Redefining Safe Sex (Hint: It Has Nothing To Do with Contraception)

Redefining Safe Sex (Hint: It has nothing to do with contraception)

A few times in the past few weeks, I’ve heard married friends refer to the use of “protection” when having sex in a married context.

“Protection,” of course, is a euphemism for contraception. And since they’re talking about it within a monogamous relationship, presumably what they’re talking about being “protected” against is babies.

I naturally bristle at contraception being referred to as “protection,” since it has been my heart’s desire to have babies with my husband for the last five years. (So far, we’ve been blessed with one; and just very recently, another one on the way. After many, many months of waiting and hoping and praying). Contraception wouldn’t “protect” me against anything.

I understand that outside of monogamous relationships, contraception is referred to as “protection” in part because some forms (i.e. condoms) protect against the spread of disease. I get that. Protection against unwanted pregnancy is also implied. And I get that to a certain degree, too. Nobody really wants to have a baby with someone they aren’t committed to long-term.

But I find it problematic to refer to contraception as “protection” within healthy, long-term, monogamous relationships because it treats pregnancy as a disease and babies as a threat. This is not a very life-affirming attitude, in my opinion.

I wrote a blog post several years ago (on my old embarrassing blog) that argues we need to redefine safe sex: “safe” sex is that which occurs within the context of marriage.

And I still believe that to be true.

MARRIAGE is the protection. Marriage is what keeps sex safe.

Sex within a good marriage should always be “safe,” regardless of contraception use. It might still be fraught with difficulties — marriage doesn’t guarantee wonderful, problem-free sex — and couples may still want to avoid or delay pregnancy; but marriage should be a safe environment in which to share intimacy.

By getting married, a couple commits to caring for one another, and any potential offspring, for life. For better or worse. In sickness and health. That is protection.

When you make your marriage vows before witnesses, you make your intentions towards one another clear to a whole community, hopefully establishing a support system of friends and family to help and guide you through parenthood if any children should arise from your union. That is protection.

By getting married and remaining monogamous (especially if you have never been with anyone else before), you close the door to the spread of infection, so that sex is “safe” from disease. Again: that, to me, is protection.

In other words: the “safety”€ of sex is not established by contraception. It’s established by marriage.

Now, this isn’t an argument against contraception or any other kind of birth control. I just wish that folks would call it what it is, and not imply that when a married couple eschews birth control they are not “protected.”

Sex within marriage is protected. Sex outside of marriage is unprotected.

Updated to add:

A few people have made some really valid points in the comments about situations of extreme poverty, abuse, or STI’s within marriage. In these cases, they rightly point out, contraception can provide a layer of safety against increased poverty or abuse.

I want to point out that I did try to emphasize in my post that I was talking about strong, healthy marriages.

In the conversations I was referencing, my friends were clearly referring to pregnancy, saying things like, “Of course they got pregnant again! That’s what happens when you don’t use protection!” They were cheerful comments exchanged between happily-married women from middle-income families. We’re not talking about poverty-stricken, abusive relationships in these cases.

I doubt my friends were really thinking about the full implications of the language they were using; I’m sure they don’t really think of babies as a threat they need to be “protected” against. But the fact that they grabbed onto the word “protection” highlighted to me what a common euphemism it is. (In another conversation, a youth pastor told us about the time a student asked, “What kind of protection do you and your wife use?” Again, this just served to highlight how commonly we use this term when referring to contraception, even within safe, healthy marriages.)

So I do understand that contraception can be “protective” in some cases. I appreciate these commenters bringing this to my attention.

But ideally, there should be much better protection available for couples in trouble — financial aid for couples who can’t afford to feed another child; the support of a loving community in the case of abuse; etc.

Moreover, the examples my objectors offer are all examples of marriage not doing what it’s supposed to do. These are broken marriages, so of course they don’t provide the safety net they’re meant to.

I guess ultimately what I’m trying to say in this post is while contraception can be useful and helpful in some cases,  I believe relationships are what save us. Not birth control.

Image by Bre Pettis.

The Number One Realization That Changed the Way I Do Evangelism

The Number One Thing That Changed the Way I Do EvangelismImage by Jim Linwood.

Note: this is a part of my series on evangelism, which started here.

There are a lot of reasons I’ve changed my approach to evangelism. A huge factor, of course, were my disastrous past attempts to convert people.

There are other reasons as well: a changing definition of salvation; a new view of nonbelievers as my equals and allies; and a new appreciation for genuine relationships and what actually changes a person’s heart. (I hope to get into some of these other issues in future posts as well.)

But the biggest change was in this: I went from seeing myself as a member of the oppressed minority – an underdog who needed to “defend the faith” which was under attack from the dominant society – to the realization that I am a part of the powerful majority.

As a white, educated, straight, English-speaking, Protestant Canadian, I enjoy the advantages of generations of white, educated, straight, English-speaking Protestants wielding the power of the Bible to oppress others.

It took me a long time to recognize my privilege. I don’t know how I didn’t see it sooner. I grew up being warned to watch out – The World was out to get me. And so I internalized this idea that as a Christian in North America I was a part of the underclass, the target, the prey.

Before, I saw myself as a part of the victim class. Gays, liberals, feminists, atheists, evolutionists, university professors, The Media – they were all scary adversaries, bullies out to denounce God and get their way. We, the weak and humble Christians, needed to stand our ground. We needed to invoke the name of the Lord to defend ourselves against brutal attacks. The World was out to get us.

And I understand now how we got this mentality. We read Jesus’ story, and we naturally identify with him and the early Christians. We too have committed our lives to following him. We read the stories of faithful followers being stoned or imprisoned, and we shiver.

Jesus and his followers suffered severe persecution. They were desperately poor folks, religious and ethnic minorities, during a period of time when the Romans held ferocious power. You could lose your life for being a follower of Jesus. Jesus warns us that the same can happen to us. We identify with these humble Jewish fishermen – we’re Christians, too! – and forget that in fact, if we were to translate that world into contemporary North America, we white evangelicals would be members of the Roman Empire. At our worst, we’re not even the Pharisees. We have way more power and wealth than that.

