I need a break. I want to do a fun post. Everything in my life has been so decidedly intense for so long, and my blog is not at all what I expected it would be this year (though so excited for all the neat things that have happened on these surprise detours). So, here’s some silliness.

I’ve been modeling a little, for a DC-based scarf designer (Jennifer Lawrence bought one of her scarves!), and for a painter. It’s been a lot of fun–I got to work with a really fantastic makeup artist, and a new-to-humans-but-super-talented photographer.

746

018

This month, I studied for and took the GRE. Predictably, my math scores were lousy, and my verbal and essay scores were great. And I’ve picked out which schools I want to apply to! In other news, I think I have math dyslexia.

Me to myself, after the GRE.

Me to myself, after the GRE.

To recover from the GRE, I have been watching a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Former homeschoolers have a lot of 90s pop culture to catch up on.

willow

Me, in the 90s.

I read a lot of Mary Karr, too. That woman is so good for my soul.

Liar’s Club

I made SEVEN pies for my mom’s [redacted] birthday celebration, and went clubbing with other former homeschoolers/fundies in Richmond for my sister’s 21st.

Razzleberry

I got to meet up with Kassie! And see ballet IN the National Gallery!

And I even tried my hand at art journaling for Story 201.

Wednesday Afternoon

Housekeeping notes:

Money is tight now that I’m not living with family/friends and out on my own, so I added a tip jar PayPal button on the side–if you like what you read, let me know!

I’m also available for hire for freelance editing, resume prep coaching, and copywriting. Let me know if I can be of service! Here’s my resume.

And now, I’m probably going to watch more Buffy. Or Orange Is The New Black.


[Trigger warning: spanking, child abuse.]

Someone found my blog recently by searching for “fought back against spanking” and that hit me hard.

Whoever you are, I want to give you a hug. You’re not alone.

The memories triggered by that phrase aren’t pleasant. In some ways, I realize I’m reliving the feelings of utter helplessness, desperate fear, and anger associated with those memories. Things with my ex took a much more stressful turn in June, friendships have been shifting, I moved three times in a month, and lost ground with church being a safe space (not my church’s fault). And I’ve been fighting occasional waves of processing/grieving that last for days and make things like focusing, doing my job well, prepping for the GRE, and being a social person really really hard.  So much of this season is out of my control. So much of what I’ve been through has been dumped in my lap by circumstances, and I’m sitting on a pile of rubble wondering “what now?”

God was supposed to be good. God was supposed to have a plan for me. I played the game I was taught to play by my Christian upbringing. I was the dutiful one who did what she was supposed to. I followed the rules, didn’t pass go, didn’t collect my $200.

And some days when I just want someone to hear me out, when I write pieces like this, or could write pieces like that, I wonder…what happened? When did all the staid-and-true life pieces on which I was supposed to be able to depend go and turn on me? Why? What did I do?

***

I remember, when I was a kid, I’d be somewhere in the house, doing school, and I’d hear someone fighting with a parent. I’d hear voices get louder, someone thump their hand on a counter or a table, and then more yelling until the parent had enough and the child would shriek, and I knew that they were going to get spanked. And you could hear the wailing and crying all over the house.

As far as spankings go, my parents weren’t cruel. There was no reason to call CPS on what was going on. And all of us are strong-willed, loud, creative individuals. [If you’re new here, you should read my disclaimer.]

But there is something fundamentally terrifying about the shift that happens when a parent goes to spank their child, for the child. They have no one else to depend on for food, shelter, direction, comfort. And suddenly something goes wrong (and a child of the age when spankings typically happen usually doesn’t have the reasoning capabilities of the adult doling out the punishment), and it’s hard to say why or what the transgression was (in our house, the loudest person usually got the punishment), but suddenly your comforting, nurturing parent on whom you depend…is hitting you.

I’m not a psychologist, so I’m not qualified to say what exactly this does to the psychological development of a child, but I think it boils down to reinforcing that they are

  1. dependent on a higher authority,
  2. this authority is sometimes nice, so be emotionally vulnerable to them,
  3. but if you make a mistake, this authority will be capricious and hurt you until you comply with their will, and
  4. discussing your side is always secondary and less important than the perspective of the authority.

I have a really hard time seeing God as a caring Father. I have a really hard time seeing God as nurturing.

