The Simple Way

Things are different on the interwebs. I knew that. I just didn't know HOW different.

I reactivated my profile on a free online dating site, and suddenly there are eligible bachelors left and right who are fascinated with my views, and this experiment... and suddenly, me. See, I've always thought that what makes me sexy is my personality, but I had no idea what a difference putting my personality out there in one big chunk (a profile) would make. I just talk about my views and what I want, and talk about the experiment, and of course there are a few pics...

And man, I have NEVER gotten so much exposure for this blog. I get at least one long, passionate message per day about someone's struggle with appearance and (more often) religion, how they have XYZ view but no one else sees it that way (except me, apparently). They're pleasantly intrigued by the (perceived) conflict between my rather liberal views and the fact that I'm going into ministry. It's been a relieved flood of, "TOTALLY! You're so unusual, let's talk about that!" And I would love to, but much to my utter delight, it turns out I'm not the only one who thinks this way.

In fact, there's a whole movement afoot. Oh yes. The Simple Way is one of these movements, and incredibly, not only does it align with my religious and ethical views, but it also aligns with the Experiment.

Shaine Claiborne in his book, Irresistible Revolution, has this to say about the changing landscape of religiosity in America:

"There are many false prophets (and false profits) out there, and all kinds of embarrassing things have been done in the name of God. Religious extremists of all faiths have perverted the best of our traditions. But there is another movement stirring, a little revolution of sorts. Many of us are refusing to allow distorted images of our faith to define us. There are those of us who, rather than simply reject pop evangelicalism, want to spread another kind of Christianity, a faith that has as much to say about this world as it does about the next.... There is a movement that is bubbling up that goes beyond cynicism and celebrates a new way of living, a generation that stops complaining about the church it sees and becomes the church it dreams of." (Emphasis mine)

So what does this movement look like? In broad strokes, it looks like simply following Jesus, but not in the way we've come to think of it. Here, "Following Jesus," means actually leaving all your worldly things behind to live with and work for and help the poor. It means leaving megachurches that spend $200,000 on a stained-glass window of Jesus for their sanctuaries; it means spending time not in youth groups with velcro walls, but in taking those youth out to actually interact with kids their age who live on the streets and helping them with their homework.

Overall, Claiborne is advocating for voluntary poverty so that we cause no one to suffer from our materialism, and then living in community with our neighbors (yes, even and especially the drug addicts and single mothers) to get our needs met. For years now, I've been joking that I want to go live in a cave so I can get out of a way of living that just seems more and more ludicrous to me.

That said, I am NOT ready to take the steps Claiborne advocates.

However, I stopped eating meat years ago because of its impact on the environment and the rest of mankind. Then I started this experiment, and I somehow have a lot more money in my bank account because I no longer spend it on cosmetics, cosmetics that are basically just more crap we don't need. I'm supporting the beauty paradigm less, and suddenly I find that I'm so in love with life that I barely have time to date... which of course, drives guys wild. (Mwa ha ha.)

I've taken steps towards being a "new kind of Christian" as Claiborne puts it, without realizing that many of us are choosing to do the same. We are looking at the costs of our perfect lives and wondering, "Is my having access to fast food worth the cost to the ecosystem?" Is "The American Way" worth the dignity and lives of more than 75% of the world's population? More to the point, is this really Christian?

Um... NO. Sorry. Love of material wealth and oppression of the poor = bad. So sayeth the Big J (I'm paraphrasing), but we refuse to see that we're no longer the oppressed; we're the oppressors, and those who know Jesus' message are the ones who should most know better. Our problem is, we don't want to hear that message because we know that in order to live justly, we have to give up a lot. Kierkegaard said:

"The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly... My God, you will say, If I do that my whole life will be ruined."

As I read this book, I'm thinking about TME, and how I plan to end it. At first I thought I would just go back to how I was before, but with better self-esteem; I thought I would be more conscious of my footprint on the world, but I'd still go back to thinking about my hair all the time and worrying about my makeup. But now... should I do that?

Knowing what I know after a year of Christian Ethics and Economics courses, and seeing my views reflected in a movement that I respect more than I can say; being a member of the kind of church I've always wanted to be a part of (Praxis United Church of Christ), would it be right of me to go back to a ton of makeup and hair styling and stuff? Feeling so strongly about this movement towards simplicity and responsibility, would I even enjoy the beauty rituals any more?

All this being said, I still drive a car which requires maintenance. I shop for food (because I don't know how to raise buffalo) and use electricity to run this big, shiny computer. I am not ready to go live on the streets, or quit school.

But I AM ready to claim my spot as a member of a movement that realizes that we don't have to live like this, under the tyranny of words like "pretty" and "wealthy" and "successful." All we have to do is make the choice to put it down; for some of us, that means leaning on God, or Jesus, to give us the strength to do it.

What a feeling! I'm just gonna say it: Praise God!

The Red Nose of Courage

I got tired of being mislabeled as "conservative" or "traditional." So I did what anyone would do:

I got a big honkin hole punched in my face.

OK, it's not big. In fact, most of my friends, who knew I was considering this, didn't notice it. When I asked them they said, "Oh my god. You did get your nose pierced! It looks like it's always been there." I take this as a compliment, like when I dyed my hair red and no one noticed, but when I went back to blonde they said, "Why not go with your natural hair color?" I would say, "This is my natural hair color." And some people actually said, "No, you're a redhead. Aren't you?" I thought that was hilarious.

So here's a pic:

I had to go with b/w because the camera keeps washing me out, which makes it impossible to see the stud.
It's on my right side. With apologies to Mom, I like it, and I'm glad I did it.

