Things I Liked In July

Each month I do a post covering ‘things I liked’ – from articles to videos to tv shows to books to anything in between. Here’s my list of what I liked in July. What have you liked this month?

15 Ways To Catch Up With Friends That Aren’t Grabbing A Coffee Or A Cocktail

Look I love coffee. But not all my friends do. Not all my friends are most comfortable and talkative sitting at a table surrounded by strangers. Here’s a list to jump-start some ideas about interesting things to do with friends.

Lifelong Vegan

Kamina, of Nina Kardia and We Write You has started a vegan coaching business. I did a session with her, and it was really helpful. You can read my testimonial here!

10 Famous Book Hoarders

I am a minimalist in every area of my life….except my book collection. Beautiful libraries are my jam. I loved this list of book collections.

5 Things To Love About Black Sheep

I’ve been going to Black Sheep at least once a week for almost a year now. It’s dog friendly and will give you delicious delicious coffee. Here’s some other things that are good about, as written by Milika.

Hogwarts School of Arts and Music

Twenty years of Harry Potter (see my reflection here) has brought the much loved book series back into the light of public view. I loved this piece which argues that most of the analogies people are making about the real world and the HP world get it all wrong. Have a read (please!).

Constraints Can Breed Creativity

I’m finding this more and more true – when I limit myself, I am freed to be more creative, happy and productive in the space I’ve made for myself, rather than being overwhelmed by the hugeness of the world and it’s options.

Sayable

This blog is rocking my world and my heart right now. The above post gave me life on a day when I was tired and sad. It reminded me of the contradictory wonderful nature of my God and my faith. Lord, I believe – help my unbelief. It is all Jesus, all the time – I bring nothing to the table.

Everything Sayable writes has me saying – yes, me too. Here’s a bonus post on how to pray when you don’t know how to pray and here’s another bonus post on our hiding places.

Women and The Reformation Part 4 – Always Reforming

This is part four in my series on the Reformation and it’s impact on women. You can read part one here, part two here and part three here.

The Counter Reformation

The Counter Reformation is the name given to the Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation. Even before Luther and the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church was starting to adapt and change – this was certainly made more necessary, however, with the advent of the Reformation. Recently, historians have revealed the importance of women to the Catholic revival after the Council of Trent. The Council of Trent has been called the launch point for the Counter Reformation – the Catholic Church declared a number of the Protestant beliefs as heresies, as well as revising and confirming the Catholic liturgy. It shaped and defined the future of the Catholic Church.

In this period of history, women often used their social status to negotiate their own spaces for religious expression. Where the traditional institution did not make room for them, the women forged their own groups and positions. For example, women in the Benedictine convent of Überwasser used their elite social status as ‘members of the noble class’ to challenge the reform of their convent. The nuns revealed themselves as more than silent brides of Christ. As another example, the group of pious lay women known as the Lichtmutter (light mothers) were overseers of the provision of candles in the parish church, but who came to fulfill a range of duties including the collection of alms and church maintenance.

At the close of the Council of Trent Catholic society offered two respected roles for women: wife and cloistered nun. By the end of the following century women had numerous other roles available to them, such as nurses, teachers and activists. They were integral parts of the new Counter Reformation society.

Where are we now?

The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation changed society for all people. As we have looked at, it’s easy to notice the changes it brought to the lives of women, for better and for worse. But where are we now? What difference has it made?

Most Western Protestant Churches are still dealing with the ‘women’s issues’ and struggling to find answers. This is telling; women are still seen as an issue. The leadership of women, the place for women as teachers and preachers is still contested and viewed by many (both men and women) as unbiblical.

Of course, some denominations have embraced the idea of female pastors – though sometimes for societal reasons rather than the conviction of scripture – and even in these churches, women are still facing struggles their brothers in Christ are not. Women often still feel like second class citizens in the church family.

