Monday

that one time i was a guest on christian radio



At the very beginning of December, I got an email from a producer of a Christian radio program wondering if I'd go on and talk about whether feminism is compatible with Christianity. [Spoiler: it is!] Oh yeah, and it would be opposite Mary Kassian, well-known author of books like The Feminist Mistake.

I'm still not sure whether it was brave or foolish to agree to this particular debate for my first media spot, but a day or two later found me on the airwaves from phone in my living room for an hour long program broadcast nationally and online. I initially hesitated to put it up here, and then promptly forgot altogether in the blur of the holidays. We hosted a Christmas party that same day, and it's been something of a whirlwind ever since.

I still haven't listened to it, but it seemed to go a good bit better than I'd imagined it might. I mean, I did get to talk about liberation theology and bell hooks on Moody Radio. I am so grateful for the support I received from family, friends, and kind souls on the internet, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat, although hopefully next time under friendlier circumstances and with more time to prepare:)


Wednesday

the melting of ice and the future of history



Somewhere down the road we'll lift up our glass
And toast the moment and the moments past
The heartbreak and laughter, the joy and the tears
The scary, scary beauty of what's right here
{Over the Rhine, "Here It Is" from Snow Angels.}

Feeling wistful this advent. Lighting candles and longing for all things made new.

Thursday

stuck between stations



Four hundred years was the echo of time between prophesy and that first advent.

Four hundred years of silence and waiting. And hope.

Blessed is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her.



Bus stops, grocery lines, and on-hold music teach us to think of waiting as throwaway time, a way station between here and Where We Want To Be.

But in some sense, isn’t all of life a way station, this now-and-not-yet time between Christ’s resurrection and return? We pray and work toward on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven, trusting the Kingdom of God grows among us, but things aren’t right, not yet. Sin, death, and oppression abound. We worship things, objectify people, and pick each other’s wounds until they’re raw. Here isn’t Home, yet here we are, overwhelmed by longing for Eden’s shalom.

He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

It’s a troublesome tension: treading dark corners without despairing of them and holding onto hope though the waiting feels interminable.



I’ve played the waiting game. Looking for a job, waiting out a rough one. Trying to connect, to put down roots that take. Some days parenting is an exercise in being fully present, in not just waiting for second shift when Dad tags in, bedtime, or tomorrow’s new mercies, sweet Jesus, please.

I want to learn the discipline of waiting well. To not wish away this season for an imaginary ideal. I don’t want to despise the day of small things, missing today’s hallowed joys waiting numbly for tomorrow’s, real or fantasy.

Narrow expectations prepare us only for disappointment, and they’re the opposite of the kind of expectancy advent calls us to. Advent’s hope isn’t a perfect, selfish fantasy. Our hope is a Savior who bends low and pours himself out.

Waiting well prepares our hearts to love like that.



I wonder sometimes about the landscape of faith between testaments, during those four hundred years of scriptural silence. The Bible is mum, but surely God moved. His prophets kept no records, but wasn’t every common bush afire with God? Did the hills burst into song and the trees of the field clap their hands?

Even now, spring lies waiting beneath winter’s dormancy.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.

Can I trust God at work beyond all that I see, hear, and touch? Can I glimpse glory amidst the mundane?



Anna waits, her husband dead fifty years and without any man as her surety. Even in those barren years, the faithful kept watch. She worships and wonders, and she prophesies. God’s Word was never silent for those with ears to hear.

She gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

The Word enfleshed poured out his Spirit, bidding Anna to speak as the prophets of old. Steadfast Anna, mouthpiece for God’s good work. Let lonesome exiles rejoice: Emmanuel has come.

They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.

Blessed are they who wait and mourn and the expectant ones who hope.

Friday

where are the women?


The Nines, a whitewashed, uber-masculine Christian leadership conference featuring just three female speakers (among more than hundred) had folks buzzing last week, particularly after popular author Rachel Held Evans engaged the organizer on Twitter about the lack of female voices. Later, Christianity Today characterized her as having a "meltdown" and gave organizer Todd Rhodes a few hundred words to explain that there were so few women (and people of color, presumably) because their theme was "what's working in churches."

Yup.

They then gave female speaker Christine Caine--who I've no doubt is a lovely person--another several hundred words to suggest that a lack of female accomplishment and God's will may account for the dearth of women in recognizable positions of Christian leadership:

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve leaders at conferences like The Nines, and I think the very fact that some one like me is included as a speaker in leadership conferences all over the world suggests that the church is very willing to hear from women as well as men…. 
The discussion over women's representation over conferences like The Nines is a valid one, and I think as more women step out and accomplish things empowered by the Holy Spirit then they will have something to contribute to helping leaders grow. 
I think you actually have to build something that is producing fruit whatever gender you are if you want to help others do the same. Your gender should not be what determines whether you speak at a conference, your gifts and fruit should be. I truly believe that if God has called you to do something, then God makes a way for you to do it... 
We have some work to do, but I think the medium is the message, and the fact that I am there lets women, minorities, and young people know that they can get there if there is where God wants them to be.

This is what is called internalized sexism. Having made it within an evangelicalism that frequently expresses itself as a boys' club, Caine seems to suggest that if her female peers had something to contribute, they'd be at that podium with her. To her credit, Caine later speaks of "holding open as many doors for young women as I can," but her set-up strengthens the locks on others by denying exclusionary or patriarchal factors at play in platform building and Christian leadership development practices.

Caine is clearly an accomplished and godly woman. Having someone like her as mentor would be a tremendous asset to anyone in ministry, male or female, and I applaud her for looking out for and grooming younger leaders coming up behind her, but we can't pretend that many of these metaphorical doors aren't bolted shut to women, people of color, LGBTQ Christians, and more.

Christianity Today glosses over the systemic injustices breeding the inequalities we see plainly with our eyes, brushing them under the rug and worse, implying they are sanctioned by God. Life isn't a meritocracy, exclusively rewarding those who work the hardest and those on whom God's favor rests. Those are hallmarks of the health-and-wealth prosperity gospel, not the the Kingdom of God, which as Jesus demonstrated is good news for the least, the last, and the lost.

