Genesis: A Poem

Before was
You were
Before something
Everything

Curling in your hair
Twining in your hands
Rubbing against your legs–
Dreams of me

pine woman ocean bread
gopher cactus scorpion
marjoram sparrow melon tea
Joy

Before good was made
Before everything meant something–
A walk– hands brushing cheeks glowing
Before we were in love

c Erin J. Beall

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Christ on the Leaves

on the eighth of november we had a service:
flung open the doors and invited people in
prayed sorry and help and peace
tried to learn how to say it to each other.

i’d bought enough of the bubbling pita to feed
the city, enough sweet juice to drip down our chins
into our shoes, into the stones, into
the base of who we are– imago Dei or battleground state?

this morning the leftovers sit quietly humming
on the windowsill in my office. consecrated, but
silent of all the answers to our prayers,
daring me to ask again. i know that i must,

in accordance with the discipline,
return our Lord to the earth—ashes to ashes, dust
to dust, bread to Christ’s body to birdfeed.
so i will open my window, and myself, when i can,

and scatter the crumbs for the birds.
maybe the cold wind and the thup thup thup
of Christ on the leaves
will remind my heart how to beat again.

Why Political Correctness Has Got to Go

((Sarcasm Alert))
Let’s talk for a skinny minute about this Politically Correct thing.
I, for one, am all for getting rid of it. PC bullsh*t is what’s ruining America.

When my high school-aged daughter gets pregnant, I should absolutely be allowed to call her a slut.
When my brother gives birth to a Down Syndrome child, I look forward to telling her that it’s a retard.
When my friend starts dating a black man, I can’t wait to make jokes about monkey AIDS, penis size, and some awesome mix of the two involving bananas.
When my wife is bossy, I just love calling her a shrill bitch.
When my hardworking lawn guy of fifteen years turns out to be illegal, I will savor calling him a wetback thief.
When I grow old and have dementia, you are welcome to come and call me senile and worthless, and make fun of my diapers, and offer to pull the plug. I can’t wait.

***

One day a bunch of men brought a half-naked women into the street and threw her at Jesus’ feet. “This whore is a giant slut, sleeping around and being very loose,” they said. “What should we do with her?” By the end of the story, Jesus declares her forgiven and free.

After a half-baked trial and a quick, heavy sentencing, a thief hangs on a cross, waiting to die. The judgments have been pronounced; he is: thug, gangbanger, n*gger, worthless, a plague on society. By the end of the story, he is in Paradise with Jesus.

As the young couple rode away to be refugees in Egypt, the gossip began to spread throughout Nazareth: “Joseph swears it’s not his,” “Bitches just can’t keep their legs closed,” “Get out of our country, you’re not welcome here.” By the end of the story, the baby in their arms will have died to save even those who said these things.

A Modest Proposal for Peace (Or, How Seminary Taught Me That Black Lives Matter)

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The largest lecture hall at Duke Divinity School sits right beneath Goodson Chapel.

The lectern from which our professors speak sits right beneath the lectern where the Word is read.

I sit on the back row with my friends, trying to focus through the chill of the room, the buzz of cellphones, the clatter of keyboards. The class is Ethics, taught by a professor I have not yet learned to respect or appreciate, because I am foolish and small-minded, and have not yet learned that women’s voices (even my own voice), high-pitched and breathless and laced with tears, can speak deep truth.

She tells us with sorrow leaking from every pore that there is a racial divide in America, between black folk and white folk… even in this seminary classroom. Even among men and women who love God, or are trying to, and want to serve God’s people, or are trying to want to.

Don’t believe me? the small white woman asks.

If you are white, and you are late to class, you may run– to catch a bus, to catch a ride, to catch up. But if you are black, your mother likely taught you never to run in public. Because the cops will think you have stolen something, you have shot someone, you are on the run.

Still you doubt?  Her tears leak down her face.

If you are white, and you find yourself in the midst of trouble, you look for police cars. You seek that officer, who you are certain will help you, because your mother likely taught you that police are the good guys, they will take care of you, they are helpers and friends. But if you are black, and you find yourself in the midst of trouble, you fear police cars, knowing that they will suspect you as the source of trouble, will point their guns at you. And you’ve likely known, or known of, too many black men and women with police bullets in their bodies to trust that you might be the exception.

