Nope, still no job

At the time I wrote my last no-job post, I was feeling really down. Now I’ve moved into a much more distanced and objective state of mind, and I truly wonder how it is that I haven’t even gotten an in-person interview.* The unemployment rate in my metro area is about 1% lower than the national average, and both are declining steadily. We all know a college degree doesn’t count for much anymore, but that’s okay: I have a PhD, which you’d think would at least qualify me for an entry-level position. And for every job I apply for, I know I could do the work. And yet no one is responding to my application materials — or even to recommendations from others, which is the thing that’s definitely supposed to get you in the door. I applied to one job a few weeks ago and had two contacts write to the higher-ups in the organization to recommend me. You’d think that would at least get me a phone screen, but I haven’t heard a word. And this is no giant corporation; it’s a modestly-sized nonprofit.

As I mentioned in my last post, the person we hired at our nonprofit doesn’t know her way around an Excel document, but she has a full-time job. What is it about me, or my resume, or my cover letter, or any combination of factors, that I can’t even get an interview?

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“Benign self-absorption”

I just got off the phone with my mom. I mentioned to her that I was going to get unemployment benefits, saying, “I didn’t think I’d qualify, but I do, so that will be really helpful.”

Her response: “Yeah, under Obama everyone gets everything they want, all they have to do is ask. Doesn’t matter if you’ve earned it or not.”

I have been through enough therapy at this point to know that my mom’s personal judgments often come at the cost of civility, and it doesn’t help the situation for me to take it personally. So I ignored her unintentional implication. But I was genuinely confused because I knew she’d made the tortured decision to collect on her benefits a couple of years ago. “Well, you got unemployment too when you were looking for work.”

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Virgin and Child, and Snake

For dissertation-related reasons, I’ve had the Genesis account of the Fall on my mind lately. If it’s been awhile since you’ve thought about it, here’s a recap: Adam and Eve are innocently enjoying paradise and close communion with God when Satan, in the form of a serpent, comes to tempt Eve. He persuades her to eat the fruit from the one tree she’s not supposed to eat from. She shares the fruit with Adam. Once he eats it, they both realize they are naked, and they cobble together some fig leaves to cover themselves. Then they hear God, who has come to the garden for a walk. They hide, but when God calls out to Adam, “Where are you?” Adam reveals his location. It’s pretty obvious that they’ve disobeyed the one rule they were supposed to follow, but when he’s asked for an explanation, Adam blames the whole thing on Eve. Eve blames the whole thing on the serpent. God summarily damns him:

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Post-Election Day thoughts

Days like today remind me how much has changed.

My parents are very politically aware–at least, as aware as constant and exclusive consumers of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh can be–and equally opinionated. When I was a kid I always stayed up late on election nights to see who’d won. Back then, of course, me and my family were on the same team, cheering against Clinton and partial-birth abortion in ’92 and ’96, and for Bush and evangelicalism in ’00.

Now that I live on the opposite side of the country from my parents, Facebook status updates are a proxy for the family room and church hallways. So if you, like so many of my Facebook friends, are someone who “clearly knows zero Republicans,”* consider this your front-row seat to one half of America. Here’s a comment thread from last night:

Fox is saying hold on a minute…they MAY have called Ohio too soon. Different opinions…
– Regardless of Ohio, Obama will more than probably take Florida.
– I think it’s all over but the crying.
– If that’s true, hand me a Kleenex.
– I need a whole towel. Unbelievable!!!
– Never before have I ever felt truly concerned for my children’s future. Until now. I do believe there’s no turning back. Very sobering. And yes, I know that God is in control. Absolutely. I just think things are going to change in ways we can not yet imagine.

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If Jesus were an American evangelical…

…his miracles might have gone something like this:

The Very Poorly Prepared Crowd

1. The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve apostles came to Jesus and said, “Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.” 2 But Jesus said to them, “Why not give them something to eat?” They said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish — unless we are to go and buy food for all these people. 3 For there were about five thousand men. And Jesus said to his disciples, “You know what? You’re right. Don’t waste your time and shekels. It would be positively immoral for you to give away your hard-earned salaries for these people. They knew full well that they were coming to a deserted place, and should have relied on themselves to bring more food. As far as I’m concerned, it’s every five thousand men for themselves.” 4. The disciples were astonished by this teaching. “But Lord,” said Thomas. “The crowd will go hungry.” Jesus was amazed at his hard-headedness. “That’s not my problem, Thomas. Better that their stomachs are empty than they become overly dependent on someone in authority to provide loaves and fishes for them. Where will it end? Will I have to feed them everyday?” “No, Lord,” said Thomas, “Just today. When they are without food. When they have eaten their fill, they will be healthy, and so able to listen to your word and learn from you.” Jesus was grieved at Thomas’s answer. “It is written: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” So taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and took one loaf and one fish for himself, and gave the rest to the twelve, based on their previously agreed-upon per diem. But he gave none to the very poorly prepared crowd because they needed to be taught a lesson. So Jesus ate and was filled. The disciples somewhat less so. What was left over was gathered up and saved for Jesus’s next meal, should he grow hungry. The very poorly prepared crowd soon dispersed.

