The Minotaur

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Several weeks ago, I had a dream in which a man in shadows forced his hand over my mouth, slammed shut the door through which I was trying to exit and shouted in a booming, terrifying voice: “You’re WRONG!” I woke up screaming, shaking and on the verge of tears. Then I heard, almost audibly: “It’s because of the books you’re reading.”

That night, before I’d fallen asleep, I’d been reading a book by Sue Monk Kid called The Dance of the Dissonant Daughter. In the book, she talks about the story of the labyrinth and has this to say about the Minotaur at the center of the labyrinth:

“In the female psyche the Minotaur represents negative, uncivilized, masculine power… The Minotaur is the bullish, bullying, bulldozing force of patriarchy internalized in the cellar of a woman’s psyche. It is a presence that works invisibly, hampering, limiting, driving, even destroying a woman’s inner and outer life. Sylvia Plath’s diary describes graphic battles with the Minotaur whom she described as an ‘inner voice,’ a ‘demon of negation.’ He would seize her, saying, ‘Oh, you can’t teach, can’t do anything. Can’t write. Can’t think.’ He robbed her of confidence, froze her into a ‘quivering jelly,’ pressured her to run away from tasks where she would be fallible and flawed.”

Not too hard to interpret the meaning of that particular dream!  I love how Plath describes how she mobilized herself to battle the Minotaur, the inner critic:

“I cannot ignore this murderous self: it is there. I smell it and feel it… When it says: you shall not sleep, you cannot teach, I shall go on anyway, knocking its nose in. Its biggest weapon is and has been the image of myself as a perfect success: in writing, teaching and living…. My demon of negation will tempt me day by day, and I’ll fight it, as something other than my essential self, which I am fighting to save.”

Anne Lamott says that all we really have to offer the world are our stories, our visions, our memories, our songs, and our truths.  She says that sharing ourselves – our true selves – with each other is the reason we were born.

“When the story of earth is told, all that will be remembered is the truth we exchanged. The vulnerable moments. The terrifying risk of love and the care we took to cultivate it. And all the rest, the distracting noises of insecurity and the flattery and the flashbulbs will flicker out like a turned-off television.”

– Don Miller, Scary Close

 

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Watson Family

Before I posted these pictures, I took a little trip down memory lane and was so shocked to realize that the first time I photographed this family together was FIVE years ago!  So much has happened since then… back then the baby was just a few months old and the oldest was on the cusp of starting high school.  Now the baby has two younger siblings of her own and the oldest is about to graduate!  And remember Christian, who was the best 7 year old I’ve ever photographed?  He’s now quite the football star!  Several years ago, a few life changes made it necessary for me to take fewer photography sessions each month, but it’s families like these who ensure I’ll never close my doors completely.  Thank you, Watson family, for making my work so special, and allowing me to see your wonderful children growing into amazing adults!

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Responding to “false doctrine”

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Recently, one of my favorite Christian authors, Glennon Doyle Melton, announced that she had divorced her husband of 14 years and is now in a relationship with a woman. This, just a few months after another of my favorite authors made a similar confession after 10 years of marriage, and a few weeks after a prominent and respected Christian couple publicly affirmed their support of gay marriage. My feelings about this have been mixed and Glennon’s news, in particular, hit me hard. Much harder than I would have expected it to and I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure out why I feel so devastated by the choices and beliefs of those I don’t know personally but have looked up to so sincerely.

It’s not because I’m afraid to change my own beliefs. I’ve spent all my life as a Christian re-evaluating my beliefs on everything from the clothing I wear to the observance of Old Testament commandments. Much of my Christian faith has been built on the pursuit of correct doctrine and I’m not afraid to go against the grain of the mainstream church. It’s also not because I’m afraid of being proven wrong. I don’t think I’m a terribly prideful person… or, at least, my particular struggles with pride don’t usually include a resistance to admitting that I’m wrong (my husband would beg to differ.)

No, I think the problem for me is that I believe they are wrong*, these beautiful, witty, wonderful women who have ministered so strongly to me recently. And the question I ultimately found myself struggling with was: What now?  What am I supposed to do as the church moves, ever more rapidly, to embrace a doctrine I feel is incorrect?  How am I supposed to respond when those I love, respect and admire, are teaching these things?  And why is this particular issue such a divisive one?  As I look into the heart of my reaction to Glennon’s news, it seems that there are two things that have made this issue, and those like it, unreasonably difficult for me.

