Leave a comment

On Being the Least Anxious Person in the Room

35361786_10156890178902985_4548935373706756096_n.jpg

The Pacific Lutheran University’s Summer Pastoral Leadership Conference, “Leading Congregations in Anxious Times,” began today.

Our first session was led by Margaret Marcuson, author of  Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry and Money and Your Ministry: Balance the Books While Keeping Your Balance. 

35236428_10156890177122985_2538465945567887360_n.jpg

She began by giving us an achievable goal to work toward: As leaders, we don’t have to be non-anxious. We just need to be the least anxious person in the room.

She begins by describing the context that we are working with in this anxious world. Anxiety makes people reactive. It causes us to herd together with like-minded people, while fragmenting ourselves from those who think differently. When anxious, people are quick to cast blame on one another. We also tend to seek “quick fixes” and easy solutions instead of committing to long-term work. Leaders who are anxious fail to be self-differentiated: we are either afraid to take a stand, or we become rigid and autocratic.  

As leaders, we cannot control the anxious world around us. But we can begin to work on our own response to this anxiety. This is our job.

We begin with ourselves. We must:

Observe: What do do when I get anxious?

Reflect: How does my family of origin react to anxiety? How have those reactions shaped me and my own anxious responses? This is ongoing work, and not something I can do once and be done with.

Have Compassion: I will never respond perfectly to anxiety. I will never “unlearn” all of the nonproductive anxiety responses I have learned. But if I have compassion on myself I can learn to move forward.

When we have begun to work through our own anxiety responses, we can begin to learn to relate to others who are anxious.

Stay Calm: All we, as leaders, can do is work on our own contribution to the sum total of anxiety in the room. By being less anxious than others in the room, we might be able to break the chain reaction of anxiety. Marcuson warns that this is not a magic bullet, but a little does go a long way over time.

Put on the Whole Armor of God: Marcuson reimagines this Biblical image in an interesting way. She uses the image of the armor of God to talk about self-differentiation, asking me to imagine a circle around  me and my own anxiety, with the anxiety of others on the outside of the circle. We do not have to be anxious just because other people are. Similarly, we do not have to force our own anxiety onto other people. We must be responsible for our own responses.

Connect: Putting on the armor of God, however, does not mean that we wall ourselves off from everyone else. We must find appropriate ways to connect. This can be difficult: avoiding people who we don’t wish to talk to is an anxiety response, but so is continuously pursuing people who don’t wish to talk to us. We must carefully consider what connection is appropriate in each context.

Be Curious: In addition to considering how our own family of origin affects our personal responses to anxiety, we should look at the church/institution/society/culture as a “family of origin” of sorts. We need to take a look at our collective histories and consider how they might effect the anxiety responses in our congregation.

Be Brave: Responding calmly to anxiety is not about putting up with anything. It is about being tough enough to handle the challenges that come our way.

Be a Warrior for the Human Spirit: In a world where anxiety often causes people to act in inhumane ways, we must break the cycle. We must be decent human beings in indecent times.

Be Prepared: To be a leader in anxious times is to be flexible, to be ready to move in any direction needed. To be prepared for this, we must continue to work on our own spiritual and emotional maturity.

Expect Danger: Differentiated leadership doesn’t mean that everything works out for us all of the time. Leadership is risky, even if we do a good job. We cannot see any of these tips as “quick fixes,” but must have the courage to be self-differentiated leaders, regardless of the outcome.

35463649_10156890177007985_7217772792391925760_n.jpg

After this session, we joined together for Eucharist. Quoted during this time of worship was a Vaclav Havel poem that I thought provided an important complement to Marcuson’s words:

Hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world
Either we have hope within us or we don’t.
Hope is not a prognostication—it’s an orientation of the spirit.
You can’t delegate that to anyone else.

Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy
when things are going well,
or the willingness to invest in enterprises
that are obviously headed for early success,
but rather an ability to work for something to succeed.

Hope is definitely NOT the same as optimism.
It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well,
but the certainty that something makes sense,
regardless of how it turns out.

It is hope, above all, that gives us strength to live
and to continually try new things,
even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.
In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing
to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily,
without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.

Being the “least anxious person in the room” isn’t about guaranteed success or quick fixes. It is about continuing to work for the Kin-dom of God, even when things seem hopeless.

Advertisements


2 Comments

New blog series on Patheos!

In case you missed yesterday’s announcement, this blog has moved to the Patheos blogging network! I’ll be posting updates here for awhile to redirect people over there, but you may want to head over to http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sarahoverthemoon/ and sign up for email updates if you want to keep in touch in the long run! 

I hope to see you over there, because I’m starting a new series called “You Are Not Your Own” in which I’ll be sharing the results of some research that I’ve done on rape and sexual assault in Christian dating books. I’ll be talking about Mark and Grace Driscoll’s Real Marriage (and yes, there will be bunnies), Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and others. 

Read more about it here! 


