The one about Blurred Lines

This is not an entry about Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s performance at the Video Music Awards. Let’s get that fact straight right off the bat. But, it is about how what we watch and listen to can effect us in subtle ways. I’m not talking about video games and violence. I’m talking about something much more subtle. I’m talking about pop culture that very quietly chisels away at what society deems appropriate behavior. In particular I’m talking about sexual behavior. To be even more specific this post is about rape culture and how certain parts of pop culture can contribute to rape culture.

What is rape culture? Far be it from me to totally trust Wikepedia, but their definition is actually pretty spot on. “A concept which links rape and sexual violence to the culture of a society, and in which prevalent attitudes and practices normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone rape.”  What is so insidious about rape culture is how society won’t even realize it’s happening. Rape culture often begins as subtle attitudes that become accepted as fact without being checked. Rape culture exists in laws that allow a woman’s previous sexual history to be a part of the evidence brought up in a rape trial. (Thankfully this part of rape culture is facing a steady decline due in part to “Shield Laws” that no longer allow this practice.) However, I believe that the biggest offender of perpetuating rape culture, is pop culture itself. 

This brings me back to Robin Thicke. If you listened to the radio at all this summer you probably heard his song “Blurred Lines” many online and print publications decreed it the song of the summer and it was in constant rotation on the radio. I’m the first to admit the song has a very catchy hook. It’s an earworm that can’t help but get stuck in my head. The problem lies not in the music, but in the lyrics.  Just a sample from the chorus is as follows

And that’s why I’m gon’ take a good girl
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
You’re a good girl
Can’t let it get past me
You’re far from plastic
Talk about getting blasted
I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
But you’re a good girl
The way you grab me
Must wanna get nasty
Go ahead, get at me

Disgusting right? Don’t even get my started on the video that goes along with this song. (All I will I say is: naked girls dancing around fully clothed men) First of all the repetition of the phrase “I know you want it” sends shivers up my spine. Just written down the phrase could be directly lifted from a  police report about sexual assault. Secondly, the whole concept of “blurred lines” is almost the definition of rape culture. There is no such thing as a blurred line when it comes to sex. No means no and yes means yes. I don’t know a woman who says no when she means yes. I re-read that sentence wondering if I should be so emphatic about it and I decided yes I stand by it. I have NEVER met a woman who says no when she means yes when it comes to sex or any type of romantic possibility.

This point jumps off from Robin Thicke and moves into pop culture as a whole. Think of a romantic movie you like, or a television show about dating. In fact think of any representation in pop culture of dating. How many times in books, television, and movies do we see the following scenario. Guy is attracted to Girl. Guy asks Girl out. Girl says no. Guy continues to ask Girl out in more elaborate ways. Girl continues to say no. Guy makes some big impassioned speech about how much he wants to be with Girl. Girl finally says yes. Guy and Girl go off in the sunset happily ever after. This is a very common archetype we encounter everyday. I’m not knocking the archetype in and of itself. I’m just saying that we might not even realize how the things we consume can subtly influence what we consider appropriate romantic behavior. In the real world it is not cute when a guy won’t take no for answer. In the real world it’s scary. In the real world it isn’t cute when a guy keeps asking for your number over and over again when you’ve already said no.

I’m not saying that if you like the song Blurred Lines or romantic comedies that you are a rapist. But I do think we need to be aware of the pop culture we consume. We need to call out bad behavior when we see it. I don’t think my sister would let my nephew listen to a song like Blurred Lines without some serious discussion afterwards about what makes the song problematic (although since he’s four years old I’m 100% certain he’s not listening to it at all). At the end of the day I’m not advocating boycotts of certain songs or movies or television. (I mean I just wrote a blog last week about how I’m against banning books for crying out loud.) Every person has to decide for herself what books to read, movies to watch, and music to listen to.  I am advocating discussing what makes the things we enjoy problematic and what our responsibility as consumers is to call out problematic things.

It’s not just a male problem. On last night’s The Mindy Project a character that was so drunk he could not walk on his own or keep his eyes open was kissed by one woman and then had sex with another. Before I hear cries about how I’m too sensitive and the show is a comedy so what’s the big deal let me say this. How would you have felt if instead of the above scenario happening with a male character, it happened with a female character? What if the character of Mindy Lahiri, so drunk she couldn’t walk by herself, was kissed by a male character and then had sex with another? It would make us uncomfortable right? I love Mindy Kaling. I love her show and I’ll continue to watch it. But just because I enjoy something doesn’t mean I shouldn’t point out when it becomes problematic.