Sure, some of us are poor by North American standards. But we white evangelical Americans and Canadians still have power and privilege in our race, citizenship, education, and religious association (Christians make up the most dominant religious group in America, with evangelicals being the largest denomination. No other religion comes close. Not even atheism.)

And sure, some of us are really benevolent Romans. We donate and volunteer. Some even fight for justice and equality. But that will never erase our privilege as Roman citizens. We always still have more power and privilege than immigrants, people of colour, members of other religious groups, and GLBT folks (among others).

I have since discovered I don’t need to defend the gospel against powerful attacks from above nearly as much as I need to step down and apologize to all those who have been hurt by it. My job is to try to climb down from my advantaged position and make amends. My job is one of reconciliation.

If I want to be a missionary in this land, I need to come to terms with the fact that the first Christians to reach this land — my predecessors — did not bring good news. They brought tyranny, death, war and disease.  (To this day, many evangelicals continue to bring bad news to women, immigrants, GLBT people, and other minorities.) I (and people like me) can never be done repenting of what my forebears did to the people who first lived here. Our job of reconciliation will not be done until Jesus returns.

This understanding of my place in society has changed the way I “evangelize.”

Sorry: The Number One Thing That Changed the Way I Do EvangelismImage by butupa.

Knowing that I come from a position of privilege, I’m less afraid of “attacks” on my faith from non-believers.

I don’t live in fear that atheism and secularism are taking over society – we’re far from that here in North America. I fear that ignorant evangelicals (like myself) are a much greater threat.

I’m no longer scared of marriage equality for the LGBT community, or nervous about what they teach in science classes at public schools. I no longer worry about carrying an arsenal of arguments in my back pocket in defense of the faith. I am not a victim in this culture.

And while I used to view all non-Christians as potential projects – folks I needed to save, to introduce to Jesus — I now only see broken relationships that need to be healed. I need them to help me get to Jesus just as much as they need me. Perhaps more so, for Jesus blesses the poor and humble.

Recognizing what powerful white Christians have done in the past, I sometimes think our first and most important message ought to be something more along the lines of, “I am not a threat. I won’t hurt you. You have little reason to trust me, given our history; but I promise to serve you, respect you and love you.” (This, as opposed to the conventional evangelical message that goes something along the lines of, “You’re wrong and headed for trouble. But I have information that can save you. Once again, I have the upper hand.”)

I used to think it was important to make friends with people who were different from me so that I could teach them (about God and the Bible).

I now think it’s important to make friends with people who are different from me so that I can learn from them. What’s it like to be Muslim? To be black or Hispanic or Native American? To be gay? Because how can I serve them if I don’t know their experience?

As an evangelical, I used to see my role as a teacher and a savior. I now see my role as a student and a servant.

I still believe I have good news to share. But that good news is less about an abstract God in heaven who will save you after you die and more about a God who is lives upon the earth right now, desperate to serve and reconcile, through people like me.

My new ministry involves a lot less talking and a lot more listening, as well as acts of kindness and service. I’ve done a lot less talking about God since my eyes were opened to the reality of my privilege, and instead I’ve tried to make changes in my life to help bring heaven to earth.

It’s less about “Jesus loves you and can save you from your sins if you say this prayer!” and more about “I’m happy to serve you, just the way you are, because that’s what Jesus wants.”

The World is not my enemy. The World is not out to get me. The world is full of my brothers and sisters, waiting for reconciliation – with me, with each other, and with God.

Conversations About God: How I Ditched Formal Evangelism and Started Just Being A Friend

happyEighteen-year-old Me. I dunno.

Note: I’ve been talking about evangelism around here, sharing my personal stories. You can find my introduction to the subject here.

In my last post, I shared my humiliating and disastrous attempt to convert my sweet friend Marie, which resulted in a shattered friendship. Today I’m continuing with another story.

I wrote this several years ago on my embarrassing old blog, and thought it would be fun to repost it. I mention this only to highlight that you might notice my writing style is different, and I’m probably even less evangelical than I was when I wrote this.

I never tried to convert another person to Christianity after the incident with Marie.

Okay, I only tried to convert one other person. But she didn’t mind because she was actually interested in my faith. She was taking philosophy with me in the same semester that I was taking sociology with Marie. So I was evangelizing them both simultaneously. I thought I was doing pretty good with this other girl, too, until she dropped out of the class before I got a chance to lead her to Christ. She never responded to any of my emails.

So that was that. I ditched that form of evangelism almost as quickly as I had picked it up. It clearly wasn’t working for me.

The fact that I gave up “evangelism” in the traditional sense, though, doesn’t mean I stopped talking about God. Far from it.

But after I gave up on conventional evangelism, my conversations about God were different. They just sort of happened spontaneously. They were natural and organic and never premeditated.

And I lost the whole idea that I was a spiritual teacher seeking disciples. I was a twenty-year old kid, for goodness sakes. I was just some girl in university who believed in God and liked to talk about him if people were interested.

And lots of people were, it turned out.

Wendy

A year or two after Project Marie fell through, I took a summer art class at the university. I was getting married in a few months and wanted to decrease my upcoming semester’s workload by doing a class during the break. In art class I met a remarkable woman whom I’ll call Wendy.

I have met few human beings in my life as beautiful as Wendy. She was sweet and honest, with a personality that was as warm and golden as her hair and her amber complexion. She had a younger brother with a developmental disability whom she absolutely adored and about whom she talked with refreshing fondness. As a result, she was extremely sympathetic to all people with disabilities and loved hearing their stories.

She was a generous and friendly individual, and she struck up a conversation with me on the first day of class as we were setting up our easels. When she found out where I lived she suggested that we carpool to school. So, for the rest of the summer, I got to drive back and forth with her every day in her parents’ big white Expedition, talking about music, boys, family, and art. She would play her country music really loud and keep the windows down, and then yell over the roar of the wind about how she loved the singer’s voice or how she wanted to collect paintings for a gallery some day.

