hockey. And while the hockey was a lot of fun for me, I’m not sure anybody else got it. But my more spiritual writing was what got people’s attention. Those were the posts people read and said, “You know, you’re a really good writer.” I didn’t really believe them (still have trouble with it, actually), but taking the risk of putting my words out into the world began to build a confidence I hadn’t known with anything before.

If you read any books or blogs or articles on writing, one of the things you’ll have read over and over again is that in order to be a better writer, you have to write. Just write and write and write. Every day. And it’s funny – I never really considered what I do here writing. Not “real” writing anyway. Not writing that matters, but it does. It matters to me, to my craft, and hopefully to at least a few people here and there. And I’d like to think I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but even if I haven’t, even if I’ve stayed at the same level or even regressed, it doesn’t really matter because I love it more every day, and the more I fall in love with writing, the more confident I am in my ability to do it. And maybe that’s what improving is.

I’m a Better Problem Solver

I know things about HTML that no Psychology major or ESL teacher should know. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve screwed up this website to the point where I thought I’d lost everything and would have to start all over. And then, miraculously, I fix it. Sometimes this requires the assistance of several people who are clearly much smarter than me, but I think that’s part of problem-solving – humility and the support of people who still love you even though you suck at something.

So first of all, to everyone who has helped me solve a technical issue, I’d like to return the favor. If you ever need anything edited, or if you have a website you want me to advertise, or if you’d like some vegan cupcakes or cookies, you just let me know.

And the other part of problem-solving is just not being afraid to fiddle around. Granted, that’s how I get myself in trouble, too, but it is how I learned to do 100% of the things I now know how to do with my page design, and it spills over into the rest of my life. When I started this thing in 2004, I was not the kind of person who ever would have dreamt of going vegan, writing a book, walking marathons or cutting up/refashioning her clothes. I did what I’d always done, ate what I’d always eaten, wore my clothes the way they were made, and didn’t often push myself into territory that was dramatically different or uncomfortable (sometimes, but not often).

But as I’ve learned to solve problems better, I’ve gotten more comfortable with experimentation and challenge because I’ve realized that (A) it is very hard to screw things up entirely, (B) I am very luck to have an amazing network of people who are always willing to help me out, and (C) that’s how I learn.

I’m No Longer Afraid of Commitment

If you are one of the, like, three people who’ve been reading this since it began, you’ve been with me through two phone companies, eight moves, thirteen roommates, *cough cough* boyfriends/quasiboyfriends, countless crushes you didn’t even know about, three churches (not counting any of the ones involved in Church Search 2010) and at least five jobs. And there have been times when I’ve been more committed to blogging than others. I hope you’ll have noticed that over the past year or two, I’ve become more consistent. This is a phenomenon that is slowly taking over more aspects of my life. I’m living in places for longer, I’ve been with the same phone company for several years now, I try to blog every day, but if I can’t, at least three times a week, and in general, I’m looking for places to be and people to be with for the long haul.

And I’m not scared of it. I am sometimes scared of not having these things ever, of always being this sort of nomad who blows in and out of people’s lives, is never truly known and then easily forgotten. But I know that’ll never happen. I’m too good with a telephone.

I Have a Voice

…which I use on the phone for hundreds of minutes each month. If you haven’t heard it, email me your digits, and I’ll call you. For real. But mostly I’m talking about two things:
1.    My writing voice.
2.    A platform.

I was at my new Thursday morning writing group yesterday, reading a chapter from my book-in-progress to two listeners. One of them has read/heard a lot of me, and the other was a woman I’d just met. And one of the things the new lady had to say was that she loved how my voice on paper was exactly like my speaking voice. I don’t always achieve this, but as my confidence grows, so does my authenticity. And perhaps even more exciting than having a voice is having people recognize it and like it.

I hate to tell y’all this, but only about 7% of what I do here is for you. Mostly what happens is I see something noteworthy in the world or inside myself, and I want to document it. I don’t put it to you for your approval, but for your participation. But when you do approve, well that feels really good. And the more people approve of what you have to say, the more they want to hear, and the greater the opportunity for you to speak on the topics that really matter to you. I don’t do much of that here (mostly it’s just general ridiculousness), but on the days when I do have something important to say, I’m glad y’all are here to listen, and if I’ve said something that resonated with you, feel free to pass it on.

