Books (Or: How I Survived 2014)

2014 was, for me, the Year of Unapologetic, Obsessive, Ignore-the-World-and-Just-Carry-On-Reading Reading.

It was the year that I rediscovered the kindergartener in me, holing up on a chair, under the covers, even at the dinner table and devouring book after book. I rediscovered virtually hanging up on someone because they were boring me and I only had three chapters left. I rediscovered patiently shutting my book and waiting because the person I was reading along with hadn’t finished chapter 9 yet, and I promised I’d wait for him.

It was the year that I rediscovered the way that books can be a wormhole, a fishing net, a Bermuda triangle, capturing me and sucking me in, away from the damnable REALITY of reality.

2014 was a year of being broken open by grief and suffering and hate, and of subsequent healing with grief and suffering and renewal and love. I blogged very little, wrote some, and read, and read, and read as though books were oxygen.

I read to feel alive, I read to feel holy, I read to feel like I was going to survive. I read to feel. I read to live. I read because I knew somewhere deep in my core that the characters and memoirists and poets would be able to say something to the cracking places in my soul that would bind them back together again, like glue, or like chewing gum, depending on the book.

I rediscovered the little bouncing kid in me that wants to shout about all the books she’s just finished, out of an alarming and justified and probably less-than-holy mixture of pride, relief, wonder, grief, wisdom, hope, passive-aggression, and love.

Let me commend reading to you, friend. Whether it is an audiobook to read while driving, knitting, or playing Pokemon (librivox.com, audible.com), a library book to read while trying to save money (http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/libraries/librarysearch/), a fancy book you read to feel smarter, or a bad romance novel you will never, ever admit to reading, because it is just too smutty and no one needs to know that you read that (especially if you’re in my line of work….)

Reading is a form of healing. A form of communing with the divine. I believe that with all my heart. God is found in the Bible, yes, but if you don’t believe you can find God in a memoir, a novel, a poem, then we have some work to do. God loves words. God is Word. So let us devour them, voraciously, hungrily, like our lives depend on it.

***

So without further ado, I would like to give you my superlatives for the year of 2014. You can see a list of all the books I read (omitting the especially smutty ones, of course), as well as what I’m currently reading, on my Goodreads page, but here are my “Drop everything; read this immediately” choices:

Best Fiction (It’s a Tie!)
We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
This book shocked me with its brilliance. If you haven’t heard of it, go buy it and don’t look at any synopses or plot spoilers. That’s what I did, and there’s a reveal about halfway through that made my jaw literally drop. A book about sisterhood, girlhood, growing up, activism, and a number of other things I’m avoiding saying because I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you, this is easily one of my top 5 books of the year.

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
This debut novel from the lead singer of The Mountain Goats is totally freaking insane. It is incredibly dark, incredibly human, and incredibly compelling. From my review on Goodreads: “I devoured this book in one sitting. A maze unto itself, it unfolds, redirects, and compels its reader forward, searching for an end you’re not sure exists. I loved the protagonist in the way that I love to love protagonists– not love/hate so much as love/disgusted, love/frustrated, love/identify. He is hard to look at, both his face and his soul. We are left with questions upon questions, leading me to want to mail in my own “next move” to the author, to reach some safe haven in the narrative, where all things are known and resolved. One of the best novels I’ve read in a year of disappointing debuts. Five stars.”

Best Memoir- Comedy
(It is with regret that I choose) Not that Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
I so, so, so wanted this category to go to Amy Poehler, but unfortunately, I just didn’t love Yes, Please! I found Poehler’s writing  apologetic, filled with reservations, and overwrought. I know it was trying really hard to be (and also not to be) Bossypants, and I think in all that effort, it lost its way. So, I am left with Lena. This was a good book. An honest, hard, funny, and tragic book. A solid choice, though not the one I wanted to make.

Best Memoir- Other
A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren
I am a pretty unapologetic Warren fan, and have been ever since she, in the name of feminism and glasses, defeated stupid Scott Brown in his stupid Massachusetts stupid Senate race. I was alone in my house watching the poll results come in and I had only heard about Warren peripherally, but watching her acceptance speech, the look of sheer pride, bewildered and confident, I cried. And did you know she’s United Methodist?! Her memoir is honest, tough, and taught me a hell of a lot about bankruptcy law, something I would have previously thought I could neither stomach nor understand. Go read this book, no matter your political leanings.

