Relentless nuance, finding community, parenting failures, and other answers to your questions
Ask Me Anything
As I am wont to do every couple months, yesterday I opened up an AMA (which stands for “Ask Me Anything” in Internet-speak) on my Instagram Stories and Facebook Stories for your questions to build this week’s Field Notes. A lot of questions rolled in - more than I can answer in this newsletter, I’m afraid - but I tried to choose a good cross-section for us today so buckle up. Lots of questions repeat every time so if you don’t see your question, it may be because I’ve already answered a variation of it in a previous AMA.Today we’re covering everything from feminist country music songs to finding community post-deconstruction to dealing with doubt over the existence of God altogether and whether or not I feel like a bad parent sometimes (spoiler: yes). Let’s go….
Q. The internet community is a refuge for when deconstruction is not welcome where one is. How does one find one’s own people in real life and online?
A. I’m actually writing a bit about this in my new book, but basically, I’ve found that it usually takes time, courage, vulnerability, openness to new/different paths, resilience, and embracing the awkwardness. It’s not something that is going to come as easily as our seasons of proximity friends - think back when you went to school and you just got to see your friends every day without really much effort. And for those of us who were used to our entire social lives revolving around church, it is a bit of an empty feeling to suddenly not have that social/relational hack in hand. (Don’t misunderstand me, I do think church can and often will be a great place to find good friends and companions but it’s not for all of us.) I think having an openness to other avenues of connection through shared interest is always a good possibility but again, it takes time and presence. My mother joined a knitting group and those ladies became some of her dearest friends, for instance, while others have found friends in their kids’ sports clubs or a neighbourhood book club. There are also a lot of online deconstruction spaces that do have in-person meet-ups, too or will introduce you to possible faith communities. Look at where you’re finding life and joy right now, you might begin to find some people at that same intersection. And keep in mind that community can look different for each of us, too. Not all of us need a big loud messy front-porch friends-as-family thing, some of us just need one or two people who understand and that shouldn’t be dismissed either. Regardless, I go back to “time, courage, vulnerability, openness to new/different paths, resilience, and embracing awkwardness” in the end because that’s just what it seems to take. We’re going to put ourselves out there and it won’t go great. We’re going to try three things before one thing works. We’ll go on friendship-dates that are one-timers and others that spark immediate magic. We’re going to go to an awkward evening out and crack open our story to someone again. We’re going to have to be brave. We will have some failures. No matter where you eventually find some community - a new church, a roller derby club, your neighbourhood, hell, even Crossfit - it’s always worth doing on purpose.
Q. How do you respond to those that are challenging your faith (in terms of interactions with more evangelical/fundamentalist people)?
A. In my experience, this is particularly painful when it comes from people in my real-life who I thought knew me well enough to know my heart, my motivations, my intentions were to love God and love people always. So I’ve had to learn to draw some boundaries around what I allow into my mind and heart and life but like most of us, I learned it the hard way. (Now when it’s strangers on the Internet with drive-by accusations of heresy? I don’t really care much anymore. People can think or say what they like, I know my God and I know my heart before God. Block and bless like it’s a spiritual gift, babe.) But when it’s people in my real life, I try to adapt a posture of empathy and curiosity that is balanced with self-care and boundaries. Basically, I’m not interested in debates or arguments anymore, but I hope to stay open to conversation, relationship, and even disagreement. Conflict isn’t always bad (this was a revelation to an Enneagram 9 such as myself) and I think there is room in relationships for deep differences, for sure. There are a ton of good books, therapists, coaches out there to help discern this in more detail.However, there is also a need for clarity, curiosity, empathy, and respect from others, too. A good relationship requires participation from both people, right? If it continues to be exhausting and disrespectful cycle, I do tend to withdraw from the relationship. I’m just not interested in pretending much anymore. Sometimes we can have a conversation about why we’ve reached this point, but other times it’s just a natural end of a relationship without a lot of drama as we both keep moving forward but apart (so less “block and bless” and more “bless and release” there perhaps?). I’ve given up on the need to explain myself to someone who is determined to not understand. Sometimes we need to allow people to be wrong, even about us. I don’t harbour unforgiveness or anything, it’s just an arms-length awareness of knowing who they are and responding accordingly, if that makes sense. Trying to change people’s minds or convince them of my convictions isn’t the best use of my time and energy. I think it’s possible to love someone and release the hold their opinion has on us at the same time.