Better Than Some!


This hasn't exactly been the Best Week Ever for women in evangelicalism, but it's got to be better on the progressive side of things, right?
Whenever I point out sexism within evangelicalism, men inevitably tell me that I should join the Mainline or perhaps a church like Roger Olsen's, where there's not even a hint patriarchyWhen I critique patriarchal strongholds in the emergent/progressive church, others try to shut me down with reminders that, "They're on our side", "He means well", or "X is so much worse", like somehow it's only okay to push back against conservative or fundamentalist expressions of Christianity.

But that's ridiculous. Inequality is systemic, and all of us--particularly leaders--should be able to meet a considerably higher standard than "We're better than Mark Driscoll on gender." It's not second-guessing anyone's motives to shine a light our praxis and ask, "Is this really the best we can do?" "Progressive" should never be a static label to wear but a shared commitment to actual Kingdom-oriented progress measurable in word and deed.

Some conservative Christians have entire theologies explaining why women shouldn't lead, so I don't expect anything different from their speaker rosters. I disagree but honestly, I respect when they put their cards on the table.

But progressive Christians whose theologies fully affirm women in leadership and who consider themselves to be LGBTQ affirming and wholly committed to racial justice cannot compare our record on women, LGBTQ equality, or race to The Gospel Coalition's. If we know better, we should be doing a lot better, not resting on fixed positions or past laurels. We can't be defined by what we're not, particularly when pushed on our own lack of representation and diversity, progressives may not react all that differently from conservatives. We shuffle our feet, mumble something reminiscent of "Bootstraps," and insist we tried our best or that it may not be practical to do it differently. (Or we cry my personal favorite, identity politics.)
Either all things are being made new among us, or they aren't. Are we incarnating Christ and reflecting resurrection in our ministries, or do we mirror the empire's deathly halls of protected power?

Diversity, equality, and justice have little to do with how good anyone's intentions are. Most of us generally mean well, and we still perpetuate oppression across theological and political spectrums. Sin manifests in our lives and systems despite our best intentions, and if we're honest, even our intentions aren't always so pure, because we're frequently lazy and selfish. (Just me?) It is absolutely a beneficial community practice to assume positive intent in one another, but good intent won't cover (or atone for) a multitude of personal or social sins--or erase the power dynamics at play when people of certain races, genders, or sexual orientations are marginalized in overt and subtle ways. (We exclude others, too, like those considered to be less sure, strong, educated, beautiful, married, wealthy, healthy, or righteous.)

Love covers, yes--and it does the work!--but good intentions alone are pretty useless, particularly conceived as a sort of "get out of jail free" card excusing us from taking responsibility for oppressive, marginalizing action or apathetic complacency. The questions that matter most are not, "What was the intent?" or "Do they believe X?" but "How well are we walking this out?" and "What steps can we practically take to do this better?"

A popular eighties cartoon professed that knowing is half the battle, but knowing is just a baby step out the door. Knowing better stuff rarely made me more like Jesus, and neither kindness nor shalom has much to do with simply knowing the right thing.

Walking it out is the hard and hallowed, messy part--the worthy work of cultivating something better, nourishing it together, and helping justice to roll down and flourish among us.

--

Worthy Reads:


Wednesday

this body can do anything {guest post Jill Smyth} #4thTrimesterBodiesProject

I have a special radar for earth mamas, so when I spotted the Smyths at the farmers' market among the retirees, I just knew we were meant to be. We had a glorious community garden together one summer, which hasn't been the same since they moved out west to chase adventure. 

This post is beautiful, just like my favorite strawberry blondes. Make sure you check the links, too. You don't want to miss a shot.


This photo of me is exactly what my experience of motherhood is. One eating, the other waiting. Underpants. A little exasperated, a little impatient--happy overall and a whole lot of love.

When my daughter was born I rejoiced in her perfection. Starlight eyes, strawberry hair, rosebud smile and skin so fair. My beautiful, perfect Ada was shaped exactly as I am. Same hips. Same hair. Same booty. Those nine pounds of perfection grew from within me. My body made an ocean for her to grow in, then delivered her. It comforted and sustained her. I wondered how this baby girl could be so perfect and I anything else? If she is perfect, so am I.

The truth is that each of us is inherently perfect.

Don't believe me? Think of the ocean. Imagine the sound of the waves. The feeling of sea breeze. The brilliance of the sun over the water. Now, try to imagine what you might add to or take away from it that might make it more perfect. Is it not already perfect? Just as any ocean, you were perfect and complete from your first breath.

I chose to be photographed for the 4th Trimester Bodies Project because I believe this.

Like everyone before me, my body changed with pregnancy. I loved my body the entire time I was pregnant with that angelic little girl you see there. My body was creating life, and I was proud of the changes. Once she was born and my first fourth trimester began, I felt uncomfortable in skin I had usually felt confident in, and suddenly, I was someone I did not recognize.

My belly, which had always been squishy-but-shapely was now unwieldy. My joints that had allowed for impressive flexibility were now loose. My shoulders carrying the weight of my worries were suddenly very real obstacles in my path to successful breastfeeding. I realized I had no idea how to relax. I found that contrary to what I had believed prior to birth, I was useless on no sleep. I forgot to eat or drink water. Any bits of identity I had before I met that precious girl were shredded, and I was left as sets of pairs: arms for holding, breasts for feeding, and lungs for breathing.

At first I felt angry, and then I felt sad. After that guilt and later regret. So I waited. I prayed. Little by little, my resistance to the changes broke apart and floated away to make space for something else. I certainly didn't get my pre-pregnancy body back, because that body had been physiologically rewired to protect and nurture, to unleash the mama bear. With the radical transformation of my old body came unbounded possibility.

You guys, this body of mine can do anything.

This body learned an entirely new style of communication and how to relax at the age of 26. This body moved an entire family across the country on faith and a shoe-string budget in a Honda Accord. This body cooked and cared for a family with a sprained spine. This body runs two businesses on top of mothering and housekeeping full time. This body created a son, who was delivered at home into his daddy's hands. This body hikes miles around this city and rides the Trimet while keeping track of two children. This body gets up and down off the floor thirty seven times a day. This body is mine, and I am more thankful for being in it right now than anything else.