Best Memoir- Spiritual
Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber
I know, I know, this is no surprise to you. I loved this book and wouldn’t shut up about it. But seriously, go read it.

Honorable Mention: The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux
I call this one an honorable mention because it did not come out anywhere near 2014…. But this year was the first time I read it and I was blown away. Made me want to be a little flower, on a little path, toward a little Jesus. Definitely read this book at some point in your life.

Best Non-Fiction
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
This is the sort of book that you don’t want to pick up because you know it’s going to be depressing. And it is pretty depressing. But it’s also incredibly hopeful, forward-thinking, and optimistic. Focusing on geriatric care and what it means to be an aging body in a world where aging bodies exist in numbers unprecedented in the whole history of humanity, Gawande invites readers to a new understanding of aging, dying, hospice, end-of-life, and grief. READ THIS BOOK, PASTORS AND DOCTORS.

Best Poetry
The Book of the Hours by Ranier Maria Rilke
#sorrynotsorry
I had never read and Rilke before.

I loved it with all my heart.
You will, too.
End of review.

Best Science Fiction
The Martian by Andy Weir
Holy moly, was this book stressful! So suspenseful, intense, and compelling. It’s sciencey, but take it from the OPPOSITE of a sciencey person, it’s more than manageable. I think I even learned some stuff. This book was fantastic. In the top 5 of the year, easy.

Best Spirituality
Darling by Richard Rodriguez
This was a dark horse book for me. I heard Rodriguez interviewed on NPR’s On Being and fell in love with him and his conception of YHWH as “The God of the Desert.” I bought this on a whim that very day and can’t believe what a treasure it is. I guess it rightfully belongs in the Spiritual Memoir category, but it deserves its own win, its own category, its own place of prominence. Because it’s seriously the BEST.

Best Theology
God in Search of Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel
Not a recent publish, but it can’t be helped. When I started this book, I just wanted to learn a little something-something about Jewish theology. By the second page, I knew that I was learning everything-everything about my own theology, my own relationship to God and humanity and everything. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Best book I read all year, probably all decade.

Best Thriller (It’s a Tie!)
Cuckoos’ Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
A controversial choice, I know. But I really enjoyed both this and its sequel, The Silkworm, although the latter is stomach-churningly gory. Rowling’s foray into crime thrillers, especially the character of Cormoran Strike, is a home run with me.

The Son by Jo Nesbø
I got very into the Swedish-authored Dragon Tattoo series, and thought I’d give another Scandinavian author a shot with Norwegian Nesbø. I was not disappointed. The Son has heart, thrill, interest, and a great, twisting, wrenching plot.

***

And, for good measure, I also present:
The Worst Books of the Year (Two Books Everyone Recommended that I Just Couldn’t Deal With):
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr– Everyone absolutely adored this book and it won more awards than you can count, but I found it tedious and boring. Also, hard to categorize. Was it historical fiction? Historical fantasy? It just didn’t move me.

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper– I HATED this book. HATED it. Every character felt incredibly one-dimensional and, apart from a funny scene in the first 20 pages, I was not engaged in the rest of the book at all. I and several other reviewers commented that it felt like a cheap bid to a movie studio. “Look, I wrote a book that already feels like a movie, so I guess we have to make a movie about it! Is Tina Fey available?” I saw the movie recently, a spite-watch, and it was indeed better. Almost word-for-word from the book, because the book was THAT one-dimensional.

Happy reading in 2015, friends! Go on Goodreads and make yourself a Reading Challenge (the 2015 one will be available Jan 1). Share with me what you’re reading so we can heal and be whole together.

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Good Friday with 2010s Tunes

In the Christian Church, Good Friday is a night of worship in which, traditionally, a number of Scriptures relating to the Passion of Our Lord are read, followed by hymns or instrumental sacred music, and the extinguishing of candles to represent the extinguishing of the life of Jesus, the Light of the World.

