All-American Muslim Girl {YA Book Review}

Hello! I am Suzannah's almost twelve year-old daughter, Dylan. I recently read the book All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney. I am an avid reader and love young adult novels such as this. It was amazing. The main character, Allie, is part of a Circassian Muslim family. The thing is, her mother and father don't practice. The growing Islamophobia in her school and the world causes Allie to begin to embrace her religion. Allie is strong and brave. She is a relatable, funny character that kept me going through the whole book. I could not put it down. I was inspired by her wish to be in touch with her faith. It talks about important topics such as Islamophobia, racism, and finding acceptance. I will share this book with the sixth grade classroom library in my Philadelphia public school, because I'm positive that other students will enjoy it as much as I did.

All-American Muslim Girl releases today. The title earned starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. It's also a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection.


the scary, scary beauty of what's right here

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death's dark shadows put to flight.

The somber-edged expectation of advent always jars a bit in the midst of the ostentatious commercial Holiday Season, but the dissonance feels extra jagged this year. I signed up families for Toys for Tots, and more than a few moms were near tears, wondering how they were going to get through the next few everything. Everywhere I turn folks are grieving, sick, and struggling under the weight of addiction, loneliness, fractured relationship, uncertainty, loss, and violence, to say nothing of creeping fascism. The heaviness is palpable and raw.

And that is the world to which Christ comes: Emmanuel, God-with-us in the messy trenches of fear and overwhelming burden. Present in chaos and storm, the manger-babe charts another course toward wholeness, justice, and all things made new. The last are first. The margins honored. Mountains leveled. The poor blessed.

Hoping, we set bruised hearts and tired feet toward everything for which we long so deeply: Streams in the desert. Healing. Safety. Community. Nourishment. Wisdom. Provision. Peace. Forgiveness. Restoration. Rest. Good faith.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

O come, O come, Emmanuel. Steady the knees that give way. 


do you want to be made well?

While knowledge and truth can be found anywhere, the kind of wisdom that leads to shalom is indigenous to the margins, among "the least," forgotten, and last. Those who know the way to peace and healing are the ones whose bodies, like Christ's, bear scars of others' war-making. Any who sit at empires' thrones feasting on its spoils cannot lead us into justice. The powerful offer up all sorts of expertise, but paths to peace they do not know.

Peacemaking is not a top-down operation, nor does its wisdom flow from center to margin. Peace is forged through conflict (not around), and the way to communal well-being and wholeness is paved with all sorts of interpersonal discomfort, tension, and sweat. Justice cannot roll until subtle and glaring hierarchies and broken systems are identified and ripped out. 

And that much-lauded (and alarmingly misunderstood) rebuilding work of crafting something just and new? It, too, is rooted firmly in Wisdom from the margins! The top and center are architects and upholders of injustice, well practiced in the status quo affirming appearance of peace, but rarely the presence of Kingdom-of-God shalom. Despisers of the critical work of dismantling oppressive systems are incapable of building anything truly new; they lack the empathy, will, and imagination to envision and create alternate paths. Resurrection wisdom lives at the margins, where Jesus anchored his own life and ministry alongside fishermen, lepers, women, peasants, the colonized, unqualified, Samaritans, sinners, and sick.

Peacemaking is the sort of messy work from which many would rather run, particularly those of us benefiting from How Things Are [Unjust]. Privileged voices are quick to paint protesters, critics, and marginalized bodies as disturbers of a peace which does not yet exist. It's a tricky game, with clear winners and losers, actual shalom being the latter.

But we can't hope to take part in fixing what's broken if we refuse to recognize the depths of what's wrong, and that requires going to the margins and sitting at the feet of people the majority are most accustomed to demonizing and writing off.

Until Christians hear and heed Wisdom from the margins, we actively stand in the way of peace, no matter how "gracious" and gentle our words or noble our intentions. Civility is a tool of empire, defined by power and expertly wielded against those who step out of line or refuse the terms of their faux-peace. The Kingdom of God springs up out of far deeper, more fertile soil--and on the backs of none.