What makes rape culture so dangerous is its subtly. We don’t even realize the messages we are being sent until we sit down and really peruse what we are seeing. We live in a world where violence against women is an epidemic. Women are forced into marriage and prostitution. Women are treated as second class citizens. Women are belittled and hurt by the very people put in place to protect them. It is up to those of us (women and men) who are not victims of violence to stand up to normalization of dangerous behavior and say enough is enough. Music, books, television and movies can be romantic, funny, and worthwhile without promoting the mistreatment of half the population.

What about my readers? Have you run across instances of rape culture that caused you to get as worked up as I am? Parents of both boys and girls how do you deal/plan to deal with things like gender violence and gender equality with your kids?

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The one about trains

I’m a woman who is pretty in touch with her emotions. I feel things and I feel them completely. There are good and bad parts to this aspect of my personality. Passion in and of itself is not a bad thing, but it can be misapplied and become exhausting. I’ve been thinking lately about an old analogy my mother used to say to me often as a child and teenager and how much I still struggle to put the analogy into practice. I can’t remember the first time mom used this analogy (and trust me she won’t remember either) but the gist of it is as follows. My feelings are completely valid and it is good for me to feel them. But, if my life is like a train, my feelings need to be the caboose and not the engine. If my feelings are the engine I run the risk of going off the rails.

I do think that at 26 I am better at letting my feelings be the caboose than I was at 17. However, I sometimes still find myself letting my feelings drive my whole day. It’s a hard concept to get down and something I think I’ll be working on for the rest of my life. It’s a conscious choice in the morning when I wake up to not let my feelings about any situation overwhelm the tone of my whole day.

One way that I combat this tendency is by some good old fashioned introspection. When a thought comes through my brain I ask myself “is this feeling true?” I’m really good at lying to myself and also being my own harshest critic. The grace I am willing to extend to others I have a much harder time extending to myself. So the first step is to decide if I’m lying or being too hard on myself. Not every thing I feel is the truth. Again what I feel is valid, but validity does not equal truth. If after the first step I decide what I feel isn’t true I say that to myself every time that thought resurfaces. “Oh yeah I remember, I thought this yesterday but this thought is not true.”

Now sometimes a thought will come into my head and I’m not lying to myself. When this happens I have to reshuffle my train cars. “Okay this feeling is true, but it doesn’t have to drive me. It will still be just as true as the caboose.” This reshuffling is hard. My feelings do not want to be put at the back of the train. I’m reminded of a song by Jon Foreman, the lead singer of Switchfoot. In the song Baptize My Mind he sings

Both my hands are filled with guilt
(Be my absolution)
Oh with my eyes are blind with filth
(Be my absolution, absolution)

Hey, baptize my mind
Hey, baptize my eyes
Hey, baptize my mind
For these seeds to give birth to life
First they must die

The feelings I have to take captive are more often than not thoughts of guilt and filth that cloud my every movement. It’s only when I step into the water of God’s grace that my blind eyes can see the truth. I can’t move my feelings to the back of the train until I can see clearly. And Jesus is the only person that helps me see clearly 100% of the time. This isn’t something that I ever expect to completely overcome. But I do look back at my younger self and see growth and progress which gives me strength when I wake up the morning unable to see past the feelings that overwhelm me. I may not be able to see at that very moment, but I know how to clear my eyes so that I can.

Do any of you struggle with feelings that overwhelm you? What do you think of my mom’s train metaphor? (FYI if we’ve been friends for any length of time you probably knew this story already)

The one about banning books

I love to read. This is not news to most of my readers. I don’t have many childhood memories but the ones that I do have all involve books. I learned to read by listening to books on tape over and over again.  I made weekly trips to the library where my mom had to set a limit on how many books I was allowed to take out. A family vacation always included a bag full of books on my side of the car. Even today you’ll never see me without at least one book (and now that I have my Kindle it’s more like 100 books). As a book lover it would seem pretty obvious that I hate banning books. Now this doesn’t mean I think all books are good or are even appropriate for all people. But I was reminded how much I hate book banning today when I found out one of my new favorite authors is facing this very problem.

Rainbow Rowell is an author who moves from adult to young adult novels. She has written three books and all of them are fantastic. Her second book, Eleanor & Park, is about how a young girl and boy living in 1980’s Nebraska find love while riding the school bus together. It is a beautiful book and I highly recommend it. Eleanor and Park feel like outsiders for various reasons (she is overweight and lives in a destructive family; he is one of the few Koreans in their school) and find solace and comfort with each other. I loved this book so much I cried at the end of it. So you can imagine my shock when I read an article today talking about a citizen action group’s efforts to not only ban Rowell from visiting a local library, but to also punish the librarians who put her book on a recommended reading list!