Always reforming

I think the Reformers would be horrified if the Reformation had stopped with them. Reformation is not a one time event in history, but an ongoing attitude and process as we look at the Bible as we make decisions around how we do church and how we follow God.

The world is changing – it was changing for the Reformers, and it hasn’t stopped since. We will always be reacting to events around us as a Church, and we will always be tempted to both cling to old traditions out of fear and to leap ahead without stopping to check before we jump. Instead, we must turn again and again to God’s Word, just as the Reformers did, as we evaluate where we are heading as a Church.

References

Assess the Effects of the Reformation on the Lives of Women in Sixteenth-Century Europe: https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/assess-the-effects-of-the-reformation-on-the-lives-of-women-in-sixteenth-century-europe/

Review: Women in Reformation and Counter-Reformation Europe: Private and Public Worlds (Social History) by Sherrin Marshall

Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History – Diana Lynn Severance

Reform and Conflict: From the Medieval World to the Wars of Religion – Rudolph W. Heinze

The European Reformations – Carter Lindberg

The Education of Women in the Reformation (History of Education Quarterly) by Lowell Green

A Key to Counter Reformation Women’s Activism: The Confessor-Spiritual Director (Journal of Feminist Study In Religion) by Patricia Ranft

The Protestant Education in the 16th Century: https://www.museeprotestant.org/en/notice/the-protestant-education-in-the-xvith-century/

The Influence of the Protestant Reformation on Education (Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences) by Mihai Androne

More Than Footnotes: Part 3: http://juniaproject.com/more-than-footnotes-part-3-women-reformation-era/

Women and the Counter-Reformation in Early Modern Munster: http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1688

I Went To A New Church

Over the last few months I’ve started going to a new church. I’ll be honest and say this process hasn’t been easy, but it also hasn’t been as hard as it might have been. I’ve learnt a lot about churches, people and myself, and I thought it was time to reflect on that a bit.

Myself 

I don’t like large crowds of people. I already knew this, but I’ve realized more than ever than a growth group or bible study with a few people is much easier for me than a church service with 60 people.

It’s okay to low expectations of myself in terms of social interaction at church, as long as I get to church. Even if I need to leave five minutes after the service ends or arrive five minutes after it starts, that’s okay – meeting with God’s people is still good and valuable.

Church

My favourite part of church is singing songs about Jesus – for similar reasons to why I like prayerbook services. I think the first function of a church service should be the family of God telling each other the truth we believe about Jesus – through song, through prayer, through reading the Bible.

I’m not sold by the concept of a traditional ‘sermon.’ I don’t think it’s the best way to hear the truth about Jesus, encourage each other and grow in him. It would be different if it wasn’t so hard to preach a good sermon – but it is.

People 

The first conversation isn’t hard. It’s the second, third, fourth conversations that transition into building a relationship that is hard.

People are generally friendly and kind. People are also busy and already in relationships. That’s okay. There will be people with space in their lives for you. Keep meeting people and you’ll find them.

If you’re going to a new church…

Taking it slowly is okay. You won’t feel connected and at home straight away – commit to a certain number of weeks before giving up. Inconsistent attendance is better than nothing.

Small steps all add up. Be friendly and open to possibilities. Keep persisting.

If you’re welcoming new people…

Be willing to not just have that first conversation with someone, but the third and fourth as well.

If you don’t have the energy or room in your life for a new relationship, connecting them with someone who does is a good idea.

Women and The Reformation Part 2 – Women In Action

This is part two in my series on the Reformation and it’s impact on women. You can read part one here. 

What The Reformers Thought About Women

Before continuing to examine how the Reformation changed things for women, I want to pause and take a look at what the Reformers themselves thought and said on this issue. As always, there is a mixed bag of opinions, with contradictory opinions sometimes expressed by the same Reformer. This is a very quick overview, not a detailed analysis, but is neccessary to show the framework the Reformers, including female Reformers, were often dealing with.