First, I think it’s because I’ve seen it as my job as a Christian to fight the “culture wars.” I feel an urgency to determine the “right” stance on issues such as abortion and gay marriage so that I can vote and champion laws correctly and change the opinions of others.  But I’m beginning to understand that it’s not my job to convince anyone of what’s “right.”  Certainly, I believe we’re called to share our views, correct and encourage one another, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t support worthy causes, but when I look at the life of Jesus I can’t help but notice that He didn’t spend a lot of time debating theology or proposing new laws.  Instead, Jesus sought out those who were mistreated, oppressed, persecuted, condemned and forgotten, loving and serving “the least of these” everywhere He went.  In many cases, the very reason those around Him were hurting and broken was due to the work of the religious leaders of the time and He had some revolutionary things to say about that.  Things like: “woe to you” and “how dare you” and “you hypocrite.”  True change on the heart-level is the work of the Holy Spirit and the rest of us do the job badly.

Second, I’ve been taught since my baby-Christian years that I must do all I can to protect myself from “ungodly” influence. My Christian life, until relatively recently, has been built on the premise that I must avoid anything “secular,” “pagan” or “new age,” lest these things influence me in “ungodly” ways (Google “Should Christians do Yoga” for some interesting views on this subject.) I’ve needed to be sure of everyone’s stance on “important” issues so that I could identify the “false teachers”and keep away from those who don’t believe “correctly.”  All this in an attempt to avoid what may be the very deepest of all christian-culture fears: being deceived. American Christianity has turned the act of following Jesus into the work of believing, saying and doing all the right things. In this view, “incorrect doctrine,” and those who teach it, must be avoided at all costs. In the 15 years I’ve been a Christian, I think I’ve been taught more on the subject of “avoid false teachers” (2 Peter 2:1-3) than “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31.)

Well, I won’t do it anymore. I refuse to oppress others in an attempt to make them believe as I do, and I refuse to live in fear. I’ve survived false teachers before and I’ll survive them again, not because I’m smart enough to recognize deception, but because the Holy Spirit is my redeemer, my teacher, my guardian and my friend.  How am I supposed to respond to those who believe differently?  With love.  Unconditional, unrestricted, unlimited, unmistakable love.  Sometimes love calls for correction, “fighting the good fight” and even intolerance, such as Jesus with the Pharisees.  At other times, it begs us to sit and simply hold the hands of our neighbors.

Jesus’s final prayer on earth was not that His followers live sinlessly, or that their doctrine be theologically sound.  He prayed that we would be united as one (John 17:20-23.)  I think unity begins when we stop being afraid so that we can begin the work of loving each other as God loves us.

“I think that prejudice and dislike are usually misunderstandings based upon ignorance of each other’s hearts. I really think that to truly know someone — to truly truly know someone — is to love her. Fear can’t survive proximity. Hate can’t survive a real conversation between two vulnerable, humble, honest human beings.”
– Glennon Doyle Melton

 

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*It’s important to note here that I have not delved into the subject of homosexuality the way that many others have. So I recognize that these authors may not be wrong about this issue. The point here is that my struggle was regarding how to proceed if they are wrong – about anything.  I could have written this about any issue American Christianity deems “important.”

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Posted in Criticism, Evangelism, Fear, Love, PERSONAL, Serving Others | 2 Comments

The way forward

So, young woman, the way forward is sometimes the way back
– The Labyrinth.

In 1 Kings, there is a story of an epic battle between four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and a single prophet of Yahweh – Elijah.  In an effort to prove that Yahweh was truly God, Elijah asked the people to bring him two bulls as a sacrifice, one for Baal and the other for Yahweh, and place them on unlit alters of wood.  He then posed a challenge to the prophets of Baal:  “You call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.” The prophets of Baal called on their god all day, with no response.  When evening came, Elijah dug a trench around the alter for Yahweh, laid stones around it to represent the tribes of Israel, and poured water all over the bull, the wood, and into the trench.  He then called on Yahweh who answered immediately by burning the bull, the wood, the stones, and consuming all of the water in the trench.  Afterward, Elijah prayed for rain and it began to rain and then the power of God fell upon him so strongly that he outran the King’s chariot on the journey 15 miles back to Jezreel.

Days after instigating these miraculous events, Elijah receives a message that Jezebel is seeking to kill him.  Elijah – the prophet who has witnessed not one but three miracles – becomes terrified and runs.  He ends up in Horeb (also called “the mountain of God”) and crawls into a cave where the next day, God shows up and asks only one question:

“What are you doing here, Elijah?”

What are you doing here?

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Today I feel like I’m in that cave, hiding out with Elijah.  And God is asking me:

What are you doing here?

I’ve given you the ability to follow me…what are you doing here?

I’ve given you the courage to speak… what are you doing here?

I’ve given you words to share in love… what are you doing here?

I given you strength to be brave… what are you doing here?

My answer is that of Elijah:

Lord, I am afraid.

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[Then] the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper:

“Go back the way you came.”

