Belief, Social & Political Issues

When white evangelicals gained the world but lost their soul

I am not surprised that Trump won.

I am disgusted, saddened, and angry, but not surprised for I have lived amongst the Trump supporters as an interracial family. They threw eggs at my house, tried to run my husband off the road, drove pick-up trucks with confederate flags back-and-forth, back-and-forth, back-and-forth in front of my house, and made threatening phone calls to my home in the middle of the night.

Having seen it up close, I understand these Trump supporters in a way that many of the elite leftists can’t. First and foremost, they are people, just like the rest of us, making a life for themselves. Many love their families and care for their neighbors and work hard to provide for their children. While I will never condone their racist perspectives or hate-filled actions toward my family, I can understand where their angst is born. Everything they know is changing. The small towns that used to be vibrant communities are now desolate piles of abandoned buildings. The jobs their grandparents taught them to rely on are gone and there’s nowhere to turn – no education to lean on, no career back-up plan. Their world is bleak and it makes sense that Trump’s message to Make America Great Again appealed to them.

I am, however, speechless and astounded that white evangelical Christians voted for Trump in such overwhelming numbers, 81% to be exact—the highest percentage of such evangelicals ever to vote for a Republican candidate.

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I grew up in the evangelical tradition, and learned well that the pure message of the gospel is this:

Here is how we overcome evil with good.

Be genuine in your love for others. Hate what is evil. Hold on to what is good. Love each other like brothers and sisters. Give others more honor than you want for yourselves. Work hard. Serve God with all your heart. Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes. Pray at all times. Share with people who need help. Bring strangers in need into your homes.

Wish good for those who do bad things to you. Wish them well and do not curse them. Be happy with those who are happy. Be sad with those who are sad. Live together in peace with each other. Do not be proud, but make friends with those who seem unimportant. Do not think how smart you are.

If someone does wrong to you, do not pay them back by doing wrong to them. Try to do what everyone thinks is right. Do your best to live in peace with everyone. Don’t try to punish others when they wrong you. Leave that to God, for he has said that he will repay those who deserve it. Instead, do this:

If your enemy is hungry, feed them; If your enemy is thirsty, give them a drink. Doing this will be like pouring burning coals on their head. (Disarming love requires creative action. In this way you are both showing love and helping them to see their shame for what they have done)

Do not be overcome by evil. Overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21*

I’m deeply grateful for this theological grounding. It has served me well and continues to be a deep and abiding foundation of my life. As a result, it astounds me that so many of these believers who taught me this depth of faith weren’t more outraged by Trump’s blatantly unbiblical and unchristian values. ‘Character’ and ‘virtue’ have long been a cry of the conservatives and this value all but disappeared the closer we got to election day.

While I can empathize with conservative arguments for voting Republican, it is simply inexcusable to me to give Trump’s horrible treatment of people a ‘pass’ simply because he speaks the language these evangelicals want to hear. Comfortable with and unaware of their privilege, many are still trying to figure out why people are so upset about this. In his article, Church, we’ve got some explaining to do, Veggies Tales creator Phil Vischer sums up the conundrum perfectly:

Last night America voted to transition from our first African-American President to a President whose campaign was marked with charges of implicit and explicit racism and xenophobia.

Former KKK “Imperial Wizard” David Duke claimed after the victory that Trump couldn’t have won without the support of “my people,” which, in this case, would be white nationalists and white supremacists.

Trump was also supported by a significant majority of the white church in America. White Christians, “alt right” white nationalists and white supremacists found themselves side-by-side pushing Donald Trump into the White House. (Suddenly the repetition of the color “white” becomes too ironic to ignore.)

Now think about this:

The world is growing more brown. America is growing more brown. Global Christianity is growing more brown. More and more of our neighbors – those we’re called by Christ to love – are various shades of brown. And yet here we stand, white Christians, having just pushed a man into office who built his campaign on pledges to wall off and otherwise restrict the movements of brown people.

I know white evangelical who voted for Trump. I have spoken with them about it and know that some of them made this choice with great angst, sorrow, and protest to the conservative platform. In the end, they could not, in good conscience, vote for Hillary for reasons that are personally important to them—not because they are racist. However, the exit polls on the evangelical vote suggest a great deal of blind devotion to a political party who likes the power it gained in the era of the Religious Right.  When you read the history books, this plotline never ends well.

Your privilege is showing, white church, and it’s getting in the way of your true message. That may not have been your intent, but it certainly supports the notion that the white evangelical church as a whole has checked its mind at the door for the sake of political power. “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind,” author Mark Noll predicted over twenty years ago. “American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking, and they have not been so for several generations.”

To those relieved by Trump’s win, my friend Stephanie offers this challenge:

You 80% white evangelicals who voted for Trump, who thought it was because of your faith that you had to— you need to get talking with your black and brown evangelical friends who voted the complete opposite and find out what’s going on with their faith. Because somehow their faith told them it wasn’t okay…

I don’t think you realize how badly you’ve wounded the body of Christ in this election. I don’t think you realize how heart-sore, disillusioned, and embittered you’ve made people. And maybe you think— “Those fears are unfounded. There’s not really going to be a wall, or deportations, or any of those crazy things.” Maybe you voted because you felt like it was the lesser of two evils. 

