Gentle reader, I wrote you a story.

***

It is two o’clock in the afternoon. The mailman revs his engine and moves on to the next house. The neighbor’s dog finally stops barking and the sunlight leaves shadows under the trees in the front yard.

A woman sits on the thick pine boards of her kitchen table. Her worn clogs have fallen off and lie on the linoleum at drunken angles. Her thin fringe of bangs wilt on her forehead. She leans back on her palms on the tabletop, taking long, slow breaths, taking the air into her lungs as deeply as it will go. On the table is a single sheet of stationery, crammed full of curling letters in different colors of ink, and a pen lies on top of it.

Her eyes are fixed on a spot across the room. “One wild and beautiful life,” says the handwritten note on the fridge, next to a handful of children’s drawings and grocery store greeting cards shouting their congratulations.

The sister always sends postcards with snatches of poetry scrawled on the back sides. This one was from San Francisco. They haven’t spoken in three years, but the postcards still come.

San Francisco.

So far away. But things would have to be very different.

She smiles. Life had been wild and beautiful. Before.

Now, it was going to be spectacular.

Read the rest of “Mother” over at The Swan Children.

***

a housekeeping note: in all the insanity that was Sunday, it appears that I have irretrievably lost my subscription list. if you want to get my posts in your email inbox, sign up again in the sidebar on the left. my apologies for the inconvenience.

xo, 

h


I have been waiting impatiently for this day to come, and now it’s here and I can finally tell you what I’ve been working on for the past two months.

Introducing! The Swan Children: Art Without Apologies

sc-logo-large

The Swan Children is a bimonthly online art gallery and magazine founded to curate and showcase the creative work produced by artists of homeschooled, Quiverfull, and conservative Christian upbringing.

We are the Swan Children and we look after our own. We have inherited the kingdom and we’re singing for our lives – on street corners, in attics, in spare bedrooms, in the shower, at the family dinner table.

THE BACK STORY

I realized that everywhere we’re talking about these communities and social groups online, our discussions are analytical, first person, and are driven by debate and didactic analysis. This is the way a slice of this population processes our religious heritage, but it’s not the way most of us function best.

In my experience, homeschoolers are highly creative and the arts thrive organically in all of the communities I’ve been in–I’ve seen homeschoolers making paintings, murals, writing novels, putting on plays, composing original music, and excelling in fiber arts, fashion design, and graphic and web design. I love this and I think it goes unnoticed too often.

Whether or not we ideologically agree on whether or not homeschooling is the best educational method, whether or not we think one church group or another is abusive or healthy, whether or not we think that conservative politics reflect Christian values, we can all agree on the power and value of artistic expression as an avenue for the soul to thrive. 

I want to honor this vulnerability and draw attention to the beautiful things being created by people who were homeschooled or grew up Quiverfull or in a conservative Christian community.

The Swan Children, lead by our Editor in Chief Connor Park, will function as a place where art made by these people can find a home, where there will be no value judgment of “good” or “bad” or “appropriate” and where the artists will not be making apologetic explanations for their pieces. The Swan Children will showcase these works as they are, no apologies, no comments or commentary, no criticism.

While our first issue will be entirely made up of work from homeschool grads, we also welcome creations from those currently in (or from) Quiverfull or generally conservative Christian communities. We are eager to show a broad spectrum of perspectives as we do so. We want art by current homeschool students and by graduates–there are no restrictions other than that the work has to be compelling and executed well.

OUR FIRST ISSUE

We’re launching on March 1st! This first issue is so cram-packed with talent that I can barely contain my excitement. We have fiction, poetry, drawings, paintings, handmade baskets, slam poetry, original music, song covers, dancing, photography, and more. Every piece tells a story, every piece is moving, and every artist is generous to open up and share a piece of their soul for us to cherish.

Our community is so much more than arguments about policy and theology. Let’s show the world our art.

Excited? Go sign up for our first issue at www.swanchildrenmag.com!

We want to show you something.


In which I will probably sound a lot like Lauren Dubinsky, who is usually right about this stuff.