Ashlee Wells Jackson is daring to change the world by photographing mothers. Mothers feeding their children, mothers with their mothers, mothers courageous enough to stand alone. If we can learn to accept and love ourselves, we too can enact enormous change in our lives and the lives of people who know us.

[For more info or to donate, visit the 4th Trimester Bodies Project.]


Jill Smyth is a lady settled (for now) in the Pacific Northwest.

I manage a household, cooking most meals from scratch. This is both tedious and rewarding. I unschool a little lady, normalize breastfeeding, and gave birth to my little sun at home in the shade of an oak one morning in June. I freelance graphic design while my children are sleeping and constantly look for ways to spend time with my code ninja husband. Parenting has been a path to awakening, and I marvel with gratitude at the ways in which my life is blessed.


were not our hearts burning within us?


We had a party a few weeks back. Nothing fancy: chili and a fire and a few friends under the stars.

I soaked some beans and chopped the garlic. Browning the venison, I opened cans of tomatoes and spiced it by the palmful, letting the chili simmer in my biggest stock pot. Slipping orange slices into cider with a cinnamon stick and a few cloves, I set it to warm and pulled out every mismatched bowl and coffee mug we own. A stack of cotton napkins, a jar of spoons, a cooler of beer, and we were set.

Before long, the kitchen was crowded and the counters laden with pumpkin desserts, cornbread, and fresh salsa, but the chili and cider were all I prepared, and it was like the loaves and fishes: enough and then some for the forty-odd friends who turned up.

The full moon was so bright the children chased each other into the evening, and I studied the joy on your face. It was almost your anniversary, and you shone like newlyweds. (Was it the starlight?) We don’t even know each other that well, but you were so happy to share the night with us, and isn’t that the essence of community, bearing witness to each other’s loves and losses, great and small?

Standing in our farm house kitchen, where papers clutter the fridge and the windows always need washing, another beautiful woman with exquisite makeup suggested I write a food blog. She wasn’t joking, but I laughed: I didn’t even make most of this feast, and there wasn’t one Pinterest-worthy frame as far as the eye could see. She was the one who could throw a party: their wedding was an affair so elegant I’d wished I’d bought a dress and worn pantyhose, but bare legs and barely pulled together is how we roll, and neither she nor her spectacular eleven piece band seemed to mind.

I couldn’t pinpoint what was so charming about our simple supper, but I thanked her all the same, offered her a glass, and we talked and laughed into the night.



I suspect there’s a world of difference between entertaining and hospitality, and I wonder if fear of perfection keeps us from reaching out at all.

Our neighbors are the most hospitable people I know. Their house and budget are small, and with five kids running around, little is ever perfect, but few homes are so warm, and there’s always an extra place at their table.

We made our closest friends–after years of social strike outs turned this weary introvert gun-shy and grumpy–because they were relentless welcoming. “I’ve got leftovers. Can we bring lunch?” “Come over for dinner tonight?” “I’m at the grocery store. What if we stopped by with pizza before the game?”

It’s a risk to put yourself out there like that–vulnerable, repeatedly, and exposed. Last minute is not everyone’s bag, but it was the way to my heart, since best laid plans do so often go awry, particularly when you factor in small children. I can’t count how many play dates and dinners were thwarted by sickness, never to be rescheduled.

“What are you doing right now/later/tonight/Thursday/this weekend?” might just be the key to connection in an isolating age–not formal groups, party themes, or expensive ingredients.

Inviting, showing up, and breaking bread: it’s incarnation and alchemy. Ordinary moments hallow; common elements transform. Those with eyes to see take off their shoes.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:13-35)

Tuesday

why the church needs #JesusFeminist


Sarah Bessey is one of my favorite bloggers from way back, and today is the big day her first book drops.

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women. We need this book, friends, for a million reasons, but today I'll cite just one:

Interesting that we have a follower of the religion of man hate and perpetual victim hood ‘educating’ us about Christianity. You do realize that GOD is male ? Obviously you haven’t the slightest idea of biblical manhood, or womanhood. The alternative being that you were sent by the coven to help further defile weak willed women. Which is it ? I doubt my comment will be published as feminists fear the light of truth and can’t bear to hear it. As you read it and before you make assumptions, no Suzannah I am not a beastly, oppressive, rapey male hell bent on upholding the ‘evil’ patriarchy, that has so benefited women.. I am a truly strong Woman who is comfortable in her own skin, that of a genuine Woman. I celebrate my womanhood and Almighty GOD that in HIS wisdom formed me as such, not damn it, or HIM. I celebrate my husband’s manhood, not attempt to ‘cure’ him of it. What pathetic, sad little creatures you are. Seek HIM while HE still may be found. (Yup, this happened.)

A few months ago, I wrote a poem at A Deeper Story (where Sarah is an editor). It was about my family of origin and was fairly innocuous. I mean, it was poem, a personal piece about faith and growing together in love, not anything remotely incendiary like an essay on objectificationpurity culture, or a feminist theology of power.

But apparently a little poem about freedom and healing can inspire an anonymous commenter to infer I was "sent by the coven." THE COVEN, Y'ALL. You write one poem about humility and shared ministry on a Christian website, and folks conclude you must be "a follower of the religion of man hate and perpetual victim hood" instead of a sister Jesus-lover committed to resurrection, redemption, and the Kingdom of God on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven.

This is why need Sarah's book, Jesus Feminist. We need her freedom songs about a King and a Kingdom making all things new. She is telling a bigger and better story, and I pray the Church is listening, because there is work to do, and we need all hands on deck. We're in this together.

Happy book-release day, sweet Sarah. Ever grateful for your work and witness.

Friday

all you his saints


We did it! 31 Days of Embodied Faith was truly a group effort, as fourteen fantastic guests proved heartily. Thank you, everyone, for writing and reading, meditating, and walking the questions with me. It was a fabulous month, and we're not entirely done, as we've still got a few guest spots trickling in, and embodied faith is an ongoing theme 'round these parts.

