Thursday, February 28, 2013


Alright, I'll admit, this isn't terribly spiritual or "holy" of me, but I can't help it. I am a stationery junkie. I love new notebooks, pens, paper, sticky notes, and especially business cards. These are my new business cards, and I just had to share!

I know it's a little silly, but I am very much in love with them. I love the colors in them. I chose bright colors to reflect my nature, which is somewhat day-glo according to some. The world is a wonderful place!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Look at yourself (1)
Every morning when I get up, I look in the mirror. What I see depends on many factors: what time I awoke, what time I fell asleep, whether I slept well, if I'm healthy or ill, and whether I've had my morning coffee yet, as well as countless others. Some days when I look in the mirror, I see a sleepy but beautiful woman with eyes that shine brightly. Some days I'm more inclined to be judgmental, and I see the messy hair and the squinting eyes.

We're all like that. Some days we see the positive, and others the negative. I think it's natural to find ourselves more attractive when we're feeling up and good, and less attractive when we're feeling down and sad. Of course, what we see is not what the world sees.

It can be very disturbing to look at yourself closely. I don't mean the time you spend examining your teeth for plaque or worrying over the pimple that's cropped up on your chin. That's just paying attention to the minutia. What I am referring to is looking into the mirror and observing yourself as a whole, as a single entity, rather than as your various bits and pieces.

Try looking into the mirror and saying, out loud, "I see you." I'll bet that the first few times you do it, you'll be uncomfortable. You might even blush, or stammer. It will probably be difficult to meet your own eyes. If you master that one, try expanding it: "I see you, and I accept you."

Ouch. For someone with low self-esteem, that one actually hurts, at least for a while. There's a part of the brain that tells you you're lying when you say that. It makes it even more difficult to meet your own gaze, to look yourself in the eye with head held high. When I started doing this exercise (as a part of my seminary journey), I saw myself as shifty, unattractive, and aloof.

Allyson at her ordination
By the time I made it through to ordination, I was still occasionally uncomfortable but I could look myself in the eye and grin as I said it. It might be hard to do, but it was no longer a lie. The more effort you put into looking at yourself, the better you get at it. When you're comfortable knowing what you look like, what you really look like, you can begin to accept yourself.

A lot of self-help books talk about learning to love yourself. It's an important thing. But most of them seem to neglect this simple external exercise. Who are YOU? Your insides are important, yes, but so are your external parts. Your face, your hands, your belly and butt,  your thighs and sexual organs are all very much a part of your existence, and if you're not comfortable with each and every one of those parts, then you still have work to do.

This is not to say that you can't be critical about your external self. When I look in the mirror, I know that I need to lose weight. I'm okay with that. I accept that. It doesn't make me look away from my reflection, though. I love myself and my body, as I am, flaws and all. I can want to make it better, work at improving it, and still be supportive of its current state.

The world is full of people who want to put us down. Let's not let ourselves be a part of that morass of negativity. Take the two minutes to look yourself in the eye and say hello. Get to know yourself anew!

A challenge: over the next week, every time you pass a mirror, look in it. Be observant, and jot down notes when you can. What time is it? How do you feel? How did you sleep? What just happened to you that may affect how you look or see yourself? Be descriptive, noting your feelings, your sense of attractiveness (or lack thereof). See if you can find any patterns, and then decide if they're positive or negative, and what to do with those patterns.

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
You may also be interested in:

The Silence
Women in Shawls
Imperfect Perfections
Old Poetry

1) Image by mensatic / morgueFile

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Silence

Victims suffer (1)
Victims of abuse suffer.

It's a statement everyone can agree with. It's a fact. The problem is that we, Community, make it worse. In our response to abuse, to the sharing of abused people, we worsen the degree of that abuse. This is especially true when it comes to the kind of abuse that doesn't leave broken bones, visible scars, and bruises. When you can't immediately see the effects of abuse, it's possible (even natural?) to try and dismiss it.

In general, your run of the mill abuser is very good at blending in. They look "just like everyone else." Ask anyone who has just found out they lived next to a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy for years and they'll tell you that the abuser was a quiet person, seemed nice, very calm. They talk a good talk, and at least on the surface appear to walk their talk. Their victims certainly see the reality, the horror, the abuse, but they can't talk about it.

We, as a society, are aiders and abettors to the abuser. We make it difficult, almost impossible, for the victim to talk about what is happening to them. I don't say this lightly. I have been in the position of the victim, both as a child and as an adult. I am ashamed to say that I've also abetted in someone's abuse, albeit unknowingly.