John Calvin saw the commands given by Paul about women remaining silent in the church as coming under adiaphora or ‘things indifferent’ – things that could be changed as circumstances also changed. While he did not have women taking on roles of leadership, he was opened to the possibility that churches in a different culture might permit it, or that it would be necessary in times of crisis.

Luther held seemingly contradictory views on women – naming them flighty, vain and weak, yet loving and valuing not only his wife and daughter but many women he worked closely with, as well as defending women publicly, advocating marriage to take more of a shape of a partnership and working to increase educational opportunities for women. For example, he once proclaimed “would that every town had also a girls’ school, in which girls might be taught the gospel.” He established a school in Wittenberg to train young girls in reading, writing, mathematics and music. But Luther viewed education not as a pathway to other vocational opportunities, but as a way to train girls to be good mothers and wives.

Writing

The translation of the Bible into ‘common’ languages (not Greek and Latin) meant that theologians and preachers began preaching and writing in the vernacular as well. This made thoughts on theology available to women for the first time, as previously not even wealthy women were educated in classical languages. This also enabled women to become more involved in writing and publishing because of the Reformation. The Reformation allowed women to write about a ‘masculine’ subject: theology.

Katherine Zell wrote at length about clerical marriage, having married a priest herself, she corresponded with leaders of the Reformation throughout Europe and she wrote a book of meditations on selected Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer. Marie Dentiere is another example of a woman who was writing at this time – she published the first Protestant history of the Genevan Reformation. More importantly, she wrote to Marguerite of Navarre, asking her to protect the persecuted Calvin and Farel, and included a detailed explanation of the woman’s right to read and interpret the Scriptures, which will be looked at in detail in the next section of this series. These women are examples of what was happening all over Europe – women were reading the Bible for themselves, and were able to write and speak on theological subjects, expressing their thoughts and opinions on important matters in a way that had not been available to them previously.

High Profile Protestant Women 

High-profile women were also becoming more involved in writing and reformist thinking. Marguerite of Navarre, the sister of Francis I of France, wrote the Mirror of a Sinful Soul. Similarly, Katherine Parr, the last queen of Henry VIII, wrote a book called the Lamentations of a Sinner which was the first devotional text written in English by a woman.

Marguerite of Navarre had reformist leanings but saw herself as orthodox – Katherine Parr, on the other hand, maintained that people needed live their lives according to the doctrine of the Gospel. She wrote on the evils of the Papacy, and promoted the reading of Scripture and the marriage of priests. She was also around at the same time as several key Protestant woman in England, such as Anne Seymour, the Countess of Hertford, Katherine Brandon, the Duchess of Suffolk and even the Protestant martyr Anne Askew.

Anne Askew was a female preacher, who explained the word of God in English to any who would listen. She was arrested and tortured. Despite this, she refused to recant or name others, and eventually was burnt as a heretic.

Katherine Parr went on to help pave the way to a Protestant regency for her stepson, Edward the Sixth. She also had a key role in guiding Elizabeth of England’s education, teaching her to value the Scriptures. Elizabeth translated Marguerite of Navarre’s Mirror Of The Sinful Soul into English as a present for Katherine, and then the following year translated the first chapter of John Calvin’s Institutes into English. Clearly both women had a shared interest in reformed theology.

Katherine Parr also influenced Jane Grey, who was her ward for a time after the death of Henry VIII and Katherine’s remarriage. I’m going to finish this section of my series on Women and the Reformation with Jane’s story.

She was intended as a Protestant bride for the new boy king, Edward, but when the Edward’s health failed, the succession was rewritten to place Jane next in line – as a great niece of Henry VIII and a great granddaughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

The events of Jane’s short-lived reign generally show a young girl placed in an impossible situation by adults who should have known better. But her faith in the period after this was truly remarkable for a girl only sixteen years old. Mary, the new Queen, daughter of Henry VIII, promised to pardon Jane from the sentence of treason and the punishment of death if she converted to the Catholic faith. But she was staunch in what she believed, knowing that faith and Scripture alone were enough to save her from a fate worse than death. She is a true example of the kind of education the Reformation opened up to women – if Jane had lived a hundred years earlier, she never would have had access to the tutors, books and learning she did. These things gave her confidence in Christ and certainty in what she believed about his death and resurrection to face turmoil and death without fear.