All of us white students are silent, uncomfortable, unnerved, some are crying. The people of color in the room look around at us, perplexed. Their weary eyes ask us: How could you not have known this?

***

A year later I sit in another classroom, smaller this time. Another class taught by a woman, a body I’ve come to respect, a voice I’ve learned to listen to. She arranges the class into a circle, the tables screwed permanently to the floor between us, each of us with our backs against the walls– and the words of Howard Thurman echo in my mind as I think back on this: “The masses of men live with their backs constantly against the wall. They are the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed.”

She refers to the news, asks us if we’ve been following the coverage of the young black boy shot in his hoodie, with nothing but candy in his hand. Yes, we say solemnly. We have learned by now to pay attention, to weep and pray, to stay awake with Jesus just one more hour as He mourns.

“You must preach Trayvon Martin,” the white woman says. “This Sunday. Preach him to your congregations. Tell his story. Say his name. Say the name of Jesus, tell of His love for Trayvon. Take courage.”

Silence fills the room. With our laptops balanced awkwardly on our laps, we lower our heads, praying for guns to lower everywhere.

A white boy speaks up.

“But my congregation,” he begins slowly, “is white. So… it doesn’t affect them. It doesn’t matter to them. They probably aren’t even paying attention to the news on this. So…” He pauses. Takes a breath. “I won’t preach this. I won’t. I’ll stick with Jesus. I’ll preach Jesus, not Trayvon.”

The silence in the room is of a different sort now. I have never before felt what rises in me at this moment. It is not exactly rage, it is not exactly pity… it is something else. Disgust? Disappointment? Shame. It is shame.

***

This summer the Lectionary, that schedule of scripture that some preachers like to follow, invites those who have courage to preach from the prophets. To preach words to our congregations (to ourselves), no matter their (or our) skin color… hard words, words that ring very true today in light of Alton and Philando. Words like these from Amos, who says,

“You have turned justice into poison”

and,

“Hear this, you who trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of this land…
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.”

***

Recently I posted on social media a photo dragged up from not-so-distant religious history, of a poster circulated by the Mennonite Church. It features a the back of a white man’s head, wrapped in a tight hug by a woman of color, her face hidden in the embrace. Over them, words read:

A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR PEACE: 
LET THE CHRISTIANS OF THE WORLD AGREE THAT THEY WILL NOT KILL EACH OTHER.

A friend commented on this photo with the polite inquiry: Why just Christians not kill Christians? Why not everyone not kill everyone?

I replied, That’s what makes it so modest.

Start somewhere, my friends.
Start with something modest.

Maybe it’s a hashtag.
Maybe it’s a prayer.
Maybe it’s a protest.
Maybe it’s getting rid of your gun(s).

Maybe it’s reading a book to learn more about the racial issues in America (I suggest starting with The New Jim Crow or Jesus and the Disinherited).

Maybe it’s planting a garden to remind yourself of the peace of soil, the universal need for rain, the beauty of feeding others.

Whatever it is, however modest or grand, please start.
The world burns while women and men of good faith stay quiet.
Put that good faith into action.
Stop the bleeding. #BlackLivesMatter

Some Brief Reflections on the First Ordained Holy Week

This was the first year I wore a stole during Holy Week. Well, the first part of Holy Week, anyway.

In my tradition, on Maundy Thursday, we remember the last meal Jesus ate– the one with all the foot-washing and Judas’ betayal-hinting. We spoke of Christ’s coming to serve us, God’s great joy in kneeling before us and making us new. We prayed. We sang. We ate.

As we remembered that meal together, lifting high the bread and the AA-friendly grape juice, I was reminded of all the men and women who have eaten last meals on death row, requesting their favorite brands of sweet tea and fried chicken and the like. All Jesus requested was some bread, some wine, and some water to wash the feet of his friends. A colleague of mine posted this on Facebook, and it caused me to tremble:

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***

There comes a moment in the Maundy Thursday service which we call “the stripping of the altar.” Symbolizing the betrayal of Jesus, his journey onto the cross and into death, we extinguish all the candles, throw black drapes over all the crosses, remove the beautiful cloths that adorn the lectern and pulpit, and clear the communion table of the great feast we have just celebrated.

Also, we, the clergy, remove our stoles.

Duke Chapel was the first place I saw this practiced, and in their service, the clergy did not simply lift their own stoles off their own shoulders, all civilized and decent. Rather, the stoles were ripped quite violently from them by a steward or acolyte. It was jarring to watch. It made an impression.