My last spanking was when I was 16 years old. It was the last spanking because I fought back and screamed at my dad to hear me out, because he didn’t understand the situation and had come into the room to spank whoever was being loud. I don’t remember the details, but I think I sassed my mom right when he walked in. I think I was mimicking her back to herself because I was upset at a double standard. I don’t even remember if I was right or not. I just remember the terror of being yanked into the hall bathroom and being told to lean over the sink for my punishment.

***

I’m not saying that every parent who spanks their kids at any point ever is going to ruin them for life, is going to make them unable to trust God.

But it might make it a whole lot harder.

And if your child might ever have a reason to fight back, or if you ever think of the parenting process in any way as breaking the child’s will to yours, you’re wrong.

Your child isn’t yours. And you will be held accountable.

Listen, talk, work as a team, compromise. Embody grace.

And if they don’t turn out just like you, congratulations. You have succeeded in not perpetuating a cycle of unhealth, and you have nurtured an individual.

***

Want more on this? I recommend reading Melissa’s posts on spanking and gentle parenting, Libby Anne’s posts on parenting, and the Still Crying series by Sarah

Spanking can have adverse effects that damage sexuality and sexual identity, too, but I’m not qualified to comment on that beyond observing that it happens. 


Trigger warning: spanking.

There are two things I’m afraid to write about, for myself. The first is music, and my relationship to it. The second is anger and my fear of myself when angry.

SGM taught that anger is a sin. I remember my mom coming home from care group and telling me that it made so much sense now that she had been enlightened to see it: anger is a sin and it grieves God.

And so I fought my anger for years, like I fought against desire. It’s absurdly obvious, now, how interrelated those two were with the levels of stress in my life at the time. I was angry a lot. I was horny and masturbated a lot. And I really, really hated myself. I was so afraid of who I was becoming and I didn’t know what I could do to change. I prayed all the time, I only listened to Christian music and sang worship songs, I read my Bible every day, I journaled. And I cut out reading any mystery or fantasy, in hopes that I would get my spiritual life in order so I could overcome my two deadly vices.

I still don’t quite know what to make of anger. I’m reading a book that talks about how some kinds of anger are healthy and good, piercing facades to motivate change and wholeness. How some, bad forms of anger are only out to consume and devour. I’m not sure what to think of this.

Anger is really lonely. Anger, for me, was/is usually driven by fear — of not being good enough, of being misunderstood and thus rejected, of being abandoned or neglected.

Today I read two articles. One was a HuffPo piece on Post-Partum Depression and how it causes rage. And I read it and I suddenly was back to last year, when I was on a BC that didn’t work well with my body, which caused mood swings and made me so afraid of being alone. Something would trigger it, and I’d get intensely afraid, and my ex wouldn’t hear my fear, but only anger, and he’d need space and walk out the front door, and then it would become anger. And I’d angry cry myself to sleep and have nightmares of being abandoned.

And I’d remember, when I was crying that when I was a kid, I only every cried when I was angry. I remember telling people this as a sleepover trivia game piece. “I never cry. Only when I’m angry because they don’t understand.”

You have no idea how fearful it is in a legalistic home, with an authority who practices that smoldering, quiet anger, to be misunderstood as the one at fault. You’re brought into the bathroom and you plead and beg and say that there was a mistake, you were loud because the other sibling did x, it wasn’t you’re fault, and you get told to pull your pants down.

And you take it. Because you’re the kid who plays at being orphans, and you read The Whipping Boy and Anne and Little House and you want to be bold and brave and so you don’t cry or wince. Five or six smacks with a strip of tarred conveyor belt, and it’s over. Your face is hot and you look the parent in the eye, and they lean in and put their hands on your shoulders. And oh, they have bad breath from lunch. And they look at you and tell you they love you, but you need to learn x, and you maybe fuss back a little, but in the end you’re apologizing and they’re prompting your apology speech for the sibling who’s waiting outside the bathroom door with a smug look of the one who got away with it.

When it’s over, you carry on like nothing happened, because you don’t want to make a scene and you have to set an example for the younger kids, because if you fought a spanking and they saw, all hell would break loose.

You live like that because it’s right, it keeps order, and avoiding crisis is what surviving in a big family looks like.

