Category Archives: Faith

When Suburban Churches Look… Suburban

I saw this interesting article posted this morning on, “Why Contemporary Protestant Church Architecture is so Poor” on The Urbanophile’s blog.

The author posted an article by Duncan Stroik, a professor of architecture of Notre Dame, that discusses his theory of why protestant churches put less effort into the design and architecture of their places of worship comparing it to cities in Europe and catholic and orthodox churches. The full article can be read here.

While the planner in me loves good design, aesthetically beautiful architecture, and visual appeal, I tend to lean more on the ‘church can be anywhere’ side of things. Jesus participated in church in temples, homes, and outdoors.

So while I don’t necessarily agree with the author’s closing words,

“That call is to glorify God in all that we do, not just through special spiritual practices. I hope that we Protestants will rediscover how to glorify Him in our buildings, recognizing them as an integral part of our worship. Let us do that without neglecting to glorify Him in our hearts, actions, and every other aspect of life as well.”

I think he brings up a lot of interesting points throughout about cultural and spiritual practices that influenced the protestant church.

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Discomfort with the Truth

As I wrote in my previous post, I have been reading the news a lot more lately. I am starting to learn more about the Middle East, ISIS, Gaza, Israel, the Ebola virus, the Yazidis people, the Ukraine, etc. It is not that I knew nothing beforehand about some of these topics or other worldly events, but I purposefully avoided reading too much. I’m realizing that it’s a selfish decision to do that. I avoid it because it is hard to sit with. It’s unsettling. It’s unbelievable and I don’t know how to understand what these people, real people, are going through. It makes me feel small and makes everything in my life seem pointless when children in other countries are being killed and going hungry. But even this perspective is selfish, putting emphasis on my own life and how it makes me feel.

I was relieved to find that Sarah Bessey, a popular Christian blogger and author of Jesus Feminist put into words exactly what I was feeling at the exact moment I needed it. I’m appreciative of the perspective she gives and the posture she suggests to take as a Christian in the U.S.

Here is an excerpt from the post,

“We can’t willfully push away the suffering of humanity and the terribleness of the world out of selfishness and discomfort with the truth.

We can listen – truly listen – to the stories that people need to tell. Maya Angelou wrote that there is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.

We can kick against the injustices and amplify the voices of those who are suffering. We can read the prophets like Isaiah and Amos and Jeremiah. We can educate ourselves and seek to understand complexity outside of our pet sources. We can light candles and, oh, we can pray.

We can write letters and advocate. We can be teachable. We can hold space for the suffering. We can both prayerfully and practically support people and organizations who are working towards peace and shalom in the front lines. We can do that work ourselves, daily small and unsexy as it is.

We can let our children lead us back to the right response – compassion and tenderness of heart again.

In the words of Isaiah, we can sweep our lives clean of evildoings, say no to wrong, learn to do good, work for justice, help the down-and-out, stand up for the homeless, go to bat for the defenseless. (Isaiah 1:12-17)”

Read the full post here.

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7 Experiment – Media Recap

This week of the 7 experiment focused on media. I knew when I got the book and flipped through the chapters the media would probably be the hardest week. In some ways those expectations were met but in other ways, not so much (which was a pleasant surprise).

When the week began, I initially decided to give up everything. No television, movies, unnecessary internet or email, no social media, no apps (just texting/calling), no blogs, and so on. One of my goals of this though was not to address just the amount of media I consume, but the quality. Because of this, I allowed myself to read news websites to start becoming better versed in current events and issues in other parts of the world (It made me realize why I like to avoid the news… my mind can’t wrap around what is going on in other countries, it’s so heart breaking – but important to be aware of).

I did this for three days and became very aware of what media I felt like is okay and positive for my life and what is a negative influence. I realized that I have good media literacy and can determine what lies/assumptions/stereotypes are portrayed in media. I am also good at making sure if I am at dinner, with friends, or doing something social, I rarely have my phone out. The author addressed these areas of media consumption and I was happy to feel like I was already in a good place.

The negative influences were primarily Facebook, Instagram, and fashion blogs. The phrase, “negative influences” makes it sound like they were peer-pressuring me to do drugs so I use the phrase lightly. These things are not inherently bad, but were the pieces of media that I felt like were consumed often, in large amounts, and with little fruitful outcome. I typically use them to kill time, procrastinate, and escape from stress.

These three outlets were primarily used for entertainment and to keep my brain occupied. When I felt stressed, lazy, or had any ounce of time to kill, I would open one of these things on my phone and scroll. Being entertained and checking these outlets are not even that bad and I do enjoy it – but the amount of time I was spending robbed time from other things that are more of a priority to me.

