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Matters of Faith #2

January 26, 2014

The following post is the second in a series I plan to share each Sunday for the next several weeks.

This week, for the first time, I went to church on a Saturday night. Becca’s family attends this church, but not this particular service; therefore I was going solo, which exceeds my comfort zone. I’ve now been to three of the four services that this church offers, all except the traditional, 11 a.m. Sunday service.

I’ve been to the 8:30 Sunday, which is rather traditional, and the one they attend, in-between the others on Sunday morning, which is a contemporary service. It’s what some call, perhaps derisively, “rock’n’roll church”; instead of a choir, there’s a band; instead of traditional hymns, they perform CCM songs with the words on video screens. There’s still a sermon, but it’s the condensed version. The Saturday night service shares the contemporary and casual vibe with a few of the traditional trappings and a somewhat calmer, more contemplative atmosphere. Each of these three services have aspects I like, but none feel like the perfect fit.

I don’t know yet if I want to make this my church. It’s close, and it feels fairly inviting; small enough that you could have a sense of community, but large enough to have multiple services and several study groups, outreach opportunities, etc. It’s an affiliated church, though (UMC) and I’ve really wanted to go somewhere non-denominational, as I feel denominational thinking has long been a plague upon American churches.

The other church I tried, since deciding to go back, is Presbyterian, but in name only, it seems. The pastor there works hard to integrate examples of similar concepts in other major religions and from philosophers. This church actively welcomed LGBT members, which is a huge plus to me. They also did things such as going out of the way not to use gendered language– even refusing to say “the Lord” because of its patriarchal connotations (they substitute “The Holy One”) and interpreting all scripture, it appeared, as metaphorical.

In the case of the Nativity, for example, he said there were no angels or singularly super-bright star in the sky, because otherwise everyone would have been there falling on their knees, and it wouldn’t be a “silent” night. He was saying that for the shepherds, hearing the angels sing was really an internal feeling, a calming of the spirit within they could feel because of their simple faith, and so on. But some of his statements seemed to be questioning the sanity of believing in the virgin birth. When I perceive extremes like that, I start to feel a bit uncomfortable.

Church is a great place to stand and sing and sit and listen, surrounded by like-minded people. But all churches I come across say their true purpose is to welcome the hurting and the lost. Can that be accomplished in a worship service? Sermons are essentially lectures, which are generally not the most effective teaching method. In the Gospels, in most cases, when Jesus was teaching, people asked him questions: the disciples, to clarify; local listeners, to believe; Pharisees, to bait. I know we can find such back-and-forth in a Bible study class, but why not in a worship service? If we all have a personal relationship with God, aren’t we all co-pastors?

I have a lot of questions, as I am sure most of us do. I want to discuss the scriptural support for various beliefs, but I also want to analyze beyond just quoting chapter and verse. Many of them are the God-paradox questions, i.e. if God is x, how can y be? I’m sure you can anticipate most of those questions, but I want to save them for next week. I also want to discourse with people who are willing to be open-minded about other religions and belief systems. I don’t necessarily believe that “all religions are true”– I can’t see how you could reconcile some of the divergences– but I do believe that there is truth and wisdom to be found in them all. I also believe that science is humans’ means of discovering the wonder of God’s design. To deny science is to deny the power God has endowed us with to inquire and discover, and there is no valid reason for science and religion to be incompatible. Again, that will be the subject of a future post. Have a blessed day, my friends.

Blogging Before Blogging

January 25, 2014

ImageI was unpacking a box of books and discovered this newspaper. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that it was dated from this week, 16 years ago. I think it’s the first time I was ever truly published. I had just recently signed on to be a sportswriter for the Signal, the Georgia State University campus newspaper. I primarily covered the women’s basketball team, but somehow got handed a column, which in my 22-year-old wisdom I entitled The Hotspot.” Just like that, I was emboldened with a newfound, if quite misguided, sense of self-importance: I get to write what I want! And people are going to read it! Good thing I got over that

Matters of Faith

January 19, 2014

The following post is the first in a series I plan to share each Sunday for the next several weeks.