I know that when I see a hint of abusive behavior from someone, I question myself. "Did I really see that? Surely there must be extenuating circumstances . . . ?" It's a normal reaction. We try not to jump to conclusions about other people, and that's a good thing. That is the same reaction we give, however, when the partner of an abuser comes to us.

Think about it. Your best friend comes to you and says, "My wife is abusing me." What's the first thing that comes to your mind? For me, for many, the response would be, "Um . . . really?" Our first natural response is to tell the victim that we're not sure we should believe them. Our hesitance is then translated inside that abused mind into a loud disbelief. We may express hesitance but they hear denial.

Society has taught us to doubt. In some cases it's a good response. Not every claim of abuse is true, and when you're talking about people being emotionally or physically abusive, you certainly don't want to jump to bad conclusions immediately. You're talking about a person's honor, their dignity, their ability to tell the truth. You don't throw that away on one claim.

Look at it from the victim's point of view, though. Put yourself in their shoes. You've been hit or verbally blasted for years. Your self-esteem is in the basement. You cry yourself to sleep every night. You finally manage to gather up the strength to tell someone about the abuse, and instead of help, you get doubt. "Oh . . . really?" You deflate. Likely you cry. If you're lucky, the person you're talking to listens longer. Most of the time they just turn away. If you happen to be unlucky, they put you down for telling lies or "airing dirty laundry" in public.

The problem then becomes one of perception. The abuser often hasn't said anything nasty about you in public. Now you're saying something nasty about them. Suddenly the public eye is on you, and people who have been friends may be wondering why you're saying these horrible things about their other friend. You become branded a troublemaker, insincere, a liar, a hypocrite. Reality is turned on its head and now you come across as the aggressor. Your abuser stands to the side, a smirk on her face that only you can see.

By talking about their abuse, the victim gains even more abuse from other people around them. It isn't purposeful; it's a natural response to hearing something that seems so out of character about another person who you may or may not know well. The victim begins to hear things from others about what a bad person they are, how they're maligning the character of the abuser. Often, it goes much farther as the abuser begins to manipulate and misdirect the people around the victim. Worse, the abuser often ramps up the abuse through words or actions, goading the victim into trying to find more help. Since it appears that the abuser is doing nothing, again the victim is seen as the bad person.

Our society, by being generally nice, silences the victim.

Depression (2)
The worst is still to come, however. The victim eventually begins to doubt themselves. Depression sets in. They cease talking to anyone, and are then branded "depressed" or "antisocial". People stop wanting to be around the victim, because the victim never seems happy. The fact that the victim is unhappy because they can't talk about their abuse or find a way out of it doesn't occur to those silencing them. If they're very smart, the abuser has already "predicted" this withdrawal from society as a symptom of the victim's vengeance and pointed it out to those involved.

If it goes on long enough (such as when a parent abuses a child), the victim begins to see themselves as the problem. They begin to question if they perhaps harmed the abuser in some way. Did they say something wrong? It must be their own fault; if it wasn't, everyone would still love them and talk to them, right?

It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It becomes a horrible, awful, downward spiral.

How do we help these victims? I don't know. I wish I did. I'm guilty of doing it myself. I doubt when I hear about people I think of as "good people" doing horrid things. I think of the people in my own life who thought of my abusers as being normal, happy people. They weren't bad people. They were just misguided, unable to see past the manipulations of the abusers. How can I blame them when I AM them, in some ways?

Perhaps the best thing we can do is listen. Have we heard both sides of the issue? Do you have any reason (previous lies, for instance) to doubt either party? If we can garner the strength to simply be there for both sides, to listen and discern and not judge either party, eventually the truth may become clear. Regardless, listening almost always helps. People generally don't do enough of it.

Understand that victims may need to be urged to share their feelings for a long time before they trust that it's okay to do so. They are often used to trust being broken by their abusers. They are used to being told how horrible they are for airing their abuse. Listening with them can help, if they are receiving communications from their abuser. Let them know that you can see it, too, or give constructive criticism if you do not see the abuse.

Help them to record abuse that happens. Write down times, dates, and events. Write down names. If it ever becomes necessary to tell the authorities about abuse, or if it becomes (or already is) physical abuse, having months or years of records does help. The unfortunate truth is that if they ask for help, they are going to have to prove to others that they are, indeed, being abused. That burden always falls to the victim.

