October 15, 2006

Au revoir, Merci beaucoup, and Hey! You're all invited!

Well, today is an historic day in the life of (un)Veilings.  Today marks the last post that (un)Veilings will unveil.  That's right:  the last post.  What a strange thing to hear myself say!

The joy in my nastalgia is that I get to invite you to where the soul of this space has moved:  KristinNoelle.com.  I welcome you to my new online space!  Come on over and take a look around.  The archives from here will live there now, and any comments you want to leave can be left there, too (beyond this post, comments on unveilings will now be closed).

And if you want a live link to my site (this one will be taken down completely in a couple of weeks), don't forget to update your blogrolls/feeds with the new address!

Thank you for a wonderful two years here.  I can't say enough how healing and inspiring and hope-inducing this space has been for me.  Your ears have been the gravity for my words, and because of their pull, my life as a writer has grown wings.  Thank you.  You are a gift.


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October 14, 2006


Everywhere I turn now, I see Fall.  Pumpkins and decked-out leaves and cooler air and sweaters.  People are buzzing about snow, even, in some parts of the world (I won't tell you what our highs have been here this week).  And alongside all that change, we people just keep changing too.  For the better, in so many cases.  And sometimes neither for better nor worse, but just becoming happier or sadder, or more reflective, or wishing for less change.  Or for far, far more of it.

Here's to all of us, in every stage of Fall there is. 

(and a few photos of a very sweet pumpkin)




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October 10, 2006

Birds of many feathers Part II: As long as the birds can get high enough to see beyond the crevasse

Thank you everyone for such a great discussion!  I hope those whose perspectives differ from the ones offered so far feel free to join in.

Here is some of what I've heard us saying:

  • Devoutness comes in many forms--both religious and not, evangelical and not.  And we're all devoted to something...many things.
  • This begins a list of ways that people are alike:
    • Early formation probably has a lot to do with our epistemology--the stories we internalize about how to know what's true.  Some epistemologies have more wiggle room than others, and therefore lend themselves more naturally to a variety of ways of finding truth.
    • Regardless of our epistemology, respect and tolerance are challenges for all of us, inside and outside of religion.
    • Seeking security/self-protection is a natural instinct, and making sense of the world/self/God is part of how we protect ourselves.  Establishing a shared reality around this sense furthers our protection; camaraderie makes us feel (and actually be more) secure, and feel more like the sense that we've made is right.
    • When the sense we've made gets challenged, we instinctually move to protect ourselves more, by protecting what's being challenged.  This is normal.  There's nothing wrong with this.
    • Unlike many other types of animals, we can more easily (I say more easily because I think this doesn't come easily for everyone) self-reflect and recognize we're feeling challenged, feeling self-protective, and make decisions about how we want to respond to such feelings.  We can consider the ramifications of our responses for our relationships.
  • Religious devotion (and possibly any devotion at all) that includes vulnerability and insecurity may be and open up the possibility for non-violence in ways that other types of devotion cannot.
  • Religious devotion (and any kind of devotion at all) that requires assent to a set of assertions--assent, specifically, that claims security and invulnerability--may be and open up the possibility for violence in ways the alternatives do not.

In light of all of this, I've been thinking more about that list that began the last post.  I'm wondering whether all of it needs to be changed.  I have this image in my mind of what it means to differ from another person about some fundamental thing--whether God exists, for example, or what God is actually like, or what in our heart of hearts, we're like.  It's the image of a chasm, opened wide between you two.  I suppose the wideness of the chasm depends on how different your views actually are from each another's.  But still, I think the chasm's there.

And I think it's possible to live one's entire life feeling, and therefore believing, that that chasm defines, entirely, relationship with that other person (or group.  I think we often see people as members of groups, rather than as individuals--Jews/non-Jews, Christians/non-Christians, theists/athiests, gays/straights, men/women).  Sometimes that chasm is so deep, and so wide, that it's nearly impossible to ever, even with the best of luck, see anything beyond it.

But this is the other thing I'm becoming convinced of:  these chasms aren't all there is.  In any dyad, and a dyad can be two people, or two groups, or one person and a group, whatever--in any dyad I think there are multiple chasms, as well as multiple stretches where the ground between the two parts comes completely together.  And I think that even in the case of chasms, there are often also bridges, where abysses can actually be crossed, albeit sometimes only skillfully, and sometimes at great peril...or great cost.