I don’t even remember ever mentioning that I was a Christian. I never do anymore. It seems people can just tell, or maybe I let it slip without realizing it. But on our last day of class, as we were heading home for the last time down the highway with the wind roaring in our ears and Rascal Flatts serenading us over the speakers, she yelled to me, “So . . . why do you believe in God?”

I explained to her, as best as I could, that God just made sense to me, and helped me to make sense of the world. I explained that I was pretty sure that Jesus was God. I explained how I believed the Gospels were accurate historical documents and that I found Jesus a pretty compelling deity. Wendy said that she wasn’t really convinced but she would probably remain open to the possibility that God existed. We drifted on to another conversation topic, and shortly after that we arrived at her house. I got into my car and exchanged warm goodbyes, and I gave her an invitation to my wedding before I drove off.

We didn’t ever talk about God explicitly again, but we continued to hang out every once in a while. She even came to my wedding, looking like a goddess in a short white dress, and danced with all the people with special needs, including my autistic brother-in-law. I visited her a couple of times at her place until she moved to another province to do another degree.

As with Marie, I never succeeded in converting her; but that was no longer my mission. And neither did I turn her off from God or church. I figure that’s gotta count for something.

I loved this new way of talking about God.

“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save."

I loved being asked about my faith, and being able to talk about it openly without any pressure to change the person who was asking. I realized that I had no control over whether or not Wendy wanted to know Jesus, and that was okay. That wasn’t my responsibility. I was available to her if she ever did want to know more, and I’m sure she knew it. I didn’t have to give her a weird, “I’m available to talk if you ever want to come to Christ” spiel. That was already apparent.

My job was simply to continue loving God and living in relationship with him, and to make friends and to be open to talking about God with them if they were interested. And if they simply weren’t? There was nothing I could really do about that.

After that summer, I was often surprised to find myself in the middle of a conversation about heaven with a friend over lunch or a chatting about prayer while walking to the library. I was surprised to find how naturally – and frequently – it occurred. People — particularly atheists — loved talking and hearing about God, as long as I wasn’t giving them a sermon.

And it never felt weird. It was just as natural as talking about our weekends or our boyfriends or the authors we were reading. I simply shared some of my own young thoughts and experiences when the subject came up. And my friends seemed to value them.

I never had to intentionally steer the conversation in that direction if it wasn’t going there. God came up on his own accord.

Using this approach, I also had plenty of time to get to know my friends first before diving into God stuff – to learn what kinds of things they found interesting or exciting.

I also found I was never nervous about talking about God anymore – my friends cherished my views and often found them intriguing. What was there to be nervous about? We were equals; we were both spiritual seekers, even if we had come to different conclusions about the universe. I had no responsibility but to be loving, open, honest, and thoughtful.

This is the form of evangelism I have embraced since the failed Convert Marie Project, and I have had no shortage of conversations about God since then.

Lighthouse image from Rene Gonzalez.

Converting Marie: An Epic Evangelism Disaster (And What It Taught Me)

Kathy the Evangelist(Kathleen, the 19-year-old Evangelist)

Note: I’m continuing my series on evangelism, which started here.  I shared my thoughts and experiences on door-to-door evangelists, and now I’m sharing some of my own stories.

My career as an unofficial evangelist began in my first year of university.

I had been a Christian all my life and had been made to feel guilty about my failure to “share my faith” for many years already. But that year, when I was nineteen, I attended an enormous Christian Revival event with my youth group. After that I became On Fire for God and ready to spread the Gospel. It was a life-changing event. I became so ready to share my faith.

The first casualty of my newly-acquired fire was a friend from school whom I’ll call Marie.

We were both first-year English literature students who had met in our first semester, and were now taking a sociology class together. Marie was fantastic. On the outside, she looked like a very ordinary, very shy girl who liked to blend in. At first I had thought we probably wouldn’t like each other because she seemed so quiet and normal, and I was so “artistic” (I wore colourful vintage shoes and plaid pants and carried around an artsy notebook); but once I got to know her I discovered she was uproariously witty and terribly smart. Her humour was unlike anyone else’s I had ever met.

And after the Revival I realized that she needed to know the Lord, and that I would be the one to arrange the initial meeting.

So in soc class one day shortly after the event I passed her a note with a few lines of small talk, asking “How was your weekend?” or something customary like that.

She responded, and we went back and forth a few times like that while I planned my attack.

I decided to segue into my intended subject with, “So, what are your thoughts on spiritual stuff?” The question was a mere formality. I wasn’t really interested in her take on spirituality. I was just getting her primed for a lesson on what I thought about spiritual stuff, and I couldn’t just launch right into it without any warning.

She wrote back something about how she sometimes wondered whether this life was all there really was, or whether we were just animated “bags of bones” that came and went without any real meaning. Ahhhh, I thought as I read it. I have an answer for this.

My fingers quivered as I nervously filled up the backside of the page with the solution to the universe. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote – I think it was a combination of half-informed creation science material, mixed in with some smatterings of theology I had recently encountered and a few personal theoretical musings. In the end, I proved that God existed, that He created the world 6,000 years ago, that Marie was in need of a personal saviour, and that Armenianism was more true than Calvinism. All in one page.

Actually, I didn’t even get a chance to get to the good stuff before class was over so after we got up I walked with her to her minivan and continued to evangelize as we went along. I told her everything I knew (which wasn’t a lot) about the need to repent, about God’s relationship to time and space, and about the Bible’s historical validity. And also that evolution isn’t true. The more I talked, the more uneasy she looked. We ended up standing under a tree by her van, with her shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot while I picked twigs off the tree to make illustrations.

Eventually I could tell it was time for her to go and we awkwardly said our goodbyes. As she climbed into her van, a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. I had done my duty to Jesus. I had shared my faith.

I called out generously, “And if you ever have any questions for me . . .” I paused, looking for the right words, “. . . feel free to ask.”

“Oh good,” she said with a look of relief. “That’s all. For a minute there, I was afraid you were going to give me a pamphlet or invite me to a Bible study.” And with that she shut her door behind her and left.