But those are real fears. And so if you want to be reconciled to your black and brown brothers and sisters, it’s going to take a lot of work to make up that lost ground. A lot. If you thought we could just sing and pray together and it would be okay before, that opportunity has completely passed us by. There is no chance of that kind of “reconciliation” any more.

My facebook feed is blowing up with angry conflict; and I’ve told myself to stay out of the fray, to not care, to keep quiet. But complicit silence is the white evangelical norm in the face of prejudice, and I don’t walk that path anymore. Call me angry, strident, or a pot-stirrer; but the hope of the gospel means enough to me that I can’t bear to watch it compromised by so many evangelicals who have, in Jesus’ words, ‘gained the whole world’, but in the process lost their souls and their minds in the pursuit of political power.

May the Lord have mercy on our souls.


*Thanks to my FB Friend Luke Owsley for this succinct summary of the Good News from the ICB, TLB, and ESV Versions of the Bible.
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Belief, Spiritual Formation

When mountains loom large but faith trickles slow

Narnia

I had thought that my doubts were spectacular obstacles to my faith and was confused but intrigued when an old monk blithely stated that doubt is merely the seed of faith, a sign that faith is alive and ready to grow. I am grateful now for his wisdom and grateful to the community for teaching me about the power of liturgy. They seemed to believe that if I just kept coming back to worship, kept coming home, things would eventuallyfall into place. – Kathleen Norris

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Our Sunday began with a hike to a waterfall at the top of a local mountain. When we arrived at the base of the trail, we quickly realized we would be hiking straight uphill in a local wind tunnel with 50-60 mph winds. Like any sensible non-hiker, I immediately suggested we head back down, but all the other crazies (a.k.a. my family and best friends) thought it sounded like a memory-making experience, so away we went.

With hair flailing and dust in our face, we trod one foot in front of another up and up and up.

And up some more.

The younger kids wrapped arms around each other, shielding themselves from the dust walls while discussing which Hobbit character they were. We shared sunglasses to keep the dirt out of our eyes, tightened our hoods, and paused to catch our breath more than a few times. When we made finally it to the top, the waterfall did not disappoint. The trees provided a respite from the winds for the playful among us to climb on the rocks and jump in the stream. They became a momentary refuge under which we paused to speak the things that matter – sharing stories, perseverance in hard times, anticipating beauty even when we couldn’t quite see it yet.

Even though I never enjoy the active process of it, I learn a lot when I climb a mountain. Usually the last person huffing-and-puffing my way up the path, I’ve been known to feel slightly resentful toward the zippy people in the front of the pack who lead the way. It’s hard for me when their strength highlights my weakness. Yet this climb was different. I still brought up the rear, but with a different kind of fortitude than previous treks. At one point, I put my head down, leaned into the wind, and told myself, “Just keep going.”

It was like my own little sermon on that gusty Sunday morning.

I’m slow at faith, and the older I grow, the slower my faith sometimes seems. As a result, it can be easy for me to feel spiritually weak when compared to the faith-filled-but-overwhelming-Jesus enthusiasts whose faith drips off their chins. When I come to Jesus, I often bring equal parts of doubt and faith. Yet as I climb more of my own mountains of faith, I find a steadying strength in taking the journey one step at a time, especially in those moments when the wind feels it might blow me completely off the mountain.

 

Belief, Books, Culture & Race, Women

If Jesus was brown and non-Western, shouldn’t some of our other heroes be too?

Capture

In search of some role models of faith for my children, I recently began looking for biographies of Christians through history. I found several highly recommended series:

  • Encounter the Saints (Seton)
  • Hero Tales (Bethany House)
  • Men and Women of Faith (Bethany House)
  • Men of Faith (Bethany House)
  • Torchlighters
  • Christian Heroes: Then & Now (YWAM)

As I researched more deeply into these series, several themes stood out:

The Good

  • There are some AMAZING  people out there. The people featured in these titles were take-your-breath-away inspiring. Their examples of sacrifice, passion, commitment, and faithfulness are models for everyone. We need more people who live like they did.
  • We need to spend time hearing stories of those who have gone before us. While many lived in different times, the challenges they faced put our modern sensibilities to shame. Learning about their lives has more to teach us about our own journeys than obsessing over Justin Bieber.

The Needs-Improved

  • The majority of ‘heroes’ were white western men. Looking through the titles, I noticed a significant lack of diversity amongst the characters featured. Most, it seemed, were white men. The current state of the book publishing industry affirms the notion that history tells the story of the ones with the most power. Out of curiosity, I compiled the titles and researched each of the characters for gender, race, nationality, and marital status. Check out some of the results:

weneeddiversebooks (1)

  • Women need more equal representation. While the female figure was higher than I expected, when incorporating marital status, only 6 of the 49 (12%) women featured as the main character of a biography were married. In contrast, 70 out of 102 (69%) men were married. Only five of the biographies I reviewed had titles about men and women together. Who were the women behind the heroes? Why weren’t they featured as prominently as the men since their lives surely included equal levels of sacrifice and commitment? 
  • The Christian world extends far beyond the US, UK, and Europe. China is poised to become the world’s largest Christian country in 15 years. The church is exploding in Africa and the middle east. There is much to learn from the faithful followers in other nations and our faith would be deepened to know more of their stories.