Rowell was interviewed about the issue and I highly recommend reading the whole interview here. It seems the parents’ problem with the book was its profanity and sometimes sexual content. Without giving too much away from the book I have to take issues with both of these things. One of my favorite bloggers is Linda Holmes from NPR. She blogs at MonkeySee  and talked about this very book in an article published today. She writes

Indeed, most of the ugliness that concerned parents found in the book is the result of brutal honesty about the obstacles Eleanor and Park are facing. It comes from Rowell’s description of Eleanor’s abusive stepfather and her angry thoughts about him, of the boys who make snide remarks about her body, of the gossips who make her and Park both miserable, and of the hostile social universe they’re facing. The profanity by which the parents say they were “assaulted” in the opening pages is not profanity that comes from the main characters; it comes at them, the same way it comes at many, many kids in real schools.

I understand a parent’s desire to protect his or her children from certain things on television, in movies, and in books. But I will never understand a parent’s desire to force every other parent in the vicinity to enforce the same restrictions. If you don’t want your kid reading Eleanor & Park then don’t let them read it. But to insist that a local library not have the author of a book you find personally objectionable come to speak AND that the librarians who organized the visit be punished is pushing the boundaries of normal behavior.

The reasons this book is objectionable to some also concerns me a bit. This book is not 50 Shades of Grey (a book that in my opinion has no redeeming value). I’ll let Rainbow Rowell sum up my big problem with the objections to her book.

And that’s just it. Eleanor & Park isn’t some dystopian fantasy about a world where teenagers swear and are cruel to each other, and some kids have terrible parents. Teenagers swear and are cruel to each other. Some kids have terrible parents. Some girls have terrible step-dads who shout profanity at them and call them sluts – and some of those girls still manage to rise above it.When these people call Eleanor & Park an obscene story, I feel like they’re saying that rising above your situation isn’t possible.That if you grow up in an ugly situation, your story isn’t even fit for good people’s ears. That ugly things cancel out everything beautiful.

I read books, and was encouraged to read books as child to help me grow. Grow in reading comprehension and vocabulary, but also to grow in empathy and sympathy for others. To learn about worlds and places that were utterly foreign to me. Now when I was very young did I need help deciding what books were good to read? Yes. But, by the time I was the age of the characters in Eleanor & Park my mother had pretty much stopped policing what I read. She knew that I could police myself after having been taught for many years by her what was good and what was not. Just because characters in a book I read swore didn’t mean that I would. Just because characters in a book I read had sex didn’t mean that I would. And just because a book that I read validated a different worldview than mine didn’t mean that mine was invalidated. It meant that I learned how to be a critical thinker. I learned how to decide what I believed and why. Books like Eleanor & Park helped me do that. I’m not afraid of new things or new knowledge. I think the teenage years are the time when we start opening our minds to new things. Trying to shut out things we don’t understand doesn’t keep us safe. It keeps us stifled.

What about you? Do you think there is any scenario where banning books is the right choice? Some other books constantly banned: Huck Finn and pretty much everything by Judy Blume. What are your thoughts on banned book from the past? Could that impact how we deal with banning books in the present?

The one about nerd culture

Let’s go back in time almost a year ago. I’m sitting in the library doing some work when I feel someone’s eyes on me. I look up and at the table directly across from me is a boy looking at me. More specifically looking at the shirt I am wearing. In the split seconds before our eyes meet I take enough of an inventory to decide that he seems both cute and harmless enough that if he speaks to me I’ll probably answer instead of just ignoring him. He meets my eyes, smiles, and says “I like your shirt.” The shirt I am wearing is this one

doctor hoo

The title of the shirt is “Doctor Hoo”. If you are a fan of the sci fi show Doctor Who you know why this is funny. If you are not a fan of the show the shirt is just a bunch of cute owls. I love both owls and Doctor Who so when I saw this shirt it was pretty much a guarantee that I was going to buy it. For those of you who don’t know about Doctor Who (oh boy) I’m going to give a very brief overview. (I know I know don’t fall asleep. I have to tell you a bit about it for the rest of the story to make sense.)

Doctor Who is a British Television show that has run for 50 years (not consecutively but 50 seasons). It began in 1963 on the BBC and ran continuously until the late 1980’s. In 2005 it was relaunched on the BBC and has been running ever since. The plot is very simple. It is about an alien simply called The Doctor who travels through time and space in a machine called The TARDIS (which stands for Time And Relative Dimension In Space). Along the way he usually has friends that travel with him. These friends are usually human and from our time (they are the audience surrogate and our way “in” to the world of Doctor Who).

Now what makes The Doctor so special is that when his alien race is fatally injured instead of dying he “regenerates” into a completely different body. He is still the same man in mind but not in body. This is why Doctor Who is one of the longest running shows on television. Every time the actor playing The Doctor wants to leave the show, the character is fatally wounded and regenerates into a new actor. Everyone still with me? I’m almost done I swear. When the show was rebooted in 2005 fans began referring to that version as “New Who”, and the version from 1963 to the late ’80’s as “Classic Who.” Okay. We’re done. See! It wasn’t that bad!