As someone involved in alternative/emergence worship, I would submit to you an idea of such a service utilizing not hymns or instrumental sacred music, but recent secular music, baptized in the space of holy worship. With proper explanation of context (i.e., “When you’re listening to this song, think about the words from the perspective of Christ on the cross”) and maybe some changing of words here and there (we find that we often have to change “baby”s to “Lord”s and such), these can be way, way worshipful.

 

Lesson I:  Matthew 26:36-46 (Jesus’ disciples fall asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane)

Avicii, “Wake Me Up”
(from the perspective of the disciples)

Life will pass me by if I don’t open up my eyes….
So wake me up when it’s all over

When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I was finding myself, and I
Didn’t know I was lost…
I tried carrying the weight of the world
But I only have two hands…
I didn’t know I was lost. I didn’t know. I didn’t know.

Lesson II: Matthew 26:47-56 (Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss)

Miley Cyrus, “Wrecking Ball”
(from the perspective of Judas/ourselves, confessing our betrayal)

Don’t You ever say I just walked away; I will always want You
I can’t live a lie, running for my life
I will always want You
I came in like a wrecking ball, yeah I just closed my eyes and swung
Left me crashing in a blazing fall…

I never meant to start a war
I just wanted you to let me in
And instead of using force, I guess I should’ve let you win….
Yeah, You… You wreck me…

Lesson III: Matthew 26:57-68 (Jesus before the Sanhedrin)

Sara Bareilles’ “Hold My Heart”
(from the perspective of Jesus, rejected by the leaders of His people, lamenting His imminent death)

Does anybody know how to hold My heart
How to hold My heart?
‘Cause I don’t wanna let go
Let go, let go too soon
I want to tell you so, before the sun goes dark
How to hold My heart
‘Cause I don’t wanna let go
Let go, let go of you

Lesson IV: Matthew 26:69-75 (Peter denies Christ)

FUN., “Some Nights”
(from the perspective of Peter)

Some nights I wish that my lips could build a castle
Some nights I wish they’d just fall off…
But I still wake up, I still see Your ghost
Oh, Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for oh
(Whoa oh oh)
What do I stand for?

Most nights I don’t know anymore…
…So this is it. I sold my soul for this?
Washed my hands of that for this?
I miss my mom and dad for this?
No…

Lesson V: Matthew 27:15-26 (Jesus before Pilate)

Rihanna, “Stay”
(remembering His life and asking Jesus not to go)

I threw my hands in the air, said, “Show me something,”
He said, “If you dare, come a little closer.”
Not really sure how to feel about it,
Something in the way You move
Makes me feel like I can’t live without You….
Funny You’re the broken one but I’m the only one who needed saving…
I want You to stay….

Lesson VI: Matthew 27:27-44 (The soldiers mock Jesus)

Imagine Dragons, “Demons”
(from the perspective of the mocking soldiers/ourselves at our darkest hours)

When your dreams all fail and the ones we hail
Are the worst of all, and the blood’s run stale…
No matter what we breed, we still are made of greed
This is my kingdom come….
Don’t get too closeIt’s dark inside
It’s where my demons hide…

Lesson VII: Matthew 27:45-50 (The death of Jesus)

A Great Big World, “Say Something”
(begging Christ not to go…)

Say something, I’m giving up on you
I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you
Anywhere I would’ve followed you
Say something, I’m giving up on you…
You’re the One that I love, and I’m saying goodbye

Lesson VIII: Matthew 27:51-54 (“Surely this man was the Son of God”)

Christina Perri, “A Thousand Years”
(from the perspective of Christ)

I have died every day waiting for you
Darling, don’t be afraid;
I have loved you for a thousand years,
I’ll love you for a thousand more….
And all along I believed I would find you
Time has brought your heart to me
I have loved you for a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

 

Bonus– Easter Songs!

Mumford and Sons, “Roll Away Your Stone”

Pharrell Williams, “Happy”

The Beatles, “Here Comes the Sun”

Bob Marley, “Redemption Song”

Self-Care: Self-Service Self-Salvation (21st Century Pelagianism, Come to Roost)

I have something to say, and you’re not going to like it. I don’t like it either.

All the self-care talk ruling the church conferences and retreats and seminars– just as it is in the corporate world, according to my corporate friends– amounts to something dangerously close to a false gospel. Let me explain.

