Friday, August 31, 2012

Luke 12-19:27

Luke 12:49-53
"I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law."

Well, we've certainly seen the truth of this play out, time after time. We divide into denominations, into conservative and liberal, into different expressions of worship, into interpretations of scripture. We are divided by which testament and which books we favor, by where we believe our combined tithes and offerings should be spent, by who we vote for.

I don't think division is necessarily intrinsically bad. I do think that focusing on what divides us is (at best) unhelpful and (at worst) can create further division, resentment, fear, and anger.

The Church is not a filing cabinet: each little sect neatly tucked into its own folder, with Christianity collecting us all into more or less the same place. The Church is a tree, with Christ as the roots and trunk and us as the branches. Our divisions do not happen because we don't belong together, but simply because that is how we grow, because that is how we obtain light and water and how we provide shade and air.

And yes, we disagree. So what? Trace our disagreements backward, and you'll find they spring from the same source, from the same roots. We all have a common ground somewhere, a common starting point. It's okay to disagree, but we should stop trying to label or box off those who disagree with us. We are not a filing cabinet. We are a tree.

A collection of references here, all with a common theme:
Luke 14:12-14, 15:1-32, 18:9-14, 19:1-10

Jesus often ate with sinners and the "unclean". He went into their houses. He talked to them. He touched them and allowed them to touch Him. He healed them. He befriended them. He loved them.

The text never makes any apologies for the sins of Jesus' friends. Tax collectors are still tax collectors, prostitutes are prostitutes, lepers are lepers. No one tries to clean them up with PC language, saying that they are misguided or following a different path in life. They call sin sin.

But Jesus did not allow anyone's sin to get in the way of His love and His presence. He still ate with them, walked with them, loved them up close. He did not require anyone to change themselves in order to be near Him. He came near to them first, knowing that only love can inspire lasting change.

I think of people whose presence in some churches is discouraged. In most cases, no one will walk up to them outright and ask them to leave, but i have seen youth group gatherings where someone who used profanity was asked to either clean up their language or find somewhere else to be on Friday nights. I have seen people with piercings and tattoos given a quiet cold shoulder. I know that some same-sex couples have been asked not to worship in some churches. Single mothers, people no longer on their first marriage, people who smoke in the parking lots, people who wear shorts in the sanctuary: all are gently nudged away from the church. In most cases, no one is trying to be rude or mean, no one is trying to be judgmental or unfeeling. They genuinely think that they are helping that person, as well as protecting the body of Christ from hurtful intruders.

But you can't create conditions for salvation, because Jesus never did. He forgave sins first, and then asked them not to sin anymore. He healed first, and then asked them not to sin anymore. He shared meals, He walked with, He listened to first, and then asked them not to sin anymore. His salvation was unconditional. He loved first.

Always love first.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

an open letter to Jesus


Listen. You need to cut this shit out. When i stood in chapel week after week and sang, "Break my heart for what breaks Yours", i didn't mean it like this. I didn't mean that i wanted to fall to my knees in tears when someone uses their misunderstanding of science to harm women. No one has called me a slut. No one has pressured me to keep the baby of my rapist. I've never even been raped. I didn't want to feel this much for those who have. I wanted to be able to continue living my life while feeling sort of vaguely bad for people who are worse off than me, and i really think that You should have understood that.

I didn't want to be reduced to tears of rage when hate exploded toward the LGBTQ community, when a chicken sandwich became the symbol of discrimination and intolerance. I'm not a lesbian. I've never even been bi-curious. I mean, sure, it sucks that gay people find themselves disowned by their families, friends, and churches, that they lose their jobs, that they get bullied, that people are actively raising money to prevent them from accessing basic human rights, but i don't even want to be involved in this discussion, so why am i so heartbroken over what other people are saying?

Did You know that a version of Jim Crow is back? Did You know about the Invisible Children? Did You know about homelessness, malnutrition, AIDS, cancer, cyberbullying, domestic violence, mental illness? Did You know that some people preach hate in Your name?

Come on. I don't have time to worry about this. I don't have the emotional capacity to feel for all of this. I have problems of my own, You know: rent, terrible roommates, college loans, student teaching, family drama, health concerns, depression and anxiety, separation from friends and loved ones, work stress, a fight with my boyfriend, my car is unregistered and uninsured, and i hardly seem to have time for myself anymore.