References

Assess the Effects of the Reformation on the Lives of Women in Sixteenth-Century Europe: https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/assess-the-effects-of-the-reformation-on-the-lives-of-women-in-sixteenth-century-europe/

Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History – Diana Lynn Severance

Reform and Conflict: From the Medieval World to the Wars of Religion – Rudolph W. Heinze

The European Reformations – Carter Lindberg

The Education of Women in the Reformation (History of Education Quarterly) by Lowell Green

The Protestant Education in the 16th Century: https://www.museeprotestant.org/en/notice/the-protestant-education-in-the-xvith-century/

The Influence of the Protestant Reformation on Education (Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences) by Mihai Androne

Women and The Reformation Part 1 – The Ordinary Life

The Reformation changed the landscape of faith in Europe and worldwide. Plenty has been written on the history and stages of the Reformation, and I will not try to rehash what has been said already by those with a better understanding of the topic. But for the context of this post, I will summarize the Reformation briefly.

The Reformation was a movement in the 15th Century, in Europe, where preachers and thinkers began to move away from the traditional structures of the Catholic Church, towards an idea of the priesthood of all believers, with a focus on the Bible being available to everyone in their own language, and of salvation coming through faith in Jesus rather than the offices of the church.

How did this massive shift affect the lives of women? The question of whether it was good or bad for women is too simplistic. I want to explore how it changed things – then we have a starting point to evaluate the merits and drawbacks of this new way of Christian life.

This is not an academic essay, but I will list at the end of this piece the main books and websites that helped my thinking. These would also be good starting points if you wanted to explore this subject further.

Identity

The introduction of the concept of a ‘priesthood of all believers’ was a huge one. This was the idea that all believers had direct access to God through Jesus Christ. All people could have direct access to God through prayer and reading his Word (the Bible). While previously people’s relationship with God was mediated through a male priest, now all were equal before God through grace. Women were being encouraged, for the first time, to read the Bible for themselves. With this came an increased level of education and general literacy for women.

In terms of identity, the Catholic Church had previously portrayed women as saints such as the Virgin Mary, or as temptresses and the root of sin, like Eve. Now, women were grasping a new identity for themselves – redeemed children of God, part of his church family and valued as believers.

In addition, the Reformation placed a stronger emphasis on the whole church body being the ‘bride of Christ’ – a female role, in relationship to Christ Jesus as the bridegroom. This raises other ideas about the different roles in marriage – the bride as subordinate to the husband, the head of the wife.

 

Education

The Reformation changed the nature of Education drastically, especially for girls. Previously, the school system of the Middle Ages relied on parishes or convents running schools. But the Reformers put forth the notion of unrestricted education that was open to all young people, regardless of gender or social class. This transferred the responsibility of education to the political authorities. There was also a new focus on the importance of family education, which gave women a new role as they began to take responsibility for educating their children in Scripture and doctrine. Luther in particular believed it was the parents’ responsibility to bring up their children to become well-read Christians, and that domestic education and schooling went hand in hand for the process of raising educated believers.

This approach to education meant many girls were attending school for the first time, and the question of how to approach the teaching of girls was being asked by more and more people. One interesting sign of the new interest in female education was that people were writing and publishing books on the subject.

Luther and other Reformers felt that girls as well as boys should learn not only religion but also history, classical and modern languages, literature, music, and mathematics. Programs that balanced work and study were proposed for students without academic ambitions. Students were encouraged to spend part of the day studying the rest of their time learning a trade or skills to help them in keeping a home and raising children.