* * *

We were never quite able to repair our friendship after that.

The semester soon ended and we emailed each other a couple of times. She was still very polite and even left me a funny little note on my car’s windshield one afternoon with a drawing of Helen, the enormous plush sombrero-wearing frog who lived in my Pontiac Firefly.

But I could tell that something had changed between us. Eventually she stopped responding to my emails.

We lost touch. We were no longer friends.

The next semester we didn’t have any more classes together and we didn’t see each other again.

In my evangelistic efforts, I had crossed over from being a real friend to being a missionary whose only apparent aim was to convert her. I can only guess that she may have felt a little used and dehumanized. As far as she could see, I no longer valued her intrinsically as a person and a friend, but only as a recipient of my Good News.

And that was so far from the truth. Marie was a brilliant person, a gifted writer, and a devoted and warmhearted friend. I genuinely liked her. After I totally botched things up with her, I found I missed her terribly. I missed her unique sense of humour and the fun conversations we had in the campus Subway. I had messed that all up when I decided to make her my religious project.

* * *

Nowadays, when I get an evangelist at the door, I can’t help but cringe to think that I was once that person to someone else.

What frustrates me about most door-to-door evangelists is how they don’t seem to give two craps about me – about who I am and where I’m at. They’re usually not interested in finding out what kind of a relationship I already have with God; they just want to tell me what it ought to be like.

For all they know, I could be Christ himself in the form of a drowsy, gnome-loving grad student in her slippers at the door; but all they want to do is preach to me. They’re not interested in two-way conversations. They see themselves as the teachers with something to offer, and me as the empty vessel waiting to be filled.

It’s insulting.

And I did that to Marie. I didn’t show any interest in her own thoughts or experiences; I just wanted to teach her what I knew.

Ever since my disastrous attempt to convert poor Marie, I have had to rethink the way that I – and presumably many other believers – think about evangelism.

The first thing I learned is that if you do not respect the beliefs of those who don’t share your faith, and do not value them as individuals the way they are, they will not have any reason to be care about what you have to say. People can sense when they are someone else’s religious project, and it doesn’t feel good. I know it from experience. I hate to be proselytized to.

Consequently, I don’t feel comfortable viewing the world purely as a mission field that needs to be blessed with our own wisdom. Rather, I like to see it as more of a grand seminar room, filled with allies in all shapes and forms. We live in a world full of wisdom and beauty to be acquired and shared with others.

Marie didn’t just need me; I needed her too. I’m certain she could have spoken wisdom into my own life if I had given her a chance, even if she wasn’t a “believer.” But I didn’t give her a chance. I shut that door when I decided that the conversation was a one-way thing.

And for that I am terribly sorry.

On Door-to-Door Evangelists, and What They’ve Taught Me About Myself

Door-to-Door Evangelists (And What They Taught Me About Myself): Thoughts on Evangelism

Note: this post is an edited version of an earlier post from my first blog that has since been deleted.

As I’m turning from my computer to my writing table, I catch a glimpse of the bronze car parked at the side of the road through my window.

I look up and my stomach drops. Oh crap. Yes: there it is. I know that car. Crap crap crap. After a moment of temporary stupor, I recollect myself and quickly take two steps to the wall to click off the light switch. I survey the other rooms. Are any other lights on? No. Good. I tiptoe to the computer and turn down the music that’s playing. I breathe out. I sneak to the window. I don’t see them anywhere — just the car. I back away from the window slowly and think. How can I go on with my work without allowing them to see or hear me? I can’t let them know I’m here. I decide to hide out in the upper level of the house until they’re gone.

I’m just creeping up the stairs when I hear the doorbell ring. A shock sparks through my body and I take in a sharp breath. Then I slowly continue up the stairs. On the landing I begin to pace. Are they still there? Are they going to try again, are they going to wait? The doorbell rings again. I hold my breath. Then I tiptoe toward the window in the spare bedroom to peek out. AUGH! It’s the woman, and she’s coming around to the side door! I jump back from the window. I hear her knocking now. My heart thumps and I pace quickly. I strain to look out the window again from where I’m standing by the stairs. Nothing. Then I catch a glimpse of movement — she seems to be heading back to the car. I let out a sigh. Ahhhh . . . my heart slows. I approach the window again to watch her climb back into the driver’s side of the car. I have escaped again.

Door-to-door evangelists.

I get a lot of them in this neighbourhood — I’m not sure why. I guess because I’m one of the few adults home at this time of day. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and other enthusiastic gospel-bearers — I get them all the time. I often get several visitors a week; once I got two in one day. I confess I quite dislike it. So I’ve gotten into the habit of locking the door and hiding when I see them coming around.

I don’t know why I loathe their visits so much.

Most of them are very friendly and nice. I tell myself that I’m just too busy to stand around on my porch in the middle of the afternoon chatting with middle-aged spiritual busybodies about my salvation. They don’t want to hear a word of what I have to say. I’m already “saved,” for heaven’s sake, and I have things to do!

But in all honesty, I’m pretty sure I spend just as much time hiding from them as it would take for me to listen to them read me John 3:3 and then accept a booklet and an invitation from them.

It’s not that they take up so much of my time. It’s that I simply don’t like their visits. I don’t feel like being proselytized to. It makes me uncomfortable.

It’s a very strange feeling, being on the receiving end of evangelism as a church-attending Christian myself. Heck, we call ourselves evangelicals! That’s what we do!

But it has been extremely educational, having those visitors stop by my house. I have been forced to think long and hard and frequently about the whole issue of evangelism. These gospel-bearers have helped me to see and feel what it’s like to be the victim — er, beneficiary — of such evangelical zeal. These experiences have been unspeakably valuable for me, as a person of faith myself and as an individual who has tried her own hand at evangelism one too many times.

In the next few posts, I’ll be sharing a couple of personal stories that helped shaped my understanding of evangelism. It wasn’t that long ago when I was not that different from these door-to-door evangelists. My feelings about evangelism have changed profoundly since my early days as a new evangelical in my teens and early twenties, and these fellow evangelists have helped me to understand myself.

