Have a liberated holiday!

About this time every year, I suffer a mini nervous breakdown in the baking aisle of Wal Mart.

It goes something like this: Upon discovering that the only instant pie filling left on the shelves is banana-flavored, I launch into a profanity-laced tirade against JELL-O franchise, followed by a stifled sob into my shopping list, followed by a public declaration of outrage regarding the inequitable burden of being a woman during the holidays.

There’s just too much to buy, too much to cook, and too much football to miss while trying to get it all done, I tell the little old lady sifting through spices. Why are the stores packed with women and not men? Why must women be in charge of all the holiday preparations? Whatever happened to women’s liberation?

After the breakdown, I call my mother and suggest that we ditch Thanksgiving dinner altogether, order a pizza, and donate the difference to the local food bank.

“That’s obscene,” she says. (She actually uses the word “obscene.”) “If you want to donate, go right ahead. But we’re doing Thanksgiving with all the trimmings whether you want to or not, just like we do every year.”

Just like we do every year.

And so, just like every year, I dig out the recipes from generations past and get to work.

There are recipes from my maternal grandmother, who grew up in rural Appalachia in the wake of the Depression.  The daughter of a farmer, she learned to cook on a wood-burning stove.  Thanksgiving guests included uncles who worked in the nearby coal mines, grandfathers who remembered fighting for the Confederacy, and aunts who were honest-to-goodness relatives of the American hero Daniel Boone. The first in her family to go to college, she became a gifted schoolteacher. For years, Grandma’s inheritance was withheld by her brother, who claimed that land traditionally went to the male heirs alone. Grandma got herself a good lawyer, and in October was liberated from years of sexism to claim a little hill in North Carolina as her own.

There are recipes from my paternal grandmother, an excellent cook, who liked to serve lamb and duck on weeknights.  Born of Lithuanian immigrants, she rejected her Catholic background and converted to Protestantism, writing a letter to the Pope explaining why. She overcame alcoholism and alienation from her family to become an important member of her church and community. Strong-willed and smart, she held her own in political debates with my grandfather. She passed away on Thanksgiving Day a few years ago. There are wind chimes hanging from the trees around her grave.

Of course, most of the recipes are from my mother, whose handwriting on the gravy-stained note cards sets my mind at ease. Mom grew up Independent Baptist, and as a girl, was forbidden from dancing and going to movies and marching for civil rights. As a kid, she spent Saturday mornings scrubbing toilets and ironing clothes. Determined to break the cycle of legalism, Mom ran a home filled with compassion and grace, with very few chores, no forced church attendance, and special concern for the least of these. She and my father honeymooned in Mexico, rode donkeys through the Grand Canyon, and shot photos of grizzlies in Yellowstone. They were in the stands during the great Thanksgiving Day Dallas Cowboys game of 1976, when backup quarterback Clint Longley threw the game-winning 50-yarder to Drew Pearson. When they got home from the game, they found that their turkey (and most of their kitchen cabinets) had caught fire while they were away. Mom says it was totally worth it.

And so, just like every year, I take a pause from my rant about women’s liberation to remember the women who came before me—women who probably cried in grocery stores, swore at meat thermometers, and struggled through shopping lists, all to preserve our seemingly insignificant traditions surrounding gravy recipes and turkey garnishes. It’s the only time of year when I feel a strong, palpable connection to all of them at the same time.

Perhaps this is why I keep going, even after the annual breakdown. Perhaps it’s why I insist on making strawberry salad every year, even though I know Dan secretly doesn’t care for it. Perhaps it’s why women all over the country keep cooking and cleaning and hosting and shopping and sharing and giving, on top of all the additional opportunities and responsibilities we take on every day.

We don’t want to forget how far we’ve come in liberating ourselves in the important things.

***

Ladies, how do you cope with all the holiday preparations? What traditions do you strive to preserve? I actually get a lot of help from Dan, so I can't complain...well, I can...but I probably shouldn't. :-)

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So My Book Might Have a Warning Label on It

The good news: I’ve finished writing my book.  Well, pretty much. I still have some holes to fill in and some significant edits to make before sending it to the publisher on April 1, but the bulk of it is done. I'm looking forward to the next step (collaborating with my editor to make it even better) as well as losing the ten pounds I've gained over the last month working until 3 a.m. with only a one-pound bag of animal crackers to keep me company.

The bad news:  Once published, my book may very well end up with a warning label on it.  That’s because LifeWay Christian Stores recently announced a decision to place stickers that say “Read With Discernment” on books from authors like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Donald Miller.

Apparently, if a book contains anything that LifeWay (part of the Southern Baptist Convention) does not consider "consistent with historical evangelical theology," it gets a label. It also gets a label if it includes any salacious details about sex, (as in Rob Bell’s excellent book, Sex God) or, I don’t know, smoking a pipe and voting for a democrat (as in Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz).