This Sunday, I went back to church. I hadn’t been since Christmas Eve, but before that I’d gone several Sundays in a row; and before that, I’d never gone regularly in my adult life. We went inconsistently in my childhood, sometimes becoming regular for several months, alternating with absences lasting years. Neither of my parents were what you would call devout. In fact, I was never really clear what their beliefs really were; I know they were Christians ostensibly, and I’m confident both believed in God in some way. I just wish I could have come to understand what that way really was, respectively, for each of them. My dad passed away a decade ago. My mom, now 80, suffers from dementia. So I’m never going to know, in this lifetime anyway.

Image

Dedication page of said Bible.

When I was 10, my mom heard that our church was holding confirmation classes. I completed them and was confirmed and baptized. I’m glad it happened to me when I old enough to be aware and make the decision for myself. I felt something that moment that I believe was (is) the Holy Spirit. Everything was set for me to get integrated into youth group and become a committed young adult Christian. But something happened; the church was changing, in ways I didn’t really understand at the time. All I knew was that my parents didn’t want to go there anymore, and didn’t bother finding an alternative destination for our Sunday mornings. 

I held onto the Bible I was given upon confirmation, and around age 18, I decided to read it cover-to-cover. Much like this writing, I usually saved this reading for late at night and would often fall asleep before I could finish a book. I’m not sure how long it finally took me– something short of a year. I’m also not sure what I got out of that self-appointed project. I can say I succeeded in reading the entire Bible; many pages while I was half-conscious at best, and dozens of passages, even whole books, that I lacked proper context to interpret. 

For a long time, I had a compulsion to pray every single night. I had to, literally, get on my knees, and it had to be in private. There were times I had to do it in a bathroom just to meet these conditions. I always asked for forgiveness if in any way I was praying wrongly. During bad years when I drank nearly every night, I made a point of praying before the first sip. The habit persisted well into my married years, and then, one night, I just decided to stop. I guess I reached a point where I knew I didn’t have to prove anything to God. Perhaps more importantly, I didn’t feel like God had to prove anything to me.

In this series, I hope to relate my own spiritual journey, and explore matters of faith, religion, science, scripture, God, good versus evil…. I know I could fill a hundred Sundays with all my thoughts on these matters, but just as importantly, I hope you will comment upon your own thoughts and beliefs.

Dust in the Digital Wind

January 16, 2014

The middle day of January draws to its close. It would be disgustingly ordinary to try to start any habit on January 1. I’m going to be different– because I’m an individual! I’m an American! I’m a man! I’m 40!– Not yet, but close enough to feel its daunting shadow darken my path.

It’s been a week since the debacle of writing for 30 minutes straight without pause– or coherence. That post did register the milestone of being the 100th post on this site, which is all it should be remembered for. But I quickly increased that sum from 100 to 225 by importing the posts from Squirrelly Writer and my “jasonwrites” blog at Xanga.

In the process, I discovered the fate of Xanga. It was the home of my first blog, begun just over thirteen years ago. Through the interactions I had with other bloggers there, I made many friends, a select few I met “offline,” and one of whom I married (no longer, if you’re new here). It was great fun in its heyday, and had tremendous potential. But it never had the human resources behind it to solve the myriad issues that plagued it. It tried to be a blogging platform, it tried to be a social network, and it got eclipsed on both fronts by the sites we are all so familiar with now. It all but dwindled to nonexistence, and now has been reintroduced as a WordPress clone.

Somehow I feel compelled to write and share this little obituary. The name “Xanga” may be meaningless to anyone of you reading it, but I wouldn’t be here writing and blogging now without it. It set me on my blogging journey, and profoundly changed my life. It gave me a venue to find sympathetic fellow human beings with whom I could share the tumult of my life. Now I will continue to seek that venue and continue that journey right here.