I’ve come into the ministry at a time when… to put it quite bluntly… many (if not most) clergy in many (if not most) denominations are burnt out (if not thinking of quitting), overweight (if not obese), drinking too much (if not alcoholics), spiritually depleted (if still spiritual at all), and either completely overworked or hardly showing up at all.

“These are bad things!” churches everywhere said, when they noticed. “We must teach our clergy better skills, give them coaches and help them become fit, healthy, centered people so they can get back to work!”

So, here came the SELF-CARE SELF-SERVICE SELF-SAVIOR.

Would you like to be a healthier, more effective pastor? Thou shalt eat better!
Would you like to have a more satisfying spiritual life? Thou shalt work out!
Would you like to work more efficiently? Thou shalt take your Sabbath (however long, whenever, and whatever you want to do)!
Would you like to be more centered emotionally? Thou shalt… well… drink less, problem solved!

The problem here, which we all know but seem to have forgotten (I know I have), is that if you want to be a better person, a better pastor, you can’t do it yourself. You have to, as our Anonymous friends would say, turn your will over to the care of your Higher Power. You can’t muscle your way into health, growth, and happiness. You can’t army-crawl your way into Thy-Kingdom-coming.

You can’t do this. Only God can.

How many times have I tried to lose weight? I might succeed for a time, but then put it all back on again the next time there’s a crisis. If I rely only on my own mettle to make it happen, where is my faith? No wonder I fail.

How many times have I tried to get emotional/psychological help? I make progress, but if I’m relying only on myself and this other human being to talk my way into health, and not also on God, how can I expect true growth?

How many times have I tried Sabbath-taking as a means of solving my problems? Doesn’t it just feel like an extra lazy Saturday, to sleep and watch TV? Or perhaps for you it’s an extra busy give-the-spouse-a-hand-with-the-kids day, so that you end up working more than you would’ve if you were at the Church…

Here’s the thing… we have committed our lives to serve God. Not ourselves. We’ve committed our lives to standing up and saying, “I believe,” “I trust,” “I hope” …. in God, not in Dr Oz or a health initiative or my Planet Fitness membership.

Talk of eating and exercising as salvific (for our ministries if not our own bodies/lives) says, “I trust in myself, my muscles, my willpower,” and not in a God who has a great deal invested in our little created bodies.
Talk of Sabbath as our personal time to solve our problems and make us centered and catch up and rest negates the command for which the Sabbath was given: “Keep it holy.”
Talk of getting emotionally healthy without a strong component of prayer, of partnering with God (not just some random human with a masters degree) to help you break the patterns of the past, ultimately says, “I give my ‘life’ [read: career] to God, but not my heart, my mind, or my soul.”

It is right to eat well and exercise, but not for the purpose of saving our failing hearts or increasing our curb appeal when our pictures go up on church websites. It is right because God says your body was wonderfully made, and that your body is an instrument of prayer, of healing one another, of serving the Church.

It is right to take Sabbath, but not in order to get more sleep or do more yard work or watch more television. It is right because God says to do it, God commands that we revere God, God asks us to take 24 hours on a Saturday or a Friday or a Sunday to stop creating, stop rummaging, stop hoarding, and just breathe in God.

It is right to get emotionally healthy, but not for your own sake, or on your own. It is right because God has gifted and called you– you, with all your unique “baggage” and language and hopes and fears. You get healthy through prayer and meditation, hand in hand with a God whose dreams for you are bigger than even your own, much less your therapist’s.

Friends, let us not fall into the trap Pelagius set for us. We cannot create our own salvation, for our bodies, ourselves, or God’s Holy Church. She will not consent to our feeble attempts at salvation, for She has Christ resurrected at her heart. So too we should not consent to them either. We must have Christ resurrected at our hearts. Only then, with His power, His boldness, His will, His big dreams, His scary passion, His deep and abiding love for God’s creation, which includes you and me…. with those things and not our own, we will be truly cared for.

The Church needs pastors who truly believe in the power of Jesus Christ. The Church needs pastors who truly believe that there is something beyond this life of eating and working and drinking and gnashing of teeth. The Church needs pastors who hope, and pray, and rely on something– someOne– other than themselves.

* * *

Have you come across resources that are good for integrating the self-care stuff with Jesus?