Why does it matter?

Our children need to see that people from any background can follow God. If Revelations tells us that people from every tribe and nation will be in heaven, surely we can write a few books about them here on earth. The message behind the message when the majority of ‘heroes’ are white men is that this status is held only for a privileged few. Until our stories reflect this truth, children will subconsciously absorb this message.

Women need to see themselves as full participants in God’s story. We were not created to hide behind men but to walk beside them as equals. When we are relegated to the woman-behind-the-man, it becomes easy to shirk our own responsibility to heed God’s call on our lives, husband or not.

We need more diverse books. A popular Twitter hashtag, the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement applies in equal measure (if not more) to the Christian publishing industry. Let’s dig deep into our history and publish the stories of our brothers and sisters who have followed Christ around the world, from places of low status and persecution rather than just privilege and power. Perhaps it would give us a deeper understanding of Christ’s call to make all things new.

Belief

Lenses of a Faithful Follower

It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt. — Fyodor Dostoyevski

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I do not often feel full of faith. As a matter of fact, I am far more frequently filled with questions of hows and whys and whens and what ifs. I have known those who walk away from faith in the face of such seeming unbelief. I, too, have had my moments wondering if my lack of belief equated an insurmountable lack of faith. When I reflect on what I have found faith to be, however, I am astounded by how much more there is to being a faithful follower of Christ than merely belief.

What creates a faithful follower? I ponder in the margins of my days. Is it unwavering belief? Unquenchable joy? Overwhelming emotion? While I have frequently seen these experiences defined as faith, none of them are especially familiar to the ever-so-rational-and-logical me. Some days, this leaves me concluding that surely I hold no faith within. Other days, however, I wonder at the full-bodied nature that this faith thing might actually entail.

Indeed, belief, joy, emotion are significant components of faith, ones that the rational-and-logical should not easily dismiss, but to view faith solely through these lenses is an incomplete understanding. When I consider how my faith has grown, there is wide array of lenses through which I see it in my life:

Steadiness. Musician Josh Garrel‘s song Farther Along explores the realities of doubt, belief, wonder and mystery:

Tempted and tried, I wondered why
The good man died, the bad man thrives
And Jesus cries because he loves em’ both
We’re all cast-aways in need of ropes
Hangin’ on by the last threads of our hope
In a house of mirrors full of smoke
Confusing illusions I’ve seen

As I listened one day, I noticed that the song begins with an organ chord that is sustained in the background – without ever resting – throughout the whole song. It struck me as the perfect metaphor for God’s constancy – always there, steadily playing in the background while we create all sorts of other noise in our attempts to understand. Listen for yourself:

God’s steady presence in life leaves me asking how my faith could mirror the same. How can I be a faithful friend? spouse? parent? colleague? Through pursuing such steadiness, I’m reminded how my faith flourishes.

Tolerance for ambiguity. Perhaps one of the most striking realizations I have had in life is that I am not God. I suspect some of you are now thinking, “Wow, she’s a little dense.” You’re probably right, but humor me while I explain further.

Hard things that I do not fully understand happen on a regular basis. They are large things – war, natural disaster, senseless violence, human corruption, destructive disease. But they are also small things that touch my life far more frequently than the large things – struggles finding a satisfying job, dear friends moving away, marriages fighting to thrive, children with hard-questions or strong-wills.

I struggle most with belief when I think that I’m actually capable of understanding completely. Recognizing that the ability to fully understand is beyond my mind’s grasp – in other words, accepting that I am not God – helps me trust a Creator who understands what I do not.

I saw this recently in a conversation with our 11 year old daughter. We were attempting to explain our reasoning on a certain decision that she disagreed with. Between adults, I’ll share that this decision was influenced by things adults understand far better than kids – sticky things like people being power-hungry, manipulative, and passive aggressive. However, we simply could not explain these things to her because she wouldn’t fully understand.

“We’re not telling you the whole story on purpose,” we told her. “It’s too much for you and would overwhelm you because you wouldn’t be able to understand it all. Just trust us – one day you will understand.”

I grinned to hear myself repeating the same exact conversation I’ve had so many times with my Father-in-heaven. Just wait, says the Father-God who knows I couldn’t possibly understand completely. It’s ok not to know everything right now. Trust me.

Humility. It is out of this tolerance for the unknown that humility grows in my life. I awake after a night of tossing and turning about those-freaking-teenagers and my heart says, “This is where you have placed me. I will lean into this because it is what you have given.”

I miss the immigrants, the college students, the big ideas, the stimulating conversations, the quiet offices of my former career, but it is not where I am. Humility sinks deep as I accept the reality that what-I-think-I-want may not be what-should-be. This, too, is faith.