But the terrain is varied, is what I'm saying.  Between all of us.  Try living with someone--even someone you're madly in love with--for any length of time, and any dream of only solid, crackless ground will dissipate into all the little and big things that drive you nuts about them (God bless their soul), or, and this may be more pertinent to this conversation, all the ways you realize you don't see things as similarly as you thought.  You'll realize that for the sake of love, and of peace, and of sane cohabitation, both of you must work to find ways around those chasms.  Or through them.  Both of you must believe that they aren't the only thing there is.

I think this is true of relationships across any religious or devotional divide.

So.  In the case of that list from last time, maybe people from different sides of religious divides can actually talk honestly about religion--even openly about thinking the other person is wrong--and remain genuinely respectful of one another if, and this is an enormous if, I think--they can also include in their active awareness the knowledge that the terrain between them is varied, and includes long stretches of connection.  Long stretches of ground that's in common, and passed easily between.  Sometimes it's probably even necessary--not optional, but necessary--for the two to explore together where those places of connection are.  Not doing so can mean the chasm (or chasms) defining the whole relationship, and consequently coloring completely both party's feelings about one another.  Feelings for people across chasms, at least as far as I can see, aren't generally pretty.

This "if" is a big one, though, and one that's hard to find in many circles.

So the question then begs asking:  is it really worth finding places of connection and common ground when a) the chasms between two people or two groups are immense, and/or b) one half of the dyad in question isn't interested in searching for them?

I think in many cases it's not.

I think there are cases where all this kind of searching does is leave one or both parties constantly scraped and bruised, constantly hopeless and frustrated, constantly yearning for some kind of home, some kind of place to relax and be at ease.  I think there are times in certain lives when peace is what's needed most--needed to heal, needed to discover oneself actually normal, rather than whatever alternate labels keep getting lobbed across those voids.

Maybe there are times for unpeace, too, though.  Times for unrest.  Times when getting bruised constantly is a kind of gift a person gives to those who come after.  Examples paint history, where people of color and homosexuals and women and youth and elderly--where people of all kinds have participated in the very groups that would exclude them and call them evil or less than or stupid.  Those who have stayed active in such groups, doggedly proclaiming, even if by their silent presence alone, that chasms aren't all there is:  I could weep in gratitude.  Thank you.  What a silly, tinny phrase to give to such world-changing work.

I'm thinking that that work isn't everyone's though, and that each of us must decide which relationships, or potential relationships, we need to walk away from, and which ones we must navigate the chasms of.  Because chasms, it seems to me, mark them all.

What do you think, though?  Am I wrong in some of this?  And in which cases are the BIGGIES, the canyons that can make the Grand one look small, worth working around for the sake of relationship?

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October 04, 2006

Birds of many feathers (as long as we don't talk about feathers)

I'm really interested in this whole discussion (from the last post).  It sounds like we all agree that meaningful relationship across the religious divide is possible, but only if:

a) we don't talk about religion, or
b) we're open to the other person being right (about their religious beliefs) or both of us being wrong or
c) we think we're right, but we nevertheless don't see other people as projects, in need of conversion.

Here's the problem I see:  none of these seem like options for the deeply devout.  Am I wrong in this?  When I was an evangelical Christian, I took my faith very seriously.  My feelings, on one level, so confirmed for me the rightness of my spiritual path, and the teachings of my holy book seemed to so clearly say mine was the only True way, that the thought of another religion being more true than mine was nearly inconceivable.  Furthermore, my understanding of hell, and my conviction that many would end up there if they didn't turn to Jesus:  these made it nearly impossible for me NOT to see anyone not so turned as a mission field.  I didn't use in-your-face conversion tactics, but I was very aware of trying to be a good witness for the Truth, of watching for chances to speak of Jesus, of feeling a warm gladness if conversation turned to religious things.  My heart was good; I genuinely wanted non-Christians to know the Truth, and to spend eternity with God.  But the effect of this good-heartedness was to make people into projects.  My relationships were colored by this conversion agenda, and when things stayed "light" (i.e. I just had fun with non-Christians and didn't think or talk about anything goddish) I felt by the end of the time a little disappointed, and a little bit guilty.

Is is possible to not be like this, and also be deeply devout?  I'd love to hear what it would look like if it is.

Taking steps away from religion, I think it's entirely possible to have conversion agendas about things other than God.  We all have them--desires for friends to try the beer we like, or join the neighborhood watch, or be convinced of global warming, or that we need to do something about Darfur, Congo, AIDS, cancer research, etc.  The difference, though--and this is part of Harris's point I think--is that all of these other agendas can be discussed in terms of observable evidence, while the finer points of religious belief cannot.  At the end of the day, a "leap of faith" must be made when it comes to trusting that God has revealed God's ultimate plan for the world in the Bible, or Allah dictated the Quran, or a man named Noah existed, and all of us--black, brown, white, yellow, red--are his descendants.