There was no violence in our service– we hastily pulled them over our heads like the Israelites eating their lamb in a hurry, folding them quickly and handing them to our stewards– and yet still I felt ripped to shreds.

To have worked for years to receive the stole, to have felt and articulated and doubted and reaffirmed and rearticulated and doubted again my calling, to have been finally ordained last June in a sea of sweat and fear and awe…. only to have it removed from me,

to have Jesus removed from us,

to once again enter the Paschal weekend,

to once again watch God be executed, on the cross, or in the electric chair, or by the needle….

Stripped for the first time of my still-new stole, I felt the pain in a new way.

***

Stoles are given to ordained people as a sign of their calling. The tradition is said to have many roots, some of which may be more or less true, strictly speaking, but all of which are beautiful.

The earliest stoles, it is said, were hardly more than rags hung around the necks of clergy for very practical purposes– wiping away the tears of the dying, gently blotting the mouths of the ill, draping over the communion elements or anointing oil.

Now, they are far too beautiful and “sacred” for such human, practical things, to the Church’s great sorrow. Yet they still have great meaning. A mentor of mine told me that to him, more than anything, the stole represents a yoke, like one put upon oxen, like the one Jesus talked about– “Mine is easy, it is light; trade with me, dear ones.” The yoke represents the calling, the duty, the struggle, the labor of love to which all Christians are called, some simply more visibly than others.

And now, as my Lord went to the death penalty, his state-sanctioned execution, that yoke was quite literally removed from me.

And it made perfect sense.
After all, who was left to serve?
God was dead.
My job as minister of the Gospel is null and void with God dead and my yoke gone.

We departed in silence, sorely afraid.

***

And yet, still we turned up, us ministers around the world, on Good Friday. Stole-less and joyless, we turned up and preached the death of God. With our hope running on fumes, we preached Christ dead but soon to be resurrected. Our shoulders and hearts empty, we practiced resurrection, we practiced hope, on Jesus’ behalf.

***

And so, today, it is Easter Sunday morning. In just a few minutes, I will put on my most brilliant white stole, and I will once again bear that yoke, that burden, that joy.

For God died, yes. But God rose up again.

And so, too, we will die, yes.

We will have need of rags for our tears and our blood and our last rites, yes.

Perhaps even, like God, we will find ourselves on the wrong side of the glass in an execution chamber, accused and condemned by a government that hates love, fears hope, and can find no monetary use for resurrection.

But so, too, will we be raised.

On this day, hope is a little easier to practice, resurrection feels a little more real, faith gets a little more breathing room.

And for that, we sing. For that, we are joyful. For that, we give thanks.

Blog 2: Corinth, Philippi, & Kavala

Yassas, my readers– this is Greek for hello!
You may be wondering if we’re having a good time on our trip. The answer is nay!

Nay, of course, is Greek for yes!

Everything is splendid here in the beautiful port city of Kavala, the ancient name of which is Neapolis, mentioned in Acts 16:11. Over the past two days our travels have taken us across Greece, from south to north. We went down to Corinth, where we pet stray dogs, who walked all over the ancient inscriptions we were trying to read, and drove through a hailstorm, lightning striking the hills around us like Zeus himself were throwing them.

    
The temple there in Corinth was absolutely fascinating. Only a few of its columns have been placed upright again by archaeologists, after hundreds of attacks, earthquakes, and vandals had left them, miserable and cold, on the ground. We looked closely at them, the newly reerected columns, and discovered this temple to be fraudulent! Its columns, I could see, were standing with fingers to their lips, eyes wide and darting, hoping we wouldn’t notice that they were not made of the majestic marble of Athenian temples after all, but of carefully cut limestone, masquerading as something more precious. The noble God whom they served, Apollo, must have been so humiliated. 