But there’s another part of it, too. I read Elizabeth Esther’s post about being spanked and spanking and turning off emotions to break someone, and oh. Her story, her talk about the anger and the cold and the spanking–that is why I am afraid to have kids. My ex would tell me he wanted 10 kids and it’d be great and he’d be a stay-at-home dad and homeschool and I could still work…and I would know, yes, he’d be a great father. Yes, that could work. But I couldn’t escape the chill in my soul at the thought of being a mom.

My parents didn’t use the Pearls’ methods. My mom was a bad authoritarian, thankfully. My dad was a very businesslike authoritarian.

But I still learned to turn off my emotions when I was in a fight with someone “below” me in the family pecking order. If I was an authority, I could become a sociopath to get my way. And I ended up babysitting my siblings a lot. When that happened, they’d push my buttons and I’d snap. I could feel it. I suddenly stopped empathizing. Controlling the situation was all that mattered.

And what made it worse, is that I’d babysit for other people also, all the time. When I did, I’d be fine. All feeling and kindness and firm structure. I could do it. I really enjoyed it, actually. But with my siblings, the boundaries were set differently, and I would be so frightened of myself when I got cold. It’d be an out-of-body experience, watching myself get angry from a distance. We’d get into full-out wrestling matches over who had the ability to phone mom and dad, who had to do the dishes, who had to change the baby. It was ugly. Those evenings, when I was babysitting and things would get out of control and I couldn’t fix it and I got angry? Those are the worst memories of my childhood. It was so wrong. And I’m so appalled by it — even then, I was horrified by it. I didn’t know how to be different. And it scared me.

Just some late-night ramblings on the memories stirred up by those articles, but also: I don’t plan to spank my kids, if I ever have kids. And this is why. This is why I try the best I can to be thoughtful about respecting other people’s bodies, comfort zones, rights. Because I know who I can be. It’s ugly shit. I can be better than that.

(And I don’t think it was just total depravity that made me capable of that.)


I’ve avoided saying these words to myself for a long time, but it’s really the most accurate description:

When I was 12, my family moved from California to the east coast to join a cult.

I haven’t felt at home anywhere since.

***

There were other factors, of course. Economy, family ideals for finding a supportive community for a family with young kids, etc.

We left the little yellow house where four of my younger siblings (there would later be four more) had been brought home, we left the friends I had grown up with and my first true best friend, we left the mountains and the sea and the sand, we left my mom’s widowed mother and my dad’s parents, and we left the only state and culture we had ever known.

We packed up a trailer, we squeezed ourselves into a little blue minivan with peeling paint, and we drove into the desert for two weeks of cross-country insanity.

When we arrived, we were love-bombed and surrounded by people who made us feel welcomed and at home in this new community. I was plopped down in the thick of 12-year-old-girl cliques, with all the political trappings of Sovereign Grace Ministries and their organic social pecking order based on appearances of humility and godliness.

And then there was the culture shock, as opinionated, confident me and my honest and blunt mother both felt squelched by passive aggressive social cues and vague disapproval from the women in our church.

I was so homesick.

***

In our new home, I shared a 10’x10′ bedroom with my younger sister for 6 years, my mom locking us into the arrangement with the words, “Well, you guys really need to learn to get along. I think you should be roommates for a while.” We fought for space, for privacy, for emotional safety. We never got it, not there. I withdrew into books, she into self-loathing. I stayed up late at night reading, because it was the only time I could be quiet and alone in a household with nine kids and heavy expectations. She hid in the bathroom and disappeared into self-isolation because everyone else was louder and more obviously needy than she was.

We’re only just beginning to discuss with each other how miserable that season was.

There were lots of reasons I looked forward to moving out and going to college, but getting space, quiet, and privacy was one of the things I hoped for the most. My parents laughed and told me not to expect that.

***

In college, I ended up in a dorm room that was almost twice of my bedroom back home. I had a wonderful roommate and it became a haven.

But nine months later and I was home for the summer, and I found I wasn’t welcome in my old space anymore. Space was tight and my sisters had rearranged the rooms while I was gone. Every break after that, I found myself feeling more and more transient, displaced, an intrusion.