In case you missed greeting any of our great guests, here there are all in one place. The communion of the saints on this All Saints' Day.

Krista Dalton:  on sacramental feminism

Aaron Smith:  the naked ask

Misty Green: fish out of water

Catherine Hawkins: on waiting

Seth Haines: embodied


Heather Caliri: from my head to my hands

Bethany Paget: faith with scars

Natalie Hart: with all his might

Christina Tremill: the resurrection of the body


C. Wess Daniels: an ounce of action


Osheta Moore: we are pierced women

Thank you, everyone, for helping me get my writing groove back and continuing this needed conversation about what it looks like to honor God and one another with our whole, embodied selves. I really appreciate wrestling through these practices together.


Thursday

we are pierced women {guest post Osheta Moore}

Our paths crossed in an online group of faith writers, and I am continuously struck by the boldness and vulnerability Osheta brings to the page, particularly when she's writing about race, faith, and family. She is a woman who loves Jesus deeply, and her blog, Shalom in the City, is one to watch--a breath of hope in a world of cynicism.


This month on my blog, I’ve been writing about finding my tribe. I’ve never thought about a community of like-minded women as a tribe before, but there’s something fitting about this word that takes its roots in the primitive, organic, and ancient. To be a tribe means to push pass the excess to the essential of who we are and what we stand for.

So my thirty-one days have been on “finding my tribe”, my community who pushes pass the excess to the essentials of Jesus, his life, ministry, and death. Every time I wrote the word, “tribe”, certain images and sounds filled my mind.

I heard vibrant, welcoming, rhythmic beating of drums. I felt the heat from a gathering fire as women dance with abandon, laugh from their bellies, and wet the shoulders of their fellow tribeswomen with cleansing tears. At the word, “tribe”, I pictured sable beauties with shorn hair and fascinating markings on their strong bodies. I see women with interesting piercings, naked and unashamed with their tribeswomen.

And that’s the image that drove my series—a tribe of women so committed to Jesus that we’re willing to be inconvenienced, uncomfortable, and forever changed. Like Jesus, who for love was pierced to stand in solidarity with us, I want to be a woman who loves the women in my life well enough that I am willing to be pierced for them.

Last Friday, for her seventh birthday, after a month of pleading and promising that she was ready, I took my daughter to get her ears pierced. Then, much to her delight, I would get my nose pierced.

But my bold and brazen daughter, who can put her brothers in their place with a well-executed eye roll, stood outside the shop and said, “Mama? I don’t think I want to do this anymore.”

After a few hugs and promises that I was with her, and even I was a little afraid, she straightened her spine, shyly smiled, and said, “Let's do this.”

That’s my brave girl! I remember holding her hand as our sexy-chic body art practitioner, who noticed her telltale shaky breaths and nervous fidgeting, knelt down and said, “Girl, you’ve got this” to my little woman-child. “When I’m done with you, it’s going to be so cute, you won’t believe it.”

He winked up at me, and I wondered, ‘How does he get his eyeliner to do that?’

Sitting in his chair as he prepped to pierce, my daughter and I held each other. I could feel her heart beating, yet she smiled and played with my hoop earrings.

“Okay, girls” Sexy-Chic began, “I’m going to count to three. When I get to three, breath in, and when I tell you to… breath out.” He positioned the pink tourmaline stud on my baby’s right ear and gave me another wink over her head.

“1…2…3…” he said confidently, and we breathed in together. “ Now exhale,” and as we breathed out in unison, the stud pierced my daughter, marking that moment with both beauty and pain.

We did the same for her left side, sharing breaths and twitches that reminded of me the hours after her birth when she slept on my chest, twitching and breathing with an exhausted me.

Then we did my piercing, and when she saw tears flowing down my cheek, Trinity handed me a tissue while Sexy-Chic cleaned me up promising, “She’s alright, boo. But isn’t your mama’s nose so cute?!”

Today she remembers our piercing date as fun mommy/daughter activity. And it was, but one day when she’s older, maybe on her thirteenth birthday or when she gets her period, I’m going to sit her down and show her this outing in a different light. I’m going give her a pair of hoop earrings—her first pair and teach her about being a Pierced Woman.

Maybe this first pair will be large beaded silver and gold hoops like the ones she’s eyeing in my jewelry drawer now, or maybe they’ll be simple white gold that goes with everything. They’ll probably be made my refugee artisans as this Tribe, this Jesus Tribe, cares about women globally.

They’ll definitely be chosen with love and care because this lesson is one I want her to hold onto.

I’ll sit across from her, who somehow has become more woman than child, and ask her if she remembers when we got pierced together. And then I’ll tell her,

“Trinity, these hoops are for you. Every time you wear them, I want you to think of Jesus who was pierced for us out of his great love for all people. His love is as never-ending as this hoop is round. When you go to wear them, remember, just as He was pierced for us, so we must be pierced for him and press into the hard of being a Jesus follower, baby.

"When you go to match these hoops with your outfit, remember that this Jesus Tribe is diverse and beautiful and quirky and fun, so take chances. Wear them against an odd color or different texture. Celebrate the different. Remember how Jesus was pierced to bring unity among diversity. This is what we pierced women do, baby: we love the diversity and defend the unity.

"When you put these on, remember how we held each other while you were oh so afraid of the pain of the piercings, and ask Jesus to help you hold your friends when they are afraid. This is what we pierced women do: we hold the terrified in our strong, capable arms since we know what it’s like to be afraid.

"Trinity, I give you these hoops and I hope you remember that I, too, was pierced with you. This is also what we do—we are pierced women who love the pierced King, and we stand with one another through celebration and pain. Just as we both celebrated your seventh birthday and shared in the pain of our piercings, celebrate with your friends and share in their pain. Listen to their keening cries that pierce your eardrums when her heart breaks. Hold her hand and let nails leave marks on yours as she bears the weight of sorrow. And somehow find a way to share in her pain. This is what is means to be a pierced woman.

