holy curiosity: dig deeper (katherine graham).

Guest post Tuesday! I sure am excited for you to read today’s words by a new friend of mine, Katherine Graham. Katherine is an author and journalist from South Africa, and I KNOW her words will give you a glimpse of her slice of the world and how holy curiosity intersects it. Enter in, enjoy and leave her some love at the end of it!  

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“Curiosity killed the cat.” I heard that a lot as I was growing up. It was an expression that didn’t quite make sense to me, although I could tell by implication that curiosity was not such a great quality. Not if it killed a cat, that is.

Why is it that something that is really part of being human – having a natural sense of “What’s this?” when we encounter something different or unusual – is frowned on at the very time in our lives when we are most open to new experiences? I remember how irked I was when a relative remarked that my eldest son must stop being so inquisitive. I wanted to jump up and give the person a good shaking. What is so wrong with being inquisitive, I wanted to know. In the end, I let it go with a half-hearted protest.

But really, now that I come to think of it, entire professions are based on curiosity. Science, for instance. Or astronomy. Discovering new phenomena in nature or cures for diseases. Those are good things, right? And take me. I’m a journalist. Well, a recovering one, actually. I would never have learnt half the things I did in my career without a healthy dose of curiosity.

I remember a press conference with the former (and arguably best) South African finance minister, Trevor Manuel. He was talking about “building capacity” at municipalities. I had no idea what that meant, so I asked him. He explained it meant helping municipalities who were struggling to get their affairs in order. Much clearer than “building capacity”, not so?

When I was training at the South African Broadcasting Corporation, one of our coaches mentioned an incident where a US official spoke about “collateral damage” during an Iraqi attack. “Collateral damage” doesn’t sound too bad – maybe a building got burnt or a car exploded during the gunfire. But actually, what the reporters realised when one of them quizzed the official, was that civilians had been killed in the attack. That’s not “collateral damage”, that’s loss of innocent lives.

If we don’t allow our curiosity to ask the right questions, we’ll never find out the real answers.

I’m reminded of Moses and the burning bush. God spoke to him from the bush, but only after Moses went closer to examine it. He was curious. A bush that’s burning, yet not being consumed – huh? How does that work? And then God asks him to take off his sandals – to humble himself and come forward, and he does.

Take off your shoes.

That makes me think of how much information we take in through our senses – through touch, in particular. Ever tried doing Pilates with your shoes on? It’s not much fun. When you take your shoes off, you’ll find the exercises come more easily, your body becomes more supple and lithe. My favourite is walking on dew-laden grass barefoot. Or beach sand sinking through your toes.

I, for one, will not be discouraging my children to be inquisitive. The British educator Charlotte Mason, who has an enormous following among homeschoolers around the world, said that teachers should nurture a child’s inherent curiosity because it makes learning much easier and more pleasurable.

My dad was a great example. Whenever we came to him with a question as kids, he’d say, “Look it up.” It may have been an unfamiliar word or an incident in history. Then we’d sigh loudly (although that didn’t move him) and flick through the pages of the dictionary or encyclopedia to find what we were after. He didn’t just leave it at that, he’d ask us afterwards if we understood and we’d then debate the various meanings of the word or interpretations of the historical event. He taught us to go deeper, stretch ourselves, keep learning, keep growing. “Seek and ye shall find” was his maxim.

It’s for that very reason that you won’t hear the expression, “Curiosity killed the cat” in our house. Curiosity probably saved the cat, or at least helped it to find its dinner. And anyway, a cat has nine lives, after all, doesn’t it?

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A journalist by training, Katherine writes regularly for a number of South African magazines. She has published three children’s e-books, The Dummy Fairy, Alfonso the Tooth Mouse and The Poofiest Pong. The Lemon Tree, which was longlisted for the Golden Baobab Prize in 2014, is due to be published by Penguin Random House in August. She lives in possibly the world’s most beautiful city, Cape Town, is married with two boys and a ginger cat, and loves peaceful, uninterrupted moments sipping tea and reading. She blogs at www.wordcount.co.zaIt’s Cara again: man, Katherine is one talented story-weaver, wouldn’t you say? How did her multiple stories of holy curiosity strike your fancy? Leave her some LOVE today! 

bad feminist (book club podcast #2).

You won’t usually get book club podcasts week to week, but this week you do! For the month of April, we read and discussed Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist …and friends, this podcast was a trip. 

