Paradigm Shift

I am so busy. I am so tired. My back hurts. I can’t keep my eyes open. I’m grumpy. I’m annoyed. I’m unhappy.

You know the feelings that you push down into the back of your consciousness? Just out of reach so that you can get through another day of to-dos and colour-coded calendar appointments.

When does busyness become distracting, even harmful? When does busyness become too much a part of your identity? I’ve realized that busyness has become my mode of life, just who I am. I’m the busy one – the one who is always on the go, the one who has so many places to be and so many people to see. That’s me. Always stressed out, always tired. The idea of prolonged stillness and quiet makes me uncomfortable. I see my schedule as a challenge to be consistently maximizing my productivity. And to be honest I like being that person. It’s comfortable. The practice of taking a break is hard for me.

After several nights of tears incurred by the familiar task of completing my term papers, I needed a reality check. I was burnt out.

Going into Lent this year, I was introduced to a psalm that I had never paid much attention to before. In Psalm 46 the command to “be still and know that I am God” firmly called out to me. And so I started to think about how I could practically do this in my life – to be still. During Lent I tried to take about 30 minutes before bed to read a psalm, write out my thoughts, and then to sit quietly. I was so surprised by how fruitful this actually was for me! But then of course my initial fervor gave way to my typical busyness and the habit died down.

To put this principle in practice another way, after many conversations with wise people, I decided to try to ‘take it easy’ this summer. I chose the job that offered less hours. I put some social commitments, mainly several weddings, ahead of a few employment opportunities. I decided against taking a summer course. I did all of this because I knew that if I was going to finish my degree well next year, I needed some rest. Not “oh I have 5 minutes between appointments” rest, but actual rest.

The job that I chose has a flexible schedule. This means some weeks I work every day from 7am to 4pm and other weeks I work four hours a day. It has been challenging adjusting to the rhythms of this job as it can be both fast paced and mind-numbingly slow all in the same day. I take the slower bus to work and I pull out my book there and back. Some evenings are fuller than others, but Nick and I have had a few days after work where we just ate dinner and stayed inside and read together or finally got to putting up those pictures we bought several weeks ago. I forgot what reading for fun was like. I always want to open up my book any chance I get. I’m enjoying the story and I can’t wait to see what happens next. I’m reading for no one but myself. There is no test, no quiz, nor any presentation. The freedom to go for a walk, take a nap, or tidy around the house – it’s all a little foreign to me. I have time to meet friends for coffee or have someone over for dinner and I will admit that it’s not entirely comfortable. I feel guilty for having space in my schedule, for not being on the go all the time.

In July I will run out of my hours at this job, and have nothing to do. No youth commitments, no job, and lots of time. This is a frightening prospect! This journey of slowing down is a strange adventure. And I have to ask myself whether this task of finding time to rest will truly become habit by the time school starts up again? Am I just being still because I don’t have much to do? How do you be still when there is a lot going on? I haven’t quite mastered that yet. Knowing myself, I feel like it may be more of a lifelong journey rather than a quick-fix summer plan.

I do know one thing, though, busyness cannot be who you are. It is not healthy and it suffocates joy out of your life. Our schedules shouldn’t be so full that we feel guilty taking a moment to ourselves, or that we can’t pencil in time to see family and close friends. We shouldn’t be so in our own calendar that we miss what’s happening around us. My common refrains of “oh but in a month I’ll have time to…” or “when this is done I’ll make sure I…” don’t cut it. Life is too short for those kinds of excuses.

Get off your smartphone and live your life!

Check out my article in the latest issue of Converge Magazine

I’m at a dinner with my friends. I momentarily glance up from my mushroom risotto, only to see everyone else glued to their phones. They’re busily picking the best filter to accompany the latest upload of the food they’re about to eat.

And then I wonder: if I enjoy a meal and none of my Insta followers see it — did it really happen?

