The Fear of Being Different

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TED lectures are a great way to wake up my mind when my body wants to go back to sleep in the morning. The other day my brain went crazy with all the implications from Kelli Jean Drinkwater’s 12 minute talk at TEDxSydney.

“Fear is feeding the diet industry, which is keeping so many of us from making peace with our own bodies, for waiting to be the after-photo before we truly start to live our lives.”

Waiting for the after-photo before we truly start to live our lives . . .

How often do we let our deep desire for the end result keep us from making the journey?

“Once I get the housework under control I’ll start inviting people over more.”

“Once the kids are in school I’ll have time to start an Esty shop.”

“Once my To-Do list is done I’ll build an awesome family culture.”

I’m sure you have your own list of dreams you aren’t working towards because you don’t have the resources, the time, or the know-how you think you need to get started.

But worst of all, waiting for the after-photo means we don’t see ourselves as worthy enough to live the lives of meaning we desperately want.

“I’m not worthy of dinner guests when the floors aren’t vacuumed and the walls are bare.”

“I’m not worthy of doing the work that matters to me until I’ve done the work everyone else wants me to do.”

It’s hard to be different

In a way these excuses keep us safe, because if we start building a family culture based on our values whether or not they match those of society around us, we’re going to meet resistance and even outright hostility.

“I soon learned that living outside what the mainstream considers normal can be a frustrating and isolating place. I’ve been openly laughed at, abused from passing cars and been told that I’m delusional. I also receive smiles from strangers who recognize what it takes to walk down the street with a spring in your step and your head held high.” -Drinkwater

If we fear what our neighbors, friends, and strangers on the street will think if we start living our dreams, imagine what the internet could do to us!

There’s no way around it. If we say anything about how we are different on-line we will receive hate mail.

Crawling back to bed sounds like a good idea until we realize that absolutely no one can wear the straightjacket of “normal” all the time. Some of us fit it much of the time, some of us can’t fit in it at all, but no matter how you live, people will comment.

So we might as well relax, have pithy polite responses to the comments we get all the time and stay at peace knowing that it’s not about us.

It’s not about you

Our differences might be the target of the comment, but the comment comes from a place of personal insecurity.

If I’m happy with my white walls I don’t have to comment on how much work it must be to paint all the walls when I visit a friend’s colorful house. But if I think I ought to paint my walls and put up curtains, then a well-decorated house will intimidate me.

If I haven’t made up my mind whether I really care about wall color and curtains or not, then I’m even more susceptible to saying something that might seem critical when it’s really about me, my own house, and my own insecurities.

This happens to be a live example and I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit it, but I think we all have areas in our lives like this.

Find Peace for yourself

The best antidote I’ve found to quieting these insecurities (besides prayer) is to make sure I am doing my most valuable work and using my time for things that matter most.

Then at the end of the week we I see all that I haven’t done, I know that I was living according to my values.

It might be frustrating how slow progress seems to be, but knowing I was in the right place going the right direction gives me peace about those things that have not yet happened, like beautiful walls.

I hope you can see that sometimes we’re on the other side of thoughtless and hurtful comments and that it can help you tempter the hurt of negative comments. It’s not about you. Let it go.

As one 12-year-old TED lecturer said, “hater’s gonna hate.”

We can never please everybody, so let’s stop waiting for the perfect “after-photo” version of ourselves and start living our lives!

“Easy to say”, I hear you thinking. I know it’s not that easy to live.

Thin or healthy?

“I’ve even been called “the ISIS of the obesity epidemic” — a comment so absurd that it is funny. But it also speaks to the panic, the literal terror, that the fear of fat can evoke. It is this fear that’s feeding the diet industry, which is keeping so many of us from making peace with our own bodies, for waiting to be the after-photo before we truly start to live our lives.” -Drinkwater

I’ve disliked Trim Healthy Mama (a diet cookbook that seems to be in right now) from the time it came out and haven’t known exactly why, but this talk helped me see into my own insecurities.

