Sunday

a long december {& link-up, giveaway}



...and there's reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last." --Counting Crows

Oh, I love me some Adam Duritz. I still do, although that video is unbearably depressing, what with Courtney Cox moping about and kicking trash. Or wait, this Soul Asylum one featuring angsty Claire Danes is even better. The 90s were kind of emo before emo was a thing, huh?

I'm getting a little distracted. December's been like that. I mailed all of zero Christmas cards, but since they have photos and say 2012, it's not like I can send 'em next year. I should get on that.

So, this year on the blog I started capitalizing sentences! (mostly.) I pulled off an entire 31 Day series on Practicing Peace with incredible help from my friends DanielleSTara PohlkotteBecky MacKenzieKelly ChadwickAmy Lepine PetersonBristolLuke HarmsKristin Tennant, and Kamille Scellick. I joined the team of writers at my favorite A Deeper Story and turned online friends into real ones at the Festival of Faith and Writing and Allume.

And I wrote some stuff. Blogger doesn't really keep great stats, but I can tell you that my most popular post (a deodorant recipe, natch) by about a million clicks is not even from this year. The rest of my writing? Not quite so pin-tastic. (But good on you, green/DIY bloggers!)

These were some of my favorites. Play along and link your own best-of or favorite at the bottom, won't you?

faith, church, and culture
a church disarmed | struggling toward love
youth exodus & consumer christianity
consume, critique, create | culture & the Kingdom
on disagreement & hate (& chicken)
making peace with feminism

personal narrative
unsilencing eve | part 1part 2

poems

elsewhere
of exile and home | A Deeper Story
the sacrament of yes | for Micha Boyett, This Sacred Everyday
laughing at the days | for Emily Wierenga, Imperfect Prose
ministry, mentors, & holy imagination | for Ed Cyzewski, Women in Ministry Series
this is my body, broken (only say the word) | for Preston Yancey, At the Lord's Table

I'm raising a new year's glass of bubbly (Emergen-C, but whatevs) to you, friends o' mine, for sticking with me. You leave the smartest, kindest comments that encourage my heart to no end. Love ya to the moon and back.

(giveaway closed. congrats to brenna megan with comment #4 #16 who is the winner.)

AND! Imma send one of you a copy of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, because it's my favorite and so are you. Leave a comment by New Year's Day at midnight EST, and I'll that get that out to you post-haste so you can get liturgical in 2013. xo

this giveaway is sponsored by me and a deal on hardcovers that was too good to pass up:)

Tuesday

the fruit of empire


My heart breaks again every time the news comes on. It's monstrous and maddening, and the tears spill fresh every time.

We don't know why. And we can't presume to speak for God, the children, the shooter, or the shooter's mom.

I only speak for me.

---

My daughter is Dylan. My son is James. Another Dylan and James died in that school that day, alongside Charlotte, Daniel, Josephine. Olivia, Ana, Madeleine. Catherine, Chase, Jesse. Grace, Emilie, Jack. Noah, Caroline, Jessica. Avielle, Benjamin, Allison. Dawn, Anne Marie, Rachel, Lauren, Mary, and Victoria.

Their families plan funerals instead of Christmas.

I can only imagine. I don't want to; the horror makes my breath catch. This isn't how it should be.

---

My husband is a hunter. My father was in law enforcement. But I don't recognize our family in the militant pro-gun rhetoric that feels more than a little callous in the darkness of our mourning.

I don't care that they were his mom's guns or that she was licensed for them. Civilians have no need for military style assault weapons. It shouldn't be easier to get a gun than a car--or a counselor.

Our founding fathers never intended this.

---

In a culture that instagrams lunch and overshares sex, mental illness is one of our last taboos. A persistent stigma keeps many suffering in silence.

Tom Cruise's Scientology isn't the only religion shaming post-partum moms for taking anti-depressants. How many Christian laypeople and professionals insist that Jesus, prayer, and faith are all that's needed to achieve victory against depression--or addiction? (The ugly flipside suggests that those who struggle are to blame for their lack of faith.)

Mental health medical and community resources are modest--and dwindling (although perhaps this will be a bright spot of Obama's new health coverage?). It's no secret that we need more and better access to support for individuals and families.

But having this conversation only in the wake of a shooting can be counterproductive. We don't know if the shooter was in fact mentally ill, and mental illness (which encompasses a broad spectrum of disorders) is NOT a predictor for violence. In fact, people suffering from mental illness are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime.

Can we talk about these things in a way that doesn't equate mental illness with violence, reinforcing existing stigmas that already prevent people from getting the care they need?

---

Many fools speak for a small God made in their own image. I understand Christians wanting to distance themselves from such hate and judgment. But must we give them our spotlight? 

They don't speak for me. They never did.

---

I don't know why those children are dead. We may never have the answers we seek or know what this is really about. But our lack of surety is not a blanket gag order against speaking at all.

There is a time for silence and mourning, yes. But there is also a time to speak. So let us speak. Let us speak with humility. Let us ask questions and admit we don't have every answer. But let that not be an excuse to shuffle our feet and accept that "this is just the way things are."