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So, did you read the book with us? Which essays did you love, and which ones were rather meh for you?

Click here to listen to the podcast and view all the show notes, or (better yet!) head over to iTunes and subscribe to Osheta’s brainchild, the Shalom in the City podcast. Otherwise, if you have further thoughts, join the conversation and leave a comment below.

Finally, join us for the May book club podcast by reading Pam Munoz Ryan’s Esperanza Rising. I’ve had several people tell me it’s their favorite middle grade/YA read, and I personally can’t wait to check it out.

Happy reading!

So, Bad Feminist: did you read it? Are you one? How did Roxane Gay’s words and thoughts and critiques CHANGE you from the inside out? 

the thing i can’t wait to tell you about.

A couple of months ago, as you may recall, this article went viral.

And the thing is, when I wrote the story, it didn’t seem like that big a deal, because it was just my story. It is just my story. Sometimes I forget the power that exists in the stories that are so ordinary to us. But as we all know, there’s generally a whole lot of extraordinary found in every bite of ordinary.

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I’m so excited it makes me want to use all the verbs.

So, after the article ran, a couple of things happened:

1. A handful of friends, all said the same thing to me: Cara, this is what you’re supposed to write. This is the story you’re supposed to tell. This is what people are eager to hear.

And they were right. You know how you sometimes need someone to point out the Very Obvious Thing to you? Um, you have a chunk of broccoli in your teeth. Uh, your Kleenex missed a spot there, ma’am. Honey, uh …X-Y-Z.

Well, it was the same for me. I needed the voices and perspectives of those whom I trust the most to point out the Very Obvious Thing.

2. After the Very Obvious Thing was pointed out, a good handful of places asked me to come and share my story with them. Like, at their churches on Sunday mornings.

Sometimes, maybe always, I feel wholly inadequate to add my voice to the equation. But then I remember that I’m just telling my story, and all of us have a story we’re supposed to tell.

Wouldn’t you agree?

3. I got an agent! She’s the bee’s knees, and she’s helping me and encouraging me and pushing me (in the very best of ways) to turn this story into a book.

So I am.

I’m only 4,136 words into the manuscript (and estimated final word count is between 60,000 – 70,000 words, in case you’re wondering) – so we still have a way’s to go. But I’m excited.

Also, if you connected with any element of the article, consider sharing your story with me. I’d love to hear about it via e-mail, over Skype or in person. 

Do reach out.

Thanks for all of your encouragement …now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some writing to do!

xo, c.

So, what’s the story YOU’RE supposed to tell? And, when it comes to the article, what part of that story resonated with you? I’d be honored to hold your thoughts! 

holy curiosity: what if? (abby norman)

Guest post Tuesday! You may remember today’s writer from how she celebrated the ordinary everyday with champagne bubbles in Mason jars last year. And the beauty continues today. Meet Abby Norman: she’s a high school English teacher, a writer, a mama and a friend to many. Read and enjoy her words – I know you will! 

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We’re in a state of flux at our house. Like serious flux. After 9 years of teaching English in a public school setting, I filed separation papers with my school district and rejected my tenth contract. I am not going to be a teacher any more.

Meanwhile my husband is spending evenings and weekends finishing up his degree. By the end of the summer we will be Dr. and Mrs. Norman. And that is about all we know.

What will I be doing next year? Will we be moving? Where will we go to church and where will my kids go to school? We have answers for none of these questions. I find myself asking what if a lot.

Every time my husband submits an application I head to Zillow and type in the city. What if we moved there? What is the housing like? How big is the town? I Google the churches and check and see what the birth date cut-off is for Kindergarten. I check to see if the state offers free pre-k. What if we moved here. What would that look like?

If Christian gets an interview, I indulge all curiosity, every what if. I pick out my favorite houses and check the menus of the local restaurants. I see how far away it is from the grandparents. I imagine what we would take with us and what we would leave behind.

But there is a darker, scarier side to the what if game. What if no one gets a job? What if we don’t have an income? What if I have to go back to a job I don’t want to go back to? What if we don’t have health insurance? What if we can’t pay the mortgage? What if….what if…what if…

A long time ago I heard somewhere that if you are going to start the what if game, you best finish it. If no one in my family has a job by July, we are moving in with a family member and working it out for a year. I am not really thrilled with that idea, but the curiosity is satisfied and I can live with that choice.

I have heard a lot of really important people playing the what if game with the state of the American church. What if the numbers continue to decline? What if the millennials never get in line and get to the pews? What if the church dies? What then? What if…..

