Sunday

the peace we make


For Christ himself is our peace: his flesh makes us one, breaking down the dividing wall of hostility.

Peace stands in the gap. With ears and hearts, peace listens, offering a hand (or keeping it to ourselves). Peace sets each wrong aright.

Speaking good words and hard truths, peace resists false choices, easy answers, cheap grace, and every entrenched pattern of empire. There is no peace in the presence of injustice (and it's rarely the center or top who knows how far we've come or where next to go).

Peace makes more room for the least, the last, and the lost. Peace de-centers power and conventional models of authority. It favors the margins, honoring their hard-won wisdom and recognizing paths to peace are unknown to masters of war and all who feast on their spoils.

They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.

Peace sets to work, not despising the offerings of those who know conflict, too, is fruitful. Exposing violence cannot destroy a peace which has yet to be born among us. Clear out the old to make way for the new. Till each field, lot, and heart. Raze the systems. Raise the dead. Establish the work of our hands.

Many bodies, one Body. Many gifts, one Spirit. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. One hope in Christ, whose body makes a way out of no way, birthing peace in place of great violence.

Heal. Feast. Invite. Wash. Serve. See. Teach. Feed. Bless. Rest. Honor. Listen. Forgive. Empower. Humble. Suffer. Challenge. Invert. Convert. Subvert. Sacrifice. Resurrect. Liberate. Re-create. Love.

The peace we wage is forged in fire. With skin in the game, we arm to the teeth: ploughshares, hammers, covered dishes. Pens and picket signs. Microphones, toilet brushes, canvases, keyboards. Sacraments and safe space. Boundaries. Imagination. Hospitality and hard work. Room to grieve and grace to grow. 

Peacemaking by incarnation and alchemy.


Wednesday

when life just doesn't add up {guest post lauren}

Lauren is someone I know via Twitter, and I'm glad to host her words here today. She gives voice to some of the difficulties of reconciling the faith we inherited as kids with the frayed-edge realities of adult life, and I think it will be a familiar story to many. It was for me. Thanks, Lauren.




I’ve been angry with God. I don’t know the day it started. I didn’t even realize it until recently. What I know is that some dark, unrelenting force has been lurking under every experience, every joyful moment, every thought for more than a year. The crux of it is this: this is not the life I feel I was promised. I sacrificed and waited, prayed and fasted, casted my cares, and praised my way through. And I’m still not where I imagined I would be. I still haven’t come to terms with the fact that life isn’t fair.

Growing up, we were in church almost every day. Sunday morning. Sunday evening. Prayer on Monday and Tuesday nights. Bible Study on Wednesdays. Youth activities on Saturdays. Underneath all the scripture, books, classes, sermons, lectures, hugs, corrections and honest-to-goodness love, I got this message: Do the right thing, and you will get the right life. Along the way, I made some bad decisions. I wasn’t perfect; I felt like I was punished accordingly. I also saw the ‘saints’ talk about (and sometimes experience) difficult times, like death, divorce, and unemployment. But I still knew, I mean truly believed to my core, that ultimately, if I would just obey God’s word, I would have a good life with mostly joy, mostly stability, mostly peace. Depression would be a thing of the past. Resentment would be something that only sinners felt. Being broke? Oh no. That was clearly a judgement for people who were of reprobate mind…and neglected to pay their tithes. Definitely not for me.

When it comes right down to it, I guess justice and logic have been my guiding lights. 1+1=2. Ice cream and cheese cause gas. Sinners go to hell. You know, things that make sense. But my God, was that wrong. I mean, for one thing, I can eat Kraft Mac & Cheese with no problem, but no Sonic milkshakes?!

Cognitive dissonance is the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes. Seeing Trayvon Martin’s murderer walk free is one violent example of cognitive dissonance for me. On the one hand, I was taught America was a country of justice, freedom, and brave men. On the other hand, I saw a coward shoot an unarmed teenager through the heart and receive no punishment. How could this be? In my mind, I still struggle with it. One of these has to be wrong. America is bad and killers walk among us? It's a struggle to come to terms with these types of injustices. Nuances aside, wrong is still dead ass wrong.

So with my faith, I really still have not been able to settle in my heart that "Doing the right thing" may not lead to "A good life." Perhaps it’s my foolish Millennial optimism. Perhaps my reasoning skills are amiss. I certainly have sin I haven’t acknowledged or repented for. Whatever it is, the discontent led to an abiding anger with God, and this, of course, led to more poor decisions. But it also led me to re-align my understanding of the world. God probably hasn’t sent disease to punish the wicked. The rapture, as I learned it, may be myth. Unfortunately, dairy still causes awful tummy-aches. I’m still driven by logic, but I question more--and I allow room for more than one right answer.