When i said "Break my heart for what breaks Yours," i didn't mean actual heartbreak. I didn't want to empathize, i wanted to sympathize. I wanted to feel gently sorry for people who were worse off than me, and then get back to my caramel iced coffee and air conditioning and wishing i could buy more organic food. I wanted to cling to my first world concerns.

Empathy fucking hurts. Is it too late to take it back? Is it too late to return to fuzzy sympathy? Because You know, all these feelings are too much. If i keep feeling all these feelings, i'm going to have to do something about them.

If i keep feeling these feelings, if You keep breaking my heart for what breaks Yours, i won't ever be able to return to sympathy. I'll have to be an advocate for the voiceless, a lobbyist for the powerless, a trailblazer for those lost in the wilderness. If You keep peeling back the layers of my ignorance, removing the blinders from my eyes, softening my heart, i won't be able to feel sympathy ever again. I won't be able to return to personal, first-world concerns. If you keep this up, i will be consumed by the least of these. I will feed the hungry, instead of merely buying food from companies that promise to donate a fraction of the proceeds to a "feed the hungry" charity. I will clothe the naked, instead of merely buying shoes that promise to give one pair to a child. I will visit the sick and imprisoned, instead of merely praying that Your spirit will visit them.

If You don't cut this out, i will have no other choice than to become You, to be Your hands and feet, to love with Your heart, to see with Your eyes. I will have no choice except to be transformed into Your image, to become the light and the salt, to be Christ to a world that desperately needs a Savior. And just because that's what You told us all to do doesn't mean i was supposed to actually do it, right? I thought it was more of a combined teamwork thing where everyone does a little from their armchair and suddenly the world is in harmony? When You allowed me to be born into privilege, when You made me white and straight and American and pretty and healthy and sturdily middle-class and intelligent, You didn't really intend for me to use my position of privilege to help those of less fortunate births, did You?

Did You?

Monday, August 27, 2012

scars, 2

There are other kinds of scars. The kinds that don't show up on your skin. The kinds that are reminders of wounds to your heart, your soul, your mind. The kinds that take years to heal, and meanwhile continue to bleed and throb. The kinds that can infect your whole self if you don't take care of them in time.

Those are not the kind you can inflict on yourself accidentally. Those are the ones from other people, from spending time with people who are close to you. Strangers can hurt you, but it takes love to really damage someone in the way that lasts. Nothing scars like love.

I was born with fragile emotional skin, the kind that easily splits open, the kind that bleeds freely, the kind that does not heal smoothly. There is a lot of mental illness in my family -- depression, bipolar disorder, addictions -- a lot of tendencies and predispositions to inherit.

Here's the thing about mental illness: you can inherit all kinds of tendencies without actually showing symptoms. My dad's whole family are addicts, though nothing has (yet) flipped that switch in him. My siblings and i are also free from addiction (except maybe to The West Wing and bacon). But we all know that that predisposition could become a reality. On both sides of the family, there are long histories of depression, of delusion, of suicidal thoughts and crippling self-doubt and anger and fear and anxiety and panic and mania. Some of these things have already begun to surface in the four of us, and there are times when it feels like we are just waiting for the next crisis to hit.

So life becomes a balancing act, dancing across a tightrope with the black abyss opening up on every side. One wrong step means an endless plummet from which there may not be a return. And a safe return does not guarantee security from future falls.

In this grand balancing act, my mother is my partner on the high wire. But instead of being a serious, trained professional who understands the seriousness of what is happening, she persists in believing that the slender, swaying wire is only a few feet above a level floor surrounded by walls and ground and firm foundations. While this may be her reality, it is not mine. But she persists in believing that i dance on the wire because i don't want to walk on the floor, because i am too stubborn or silly to get over my fear and walk free. This belief is a large factor in her divorce from my dad, another high wire act who has taken his share of falls.

Instead of proceeding with gentle understanding of my tenuous position, she tries to get me to run across the wire to the platform on the other end, to climb down to the floor, to get over this morbid fascination with instability. She threatens, she pleads, she cajoles, she cries. I wobble and beg her to let go of my hand, to stop dragging me down. 