So many Christian voices claim--and honestly desire--to be on the side of Jesus, justice, and peace, but shalom wholeness requires a radical de-centering of power, the active subversion of hierarchical systems, and a good bit more staying in our own lanes.

White people can't know the first thing about dismantling racism unless we are sitting at the feet of Black people and other people of color. Men who refuse to learn from and defer to women are incapable of leading anywhere just, no matter how impressive their CVs. Straight and cisgender opinions on homosexuality, marriage equality, transgender identity, and intersex bodies aren't nearly as helpful (or faithful) as many imagine. Edgy tattoos and good book reviews are clanging cymbals accompanied by discrediting survivors and sheltering powerful friends. People who are depressed, in recovery, marginalized, and hurting have a great deal to teach the rest of us about a God who is near to the brokenhearted, but we can't receive their wisdom if we're so busy blaming them for harshing our happy vibe.

It's not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick.

Many Christians are so accustomed to seeing ourselves as the healthy bringers of a gospel of wellness to a sin-sick world, but we're just as sick as anyone. (And we're not the doctor in this metaphor, either, particularly when our actions and neglect contribute to making our neighbors sick!) We trust a pallid gospel of go-to-heaven-when-you-die, but the "personal" Savior Christians claim inaugurates systemic, all-things-made-new, salvific work among and within our communities here and now. We are saved together for greater works than these.

Do you want to be made well? 

Well, do we? We've got to acknowledge the depth of sickness in our systems as much as our hearts, and we can't expect the same voices who taught us hierarchy and complacence to lead us out into wholeness. De-throne the experts: shalom-deep wisdom resides at the margins, with the suffering and bruised.

There, among the despised and rejected, we'll finally and fully encounter the Man of Sorrows we've long claimed to follow. And only there, together, will we be healed.


good christian sex

Bromleigh McCleneghan's new book with HarperOne, Good Christian Sex: Why Chastity Isn't the Only Option--And Other Things the Bible Says About Sex, is a welcome addition to an ongoing conversation about sexuality and faithfulness among the people of God. A Methodist pastor, Bromleigh brings a generous theological lens to topics like pleasure, intimacy, fidelity, and more.

I appreciated her candid and warm pastoral tone, how she teased out desire from lust, and the ways she strove for inclusivity of queer sexualities, genders, and people. She is sensitive to singleness and survivors and does not deal in shame. Her incarnational take is refreshing and open, setting itself apart in a field that can otherwise tend toward narrow, prescriptive, and downright harmful. McCleneghan provides a compelling vision for sexuality that is mutual, holistic, fun, and faithful.

Her sexual ethic is much about love of neighbor: not objectifying or exploiting, treating one's partner and oneself with kindness and justice, and seeking the kind of vulnerability that cultivates growth and community. It's a vision that is healthy, fruitful, and deeply embodied, and one I am encouraged to see practiced alike by people of Christian faith, other faiths, and no faith at all.

And I suppose that's my only objection: if Christians are called to live in a manner "set apart," should a Christian theology of sexuality distinguish itself in meaningful ways from its religious and cultural counterparts? Are consent and mutual respect all God requires of the Church with regard to sex? They meaningfully ground a healthy and holistic sexual ethic that is certainly honoring of people made in God's image--and far too often missing in both church and culture at large--but is it wholly sufficient for followers of Christ?

I'm not sure it is, but I believe wholeheartedly that this is a conversation worth wrestling with together as people and communities of faith, and I'm thankful for McCleneghan's scholarship, witness, and contribution, particularly as she reclaims the God-given goodness of bodies and sexuality for Christians who haven't always or even often received that good news.

I received my copy from TLC Book Tours.


setting an extra place

Christians often speak too narrowly of vocation. Certainly, many of us feel called to medicine, caregiving, or teaching, to public service or art. We have a fire in our bones to wield our passions and talents well to make a difference, yet not everyone is paid for her labor or finds their job fulfilling, rendering many insignificant or invisible in conversations about purpose and calling. But there are infinite ways to make an impact, including when economies slow, life derails our best laid plans, and even our bodies betray us

I've got a piece up today at The Mudroom about community and hospitality. Come say hello, won't you? It's been a while!

image: jirfy


shake off your guilty fears

It was five degrees outside, and we're still recovering from missed sleep and stubborn colds, so we skipped church, remaining camped out in the living room in our pjs. Jim dug out his guitar and the way-back chords from many shared years of youth-campus-church-camp ministry. Our poor upstairs neighbor! We don't sing like that in our little country Episcopal church with the organ hymns and octogenarians, and I miss it. I miss the emotional resonance and immediacy of my younger faith.