Dignity. The internet has spent the week marveling at the final days of Kara Tippett, the 38-year-old mother of four who has taught us all remarkable lessons about joy in suffering. “The only way to ever really die with dignity,” wrote Ann Voskamp, “is to have lived with dignity. It’s our living well that determines our dying well.”

Tears slide at these words for I know this is my end goal in spite of all the distractions that get in the way – a life of quiet dignity, of loving well, of living deep, and of holding fiercely to hope that lies beyond the grave.

Connection to others. I just spent the weekend with deep-and-old friends, the kind who know you all the way back to your stupid-days and have loved you for decades anyway. We don’t see each other like we used to anymore – our lives are now filled-to-the-brim with studies and careers and families and dogs and neighbors. Yet we had the gift of pausing to sit with one other for a few days, to ask endless questions, to walk alongside one another by the sea and to listen intently to the ups and downs of the years.

While I mourn that we don’t share our daily lives anymore, I rejoice that the connection remains, that there are spaces in the world where I am known, and that who I am is valuable to others. Having moved 7 times in 14 years means that it takes some effort to make these connections, but I am reminded of the restoration they bring to my faith every time I do. Being with soul-friends reconnects me to faith because I am able to tell my whole story to them and they hold that naked soul with gentle hands.

Gratefulness.  I paused in the shadow of the foothills this morning after dropping my kids to school. As the days go, there is always noise tumbling through my head – a worry-here and a to-do-list-there. The mountains though, they sit steady. I whisper a thank you for this steadiness before me and it calms my spirit. From there, I spend my morning noticing all the little moments I am grateful for – a walk with a friend, the warmth of home, a soft-hearted husband, curious kids, kind strangers, loving parents, a healthy body, food in my cupboards. When my eyes are turned toward goodness, the list never ends.

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Living out faith through these lenses right sizes my doubts, allowing them to walk alongside each other rather than completely dismissing all the ways that I do practice faith. It leaves even the skeptic in me humming the quiet hosana of a faithful follower.

He leadeth me: O blessed thought!
O words with heavenly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be,
still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

Refrain:
He leadeth me, he leadeth me;
by his own hand he leadeth me:
his faithful follower I would be,
for by his hand he leadeth me.

Sometimes mid scenes of deepest gloom,
sometimes where Eden’s flowers bloom,
by waters calm, o’er troubled sea,
still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

Lord, I would clasp thy hand in mine,
nor ever murmur nor repine;
content, whatever lot I see,
since ’tis my God that leadeth me.

And when my task on earth is done,
when, by thy grace, the victory’s won,
e’en death’s cold wave I will not flee,
since God through Jordan leadeth me.

Belief, Culture & Race

In honor of the steady faithful

“But I was exposed early to the real stuff – Top Shelf Christianity – Deep and Old Christianity. This kind is practiced by people who work until they stink and take life in great draughts. Their hands are as rough as their hides, and they DO their faith in secret, hiding their good works in obedience to Christ. They know how to love and be loved in return. Their laughter is loud and has its roots in joy.” – Gordon Atkinson

“There is no shortage of good days, it is good lives that are hard to come by.” – Annie Dillard

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I’ve spent a great deal of time both in my writing and my personal life sorting out the ways that I’ve seen race & culture mishandled, especially by Christians & the Church. Sadly, it’s not a difficult experience to find – we are, undeniably, a broken people.

Recently, however, I’ve started reflecting on the ways that I’ve experienced healing and growth in the midst of the deeply broken places. As I ponder, I remember quiet lives of reconciliation lived with a steady faithfulness and unwavering commitment to heal this deeply broken piece of God’s kingdom. In honor of Martin Luther King’s legacy, I’m compelled to share about them today.

I think first of my father-in-law, a humble and unassuming man who surrendered a successful medical career in the US to return to his war-torn home and serve as a government doctor in the rural areas that were suffering greatly from the violence. The war was ethnic, and my father-in-law was often the only ethnic majority person living in areas dominated by the country’s minority group. There were long days with no electricity or water at times and resources were severely lacking. In spite of this, he worked hard to provide the best medical care he could in an area of significant deprivation for years. His work broke down ethnic lines and over time, he became beloved in this community. It wasn’t safe or comfortable or even ‘wise’ at times, but the reconciliation story it tells is striking.

I think next of my brother-in-law, an African-American man currently serving as a public defender in Amish country. A graduate of the East’s most prestigious schools, he could have pursued a far more lucrative path, but instead chooses to work in the broken places and genuinely enjoys his work. Over the course of our lives, we have spent hours in conversation working out life’s details, many of which inevitably include racial issues. While I cringe when I remember questions about race I’ve asked him over the years, he never has. Instead, he’s patiently and kindly shared the reality he has walked for a lifetime. He regularly extends kindness to those with whom he has little in common – mennonite theologians, criminal clients, pig farmers, neighbors in the midst of very difficult lives – and spends hours listening to their stories so that he can learn from them. His consistent honesty and commitment to providing justice in the midst of broken places brings healing to our world one small step at a time.