I did internships in the summers. I lived in the basements of friends of friends. I lived in spare bedrooms and on old army cots. I lived in dark places and I set aside things that defined me so I wouldn’t offend. I put up with things that were personally revolting or emotionally oppressive to make it through.

I told myself, “I can do anything for a month.”

And I did. I loved people and explored new places and was hurled into discomfort and grew in the awkwardness.

But I couldn’t put down roots. Everywhere I slept, I knew that these places belonged to someone else, that I couldn’t cultivate anything, create anything, or impose myself on the place and space in any lasting ways.

I pared down my belongings. I invested in writing rather than drawing or painting. I cooked instead of gardening. Creativity oozed out in other places while I wandered.

I craved dirt I could love. A patch of earth and life that I could live with and care for and belong to.

***

Living in the little basement apartment has been hard for me.  I have a deep, psychological craving for light. I leave for work before it’s fully light out, and I walk out of my office building and the sun has already set. Winter’s dark season eats my soul every year.

But I’m a survivor, I say, to steel myself against it all. I can take it for a long while before I crumble into my own need for light, privacy, and space. After that, it becomes a slow slide into mental static. Other things start to bother me more. Dust and funky smells become more than a mild irritation, and then clutter becomes nails on a chalkboard and I shut down.

And then I snap, one way or another. I create, I organize, I clean, I cry, I sleep it off. I try to combat the transience and feeling of being lost, but it never quite goes away.

I had a basil plant outside our window. It was a little thing to love and care for, but it died. We don’t get enough light inside to keep anything green alive. The little cat is a comfort, but she doesn’t belong there, either. We are wanderers, pausing here until April. Then we’ll be gone, no matter what lies I tell myself now with paint and organizing and new bookshelves.

And I don’t know where we’ll go next or when I’ll find a home. I don’t belong here. I’ve been away from California for too long.

I dream of places where I belong, but they don’t exist when I wake up. Every place I live is borrowed, and no space I inhabit knows my name or touch.

***

This is the plight of the modern, the evangelical church kid who always worshiped in high school gymnasiums, the child of that American generation who will move anywhere for a job, the ahistorical American culture sinking its teeth into my humanity, the product of concrete suburban purgatory.

We need place. We need belonging. We need dirt and sunshine.

This is where the conservation of the conservatives and the humanism of the liberals meets with a kiss. This is where the incarnation reveals to me my own nature and reminds me of the Father’s promise of things made right. This is where I pray and know that I am dust, and am thankful for that connection to this beautiful earthy home.

And maybe someday, I’ll find myself at home, belonging to a membership of land and people in the way God intended.

Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us—a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.
– T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding III


I often struggle with jealousy. I go to a wedding where the couple is wholeheartedly celebrated by their parents on both sides, and I feel small and petty watching them from the sidelines as they make toasts and can’t say enough positive things about their children. I would hear friends talk about how restful their mid-semester breaks were at home and how much their family went out of their way to make them feel welcome, and I fight resentment. I see newlywed couples who glow idiotically and have no financial woes or inconveniences, and I wish them well and bite my tongue. I feel like these people haven’t earned their blessings, and I resent that no matter how hard I worked to keep everyone happy and do the right things, I never had what they have.

Yesterday I was plunged into this lonely place again (which is never about the other person, just about the contrast they provide)  during a sermon on baptism, when the pastor started talking about unconditional love in families.  He was saying, how in the kingdom of God, you are unconditionally loved once you’ve entered in (he was alluding to entering the “family of God” by being baptized as infants, and how there’s nothing the baby does to earn this welcome and this family and this unconditional love), and it’s never, ever about performance. The relationship with God is to be a safe place where you are loved by the Father without regard to how you’re performing or pleasing him. Whether or not you are agreeing with him. Whether or not you’re “good.”

Then he commented that this is how it is in healthy families–the parents love their kids by the merit of being their kids, not by merit of obedience, or agreeing with the parents’ viewpoints, or performing or behaving a certain way. The love doesn’t change, because the relationship between parents and child can’t be affected by any of these other things.

And I shriveled up inside, tuning out the rest of the sermon in my effort to not cry, there in the choir stalls. I have never known that kind of love in my family, in general. My mom understands it and gives it, but she is spread so thin that it cannot change the the overall tone of interactions in my family, which is (and has almost always been, for generations) marked by a tone of “what have you done for me lately?” and “why should I help you?” and “you don’t meet my standards, so I don’t have to care.”