Looks to me like they are just going after the Emerging Church. You can read their explanation here.

Thankfully, LifeWay has taken quite a bit of heat from writers and agents in the industry, which is encouraging. I guess we're all just wondering why LifeWay thinks that some books should be readwithout discernment. 

Honestly, if I had the money, I’d go into a LifeWay store right now and buy up all the books that said “Read With Discernment” on them. Seems to me that those are the only ones worth reading!

Anyway, I had to chuckle. Having just finished writing over 50,000 words about my own faith experience, (much of which does not fit the Baptist mold), I can’t help but wonder if I’ll earn the “Read With Discernment” sticker myself. 

Damn, I hope I do.  : )

Transient

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Facebook Quizzes: What Kind of Narcissist Are You?

Perhaps nothing speaks better to the self-absorbed temperament of young Americans than the rise of the introspective quiz. These cotton-candy versions of  Myers-Briggs and Taylor-Johnson first appeared in teen magazines, as demand for scientific approaches for  determining one’s fashion sense and flirting style surged.  As fellow Facebookers may have noticed, this 10-question approach for determining one’s place in the world has reached an all-time high with the advent of social networking sites, where a participant can now confidently proclaim to her 314 closest friends that if she were a fruit, she would be a kiwi. 

Every day, I get dozens of quiz requests. My inbox is cluttered with questions like “Which Disney princess are you?” “Who were you in a past life?” “What is your best quality?” “Are you a pirate, ninja, or cowboy?” 

(Note: Every quiz to which I refer in this post actually appears on Facebook. I’m not making these up…And if you’re interested, I think I’d be a ninja.) 

The quizzes really run the gamut. From the shameless marketing of “How much do you love Coca-Cola?” to the existential subtlety of “How evil are you?” to the ironic “Which common stereotype do you fit?” Facebook quizzes invite participants to spend countless hours pondering the intricate nature of themselves.

I mean, who would have thought to ever ask themselves, “which Disney song best reflects my life right now?” or “what weapon best suites my personality?” You never know when someone might need to know. It’s a whole new world out there these days…shining, shimmering, splendid…so you want to be prepared. 

Of course, a few of these quizzes leave me scratching my head. For example: “Are you a blonde or brunette?” It seems to me that if you have to take a quiz to figure that out, you’re probably a blonde. 

What’s fantastic about these quizzes is that after you’ve finished taking them, they congratulate you for your results. Answer a few short questions to determine “what kind of furniture are you,” and within minutes you get a joyous response: “Congratulations! You are a lamp! You're a warm and friendly person who's probably very sociable but probably doesn't go out at night.” Some quizzes will even tell you with whom you are compatible. I’m guessing for the lamp, it’s a night stand. 

Having already taken scientifically legitimate personality tests to pigeon-hole myself, I always thought these silly quizzes were beneath me…that is until the “Which Jane Austen Heroine are You?” quiz appeared in my inbox. 

It was just too tempting. 

You see, I love Jane Austen stories. I’ve read every book, seen every movie, and been known to name a stuffed animal or two after Mr. Darcy. As a student of literature, I’d like to say that it is Austen’s subtle satire, masterful character development, and nuanced prose that draws me to her romantic comedies…but at the end of the day, it’s probably just the girly thrill of seeing who ends up marrying whom. 

I just couldn’t resist the urge to confirm my already deeply-held belief that I am the physical incarnation of Austen’s all-time greatest heroine, Elizabeth Bennett. 

However, as I worked my way through the 10-question- quiz, I found myself manipulating the system a bit. For example, the quiz asked me to identify a quote that best reflects my attitude about life right now. If I were to be honest, I would probably check the box next to “life became a quick succession of busy nothings.” But I knew that was a quote from Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, and so instead I checked the box next to “I am determined that nothing but the deepest love could ever induce me into matrimony,” knowing it was a quote from Elizabeth. 

Sure enough, when I finished taking the quiz I got the answer I was looking for. 

“Congruatlations!” it said. “You are Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice! You are memorable, lovely and clever, the life of the party... you always have the perfect thing to say in every situation. Your honesty, virtue, and lively wit enable you to rise above the nonsense and bad behavior that pervade your money-seeking and often spiteful society. Nevertheless, your sharp tongue and tendency to make hasty judgments often lead you astray... if not careful, you can display qualities that you despise - pride and prejudice. But if you can get past negative first impressions, your life and love story will be epic!!!”

So true! How did it know?!

So, let’s hear it for stupid Facebook quizzes! Thanks to them, millions of people are spending countless hours congratulating themselves for having Agnelina Jolie’s worldview, Princess Jasmine’s personality, and Colonel Sanders’ fashion sense. Boy, are they narcissists! (Sorry. That’s just my Elizabeth-Bennett-style prejudice coming through.)