"And when the usurper of relationships comes to cause you to doubt if your tribeswomen have your back, remember the times they were pierced for you. Go back to your ugly cries on their shoulders and the late night with Ben and Jerry’s. Place your fingers in those holes in your soul left by your tribe’s love, and like doubting Thomas, remember that You. Are. Known.”

And someday when she’s moved away and maybe has a daughter of her own, I hope she comes across those hoops while rummaging through her jewelry box. I hope smiles as she remembers Sexy-Chic and his amazing eyeliner. I pray she remembers how her birthstone just happened to be her favorite color—pink. I pray she remembers being held in my arms, trembling and sharing anxious breaths. Then maybe, she’ll puts those hoops on and ask Jesus, “Lord, help me be a pierced woman today.”

Hi, my name is Osheta. I’m an Assembly-of-God-Methodist-Southern-Baptist-a-teryn turned Anabaptist. I love Jesus who is THE MOST scandalously loving person to walk the face of the earth. I love to dance and you can find me doing the Robot with my husband and three kids in our tiny apartment in Boston. Someday...somehow...somewhere I will be in a flash mob. All the better if we dance to Michael Jackson's "Thriller"! When I'm not dancing, I'm planting a church with my husband, writing on my blog, Shalom in the City, or watching "Pride and Prejudice" for the eleventy billionth time

Wednesday

body of Christ, cup of salvation {guest post Micha Boyett}

At the Festival of Faith and Writing last year, a notable highlight was spending time with Micha over drinks and good conversation. In the time since, she wrote a book, which I cannot wait to get my hands on this spring. She is a gifted wordsmith with the heart of a mystic, and I love the post she bring us today.


I remember the first time I took communion as a kid. I’d been watching the adults do it all my life. I’d been waiting for the day I’d be brave enough to make a confession of faith, to walk the aisle toward the front of my church’s sanctuary with it’s huge golden chandelier and 80’s orange carpet. One choice, one decision to follow Jesus, and I was welcome at the table.

Then, communion was a symbol. Only a symbol. They said this to us over and over until it was ingrained in our minds. And I understood symbol. I loved metaphor, even as a child, my nose stuck in books.

But then, why would Jesus ask us to do this very physical thing if it only had the power of symbolism? If it was just a symbol, couldn’t we just imagine the bread and wine? Why couldn’t we draw pictures of it and experience it in the same way? Why ritualize it if it only stood symbolically?

No, there was something more to it. That was before I learned about sacrament and liturgy, when ritual was still a dirty word. All I knew was that I wanted to take the Lord’s Supper with gravity. I wanted the bread and wine to do something to me, in me.


*

By the time I was pregnant with my first son I was learning to pray using contemplative practices. I was embracing the liturgy. And I was in a church that celebrated communion every Sunday with real wine in a shared chalice. My husband and I had been at this church for two years prior to my pregnancy and during those years, I had taken to putting my lips to the shared cup and gulping, despite my husband’s more sanitary bread dip. 

I had this physical need to live the metaphor each Sunday. I wanted to experience the burn of the wine in my throat. I couldn’t help putting my lips to the chalice where all those lips had gone before me. I wanted connection to our community, germs and all. I wanted a physical faith.


*

Pregnancy is the most physical work I’ve ever done. I felt it in every part of my life. It wrecked me in the hardest and best ways. My body could not build the lives it built without remaking every part of me: how I comprehended, how I experienced emotion, my physical shape, my view of the world. So how could it not also shift my faith?

In those early days of placenta-building and limb-forming, when my stomach rejected every morsel of food given to it, I came to church and begged God to nourish me. I worried, should I gulp that wine in the chalice, me with my early pregnancy and all those studies forbidding alcohol? I dipped for a few weeks, like a good pregnant lady. Then, I couldn’t stop myself. I took the sip straight from the cup. Instead of worrying about the wine or whether or not I’d be able to hold that small bit of bread down, I asked Jesus to go straight through my body and into that little life in me.

Jesus, using me as the vessel, blessing my child.

The thought was too much for me. And so it continued every Sunday, as I grew fuller and fuller with life. Jesus came through bread and wine and I prayed for my little boy in a way I never could with words. I prayed in images, bright colors. I watched the wine and bread flush straight through my organs and nourish my child’s soul. And then I watched Jesus prepare my son for the world. I watched and knew that God had purpose for the little one in me. I believed.

And when my baby arrived, needing my milk, I still took communion with the reverence of a begging mother: Come to my baby, here, through me, I’d pray. Arrive in some way I cannot comprehend.


*

I love metaphor. I love symbol. But, the resurrection of Christ is bigger than symbol. It happened in the Body. So here we are, heart’s beating, flesh and blood, needing God to meet with us in this cracker and single sip from the chalice. Arrive. Be here, Emmanuel.

Sometimes, we need to see what God is giving us. We need the Spirit world to collide into physical. And, thank Mysterious God, we get to experience that great collision each week. And whatever it is, however it happens. It happens. We are nourished.


Micha Boyett is a youth minister turned stay at home mom attempting to make sense of vocation and place after three cross-country moves in four years. She is mama to two blonde boys and wife to a very tall Philadelphian. Her first book, a memoir of prayer, will be released from Worthy in April 2014. She blogs at Patheos about motherhood, monasticism, and the sacred in the everyday. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.


Tuesday

an ounce of action {guest post C. Wess Daniels}

Our path didn't cross all that long ago, but I've been encouraged a great deal by Wess' writing at Gathering In Light and am glad to host his words in this space. He offers a worthy challenge here, particularly for cerebral, academic sorts and any of us who hesitate to walk the questions.

{Doug Neill,  the graphic recorder}

A couple years back on The Colbert Report, Bon Iver was interviewed before playing some of his music live for the show. During the interview I was interested to learn that Justin, the lead singer and songwriter, majored in feminist studies in college, and I wondered if maybe his music is more interesting than I considered. After the interview and commercial break the camera panned to Justin and his band made up entirely of men. My heart sank. Here was a band led by someone who had the opportunity to put his action where his theory was and he utterly failed.

Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens all too frequently. Recently, I wrote a post about the John Howard Yoder scandal considering how eloquently he wrote about the peace tradition while perpetuating violence against women.

Both of these examples reveal the disconnect between theory and action, idea and embodiment. They betray our desire to be politically correct all the while stacking up more and more blind spots and hypocrisy. We cannot write these things off as “Oh well, truth is still truth” any more than we can assume that a feminist studies professor would be someone who doesn’t take advantage of his female students.

I believe that the challenge is about emphasizing the importance of action over theory. When we dismiss this kind of disconnect, we not only perpetuate blind spots but create all kinds of possibilities for abuse. The Gospel story is one in which truth is embodied, theory is wrapped up in a fleshly body. I recognize that we are human and succumb to ego, but even Jesus pointed to the difference between the Pharisee whose theory and action didn't line up and and the tax collector who knew that his life was out of sync and wanted mercy to change (Luke 18:9-14).

An Ounce of Action for the Church


Sitting on my desk, I have an image of this Friedrich Engels quote from the graphic recorder to remind me daily that talk is cheap and that as Quakers we try to put our emphasis less on speech and more on doing something with our bodies. As John Woolman, a 17th century Quaker minister and abolitionist, wrote:

Conduct is more convincing than language; and where people, by their actions, manifest that the slave-trade is not so disagreeable to their principles but that it may be encouraged, there is not a sound uniting with some Friends who visit them.

In her book, Improv Wisdom, Stanford acting professor Patricia Madson jokes that she wishes Quakers would preach more what they practice. But in all honesty, it’s a lot harder to live up to this than we would like to admit. And Quakers, too, are guilty of getting lost in ideas without ever standing up, walking out of the meetinghouse, and acting.

Jesus’ exhortation to “love your neighbor” requires the disciple to act, not contemplate, summing up the whole of the Law in practical action.

Stepping Into First-Hand Experience


There are a number of ways my life has been shaped when I took a risk and stepped into action.

One of the clearest turning points for me around action and theory came in the second year of my PhD program. I had been working on the question of how faith traditions might renew themselves within modernity in a way that is both faithful to its past and innovative within our contemporary context. I was reading some really good theorists and philosophers, engaging with some of the best theologians on the subject, and even doing some field research, but almost all of it was being done from the comfort of my desk.

Everything seemed like it was moving in a good direction until one afternoon while I was sitting in the basement of the library at my seminary. During one of those moments when you kind of drift off and forget what you're doing, God made it very clear to me that something was wrong. As I sat with that feeling, my heart began opening up to just how crazy it was that I was writing about the renewal of the church from the basement of a library! I was completely disconnected from the embodiment of community life, buried under the theory of someone else's lived experience.

This challenge was a wake-up call. It was a challenge to step into my own experience, take the risk and see where it could lead. Shortly thereafter, we moved to the Northwest, just outside of Portland, to a small paper mill town called Camas, WA. I entered into a Quaker meeting there as pastor and academic, and over the course of the last four and a half years I have had my own re-education.

My theories and ideals melted away before my very eyes only to be reconstructed in the tendons and ligaments of embodied community.

By moving out of the confines of academic life and into the vigor of life enfleshed, I am challenged by what I learn within this diverse community that has been planted in one place for seventy-five years. I had to let the neatly tied theories and idealistic visions of “what the church should look like” be redefined within the everyday lives of people who experience and see the world differently than I do. In this case, my action led to a reshaping of not only of my theory but my entire life.

I believe that action bearing the weight of a ton of theory behind it may still make missteps, but it is open to learning from its own flaws. Right action is born out of both a concern for living and loving the people for whom you are called to care. It is about stripping away all of the things that sound good but justify actions that are inappropriate. It is about not just paying lip-service to a school of thought or carrying some label that says you’ve read all the right books. It’s about recognizing that “conduct is more convincing than language.”



Wess is a papa of three little ones, Quaker minister in Camas, WA, PhD in Intercultural Studies, and adjunct prof at George Fox Seminary and Earlham School of Religion. He enjoys dance parties with his kids, good remixes, liberation theology, bourbon, and a wool vest.

{Top image: Doug Neill, the graphic recorder. Used with permission.}

Monday

a faith i can live with {guest post Sarah Moon}

Whip-smart and passionate, Sarah is one of my favorite people on the interwebs. She has endured more pain than many people twice her age, and I admire the way she keeps wrestling, listening, and speaking up.


Content Note: brief mentions of a suicide attempt/suicidal thoughts

Last year I got sick of Christianity.

I got sick of Jesus and heaven and God and the Bible and the whole deal.

Last year I was sick, and that didn't matter to my Christianity, so I got sick of Christianity.

Two years ago, my depression reached a point where it was so severe that I attempted suicide, and I spent nearly all of my time last year (and most of my time this year) struggling to mentally recover from that. My faith almost didn't recover. In fact, in a way my faith didn't survive that suicide attempt and the long period of depression, fear, shame, and self-hatred that followed.

My faith didn't help me through that period. It wasn't there. It meant nothing.

I'm looking over a post I wrote last year in which I wrestled with these feelings about my faith:

When you start asking questions, they give you Faith to cling to. I never really knew what that Faith was faith of. Faith that something magical happened on the cross that we don’t understand, I guess... 
...If our salvation has nothing to do with this world and with these bodies, than why did God come to this world? Why did God become a body?

I couldn't take this kind of faith seriously. This faith that was all about living forever (which was a horrifying concept for me while I was struggling with suicidal thoughts—living forever sounded like torture at the time) somewhere up there, but that never intersected with my life down here.

I couldn't live with a faith where my sick body didn't matter. I didn't want a faith where my chemically imbalanced brain and my self-injury scars and my exhaustion and my body memories from PTSD didn't matter.

It frustrated me to hear people tell stories about Jesus physically healing people and casting out demons, only to end these stories with “Jesus can heal you today, too...by healing your SOUL!”

That's what it always seemed to come back to—this idea that once God cared about bodies but now God only cares about forgiving souls.

My faith was intangible, and it couldn't survive when depression killed off all of my hope. That was tough—losing my faith. But I think it was a good thing.

