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


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.


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.}


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, 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.


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.


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}


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 and One Faith Many Faces. Or find her at @NatalieAHart on Twitter.


do not go gentle into that good night

We celebrated his birthday wrapped in blankets on the porch, our breath hot and cheeks cool in the night. I told him about the stillness of that first dark morning, when we marveled at his bright gaze and impossibly thick baby thighs.

Four years later, he still leans in close for comfort. His hair is damp from the coughing, and I realize helpless new mama feelings fade but don't extinguish. When nights are dark and breathing labored, they haunt me still.

I hold him tighter, my lips against his cheek. His breath slows, and I listen for the grace of quiet as cars pass and the wind rustles the corn.


faith with scars {guest post Bethany Paget}

Both tender and fierce, Bethany is a woman with a story. She's been through hell and lived to love another day, and I'm honored she's sharing a part of of herself here. Find more of her writing at Truth Be Told.

It all changed so suddenly: one major medical test, a phone call, and a diagnosis that now shapes the rest of my life.

The last four months had been a nightmare. I came home from Africa the end of June to a forced
resignation from a job that had become my identity, constant sickness, and dramatic weight loss, which caused all sorts of accusations and whispers.

Yes, I was stressed. But something was not right with my body. I was dropping things, stumbling when I walked, and forgetting mid-sentence what I was talking about. The times I wasn’t able to identify common object were scary, but I had spent the better part of my life being told that things were “in my head,” so why should this have been any different?

Still, every time a test came back negative, it was a let down to hear "Everything looks good" when things were not good at all.

On October 1, 2012 I had the MRI. Then I put it aside and focused on my tasks at hand: moving, single parenting, attempting to home school, and waiting tables at night.


Waiting for my doctor to call was excruciating. I was pretty sure I was going to die and started planning my own funeral as I waited.

He diagnosed me with Chiari Malformation, meaning that my skull is too small, squishing my brain. Surgery is the only treatment, so four months later doctors opened the back of my head and removed a portion of my skull and the lining of my brain over the cerebellum, replacing it with the fascia from the muscle in my right thigh. The back of my C1 was shaved and several ligaments in my neck were removed.

It was brutal. It still is.


The ugly part of being sick was the band-aid type responses I received:

“God is going to do something BIG with this.”

“Just keep waiting, God will provide.”

My faith up to that point depended on what others said about God and living a good girl life. I thought God wanted me to have clean language and a toned down image and to be blessing others daily, thinking nothing of myself or my needs because those would be met by others. (I would come to see, even in sickness, they might not be.) Laying on verses and prayerful platitudes had been second nature, but now I wanted to reply, “Do you have a direct line to God and His plans for my life?”

I was involved in a Sunday School class of much older adults who were beautiful and gracious. They prayed, paid my rent, my bills, came with me to appointments. But I wanted, no, I needed people to be with me more. To sit with me in bed while I writhed in pain.

As the body of Christ I believe we are to bear each others' wounds. My favorite quote is from Frederich Buechner:

“What is friendship, when all’s said and done, but the giving and taking of wounds?”


The way I relate to people is different now. I want to know them, to hear their hearts and pain and let them know that that they are seen the way I never felt while sick. When I was sick, I was afraid no one would be there for me, so I want others to know that I will. No matter what: if it means lying in bed while they cry or washing them in the shower after surgery, I’m there.

I removed myself from the church for a time as I heal. There is loneliness. I sometimes wonder, though, if this is a season that God has brought me into, where it is just Him and me, sorting out the mess that surrounded the shattering of the girl I thought I was to find the girl I really am.

It took brain surgery to discover what needed to shatter


I have no idea why my life took this turn, but it did. I had to wrestle it out with Him, and the place I came to was this: I needed to stop relying on what other people said about God and find Him for myself. The platitudes people spoke over me had to be wiped from my understanding of what it means to follow Christ through sickness.

I’ve had several intimate moments with God since where He showed me in the most unconventional ways that faith was always about letting go of other people's ideas to experience God on my own.

I live in this body that still hurts daily, but it is also overflowing with the very spirit of God. I wrestle with God, and I question a lot. When I am in the most pain I scream out, “Why?" and pray for the pain to lessen like I was taught, but it usually doesn’t.

I have two scars that remind me of the battle. Then I pull from that war cry in my spirit and remember that no warrior comes out of battle unscathed.