Social media and smartphone technology are amazing, powerful, and helpful tools: I’m able to receive videos of my nephews taking their first steps, Facetime my mom from across the country, and search for hostels on the other side of the world. All while I’m sprawled across my living room couch.

Although technology continues to advance rapidly, the change in social interaction has been more of a gradual process. Technological progress has impacted users in ways of which we are just becoming aware. So how does this all affect the Christian community? How can we, as Christians, use social media and smartphone technology well?

We’re relational people, meant for deep and sacrificial relationships with one another. But the tricky thing with social media and smartphone technology is that what feels like social connectivity can sometimes look a lot like loneliness.

A 2013 study by Ethan Kross from the University of Michigan confirms that rather than fulfilling needs to be connected, Facebook use may undermine one’s feelings of well- being and satisfaction. The individuals in the study who checked Facebook constantly were more likely to feel unsatisfied with their own lives than those who didn’t check it as much.

To mask these feelings of loneliness, the anonymity of social media lets us present the best version of ourselves to our friends and followers. The more time we spend engaged with one another through our screens, the more inward-focused we become. We obsess over ourselves: our image, our connections, our time, and our comfort.

And so the endless scroll gives way to insidious comparisons: we measure our own worth against our friends’ public displays of affirmation. Hanna Krasnova, a researcher who led a study on the phenomenon, says that passively consuming all of this information creates envy through “comparison with a person or group who possess” (or at least seem to possess) “something we desire.” We’re jealous, because we want to be cared for in a real and meaningful way.

Although we crave love, we often settle for likes.

Frankly it’s embarrassing how long it can take me to choose a profile picture. And doubly embarrassing: how many times I check back to see what people are saying about it.

We’re constantly documenting what we’re doing, promoting ourselves with images, statements, and articles that we think are worthy of attention. But what about the life behind the perfectly positioned profile picture? Because we are made to be loved and to be known, we are also supposed to be vulnerable with one another, to be held accountable to one another. It’s so easy to both present and protect ourselves through our phones.

Social media has become our quick fix for a desire to be accepted and emotionally supported.

Despite being able to stay up-to-date, our constant access to a wide network of friends fools us into thinking that it’s good enough. Being a true friend takes time. Apps like Skype and Facetime are the closest thing we have to face-to-face interaction, and they can be used to maintain a deep friendship when loved ones are apart. But most often, we use a like on a photo or a re-tweet as substitute for actually talking to friends in person.

I’ve become really good at being passively engaged in friendships. I have forgotten (and am desperately trying to remember) what it’s like to be present with people, to offer them the dignity they deserve by simply paying attention.

Social media and phone interaction do not exempt us from spending time with our friends. But what does the word “friend” mean anymore? Is there any intimacy or investment involved?

As Christians we are called to participate in radically different kinds of relationships. This connection can only be found face-to-face.

Social media encourages a culture of constant access to a wide network of people and all-consuming entertainment. Our fear of missing out (FOMO) is fueled by social media; so we‘re consumed by our phones, catching up on all the fun things other people are doing. As Kristi Hedges says in her recent article in Forbes, FOMO leads to second- guessing the decisions we’ve made, ranging from our down time to what career we choose or when we decide to have kids. So here’s the irony: the fear of missing out means we’re actually missing out on our own tangible experiences.

My phone is my time-filler. Whenever there is a moment of free time, I jump to check my email, Facebook, or the news. I also pull out my phone in any social situation that starts to feel mildly uncomfortable. Real social interaction can be awkward and messy, but my phone has become a source of both comfort and control in these settings. And let’s be honest, we all like to control things. If we need space or alone-time, we can physically and symbolically create that distance.

Our society has created expectations of being constantly available, of being informed about the latest happenings online, and of establishing a presence on social media. This makes it that much more difficult to unplug. It’s hard to imagine that only 10 years ago people often left their homes without a phone, without any way of staying in touch.