The title implies that the only way to be healthy is to be trim and the only way to be a mama is to be healthy and trim. I’m pretty sure my kids don’t care if I’m trim – actually I know they love a cuddly mama.

I also remember my college days where I spent countless hours hating my body and swinging wildly from diets to binging. I never want to go back to that wasteland again.

God made food for our health and our pleasure but he warned about being a glutton. Our society may have neglected the Bible but it still despises the glutton.

“We live in a culture where being fat is seen as being a bad person — lazy, greedy, unhealthy, irresponsible and morally suspect. And we tend to see thinness as being universally good — responsible, successful, and in control of our appetites, bodies and lives.” -Drinkwater

The idol of thin

When we focus on the end result – being thin – we get distortions, like the claim that you can drink all you want of the Trim Healthy Mama shake and still lose weight. In other words, “be a glutton, and still believe you have self-control.”

To be clear, I am sure Trim Healthy Mama and other diet books have helped people and that they can be used wisely, but a focus on thin can lead to the worship of something other than God: our own body image.

Other factors are much more important to our health that our weight and measurements.  Do I have the energy to get through the day?  Am I flexible enough to get down on the floor and wrestle with the kids?  Can I kick a soccer ball around with my kids without gasping for breath?  Do I partake of God’s gift of food with thankfulness?  Do I enjoy the pleasure of movement and dance?  Do I have the self-control to temper the appetites of my heart?

Why am I writing about diet and health on a family culture blog?

Because views about body image and self-worth are passed on primarily in the family. It is in the sphere of family that children first pick up the idea that they need to wait for the “after-photo” before they can start living their lives.

However unworthy we feel, surely our children deserve better? If we want it for our children, we need to live it ourselves. Our actions speak louder than words.

You are loved the way you are, now go and do your most meaningful work!

Culture Making Part XIII: The Powerful Alongside the Powerless

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Today I’ll wrap up the Culture Making series. There is so much more in the book, especially for Christians, but I think the series has gone on long enough and it’s high time we got back to practical applications.

As promised, I’ll share an inspiring example of the powerful working alongside – and not on behalf of – the poorest of the poor, and then share a few quotes to give you a taste of what treasures await you if you read Andy Crouch’s book.

Surprising Life in a Garbage Dump

“When I feel frustrated with the limits of my cultural power, as I do more often than I would like to admit, I like to think about the inhabitants of Smokey Mountain [a garbage dump in Manila]. . . There is no reason to think that they have any less innate capacity for cultivation and creativity than any other group of human beings made in God’s image, but they were born in a place where, instead of cultural goods being proposed and going on to reshape their world, the detritus of culture is brought to decompose and die.”

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has tried to increase my gratitude by thinking of those less fortunate than myself, but Crouch takes a surprising turn:

“I know just enough about this community to know that they neither need nor want my pity. In 1980 a Catholic priest named Father Ben relocated to Smokey Mountain from the seminary where he was a promising young scholar. He brought the residents there the good news about Jesus. And he began to instill in them the confidence that God had not forgotten them – indeed, that God was ready to breathe life into their efforts at making a better life for their families. The community of garbage-dump workers persuaded the city to provide them with water and electric services. They have built modest but dignified concrete homes at the edge of the dump, replacing shacks of cardboard and tin. They even built a community center where children play games and older people gather to pass the time.”

“The residents of the Manila garbage dump are not primarily a moral object lesson in my relative affluence. Rather, they are a reminder of the inexhaustible human capacity to cultivate and create.”

Good News To The Poor

“Perhaps that is the truest sense of the “good news to the poor” that Jesus came to proclaim: the poor are not as poor as they, and we, think they are. The creative God of history has made his resurrection power available to them. He has made his power available to us if we will become poor in spirit – no longer simply accumulating power but freely sharing it.”

“When we put our power [to other’s] service, we unlock their creative capacity without in any way diminishing our own – and in this way, spending power is very different from spending money. When we transfer money to another person, their net worth increases while our s decreases, but the power to create cultural goods rarely has this zero-sum quality.”

