Today is the first day of Advent…the Christian period of waiting and anticipating the celebration of the birth of Christ. As a person who grew up Catholic and later Protestant, it was always pretty central to my celebrations of Christmas in the past. As a person who is moving away from the much of the Christian tradition and has not attended church much at all over the past several years, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to mark the season, both as a family and an individual. There was a part of me that wanted to attend church this month between Thanksgiving and Christmas…and a bigger part of me that did not. I spent my advent morning not in a church pew singing carols but on an exhilarating 6 mile run with the likes of Tupac, Beastie Boys and Midnight Oil as my “worship” leaders. Still…there is a part of me, the part that longs for mystery and magic, for beauty that goes beyond gift giving and Christmas lights. Throughout this season of faith shifting (thank you Kathy Escobar!) there has also been a part of me worried about how my changing faith is affecting my children. It is why I sometimes want to go to church–and also why I often do NOT want to go to church. While I don’t want them to inherit my spiritual hangups, I also don’t want them exposed to the very things I no longer believe in. At the same time I do want them to see Christmas as more than just gifts for them and fun times at home and at school.
I was reading Rachel Held Evans’ blog post about Advent ideas this morning and had an epiphany–and I think it just may work for any family who wants to bring more into the Christmas season than just gifts, even if they are not religious at all. I think you could tailor the activities described below however you wanted to. Here’s a description of my not-churchy-advent-observation that I plan on trying out this season. I’ll let you know how it goes…and I hope maybe it will inspire others of you too, particularly other faith shifters like me.
First: I’m going to run to the store this afternoon and pick up 5 candles. I think I’ll use all white, but you can certainly choose whatever you’d like. I looked on Pinterest for some ideas for advent wreaths. I’m going to get some sort of greenery or something to place around them (I’ll post a photo after I’ve created it) and cluster them in a large dish. I may make the 5th candle smaller or a different color, I’ll see what inspires me at the store.
One day each week and then on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning (I’m going to try for Sunday evenings, but also allow for real life, to be flexible) we’ll sit down as a family, we’ll start with one candle the first week, 2 the second, etc. Each candle will represent something that we will talk about, listen to some music about, and then try to come up with a concrete idea for how to implement that in the week ahead. The concepts are:
Week 1: HOPE
Things to discuss:
- What does hope mean? (actual definition)
- What’s the difference between hope and hopelessness? Why might someone feel hopeless?
- Who in our lives or in the world might need hope? (I still believe in prayer, so we will probably pick some people to pray for in this area)
- How can we share hope in our family, in the world around us?
We will light the candle (giving each kid a turn) and then listen to a song that is about hope. My pick: “Hope Now” by Addison Road. Yes, they are a “Christian” band, but this song isn’t overtly religious and it’s one of the only “Christian” songs I can listen to any more without grinding my teeth. I’m sure you can come up with ideas of your own or Google some.
Week 2: PEACE
Things to discuss:
- What is peace?
- How can we be peaceful in our home?
- How can we encourage peace in school/work?
- Where in the world needs peace? (pray here, if you’d like) Use globe or map to talk about places in the world that are experiencing a lack of peace (Ukraine, Middle East, etc.)
- How can we be peacemakers?
Song ideas I have for this are “Imagine” by John Lennon and “Let There Be Peace on Earth” (you know, and let it begin with me…)
Week 3: JOY
Things to discuss:
- What does joy mean? Are joy and happiness the same thing?
- What makes you feel joyful?
- Who are some people who might need joy in their lives? (pray?)
- How can we bring joy to each other? To others we encounter?
Song ideas: Joy to the World (christmas carol!) and Joy to the World (3 Dog Night!)
Week 4: LOVE
Things to discuss:
- What do you think love means? Is it a feeling? An action? Both?
- How does life look with/without love?
- How can we show love to our family/to others?
- Who might need some love? (pray)
Song ideas: What The World Needs Now, Get Together (Youngbloods)
Christmas Eve/Christmas Morning
Again, if Jesus is not a part of your tradition, you could skip this entirely or do something else. How would you culminate your weeks of Advent? Would love to hear your ideas!
Light 5th candle for Jesus. Read Christmas story. Talk about how Jesus came to bring hope, peace, joy, love…NOT fear, conflict, sadness, hate (opposites!). Talk about how this often gets distorted and not done well. How we can change that in our lives, one day at a time, one person, one action at a time. Maybe read a Bible verse that talks about hope, peace, etc. (One with Jesus’ words??)