My church is currently doing a series called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality that I think integrates it well.

Share resources, friends!

Where Everyone Else is Getting their Sermons

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I have been in love with TED Talks for a number of years now. TED has taught me and millions of others to be vulnerable, to understand physics a little better (little… like, a very, very little), to be more gracious toward myself, my family, and my [what the turn-the-other-cheeky parts of the Bible would call] enemies.

The thing about TED that I sometimes chew on is how to look at it theologically. Humans stand up and tell other humans things– about the brain, about nature, about physics, about emotions, about art, about politics, about social structures, about poverty, about God, sometimes. Humans stand up and applaud particularly eloquent, amusing, or challenging humans. Humans gaze upon humans, listen to humans speaking, react to and invest in the human and her or his presentation.

Objectively speaking, it’s all very self-congratulatory.

Humans patting one another on the back for being so smart and insightful and wise. Humans patting themselves on the back for consenting to be present to such a display. Humans planning their next blog post, their next book, their next highly intellectual conversation at the gallery.

And all the while the churches stand near-empty.

But I do not lament this as much as I could. I do not think that God laments it all that much, either.

When I hear a TED talk, what I hear is the closest thing to a sermon that non-church-goers are getting these days. Sure, they don’t preach from Scripture like seminary taught me was the foundation of a Christian sermon. But they preach from a different kind of sacred text.

The physicists preach from the sacred text of the sky, the bones of the earth, the invisible wind. The artists preach from the sacred text of color, dark, light. The psychologists preach from the sacred text of the heart, the mind, the soul. The political scientists and economists and social scientists preach from the sacred texts of equality, liberty, justice, hope, future, past, even love.

These, too, are God’s sacred texts. They are not The Word, which I have the terrifying task of preaching, but they are A Word. An important word, that speaks beyond the human standing on the stage and the humans listening, pondering, and responding.

Here is what strikes me so deeply: These humans are participating in God, precisely by participating in one another.

By speaking of the world, of themselves, of the beautiful and the unknown and the dangers and the possibilities, they are speaking of all that God has created, all that God is at work upholding, all that God loves. They speak of the beloved of God, and therefore they speak of God. They speak with mouths and hands created by God, and therefore they speak of God. They speak to the beloved of God, and therefore they speak of God.

You do not have to be a preacher with the robe and the stole and the consecration to preach. You must simply consent to participate. Consent to be present here, with us. Consent to be. For in doing this you consent to God.

“Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin”

If I hear another person say, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” I think I will have to retire to my bed with a consoling bag of Cheetos for the rest of the decade.

Today I read a rather shouty and righteous blog post by a pastor who gave the frustrating opinion that our denomination is a sinking ship precisely because of things like this week’s landmark refusal of a bishop to press charges against a pastor who performed a same-sex ceremony for his son in 2012.

One commenter left a single line: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

I rage against this pseudo-religion.

Three Quick Things:

1. This fantastic article expresses just how ridiculous, hurtful, and self-defeating that statement is. Here’s a highlight from it:

“He could have said “You’re a sinner, but I love you anyways.” But she knew she was a sinner. Those voices were loud and near and they held rocks above her head.

Jesus refused to let his voice join theirs. By telling her “go and sin no more,” he affirmed that sin is not her deepest identity. It’s not how he saw her. It’s not who she was at the core of the being.”

2. For the record, because Google searches reveal most people think otherwise, the offending statement is not from the Bible. Jesus never said it. Nor did God. Nor did the prophets.

3. I think Richard Rohr summed it up best in his book, Breathing Under Water:

“Did you ever have someone apologize to you and it felt much more like the person just wanted to let you know how wonderful and Christian they were to forgive you? They are normally trying to regain their bruised self-image by thinking of themselves as magnanimous. It sometimes takes the form of a very properly said “I forgive you, but I hate your sin”. There could perhaps be a good way to understand that statement, but it usually means “I am on moral high ground, but you are not”. The person unlocks himself or herself but not the other person. Christians love to say this to gay people, exonerating and exalting themselves, while binding up the other, and not even knowing it.” (Rohr, 72)

One Last Thing:

We have no moral high ground, friends. We, all of us, wallow with the pigs and soar with the angels. We are utterly pitiful and broken, and we are sanctified in Christ– both of those things, no way around it, no matter our sexual preferences, our favorite foods, our felony convictions, our exercise schedule, or anything else that makes up our particular identities.