When dealing with victims of abuse, I try to remind myself that they are actual VICTIMS. I will pause, and put into my mind that they are victims of a disease, like cancer or HIV, and that it is not their fault. A simple test would prove either disease, but proving abuse is a longer and more nasty affair. Unlike a disease, abuse is easy to disbelieve.

If someone said to you, "I'm dying of cancer," you would be immediately sympathetic. When someone says to you, "I'm being emotionally abused by my boyfriend," there is no immediate sympathy. You question them. Even if you never say it out loud, they can hear the hesitance in your voice. Their "disease" has the ability to kill them just as much as cancer or HIV but they have to defend that they actually have that disease. They have to live and re-live it for an endless parade of people who want to know every detail. They don't get one round of chemotherapy and hope for the best. They get endless rounds, and people continually telling them that they're stupid and not really suffering.

Abuse is invisible (3)
Abuse is a terrible thing. It's pervasive. It invades every cell of your body. It harms you, and it also forces you to hide that harm from the world. It makes you small, helpless, and reclusive. It makes people hate you. It has mental impact, and it also has a physical impact that results in aches, pains, depression, and a lowered immune response leading to general illness.

If you are in a helping profession (teaching, health care, ministerial work), you should be thinking about this long before it arrives on your doorstep. At some point, every person in a helping profession (and many who are not) will be put in the position of dealing with someone claiming to be abused. Sometimes it's easy to see. The broken arm or bruised face can be shown to a police officer and help is often quick to come. The broken spirit and bruised ego are not so easy to heal, though, and they don't show up on a medical scan.

When I was researching this article, I talked to people who were survivors of abuse. I listened to their feedback on what I had written. I asked if there was anything they would add, or that they thought needed saying. Unanimously, I was asked to include information about what happens in court.

I heard how victims of abuse (especially those who haven't been free of it long enough to be termed survivors yet) approach the legal system with a hopeful eye. Here, they think, is justice. Here is where someone will see my suffering, where I will finally get to say my word, and where I will be given justice. And then they arrive at court and realize that it simply doesn't work that way.

The court system is an unwieldy machine that rumbles on regardless of the emotions involved. Frequently, victims are held up as not trying hard enough. They are often told that, despite the fact that their abuser has taken everything, emptied bank accounts, sold off assets, they somehow owe something to their abusers. Even if they aren't put in the position of having to pay their abuser to get away, they can lose family heirlooms, jobs, vehicles, and even children. The court system is not your friend. Your lawyer may or may not be your friend. If you go into a legal case with the knowledge that no one is there to truly help you, and that you're going to be doing the emotional journey alone, you can prepare yourself.

It's not easy. It's not nice. At times you will find yourself wondering, "How come this is happening to me? I was the nice one!" You may discover you're thinking or dreaming about hurting your abuser in terrible ways. Don't get down on yourself about it; just be sure that it's a mental fantasy and not a reality. Remind yourself daily that you ARE better than your abuser, and that you can break that cycle of abuse. You do not need to stoop to lying, threatening or harassment in order to succeed. You are a good person.

If you need help, there are people and places that will do everything in their power to help you. Though this list is not exhaustive, I've tried to include a number of places that can offer solace. In case of any immediate physical abuse or threats to you or your children's lives, please call 911!

How will you deal with someone who is claiming to be abused? Can you open your heart to them? Can you listen without judging? Can you be there for them? Can you simply hold sacred space for them?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
You may also be interested in:

Women in Shawls
Imperfect Perfections
Old Poetry
Morals and ethics are not equal to religion 

1) Image by dpawatts / mourgueFile
2) Image by clarita / mourgueFile
3) Image by hotblack / mourgueFile

Friday, February 15, 2013

Eshet Chayil!

You've all heard me gush about Rachel Held Evans and her new book, "A Year of Biblical Womanhood." Well, today she shared a post, "A message that made my day." It made me smile, and I wanted to share it with all my readers.

To all the women (and men) that read this, you are Women of Valor! Eshet Chayil to each and every one of you. If you have not yet read Rachel's book, I urge you to do so. Christian or not, female or not, religious or not, what it says and what it speaks of is important to our world.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Women in shawls

A section of the Wall in Jerusalem (1)
In Jerusalem, there is a wall. It is the outer retaining wall of what was the Second Jewish Temple. It is known as the Western Wall by many. For centuries, Jewish men have gone to the wall to pray, and some women have as well. Women have been under different strictures, though.