The credits were rolling on the Disney princess movie. I was in a swoony-moony eight-year-old’s post-Disney euphoria, soaking up the soundtrack swelling as I leaned back on my elbows on the living room carpet.

I don’t remember which parent said it or the exact words, but what I heard was something to the effect of

“Now, Hannah, we know that this is a good story, but the Bible teaches us that following our hearts is bad, and you can see how she made choices that hurt her family and friends because she was being selfish and followed her heart.”

This little moment was followed up later by years of Bible memory drills and post-spanking lectures:

The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?”

This verse was later reinforced by SGM teachings drawn from various bits and pieces of reformed theology.

  • You are the greatest sinner you know. 
  • I’m doing better than I deserve. 
  • I just don’t know if this is a good choice, because I need to pray and discern my motives. 
  • This is how this situation makes me feel, but I need to pray about it, because I might be reacting wrongly, because my heart is fundamentally evil, you know.

This was my justification for faith: people do bad things even if they want to be good. So T.U.L.I.P. and the SGM gospel had to be true. They were logically sound.

If you grew up like I did, you know what I’m talking about. And I’m not here to argue the logic of the theology. I know it “works” but I also know that it takes a toll on the heart, and that room for the miraculous and the impossible and the creative grace of a vastly loving God are so much more important to sane orthodoxy than systematic theology.

So I believed this. I doubted myself. I tried to act on reason and Scripture. If you look at my prayer journals (because talking about my feelings wasn’t okay, in my mind, unless I was “praying” about them) from when I was dating my ex, you’d see me agonizing about issues in our relationship (that never got better), and then you’d see me talking myself out of being worried about them because of reasons like: God is Sovereign, and God Led Us Here, and Love Endures and Hopes All Things. And I shoved red flags into a “hard things I can live with” pile.

I did this with everything, not just dating. Actually, I probably did it MORE with other parts of my life. I didn’t aspire very high with my college options, because I thought I should go to a Christian college so I’d have accountability from other Christians in authority over me, because, obviously, my heart was deceitful and college is a time when people explore, which naturally leads them into sin, so. Don’t follow your heart. Stay safe. Stay in authority structures that will keep you safe from you.

I chose to not make an issue about moving to my ex’s hometown when we got married, because I wanted to respect his preferences and he wanted to be near his family. I didn’t even make an issue out of the fact that I was the one who wanted to go to grad school and had definite ideas about what career I wanted. And later, we talked about grad school options, and assumed he’d “go first” and then I’d do my schooling later. Even my job choices were dictated by practicality and security, not passion.

Choice after choice after choice was pushed and nudged and bumped into place by systematic self-distrust and self-effacement in my head. I don’t regret the choices I made, not really. How could I? These choices have made me who I am. But they took a toll on me.

I stopped doing things I loved. I stopped being creative. During college, I didn’t do anything creative–I just did school and spent time with friends. I wrote a little poetry, but mostly for creative writing class. I painted and drew one semester, but again, for a class. I was happier than I’d been in a long time, but I still did it for the grade. I didn’t dance much. I didn’t cook or bake much. I didn’t write fiction or draw. If I was dying for creativity to stay sane, I’d indulge and make a batch of cookies or go for a walk. But it wasn’t a healthy habit–it was loosening the cap on a high-pressure container to let a little gas out so I could screw the lid back on, tight. So I could keep going, being productive, achieving goals, looking ahead.

And yes, I got shit done. But big changes happened to me, and I’m realizing I don’t know who I am now. What does “new” me like? Is that what “little me” liked? Were these things I identified with in the height of my fundydom really part of me, or just part of the alternate self I created to stay sane and fly under the legalism radar?

On Saturday I sat out on a slab of concrete above the James River in Richmond and started to make a list of things I knew about me. Trying to reintroduce myself to myself, in a way. I got overwhelmed pretty shortly after starting this list, because, shit, my life and choices don’t really give me space to breathe and be me. I’m not feeding myself, the breathing living creative soul-self. And I can’t just shove that aside and give it attention every few months to keep it from dying. I can’t just make choices for the sake of “balance” when my creative self is atrophied and disoriented–there is no balance without health in all parts.