She often tells me how like my father i am. When i was little, i believed that this was a good thing, a source of pride. Now i know that she was trying to warn me, trying to save me. But she doesn't know what i know about my dad. She doesn't know how much strength it takes him to have lived so long in freefall, with her beside him all the time, screaming at him to stop falling and stand up. She doesn't know how miraculous it is that he is still alive, still functional, still capable of things like hope and joy and love. She doesn't know what an inspiration he is to me. She doesn't know how badly i want to be like him.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Luke 4:31-11:54

Luke 6:6-10
Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him. But He knew their thoughts, and said to the man who had the withered hand, "Arise and stand here." And he arose and stood. Then Jesus said to them, "I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save a life or to destroy it?" And looking around at them all, He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And he did so, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.
(emphasis mine)

Sometimes, we get so caught up in the "don't"s, in the things that we are not supposed to do, that we forget about the "do"s. It is true that God forbade work on the Sabbath, that He set aside that day for rest and worship. But worshiping God by doing nothing is not better or more important than worshiping God by healing the sick or feeding the hungry. It is important to be kind and tactful with our words, but avoiding swearing is not more important than conveying truth. It is important to be aware of sin in our own lives and in others, and to refuse to condone a harmful lifestyle and bad decisions, and to hold others accountable to high standards, but it is not more important to judge or condemn or correct than it is to listen and understand and love.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wednesdays are swiftly becoming book writing days, huh? It's mostly unintentional, but maybe i should make it official. We'll see.

Anyway. This is a brief post, just to say this: four years after penning what i thought was the final installment in my series of fairy tales, i am contemplating a new one. As i read back through the old stories, i realized something important. While i have worked hard to both preserve and break the classic structures, my fairy tales are still not as feminist-empowering, equal-rights, civil-liberties, freedom-and-justice-for-all as i would like them to be. I'm remedying that now, rewriting descriptions of some characters to make them non-White races, tweaking characters to make them more independent and powerful, giving my queens and princesses just as much power, authority, and freedom as my kings and princes. But it's still not enough.

So i'm crossing the final frontier and attempting to write a same-sex fairy tale where one princess rescues another, so that they can live happily ever after.

I'm nervous about this for two reasons, one way more noble than the other.

The first, more noble reason, is that i'm not gay. I'm not even bi-curious. I'm about as straight as it is possible to be. I'm not sure how to write from the perspective of a lesbian princess. I don't want to get anything wrong. I don't want anyone to be hurt, or confused, or offended, by what i write. If i'm going to get angry letters, i want them to be from Christian fundamentalists who are condemning me for contributing to the decline of morality in our nation, not from angry lesbians who insist that i stop trying to represent something i know nothing about. I understand that it can be a really tricky area. I've read things written by well-meaning men in strong support of women and women's rights and feminism and so forth that still set my teeth on edge. I don't want to be "that guy".

The second reason is that i know damn well that including a lesbian romance in my story will make it harder to find a publisher. Publishers don't want to get angry letters from anyone, whether Christian fundamentalists or lesbians. Publishers don't want bookstores to refuse to buy their stock. Bookstores don't want to be boycotted or to have to pull stock that isn't moving or is causing controversy. I don't want to lose money because i'm trying to write a fair story.

But at the end of the day, i'm going to say "fuck it". Because my concerns assume that someone somewhere will want to publish my book, and that if they decide not to, it will be out of fear of retribution and lost money, and that's pretty arrogant of me. Because i'm not doing this to make money or to be famous, but because when i try to sleep at night my head buzzes with the stories i haven't told. Because i'd rather write well than sell well. Because my need to be honest is greater than my need to succeed. Because the world needs more positive models of feminine strength and healthy relationships, even if those models are both women. Because this is one more story that has buzzed its way into my brain and heart, and i know i won't be able to move on until i've told it.

I may post excerpts here as i work on it. Or i may not. We'll see.

Monday, August 20, 2012

scars, 1

I attended a writing retreat last January. One of the workshops was about writing biographies and memoirs, and the woman leading the workshop gave us several prompts. One of those prompts was to write about how we got our scars. This is what i wrote that day:

The scar on my left index finger was incurred during an unbelievable bout of stupidity. I had been painstakingly whittling something for weeks, despite having no whittling talent or training and nothing but a battered Swiss Army knife to work with.

But it was my latest obsession, and i took any and every opportunity to work on it.

One day, we were at a stoplight. I knew it was a long light, so i pulled out my tools. So engrossed was i in my work that i didn't see the light change. The old Ford Windstar minivan started moving with a lurch, and the knife blade slid smoothly into my finger.

