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Of Those Who Have My Admiration and Respect: Leah Vincent

This is the part of my blog where I talk about people who are not only great friends but people of the highest caliber. I write about them because they deserve to be honored and because it reminds me of the type of person I aspire to be.


Leah’s friendship isn’t one that I pursued on purpose. It was one of those happy surprises – one that you don’t expect but end up cherishing the most. I admired Leah from afar long before we became friends. But when we finally had the opportunity to spend time together, I discovered so much more about Leah that makes her the wonderfully strong and compassionate person she is.

There is one word beyond all others that best describes Leah: FIERCE. A force to be reckoned with, if there are two sides to an issue, I never want to be on the side opposite Leah. If she decides to do something, the world will stop spinning before she fails to accomplish it. As someone who is chronically indecisive and occasionally insecure, I marvel at Leah’s confidence and drive.

Leah took some time off from her career to be the greatest mom in the world to her 3 growing toddlers. Now that they’re all in school, she’s taken Kirksville by storm as the greatest new real estate agent in the biz. But Leah could do whatever she wanted – her charisma and determination would make her successful in any venture she chose to pursue.

Leah’s tough personality is balanced by her compassionate heart. She’s a woman who does it all but doesn’t forget the important things in the middle of it: her family and those close to her. Whether she’s taking calls late in the evening from real estate clients or volunteering in her kids’ classrooms, somehow she juggles all of the moving parts of her family and it’s pretty incredible to witness. From birthday parties to vacations, she is diligent about creating and capturing memories for her kids. She shuffles them to soccer, dance, gymnastics, softball, basketball, music lessons, etc. and while it can be a lot, the whole point is to give them opportunities so they can figure out who they want to be. But all of those activities don’t eliminate time spent hanging out at home, relaxing, and enjoying each others company. The easiest way to say it: Leah’s incredible mothering skills = #momgoals. :)

Leah’s service and compassion doesn’t end with her family.  She cares deeply about all of those around her. I am one of countless recipients of a meal thoughtfully prepared and delivered in a time of need. While she definitely doesn’t need extra things to keep her busy, she still finds time to be a blessing to others.

I joked recently that Leah was my biggest fan. There are certain things that I’m involved in and like most people, I often question my ability and relevance. Leah’s encouragement makes me feel like the greatest singer this side of the Mississippi. That’s just a random phrase, but really, her encouragement has pushed me to step out of my comfort zone in ways that have been rewarding and interesting.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about some of the less serious aspects of Leah’s personality. Leah knows how to have a good time. She’s the best at it, actually. While she’s a pro at planning parties and organizing elaborate events, all you really need to have fun with Leah is some time and margaritas. If you’re really ambitious and brave, join her for a shopping trip. I think she’s secretly training for the world cup of shopping. Her family and friends like to joke that it’s an athletic event to shop with her, and maybe she went easy on me, but I’ve never had more fun shopping than I did with Leah.

Leah’s presence in my life is something that I will always treasure. And by all means, call her if you want to buy or sell a house!

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Patriarchy, Policing Myself, and Queen Bey

Today I read an article from the Center for Biblical Equality about how patriarchy has taught women to police themselves and their rhetoric. Lord. Do you ever read something that just grips you… you identify with it so much that you wonder if someone is watching you. Your heart speeds up as you feel it in your gut – it’s pulling at you. This was not the most researched or strongly written article I’ve ever read, yet it made me cry at my desk in my office in the middle of the morning. I felt a little ridiculous, but I knew that what I was reading was something that was both completely true for me and completely wrong.

The highlights:

“Assertive, headstrong, and strong-willed are the “dirty” words used to undermine female strength and independence. … Strong women often regard their very natures as sinful and gospel-contrary because of patriarchal conditioning. … Patriarchal conditioning makes women enemies of themselves. Studies show that women qualify and apologize for their opinions where men assert and argue. … The self-questioning speaking patterns of women are not an accident and neither are they the product of a more passive, agreeable female nature. They exist because patriarchy cultivates uncertainty, other-appeasement, and self-doubt in women. … Nobody wants to be the headstrong woman these days. …

Even when I’m confident, I verbally undermine my ideas, opinions, and testimony. In the name of not appearing too aggressive, I tread softly and sit small. I surrender, capitulate, and backtrack. But often, no one tells me to defer to men. I undermine myself… I often pair my words with concessions and qualifications to counter any perceived aggression. I soothe egos and preemptively critique myself so I don’t appear bossy or controlling.”