Fighting fragments of evangelical Gnosticism keeps getting stranger and stranger. It’s not just the body we’ve forgotten, but the heart, too.

If my heart is so desperately wicked, why does following my gut leave me more rested and healthy and satisfied than constant self-control and vigilance in rational, Church-people-approved life choices? If my heart is so desperately wicked, why do I love beautiful things? If my heart is so desperately wicked, why does caring for myself allow me to care for people better? It can’t just be the one thing. It much more likely to be both/and.

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secretes are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name: through Christ our Lord. Amen. [Book of Common Prayer, 1662]

***

Edit: Here’s why this is a big deal. Go find a QF daughter or a woman who has spent significant time in either a legalistic church/family situation or a hyper-reformed group and ask her (if she’s still “in”) if she knows what her strengths are. Ask her what she likes about herself. Ask her what she wants her legacy to be. And if she’s “out,” ask her what she would have said when she was “in.”

I bet it’ll be really hard for her to say.


With the divorce and moving out on my own [finally!], I’m trying to rebuild my savings and start teaching again. I love teaching, but put it aside during college to pursue English and editing. Now that I’m not constantly trying to fight for mental clarity through family drama or marital tension, I can do things again! So, here’s my first idea: a story writing class for photographers.

story_writing_workshop_image

[who]

Professional photographers are artists first, marketers second. Your first priority is to be invisible on the sidelines of an event, documenting light and intimate exchanges, not networking or schmoozing. But with rockstar photographers like Jasmine Star raising the bar for platform quality, online presence, and blogging, every photographer has to be an amateur web designer and dabble in PR to present yourself–not just your work –in a palatable, glossy, online package to entice new customers.

[why]

When writing and blog post presentation are such a small part of what you do, but such a huge part of your online identity, how can you make your words work for you without slaving over every blog post? How much do you need to write? What’s the best way to proofread? What will resonate with your audience best? How can you write the same wedding story over and over and make it fresh and unique every time?

[what]

I will walk you through the basics of story writing, combining techniques from poetry, memoir, and journalism to give you the tools you need to write compelling stories in your own voice without wasting energy or over-writing. Your photos should be your centerpiece. The two-day Story Writing Workshop will equip you to blog with confidence so you can focus on connecting with your audience rather than agonizing over presentation.

***

two-day class: August 24 & 25, 9am – 12pm Saturday, 2pm – 4:30pm Sunday
cost: $200/person [referral discount available.]
where: Gaithersburg, MD
contact me: wineandmarble@gmail.com

bonus!

the first two people to register will get free copies of On Writing Well by William Zinsser,
one of my favorite books.



I feel like I should have posted more this week. I know I wanted to write another Immodesty Rail post, and I wanted to tell you about the author readings and book signings I’ve been to this last month (Lorin Stein, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins). But it’s been an exhausting week, and some people took offense at my post on loneliness, and my sister is moving, and I’ve been remembering that I’m an introvert and the emotional fullness of this week  has taken its toll. I’ll get y’all caught up soon. But when I’m ready.

For the time being, I’ve found some noteworthy pieces worth your reading attention. 

Golden Sea, Makoto Fujimura

Makoto Fujimura, one of my favorite Christian thinkers and a gifted artist, lost a lot of his more recent work in the rising waters of Hurricane Sandy. There’s no insurance money or FEMA help for the damage done to the gallery and his art, and they’re taking donations to try to repair the damage.

Justin Welby is the new Archbishop of Canterbury. I admit I was hoping John Sentamu would get this post, but we will see how Welby does.

Rachel Held Evans writes her best post yet, and what I think should have been the preface to her latest and highly controversial book. This is a fantastic read.

A Christianity Today blog post on reading modern-day assumptions into the Bible and Mr. Mom.

My dear friend RoseAnna reflects on what she’s learning in dating after her divorce about grace and people.

The Greek island Ikaria is, according to the New York Times, the island where people forget to die.

Preston writes a beautifully poetic post on what the phrase “pro-life” evokes in his mind.