Cutting out all the ‘excess media’ (the phrase I am using to distinguish between quality media and time-wasting media) this week has been really positive for me. I have been reading the news, reading a book (getting some real use out of my kindle), reading comic books, cooked a lot of new recipes, and found new blogs about richer subjects that I am really enjoying.

I haven’t decided yet what I want to be permanent changes and what I will allow back. Right now I am considering creating a time limit each day that I can check excess media. Probably 15 minutes a day I can do mindless media – Facebook, Instagram, fashion blogs, and then shut it down after that. After this week, It really solidified to me that that is all the time those outlets really need.

I’m hoping that this will also encourage me to continue investing in this blog and be inspired to share interesting articles and write more. This last year I have begun to enjoy writing so much more and want to make it a hobby that I continue to invest in (I guess until grad school starts again in the fall and I have no more time left).

Going through this process of 7 has been such a breath of fresh air for me. It has been the catalyst of investing in my faith again. I was in such a stagnant space spiritually for the last three years and I am so thankful that God has been using this book and study to bring me into a better place. I have been so encouraged by this process of learning, growing, and refining myself. I am really looking forward to what is ahead (that sounds so cheesy, but you get the idea).

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I Don’t Want This

I came across this blog post today from minimalist blogger, Be More with Less, titled, “I Don’t Want to Eat this Way.” The post talks about how doing things that are good for us are not often what we actually WANT to do. Her example was waking up in the morning and choosing a healthy breakfast of a kale smoothie instead of a stack of pancakes and bacon. She then asks the question of, Why do we do any of these things that we don’t actually want to? Cleaning out our garages, eating a plate of spinach, running, paying off debt, or, let’s say, purposefully taking two more years of college.

There are so many things I don’t want to do and will naturally feel resistant as soon as it comes up. Exercise, eating healthy, cooking dinner, reading a book, writing a blog post, etc. I want the easy way out, always. As the author notes, “We want all of the benefits and none of the work.” I’m sure there are many out there who can relate, but I know this speaks true to me and is the daily struggle I have to overcome. I have approached so many days with my checklist of things I have to do in order to just get through the bare minimum of the day so I can collapse later and be lazy. Went to class, check. Turn in homework online, check. Paid rent, check. Spend the next 6 hours browsing instagram and watching netflix, done. When I would consider investing in hobbies or other interests, or even just reading the news, I would take the lazy way out of self-deprecation and convince myself that anything I tried wouldn’t be very good anyway, so what is the point?

I feel a constant war within myself of the person who I know I want to be and CAN be and my own laziness to actually becoming her. I even journaled about this a couple of weeks ago and made a two-columned list. On the left side I wrote all the things I would like to be doing with my time and on the right I wrote down what I ACTUALLY do with my time. Everything on the right was just me being lazy and not wanting to put in the real effort it takes to develop my interests and invest in my personal well-being.

I know that I don’t want a lazy life. Even though I am giving into what I want to be doing in the moment (which is usually nothing), it’s not what makes me happy, it’s not enriching my life, and it’s not honoring God.

The author writes,

“I wasn’t born a kale lover and I’m not naturally excited to exercise. If you want to know how I grew my blog into a successful business, or how I eat mostly fruits and vegetables, or how I stay active, it’s not about motivation, determination, or skill. It’s because I do things that I don’t want to do. I do things that make me uncomfortable, things that I don’t think I’m capable of doing and things I don’t know how to do.
I wish that some of the books I’ve read, or health and business coaches would talk more about that. We have to do things we don’t want to do to be who we want to be and feel how we want to feel. And once we push through that tiny bit (or really big chunk) of resistance, we usually find we are doing exactly what we want.” [emphasis added]

I love that line. It takes doing what we don’t want to do to being who we want to be and feeling the way we want to feel. All the things I want to do leave me feeling depressed, sluggish, and unproductive. Doing what I don’t want to do makes me feel accomplished, happy, and energized.

I need to remind myself of that daily as I work through all the tasks I feel resistant to – that I am working toward what I want and something truly worthwhile.

So who do I want to be and how do I want to feel?

I want to have a deep personal relationship with God.
I want to genuine relationships.
I want to care deeply for the poor and marginalized.
I want to feel happy and productive.
I want to feel healthy and strong physically and emotionally.
I want to invest in and contribute to my career.
I want my priorities to be reflected in my time.
I wan to keep learning and be knowledgeable on a variety of topics.
I want to invest in my writing.
I want to be selfless.
I want to enjoy and learn from quality books, movies, television, and blogs.