So back to the cute boy in the library. After he says “I like your shirt” I smile back and say “Thanks I love the show”. He leans over the table (we are whispering since after all, we are in a library and says) “Who is your favorite Doctor?” I respond “Probably 10” (fans of Who refer to each Doctor by the number he is in relation to the first. So, the actor David Tennant was the 10th man to play the Doctor.) Cute boy’s face changes slightly, “Do you have a favorite Classic Doctor?” I respond “I haven’t watched much classic Who, but from what little I’ve seen I like Colin Baker.” Now his face falls completely and a look of what can only be described as a mix of derision and annoyance crosses his face. “Oh so you aren’t a real fan then?” My response? An eye roll, followed by putting my headphones in and looking back at my computer without speaking.

Let’s move a bit forward in time from this incident. I’m back at the library again checking out books. One of the books in the pile is the graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. My friend Chuck who is an artist and comic book lover has recommended this graphic novel to me based on my love of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. The boy behind the counter looks to be a few years younger than me and falls squarely into the “nerdy” category. I’m not talking about Seth Cohen on The OC nerdy. I’m talking about cliche, glasses wearing, skinny arms having nerd. He takes my stack of books and begins checking them out. When he gets to The Dark Knight Returns the following conversation occurs. (note: the first time he says the word “people” just image he really said “girls” cause that’s what he meant. And the second time he says “people” imagine “boys” because that’s also what he meant.)

Him: *Deep sigh* It’s that time of year

Me: huh? what?

Him: Oh sorry. I just meant that whenever a new Batman movie comes out people who know nothing about comics get all excited about graphic novels and come check them all out of the library.

Me: and that’s a problem?

Him: It is when they aren’t really fans because that means people who are really into these books aren’t able to get them as quickly as they want.

Again my response was to roll my eyes, stop talking, and wait for this idiot to finish checking out my books and let me go. (Also dude, if they were really hardcore fans wouldn’t they already own the book and not need to check it out of the library?)

Finally we get to our third incident. Today at the post office. I’m wearing The Doctor Hoo shirt again. The guy in front of me notices. We have the following conversation.

Him: Don’t you hate how the fangirls are all obsessed with The Doctor and Rose? (One of the companions who had a love story with the 10th Doctor) I mean the show is really about sci fi. It’s so annoying when they try to inject all this romance in it.

Me: I actually love The Doctor and Rose’s relationship. What I don’t love is when people tell me I’m appreciating something the wrong way.

BOOM DROP THE MIC I’M OUT! (Except not really because I still hadn’t mailed my package, but I did angle my body away from him so…there!)

The three incidents I described are not anomaly’s for me or for the countless other girls who enjoy some aspect of what I’m going to call “nerd culture” Over the last few years in some parts of nerd culture there has been this backlash against what is commonly called “fake fans” or “fake nerd girls”.  There are countless articles and meme’s all about the nerd girl phenomenon. Most of them center around this idea that if a girl likes a typically “nerdy” thing she is either doing it because it is now culturally cool to like that thing and has no knowledge about the actual thing. Or she only likes certain parts of it and therefore is not a “real fan”.

I hate this phenomenon. I hate it with passion of 1,000 suns. Whenever someone expresses that sentiment to me I’m filled with rage. It blows my mind that a culture that has built its whole existence on being outcasts that could never fit in have no problem turning around and doing the same thing to people on the fringes of their own sub culture simply because they don’t like things the “right way”.

News flash you nerd idiots. There is no “right way” to like something. If a girl buys a Superman tee shirt and has never seen a movie or read a comic book featuring Superman, she is still allowed to wear that shirt. If someone has only seen the Harry Potter movies and never read the books, he is allowed to call himself a fan of Harry Potter. If a girl is wearing a Doctor Who shirt and has never watched an episode of classic who, she is still a fan of that show. Nerd boys do not own fandom. They do not get to decide who is allowed to be a part of it and who is not.

It’s also steeped in a kind of narcissistic misogyny that rubs me the wrong way. There’s this idea that a girl will pretend to like something nerdy to get a guy interested in her. Number one: so what? What is so wrong with a girl trying to appreciate something that a boy she is interested in likes? Shouldn’t that be flattering? If a guy I like starts watching a show I love, reading a book I’m obsessed with, or listening to a band that’s one of my favorites I find it sweet and flattering. It means he likes me enough to attempt to become interested in the things I like! Number two: Get over yourself! Sometimes a girl just likes something because she likes it! I started watching Doctor Who because my good friend Amanda kept recommending it; not because I wanted cute guys at the library to notice me.