It's given me space to explore a theology that starts with my body and with my experiences.

I've been thinking lately about a wonderful piece Alan Hooker wrote, My Body is My Bible, in which he asserts that our bodies can be the “text[s] from which [we] pray.” We don't have to start with the Bible to understand God and ourselves. We can start with our bodies.

What theological insight can I gain from my body and from my bodily experiences?

In my depression, I can meet with the suffering God who weeps and mourns and will not be comforted.

In touching my own self-injury scars, I can touch Jesus' side. I can stop doubting and believe.

In my pain and anger at the injustice that's happened to me and others, I can wrestle with God and demand something better.

In surviving and healing and beating death, I can find solidarity with the risen Christ, the surviving God.

My body is not just extra baggage that I have to carry around until I get to go to heaven. My experiences are not just tests and trials that I have to overcome so that my soul can someday be free. My body and the things that happen in it lead me to God. They are important, essential theological texts, as Alan Hooker puts it.

This is a faith I can live with, because this is a faith where my life matters.


Sarah Moon recently graduated from Oakland University with a degree in Women's and Gender Studies. When she's not reading feminist theology, playing the Legend of Zelda, spending time with her husband and her cats, or trying to figure out how to be a responsible adult, she blogs on Patheos at Sarah Over the Moon.

Sunday

the resurrection of the body {guest post Christina Tremill}

Oh, friends, savor these words. They are a gift and Christina a poet. I'm so honored to host her wisdom here today. 


When I turn eighteen and become a woman, my father begins aging backwards, becoming a child again.

I have memorized words from SAT flashcards, gleaned them from thick novels. When I finish studying, I learn one I do not want to know: glioblastoma, a cancer of the brain.

My father is a strong man. He stands six feet, seven inches, weighs nearly three hundred pounds. He loads tubas and drums into band trailers.

He falls for the first time on September 11th, 2001, the same day the towers do. As the firefighters rush into the rubble, my father lies on the bathroom linoleum for three hours, unable to get up. Later, he watches coverage on CNN for hours. “Think of all those people dying just like that,” he shakes his head. “Just think of it.”

I see the towers collapse again and again. They were strong. They were not supposed to fall, but they did.

When I was young, I read sentimental books about girls with terminal illnesses. “The cheesy death books,” my friends called them. The girls had leukemia or waited for heart or lung or kidney transplants. I imagined them dying gracefully. I imagined them wearing white dresses at their funerals, dying young and beautiful, pale and thin.

Dying is not beautiful. My father is a man, and he becomes a child again. He first sips morphine, then gulps it, always wanting more. Each week is a milestone in reverse: His legs forget how to walk, his mind forgets to remember. One week before he dies, I feed him orange sherbet with a spoon. As it pools in his mouth, I realize he has forgotten how to swallow.

My father dies in a hospital bed in our living room just after Thanksgiving. Four weeks later, the Word becomes flesh, and I cry. I am eighteen, a woman but a girl still. I have never made love or grown a child inside my body. Don’t do it, I pray to Jesus. It’s not worth it, all of this.

--


At twenty-five, I begin seminary with the youngest seminarians in the country.

We are young, and because we are young, we are beautiful. Because we are young, most of us are strong. The bodies God gave us, lo, they are very good. We do not give it a second thought.

We are in our twenties. Most of us have not seen death. Our young bodies awkwardly make love. They give birth to babies, most without complication. We talk about the goodness of the body with lips that do not stutter. We dance at parties with legs that do not shake. We kneel in worship with knees that do not creak. We write about incarnation and resurrection and God’s good creation, and we do it with hands that do not ache.

In seminary, we sing the goodness of the body. We write about creation and incarnation and resurrection. Over beers at the pub, we talk about church people and how they are so escapist, always thinking about heaven, always singing I’ll fly away, oh glory, never looking at God’s good creation here.

---


Sometime during college, my brother sheds his faith like baby teeth. He is interested in religion: zen koans, Daoist philosophy, Jewish midrash. But not faith, as we knew as children.

One day, our conversation drifts to what I am studying in seminary. After a semester, we are nearly through the Apostles’ Creed. “The resurrection of the body,” I say.

His eyes narrow. “You don’t believe that people will have bodies in the afterlife,” he says. “That doesn’t even make sense. The definition of a body is that it is mortal, that it breaks down and dies.”

I try to clarify. “Well, not Jesus,” I say. “He was resurrected with a human body.”

My brother shakes his head with skepticism. “That can’t be right.”

He was sixteen when he saw my father die in a bed in our living room. He knows what bodies can do.

---


I once heard that Episcopalians make the sign of the cross at this moment in the Creed: “the resurrection of the body.” Creation, virgin birth, crucifixion--on the right day, we can believe if we say the lines fast enough. But the resurrection of the body needs something else, something to push us over the hill. So what the Episcopalians do is cross themselves. Head, heart, shoulder, shoulder. 

Don’t do it, I said once to Jesus. I wanted to save him from the body. Not just death, but a thousand little indignities. Desire, waxing and waning at the wrong times. A cold that begins in your head and travels down into your chest. Wet beds and wet dreams. And, yes, from blood--the blood flowing from a skinned knee and a cross.

Sometimes I still want to save him. Sometimes I want to save us all from bodies that betray us: bodies that guzzle alcohol without being satisfied, bodies that will not conceive babies, bodies whose cells go rogue until we lose our hair and poison ourselves with the cure. Bodies that are raped or violated, bodies that are kept from pulpits because of their breasts and curves, bodies that cannot see, cannot walk, cannot hear.

Sometimes, I am breathless at the goodness of it all. The impossibly long eyelashes of a five-year-old. The rush of pleasure as you make love. The vibration of vocal cords that bring forth music. The feel of warm sand, the taste of good pasta, the sound of a mandolin played well.

But sometimes, I would have us float, weightless, above the world. I say it anyway: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” God, in his mercy, will not let us give them up. I cannot imagine these resurrection bodies, human and yet immortal, broken made whole.