The way things are is violent. And violence is the way and the fruit of Empire.

As Christians, will ours be the way of escalation, power, and violence? Is ours the way of Herod who slaughtered the innocents and Pilate who put Jesus to death?

Or is ours the way of the Kingdom of God, of peacemaking, and the last-shall-be-first? Is ours the way of loving the "least", laying down lives and arms, and picking up the cross? The way of resurrection, redemption, and all things made new?

If Jesus is Lord then Caesar is not. 

Change begins with me.

shared with imperfect prose

Friday

the scandalous presence of death


Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight, and give Your angels and saints charge over those who sleep. Tend Your sick ones, O Lord Christ. Rest Your weary ones. Bless Your dying ones. Soothe Your suffering ones. Shield Your joyous ones, and all for Your love's sake. Amen.



Lamb of God
You take away the sins of the world.
Have mercy on us.
Grant us peace.

For the unbearable toil of our sinful world,
we plead for remission.
For the terror of absence from our beloved,
we plead for your comfort.
For the scandalous presence of death in your Creation,
we plead for the resurrection.

Lamb of God
you take away the sins of the world.
Have mercy on us.
Grant us peace.
Come, Holy Spirit, and heal all that is broken in our lives, in our streets, and in our world. In the the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

(Death of Someone Killed in the Neighborhood from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals)

The whole meaning of the Christian community lies in offering a space in which we wait for what we have already seen. Christian community is the place where we keep the flame alive among us and take it seriously so that it can grow and become stronger in us. In this way we can live with courage, trusting that there is a spiritual power in us that allows us to live in this world without being seduced constantly by despair, lostness, and darkness.

That is how we dare to say that God is a God of love even when we see hatred all around us. That is why we can claim that God is a God of life even when we see death and destruction and agony all around us. We say it together. We affirm it in one another. Waiting together, nurturing what has already begun, expecting its fulfillment—that is the meaning of marriage, friendship, community, and the Christian life.

Thursday

the radical gifts of christmas


He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)

These are the gifts of Christmas, the ones delivered to us from God by Mary's son. There are more: 

comfort for all who mourn
provision for those who grieve
a crown of beauty (instead of ashes)
the oil of joy (instead of mourning)
a garment of praise (instead of a spirit of despair)

you shall be called by new names:
oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor
priests of the Lord, ministers of our God

you shall receive a new purpose:
rebuild the ancient ruins
restore the places long devastated
renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

(instead of your shame) you will receive a double portion,
(instead of disgrace) you will rejoice in your inheritance.

“For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness 
I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them."

I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my GodFor he has clothed me 
with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations. (Isaiah 61)

---

The radical, reconciling, redemptive gifts of Christmas won't fit under any tree, (and I don't mean that as a "The true meaning of Christmas isn't found at the mall!" cliche).

Freedom from chains of shame and despair. Freedom to become the community that lives out salvation together.

Comfort. Joy. Justice. Praise. Meaning. Mission. Restoration. Righteousness. Healing. Shalom.

A gospel that is good news for the grieving and worrisome to the empire's halls of power. The upside-down kingdom of our God-with-flesh, born in a barn, who lived to set a broken world aright.

These are the gifts. This is the Giver.

Unto us a child is born. Emmanuel, who lights our way.


Updated: I wrote this before the shootings in Newtown, but this scripture seem even timelier now. Apologies that the giveaway, (now closed), seems out of place. 
---
DaySpring wants to cheer one reader with a Reversible Tree Skirt and Advent Tabletop Devotional which they kindly sent my way, too. U.S. shipping only, please. (Affiliate links.)

To be entered in the giveaway, leave a comment sharing something about how are you celebrating Christmas or what are you meditating on this advent. We'll pick a winner at random on Sunday at 11:59 PM EST, so please make sure you leave an email to get in touch.

Saturday

incarnation


Unto us a child is born of a woman,
nursed at her breast; the government is upon
him who shouldered the cross. Within world of sight
salvation springs up, enfleshed: rough hands hewn,
broke bread and washed feet. Water to wine, L'chaim,
by his body, we're healed. Trembling, she

touched his robe, yoke shattering, bleeding
shame, too. Daughter, he named, esteemed:
Go in peace. You are clean.

King in a cradle, born in a stable, Mighty God
traded heaven for here. Man of sorrows, stricken,
his blood-soaked shroud and ours are fuel for the fire.
From ash he rose, disarming darkness; with nail-
scarred hands and empty tomb, the Word revives
ancient tale. Another birth, grim curse reversed. Behold,
bending low what the Son of Man hallows:

Emmanuel makes all things new.


Shared with Imperfect Prose and the #progGOD challenge (even though Tony called poetry easy and suggested it might be a bit anemic theologically. Imma let you finish...)

Thursday

acedia & motherhood | exorcising the noonday demon



I don't think I'm cut out for this stay-at-home-mom gig.

You're not supposed to admit that, are you? I'm blessed and lucky to be able to stay home, so the least I can do is be grateful, right?

