Posted in musings

church unity and social media bubbles

It’s becoming fairly well known these days that the algorithms used by social media tend to lock us in to an ever-shrinking bubble, where we only see things that already align with our views (unless we purposefully join groups we disagree with to seek out different views). I hadn’t really thought about it much until I logged on to Facebook early this month, after about half a year with almost no social media, and belatedly realized that I hadn’t seen a single puzzle piece or “light it up blue” post for Autism Awareness day. No ableism, no “search for the cure”, no questionable medical advice – nothing.

If I had taken my Facebook feed as an accurate microcosm of the culture around me, I would have thought that everyone had finally started listening to #actuallyautistic voices and started to see autism as just a different way of being human. Obviously, that isn’t the case (living in the real world and reading news from other sites makes this pretty clear) – but it is the snapshot of the world that Facebook filtered out for me.

It was a really enlightening moment for me. This is what happens to people who keep reading articles and liking posts and joining groups that are all on one side of the political spectrum: they see more and more of what they like, and less and less of what they’ve avoided, until they begin to see the whole world filtered through those beliefs – which makes it easier to perceive anyone who doesn’t share those beliefs as ignorant, deluded, or extreme. It happens with “natural wellness” as well, until people who just wanted to incorporate preventative herbal remedies into their lives find themselves surrounded by reasons to avoid vaccines (which are medically tested in large numbers of people) and go on restrictive diets (which are not).

As uncomfortable as it can be to deliberately seek out articles, groups, and people with whom we disagree, I believe it is fundamental to balancing out our own beliefs and perceptions of the world. Even more than that, I think it is essential that those of us who are Christian do this; I don’t see how we can endeavor to create any kind of unity within the church otherwise. The unity that Jesus prayed for before the crucifixion, that Paul beseeched the Philippians to pursue – this cannot exist unless we are all willing to do the hard work of engaging with and listening to those with whom we disagree.

Lately, I’ve been reminding myself that God loves everyone, and that all of God’s creation is fearfully and wonderfully made. That means God loves the autistic person who struggles with social interactions and communication, and God loves the neurotypical parents who wishes their child were normal – without needing to change either of their neurotypes to make them more worthy of God’s love. God loves the black person pushed to the margins of society by systemic injustice, and God loves the white person who has profited from their race – without needing to change either of their skin colors. God loves the woman who has been told all her life that she can’t share her love of God from the pulpit, and God loves the man who has benefited from centuries of misogyny – without needing to change either of their genders.

I’ve been reminding myself that while God will always call us to growth, to increased wisdom and righteousness, and to greater closeness with God, God will not require us to become someone we were not created to be. God may ask us to deny ourselves so that we can love each other better; God will ask us to repent from our sin and become a new creation in Christ; but in all this God is leading us more deeply into our true selves. We may be only shadows of those selves now, but those shadows still show the shape and form of who we will be.

I believe that God does not tell autistic people that they are welcome as soon as they can stop stimming and look God in the eyes. God does not tell black people that they are welcome as soon as they straighten their hair and accept a lower place on the social ladder, or tell refugees that they need a job and a good grasp of English before they can enter God’s kingdom. God does not tell women that they must give up their desire to preach God’s word, or abandon their careers, or ignore their gifts of leadership.

(Following these lines of thought out further, though it leads me into tempestuous cultural waters, I would argue that God does not call gay people to sacrifice their romantic and sexual desires (unless a particular individual is called to celibacy like a straight person might be), nor does God call trans people to deny their gender and obey social expectations based on their sex at birth. God created us – with difference, with diversity, with disability – and all parts of us can reflect God’s image and bring God glory.)

In fact, if I am to fully grasp the scandalous immensity of God’s love, then I have to go one step further. I have to recognize that God does not simply love us in all of our human diversity: God also loves is in all of our human sinfulness. Even as God hates injustice and oppression, God loves the people committing it and wants them also to repent, and make restitution, and be reconciled to God.