30 for 30 at 3:00

January 10, 2014

So I am starting something new. Inspired by Juliana, I am going to write for 30 minutes a time, for 30 days. At 3:00 just to make it well-rounded. That part will change if I become gainfully employed again and cannot write at 3:00 but for now, why not? It’s not early in the morning and it’s not late at night. It’s smack dab in the middle of the day, and everybody else who does this kind of thing likes to do it early in the morning or late at night. So I’m going to be different. I like being different, so that I can feel unique, but the truth is we’re all unique individuals. It turned 3:01 shortly after I began to type so I’m going to 3:31 just to be official about it. I prefer going a little beyond the milestone to feel sure. I could have set a timer, but if I start at 3 then I end at 3:30. 3:00-3:30 for 30 for 30. I’m supposed to not pause and not worry about such things as splitting an infinitive, which I just did, or anything else about spelling and grammar, but that would be against my nature. I guess you’re allowed to self-correct as you go along but you just can’t go back and edit something you previously wrote. So you just keep on typing whatever comes to mind. Paragraphs are a good idea for the sake of reading so I will go start a new one.

Wow, that’s all of five minutes and only 25 to go, and I have yet to say anything of substance. I was thinking of doing this for 15 minutes twice a day or even 10 minutes thrice daily because I have ADD and asking me to do any one thing for 30 minutes straight is tantamount to torture. Rebecca has got me to riding the elliptical machine at the gym (is “riding” the right verb for that?) for over 90 minutes a day and it drives me crazy doing the same motion for even 30 minutes, but fortunately my aggravation with monotony can sometimes be offset by my stubbornness, and I like to prove I can do things, so that’s what I’m doing here as well. I know it’s not inspiring reading. I wish I could somehow compensate anyone who manages to read all this. Likely anyone who would do so is doing so… oh my gosh that is such bad syntax/structure/repetition but I can’t edit. Anyway I mean anyone who would do so is likely doing it out of a sense of obligation. That may be one or two people at the most in my case. It’s hot in here. See I get distracted by many, many things include environmental stimuli. It’s not like, baking, it’s just that it’s warmer enough for me to notice and I could move my hand to flip on a ceiling fan without taking both off the keyboard so let’s see… if… OK got it on, that wasn’t really cheating.

Did I mention above that I’m not gainfully employed? I quit my teaching job in November and since then I have worked scoring essay exams. On the state standardized tests, there are some in high school that students have to pass in order to graduate, and in English those tests comprise or include two responses to writing prompts. The students have 26 lines to write their response, though some use only one and others fill up every last bit of real estate available on the page. It was an interesting if often monotonous (there’s that word again) job. I feel like I need to put my glasses on but that’s only another excuse. So this job. I can’t reveal too much about it because we have to sign a confidentiality agreement, and if I ever want to work there again it would be bad news if I was found to have shared any specific details about the project or more especially from student responses. But there was some pretty hilarious stuff that I read and pretty much anyone in the room would read out loud when they came across something particularly funny. Some excerpts were just so pathetic they were hilarious. It makes me feel kind of bad for the students but you needed comic relief. It’s not like they’re ever going to know. I wonder sometimes what they must envision as to whom is reading these responses they write, since they know it’s not their teachers. I’ve been the student and I’ve been the teacher and all I ever knew is that the state sent them off… somewhere and there were people who were paid to read and score the written responses. And when you’re the teacher monitoring them as they take the test and write, you can’t say anything to them, even when you know they’re screwing it up royally, or just not trying. What’s got to be worst is the cases where the students can’t hand-write themselves and dictate their response to a scribe. The scribe has to write it down errors and all. For example there was one that was scribed where the student wrote a beautiful short story, fantasy genre, but it was an expository prompt so that doesn’t count.