Have you ever read that bit in I Corinthians 8 about meat sacrificed to idols? It seems that the people are really upset, and Paul is really riled up, about whether or not it’s okay for Christians to eat this stuff. I’ve never fully understood that situation, but now it’s become clearer– we could see, standing there amid the ruins, that the altar in the temple to Apollo is right next door to the dining halls, which are right next door to the meat market. Dr. Campbell explained to us that people in ancient times would buy meat at the market, go and sacrifice it to the gods, then call all their friends to come and eat the meat before it spoiled, and have a giant party in one of these rented dining rooms! As Dr. Campbell explained, this was the way of life in Corinth, and so we can understand why everyone was so divided on the issue, and passionate about it. Imagine, he said, that you made a convert out of a famous Hollywood actor or producer, who was used to going to parties with other Hollywood bigwigs, which is great, you think, because now he can convert them, too! But then, as his spiritual advisor, you might ask just what goes on at these parties… And the answer would not be very nice! But how can you advise him not to go to these parties anymore, if it’s just their way of life, and anyway, it’s a good gateway to convert more people, AND if he doesn’t go, he might lose his job or his status? Tough stuff. No wonder Paul was so worked up!

***

  
From there, we went inside the infamous Beehive Tombs of Mycenae, where the legendary King Agamemnon was supposedly buried, a golden mask on his bearded face. At lunch, we ate more than we thought our stomachs could hold, scrabbling together cash when the restauranteur explained that, because of Greece’s capital controls, it is too dangerous for him to accept credit cards– he fears for his business, he said. We obliged, remembering somberly that very few people in Greece are eating as well as we are, traveling as freely as we are. We remember Mr. Lilly and the fund that brought us here. We remember the refugees, and those affected by the Greek economy. We say our prayers of gratitude.

***

 This morning found us boarding a small plane to Thessaloniki. The airport had wifi (joy!) and strong coffee. Passing through that city, where not much excavation has been done on the ancient church, we made a beeline straight to Philipi, where the excavation is extensive and breathtaking. Greek temples, Christian churches, agoras (marketplaces), stoas (long columned buildings)…. Everywhere we turned was another spectacular sight. Most exciting to me, though, were the baptistries we saw. One was a small room off the north wall of the church. There, though the font is missing, the stone floor is still slick, I imagine, with the wonders and waters of baptism– that water which one church father called “the womb of the church,” for in the font we are born again.
  

We saw also a baptismal pool built right in the city baths. Coming to bathe? I imagine them asking. Well come right this way and get truly clean!

  
And, as a point of interest… Have you ever wondered what ancient toilets looked like? Wonder no further, my friends:

  
Finally, today, we had coffee and beer in a pub here in Kavala. We listened hard to Dr. Campbell as he lectured, trying to ignore the gorgeous backdrop of the harbor and its palm trees behind him. We stuffed ourselves to bursting with tortellini and white fish and cheesy puffed pastries and oranges for dessert. Needless to say, we are happy, we are full- both bodies and minds- and we are excited to cross the border tomorrow morning to enter Turkey!

Day 1 in Athens: ancient temples, pink food, and new words

Kalispera, friends!That’s Greek for “Good afternoon” or “Good evening!”

 We Greco-Turkish travelers are safely across the pond and well into our trip! After a nearly 9 hour journey from Charlotte to Munich, and a 3 hour flight from Munich to Athens, we arrived weary and hungry at the Titania Hotel in downtown Athens, Greece. There are twelve of us: 9 pastors, 2 laypeople (family members of two our pastors), and 1 professor; actually he’s one of my old professors from Duke, Dr. Douglas Campbell, probably the most cutting-edge Paul scholar alive today. 

Tonight I’m blogging from the hotel lobby, one of the few places with free wifi.

From our hotel balcony, we have a spectacular view of the Acropolis, the hill atop which sits the Parthenon and a couple other temples. At night, it is lit up to beat the band, and you can’t even see the scaffolding and cranes that are being used to restore some of the crumbliest parts. Here’s an interesting tidbit: From the distance we are, the Parthenon looks perfectly well-balanced, as though its builders had access to great technological tools, to align everything perfectly. However, when you get up close, you realize that it is not geometrically perfect! Every distance and angle and line  is perfectly calculated… not for correct geometry, but for optical illusion! The columns tilt inward slightly, the roof is slightly smaller than the base, and the lines of the foundation and the roof are all ever so slightly convex, all so that, from a great distance, the look of perfection comes upon the temple. The roof looks perfectly proportionate, the columns perfectly straight, the lines all perfectly parallel.

  

It’s amazing what tricks our eyes play on us, and even more amazing that these architects, living some 400 years before Christ, could anticipate and plan for them!