The first time I saw real, unconditional love was in Kevin’s family. When I met him, the way he talked about them was just so exuberantly positive that I wasn’t sure it could  be genuine. As I got to know him a little better, I learned that he felt that he was sort of the “bad kid” (comparatively–they are such well-mannered people. I think this just happened because he was louder than the rest of them), and then when I met them all, and saw how they gushed over him and held him in such high regard, I was floored. Even if he wasn’t just exactly the way they hoped he might be, they still adored him and were so pleased to be his kin.

And being there with them was like a balm to me, though I did fight jealousy when I saw the contrast. Unconditional love can exist in families. It’s not a myth. You can disagree with each other over serious ideological issues, and still have a deeply loving, nuturing family.  It’s possible. I kept arranging my breaks from school, and later my weekends so I could spend more time with them, soaking up the healing atmosphere there.

I ache, wishing that I had that in my own family. Maybe it’ll happen one day, but probably not for years. And until then, I’m reminding myself again and again: Kevin and I can do it differently. We can be like his family.

But I’m still not whole, and sermons about unconditional love make me ache. I have to unlearn so much. My jealousy is a holdout of both my own pain and my still-twisted mindset of needing to earn good things, of needing to perform a certain way to get love. I’m hurting my marriage with this mindset, and I’m realizing I’ve damaged a lot of friendships because I loved conditionally and never realized how ugly it was because I didn’t know anything else.

Conditional love is a damning thing.


This week’s collection is a little more light and brief than the last few have been. Enjoy!


Marianne is one of the most interesting people I have ever met, and I’m excited to have her do a guest post! She graduated from my alma mater some years before I came through, and is still a legend in the English department, especially because of her play interpretation of Till We Have Faces (which I saw performed–it’s incredible). I first met her at a church function. She was this snappily smart woman, knitting something intricate at lightning speed, and making everyone laugh. I was in awe. 

According to herself: Marianne teaches theatre in Pittsburgh and cooks a lot of stew in Grove City. She has a lot of ideas about food, but only shares them when asked. Her latest obsessions in food and fashion can be found at her blog, The Eternal Student.

***

When did I become crazy? Once, I was an ordinary, sale-shopping, pasta-loving, fast-food eating girl in her early twenties. Now, my family thinks I’m a crazy hippy, pioneer-days-recreator, food nazi.

Brief background: I was born with a condition called Holt Oram that affects the arms and hands and heart. Thankfully, my heart is quite healthy. But my left arm has always been severely shorter than the right, I was born without a left thumb or radius, and my wrist was severely clubbed. Orthopedic surgeries as a child corrected some of the problems. At the age of eighteen, I first heard of an amazing new procedure to lengthen bones that had been just imported from Russia. I had prayed fervently my whole life that God would make my arm grow, and finally, at twenty-five, I had my left arm lengthened—a painful process of incremental bone stretching. I gained over two inches in three months. I drank gallons and gallons of milk, despite my lactose intolerance (the agony!), and took calcium supplements at alarming doses. Despite that, after two years, my bone remained stubbornly broken. The doctor shrugged. I was a “slow bone grower.”

I lived in France with that broken arm. I even got married with it broken! Four months into my newlywed life, I had one last surgery to fix my arm—the bone was sanded down, forcibly rejoined, and held together with a plate and screws. From that day onward, I researched everything I could on bone health. Somehow, I stumbled onto the hope of raw milk. For the first time I heard of a dentist named Weston A. Price and read his book for free online.  During these years, I heard about Wendell Berry, and I devoured all of his collections of essays in a week. I became a devotee of the French Women Don’t Get Fat philosophy of food and pleasure. Michael Pollan’s recommendations in In Defense of Food, and the food detective word in The Omnivore’s Dilemma were captivating.

I heard about and read all of the books by an outspoken farmer in Virginia named Joel Salatin.  I took cod liver oil, drank a quart of raw milk a day, and ate plenty of butter.  And in six weeks my bone was healed. I also gained fifteen pounds in about six months, but I felt so strong and healthy for the first time in years.