Do you get to take a drink? I brought my iced tea over to my computer desk but I don’t know. It’s been 19 minutes. This is an eternity to write straight through. I am going to sail over the 1000-word mark soon and I still have one-third of the way to go. So this is jasonwrites.com which I had abandoned for quite some time after students discovered it. I set up a new blog called Squirrelly Writer to be more “anonymous” but a lot of the people who came there to read and comment knew who I was anyway. And now it’s a new year and I’m not teaching anymore and well, jasonwrites is the name I use on pretty much everything else online and I miss it. I just feel more connected to it, I’ve been using it as a screen moniker for 12 years I think. Ah there we go, over 100o words. Jasonwrites, I mean that’s pretty self-explanatory. It is not nearly as clever as Lady or Not…Here I Come but that blog name came to her in a dream and well what can you say about dreams? Plenty but it would make me pause and think and that’s not allowed right now. I did have a dream while I was working the scoring job that I was back in high school and was having to write essays myself but I couldn’t get mine done because people kept asking me for help with theirs, or maybe it was help scoring them; it was hazy in the dream, but I know I was getting frustrated and I asked the assistant principal if I could have a quiet place to work. She was the same assistant principal from the last school I worked at, the one I quit, even though that wasn’t a high school. I told her I needed to get done so I could check out and these were the classes I was going to be missing: 5th, 7th and 8th which I didn’t… oh see my mind locked for a second and so this sentence is not so coherent. This is really more than kind of hard, the whole 30 minutes straight thing. I had another dream recently that my mom died. It came after I had talked to her and my brother on Skype that evening. She recently turned 80 so it’s no stretch but still a disturbing dream. Wow, five minutes to go, and my mis-typings are increasing greatly. I guess you could be hyper-vigilant about this… that’s probably not the right word… I mean you could be really strict about the rules and say you can’t correct any of your typos along the way either, but I would like it to still be readable. My corrections have all come in the same word I was currently typing or the one immediately preceding it, so I think that’s OK. It’s going to have to be.

I’m not sure if this is that useful, I mean you’re supposed to get thoughts on a page and I suppose if you’re trying to be creative then that will get the juices flowing. This isn’t creative though, it’s just rambling. And truth is, I have some other posts in mind but they are going to be the kind that are carefully written, revised, and edited. I would have been upset if I didn’t try this at least once though. Good grief it’s going to get to 1500 words. Well Happy New Year everyone. While I am going to make myself write every day somehow I’m not sure if this is the best way to do it, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, and whatever other cliché you want to apply. I did take a moment to remember how to type “é” but it was less than a second. OK time is up. Until next time.

P.S. Links were added only after time was up. I did not edit anything else, except I put the ellipsis (…) into the Lady or Not…Here I Come title because Rebecca wouldn’t like it if I didn’t.

On This Day…

December 20, 2013
Just like today, minus a line or two.

Just like today, minus a line or two.

It was a bright, clear, mild Sunday morning. Thousands filed into a modest, rectangular, urban-gray building known as the GSU Sports Arena. Most were there to commemorate the end of a journey begun four or more years before.

I was among the number, capped and gowned in black, waiting for my full name to be read at near-auctioneer speed. Proceed in line, right hand shake the president’s hand, left hand receive from him what I’d worked all those years for. Some deride it as “just a piece of paper,” but I’d never say so. That morning in downtown Atlanta, 15 years ago today, I became a Bachelor of Arts. Today, I’m just a bachelor, doing precious little to practice my art.

I had just begun a job as a repographic engineer (that would be someone who makes photocopies all day) working at a large downtown law firm, making $8.00 an hour and feeling rich. After all, gas sold for a mere $0.699 a gallon that week. The future was bright; what could be better than having just earned a degree in English at the height of the dot-com boom?

Oh what a difference a decade and a half make. The end of the year and the beginning of a new one is always a reflective time, but thinking of this milestone today has me feeling even more introspective than usual. Coincidentally, I received perhaps my last-ever paycheck for teaching public school today. Seems I have much to write about…

Next time. For now, enjoy the #1 song in the USA the week I graduated:

The Worst Choice May Be Not Choosing At All

December 3, 2013

When you’re running headlong in lead boots across a minefield in pitch black darkness towards a wall called 40– that is the certainty, or lack thereof, I feel in my life right now.

As I alluded to in my last post, I made not one, but two life-altering decisions this year. In June I packed up all I could into a Hyundai hatchback and took off for Texas, never looking back. In the rear-view mirror were ten years in Colorado, divorce, estranged stepchildren, and the first seven years of a career in the classroom.

I was determined to re-invent my life. I planned to change career paths as part of that re-invention. Inevitably, I gave in to being lazy and complacent, and took a teaching job.

That was a mistake. There are few moments in my life I genuinely wish I could have back; this was one. Here I was, already burned out on teaching, even though a part of me will always feel it’s my calling. I’ve never been good at managing a classroom. I have been good at teaching, but that is only one element of the job. I was lucky to land in schools where you could spend most of your time teaching and not on behavior and discipline. Even there, the kids were starting to exasperate me. Middle school; need I say more?