I’m wondering if an unconscious version of myself wrote that second paragraph and then had it published under a pseudonym. Seriously. I do this to myself and I hate it. I hate that I’m more concerned with approval than I am with saying/doing what I feel is right. I hate that I’m more concerned with being likeable than I am with being known for who I am. I hate that I hide parts of myself to be more acceptable to those around me.

Depending on your exposure to media and the type of media you consume, you may or may not have heard about Beyonce’s new album, Lemonade. You don’t have to like Beyonce and I don’t need to  know the reasons you don’t. There may be plenty of valid reasons to disapprove of her. But this is a woman who has stopped policing herself. And for that single reason, I admire her. Not only is she a woman but she is a minority. She is not the voice that society wants to hear. The voices of those like her have been minimized and ignored. And yet she speaks. She tells her story and then she lets the world do with it as they choose. They speculate about her marriage and her religion. They analyze and criticize her narrative. But she just lets it be. She is who she is. She said what she said. And that’s enough.

I don’t blame anyone for the way that I edit myself. I think my personality made me extra susceptible to the conditioning referred to in the article. But I have to be responsible for myself. I decide to be who I want to be. I’m a grown ass woman. So it’s time to be accountable to myself. Why can’t I get over this? It’s hard work, people. Being courageous enough to trust yourself, to not care when your critics disapprove of you, to not be the most likeable person in the room… That’s a courage I have not yet fully grasped. But I want to fight for it.

 

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Feminism: My Beginnings

Growing up, even into young adulthood, there were certain parts of scripture that I ignored. I read them, briefly, felt uncomfortable and confused, then quickly moved on. It’s been a bad habit my entire life – avoiding difficult situations, choosing to be naive or ignorant about something that might cause problems. I prefer peace.

But there came a time, as is almost always guaranteed, when avoidance was no longer an option. Instead of those passages hiding away in the corners of untouched pages, they were put on billboards in flashing lights right in front of my face. And they injured me.

It took me longer than it should have to accept that there actually was a problem, but I have an achilles heel. Nothing has ever been more motivating to me than someone telling me that I can’t do something. Usually it has to do with a physical feat or something to be built or fixed. This time, it was different… “You can’t. Because you’re female. You’re a woman. Your abilities and qualifications do not matter in light of your gender. Satisfy yourself with other things because you have no place where you desire to be.”

And there they were. The passages that I pretended didn’t exist, that I pretended didn’t offend me, that I knew were a mistake, were now unavoidable.

For months I wrestled. I didn’t want to be someone who compromised the teaching of scripture to appease a personal deficiency. I’d been told just how certainly and directly scripture addressed the issue of women, especially in regards to their submission to men. I’ve realized how manipulative it is (especially for a spiritual leader) to say, “Scripture clearly says _______.” Even if you believe that, it’s not helpful. What I wish we said in churches and pulpits is this, “We read that passage of scripture. What does it mean? Let’s figure it out together. Even if we decide that it means different things, we will prove that we are his disciples by how we love each other.

There are tools to use when it comes to interpreting a text. As an English major, I learned all sorts of strategies and types of literary criticism in order to interpret literature. There are so many considerations – the author’s background and motivation, the historical context, the intended audience. There are different types of lenses to use – psychoanalysis, deconstruction, marxism, reader response, queer theory. The list goes on. Why do we do so much work to understand a piece of literature, but do so little to understand scripture? Obviously, the average person does NOT apply a microscope to literature in this way, only students of literature. But who, if not Christians, should be students of scripture? Before anyone even dares to say, “scripture clearly says,” there should be no stone left unturned and no theory left unanswered on that particular passage.

I can’t say that about my interpretation of scriptures that are often used to subjugate women into “complementarian” roles. But I can say that I quit hiding from those passages (even if it wasn’t voluntarily). I’ve confronted them, read about them from every angle, discussed them unceasingly (sorry friends) and come to a place where I’m at peace with what scripture says about me as a woman and God’s disposition towards me. I have settled, but I still remain open. Many posts will follow as I finally hash out in writing the process and conclusions. For now, I’ll say that I believe God intends for all people to be valued and empowered to live fully and productively in his community.

This is a topic that has been discussed for centuries. Many have written insightful articles and books that address every aspect of gender roles. I doubt that I can add anything to the discussion. That’s not my goal. Writing is a good exercise for me and reward enough in itself. I make it public so that maybe someone in my circle will be challenged to reconsider a position they haven’t fully vetted, empowered to confront a topic they’ve been avoiding, or validated where they feel insecure. May I always remain humble enough to recognize my fallibility and let’s never close the discussion.   The most important thing when we come to the table is to remember that love is our highest priority.