So. Those are my very basic thoughts ideas…anyone else have anything?? Song ideas? Concrete activities to make these words come to life? (I’m thinking sending cards to sick kids in hospitals, buying mittens/socks/hats for the library mitten tree, donating toys to Toys for Tots, notes to servicemen overseas…there’s unlimited possibilities!)
Hopefully you’ll find something here worthwhile…may your Advent be full of light!!
I’ll keep ya posted on how it goes 🙂
I’m not a problem to be solved
The pieces of my puzzle aren’t for you to try and fit
To figure out to make a picture that you like
-Don’t tell me what goes where and what comes next-
I will find my own way.
It will be different from your way
-different not bad not wrong-
I’m comfortable here
In this space where I am this person I am
In spite of the questions, the doubts and the fears.
Don’t tell me to move, it’s the wrong place to be
Spare me your worried brow your heavy sighs
Your muttered prayers.
You can’t see what I see in my head in my heart
Don’t hear what I think when I lie in the dark.
You’ll never be me never know what it’s like
I’m not in a bad place I don’t need a rescue.
I’m swimming and seeking and keeping my head up
My north star is mine its not yours it will guide me.
I may end up somewhere you would never have guessed
So just leave me be let me go save your breath.
I don’t need your books or your words or your help
I’m finding my way in spite of myself.
*Um, so I haven’t written a poem since probably like high school. I’m in the midst of a really frustrating week with a person in my life and this just kind of came out. It may be total crap so I apologize in advance.
It’s a crisp, chilly evening in early November 1990. My friends and I are walking back to the dorms from dinner, crunching through the leaves that have fallen on the path ahead of us. I’m hanging behind the rest, and look up at the dark, starry sky and sigh. My friend Mike hears me and pauses to wait for me. We walk together the rest of the way, not saying anything but when we get to his dorm he says, “Hey, wait here. I have something for you.” I wait out in the cold, hands in my pockets, probably not wearing a warm enough coat. Mike comes out and hands me a cassette. “You seem like you need this. It always makes me feel better, why don’t you borrow it for a while?”
In my hand was the tape “Reading, Writing and Arithmetic” by the Sundays. I’d heard the single “Here’s Where the Story Ends” on the alternative radio station back home and liked it, but had never listened to the whole thing. I had no idea at that moment that 24 years later (whoa) I would still remember that fall so clearly, and it would still be able to conjure up how I was feeling and the effects the music would have on me.
Mike was right. That music did make me feel better. I don’t know what it was-her voice, the music, the lyrics, or all of that put together but it soothed something in me and just made me feel like everything was going to be ok. It was a particularly angsty time for me…although, who am I kidding, most of my life has been angst-ridden. I was thrilled to be at college, loved my new group of friends, but also missed my old friends from home. I was 8 hours away with no car (and no cell phones, no internet) so I relied on infrequent pay-phone conversations to connect me with my best friend. I was now 100% responsible for my studying and learning and classwork. I had to do my own laundry and clean my own room and navigate getting along with a sometimes prickly roommate. I visited New York City for the first time. Stayed out all night. Got drunk for the first time. Kissed a boy who I had a huge crush on–more than once–even though I knew he had a girlfriend. I was happy, sad, confused, excited. Tired. Always seemed to be very tired. The Sundays were like a balm that eased my over-stimulated heart and mind.
At the same time, I was introduce to Orion. The Hunter. 2 summers before, I’d learned what real star-gazing was like, when I spent many nights drifting on my best friends boat in the broads of Lake Winnepesaukee in the middle of the night. I’d seen my first of many shooting stars and satellites, saw the sweep of the Milky Way over our minute selves as we rocked on dark waves. Of course I knew where Orion the constellation was. But that fall of my freshman year, he became another beacon of hope for me in an uncertain world, that would follow me through adulthood.
Another friend-another Mike actually, and the infamous kissing boy-and I would go on long drives in the evenings where we’d “get lost” and just see where we ended up. I would spend a lot of time in college with various friends and boyfriends on sojourns to lonely places to philosophize…this was just the beginning. He’d drive–as a junior, he had his own car–and I would say “Left!” or “Right!” as the spirit moved me. We’d talk about god only knows what, and one night he pointed out Orion to me. I’d probably been upset about something. (I also remember “upset” being a somewhat steady state of mind at the time. Or rather, for years before, during and after this. I have a lot of feelings about things, apparently.) Trying to make me feel better (and not kiss me because, you know, girlfriend) he pointed to Orion and said “Everytime you see Orion, you can know that everything’s going to be alright in the world.” How trite! How stupid! How sentimental! How exactly what I needed to hear! I grabbed onto that and from that moment on, every time I see Orion, something in my soul makes a little, nearly audible “click,” righting me for at least a moment. Ok. Orion. There he is. Everything’s alright with the world.