I am grateful. I love my kids fiercely. I loved being the one at home when they were tiny. But at three and five, they aren't tiny anymore. And I'm weary and poured out. 

Five years is a long time in the land of littles. 

--

We don't spank. God doesn't parent me with fear, threats, or force, and I don't want to either.

We listen with our ears.
We speak kind words.
We help with our hands.
We love each other.

These are our rules. We do love each other, but not always well. There are days in which we hurt as much as we help, and around here, listening is like a unicorn--or an errand by myself. It's difficult to be kind at top volume. A little bit louder and a Whole Lot Worse.

A hot, crimson rage fills my heart, love.

The fabled Mommy Wars are fought on two fronts: in the media, of course, but many days, the battle feels closer, under my roof. I feel foolish for believing that babywearing and breastfeeding would create a magical foundation of attachment, trust, and peace in my home.

I don't want to reinvent the wheel, but I don't know how others do it. If a kid isn't naturally compliant or fearful of punishment, where is the incentive to abide by family rules or function as a team? I can't prevent and redirect every negative behavior. I can't even keep my own shit together.

--

Deep down, I know that every Yes is a No to something else: a clean house, a play date, a quiet morning at home. But I keep joining. Staying too long. Committing to things whose season has waned. I hang on, just in case.

If I don't keep putting myself out there, this loneliness could be construed as entirely my own making.

--

There was that study last spring, about how stay-at-home-moms (especially low-income ones) experience more depression than working moms or women without kids at home. The findings familiar, my eyes brimmed. Mothering is emotionally exhausting. Without that village it takes (or the money to hire one), the isolation exacts its toll.

--

I saw a counselor once this summer. She had a lot of pointers.

I just needed to get out more. Date nights!

Writing might not be the best use of my time. Too solitary!

And she was the one, after I told her we didn't spank, who reminded me none-too-subtly about a certain Proverb's fondness for smacking kids with rods.

I wiped my eyes and nodded my head dumbly. So hungry was I for adult conversation that I made an appointment to return the next week.

But I didn't. I remembered my already-ample access to ill-suited advice from strangers, free-of-charge.

I called to cancel. "You'll be fine," she assured understandingly and yet not at all. "You just need to get happy again."

--

I finished a book about acedia, the noonday demon, bane of solitaries, desert monastics, and apparently, stay-at-home-moms. It's a spiritual restlessness, different from clinical depression, but with similar markers: lethargy, languor, and lack of attention to the daily upkeep of life.

I'm still in deep. I confess it here, without tidy resolution, to say: I'm ready to work, to fight. Not my kids. Not my husband, not even myself, but the acedia. The creeping suspicion that if my best isn't good enough, then what's the point in trying at all? 

Work, gratitude, and prayer are all antidotes, and when I'm stuck like this, I shrink from all three. But I need them, blessed footholds to climb my way out. To live again as an actor in my own life. To fight hard against complacency and escapism. To be present to joy in hardship, purpose in monotony, and holy ground on the kitchen floor.

To not despise the day of small things.


gratitude is the fairest blossom


A most blessed and happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. xo

Wednesday

mother of exiles


I miss my babies. We barely slept for four years, but I knew what to do, mostly. Always cuddle, always nurse. Their desires were basic and I their whole, happy world.

Pre-schoolers are harder.

We are at Aldi getting pecans for pie. We haven't even made it as far as the cheese. James doesn't want to be in the cart, and he begins to lose his mind at top volume. People look on, horrified, or pretend they cannot hear our terrible circus. I am your nightmare. I am invisible.

He is not a baby. He is old enough to know better, and so am I, but still I snap sharply and swear when I see the check-out lines wrapped well into frozen foods, those huddle masses, tired and poor, and I yearning to breathe free.

Tempest-tost, I turn the cart, shoving cream back into coolers and pretzels on shelves, abandoning the cart and my dignity by the sliding doors.

Mother of Exiles, I want to go home. But I still need those freaking pecans.


Friday

the smitten word | around the web 10.16.12


I've started telling my daughters I'm beautiful (Offbeat Mama)

There are women who were too big for this town, who had their backs bent carrying things like religion and a history that originated somewhere in the crook of a branch that extended over a stream. A place where a patch of the sky was visible through the leaves, where a little girl let her bare leg dangle too far down.
There are a lot of people like me, because we're all the same. We're all blood and electricity. We're lonely under the gaze of god. We're all wet with dew and swallowing hard against DO THIS, CONSUME, SHUT UP and BE AFRAID to die.
All of you women with lines on your brow, with cracks between your fingers… it's been a long winter. All of you, you are beautiful and so am I.

Election 2012 Marks the End of Evangelical Dominance in Politics (The Atlantic)

But death often creates an opportunity for new life. As I survey the rising generation of Christians in America, I see many who recognize the ways in which the thirst for power has corrupted the faith. They're eschewing partisan politics as a way to coerce and control the country, and they are finding ways to work with others they may disagree with. They are looking for new ways to live their faith in our rapidly changing world, and they give me hope that American Christians may be on the cusp of a healthier engagement with the public square.