My love is not this deep. I want to write people off as hopeless, beyond redemption. I want to take revenge mercilessly for the horrifying oppression and injustice I see – or I want to abandon people to their own ignorance and bigotry and discount their opinions as worthless. It is easier this way: to stay in the safe confines of my own little bubble, on Facebook and even in reality, to assume that my beliefs are right and leave the outside world to its own devices. In the face of these tendencies, what I pray is that I would trust in God’s vengeance, in God’s ability to weave justice and mercy seamlessly together, never weighing one soul as higher in value than another, and clearly seeing all our actions and all our intentions. I pray that when I work for the coming of God’s kingdom here on earth, I would strive to right wrongs and undo injustices and throw off every yoke, as Isaiah and Mary both sing – but that I would also strive to make room for repentance and new beginnings. I pray that I would value a unity that makes space for all God’s created people, in all our stages of growth, as we become more fully ourselves and more deeply God’s, and that I would always listen and love even when I vehemently disagree.

This means that when my pastor says something I disagree with – something that I think perpetuates injustice along gender lines, for example – I can not in good faith simply leave the church and find another. If I care about unity and if I care about love, I have to take that uncomfortable statement as an opportunity to open a discussion about justice and mercy and God’s crazy boundary-destroying love; to listen with love in my own heart to ideas that could hurt me; to remember that no person is so far gone that the mercy of God cannot reach them; and to take the chance that I might be the one whose beliefs are wrong or misinformed.

And it may mean that I need to find some groups on Facebook that I might be uncomfortable in ๐Ÿ™‚

Posted in musings

identity

I have only watched Barbra Streisand’s film Yentl once in my life – as a teenager, actually! – but it made such a deep impression on me that I still think about it regularly. I believe it was the first time I saw anything explore gender expression and identity with such emotional depth, and I recall feeling simultaneously deeply uncomfortable and deeply resonant with the story and main character (who, for those unfamiliar with the story, is a Jewish girl who creates a male persona (Anshel), so that she can study Talmud, and finds herself entangled in a love triangle of sorts with a fellow student (Avigdor) and the woman he hopes to marry (Hadass)).

In the scenes that have stayed with me most powerfully, Anshel sits at a dining table with Hadass, sometimes alone and sometimes with Avigdor and Hadass’s parents, watching the other woman and pondering her femininity. There’s almost a disgust for it, at times – for the lack of intellectual conversation, for the trivial concerns of cooking and making oneself attractive – and yet also an envy: a two-fold desire both to be the object of this womanly attention and to be able to win the love of another by playing this feminine role. The camera focuses on the beauty and delicacy of Hadass’s face and clothing, on her submissive care for the man she loves, on the softness of her hands as she hands him something. This happens three times in the movie, and while you can find clips of the first two on YouTube, the final brief reprise which has always been the most meaningful to me is apparently stringently protected. In it, Streisand sings of Hadass:

She’s mother, she’s sister
She’s lover
She’s theย wonder of wonders
No man can deny
So why would he change her?
She’s loving-she’s tender-
She’s woman-
So am I.

In that moment, caught up in the emotional sweep of the film, I may have wept. “So am I.”

Continue reading “identity”
Posted in quotes

everything belongs

โ€œI understood anew why Jesus seemed to think that the expelled ones had a head start in understanding his message. Usually they have been expelled from what was unreal anyway – the imperial systems of culture, which demand โ€˜inโ€™ people and โ€˜outโ€™ people, victors and victims. In Godโ€™s reign โ€˜everything belongs,โ€™ even the broken and poor parts. Until we have admitted this in our own soul, we will usually perpetuate expelling systems in the outer world of politics and class.โ€ – Everything Belongs, chapter 1, Richard Rohr

Posted in art, family life

nature walk in the neighborhood

Sometimes we drift along in a repetition of the same old activities – reading, playing out back, building Legos, etc. – and sometimes I have a sudden idea to do something new (or forgotten and recycled). I’ve found that often just a small taste of novelty can make an activity seem exciting and engaging for the kids, so I can come up with iterations on a theme when I’m not bursting with enough creativity to imagine something completely new! For example, today, as everyone was ambling around not sure of what to do, I decided we should take advantage of the beautiful Arizona spring weather by going on a walk. Then, I looked around the kitchen and saw the empty egg carton in the recycle bin, and had an epiphany. Instead of just walking, which we do fairly frequently, we could walk with an egg carton each, and use each of the twelve small compartments to collect a different small natural treasure.