Note: This is the first installment in my series on evangelism. You can find my introduction here.

As I mentioned, I first wrote this several years ago when I was still in grad school. Honestly, I don’t think that much about evangelism anymore, and I don’t often find myself in many situations anymore where traditional evangelism might take place; but I thought it might still be worth revisiting and discussing.

Image by Benny Mazur.

Evangelism and Me: An Introduction

Evangelism and Me: An Introduction

I used to be really into converting people to Christianity.

You couldn’t really blame me. I was introduced to evangelicalism during my teen years, a time when you’re most impressionable, credulous, and passionate. When you believe something as a teen you believe it fervently and with your whole being, and you’re absolutely bursting with a passion to embody it.

And evangelicalism puts a pretty heavy emphasis on “witnessing,” “sharing your faith,” and/or “leading people to the Lord.” (Hence the name: “evangelical” means “one who brings the good news.”) I learned about the ABC’s of salvation (Admit you are a sinner in need of grace; Believe that Jesus died for your sins; Confess him as the Lord of your life) and how to lead someone through the Sinner’s Prayer. I was encouraged regularly to invite unbelievers to church or youth group with me, and reminded that if I didn’t take initiative my non-Christian friends might burn in hell forever (and it would kind of be my fault.)

And so it was the in my late teens and early twenties, I was on fire to bring the good news to the unbelievers of the world.

It didn’t work out so great for me.

In fact, some of my most profound regrets in life involve my attempts to convert people to Christianity.

I thought I’d share my stories with you, both to amuse you (they are intensely humiliating) and so that you might learn from my experiences. (Plus, I’ve already written them. I shared them on my first blog which I have since deleted because it is so embarrassing; I thought I’d re-post these few stories here for your edification.)

Now don’t get me wrong. I still want folks to come to know Jesus, and to become fellow members of the Kingdom, so that they can experience the love and freedom he offers. I rejoice at the addition of brothers and sisters to the family, so that we can work together to bring heaven to earth.

But my approach is dramatically different now that it was a decade ago. In part because my life is different; but also because my understanding of what it means to “bring the good news” has evolved.

In the posts to come, I want to explore some of the ways my understanding of evangelism has changed.

Join me?

In the Series:

Image by B Baltimore Brown.

What I’m Into: February 2014

Neverending winter

I think we are in the midst of the WINTER THAT WILL NEVER END. Are we in Witch-Occupied Narnia?

I have always disliked winter, but I’m pretty sure this has been the longest winter of my life. It’s definitely been the coldest and snowiest. I’m tired of trying to make the most of it by playing outside in the frigid wind. I just want sunshine and grass and warmth.

*Sigh.*

We’ve had some fun indoors. My friends and I finished putting together our quilt top in December, and have finally moved on to the actual quilting. (Did you know we’re making a quilt for Lydia? We are! We started back in August. It’s a crazy amount of work! I have the raddest friends ever!). Quilting on a quilting frame is a trillion times more fun than cutting and piecing. See how much we’re all smiling?

quilting

Back home, Lydia has become absolutely obsessed with drawing. She draws all day long. She uses up sheets and sheets of paper, practicing face after face. (She just turned 2 1/2). It’s quite charming. I don’t know why we didn’t just name her Kathleen II.

drawing

And I pulled out my sewing machine to make a couple of dresses for Lydia’s Waldorf doll. Here, I used a vintage pillowcase and my own pattern. It’s far from perfect but I’m rather pleased with it.

waldorf doll dress

And now that you’re wondering whether I’m actually a 70-year-old lady with a blog, here’s what I’ve been into!

Books

Again, just one book this month. (I have accepted that this is just the way it is right now.)

Detroit: A Biography by Scott Martelle. I’ve always lived about an hour away from Detroit, and I grew up shopping there with my family quite regularly. Driving by all those crumbling, abandoned neighbourhoods, and catching haunting glimpses of the abandoned Michigan Central Station in the distance, I’ve always been disquieted by the question: What in the hell happened here? Since it’s not my country, I never learned about it in school or anything, even though we’re all used to seeing the city’s skyline right across the river from Windsor.

I’m finally getting an answer to that question. Detroit’s story is full of tragedy — racism, violence, poverty. The book  is heartbreaking. Martelle’s writing is accessible, compassionate, and probing. I really wish it contained more photos and maps, though, to help place everything.

Children’s Books

henry in love

After Chloe delighted us last month, I sought out some more books by writer/illustrator Peter McCarty, including Hondo and Fabian, Little Bunny on the Move, and Moon Plane. The illustrations in all of them are gorgeous. McCarty has a way of making his artwork look positively luminescent. (Some of his books are printed on  shimmery paper, which adds to the effect.)

But the real winner of the month was Henry in Love. Seriously the cutest book I have ever seen. I adore everything about it: The quirky illustrations. The sparse text. The fact that Henry’s brother’s name is Tim and his friend’s name is Sancho. Henry’s adorable elementary-school point of view. LOVE. Lydia loves it, too, though it really bothers her that (spoiler!) Henry shares his blueberry muffin with Chloe at the end of the book. “No! I want Henry to eat the blueberry muffin!”

Movies

Fiddler on the Roof — Continuing the Classic Movie Night tradition we started in November, we watched this three-hour musical in two parts via Netflix. (Yup. We finally got Netflix.) Once again, it feels good to get pop culture references now. And it really was an interesting, entertaining, moving experience.

The Great Mouse Detective — we watched this as a family (on VHS!) to wrap up last month’s Sherlock Month. You guys: Basil is still just as sexy as ever. I had to laugh at how the American writers had to keep reminding us that the characters are British: “Jolly good!” “I say!” “Good fellow!”

TV

I feel like Parks and Rec has gotten funnier all of a sudden. I find myself laughing a lot. And after I talked about how much I love Sherlock for exploring male friendship/love last month, I was delighted by how openly the characters of Parks and Rec express (non-romantic) love for one another. Are we making progress as a culture? Anyway, what a great show.

