A Non-Book Review for Ordinary Radicals

For better or worse, I grew up in a variety of faith traditions.

My childhood was spent in Southern Baptist and Methodist churches—the Southern Baptist part came from my dad, but I still don’t know how or why I ended up attending a Methodist church to which we had no apparent ties. As a teenager, I faithfully attended every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday service/youth group at a First Baptist church in Arkansas. After a move west, I found myself attending Charismatic services, then after yet another move, a church of the Nazarene. Both came about because of friend- and family ties. As an adult, Collin and I church hopped from place to place, trying to find a home. We ended up attending a Lutheran church for quite a while, then finally settled into the Presbyterian tradition, which is where I now make my denominational home.

One of the many benefits of experiencing a variety of traditions with vastly different ways of being is that I’ve come to disregard many doctrinal differences as irrelevant. You’ll seldom find me caught up in debate over finer points, and though I struggle to reconcile some conflicts in teaching, I mostly follow the creed of “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

Having begun my faith journey primarily in denominations that eschew ritual, I’ve long viewed liturgy as something that just isn’t for me. But at the start of this year, I began following Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. What is today…. January 9th? Yes, it is. And in these 9 days, I have felt the benefit of this to such an extreme that I want to shout it from the mountaintop.

In addition to the daily prayers and readings, there are other benefits. After the shooting in France, instead of our normal, brief dinner blessing, we prayed the Common Prayer for a killing in the neighborhood (isn’t the whole world our neighborhood?). At night when my daughter has said she “doesn’t know what to pray,” we’ve prayed the evening prayer together and sung songs from the back of the book, which, like me, come from a variety of tradition. So while we may start off with the Doxology and the Magnificat, we also make our way through Nothin’ but the Blood and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.

Of course, much of its benefit likely comes from this being a liturgy for ordinary radicals, of which I hope to be one. Keeping with the teachings of my yellow-dog Democrat dad, and living the life I devoted myself to somewhere around age 17, I am reminded daily of my commitment to the finer things in life: Justice. Mercy. Love. Peace. I never “forget” these things, but often I find myself too busy to do anything but remember them in my mind, never letting their truth reach my heart and hands. But in these last 9 days, I have found myself living more joyfully, more honestly, and with growing rededication to my long-ago chosen path.

Lest you think I am replacing scripture or individual prayer with ritual, let me assure you I am not. In fact, quite the opposite: I have found it much easier to fit both these things into my day, something I’ve been struggling with for years given the too-busy life we often lead. But that, too, is changing.

So why am I writing this non-book review? I don’t know. I’m not so presumptuous as to say others would definitely share a similar experience–I know we’re all different. I suppose it’s like when you eat at a really good restaurant: you want to go out and tell all your friends how great it was, how much you enjoyed it, and that maybe they should check it out on their next date night.

It’s only been 9 days. So either this resurgence will bottom out or it will grow stronger. I am so dearly hoping for the latter.

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Snow, Frankincense, and Myrrh

Today, it came.

For months we’ve been waiting, anticipating our first big snow as Marylanders. Even before we moved from California, we talked of a white Christmas, of snowballs and snowmen and all things cozy.

But until today, it never came.

There were false starts and promises, to be sure: One day we got flurries, barely more than thickened rain. Pixelated snowflakes have tantalizing flashed across my iPhone several times, only to be replaced mere moments later with drizzling drops of rain. And still we’ve hoped and waited, breath held, fingers crossed, only to wake to disappointment morning after morning.

So when weathermen and apps spoke of a coming snowstorm on this day, I barely blinked an eye. “Ha!” I thought. “Maybe some other folks believe that tale, but not me. There will be no snow this year.”

Despite my hardened heart, I checked for snow last night, last thing before I went to bed.

Still nothing.

This morning the day dawned different. When my alarm went off at 5am I felt… something. An urging. A voice telling me, “Look! Go see!” And so I did.

Much like ma in her kerchief and pa in his cap, Andy and I flung open the shutters and threw up the sash…. And what to our wondering eyes did appear? The luster of dawn shining through soft and snowy swirls. Our yard turned to a winter wonderland.

It was beautiful.

The unfulfilled promise of snow had left me jaded.

But when it came—pure, clean, ethereal—I gasped in awestruck wonder at the world washed white, my heart melting even as the ground around me hardened in the cold.

Today the news I heard came true, heralding a day full of magic and majesty and of a slate wiped clean, telling a story of the promised spring to come. Today we live softer, lighter, in rhythm with the glorious divine, in awe of the gift of snow.