I just discovered this blogger this week, and I was surprised and impressed at his love poems–they’re quite good.

This may very well be the best thing I’ve read all week: The Trinity in Gender DebatesIt’s the perfect follow-up to this post I read earlier, where Libby Anne observes that Debi Pearl’s concept of wifely subordination is based on her assumptions about the Trinity (which I found to be hugely problematic and borderline heretical). I recommend reading the Love, Joy, Feminism post before reading the first essay, to understand what this looks like in practice before digging into the theological nuances of such statements.


Have you heard of a “commonplace book”? It’s an old idea, and has been most recently resurrected by hipsters bearing Moleskines. Basically, it’s a notebook full of  accumulated everyday notes – your shopping list, a quote from the book you’re reading, the recipe copied from your mom’s cookbook, a sketch from the metro of the weird bag lady, the outline for the novel you’re planning on writing.

I think I’m going to steal the idea for these link roundups I’ve been posting and call the series “Commonplace Links.” The theme is this: I think they’re all worth reading, to expand one’s understanding of the world and compassion for others. They intrigued or tickled my fancy, or perhaps they sobered me and challenged me to step outside myself. I may not agree with all the ideas presented therein, but I will pretty much always think the concepts contained are worth weighing out without bringing my own presuppositions and baggage to the table. If you read them too, I ask that you give them the courtesy of a fair read, even if you instinctively disagree or it’s not terribly well-written. This will be a weekly feature on Thursdays, and I’ll take recommendations if you have anything you’d like to pass on.

So, here we go again! Commonplace links for your perusal.

“Is ambition a sin?”  – Rachel Held Evans responds to the “Top 200 Church Blogs” fiasco (basically a lot of really good women bloggers were missing for weird reasons and the compiler of the list wrote a patronizing apology) with a graceful analysis of the deeper assumptions involved.

“In Defense of the 4-letter Word” Addie Zeirman posts on the appropriate use of strong language in a Christian’s vocabulary. After a particularly rough week, my brother said he was feeling shitty, and got jumped on by some well-meaning friends for using “foul language” and not “representing Christ well” and not “using words that build up.” Here is a lovely, succinct post which captures why the comments of those kids rubbed me the wrong way.

“Jesus Was Otherwise Engaged: Impacting All Women, Not Just One” – Ortberg reacts to the discovery of a text supposedly from the 4th century which indicates that Jesus may have had a wife. His response is calm and thoughtful–the discovery, if true, doesn’t change much. Jesus already drastically impacted how women are viewed (in historically positive ways), and he elucidates on the beauty of this.

“The Dark Side of Weight Loss” – NSFW, but worth seeing. One woman photographs the ravages of her major weight loss on her body. This is art.

“Why Women Hide Their Pregnancies” – NYT article on pregnant woman in the workplace/on the job hunt. Makes me want to just move to Scandinavia. Women there get 6 months off work after they give birth, guaranteed. Humph.

“Julia Gillard Launches Blistering Attack on Sexism” – After I finish with Sweden, I’ll just to Australia. This video is the most epic blast of calm reason. If our presidential candidates could speak half this well, voter turnout would spike. Just watch it.

“Espresso and the Meaning of Life: Embracing Reality through Everyday Liturgies” – I’m happy to be introduced to this new webzine, Fare Forward. This post on the ritual of making coffee for the love of the thing is beautiful. Walker Percy, of course, is involved. It goes very nicely with my series on incarnation and eating.

“Ask a stay-at-home dad” – Last week, some bloggers said that stay-at-home dads are “man fails.” Utter silliness. Take a look at this delightful interview with a Christian dad and enjoy his apologetic for why he chose to stay home with his son.

“Bamfield’s John Vanden” – My brother- and sister-in-law introduced me to The Bills last week on the roadtrip. Some of the best new folk I’ve heard in a long time. If you like Allison Krauss, Mumford and Sons, or The Avett Brothers, you’ll like The Bills. Go listen!

Have recommendations for me? Email them to me at mattiechatham [at] gmail [dot] com.