***
So today, we climbed up the steep marble steps to see the Parthenon with our own eyes, steps that were slippery with age and wonder. We passed under a Roman gate and the Temple of Nike, goddess of Victory. When the temple was younger, her statue stood inside, though with her wings chopped off. This was done by the Athenians in the hopes that, wingless, Nike would not be allowed to fly away from the city, leaving it vulnerable to defeat.

  

We saw many other ruins there, including the Maidens on their porch (above) and that grand wonder of the world, the Temple of Athena. The temple peeked out at us, as though  blushing, from under her cover of scaffolding. She is gorgeous, this ancient stone structure, columns lilting skyward in defiance of all the earth’s seismic barrages. She is noble, too, despite the looting and plunder of her marble, perpetrated by time and pollution, vandals and thieves, Crusaders and UK archaeologists. Pieces of her have been carried off, along with the statues of wingless Nike and the great Athena herself, to other lands, to be displayed behind glass or traded on the black market. The goddess Athena really stood no chance, being made in parts of gold and ivory. 
I wonder, what does a temple do when her god is gone?

***

We saw the Agora, the marketplace in which Paul mingled with the Athenians and spoke with their philosophers. But the place that really captured my attention was Mars Hill, the place where, in Acts 17:15f, Paul stood before the Areopagus, the city council, and preached that great philosophical sermon. Dr. Campbell explained to us that this was not a sermon he was invited to preach; rather, he had been hauled before this council to be tried for the dual crimes of: 1. Preaching foreign gods among the people and 2. Spreading “new ideas,” something which the philosophers of Athens did not take lightly.
This rock, which is truly one solid rock, like a big boulder, is called Mars for a reason (though I think “hill” is a bad name… It might conjure an image of Stone Mountain in your mind, but this rock is really roughly the size of a two-story house). Mars is the god of war, and this rock is craggy and steep and fearsome to behold. 

  
(That’s me and members of my group atop Mars Hill, with the Acropolis behind)

So here on War Rock, the apostle Paul preached the Gospel of Peace. Here where the city council tried people for heresy and sedition and murder (the same council had condemned Socrates to death for the same charges they were leveling against Paul!), he spoke of resurrection and new life. This is now a place where young people come to profess love to each other, drink wine, and sing to the moon. I like that. War Hill has become Peace and Love Rock.

In Paul’s sermon, he utilizes the philosophical way of arguing that ruled Athens at that time, the Socratic method. In this method of debating, opponents try to trip one another up by using their own words against them! We see this in Paul’s sermon; he is actually quoting one of the most popular Athenian poets when he writes in verse 28, “In God we live and move and have our being.” Using the language of the Athenians, language they love and use themselves, and he is arguing for his life, but more importantly for his God, the one true God. And Acts is happy to inform us that all the intelligent people in the crowd decide they will hear Paul out (v. 32-34a).

***

From there, we ate fabulous Greek food at the Acropolis Museum restaurant. My adventuresome choice of meal was “Trachanas,” some kind of quinoa-esque dish served with cream, sausage, and beets. It was neon pink. Think pepto bismol, but brighter. It was also delicious. 

Inside the Acropolis Museum we saw a million tiny sculptures and relics and pieces of pottery and statuary. We learned that there used to be statues and relics littering nearly every square foot of Athens. Every street corner, every building’s roof, every home contained statues– of gods, goddesses, men, women, lions, bulls, owls, dogs. The people truly believed that the statues of gods and goddesses contained the deities within them. And so they cared for their statues. They brushed their stone hair, “fed” them with good food and wine, put fine clothes on them, even took them for walks! 

This, then, was part of Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill. Acts 17:25– Paul preaches that God, the true God, the God who is Jesus Christ, has no need for human help in any way! Revolutionary, huh?

***

On the long walk back from the Acropolis and its museum, we admired the fur coats in windows, the political rally setting up outside the parliament building, and the multicolored macaroons in bakeries. We saw many designs, including the classic Greek “meander.” 

  
But then, one of the designs we saw stopped us in our tracks. On the gates to a home rested hundreds of swastikas! How awful, we thought, a Nazi must have lived here! Our guide, however, was quick to tell us: that symbol is far older that Naziism and, in this context, completely innocent. Since the sixth century before Christ in Greece, and possibly even before that in India, people used it as a sign of eternity. Nothing evil or sinister about it; our tour guide mourned the corruption of such an innocent symbol by one of the greatest evils in history.