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Maturing in Ape Village: Why I Need Your Help With A Title

Sometimes publishers like to see a alternate titles for a book before signing off on it, so I’ve been rummaging my brain for ideas that might adequately replace “Evolving in Monkey Town.” After consulting the thesaurus, my husband Dan jokingly suggested “Maturing in Ape Village.” So, to put it mildly, I need some help!

At about 2 a.m. this morning, after I’d exhausted poor Emily Dickinson in search of a smart-sounding poetic reference, I thought, who better to ask than the folks who read my blog. They are smart people. They are in-tune with my thoughts and feelings. They apparently have nothing better to do. (I kid.) 

If you haven’t already, feel free to read over the summary in the “Rachel’s Book” section of the site. (Shameless promotion is also something publishers like to see.) 

I want a title that communicates: 

1) The spiritual journey from certainty to faith…from knowing the answers to asking the questions…from fundamentalism to theological curiosity…etc.

2) The importance of asking questions/ the troubling experience of doubt

3)  A reference to fundamentalism and/or the apologetics-driven Christian sub-culture.

4) Evolution as a metaphor for the ability of believers (both collectively and individually) to adapt to cultural change.

At its heart, the book is a spiritual memoir, so the title needs to have the ring of other spiritual memoirs. I think of “Traveling Mercies,” “Blue Like Jazz,” “Girl Meets God,” etc.  Here are some ideas I’ve jotted down for the title and subtitle: 

- The Secret Skeptic: When A Girl Who Knew All the Answers Started Asking Questions

- Somewhere In Between: The Journey from Certainty to Faith 

- Totally Uncommitted: A Fundamentalist’s Journey from Certainty through Doubt to  Faith  (based on Herbert Butterfield’s quote “Hold to Christ, and for the rest be totally uncommitted”) 

- Thumper: Confessions of a Recovering Bible-Beater  (based on a former nickname of mine) 

- Take No Bag for the Journey: Leaving Certainty Behind on the Path to Spiritual Authenticity (based on Matthew 10:10) 

- Well Roars the Storm: Rejecting Certainty, Surviving Doubt, Embracing Faith (based on Tennyson’s “In Memoriam”)

- A Fitter Faith: Surviving Doubt, Adapting to Change, Evolving into a New Creation 

- Yes. No. Maybe. An Unfinished Journey from Certainty through Doubt to Faith

Let me know if you have any other ideas. I’m feeling a bit desperate, probably over-thinking this. If you come up with the title that sticks I’ll acknowledge you in the “Special Thanks” section….You’ll be famous among the fifteen people who buy the book…and my mom, who will have bought 10,000 copies for herself. 

Thanks!

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Cable news is destrying America...I know because I watch it 24/7

So after four years of living with super-basic cable, Dan and I finally broke down and got satellite TV. Now instead of flipping through just seven stations of absolutely nothing, we can flip through 100 stations of absolutely nothing. We’re so excited! 
    
Ironically, the dish arrived just a few weeks after I indulged in a 30-minute rant with my friends about the evils of cable news. With so much air-time to fill, pundits and commentators on networks like Fox News and MSNBC spend hours hashing and re-hashing the day’s political news to the point that the lines between opinion and objective reporting are blurred, if not unabashedly ignored. As a result, there’s a lot of preaching to the choir going on over the airwaves these days. When you can simply tune in to whichever “reporter” best reflects your political views, you only sink deeper and deeper into your already held beliefs, which is never good for productive and enlightening dialog. 

And yet I feel inexplicably drawn to the 24/7 coverage of the 2008 election. I rationalize my habit by telling myself that, as a responsible citizen, I should make sure I am an informed voter. (Too bad I’ve already made up my mind!) Maybe it’s the excitement of the sharp point-counterpoint debates of the commentators, or perhaps the flashing “breaking news” graphics that pop up with every little dip in Obama’s poll numbers or every slip of the stock market, or perhaps it’s the crawling news scroll that announces everything from Lindsey Lohan’s most recent relapse to the report of another soldier’s death in Iraq. I feel like I’m getting addicted to fast food for the brain. 

However, today I had a moment of hope...a small serving of veggies among a day of trans-fatty analysis and partially hydroginated opinion polls. Flipping through my myriad of stations, I landed on good ole’ Georgia Public Broadcasting, where Jim Lehr was reporting the evening  news. The reports were long and somewhat academic. No bright graphics, no sound effects, and no spin. Lehr’s guests, who were experts on foreign relations and the economy, were actually  allowed to finish their sentences. It was refreshing. It was peaceful. It was a bit boring. 

So while it’s nice to know that I can check the day’s headlines whenever I want with the click of a remote control, it’s also nice to know that there’s still some actual reporting going on out there…even though it’s on a station we already had.

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