As I said before, the offending quote is not Scriptural. You want Scriptural?

I have been crucified with Christ.  I surrendered all the particularities of “me” to all the particularities of Him.

The Christian says to Christ, as Ruth said to Naomi: “Where You go I will go, and where You stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and Your God my God. Where You die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates You and me” (Ruth 1).

Where does Christ go? To those who don’t get enough love.
Who are Christ’s people? Those whom the world– and perhaps even more often the Church–, calls Not People. (Indeed, those whom we self-righteously call “sinner,” to be loved while their sin is to be hated.)
Where does Christ die? Wherever humanity cries out in need, no matter who they are or what they do, have done, will do.

May the Lord deal with us severely if we let identity– all the salvifically-irrelevant, moralistically-judged, beautiful and tragic and broken and sanctified particularities, whether of someone else or of ourselves— separate us from Christ.

Time

Guys,

I never knew what adult people were talking about when they said things about time. Adult people always talk about how time flies– you look down for a split second in December  and suddenly it’s March. What? Or the stuff about living for the weekends– even when I was in school this didn’t make much sense, probably because I loved school so much (#nerdalert). But now I get it… that feeling I get on Thursday afternoons (like many pastors, I take Friday off) of total freedom, of liberation and adventure and possibility, even though the most I’m going to do in the way of adventure is take the dog to a new dog park.

But it’s true, adult people. The time, it runs away like there’s something very wonderful up ahead. Which I would imagine is how God intended it. Because I like to hope, with the great eschatological hopers, that there is something very wonderful up ahead. I’d just like a little more time in the now-moments to wonder, and hope, and pray.

 

Plugging for Pastrix: Your Next Favorite Book

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Image from On Being with Krista Tippett, linked below

A quick post to tell you to drop everything you’re doing (unless you’re working frantically to finish your paperwork for UM ordination… keep going, boys and girls! Just a little more! John and Charles are up there clapping and cheering!) and read Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint.

Not convinced, perhaps because you heard she begins the book by swearing (although to each her own; that was one of the things that actually convinced me to get it…)? Here’s why you should read it, all you Christian-vocationed people (note: we all have a Christian vocation– as ministers, or disciples, or educators, or sweet folks who hand out apples to beggars through our car windows. Slam! You gotta read it, too, non-preacher folks!):

Nadia says the things we’re not supposed to say, as upstanding, decent, appropriately-tight-lipped women and men of the cloth, and generally as 21st century people who were taught by Barney and Big Bird and incredibly well-intentioned church preschool teachers to speak only when we have nice things to say– true things be damned (ahem, darned).

Things like: she likes hanging out with sober alcoholics better than Christians sometimes. Things like: being called into ministry (and being IN ministry) is one of the hardest things she’s ever experienced. Things like: “I was on one path toward self-destruction and God pulled me off of it by the scruff of my collar, me hopelessly kicking and flailing and saying, ‘Screw you. I’ll take the destruction, please.’ God looked at tiny, little red-faced me and said, ‘that’s adorable.'” (Pastrix, 40)

Even if those things don’t resonate with you (if they don’t, I assume you’ve achieved Wesleyan perfection; can you please message me and give me pointers? Detailed and with illustrations, please), how about this one, from a description of her calling to ministry, which I underlined several times and am tempted to write out longhand to hang in my house as a reminder that I’m not alone:

“I was scared. I was scared about the fact that in order for me to be the kind of pastor I would want to be, I would need to look at some of my own personal stuff, which I was perfectly happy ignoring. I struggled with the idea of being a spiritual leader. I struggled with knowing I don’t really like emotionally needy people and, given the opportunity, I will walk the other way if I see them coming. I struggled with being available to people all the time when really I’m slightly misanthropic.” (Pastrix, 16-17)

Pastors, can I get an amen?

Seriously, go. Buy. Now. Here’s an amazon link.
Also check out her church‘s website, and hear her amazing sermons.
And hey, you know homegirl’s blowing up because Krista Tippett interviewed her here!

