Stepping stones of faith.

I have steps going up my back yard. They lead to a small sitting area, just big enough for two people to sit side by side. Usually I am there alone. Usually I’m there to talk to God. It is like a treehouse, but without the tree. There is a lot of spiritual symbolism going on with this path and this place.

Here’s the view from the top, just after the stepping stones were dug in.
step stones

The top of my back yard is forty feet above street level. The street itself is higher up than the majority of this area. This means I can see downtown Nashville from my back yard. This means that I get to see beautiful sunsets, as my house faces west. Sometimes you have to get up above it all to see things better.

sunset

We put the patio area in many years ago, and it has settled a bit. Weeds grow between the stones, and bugs scuttle around. It has been there long enough that it looks like it came with the house. The stones are made of concrete, but they have an Escher-esque puzzle like design so they look random when they fit together.

I go up there when I am having a bad day. Sometimes I need to escape. It is far enough that it works. Sometimes I’m so angry that I’m better off being away from people for a bit. It is a safe place for my own personal time out. I’m reminded of the star stones in the “Wrinkle in Time” series by Madeline L’Engle. The Murry family would go there when they needed to be alone.

I realized at one point that I was going up there only when I was angry. That didn’t seem fair to God. I need to remember to make time to go up there when I’m happy too. Sure, I can talk to God anywhere. But this is nice. It is a little retreat.

This summer I decided to have the stepping stones put in. They were put in by a Buddhist. There’s some symbolism in that. I supplement my Christianity with Buddhism. His helper was this amazingly interesting man with thick dreadlocks and a philosophy that involves literally shaking out all your problems. If you are having a hard time, jump out and down and yell to get it out, he says. I’m willing to give it a try.

I had the stones put in because my husband didn’t like the idea of me walking barefoot in the yard. It was too much bother to put on shoes. I have fond memories of playing barefoot in my yard when I was a child. There are more moles and yellowjackets now, it seems, so he has a point. My husband is concerned for my physical and spiritual safety. He is often concerned that I’m going out too far. He’s one for staying in the boat. I’m one for walking out to Jesus on the water. He’s afraid I’m going to sink. I respect his concern, but timidity never got me anywhere. So, in went the stones.

Just having the stones leading up to the sitting area, the star stones, has been a philosophical journey. Somehow I didn’t realize that the grass was going to grow up around the stones. I didn’t think about how I was going to have to maintain them.

Isn’t this just like our spiritual life? We get started on it, and then we start to realize that it takes a lot of work to keep it going. It isn’t about buying a new Bible or a study guide. It is about sitting down and actually doing the work. Our lives of faith get rusty and dusty when we don’t work on them.

I get overwhelmed by how much work is involved sometimes. Then I remember. One stone at a time. Don’t look at the rest of them. Just do what I can. Even spending ten minutes working on them is better than nothing. Ten minutes every day for a week and it is done.

This is just like prayer. If we break it up into little things, we get there. If we don’t work on it, we are stuck at the bottom of the hill.

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Gender roles.

What is it about gender roles? Are they nature or nurture?

Is there something about being a girl that means you like ponies and princesses? Is there something about being a boy that means you like trains and trucks?

How much of this is programmed into them? How much of it is reinforced or suppressed?

I was at a craft store recently and noticed that a young boy was there with his grandmother. She was buying beads for a project. He asked her to buy some beads for him because he wanted a necklace. Rather than being pleased that her grandson was interested in a craft that she enjoyed, she told him “Boys don’t wear beads!”

I, of course, had to disagree. I mentioned that there are cultures all over the world where men wear beads. I mentioned that there is nothing about beads that says a boy can’t wear them. I could tell that grandmother had been programmed too because she immediately changed her tune and started to help him look for beads.

Why are boys taught that anything “girly” is bad? Boys are steered away from pink. They are told that dolls are for girls. Then the worst – boys don’t cry.

I think we do children, but especially boys, a huge disservice when we try to shape them into something they are not. I think we need to let them be who they are, and not try to force them into a pre-made form.

Meanwhile, girls are allowed to play with boy’s toys. Girls can be tomboys. But boys who play with girl’s toys are sissies.

This is terrible. This is dangerous. We are creating boys who are tough and hard and are not in touch with their emotions or feelings, and have no way of getting them out. This is the source of many problems. We have to undo this. We are teaching boys to be boys at the expense of their souls. When we give them “rules” about how things must be, we don’t let them use their own creativity or insight. We stop them from growing.

I remember one time while I was working in Washington DC. I was at a Balinese shadow puppet show. The men were elaborately dressed in long flowing robes. A young boy was sitting near me and he was a little freaked out by the idea of “men in dresses.” Hello, teachable moment. I pointed out that Scottish men wear kilts. I also pointed out that women didn’t wear pants in America as recently as the 50s. Things change. What is now a given will change.

And then there is the idea of Jesus. He never wore pants.

I have a student this year who got very upset when I mentioned that boys can wear pink. This is the same student who says the teacher sings the alphabet song wrong. My husband looks very good in pink. African American men look beautiful in jewel tones. I’m concerned that this student has been given very definite rules that he is constantly going to butt his head up against. He is doing very poorly with his schoolwork, and has no friends. Life is hard when you can’t adjust.

Let boys be themselves. Let girls be themselves. Teach them both how to change a tire. Teach them both how to cook. We need to stop gender stereotyping them. Everybody needs to learn useful skills if we are going to have fully realized people. Perhaps this will mean we will have more discoveries, as people open up their minds to the “what ifs”.

Perhaps it will mean that people will marry out of strength and not weakness. They won’t have to marry someone to complete themselves. They will be two strong people who can both mow the yard, raise the children, pay the bills, and get the chores done.