I think of the white history professor at the small university in the midwestern cornfield, a man fiercely-but-gently committed to educating a predominantly white campus about the history of the civil rights movement. His understanding of racial brokenness ran deep, and he was masterful at helping privileged and often ignorant people engage in realities they had not ever known. When we announced our departure from those very cornfields, he and his wife overflowed with joy for us, for they understood the deep strain the environment had held for our family. We felt the hands of God upholding us through their joy for us in those moments as we hobbled out of town.

I think of another white man of deep kindness in that same small cornfield town. He loved rhododendrons, his wife, and generally everyone around him. His kindness alone created safety for sharing brokenness, and so we spoke quietly at his dining room table about the reality we knew that was so-very-different-than-his. While he may not have fully understood our reality, his willingness to say-so and then to listen and even admit ignorance was a breath of fresh air in a place where so many assumed everyone was just-like-them.

I think of the elderly African-American academic who has mentored my professor-husband in Christian higher ed for most of his adult life. While their relationship is not frequent, it is potent and life-giving, helping my husband navigate the maze of often being-the-only-one with boldness, grace and dignity.

I think of the countless women of color who have modeled such grace and dignity for me. Their lives of fierce honesty and intense pursuit of forgiveness and reconciliation remind me that this path is not always smooth, quiet, or simple. When I pause to remember what is good, their stories of perseverance and wisdom linger long in my story.

I think of the handful of dear-friends who have walked alongside us – celebrating with us when we rejoice and listening to us when we ache. They know our whole-story and still, they remain, sometimes in moments far-too-spaced-out, but ever-present, always steady.

The cacophony of the masses fade when I pause to remember the quiet and steady faithfulness of individual lives pursuing the reconciliation of all things.  They are not merely ‘good people’ but rather quite normal people whose choices and life direction stem deeply from their Christian faith, from their belief in what the church should be and the role they are to play in it regardless of how flawed it actually is. 

They are my “Top-shelf Christians”, these secret, hidden, and unadvertised lives, never to be known widely beyond their own social spheres. Christian magazines will not feature them in headlines nor will they boast of their own initiatives on social media. They don’t wear Christian t-shirts or boast fish bumper stickers; they just do their best to follow Christ’s example of loving the other and tending to brokenness. They are no Barack Obamas, Mother Teresas, or Martin Luther Kings, but their lives of steady faithfulness serve the same purpose. There are so many more just like them, and these well-lived lives offer glimpses of hope into what could be were we all to follow their example.

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If you are so inclined, I’d love to hear stories of the Top-Shelf Christians in your lives who model this same faithfulness. This reconciliation-business is a complicated tasks, and the more examples we have, the better we learn how to go about actually living it out. Share your own stories or links to other examples in the comments below!

Belief, Spiritual Formation

When what you thought would happen doesn’t

Holiness

One of the great joys of working with young people is hearing their dreams.

“I’m going to be an artist.”
“I’ll be a basketball star.”
“I want to travel the world.”
“I’ll be a famous musician.”

Youth can have such hope. The challenge for the older and wiser in their lives, however, is helping them develop the character to maintain their hope if their dreams don’t pan out. I’m forever grateful for the models in my own life who have helped me learn this lesson for it, too, has been a series of dreams, readjusted.

I went to the college of my dreams. I thought it would be the highlight of my life – four years rich with faith and fun in a thriving community. Instead, those years grew dark. Faith walked out the door and the “thriving community” felt a whole lot more like “brainless group-think” to my skeptical soul.

I married the man of my dreams. Deep down, I expected our marriage would be a candlelit-fairytale-just-like-the-movies. Instead, we stumbled over ourselves painfully in our early years of marriage.

We moved to the east coast when we got married. We thought we’d be there a year or two before heading overseas to live-and-save-the-world. Instead, those doors shut and we got a crash course in learning to save ourselves.

Dreams die hard, and even with doors clearly shut, we hoped and pursued overseas work again.  Instead, we landed in a Midwestern cornfield.

I planned to stay home with our young kids. My own mom had been home when we were young and it seemed like a path I would enjoy. Instead, I nearly lost my mind from diapers and tantrums and I found a job-outside-the-house just to maintain some measure of sanity.

I grew to love my-job-outside-the-house. It was life-giving and perfect for me. I thought I’d found a lifelong career path. Instead, our family needs grew more important than my career ones and I walked away.

I wish I could say that each one of these changes-in-plan came with a steady faith and assurance of God’s guidance in my life. That is not, however, the case. With every instead also came moments of confused and desperate questions like Where are you, God? and Why me?  As time passed, I began to see a bigger picture, but in the midst of the little-moments, I could see nothing but the very next step.

During one of the more difficult insteads years ago, a soul-friend encouraged me to write a letter to God with my honest feelings, not the ones I thought I was supposed to have. After detailing the injustices I’d felt, I ended my letter with these words:

In Your mystery, You were gracious to me. At least, this is what I tell myself. But that’s not what I really feel. What I really feel is resentment toward you for what is happening. I’m angry that you didn’t lead me to a different way. I’m bitter that you let the water boil over to burn me, leaving my soul blistered and raw. I’m ashamed that I am not the perfect little child I’d chalked myself up to be. I’m grieving the life that I had so glorified and dreading the life that you are preparing for me.