Today, the Wall is separated into a men's section and a women's section. The men's section has a booth that rents tallit, the holy shawls worn by Jewish men in prayer. The women's section not only doesn't have a booth, but it strictly forbids women to wear tefflin and talit (the shawls) during their prayers. They are restricted in what can be worn, said, and done in their section.

Judaism has never been a static religion. It changes, molds to the culture in which it finds itself, all without ever giving up the central doctrines that make up the Jewish system of belief. There are Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews, and Reform, and other forms as well. Yet the Wall is kept segregated and policed because of the decisions made by a single ultra-Orthodox rabbi in Israel. As many have pointed out, he represents only about 8% of Jews, in or out of Jerusalem.

For many years, the Women of the Wall have been seeking to pray undisturbed in their holy place. They do not attempt to push into the men's area, and stick to the section delegated to women. However, they do wear tefflin and talit. In doing so, they break the law. The state of Israel sends police officers to arrest them for breaking the peace, despite their having done nothing but pray quietly.

Yesterday, women were arrested yet again. Some were told they were being "detained, not arrested" but without being given any further information. They did not make a fuss, nor did they cause any problems. They simply went to pray, as they do every month, just as their male counterparts do.

I mourn for these women, who are restricted from praying as they are called to do so by their God. It's shameful for a government or authority to push away any faithful person from doing their spiritual and religious duty.

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
You may also be interested in:

Imperfect Perfections
Old Poetry
Morals and ethics are not equal to religion
Local and looking to advertise?

1) Image by xtradc / morgueFile

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Click to enlarge (1)
What's the purpose of boycotting something? The idea is to use the power of social media and word of mouth to punish or damage the reputation of a person, place, or thing. For instance, there's a bakery in Lakewood, Colorado that refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple. When the couple posted a review of the shop online, it went viral and there was a boycott of the store.

In a way, you could say that boycotting is a method of educating people about something. In boycotting the bakery, people learned that there are some people out there who are silly enough to think that who someone sleeps with at night matters when baking a cake. The public learned both some positive and negative ways to deal with refusal of service. The bakery learned there is power in numbers, and that social media can be a real bear to deal with.

The movie (2)
The other day, someone asked me to boycott a movie, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. I wanted to know what had happened that I ought to boycott this movie. Were animals harmed, or was someone not paid for their work? Did some major social justice issue happen to the film crew or staff?

No. What happened was that the person asking for the boycott was upset that the fictional witch in the (obviously) fictional movie was portrayed like... the witch from the old tale, Hansel and Gretel.

Wait. What?

Apparently, there are people out there who are gravely upset that a fictional movie contains a fictional character. I am having a truly difficult time figuring out why, though.

Hansel and Gretel (3)
Boycotting movies, unless they happen to be presented as non-fiction (such as Michael Moore's trash), seems to be rather silly to me. No one is claiming that Hansel & Gretel is a non-fiction movie, though. It's being hailed as a new twist on an old story, a story that originally came to us through Grimm's Fairy Tales. If you want to boycott something, perhaps you ought to boycott Grimm... after all, he's the one that talks about witches in such a negative manner.

The images contracted for in the Grimm books were equally horrific, along with most of the images that have been printed since. They were moral tales told in a time when witches were seen as hags. Whether that is true or not, the commentary is not on today's modern Wiccans, witches or pagans. The commentary is on historically accurate (if factually INaccurate) depictions of what people thought of as witches.

I would like to suggest that, if you find something offensive in the movie, you use it as a way to bring up the topic of discrimination or stereotyping as a discussion. In this case, boycotting doesn't solve anything. All it does is mess with a movie company that is trying to provide entertainment, not education.

I watched The Last Temptation of Christ in the autumn. Despite a depiction of Jesus that is decidedly NOT "cannon", it was a wonderful movie. It provided insights. I know many Christians were offended when it came out. Boycotting it did nothing. Actually, I'm wrong. It did something; it encouraged non-Christians to watch it and learn about why the Christians were so upset. Similarly, I went to see Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, a movie that had many people up in arms. It wasn't cannon either.

Let's save our boycotts for those moments when they are useful and functional!

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
You may also be interested in:

Imperfect Perfections
Old Poetry
Morals and ethics are not equal to religion
Local and looking to advertise?

Longest Night

1) Image by The Bombay Chronicle / Wikimedia Commons (public domain)
2) Image from IMDB.

3) Image from The Dramatic Reader for Lower Grades / Wikimedia Commons (public domain)