Shaney Irene

On Faith, Life, and Being the Church

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Why I Loved the Baylor Homecoming Parade

This year was the first year I got to watch Baylor’s homecoming parade from start to finish. My four years as a student, I was in the parade with Baylor Swing Dance Society. It was really neat to see the wide range of organizations represented in the parade, from BSDS and Baylor Dance Company to the sororities and fraternities, to the Baylor Driving Club, the Baylor Wakeboarding Club, the various academic associations, Student Foundation, etc. It showed the diversity of people and interests at Baylor and highlighted how many people and groups have found a home at Baylor.

What I didn’t expect to enjoy, though, was watching all the homecoming queen nominees go by. I figured they would all be the stereotypical type of pretty that you expect to see in magazines and movies. I always resented the homecoming queen competition while at Baylor; I figured it probably started as a way to show off the prettiest girls on campus and did nothing more than make other girls feel inadequate and insecure.

Surprisingly, I found that watching the homecoming queen nominees was one of my favorite parts of the parade.

I was surprised at how diverse the nominees were. While it’s true that most of the nominees were white and thin, there were nominees who were black, asian and latino; some who wore extra makeup and had perfectly coiffed hair, while others wore their hair in a simple, everyday style and wore minimal makeup; many of these girls didn’t fit the traditional definition of “pretty.” I was surprised, and pleased, to even see a couple of overweight girls dressed beautifully, sitting in cars and waving to the crowd.

The parade felt like a celebration of the range of female beauty.

Now, I’m not trying to set up the parade as perfect. I’m sure there is a lot of room for more diversity, and that many of the girls did fit within the traditional parameters for beautiful. But watching the parade, I felt hopeful. I felt hopeful that more and more people seem to be recognizing that beauty comes in different shapes and sizes. Hopeful that beauty is being displayed not just as something achieved through makeup and hairstyling, but as something that is naturally in every girl. Hopeful that I’ll someday bring my daughters to the homecoming parade and not be absolutely terrified that their self-esteem will be crushed by watching the queen nominees go by.

In the parade, the nominee from the Baylor Wakeboarding Club, who wore her hair simply, had minimal makeup, and wore a simple but pretty dress, looked just as beautiful as Miss Texas.

Helping build the self-esteem of the female population won’t come through blanket insistence that “everyone is beautiful,” but through celebrating beauty in its diverse forms. And this is why I loved watching the parade at Baylor homecoming 2012.


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Happy Birthday to Matthew, my Best Friend

Something wonderful happened on this day 22 years ago. If it hadn’t happened, my life would probably look very different right now.

22 years ago today, my wonderful boyfriend Matthew Swift was born.

My best friend Matthew Swift

Matthew is unlike anyone else I’ve ever met. When he was two, his dad brought home a Disney movie, and he stood–STOOD–through the entire movie, completely focused on what was happening on the screen.

That sense of focus has not left him. He can accomplish anything he puts his mind to. Combine that focus with his love for learning, and you get one extraordinary scholar. He graduated from Baylor summa cum laude, with honors. He is now at the University of Chicago law school on a scholarship.

But he’s not just smart. He’s also one of the kindest, most compassionate people I know. He doesn’t hesitate to go out of his way when someone needs his help, and he always does it without complaining.

He always pursues truth and honesty. When I’m struggling with questions about faith and life, I know that I can go to him and he will understand why I’m struggling, but also that he’ll challenge my thinking and ask me follow-up questions I may not have even thought of. I know that my questions will never get shut down with a cliche. He also pushes me to be completely honest in our relationship, even when the truth hurts.

One of the things I appreciate most about Matthew is his refusal to put anyone into a neat little box. He insists on getting to know people as individuals, past the labels and the stereotypes.

Matthew can write like nobody’s business. He has a way with words that makes his prose sound like poetry, his poetry sound like song, and his songs sound like pure beauty. Especially when he writes me love letters. 🙂 I considered giving y’all a glimpse, but the words are precious, and taking even one line out of context just won’t do it justice.

