Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On Mommy Blogging: Image, Identity, Authenticity and Freedom

Dear friends,

Are you ready for my musings on the subject of blogging? Thanks!  Don’t mind if I do!  

A bit of background, shall we?  I have been writing for the on-line community on the topics of education, spiritual life, and family life for 13 years now through my Hope Chest e-magazine, and blogging for over three.   I technically have seven blogs, though I only post at least weekly on a few of them: my “life” blog, a blog of encouragement for moms, and a preschool/elementary education blog.  I think there are about 550 articles on them, including excerpts from two of the home schooling books I have written.  Most of my posts are about whatever is on my mind at the moment that I think might be interesting, inspiring, amusing or otherwise useful to someone else out in cyberspace.  I try to be intentional about what I write, and think about who might be reading it and how it will affect them.  My thoughts have certainly morphed over the years, definitely more divergent and less rigid, and hopefully for the better. 

Writing, for me, is a potent means of self-expression.  It helps me think.  I’ve often said that I can’t NOT write.  It is an integral part of who I am.

Not only do I write about who I am, I write myself into who I am becoming.

Meander with me a moment longer into perhaps unfamiliar territory?  I regularly read two blogs written by ex-members of a church organization of which I too am an ex-member.  Some of it is pretty dicey stuff, which is understandable since it is written from grief, confusion, pain, and justifiable anger over distressing, long-term, unresolved issues.   I take it with a grain or two of salt, realizing that most of it is valid, but still trying to use discernment.  I agree with enough of it to keep reading and occasionally contributing my own comments.  It helps me to realize that I am not crazy to be concerned about the things that were red flagging in my mind for years.  It helps to know that I am not alone.  I think one thing that strikes me about these blogs is that while they are a bit raw with emotion and assertions, there is reality and authenticity to them. Maybe because most of the people there post their comments anonymously, they relish the liberty to express their deeper feelings that they had squelched for so long out of fear and peer pressure.  They work it out and find healing and refuge as they write and interact with each other. I have my own angst as I write, but I try to be civil and encourage others to consider their words carefully, too.   I try to reflect the heart of Jesus no matter where I am and who is reading.

One of the minor themes I’ve noticed lately on one of these protest blogs is a disdain for young mommy bloggers (within this group of churches) who write as if they have all of the righteous answers to dish out to the unenlightened, who are perfectly submissive wives, sage mothers, uber creative homemakers, chirpy friends, sentimental photojournalists.  Yet there is often also a paradoxical element of self-deprecation, with a constant thread of “I am such a sinful person, I need to repent about this and this and this.”  This little bunny trail complaint about bloggers is that these young women are projecting an unrealistic image of their lives so that others will know they are piously committed to the whole devote-my-entire-life-to-this-particular-rigid-model-of-church-and-family-roles-and-only-in-my-four-walls-homemaking-lifestyle-even-though-I-am-such-an-unworthy-little-worm.  Wow, that was a mouthful!

You know, I really couldn’t say one way or another whether that is true.  Maybe for some of them, some of the time?  Many of the young mommy bloggers in our old church are my friends, and I don’t see that in them.  To be honest, I really don’t know what is going on in their minds, and it’s not my place to conjecture or judge.  I want to give them the freedom to blog in their own style, for their own reasons, whether they tell it like it already is or tell it the way they aspire to be.  What they say is a blessing to me.

Speaking just for myself, I can get a bit Pollyan-ish and rose colored glassy on my blogs.  Sometimes it’s because things really are going well for me at the moment, and I want to capture it in my memory before it disappears.   Other times I blog about something cheerful just because it’s the only way I can keep my sanity when another element of my life looks dark.  I write my own light.  There is a purpose to all of it.  I trust God is going to use what I write no matter why or how I write it.  I try to be appropriately aware of my inner impulses as I write, but it is not healthy for me to over-analyze this.

The truth is that we all project our images.  We all have our identities – public and private -- and blogging is certainly intertwined with that.  Perhaps my blogs make it seem like I think I have it all together, that I have all the answers.  I sincerely hope I am not casting that impression.  I personally wouldn’t mind being more transparent about my struggles, but there is a matter of prudent discretion.  My family has a right to privacy.  Plus, you never know who is reading what you are writing, and how they are taking it and what they intend to do with your information.  Do you know what I mean?  So I might come across like one of the Happy Clone Bloggers at times, too.  My utmost apologies.  I’m really a worm in disguise.  No, not that either.  There must be a happy medium somewhere!