God, how naive I was. Still am. I still feel that way when I see Orion. When I hear certain songs. When I see certain scenery or read a particular book or poem. Who thinks like that? Well, I guess I do. And I think I’m not alone. Maybe it’s not Orion or the Sundays, but I bet you have your North Stars too, the things that re-calibrate your internal self.
I think about these two stories this same time every year, and remember that happy/sad girl, that confused dreamer, because really, she’s still me, she’s still there. I may be older, wiser (?), more responsible (?), less flighty. But her heart is still in me, believing that if I can just see Orion, or hear just the right song, then it’s all going to be ok.
I’m sure you remember the #yesallwomen Twitter campaign of last spring, where in the wake of the Isla Vista, California killing spree, women posted their experiences with misogyny, violence, harassment and discrimination. At the time, I couldn’t think of a specific story or event in my own life that was worth sharing, although I absolutely remembered that feeling, especially in my teens and twenties, of discomfort tinged with fear that came as the result of unwanted attention from a male. I just couldn’t pinpoint a particular experience that stuck out in my memory.
A few months go by. Here I am in my 40’s. Much more confident in myself than I was back then, although still hesitant to speak up on my own behalf. I was always a “good girl”, who generally liked to please the adults in my life and, more than anything, not raise a big fuss. Today I’m more likely to raise a big fuss–but mostly in my head. When it comes to actual confrontation I’m still a big wuss.
I work at a library. I love it. So much of my job fits my personality and skill set. It’s a mile from my house and across the street from my kids’ schools. My hours are flexible and work nicely with my kids’ schedule. The women (and couple of men) I work with are friendly and kind. And I’m surrounded by books all day, which for me is pretty much heaven.
I’d been working there for a few months when I started training on the front desk. I was working one afternoon when this man who is at the library every day came up to the desk to buy a book from the book sale. (There are a lot of older folks who congregate at the library regularly. They sit by the newspapers and chat–loudly–about the world in general and their (usually negative) opinion of the way things are.) This gentleman is probably in his early 60’s and spends many hours sitting in the library, occasionally reading the paper or going on the computer, socializing with other old folks, and staring at people, staring at women, while they walk by. He always places himself where he has a good vantage point so he can see everyone who passes by.
I ring up his ten cent book and tell him to have a nice afternoon. He leans in close and reads my name tag: “Your hair looks very nice today Jennifer. You’re very smartly dressed.” Flustered I say “Um, thank you?” and he goes on his way. The woman training me, also in her 60’s smacks me on the arm like my teenage friend “Oh my god. He likes you. You’ve got to watch out for him. He latches on to the young, new staff all the time. He’s creepy!” (I don’t know that I qualify as “young,” but I guess comparatively…) I’d already figured out the creepiness. In fact, I’d actually seen him at the Walmart a few days before. I was going down one of the aisles and looked up to see him standing at the far end, just watching me. I recognized him as “That Guy That’s Always At The Library” and was immediately uncomfortable by the way he just stood there, staring. I turned my cart around and went the opposite direction.
For my next few shifts he wasn’t in the library when I was working. Then one Friday, I’m pushing my cart of books past him and hear him make a comment about me…softly, but just loud enough that I could hear him. Did I just imagine that? I felt sick to my stomach and yet pushed on and completed the task I was working on. Because of where he likes to sit, I had no other choice but to walk past him on my way back to the staff area. I braced myself and sure enough, as I walked by him again, he muttered the same “compliment.” I was shaking when I went back behind the desk. I tried to find things to do that kept me out of the main library area. I had a silent battle with myself in my head, thinking all of those things that so many women think when they are victims of harassment:
“Did I just imagine that? Did that really happen?”
“Am I making too big a deal over this? He didn’t really say anything bad.”
“What am I wearing, is this too ‘revealing’?” (Incidentally I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt.)
“I need to just tell him to shut the hell up and leave me alone! I need to stand up for myself. I’m a feminist, damnit!”