Commuting 1.5 hours each way every day for a month has given me new respect for career addicts and long-distance commuters. It’s also given me new respect for working moms–how do they find time to be moms, let alone make dinner and do the laundry and dishes and have 20 minutes of downtime before bed? With that commute, I would get home at 7pm at the very earliest, and if I had any errands to run at all (grocery shopping, pharmacy, Goodwill drop), I would be home at 8pm at the earliest.

By that point, the idea of making dinner becomes a Major Life Trauma and I would be hiding under a blanket eating a piece of cheese to stop the blood sugar crash (have I mentioned that my brain turns off if I don’t eat every few hours?)  and taking mental stock of what we had in the freezer that could be cooked up in less than 20 minutes. Finding nothing easy to fix up and eat (I was raised to Cook From Scratch Because It’s Cheaper and More Healthy! and still shop accordingly), I would eat Cheez-its and stare at the inside of the fridge making depressed sounds.

And that’s about when Kevin suggested that we move into town. But after looking at apartments on Craigslist for a few evenings, we admitted that the cost of living inside the Beltway would be prohibitive, and maybe we’d just get some healthy freezer dinners and try to make this work for the time being.

However, a whim  of a search on Craigslist one morning a week later led me to an ad that was so perfect, it could only be a scam–except there was a phone number posted. I emailed it to Kevin: “Honey, can you call them and see if this is legit?” He called the couple who had placed the ad, and that evening we walked into the tiniest basement studio apartment I have ever seen. It wasn’t a scam at all. It was just less than 300 square feet.

But it had nice tile floors. And a renovated kitchen with brand new cabinets and appliances. And three nice windows above ground! And free laundry, parking space, and internet hookup. Oh, and utilities were bundled into the price of rent, causing the expenses to break even with what we were currently paying for our spacious place so very far away from our new jobs.

The best part? It was in the nicest neighborhood in DC (outside of Georgetown, that is), and was literally across the street from our church.

Kevin was in love instantly. I was not interested.

Objectively, it seemed like a good place, and it made sense financially. It would save us a lot of time to not have to participate in the mass exodus to and from the suburbs and the city every morning and evening. It was near our church. The landlords were okay with our cat.

But I had a visceral reaction to the concept of a basement apartment, and there were a couple irrational things about it that just left me with a bad feeling about it. I might have thrown a hissy fit about how small and dark it felt. Kevin might have backed off on the whole idea altogether.

A few days of talking it over, and one more visit to measure the space (and searching ApartmentTherapy for stories of living in less than 300 sq. ft. and creating a Pinterest board for decoration and organization ideas), we settled with the landlords and gave ourselves 3 weeks to move in. I was rationally pleased with the decision, but still going back and forth about whether or not I liked the place and felt like I could make it a home.

Kevin really salvaged the whole thing by suggesting we repaint it before moving in and negotiating with the landlords to let us in a couple evenings before we were to move in, so we could paint. It was what we now call “vomit beige” and was done in flat paint, in one sloppy coat, and it looked hideous.  (I wish my camera wasn’t still missing! These are from Kevin’s iPod)

Ktichen, pre paint

Main room, from front door

Main room, looking at kitchen/bathroom door

With the very cheery help of his siblings and a few good friends, we utterly transformed the place with a few evenings of work (and lots of pizza). I cannot tell you what a difference it made to have nice fat thick coats of high quality satin paint in nice colors! Simply painting the trim in a bright white made me feel optimistic and excited about living there.

In the end, we did these colors in the main room (the blue on the side with the two windows, and the white on the opposite two walls):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this one in the kitchen:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll take pictures of the finished space later this week to show off. It looks really nice. The cool, bright colors give the room a much more spacious feel, and the contrast of the dark blue with the white trim is really lovely. Kevin’s got plans to do a wall arrangement like this sometime soon:

Image from Pinterest

I think we’re planning on using white picture frames and mirrors. It’s going to look lovely. He has a good sense of space and color.

On an opposing  (light blue/white) wall, I’ve been working on a light decoration out of mirror thread and twinkle lights, but I need to switch out the lights we have with ones with white wire, rather than green. Once that’s complete, I’ll show you all. It looks nice enough for the time being, but it will really pop once I change the lights.