1 Comment

Packin’ up and movin’ to Patheos!

Hey readers! 

It’s official. I’ve made the move to Patheos Spirituality. 

The new URL is http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sarahoverthemoon/

Check out my first post here!

When I was a kid growing up in an independent, fundamental Baptist church, spirituality was a dirty word. When many independent fundamental Baptists thinks of “spirituality,” they think of pantheism, paganism, postmodernism, and Harry Potter (Harry Potter is, of course, the worst of these). To the fundamental Baptists I knew, “spiritual” people were often depicted as lazy hippie-liberals who refused to commit to a specific religious belief so that they could justify having all the sex they want.

So when Patheos asked me to blog for their Spirituality Channel, I had to laugh a bit.

Read the rest at Patheos, my new blog “home!” 


25 Comments >

I’ve been thinking a lot about my deepest held images of God: why do I hold them? Where do they come from? What do they say about the Christian faith I was raised in? What do they say about me? How do they hold me back? Or how could they possibly be liberating?

I used to be afraid to think about images of God. I used to think that if there were no more images of God, God would disappear for me.

Yet, personal religious experiences that I’ve had recently have changed my mind.

I believe there’s Something there, something bigger and more amazing than I can comprehend. Something that feels like love and sings wisdom into my heart. I call that something God.

It’s hard to talk tangibly about something, though, ya know?

So, here we are, humans with limited (as amazing as they are) mental capacities, which are reigned in even further by the confines of language. And we need to talk about. . .

Something. 

I imagine the writers of the Bible had this problem. How to write about something?

And like good writers, the Biblical authors explained this unfamiliar something by comparing it to something their audience would find familiar.

We need images of God. They help us talk about God. They help us pray. They help us understand. They help us fight injustice.

But sometimes these images take hold. Sometimes they become idols.

God is also not a white dude...

God is also not a white dude…

Instead of worshipping God, it seems like often we worship a father.

We worship a king.

We worship a lord.

But we don’t worship I AM WHAT I SHALL BE. We don’t worship God.

We worship men.

As Elizabeth A. Johnson says in her book She Who Is, “The theistic God is modeled on the pattern of an earthly absolute monarch, a metaphor so prevalent it is often taken for granted.” She reminds us the hard truth that, “even when [this monarch] is presented as kindly, merciful, and forgiving, the fundamental problem remains. Benevolent patriarchy is still patriarchy.”

I think sometimes we let our patriarchal, imperialist, domination-based society dictate our faith.

We lose sight of Jesus as God with us, and focus on God over us. 

I think even masculine images of God can be extremely useful in confronting patriarchy, and other systems of injustice. If God is king, then I am not subject to earthly rulers. If God is father, then I am not subject to men.

Yet these images are so easily appropriated by those in power. If God is king, then king is God. If God is father, then father is God.

I don’t suggest we leave images behind. But I suggest we stop, and we think. And we remember.

We must remember God is not really a king. 

If Jesus is any indication as Christian doctrine says, God looks nothing like earthly kings. God died a mockery of their robes and crowns. God rose in victory over death–the strongest threat that powerful men have in their arsenal–and in all God’s victorious glory God . . . went and fried up some fish and chilled with some friends.

The heavens are not literally God’s throne and the earth is not literally God’s footstool.

God is not really a king, and we need to be extremely careful when images of ruling men in a patriarchal society begin to inform our faith. That is when religion’s power of liberation gets wrestled away by the very oppressors it once challenged.

God is not a man.

God is what God shall be.


11 Comments

Updates and Announcements!

I know I haven’t been the most consistent blogger lately. I promise I have reasons!

My first reason is that I’ve been busy, oh you know, GRADUATING FROM COLLEGE. Well, not completely. I have 2.5 summer classes left to take. But I walked in my school’s graduation ceremony this last Saturday, and it was satisfying.

Image

Picture by Abe Kobylanski

Graduating from college has involved finishing up an internship with Alternatives for Girls, doing my normal finals, and then finishing up my senior research capstone. I’m taking an independent study this summer in which I’ll be perfecting my capstone, and possibly trying to publish it. Once that is done, I’ll be sharing the results in detail on this blog (spoiler: they aren’t pretty).

So, life’s been busy. As much as I’ve wanted to write in this ol’ thing, I simply haven’t had the time. Now that I’m only taking 2.5 classes instead of 4, and now that my internship will be ending soon, that should change…

…which is a good thing, because I’m MOVING TO PATHEOS. 

To those of  you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook, this may not be breaking news. I’ve been talking about it since January.

But I’ve filled out W-9 forms, signed a contract (and will be scanning these documents to the person in charge of helping me make this move today), and my new blog is being set up as we speak.

So it’s official and stuff! Woohoo!

Patheos is a blogging network made up of writers from various religious experiences. It seeks to “host the conversation on faith,” and educate people on different religions. It is home to some awesome bloggers like Libby Anne from Love, Joy, Feminism, and Fred Clark from Slacktivist. I’ll be moving my blog to their Spirituality Channel, where I’ll continue to talk about faith, feminism, and healing from abuse.