Q. What is your favourite swear word? What is your most cancellable opinion? Is Jeff Chu an annoying little brother to you?
A. It just isn’t an AMA ifdoesn’t show up to troll me a bit. For the record - and the others who were also curious - I do tend to recoil from casual swearing like f-words because I’m a prude grandmother at heart. So I’m actually not a big swear-er, in my mind or my private life, let alone in public. (Someone will ask me to turn in my Progressive Christian Leader TM card shortly…). However, I do love a well-placed s-word now and then though. I think I've sworn on purpose in my public work like once.
According to my DMs, it turns out that my most cancellable opinion is the fact that I’m a life-long Boston Bruins fan. I’m okay with this.
And Jeff is definitely like the brother I never had in… so many ways…
Q. Visiting Calgary this summer (I’m from Ireland), what’s not to be missed?
A. I’m assuming you’re coming here to see the Rocky Mountains, yes? So make sure you head to Banff to enjoy the town but also the mountains themselves. I like to hike up Tunnel Mountain right in the centre of town as it isn’t too strenuous or difficult (I mean, I can do it, that counts for something) but at the top, you can see all around the Bow Valley. I also like the Sulphur Mountain gondola for an evening to watch the sun set up at the peaks by the firepits. If you go in the early morning or evening, you can enjoy Moraine Lake and Lake Louise - which are often over-run with tourists but honestly? totally worth it.
And if you’re staying in Calgary proper, there are some fantastic neighbourhoods (17th Ave, Kensington, etc.) and restaurants here to spend a day for sure, but I always recommend a bike ride or walk along the Bow River on a sunny day. We’re a big patio city and summer is the prime time for that lingering, long chat outside. If you’re here during the Stampede, it’s always a ton of fun for the city with pancake breakfasts, lots of live music, and rodeo.
Q. Did you ever experience burnout and how did your faith sustain you?
A. Absolutely. I’ve definitely had seasons of burnout due to church trauma, heartbreak, health crisis, you name it. I think that’s where I began to really sort through what I believed about God, prayer, a life of faith, all of that stuff because it’s easy to hold beliefs when the house keeps winning but when the chips fall, well, then what? So for me, those valleys were where I began to really understand the faithful presence of God that wasn’t based on my productivity or polish or performances. I became better acquainted with Isaiah’s “Man of Sorrows” who is near to the brokenhearted. And so when it comes to my faith, I found a lot of companionship and solace in scripture, in prayer, in nature, and in the silence. I think it’s also what taught me to learn how to rest and unhook myself from the evangelical hero machine that just chews us up and spits us out. The systems of our world - capitalism, patriarchy, etc. - are always going to try to consume us and destroy us, so it can be a prophetic act to prioritize healing, wholeness, joy, and sustainability. Burnout recovery usually isn’t an accident. Yes my faith has sustained me but my faith is also deeply embodied in my life, right? So it’s woven through everything that helped me heal from burnout like sleep, better rhythms, boundaries, beauty, space, walks, healthcare, support, food, you name it.
Q. What is your go-to evening snack?
A. I’m always a sucker for popcorn but sometimes a piece of peanut butter toast or a bowl of All-Dressed chips (Miss Vickie’s is my favourite brand there). I’m definitely more a savoury person, I’ll pick salty over sweet every time.
Q. How long did it take you to feel like a competent knitter?
A. I was constantly Googling tutorials on k2tog for the first year or two but then I began to understand it and sure enough, practice helped. I still have things I’m not good at it (cabling, colour work etc.) but after a while, the constant practice meant that certain things came easier and faster. Knitting is not hard - promise! - and once your hands understand it, it just flows in a meditative sort of way.
Q. What’s bringing you joy at the moment?
A. Alt-country music, longer days of sunshine as the seasons shift, the Stanley Cup playoffs, wearing 90s fashion again right down to my Doc Martens, baking simple cakes, watching the sun set on the mountains to the west, and my walks.