I feel a little guilty that I don’t have the ‘right’ attitude about this. But I’ve spent far too long faking it, and can’t muster up even one more mask. I doubt it would do much good anyway. What I’m looking for now, father-god, is the real thing. I feel like I’ve been slowly shedding the fake stuff for years now, and am desperate for the real.

So here I am, my blistered, raw and aching soul ripped wide open.

Do with me as you will.

Through quiet tears, I read the letter aloud to my soul-friend. When I finished, she gave me words that I will carry in my heart forever, “I’ve just witnessed a holy moment.”

It was the breaking of the dam for me, the first moment when I saw that holiness is not merely doing-the-right-things but rather living-fully-into-what-is. I look back now and see that the insteads were deeply holy years, ripe with moments that stripped me of all notions of what I thought should be and gave me the gift of living into what actually is.

Truth is, the insteads will always be part of life. Whether dramatic-and-life-changing or small-and-seemingly-insignificant, my well-constructed plan may not always be the one that actually goes into effect.

The relationship will be hard.

The job will not go smoothly.

The dog will try to eat the tortoise.

The move will be lonely.

The children will make broken choices.

While these years don’t hold near the drama or angst of my twenties, I find them equally intense, filled to the brim with holy-and-breathtaking-moments that I don’t notice as often as I should. As life tumbles day after day into a series of completing to-do lists, pursuing long-term goals, navigating career choices, guiding little-souls and deepening friendships, the holy moments feel far more like holy days, holy weeks, holy years. And very few of those moments are happening exactly-how-I-thought-they-would, thank God. (Who knows where I’d be left entirely to my own devices?!?)

When what you thought would happen doesn’t, everything shifts. Questions surface. Anxieties bubble. Hope teeters. This is when the holy begins, for it is in the moments where our grip is loose enough for our fingers to actually let go that we begin to grasp the real meaning of faith. While the moments don’t feel particularly holy, they require a level of honesty, courage, hope, perseverance and wisdom that I had no idea how much I needed when I tearfully whispered those words that broke open the holy-moments, “Do with me as you will.”


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Belief, Spiritual Formation

Jesus is not a band-aid: Making life-giving decisions when God feels silent

Don’t brashly announce what you’re going to do tomorrow;
you don’t know the first thing about tomorrow.
Proverbs 27:1 (The Message)
 

Sometimes I think life would be a whole lot easier if God were more of a cosmic puppeteer who made our choices for us rather than leaving us to all of this unpredictable and overwhelming freedom.

Of course, I’m happy to be in control of the little decisions in life like if to buy ice cream, when to go to bed or which lane to drive on the freeway. But the big decisions – like living with integrity, raising healthy children, thriving relationally, navigating career steps, managing money – they’re freakin’ hard. The answers for these questions don’t always fall clearly at my feet and it sure would be helpful if someone just showed up and said, “Here is the path for your life! Take it!”

Some days, I scour my Bible for the verse that reads:

Thou shalt take the job that is offered to you on August 1, 2014 at 9:03 a.m., live in the brown house with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms on Main Street, buy a 20 gallon aquarium for your son with the next paycheck, and become best friends with the brown-haired lady in the polka-dot shirt who smiles at you in the hallway next week.
 

Instead, I find these words:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me besides still waters.
He restores my soul.   
 

Apparently, the Bible speaks more clearly to giving life than to dictating its specific terms. Not all decisions are clear-cut, and sometimes the only thing God promises is to walk with us through them, not to tell us which way to go. My struggle, however, with this promise has often been that I still have to make hard decisions. While God’s presence helps me put one foot in front of the other, it doesn’t tell me exactly what to do. It’s kind of like my dad used to tell me, “Jesus isn’t a band-aid* that we just slap on to fix every little problem.” 

Sometimes healing (and decision-making and life-skill building and relationships and parenting and professional expertise and personal awareness) takes time and energy to learn.  Sometimes we mess up and realize we don’t know that first thing about tomorrow or how to get there.

This is where wisdom and discernment enter the picture.  Years ago, I started a pile of 3×5 cards where I kept all sorts of pieces of life-giving wisdom that I discovered in the process of walking through life. Some came from Bible verses, others from books or quotes. On each card, I’d designate a topic that the words applied to in my life. Themes like courage, insecurity, risk-taking, judgmentalism, and hope began to appear that reflected my life situations. Here are a few examples:

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When I reach those moments where God’s presence feels far-away because I’m so overwhelmed by life’s details, I grab my Life-giver cards, find the topics pertinent to the day, and sneak to the back patio (followed invariably by the kids, the dog and the tortoise) to sit with wisdom compiled over the years. Occasionally the kids get too loud or the dog tries to eat the tortoise, but overall, the practice of sitting with wise words – even when chaos surrounds me – keeps me honest, recenters my perspective and calms my anxieties.

These calm-in-the-storm moments are far more than a band-aid… They are a balm, handlebars for life on the days when I feel wildly out-of-control and uncertain about tomorrow. I love that they’re low-tech (no social media connections to distract me), consistent and portable. I love that they’re starting to yellow and show the years because each time I revisit them, I’m reminded of the many timeless truths that have given me so much life.