Possibly one of Matthew’s best characteristics is his relentless dedication to his relationship with God. Even when it’s hard, even when he doesn’t feel like it, he never stops pursuing the Lord. I can say with confidence that I have grown closer to the Lord as I have grown closer to Matthew.

There’s so much more I could say about Matthew. What I’ve told you here doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. I could write thousands of words and still have just barely started to tell you about how wonderful Matthew is.

Matthew is my best friend.

And I couldn’t have asked for anyone better.

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To Rachel Held Evans

Dear Rachel,

I discovered your blog around the time that I was starting to rethink a lot of my long-held assumptions about life and faith. I think I discovered you through Preston Yancey, though it could have been Jonathan Guenther. At the time that I found you, I didn’t think we would agree on much. I added you to my regular reading list, mostly because I wanted to know what someone that I disagreed with thought.

Little did I know what the future held.

As I’ve read your blog (and your books) over the past year or so, you have asked so many questions, confronted many difficult issues head-on, and done all of this with a sense of grace and love that turned my paradigms inside-out. For the first time I can remember, questions swimming around in my subconscious came to the surface, and I felt empowered to ask them and explore the answers. I found the courage to question beliefs that I thought unquestionable. And then something else happened I didn’t expect. I found God in the questions.

Of course, it wasn’t just you that brought me to that point. So many people played roles in bringing me to a place of humility and grace. But you were the catalyst for the questions I was asking.

I still disagree with you on a lot. But I’ve learned that love can cover a multitude of disagreements.

You and I don’t have much of a personal relationship. I can claim you as a follower on Twitter (and will confess that I was excited enough when you followed me that I texted my boyfriend about it), but other than a few short tweets, we don’t really know each other. But I can claim you as a sister in Christ, and I do so proudly. I know that you are cheering for me, just as I am cheering for you. I hope that someday we get the chance to connect on a more personal level, but even if we don’t, I am thankful to God for the role that you have played in my life.

It breaks my heart to see so many Christians immediately dismiss you and label you as “dangerous” or a “heretic.” I can’t help but wonder if they have spent any time actually listening to you and not just reacting to you. And I admit, this woman who has on more than one occasion been described as a “protective mother” type would like nothing more than to type up a post pointing out the multiple logical fallacies in some harsher reviews of your book, along with a good dose of lecturing on how Jesus said we would be known by our love, not by our doctrinal accuracy. But I know that it wouldn’t be helpful.

So instead, I pray. I pray that you would be encouraged in the midst of the criticism, and that God would bless you for the blessing you have been to others, including me. I pray that God would show all of us when to stand our ground, and when to allow room for disagreement. I pray that the church would become more unified. And I pray that more and more, God’s people would come to be known by their love.

So thank you, Rachel Held Evans. May God bless you, may He bless Team Dan and Rachel, and may He bless your ministry. I look forward to continuing the journey of faith with you as fellow bloggers and as sisters in Christ.

Eshet Chayil, Rachel. Woman of Valor.

Shaney Lee

This post is part of a synchroblog dedicated to Rachel Held Evans. Today is the release of her second book, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.”  

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Silence and Prayer (or, Taking the Weekend Off)

The idea of be still and wait are common in the Bible.

Stillness and patience do not come easily to me. I react easily, and I tend to be opinionated and outspoken. On top of that, it’s election season. On top of that, one of my favorite bloggers released a controversial book. On top of that, I’ve been dealing with some negative reactions to my writing.

It’s been a lot to deal with.

I’ve never been good at practicing the spiritual disciplines of silence and meditation. Mostly because I’ve never tried. I’ve realized this week, though, that it’s very important to unplug, to take time to remove myself from the busyness of life, to take time to rest and rejuvenate. It’s important to regularly take time to remove distractions and just sit quietly with the Lord.

So, here’s two ways I’m going to put this into practice.