Eventually I had to go back out there to shelve some books. As I did, he got up from where he was sitting and came around the corner where he could see me and stood there, just watching. I stopped what I was doing and went in the back and found my co-worker (who had warned me about him) and told her what was going on. She immediately went to talk to the supervisor on duty for the day. My colleagues jumped into action and were very helpful. They intended to confront him but by the time they went out to find him, he’d gone for the day. (He does that, he just appears and disappears suddenly. It’s very weird.)
The comments happened once more when I was working another day…this time I didn’t hear them but another one of my co-workers did and reported it back to the supervisor. She and the branch manager were able to confront him that day. Predictably, he denied it. He said that person was lying. He asked to know who was making these claims against him (obviously they didn’t tell him). Other women I work with talked about things they’d heard him say to them and other women. They threatened to kick him out of the library if the behavior continued. Since then, there hasn’t been a problem and I’ve been able to go about my business and not be bothered. He still creeps me out and I do my best to avoid him, but I don’t feel as anxious about it anymore.
The thing that really got me was how paralyzed I felt by all those questions running around in my head, all the ways society had told me to keep quiet, to not rock the boat, to just accept the “boys will be boys” mentality, to wonder whether any of it was my fault. And this was just a few comments and staring! Imagine how debilitating actually getting touched inappropriately, or assaulted or raped or stalked would be! If I felt this way about such a “minor” incident, it’s no wonder that all those violent acts get unreported. We have been conditioned to accept the blame and shut up.
I thought back to a job I had a couple years ago. I worked in a restaurant with mostly 20-something young guys. They were crude and vulgar and talked about sex a LOT. They were flirty and inappropriate. For some reason, it didn’t bother me. Maybe some of it was my ego…having just turned 40 it was maybe flattering to have admiring comments come my way. Maybe some of it was they were young and cute (not old and creepy). Maybe part of it was I knew that if I told them to shut the heck up that I knew they would. Maybe I just knew them better and trusted them because we had some sort of a work relationship…I have no idea. But it was like a lightbulb went off–that was the whole POINT. Their attention didn’t bother me. It doesn’t matter why or why not. It didn’t make me feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Creepy library guy did. And THAT was what mattered. Even if it wouldn’t bother anyone else, if it bothered me and made me feel bad, then it needed to STOP. Period. We need to stop blaming women, stop telling them how to feel, to suck it up and get over it, to just deal. Even if it makes no sense to us, if a woman feels threatened or uncomfortable or unsafe or objectified, we need to listen, pay attention and make. that. behavior. stop. My co-workers did a great job of making me feel heard, supported and protected. We need to do that for all women, in every situation where it is warranted.
I was able to use this situation to have a serious talk with my girls about unwanted attention from men. I could tell the 9 year old was kind of confused (she knows nothing about sex) and the 12 year old was very uncomfortable. She is well aware of the fact that when it comes to sex there’s a lot of grey area…I don’t want her to fear male attention, I don’t want her to avoid it. I just want her to know that if it is unwanted? If it makes you uncomfortable in ANY way? It needs to stop. It needs to be told to someone. My fear is that she’s even more shy than I ever was, and much more of a people pleaser. I pray that I can make her a strong woman who can stand up for herself when she needs to but it is a hard thing to do.
This morning when she left the house for school, the trash guys were arriving. As she walked down the street with her friend I was standing at the window watching them head for the bus stop. I watched the trash guy look after her once. Twice. Three times. I have no idea what he was thinking but I know this. She’s almost 13. She is young. She is cute, much cuter than I ever was at that age. And men and boys are going to look at her inappropriately. And say things to her. And make her feel uncomfortable. Because yes. All women. Even women who aren’t really old enough to be women yet.
Where does it end? Thankfully we can look at the world today and see the amazing strides women have made over the last 100 years in battling misogyny and discrimination and harassment and violence. But there is much work to be done. We need to teach our sons to respect women. To give them appropriate attention and admiration. To not objectify them. We need to teach our girls to be strong and protect themselves. To stand up for themselves and seek support from the men and women who care about them when they need it. To not blame themselves for someone else’s behavior. To shut down those voices in their heads that make them question their worth, their value, their own intelligence and their intuition. So that maybe one day “#yesallwomen” will be just an interesting footnote in our history.
*one of my favorite resources for empowering my girls is amightygirl.com. it has great resources for all ages of girls…and boys too!