I am a believer with a chronic illness who takes pain medication daily. There are the physical aspects I cannot get away from, yet I know God is with me--at physical therapies, speech therapy, waiting for neurology consult--whispering in my ear, “I am still here. Baby girl I never left. I was the one who washed you in the shower. I was the one who sat with you in bed when you writhed in pain.”

I do not believe much of what I did before. I still believe in the resurrection, the cross, and Jesus as God in the flesh, but I had to gently leave behind my old desire to please God though doing, quoting, and trying.

What I found was something beautiful. I found Bethany. The Jesus centered Bethany.

She is exactly who I needed to find.

Bethany Paget seeks to flesh out the truth, bringing Christ’s love to those she meets, her own heart, and her seven-year-old daughter. She seeks to use her new found voice and bravery in powerful, gracious ways. Her God-given passion for writing and creating show her that healing comes in all forms. She writes about life, faith, messy things, healing, and wearing cardigans and scarves while drinking Earl Grey tea over at


from my head to my hands {guest post Heather Caliri}

The world needs more of the sort of quiet wisdom and practical kindness Heather shares with us here and on her blog, A Little Yes: Baby Steps to Big Adventures in Faith, Art, and Life. Pull up a chair. I'll pour the tea, and let's listen in together, shall we?

When my kids are angry at me, I have a religious experience

When they are angry with me, my children rage, wild-eyed. Or they are cold, whispering “Bad Mama, bad Mama,” their lips curling in a smile. Or they destroy something and drop it at my feet, in shards or shreds.

Jesus says to bless those who hate you. When my kids are angry, I wonder at Martin Luther King Jr. facing fire hoses, because when my sweet children are angry--my own flesh and blood--Lord forgive me, I have a hard time turning the other cheek.

I am no saint. No, indeed. I have whispered or yelled words I wish I could take back. I have lost control. I have not modeled the behavior I wished to see, and worse, I have said, figuratively, “raca” to my child, in more ways than I wish to remember.

Parenting isn’t the only time my anger has controlled me.

I remember ripping the towel bar out of the wall of my bathroom in frustration over a set of pre-calc problems. I still have the junior high yearbooks where I defaced faces of people who were unkind to me. In the same yearbooks, I defaced the pictures of people I was unkind to. Perhaps I was trying deface all the unkindness, but instead I just made everyone ugly.

I look more like a librarian than someone who struggles with anger, but when my children are angry, ugly angry at me, I can feel myself turning ugly as well, as though a nauseatingly hot wave is rising over the flood plain of my heart.

Here’s what I have discovered about parenting: that moment of ugliness is the time to work out my faith in fear and trembling. Instead of letting the anger rise up into my throat, I can breathe and choose differently.

And when I calm my voice and my hands, when I respond kindly even when my children are out of control, I see my heart change.

In other words, it gets easier.

Somehow, I am still shocked by this: that choosing to follow Jesus’ words in the most mundane of ways, while my children are in a tantrum, will bear fruit that feeds me throughout the day. The choice brings sweetness I can taste any time I am faced by my old, ugly emotions.

Because in the moment of choosing love instead of ugliness, I start seeing differently.

I see the frustration and hurt underneath my children’s actions. Little by little, I forgive them for being little, for being out of control, for responding to their emotions in the same way I am tempted to do.

And under my anger, I see my own desire to be respected and connected to my kids. I sense my own fear when they are out of control.

I see how much we need each other’s kindness, every moment. And finally, I see that the real change comes not in what I know about anger, or parenting, or myself.

No, change comes from choosing.

Faithfulness is not so much about intellectual assent to certain principles: “Blessed are the meek”, or “I will parent positively”, but a moment-by-moment obedience.

The intellectual work matters, sure: the parenting classes, books or Bible study. But when I am there in the room with my anger and my children, I must do more than just believe good ideas.

No, I must seize that moment to bless instead of curse. I must move my faith from my head to my hands. I must kneel down on the hard floor and hold out my arms, ready to be openhearted, whole, and unafraid.

Heather Caliri is a writer and mom from San Diego. Two years ago, she started saying little yeses to faith, art, and life. The results were life-changing. Get her free e-book, Dancing Back to Jesus: Post-pefectionist Faith in Five Easy Verbs on her blog, A Little Yes.


fasting, my iPhone, and prayer {guest post Morgan Guyton}

Somehow Morgan sums up most everything I learned in centering prayer and meditation from a completely different angle, which is so fascinating to me. Plus, he's a really smart guy, and I'm pleased to share his words here with you.