Women and Taboos: Leaning In, and Getting Frank About Faith, Sexuality and the Bible

In this age of third-wave feminism, many Americans may not realize that Christian women continue to struggle with what many would deem outdated gendered notions. This includes things such as a woman’s calling being second to her husband’s, women as unwitting temptresses who therefore must hide their bodies, and that women may not lead (or sometimes even speak) in church. Both external and internal pressures and fears have historically kept women silent on these matters.

In the recently released Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, edited by Erin S. Lane and Enuma C. Okoro, 40 women under 40 were provided a much-needed pulpit from which to break the silence. These 40 women addressed head-on many of the taboos remaining at the intersection of faith and gender, and how they are stepping out of historical oppression to make real change within the church.

You can read the rest of the review at Sojourners by clicking here.

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This is a Day For

knee-falling, anything-pleading, pressure-relieving.

intercession, supplication, massage, and Tylenol.

good quietly appearing, a breadcrumb trail for morning, when heading home becomes all
you’ve got.

cheap pizza, letting your three-year-old paint your face, hoping your rain jacket catches
the drips.

finding your just-clothed baby, puddle-naked, pride-giggling

and happy.

watching her bent head analyze the paint, realizing how the spot between her hairline and her eyebrows is exactly right, and just how much she has your hair

and that your oldest needs you, even more than he knows.

breaking the rule
you created yesterday
about how much TV the kids can watch.

meeting a long blond woman gone platinum. Ankle-length skirt—denim—gold cross, and orthopedics, who asks you, unbidden,

if all four of yours are living,
because hers are not. And before you can answer, she says she can tell just by looking
that they are, and judging by the one at her feet,
that they are all
doing well.

realizing it’s all a metaphor, but refusing
to point it out.

 

 

 

The Time to Love is Now

In my family, politics runs the gamut from Tea Party to Green Party, from Fox News to Al-Jazeera. My family is the melting pot of voter registration. And I’m not talking about see-them-at-weddings-and-funerals family, but close family who are deeply loved as well as deeply intelligent and opinionated.

This could be tough. It could cause awkward silences, silent fuming, exasperated incomprehension, and ruined holidays. Thankfully that hasn’t been the case. We instead understand that our love for one another has absolutely nothing to do with where we fall on the political spectrum. That we are all worthy of respect, even when disagreements arise, and that some things are simply better left unsaid rather than fought over.

You can read the rest of today’s post at the Burnside Writers Collective by clicking here.

(This blog post originally ran on June 20, 2013, under the title Realizing What Matters.)

Sometimes they’ll call me a whore.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m fortunate to be part of a fierce group of women faith writers. A few of these lovely ladies live near me, and we meet together every six weeks or so to lift up and encourage one another, as well as do some old school workshopping.

We tend to leave these gatherings full of new energy, a renewed since of purpose, and overflowing with words waiting to be put to paper.

After our most recent meeting, one afterglow email read:

“My soul was full after today’s lunch. So grateful for this handful of preciousness that God has given us, it filled a hole I didn’t even know was there until suddenly it wasn’t empty anymore.”

A Facebook post happily reported:

“The NorCal Buds met today. [One member] shared a retreat recap and we ate [another member’s] homemade bread while chatting about tribe and platform and which paragraphs I need to cut out of my manuscript. All this while five kiddos napped or watched Sesame Street in other rooms. Power to the mamas, right?!”

Right.

But earlier that day, as I relaxed into easy mama friendships and felt my perfected defenses soften, I realized I was harboring an insecurity I’d thought I’d lost years ago. This thought consumed me and, unlike my peers, I left feeling not emboldened, but instead like I’d been punched in the stomach.

My husband tells me I’m the most confident person he’s ever met. On a confidence scale of one to ten, I’d say I’m an eight. Don’t get me wrong—I often come home bemoaning a possible misunderstanding with a friend and needing my husband to talk me down from the did-I-say-something-offensive-without-meaning-to ledge. I’m not comfortable in short shorts or a bikini, and I refuse to go out without makeup. But all in all, I’m at peace with myself.

Then, after a few years’ hiatus, I started writing again. And not just writing, but faith writing.

And all of the sudden, I’m back in junior high: searching for affirmation, hoping to prove I’m “real,” and asking my lady friends the writer’s equivalent of “does this dress make me look fat?”

So why the current crisis of confidence?

Because soul baring is hard.

Because my heart and faith and politics are all on my sleeve, and sometimes people will call me a moron, and sometimes they’ll call me a whore.

And sometimes I’ll even lose friends.

After an especially inspiring sermon a few weeks ago, my husband wrote on our kitchen chalkboard:

¤ Brave?

¤ Safe?

This is a reminder to us that each day when we wake up, we have to decide how we will live out that day. As the guy who gave the sermon said, our grandkids will remember us no matter what, but the way they remember us will be very different depending on which option we choose.