We also got a darling loveseat in eggplant purple from Craigslist. It was brand new and in perfect condition, and we were thrilled to discover that it was the updated version of our previous couch set, which we loved. And it’s PURPLE.

Pair that up with this rug from Urban Outfitters:

…and you have a happy girl who feels like this apartment is becoming a home.

[coming!] Hot and Sticky Part 2: Moving into a Basement Apartment in a Swamp in July


Last night, hit by both “my brain is flat-lining after a long day” and an absurd level of contentment–despite running into the awkward moment earlier in the evening at the grocery store checkout when my debit card declined a $5 transaction and I was scrounging for pennies in my change purse [we’re okay, it was just coincidental timing with a check going out earlier than I thought it would]–I pulled out Regina Spektor, my 4B pencils and a sketchbook.

I hadn’t drawn in a while. The kneaded eraser was new and I worked it until it was soft, sharpened pencils, trimmed my blending stick, and finally started sketching. I was trying to sketch the back and shoulders of a woman, but little things were off. The shoulders were too short or too slumped, the arms were slightly off-kilter, and the neck was ungainly. I realized this was more than just being out of practice. I just really didn’t have a good grasp of the anatomy of the way the shoulder meets the arm and the back. I didn’t know how to shade it properly, and I didn’t have internet to pull up an image search for reference. This made me realize two things: 1) I need to take a figure drawing class [I’ll have to save up for that], and 2) I hadn’t done any serious nude figure studies before.

I have always loved drawing people, but when I was really into it, during high school, I mostly kept myself to just drawing faces. Drawing the body came with too many unspoken taboos–once, I drew a flamenco dancer in a red dress, and left her body as shapeless as I possibly could, altering the dress to be “modest.” Carolyn Mahaney’s Modesty Checklist was all the rage at our church at the time, and every girl who was “serious” about her faith had it practically memorized. It was taped up on the wall by bedroom mirrors, and we were all quick to help each other adhere to this list. It would be normal to hear one girl comment to the other that her neckline was revealing and she should go adjust it–and did she need any safety pins for that? I went along with it, and accepted it as good.

Some of the points made by Carolyn are just fine. I agree with the principle of the thing. There’s a place for being discreet and being modest and not dressing inappropriately. But the spirit of that checklist however–I now realize–is blatantly legalistic. The mentality it promotes created a subconscious fear of the body–even a bizarre detachment of “self” from the body–in the minds of girls who were taught to believe in the message of this highly detailed modesty rulebook.

How Modesty Made Me Fat” is one girl’s experience living with this mindset (afraid of being seductive, pretty, sexy, noticed) and while her struggle became extreme, it’s pretty true to the insidiousness of this way of thinking. Homeschooled girls don’t always dress like homeschooled girls because they “aren’t socialized enough.” Homeschooled girls mostly dress like they do because they are taught that the female form is something to be afraid of (and by inference, inherently sinful). I have been that girl, afraid to get noticed for having a feminine body.

To a degree, this awkwardness is part and parcel with normal adolescence. During puberty we are more self-conscious and have to learn to identify as whole selves with our newly-matured bodies. But fear is not healthy and trying to hide who we are as women is just silly.

This fear of a normal, adult body affects how you see everything. For example: around the time this checklist came out, my sister and her friend took my mom’s art history book (a huge, gorgeous book full of giant glossy pages with color images of every major artwork until the late 20th century), and they pulled out a big black Sharpie and drew 1) boxers on Michelangelo’s David and all the other male nudes, and 2) one-piece bathing suits/bras on Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and all the other female nudes. From my understanding of the story, they thought my parents would be glad to have all that wicked nudity taken care of so that the book would be “appropriate.” Instead, my mom was [rightfully] mortified.

This mindset breeds fear of self in women, and more than that, it objectifies men. These modesty teachings are promoted with good intent–to “keep our brothers from stumbling” [lusting] and to protect girls from . . . men’s lust. The logic doesn’t work; the assumption is that men are helpless against their natural attraction to the female form and the sometimes inevitable result of desiring that form, and so all men (in the minds of these girls) become helpless slaves to lust.