Hollow

Yesterday I had my last session for a prison class I’ve been taking this fall. It was bittersweet and lovely, and I wished I’d had more free time to go hang out with the guys, and they asked me to come back and I said I’d try.

As I was leaving, one of those incarcerated gentlemen, one who had never much spoken to me but was always quick with a laugh or a question in class, asked me if I had “pastored” on Sunday. I said yes, and he asked what I had spoken about. I explained to him a theory derived from St Symeon that I preached on– the idea that heaven and hell are not disparate places but rather the same place: the presence of God. Those folks are holy, whose eyes and skin and feet are accustomed to walking near and looking upon the all-consuming fire that is God, will find it lovely and bask in the warm glow. But those of us who have not honed our lives, trained our bodies and our hearts to be in God’s presence, will find it terrible– they will be burned and will wither in fear and anguish… but nevertheless they are not cast from God’s presence. He said he liked that.

But I should have kept quiet. All my reading and learning were nothing compared to the quiet faith of this man of God.

He told me that he’s leading a Bible study in his cell unit. They’re working their way through the Lord’s Prayer, he said. Mind you, I don’t think he’s going off any books. He said they read a verse from the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospel and discuss it. What does this petition mean? How can we ask God for our ‘daily bread’ today? I smiled.

He said they had gotten through the verse that says, “Hollowed be Thy name.”

Hollowed be Thy name.

He said they talked about what it means to hollow out God’s name, and moved his hands like a scoop like you did with your pumpkin this Halloween.

Friends, were this a few years ago I would have made slight pedantic fun of him, at least in my mind. Were this a few months ago I would have corrected him and explained the definition of the ye olde word “hallowed.” But because Jesus just doesn’t ever leave me alone, because Jesus is hard at work in me, with grease on His face and an ache in His back, fixing up my broken-down little heart, I did neither.

I listened, I listened with my rusty heart, as this man said that he and his fellow inmates have decided to work at hollowing out the name of God.

***

Friends, perhaps we could do well to learn to hollow out the name of God.

Let us dig into the soft fleshy sides of it and make a home in that cleft.

Let us take our jackhammers and our pickaxes, and chisel off all the bad connotations we’ve given to the name of God– the “Jesus!”es we’ve used to curse, the “Father”s that wound so many fatherless believers.

Let us take our own names, be they “Reverend” or “Sister,” “Mom” or “Mister,” “Slut” or “Bitch” or “Ignorant” or any number of other racial, antigay, or sexist epithets I won’t repeat here… let’s take those names and let’s bury them deep in the hollowed-out name of God. Let’s let the name of God take those for us, wrap itself over them, anoint them, redeem them, speak the truth of who God knows us to be into them.

Let us dig deep graves in the name of God and leave who we were there, rising as new creations;
Let us dig deep wells in the name of God and be blessed by what gushes forth;
Let us take our trowels and our spoons and play in the sandy soil of God’s great name;
Let us build ourselves a nest there, a cocoon there, in the hollowed-out name of God.

So, let this be our prayer:

Our Loving God, up there in Heaven, and right here also, somehow,
we hope You won’t mind (and reckon You really don’t) if hollowed be Thy name.

This Has Nothing to Do With Ministry (But My Mom Will Be Happy With It!)

This week a friend asked me to go with them to the mountains.

I said, Sure! Yes! Amazing!

Then I looked at my bank account. Quickly calculating out my rent check, which will go through any day now, and a couple other bills, I have roughly $55 spending money for the next two weeks.

So, yeah, I’m not going to the mountains.

But I’m making the best of it! I’m QUILTING!

Last year for my birthday my parents and I went in together to buy me a sewing machine. I have used it sparingly since then, getting far busier and more distracted than I anticipated this year.

That same birthday weekend, Mom and I went to the most amazing fabric store in existence, had a laughing fit that nearly killed us both in the parking lot, and then spent all of my money buying the materials for me to make a quilt. And I promptly neglected it, until a weekend when I had time to give it a proper start.

…Well, here we are almost 9 months later and I’ve finally found that weekend. Yay!

So, I’ll try to keep you updated over the next few months as this baby (hopefully) takes shape!