A Father's Fright of Twilight (The Resurgence). On my "emotional porn" post this week, some people said they'd never heard the metaphor. Here Mark Driscoll rolls it out in all its sexist, alarmist glory. Hide yo' kids, hide yo' wife:

Twilight is for teenage girls what porn is to teenage boys: sick, twisted, evil, dangerous, deceptive, and popular.
This weekend, millions will flock to movie theaters for the final installment of the teen vampire saga. Tragically, many will be driven by their parents, including some cougar moms encouraging and joining their daughters’ obsession with handsome young males.

Emily Maynard (not of Bachelorette fame) deconstructs another bad evangelical metaphor:

You keep saying that I have to cover up my body because I wouldn’t invite an Alcoholic to a bar, right? I wouldn’t be so cruel as to grab him a cool bottle of delicious beer and set it in front of him, right? I wouldn’t do that and expect him not to go into an insatiable frenzy and violently consume that alcohol, right?
But the problem with that is:

my body is not a bottle of beer.

This one is older, but I read it this week, and it's still timely, especially since the election. The Distress of the Privileged (The Weekly Sift).

As the culture evolves, people who benefited from the old ways invariably see themselves as victims of change. The world used to fit them like a glove, but it no longer does. Increasingly, they find themselves in unfamiliar situations that feel unfair or even unsafe. Their concerns used to take center stage, but now they must compete with the formerly invisible concerns of others. 
If you are one of the newly-visible others, this all sounds whiny compared to the problems you face every day. It’s tempting to blast through such privileged resistance with anger and insult.
Tempting, but also, I think, a mistake. The privileged are still privileged enough to foment a counter-revolution, if their frustrated sense of entitlement hardens.

this is to you, the military wife (Ashleigh Baker)

This is to you, for when you felt yourself slipping, darkness pressing close, and everyone told you to buck up, told you it was just stress. To you, the one who heard that weakness is failure and that admitting it would harm his mission. To you, for when you went to the clinic doctor anyway and were strong enough to ask for help.

On Remembrance (Luke Harms, A Deeper Story)

I have struggled much, and still do, with the meaning and purpose behind my service. I’m still working on making peace with myself and my experiences, but there is one thing that I am certain of this Veterans Day:
From my perspective as a veteran, the greatest honor you could ever pay me would be standing in solidarity with me as we fulfill our calling to be peacemakers and children of God.

Micha Boyett on Sacred Touch:

She said, “Micha, so few girls are touched in a tender, non-sexual, non-violent, non-manipulative way. So few girls are touched in a way that demands nothing of them. They are all craving true, loving touch.”
So we sought ways to care for them. If we dressed up for a goofy country night, Kelly and I were the ones wandering the room drawing freckles on their faces, braiding their hair, helping them with make-up. Who cared if we were even dressed for the night? Were they loved well? Were they told they were beautiful by the way we had cared for them?

The Age of Hipster Sexism (The Cut)

Like Hipster Racism, Hipster Sexism is a distancing gesture, a belief that simply by applying quotations, uncool, questionable, and even offensive material about women can be alchemically transformed. 
But have we really reached this stage of enlightened irony? We think we're over sexism yet our ironic expressions of it can only reinforce the basic problem, which is that women are paid less and (degradingly) sexualized against their will far more than men.

Move Over, Barbie--You're Obsolete (Upworthy)

Some Thoughts and Musings About Making Things for the Web (The Oatmeal). Funny and true. (Earmuffs for language.)

The Hill Country Hill Tribers make gorgeous fair-trade, hand-crafted scarves, jewelry, dolls, and more. Each sale provides income for Burmese refugees and their families. Check out their new line for holiday gift-giving.

Popular herechick flicks are not emotional porn
A follow-up: consume, critique, create | culture & the Kingdom

What are you reading, watching, creating? Tell us something good.


Thursday

consume, critique, create | culture & the Kingdom


There's a difference, isn't there, between evaluation and fault-finding? Discernment and cynicism? Critical thinking and a critical spirit?

We all have people in our lives--teachers, family, bosses, friends--who've judged us and found us lacking. Sometimes, this makes us feel like trash and puts those relationship on ice. Other times, their tough love or gentle truth-telling is the kick in the pants we need to become our best selves. 

Some critique is constructive, firming foundations and helping us grow. Other criticism is destructive, bent on tearing down. When it's personal, it can be hard to distinguish the difference. When I perceive an attack, I can launch into defensive mode, closing my ears to where I need to change. On the other end, I may righteously pretend to offer dispassionate critique, oblivious to my own tones betraying resentment or arrogance.

But thoughtful critique is a far cry from attack, and we shouldn't be so quick to conflate them. While it is true that we are asked to "Judge not lest ye be judged," there is a place for cultural criticism among Christians, and I'm not talking about the kind of finger-pointing or fear-mongering we've engaged in before.

