the mantle

Her heart cried for him to assume the mantle
of Spiritual Head of the Household,
her faith as strong as her desires were specific.
Although speaking the things of God
was her first language, he was a private man of careful words.
If he wouldn’t initiate the family devotions she craved,
they would have none.

Of quiet faith, he led off-stage, dish towel or mower in hand.
Humble hard work was his hallmark, and she led by example, too,
in disciplines spiritual and faith like a child.
She believed there no leaders between them,
but I saw two, alone.

The Christ-Way is not gendered; aren’t all called to follow first?
To lead we bow low, without spotlight or script. 
Different kinds of service and the same God at work. 
Gifted and graced by a Spirit of freedom, 
teaching and learning, we practice as one.

Can we pray? she asked, initiating. And he did, and we did, as a family,
like she’d wanted all along. Some prayers bear fruit in decades’ time, and
we are the ones we’ve searched for all the while.


IndieFlix | streaming independent film {giveaway}

This giveaway is closed, and everyone who commented wins! I'm basically Oprah and will be in touch with your codes shortly:)

Summer staff and horses arrived yesterday, after a week which included my best friend's wedding in Philly, preschool graduation, kindergarten registration, two field trips, an amusement park outing, visits from both sets of grandparents, and a fantastic writing retreat all the way out in Michigan.

I haz tired. So let's do something fun, shall we?

I've got ten two-month subscriptions to IndieFlix, and they're not even that sketchy kind that make you give your credit card number in hopes just in case you forget to cancel your "free" trial. Nope, this is real, sixty day no-strings access to the kind of movies that are basically impossible to find anymore.

I miss video stores, man. There was this fabulous place in Pittsburgh in the back of the coffee shop down the block that carried the best and weirdest stuff that no one comes close to carrying anymore. You can't even find a West Coast with the suspicious curtain in the back and the mildly burned-out clerks who could always be counted on to recommend gems. The nearest art house theater is over an hour away, our local mom and pop video store shuttered its windows long ago, and even the gas station gave back its movie kiosk. Times are tough for film aficionados!

Enter IndieFlix, an online subscription service granting access to independent films and shorts of every genre and stripe. So far I've seen the delightfully strange Lovely by Surprise, a teaser of a documentary about Ben's Chili Bowl in DC (yay!), and Finding Kind, another documentary on female bullying that they're featuring until the end of the month. The kiddos enjoyed a few animated shorts, too.

Want to win? Just tell me one (or several) of your favorite independent, smaller studio/budget, non-blockbuster-y films, making sure to log in with an email or another way to get in touch if you win. Feel free to comment and enter multiple times if you've got recommendations to spare (or check out IndieFlix and comment with something you'd like to see).

Giveaway ends Thursday night (5/30/13) at 11:59 PM (EST) when we'll pick ten winners. These won't net you extra entries, but you are, as always more than welcome to subscribe or follow along on facebooktwitterinstagram or pinterestGood luck:)

Giveaways and my own subscription provided by IndieFlix.


Anything, Nothing, or Something Well (a #FitchTheHomeless follow-up)

When I was a youth pastor, my students and I volunteered in some sort of ministry or community service capacity every month. We generally connected with local organizations, doing whatever they told us they needed: making chili, serving breakfast, hanging out, collecting toiletries, sorting clothes, washing cars, picking up trash, playing with kids. We didn't generally get as many students out for those events as laser tag or ice skating, but it was always meaningful connecting in the community and learning to step outside ourselves for a bit to love with our hands.

But there was at least one time that we didn't coordinate our serving through an agency, which I look back on and cringe. It was the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, back before that day was well organized. Our church was next door to several hospitals in Pittsburgh, and I thought, Wouldn't it be great to bring food to folks in waiting rooms?

It's not the worst idea in the world, right?