But there's a disconnect, too. I don't believe all those same things. One song he pulled out, "Arise My Soul Arise," has a beautiful uptempo and essentially bloodthirsty lyrics that completely jar with the echoing melody. I don't really believe "the Spirit answers to the blood" or worship Jesus "the bleeding sacrifice" anymore. Penal substitutionary atonement is not the message of the cross or the essence of the gospel I now believe.

And then I read this, from Fr. Richard Rohr:

A violent theory of redemption legitimated punitive and violent problem solving all the way down--from papacy to parenting. There eventually emerged a disconnect between the founding story of necessary punishment and Jesus' message. If God uses and needs violence to attain God's purposes, maybe Jesus did not really mean what he said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), and violent means are really good and necessary. Thus our history...

...This perspective allowed us to ignore Jesus' lifestyle and preaching, because all we really needed Jesus for was the last three days or three hours of his life. This is no exaggeration. The irony is that Jesus undoes, undercuts, and defeats the sacrificial game. Stop counting, measuring, deserving, judging, and punishing, which many Christians are very well trained in--because they believe that was the way God operated too.
God didn't kill Jesus. Jesus was killed by coercive and violent "powers and principalities," whom Jesus shamed and delegitmized by rising from the dead. They dealt their worst and were revealed to be impotent. Jesus' perfect love casts out fear, inaugurating a Kingdom rooted, imagined, and embodied in other Ways entirely.

Jesus wasn't "born to die." His birth, incarnation, ministry, execution, resurrection, and life all have meaning to the work of salvation. Jesus is the Word of God-made-flesh, revealing Divinity and God's own character with the touch of his calloused hands. God speaks through Jesus, whose life reveals the Father's sacrificial love for creation.

The gospel is not about wrath or blood, except that God's love is stronger than the world's ugliest violence. It begins at the beginning, long before the cross, and God is still speaking, saving and liberating and healing and resurrecting in and among and through us today. The upside down Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven, is good news for us together: that's the message of the cross to which I cling.


blessed be the both/and

water and fire
night and day
contemplation and praxis
wisdom and innocence
desire and discipline
justice and mercy
work and play
fast and feast
lead and listen
lament and celebrate
grace and accountability
anger and compassion
body and spirit
heart and mind
dismantle and build
solitude and community
freedom and responsibility
silence and speaking up
beauty and function
faith and deed
art and criticism
science and poetry
humility and confidence
difference and hospitality
prayer and protest
hear and do
end and begin
death and growth
resistance and rest
heartache and healing
local and transcendent
tradition and innovation
learning and liberation
truth and love
one and many
you and me