Some Reformers and schools also encouraged intellectually-qualified girls to study the liberal arts, like their brothers; at this time there was also a need for female teachers. However, Luther’s focus on education for girls was primarily to train them to be well rounded mothers and wives. We will look more at the Reformers’ attitudes towards women in the next section of this series.

Home Life

The Reformation placed an emphasis on the family unit as a household of faith. Marriage was viewed as a tool designed by God for the sanctification of Christians. In some ways, this elevated the traditional roles of wife and mother as supremely valuable and integral to the life of the home. Virginity and chastity, while still valued, were no longer idealized and glorified. The role of women in the family was acknowledged and praised in new ways, which some have interpreted as being liberating for women.

The flipside, however, is that choosing a celibate life dedicated to God became much harder to pursue, and was much less valued. No longer was the convent and veil a choice for women who did not wish to marry. In some ways, the changes made life more restrictive for women, in that there was less choice available.

Marriage and motherhood carried intrinsic risks for women; death in childbirth was a reality, as well as the heartbreak of infant mortality. Nuns had traditionally lived longer, not only by avoiding childbirth, but by avoiding the diseases of the masses.

For the ordinary women, the Reformation brought about many changes to their lives, from their identity as children of God, to their increased access to education and the new value placed on their roles in the home. However, things were still a long way from being ‘equal,’ and there were certain disadvantages and restriction of choices that came with these social changes. I’m going to keep exploring wider aspects of how the Reformation changed things for women in the next few parts of this series.

 

 

References

Assess the Effects of the Reformation on the Lives of Women in Sixteenth-Century Europe: https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/assess-the-effects-of-the-reformation-on-the-lives-of-women-in-sixteenth-century-europe/

Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History – Diana Lynn Severance

Reform and Conflict: From the Medieval World to the Wars of Religion – Rudolph W. Heinze

The European Reformations – Carter Lindberg

The Education of Women in the Reformation (History of Education Quarterly) by Lowell Green

The Protestant Education in the 16th Century: https://www.museeprotestant.org/en/notice/the-protestant-education-in-the-xvith-century/

The Influence of the Protestant Reformation on Education (Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences) by Mihai Androne

20 Years Of Harry Potter

It’s 20 years since the first Harry Potter book was published. I’m re-reading the series again to celebrate. It occurs to me I have a lot to say about these books.

Often I don’t talk about Harry Potter and how big a part of my life it was because it is so inbuilt into me – of course Harry Potter was a huge part of my life. How could it not be?

Memories of the HP books are woven into all my childhood memories. Visiting my cousins and seeing the first HP book on his shelf and starting to read it. Having Mum read aloud the fourth book to us because we were still pretty young and it was too scary. Reading the sixth HP book in a day when it came out. Reading the books at the Sport Carnivals instead of, you know, doing the sports. Re-reading the books again and again, like coming back to an old friend.

20160722_140618
Hogwarts Express at the Warner Bros Studio

Then of course, there was all the extra stuff that came with the books. Going to see the movies as they came out. Thinking that the Harry Potter Puppet Pals was the funniest thing ever. Still knowing that A Very Potter Musical might be the funniest thing ever (or at least the funniest thing on YouTube). Watching as HP became the global phenomenon it deserves to be, as it got a theme park and a stage play and a spin off series of textbooks that somehow got turned into a movie with more to follow (hi Fantastic Beasts!). Being excited with the advent of Pottermore and finally being sorted into our own houses.

I visited the Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio when I was in the UK last year, and it was magical in every way. Most of all, it brought home to me again that Harry Potter is not a just a magical world I can escape to – it is a shared love, a collectively adored series. There are strangers all over the world who love these characters and these books the same way I do – who know the feeling of escaping back to Hogwarts. Harry Potter makes me feel less alone.

HP

As the world celebrates 20 years of Harry, as I ponder again how seven books can make such an impact on the world and can produce so much more than just those seven books, I’m thankful again for imagination, for bravery, for stories and for the magic of reading.