I stared at it for a moment, watching the blood bubble up around the blade. It had gone in horizontally and lay under my skin. Then it clicked: i had a knife in my finger and it hurt.

I don't remember what i said to my dad to alert him to the emergency. I do remember him yelling at me as he tried to find a place to pull over. Our first aid kit was empty except for Band-aid wrappers and some calamine lotion. Dad found an old Sunday school paper to wrap around my finger until we got home.

I never finished whittling that thing. I think it was going to be a doll. I've long since lost both the block of wood and the knife, but the scar is still visible as a pale, slightly curved line on my left index finger.

Friday, August 17, 2012

So glad i could help.

This woman just walked into my office and announced, "I'm not in the right place."
I started to ask her where she was trying to go, so that i could direct her appropriately, but she kept talking.
"Where are they registering people?"
I started to ask what she meant -- registering for classes, or checking into their dorm rooms? -- when she started talking again.
"The gym. They're doing registration in the gym."
"Okay," i said, overjoyed to finally have something to contribute. "Do you know where the gym is?"
"Yes. I need to speak to Steve McLean. His office is upstairs?"
"Yes, it is."
"Okay. Thank you!"
Um. You're welcome?

She came back later, breezed past me, and went straight to my boss' office. Fortunately, he was not there. She then came back over to me and asked if Ashley was around.
"Ashley Rivers?" i asked, referencing one of our enrollment counselors.
"Ashley O'Donnell," she replied, heading toward the door. "Ashley. Ashley Rivers?"
"Um," i said, unsure at this point what her question was or how to answer it, "Ashley Rivers does work here. She was in here earlier this morning, but I haven't seen her since. I think she's gone for the day."
"Okay. Thanks!"

I'm still not totally confident that i contributed anything meaningful or useful to her day, but she was spending her day power walking around a college campus, trying to meet with the wrong people, and carrying several large beach balls. So i'm not sure that there was anything anyone could have done to make her day more meaningful or useful.

Mark 14-16, Luke 1-4:30

It's funny; for all the similarities between the gospels, there are also some pretty stark differences. Mark follows Matthew very closely, but is twelve chapters shorter. Luke (the doctor) wrote an incredibly detailed account. John wrote a lot of poetry in his version. Matthew and Mark tend to blend together a little in my head, but Luke and John are sharp and distinct.

The funny thing about Luke is how he can be telling an incredibly detailed story and then just kind of end it. An example is in Luke 4:28-30. Jesus has been preaching in the synagogue, and has just announced that He is the Messiah, and everyone is starting to freak out a little. They try to deny His authority, but he responds quietly and calmly and refuses to get riled up.

"Then all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went on His way."

What? An angry mob dragged Him to the top of a cliff to throw Him off and He walks away? How? Did He do something to distract them? Did He influence their hearts and minds to forget what they were trying to do? Was He invisible?

Luke gives us genealogies, family background, stories about John the Baptist, reports of civil unrest and political intrigue, descriptions of the emotions of each major character at important points of the story, and geographical detail. And then he leads us to the top of a cliff and simply walks away.

Shoddy storytelling, Luke. If this were a graded assignment, you'd probably end up with a C+.

Monday, August 13, 2012

knowledge without thought

In the first semester of my freshman year, one of the gen ed courses i took was called "Biblical History and Literature", aka Bib Lit. Most people hated it, because most of the class could be divided into two groups: people who had grown up in the church and already knew as much as they wanted to know about the Bible, and people who hadn't grown up in the church and weren't religious and didn't want to be. I thought the class was okay, but wished that there were more people in there who cared about what we were learning.

One day, after we had all turned in a paper about our definition of religion, the professor was talking to us about that paper. He said that many of us, in our papers, had said some variation of "I know what I know, and I don't know how I know it, but I do, so leave me alone." Far from being annoyed or angry by this, he was interested in our conclusions. He asked us if we thought that was a fair assessment of what we all believed. The response was a handful of halfhearted murmurs. He wanted to have a class discussion about knowledge, and truth, and belief. How do we know what we know? Where does knowledge come from?

But the discussion went nowhere.

No one wanted to talk about truth or knowledge or belief. Everyone wanted to know what grade they had gotten and move on. They didn't want to be challenged, they just wanted to be right. Can there be knowledge without thought?