Read two more here.

I’ll be back to regular posting soon. About a month into my new job, there’s lots to say, but not much time to write lately.

Sharing my testimony

I grew up in an evangelical Christian family. To say that religion was the center of our lives doesn’t quite capture how all-consuming it was. I was educated almost exclusively at private Christian schools. We went to church or church-related activities at least twice a week and we were all very deeply involved in some aspect or another of volunteering at church. Our brand of Christianity wasn’t what I would call fundamentalist, but we were a nondenominational, conservative, born-again, Bible-believing, suburban congregation that, in 20 years, grew from six families into a mega-church. The husband was the head of the household, and women were not permitted to have authority over men. Tremendous amounts of energy were expended to convince preteens and teenagers of the threat posed by premarital sex and related, “gateway” activities like making out. “Tolerance” was a bad word. Abortion and homosexuality, in that order, were the two biggest sins spawned by the spread of secular humanism in our Christian nation. True Christians were now facing ever-increasing levels of persecution from our own government, which might or might not be a sign of the beginning of the End Times.

Even though my faith was supposed to be motivated solely by my love for Jesus, what really drove me was my fear of dying and going to hell, or else finding that the rapture had happened and I’d been left behind. These are strong motivators for anyone, but maybe especially for little kids. So when I made the decision to be baptized at age 8, of course I loved Jesus, but I was also extremely relieved to know that if I died now, I wouldn’t be separated forever from Jesus and my family, left all alone in the eternally excruciating tortures of hell.

My departure from this way of life started creeping in when I was about 16. I began wondering whether I was really a Christian, and how I could know for sure that if I died I wouldn’t go to hell. This question ate away at me, since doubt was seriously NOT OK. Doubt was incompatible with belief, and belief was essential for salvation. Questioning something as fundamental as the validity of your salvation meant you were not a true Christian, which meant you were an instant Other and a disappointment to your parents and your whole community. On top of that, you were going to hell. I desperately wanted to be sure of my salvation, and I knew that if I weren’t I had only myself to blame. I begged God to help my faith and make me a true believer and give me assurance that I was going to go to heaven. I eventually opened up to a couple of friends, and talking to them did help, but it wasn’t a solution. Either I had to find the assurance I needed, or reject the faith entirely. And even though the former option wasn’t working, getting to the point where I was both willing and able to extricate myself was a miserable, years-long process. It wasn’t until my junior and senior years of college–a conservative evangelical Christian college, incidentally–that I could start facing up to it and begin to reorient my life. It all had to be done in secret, though–I felt an inexplicable sense of shame about my background when I was with non-Christian friends, and I was equally ashamed of my new, evolving identity in front of my Christian friends. I was also terrified that I would lose my scholarship and/or be kicked out of school just shy of graduation.

So it wasn’t until a few years ago, safely away from the Christian culture that had always surrounded and smothered me, that I could really start to accept all the ramifications of my transition. I’m still not all the way there, and I think I will always carry my past with me in a big way. I never bring it up with friends; I actually don’t think any of them have any idea. It’s not something I can discuss lightly, at least not with people who haven’t experienced it for themselves. My parents are still fervent believers and we have never actually discussed my lack of faith. We’ve never been very close, but I still care very deeply what they think of me. And to believe that your own child is going to die and go to hell can’t be an easy thing to accept. I think they were happy to live with a generous amount of denial, but that became more difficult when I made the decision a year and a half ago to move in with my significant other. That has been my most open act of religious rejection to date, a nonverbal coming out of the closet and identifying as an unbeliever. We haven’t really talked about that either; after my mom wrote an email to try and dissuade me from living in sin, the topic never came up again, and it seems like they’ve slipped back into their comfortable pattern of denying reality.

This past year, with the help of an excellent therapist, I’ve been making some connections between my background and my current situation as a future post-academic. Though she’s not the only one to have made this connection, Sierra’s recent post likening grad school to a cult is tragically funny. It follows, then, that leaving grad school or academia is like leaving a religious cult[ure]. Of course, for someone who has actually experienced leaving a religion, grad school isn’t nearly as psychologically damaging, objectively speaking. Yet the similarities between the two cultures may mean that that person  is more susceptible, or sensitive, to the dangers. So I’ve started wondering whether my background is hurting me more than it’s helping me. Maybe I don’t have to be so scared to “come out” to my adviser as someone who’s not going to go on the academic job market. Maybe I’m just projecting my past negative experiences on a situation that’s really very different. Maybe I need to step back and realize that this isn’t the life-or-death experience that, at the time, leaving my religion was, and maybe I would be happier and freer now if I weren’t so scared of rejection.