Well, it was and it wasn't. See, I never called ahead to find out if my Super Great Idea would be received in actuality as either super or great. Instead, I just showed up with a bunch of teenagers, juice boxes, waters, rice crispy treats, and a whole mess of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. That we made ourselves. And attempted to pass off to strangers. Who may or may not have been in fragile emotional states since their loved ones were in the hospital and all.

We couldn't get into Children's, because, hi, they don't actually allow random, un-cleared teenagers inside. Two other hospitals actually did allow us to traipse about willy nilly, but can you believe that folks were not especially amped to eat peanut butter sandwiches made offsite and unseen by middle school kids?

How could anyone have possibly foreseen that consequence???

We meant well. Our intent was to be helpful and kind, but good intentions alone will not suffice. It was an exercise in well-meaning-but-foolish naivete. We didn't hurt anyone (that I know of), but we didn't exactly provide a meaningful service, either.

Were our snacks appreciated? Perhaps. Was our presence appreciated in the midst of so much family stress and pain? Maybe not. What about those sandwiches? We made them because we were on a budget, but it was a waste of money and time if most of that bread, jelly, peanut butter hit the trash untouched (except by all of our hands, of course!).

I believe that #FitchTheHomeless is a similar example of the kind of ill-conceived helping that doesn't play out as well in practice as imagination. That doesn't make the filmmaker a bad person. My critique was of the idea, not the person who conceived it (or anyone who shared it).

Never in a million years would I argue that it's not worth doing anything when everything we could possibly attempt could potentially be picked apart and faulted. I never want to cause paralysis or convey that everyone might as well pick up their ball and go home, cuz some hater on the internet is sure you're doing it wrong.

I'm not here for pooping on parades or making anyone feel silly, and if it came across like that, I am sorry. I'm just a media nerd with a penchant for unpacking cultural messages and a desire to esteem people at the margins--but not at the expense of my readers or anyone else.

None of us gets it right all the time. Risk-taking means risking failure and opening ourselves up to critique. Love is messy and sometimes awkward, and answers come more often in shades of grey than black or white. We change our minds and disagree, make mistakes and learn love as we go.

#FitchTheHomeless worked as a bit of corporate sabotage, but it offered a lousy service model. They sought to make Abercrombie & Fitch look the fool, but it's damn near impossible to paint them as a brand for "douchebags" and "date rapists" and then have photos of Abercrombie-clad homeless people be seen in a positive light. #FitchTheHomeless doesn't work as both gotcha brand slander and meaningful altruism. When the service component functions as an ancillary to the smear campaign, the "charity" feels tacked-on and cheap rather than kind or worthwhile. Their campaign missed executing its greater good piece by casting marginalized people (possibly against their will) as symbolic pawns in their corporate take-down.

If Christian privileged people aren’t careful, their problem-solving heroics can easily dishonor the image of God in oppressed people. Most obviously, this occurs when privileged people bypass the crucial stage of “weep with those who weep” listening. This type of listening requires the privileged people to stand in paradigm-shifting, time-consuming and uncomfortable solidarity with oppressed people. Instead, they go straight to the “Let me solve your problem for you” type of non-listening. (Dr. Christena Cleveland)

Doing Something is generally a better strategy than, say, couch-sitting, but "something" isn't the same as "anything," so let's try to Do Something Well, shall we? Our grandiose ideas can take on a life of their own sometimes, and we need people on the ground helping us to see through our own blind spots if we are to truly be part of working together toward the kind of just, positive outcomes we desire.

So by all means, get involved. Let's commit to serving in ways that uphold one another's dignity and help us to learn. But let's ask first, listen well, and assume nothing. Don't be like me, the misguided youth pastor with her peanut butter sandwiches, trying to "help" people who might so much rather be left alone.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions and all that. A simple phone call to the hospital could have helped me to set up a project that supplied actual rather than imagined needs. All I had to do was ask, "How can we best serve patients' families or staff? Is there anything that you need that we could possibly help with?"