I fast on Mondays. It's my day off from being a pastor. When it's really hot, really cold, or rainy, I drive into Washington D.C. and spend the day at the Catholic basilica, the huge cathedral with about two dozen statues of Mary and one giant angry Jesus in the front. When the weather is nice, I like to be outside so I walk around a nearby lake or visit a waterfall I recently discovered on a creek that runs into the Potomac River.

I started fasting because I'm a radically undisciplined person and I thought it would help me to "conquer the flesh." I eat whenever I feel the slightest hunger pangs. I drink more wine than I should when I'm at social gatherings where I feel awkward. I have never accomplished more than three or four items on my to-do list on a given workday, largely because I've got ADD out the wazoo. Sometimes I try to rationalize my ADD by saying that I do whatever the Spirit leads me to do. Being a writer, I feel compelled to write whenever I'm "inspired," which means that my responsibilities are constantly getting pushed aside.

In any case, my fasting hasn't seemed to do a damn thing for my discipline, even on Mondays. This is partly because I always have my iPhone with me, and when I have my iPhone, inevitably I look at Facebook and get sucked into the latest blogosphere drama even sitting in a sacred room like the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament at the basilica (isn't that disgusting?!). It's been a sort of internal debate with me. How can I carry technology around with me on my day of prayer? Well, it has my lectionary app. And my Hebrew Bible. About two years ago, I started praying in Hebrew. And for some reason, that's become my most meaningful spiritual practice.

I learned Hebrew in seminary, but I started praying in Hebrew after I gave myself a challenge. I wanted to blog my way through the longest, boring-est psalm in the Bible, Psalm 119, because I'd read Christians like Charles Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards claim that it was amazingly beautiful and profound and so forth, and I wanted to see if they were just being pious and full of crap. So two autumns ago, I would read a different 8 verse section of Psalm 119 each Monday and then walk around the lake to chew on it. And much to my surprise, it was actually beautiful and profound when I started to look at the Hebrew text for verses that stood out to me.

The example that stands out the most is Psalm 119:113, which says seaphim saneti, v'torecha ahavti in Hebrew. Most English translations make the word seaphim into "double-minded": "I hate the double-minded but I love your law." But when I looked in my little iPhone Hebrew lexicon, I discovered that seaphim refers to "dividing" because a seaph is a branch. And that caused me to visualize in my head the periodic table of elements and every other chart of categories I'd had to memorize in science class, which made me think of the division of truth into binary either-ors that is the hallmark of modernity.

These four Hebrew words stated nothing less than the epistemological curse of human existence that had bedeviled Heidegger. Torah is truth in its seamless purity, while seaphim is the perpetual inadequacy of our interpretation: "I hate opinions/ideologies/categories/interpretations, but I love your law (in its mysterious, unconquerable transcendence)." My mind was completely blown. And I started to say these words to myself as I walked around the lake. Seaphim saneti, v'torecha ahavti. It became a prayer. And over the last two years, I've wandered through the psalms, looking up other short Hebrew phrases that have become my prayers also.

There's elohim hashivanu vahaer panecha vanivashea ("God, restore us, make your face shine, and we will be saved," Psalm 80:7). I was saying this on my trail by the lake a few weeks ago, and when I reached a clearing, the sun broke through the clouds, and I about fell over. Another is hatot nouri ufshai al tizkor, kahasdacha zakar li atah lemayan tuvacha adonai ("Remember me not according to the sins of my youth and my transgressions, but remember me according to your mercy and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord," Psalm 25:7). That one has become a prayer not just for God's forgiveness, but for God to re-member me and help me forget the habits and addictions that I think I can't escape.

Somehow praying short phrases in another language does something different to my body than talking to God in English. Because I have to memorize the phrases, I'm not thinking about what I'm going to say as I say it. I'm noticing my breath, my footsteps, my hunger. My mind often wanders, and I'll start thinking about things that are completely unrelated that sabotage my prayer. But sometimes, particularly when I'm tired from walking and a little bit hungry from fasting, my mind empties, and I'm simply in the moment with God. For a neurotic, perpetually scatter-brained person like me, there's nothing more wonderful than those moments.

So I pray in Hebrew. And that's why I carry my iPhone with me even on my Sabbath day when I should be fasting from technology. To learn new Hebrew phrases for my prayers as they come up in the lectionary psalms. I know I'm weird. I also pray in Greek. When your mind is a constant train-wreck of words, I guess it works better to talk to God in languages that you don't really know.