For so long, Christians have told each other what to think that sometimes it seems like we've forgotten how to engage scripture and culture for ourselves--and the pendulum swings both ways. Those who've questioned fundamentalist framework and narrow boundaries can easily come out on the other "I do what I want" extreme, a path that can be just as unexamined and incongruous with the gospel.

We talked this week about how chick flicks are not "emotional porn", and a few people worried I could be swapping legalism for libertinism, but that's not my intention at all. My goal was not to prove the genre worthwhile but to show that the metaphor is flawed and a poor substitute for the work of engaging media through the lens of the Kingdom of God.

Passive consumers are susceptible to messages embedded in narrative and packaged in shiny glamour or gritty realism, but we are called to lives of more than mindless consumption. Christians who approach entertainment, advertising, art, or life without reflection should be wary of insidious messages. When our guard is down, we are easily influenced, but engaged critics can identify conflicting worldviews and hold them up to the light. We critique cultural messages, testing everything against the gospel.

But we never need to be the kind of critics who expose sin in every corner but ours or perceive holiness as a line dividing Us from Them. That criticism burns much and builds little, least of all the Kingdom of God among us.

What if instead we resolved only to be the kind of critics with fewer answers and better questions, the ones who listen closely for words, meaning, and the still, small voice of God? What if we said no to small gods and yes to grace? Could we learn to keep step not with church or culture but with the Spirit's lead? 

Could we find Jesus in everything true? Could we heed the whisper, the one that says, Turn it off. Make something better.

Could we train our critical eyes to see stories of redemption everywhere? Could we write them with our hearts and our lives?

Let's be critical like that. Let's critique by creating something new.

Monday

chick flicks are not emotional porn


You've heard the claim, right? It's a popular refrain in evangelical circles, meant to be edgy and relevant:

"Chick-flicks are emotional porn."

That's right, your favorite Kate Hudson movie is PORN, ladies! Commence feelings of guilt and shame now!

Now, I'm no rom-com apologist. This weekend found me adjusting Netflix settings and rating movies to garner better tailored suggestions. (Stop it with the cartoons! No more zombies!) I thumbed-down a host of women's favorites. How To Lose A Guy in Ten Days? Nope. My Best Friend's Wedding? Boo. Miss Congeniality? Next. Legally Blonde? Ew.

I don't love these movies but not because they're "emotional porn." There is no emotional porn. That is not a thing. The emotional porn argument is just the same Christian legalism in a shinier package, and it's a lie. 

The people who make this argument mean well. They desire strong marriages and relationships built on the good things of God. They hate to see people led astray. So do I. So let's have this conversation, but let's have it broadly. Let's talk about media literacy, identifying messages and measuring them against the gospel. Let's practice discernment. Let's test everything. Let's take every thought captive and strive for purity. 

But let's be adults, and let's grow our kids into adults in time. Our God is big. Our struggles are different. God may be calling you and me to different boundaries in different seasons, so we'll need to engage critically.

Good. Bad. Safe. Unsafe. These are not useful categories for young people, and they're even less meaningful for Christian adults. Broad labels and easy answers mislead. This is not the way for lovers of the Truth.

The "emotional porn" label is more confusing than clarifying, and it exists as yet another way to police women's behavior. It also minimizes the degradation and damage that actual porn inflicts (perhaps on women most of all). Ryan Gosling may be impossibly romantic with impossible abs, but his leading man ideal does not debase or exploit. To some degree, all literature, film, and entertainment are fantastic, but it's quite a leap to imply that every fantasy is pornographic or inherently destructive. Sandra Bullock movies are not addictive, and Twilight is unlikely to ruin your neighbor's marriage or your son's self-image.

Ultimately, I don't know whether or not you should watch that movie in particular or chick-flicks in general. Perhaps the genre fosters dissatisfaction, and it's best to steer clear. Maybe they're harmless fun. It's not up to me to interpret God's will for your life. 

Chick flicks are not pornographic, but that does not mean that they are value-neutral. We still need to do the work of interpreting media messages. We are influenced by culture and owe it to God, ourselves, and one another as Christians to settle neither for mindless entertainment nor rigid legalism.

So let's dig in. Let's open our eyes and engage critically. Let's wrestle with what it looks like to be not conformed to the world but transformed. Let's have conversations about relationship and fantasy, entertainment, and what honors God. Let's talk about what grows a person and relationship. Let's identify which messages we're susceptible to and fight the tide toward passive media consumption.

And then let's not chain each other to the specific and personal ways we discern God's leading in our own lives. It is for freedom that Christ sets us free.

A follow-upconsume, critique, create | culture & the Kingdom

Sunday

Tiny Prints giveaway {ends TONIGHT 11/19}

**This giveaway is closed (with sincerest apologies to email subscribers.)  I loved hearing all your traditions and memories in the comments! The winner is lindacarol. Congrats!**

It's beginning to look a lot like...Thanksgiving, right? It's not even Advent 'til December 2, but I'm of the opinion that the day after Thanksgiving is a great day to get out the Christmas decorations (and put on the Sufjan boxed set that makes Jim a little ragey).