So I take my hand and make the sign of the cross over my broken, beautiful body--head, heart, shoulder, shoulder. I push myself over the hill.


Christina Tremill is a seminary graduate on her way to becoming an irreverent Reverend. She enjoys good coffee, good books, and a good theme party. She lives in San Diego with her husband Josh and their cat, Rascal, who more than lives up to her name. She tries to write beautiful and write brave at her blog, A Holy Fool.


Saturday

walking the question


"I needed to put my faith in my hands." He had learned that certain mental and spiritual problems could not be resolved intellectually; they needed to be worked out physically, with one's own body. Manual labor was the ancient monastic cure for many a spiritual ailment. "I see work as very incarnational. Jesus became flesh, muscle, sinew. He put his body where the question was. And then he walked the question."
I asked Dismas what he meant by the question.
"Human sin. Broken relationships. Loneliness. Take the most agonizing question of your life--that's the question Jesus came into and walked." Which seemed a good way to think about what drove men like Dismas and Anthony-Maria to become monks. An agonizing question for which there were no immediate answers, a yearning without apparent remedy.
That is, until a way avails itself to the seeker...The monastery anchored your spiritual life through life in the body: getting up at 3 A.M., packing cottonseed hulls into columns, putting the faith in your hands.
You put your body where the question is, then you walk the question.

{Fred Bahnson,  Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith}


Friday

with all his might {guest post Natalie Hart}

I got to room with Natalie at the Renew and Refine retreat for writers in May and was particularly charmed by her Young Adult reworking of the stories of David and Saul. (And her red hair.) I love the example she paints for us here in creating more inclusive and participatory worship for ministers of all ages and abilities.


I'm walking a fine line in this post on embodied faith. It's about something I'm doing, but it's not about me, about the power of dance but not about my dancing. It's about the power of movement to set us free – set us free from the idea that we communicate with God only with words and from preconceived notions about who can serve.

Which sounds way too lofty for the kind of dancing I'm going to describe. Once a month, we wave ribbons on sticks in nowhere near perfect unison to accompany congregational singing. Most of us are not who you'd think of as dancers. Some of us you’d never see at the front of church, if not for this group.

M is a woman in her 30s who got me thinking about forming this group. On Palm Sunday, when we gathered at the back of the sanctuary with our fronds in the air, her face was so alive with joy at this chance to wave bits of greenery. Later I sat near her when another member danced. We laughed and sighed at the same parts and I knew she got dance. M has Down syndrome.

R is a woman in her 50s who boogies down every chance she gets, from Zumba at the Y to local band shows. She’s got a love of movement, a zest for life, and a gift for encouragement.

J, H, and Little J are siblings, 10, 7, and 2. H is a boy who mostly loves to whip the ribbons around. His big sister, J, was so inspired by our first dance that she made her own at-home ribbons on sticks. (I suspect H and J do at home what I wouldn't let them do at church -- sword-fight with the sticks.) The moment Little J saw the ribbons at home he grabbed one, waved it in front of him, and said a word that his parents interpreted as "church." Little J has also Down syndrome. He waves his ribbons with great zeal into impressive tangles to the side of the rest of the dancers.

L is 13. She's had 9 years of ballet and has the beautiful light hands and arms of a real ballerina. We’re a whole lot less formal than any other dance she’s done, but I’m glad she’s adding her gracefulness into the mix.

H.A. is my 12-year-old daughter who (like her mother before her) dances in the basement and takes classes that involve flexibility and movement, but not for more than two years running. She's got a security and freedom in performance that I only developed in my 20s.

M is an adult male who always wears some kind of sports jersey to church. He comes to every church event and always has a request during open mic prayer times, even though, due to a developmental disability, it's a struggle to make himself understood.

And then there's me, a woman in her mid-40s with a reasonable amount of training, who dances with complete abandon and spiritual conviction no matter how simple or complex the movement may be. It’s as worshipful to me to stand in the congregation and do children's worship actions to a song as it is for me to dance a challenging piece at the front of church. I've danced before audiences of hundreds within church and without, choreographed powerful group and solo numbers, embodied others' choreography, and led dance at three churches. After seven years of pastoral encouragement, I finally got to the point where I would just get up and dance to any song I had a dance to if we sang it during praise and worship, whether I was in my uniform or not. And if it was a dance I’d done with the kids, I’d get them up and we’d dance while the congregation sang. I've even "flowed" with an African-American dance comrade, which means that I got up with no pre-choreographed moves and let the Spirit guide what I did. At times, I’ve danced my private prayers. I am convinced that dance plays a similar role to that of the Holy Spirit, praying for us with groans that cannot be expressed in words (Rom. 8:26).

All that is to say that I've got serious dance cred. Even so, this group might be the best thing I've done.

Before anyone is tempted to think how nice it is that I’ve got a ministry to people with disabilities or a ministry to children, let me be clear: this group is not my ministry. It is our ministry. The purpose of this group is not to give the participants an activity. It’s a joyful and fun group, but I’m serious about our role.

WE are ministering TO the congregation.

So often in our churches, children and people with developmental disabilities are seen as "those who are ministered to," and not as "those who can minister." Dance and movement can bypass our varying verbal abilities, literacy levels, and intellectual capacities, and give a wide variety of people a way to serve.

This is a big deal for the dancers. They are contributing to the life of the church, up there in front, for everyone to see. But it's also a huge benefit to the congregation. Not only is our joy infectious, but they also get a little lesson about who can serve: everyone.

Even those who don’t necessarily have rhythm. Even those who have a hard time making themselves understood with words. And the fact that it's done with broad smiles and is accompanied by the crackle of bright and sparkly ribbons flying through the air makes it all the better.


Natalie Hart is a freelance writer/editor, children's worship coordinator, liturgical dancer, and wife to a rock-and-roll musician. She's probably got too many irons in the writing fire -- picture books for older adopted kids, a YA novel series retelling the story of David and Saul (what a friend calls her "Hebrew Percy Jackson stories") -- but that's how it goes sometimes. She blogs at NatalieHart.com and One Faith Many Faces. Or find her at @NatalieAHart on Twitter.

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