I’m grateful for the world of Harry Potter. I’m grateful for the Harry, Ron and Hermione’s example of friendship, for the Weasleys’ example of family, for Dumbledore’s and McGonagall’s example of teachers who care, for Remus Lupin and Sirius Black, for Luna and Ginny and Neville, even sometimes for Draco (except not ever for Snape. Sorry guys).

I don’t think I would be the reader – or writer – I am today without HP. I don’t think I would have learnt to value the Hufflepuff qualities I have – of hard work and loyalty and compassion – without knowing that we are all talented differently and there is a place for each of us.

So, with 20 years done, it’s time to say thanks to JK Rowling and to Harry Potter. Let’s all agree the Cursed Child never happened and keep re-reading the books forever.

Things The Kids of Ministry Workers Wish You Knew

Being in and around churches and ministry for so long, you learn quickly that people have definite ideas and expectations of what the kids of those who work in ministry should be like. The high school/youth group phase can be especially trying. Whatever ministry role their parents are in, here are a few things these kids want you to know.

Note: all these things are subjective. Some of these things are okay in context. But unfortunately they mostly happen outside of genuine relationships or care, and this is what is most frustrating.

Please don’t share your strongly negative opinion about their parent/s ministry. Way to make things awkward.

Please don’t follow up a comment with ‘but don’t tell your Dad/Mum/parents that!’ That puts them in an uncomfortable position, and it’s usually because you said something without thinking – and now they carry the burden.

Please don’t start off small talk with ‘it must be so hard to be (insert name)’s kid!’ They appreciate you’re trying to connect. But it’s a deeply personal issue and asked out of the context of a relationship, it might be really hard to answer.

Please do respect their privacy. It’s hard enough growing up, making decisions and figuring out life while feeling like there’s a whole audience watching.

Please don’t ask them to fill in for a ministry position just because they are always around. There might be someone else who fits it better (and appreciate the opportunity more).

Please don’t label them as ‘PKs’ or ‘MKs’ (pastor’s kid or missionary’s kid). It implies that all kids of those in ministry are the same or have the same struggles.

Please don’t assume that because their parents are in ministry, they will automatically be Christians. They might be seriously struggling with their faith or they might disagree with their parents or their church on theological issues. Respect their autonomy by giving them space to work these things out – like you would for anyone else in the church.

Please do put in the work to build a genuine relationship. Yes, you know their parents and might have heard some stories about them, but that’s not the same as knowing them or having a relationship with them. You can help them feel less isolated.

Please don’t assume they know who you are (or should know who you are).  Even if you have met them once or twice before, don’t be offended if they can’t place you. They probably meet countless people at church every week.

Please don’t use them to get to their parents. Don’t try to impress them, and don’t ask them to share information about their parents. It puts them in a very difficult position (especially if they are still a teenager).

Please don’t play favourites. Don’t give them special treatment, or always pick them out from the crowd.

Please don’t hold them to a higher standard either. Don’t expect better behavior than you would of anyone else their age.

Things I Liked In April

Each month I do a post covering ‘things I liked’ – from articles to videos to tv shows to books to anything in between. April has been a bit of an upside down crazy month for me, so my list is not as extensive as it has been previously. But here’s my list of what I liked in April. What have you liked this month?

New Doctor Who 

Doctor Who season 10 has aired it’s first three episodes. I’m hesitant to comment on the overall quality of the season yet, but I am just enjoying watching something so familiar yet new. I like Bill, our new companion, and I’m not ready to say goodbye to Peter Capaldi as the Doctor yet. I have Opinions about the storytelling and themes but I’ll probably write a whole thing about that later on.

Break The Twitch

A site for all your minimalist needs. Lots of helpful thoughts on living simply and changing your habits of buying, spending and eating more than you really need.