Q. Do you have any speaking engagements in Calgary anytime soon?
A. Nope. I’m not completely sure on this, but I suspicion I’m just kind of done preaching or speaking like that for a while (with the exception of Evolving Faith, obviously). I just don’t have the energy or time or even desire for that right now. It’s never something that came very easily to me but with the amount of book writing, family demands, and Evolving Faith on the go, I just can’t see a way clear to doing it well so it’s off the table at the moment. However, you’re very welcome to join us in-person or online for the conference this year…which is shaping up to be the only preaching I’ll do this year.
Q. In the midst of grief, also work and parenting, what spiritual disciplines have you found?
A. Some of the more “classic” spiritual disciplines can become a bit empty when you’re in a busy or intense season. So if you were discipled to think of spiritual disciplines as exclusively “Quiet Time” in the morning or a class with a demanding Bible study, well, you might wobble a bit when those lose some effectiveness or meaning. Sometimes we need to expand our understanding of discipline to include simple practices or postures especially when we’re in intense seasons of parenting or grieving or working (sometimes all three). Whatever nourishes our soul can be a practice of faith when you invite awareness of God’s love and goodness to that intersection. So for me, it might not have been a traditional “spiritual discipline” but the practices of prayer, lectio divina, gentle walking (this was a huge one for me), community, silence, being in nature, generosity, quiet work behind the scenes towards a more just world, poetry, all of those things have served me well. Either way, I had to release the “shoulds” (I should do this, I should do that etc.) and embrace some freedom, permission, and possibility. God is usually hiding in plain sight in our right-now life and I’ve not found Love to be withholding from us. It just might look different than we were taught to expect.
Q. What are tangible ways medical providers/staff have made hard experiences better/easier (I’m an RN)?
A. What a generous question and thank you for your heart for your patients/clients! I think one of the best things that people did for me was to treat me like a person. It sounds simple but honestly, when you’re in a medical system you can start to feel like a chart or a number or a collection of symptoms and stitches. It was startling to me how few people could look at me, let alone actually see me as a whole person. It’s dehumanizing, really. When I felt most vulnerable, I needed to be a person again the very most. So those nurses or medical staff who called me by my name, who listened without judgement and asked questions, who asked about impact in my life, who seemed to believe me or even offer some empathy mattered. I remember one person just simply saying touching my arm and saying, “I’m so sorry you’re going through this” - I nearly burst into tears at the simple validation. I know it’s hard to maintain our humanity in these systems but that simple gift of being a person and reminding me that I’m a person still always helped me immensely.
Q. How do you get it all done?
A. I get asked a version of this question almost every AMA and I never really know how to answer it. I mean, it’s life. We just do it. We all do. Jobs, kids, family commitments, housework, all of it. We’re all a circus, aren’t we? I do know I’m fortunate that I was raised in a good home that taught me how to run a household without a lot of drama plus I’m married to a midwestern man who loves to be productive and contribute fully so that helps, too. We’re a good team with a similar work ethic. I’ve just never felt like I’m super productive compared to other people so I find the question funny. I do what needs to be done - and then try to add in some things that I enjoy too because otherwise, I get miserable. (If I’m not making time to read, I’m grumpy and that isn’t fun for anyone, it turns out!) Of course, my health took a turn in 2017 and since then I’ve quieted things down a lot. My kids are always going a hundred directions and we have some high-needs in the mix here too, plus Brian travels for work a lot, so I try to keep my own schedule quiet and steady.
Sometimes I think we look so much at what people do, we miss what they don’t do. And there are a lot of things I don’t do - for instance, I don’t do much volunteering at the kids’ schools, I don’t stay busy with church commitments right now, my social life is practically on mute, I don’t travel for work anymore, I don’t watch much tv or go to the movies at all, and so on.