And the list will continue. Each one of these requires effort, time, and care. It is not going to be what I naturally want to do but I love how the author ended the post, “If you want to get out of your slump, simplify your life, create a new career, start a new relationship, or try something you’ve never done before, simply do what you don’t want to do. You don’t have to be inspired or motivated and you don’t have to want it right away. Just start.”

It reminds me of a line I’ve heard in the past, “You don’t have to do everything, you just have to do something.”

So here is to starting a new week and filling it with things I don’t want to do.

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7 Experiment – Clothes Recap

Today marks the end of the clothes portion of Jen Hatmaker’s “7 Experiment.”

What stood out to me the most in the study this week is when Jen has the reader complete this sentence: “What I want my clothes to communicate about me is…” Without even thinking about it I wrote, “…that I’m interesting, cool, someone special and worthwhile.” Whoa, a bit heavier than I anticipated. The time I spend thinking about clothes, looking at fashion blogs and magazines, and desires to continue shopping come from a place of insecurity.

I struggle with the widely shared insecurity that there isn’t anything about me to like. I don’t have a ‘thing’, i.e. I am not a skilled painter, musician, tri-lingual, world traveler, (fill in the blank), etc. I hated having to answer what my hobbies were because I never had an answer or anything to share. Unless, well, binge watching Netflix and wasting time on blogs count? I tried to put together stylish or quirky outfits to ‘express’ myself to make up for my lack of interesting extracurricular. I then tried to fashion blog to make it the part of me that was interesting. It still felt empty though, I was just fooling myself.

Jen makes the point too that for many the major motivators of what we wear is based on how other people view us – and I had succumbed to this.

My biggest areas of growth and struggle are my persistent laziness, avoiding discomfort at all costs, and quitting the moment something becomes challenging. These are the things that have left me without hobbies or investing in learning something new – my own barriers. Trying to create an interesting appearance was easier than actually learning or participating in something interesting. I wanted adoration and affirmation without any work (Which, you shouldn’t have interesting hobbies purely for that reason, but hopefully my point is being made). God has already made me special and interesting. He already gave me gifts. That doesn’t mean though that those gifts won’t require some nurturing and hard work. Also, an obvious heart change was needed because my focus for dressing well and having interesting hobbies was based on what other people thought.

I also delved deeper into my insecurities by addressing tendencies to compare myself to other women based on outward appearance, i.e. feeling hideous around a woman with great skin, beautiful hair, and a chic outfit who just got back from her international missions trip.

I have already began the journey about a year ago in addressing some of these issues but the continual spiritual growth and teaching is helping in learning more and pressing onward.

God is using the 7 Experiment to help me understand the simple goals I have for my rising adulthood. That is: that my time, possessions, and actions align with my beliefs and values. Anything else that doesn’t align with those needs to be phased out. Now, this is a lot of work and something I will be striving for probably the rest of my life, but is also simple enough to be achievable.

Living out of my gym bag went well this week. Despite feeling limited at times and wishing I could grab some of my other clothes, after my Fresno experience, I enjoy voluntary simplicity. It’s great not having to pick out an outfit but having everything pre-packed and planned. I did feel like I was pretty much wearing the same thing everyday, but as Jen mentions in her book, no one else cares or notices – just you. It is good for me to realize too that some people only have the clothes on their back and would see just the contents of my gym bag as a lot – always important to have perspective.

I took a log of all my clothes and despite the various phases of purging I have gone through – I still have quite a bit.

I did cheat with shoes… I couldn’t fit each pair I wanted because my athletic shoes take up so much space. Whoops.

Next up: Possessions.

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The 7 Experiment – Clothes

This summer I began taking a class at a local church based on a popular Christian book called “The 7 Experiement” by Jen Hatmaker. The ‘experiment’ looks at 7 areas of life that a large population of Americans typically over indulge in. This includes food, clothes, possessions, waste, spending, media, and stress. The book seeks to make the reader address their own habits in these various categories and reflect on connecting it to old and new testament scripture.

This class has come into my life at the perfect time. I have been trying hard this year to grow and mature as I continue transitioning from a young college student into a full-time adult. While I am still in graduate school, adult responsibilities and decisions are more than ever being presented to me daily. I have been inspired to work hard this year to begin setting the foundation of the adult I am striving to be. “7” is another stepping stone to do some serious self-reflection, create a deeper and richer relationship with God, and to simplify these areas of my life to make room for things with more value.