We had a few difficulties (Limerick collected a clump of dirt and it disintegrated in his carton, and then he found a thirteenth treasure and couldn’t decide how to make it fit; Aubade got all the way through the walk without filling her carton), but overall all three kids had a really good time exploring the neighborhood with a fresh goal in mind. We found dappled arugula-like weeds, and wild red lettuce, and juniper cones under a neighbor’s tree; palm fronds (which they cut small enough to fit in the egg carton), huge black prickly seed pods, and petals from our own Hong Kong orchids; pink rocks, flakes of clay, and small spherical ficus seeds.

When we arrived back at the house I had another epiphany. We had a huge piece of paper currently lying on the floor, having just been taken down from the wall after serving another purpose, which I spread out on the wooden patio table. This was our canvas; our treasures were the medium of our art.

Rondel instantly knew that he wanted to create a tree with his treasures (he supplemented his small egg carton collection with several large objects from our yard, like the grapefruit and the dried broccoli leaf):

Limerick started by setting his treasures one by one onto the paper, moving them around semi-randomly until he noticed the shape of a person forming; he then added ground, and a sun, and then an avalanche starting to fall on the person’s head… it became quite the story!

the avalanche and sun are not visible here, just the little person with ground beneath their feet. Their legs are in such a wide stance because they are running to escape the avalanche!

Aubade thought Limerick had an excellent idea and copied it, avalanche and all ๐Ÿ™‚ But her person looked quite different, as she had different treasures to use and her own interpretation to lend to the concept.

We played around with the art a bit more after the initial creations – Limerick made a rocket ship using rocks from the yard, and Rondel took apart his tree and made a person of his own – but I think the nicest thing about the whole experience was realizing how much natural beauty was waiting in our own city neighborhood for us to discover and explore. We just had to look in a different way.

a snippet from the past

Found this in my childhood journal while going through old papers… apparently I’ve always been meant to do science ๐Ÿ™‚

child-me wrote, “I love Daddy. I love Daddy because he is a fun Daddy. He does science and fun things.”

Posted in family life, learning together

learning together: counting in binary

Limerick has been interested in different base systems for several months now; he’s enjoyed playing place value games in bases other than 10, converting between bases, counting in alternate bases, and so on.

The other day he came up to me and told me that he’d figured out a new way to count on his fingers. Holding up the pinky finger on one hand, he told me that was 1. Just the ring finger extended was 2; the ring and pinky together was 3. The middle finger on its own was 4, middle and pinky together was 5, middle and ring together was 6, and middle, ring and pinky all at once was 7.

It may be easier to see his logic with 0’s and 1’s, where a finger curled down represents a 0 and a finger extended represents a 1.

00000 00001 (one pinky extended)
00000 00010 (ring extended)
00000 00011 (pinky and ring extended)
00000 00100 (yeah, this one looks wrong, but he’s six so he has no clue)
00000 00101 (middle and pinky)
00000 00111 (middle, ring, and pinky)

And so on.

It’s binary! Assigning each finger one place in the binary place value system, he figured out how to count on his fingers to 1023 (which would be all fingers extended). In addition to showing how natural this aspect of mathematics is to him, it also shows a good foundational understanding of computer science – because electric signals are either on or off, just like Limerick’s fingers could either be extended or curled down, and therefore represent data in this same bitwise manner. It is so amazing what kids can think of and create when they are given the chance to deeply explore something they love.

(We tried developing a base 3 counting system but found it was too difficult to keep some fingers folded only halfway down when the fingers next to them needed to be extended or completely curled – someone with more fine motor control might have more luck though!)