The ironic thing is that a while back, one of the pastors of our former church (whom I still appreciate, despite the problems there) was preaching about something or other and tried to encourage the women, “Don’t feel like you need to work at having the best blog.”  I don’t know quite why he said that.  In hindsight, I think maybe his point was that we should avoid the performance mentality of comparing ourselves to others in a way that makes us feel inadequate.  But I felt a bit miffed and unsettled. Maybe I took it wrong. Maybe I read something else behind the words, based on my lingering impressions of that church culture as a whole.  Part of it was that I had the uncomfortable sense that he was pointing a proverbial finger right at me – one of the most prolific bloggers in the church and an independent thinker. But even apart from that (most likely imagined) personalized impression, I felt like the pastor was subtly communicating to all of us that blogging was a frivolous hobby, a waste of time that we should be devoting to something else.  That we shouldn’t bother pursuing excellence, thinking for ourselves, and expressing our own divergent opinions.  That our words, feelings and attempts at Titus 2 mentoring don’t matter as much because we aren’t the ones behind the podium.  I felt dismissed, minimized, as a woman and as a Christian created to be creative in the image of an amazing Creator. 

I do work hard at blogging, not to prove that I’m a better person but to become a better person -- and to help others do the same.

So what is the “take away” point of this post?  I’d like to share a word of advice to blog writers, and another one for blog readers.

To my fellow blog writers:  Find your own voice and write from your heart.  You are your own person and you don't need to conform to groupthink.  At the same time, feel free to dabble in a new idea or style that you see on someone else’s blog.  (I get a lot of mental sparks from bloggers like Ann Kroeker, like the "Curiosity Journal" and "Food on Fridays" memes that are meant to be imitated.)   Even as you borrow ideas, put your own unique twist into whatever you do.  Don’t feel like you have to be stuck in a single genre; variety is the spice of life.  Write the kind of things you like to read.  And don’t feel like you must protect your image or prove your worth. Our kids are terrific topics for mommies to write about, but don’t put them in a fish bowl or on a pedestal.   Be real.  Be discrete.  Be creative.  Be authentic.  Be kind.   Be truthful.  Be yourself.  Be like Jesus.  That is not a contradiction, because he does not create cookie cutter clones.  Each person can be like Jesus and still be completely unique.  Each member of his body reflects him in a different way (2 Corinthians 12).  Think about what will bless and equip your readers.  Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

To my fellow blog readers: Don’t take everything you read too seriously and don’t feel like you (or your children) have to measure up to everything you see.  Glean what you can use, and buzz past the rest.  Read blogs from a variety of viewpoints to stretch your perspective and hone your own convictions.  (On a practical note, using Google Reader is a handy way to keep up on blogs you like, without having to go hunting around to see if there is a new post.  You can read all the current posts from all your favorite blogs in one place!  I have a bunch in my Google Reader.)   As you read from different blogs, respect where people are – either in their “season of life” or their background or in the way they see things.  They aren’t just like you, and that’s a good thing!   There are some blogs that I stop reading because they just consistently irritate me and I don’t need that extra stress.  There are others I stop reading because I don’t relate to them as well, and I don’t have all the time in the world.  If I add in new blogs, I look at removing others that I’m not as thrilled about anymore.  I have to be selective and read what feeds and challenges me.  I try to read, reflect, and respond.  Bloggers need feedback!  Feel free to leave a comment and share your opinions if they will be helpful.  Encouraging words are manna to a bloggers soul.  But be careful about flaming a blogger with a sharp comment if you disagree with their post.  Endless blog arguments are a waste of time and can be quite agitating to the soul.   Again, the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

I guess that's about all I have to say right now, but I wrote two articles a while back that are closely related to my thoughts here: 

Thanks for reading!  I’d love to hear what you think about any or all of this!

