Tuesday

a compelling sort of beauty



Team Paul could use a new couch. Our foam cushions are unstructured to go any sort of distance, and we're seven years out and counting. We picked it out when I was very pregnant with Dylan and not, perhaps, in fighting form for big decisions.

The trouble is, it's got a perfectly good, if unsightly, matching giant chaise, and we'd need to replace both to get the most aesthetic bang for the buck. And it turns out, Jim is still not much for aesthetics. He's eager to buy another overstuffed eyesore, which I will not abide this time around.

So we're making do. I rearranged, hobbling together a makeshift sectional from the couch, chaise, and crib-turned-love-seat. I smile, remembering the "stadium seating" my friend's college boyfriend put up in his apartment, but what this lacks in beauty it makes up for in proximity to the fire and space to snuggle, put up your feet, or read.

Which is a compelling sort of beauty, too, now that I think of it.


Sunday

but what are you FOR?



When you've got an analytical eye, folks chastise your alleged negativity. Why waste energies tearing down? Upright citizens less easily offended are actually contributing something worthwhile, so quit complaining and be a better Christian already!

Here's the thing, though: that binary is bullshit. We can critique and create. We can do and do better still, and analysis is one of many tools that can move us forward. Gardens must be weeded if they are to flourish, and weeding, too, is work, just like planting, watering, and harvesting the fruits of our labors. Each of us is uniquely gifted for the common good, and there is value in all sorts of service.

But a lack of concern for systemic injustice (especially that which hurts others and benefits me and mine) exhibits neither moral authority or Christ-like leadership. Despite the common refrain (often from those with most at stake in the status quo), critics and activists are not the reason Why We Can't Have Nice Things. Hierarchy and protected power, secrecy, greed, and oppression inhibit shalom far more than "the surfacing of tensions already present". A peace that does not yet exist cannot possibly be "kept" by silencing dissent, discouraging critical thought, or demonizing the hurting and those with eyes to see.

But what are the rabble-rousers, troublesome "mobs", and angry "social justice warriors" actually FOR, anyway?

The Fruits and Fire of the Spirit


We are for wholeness, hard truth, and a preferential option for the margins. We are for hospitality, boundaries, and diverse gifts. We are for accountable leadership, transparency, and learning. We are for knowing better and doing justice.

We are for indicting and exposing systems and patterns antithetical to the Kingdom of God. We're for assigning positive intent and showing our work. We are for taking responsibility for our own feelings and actions. We are for peacemaking, conflict, repentance, and seeing it through.

We are for the fruits and the fire of the Spirit. We are for testing everything and holding it up to the light. We are for one holy catholic and apostolic Church, the least, the last, and lost.

We are for embodied faith, common prayer, and all things new. We are for subverting power, dismantling empire, and love with roots, feet, and wings. We are for liberation and not losing heart or giving up. We are for belonging to one another and the good, hard, messy work of practicing resurrection and working out our salvation together.

"Our Struggle Is Not Against Flesh and Blood"


The sin in our systems cannot be addressed solely on an interpersonal level, and our best intentions do not exonerate us from participating in or benefiting from patterns favoring the powerful over the marginalized. When criticism and a desire for accountability and consistency are pathologized as ungracious and even satanic, it baptizes, protects, and reinforces power, which is, more often than not: white, monied, influential, male, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, neurotypical, educated, etc. "Mob" voices deemed malignant, irrational, and un-Christlike overwhelmingly belong (not coincidentally) to women, people of color, survivors, LGBTQ people, and those experienced in mental illness. Widely parroted ideas about civility or "grace" frequently do not resemble the way of Jesus.

Healthy leadership is accountable, humble, and willing to learn, and criticism is integral to public discourse. Pretending that criticism and social media are the domain of trolls is disingenuous, silencing, and frankly, ridiculous coming from the mouths of those who have built sizable platforms on both.

Criticism is a discipline, and it does not exist in opposition to Christian discipleship. Neither people nor criticism is the enemy. Our systems are sick, and it'll take surgeons' scalpels; healing hands; faithful prayer; and good, hard, all-hands-on-deck work to make us whole.

also: 


Thursday

the kingdom of God is like chicken paprikash



I have a nemesis. She is the only person outside my own family ever to berate me at top volume and the sole human to manage such a feat in front of an audience. (EVERYBODY HATES YOU! WE ALL TALK ABOUT YOU WHEN YOU’RE NOT HERE! I WANT TO PUNCH YOUR STUPID FACE!) It was a movie-caliber castigation, and that it occurred at our place of employ was really just icing on what was pretty much the worst cake ever.