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A Start

Jon and I spent last night searching our hearts together. We spoke of the results of this year’s election, and what it might mean to those around us. Jon shared a story about a friend at work who’d made a derogatory, racist comment. Jon’s response? To laugh.

We talked about this sort of knee-jerk, unthinking reaction that is our inheritance. We grew up with the jokes, the comments. We were conditioned to join in the fun, or at least to look the other way. We were urged not to date the black boy or the Jewish girl and told that mixed-race children didn’t have a place.

We grieve what we were taught. We grieve the jokes we’ve laughed at, the comments that we’ve made. I told him we must stand against these seemingly small acts of racism, he told me it’s not enough but it’s a start. We agreed that words can wound, or words can heal. We agreed: we must do better.

We settled into silence, feeling the weight of choices past and those before us. Together, in a darkness penetrated by the glowing embers of a fire, enveloped in the incense of this little church that will no longer remain silent.

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From the back of the horse

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poor Chief looks just as tired after our ride as I was!

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There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse.
~John Lubbock

Thoughts run frantically through my mind, carried by a whirlwind of emotion.  Irritation and anger, sadness and worry, hope and fear.  I open a book and try to read, scroll through facebook, turn on Netflix – anything to keep my mind off these emotions. I have a decision to make and I’m not sure how to make it. I finally settle back to watch my thoughts. I fall asleep this way, watching.

I wake with a few welcome distractions to occupy my mind, primarily a riding lesson with a man named Mitchell. Mitchell has become my new best friend because he allows me to spend time with his horses and lessons are cheap.  The horse I’ve been riding is named Chief, a Quarter Horse recently off the show circuit. Chief is as tall as a Clydesdale and seems impossible to ride. His trot is bouncy, his canter huge and I’m a terrible rider. I came home from my first lesson with hobbled legs and a bruise on my belly the size of my hand from slamming into the saddle horn. Poor Chief. Today, we work on the canter which is by far my favorite gait but from that height on that horse, also the most terrifying. After a few awful trips around the ring, I consider giving up and asking for a smaller horse. But I’ve fallen in love with Chief (primarily because he happens to be for sale,) and I can’t accept the possibility that he’s too difficult for me to ride. As I prepare to go around again, I consider my options: play it safe or put the work in. Fear is multiplying my basic problem (lack of skill) and keeping me too tense. The key is to work with the horse, relax and trust the process.  And so I place a death grip on the saddle horn (because I’m not stupid,) relax my lower half and send Chief flying around the arena.

I come home and make my decision: relax and trust the process. Because, in the end, there are only two choices.  Play it safe or fly.

 

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Election, 2016: Let love win

Let me start by saying that I didn’t vote for Donald Trump and yesterday was as shocking to me as it was to most of us.  I live in the deep south, in a state (Kentucky) where Trump won by over 60% of the vote.  Many of my friends were devastated by the results.  Others were jubilant.  Although there is a lot to say on this subject, I want to take a moment and challenge each and every one of us to be careful about the things we assume.  Some of the people I love and respect most in the world are deeply, deeply hurt by the results of this election and I’m afraid that in many cases they’ve wrongly accused those who voted for Trump of being racist, sexist and homophobic.

Please allow me to start by saying that I understand how you feel, and I understand how afraid and hurt you must be.  Without question, this election DID bring out the worst in some of our friends and neighbors and some of them DO harbor prejudice and hatred toward minorities and members of the LGBT community.  But accusing everyone who voted for Donald Trump of being racist and prejudiced goes against the very unity and acceptance and love many of you have been working for so tirelessly over the years.  The people I know and love who voted for Trump in this year’s election didn’t vote for him because they hated women or hated blacks or hated members of the LGBT community.  They did it for a myriad of complex reasons that have nothing to do with race or sexuality but everything to do with their personal convictions regarding abortion, beliefs concerning the role of government, and opinions about the national debt, education, gun control, healthcare and much, much more.

Please understand that I’m not saying that voting Trump was the right thing to do.  But I’m trying to help my friends understand that many, many people supported Trump this year not because they’re homophobic or sexist or racist but because they (rightly or wrongly) simply felt they didn’t have any other choice.  I urge all of you who are hurt by the results of this election to please not point the sword of prejudice against yet another group – those who couldn’t, in good conscience, support Hillary Clinton.  There are GOOD people on both sides of this issue and the whole of a person’s life and morality can’t be summed up by a vote.

Glennon Doyle Melton likes to say that “we belong to each other.”  Can we do that?  Can we belong to each other, no matter who we supported in this year’s election?  Can we do our best not to make a hugely complex issue the foundation upon which we judge?  Can we figure out a way to see the good in those around us, even when we may not understand?

Donald Trump can’t make this country great.  But we can.  Let’s keep loving each other.

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