My luck ran out. I walked into teaching 6th grade language arts at a Title I (which, essentially, means the majority of the students are living in poverty) school. New grade level, new school, new district, new state, and an entirely new socio-economic-cultural dynamic than I was accustomed to. I realize (sadly) that schools like this are more the norm than the sort I came from. I realize there are excellent teachers who have spent their entire careers in schools like this.

I’m not one of them.

Over the summer, I had run out of my anti-depressants, and I didn’t refill them because I decided I was “OK.” That, of course, was idiocy. Now I was here, feeling like a first-year teacher again, at a school working under assorted federal grants, trying to become approved as an IB middle years school. One of those grants involved incentives paid to teachers of up to $10,000 per year; the only catch being, you had to still be there the following November to collect.

I can handle this, right? A colleague who regularly stays until 9 or 10 p.m., whom I have to rely on for nearly everything as I don’t know the first thing about curriculum, or standards, or grading philosophy, etc. here. We took sub days to plan together and still never got ahead. She’s got a reputation for being infuriating to work with; the principal has a reputation for driving off teachers; the school has, well, not a desirable reputation even among those who work for the district. I’ve lost any real chance for control in my classroom by Labor Day. By early October I miss almost a week when I get sick, but to confess, I stretched out that week to avoid going back.

I want to get away, more than I’ve ever wanted to get away from any workplace in my life. I tell myself, you can’t, you can’t. But I’m crying. Crying in the morning when I pull myself out of bed. Crying when I was supposed to be eating lunch. The dread that came over me made me feel like I was going to vomit every time I brushed my teeth in the morning.

Weakness. It’s weakness and you’re a man and you can’t be weak. It’s not allowed. Suck it up. Late October I finally see the doctor and get back on antidepressants. I’m trying, but it’s too little, too late. Halloween, two boys in my first period class spring out of their seats and start throwing fists. I rush between them. I’ve never, ever done this before. Not outside, not in a hallway, much less in the middle of class. The boys get two days of after-school detention. No suspension at all. Fights happen all the time here. The very fact that statement can be made so dismissively disgusts me. Maybe I’m just not a realist. I have no desire to be in this case.

The next day, I’m meeting with the assistant principal. Due to my ineffective classroom management and “lack of engagement” in my teaching (the principal literally told me, after observing a lesson, that “if I were a student, I’d be stabbing my eyes with my pencil”), I’d been put on an assistance plan. I was a TINA– Teacher In Need of Assistance. That was certainly a first. I told her that I have to be honest. I’m thinking about quitting. Since it was a Friday, I’d think about it over the weekend.

I did. Monday, November 4th, I submitted my resignation form. Apparently Texas is pretty liberal about such matters; even though you’re technically under contract for the school year, if the principal approves your resignation, that’s all you need do. I agreed to work out the week (from what I was told, there were some in the history of that school who marched in on a Friday afternoon and said they wouldn’t be back Monday). Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and finally Friday, I was talking to myself in the mirror. One more day, one more day.

It struck me as funny that no one was mad at me (at least no one expressed it to me). Several people told me they understood. Everyone wished me well. Even the principal and AP assured me they’d give me a positive reference. A few were rightfully concerned that I didn’t have another job to go to. But I felt I was at my breaking point. I say that without any exaggeration. My emotions, my mind, neither were going to hold intact much longer, and of course that manifested itself in my physical health as well. I was headed either for a nervous breakdown or slamming a kid into a wall when I finally snapped, either of which would have taken the choice out of my hands.

I’m sad it came to that. I do feel weak. I do feel like I failed. I do feel scared of the future, of what the hell do I do now. At the same time, I have felt so utterly relieved these past four weeks. Somehow, I’m going to make this work.

There’s a lot I can’t control. One thing I can is my writing. I guess it hasn’t been much to speak of for a long time. I won’t let it go though. This post was entirely self-indulgent. I’ve been needing the catharsis of putting it out there. If you want to judge me, go right ahead. I thank you for taking the time; even if you feel inclined to call me an idiot, it still means you read.

Jodie Llewellyn

The ramblings of an aspiring YA author.

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