This goes for spending our power alongside our children, too. It in no way diminishes our own power and authority. If it does, we’re probably not giving them power to create, but power to destroy.

Where Do You Have Power?

As a foreigner, I lack a certain kind cultural power, and I know what a blessing it is to have someone come alongside me with their cultural power to allow me to unleash my creativity in a land that was not originally my own. Most people who serve me in this way probably aren’t even aware of it or what an impact it has on me (husband, are you listening? Thanks!)

In the same way, the power we take for granted could have a huge impact if we spend it alongside those who don’t have that particular kind of power.

Still don’t think you have any power? Think of it this way:

“Most of us have experienced being in a context where our jokes were funny, our ideas provoked interest and excitement, and we felt light and quick on our feet, able to realize our vision with little sense of friction – and then being in another context where the same jokes and ideas fell completely flat and we found ourselves tongue-tied and embarrassed. The difference was, in a word, power. Power, in this sense, is deeply and absolutely dependent on the nature of the particular public we find ourselves among . . . To leave the circle of one’s power is a deeply, existentially unsettling experience.

I’m tempted to say “See how hard life is for us expats!” but that would defeat the point that everyone, everywhere has some kind of power even if it’s not where we want it most.

“Honestly and gratefully assessing where we already have cultural power is also an essential antidote to the futile process of desperately trying to amass more.”

With whom am I sharing my power?

So let’s ask ourselves, “How can I become a steward, investing my cultural power in the dreams and plans of those with less cultural power than myself?”

Culture Always Starts Small

“No matter how many it goes on to affect, culture always starts small. And this means that no matter how complex and extensive the cultural system you may consider, the only way it will be changed is by an absolutely small group of people who innovate and create a new cultural good.”

“When I was twenty-nine I was just beginning the most important cultural calling of my life, shaping the culture of a family that today includes just four people, which, if we are blessed, will widen over the generations, just as my family of origin began with four but now cannot even fit around the large dining table in my parents’ home. Scaling down can be as important as scaling up – I never expect to have better partners in shaping culture than [my wife and children]. Small things can become greater over time – those who are faithful with little are sometimes, just as Jesus said, given the chance to be faithful with much – but small communities can always create things that are out of reach of wider, thinner network.”

 

Bonus quotes for Christians:

“To be Christian is to stake our lives on this belief: the only cultural goods that ultimately matter are the ones that love creates.”

“Grace is for the poor in spirit, and the disciplines bring us, no matter our ascribed power or actual wealth, to keen awareness of our fundamental poverty.”

“Any experienced farmer can inspect the ground, note where the path, rocks and weeds are, and direct his attention to the best soil. But there is no way to similarly inspect the human heart. . . . What we can do, however, is pay careful attention to the fruit of our cultural work. Do we see a divine multiplication at work after we have done our best? Does a riotous abundance of grain spring up from a tiny, compact seed? This is grace: unearned, unexpected abundance that can leave us dizzy with joy. It is a return on investment that exceeds anything we could explain by our own effectiveness or efforts.”

To me this describes work in the home perfectly. It isn’t efficient or glamorous, but it yields this kind of dizzying abundance that can’t be fully explained or quantified – and the joy, oh the moments of joy!

“So where are we called to create culture? At the intersection of grace and the cross. Where do we find our work and play bearing awe-inspiring fruit – and at the same time find ourselves able to identify with Christ on the cross? That intersection is where we are called to dig into the dirt, cultivate and create. . . For my friend Elizabeth the intersection of grace and cross is found in raising three children who sometimes tax her to the very limit, creating a family culture of forgiveness, play and prayer.”

What we create in the family cannot be accomplished by schools, social work, government programs, or any other organization or network the world can offer.

Soldier on, my friends! It’s a great secret that what we make in the home cannot be made anywhere else and is of utmost importance.