This week the topic the class is focusing on is clothes. I don’t want to say that every American has a closet stuffed with clothes because that is leaving out large portions of the population that don’t have the same luxury of having closets filled to the brim. However, as a wealthy nation, there are also large portions of the population that do have walk-in closets stuffed with clothes – and I, am/was one of them (more detail to follow).

I love clothes, fashion, and styling. Since about 2007 I started following fashion blogs, personal style blogs, and poured over issues of InStyle, Elle, and Marie Claire. I got really into thrifting and shopping at Forever 21 because I was a teenager/young adult and didn’t have much money. Also, a lot of the bloggers I followed did a lot of vintage/thrifting and I loved seeing all the remixing of thrifted items. Doing this though left me with a closet stuffed full of clothes (combined with other shopping done with family or clothes bought for me by others). I even started a blog where I would post pictures of my daily outfits.

I was also dating a guy who also loved clothes from 2007 to 2009 so that only increased the frequency of my shopping. After that relationship ended in 2009, I entered into a period of a lot of self reflection and decisions of what the next chapter of my life would be like.

I became a practicing Christian in 2007 and was heavily involved with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a college Christian Ministry, at my community college. I had already been learning a lot about the life of Jesus, what it meant to follow Him, and what God had planned for the life of His people. This journey of following God lead me to the book, Irresistible Revolution, by Shane Claiborne. This book, combined with the two years of teaching from InterVarsity, was the tipping point for me in terms of a lifestyle change and steering me into a new direction. The book is heavily focused on Jesus’ call to social justice and living to serve the poor and vulnerable in the ways that Jesus did.

I began volunteering at an after school program in a low-income community where I would monitor kids, help them do homework, and participate in activities. Fellow InterVarsity students and I then collaborated with the Pastor who lived in this community to help run a youth group on Friday nights. We would prepare, games, food, and lessons each week covering topics about relationships, dealing with conflict, going to college, etc.

In the summer of 2010 I participated in InterVarsity’s Fresno Institute of Urban Leadership (FIFUL) intern program, also known as the Fresno Urban Internship (FUI). There I was placed at a Christian non-profit called World Impact where I helped run kids day camps. We would play games, put on skits, and provide free lunches.

While at FUI we lived in community – i.e. several interns lived in one large house that was subdivided into four apartments. On top of tight communal living, we could only bring a limited amount of possession, our own sleeping mats or air mattresses, could only use our phones once a week (as well as internet or computers), and had to live off of small monthly stipend to pay for food and living costs. The house was located in poor and high crime area of Fresno and the idea was to give us an immersion experience into the life of those living with limited incomes and resources. We also took urban poverty classes once a week.

This experience made me incredibly aware of my privilege and the luxuries that were ‘normal’ to me in my life. As a white, middle class, educated woman, I knew I was born with a lot of privileges that many don’t get to experience from birth. It was uncomfortable but liberating to be immersed into a more simple lifestyle than what I experienced at home. It also taught me that a lot of people in this world don’t get food everyday, don’t have expendable income, don’t get new clothes, and get looked down on by society because they look different or are poor. These facts made me incredibly sad and heart broken for the urban poor. This post is about clothes though, so I’ll elaborate more on this later.

I missed the comforts of my phone, internet, my closet, and possessions – but the experience helped break me of the bondage that those things can have. My time became more about working with the kids in my program, spending time with other interns, going to class, and reading. I became less focused on wasting time on the internet, thinking regularly about shopping and my appearance, and learning to be less vain. I also became more grateful for the food, clothes, and resources that I was able to have.

When I came back home, it felt a bit overwhelming to be back around all my stuff – the abundance of clothes, a room full of things, and 24/7 access to TV/computer/internet. I purged a lot of things – clothes and items that I didn’t use anymore. It was a rewarding and life-changing experience, and one that that still has still had a profound impact on my choices for the future (again, more on that another day.)

I had a relapse though while attending UCSB from 2011-2013. I had a family member who loved shopping and would often take me on weekend shopping trips to big malls. It was difficult to not be enticed by the abundance of cheap clothes at Forever 21 and I started accumulating a lot again. I was also in a rough place emotionally those two years and started doing a lot of ‘retail therapy.’ I had a small closet and limited storage space at UCSB but I stuffed it as much as I could.

In the fall of 2014, when I moved to San Luis Obispo for graduate school and began to get my emotional health in a good place, I was able to start the process over again. I purged a lot of clothes that I didn’t wear, didn’t fit well, and just didn’t align with my lifestyle. I now try to always keep a giveaway bag in my closet to toss items in throughout the year to donate later.