Morgan Guyton is the associate pastor of Burke United Methodist Church in BurkeVirginia. His wife Cheryl is also pursuing ordination as a United Methodist minister. They have two sons, Matthew (7) and Isaiah (4). Morgan enjoys growing really hot peppers in his garden and canning homemade salsa. Morgan wrestles with many topics on his blog "Mercy Not Sacrifice," such as how to live out his Christian anarchist values in the suburgatory of Northern Virginia.


in the half-light of our love

One of my favorite songwriters is Bill Deasy, party because his work reveals a sort of incarnational bent toward life and love. He is (was?) Catholic, and I suspect that Catholicism has something to teach the rest of us about how faith is embodied.

In vain I tried to find a video to share with you of one of my favorite songs of his. There are clips here and here, but you should probably just go ahead pick up his whole catalog. (And his fiction while you're at it.)

So no melody for you. Pretend it's a poem. Which, of course, it is.


8 years old and running with a pounding in my chest
Hard to say how often, almost every day I guess
Me and little Nancy from across the neighborhood
Taking all our clothes of in a clearing in the woods
Until one day the sun broke through the trees
And suddenly I saw that we were

Naked - dancing near the devil's flame
Naked - I ran home carrying my shame
All great big and heavy 
16 years later I was 24
I would awaken to the slamming of an unfamiliar door
I'd take in my surroundings by nothing'd ring a bell
Oh it was really kind of boring, my little sideshow hell
Steam covered mirrors did not lie
And suddenly I saw that I was 
Naked - pencil thin and paper dry
Naked - I didn't leave a note goodbye 
Time takes time
Change goes slow
Love comes hard
To folks I know 
Now here I'm standing, got this baggage at my feet
Yeah it's the usual assortment of forgetful memories
Ain't it funny how you saw it all and didn't run away?
Yeah it's funny how in showing you I knew I was okay
Here in the half-light of our love
Your body fits me like a glove 
Naked - what you see is who I am
Naked - I finally found the strength to stand
Naked - who we are is all I am yeah
Naked - I finally found the guts to stand here naked
{Bill Deasy, from Chasing Down a Spark}


an act of faith in time itself

I have spent a lifetime learning to believe in things that can never burn down. I can invest my heart's desire and the work of my hands in things that will outlive me. Although it grieves me that houses are burning, I have fallen in love with a river that runs through a desert, a rain forest at the edge of night, the right of a species to persist in its own wild place, and the words I might assemble to tell their stories. I've fallen in love with freedom regardless, and the entitlement of a woman to get a move on, equipped with boots that fit and opinions that might matter. The treasures I carry closest to my heart are things I can't own: the curve of a five-year-old's forehead in profile, and the vulnerable expectation in the hand that reaches for mine as we cross the street... 
I can clear the brush from a neglected part of the garden, working slowly until it comes to me that here is one small place I can make right for my family. I can plant something as an act of faith in itself, a vow that we will, sure enough, have a fall and a winter this year, to be followed again by spring. This is not an end in itself, but a beginning...Small change, small wonders--these are the currency of my endurance and ultimately of my life. It's a workable economy. 
{Barbara Kingsolver, Small Wonder}


embodied {guest post Seth Haines}

In a world of steel-eyed death and men who are fighting to be warm, Seth Haines' writing is a shelter from the storm. I'm grateful to host his words here today.


We move first through the rail thin hope of light,
potential coming through the needle’s eye
and into the growing, breaking, blinding dawn
of the first day.
From water to air, pushed or pulled
I do not know which, we come
to the great magnet that is this living,
this undulating of ocean tides
and carnal impulse.


We learn to climb, breathless,
to roll down sand dunes
and into the shell beds
at the bottoms of every hill
just there, at the foot of the ocean.
If we are still, we feel the pull into sand,
the calling of dust to dust, tide to tide.
Overhead, the gulls fly against the trade winds
in a V. Cutting against the invisible,
do they look down and envy
our oneness with dust?


Elders, we keep watch for the narrowing,
closing golden gate. Dusk thinning,
the light becomes again rail-thin
or invisible, and the gentle call
brings us to the best memories of sand dunes
and shell beds, the switch grass that stands
at the edges of the tides.
Here the gulls fly north again for the last winter.
Here, sweet envy turns the eye upward
to longing for oneness with the eternal sky.
There is again the pushing and pulling of tides
as ears press finally against the fighting conch
that was the best of life.

Seth Haines is a working stiff from the Ozark mountains. He and his wife Amber Haines have four boys and a dog named Lucy. Seth enjoys good sentences, good music, good food, good fly fishing, and a good book every now and then. You can find him on a regular basis at

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