This happened years ago, but ours is a small town, so our paths still cross. She artfully avoids eye contact and feigns (my) invisibility, even if we’re in the same shop or hallway at church. If you saw us on the street, you might think us strangers, but her scorn for me has bound us more like estranged family.

**

My family was in town for Christmas, and my dad took us out for Transylvanian-Hungarian smorgasbord at a wood paneled restaurant resembling the civic clubs of generations past, when people took belonging seriously. Every parking space, table, and seat at the bar was full, and an old man regaled the pink-faced patrons with polkas, Christmas tunes, and classics on the accordion, while we polished off plates piled high with pierogies, stuffed cabbage, and all manner of stewed meat.

We were seated caddy-corner from my nemesis, because of course we were. She has a husband and toddler now, and they were joined by mutual friends (see: small town) and their kids who played while the parents ate nut roll. On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me three French hens, two turtle doves, and my nemesis in a Transylvanian pear tree.

The pickings on the buffet dwindled to lonesome green olives on iceberg lettuce and poppy seeds spilling out of errant danish scraps, and we lingered contentedly in the early glow of an eastern European food coma. When the accordionist played the first bars of “Sweet Caroline,” and the whole room broke into song, I thought my sister might actually explode in delight.

**

I live at a Christian camp, and every summer dreams die when our college staff realize the mythical Christian community they’ve idolized is alarmingly less sexy in actuality. The work is hard, the quarters close, the people smell, and they’re kind of annoying, too. Life together isn’t a non-stop “mountain top experience,” even on the literal mountain top.

But it is a lot like family. We may never have chosen each other, but we love each other fiercely, and that’s what makes it velveteen-real. The sweet spot is enough room for varied perspectives, multiple personalities, complementary strengths, and disparate quirks and foibles. Any semblance of unity grows not out of tenuous or illusory sameness but a shared purpose and the rare, fruitful soil of hospitality.

The Kingdom of God is like Yuengling and chicken paprikash with your family, your nemesis, and a roomful of strangers singing Neil Diamond by accordion at the Hungarian bar after Christmas. Selah.



Wednesday

strangers in a strange land


Caesar’s imperial census compelled Mary and Joseph to the pilgrims’ path, far from home for their son’s birth to a world brimful of heartache and cruelty. King Herod’s murderous edict set the young family fleeing to Egypt where they lived several years as refugees. The sword, foretold by the prophet to pierce Mary’s very soul, would first cut countless others’ to the quick.

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

Few carols lament the empty-armed mothers of Bethlehem, but their grief bore witness to ruthless political expedience and state violence long before that dark day in Golgotha. Or a tear-filled August in Ferguson.

“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

The nativity of our manger-born King reveals an oppressive displacement not adequately conveyed by children’s Christmas pageantry. But Jesus’ babyhood did not exempt him from the rocky stranger’s path even as he was nursed at his mother’s breast. Lamb of God, on the lam before he was yet weaned. To follow in Christ’s steps is to know that same uncertain insecurity, the felt constancy only of the target on one’s back. Wholly welcome no tangible place, belonging only to mercurial sisters and brothers and an unseen, unchanging God, Emmanuel’s path leads ever outward from comfortable center to harried margin, dispossessed people, and cross.

And yet, somehow, to joy. Christ’s own chosen displacements–from heaven, Rome, and custom–can mend this hard world’s sharpest breaches. And we who’ll “do even greater things than these”, will call the castaways, bind up broken hearts, and walk the weary wanderers home at last. Repenting of our own callous casting out, wayward hearts, and dirty, colluding hands, we’ll “stay woke” this advent to light kindling even now in lands of deep darkness, fueled by cast off boots, blood-soaked garments, and every shattered yoke.

“to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

We do not walk this lonesome way alone. Be strong and take heart, all who wait and watch and weep: Emmanuel, ransom of captives, is near.




Monday

with the sound the carols drowned

As advent begins amid swelling protest and lamentation, the poem-turned-song, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, echoes in my ears.

