descending theology: the crucifixion.

“Descending Theology: The Crucifixion” by Mary Karr

To be crucified is first to lie down
on a shaved tree, and then to have oafs stretch you out
on a crossbar as if for flight, then thick spikes
fix you into place.

Once the cross pops up and the pole stob
sinks vertically in an earth hole perhaps
at an awkward list, what then can you blame for hurt
but your own self’s burden?

You’re not the figurehead on a ship. You’re not
flying anywhere, and no one’s coming to hug you.
You hang like that, a sack of flesh with the hard
trinity of nails holding you into place.

Thus hung, your ribcage struggles up
to breathe until you suffocate, give up the ghost.
If God permits this, one wonders how
this twirling earth

manages to navigate the gravities and star tugs.
Or if some less than loving watcher
watches us scuttle across the boneyard greens
under which worms

seethe and the front jaws of beetles
eventually clasp toward the flesh of every beloved.
The man on the cross under massed thunderheads feels
his soul leak away,

then surge. Some windy authority lures him higher
till an unseen tear in the sky’s membrane is rent,
and he’s streaming light, snatched back, drawn close,
so all loneliness ends.

what the living do.

“What the Living Do” by Marie Howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

the journey.

“The Journey” by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.

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When I was pregnant with Atticus, I dutifully took a breastfeeding class but I refused to take a birthing class. Refused. Did not check out any books about childbirth. Did not look things up on the internet. I went into the hospital with contractions (that I thought were fake) and had done zero research. I was terrified about the whole experience, so I justified my lack of information by assuming that my body would take over for me and also the midwife would be there and so everything would be fine and women have been doing this for millions of years. It sounds crazy now but at the time I couldn’t deal with having to take in all the information and opinions.

I approached the half marathon in much the same way. I figured out my running plan and then got very small amounts of advice from trusted friends, but I did not do any research or buy any gear. It felt too overwhelming. There are so many things to know and way too many things to buy. I just wanted to run, not support the entire industry with the water bottles and the sunglasses and the gels. I guess I was hoping that my body would just do what I trained it to do.

You would think that I would be a person who would research to the max but apparently I am not. World’s worst librarian? It’s possible. Luckily, both times my body did just fine. An epidural would have been nice for the half marathon, though, now that you mention it.

After the race I realized how much I had responded to both of those situations from a place of fear. During pregnancy, I was afraid of motherhood and how my life was going to change. Before the race, I was afraid of failing and also afraid of the super fit people who would be running with me. I thought I would be the slowest pudgiest person in attendance. And the shortest. And that everyone would laugh at me. (I get really anxious around anything that seems like gym class.) So I did my running but didn’t open myself to the experience more than that.

What was beautiful to me about the race was that none of that mattered. It goes without saying that everyone in my section (aka the slow people) was nice and encouraging and some of them were pudgy, too. The people holding signs along the route did not jeer at me for having to walk up the hills. No one rolled their eyes at me for not having the right gear. Instead the people along the way generously offered their time and themselves as they cheered us on. One lady even offered free bloody marys. (Which seemed gross to me but was kind of her just the same.) I was too nervous to open myself to the experience, but the day opened itself to me just the same. I shared smiles and laughs and frustrations with strangers and friends, and I gratefully accepted the community around me because I needed them and was too hot and tired to let my brain object.

I shouldn’t be surprised by these kindnesses but I am, again and again. Instead of a clenched fist, there is the open hand of grace offering encouragement. On Sunday it looked like silly signs and sounded like cowbells and tasted like cold water in the hot sun. I am grateful for these small gifts that help pull me out of the dark hidden places of fear and into the light, offering hope for the journey ahead.

hope is the thing with feathers (meditations on emily dickinson for holy week).

This is a poem where people know the first line but not the whole thing. Be sure to read to the end.

hope is the thing with feathers by sylvaf

“Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

I recently encountered a Christianese discussion about the hope we have in Christ. I know it’s partly just me but when people say things like, “Our inheritance in Christ is total freedom,” I think, “But what does that mean?” This very nice lady was adamant that because we are a new creation in Christ, we (as individuals and as the communal church) should look different than the world, and she proclaimed that she doesn’t have an addiction problem and doesn’t struggle with depression because she believes she can be whole and healed by confessing her sin and believing the truth.