So the agendas on the plates of the religiously devout have a different sort of charge to them I think, and a really challenging combination of having everything at stake (i.e. eternal location), and no luxury of observable evidence, beyond our subjective feelings of our religion being true, of God being one way versus another, etc., to use for the convincing.  How can we as humans NOT get a little dogmatic, even if just in our hearts, when we're up against this sort of challenge, and needing to psyche ourselves up for the work we feel God's given us to do?

I'm still back to wondering whether it's possible for the religously devout to come to relationship with people of other faiths, or no faith, and have the kind of intimacy with them, or just merely the respect, that seems built on seeing each other as equals.  I'm thinking that it's not.

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September 30, 2006

Only birds of a feather?

I'm reading Sam Harris's The End of Faith these days--a book I'd like to review here in coming weeks, once I'm through.  It's very quotable.  He's more caustic than I'd want to be were I to broach his subject, but I think he has some very important things to say.  He thinks there's no way to avoid escalating violence in our world except for religion to die.  He thinks religion divides people irreconcilably, and makes rational discourse impossible, since faith, as he sees it defined by the majority in every religious tradition, is belief that things about God and our world are true without needing evidence to prove it.  Without evidence available to discuss the truth or untruth of a claim, and indeed, in a climate where criticizing or critiquing one another's faith is taboo, how can we navigate life together?  How can we not stay divided if each of us believes deeply something fundamentally different about God (as one example) which isn't open to rational, evidentiary discourse?

I'm not sure if you got all that, but what I'm wondering a lot these days is whether he's right.  One of the greatest tragedies I know, and by know I mean experientially, is the way religious beliefs divide people who otherwise have so much in common.  There are so many things that all of us, across the board of religions and cultures, share in being human--fears that we have, hopes, longings, worries about jobs or kids or finances, losses, illnesses, joys, experiences of redemption.  We have a wealth of things in common.  And yet it seems to me that religion becomes a kind of gatekeeper for any of this to get realized.  If I'm not one of your flock, the gateway of meaningful relationship gets swung shut.  And vice versa.  The gate becomes what determines whether or not we can be comfortable together, whether or not we can explore the geographies inside of us to discover common ground.  Indeed, it can become a source of bitterness and condescension and rivalry and distrust.  It causes violence.

Do you think this is true?  Is intimacy and respect, of the kind for which I imagine all of us ultimately long, possible between people when one or both are religiously devoted, but not to the same religion?  Maybe the taboos against critiquing faith are really about trying to keep that gatekeeper sleepy, trying to find ways to slip past an otherwise wall to find ourselves together, at ease, in love.

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September 29, 2006

Computers comshmooters

Why has no one told me how silly this site looks in Firefox???

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September 28, 2006

Inside the divided self

I know many of you are not involved in a Christian subculture, but those of you who are might appreciate what Bobbie has to say in her latest post, Dirty Little Secrets:  Porn and the Church.  Regardless of how you personally define God and Satan, heaven or hell, I think her theory makes a lot of sense, and gets to some important layers of what's true of us--maybe particularly of those involved in public forms of ministry or service.  Go check it out.

Posted in Healing, Psychology, Religion/Spirituality | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

September 25, 2006

The things on which we writers stand

This week seems like the week for blogging writing things.  I wrote about the tug-of-war between my writing and mothering lives last time.  Jen Zug has been blogging her commitments and feelings around moving toward a book project.  Jen Lemen has written about her writing process, how the non-writing, extroverted stuff of her life is the food that fuels her muse, and how her muse is also wooed to work by music.

I want to write some more on my writing life, and specifically on the weirdness of claiming this vocation before having a resume to stand it on.

Sure I have a resume.  I've done some things, worked some great jobs, gotten a few degrees, and really everything I've ever done in my life is related to writing (as could be said of anyone's life, were they to wake up tomorrow as writers).

But my resume has little by way of publications.  That's what I mean.

What other occupation can a person claim without some sort of institution saying, "This person?  This worker?  We pay her for this job.  She works for us."?  Parenting, sure.  But that's different.  I could write a book on how that's different.

I was having dinner last night with some friends, telling them about a website I'm creating (with the help of cleave*design).  It's an author website, and I want to have a place there to talk about the projects I'm working on.  The bulk of my writing gets poured into a novel, which you won't see in print for an unknown length of time (I'm working on revisions, but there is much to be done on that front.).  I wrote a short story this summer that, even as I type, is on its cross-country quest for a home.  And an essay I wrote about my early moves away from the faith of my childhood will be run in the OE Journal this fall.  That essay may turn into a book proposal sometime soon.  But...and this was what I was asking my friends... Which one of those projects can any of you see now, hold in your hands, or open on your screens, and say in response to:  "This, now this is the work of a writer."?