But! None of this is the point, because no matter whether you're in the Christmas spirit yet or not, it's decidedly not too early to beginning thinking about holiday cards, and I have a sweet giveaway for one lucky guy or gal:

$50 worth of free goodness from Tiny Prints.

There is one code up for grabs for $50 off [not including shipping, cannot be combined with other offers]. This is also a super fast turnaround, and the winner's coupon code will expire 12/14/12.

We designed our Christmas cards last year through Tiny Prints, and they turned out absolutely beautifully. They have hundreds of fun, elegant, and stylish templates for all sorts of occasions featuring one photo or a dozen, and they're printed on quality card stock.

So, to enter: leave a comment sharing a favorite holiday memory or tradition. That's it. (You're always more than welcome to "like" The Smitten Word on facebook, but alas, it will not net you extra entries.) Random.org will spit out a winner tonight at midnight, so make sure you leave an email to get in touch.

Disclosure: this giveaway (and our own holiday cards) are sponsored by Tiny Prints.

Saturday

what we need is here


After October's whirlwind posting schedule, it's been a little quieter here, but I'm still around, refereeing monkeys, tackling clutter one pile at a time, and trying to breathe deeply. Sweet mercy.

What We Need Is Here (Wendell Berry)
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

Heart-quiet? Yes and please. Mr. Berry, as my youngest would say, you are my best.

A blessed weekend to you all. Let us pray to be quiet of heart and clear of sight. What we need is indeed already here. 


On an unrelated but fun note, find details on designing 10 FREE Tiny Prints flat cards here (no purchase necessary). I also have a free shipping coupon code for Tropical Traditions coconut oil and natural foods in case this was the week you were finally going to try to make deodorant:)

Tuesday

how hast thou offended?



“Do you find there’s a lot of arrogance among writers?”

I furrowed my brow and then smiled sheepishly. “Well, I suppose there is a certain arrogance in broadcasting one’s words on the internet. My ideas are so special everyone should read them! There are definitely all sort of voices out there, but I would characterize my writing community as generous.”

My friend said that in her creative field the egos are out of control. “Maybe people are less arrogant because you write about faith.” I admitted that Christians could be every bit as self-involved as the next guy. (She probably knew.) And it struck me that one of the hardest areas to exhibit humility, in writing and in life, is dealing with criticism.

There was this pastor, and he got a little news coverage for putting a political zinger on the church marquee. It was unkind and possibly racist. The community cried foul, but he defended his sign up and down, saying,

Truth is offensive.

Is it? Offensive like that? It reminded me of our disagreements and the way we casually dismiss our critics as haters.

If you’re pissing people off, you must be doing something right!

The thing is, I’m pretty sure that the integrity of an action or argument is unrelated to how others receive it.

Sometimes we cheer the good guy.

Sometimes we nail him to a tree.

Sometime we shine light on darkness.

Sometimes we strip off our clothes and roll in it.

Jesus was offensive, certainly, to status quo, power, and decorum. He ate with outcasts and welcomed sinners. He esteemed women and children. He touched lepers. He healed on the Sabbath. He preached good news to the poor. He identified with prisoners. He claimed to be God. He washed his friends’ feet. He forgave sins and enemies. He gave his body as food and his blood as drink. He reinterpreted scripture and fulfilled it. He was executed by the state as a criminal. He rose from the dead.

But offensiveness itself is not a great indicator of being on the right path. Being offensive is not a fruit of the Spirit. They won’t know we are Christians ’cause we’re dicks. That’s not how the song goes.

Jesus humbled himself to the point of death, but his Way leads to Life. He exalted the humble and loved us all, even those who disagreed, betrayed, and had him killed.

The Truth can be offensive. Like the cross. Like love.

Like Jesus.

Saturday

practicing peace: a perfect end

We made it through 31 Days, delving into hard and hallowed aspects of peacemaking, and I suspect we only scratched the surface. I may just add an ongoing tab so that we can keep the conversation going a while longer. I would be especially interested in digging into spiritual practices like centering prayer and talking a bit about peaceful parenting and works of reconciliation.

I'm so grateful to Danielle, S, Tara, Becky, Kelly, Amy, Bristol, Luke, Kristin, and Kamille for sharing words and practices here. Your posts were among the best, most shared, and most interacted with this month, and I loved hosting your thoughtful and varied perspectives.