I’d love to hear from you… What are your handlebars when band-aids fail to heal? How do you walk through life’s big decisions and unknown outcomes with courage and hope?

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* As it turns out, my dad was kind of wrong. Jesus is actually a band-aid and you can buy him here…sigh.

** I’d like to also take the opportunity to give a shout-out to Jan Johnson, the author who should receive credit for the cards above referencing fear, community, and anger. If you haven’t read her books, you should.


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Belief, Spiritual Formation

When practicing creativity doesn’t feel much like creating art

It is finally Saturday, and in the slow, I sit with these long-loved questions from Annie Dillard’s classic Holy the Firm:

What can any artist set on fire but his world? What can any people bring to the altar but all it has ever owned in the thin towns or over the desolate plains? What can an artist use but materials, such as they are? What can he light but the short string of his gut, and when that’s burnt out, any muck ready to hand?

I don’t feel much like an artist anymore – this quiet soul returning to the noise of the teenagers and desks and hallways and lunch periods. My feet feel like clay. My voice rasps. My back begs for relief.

Where is the art in the nitty-gritty day-to-day of the classroom? I wonder. The materials I’m working with are attitudes and hormones and distractedness and way-too-much-chatting. It feels reminiscent to the first time I threw clay on a wheel, feebly attempting to shape it into something useful. It had a mind of its own and my hands had no clue how to shape it. Returning to the adolescent classroom after a decade away feels much the same way.

I come back to sit again with Annie’s words:

[The artists’s] face is flame like a seraph’s, lighting the kingdom of God for the people to see; his life goes up in the works; his feet are waxen and salt. He is holy and he is firm, spanning all the long gap with the length of his love, in flawed imitation of Christ on the cross stretched both ways unbroken and thorned. So must the work be also, in touch with, in touch with, in touch with; spanning the gap, from here to eternity, home.

My life – it is aflame, I muse. It is certainly ‘up in the works’. This artist’s waxen and oh-so-flawed feet are on the move once again, stumbling over themselves as they learn a new way. I miss my kind and grateful immigrant-students. I do not yet understand these loud teenager-ones.

I breathe deep and slow, knowing that these steps, too, are holy and firm, spanning long gaps filled with depths of flawed, broken, but redeemed love. This, too, in all of its gritty mundane, is the kingdom of God, needing lit for the people to see. The raw material in this new phase is no less than any other path I have walked. It may, in fact, be even more given the nature of adolescents.

“You’re better than this,” I say to the boy-too-cool-for-school quietly in the hall. “I see so much more than what you let on. You’re a leader, talented and overflowing with potential. Don’t hide it just to impress others. That’s no way to live.”

I know he hears me. I don’t know if it will change him for today, but I can only hope it sinks in by tomorrow. I realize as I speak to him that he’s not the only raw material I’m working with.

The creativity needed to span the gap of my own flaws shows up far more than I’d like in times of transition. It calls me to be an artist with my own self, to bring my thin and desolate places to the altar and lay them down, trusting that even in the gaps, there is a holy and firm place to stand.


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Belief

When there’s no light at the end of the tunnel

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“I don’t know what’s wrong,” the concern in the doctor’s eyes told my mother-heart that this wasn’t a good thing. Our 1-year-old daughter had spiked at a fever of over 105 for over a week without any other symptoms. Cautiously, the doctor explained his concern over the lack of additional symptoms because this could indicate a more chronic illness like leukemia or juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or all sorts of other options a mother should not be left to wonder about.

We were completely in the dark, with no answers and no light at the end of the tunnel.

Gratefully, a few days later, my daughter’s tiny neck swelled, indicating a localized infection, and the light flickered on. “Wow, that’s just great!” the doctor exclaimed with relief when we showed him. I didn’t feel quite as relieved as he seemed, but I also knew that it meant there was a symptom to treat rather than more dark tunnels. She ended up with a 2 week hospital stay and surgery at a children’s hospital, but once we found the source of the problem, it was ultimately treatable and relatively short-lived.

My daughter’s hospitalization was neither the first nor last time I have felt lost in such a visionless tunnel.  There have been years of questions without answers:

I’ve waited on pins and needles for results of job interviews, medical tests, bank account balances and academic examinations – some with great results and others not-so-much. In every situation, the waiting-in-the-dark is by far the hardest part.

Once there is an answer – good or bad – at least I can begin to deal with it. But darkness? No response? Endless waiting? Unguaranteed outcomes?

This does me in. 

I rant to myself or those close enough to me who won’t think worse of me for it. I lose myself online, wasting hours with mind-numbing and meaningless activity. I’m not much of a cryer, but sometimes, when the darkness has threatened to consume everything, the tears have slipped down my cheeks in quiet angst. Other times, in uncharacteristic anger, I have beat my fists on a steering wheel, protected by the privacy of my car, pleading with God to catch some faint glimmer of hope.