We started watching Freaks and Geeks on Netflix, and I think I love it.

On that same theme of beloved-shows-that-were-cancelled-after-the-first-season, we also watched the first episode of Firefly on Netflix, but are hesitant to continue lest we get manically obsessed like we did with Lost a few years ago. This show has a similar feel to it. Any thoughts? Will I cry as much as I did with Lost?

That’s what I’ve been into! How about you?

Linking up with Leigh Kramer.

*Disclaimer: Post contains affiliate link.*

What I’m Into: January 2014 (The Sherlock and Toilet Paper Edition)

SHERLOCK SHERLOCK SHERLOCK SHERLOCK.

Yeah I was into other stuff too but SHERLOCK.

That is what I was INTO. January was essentially Sherlock Month in this house.

Sherlock is the BEST THING I’ve EVER WATCHED, you guys.

(Now, that might not be saying much, since I have watched exactly eight TV shows in the last eight years [three of which I abandoned after the second season because they were either too depressing or too sex-obsessed]; but the level of passion I feel for this show exceeds the rest by so much that I’m confident it would be the best if I’d watched 80 TV shows.)

It might also help to know that I have adored the Sherlock Holmes character since I first watched The Great Mouse Detective in 1991 at the age of six. I was so enamored with the eccentric genius that I became a mouse in my imaginary world (named Olivia, naturally) and married him at least a dozen times over the next three years.

So it’s no great surprise that I’m completely taken with this newest incarnation of Doyle’s famous sociopathic sleuth. It helps that the writing is superb, the characters are brilliant and the acting is unexcelled. Altogether, the show is magnificent. Just magnificent.

The final episode of season 2 blew me away last year. Martin Freeman’s performance — first in the therapist’s office and then at the grave — just knocked my socks off. Unforgettable. And that cliffhanger ending! How unbelievably brilliant and cruel! The wait was torture! This was me, for an entire year:

So you can bet I pretty much lost my mind when I discovered I could watch the new episode a few weeks early online. And it did NOT disappoint. It was everything I dreamed it would be and more. Freeman and Cumberbatch (aka John and Sherlock) have earned a permanent place together in my heart.

Ben and I re-watched the first two seasons, and then went on to see the rest of season 3. Episode 2 — The Sign of Three — was one of the most enjoyable things I’ve seen in my life.

Our Sherlock-viewing got so out of hand that Lydia started making deductions (Sniffing her half-eaten apple: “Must be an apple, John!”) and re-named her doll and kangaroo Sherlock and John. Confirming that Sherlock is, in fact, a girl’s name. (Folks who have seen His Last Vow will get the reference.)

renamed toysLydia, with Sherlock and John.

I think what I love MOST about this show is the running theme of the value of friendship. This is such an unexplored topic in Western media. It is so rare to see such an in-depth exploration of male friendship. You never hear the word love applied to any non-romantic relationship (outside of family), but especially between two men. This show dares to go there. And when it involved a character who generally fails to care about anyone? ALL THE FEELS.

ANYWAY. I could talk about Sherlock all day (I PRETTY MUCH DO ALREADY) but I’ll move on.

Books

I picked up The 4-Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss mostly because I spend so freaking much time in the kitchen, and I was hoping this book might offer some tips on how to cut down on cooking time without sacrificing quality and variety.

It didn’t offer that, but it’s a fascinating read nonetheless. Ferriss is an odd and interesting human being. And I learned a few nifty tips along the way.

I also read the wonderful Little House in the Suburbs: Backyard farming and home skills for self-sufficient living (Deanna Caswell and Daisy Siskins), which is inspiring, very comprehensive, and surprisingly funny. Thanks to this book, Ben and I have decided that we are most definitely getting backyard chickens this spring. I’m also very interesting in possibly getting a couple of goats someday — the authors make it sound very doable and totally awesome. I also want to get back into soap-making and try some of their delightful recipes.

Children’s Books

We found this Can You See What I See? book at the thrift store, and we bought it mostly for Ben (he loves that kind of thing), but it’s turned out to be awesome for Lydia, too. (It’s a picture puzzle book, kind of like Where’s Waldo, but with photographs). She just loves to pore over the detailed photos. It’s made for older kids, so she might not be able to find everything in the list on the sidebar; but it’s proven to be a fun book to explore together. We take turns saying, “Can you find the ___?” It’s excellent for building vocabulary, and practicing paying attention to detail. We love it.

Music

Ben got the Bastille album Bad Blood for Christmas, and I can’t believe how much I love it. I listened to it almost every day for the first couple of weeks.

(I don’t know how to talk about music, so I’ll leave it at that.)

In Other News . . .

interview

I’m famous  for not using toilet paper.

If you missed it on my Facebook page, I was interviewed not once, but TWICE this week . . . on the subject of reusable toilet paper.

Out of the blue, I got a tweet from someone from HuffPost Live, wondering if I’d be interested in talking about my experience without toilet paper. Since I’m insane, I agreed.

If you’re interested, you can watch the HuffPost Live interview here.

I wasn’t aware of it, but the next day Salon.com did a feature on that interview. My blog traffic went through the roof and I had no idea why.

Two days later, someone from AM640 called me and asked if I’d like to do a live radio interview for the Jeff McArthur show as well. And I said, Sure, why not? I’ve already crossed so many lines, talking publicly about my private bathroom behaviour.

That radio interview can be found here.

I can honestly say I never expected to become a spokesperson for cloth toilet paper. It’s quite bizarre. Please tell me this isn’t going to be my claim to fame.

So that was my month in a nutshell! Tell me: what have you been into?

Linking up with Leigh Kramer! Go find more music, books, movies and TV shows to enjoy!

*Disclaimer: post contains affiliate links.

My 2014 Calendar (Gardening, Preserving, Liturgical Holidays, Solar Festivals and More!)

