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 she 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 real objection: if Christians are called to live--and holiness itself means being--"set apart," shouldn't a Christian theology of sexuality distinguish itself in meaningful ways from its religious and cultural counterparts? Are consent, commitment, and mutual respect all God requires of the Church with regard to sex? They meaningfully ground a healthy and even 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 altogether convinced, 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
history and innovation
learning and liberation
truth and love
one and many
you and me


good news for weary bodies

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.

Here's an excerpt from my piece:

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, why in God’s name would mine?

Come by and read the rest, won't you? 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.


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.


the eczema company {giveaway}

When Dylan was little, she had itchy eczema flare-ups. Her pediatrician recommended a popular petroleum-based ointment, which was pretty much the last thing I wanted on her sensitive skin. We experimented with a number of natural products, and ultimately, she grew out of it. But I know eczema remains an uncomfortable and frustrating condition for many, so when The Eczema Company reached out, I was glad to shine my little spotlight on their small business, owned by mom and green blogger, Jennifer Roberge. The Eczema Company carries a spectrum of soothing products, from oils and creams to laundry soaps, supplements, and protective clothes, and they've offered a reader giveaway of one of their family favorites, Manuka Honey Skin Cream.

Although we know longer deal with eczema, I was glad to give it a try, too, since it's healing for chapped winter skin and even wounds, and my own elbows had developed irritating, itchy patches. The cream's ingredients are straightforward and organically-sourced when possible: Organic Olive Oil, Organic Beeswax, Filtered Water, Grape Seed Oil, Organic New Zealand Manuka Honey and Manuka Oil Extract. From their website:

Manuka honey is native to New Zealand and is created when bees pollinate the manuka bush, a relative of the tea tree. Manuka oil is extracted from the leaves of the manuka bush. Manuka oil is actually 10 times more potent than tea tree oil. Manuka and tea tree oil are praised world wide for their ability to naturally treat infections and reduce inflammation. Unlike the very medicinal odor of tea tree oil, manuka oil and honey have a lovely delicately sweet scent. 

I'd say the scent is barely noticeable at all, and unlike other oils, balms, ointments, and creams, it's not sticky or greasy and absorbs quickly. The patches on my elbows, which had bothered me for a couple of weeks, cleared completely, and the cream feels great on lips and hands, too. I look forward to keeping it close this winter and am glad to have it in my holistic arsenal.

Want to give Manuka Honey Skin Cream a try? Visit The Eczema Company's website, and come back here with a comment about something you learned or a product which interests you. If you like, follow them on Twitter or Facebook. Giveaway ends Saturday at 11:59 PM EST and is open to residents in the U.S. and Canada. Good luck!


God gives to his beloved sleep

If you're gonna go back to work full-time after seven years, it's probably best to go back after your youngest kid starts kindergarten rather than just before, especially if you're planning an October move from your home of more than a decade. We managed a few garage sales and cleared out a good bit of not nearly enough stuff ahead of time, but that and finding a new place and summer camp and commuting and starting a business sorta ate into what should have been packing time, which is why two weeks later we're still not entirely out of the farmhouse. (Hold me.)

Summer disappeared in a blink I barely remember. Team Paul could use a vacation, but I'm not sure where our suitcases are, and we're committed here till Christmas. Adulting is not for the faint of heart.

But the expectant canvas of vacant walls and as-yet-unmade memories are gifts, if lonesome ones, and our weary hearts receive them afresh, like amber leaves and dawn's new mercies.

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