It sounded to me like she was saying that Real Christians™ should look different from the world and shouldn’t struggle with fear and anxiety and depression.

This is not what hope means to me. I feel comfortable saying that I struggle with anxiety and depression. I am a school librarian, I am a speed reader, I am a mother, I am a wife, I am a terrible housekeeper. I struggle with anxiety and depression. I am a follower of Christ. None of those things is at odds with the others, and to say that Christians are to look different is to encourage people to hide in shame. That message twists a beautiful true gift from God and turns it into a behavior checklist. If we are thankful enough . . . if we believe hard enough . . . if we pull ourselves away from the world’s influences . . . then we will be free.

Holy Week seems like a good time to talk about hope. I believe that radical transformation and healing are possible, but my trust is not in those things. There is no certainty that we will be healed, not from depression, not from anxiety, not from cancer. My hope is simply that I do not walk alone. The Spirit of God lives in me and a community of believers surrounds me. I have family and friends and the brain God gave me to help me make good choices. Modern medicine is not so bad, either.

There’s no catch. No requirement. No cost. It’s given freely. Not in the passive-aggressive Jesus died for you so you better live in a way that justifies his death kind of way. Instead, you can carry his message of hope and justice into the world and be an agent of change. The message of Jesus did not die on Good Friday, and it continues to be resurrected in people around the world even today. You can be swept up in this radical hope, this reckless grace, this relentless love even in the face of addiction and illness and pain and fear.

May we never offer conditionally what God has given to us for free. Hope: it springs up like a flower after the winter, it spreads like the sun across a field, it sounds (with thanks to Miss Emily Dickinson) like birdsong after a storm.


Photo credit: sylvaf found on Flickr under the Creative Commons license.

mission accomplished.

Hey, how are you? I’m good, thanks for asking. Well, yeah, I am a little sore because I ran a half marathon today.

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I would like to dedicate this running to Mike, who made it possible for me to do so much training, and to Beyonce, who gives me wings.

Here are some words from Uncle Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” to celebrate today:

I am an acme of things accomplish’d, and I an encloser of things to be.

My feet strike an apex of the apices of the stairs,
On every step bunches of ages, and larger bunches between the steps,
All below duly travel’d, and still I mount and mount.

(half) marathon.

“Marathon” by E. Ethelbert Miller

it’s a strange time which finds me jogging
in early morning
the deadness of sleep alive in this world
the empty parks filled with unloved strangers
buildings grey with solitude
now near the end of another decade
i am witness to the loss of my twenties
a promise invisible
i run without purpose
far from the north star
i run with the sound of barking dogs closing in
i have lost count of the miles
i am older and nothing much matters
or has changed

(My half marathon is tomorrow. Wish me luck! I am really nervous.)

chekhov’s gun by matt rasmussen.

“Chekhov’s Gun” by Matt Rasmussen

Nothing ever absolutely has to happen. The gun
doesn’t have to be fired. When our hero sits

on the edge of his bed contemplating the pistol
on his nightstand, you have to believe he might

not use it. Then the theatre is sunk in blackness.
The audience is a log waiting to be split open. The faint

scuff of feet. Objects are picked up, shuffled away.
Other things are put down. Based on the hushed sounds

you guess: a bed, some walls, a dresser. You feel
everything shift. You sense yourself being picked up,

set down. A cone of light cracks overhead. The audience’s
eyes flicker toward you like droplets of water.

a toast by ilya kaminsky.

“A Toast” by Ilya Kaminsky

To your voice, a mysterious virtue,
to the 53 bones of one foot, the four dimensions of breathing,

to pine, redwood, sworn-fern, peppermint,
to hyacinth and bluebell lily,

to the train conductor’s donkey on a rope,
to smells of lemons, a boy pissing splendidly against the trees.

Bless each thing on earth until it sickens,
until each ungovernable heart admits: “I confused myself

and yet I loved—and what I loved
I forgot, what I forgot brought glory to my travels,

to you I traveled as close as I dared, Lord.”

unholy sonnet 11 by mark jarman

“Unholy Sonnet 11″ by Mark Jarman

Half asleep in prayer I said the right thing
And felt a sudden pleasure come into
The room or my own body. In the dark,
Charged with a change of atmosphere, at first
I couldn’t tell my body from the room.
And I was wide awake, full of this feeling,
Alert as though I’d heard a doorknob twist,
A drawer pulled, and instead of terror knew
The intrusion of an overwhelming joy.
I had said thanks and this was the response.
But how I said it or what I said it for
I still cannot recall and I have tried
All sorts of ways all hours of the night.
Once was enough to be dissatisfied.

muffin of sunsets by elaine equi

“Muffin of Sunsets” by Elaine Equi

The sky is melting. Me too.
Who hasn’t seen it this way?