Still, I kind of keep expecting God to swoop down out of the clouds, say “Just kidding!” and give me my husband, 2.5 children, big bank account, and endless joy. I think, “Fellowship of suffering, got it, now give me my REAL life!” I don’t know if any of this will ever truly make sense to me. Some part of me will probably always feel like I “deserve” more (ignoring my wildly inflated sense of self-righteousness).

But I’m slowly (and I mean snail’s pace) learning to build a life of what is, not what could have been or what was supposed to be. I’m thanking God through hot, reluctant tears and an angry heart because I know, This is my good life. It will never ever be easy, I will probably always battle depression and loneliness, and nobody is going to rescue me, even if I’m really, really faithful. God still loves me, and I believe no tear falls in vain. I’ll shake my metaphorical fist toward heaven, twist and rail against God’s tight grip and collapse from emotional exhaustion, but He won’t let me go.


Lauren lives & works in SC. She loves Jesus, food, nieces, and science fiction. She's working daily to decolonize her own mind as well as the minds of those around her. You can follow her on Twitter @whimsikal.



Sunday

were not our hearts burning?


Were not our hearts burning within us when the President preached Amazing Grace and Bree Newsome ascended that pole?
You come against me in hatred and oppression and violence; I come against you in the Name of God. This flag comes down TODAY.
One hundred fifty years from Juneteenth emancipation, six Black churches smolder, the dead in Charleston barely yet buried:
Clementa. Cynthia. Tywanza. Sharonda. Myra. Ethel. Susie. Daniel. DePayne.
And White Christians don sackcloth and ash, mourning marriage equality as churches burn, funeral hymns ring out, and wedding bells chime. They shall know we are Christians by our [lacking, lackluster, and lukewarm neighbor-] love.
Bread unbroken
Stranger unwelcomed
Christ unrecognized
and we, unmoved, unblessed,
unborn.
Give us a garland instead of ash and hearts of flesh ablaze, beating and breaking and bound up together, let love fuel our work and our days.


begin the begin


I went back to work full-time in affordable housing about a month ago. We're still figuring out how all this juggling works on the home front, but Team Paul is happy. I'm happy...thriving, even. For the first time in a long time, everyone in the family has their own physical sphere, which is good for the soul, I think.

Today is the first day of our last summer at camp. Jim's three weeks of staff training (typically the roughest of my year) are over, and I barely even noticed. Everything is changing. In the fall, Jim will launch his own business, James starts kindergarten, and we'll swap our farm house for a rental somewhere in town. So much is in flux, but we're ready to receive whatever comes next. It's time to leave well.

Thursday

Feeln {like a Mothers' Day movie giveaway}



There's always been a soft spot in my cold robot heart for Hallmark Hall of Fame movies. (We all contain multitudes, don't we?) So when Feeln, the movie subscription service of the Hallmark Channel, contacted me about a promotion, I was game, so long as I could wrangle a giveaway or three for you.

Basically, Feeln streams movies people of all ages can watch together. I was a little bummed they don't have Sarah Plain and Tall, which I vividly remember watching curled up on the couch with my mom one Sunday night growing up, but they do have that one with Keri Russell and Skeet Ulrich that I also enjoyed.

But it's not just Hallmark stuff, though. Feeln has a variety of content, including award winners like Chocolat and Rain Man; classics like The Sting or Twelve Angry Men; favorites like A League of Their Own, Big Fish, and Finding Neverland; and kids' stuff like The Secret of Kells or Ella Enchanted. They have the 1985 Rainbow Bright movie which I am definitely putting on for the kids soon, along with 1989's The Wizard, with Fred Savage and Jenny Lewis. 

Feeln streams online; on devices such as Roku, AppleTV, and Xbox; as well as on mobile phones and tablets. New subscribers can save 50% and get a year for $.99/month with the promo code 0515BlogSally. Feeln also kindly put up for grabs three complimentary year-long subscriptions for Smitten Word readers. Just check out Feeln's movie offerings, and leave a comment here about a favorite film listed or one you'd want to see. That's it. Giveaway ends Monday, May 11 at 11:59 PM, EST.

Happy (almost) Mothers' Day, to everyone who mothers and mentors and loves well.