My 2014 Calendar. Includes printable Monthly Overview Sheets, to keep track of gardening, preserving, liturgical, and solstice/equinox dates

For the last few years, I have been using a homemade analog daily planner to help me organize my life. (Some might call it a “homemaking binder.” I just call it a planner. Whatever.) I depend on it every day to help me focus on what needs to get done, keep track of important dates, and keep track of important homesteading activities. Every year, my planner evolves and improves as I learn what works and what doesn’t.

I thought I’d share a few resources, and enable you to skip a few steps if you, too, are interested in gardening, food preservation, celebrating the liturgical year and solar festivals (i.e. solstices and equinoxes), lunar phases, etc. I’ll provide you with some important dates to note, some ideas for monthly household deep-cleaning, etc.

(I had hoped to share this with you before January started, but you know — Life. It’s okay though because not much happens in January, anyway.)

In my binder, I keep track of what and how much food I preserve, how much meat I freeze, gift ideas, and keep track of bigger life goals. But most of the space is devoted to my daily/weekly planner.

My Planner

I use the one-page weekly planner from Organized Home to keep track of daily tasks and to-do lists. I print it out on one side of paper, so that the back of the previous week is always blank for me to keep track of bigger-picture projects. It looks like this:

weekly planner page

When I’m done with a week, I just rip that page out and recycle it.

If you’re interested in keeping track of the phases of the moon, I found this lunar calendar. I just went through my calendar and drew in the major phases (New Moon, First Quarter, Full Moon, Last Quarter) throughout the year. It only took about 15 minutes. I did this last year and I loved always knowing where we were in the lunar phases. It feels good to have this heightened awareness with the natural world.

Starting last year, I also divide each month with a Monthly Overview Sheet. On my overview sheet, I keep track of my monthly deep-clean project, upcoming gardening and preserving work that needs to be done, and upcoming holidays that need to be prepared for. That way, whenever I’m about to start a new month, I can look over my sheet and see what I have coming up, and start thinking about it. Just to get the wheels turning.

monthly overview sheet

(I also put tabs on them so they act as dividers.)

I thought I’d share what I’ve got on each of my monthly overview sheets, in case you would like to follow along.

You can download the PDF and print out your own overview sheets, if you’d like; but I’m also sharing the contents below for you to look at. Take what you want; leave what you don’t.

Download 2014 Monthly Overview Sheets (Becoming Peculiar).

A few Explanations/Definitions:

Household Deep-Clean

Each month, I try to seriously clean one part of the house — something that tends to get neglected. Things like purging closets and shampooing carpets. Sometimes I focus on a particular room. Feel free to borrow ideas.

Pantry/Freezer

This section is referring to using up last-year’s preserved foods, to make room for new stuff. A month before the fresh fruits and vegetables are due to be ripe and ready for harvest, I make sure to clear out my freezer and pantry of the old stuff.

Garden

This section only refers to planning and planting that needs to be done (i.e. not harvesting. That’s the next section).  The exact dates will only really be relevant to you if you live in the same growing zone as me (I live in Southern Ontario), of course; but even in a similar climate, my notes might help give a general sense of when things are planted.

Preservation

Here, I list what fruits and vegetables are in season, and make plans to harvest and/or buy them, and preserve them in my favourite ways (freezing, canning, etc).

Holidays

Here I keep track of both Christian holidays (including some of the lesser-known ones, like Epiphany and Pentecost), as well as the solar festivals (i.e Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, etc).

Here We Go! My Monthly Overview Sheets, At a Glance

_____

January

 Household Deep Clean

  • Purge and organize closets (one floor each week)

Pantry/Freezer

  • (N/A)

Garden

  • (N/A)

Preservation

  • (N/A)

Holidays

  • Epiphany/Women’s Christmas – Jan 6

 

 February

 Household Deep Clean

  • Blinds and curtains

Pantry/Freezer

  • (N/A)

Garden

  • Plan garden, buy seeds
  • Some indoor sowing – onions and leeks (Feb 15)

Preservation

  • (N/A)

Holidays

  • (N/A)

March

Household Deep Clean

  • Ceiling fans and light fixtures

Pantry/Freezer

  • (N/A)

Garden

  • Sow lettuce indoors (March 1-15)
  • Sow eggplant indoors (March 20-25)
  • Sow cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts (March 25)
  • Sow tomatoes indoors (March 30)

Preservation

  • (N/A)

Holidays

  • Spring Equinox  – March 20
  • Lent – starts March 5

seeds

April

 Household Deep Clean

  • Windows (one floor a week)

 Pantry/Freezer

Use up:

  • rhubarb
  • asparagus

 Garden

Apr 1-15 – sowing and planting:

  • peas
  • garlic
  • onions
  • leeks (seedlings)

Apr 15-20

  • radishes
  • beets
  • swiss chard
  • lettuce
  • sweet potato slips

Preservation

  • (N/A)

Holidays

  • Easter – April 20

 

May

 Household Deep Clean

  • Bedroom (dust trim and vents; go through closets; move furniture to sweep; etc)

Pantry/Freezer

Use up:

  • Frozen strawberries
  • Strawberry jam
  • asparagus

Garden

May 1-10: plant cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, spinach, parsley, beans celery, potatoes, corn

May 15-20 – plant peppers, tomatoes, cukes, squash, basil; transplant new lettuce

 Preservation

  • Rhubarb – can sauce; freeze
  • Asparagus — freeze

Holidays

  • (N/A)

June

 Household Deep Clean

  • Carpet and floors (i.e. shampoo carpets)

Pantry/Freezer

Use up:

  • frozen zucchini
  • frozen peaches
  • blueberries
  • raspberries
  • green beans
  • canned peaches
  • all jams/jellies

 Garden

  • Sowing and planting for fall: greens, lettuce
  • Plant sweet potatoes  in ground

 Preservation

  • Strawberries  freeze, jam, dehydrate
  • Strawberry-rhubarb pie filling
  • Freeze peas?