Meaning well isn't carte blanche to proceed however we choose or an exemption from critique, but let's never be so afraid to do it it "wrong" that we sit on our hands. Things worth doing well are worth doing poorly at first, but if we'll learn from our mistakes, we'll do better, this time not as Fixers, Savers, or Answer-Givers but kind hands, listening ears, fellow pilgrims, and friends.

After all, we belong to one another in love sincere. We need each other more than we have something to offer. Remembering that might just be the greater good that lights a better way.


help or harm? power, intent, & objectification #FitchTheHomeless

I tried not to click the link, the one about sticking it to the elitists at Abercrombie & Fitch by outfitting the homeless in their branded gear. It reeked of gimmick and exploitation, so I didn't watch. Until I did.

I'm not gonna link to it. It's findable. The premise is that Abercrombie is terrible (and they are) because they don't want anyone bigger than size ten in their clothes. #FitchtheHomeless' solution? Buy up thrifted Abercrombie stuff, and give it to the homeless! That'll show those sexier-than-thou tools at corporate!

(I'm breaking my first rule of Fight Club Twitter by acknowledging Twitter in this space, but it is what is is.)

Abercrombie & Fitch is intentionally branded for fit, white, middle class cool kids. Imagine a similar gotcha! campaign in which A&F clothes were given to bigger-bodied people, underprivileged black kids, or hurting, bullied students, and we were encouraged to photograph them to show their CEO what's what.

That would feel pretty gross, right?

A non-degrading zinger campaign could have outfitted the elderly in Abercrombie. A&F wants their brand to stay youthful, and recreating their hallmark sexy black and white poses with seniors on Hoverrounds would have made a similar point without the ancillary exploitation. Something like that would have been playful and even provocative, but since Grandma and Grandpa are not generally suffering marginalization or social ostracism, their appearing onscreen would have had a wholly different feel.

Changing the power dynamic changes everything.

I've been writing online for over five years. I occasionally poke sacred cows but have never gotten as much blowback as I did yesterday. It got a little out of control up in my mentions for several hours.

A lot of folks were adamant that meaning well is all that matters. If we succeed in pissing off Abercrombie's jerk CEO, and a few homeless folks got some wrong-sized pants in the bargain, what exactly is the problem?

Is it really? This kind of drive-by "charity" looks a lot like degradation to me, and I can think of a few things homeless people need more than an Abercrombie tee shirt shoved at them by a stranger with a video camera. Did they get permission to film? Did they even ask their sizes? I didn't see much human kindness in clips casting homeless men and women as little more than voiceless human props.

One of my critics told me, "Sounds like you don't want homeless to have nice things." I guess that depends: nice things like Abercrombie clothes or nice things like dignity, respect, need-based services, homes? There are ways of helping that honor the image of God in human beings, and #FitchTheHomeless isn't that.

You got me! I am an Abercrombie-wearing Queen Bee hot girl. I am in this to protect the brand.

Abercrombie is an ugly company. They sexualize young people, rely on cheap overseas labor, and are known for discriminatory hiring practices on top of every hateful thing their CEO said. But it's a false choice to suggest that we can either support Abercrombie or #FitchTheHomeless. There are a million ways to damn The Man that don't throw marginalized people under the bus.

Helping well starts with honoring people and upholding their dignity. Treating people as projects or points to be made is behavior every bit as objectifying and dehumanizing as the kind Abercrombie is known for. We can't oppose Abercrombie's body snark and bad ethics by turning homeless people into one-dimensional branded billboards for something we loathe. That's careless slacktivism, not altruism.

If you want to help the homeless, do it! Get involved with an on-the-ground agency like the L.I.V.I.N.G. Ministry on Pittsburgh's North Side. Find out what specific kinds of donations they need. (It might not be clothes.) Volunteer. Show up. Meet real people. Find out what housing insecurity looks like in your area. Learn.