Pink between the castlework
of buildings.

Pensive syrup
drizzled over clouds.

It is almost catastrophic how heavenly.

A million poets, at least,
have stood in this very spot,
groceries in hand, wondering:

“Can I witness the Rapture
and still make it home in time for dinner?”

a letter to atticus about world vision.

When there are difficult things to talk about, I find that it’s easier if I think about what I would want to say to Atticus. So I’m breaking out the old-school letter to clarify a few things for myself. This is my attempt to explain why things have been a little quiet here the past couple of weeks.

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Dear Atticus,

Yesterday we were at the NC Literary Festival and we heard Jay Bakker speak. You wanted to keep playing with Legos, but I put my foot down and insisted that it was my turn to pick something to do. So we went to see Jay Bakker. One day your dad will tell you about his family’s history with the Bakkers, but for now all you need to know is that Daddy and I take great comfort in seeing Jay doing so well.

There were a couple of points where I thought maybe it was some questionable parenting on my part, because they were talking about sexuality and h-e-double hockey sticks but you were busy drawing on yourself and the chair (sorry to the NCSU library) so you didn’t seem to notice.

I knew from the Q&A at the end that these were my people, especially when the lady behind me asked about World Vision. Quick recap: Christianity Today published an article about a change in World Vision’s hiring policy, allowing married gay and lesbian people to work for them. People got mad. Sponsorships got pulled. World Vision changed their policy back. The rest of us got mad. Now everyone is mad. Glory, hallelujah.

There is a certain segment of the world that knows about these sorts of things and takes them seriously. Maybe too seriously. Blog posts were written, lines were drawn, labels were rejected. But I confess that I had a certain amount of ambivalence to the whole thing. I was happy (and a little bit surprised) to see the policy change and disappointed (but unsurprised) to see it change back. I was disappointed (but unsurprised) to hear that people were pulling their sponsorships. It seems like the thing that Christianity is known for these days, this expression of faith through dollars and cents. Your dad and I met in a Christian bookstore. We know how that industry works.

We as a family didn’t respond financially to World Vision. We were going to, and then they changed their policy back and honestly I was kind of mad about it. I understand that they had to protect the communities where they work. I think they were probably right to do what they had to do to stop bleeding dollars. I meant it when I said that I believe that giving should be an important part of our lives. We’re not going to bail on our young man from Compassion just because the organization is more conservative than we are these days. But if I am going to start giving money to an organization, I want our dollars to go places that make sense for us as a family, and for us that includes hiring LGBT employees.

Last week, the news came out that 10,000 sponsorships had been dropped after World Vision changed their policy but before they changed it back. I think that the way that Christianity is so tied up with money is kind of sickening. I think it is worth saying that when I read the words of and about Jesus in the Bible, I don’t see a lot of justification for people who are wealthy by the standards of the world to pull support from the least of these. I hope we are teaching you that.

A coworker came in to the library right after I found out the news, and immediately asked if I was okay. I am sure I looked pale and teary, because that was how I felt. Also I thought I might throw up. That’s a lot of kids without sponsorships, and whether you think it was based in hatred for gay people or standing up for the gospel it seems like a pretty sad thing. I tried to briefly explain the whole thing to my coworker but she hadn’t even heard about the first round, let alone which ever round we were on at that point. That was a shock to me, that this nice Christian lady hadn’t even heard about this thing that we had spent so much emotional time and space on.

Oh, Atticus. I wish I lived in the segment of the world that doesn’t know about the Christian issue du jour. After I heard that number, 10,000 kids who lost sponsors, I had a fleeting thought that I didn’t want to be part of the church anymore. I just wanted to go somewhere far away from this whole mess. The truth is that I probably need to take a step back from online Christianity, especially its more conservative voices. That there are good and faithful people who still don’t know about World Vision’s policy change is a beautiful thing as far as I am concerned.