Posted in miscellaneous

tea is a happy little thing

When it comes to cooking, baking, drinking, writing, teaching, gardening – well, basically anything – I like to have a rhythm and structure within which I can imagine and create. Boundaries give me the freedom to explore without feeling overwhelmed by too many new things at once, I think, but avoiding strict rules and routines keeps me from burning out or losing interest altogether. So I have my four garden beds and their two trellises, and I rotate through some of the same crops each year, but I always add something new that I’ve never planted before. I write down favorite recipes, but I never make them the same way more than twice, and I drift through categories of favorites depending on season and mood.

And I drink tea every day (two teaspoons steeped in the huge mug Rondel got me for Christmas, and at least three brews throughout the day with the same leaves), but I mix and match the varieties I have with different fruits, spices, and herbs. I really enjoy this, to be honest – maybe it’s because the pandemic has rather limited my opportunity to have novel experiences, or maybe I’m just the kind of person who delights in simple pleasures, but trying out new flavor combinations in my tea is something I like forward to each morning.

This time of year, when the weather is cold, I drink most of my tea with cream, and lean on the strong teas whose nutty depths can support it. I also love Assam tea with or without cream, so I find that I prefer cut all of my flavored teas (which have a Ceylon base) 1:1 with the unflavored Assam. Some of my favorites?

  • Almond with a sprinkle of cinnamon – with cream, this is reminiscent of rice pudding
  • Almond with diced candied lemon peel is also good, and reminds me of Christmas cookies – both of these almond mixes have a very dessert-like feel
  • Vanilla with dried lavender (from my poor bush that perished in the record-breaking heat this summer) – this is the most calming of my teas, and particularly good for stressful days
  • Chestnut and caramel with a dusting of cardamom (this is good if you want something almost coffee-like; the chestnut on its own has an aftertaste I’m not especially fond of)
  • Rose, also with cardamom – I wasn’t sure if the rose tea could hold up to the cream, but I really enjoyed the light floral notes dancing over the earthy base.
  • Maple with candied orange peel, whole cloves, and cinnamon (this is so amazing. I have to make it at my mom’s house because the maple tea is one I gave her for Christmas, and while she doesn’t keep cream or Assam on hand, this is quite excellent without either.
  • Plain Assam with saffron and cardamom – this is like a mild chai, and really lets the saffron flavor shine, with a bit of sweetness from the cardamom.

Soon I’ll stop using the cream, as the weather gets warmer, and eventually I’ll tend towards iced tea instead of warm tea, and I’m looking forward to seeing what flavors will blend together well for those seasons – but for now, these are my favorites.

What areas of life do you enjoy experimenting and creating in? What are some of the small and simple things that bring you joy? And if any of you also love tea, what are some of your favorites?

Posted in book lists, book review

january’s books

This was a good reading month! I read nine books (which I’m pretty proud of ๐Ÿ™‚ ), five non-fiction and four fiction, including one re-read. If I had to pick a favorite… well, I’m not sure I’d be able to. At least five of them would be in the running. A summary and some of my favorite quotes from each book are included here, and if you decide to read any of them, please let me know what you think! Talking about a book with someone who’s also read it is just about as good as reading the book to begin with – and sometimes even better.

Continue reading “january’s books”
Posted in book lists, miscellaneous

new year, new books!

For the first time ever, I’ve started a pen-and-paper reading journal!

It all began when I was looking for Christmas presents for my kids and found these delightful small-squared graph paper journals with transparent covers – so whatever you draw on the first page would show through and be the cover image. I got a pack for Limerick for his numerical drawings and then added one for myself… and when I found a new pack of my favorite rainbow Signo pens in my stocking from my dad, it was a perfect match.

Continue reading “new year, new books!”
Posted in hikes

hiking: old fossil creek dam (bob bear trailhead)

For our anniversary a few months back, Paul and I went up to Payson and hiked Bob Bear Trail down to the Old Fossil Creek Dam in the Fossil Springs Wilderness. Neither of us had been there before, and both of us would gladly go back!