Feeln provided these (and my) movie subscriptions. Opinions mine.

i left my heart in pittsburgh


When we discovered a third floor walk-up in a brick Bloomfield row house, we knew our little family of two had come home to the East End at last. Boasting a sunny kitchen outfitted in fifties-era fixtures and compact appliances, Hobbit ceilings, and actual sleeping quarters, the apartment felt palatial at $325 a month. So what if it was accessible only by fire escape and lacked a bedroom door? The Shire was ours, and God bless the youth group parents who dropped off teenagers in the back alley for dinners and movie nights.

You Are Here is a multi-contributor storytelling site organized around ideas of place. I've got a guest piece up there today, and hope you'll come by and have a look.

shall we strike with a sword?



Shall we strike with a sword?
Shall we crucify, terrify, vilify, war?
Shall we wound with our words?
Shall we seethe?
Shall we shame?

Shall we strike with a sword
or a fist
or a chain?
Shall we make them submit to our rule?
Shall we reign?

Shall we strike with a sword?
Shall we live by it,
die by it,
crown it our god?

Shall we bow? Shall we break
every bow that we've made?
Shall we love a more excellent way?

Compellingly uncoerced,
casting out fear. Lay down arms,
forge new tools in the fire that consumes
every dross and illumines strange paths.
Plowshares strike only soil: till our hearts,
may the verdant grow wild.


Tuesday

and this world has everything



Back in college I loved the band Caedmon's Call. I had all their albums, saw a few shows, and was enamored with boys who could play their songs by heart. They were the only Christian band I didn't backtrack on there for a while, but when I got out of youth ministry, I sorta let them go, too. The over-dose was probably inevitable. One does not live by [Christian culture] alone.

I hadn't listened to or thought of them in years when the chorus of "This World" got stuck in my head:

This world has nothing for me
And this world has everything
All that I could want
And nothing that I need

But this time, these once-familiar lines caught me off guard. I don't believe anything close to that anymore. Did I even back then? (This is why I bang the media literacy drum!)

What about the Genesis creation narrative in which everything God makes is unequivocally deemed to be good? Are Christians somehow exempt from basic human needs: food, shelter, security, love? Is the kingdom of God not inaugurated here among us, "on earth as it is in heaven," as Jesus proclaimed? What the hell kind of world is this song even talking about?**


This world is making me drunk
On the spirits of fear

Despite believing "perfect love casts out fear," Christians can be among the bigger manufacturers of it. Isn't fear partly what drives the desire for safe alternatives to "worldly" bands, movies, gyms, and schools, so Christians can be "in the world" (ish...) "but not of it"?

I don't believe retreat from the world is what Jesus prayed for in John 17. I realize "the world" (and "the flesh") function as metaphors, but words shape our thinking, and overemphasizing these can lead Christians into devastating and idolatrous territory.

A world vacant of value is disposable, and so are its inhabitants. Dualistic theology prizing the spiritual and heavenly over the material and embodied cannot functionally practice neighbor-love or the sort of ministry Jesus models. In that worldview, people of other faiths and no faith at all are easily seen and treated as projects--which is objectifying and dehumanizing--rather than kindred, beloved co-bearers of the image of God.

I get that the Bible talks of Christians having heavenly citizenship, being strangers on earth, and following Jesus above all else. Christians believe in more than whatever we see and experience now, but ours is not a pie-in-the-sky gospel of go-to-heaven-when-you-die. It's the gospel of "Today salvation has come to this house,""the kingdom of God is at hand," and "all things new," even now. Even here.

Creation, incarnation, and resurrection reveal deep, abiding goodness in our world and bodies. In beauty and pleasure. Learning and work. Art and play. Friendship and hospitality. Birth. Growth. Sex. Justice. Community. Love. We worship, serve, and practice our faith in this world, with our bodies, like Jesus did. This side of heaven, there is no apart: falsely elevating the spiritual divorces our bodies from our very selves, diminishing wholeness and shalom among and within us. We are physical, emotional, rational, sexual, spiritual beings all at the same time, and it's good.

The gospel of Jesus is good news for people-with-bodies and a world which God created, loves, and redeems.
And now I'm waking up
And now I'm breaking up
But now I'm making up
For lost time

**Edited to add:
YOU GUYS. Amy Peterson told me she read "This World" as a rejection of the insular church subculture the group grew up in, [There's tarnish on the golden rule/ And I want to jump from this ship of fools/ Show me a place where hope is young/ And people who are not afraid to love] and my mind is blown. Please weigh in, nerds.

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