Thanks to everyone for reading and reflecting here with me. I like you. xo

The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen.
  1. 31 Days to Practice Peace
  2. the peace of shared chaos
  3. the peace of killing the approval god
  4. peace of leaning into the light
  5. making peace with a postpartum body {guest post Danielle}
  6. the peace of putting it out there
  7. the peace of wild things
  8. the peace of quiet activism {guest post Tara Pohlkotte}
  9. the peace of imperfect hospitality
  10. making peace in prison {guest post S}
  11. the peace of subversive sabbath
  12. the peace of perseverance
  13. waging peace: the sword that heals
  14. the peace of sharing stories
  15. peace & the still, small voice {guest post Becky MacKenzie}
  16. the peace of knowing the enemy {guest post Kelly Chadwick}
  17. peace amid debate & political storm
  18. when parenting doesn't feel peaceful
  19. the peace of being saved by Story {guest post Amy L. Peterson}
  20. the peace of disconnecting to reconnect
  21. the peace of breathing the rhythms of rest
  22. a peace wisdom-sown
  23. peacemaking: play as resistance {guest post Bristol}
  24. making peace with feminism
  25. the peace of keeping the darkness at bay {guest post Luke Harms}
  26. peacemaking: wisdom from the margins
  27. the peace of getting away
  28. the peace of practicing freedom
  29. creating space for peace (guest post Kristin Tennant}
  30. making peace with proverbs 31 {A Year of Biblical Womanhood}
  31. shalom & restoring identity {guest post Kamille Scellick}
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you;
may he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm;
may he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;
may he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.

Wednesday

shalom & restoring identity {guest post Kamille Scellick}

Kamille has an uncommon and much needed vision for hospitality and community, and I hope one day that my travels takes me to Bellingham and her table. We met at Relevant last year, and a few hours together weren't nearly enough. I'm grateful to have her share words here.


Dark corners in my life creep out without notice or permission. As I'm sitting, walking, and going along my day, I'm hit with a sense of distress, a suffocation that begins in my toes and slowly makes its way to my neck. 

I feel overwhelmed and disconnected--with being a mom, a wife, with simply being. I want to run far away, but even that can't stop the disjointed feeling within.

Both girls napped that Saturday while I folded laundry with Ben by my side. My fuse was super short, and I couldn't put my finger on it, but I knew something was out of balance. I began to tell Ben about my frustrations. How I felt like I was endlessly working and not being appreciated. How I felt the weight of expectations that were unfair and even unrealistic. As I talked, it was as if I were Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, clawing away to release myself from this metaphorical dragon skin. Peeling away layers to find the core of the issue at hand, the cause of my suffocation.

Two truths emerged. One was what Ben said: "You don't have to be Supermom, Superwife, or super anything. Remember what Rob Bell wrote about, 'You need to take your Superwhatever out back and kill it.'"

The second was me realizing I simply needed grace.

In Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell writes about a time his church was growing yet he found himself in a closet between  services holding his keys, wondering how quickly he could get out of there. He felt suffocated from trying to do it all. He was trying to be Superpastor.

No one can survive living a facade for long.

Bell writes about the tzitzit in Numbers 15, which are the tassels on the corners of the garment. The Israelites were to wear these tassels as a physical reminder to remember the commands of the Lord when they looked upon them. To remember where they came from, who they were made to be, and how they were meant to live life.

As a good Torah-abiding Jew, Jesus would have been wearing tzitzit on his prayer shawl when the woman who was bleeding for twelve years touched the corner of his garment. After she is healed, Jesus sends her off with this blessing: "Go in Peace."

To know peace is to know restoration. Jesus doesn't give us peace without conflict--it's deeper than that. Jesus told me that Saturday, today, and constantly:

Kamille, go in peace. Know shalom. Walk in the total presence of my restoring, redemptive peace I've given on the cross. Not just in physical realities like the woman I healed, but mental, emotional, all-encompassing peace. Let all of you be restored.

This is the holistic beauty of the cross.

Salvation is more than simply saying a prayer; it's allowing Jesus to move through all of me. To experience shalom in all that I do. It's the restoration of all things through Jesus. On Saturday, my way of doing things was breaking down. I had this image in my head of what "spiritual" looked like, what a "good" mom looked like, what a "loving" wife looked like. Bell says:

there is always a mystery behind the mystery...we try to fix things, but we stop at the first or second layer. We're stressed and so we make adjustments in time management. But a better question is, why do I take on so much? But an even better question is, why is it so hard for me to say no? Or even, why is that person's approval so important to me?

It's not until we dig up everything that we discover the core problem: walking away from Shalom and walking in sin, which for me looks like believing a lifetime of lies about myself. I believed in the facade of who I thought I should be, and that's an insult to the creative God who made me.

My job is not supermom, superwife, superbaker, superdaughter, superfriend, or whatever super-fill-in-the-blank false self I put on. I need to kill the "super" image, to rest in God alone and get back to finding my identity in Him. 

I need my own tzitzit reminders to bring me back to the restoring grace and love of my Savior. I need to turn down the volume of every voice distracting me from my job, "the relentless pursuit of who God has made me to be."

I have a long way to go in this journey, but I'm hopeful and I pray: may each of us put to death our own superwhatevers to experience true shalom and restoration.


Kamille Scellick passionately believes that gathering around the table is where the body, mind & soul will be nourished. It's around the table where you're sure to find her on any given day...eating, talking, listening & sharing life with her husband, Ben & two girls. She believes in life-giving hospitality Jesus style and sees his redemption being offered through it. Her greatest achievement is knowing she is extending this hospitality first & foremost to her family and then to others. You can find her sharing stories, hospitality, food and life with friend & stranger at her blog, Redeeming the Table. You’re invited to pull up a chair & sup with her.


shared with the folks at imperfect prose.