(And since we are being completely honest here, there’s probably a part of me that wishes I didn’t know about it so I didn’t have to help.)

Shortly after Jay Bakker talked about World Vision yesterday, you got your leg pinched in the seat and I had to take you out screaming. After we ascertained that your leg was not going to fall off (which you really seemed to fear), I tried to apologize to people as they left for interrupting the program. So many of them, strangers to me, were as kind as they could be. He was so good, they said. I am glad he’s okay.

To be a faithful follower of Jesus is to play the long game. We keep the big picture ideas of love and neighbor in our hearts and reject the theology of righteous indignation as much as we can. This is the church I want you to experience, Atticus. People rooting for the son of a disgraced televangelist. Kindness and generosity to a tired woman and her loud son (sorry, but you are pretty loud). Pursuing thoughtful and patient responses rather than burning up and burning out. And I’m pretty sure it can also mean donating to an organization even when you don’t agree with all of their policies because you are worried about the kids. While I was writing this, I realized that was the example I would want to set for you, so thank you, as always, for being my clarity. I designated our money to help women and girls as needed.

Here is my promise to you: I am going to be less rubbernecky about things on the internet, to take you to the park instead of reading comments that make my blood pressure rise. I am going to click unsubscribe and be okay with being left out. I am going to look for ways to be faithful with my time and my money that don’t involve knowing all the issues and seeing the dirty laundry. I want to play the long game, and I would rather play it with you and your dad than anyone else in the whole world.

Love,
Mama

Side note: The message about World Vision’s numbers was (as far as I have seen) put out through several bloggers. I personally have a few questions about the numbers that I have not seen answered, like: how many of those were big organizations (such as churches) dropping groups of sponsorships, and how many new sponsorships were picked up during that time period. So I acknowledge that that number may not tell the whole story, and it feels a little bit manipulative to me. But I also think that dropping so many sponsorships like that was a really crummy thing to do. I love what Zack Hunt says here about 10,000 chances for redemption, though without a little bit clearer sense of the numbers, I am not personally going to endorse a donation for other people. If you feel compelled to help make up the difference, he has a link on his page.

a poem and a book for the end of the world.

“The Mystery of Meteors” by Eleanor Lerman

I am out before dawn, marching a small dog through a meager park
Boulevards angle away, newspapers fly around like blind white birds
Two days in a row I have not seen the meteors
though the radio news says they are overhead
Leonid’s brimstones are barred by clouds; I cannot read
the signs in heaven, I cannot see night rendered into fire

And yet I do believe a net of glitter is above me
You would not think I still knew these things:
I get on the train, I buy the food, I sweep, discuss,
consider gloves or boots, and in the summer,
open windows, find beads to string with pearls
You would not think that I had survived
anything but the life you see me living now

In the darkness, the dog stops and sniffs the air
She has been alone, she has known danger,
and so now she watches for it always
and I agree, with the conviction of my mistakes.
But in the second part of my life, slowly, slowly,
I begin to counsel bravery. Slowly, slowly,
I begin to feel the planets turning, and I am turning
toward the crackling shower of their sparks

These are the mysteries I could not approach when I was younger:
the boulevards, the meteors, the deep desires that split the sky
Walking down the paths of the cold park
I remember myself, the one who can wait out anything
So I caution the dog to go silently, to bear with me
the burden of knowing what spins on and on above our heads

For this is our reward:Come Armageddon, come fire or flood,
come love, not love, millennia of portents–
there is a future in which the dog and I are laughing
Born into it, the mystery, I know we will be saved

girl at the end of the worldMy family was not big into the idea of the Rapture or Armageddon or any of those things that Christians were kind of obsessed with in the 80s and 90s. My husband’s family stocked up on supplies and even added a wood stove for Y2K, but I guess we were just going to wing it in the face of possible disaster.

Elizabeth Esther’s family, though, was Rapture-ready. They had code words and meeting places arranged in case the book of Revelation came to life. (Since I did not grow up in a Rapture-obsessed family, I was not totally sure why they thought any of them would be left behind. Wouldn’t they have been taken up with all the true believers?) I have noticed that the more concerned you are about things like the Rapture or the afterlife, the less concern you show for the people in your very real life in front of you. Everything becomes about achieving perfection and obedience, and there tend to be abusive behaviors that ensure compliance. This is the environment that Elizabeth Esther was raised in, a fundamentalist church/cult called The Assembly that was controlled by her grandparents. She tells the story of her childhood and her break from that way of life in her new book Girl at the End of the World.