What's interesting, though, is why I did it. I was talking with a friend over coffee at a local coffee house I LOVE because it's kinda funky and eclectic without being totally hipstery. We were discussing how she had chosen the Div school we both go to because she is a lesbian, and she wanted to be challenged to grow out of her comfort zone-- so she chose a more traditional school. Ivy League schools (and northern ones) tend to be super progressive and gay-friendly, and she actually wanted to learn how to be surrounded by more conservative Christians, and talk to them openly about her differing views. (This girl is awesome, guys.)

Anyway, I was talking about how frustrated I was by people looking at my appearance and hearing about my life in seminary, how it always seems to amount to, "Oh, you're one of those. I gotta go." I said that I was considering piercing my nose as a way to combat those instant assumptions, and I phrased it so that it was clear that I thought it was silly of me to consider doing that just to influence what other people thought. She looked at me a second and said, "Well... I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to communicate on the outside who you really are, and the way you look right now, you fit right into a 'conservative' box. Piercing your nose would make a significant dent in that image."

We talked about her intentional choice to "look" like a lesbian, because it was how she felt and she is proud of who she is; she also realized that this choice would lead to others seeing her a certain way and that she wouldn't be able to pretend she was straight.

She told me that she, too, struggled with assumptions based on her faith, but she has something on her side (sorta): she's a gay Christian. Right away, people go, "Huh. WTF does THAT mean?" She's outside of boxes immediately, or at least confusing them. We discussed how all of us have a need to look like we feel, and she helped me let go of my guilt for spending $40 just to slow people down on the Assumption-Train.

So I went and got my nostril pierced. It barely hurt at all, but of course, I had had it done years ago, so I was ready. It was red for maybe an hour.

I. Feel. Great.


Dear Change: WTF? Love, Lauren

I hate to admit this, so don't tell anyone.

The Modesty Experiment is a LOT harder when you're single.

Since breaking up with MF, I haven't really cared much about meeting guys-- mostly because it was a difficult breakup, and I haven't felt ready to make myself vulnerable to a new relationship. But lately (like, in the last week) I've found myself wanting to meet guys that give me that fluttery feeling-- I'm not ready for a relationship, but for the first time since the breakup I'm thinking about what I want again.

I just wanted reassurance that I am attractive, assurance that I didn't need when I had a partner (not only because he told me I was gorgeous all the time, but because I didn't care if anyone but him thought I was gorgeous). I have felt guilty about this, but I think that as a woman, it's important that I feel beautiful, and maybe there's nothing wrong with that.

I grew up with my brother and I was raised by my dad, so in a houseful of men I was... well... a mess a lot of the time. I thought it was unfair that boys got to ride around shirtless: I understood that breasts were the issue but, I reasoned, I wouldn't have them for another few years. What was the difference between me and boys? So I rode around on my bike shirtless at, like, eight. I remember not brushing my hair so often that I had a knot at the nape of my neck that my mom had to cut out with a razor.

I was also chronically fashion-inept. I was not allowed to pierce my ears, and because it wasn't really OK to care about trends (my dad was overly counterculture), I was frequently painfully behind the times. I had a pretty terrible bowl cut in the fourth grade, and there appear to be pictures of an entire year in which I wore my hair slicked back with gel. As a girl. Yeah.

Dad didn't stop me because he didn't know any better. But then, when I was ten, he started dating a wonderful, wonderful woman named Jenny. She was a widow with two daughters who were well-liked and well-adjusted, and Jenny understood what it was like to be a girl. She took me to the mall to get my ears pierced, and dealt with the fallout from Dad later. She took that hit for me, and we weren't even related.

One day she was taking me somewhere in her blue van, and I was wearing those pants girls wore in the 90s with elastic that went around your feet-- they were like tights, almost. You were supposed to wear your socks over them.

The thing was, they had gone out years ago, and I was wearing my socks under them. Yikes.

As we pulled into the garage Jenny, in the most wonderful way possible, somehow explained to me that no one wore those anymore, and that I needed new pants. I must have said something like, "But why should I care how I look?", and she smiled warmly at me and said, "Because you're a girl, Lauren, and when you look good on the outside, you feel good on the inside."

That one statement has stuck with me forever. It has changed my life.

TME has taught me that balance is the key: it's OK to feel better when you're put-together, but at the same time, beauty can't be the only thing you love about yourself because then when you don't feel beautiful, you don't love yourself. By the same token, I have always felt that my personality is the most attractive thing about me, but many people won't get to know that personality unless they're attracted to the outside... and that's just how people work. Jenny helped me understand that being concerned with your appearance is not always frivolous or vain, that it has a deeper significance, and that if how you look effects how you feel, then it's OK to care about it.

Dad eventually broke up with Jenny. Years later, after I had moved to Florida, I got a check for $200 in the mail when I graduated high school, and it had her address on it. No note, just a check; I have no idea how she even got my address in Tampa, but it must have taken some detective work. She had remembered how old I was, even though I hadn't seen her in over six years. I went to her house that later that year, but no one was home.

I heard a few years ago that she died of pancreatic cancer, leaving her two girls, who were so instrumental in giving me balance in my male-dominated home life, without parents before they reached 25. To this day, I regret never telling Jenny how much she changed my life.

So, as of right now, I'm dedicating this blog to her. I don't know if they have internet access in the afterlife (who would their service provider be? NOT VERIZON), but still...

Jenny, after years of trying, I feel beautiful on the outside as well as on the inside, and I understand and accept my need to feel both of those. I hope you can feel my love from wherever you are.


New headscarf...

FINALLY, a headscarf that doesn't slide off my damn head! Short hair makes it hard to tuck it up under the scarf, but the wig caps from The Style Underground help a ton.

Can't wait to show this off! Many thanks to Julie at The Style Underground for this adorable addition to my headwear options.