My normal response when something like this happens is to roll my eyes and walk away. But for some reason this incident today really got under my skin and I had to get out the reasons why. At the end of the day people should be allowed to like whatever they like for whatever reason. There are no pop cultures police nor should there be. Pop culture exists as an escape from the troubles of the real world around us. Let’s not bring in those very troubles into our safe space. If you want to know the name of every episode of Star Trek or Doctor Who and the names of their directors be my guest. But don’t you dare belittle me because I don’t know them all.

Have any of you ever experienced this issue in your own lives? Nerdy girls how do you deal with it? Nerdy boys how do you make sure you don’t perpetuate this behavior?

The one about Church

It seems like you can’t go online anymore without reading an article about millenials and their relationship to church. Are they going to church? If so why? Are they not going to church? If so why not? How do churches keep millenials in the pews? Is it a losing battle to try? I’m not nearly capable of speaking for my generation (nor frankly would I want to). But I decided I wanted to shed some light on what keeps me attending the church I attend and why I love it so much.

I graduated from college and moved back home knowing I wanted to find a new church. I absolutely loved the church I grew up in, but I knew there weren’t many people my age attending, and I just felt like it was time for a change. I began trying lots of local churches around me. It was hard. Really hard. There was nothing inherently wrong with the places I was visiting, but I just couldn’t find a place that felt like home. I firmly believe in the importance of being a part of a community of believers so it was really bothering me that I couldn’t find a place to call my own. I began to read some of the types of articles mentioned above and got even more frustrated. I didn’t like being painted with a “too picky” brush and that’s what I felt like some people assumed were the reason millenials couldn’t find a church. I am well aware there is no such thing as a perfect church. But I didn’t think my standards were too high

As time went on however, I began to wonder if it wasn’t time to lower them. It was going on two years since I had moved home and I still hadn’t found a place I wanted to attend regularly. Then almost 2 years ago to the day I got a call from my best friend AJ. She was living in Philly and also looking for a new church. She had received a mailer that a new church was starting up a few block away from her apartment. She was going to go the following Sunday and wanted to know if I wanted to come in and go with her. I said sure all the time assuming it would be a one week trip. I live in New Jersey and there was no way I was commuting into Philly every Sunday for church. But sure I could do it for one Sunday.

That Sunday AJ and I showed up on the doorstep of CityLife Church and before the service was over I thought “oh boy I guess I’m commuting into Philly for church now.” When I say I instantly knew I belonged there I am not exaggerating. From the moment we walked in it was like God was affirming that I wasn’t wrong to hold tight to my wish list. It sounds like a cliche but CityLife felt like home the moment I walked inside. I wanted to touch on a few of the reasons why CityLife became my home church and what I’m so grateful I get to go there every Sunday.

1) Friendly people: I’ve been in church culture literally my entire life. I know what friendly usually means in churches. It means someone says “hi” to you when you walk in the door and MAYBE another person says “hi” when the pastor tells the congregation to great someone they don’t know before sitting down. (But let’s be serious usually that second “hi” isn’t a guarantee since most people if they talk to anyone at all it’s usually the person sitting right next to them that they probably already know.) But, when we walked into CityLife the person at the door walked with us all the way into lobby talking the whole time. She wanted to know our names, where we were from, what brought us to Philly, and if there was anything she could do to make us feel more comfortable. And it wasn’t just AJ and I that received this treatment. I saw people that came in alone not only get the same walk and talk, but also asked if they needed someone to sit with! What was this? A church where people weren’t just polite but actually friendly? I firmly believe that this attitude starts a wonderful circle. People are treated so nicely when they first come to CityLife that they themselves go on the lookout to treat new people the same way they were treated. I know this was true for me. To this day when I see someone I don’t know at church I find myself walking over to introduce myself and make sure that they know there is an open seat next to me if they need it. (It’s a great way to make new friends also. It’s how I met my friend Linda who was mentioned in my blog earlier this week).

2) Relevant preaching: It can be tough to be a pastor of this I am sure. I think one of the toughest parts must be preparing messages that are accessible to those who are coming into the building for the first time and those who have been there many many many weeks. I’m so grateful that Pastor Brad and his staff manage to hit this marker every single Sunday. I don’t pretend to think that I am this spiritually mature person who knows everything there is to know about life and godliness. (Seriously if I did think that it would be super prideful and proof that I actually don’t know everything there is to know.) Having said this, I have regularly attended church my entire life and feel very much in the “solid food” part of my spritual meal. In Corinthians Paul writes that when we are new in the faith we don’t learn the way we learn when we are older in the faith. He says in chapter 3 verse 1-2 “I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger.” The church is the only organization that exists for those who are not already a part of it (copyright Pastor Brad’s sermon last week I’m not that pithy). It is imperative that the preaching be accessible for the one who has never heard anything about Jesus before in his or her life. CityLife does this each and every week, and there is always an opportunity for those who are far from Christ to come close to him. What makes CityLife really special to me is that the team manages to accomplish this while still feeding solid food to the rest of the its body. Each week there is a fundamental lesson being preached that also reaches me in my almost 22 year walk of faith. This is special. This is rare. This why I love CityLife