I have read Elizabeth Esther’s blog but it is hard for me to visit it on a regular basis. She (understandably, given her childhood) cycles through high and low periods that are painful to watch. I was nervous that the book would be the same way, but it is actually very different. It goes much more into her background growing up in The Assembly. Her voice is clear and relatable, the story is compelling, and it’s paced steadily and evenly. She has obviously done a ton of work to be able to tell the story in this way, both emotionally and in her writing. As she found the Catholic Church, the story felt more rushed and less reflected upon, so as nice as it was to feel a certain sense of closure on some of her family’s issues, the ending did not resonate with me like the rest of the book. Faith is a constant journey, so it must be hard to know where to end a story like this. I wish the story told in this book had ended a little earlier. Recommended for: people who like reading about fundamentalist groups, people who like spiritual memoirs.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher but my opinions are my own.

on the back porch (a poem every north carolinian should read).

Atticus and I went to the NC Literary Festival today.

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Mostly the boys played with trucks.

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And Legos.

But we did go to a couple of sessions. In honor of the festival, let me point you in the direction of this article in Our State about 10 poems every North Carolinian should read (preferably out loud). Here’s one for your Sunday reading pleasure.

“On the Back Porch” by Dorianne Laux

The cat calls for her dinner.
On the porch I bend and pour
brown soy stars into her bowl,
stroke her dark fur.
It’s not quite night.
Pinpricks of light in the eastern sky.
Above my neighbor’s roof, a transparent
moon, a pink rag of cloud.
Inside my house are those who love me.
My daughter dusts biscuit dough.
And there’s a man who will lift my hair
in his hands, brush it
until it throws sparks.
Everything is just as I’ve left it.
Dinner simmers on the stove.
Glass bowls wait to be filled
with gold broth. Sprigs of parsley
on the cutting board.
I want to smell this rich soup, the air
around me going dark, as stars press
their simple shapes into the sky.
I want to stay on the back porch
while the world tilts
toward sleep, until what I love
misses me, and calls me in.

Atticus slept in the car on the way there and on the way home. Literature will wear a fellow out.

old men playing basketball (a poem for the final four).

“Old Men Playing Basketball” by B. H. Fairchild

The heavy bodies lunge, the broken language
of fake and drive, glamorous jump shot
slowed to a stutter. Their gestures, in love
again with the pure geometry of curves,

rise toward the ball, falter, and fall away.
On the boards their hands and fingertips
tremble in tense little prayers of reach
and balance. Then, the grind of bone

and socket, the caught breath, the sigh,
the grunt of the body laboring to give
birth to itself. In their toiling and grand
sweeps, I wonder, do they still make love

to their wives, kissing the undersides
of their wrists, dancing the old soft-shoe
of desire? And on the long walk home
from the VFW, do they still sing

to the drunken moon? Stands full, clock
moving, the one in army fatigues
and houseshoes says to himself, pick and roll,
and the phrase sounds musical as ever,

radio crooning songs of love after the game,
the girl leaning back in the Chevy’s front seat
as her raven hair flames in the shuddering
light of the outdoor movie, and now he drives,

gliding toward the net. A glass wand
of autumn light breaks over the backboard.
Boys rise up in old men, wings begin to sprout
at their backs. The ball turns in the darkening air.

into something good

“blessing the boats” by Lucille Clifton

(at St. Mary’s)
may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

I started watching The Fosters on Netflix and if you like teen ABC Family dramas then I insist you start immediately. It is lovely and sweet.

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

This book tells the story of what went down at Memorial Hospital during and after Hurricane Katrina, specifically focused on the accusations of euthanizing patients and the trial that followed. I don’t see how anyone could say that Fink is unbiased, because she clearly believes that Dr. Pou did inject patients with drugs intending to kill them. And you know what, Fink convinced me. I doubt we will ever know for sure what happened, but she makes a compelling case that there was intent to kill and that public opinion was just not willing to convict a doctor who worked during Katrina. The flaw for me was that Fink had put together the book in such a way that it is incomprehensible that Dr. Pou would not be held accountable for what she did, so when Dr. Pou was allowed to go free, I wondered what information might be missing. I tried to do some reading about the other side but the main site that is offered as a rebuttal to the book reads like the ramblings of a conspiracy theory nut. Dr. Pou has not done a lot of interviews or put out much information (Fink implies this is because of her guilt).

