Notes on the Cycle of Faith: Learning

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Part 1 of 6 of the "Cycle of Faith" series, which is an exploration of "faith crisis" by way of personal experience, insight, and opinion.

To download a PDF copy of the series (so you don't have to read post by post), click the image below.

"What was once a river is no longer a river, the mountain no longer a mountain." - Rob Bell

My deep exploration of faith began with the study of witches.

Notice I did not say witchcraft. You may relax now.

Witches have always been fascinating characters for me. I read a book on the recommendation of a fellow writing friend on the topic and my life changed. Through this book and many subsequent others I learned a history of women I had not known before.

The story goes that in early cultures women were respected members of society, participating differently yet equally in the care of their communities. Their knowledge, insight and intuition, love, and ability to bring new life were greatly revered. They had voice, opportunity, and influence.

When conquerors came with new customs and traditions, hierarchies were established. With time, the value of women in society was lessened. Instead of exercising their particular talents in their communities, women were relegated exclusively to home life. They became a necessary burden and were traded man to man with dowries. Stripped of rights and robbed of voice, history remained silent in their regard for thousands of years with few exceptions. This absorption and exercise of power in favor of men is referred to as "patriarchy".

*Because patriarchy is such a loaded feminist word these days, I'd like to define what patriarchy means and looks like to me. Patriarchy is a societal hierarchy that places men above men and men above women. It places white above color, rich over poor. It values the distinction of gender, race, class, and uses those distinctions to build walls instead of bridges between people.*

Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino) ~ Virgin of the Rose, 1516

Women who did not fit society's idealized description of how women should look, speak, and act like were singled out and excluded from society. Misfits were usually women who were unmarried, widowed, outspoken, ugly, orphaned, had unpopular interests or opinions, or were generally disagreeable.

Hysteria surrounding witchcraft grew enormously in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. People began blaming illness, death, and misfortune on witches. Soon, they began to look for evidence of witches around them, and it was found in the outcasts of society. Midwives and cantankerous widows were the first to be put to death. Tens of thousands of women followed.

This massive witch hunt was never mentioned in any of my history books at school. Until seven months ago I believed biblical history was history itself. I was completely ignorant of other cultures, other beliefs, other stories - the stories of the conquered. The stories of women.

When I discovered this new perspective, I was angry. Well, that's not entirely accurate.

I was enraged.

Tens of thousands of women murdered on accusations of witchcraft? Most of my ancestors are from England where witch hysteria peaked. I have been unable to confirm if I am descended from any of the accused, but the numbers alone suggest my ancestors were at least aware if not involved. These are my mothers. These are my grandmothers. These are my sisters. The thought of anyone being drowned in a cage or burned at the stake is enough to make me weep. That it may have been my mothers' fate is unbearable.

Franz, Gottfried (1846)- Woman  Being Burned at Stake

The witch hunts ended but patriarchy did not. Generations later here I am, living in a country where I can vote, speak in public, work, sign a lease, play sports, and wear a bikini if I want to. I also live in a country where I grew up hearing that a woman will never be president because "she'd probably bomb another country while she was on her period", where my sisters are blamed for their own rapes and abuse, and birth is heavily medicated and regulated.

I looked at the world around me and saw how far it has come and how far it still needs to go.
Then things got personal.

I saw that living in a hierarchy was affecting me in big and small ways.
I saw that some of my beliefs about marginalized people were painful to them.
I saw that certain beliefs about women were painful to me.
I saw these beliefs active and thriving inside the religion I loved.

I saw
and I could not unsee.

Church became painful for me. I was conflicted. I had built my faith on the foundation of Jesus Christ, but it was framed by the LDS church. My foundation was still firm, but I no longer trusted the framework.

I asked,
Where is Heavenly Mother?
Why are only men ordained?
and a few questions about the temple.

I saw inside my own heart and in church the evidence of patriarchy, of one above another, and I was ashamed.

"Where do I go from here?" I asked a trusted friend.
Neither of us knew.

In a world full of people, be yourself

Monday, January 29, 2018

There are definitely perks to being a blogger, one of them being you get to spoil yourself with photo shoots every few years. You'll probably see my new mugshots scattered through my website and social media profiles because I am in love! When I looked through my recent photos, I was thrilled that my photographer included some of my silly poses.

I used to hesitate sharing these kinds of shots because I felt I had to put on my "best face", which always meant professional. I mean, if I looked serious, people would take me seriously, right? Now, I'm like "whatever."