I still have a good size wardrobe that I am in a constant state of tailoring. My goal is to get my closet to a place where everything in it is well used and I am happy wearing it. When I buy something now, I do a lot better job evaluating if I will really wear it or not and envision how it will fit in with my other clothes.

I don’t want to be wasteful with clothes or money anymore. I want to feel happy and confident in the clothes I have. I want to honor God more in all areas of my life.

For the “7” experiment, we have to fast from clothes in some way. My fast will be using a small gym bag and only being able to wear and use whatever I can fit in it. This will include shoes, toiletries, make-up, and all clothes (included pajamas and workout clothes). I’ll live out of that small bag for the week. I have to dress for business casual, casual, work out, and sleep. I’m looking forward to the challenge of living simply and reflecting on the realities that not everyone gets to experience the same privileges and luxuries as I do in what they wear.

This is where I’m coming from in the start of this week and reflecting on the experiences of my past that have influenced and shaped what I wear and how I feel about clothes. I think it will be a good experience to continue to delve into that and hopefully come out with more knowledge and understanding of myself and God.

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Incoroprating Faith into City Planning and Academia

I recently came upon a podcast posted by Urbanophile entitled “Faith and City Planning.” I am a Christian and aspiring Urban Planner, so I was immediately intrigued. The podcast is a discussion between two MIT urban planning professors, Annette Kim and Phil Thompson. The full podcast can be found here.

While the podcast does address this topic in regards to city planning, it highly focuses on the role of faith in academia in general. The professors discuss how faith ceases being talked about once a student enters the classroom. Kim says that although you’re still catholic, once you are in class, you don’t talk about it.

Thompson tries to tie in the Civil Rights Movement as an example of major social movements being faith centered. He states that it was the essence of the Civil Rights Movement, and that if we don’t talk about that, then we’re not telling the whole story.

Martin-Luther-King-Jr

He also gives an example of Native American spirituality, and the idea of seeing everything as having a spirit, and that if you don’t see that, you won’t survive. He continues on as to how this idea is also central for environmentalism.

Kim discusses how this type of discussion does not fit into the academic realm and that their is a climate of silence and fear. She says that it feels like something we are not allowed to talk about because it is not “intellectual” or “valid.” However, she believes that students should be encouraged to explore their moral development and wisdom, along with their intellect and critical thinking.

Kim discusses that a major reason that the idea of faith should be talked about in planning is because most students go into planning for moral reasons. Students are seeking to learn what is better, what is right, and the ways to make things better.

What I found interesting as well in the discussion is their emphasis of understanding how faith has motivated people throughout history (such as the Civil Rights Movement). What stood out to me as well, is when Kim states that we have to understand how oppressed people survived so long, and where their hope came from.

They continue to discuss the fact that faith is rich and complicated, and that adding this to academic discussions will only make us more intelligent.

Overall, the podcast tied in faith, social justice, diversity, and academics in a really interesting and thought-provoking way. I was really intrigued by the discussion of how faith has played a huge role in several social justice movements and how it has been key to several oppressed peoples survival. I also thought it was interesting to encourage academia to help develop students morals and ethics, which will only help increase their intellect.

I also do believe their are several educators out there who do a great job already of some of these suggestions, and that these statements do not apply to everyone. However, I believe there are benefits to minimizing discussion of one’s personal faith in the classroom. I know in a lot of situations, people are not always as understanding of each others beliefs, and it could make some students feel uncomfortable and interfere with the learning process. Also, if educators too strongly push their own beliefs, it can make students uncomfortable to share their own viewpoints. The goal would be to create the safest space possible, where educators can facilitate discussion of religion, morals, and ethics with students able to freely share without judgement or ridicule from others. This is an ideal situation though, and I understand it is not always easy to achieve.

Also, I don’t believe you need to follow set religious parameters in order to be a moral person or believe strongly in social activism. The podcast discussed that the social movements of today may not be as effective as they were in the past due to a lack of faith as a motivator. While I certainly believe faith can be a huge and prominent motivator in social action, I do not believe people cannot bring social change if they do not identify with a religion.

I wish they discussed a bit more on incorporating faith and ethics into city planning, but I do believe this is worth a listen. Definitely check it out and let me know what you think! 🙂

Or rather, what role do you think faith, religion, ethics, or morals should play in the classroom? How do you balance encouraging intellect with moral development? 

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