Friends

My friend has written a post about deliberately cultivating friendships. I like her post and I like my friends who are intentional about doing things together. My weekly writing group just had a writing retreat, and it was refreshing, relaxing and totally achievable without too much stress.

Using Social Media Differently 

I’ve deactivated my Facebook, and don’t think I will be returning. I’ve also changed how I am using Instagram – I now have an account for my blog, searchingforgrace_blog and a separate account called animals_abound where I will be taking and posting pictures of all the animals. All of them.

Imagination – Part 2 – Escapism

Hiding from reality in books, tv shows and other alternative worlds is a common tactic people use to unwind. It’s so common, we gave it a name – escapism. We disappear from view, from ‘the real world’ for a few hours, to live through characters with more interesting lives, or worlds with more exciting adventures. We lose ourselves in the make believe. We escape.

Why do we like escapism? Wherever it is that we prefer to escape to, there’s a pull towards leaving our own world and problems to dwell in another world. We are attracted to worlds where the problems are usually easier to solve, or at least, there’s different problems to solve. There’s a clear issue or tangle to sort out. There’s a more obvious divide between right and wrong, good and bad, truth and lies.

The good guys are good and motivated by honor and charity and justice, and the bad guys are bad and motivated by greed and hate. Even when the good guys mess up, it just makes them more relate-able, more like us – and in the end, they still sort it all out anyway.

That last part is the key – the thing that draws us towards these stories is that we know there will always be a resolution. The story line finish, the plot points will resolve and there will be a clear solution to the problem. Most of us will be dealing with the same stressful things next week, or even next month, as we are today. Our problems are generally ongoing and exhausting, without a clear end or fix in sight. Not so in the fantasy lands we escape to.

Of course it’s not just fiction that we can use as an escape. Some people use work or their area of expertise or a hobby or interest area. They spend all their time reading about it, or only interacting with others who share this niche interest. Of course, when you only spend time with people who share this hobby, and never talk about things other than the hobby, there’s no risk of deep friendships developing. It’s emotionally safe – and it’s escaping true emotional connection and accountability.

So there are many forms of escapism that different people use in different ways to cope. Is that so bad? Well, like most coping mechanisms, what is helpful in small doses becomes unhelpful when we rely on it and use it constantly. Finding the balance between disappearing to other places to recharge, and living more in fake worlds than in the real world is a tricky tightrope to walk. Generally, when you’re consistently avoiding your real life problems by investing emotionally in fantasy worlds, storylines and characters, there starts to be a problem.

I have certainly spent times in my life on the wrong side of that balance – where the stories I am viewing and reading seem more real and important and interesting than the real people I see day to day. When life is hard, it feels like, well, why not? Why not escape for a while and check out emotionally until things are better? But of course, the difficult things don’t just go away. They will still be waiting when I get back. They still require my time and energy to tackle and solve.

So I’m trying to be more aware of my flights of imagination and the joy of escapism as a useful coping strategy, without relying on it to avoid the difficult things in my life all the time. I am trying to find that delicate balance between enjoying something and being consumed by it.

There are times when it’s okay to use escapism as a temporary form of coping. Sometimes, you can’t deal with the difficult thing or react to the hard conversation straight away. Sometimes you need to pull yourself together for a few more hours of class or work or social interaction. Sometimes, if ten minutes of escape into a book or to your Instagram feed is what you need, it’s okay to do that. Sometimes that is what will help you keep it together until it’s an appropriate time to process what has happened emotionally.

However, spending hours in these escapes, constantly checking out from real life and avoiding work and responsibilities in favor of an alternative reality is where you run into a problem. It’s where I can see I am struggling, if I’m spending all my time in the fantasy world of a book or tv show rather than staying on top of my uni work and talking to my family.

There’s a big difference, at least for me, between watching the new episode of a tv show I am watching and then talking to someone about it, than spending hours scrolling through the internet for more gifs and reviews of the latest thing I’ve watched. This is when I need to stop, take a break and start focusing where I am right in the moment, and what demands are making me want to run.