The love we want to receive and the love we are supposed to offer is not a simple, accidental thing: it is an intentional and personal connection. Be present enough to engage with what God is putting before you. Be present enough to let things get awkward sometimes, to put yourself out there, to love those around you more boldly and more sacrificially than you are comfortable.

Because that’s what’s real. It’s messy, it’s a bit scary, but it’s community.

Body Hair

Why does this photo make us so uncomfortable? We live in a society that in just under one hundred years has made it seem completely ‘natural’ for women to be hairless. I can even remember the age that I started shaving my legs, and at the time I felt like it was some sort of right of passage into womanhood. When I shave my legs and armpits and feel the silky smooth softness of the skin underneath, I feel more feminine and more desirable. Is this a culturally conditioned notion? Once upon a time, women didn’t remove their leg and armpit hair. Is that crazy?

There has been another movement in the past 30 years for women to also remove their pubic hair. Now I know that some women truly do feel better with a little less hair down there, but this is not just a personal choice, it is now a growing expectation for all women (pushed forward in part by mainstream pornography). Waxing and laser hair removal are more popular than ever before, and many women go to great lengths to achieve an idealized ‘feminine’ body. We make it seem natural, but most of us women would never want anyone (especially men) to know that we actually have a little upper-lip hair or less-than-perfect eyebrows. We maintain this illusion of a ‘naturally’ hairless body to protect ourselves from being discovered as naturally hairy. Personal choice is personal choice, but a culture that has been able to normalize women’s hairlessness, making it seem not only natural but required, is concerning to me. It has become so normal that we don’t even realize that it’s not normal!

However, hair growth and masculinity often go hand-in-hand, and I know that many of my guy friends would love to grow a great beard. Although men in mass media advertising are usually shown with a bare chest, this has not yet become a masculine imperative. You can still see men represented with chest hair as well as beards and leg hair. However, I have never (and I mean never ever) seen a woman in advertising, TV, movies, or any other pop culture media with underarm hair, leg hair, or facial hair. As Tim Locley, editor of Maxim said, “the only place men want to see hair is on a woman’s head.” But do you know what this arrogant statement (as well as every hairless body part in the media I see) says to me? It tells me that a woman’s body is simply not acceptable the way it is. Women, on average, may naturally have less hair than men, on average, but we are by no means born hairless creatures. But societal pressures make it seem as though we aren’t women until we get rid of that hair, because body hair is unfeminine. See the backwards thinking? We actually only attain the status of ‘woman’ through bodily transformation. Women actually can face both social and psychological consequences if we don’t conform to the normative hairless body.

One reason many women give for removing their pubic hair, specifically, is that they feel more clean. Our society sanitizes everything. We never see sickness or old age because there’s a place for that, where those people go away to live in invisibility. Menstruation is soaked up by a tampon inside our bodies that we secretly remove and replace and go about our day as if we aren’t aching and bleeding. As women we’re supposed to be ‘clean’, and I have often received the message that my vagina, in particular, is dirty. The organ that allows women to bring life into this world, experience both pleasure and pain is weird, mysterious, and strange-looking. Pubic hair removal as well as genital reconstruction are more popular than ever before (although the former is much more common than the latter). But again, this is all to say that we aren’t good enough the way we are. In fact, our natural state is dirty.

On top of all of this, maintaining normative feminine beauty is a burden on my time and on my bank account. By perpetuating an unattainable and unnatural standard of beauty, the media maintains women as consumers. Advertising tells us that our natural bodies aren’t good enough, but also (ever so kindly) provides us with a quick and costly solution. Media misrepresentations stick us in a cycle of insecurity that keeps us coming back for more products to fix all of our ‘flaws’.

I often feel like there is this expectation for me to be something I’m not. I wish we lived in a society where it didn’t matter if I shaved. I know so many women who go to great lengths to maintain various degrees of hairlessness. And I know many of those women have stories of being ashamed or embarrassed because they naturally have hair on their arms, legs, face, etc. Truthfully, I just want to be able go about my day knowing that I am seen as a woman regardless of whether my legs are ‘hairy’ or not.