This wasn't the last time i had an experience like this in a classroom. Students would do only exactly as much as was necessary. They didn't want to learn anything that wouldn't be on the test, and once the test was over, they didn't want to hold onto their learning. They didn't want to be exposed to new kinds of thinking, new ideas, different views. They just wanted to know what they knew and be left alone.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Mark 7-13

Mark 10:43-45
"Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

I forget about this sometimes. I like to be right. I like to win. I like to be recognized and acknowledged for my greatness. I like people to think well of me. And i don't think i'm alone in that.

But none of that is why we are here. None of that is the point. There's a great moment in one episode of the West Wing (War Crimes, S3E6), where the President and First Lady are returning from church and vigorously debating a passage of scripture. He tells her that the point of the passage is that we are all to be subject to one another, that in the Kingdom of God, no one is above anyone else. No one matters more than anyone else. No one outranks anyone else, no one deserves more special treatment than anyone else, no one is more valued than anyone else. We are all equally humble before God.

Mark 11:27-33
Then they (Jesus and the disciples) came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him. And they said to Him, "By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority to do these things?" But Jesus answered and said to them, "I will also ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John -- was it from heaven or from men? Answer Me." And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven," He will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'From men'" -- they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed. So they answered and said to Jesus, "We do not know." And Jesus answered and said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."

What's interesting about this is that Jesus asked the priests and so forth what they thought about John, and true to form, they instead debated the most politically advantageous response. They didn't want a riot, and they didn't want to be asked hard questions/made to look silly, so they simply claimed ignorance. Our politicians like to play this game sometimes, and it's pretty obnoxious. I think we should respond like Jesus does: we won't respond until you do. We will withhold our votes until you give us straight answers about what you actually think and believe and value.

Mark 12:28-31
Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, "Which is the first commandment of them all?" Jesus answered him, "The first of all the commandments is: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

What i neglected to mention in Matthew's account of this conversation is that both of these commandments are taken from the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 6:4-5). The one in Deuteronomy is prefaced by God Himself saying, "This is the greatest commandment". The Leviticus one comes in the middle of a long list of ways that you can show love to your neighbor. So this conversation is kind of like when you're talking to a friend who is playing with their new smartphone, and they ask you for something like the definition of a word, or the weather forecast, and you give them some sarcastic response about how they should use the Magic Google Machine on their phone to look it up. People were asking Jesus for the greatest commandment, and He said, "Well, I'm no expert, but when God was giving us laws and telling us which ones were the most important, He kind of highlighted these a little. You know, by saying that they were the most important." I love snarky Jesus.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

in progress

I've spent a lot of time in the past few weeks editing my book. Some of the edits have been as simple as cleaning up the formatting. Some of them have involved changing names or reorganizing sentences. And it has finally come to the point where i may need to trash an entire story.

The idea was good. I took a classic fairy tale trope (three princesses who are sisters, oldest gets married and she and her husband disappear on their wedding day, same thing happens to second sister, no one knows what's going on). I changed it around so that, rather than random fairy mischief or giants trying to eat virgins, it was a deliberate scheme to torture and humiliate humans for sport, in order to show the depravity and cruelty of the fairies while moving the larger plot forward.

But somewhere along the lines, everything went completely off the rails. I introduce a talking cat. What? None of my other stories have talking animals. The presence of this particular animal is never fully explained. There is no explanation for why she can talk, why she is hiding in a series of caves between the two countries, or why she is helping humans. She only appears in a few scenes and only as a sort of confusing deus ex machina. In fact, the entire conclusion is a very long, very confusing, very silly deus ex machina. Furthermore, once you get past the initial set-up, there's not a whole lot happening.

I think it's time to go back to my classic editing trick: strip the story down to its barest bones and start rebuilding. It's also time for one of my favorite writing tools: reading. Pull out the masters and see how they did it. Study J. K. Rowling's intricately linked plots, J. R. R. Tolkien's brilliant exposition of the obvious, Neil Gaiman's teasing of hints and foreshadowing. But it's a lot harder to read subtly at work, whereas editing a Word document looks exactly like work. So i may have to be creative.