I want my grandkids to remember me as a woman without fear.

But how will they know that I go to bed most nights thinking, “I can’t do this anymore. After years of being in comfortable skin, I can’t handle this,” but that I wake up and do it anyway?

The only way they’ll know is if I write it down.

After our last manuscript meeting, I drove home with my friend, Cara, and related a small bit of how I was feeling to her. She said, “This is a no apologies relationship, friend.” The freedom in those words is astounding: No apologies for who I am, or how I feel or think. Where can fear survive in the face of that freedom?

The truth is, it can. Our fears are not always unfounded, but it is always up to us how we handle them.

I think back to the words I first dog-eared in a now-soft worn book almost two decades ago, and I promise myself this—this—is how my grandkids will know me:

I’ll make sure she always carries a pen
so she can take down the evidence.
If she has no paper, I’ll teach her to
write everything down on her tongue,
write it on her thighs.

I’ll help her see that she will not find God
or salvation in a dark brick building
built by dead men.

I’ll explain to her that it’s better to regret the things
she has done than the things she hasn’t.
I’ll teach her to write manifestos
on cocktail napkins.

[…]

I’ll tell her that when the words finally flow too fast
and she has no use for a pen
that she must quit her job
run out of the house in her bathrobe,
leaving the door open.
I’ll teach her to follow the words.

The Back of the Ambulance

Sometimes a parent just knows.

My husband demanded I hang up on the advice nurse:

“It doesn’t matter what she says, we’re going.”

My mom later told me she had never seen my husband move so fast.

We rushed our 9-month-old, Aaron, to the emergency room for high fever and extreme lethargy. Our rush ended when we hit unexpected traffic from a weekend festival. I sat in the back of the van with Aaron, listening to his breathing slow.

I tried not to cry, but I couldn’t help it.

“I need to pray.”

I leaned over Aaron and just before I shut my eyes, I saw my husband’s arm snake around the driver’s seat to reach me in the back. He held my hand tight and prayer flowed through us, incomprehensible, but given to God in the form of “please,” and “live,” and “not again.”

“Andy, I don’t know…. I don’t like this.”

“It’s really bad, he’s just… not right. This isn’t right.”

Then:

“Pull over. We have to call an ambulance.”

My husband pointed out that an ambulance wouldn’t actually get us there much faster.

“Yes, but they have things. Oxygen. Skills. CPR.”

He readily agreed.

When the ambulance arrived and the EMT let me ride in the back with Aaron, I knew Aaron would be okay.

Before that, during the drive, I knew God’s will would be done. Sometimes, though, that doesn’t bring the comfort one might expect. I know firsthand that God’s way is not always my way. That sometimes the path God has for us in this world is painful and full of sorrow. And that sometimes, the EMT won’t let you in the back of the ambulance, and that in those times, you don’t take your son home four hours later.

And that’s where my mind was as we sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic and I listened to Aaron’s ragged breath and watched his eyes glaze. As I put my cool forehead against his hot one and tried to get him to focus on me, to smile, and got nothing in return.

But when we waited on the street corner for the ambulance to arrive, the cool air blowing his hair, Aaron looked around. Smiled a little. Was aware enough to question where we were. He would be fine.

Later: a catheter, a blood draw, a failed IV. My back burned from holding Aaron down while the doctors and nurses did various things to prove him healthy. We ate horrible sandwiches and gave Aaron hospital formula that made him spit up for the next 24 hours. It was miserable.

But to hold those 24 hours, now going on 48, is a beautiful thing.

The first time, the time I didn’t get to ride in the ambulance, there was no blood draw. No catheter or failed IV. We followed from behind and noticed that after the first few blocks, the ambulance turned the siren off. Then the lights. Because there would be no 24- or 48-hours later. Just prayers and pleading. Our pastor looking at me with fear and defeat: “There’s nothing I can do.” This 6’5 man of God, ebony-skinned and deep voiced, stepping back and spreading his weighty but empty hands: “You can’t ask. There’s nothing to be done.”

But this time, just two short days ago, I came home with a stunningly robust 25-pound nine-month-old squirming in my arms. I sat him down and he played, ankle bracelet and gauze still in place. A little fussy, slightly worse for the wear, but breathing. Healthy. Alive.

So no, things don’t always go my way. But faith is not a crutch and life is not always easy. And right now, Aaron is napping. His sister is playing at Grandma’s and his big brother is somewhere doing big brother things. I will gladly take their health and happiness and tantrums and tensions. Even ambulance rides to the ER. Because at the end of the day, I am confident that these three will always come back home. Perhaps a bit beaten and bloody, but alive.

Sometimes a parent just knows.

The homecoming.

The homecoming.

Related post: My Son Jeremy