Culture Making Part XII: The Counterintuitive Key To Successful Culture Making

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“Of all the creators and cultivators who have ever lived, Jesus was the most capable of shaping culture through his own talents and power – and yet the most culture-shaping event of his life is the result of his choice to abandon his talents and power. The resurrection shows us the pattern for culture making in the image of God. Not power, but trust. Not independence, but dependence.” – Andy Crouch

Last week in the Culture Making series we left off with the question,

How can we use our talents and cultural power for creating and cultivating with maximum and long-lived results?

The answer? Humility.

That’s the simple answer, but of course there is more to it.

First, we have to acknowledge the full extent of our limitations and realize those we think of as powerful are almost as limited as the rest of us are.

The Limits of Power

“All true cultural creativity happens at the edges of the horizons of the possible, so by definition our most culturally creative endeavors have a high risk of failure. No matter how much I try to gauge the changes of success beforehand, there is simply no way to tell except to try.”

“At the relatively small scale of my family’s life together, there are many ways in which I profoundly shape our shared world . . . Within the walls of our house, all four of us have real power to shape the very real culture we, and we alone, share.”

“My ability to make small changes in my local world is dwarfed by my dependence on the changes other people make at larger scales of culture.”

“The truth is that culture, precisely because it is world-sized, is simply too complex for anyone to control or predict. And this truth is cruelest to those who have momentary cultural success – the “survivors” toward whom the system is biased.”

“Our inability to accurately anticipate the direction of cultural change is one of the most commonly affirmed realities of human existence – and one of the most commonly ignored.”

“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” -Mark Twain

We can’t control our creations – we can’t even control ourselves!

“Indeed, over time, the unintended consequences of a given cultural good almost always swamp the intended consequences in magnitude, as people continue the culture-making process, making new culture in response to the changed horizons.”

“If there is one thing culture creators cannot do, it is to control their creations.”

“Changing the world sounds grand, until you consider how poorly we do even at changing our own little lives. On a daily basis we break our promises, indulge our addictions and rehearse old fantasies and grudges that even we know we’d be better off without. We have changed less about ourselves than we would like to admit. Who are we to charge off to change the world?”

“Beware of world changers – they have not yet learned the true meaning of sin.”

“Is there a way to change the world without falling into one of the many traps laid for would-be-world changers? If so, it will require us to learn the one thing the language of “changing the world” usually lacks: humility, defined not so much as bashfulness about our own abilities as awed and quiet confidence in God’s ability.”

A Warning For Christians

There’s quite a bit more in the book about the Christian perspective, but up until now I haven’t included much because I believe many of the principles remain the same.

This time I’ll share some of what Crouch has to say to Christians since I know many of my readers are Christians. If you appreciate this snippet, then go read the book! He has much, much more to say to us – and it is quite humbling and encouraging and includes a vision of what we might do for eternity in heaven.

“[W]ise Christian culture maker will abandon the hope for Christendom – a culture in which the gospel is at the center rather than at the margins of possibility.”

“But just as the gospel never is comfortably contained in the realm of the culturally possible, it also never disappears from the horizon altogether. God’s grace and mercy, his endless inventive capacity to respond to human waywardness, ensure that every culture can be reclaimed.”

“Culture – making something of the world, moving the horizons of possibility and impossibility – is what human beings do and are meant to do. Transformed culture is at the heart of God’s mission in the world, and it is the call of God’s redeemed people. But changing the world is the one thing we cannot do. As it turns out, fully embracing this paradoxical reality is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian culture maker.”

“[W]ether you feel powerful or powerless, you are exactly the sort of person that God has a track record of deciding to use.”

“When God acts in culture, he uses both the powerful and the powerless alongside one another rather than using one against the other.”

So the more complex answer to the question of how we can use our cultural power effectively lies in the idea of the powerful working alongside the powerless.

Next week, we’ll took at an inspiring example of the idea of the powerful working alongside the powerless and what that means for us and our culture making endeavors.