***

Tonight we will rest, and reflect, in preparation for our journey to Corinth tomorrow. I invite you to reflect, as well:

  • Piracles, the architect of the Parthenon, used optical illusions to make the structure look perfect from a distance, but up close one can see his tricks exposed. What tricks are you using in your life to make you seem perfect from a distance? Whom have you allowed in lately, allowed to see you for who you are, warts and all? And, just as the Parthenon’s “flaws” simply make it more magnificent, how can you come to accept your flaws as part of a perfect design?
  • Paul used the Socratic trick of using people’s own words to tell them about Jesus. In what ways should our evangelism use the language of the people to whom we’re speaking and not the “churchy” language lifelong Christians would be used to?
  •  When we saw the swastikas in the city, we were quick to judge the person living behind those gates. How often we judge books by their cover! Even when we feel sure we know the meaning behind what we are seeing (ie., that person has tattoos, so they have a rough past; that person is homeless so they’re probably on drugs; etc), how can we treat them charitably, and try to imagine more hopeful and charitable reasons behind symbols, and people?
  • Like Nike, her wings removed, have we tried in any ways to clip the wings of God, to cause God to stay right where we want God? Have we tried in that way to tame our wild lion of a God?

Join the Journey

Greeting, friends!

As many of you know, I’m leaving tonight (Sunday, March 6) to embark upon a journey– the footsteps of the Apostle Paul and John the Revelator. We’ll be flying into Athens early Monday morning (USA time) and traveling around Greece for about a week, before journeying into Turkey for another week of sightseeing.

On this blog, I hope (depending on wifi access and exhaustion levels!) to update daily or every other day with photos, commentary, Scripture, and reflection questions for my congregation members and friends to follow along with.

Please comment, email me with any questions, and enjoy the ride!

Erin

2015 Reading Round-Up

This year I embarked on my biggest ever reading goal: 160 books.
I made it (as of December 30th) to 173. image1

My major thematic goals for this year included reading some classics I somehow made it through a Georgia public school education without reading (The Color Purple, Catch-22, A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, One Hundred Years of Solitude), some theology classics I somehow made it through a world-class seminary without reading (Barth’s Dogmatics in Outline, Cone’s God of the Oppressed, Gutierrez’s Theology of Liberation), and some new genres (fantasy, high fantasy, and-oddly- Scandinavian murder mysteries).

I also tried to invest in books by authors of color (Angelou, Cone, Bhutto, Marquez, Gutierrez, Morrison, Walker, Shire, Ishiguro) and books dealing with racially-charged issues (Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart, Ward’s Men We Reaped, Alexander’s The New Jim Crow), as well as books about feminism or with a feminist bent (Truly Our Sister, Men Explain Things to Me, Why Not Me?, Lean In, Sisters in Law) and innumerable books by female authors (among others, let me life up for you Benazir Bhutto, Marilynne Robinson, Tana French, Robert Galbraith, Emily St. John Mandel, Rachel Held Evans, Lily King, Pema Chodron, and Liane Moriarty).

Despite these efforts to branch out, I still spent the bulk of my reading in familiar genres: fiction (90+), memoirs/biographies (25+), and theology (25+). I was proud to find that interspersed here and there were 8 books of poetry, 5 books that could be broadly categorized as sociology or psychology, and 3 books that were straight up history.

So, why am I writing all this down? Partly for myself, because I like to do a book round-up at the end of each year. But also partly for anyone who, like me, makes relatively outlandish reading goals every new year and/or anyone who is always looking for new books to add to their own reading list(s).

So, without further ado, here are my winners for my favorite books I read this year, broken down by category. I highly recommend any and all of these books to any and all people, except that very last category, which I filled with books so bad I nearly couldn’t finish them. Enjoy!

Best Fiction: Ernest Cline, Ready Player One
(honorable mention: Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven)
Best Memoir: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
(honorable mention: Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking)
Best Non-Fiction: Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me
(honorable mention: Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow)
Best YA: Laura Ruby, Bone Gap
(honorable mention: Becky Albertalli, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda)
Best Poetry: Warsan Shire, Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth
(honorable mention: Daniel Ladinsky, Love Poems From God)
Best Theology: Robin Meyers, Spiritual Defiance 
(honorable mention: James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree)
Best Series: Brandon Sanderson, Mistborn trilogy
(honorable mention: Pierce Brown, Red Rising trilogy)
Best Other/Non-Categorize-able: Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy
(honorable mention: Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic)
Biggest Pleasant Surprise: Anna North, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark
(honorable mention: Hugh Howey, Wool)
Book that Won’t Leave Me Alone: Sister Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking
(honorable mention: Lily King, Euphoria)
Best Newly Discovered Authors:
Kazuo Ishiguro
Brandon Sanderson
Tana French
Ernest Cline
And finally……….