1. I’m removing myself from the internet from when I get off work today until I go back to work Tuesday morning.

No Facebook, no Twitter, no blogs. Just checking e-mail and (maybe) using Google if I need information. My boyfriend is coming in for the weekend from Chicago, so it works out well. As the internet has been getting increasingly hostile lately, I need a few days away, time to pray and to spend time with those I love.

Since I work for a web-based company, this will be strange. But I anticipate that it will be good and healthy.

2. I’m taking a weekend trip to a Monastery in November.

Specifically, I’m going to St. Scholastica Monastery in Boerne, TX, home of the Benedictine Sisters of Boerne.

St. Scholastica Monastery

I’m not sure exactly when I’m going, but I hope to go the weekend of November 17. My goals are to get away from technology, sit silently, write, read the Bible, and pray, hopefully coming back rejuvenated and better equipped to reflect the virtues of gentleness and patience in my everyday life.

I’m a little nervous, but mostly I’m excited. I honestly can’t remember the last time I fully unplugged. I can’t wait to see what God does as I practice the spiritual disciplines of stillness and silence.

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Defensiveness Is Not A Virtue

The Modern age has been good to Christians.

Modernity has, for the most part, been very hospitable to Christianity. It emphasized things like the scientific method, objectivity, logic, and absolute truth. Christianity has a lot to offer a world that thinks this way. Apologists from C.S. Lewis to Josh McDowell have used these concepts to argue for the existence of God, the validity of the Bible, and the uniqueness of Christianity. Many Christians have been equipped through the works of these and others to be able to defend their faith if they should ever be called on to do so.

My generation was born and raised as society was going through a shift from modernism to postmodernism. Our teachers and parents, concerned about the rejection of absolute truth, taught us apologetics from an early age. We know how to respond to the toughest of questions, what the weaknesses are in postmodern thinking, and why atheism takes more faith than Christianity.

In many ways, this is good. I’m certainly not speaking against studying, against logic, or against using our brain. But it has now caused a different problem in the church: We’ve become a church full of defensive people.

1 Peter 3:15 is often cited to prove why it is “necessary” for every Christian to know what, and why, they believe and be ready to give “a defense” for their faith. While it was never said explicitly (at least not to me as I grew up), it was implied that those who didn’t study and prepare to defend their faith were disobeying God.

We have acted as if our faith is on trial in a courtroom, and we are all defense lawyers.

We act like the Bible is on trialHere’s the main problem: 1 Peter 3:15 is not talking about giving intellectual or legal arguments for Christian beliefs. 1 Peter was written to a group of Christians that was going through intense persecution by Nero. By saying “Always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you,” Peter wasn’t saying “Be ready to give evidence for why Christianity is true.” He was saying, “Be ready to let people know why you still have hope and joy in the midst of persecution!”

By focusing on on defending propositions about faith instead of sharing why our faith gives us hope, we have created a culture of Christians who are always on guard and easily offended by what they perceive to be attacks on truth. Perhaps I see this more as a blogger (certainly, the internet seems to magnify what are sometimes smaller flaws in culture), but I think that it’s something we all need to be careful of.

God does not need us to be His defense lawyers.

And when we act like He does, we inadvertently cause pain and harm to the Body of Christ. We try to explain away the concerns of those who are asking genuine questions without being willing to sit with them in the tension.

Sometimes “I don’t know” is the best answer.

We hurt Christian unity when we automatically assume that anyone who has a different perspective from us is promoting dangerous ideas, without first being willing to ask questions and have a conversation.

Jesus said we would be known by our love.

We do the world a great disservice when we act like Christianity has nothing to offer a postmodern generation. Sometimes winning a person over to Christ is not done by explaining the truth (or defending the concept of truth), but showing the truth through our works of faith.

Defensiveness is not a virtue.

I speak to myself as much as you. As a former competitive debater, I know how to use logic to rip others’ arguments to shreds. But the Jesus I find in the Bible didn’t do that. Jesus was humble, not defensive. And according to 1 Peter 3:15, that’s the attitude we need to have when we share the reason for our hope–with gentleness and respect.