I should also say that this book made it clear that I would never survive an apocalypse. The situation in the hospital was beyond horrible and there is no doubt that the people in the hospital were not supported like they should have been. I think everyone in America needs to read more about Katrina and its devastating effects. It has been too easy for those of us who weren’t there to move on.

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A little Simon and Garfunkel to send you into the weekend.

scandal by lola ridge (because thursdays are for scandal).

“Scandal” by Lola Ridge

Aren’t there bigger things to talk about
Than a window in Greenwich Village
And hyacinths sprouting
Like little puce poems out of a sick soul?
Some cosmic hearsay—
As to whom—it can’t be Mars! put the moon—that way….
Or what winds do to canyons
Under the tall stars…
Or even
How that old roué, Neptune,
Cranes over his bald-head moons
At the twinkling heel of a sky-scraper.

living with questions (a review of living the questions by david felten and jeff procter-murphy).

In my early 20s, I reveled in books and songs about the questions of faith. One book in particular that I loved was called Living the Questions by Carolyn Arends. (I was a hard-core Carolyn Arends fan, you guys. I quoted her in my valedictorian speech. Of course I bought her book.) At that time, it felt to me that being a person of faith meant that you had to have a lot of answers, so her warm and friendly book about a messy faith that includes questions was a balm to my soul.

Except for the end. Because at the end of the book, she quoted her husband saying that maybe none of these questions will matter when we get to heaven, because all we will be doing is singing Holy holy holy. I don’t know if that’s what Carolyn Arends really believes or whether the publisher made her have a nicer ending all tied up in a bow, but it was a deep blow to my heart. Apparently you can wrestle and create art from your questions, but the answer is always the same: God is awesome, God is in control, God’s ways are not our ways, God is outside of our understanding.

I pulled that book off the shelf the other day (oh, yes, I still have my copy), and it seems apparent to me that it’s about her journey living with questions, which is a little bit different. We do all have to make space in our hearts for the realization that we are not going to understand everything. I’m not here to argue with anyone who finds that a reasonably helpful answer. I’m glad it worked out for you, but I found it limiting and disempowering. It made me feel as if there was nothing I could do to be more a part of my faith. I just had to passively accept what was going on around me.

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It’s been a long time since I read that book, and (despite the ending) I think it did for me what Rachel Held Evans’s Evolving in Monkeytown did for a lot of other people, making it much less lonely to engage my faith. In the years since then, I have embraced the idea that a life of faith has much less to do with having all the right beliefs and much more to do with the way that those beliefs are lived out. That’s one reason I enjoyed this other very different book with the same title, Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity by David Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy. Instead of being about internal wrestling, this is a book about action. It presents a progressive approach to topics as varied as the rapture, compassion, and atonement and then offers a discussion of how those beliefs might affect the ways that we choose to live. There are a lot of topics, and it’s definitely not an in-depth approach, but there’s a good bibliography if you are looking to expand on any one chapter in particular. The strength of the book is clearly in the ways that it pulls together material from many different authors, making it a book with quotes I wanted to write down on almost every page.

For a long time, I thought that I just had to figure out the right answers and then I would be set for life as a person of strong faith and belief. Thank God that we are given the gift of an understanding and expression of faith that changes and grows over time. Thank God we are given space to ask questions, to live with them, and to live them out with purpose.

I got a free copy of Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity from Speakeasy and I was not required to write anything nice about it. My church did part of the video series this summer and I didn’t go, but I heard positive things. The book, also, is perfect for a Sunday School or small group to discuss.

I paid for my copy of Living the Questions by Carolyn Arends way back in the days when I worked for a Christian bookstore and I used my employee discount. I’m not friends with Carolyn Arends but how cool would that be?! (Call me, Carolyn Arends!)

in praise of zig zags (a poem for the math teachers).