Below is an excerpt of two of the worst parts, for your entertainment:

Just then, the door burst open, and through it came Rhynesh.
          “Imposter!” the second Rhynesh screamed, pointing at the one seated next to Grace. That one leaped to his feet.
          “How dare you accuse me of being an imposter, when you are clearly –” He was interrupted by the other bringing both hands up over his head and heaving them forward, as if throwing a heavy ball. The first Rhynesh burst into flame for a split second; then the flames went out and Nareena stood in their place. Grace gasped and jumped to her feet.
          “You – you – ” Rhynesh sputtered. Nareena gave him an evil grin and cast a spell of her own. One of his legs turned into a giant cucumber. He shot a second spell at her, and her hair, usually long and straight and scarlet, suddenly turned a vivid purple and developed springy curls that counced all around her head, obscuring her vision.
          Grace ran.

Bursting into her bedroom, she ordered the princes to turn around, and she quickly changed into work clothes while gasping out her story. “This may be our only chance, so let’s take it!”
          Curtis, much to everyone’s surprise, produced a sturdy rope and began tying it to the door handle.
          The window was just wide enough to admit them. One by one, they climbed down: first Peter, then Grace, then Almanzo, then Emily, then Curtis, and then Tess. As soon as they were all on the ground, they ran for the woods. Peter found the tree with no trouble and they all crowded down the trunk, through the tunnel, and into the cave, where Enid and Matilda waited. Neither of them seemed surprised by the intrusion. Matilda did not look as though she had wits enough to be surprised by anything, and Enid was a cat. After blinking a few times and offering them all warm milk, Enid turned to Grace.
          “Did you bring the book?”
          Grace dropped it gently on the floor in front of the cat. Enid nosed through it briefly. “A great help to magicians,” she mused. “Yes. Yes, this should do it.” She closed her eyes and bowed her head, sitting still for three quarters of a minute. Finally, she looked up. “Rhynesh and Nareena have forgotten about you. It will be years before they stop fighting again and focus on Draymore."

Monday, August 6, 2012

grass and sky

When i was a kid, i couldn't get enough of the Great Outdoors. I would explore the soybean field behind out house, picking goldenrod from the wild grass at the edges. I would climb the mountain across the street, claiming each grassy foothill as my own. I would run through our yard when the grass grew long, searching for the fat, bright pieces that were so sweet to eat. I would go down the road, to empty lots high on the hill by the ditch, and lie in the grass that had never been cut.

When i was on the foothills of our mountain, lying in the dark green, soft grasses, all i could see above me was sky. When i flopped on my back in the dry, faded grasses near the ditch, all i could see above me was sky. When i wandered through the goldenrod and leftover soybean stalks and looked up, all i could see was sky.

I could erase all boundaries, all constraints, all restrictions, and simply be open. People talk sometimes about one particular place or another being "God's country". If you ask me, God's country is anywhere that you can lie in the grass and see the sky.

Find a fat, clean stalk with a bright, juicy end. Chew gently. Some may be bitter, but most will be sweet and juicy and will put gourmet salads to shame. Who needs handcrafted dressings when you have sunshine and air? Lie on your back in heavy grass. Don't worry about grass stains, about mud, about bugs. Glance around first for dog poop or spiders, but then stop thinking about it. Look at the fringe of grass around you, and look up at the sky.

Here there is no prejudice, because there are no other people around. There is no anger, greed, or fear. No jealousy, pride, or judgment. There is no dishonesty, no discrimination, no hatred. There is only grass and sky, only you and God. This is God's country.

I'm not twelve anymore, and i don't live in farmland. I live in the city, where i have a job and friends and responsibilities and shopping and museums and restaurants. I have to deal with coworkers and visitors, phone calls and meetings, email chains and disgruntled roommates and terrible drivers and pedestrians. There is a serious lack of grass, and what grass can be found is sparse and dry and dirty. The ground underneath is hard, and above are telephone poles and airplanes and tall buildings. It's hard to find that place again, to escape to grass and sky and just breathe.

But i don't want to live entirely without the city. It's hard to walk the line between civilization and God's country, between the culture and flavor and color and noise that i love, and the peace that i crave. I'm finding compromises: swimming laps in the ocean or bay, keeping wildflowers in a jar by my bed, pausing to notice snails. Some books can take me there as well: the Sandman comics, the Little House series, Pablo Neruda or Emily Dickinson poems, even my own poetry. I carry some of it in my memory, in my soul: images of grass and sky, sensory memories of prickles in my back and the scent of outdoors, old photos of old places. I sometimes have an adventure: i take a long walk by the beach, or eat lunch outside in the sun, or take a long drive with the windows open.