Tuesday

making peace with proverbs 31

LAUGHING AT THE DAYS                                                

When she said, "Where better to look than Proverbs 31?"
my heart sunk hard and I lifted tea to lips in weak disguise.

I am Suzannah's complete lack of enthusiasm.

In this sorority, we're tested veterans, survivors
of grueling initiation. Keepers of the homefront in 
sweltering season where husbands serve God, camp,
and other mamas' kids from dawn 'til taps, repeat.

We labor, too, in ops covert. Hidden in plain sight,
your gaze bore through, unseeing. Between baths and
bedtime, we quell meltdowns and pray against takedown
by tiny torpedoes, devastating in beauty and will. This

summer of solo kid-wrangling, adult conversations
are rare as rubies, or solitude. It's a shame this one's
so much about trying harder. Being better. Doing More.

That Proverbs 31 gal, she's a first degree doer:
working vigorously, providing planting making
sewing trading spinningspinningspinning
She does not eat the bread of idleness!

Character praiseworthy, competence incomparable.
Her lamp goes not out at night, she rises before the sun.
Discussion dizzies and I wonder, is there joy deep
in the serving, in the honor of hard work?

Do we serve to please our King or prove our worth?

Will we remember Whose we are when striving slows, illness
strikes, or money runs out? If drought presses close, can
we trust the Gardener who makes all things grow?

Be still, dear one, and know. Abide. Laugh at days to come,
for he gives to his beloved sleep and rest to weary souls.

---

The specter of gender expectation for women looms large across evangelicalism, and Rachel Held Evan tackles the topic with boldness and grace in her new book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

Who should read this book?

  • People who appreciate humor, honesty, and a good story
  • Anyone who's wondered or struggled with what the Bible says about women
  • Those who suspect narrow prescriptive labels for gender, marriage, and womanhood of being a size-too-small and clashing with the freedom we find in Christ
  • Skeptics who are willing to honestly engage Rachel's content firsthand instead of through the lens of her critics
  • Christians who love the Bible and anyone who mourns to see it wielded as a weapon
  • Those who trust that God is not threatened by doubts, questions, or seeking
  • People weary of easy answers who wonder how to serve God and honor a pre-modern scripture in our own post-modern context

The book is divided into twelve "womanly" virtues found in the Bible, and Rachel spends a month each exploring traits including gentleness, domesticity, obedience, beauty, modesty, purity, fertility, submission, justice, silence, and grace.

One of my favorite chapters was Valor: Will the Real Proverbs 31 Woman Please Stand Up? Rachel explains that "the wife of noble character" (eshet chayil) in verse 10 is best translated as "valorous woman" and that the poem celebrates the woman as a kind of warrior. "Lost to English readers are the militaristic nuances found in the original language," Held Evans explains (76). She provides prey for her family, she girds her loins, she laughs in victory.

Like any good poem, the purpose of this one is to draw attention to the often-overlooked glory of the everyday. The only instructive language it contains is directed toward men, with the admonition that a thankful husband honors his wife "for all the things that her hands have done" (Proverbs 31:31). Old Testament scholar Ellen F. Davis notes that the poem was intended "not to honor one particularly praiseworthy woman, but rather to underscore the central significance of women's skilled work in a household-based economy." She concludes that "it will not do to make facile comparisons between the biblical figure and the suburban housewife, or alternately between her and the modern career woman. (76)
Nevertheless, Rachel spends a month undertaking a slew of domestic projects in an effort to live up to what many within evangelicalism esteem as the paragon of "biblical womanhood," and this chapter is among Rachel's most endearing. The tone of her book is familiar, funny, and less serious than the voice she often adopts on her blog.

Through her project, Rachel befriends an Orthodox Jew who provides an insight I won't soon forget. Ahava explains that Orthodox women often praise each other saying eshet chayil (valorous woman), and that her husband sings Proverbs 31 to her every Shabbat: "It's special to me because I know that no matter what I do or don't do, he praises me for blessing the family with energy and creativity. All women can do that in their own way." (88)

The concept of "Biblical Womanhood" is something of a sacred cow in contemporary fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Daring to question its prescriptions is akin to heresy in certain circles, and this book has invited a firestorm from those who don't appreciate questions--or women who won't toe the line. But this book is not intended as ammunition is anyone's battle. Rachel writes not to fan flames but to loose chains. In exploring her own frustrations with Scripture and Christian culture, Held Evans grows to love the Bible more--and the One who inspired it and sets hearts free.

Rachel has a high view of scripture. Her work is not mockery but an honest and faithful investigation. She illuminates the truth that every person and tradition interprets, inevitably making uncomfortable those who prefer to imagine Bible interpretation in easy blacks and whites.

Rachel Held Evans is helping a generation to make peace with Proverbs 31. She's a voice of hope, helping disheartened men and women to love the Bible again and discover a faith bigger than fear, fighting, and narrow cultural lenses.


[reworked from poem originally published here]
related: making peace with feminism

Review copy provided by Thomas Nelson.


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