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said

The meditative timbre of advent never fails to resonate with me. Its melancholic, hopeful longing jars against the flashy lights and blur of the Christmas [shopping] season, mirroring the tensions and promise of the now-and-not-yet-fully-realized Kingdom of God.

We wait, and we watch. We cultivate hope, awaiting the coming of Emmanuel, already present and at work among us and within us. We take heart, pushing together against hate and trusting in the peace on earth that is come and shall come at last.


Wednesday

those without a horse



Label, lie, vilify
simplify, Other. Brother,
"Can't we all just get along?"

Those without a horse
dismiss the race with record speed.
Whose stories have we snuffed with severed
cries to settle down?

Prophetic voices rise 
above the fray from muted margins;
shalom whispers the heat of conflict, too.

We practice resurrection: calm, storm, 
work and wonder. Rooted and built up,
rebuilding in love, we'll blaze a most excellent way.


Thursday

because being on the same side is overrated



keep me close by your side
sharing secrets and sorrows and
marshmallow tea

laughing till we pee
trade me stories like candy on
Halloween eve

memorizing what beauty
catches your breath and which aches
remind you of home

never seeking our doubles
(on this we agree!)
just remember i’m there by your side






Monday

and the trees are stripped bare



GUESS WHO PUT IN A WOOD STOVE?? There's still a bit of masonry yet to finish, but our farmhouse is fired up. The winter of my discontent shall be a good bit toastier. Take that, polar vortex.

We threw a party: venison chili, mulled cider, and a fire for a crowd of thirty-odd friends and neighbors. Such a nice night. My brother and his girlfriend drove out from Philly to spend the weekend with us, too, which was great. We went out together to a quirky Northern Chinese restaurant ten miles further into the the middle of nowhere, PA, that everyone was thoroughly charmed by. Dumplings forever. Delegating pumpkin carving to Uncle Josh? Priceless.

James turned five, and we celebrated with blue key lime buttercream. My older sister visited with a crew of friends for a little team-building retreat involving jumping off telephone poles. My parents were around for a bit. They bought a little second home here a few years back and venture out every few weeks, to the great delight of Dylan and James.

Jim's been in Milwaukee putting on a big four thousand runner stadium race with his buddy, like you do. That meant nearly a week of solo parenting, but we hung in there, we did. Quite happily, all things considered, fitting in trick-or-treat, a living room camp-out, a movie night, and scrambled eggs for dinner twice. Jim is back, and he brought with him Wisconsin cheese, because all the best men do.



Pages:

50 Women Every Christian Should Know Michelle DeRusha's collection of mini biographies is worthy of a read. She's got mystics, martyrs, missionaries, activists, artists, and all sorts of diverse women spanning Church history. Definitely a good introduction to inspire further reading.

My Thinning Years: Starving the Gay Within More an autobiography than a proper memoir, I had a difficult time with this one, but I trust it would resonate with those who share similar stories.

Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World This title from Nish Weiseth, my editor at A Deeper Story, is about the role of storytelling in creating community and forging understanding. Her writing is interspersed with posts from the multi-contributor website, (including the first one I ever published with them. In print!). Like Nish, I've seen stories change minds and heal hearts, and writing in that community has been a tremendous pleasure.

As one who is equally appreciative of a well-reasoned argument (and believes that storytelling, like anything, can have a dark side), I wasn't completely sold on her story-is-king premise, but it's certainly a hopeful one, and Christians could all do with a bit more listening and not despising the days of small things.

Gone Girl Whoa. This thriller had me going. I don't want to spoil anything, but I definitely want to see the movie.

The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry Worth it alone for Anglo-Saxon Protestant Heterosexual Men. Berry is a national treasure.

Screens:

The Bletchley Circle: These BBC feminist period piece mysteries about a crew of smart and nerdy code-breakers are the BEST and altogether too few. The series/seasons are just three episodes a piece. The first is on Netflix, and the second I tracked down in the library system.

Scandal and Parenthood remain my faves. I'm also rather charmed by the freshman romantic comedies A to Z (NBC) and Manhattan Love Story (ABC).

Pretty sure I saw zero movies last month.

Perfection:

Bill Murray mumble-singing one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs forever and ever amen. Anyone seen this movie yet?



If Ruth Baby Ginsburg doesn't make you smile, you are dead inside.

All right, that's me. What have you been doing, seeing, loving of late?

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