I Know Who I Am (and So Can You)

I feel the most like myself when I am genuinely laughing – not laughing out of politeness or discomfort or as a way to fill a void, but really cracking up. In those moments, I’m not self-conscious, I’m not worried, I’m not dissatisfied. That’s me being myself fully and completely.

These have been good, good times, friends, and if you weren’t around for some of the earlier ones, I want to invite you to see the hilarity for yourself.

Ode to a Weather Man – My poetry really is one of my favorite things on here.
The Zimmerman Limmermacht dream – You know you’re crazy when this kind of thing goes on without you even thinking about it.
Hey, remember when I was a pole dancer? Good times.
The one in which I shake my head violently.
One of my all-time favorite poems, God is NOT a Temp.
The one where Whitney imitates a porn film.
Goodness gracious how many haikus did I write that day?
That’s Racin’!
The one where I talk to Jane Austen, who, sweet as she is, is really quite thick.
Roy Orbison + Clingfilm = Endless Entertainment
Why I’m becoming a Jehova’s Witness (It took me 3 tries just now to type ‘witness’ instead of ‘Whitney.”)

Here’s to another 1000 posts!! Onward Hoe!!

Yes, it’s really 1:45 a.m.

Every few months, I get to feeling antsy and what’s-the-point-ish about my blog. Why bother? It’s not like I’m saying anything life-changing or earth-shattering, after all. But then I remember that I just really like doing it, and that some things that happen are just too good to keep to myself. For example, I went to this thing tonight. It was a Christian singles thing, and I honestly didn’t know what it was going to be exactly, but it turns out it was very much like a church service. Except sort of bizarre and depressing. As Christian singles events, sadly, often are.

Only one person spoke to me the entire night, and he did so because he thought I was someone else. Then he asked me to fill out an info sheet so they could get me on the mailing list. Um…no, thanks.

Also, the guy who spoke came out with some odd things, including, but in absolutely no way limited to:

“If you sneeze before breakfast on Sunday, there’s gonna be a death in the family by sundown.”

And my personal favorite:

“Have you had your cornbread and milk cleaned out on the INside?”

Believe me, even in context, these statements would not make much more sense than they do standing alone. I will probably not return to this biweekly event. But these are the kinds of things I like to just put out there – for your affirmation of my sanity, to make you laugh, to give you a short break at work, etc.

And once I realize that I’m not going to just throw in the towel, well that’s when I usually decide a design revamping is in order. Never mind me, though. I’ll just be shifting things around and changing colors, and MAYBE we’ll even come up with some logos for y’all to vote on! How exciting would that be?!

Stay tuned.

Finding My People

I don’t know if y’all have seen or read The Jane Austen Book Club. I thought it was ok, and it was one of those rare occurrences when I liked the movie better than the book, but that is beside the point. Whether you’ve seen it or read it or not, and regardless of how you feel about it, the premise is this: A bunch of people – some of whom know each other, some of whom are complete strangers – get together to read all of Jane Austen’s books. The story is about the relationships that form through the club, etc. And no matter how you feel about how the story is written or presented, the idea is a good one because it’s pretty true to life. At least, it seems like it’s becoming pretty true to my life.

When I decided to move to Asheville, I got on meetup.com and found a few groups to join. I figured I could meet some new people, practice my Italian and get my book edited all on one website. Well, the Italian group has yet to meet up, but I’ve been to the Asheville Aspiring Authors group twice now, and I’m really starting to love them.

I missed the first meeting because it was right after I’d moved, and either I had something else going on, or I didn’t realize the meeting was that night, or maybe I was just too exhausted to try and find my way to it, but I made it to the second meeting, which was last week. It was the first week people read, and we all took turns giving critiques, advice, praise and “sparkles,” which are exactly like spirit fingers, and they’re what you do when someone says something you’d like to second.

Almost everyone was very cordial and civilized, so I volunteered to read this week, and somewhere between them helping me think of a better way to describe putting a ski mask on a tiny monkey and everyone getting teary-eyed as another lady read the story of her baby daughter dying, we became a community.

I’m still definitely looking for a church. Make no mistake about that. But I’m also finding “my people” in other, somewhat surprising places, and I’m finding that they don’t have to be anything like me at all. This group is made up of men and women of different ages, races, backgrounds and interests. We’ve all got different stories to tell, and we all tell them in different ways, but I’m glad that we’ve found each other and come together to listen.