Perfectionism doesn't influence me like it used to. Where it used to cause me guilt and shame, it is now the catalyst for self-acceptance. Since becoming pretty adept at identifying perfection in my own life, I can't help but notice it in the world around me.

I've seen a certain quote become extremely popular lately. There's all kinds of  variations on the same theme. Maybe you've seen one of them?


Pinterest, coffee mugs, t-shirts all sport these sayings. The obsession spares no one - mystical creatures, flowers, food, and famous characters.

This quote is meant to be inspirational. I think its selling something.

Here's the thing. I am not a mermaid, cupcake, or a unicorn. I never will be. I am a person. I am me. I have two legs, a stomach that flows over the top of my pants, soft hands, and long, wavy hair. I am Channing.

More importantly, if I was a mermaid (which would be awesome!) then everyone else would be too. People are not weeds or flowers.

No one is more magical, more beautiful, or has more value than anyone else. What I most worry about subscribing to this ideal is this: someday, when I do something terribly unbecoming of a mermaid, I will look down at my two legs and feel like a failure.

Since I am not a mermaid, I must be a fish.

On the spectrum of perfection unicorns are at one end and horses on the other.

I like hanging out somewhere in the middle -

Equal parts magic and dirt.

The Gift My Mother Gave Me

Thursday, January 18, 2018

One of my favorite memories from childhood is sitting in a quiet library, sitting with crossed legs in the middle of the bookcase aisle, lost in a stack of books. My mom would take me and my siblings and let us browse for what felt like hours. Instead of a requirement to choose at least one book, I was restricted instead on how many I could bring home. One day, tired of watching me agonize over a choice between a book on ballet and a historical fiction novel, my mother handed me the most dangerous weapon I have ever held - my very own library card.

It was more exciting than a birthday present.

But, powerful as the library card is, it is not the gift my mother gave me.

In my years as patron of the Henderson Public Library, I checked out hundreds, maybe thousands of books. Some were fiction, but the majority were not. Many focused on spirituality, the humanities, and mythology.

My mom liked looking through the books I chose before I checked them out. I realize looking back how clever she was to literally read my mind through the titles of my selections. At the time I thought she was looking for books to censor.

But there was never a "no". There were only trips to the library.

My parents didn't fund many extra-curricular activities. They didn't pay my college tuition. But I know I had outrageous library fines. My mom paid them with a smile.

My introverted, yet heavily connected mother made many introductions.

Alice in Wonderland gave me curiosity,
Harry Potter taught me the magic of love,
The House on Mango Street erased divisions,
the Grimm brothers showed me how to read between the lines.

I saw the heavy strokes of 'Starry Night' in an art book long before I saw the painting at the MoMa. I learned the science of sunflowers - that they grow from seeds, earth, and sun. But the Greeks say Clytie loved the sun god so much she became the first. Wisdom says both are true.

As I grew in confidence, I learned to make my own library map.

girl reading book

Today, Desmond and Mpho Tutu help me forgive.
Brene Brown encourages me to heal.
C.S Lewis continually ruins everything I think I know about religion.
Natalie Goldberg whispers in my ear when I write.

My mama, a woman of few words, raised me on reading and writing.
Ironically, what she gave me will not fit on a single written page.
Her gift is only found by sitting crossed-leg on the scratchy carpet in the middle of a library aisle.

Mother's Daughter

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The summer when I was 24, my mother took me to the mountains to break my heart.

We found a fire pit with logs for chairs, lit a fire, and through it's smoke and sputters I listened to her tell a true story. It was a story you hear maybe once in a lifetime. It changed everything. It changed me.

At the conclusion of her campfire tale, my mom shared that she and my dad were getting divorced. We also listened to "Fight Song" by Rachel Platten.

After that day in the mountains I vowed to never listen to Fight Song again. I hated everything it represented for me. Of course, it happened to be one of the most popular songs of 2015. When it played on the radio I'd change the station. I plugged my ears if I heard it in the grocery store. I felt like it followed me everywhere, all the way through summer into autumn. I could not escape it anymore than I could run from the heartache of my parent's divorce.

A week before Christmas that year my sister and I gathered in the garage of my childhood home to prepare for a yard sale. The cold cement floor turned to sacred ground as we placed price tags on the washing machine that cleaned our clothes and the ornaments that once hung on the tree. We sorted through a lifetime of belongings with neon stickers in hand, left alone to wonder, "How much are memories worth?"