good news for weary bodies

Studies show that girls who play sports delay their first sexual experiences, and when they do have sex, they are half as likely to become pregnant as girls who don’t play sports. I don’t know exactly why that is, but I wonder: do female athletes, strong and at home in their bodies, feel like they have less to prove than some of their peers? Might confidence learned on the field lead girls to exercise agency elsewhere, inclining a young woman to be more certain of her “yes” or her “no?” Would she feel less like an ornament and more an actor in her own skin?
Looking back, I felt most capable and myself not in my body at all but inside my head, which school and church both encouraged. My faith was something I believed fiercely and intellectualized, but it was not something I specifically learned to embody. Yes, Jesus wanted us to serve and follow with our whole selves, but there was a clearly implied dichotomy between flesh and spirit and a hierarchy of body to soul.
The stuff of spirit was holy and eternal and good.
The stuff of bodies, irrevocably tainted by sin, was lesser, fleeting, and ultimately passing away.
In the stories handed down around campfires, small groups, and lock-ins, Jesus’ perfect divinity trumped his dirt-under-the-fingernails humanity every time. If Christ’s own body didn’t matter much in the narrative of redemption, how in God’s name could mine?
I don’t recognize that Jesus anymore. (How could we have “a personal relationship” with One so pristine and removed from our shared human experience anyway?) And I no longer see wholeness or holiness in faith expressions divorcing spirituality from embodied existence or a person from her own self.
The shift was gradual. I studied religion (which was indeed a slippery slope). I put boots on the ground with activists of faith and set broad tables in community, with elders and teenagers and folks not like me. Somewhere along the way I became a feminist and a mother, and I began reading Scripture as if bodies mattered all along.
Blood and sweat. Laughter. Tears. Joy. Grief. Pleasure. Pain. Sickness. Sadness. Sex. Service. Social location! Ethnicity. Gender. Race. Disability. Age. Health. Birth. Death. Food. Family. Friendship. Resistance. Rest. Play. Work. Worship. Solitude. Community. Suffering. Celebration. Incarnation. Resurrection. God meets us—and works through us—within embodied experiences. I can meditate, pray, study, and love, but never apart from my own body. With physical bodies we practice our faith within a physical world, and it’s with bodies that Christians make up the Body of Christ together.
It’s perhaps my favorite metaphor, but the Body of Christ was never meant to exist solely as flat words on a dusty page. Together, herenowWE are the very Word of God enfleshed, the diverse hands and feet of Jesus in an aching world.
Glossy magazines, movie trailers, and primetime television tell us that bodies matter, too, of course: white, thin, youthful, rich bodies, mostly. Black bodies matter, so long as they entertain a white gaze. Many bodies are rendered invisible in popular culture (and our own neighborhoods, too). Once the shiny layers are peeled back, it’s an oppressive, restrictive story: bodily mattering is exceptionally limited and painfully exclusive. The media’s emphasis on desirable, unattainable bodies is perhaps not unrelated to a Church’s hyper focus on “greater” things unseen, spiritual, and eternal. We desperately want to tell a better story than the airbrushed, whitewashed ones taunting us in the check-out lines, so Christians talk earnestly of hearts and heaven.
But we are still embodied creatures who thirst and hurt and desire. What has the gospel to say for imperfect bodies here and now?
While it’s true that sorrow finds each of us, it’s hard to argue against the insulation that class, whiteness, and money can afford. In public housing where I work, thick concrete walls may keep out fire, but specters of illness, addiction, violence, and death loom larger than life sometimes.
We say bodies matter, but what about elderly bodies? Sick bodies? Fat bodies? Single bodies? Disabled bodies? Frail and crooked bodies? What about the bodies of noisy teens, young moms, or kids whose dads are in jail? Do the bodies of poor people matter, too?
I don’t think Christians can counter gnostic “gospels,” dissolve inherited dichotomies between flesh and spirit, or adequately affirm our physical selves without also intentionally choosing to see all the ways our bodies and bodily experiences are not alike and how very differently our different bodies are valued, both interpersonally and systemically. To do that, we’ll need eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to comfort, hearts to understand, and feet to kick at the darkness of bad theology and bodily harm till daylight bleeds through, and together we are healed.
Emmanuel, God with us, pitched his tent in our messy midst. That’s what we anticipate this Advent: Christ showing up, his very presence hallowing all he touches. Jesus–washer of feet, healer of lepers, feeder of crowds, esteemer of women, releaser of captives, blesser of mourners, friend of sinners and outcasts–could not be defeated by violence or even death, and his deeply embodied gospel is good news for weary bodies now.
The Lord is with us. Take we heart and be not afraid.
Faith Feminisms is back this first week of Advent with timely meditations on how and why #bodiesmatter. Come by to read, and be sure to link up any old or new post fitting with the theme of embodied life and faith practice. We'd love to hear from a spectrum of voices.
I'm also linking up two poems fitting with the theme: Incarnation and Test Everything. Blessings to you this Advent, loves. It's dark and getting darker, but there are so many reasons to hope.

[Archived here.]

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