19 February 2015

yes please, writing, and spiritual disciplines

Recently, I have added "fun reading" back into my life. I've always been an avid reader but grad school has put a damper on that. However, since my epiphany about introversion, I have made an effort to read not-for-seminary books as a way of relaxing and recharging. Anyway, currently I am reading Yes Please by Amy Poehler. It is fantastic. She is very funny yet she is also refreshingly honest in what she writes. Why do I bring this up? Well, one, because I get to choose what I write about here and two, because something Amy wrote has stuck with me.

"Everyone lies about writing. They lie about how easy it is or how hard it was. They perpetuate a romantic idea that writing is some beautiful experience that takes place in an architectural room filled with leather novels and chai tea. They talk about their "morning ritual" and how they "dress for writing" and the cabin in Big Sur where they go to "be alone"--blah blah blah. No one tells the truth about writing a book. Authors pretend their stories were always shiny and perfect and just waiting to be written. The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not. Even I have lied about writing. I have told people that writing this book has been like brushing away dirt from a fossil. What a load of shit. It has been like hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver." (italics added)

One of the hardest aspects of the transition from my undergraduate to grad school is the amount of writing. Undergrad has a mix of objective exams with multiple choice, true/false, or matching questions and essays of varying lengths. While not every class has an equal balance of the two, the overall ratio of objective exams to essays in undergraduate work ends up being about equal (at least in my experience). Grad school, on the other hand, is all about the writing. Nobody cares about objective exams; the bulk of the work is forming opinions about the material we are studying. It is a challenging transition to make when I naturally excel at objective exams and am not the world's quickest writer. It is a whole lot harder to type words out onto a page than quickly remembering details about this or that theory. I think this is why the excerpt above has stuck with me. It's my reminder that this is hard for others too, that I'm not alone in struggling to write at times. 

A recent blogger who I started reading this week wrote a post that compared parenting to spiritual disciplines. She writes, "I think the work of parenting--the often mind-numbing, eyeball gouging work that can somehow wrack me with worry and bore me to tears in a matter of minutes--is like a spiritual discipline because it is what we do, again and again, like it or not, to form us into who we hope to be." It got me thinking. What if I began to look at writing as a type of spiritual discipline? What if I looked at the struggle of writing as the struggle of a discipline? Does that change how I approach writing? I think it does change things. For starters, it gives me freedom to not write the perfect essay for each assignment. I can't seek perfection in my writing, rather I have to look at writing as a practice that I do over and over and over again. And every once in a while, there will be those moments where I write something great but most of it won't be and that's okay.

So now what? How do I get from this new approach of writing as a spiritual discipline to actually writing what needs to be written? I remind myself of another piece from Amy:

"So what do I do? What do we do? How do we move forward when we are tired and afraid? What do we do when the voice in our head is yelling that WE ARE NEVER GONNA MAKE IT? How do we drag ourselves through the muck when our brain is telling us youaredumbandyouwillneverfinishandnoonecaresanditistimeyoustop?
Well, the first thing we do is take our brain out and put it in a drawer. Stick it somewhere and let it tantrum until it wears itself out. You may still hear the brain and all the shitty things it is saying to you, but it will be muffled, and just the fact that it is not in your head anymore will make things seem clearer. And then you just do it. You just dig in and write it. You use your body. You lean over the computer and stretch and pace. You write and then cook something and write some more.You put your hand on your heart and feel it beating and decide if what you wrote feels true. You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing. That is what I know. Writing the book is about writing the book."

It's time to stop thinking and talking and worrying about the thing. It is time to, in the words of the Nike slogan, just do it. 

13 February 2015

personality, epiphanies, and the church

I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator for the first time when I was about 10 years old. I’m not sure that researchers have studied the accuracy of the test for children but whatever the case, I remember getting ESFJ.

Fast-forward about ten years, and I took it for the second time. By this time, I knew more about the test itself and had some ideas about my personality; or at least, I knew that the first letter referred to either extraversion or introversion. By this age, I was aware that people were extremely important to me and I figured this meant that I was an extravert. Back to the MBTI, the second time I scored as an ENFP. This time, I read the description and felt it moderately described what I knew of my personality; it was not a perfect fit but it was pretty close.

Then this weekend happened.

It all started with this hobby of mine. You see, I like to understand people. I like to understand what makes people tick: why this person responds in this way and that person responds in that way. I enjoy reading different articles and books about personality psychology because it helps me better understand the people in my context. However, this weekend, my hobby took me to uncharted territory.

I found an article on Huffington Post about introversion. I have a number of friends who identify as introverts so I enjoy reading about introversion to help me understand their experience of life. Well, it was going fine and dandy until I had an epiphany. The person that the article was describing with these classic signs of introversion was uncomfortably similar to myself. 

Could I be an introvert?

So, I did what any good scientist would do and went back to the beginning of the article and read it closely analyzing each trait that was mentioned while frantically wracking my brain for experiences in my life to both prove and disprove each sign. I got to the end of the article and realized the shocking news: I mostly likely was an introvert.

How could I have lived my entire life without knowing this rather large detail about myself? How could I be a self-proclaimed people person and be an introvert? Surely, I was mistaken.

I spent the next 48 hours poring over different articles on introversion and extraversion, tentatively asking my very close friends for their opinions on the idea, and reflecting on past experiences in my life. At some point during that time, I decided to try something with the MBTI: I took it for the third time. This time I got INFP. Again, I read the description; only this time, it was like having someone hold up a mirror to my face. I was reading about myself!

Somewhere between seeing that mirror and having a couple friends exclaim that they had seen me as an introvert already that I accepted the truth: I was and am an introvert. This is both freeing and scary. I’m in uncharted territory. It’s like I’ve been painting the canvas of life with what I thought to be the color fire engine red only to discover that I’ve been painting with robin’s egg blue this whole time.

In one of my classes, Global Christian Heritage II, we have spent a lot of time talking about sacraments, worship style, and spiritual practices throughout our Christian history. We debate various methods of evangelism and the complications of imperial Christianity in other countries.

This week, as I live my life for the first time as a conscious introvert, I am struck by how much extraversion is rewarded in Christianity. We affirm the communal aspects of life so much that the private aspects of our faith are pushed to the margins. We push community groups; we invite people to meet-and-greet during worship services; we play music that is highly stimulating with drums and electric guitars; we honor the friendly, energetic volunteer in front of the congregation. These tasks all reward the extravert.

Where in our faith do we leave space for introverts? Where are the quiet times in our services? How are we supporting the diversity of personalities in our brothers and sisters?

My epiphany this weekend about my own introversion has raised a lot of questions that I hope to explore further as I grow in my understanding of my self. I also see a need for the Church regarding this. Maybe I can help create that space and recognition that introverts matter in the Church.

*This post was originally written for a reflection for a Practicum class. 

02 February 2015

when it becomes too personal

There are times when the material that one is studying becomes personal.

There are times when the scripture passages that one is studying become intensely personal.

There are times when you leave class completely raw because the material hit too close.

There are times when you just want to curl up in a ball and let the tears flow.

There are times when you aren't sure if you can do this because it's too personal.

There are times when all you have is raw pain and too much emotion.

Tonight is one of those times.

I wish I could find some way to neatly resolve the pain. I wish I could not feel the pain or at least find a way to separate it from the rest of my being. I wish I could delete these memories from the memory bank. Why do I have to deal with the gray of ambiguity? Why can't I turn off the memories of shame and helplessness and guilt? Why am I still raw so many years later? Will it ever end? I don't know the answers. And to be completely real, I probably never will.

For tonight, I'm going to be raw, emotional, and let the pain flow over me.