Everyone deals with these things differently. Maybe escapism isn’t the temptation you face or maybe you find it easier to visit these make believe worlds without neglecting real life. But i think a lot of us still have work to do in finding that balance between a healthy coping mechanism and an unhealthy avoidance strategy. I know I do. I’m going to keep working on it.

Animals Abound – Part 5 – Animal Helpers

Today I’m talking about animals as trained helpers and assistants. I’ve already talked about why can be good for your mental health here, but now I’m covering more specific ways animals can be helpful to those who have barriers to overcome in participating in society or living independently. The range of ways animals can help are as varied as the animals themselves. I’ll quickly cover the main categories these helper animals fall into. Thanks to this site for their helpful information on this subject.

Guide dogs – Dogs who (usually) help the visually impaired, by identifying and avoiding potential obstacles as their owner moves around both the home and wider society. These dogs are trained to a high standard, and can often even navigate busy streets and shopping centres for their owner.

Hearing dogs – Dogs who alert their hearing impaired owner to events happening around them, such as a siren, a ringing phone or doorbell. Dogs are trained to then physically touch their owner in different ways to let them know the type of sound happening, often within seconds of the event happening.

Service dogs – This name is given to dogs that assist people with a physical disability, or a disability that doesn’t clearly fall under the visually impaired or hearing impaired category. As a result, this type of dog is the most common. They can pull wheelchairs, retrieved dropped objects, close and open doors and turn lights on and off. Skilled companion dogs are very similar, except that they worked under the supervision of a facilitator who is not their owner. This is usually a family member or caregiver.

Seizure response dogs – Some dogs can predict a seizure, but this is not the function of most seizure response dogs. These dogs can activate life-saving alert systems to summon medical help. The can also roll a person into a safe position or retrieve medication needed to halt a seizure.

Emotional Support/Therapy Animals – often, these animals aren’t dogs. They can be a cat, rabbit, horse etc. The main role of these animals is to assist people with mental health issues by providing a stable, comforting presence. A therapist may prescribe a therapy animal to help someone deal with panic attacks, PTSD, depression or a range of other issues.

Facility animals – are a type of therapy animal. Supervised by a facilitator, these animals (usually dogs or cats) work in healthcare or educational settings, to provide companionship, emotional connection and sometimes assistance during physical therapy sessions. These animals can be a coping mechanism for people facing serious medical challenges.

 

I also want to mention the use of animals in autism therapy, because I read some really interesting things about it here. Horses have been used to help non-verbal children contact to another living creature and begin communicating. The rhythm and balance needed to ride the horse can also help increase balance, which is a common issue for kids with ASD (autistic spectrum disorder). Dogs are also used with children with autism, as service dogs, by helping keep the child safe and alerting the parents of potential danger. Cats can also play this role, though this is less common.

The innovation used by people in training these animals impresses me. The dedication and emotional intelligence of these animals amazes me. As I talked about in this post, I think that including animals in more spheres of society will only make society richer and more empathetic, not only towards animals but also towards each other.

The doors, literal and figurative, that these animals can open from people who otherwise might be excluded from society, or have to live without independence and autonomy, is phenomenal. Can you imagine the freedom it must give a someone who is blind to know that they can get on a bus and do their grocery shopping independently like anyone else? Or the reassurance it gives a parent of a child with autism to know that they can leave their child playing in the next room, because their service dog will alert them if the child is in danger or needs help?

Just as I hope we will see more and more animals out and about in society just for the fun of it, I also hope it will become more and more normal to see students at university with their guide dogs, people in the workplace with their service animal and children at school with a therapy pet. I hope we can become more and more open to removing the barriers – whatever they are – to including people in all parts of society. I’m excited to see how animals can help us do that.

You can donate to Assistance Dogs Australia here or Guide Dogs Australia here. If you’ve heard other stories of animals helping people, please let me know – I’d be interested to hear about it.