But I don’t think terrified curiosity is holy curiosity, in my life or in the life of the church. I think holy curiosity invites an expectancy. It trusts that God is doing something good, and wonders what that might be.

What if the church looks radically different? What would that look like? What else is God up to?

What if we could come together and imagine all the different ways this could play out, ways that God could be working just like I imagine all the different places we could be living.

What if we dreamed about the future of the church with a holy curiosity, an expectancy that God is working toward something good?

There would be an anticipation instead of an anxiety in both my own life and the blog posts that are written about the state of the church.

Holy curiosity breeds hope. It employs the  what if game to the end, and trusts that the end is in good hands.


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Abby lives and loves in the city of Atlanta.  She swears a lot more than you would think for a public school teacher and mother of two under three. She can’t help that she loves all words.  She believes in champagne for celebrating everyday life, laughing until her stomach hurts and telling the truth, even when it is hard, maybe especially then. You can find her blogging at accidentaldevotional and tweeting at @accidentaldevo.  Abby loves all kinds of Girl Scout cookies and literally burning lies in her backyard fire pit. It’s Cara again: “Holy curiosity breeds hope.” This might be one of my favorite sentences I’ve read in this series. How did Abby’s words touch you? What can you say to encourage her in this time of unknowing, this time of holy curiosity today? 

the light of the world (book club podcast #1).

Well, as some of you know, there are some new adventures on the horizon! A big announcement is coming next week, but otherwise, one of the most exciting parts of 2016 for me has been stepping into the world of podcasts.

Through the Sorta Awesome group for Writers Who Love to Vox (yes, it’s a real thing), I became friends with the loveliest, sassiest, most fabulous of people, Osheta Moore.  And not only is Osheta a writer, but she’s also the creator and inventor of the newly-acclaimed Shalom in the City podcast.

So, she and I got to talking. And we said to each other, what if we had a book club podcast of sorts? What if we invited those whom we’re in community with, both on the Internet and in real, fleshy life, to join in conversations around one book a month? What if, what if, what if? 

And our first book club podcast, for Elizabeth Alexander’s The Light of the World, just went LIVE this past week.

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(Click here to head so you can head over to iTunes and subscribe today!)

So, did you read it with us? What did you think?

Even if you didn’t the book, this is potentially the best idea for your life: You still get to pretend like you read it. You get to pull up a chair and pretend like you’re sitting on cozy cushions in the living room of your choice, discussing the book. It’s like the best Get Out of Jail pass ever, because you get to do book club without even having read the book.

You’re welcome.

Let’s do this:

  1. If you read the book along with us, join in the conversation! Leave a comment below or in the Shalom Sistas Hangout group on Facebook.
  2. Do check out all of the show notes, which can be found here.
  3. Join us for April’s book of the month, Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Then, look and listen for the podcast to go live the last Friday of every month.

Also, if you have any other questions, check out the original post on the book club podcast.

Happy reading, y’all!

So, did you like it, love it, want some more of it? As per the podcast: LISTEN!!!!! And then come back and tell of all the brilliant conversations you had along with us, in the company of your earphones. 

a thread of messy.

There’s a phrase I’ve adopted, one I say almost every time someone comes over for a visit: “Welcome to my house. I didn’t clean for you. You are most welcome.”

Now, hear me out: I do own cleaning products. I do sweep and mop hardwood floors. I do scrub bristled brush to porcelain toilet walls, and I do regularly wash dishes and clothes and little boy bodies in an effort to maintain some semblance of clean. 

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But I do not freak out when friends and neighbors knock on our door.

I let Cheerios lie dormant in the corner, and I don’t worry about the thick layer of pureed string bean that’s decorated our swinging kitchen door since August of last year.

Some people, you included, might find this gross.

But I find it rather homey. In fact, I’m rather convinced that when we don’t sweep and mop and pretty our house for the people we most desire to welcome in, we make them feel like family.

And family is what I want others to feel like when they enter my home.

the story has just begun! I know I’m directing you to a bunch of places AWAY from the blog this week, but it means the world to me when you journey along with me, even to different sites. So, head on over to She Loves Magazine for the rest of the story. Otherwise, how has a thread of messy brought new life to YOU?

holy curiosity: how are you going to change the world? it’s not what you think (ashley hales).