The yard sale ended. Christmas came and went. The year came to a close and thankfully Fight Song disappeared into the abyss of popularity. Life moved on. Babies were born and new celebrations came my way. The spontaneous stings of my parent's divorce eventually faded. I found myself still a part of a lovely, amiable family and I was happy. "No fight songs needed", I'd say, pleased with the peace that settled over my wounds.

Years later, just last week, I was shopping in my favorite thrift store. My kids were in the cart happily playing as I looked through racks of clothing. Suddenly, a tune played from the overhead radio.

"This is my fight song" the chorus began.

It was like hearing it for the first time. I felt a power rumbling in my wild heart. Some part of me wanted to scream "this is my mother's song!" but I gave that voice no heed. Instead I remembered my mother that day in the mountains. She spoke soft words with a sure voice behind them. I saw confidence and peace burning in her eyes - a look I have since seen mirrored in my own.

"I am my mother's daughter", I thought, remembering the fiery, defiant, brave blood in me was hers also.

 I did not wipe the tears that freely fell from my lashes. They came one, two, then a hundred at a time. They washed me, cleaned my eyes so I could see that there is room enough in me for joy and pain to reside together.

There, in a thrift store -
where forgotten and unwanted things go,
I found myself again.

*Story has been shared with permission*

2017's Life-Changing Finds: Books, Podcasts, and more!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

These are the books, songs, podcasts, and reads I've come across that have shaped my experiences and understandings this year. They are in no particular order. Some are loved more than others, but each has been a beautiful addition to my library of reference. I hope you enjoy going through the list and seeing what has shaped me recently. If you're anything like me, you will!

Best Books

1. Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown: Taught me the necessity of belonging to myself, even though it sometimes means belonging nowhere else.
2. Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown: Helped me embrace the beauty of not being perfect. This was instrumental in defeating my toxic perfectionism.
3. Only Love Today by Rachel Macy Stafford: Showed me how to live a present, vulnerable, loving life. Stafford's poetic style is similar to mine so it really healed my soul to read. *Read an excerpt here*
4. The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine M. Aron, PhD: Gave me a new way of understanding my sensitivities and needs that I didn't comprehend before - especially my tendency to be an introverted extrovert!
5. Spinning Straw Into Gold by Joan Gould: I hate this book. Which makes my friends laugh when I tell them. But Gould gave me an excellent insight into the lessons for women that can be learned from fairy tales and myth. She also provided a framework for future study on aspects of the feminine. So while I struggled to read it because of the bitter and negative tone, I learned so much. It deserves a spot on the list.
6. Witch by Lisa Lister: I had always had a burning curiosity about witches and witchcraft. I read Witch on the recommendation of a friend and loved it. I ended up reading her other books as well. I learned what it means to be a witch, the history of witches, and getting in touch with the divine in myself.

Perfect Podcasts

1. Bold New Mom, Episode 82 - Connection in Your Marriage
2. The Life Beats Podcast: Ashley Mitchell from Big Tough Girl - Owning your whole story and purposing heartache to help others
3. The Life Beats Podcast: Lauren Elizabeth of Hello Whimzy - Keeping the magical and dreaming aspects of our lives alive
4. LDS Perspectives Podcast, Episode 59 - Women in the Old Testament with Heather Farrell
5. A Thoughtful Faith, Episode 206 - Mother's Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother with Rachel Hunt Steenblik
6. Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert, Season 1 Episode 12 - Brene Brown on "Big Strong Magic"
7. Smartest Person in the Room, Episode 10: Religion Series - Religion Series: Mormons vs. Mainstream Christianity
8. About Progress, Episode 013 - A Psychotherapist's Take on Perfectionism with Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife

Amazing Art and Articles

Soul Songs

Every year I ask my friends to share their top 3 songs of the year with me. This year, all my friends cheated and gave a billion way more than three recommendations. C'mon guys! The whole point is to narrow down the most meaningful, most awesome songs for the year. If you're curious, here are mine:

Friends, I hope you check out some of these awesome creations made by our fellow humans. Each one of them has been carefully chosen based on the impact they've had on my life. They are worth every penny and every minute spent on them. I would love to hear about your life-changing finds for 2017 in the comments. If you'd like to share your top books, podcasts, reads, or three (and I mean THREE) songs in the comments, I'd love to hear them! 

Here's to an amazing 2018!

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