What I discovered in the course of my years of reading and my experience with my own health has changed the way I view food. I no longer look on food as I did in my teens as a necessary evil—a source of needed fuel but something to be controlled obsessively to avoid weight gain. In my twenties, I learned to cook, mastering various national cuisines—food as hobby. I can cook Thai, Italian, Mexican,  French, and Indian—take your pick! In France, I liked nothing better than to buy a crusty half-baguette, and 100 grams of liver pâté at the market and eat the two together as I wiled away the day reading novels. Now, I make my own chicken liver pâté, my own sourdough baguettes, and a whole slew of bizarre fermented beverages to replace my beloved diet Pepsi. I’m no longer a serial dieter, nor am I a hobbyist. I’m a busy professional woman who has spent three years slowly building the skill set to practically live out what I’ve learned about food, nutrition, and agricultural economics without falling into debt to do it.

Changing patterns of food acquisition and consumption takes a lot of time, research, study, and money. But I encourage you to start looking into our American food culture and economy and to question the unexamined assumptions with which we have all grown up. Though apple pie is American, rejecting Little Debbie will not make you unpatriotic. As I sketched out, my awareness that food is embedded in social, historical, and economic structures grew as a result of both my reading and my time living in France. France is a nation that takes the connection between what we eat and the land on which it is grown (the terroir) very seriously. They protect local, artisanal food production. They have banned genetically modified organisms. They promote the manners of the table, the traditions of food preparation, and the life rhythms necessary to eat leisurely and healthfully (two-hour lunches, can you imagine?).  We used to have those traditions here, in the United States. We could have that again.

If you are interested in these issues, do check out the authors and websites that I have linked. If you want to get started reforming your pantry and your plate, here are my tips:

1. Start small. Pick one thing to change. I began with milk. I found a local farmer through the Campaign for Real Milk website and I started there. You might want to give up soda pop. Or replace your frozen pizza habit by making a pot of stew once in a while and freezing that in convenient portions for when you don’t have time to cook.

2. Work within your budget to make priorities. There is a reason why Whole Foods is called Whole Paycheck—it’s expensive! Our family prioritizes in the following way:

  • We buy local, humanely raised meats first. We believe that our animal-product consumption should not depend on the mistreatment of animals. Joel Salatin raves about how his farming practices allow pigs to be pigs, not meat-production machines so overwhelmed by stress that they bite off each other’s tails. We’ve seen our pig running happily in “hog Heaven” on a Beaver Farm, and I petted the nose of the cow that has given us over thirty pounds of delicious roasts and steaks. Doing this, we average about $4/pound. We recently splurged on grass-fed lamb for $7/pound.  Our milk is $5.50 a gallon, which includes the cost of delivery.  Local eggs are between $3 and $4 a dozen, but even at that price, eggs are still one of the cheapest sources of protein and necessary vitamins like vitamin A.
  • Next, we purchase our produce locally whenever possible by frequenting the farmer’s market, growing a garden, and joining a winter co-op. Local, small farms use fewer pesticides overall. The produce is also much fresher. We can also buy honey, jams, pickles, breads, soaps, and meat through this co-op.
  • If we can afford it month-to-month, we buy needed items from the “dirty dozen” list at Whole Foods or Trader Joes.
  • We round out the pantry thanks to Aldi’s amazingly low prices: beans and rice, canned tomatoes, rice cakes, peanut butter, frozen shrimp and wild-caught salmon, chocolate, nuts, and other treats.
  • I cook almost everything from scratch but we do buy convenience foods for the few nights a month when we just can’t bring ourselves to cook: bottled spaghetti sauce and pasta, frozen Aldi French fries to go with pan-fried hamburgers, boxed vegetable soups and quesadillas or grilled cheese. We try to eat one or two meatless, bean-based dinners a week. Our philosophy toward food is best personified by the cookbook and manifesto, Nourishing Traditions.

***

What do you think? How would you like start to eat locally/ethically? I’m not sure where I will start, beyond shopping at the farmer’s market and being more aware of my choices. But I’d like to do more along these lines soon. 