Going to an all-girls high school, we often left our legs unshaven because no one really cared. But as soon as the weekend came, we would all grab our Gillette Venus razors from the cupboard to “bring out the Goddess” in ourselves. I’ll usually let my hair grow throughout the week (more so out of laziness than any feminist protest) but I know that when date night rolls around I’ll be bringing out my razor again. I think many women shave for men. Women are ‘supposed to be’ soft and smooth and so if an admirer were to find us a different texture, that would be both anxiety-provoking and embarrassing.

Because hairlessness has been constructed as an everyday reality, just the way things are, it is hard to go against the grain and to let your body be what it is. Is this right? No, in my option it’s not, but it’s the way things are. Now we need to figure out how to change it.

Cited: “Gender and Body Hair: Constructing the Feminine Woman” by Toerien and Wilkinson (2003)

Pretty

This slam poet makes compelling art from her personal experiences of the institutionalized pressure to perform femininity. She highlights a major issue in Western society: that women’s bodies are seen as social currency – to be beautiful is to succeed. She questions normative femininity and brings a raw emotion to her struggle that is both […]

Proverbs 31: Why I love this woman.

Proverbs 31: 10-31

10 An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious thanjewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
15 She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17 She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
20 She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes bed coverings for herself;
her clothing isfine linen andpurple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.

I am inundated by so many different messages about who I am supposed to be as a woman. Be confident and sexy, but not too sexy. Don’t be a tease but don’t be a prude either. Be smart, but not too smart. Don’t be fat or chubby. Don’t have an eating disorder though either because that’s not sexy. Celebrate your curves. Cover yourself up, it’s too tempting for men… you never know what they might do. Be comfortable in your body. Be obsessed with your body. You are worth it. You will never be good enough.

These messages are confusing because as a Christian I believe that God made every woman in his own image and that he loves them all equally. This means that each person carries an inward beauty and love that shines through their every pore. This also means that our value is grounded in the way God continually cherishes us rather than whether our jeans are just a little too tight this week. God made our bodies beautifully and they are not something of which to be ashamed.

Proverbs 31: 10-31 is a poem about a “woman of worth”, a wife who is loved by her family and respected in her town. Thousands of years later, there are several reasons why I admire and respect the woman described in Proverbs 31. Little is said about the appearance of this woman. Her strength and beauty is proven by her character, her actions and her relationship with the ones she loves.

This woman has confidence in herself and in the work of her hands. She is resourceful, thoughtful and hardworking. She is loving, caring and generous. She speaks wisdom and teaches kindness.

She smiles and laughs at the unknown (something I am continuously working on). She makes her arms strong and dresses herself in strength and dignity. Note that this says nothing of her actual apparel, but the traits that she clothes herself in. She does household chores as well as business and agricultural work and provides for her family and her neighbours.

She is respected by her children as well as praised and trusted by her husband. She is precious to her husband and she seeks to serve him. She fears God.The passage ends saying that she should be honoured and praised for her work.

Wow. What a woman! She seams unreal, but that’s because she is. This proverb is a mother talking to her son about the ideal woman he should find to marry. Can we achieve this? If we’re not careful we may let this lengthy list shame us. It seems impossible to even come close, but I don’t think that’s quite the point.

As Christian women, we are not exempt from the media’s influence, and sometimes it actually feels more difficult because ‘modesty’ messages from the church are so diligently impressed upon us from girlhood. So should we see this proverb as another ideal that we can’t reach? Something else to make us feel further unworthy and inadequate?

The proverb mentions that this woman has strong arms and clothes herself in dignity. Other than that, there is no mention of her body, her clothing, or any kind of physical attractiveness. It seems as though nowadays women are always described in terms of their appearance and their sexual prowess. I can tell this woman is beautiful but I don’t actually know anything about what she looks like. And most importantly, she fears the Lord.