Biggest Let-Downs (Don’t Believe the Hype! I Could Barely Finish These!)
:
Jennifer Niven, All the Bright Places
Aziz Ansari, Modern Romance
Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Mary Kubica, Pretty Baby
Mary Kubica, The Good Girl

 

So, there you have it. For more books I read this year, including reviews and ratings, see my Goodreads page here: https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2015 (and friend me!).

 

Some ways that I (and you!) might consider investing in new and diverse authors next year are….

  • More LGBT authors and books on LGBT history, issues, etc.
  • Ethnographies (anthropological and sociological studies into specific cultures, tribes, and peoples)
  • Memoirs by people of other religions, nationalities, races, and socio-economics than you
  • Books of different media, such as graphic novels and books of photography
  • Books from a genre you’ve never before been interested in (ever since failing to fall in love with JRR Tolkien as a child, I’ve given fantasy a wide berth. But thanks to some cajoling from wise and funny friends, I gave it another try this year, and could not be more pleased!)

 

Happy reading, friends!

Ordination

On Saturday, June 20th, 2015, I was ordained.

I got a nice, long, fancy title with this: Elder in Full Connection in the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.

But I find myself centering on just that one word: Ordained.

I can’t tell you what the sermon was about; thankfully, Jesus was speaking a little more loudly than the preacher (though he was positively shouting at times).

I can’t tell you the names of everyone who was ordained alongside me, though I carry their faces in my heart and in my prayers.

I can’t tell you who stood for me– in the Methodist tradition, all who feel connected to the ordinand are invited to stand where they are, in prayer, in solidarity, in recognition of the communal calling we all share in the body of Christ.

But I can tell you that Jesus was there.

***

I looked into the eyes of a Bishop with whom I was frankly a bit disgruntled. It had been a hard week of voting– voting for the affirmation of the sacred dignity of all people in our conference, in our congregations, in that very room– and I found myself wishing he had done more, said more, prayed more, convicted us more. So I knelt before him and looked into his eyes and asked Jesus to show Himself to me in the face of that old white man. And for once, Jesus gave this foolish girl a sign: He was there. He was there in ways I cannot convey. Maybe one day I’ll be bothered to try to put it into words for you. But today it is enough for me to know: He was there.

I felt the hands of Jesus, dressed as my bishop, along with three other bishops on my head, my shoulders, my collarbones. I felt the hands of the three people I’d asked to stand with me– Kim, George, Brad– and the hands of my District Superintendent. Together, as one, they bore down on me. The weight was startling, sobering. It felt like a yoke. It felt like a crown, if not of thorns, then of pain. I felt the weight of their collective years– years in ministry, years until retirements, years of being called, years of doubting the call. It poured through my skin and bones and into my soul. And I prayed for the courage to be grateful.

I thought of all those who had gone before me, kneeling in moments of anointing, ordination, calling. I thought of David, the small boy ripe from the sheep fields, oil flowing down over his furrowed eyebrows. I thought of the sons of Levi, called by their genes into the holy work of their fathers. I thought of John and Charles Wesley, kneeling, stalwart and sober, under the hands of their own bishop. I thought of the women throughout the millennia, turned away from the ordination kneeler, from the anointing oil, from the heavy handed bishops again and again and again. I thought of Jesus, feet drenched in the sweet perfume of that unnamed woman, anointed for– what? Kingship? Ministry? Or death?

On Saturday I was not anointed for queenship, thanks be to God. I may well have been anointed for death. I pray I was anointed for ministry. But I am certain that I was anointed into a history, a great heritage. Our Great High Priest has set the standard. The Levites and the Pharisees and all those who claim the apostolic succession have tried their best. I, too, will try. And when I fail, as indeed I am sure I already have, I will remember that mine is not the first head to wear this crown of pain. Mine are not the first eyes to seek the face of Christ in the one who places the yoke on her neck. Mine are not the first tremors felt when donning the vestments, the authority, and the non-anxious pastoral smile.

And for that, for this great and beloved community of the saints, I am grateful.