“Like industrial sex, industrial eating has become a degraded, poor, and paltry thing. Our kitchens and other eating places more and more resemble filling stations, as our homes more and more resemble motels.” – Wendell Berry, “The Pleasures of Eating”

One afternoon during college,  a professor was lecturing on the idea that college is a sort of like slash and burn farming–we are raised in communities and they nurture us, and then we leave them (with all of the gifts and wisdom they have invested in us) and we go to college. There we feed off the riches of the professors and the learning community there until we suck them dry and walk off with our degrees. And some of us go home and reinvest in our original communities, and return to them what they gave us. But most of us follow the jobs and go wherever we can find work or the career options we like best, and leave behind two communities we have benefited from, but have not given returns on their investments.

And he then asked us what we were doing, there in that town at that little college, to invest in the community while we were there. We mostly looked at our notebooks and vigorously pretended to be taking down every word, not wanting to get called on. So he changed the question: “do you know where your water comes from?” And when we again looked stupid, he proceeded onto his conclusion, visibly irritated with our lack of interest in the place we had chosen to live for those four years.

***

When we moved from California to Virginia, I was just about to enter high school. I suppose it was unusual that my first (and initially, biggest) culture shock was the realization that I didn’t know the crops or the flora and fauna of our new region. The county where I had grown up was highly agricultural and I knew the seasons and the implications of a weather pattern on the crops around us. I knew to recognize artichoke fields, and to pray for rain for the broccoli farmers, and I could tell you all about the process of harvesting cotton or walnuts or oranges. My favorite smell was in early April, when the air became alive with the scent of orange blossoms. I visited the local water reservoir with my homeschool co-op and we toured the dam and learned where the water came from and where it was treated and how it got to us. I could recognize birds by their calls and tell you where to look for them, and I recognized the different types of pine trees in the nearby mountains by their different needles and cones.

But when we moved to Virginia, I felt bewildered. I couldn’t recognize or name anything, there were very few farms near us, and I didn’t know anything about what foods grew well in the area or when they were in season.

Over time, as I learned to cook more and helped with the shopping for the family, I began to get a feel of the seasonal rhythm of the Virginian produce (ever lamenting the fact that those things requiring a Mediterranean climate would never be quite as good on the East coast–I haven’t had a good artichoke in years). And I slowly learned to appreciate it–the peanut soup and boiled peanuts, the eastern shore crab harvest, the fall apples, the local wines, the sweet corn, the venison, etc. I have acclimated, and I am able to navigate eating locally with some degree of skill now.

Obviously, this is important to me because that’s one thing I love about my dad (his awareness of the geographic attributes and produce the region where he lives). But it’s important for Christians in a larger way, too. If eating isn’t just something we do for fuel, and if Jesus affirmed the physical world with his incarnation, and if we are made to be stewards of the earth, we have an obligation to shop for our food in a way that reflects these things.

I feel frustrated sometimes, with other conservative Christians who assume that issues of environmental concern are just “evolutionist” or not worth their time. For them, loving Jesus is enough for life. And…strictly speaking, they’re not wrong. But to use “loving Jesus” as a carte blanche to ignore ethical living on the earth is indulging in a sort of Gnosticism that allows disinterest in where one lives and how one lives in that place, which runs against the concept of human stewardship of the earth and the embodied Christianity that Jesus established in his incarnation.

There are  a lot of causes related to this idea of stewarding the earth well, and many of them are silly or reactionary. It’s hard to know how, in this industrial age of suburbia and mass production, to live well in the place one lives. To do so entirely holistically would be overwhelming–so much of our society is built around ignoring place and refusing to let the unique nature of a geographic locale influence how we live. Everything must be standardized, democratized, universal. We transplant ourselves to new place, following jobs, and don’t think much about being affected by where we live (except to grumble about various inconveniences). And it’s hard to actually go off the grid without cutting oneself off from relationships with everyone else on the grid, which would be ideologically contrary to the concept of Christian community and fellowship.

I live in a place and I am part of a physical community, whether I like it or not. Wendell Berry calls the idea of belonging to a community “membership.” But membership doesn’t (according to Berry) come by just living in a community. It requires active participation in it to the point that you identify with the community and the community in return chooses to identify itself with you. This requires more than just living in a place, commuting to your office, and then coming home and getting groceries at the supermarket, taking out your trash, and checking your mail. It means interacting with your neighbors, it means making the land better than how it was when you came to it, and the people richer culturally. Suburban “bedroom communities” are the antithesis of this idea of real community and membership therein. And I would argue that it is the thinking Christian’s obligation to choose wisely how to become invested in the membership of his or her physical community.