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Of Those Who Have My Admiration and Respect: Tony Bedora

This is the part of my blog where I talk about people who are not only great friends but people of the highest caliber. I write about them because they deserve to be honored and because it reminds me of the type of person I aspire to be.


I have known Tony for almost 4 years. His enduring friendship, along with the friendship of several others, are the redemption of what was otherwise a very painful situation. I always think of it as Romans 8:28 happening in real life – working out all things. I don’t believe God wills awful things, but I do believe he redeems them. It’s not possible to have enough gratitude for something like that.

Tony and I got to know each other through the accelerated method: turmoil. It’s the best way to get to know someone if you really want to know them. Don’t get me wrong, there were wonderful experiences involved, too. We’ve had a lot of fun. But struggle is where you learn who someone is whether you want to know or not. It’s also where a friendship is either forged into permanency or not.

During difficult times, Tony is the best conversation partner because he’s the best listener I’ve ever known. People often describe other people as great listeners because they are silent long enough for you to speak your mind. But Tony does more than give you space to talk. He eliminates any preconceived notion of who you are or what you’re going to say. THEN he listens, actively seeking to understand what you’re thinking so he can respond accordingly. It’s simple but extraordinary. Listening well sets the stage for responding well. Tony is just as thoughtful with his responses as he is while listening.  He knows that when you’re processing difficult things a good response is not one that evaluates the accuracy of your statements or answers all of your questions. I’m actually not entirely certain how he does it, but I always walk away from conversations with Tony feeling confident and at ease. He has helped me set aside fear and intimidation by valuing who I am. I owe a lot of growth and change to Tony’s refined conversation skills.  It’s pretty much my favorite thing about him.

People have said that I can be too impressionable. They’re right. But hopefully they’re less right these days because I’ve been doing my best to follow Tony’s example. Tony can be who he is without being around people who are exactly like him. He peacefully and gracefully maintains his identity and beliefs even when those he cares about may disagree all while maintaining strong, healthy relationships. Not that he isn’t open to other ideas or deep conversation (see paragraph above). But he’s found a balance between transparency/authenticity and keeping things close. I’m still learning that.

Something I know for certain is that Tony’s going to be there. He’s the guy that is steadfast even when life seems to derail. Even when life is terribly confusing and painful–he acknowledges that it’s awful, he feels the pain of it, but he’s still ok.

Tony has a great laugh. He can talk to anyone about anything. He’s just got that kind of personality. He’s intelligent and well studied without being intimidating. He’s  wise, humble, and strong. While I don’t get to have very many intellectual and theological conversations with him anymore, he’ll always have my utmost admiration and respect.

Here’s to you, Tony. Thank you for all the ways you’ve made me better. You’re top notch.

Rebecca

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I Don’t Want to Change the World

I don’t want to change the world. I used to think “changing the world” was the epitome of noble ambitions. Everyone theoretically wants to change the world, but only those who are the most talented, have the most motivation and opportunity, have the most determination and resilience are actually successful. That, most certainly, does not describe me. I’m pretty average. And I hate to fail. So I’ve always kept my ambitions a bit more realistic. I mean non existent. I’m not a planner. Ok… this is derailing quickly. Back to the point.

There are a lot of people out there who want to change the world. Whether they’re politicians, social activists, or religious people, the ultimate goal is to make the world a better place. To improve upon what is by changing the status quo. It seems like a good idea. But I’ve decided that even if I had the talent and ambition to do it, I don’t want to.

An aspiration to change the world implicitly means that one desires to imprint the world with their ideal reality. Most of the time that includes some sort of moral code. Most of the time that moral code has a very specific agenda at its foundation.

Conservatives want to change the world and accomplishing this means that no one is ever gay, no one ever immigrates illegally, and everyone has guns that are used for hunting and killing bad guys. Liberals change the world and everyone can be whatever gender/sexual orientation they want, everyone can get abortions, and no one is poor. Fundamentalists want to change the world and women have (and faithfully stay in) their place, no one drinks alcohol, and everyone does what they are told. Environmentalists want to change the world and no one throws anything away, no one drives, and no one uses hair spray. I could go on. Lots of people have agendas around which they want to change the world. This post is not about the merit or lack of merit in any of those ideas. I can get on board with some of them. I disagree with some of them. It’s also not about debating the stereotypes that I am obviously utilizing to demonstrate my point.

When people talk about wanting to change the world what they really mean is that they get to make the world look exactly the way they want. I’ve lived on this earth long enough to know one thing–I know nothing. Well, maybe not nothing. But I definitely don’t know enough to decide what is right for everyone else. Not only that, but my perspective is just too small. A perfect world is not going to be one where everyone has the same ideas, morals, and goals. I have my set of values–the foundation on which I live my life. But as I’ve said before, I’m constantly changing. As I read, meet new people, and learn about life, I discover truth and change accordingly. I don’t believe there’s anyone in the world who does not need this type of change. But it can only occur when we are challenged by people and experiences outside of ourselves.