Not one.

They aren't avaiable yet.  And yet I am a writer.  That's what I do.  It's a strong soul, no?, that can claim something confidently using evidence the public just has to trust you on.  Ten years from now I hope to refer you to a nice bundle of proof, a nice collection of stories and books and essays on which Almighty Editors have smiled kindly, and that bear that magical, chills-producing phrase, "by Kristin Noelle". 

But this is now, and that bundle is still in its womb-entombed stages.  So ask me what I do--go ahead--and I'll move through an entire Rocky scene inside before answering.  I'll set my alarm for 4am and pop up for a high-protein shake and a 10-mile run and do a whole punching bag routine before throwing around some weights and maybe even get sit-ups in before flexing all my muscles and meditating for a long, silent stretch in that position before saying in my calmest, most built-on-a-psyched-up-internal-foundation voice:  "I'm a writer."

And you'll nod pleasantly and say, "Really?  What do you write?"

And I'll say, "Fiction, mostly."

And my inner Rocky will be like, YEAH!, and growl a few times while flexing my whole upper body, and then jump around with my fists up, like I'm in a ring, ready to win every single round against that menace that is So You Don't Actually Have a Real Job Then, Do You.

And you'll say, "Cool!  I've always wanted to write," or some version of that.  And the conversation will move on, and Rocky will realize how exhausted she is, and wonder why in heck she just did that whole routine. I'll look at her gratefully and say with my eyes, "That was awesome.  You did great," and daydream of the day I won't feel like I need her. 

I'll daydream of being like my friends last night, who said, "Why do you need publications to be legitimate?  You're a writer.  That's what you do." I'll forget entirely how much I wanted to kiss them all.

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September 20, 2006

On loving too many things at once

This probably isn't the right week to write this since I'm on nearly 100% kid-duty while N TA's an all-week class, and therefore feeling/thinking these things more intensely than I might otherwise (normally I have three afternoons away from home a week to write), but I think they all still stand.

I'm feeling the tug of work-outside-of-home these days--a growing internal momentum for it, a kind of ripeness for all the things I've studied and learned and experienced and contemplated to be funnelled into my writing life.  One's 30s are often a time of intense engagement with work--when careers start to hum and when the gangliness that for many of us is our 20s starts to mature and deepen into something more like full-blown adulthood.  Couples who have young kids in this decade, and no nanny, probably all have to choose which in their pair will run with this outside-of-home momentum, and which will run with the inside stuff--which will work primarily with the kids, and which will "work" primarily with other things.  (intentional, even if not totally serious, use of quotes in that sentence)

But then there are those, like me, who are trying to do both.  And this is what I'm thinking about tonight.  At the same time that I feel the tug of outside-of-home work, I feel a tremendous tug to be home.  Or rather, multiple tugs, quite literally, on my legs all day.  The work of being present to and engaged with Elijah in the ways I want to be and the ways I think he deserves, combined with the work of running a household well--it fills up every hour I'm willing to give it.  And more.  This dance that is running a household and tag-teaming childcare with N and working on my book and maintaining this blog and keeping a percentage of my brain active on dreaming up next projects, well, I have to say it often feels less like a dance and more like a tug-of-war.

Sometimes I daydream about how spacious my life would feel if I just gave up writing--if I devoted myself to home stuff and kid stuff alone.  On one level, the thought feels like utter relief.  It feels like letting waves push me to shore rather than struggling against them, like joining the current rather than fighting my way always upstream.

But every time I have that thought, the very next one is a kind of voice, calling me to not give up.  It sounds like parents do when encouraging infants to walk.  "There you go--YES--nice work!  You can do it!  Yes, keep going.  Alright!"  Unlike them, it's a lot more subtle, and speaks more with the twinkling of eyes and a beckoning glance than actual words.  But it has the same effect on me:  it keeps me standing up again and again, no matter how incessently gravity pulls me down.  It keeps a kind of hopeful grin on my face, and my banged up (or, as per the tug-of-war, pulled-apart) mind and body ever pressing on to sit down in front of this screen.

I feel like the universe wants me to write, and like something in me is alive and strong and beautiful when I am.  I can't give this up.  I don't want to.  I so terribly don't.

So I keep doing it.  And living in the midst of all these tugs.  I feel weary of it, wanting to say to any one of them, "Fine!  I give up!  You win."  But I'm simultaneously energized by the writing part and the childcare part (no, I will never love spending hours on the phone with insurance companies, nor scouring the tub.  And I'd totally love the next place we live to have a dishwasher.).