I’m not 100% sure when the move will take place, but likely in the next week or two. I’ll of course share all the new links so you’ll be able to find it.

Thanks, readers, for all of your support which made this exciting move possible!


2 Comments

Guest Post for Alise Write

Hi friends!

My research project is done, my exams are finished, and (though I still have a few summer classes to take) I’ll be walking in the Oakland University graduation ceremony at 4 pm today. I think it’s time I start blogging again.

So, let’s mark my triumphant return with a guest post for the wonderful Alise Write! I’ve written for Alise about how I’ve navigated my relationship with my fiance, Abe, as we both travel along in our individual faith journeys.

When I first met my fiancé, Abraham, I was a fundamentalist who had recently realized (with trepidation) that I believed in evolution, had just become a feminist, and was considering leaving the Baptist church that I grew up in.

When my fiancé, Abraham, first met me, he was a Southern Baptist Missions drop-out who had recently left the church and was considering atheism.

I remember our second date clearly—Abe had taken me to a seafood restaurant that he really couldn’t afford because he wanted to impress me. In between mouthfuls of flounder and scallops, we discussed religion.

I listened, nervously, as he explained why he had stopped pursuing a career as a Southern Baptist missionary.: “They wanted me to teach ‘once-saved-always-saved,’ and I just don’t see salvation as a one-time event.”

And he listened (with I’m sure just as much nervousness), as I explained that I thought maybe a Creator God could use evolution to form the heavens and the earth.

We disagreed on these points that seem almost laughably insignificant, looking back. But to a couple of people not-quite-yet grown out of the bible-clearly-says mindsets we’d both been raised in, those insignificant points seemed like a big deal.

Read the rest at Alise Write!


23 Comments

We are thin spaces.

I’ve been reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope for several months now (with my internship, my research project, plus school and work, it’s been a slow process). In one section he discusses an idea of the “theology of space.” His discussion mostly revolves around whether or not churches should continue to have buildings.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about church buildings, personally. I was sexually abused in a church nursery as a child, so for most of my life just walking into a church building has had me fighting off literal panic attacks. Zoloft helped that, but church buildings still aren’t my favorite place in the world.

On the other hand, when Abe and I decided we were going to get married, we knew immediately where we wanted that to happen. A little church building in Toledo with a chicken coop out front that has become the closest thing to a church “home” that I’ve had since high school.

N.T. Wright seems to affirm a diversity of beliefs here, while encouraging people not to completely discount church buildings. But he also call us to think about what space means to us, in light of the idea of resurrection.

He talks about the Celtic idea of thin spaces: “places where the curtain between heaven and earth seems almost transparent.” 

I like this idea of thin spaces.

I actually want to take this idea of thin spaces in a different direction than N.T. Wright. Even though Lent is over (if you’re a new reader, I committed to learning to love my body for Lent), I’ve still been thinking about my theology in terms of my biology. I’d be interested to learn what my readers’ own “theologies of space” are, but in light of my recent Lenten adventures, here’s mine…

Also, kittens. Kittens are thin places.

Also, kittens. Kittens are thin places.

We are thin places. 

We often think about the spaces that we are at. I think sometimes we need to stop and think about the spaces that we are.

Our bodies. The part of us that takes up space.

I’ve shared this quote from Sarah Sentilles’ wonderful book A Church of Her Own before on this blog, and I’d like to share it again (emphasis mine):

We don’t know what to do with bodies in most forms of Christianity. The body–and in particular the female body–has been denigrated, feared, understood as sinful, shameful, something to be covered up, tamed, and mastered. There is something ferocious about our fear of bodies in churches. And yet, at the heart of Christianity are stories about incarnation, about a God that dwells in a human body, a God that makes bodies and breathes life into them.

A God that dwells in a human body. A God that joined in solidarity with humanity, even to the point of death. 

God with us.

Not only that, but a church that is called over and over again in Christian theology the body of Christ. Bodies that make up a body.

Maybe churches are thin spaces because bodies meet in them, because churches bear the marks of bodies, the histories of bodies, the proof that bodies were here.

And maybe those who have profound spiritual experiences outside of the church are not “doing it wrong” either. Maybe the divine really doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands. Maybe we don’t have to go look for thin spaces.

What if our bodies, and by extension our brains that produce the very consciousness by which we can even imagine the existence of sacredness or divinity, are thin spaces by themselves?

If heaven really is joined with earth, and if we really can glimpse it in certain spaces, why not start with our own bodies? After all, according to Christian theology at least, God became a body.

Our bodies are temples. They are thin spaces. They are sacred and beautiful and they are holy ground.

Lent is over, but I’m going to keep celebrating bodies, because God is with us.

What do you think about this idea of a “theology of space” that starts with bodies? And what are some of your “thin spaces?”