Virginia Knowles

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Sacred Romance in the Deeper Places of Our Hearts

“The inner life, the story of our heart, is the life of the deep places within us, our passions and dreams, our fears and our deepest wounds. It is the unseen life, the mystery within – what Buechner calls our “shimmering self.” It cannot be managed like a corporation. The heart does not respond to principles and programs; it seeks not efficiency, but passion. Art, poetry, beauty, mystery, ecstasy: These are what rouse the heart. Indeed, they are the language that must be spoken if one wishes to communicate with the heart. It is why Jesus so often taught and related to people by telling stories and asking questions. His desire was not just to engage their intellects but to capture their hearts. Indeed, if we will listen a Sacred Romance calls to us through our heart every moment of our lives. It whispers to us on the wind, invites us through the laughter of good friends, reaches out to us through the touch of someone we love. We’ve heard it in our favorite music, sensed it at the birth of our first child, been drawn to it while watching the shimmer of a sunset on the ocean. The Romance is even present in times of great personal suffering: the illness of a child, the loss of a marriage, the death of a friend. Something calls to us through experiences like these and rouses an inconsolable longing deep within our heart, wakening in us a yearning for intimacy, beauty, and adventure. This longing is the most powerful part of any human personality. It fuels our search for meaning, for wholeness, for a sense of being truly alive. However we may describe this deep desire, it is the most important thing about us, our heart of hearts, the passion of our life. And the voice that calls to us in this place is none other than the voice of God.”

Many years ago, during a time of midlife crisis, God graciously broke through into my soul.  Early one morning after a night of fitful sleep, I began to see a vision of my heart at two levels.  The crevices of the deeper region were mostly packed in with decades of debris.  On top of this hard crust, I had piled on the outer workings of my daily life: wife, home school mother of 10, homemaker, church member, writer, and other duties.  I realized that even in my spiritual life of Scripture study and prayer (which have been so very valuable), I often live in the “oughts” and not from true desire or spiritual passion.  As I wrote these newer insights into my journal, the crust to the deeper places started to crack open. Visiting a friend later that day, I tried to put into words what I felt God was saying to me.  Her mouth dropped open, and she ran to get a book she had just started reading.  I flipped through the pages, and my mouth dropped open. Everything I had just tried to say, everything I had just written in my own journal, I found on the pages of the book she handed to me, The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge.  The quote above is from a chapter by Brent Curtis.

When I included this quote in an article I wrote back in July 2006, a friend at the church we were attending then wasn't too pleased that I would refer positively to a book by co-author John Eldredge.  She even e-mailed the pastors to ask them to keep an eye on me.  Well, I guess that's one way of getting attention! ;-)  I found it ironic a few years later to find the exact same quote in a book called One Thing: Developing a Passion for the Beauty of God by Sam Storms, an author whose books were promoted in the pulpit and sold in the church bookstore.  I'm not saying I agree with everything that Eldredge has ever written, but this quote from that book reached deep inside of me at such a critical moment in my life.  It was like a life line thrown to a drowning woman, and certainly a milestone in a complete paradigm shift that was taking place in my life then.  This and many other things eventually led to us leaving that church last year.  And the quote, which was from a chapter by Brent Curtis, still speaks to me.  A friend shared a different quote from The Sacred Romance on Facebook this morning, and it brought my own favorite quote from it back to mind.  I'm so glad that I took the opportunity to go back and read it, think about it, and share it in a few places.  I know I will be pondering on it more in the days to come, and I hope you will, too.

Life is not a dry system, folks. It's not even all about rooting out the sin in our lives so that we can be acceptable to God and others.  It's not about rules of hierarchy and control and spiritual authority.  It's not about religion.  It's not about sharing pat spiritual band-aid answers with friends who are hurting. 

It's about experiencing the 
                         and LOVE of our heavenly Father 
                            that he has offered through Jesus.  

No one can do that for you.  No one can write your life script for you.  No one can ever know you and love you like God does.  If like me, it feels like that kind of life has been quenched out of you again, maybe it is time to sit and soak in it once more?

If these words resonate with you, please read my poems It Became to Me a Dark Thing and This Is My Song and I Sing and visit my blog where I often address the themes of beauty and the deeper life.   

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, so please leave a comment or send me an e-mail!

Virginia Knowles