But...so...is this just how it's going to be?  Is living in this tension just the way of life as a dual-career person?  Can tug-of-war, practiced long enough, ever turn into a dance?

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September 13, 2006

On being a me kind of tree

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Towers falling, and hundreds more of waves of effects, rippling out from that day. 

When the Towers fell, I had just finished seminary, was one month into therapy, and about three years into the most paralyzing identity crisis I had known.  It was the second day of a week of testing my blood sugars hourly in attempts at getting them controlled.  The stress of the preceding years had taken it's toll on my body, and I had developed hypoglycemia.  I was hunkering down by this and other means to be more careful, that is, full of care, for this body that is me, and this psyche that was so in need of attention.

So my reaction to the attacks was different than it would have been at any other time in my life.

At any other time, I would have probably cried a lot that week.  I would have probably focused in on all the images of tears, of horror-stricken faces, of bloodied bodies and terrified eyes, hanging posters of loved ones, hoping them alive.  My soul would have conformed to these images, taking on the feelings I saw there, experiencing them, at least fractionally, as my own.  By the end of that week, I would have been exhausted.

But I already was exhausted at that point, so the energy I had to give new feelings was low.  I was also freshly learning that my tendency to become the suffering around me was more about me suffering what was inside myself, and needing outlets for that, since I wasn't doing it consciously for me.  It was also about suffering for the people I was close to and cared deeply for, but felt powerless to help.  Displaced care was what it was, at least largely.  And not by choice, I was learning fall of 2001 that the compassion I sloshed over everyone else needed channelling toward me.  If, in fact, I was interested in healing.

And I was.  Desperately.

So my heart sunk like everyone else's that day, and I stayed shaken from any sense of normalcy.  But I didn't descend toward despair like was my former style.  I kept checking my blood sugars.  I kept eating snacks.  I went to therapy the next day and talked, after the first number of minutes, about things other than New York.

Surely there are degrees of connection, and were I living anywhere near New York at the time, or had I known anyone injured or killed in that Nightmare, I would have appropriately been consumed for months, if not years, with fear and grief and rage.  So I want to tread carefully here, and say what I really mean.

What I mean is that there are awful, awful things happening in our world every minute.  And not just far from where I am.  They're next door.  They're in the next block.  They're all across our country.  And there are wonderful things, too, and wonderful movements of people to join--people caring about and engaging all the yuck, and with hope and courage and imagination.

But since fall of 2001, only coincidentally starting at the same time as those attacks, I have been working hard to more mindfully listen to myself and tend to my own suffering first, so that the tending I do outwardly might be more true.  By true I mean being less about displaced compassion--less about spinning subconscious wheels to try to get my needs for self-love and attention met, or to try to be helpful in a world where the people I care most for appear so unhelpable--and more about compassion bubbling consciously up from the wounds that I've tended inside myself.  And from knowing, because of that tending, who I am and the kind of "tree" that I am--the kinds of yuck that my shade and shelter instinctually move toward.  Those are the things to which I want to give my life.  Those are what I want to be missional about, and do what it takes to engage.  To not become indifferent toward.

Everything else is torches others must carry.  I have only two hands and one heart, and not just any hands and heart, but mine, which are wonderfully fashioned for a certain kind of engagement with our world--with its ugliness and it's breathtaking beauty.  They're poorly made for other kinds, and the more I learn to recognize which is which, the less money I'll need to spend on therapy.  And the more all of us benefit. 

Or so I'm thinking.

So I live in this post 9/11 world.  I live under a president whose decisions I'm ashamed of and angered by.  I live in a region where poverty gets shuffled to the other side of the tracks and keeping up with the Joneses is considered high moral ground.  I live where people know more about work than they do about their families, and where they have to, because it costs that much to live.

But I'm not giving a lot of energy to these things.  And not because I don't think they need lots of people, pouring lots of energy into addressing them.  I'm not because my energy for doing what seems like good in the world is being spent elsewhere, being nurtured for other things.  I'm pouring it into trying to stay awake to the souls around me, to inner change, to possibilities for healing.  To what it means to heal after being hurt by religion and by being silenced and by feeling shame.  To talking about beauty and calling attention to it.  To honoring what often goes unnoticed.

I'm trying to find that space where care for the layers of suffering in our world is neither narrowed by tunnel vision on these things that I'm about, nor made bland by getting spread too thin.  Where I own my own suffering, and tend to it, so that what I end up spilling inadvertantly around me is hope, of the realest, most authentic kind.  Is shade from my branches, reaching naturally toward sun.

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