The Fossil Springs Recreation Area is a permit area; due to its popularity, it had been completely closed down several years ago, and reopened in limited capacity following a time of rehabilitation. Bob Bear Trailhead is one of the less popular parking spots in the area, and it was early in the summer, so we were still able to reserve a parking pass just a few days before our trip. While a portion of the parking lots can only be accessed from Camp Verde, the Bob Bear Trailhead can only be reached from Strawberry, which worked out well for us!

As we began, we were greeted by multiple warning signs. Combined with the trailhead map letting us know this was an 8 mile round trip with a 1500 foot elevation change… and the brochure from the forest service telling us this was one of the most strenuous hikes in all of Tonto National Forest… this was a bit alarming. But we’d both done longer hikes before, so we weren’t too concerned. In retrospect, however, I do recommend taking the warnings seriously. If you are not an experienced hiker, start with something else and work up to this one.

The majority of the hike is through a region of arid high desert – there is very little shade, the air is thin, the sun is hot, and the grade is steep. The views, however, are gorgeous.

When you finally get to the first crossing over Fossil Creek, at a shallow ford, you’ve finished the hardest part of the descent and have about a mile of cool, lush, riverside hiking left.

The trail is well-marked, from the cattle fence up in the mountains, to the rocky river crossing, through the undergrowth, and down to the dam itself. At some point along the river there will be option to continue to the spring or to the dam; while neither will take you to the famous Fossil Creek Waterfall, hiking to the dam will take you to a waterfall that is still quite spectacular.

We could hear the waterfall roaring down over the old dam before we reached it; the trail led us around a blackberry thicket to the top of the falls, and we clambered down the rocky canyon sides to the deep pool at its base. The river here was far wider than I’d imagined, and the sheer volume of water cascading over the dam was a stark contrast to the miles of desert we’d walked through to get here.

This is looking down at the falls from the top of the canyon around the pool; you can really only see the bottom half of it, as I brought the wrong camera lens and couldn’t zoom out to get the wider angle.

It had taken us about an hour and a half to hike the four miles down (I think it is really more than four, as the dam is a bit further down river from the spring where the trail map ends), and we spent about an hour just enjoying the water. I tried to swim close enough to the falls to touch the rock through the falling water, but it was far too deep to stand in and the current was strong – I had to swim as hard as I could just to make a small amount of headway, and was pushed about six feet back as soon as I stopped fighting against it. Paul got closer than I did, but even he had trouble dealing with the current.

It may be hard to see, but that is Paul’s head at the base of the falls! He told me it was hard to keep his head out of the water that close to the waterfall.

Outside of that area of turbulence, however, the pool was calm, clear, and cold. I was content to just sit and relax, enjoying the beauty (and the company!), and I could have stayed even longer there than we did. Of all the places I’ve been in Arizona, this is one of the more special and unique – and the cold water is a good reward for the long hike in the heat!

Hiking back out again, however, is when the trail really shows its difficulty. The steep grade of the trail, nothing more than an inconvenience for the knees on the way down, makes the hike up incredibly strenuous. As I didn’t yet have my POTS diagnosis, I wasn’t wearing a heart rate tracker – but there were quite a few times when I had to stop and rest because my heart felt like it was racing so fast it was almost fluttering. Paul wasn’t any better off, the elevation and exertion combining to completely exhaust him. We wore off the chill of the creek by the end of the first mile, and I ran out of water with at least a mile to go (fortunately Paul had extra, since his pack was bigger).

I do better with steep inclines than Paul, possibly because I’m lighter, but I honestly didn’t feel much better than this when we finally made it back up.

Despite the difficulty, I highly recommend this hike and would go back in a heartbeat if I had the chance. The waterfall at the bottom makes everything worth it. I would, however, carry more water…

How to get there: from Payson, drive 18 miles north on the US-87 to Strawberry, then turn left on to Fossil Creek Road. The Bob Bear Trail parking area will be on the right in about 5 miles.

Permits: Parking permits must be purchased in advance from the Bob Bear Trailhead page on Recreation.gov, April-September. The trails have had limited availability through the pandemic but were still open when I last checked.