This creates even more unnatural distance between the sexes in homeschool/conservative Christian circles. Girls become (naturally) suspicious of guys, of being alone in the same room (even if it’s a public area!) as a man (what if he decides to rape me?!), of being told by a guy that they look pretty (Oh no he must be lusting after me! Did I dress modestly enough?), etc. I’m using a bit of hyperbole here, but the underlying point remains: extreme modesty teachings creates unnecessary fear in the minds of girls and teaches them to assumes the worst of men and the inner thoughts of men.

This teaching also hurts how boys and young men think about themselves. Their sexual desires become the central evil in their lives and undue focus is given to how sinful these [normal, natural] desires are. Lust is sin, yes. But talking to adolescents mainly about lust and modesty and how evil sexual desire is will make them feel utterly enslaved to these things.

It’s the “don’t think about pink elephants” principle–talking about how wrong something is in an unbalanced manner will feed an unhealthy fascination with the issue. Guys don’t have to be slaves to lust. It’s possible for a guy to acknowledge “that woman has a beautiful body” and not be aroused sexually. But the all-or-nothing modesty/lust paradigm leaves no room for this, and so men remain suspect and are brought to assume that they can’t help themselves if they do lust–and the women just need to be more modest, to protect everyone. It’s really demeaning for both sexes.

Now, not every conservative Christian or homeschooling family believes this just like I described above. However, there’s a lot of this mess influencing a lot of people, and I heartily believe that this is not how God intended us to see each other or our own bodies. The body is often a beautiful thing and it is possible for a woman to be womanly and attractive without generating lust in men. It’s also possible that a man will lust after a woman in a potato sack, just because he knows she’s a woman.

Blanket assumptions about the hearts of others are never really unhelpful, and the thinking patterns they create are difficult to overcome. Christianity needs to refresh its theology of the body to combat these assumptions.

And I really need to find a model so I can practice drawing shoulders. Any volunteers?


The Good Shepherd

This is now hanging on my kitchen wall, in between the copper-tiled backsplash by the stove and my apron hook. I’ve been hankering, no, craving, an icon in my home for over a year now, since I first saw icons in a home of one of my professors (who happens to be Orthodox). This family has them over the doorway to almost every room (but not the bathroom, which I find an amusing contrast to the Episcopal/Anglican tradition of a house blessing, in which there is a prayer for every room including the bathroom). It really adds a degree of beauty and sobriety to the house that I found very satisfying. Little gestures of eternity in the everyday of a home make me stand a bit smaller [read: more humbly and more thoughtfully] and take me out of the perpetual self-monologue in which I’m wont to live.

Kevin took me to a Catholic bookstore in DC on Saturday as part of our date out on the town. We went to a crêperie for lunch (and while he wouldn’t admit it, I think he liked the chicken and pesto crêpe), and then to the bookstore, where we purchased this icon. (ikon? I think I like the latter form better, to avoid confusion with internet/desktop icons).  Afterward we went to Georgetown, which was just lovely at sunset. Kevin geeked out at the Apple store and I wandered around. The Potomac was nearby. I’d like to spend more time walking along it sometime.

On Sunday Kevin had obligations with the worship team at our old church. I don’t particularly care for that church’s services (the people are nice, though), and so I played hooky. It was refreshing to have a long morning with coffee and a book and I even got to have a nice chat with a dear friend. There’s something sacred about restful recreation without a particular purpose, especially in the morning. Even though I very much missed the prayers of confession and receiving communion at our church, there was a reverence and an understanding that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath, and that Jesus is honored when his disciples respect themselves and his given order by taking rest and allowing themselves to stop their striving.

We finished our Sunday with the prayers for the close of the day, after getting drinks and dessert with some friends in town and having lots of good talks about everything and nothing, and working on a crossword puzzle together on the metro.

I feel a little sheepish saying this, but I think that such a restful, unstructured weekend was a gift to me from my Shepherd, and that when I savored it for all it was worth, he was smiling on me.