3) A focus on the outward community: I mentioned in my last blog that CityLife is located in one of the poorest congressional districts in the country. Another reason I keep coming back to CityLife is because I know they are committed to making an impact in the community in which they live. I was reminded of how much I appreciated this last Sunday. Pastor Brad was preaching the parable of the King who after his subjects make excuses not to come to his banquet invites the lowest of the low and the poorest of the poor to come and eat at his table. Pastor Brad was driving home how important it is to reach the one right outside our door and bring them into the party. He said God has called me to be a witness. What does this mean? What does a witness do in a trial? She gets up in front of the court and says what she knows. She isn’t the prosecutor or the defender. She’s just a witness. (This is a paraphrase by the way) He continued that the Holy Spirit doesn’t need us to defend him and Jesus doesn’t need us to prosecute anyone on his behalf. They just want us to get up there, tell our story, and invite people to the party. And when they come to our party we don’t say “you can’t come to the party until you change your clothes/walk differently/talk differently/act differently.” We just invite them in.

4) Diversity within the body: A month ago I attended a seminar put on by the Evangelical Society for Social Action. There were many speakers on many topics but one really stuck out to me. The woman spoke about how the church body should not all the look the same and come from the same socioeconomic backgrounds. Just like in our physical bodies each part looks different and has different functions, so must our spiritual bodies be the same. We will never grow in empathy and love in our geographical communities until we can identify with and love the “other” in our church communities. I’m so glad that when I look around CityLife I don’t see a sea of people who look like me, talk like me, think like me, and live like me. The body is diverse and we need every single part.

Those things things I just wrote? If your church isn’t at least attempting those things that’s probably why there aren’t many millenials in your church. (I know I said I wouldn’t speak for my whole generation so maybe I should have just said that’s why I wouldn’t be in your church. Oh well) I see how hard it is for my friends who want to be in a church family but can’t seem to find that place where they belong. I see that and I cry for them. I pray that God will bring them to a place where they can feel at home the way I do at CityLife. Sure it takes me an hour to ride the train into the city and walk to church, but it’s worth it. I know what’s like to search for two years and not find what you are looking for. I found it and I’m holding on with both hands as hard as I can while also telling others about it as often as possible.

Tomorrow CityLife is celebrating its two year anniversary! If you live in the area and haven’t found a church home yet please give CityLife a try. Come this Sunday! We’re having a party to celebrate out birthday! (Hot dogs are being provided by Underdogs a great hot dog place in Rittenhouse) I’ll be there, thanking God for finding me a place to call home.

Here’s the website if you want to check it out http://www.citylifephilly.com/

I want to hear from you. What keeps you in or out of church? What do you think about all the press lately about millenials and the church?

The one about helping right where you are

The world is a scary place. The world is a heartbreaking place. Every day it seems there is a new story that hits me right in the gut. It can be overwhelming. Sometimes in the face of overwhelming sadness I shut down because I can’t think of any way to help. I’m just one person and anything I do seems so small. Last week in church my pastor shared an astonishing fact. The congressional district my church is located in (South Philly) is the 2nd poorest congressional district in the country! In the whole country! This blows my mind. Instead of looking at that fact as a call to action I have spent most of the week in a kind of frozen free that if not checked will gradually turn into apathy. How am I supposed to make any kind of difference when those are the odds I am up against? Even being part of a church body is limiting. There is no way we can fix it all.

I’ve  been praying that God will shake me out of my fear because I do know that to do nothing is not an option. But I also know that I’m severely limited in a lot of the typical ways that people can help. Money is definitely an obstacle right now. I’m barely making my loan payments as it is and that’s only because I still live with my parents who very generously don’t charge me rent. My time availability has also become severely limited recently. I work from 2-9 Monday through Thursday with an hour commute each way as well as Saturday from 9-3. Convoy of Hope (an organization I interned with and cannot speak highly enough about) is doing an outreach in Philadelphia this Saturday and I can’t be there no matter how much I might want to.

All of this has been on my mind a lot lately because as I mentioned I have an hour commute each way to work. This means I’m in the car with a lot of time to think. It was during this drive that I feel like I finally got a bit of my answer. Every night while driving home I inevitably end up sitting at a light just off of RT 76 waiting to turn right and go over the Ben Franklin Bridge. If you drive in Philly at all you know that oftentimes at these lights there will be homeless people who will use the time the light is red to walk in between the cars on the off chance that someone will open their window and give them something.