“In Praise of Zigzags” by Jane O. Wayne

For a Girl Failing Geometry

Maybe she does her homework
the way she does her chores.
She moves quickly when she vacuums,
forgetting corners in the living room,
repeating others,
zigzags recklessly across the carpet,
raising those pale tracks
behind her in the wool, crossing
and recrossing them. And not once
does geometry cross her mind.
Outside she wanders aimlessly
behind the lawnmower,
rolls toward the middle of the lawn
then doubles back.
For a while, she’ll follow straight lines–
the fence, the hedge, the walk–
then go off on a tangent, spiraling
around the birch or the maple.
When she finishes,
she leaves the lawnmower out, leaves
a trail of unmown strips and crisscrosses,
her scribbling on the lawn
like a line of thought that’s hard to follow.
As far as she’s concerned
the shortest distance between two points
is confining.

this world by mary oliver.

April is National Poetry Month. Get ready, y’all. I am posting a poem every day because it was so much fun last year.

kite

“This World” by Mary Oliver

I would like to write a poem about the world that has in it
nothing fancy.
But it seems impossible.
Whatever the subject, the morning sun
glimmers it.
The tulip feels the heat and flaps its petals open and becomes a star.
The ants bore into the peony bud and there is a dark
pinprick well of sweetness.
As for the stones on the beach, forget it.
Each one could be set in gold.
So I tried with my eyes shut, but of course the birds
were singing.
And the aspen trees were shaking the sweetest music
out of their leaves.
And that was followed by, guess what, a momentous and
beautiful silence
as comes to all of us, in little earfuls, if we’re not too
hurried to hear it.
As for spiders, how the dew hangs in their webs
even if they say nothing, or seem to say nothing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe they sing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe the stars sing too,
and the ants, and the peonies, and the warm stones,
so happy to be where they are, on the beach, instead of being
locked up in gold.

a love letter to giving.

hope

When I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of extra money for things like eating out or brand-new name-brand jeans (I had some but they came from the thrift store if you must know). My mom stayed at home when we were small and then went back to teaching (spoiler alert: teaching is not a lucrative career). My dad was an entrepreneur, and starting a small business means having big dreams but not as much cash.

And yet, throughout my childhood, my parents sponsored children through World Vision. My dad, recognizing that I was already in the habit of writing long letters to my friends (because I couldn’t pay for the long-distance calls but I could afford a stamp) (long-distance was a real thing, kids, look it up), asked me to write to one in particular, a girl who was a few years older than I. Her name was Temsemula. I studied her name with interest, wondering how to pronounce it, and wrote some awkward lines to her once or twice. Though we didn’t develop a deep relationship, I enjoyed thinking that we were connected to her. I understood that my parents were telling us that it was more important to help a kid get an education than it was for me to be dressed in head-to-toe Guess.

I thought of Temsemula last week, not for the first time. I periodically search for her on Facebook and Google but I haven’t found her yet. That is the part I find so mystifying about thousands of people cancelling their sponsorships of children last week—did they not love those children? I still think of Temsemula, someone I never met. I am able to pray for her, even now, which is such a beautiful mystery. I carry her in my heart because my family made her a priority. These days, Mike and I sponsor a boy named Stephen through Compassion because, once I got my own household, I modeled what my parents had taught me by making a regular space in our lives for giving. I don’t write to him as often as I should, but I am always excited to hear from him and to see his updates.

I don’t really care if you sponsor kids through World Vision or Compassion or the Christian Children’s Fund. Maybe you support community building through Heifer International or Watering Malawi. Maybe you like microloans through Kiva or helping classrooms through Donors Choose. Maybe you donate somewhere else – a local organization that helps feed hungry kids in your community. Or maybe you’re like my dad and sometimes you just cook up hotdogs and pass them out to people who need food. Wherever you give, whatever you do, make helping other people a priority. It can be risky to commit to giving your money to someone, let alone promising to write letters or show up face-to-face. But I think that watching my parents provide for others taught me about more than just careful budgeting. It was a gift to see them live what they believed.

When I saw my mom on Saturday, I mentioned that I had been thinking about the kids we used to sponsor and wondering if there was a way to find out what happened to them. We didn’t talk about World Vision last week while all that was going down, but I guess she was thinking about those kids, too, because she said she went and found an old picture of Temsemula and put her back up on the refrigerator. It shouldn’t be a secret, but maybe it is so I will tell you: opening our hearts to other people is a gift, one that we could all do with a little more of.