I could say so much more about misguided top-down charity, magical intent, or humor that attempts to punch up by punching down, but I need to wrap this up. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


the space between


Failed joiner. A profile claimed that school shooters aren’t just loners but kids who tried–and failed–to fit in. Kids who desperately wanted to connect but couldn’t.

The phrase haunts me. Failed joiner. It’s the story of my adult life.


Making friends came easily as a kid in sprawling neighborhoods packed with children just my age. We rode bikes and played pretend, exploring the woods and our own imaginations. I committed everyone’s phone number to memory (and could probably conjure a few even now, decades later, although I can barely locate my own cell phone most days).

When the days grew long, I washed dishes at breakneck speed, spying kids already congregating through the glass above the suds. We’d run and hide, screaming “Bloody Murderrrrrr!” ’til dark encroached, promising to reconvene after dinner again tomorrow.

I moved a few times, starting over from scratch, but neighborhood life, free time, and a flurry of activities provided space and companions to bond with over cookie sales, lap lanes, choir rooms, and on the late bus home after play practice. Proximity, shared interests, and school projects meant always having a buddy to meet up with and someone to call on my Very Own Phone with its coiled cord and best friends all programmed on speed dial.

It’s trickier cultivating friendships as an adult, isn’t it? Babies and kids complicate the equation, but it was hard before that, too, like I graduated from college and my natural ability to connect with people my age. Cutting through the pleasantries dividing strangers from friends takes so much longer without the shared schedules and housing that once made it second nature.

Do we age out of being open to intimacy? Are we too tired to make the effort? Too narrowly focused? Did we forget along the way how to let each other in?


I joined the board of a local youth ministry. It wasn’t that long ago that I served as a youth pastor myself, but as he talks, I realize how much has changed in a few years.

“Pray that the students would know that a social life is something that happens in the world outside their bedroom.”

Getting kids to come to stuff is harder than it used to be, he says. They keep their options open, never committing; they’re averse to taking social risks.

Who’s there? (No one.)

Is it worth coming? (Nah. I’m out. Let’s find something better.)

Social media and smart phones promised to shorten the space between us, but I’m not sure how true that’s been in practice. It seems like it’s not just adults having trouble building community. Many of us are distracted, blearily accustomed to settling for substitutes, surface interactions, and playing it safe.

How do we find connection in an isolating age?


God knows I tried the joining route, lugging babies from group to group. I planned retreats and baked pastries for meetings and meals for new moms. I showed up and then some, hosting dinners and parties and play dates, but nothing really took. I am the failed joiner, heart breaking for lost, lonely boys playing video games in their basement and everyone longing for someone to reach back.

I suspect that there’s more of us than we realize. Digital connection bridges some divides while camouflaging–and widening–others. Is loneliness the ironic, invisible thread connecting so many?

I don’t know the answers, but I’ve reached the end of my rope more times than I can count. Most recently, folks were posting images of their Myers Briggs personalty types, and characteristics like Loyal, Compassionate, Caring stood out to me. What good friends they must be!

Here’s mine:

Is this my problem? Am I too in my head to function well in relationships? I sobbed to my poor husband for the second time in a month. So much has changed for the better this year; I hadn’t realized this wound was still so raw.

In my head, I know it’s not true. I don’t need to become someone else in order to make friends or be a good one. I can love just as well as an introvert and a thinker. But lies whisper loud sometimes, drowning out the still, small voice of Truth. I shut it down.

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace, Lord. Incline my ear to hear, my eyes to serve. Direct my steps, and as my heart grows faint, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

Failed joiner, know this: dark seasons may last years but not forever. Friendship is every bit as much about timing and chemistry as perseverance or personality. Group acceptance is overrated, but nothing beats breaking bread side by side and laughing ’til you (almost) pee.

Take heart, dear one. Slow your striving and draw near. Lift up your head: the sun of righteousness rises with healing in its wings.

Photo: hathu
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