The (Hopeful) Final Product

The (Hopeful) Final Product

It’s not as ambitious as it looks. Okay, maybe it is, but here’s my logic: Each of the 120 squares is made up of 18 identical rectangles. And each square is identical. So, there’s nothing complex about putting this thing together– just cut 2160 identical tiny rectangles, sew them together into squares, and then sew the squares together. This makes a lot of sense as “easy” to me. …But I’ll get back to you in a few weeks, somewhere around rectangle 800 I’ll probably start to lose it.

Step 1: Wash Step 2: Iron Step All of the Above: Don't get burned or burned out!

Step 1: Wash
Step 2: Iron
Step All of the Above: Don’t get burned or burned out!

 

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll also add that I needed something to do with my hands and eyeballs when The Walking Dead (which I’ve started in lieu of Breaking Bad) gets too scary for me. There’s nothing weird about quilting and watching The Walking Dead at the same time. Nothing weird at all. GET OVER YOUR GENDER STEREOTYPES.

 

Sorry I yelled at you ;)

Seasons & Grace

I do not have a favorite season. In fact, I find the seasons, proper, rather tedious– fall with death falling over it like a pall, winter with its deep chill that clutches your throat and leaves you unable to take a deep breath for three months, spring’s false hopes and late freezes, and summer– especially here in the South– with its sweatbees, sweat stains, and sweating your mascara down your face.

So yeah, I’ve got beef with the seasons.

But my favorite times of the year are these: Those two weeks between summer and fall, and the two weeks between cold and warm (the latter happen somewhere in the middle of spring, and can’t be counted on as regularly as the former).

Right now, we’re in those two weeks between summer and fall here in North Carolina. What I find so marvelous about these two weeks is the utter shock with which they come. We’ve gone all summer enduring 80 and 90 degree temperatures (thank God for no days over 100 here this year!) and that hideous humidity that drives even the birds to pant in the shade of dense foliage. All summer finding cool respites like swimming pools and central air conditioning, and then one day, like a surprise birthday party to us all, there it is: The Great Lifting.

***

When I was a child, I remember harboring a weird theological worldview in which God never planned out the seasons; their changing was simply God’s responding to human prayers. All summer, poor God would listen to us complain-pray for cooler temperatures, so God would graciously send down fall and winter… at which point, of course, we would begin to pray for warmth. So God sent down spring and summer. The cycle of complaining went on for millennia, but in my feeble but somewhat Biblical conception (read Exodus, amirite?), this God continued to answer prayers, abide with us, and send us heat and cool when the cool and heat we’d previously asked for turned out to be not what we wanted.

***

I think about this every year at The Great Lifting.

You know what I mean by this. One morning, you’re out the door for work and it’s the same old, same old summertime air: steamy like a bathtub even after the water has drained away, hot like soup, and sticky-damp like babies’ skin. And then, the very next morning… it might be the exact same temperature as the day before, still 86 or whatever, but something has lifted. You walk outside and the air goes down easier, like you don’t have to chew it this morning. Perspiration doesn’t dot your forehead immediately. The feeling that a moist blanket is suffocating all of us is gone… you can almost see it floating away into the sky.

It’s not cool yet. Again, it might be the exact same temperature, and tomorrow it might get back up to 90. But something has changed. Everything has changed.

***

This is how I see grace.

Nothing has changed, but everything has changed.

You are still the same person, when grace finds you. You are still doing the same job, thinking the same dirty or sweary or angry thoughts, walking around in the same shoes that give you the same blisters. Nothing has changed. But something has been lifted. And everything has changed. You are not longer suffocating. You are no longer fighting for air. You are no longer dying.

When grace finds you, you expect a great lifting. You expect that YOU will be greatly lifted, somehow, above all the politics and problems and hipster nonsense of this life. You expect that you will float a few inches off the ground, that you will smile sweetly at the barista who gives you the wrong coffee and happily talk for an hour to that neighbor, classmate, or woman in your office who won’t shut up.

Grace is not a lifting of you; it’s a lifting off of you. A lifting off of the horrible, life-threatening, sweltering, heavy pall: your penchant for sinning, your aim toward death, your ignorance and turning away of God. You are not lifted yet, my friend. But now, a thousand pounds lighter and able to breathe, you may be able, somehow, soon, to float.