So how to do this? Determining how you choose to live well in your physical place will be a rather individual decision. But some basic steps to get started might include: learning about your town or county, perhaps by attending a meeting of the local planning commission, to understand the ways land is being used where you live, and why; or perhaps you might do research to learn about the food co-ops available in your area, where you can purchase produce seasonally from local farmers. You might see if you can find a local butcher, and purchase humanely raised meat. Or you could start a small garden in your backyard or on your windowsill, and make compost from your refuse.

All these things take time and deliberate effort, so it’s worth being thoroughly careful to make sure that you do these things out real conviction, rather than jumping on a fad because you feel guilty.

***

  [Following up next week, we’ll have a guest post by the delightful Marianne, with a sort of Eating Locally 101 for those   who interested in the practical elements of this.]


Here’s your week’s list of reads. Discuss in the comments if something rubs you wrong or you’re curious about why I chose to feature a piece.

Some politician named Mourdock made a statement that, out of context, was highly offensive to feminists/rape victims. Basically he believes that Babies = Gift From God, so he assumes that while Rape = Bad, Babies (from rape) = still Gift From God. But what it sounded like was that he was suggesting that rape victims be thankful they got raped, because Babies, you guys! Here’s one of many posts on this from the perspective of the offended party. I posted it on Facebook yesterday, with this commentary, and we had a lively discussion:

I am consistently bothered by WASP men who jump on the comments about rape and pregnancy (like Akin and Mourdock) with their comments about no exceptions for abortion bans, because babies! Life! Imago Dei!

Yes. Technically these men are correct. Morally, they have the high ethical ground.

But there is a hollow lack of compassion in these over-eager attempts to comment on the correct moral choice for a rape victim, and it seems to me that their privilege in our society as straight white Protestant men has blinded them to the pain and anguish of such a situation and led them into turning these women into abstractions, useful for political gesturing. This is wrong. These women are real people, loved by God.

Can we give rape victims the respect of not making them abstractions for our political discussions? It’s not sweeping the issue of life as a gift from God under the rug to respect these women and let them grieve privately. It’s not endorsing abortion to respect their experience (and your lack thereof) to hold your tongue and not paint in broad strokes how you think they should act or feel. 

Life is a gift from God. Your ethical patronizing is not.

I highlighted this wonderful, wonderful post on relationship and obedience in parenting by my mom in the comments on my last post (which, oh my. Got so much traffic. Really blown away by you all. Thank you.) and everyone should go read it.

A NY Times blog addresses the horrific agricultural situation in America, and suggests a simple fix (which may or may not be the best option, but it’s worth reading).

My good friend Eric writes an essay against legalism as part of a series he’s doing. He suggests that labeling people (he jokingly calls those who habitually do this to organize their world “Labelists”) is contrary to God’s law of love, and undermines the gospel, and promotes legalism. Loving it so far.

The Diocese of South Carolina has broken off from the Episcopal church over longstanding differences of opinion on issues of orthodoxy. Our rector used to be part of this diocese. Pray for the Church.

A beautiful, beautiful essay on the Book of Common Prayer in the New Yorker. I love this so much, as I attended several evensong services at Salisbury, and it’s still my favorite cathedral I’ve ever visited.

For those of us who have been hurt by fundamentalist Christianity, here’s a reminder from Peter Enns on why we need to still love these brothers and sisters in Christ.

A funny way to teach yourself to detect the passive voice in your writing.

Random House and Putnam Penguin are considering a merger. This would be horrific for the book selling industry, and is largely the natural reaction to Amazon and da gubbamit. Support your local independent booksellers, kids!

There is a style guide for web typography. I’m in love.

I spell my name with an umlaut (keyboard shortcut alt+0228, fyi) and so of course I loved this little essay on umlauts and Volapük.

My 6,128 Favorite Books: an essay on reading in the WSJ. Lovely. Those who know, know. And if you know, you will love this piece.

fascinating article on memes in political journalism and what they do to the political discourse.

The State of the Short Story, by the editor of The Paris Review, Lorin Stein. I’m a sucker for short stories. Stein explores how we read and why we read short stories.

Happy Friday! I’ll have another post for you tomorrow, as part of the series on food


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.