Thursday

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.

i'm just so good at spaceships


"I'm just so good at spaceships," he admits, blue eyes sparkling proudly. He shows me the nature one, the water one, the sports one: an entire cottage industry of space craft in every hue. I admire his work and confidence, not altogether sure which skill I'd claim for myself.

I used to be a good youth minister, but that was a while back. I was a good caseworker and a good student before that. Am I a good mom? What's a good mom, anyway?

I certainly don't "control my kids," picky eaters and chicken chasers in perennial need of a hair brush. They're part of me, but they're their own little people, too. I'm not sure their strengths or mistakes are ever mine to fully claim. 

But mine are. I'm just so good at kissing their soft necks. I'm so good at read-alouds, and I make a mean chili. I'm really good at scouting fish frys and remembering where I've seen that actor before. I'm reasonably good at starting fires and packing lunches. It's no secret I'm terrible at being patient or on time, but I try to apologize and model how it looks to make things right.

James reminds me that good is a different beast than perfect. Cold space craft are perfect; noisy, naughty, messy, creative people are warm and good and velveteen-real.

Monday

Found: A Story of Questions, Grace & Everyday Prayer



I met Micha Boyett the first time I attended the Festival of Faith and Writing in 2012. I'd long admired her blog writing and enjoyed hearing firsthand about her book project, which although mostly drafted, was far from making its way out into the world.

Just two years later, at that same conference, I had my own copy of her published work in hand and was able to congratulate her in person. Found: A Story of Questions, Grace & Everyday Prayeris one of the loveliest books I read last year. It's partly about finding a home in the rhythms of the liturgical year, which is why She Loves Magazine chose it for their book club during Lent this March.

I enjoyed the beautiful writing and resonated with Micha's struggle to find meaning in the lonely ordinariness of young motherhood, particularly after the harried pace and purpose of professional ministry. Others would certainly connect with the perfectionist anxieties she documents and her search for peace in God apart from the try-hard faith of her youth.

It's a book about an honest and at times uncertain faith with deep roots and room enough to breathe, grieve, and celebrate big joys and little victories. If you want to read along with She Loves, they've got a Facebook group and they'll be talking about it on March 25 at the site. Happy reading.

Saturday

On Female Friendship & "Girls Who Steal"

I want to talk about an article published at Gawker yesterday that is haunting me: Girls Who Steal, by Priya-Alika Elias.

Read it and come right back. We'll be here.

***

Just, please help me understand why on God's green earth anyone would put up with such behavior from anyone, let alone those we call friends?

Where shall we even start...the scarcity mindset that drives women to compete as if there were never enough love or success to go around? The distinctly gendered socialization against women standing up for ourselves or toward Regina George-level Queen Bee ugliness?

Is there a fear here of being alone or going our own way, against the crowd? I'm not sure I've ever really committed to trying to earn the approval of women or girls loath to give it, but I have endured many a lonely season, so maybe that's the trade-off some of us make. (Could hospitality save us from having to choose at all?).



I don't know, you guys. I love women. I'm grateful to have had good female friends since childhood, even if they are few and far between at times. The only women I tend to be suspicious of are the ones who claim not to trust or be friends with women at all. I have often found it hard in adulthood to make friends--which is another conversation worth parsing later--but never because women are capricious, dishonest, or mean.

But I cannot abide passive aggression or games. For better and worse, I am East Coast direct through and through. I mean what I say, say what I mean, and won't make you guess. I can be a bit of a honey badger, but love me and I will be loyal forever (even if I am terrible at keeping in touch).

Dylan dealt with some mean girl playground politics this year. I told her she needed to treat everyone with respect but that it was okay to put some space between herself and girls who consistently choose unkindness. Relationships are a two-way street, and none of us can want or work hard enough to compensate for the other party's sabotage or neglect. That is a losing game we don't have to play.

I'm interested, too, in the idea of whether or not people can make us feel inferior without our consent. I'm of the belief that we are all responsible both for our behavior and for handling our emotions in healthy ways. I don't think it is often constructive to attempt to hold people responsible for our feelings, but we can certainly speak up about behavior that is out of bounds and the hurt we feel--and create boundaries so that untrustworthy people don't have free reign over our emotional lives.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the article, female friendship, scarcity, Mean Girls, any of it. How can we navigate this better? 

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: 


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