Maybe this is because we all compare our inside lives with people’s outside lives and then think we’re somehow not measuring up. I know I can feel that way, for sure. So for what it’s worth, I’ll just say this: I don’t “get it all done.” Not by a long shot. I get some things done. The state of my oven and my social life right now is a testament to that truth. Like all of us, I get done what I can, release what I can’t or ask for help or pay for help. I think having “balance” is mostly a fairy tale. Maybe we’re just not as honest about the messy middle part here? Either way, you’re probably doing a great job and most of us are trying to do our best, too and any instinct you may have to think I have it “all figured out” is laughable.
any instinct you may have to think I have it “all figured out” is laughable
Q. What’s something you’ve changed your opinion on recently?
A. Whew, this is a never-ending journey, isn’t it? I think the main thing that I’m experiencing right now is perhaps best described as relentless nuance. I know that black-and-white, us vs. them, good-evil thing is a more comfortable place to live within this world that often seems like a never-ending purity of litmus tests for right or left, but as I get older, I’m discovering more and more comfort with the “but also…” nuance. Just when I think I’ve drawn the lines well of who-is-in-and-who-is-out, I find someone or something that offers a bit of reality and story that invites me to more compassion. Relentless nuance complicates the narratives, for sure, which doesn’t always make for good sound bites, but it does make for more empathy and curiosity. I think that’s why I’m struggling in a lot of social media right now.
Q. I’d love to hear your approach to modesty in this post-purity-culture world.
A. Honestly? I don’t care about modesty at all from a what-we-wear perspective. I think there are places where certain things are appropriate, sure, but even there, you can see the “relentless nuance” that I mentioned above at work there, too. I don’t wear certain things in particular places but that’s a personal choice. I am pretty done with the control of modesty when it comes to women’s clothing and behaviour so I usually just opt out. Wear your bikinis and be glad. And if someone on Twitter is mad about yoga pants or sleeveless dresses, that’s their own problem, not mine. (P.S. If bare arms incite you to lust, I wouldn’t admit that on Al Gore’s Internet as if it’s a virtue but hey, you do you, I guess - and handle your business, you weirdo.)
Q. What’s your go to fast family dinner?
A. Fastest and most frequent? Pioneer Woman’s Swedish Meatballs. I just buy a bag of the frozen pre-made meatballs from Ikea and keep them in the freezer for those “I need supper in 15 minutes” nights. It’s hardly gourmet but the kids dig it and everyone is fed for another night.
Q. Advice for dealing with doubt in the existence of God? Feels different from other doubts.
A. I don’t know if I have a ton of advice here but what I do have is the knowledge that you’re not alone or bad or wrong. I think it’s pretty normal. For what it’s worth, I have lost my belief in a lot of versions of God over the years. Sometimes it helps to name what we don’t believe anymore. For instance, when we stop believing in a punitive judgemental and angry God? if that’s the only version of God we have in our minds, we think we’ve stopped believing in God altogether but really that was a version of God we were given and of course we don’t believe that anymore. That wasn’t God to begin with, you know? Sometimes we do a lot of unlearning before we have the space for a new learning.
Either way, I’ve found that when it comes to belief, the harder we work to hold onto it, the faster it slips away (I almost picture a toddler trying to clutch a handful of sand; the tighter they squeeze, the faster it spills out of their hand). So when I’m in an intense season of doubt about this or anything really, my invitation is to open up my hands. To release certainty and particular outcomes. To bless the box I once needed for God even as we go for a walk in the wilderness for a while. To let myself doubt, to let the questions come, to sit in the messy middle of not-knowing, to practice patience and kindness even towards myself in those questions. God’s love isn’t dependent on our right opinions, thankfully. I remember my friend Rachel often using the phrase, “On the days when I believe this…” as a way to invite her doubt into her beliefs with honour. I still practice that one myself.So if you aren’t believing in God for a while, that’s okay, promise. Maybe you will again, maybe you won’t, but sometimes it’s okay to lean into what we want to believe or hope to believe and then try to embody that with that kind of faithful stubbornness. I believe in love, in goodness, in beauty, in justice, no matter what we call it, and so there is a lot of room for not-knowing still. I’ve grown away from needing immediate answers in the moment, sometimes the holiest thing we can do is simply say, “I don’t know” and let that be enough for a while.
Sometimes the holiest thing we can do is simply say, “I don’t know” and let that be enough for a while.