Holidays

  • Pentecost – June 8
  • Father’s Day – June 15
  • Summer Solstice – June 21

July

Household Deep Clean

  • Bathroom

Pantry/Freezer

Use up:

  • Canned tomatoes/tomato sauce
  • Salsa
  • Frozen peppers
  • Sundried tomatoes

Garden

Fall crop:

  • 1st week – greens, lettuce, carrots, beets, cabbage, kale, collards, broccoli
  • Mid-month: root crops (beets, etc)

Preservation

  • Zucchini – freeze grated and chunks
  • Blueberries – freeze, dehydrate
  • Peaches – freeze, can
  • Raspberries – freeze, jelly
  • Green beans – freeze, pickle
  • Dry garlic

 Holidays

  • (N/A)

peppers

August

 Household Deep Clean

(None – too busy with garden/preserving!!)

Pantry/Freezer

  • (N/A)

Garden

  • Fall crops: greens, peas, spinach

Preservation

  • Can tomatoes and salsa
  • Dehydrate tomatoes
  • Freeze peppers (sweet, jalepeno)
  • Pickle/dehydrate/freeze hot peppers
  • Fermented salsa
  • Fermented cole slaw, kimchi
  • Make sriracha from jalepenos

Holidays

  • (N/A)

 

September

 Household Deep Clean

  • Cleans vents and trim (one floor a week)

 Pantry/Freezer

  • (N/A)

Garden

  • (N/A)

Preservation

  • Can apple sauce
  • Dehydrate apples
  • More tomatoes and peppers
  • Fermented cole slaw

Holidays/Festivals

  • Fall Equinox – Sept 23

 

October

Household Deep Clean

Kitchen. One thing a week:

  • Move appliances to clean floors and scrub sides
  • Vacuum/dust insides of cabinets/drawers
  • Scrub sinks

Pantry/Freezer

  • (N/A)

Garden

  • plant garlic

Preservation

  • remaining apples, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage
  • root cellaring: squash, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic

Holidays

  • Canadian Thanksgiving – Oct 13
  • Halloween – Oct 31

November

Household Deep Clean

  • Laundry Room

Pantry/Freezer

  • (N/A)

Garden

  • Season extension
  • Cover crops to remain in ground

Preservation

More root cellaring – carrots, potatoes, onions

Holidays

  • Start preparing for Advent (Nov 30) and Christmas

 

December

 Household Deep Clean

  • Furniture (vacuum couch cushions, wipe down chairs, etc)

Pantry/Freezer

  • (N/A)

Garden

  • Harvest remaining leeks

 Preservation

  • (N/A)

Holidays

  • Advent and Christmas
  • Holy Innocents Day – Dec 28

 Again, you can download the Overview Sheets here!

Is there anything missing that I should totally be keeping track of?

 

Recipe: Leek and Mushroom Pot Pie

Leek and Mushroom Pot Pie

Today I’m over at Red and Honey, talking about why leeks are my new favourite fall/winter food! Eating seasonally is becoming increasingly important to me, so I want to tap into the great potential of some lesser-known vegetables as much as possible. Enter leeks. Delicious, nutritious, and comforting in the early weeks of winter.

I can’t get enough leeks these days. It’s the perfect time to eat leeks — they’re some of the only vegetables still standing in the garden (Yes! In early December!). If you don’t grow your own, you can probably still find them at your local farmer’s market for a good price.

leeks on table

I thought I’d share another scrumptious leek recipe, in addition to the oh-so-heavenly leek and potato soup and the to-die-for gratineed leek recipes I’m sharing with Red and Honey.

We’ve been loving this mushroom and leek pot pie lately. The leeks and optional white wine make it feel fancy and slightly exotic; the pot-pie form with mushrooms smothered in warm savoury cream sauce make it feel cozy. A beautiful balance of classy and comfort food, in my opinion.

Note: this is not a low-fat dish, boys and girls. Plenty of butter and heavy cream. No complaints here. And this is the one dish where I’m willing to be lazy and just buy store-bought butter puff pastry. Perhaps not the most real-food entree, but it’s so delicious and full of nutritious seasonal vegetables I’m willing to deal with it.

Leek and Mushroom Pot Pie

Serves 4-6

Adapted from Vegetables You Used to Hate! by Darlene King

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, divided
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 carrots, thinly sliced
  • 2 leeks, white part only, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 lbs mushrooms, thickly sliced or quartered
  • 2 Tbsp dry white wine or sherry (optional)
  • 3 Tbsp flour
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 package frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tsp milk

Start by taking your puff pastry out of the freezer to thaw, at least half an hour before you even start cooking. I hate when I get to the end and realize my puff pastry is still frozen solid.

Melt 4 Tbsp butter in a large skillet, and slowly saute onions, leeks and carrots over medium heat until they begin to soften. Remove to a 2-quart (2-litre) glass dish (oval is nice, but rectangular works, too.) Add frozen peas to the dish, too.

Melt 3 more Tbsp of butter in the same warm skillet; add mushrooms and saute until wilted, adding more butter if needed. Remove with a slotted spoon to the glass dish with the other cooked vegetables.

Preheat oven to 425.

Now return pan to heat and add yet another 3 Tbsp of butter to melt. Add sherry or wine (if desired) and reduce until half the liquid has evaporated. Then add flour and stir constantly for 1 minute over medium-high heat. Gradually stir in the stock and then the cream, stirring continuously. Cook a few minutes longer until sauce is smooth and thick. Stir in parsley. Taste, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Add sauce to the vegetables in the baking dish, stirring everything together with a wooden spoon.

Roll out enough of the pastry dough to fit the top of the baking dish. Place on top of the dish and make a few slashes for steam to escape.

Mix the egg yolk and milk together and brush over the dough. If there is leftover pastry, you can make shapes with it to decorate the crust.

Place the pie in the center of the oven and reduce the temperature to 375. Bake for about 45 minutes (checking often), or until the crust is golden brown.

leek mushroom pot pie(I am not a professional photographer, but you get the idea.)

Ta-da! Delicious winter comfort food.

Again: check out my recipe for gratineed leeks at Red and Honey for more scrumptious ways to use this amazing vegetable.

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