I have a very dear friend who teaches HS Spanish in a tiny town in rural Missouri  where a large population of hispanic individuals are an unexpected cultural dichotomy to typical rural America. She has fought to create a mindset that recognizes diversity as strength. Instead of a school where two cultures are largely segregated in the lunchroom and hallways, she wants students to cherish the unique opportunity they have to learn and experience a culture outside of their own. She’s a very wise woman.

On the other hand. there’s a group of people that I know, love, and care for deeply, but they have some problems. They think they’re on a great mission to change people’s lives. The thing is, they are successful at helping some people but in the process they’re hurting others. They often treat people as though they’re disposable. They manipulate people into conformity. It’s not working. It’s doing a lot of damage to a lot of people. They have good intentions. They think they’re doing what’s best for those individuals and the world in general. In the meantime, they’re oblivious to the damage. The ends are not justifying the means. Not at all.

I don’t want to change the world. But I do want to be an engaged and productive contributor to the world. Instead of trying to remake the world into my perfect creation, I want to interact with it in a way that is honest, genuine, and friendly.

I think the first step is to stop being afraid of what would happen if things don’t change. The media poses this rhetorical question all the time (as do a lot of religious people and politicians).  I wish they would stop. They’re trying to convince us that things HAVE to change OR ELSE. What will happen if we don’t tackle global warming? What will happen if we don’t defeat ISIS? What will happen if we don’t solve the social security deficit? What will happen if Donald Trump becomes president? What will happen if Bernie Sanders becomes president? Some of these are real problems that need to be solved. But not everything is this imminent and fear is not a kind motivator.

So what will happen if things don’t change? Here’s what I think (and this is just my guess): Time is going to move forward. The world is going to continue to have problems. Bad things will happen. Good things will happen. Life will happen. I don’t want to miss the life that is happening because I’m afraid of what’s going to happen if I don’t change the world. It’s not worth it. So I’ve decided stop being afraid–to stop worrying about what everyone else is doing that’s wrong, to stop assuming that things that are different are bad. Of course there are bad things, but through experience I’ve learned that some of the things we put in that category aren’t actually what we think they are. (More to come on that topic.)

I want to interact with the world in a way that is honest, genuine, and friendly. So I’m going to spend time with my family, go to work, have fun, challenge myself intellectually and physically. I’ll help people that I have the ability to help, who need help, and who want help. That’s all. That’s enough.

I don’t want to change the world. But I do want to make the most of my time in it.

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Evolving

I used to think that being Christian was synonymous with being Conservative.

I used to wonder how people who weren’t teetotalers could call themselves Christian.

I used to think it was sinful to watch too much TV on the weekends if I hadn’t read my Bible.

I was raised very conservatively–socially and politically–and I used to think a lot of things.

I’ve changed. I used to think that I had to protect myself from changing. I would squeeze my eyes shut as hard as I could to ignore the things that contradicted my beliefs. But let me tell you something. This is a truth.
One of the most courageous things you’ll ever do is change your mind.

It’s brave to open your eyes and take it all in–the gigantic, overwhelming, disorganized world. At first, it’s disorienting. You may feel sick for a bit. It takes time for your eyes to adjust. But eventually, you gain your bearings. You may end up landing in a place you first thought was very scary. But if you can do it–if you can open your eyes and land–it’s not scary at all. It’s bright and beautiful and peaceful. Squeezing your eyes shut like a child in the night, ignoring the discomfort in your soul, filling your mind with white noise instead of stopping to think–THAT is what’s scary.

I’ve landed and I’m in a place that I could not have even imagined just a short time ago. Part of that landing was change…not so much my personality or my preferences. I’d like to think I’m still the optimistic and energetic person I’ve always been. I definitely still love stories, chocolate, and a good long conversation. But I’ve changed my mind, my beliefs, my interactions with the world. And I plan to continue changing as long as I’m on this Earth. It becomes more comfortable the more you do it. Being comfortable with change doesn’t mean you’re wishy-washy. It means you think about the world and let go of the things that don’t work or fit or make sense. It means you’re letting yourself improve. And that is my goal: that my life would be a long term evolution into the best version of myself.

So I invite you, friend, to be courageous with me. Let’s evolve together.
It’s not always the easiest or most glamorous thing to do. But it is always the better thing.

-R

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