Now being a young girl driving alone at night I tend to employ what I call the stare straight ahead and don’t make eye contact method when this happens to me. I do this without guilt because most of the time I encounter this the homeless person has been male. I believe Jesus wants us to help but I also believe he wants me to use my common sense and be safe. I was putting this method into practice Tuesday night when all of sudden this person walked directly in front of my car and we made eye contact. I looked up and saw a girl who was probably around my age holding a cigarette in one hand and a sign in the other that said “homeless and need help. Anything you can give, please.”

Immediately I felt a voice inside my head say, “Give her the money that’s in your wallet right now.” First of all let me just get out of the way how often I have heard the Holy Spirit speak to me that clearly in my soul; the answer is rarely if ever. Seriously, I reeled back in my seat that’s how surprising the thought was to me. Second, I hardly ever have cash on me (I’m a debit card girl) but just that morning I’d deposited a paycheck and kept cash out to buy some groceries. Third, the fact that I had a paycheck to cash that day was not typical. I get paid every 2 weeks and only started at my job in the beginning of September. But my boss decided to pay me for my first week instead of waiting two weeks.  All of this to say that I feel pretty confident that God was setting me up for this moment.

(As a quick side note I don’t know what your view is on giving homeless people money and frankly my thoughts on it are not the point of this blog. I will say that I think when God tells you to help someone you help them however he tells you to. It’s not my job to tell her how to spend the money I give her. It’s my job to be open to the Holy Spirit and do whatever he tells me to do.)

I started rummaging through my purse to get my wallet but before I even got it completely out the girl had walked past my car. Two seconds after that, the light turned green. I was the first car at the light and there was a line of cars behind me. If you drive in Philly you know I had about .2 seconds to start driving before all hell broke loose behind me. As I drove through the light I literally started crying I was so upset. If I could have done a u-turn on the bridge and gotten back to her I would have. As it is after I calmed down a little I prayed. I said “Jesus, please let that woman be there tomorrow night. And please let me have the opportunity to give her the money.”

Yesterday the whole time I was at work I was thinking about this girl and continually praying that she would be at the light that night. When I left work I got my money out of my wallet and set it in my lap even though I had at least a half hour drive back into the city. As I pulled off RT 76 the light at the end of the exit was green and my heart jumped into my throat. Please God. Please. Then right as I got to the light…yellow! I slammed on my brakes probably infuriating the person behind me but I didn’t care. I looked around and sure enough from the under the overpass to my left here came the same woman from the night before! I rolled my window down (not all the way mom don’t panic) and gave her everything that was in my wallet. We made eye contact as our fingers touched and from somewhere within me these words came out of mouth. “I saw you here last night. I prayed I’d see you tonight. I know Jesus wanted me to see you.” She just nodded her head and moved on but I rolled up my window feeling so hopeful.

The money I gave that girl was not enough to get her out of poverty. What I said probably wasn’t enough to make her interested in a relationship with Christ. I didn’t give her one of the cards with an invitation to my church on it that was also in my wallet. But you know what? None of that mattered. I had seen in action how to break out of frozen fear and apathy; help the person right in front of you. We tend to go through our daily lives with our heads down and our earphones in and we can walk right past a person we could tangibly help. I pray that God will help me lift my head and open my eyes to the people I walk by every day that I could help in some way. This doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do for those that are far away. We should donate time and money to international relief efforts. But sometimes the best way to re-energize yourself is to remember the words of Jesus when he was asked what the was the greatest commandment. “Love your neighbor as yourself” Who is our neighbor? For me it was that woman. For you it might be the person you always sit next to on the bus, or the person who has the cubicle next to you. Just be open to God and I promise he will use you in ways you never even imagined. He did for me.

How do you deal with the overwhelming needs and sadness that we face everyday as a world? How do you break free from apathy and fear to help those around you even when you know you can’t solve the whole problem? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

The one about my sister

Today is my big sister’s birthday. It’s been a few years since Jena and I have been able to celebrate her birthday together. I’ve been wanting to write something about her for awhile now and I decided her birthday was the best day to do it. When your birthday is September 11th you are always doomed to share the day with lots of tears and remembrances being written about a tragic event. I thought it would be nice for her to read something that is only about her on her birthday. So, here we go!

I’ve heard it said that siblings are the most important relationship you will have in your life because they know you the longest. Parents usually pass away before their children and rarely does a spouse come into your life before a sibling and even if that is the case the spouse usually isn’t consistently in your life the way a sibling is. If the relationship is healthy you know each other through all facets of your life; childhood, adolescence, young adult and adulthood. However just because your sibling may have longevity of relationship it does not always follow that the relationship is a good one. I’m thinking of the mother on Downton Abbey talking about her three daughters and lamenting that instead of a Little Women type of relationship her daughters fight like cats and dogs. Although I’m not really sure I’d advocate for a Little Women type of sisterhood (let’s be honest Beth is so good it’s almost annoying and don’t even get me started on that brat Amy), I’m very lucky that my relationship with my sister is closer to this picture than the sisters on Downton Abbey.