I crave grass and sky, especially in times like these. When i hear news reports of hate and discrimination, of shootings, when i see Facebook posts supporting cruelty and anger and fear, when i overhear a conversation, i feel my soul contract, shrinking into itself, desperate for air.

There is no real substitute for grass and sky, nothing else quite like that endless blue, that sweet embrace. There are lots of things in my life that make me happy, lots of things that bring me peace and rest, lots of things that are good for my soul. But there is a serious lack of grass and sky, and i am beginning to feel it.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Mark 1-6

Mark 2:15-17
Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi's house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many and they followed him. And when the Scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, "How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?" When Jesus heard it, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."

I could write a whole series of posts about the frustrations i have with the church, but Matthew Paul Turner already has that covered. But one thing that has been on my heart a lot in the past year or so is that it seems like the Church only exists for the Church. Sure, we do missions work and give to charities and whatnot, but the majority of our programming, the majority of our funding, our time, and our energy, goes to the Church. We don't seem to want to reach out to anyone, to bring anyone in, unless they're already a Christian. It's like one big circle jerk, with everyone just making themselves feel better and accomplishing nothing.

I don't want to talk about Chik-Fil-A anymore. I'm tired. All i want to say is that it is a really good example of what i'm talking about. What did this whole thing accomplish? Who was brought to Christ because of this week's demonstrations? Earlier in the week, i read a blog post (can't remember where), where the author talked about how we push LGBTQ people away. She said to go ahead and vote your conscience, vote your morality, but when you put out that lawn sign about voting down equal marriage, did any gay people come knock on your door and say, "Thank you so much for showing me the error of my ways! Please, get your Bible and show me how I can live a better life."? That never happened. Your efforts to deny civil rights to a group of people who just want to be treated as people did nothing to further the Kingdom. 

Let me be clear: i am not advocating any particular stance about homosexuality. I've written about this before, and i stick to my position of non-position. If you think that it's a sin, that's your prerogative. But you should know that you are treating sinners the wrong way. Jesus said not to hide our lights under baskets, but isn't that exactly what we're doing? We are showing light only to those who can already see. We are comforting only those who are already happy. We are handing out Band-Aids only to those who are perfectly healthy, while all around us people are dying.

We need to stop this, guys. We need to stop scheduling church events for church people. Do we really need seven different Sunday School classes for people under 25? Do we really need six pot-lucks a year, three Sunday services every week, rotating worship teams? Might that time, energy, talent, and money be better spent volunteering in a soup kitchen, or giving blood, or playing a free outdoor concert of good music where people are encouraged to mingle and talk? Instead of evangelizing, why don't we converse? Instead of arguing, why don't we dialogue? Why are we incapable of leaving room at the table for love?

We need to end the myth of saving people for Church. We have all sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God, and we all continue to do so every single damn day. Mike Warnke, a Christian comedian, once talked about the futility of getting cleaned up to take a bath. We don't need to purify ourselves for Christ. We don't need to become perfect for the Church. We don't need to stop sinning to worship, to fellowship, to pray. Rather, we become holy through these things.

There are people in the world dying of spiritual cancer, and we keep offering Band-Aids to people with skinned knees. Let's stop that bullshit, okay? Let's focus on the things that matter, things like poverty and disease and hunger and education and discrimination and rape and murder and drugs and human trafficking. Because here's the thing: when you've healed the cancer, you don't have to worry so much about things like skinned knees. They will take care of themselves.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

in love, in love, always in love

I am not a theologian. I am not a constitutional scholar. I am not gay. But none of that has stopped anyone else from commenting on the recent Chik-Fil-A debacle, and Matthew Paul Turner's brilliant (if somewhat in need of proofreading) response touched a chord in me. All of his points are good and important and valid, but the two that hit me the hardest were numbers 2 and 3.

The HR department where i work requires all employees to take a sexual harassment training seminar. Plus they did one on "The Office", so i'm pretty familiar with all of that stuff. Here's the important take-away from harassment training, as well as from MPT's point #2: intent is irrelevant. If something i say or do hurts or offends you, the appropriate response from me is not "I didn't mean it like that. So don't be offended." The appropriate response is, "I am so sorry. I truly didn't mean to hurt you. Can you tell me why it was wrong so I can avoid saying/doing something similar in the future?" There were people yesterday who felt that they were hated. Maybe most of the people lined up at CFA didn't feel hatred. Maybe most of them really were just supporting free speech. But that didn't stop people from feeling hated.