I’m not shamed by this section from Proverbs, I am inspired. Inspired to know that I can be loved and be beautiful and it doesn’t all depend on what dress size I am. I am encouraged by this capable and godly woman to serve others and bless the ones that I love with the gifts God has given me.

A good place to start…

I have so much to say, and yet it’s hard to say it. I think Caroline Heldman does a good job of starting me off. If you haven’t seen her TED talk yet, please check out the link below (then everything I write will make a lot more sense)!

I’d like to cover many different topics in this space, but first it’s probably a good idea to lay some ground work. I am a Christian woman who studies in the Institute of Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at UBC. I am also a girlfriend, a sister, a daughter, and an aunt (a title I am particularly proud of, if you know me at all or have seen my Instagram).  I firmly believe in gender equality, but I also believe that our culture profits off of sexual objectification and that it encourages us to misuse each other’s bodies for our own self-gratification. I want to make it clear that I believe humans have sinful hearts, and our sinfulness is the reason behind our broken gender relations. I also believe that Jesus is the answer to our broken world. It is only through His radical love that we can see light in the consuming darkness of relational brokenness. I believe that the Bible can tell us so much about how we should navigate through these tough issues. One of the best things Caroline highlights is how our sex-centred culture affects and is perpetrated by both men and women. The brokenness cannot be addressed if we are not all on the same team. Although it is portrayed often that men are the problem and women are the victims, we actually both end up reinforcing harmful gender roles and stereotypes.

With that all said, let’s talk about this video a little bit…

The second wave feminist movement emerged as a backlash to dominating Western discourses that had both oppressed and devalued women’s sexuality for a long time. Somehow what has morphed from the activists’ cries for equality and sexual agency is the idea that sexual objectification is empowering. We look at sexy advertisements of women wearing next to nothing in a sexually suggestive pose selling a car and see this as sexual agency. We see this as a woman in control of her sexuality. This idea that women want to be objectified is perpetuated through our media as well as through pornography. Women really ‘want it’, you just have to convince them properly. Our society conditions men, especially, to see women as parts and to evaluate women based on their potential to be a good sexual partner. I wish we lived in a community where we encouraged men to value women for more than their physical appearance, where we showed women that they are worth more than their body, and where we took principles of equality and respect into action. Instead, we live in a society that nurtures and cultivates lust, chopping up women (and men more and more frequently) into sexualized body parts.

All of the media’s unrealistic representations of how women are supposed to look, dress, act, sexually submit, etc. make me feel like I have no sexual agency. I feel like I can’t go for a run by the beach or walk around on campus without somebody mistaking my lulu-lemon crops (or literally anything I wear, or maybe just the fact that I’m a woman) for an invitation to fantasize about and objectify me. The clothing I wear, the shape of my body, the way I walk… all of these things are not admission to a free-for-all. I did not consent to being made into a sexual object simply by being alive. Maybe it’s counter-cultural, but I want to be able to choose when I want to be perceived sexually and when I do not.

Now I guess I started to rant there… I tend to do that. Sorry. But the point I’m trying to make is important: we are told a lot of lies about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman by the media, by pornography, and by other cultural norms. We uncritically consume these dangerous messages and then reinforce them in the way we interact with one another. Sexuality, although very important, isn’t all that we are. Our bodies are not meant to be constantly consumed and understood through a sexual lens. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?… You are not your own for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” -1 Corinthians 6:19-20. We are not our own to do whatever with, whenever we please. We are meant to glorify God in the way we speak, act, dress, think, and see the world. This means seeing one another (and our bodies) as temples of the Holy Spirit, made in the image of God, to glorify Him. Not ourselves, but Him.

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Here are some good articles to check out:

http://natepyle.com/seeing-a-woman/

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/joy-goh-mah/objectification-women-sexy-pictures_b_3403251.html?utm_hp_ref=uk