Being the youngest I have no memories of being an only child. You would have to ask Jena what life was like before a sister, but I do know she was anxious to have one. (At least before I was born she was) Growing up I was always aware of how much Jena wanted me in her life. A story told time and time again in my family is how Jena found out I had been born and was in fact a girl. (This was in 1987 so everyone didn’t find out the sex of their child back in the dark ages) My mom and dad had gone to the hospital in the early morning hours of March 19th dropping Jena off at a family friend’s house on the way. My mother had been the principal of the elementary school Jena attended which was run through our church. So when my father called to tell Jena that I had been born and everything went well the secretary, Sister Kathy, asked him whether I was a boy or a girl. My dad replied that he had promised Jena she would be the first to know that so he couldn’t tell Sister Kathy until he told her.

A big joke in our family is how I have no childhood memories. It’s true. I can look at pictures and videos of me and have no memory of the moment captured. This isn’t just when I was a toddler, I’m talking into early adolescence. My brother-in-law Tim has a theory that I always had my head stuck in a book until the moment someone asked me to look up while they took a picture. Whatever the reason I don’t have a filing cabinet full of deeply remembered memories to pull from when I talk about my sister.

jenapic20002            Can’t you feel the love? Not sure of our ages in this pic

While I might not remember events very well I do have memories of being very proud to have a big sister. Most of my friends growing up were oldest children and I always found it very cool that I had a big sister. I was always anxious for her attention.

jenapic30002Again, not sure of our ages. However, I am sure my parents still have those dinner plates!

Looking back Jena was always very patient with this little girl who always wanted to be around her. There is a 6.5 year age gap between us so her kindness is even more impressive when you realize that right when I was getting to the most “interesting” age of 5 and 6 she was entering her teenage years. But still we would occasionally sleep in the same bed at night and sometimes we’d fall asleep holding hands. When I lost my first tooth she was the first person I wanted to show it to. Anything Jena was doing I wanted to be a part of it and for the most part she let me.

jenapic40002Thanks to the date in corner I can put our ages as 4 and 10 (almost 11) respectively. Also I think this at the Philadelphia Zoo.

Jena moved away to Springfield Missouri for college when I was 11. She was only home for short breaks for those 4 years and in the fall after her graduation she got married and moved to the Midwest where she still lives today. I call the years from when she left for college until I went to college the “lost years”. We talked of course and still were close in many many ways (including being her maid of honor when she got married). But it was only natural that a college student and her teenage sister should connect a little less than they had. We were living very different lives! She was dating the man she would end up marrying, and I had braces and was trying to not freak out about going to high school.

jenapic50002Getting ready for our family trip to Disney World. I’m making a really great fashion statement with my purple shirt and green pants.

When I decided to go to Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri Jena and Tim were just about to move back to Springfield for Tim’s job. The summer before I moved was when Jena told me she was pregnant with her first baby. This time in our lives I would call “The Renaissance”. Now we could truly connect in a way we had been unable to up to this point. We were both adults and the gap between us seemed to shrink to minuscule.  This period was when Jena went from being my sister to being my friend. Getting to be with her while she went through her first pregnancy and being a part of my niece Lily’s early months of life is one the sweetest memories of my life. When we talked and spent time together it no longer felt like an older sibling giving a younger sibling advice. Instead it felt like 2 friends talking through the experiences and sharing thoughts and advice with each other. Jena became a sort of “honorary sister” to a bunch of my girlfriends in college and every time one of them would ask her for help or lean on her for advice I would be filled with such pride that I got to be in a family with someone this awesome. I look at Jena and I realized the potential within me to be a good wife, mother, and contributor to society all without having to change the basic frame work of who I am. Jena is confident in who she is and I try to emulate that confidence in my own life.

jenapic60002                                               A family vacation to Busch Gardens.

The older I get the more I realize how lucky Jena and I are to be friends. Adult sisters don’t always get along. Sometimes the relationship can become quite toxic. I don’t say this to build the two of us up as paragons of how sibling relationships should be. We have to work to have a healthy relationship. Sometimes she still drives me nuts and I’m sure the same is true for her with me. But I know that at the end of the day she roots for me. Just like I root for her. She’s the longest relationship I’ll ever have. I’m so glad it’s such a good one.

jenapic10002

Do you have siblings? Do you agree with the idea that siblings are one of the most important relationships in our lives? What about honorary siblings? Leave your thoughts in the comments!