I know, I know: EVERY week I tell you that I am just beyond-delighted for today’s guest post writer. But today, you guys, I am, I am, I am! Meet Ashley Hales: if you don’t already know her, she is someone you want to follow. She’s also become a dear friend of mine in the internet-writing world, and the cool thing is that I betcha she wouldn’t mind being your friend as well. So, pull up a chair, grab a cozy blanket and enjoy Ashley’s words of wisdom. 

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Curiosity is a creeping thing like the seeping of water into the grass’ edges. It not until you step into it that you realize you’re not where you thought you were. That the ground is different than you anticipated. Curiosity doesn’t write itself in the sky with bright letters. Curiosity taps you quietly on the shoulder until you either take heed of it and follow, or it leaves an ache from the bruise of constant, ignored tapping. You can choose to follow where it goes, or get on with your life, too busy to get lost in big questions.

I used to think curiosity was responsible for the wanderlust: my years abroad where all the stacked layers of history were constantly new. Every place promised home, or at least adventure. Curiosity felt like a burgeoning promise as it pushed me into moving every few years for a degree or my husband’s job. And “new” felt holy too. We’d dream about grand adventures, about amassing information and making new contacts, about being God’s hands in hard soil. It felt important somehow to think of ourselves and our mission as burrowing into international cultures, or at least urban ones. We would join the ones on the edges, doing hard things for God.

Yet, now we find ourselves driving a minivan miles from where we grew up. I’m learning the quiet truths as my circles constrict. Curiosity cannot be holy if it is focused on my own need for recognition. “Holy” after all means “other.” And if my curiosity is only about tracing the path of my own mind, my own mission, my own sense of calling, then I am not about the holy. I am only about myself.

Holiness always propels us towards others.

What if “holy” and “curiosity” actually outfit you for the small? What if being holy curious people means your eyes are not on you, but on the grace of presence in front of your nose? Holy curiosity means that the small has dignity. It asserts that recognition and fame do not often hold hands with the holy – but instead, perhaps, that the holy work is following curiosity to the dregs, the pulpy end where all the richness originates.

We can be curious in broad ways, where our eyes roam and we see endless possibilities. There is a time and place for big vision and dreams. But if that is the only way that we can follow curiosity, we will quickly be burnt out and consider ourselves a failure if we wanna-be world changers now drive minivans.

We can be curious in small ways – like the way my son wants to know everything, ever about Harry Potter. He makes lists of characters, colors pictures, and reads and re-reads the novels. He dresses up as Harry, re-writes his Sunday School name tag to be “Harry Potter,” and lists spells. He pays attention because he is caught up into a grander story. He imaginatively lives within it and even without knowing it, the story becomes a way to move within his second-grade world. It’s his water that he swims in.

It’s not just about Harry Potter (although who wouldn’t want to be a wizard and a hero?). Holy curiosity is the way of deep love. And love is always, always displayed in sustained attention. It is full absorption to the details, the rhythms, the contours of what we love. When a lover praises the curves of his lover’s hips, when a foodie sighs at the pairing of ingredients to create a feast for her senses, when a mother breathes in the scent of her child – all of these make holy delight tactile.

And these are all moments that go unnoticed, or noticed by just a few. They are the small, quiet, unseen instances that together make up the seeping movement of holy curiosity. It’s easy to get distracted by messages writ large in the sky and the big world-changing words. But today, consider: what small thing can you pay attention to?

Even the other day, I wanted to finish this piece quickly, but my daughter asked to be held. I was tempted to shoo her away and put on another show, but instead, I put down my laptop and picked her up. I watched her nestle in close to my neck. I saw the slight curls at the nape of her neck and I breathed peace. The moments of sustained attention to another are easily batted away because there is always something larger calling. Unless we decide that we want our lives to be soaked in grace, the tyranny of the urgent will always win. Want to change the world? Then let’s do these small, unseen things: Notice. Linger. Pay attention. Drink the dregs of the holy ordinary. For what else is life for if we do not notice the beauty curled up in the edges of the ordinary?

Ashley Hales profile pictureAshley Hales holds a PhD in literature from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. But she spends most of her time chasing her 4 children and helping her husband plant a church. She writes at AAHales.com, at The Mudroom and various and sundry places across the web. Say hi to Ashley on Twitter and get some free story therapy when you subscribe to her blog. Yup, I know: real deal, huh? So, what did you love about Ashley’s musings? What dialogue do YOU have to add to the conversation? Leave a comment and join in!