I have no doubt that some of the people who ate at CFA yesterday do hate gay people. There are people in this world who are hate-filled bigots, and Jesus loves them anyway. I have no doubt that some gay people are overly sensitive to perceived slights. There are also straight people who are overly sensitive to perceived slights, and Jesus loves everyone regardless of their level of sensitivity. Neither of these facts change this point: when someone feels hurt by you, accept that they were hurt. You may not have meant it. You may not understand it. But your intentions do not override someone else's feelings.

MPT's point #3 reminds us that while our constitutionally protected rights are important, they are not more important than people. Causes don't trump humans. If we are Christians first and Americans second, we need to make sure that we are loving our neighbors before we are worrying about our rights. If we are Americans first and Christians second, we need to make sure that everyone is entitled to the same civil rights that we have before we worry about our own morality being offended.

Either way, we are all welcome to dine at the table of Christ. But be warned: at this table, there is no room for hate, intentional or otherwise. There is no room for anger, there is no room for offense, there is no room for escalated aggression or militant support of corporations or running roughshod over someone else's feelings or fear or bigotry or bullshit. There is room for conversation in love. There is room for questions asked in love. There is room for loving confusion, for honest explanation and discussion in love, for growth of ideas and of loving friendships, for gentle answers and careful consideration and thoughtful dialogue in love.

Tonight, i'm eating homemade beef stew. You are welcome to join. There is room at the table for you, but only if you leave room for love.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Remember on Monday, when i posted a long ramble about how everything i do sucks and i don't know how to do it better so i'm just going to keep doing it? Here's a draft of the prologue to the book i was whining about, written sometime in my freshman or sophomore year of college. If this is ever published, you can consider this a teaser. If, as is far more likely, it stays on my flash drive until i die, it may be less of a teaser and more of an incomprehensible ramble about fictional fairy racial conflicts. So without further ado, i present to you: AVIS.

 all started with Nareena. Or rather, with Rhynesh. Or perhaps it would be most accurate to say that it started with Fox. Actually, let me start over.
It all started with racial prejudice, which started the same way that it always does: from nothing. In this case, the two races in question were fairy races: the Kevarths and the Spencers. Like most humans, both races were an even mix of good and bad qualities and attributes, and they were totally indistinguishable from one another in every way that mattered. In fact, both races were the descendents of the same family. Yet each race seemed to feel that there were huge and irreconcilable differences between them.
The one really empirical difference is that the Kevarths had a slightly reddish tint to their skin, and the Spencers had a slightly bluish tint. But even this difference was pretty meaningless; being fairies, they were able to alter their appearances with a glamour whenever they desired.
          Eventually, there was a war. The Kevarths won, though it was a very close thing, and the Spencers were enslaved.
          Reality has a way of being shaped by perception. Over the centuries, differences between the races began to develop. The Kevarths, as the ruling class, developed a taste for power and cruelty. Eventually, every instinct for good disappeared, and the Kevarths were only able to find pleasure in the suffering of others.
          But Nature always finds a balance, and if there is no balance to be found, she creates one. As the Kevarths lost their goodness, the Spencers lost their evil. They became the first, and possibly only, purely good creatures in recorded history.
          Once in a very great while, a Kevarth would take a fancy to one of the Spencer slaves. Of course, no lasting relationship could ensue, but sometimes there were children, children who inherited an equal mix of good and bad qualities. The children would also have a purple tint to their skin, but most would adopt a permanent glamour of red or blue, depending on which race they identified with. If there had been a middle class in Masroe, it would have been composed of the mixed races; instead, most mixed fairies chose to display blue skin and ended up as slaves, albeit high class and expensive ones.
          One day, something very unusual happened. King Fox married a Spencer. The Queen, Rihana, bore him a son, and they named him Rhynesh. However, the outcry from the Kevarth population was so great that King Fox feared for his throne – and his life. Being a Kevarth and therefore devoid of any capacity for selflessness or true affection had his wife executed. Shortly after, he married again. His second wife, Addison, was pure Kevarth, and notorious for her hatred of Spencers. The king wanted to make sure that this marriage was above reproach. She, in turn, bore a child to Fox, a daughter named Nareena.
And that is where it all started.