Q. Do you ever have days where you feel like a bad parent and if yes, what gets you through them?
A. Absolutely. Often. Recently. Not very long ago, I went to my room after a particular incident, closed the door, locked it, and then laid down on the floor to cry harder than I have ever cried in my life over something to do with parenting. Parenting is hard whether you have toddlers or teenagers or beyond. I think the thing to remember is that if we are worried about being bad parents, it usually means we aren’t a bad parent. It means we care a lot. We’ll mess up, we’ll have to apologise, we’ll need to handle our own triggers and baggage, sure. Also it’s developmentally normal for kids to be kids, don’t be surprised by their complete normalcy. But at the end of the day, what gets me through it is to talk to someone - in my case, usually my husband or my sister or a close friend especially one who is a bit further up the road parenting-wise. They can speak some truth, offer advice and perspective, yes, but above all they can affirm that I love my kid, I’m not alone, and no, we’re not perfect but we’re mostly good. Hope is not lost yet. I was listening to Michelle Obama’s latest book, The Light We Carry, and in her chapter on parenting she talked about this universal feeling of worry, failure, inadequacy, and fear that parents experience, especially these days, and even just hearing her - her! - admit to the same feelings made me feel a little less alone. And sometimes it’s just hard because it’s hard, you know? It’s not because we’re doing it wrong, it’s just hard. It’s hard to be a teenager or a toddler, it’s hard to navigate this changing world, it’s hard because it’s hard.
Q. Top songs for a feminist country music playlist?
A. Oh, my, we could be here for a while so I’d love to hear any other options from you, but these are the ones that jumped to my mind:
Shania Twain’s Man, I Feel Like A Woman! and That Don’t Impress Me Much
The Chicks’ Not Ready To Make Nice but also Wide Open Spaces, Daddy Lessons (with Beyoncé) and Goodbye Earl (oh, country music does love a murder ballad)
Micky Guyton’s What Are You Gonna Tell Her?
The entire Highwomen album but especially Redesigning Women and the title track with Yola, too.
Kacey Musgrave’s Follow Your Arrow
I’ll always toss my 90s country gals in the mix so Mary Chapin Carpenter’s He Thinks He’ll Keep Her, Martina McBride’s Independence Day or This One’s For The Girls, Reba McEntire’s Is There Life Out There?, maybe some Faith Hill’s Wild One.
You could definitely add some classics like Dolly Parton’s Just Because I’m A Woman (we love an anti-slut-shaming Dolly) or 9-5 or Loretta Lynn’s The Pill, too
Whew! There were so many other good questions, I wish we had room for them all. But thank you for sending those in, it is much appreciated!
Catch you in the comment section,
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And in case you missed these recent Field Notes:
In my defence, I had fun: Our family holiday to Florida plus the shows, podcasts, and more of the Good Things (for subscribers)
Pansies: We're all a patchwork quilt of love and story (for subscribers)
Do you want to be well?: We want love and peace with meat on the bones. (for everyone)
I never read more than when I have other things to do: My favourite recent read plus all the books I finished lately and Kindle deals for you (for subscribers)
Evolving Faith News! (for everyone)
I Needed to See Her: On black-out poetry and needing to see something better (for everyone)
For those folks who were asking deeply personal advice or guidance, I try to steer clear of that. I’m in your corner, but I can’t be your pastor or your therapist (not qualified for either), let alone your Holy Spirit (definitely not qualified). Also, the nature of an AMA is to be brief which we all know isn’t my strong suit but I’m trying.
I wrote about whether or not we “need” to go to church here if you want to read more of my thoughts - so many thoughts! too many thoughts! - on that.
We do have folks post stuff like that in the online Evolving Faith community from time-to-time and it’s been fun to see people get together in real life if it works out.
As I said, too many to name but perhaps check out Nedra Glover Tawwab’s work on boundaries and drama-free relationships on Instagram or Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers’ book, I Think You’re Wrong But I’m Listening or their newer one, Now What? How to Move Forward When We’re Divided (About Basically Everything). I’ve also heard good things about Mónica Guzmán’s I Never Thought Of It That Way.
No regrets. I’d do it again.
I wrote about that a bit here on Easter Sunday a few years ago.
Your response to the question regarding doubts of the existense of God was EVERYTHING I needed to hear. And so true about the harder I try to hold onto my faith, the less of a grasp I have on it. Thank you thank you thank you!
Beautiful read as always! On the part about nuance - firstly YES, this is exactly what I’ve been working through recently too. Secondly, Megan Phelps-Roper just released a fantastic podcast about this, which is well worth a listen. It’s called The Witch Trials of JK Rowling.