walk of shame

I parked my car in the dimly lit garage downtown. Holding my keys tentatively, I started to pray.

Please, Lord, don’t let there be protesters. Please, Lord, not today.

If I could just make it down the block, through the unmarked door and into the elevator, everything would be okay. My weary eyes blinked against the bright sun. The street wasn’t busy. A few people waited for buses, and professionals darted past, briefcases in hand. The brunette in a tailored suit and heels was not headed to the clinic for her annual exam. Her skyscraper job surely came with benefits.

The walk sign lit, and I stepped off the curb, tucking my hair behind my ears. It still smelled of espresso from the chain coffeehouse where I moonlighted. I'd hoped graduation would confer an end to latte slinging, but their promise of health insurance was too alluring, and I tacked another twenty hours onto my work week. In just a few more months, I, too, could access birth control without the specter of public humiliation. I'd get my wisdom teeth out, order new contacts and glasses, and stop refusing emergency care, terrified of the cost. It would be a glorious day and tremendous relief.

But this was not that day. As I turned the corner, the clinic door came into view. Mercifully, the way was clear, and I exhaled, realizing I'd been holding my breath. At my next appointment I might still need to psych myself up for a confrontation with demonstrators, but today I was grateful for the quiet.

Plus, I needed to get back to the office soon. The Christian Ed committee couldn’t very well meet without their youth minister.

A version of Walk of Shame once appeared at a storytelling website. It also appears in the 2014 book, Speak.

photo credit


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.

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.


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.


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,
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.


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.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...