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There’s plenty of light – both figuratively and literally – where I live now. The sun shines almost 300 days a year, and blue skies are the norm. Life these days offers a buffer that allows me to step back for the moment and ponder the darker days I’ve walked.

What were those years for? I’ve often wondered, or as it sometimes comes out, What-the-hell were you thinking, God?

The answers come slowly – I don’t know that I’ll ever fully understand every dark path I’ve walked. But as my soul rests in the light of these days, one of the truths I consistently see about the dark days is how closely God walks alongside those who don’t know where they are.

I couldn’t see it at the time, but with space to look back, what I remember most vividly are the times when God heard. At the time, of course, it felt like thin air to me, but hindsight paints a different picture:

My shouts of where ARE You? fell onto the pages of Job, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations and the Psalms in good company with a whole variety of other hopeless followers.

My fears of what happens if it all falls apart? unraveled in the safety and faithfulness of loved ones who knew listening hearts and open arms were as valuable as answered questions and systematically constructed theologies.

My questions of will I make it? sunk deep and forced me to grapple with where my strength and hope really lay.

My whispers of are You good? echoed beneath every denouncement of pain-in-the-world that I didn’t understand.

It was not the ‘unshakable faith’ I’d learned as a young believer. This faith-in-the-dark was one that shook to the core. It was, however, surprisingly stronger.  Like so many cantankerous souls in the Bible, it left me unafraid to bring my questions to God – both faith-filled and faithless.  It blew my faith open wide to allow the possibility for answers to be beyond myself and my control. Ultimately, it brought me to my knees in surrender of all that I held dear – even my own faith.

The lessons aren’t over, I’m sure. The dark days will most certainly come again. While I can’t quite say that I welcome them, neither can I deny the ways they have shaped me. My world would be a very different place without the darkness of the days I’ve known. Though I couldn’t see it at the time, they’ve taught me some invaluable lessons that I carry with me through these brighter days:

Lament. As a young believer, I learned a lot about the value of joy. To my understanding, followers of Christ were happy, well-adjusted, and optimistic. But when those values seemed unreachable, I found all sorts of other stories in the Bible about people who followed God fiercely and yet also raged, lost perspective, and doubted. As they lamented the brokenness within and around them, it changed who they were, how they saw the world and interacted with the people in it. Lamenting created an insatiable thirst for the restoration of the broken, and it often compelled them to pursue healing for the very sorrows they lamented.

Connect.  Because modern society is increasingly fragmented and isolated, connecting in meaningful ways with others will be a pivotal component of how we develop in healthy ways. While it’s certainly true that it’s hardest to find another person in the dark, it’s equally true that when we do, we feel much less alone. Sitting in a corner waiting for someone to find us doesn’t work nearly as well as shouting out, “Is anyone out there?” and listening for a response. Sometimes, all we need is to know we’re not alone and the burden instantly becomes more bearable.  Even in the darkest moments, being able to share vulnerably in a safe space can create lasting and permanent change within.

Hope. I must admit that in dark days, hope is one of the last things on my mind. And yet hindsight reminds me that it was the darkness of the days that compelled me most strongly toward hope. In my agnostic days, I often commented I didn’t pray at all. In retrospect, I see now that every breath I took was a prayer. I was not at all apathetic about my belief in God, (or in the term my rector Michael Swanson so brilliantly coined, an “apa-theist”), because it shook my soul to imagine that I was left to fend for myself on this chaotic mess of a planet. Even in my greatest moments of angst, my ultimate hope was for hope to actually be possible and not pointless.

If the light of my current days has taught me one thing, it’s that stars shine brightest in the darkest places. As much as I love living closer to a city, I will also admit that the dark and empty places I’ve lived have also offered far more beautiful glimpses of the stars precisely because they taught me how to lament, to connect in vulnerable ways to others, and to hope in spite of the brokenness. As the wounded parts heal, I feel a bit like one of those resilient little flowers pushing its way up through a crack in the concrete, a brief glimmer of beauty blossoming from what once felt so very empty and alone.

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Belief

What comes after the bend-til-you-break days

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
Romans 5:3-4
 

When my nieces were little, I once watched from the corner as scheming-older-sister tormented innocent-baby-sister when Mom wasn’t looking. Older-sister would lean hard on baby-sister’s back, bending her little body in two, forcing her forehead as close to the ground as she could get. Baby-sister fought back fiercely – I watched her little face turn red in silent effort to withstand her sister’s pressure – until her nose was barely an inch from the ground and she let out a shriek that made big-sister relent and quickly attempted to tell angry-mom that she hadn’t “do-ed anything” to make baby-sister cry.

I spent most of my twenties feeling a lot like baby-sister. They were a decade when I learned the harsh reality of theory-meeting-practice, and the times in life Paul refers to as ‘suffering’. There was a lot of fierce and silent enduring, being bent in half until I just couldn’t take it anymore and let out a shriek to the sky, hoping someone would come to my rescue.

As I approach my 40s, I’m starting to see the benefits that the fierce bending of my 20s forged. I remember reading Romans 3 as though it were a linear process with a definite end point – suffering formed endurance which created character which turned into hope. At the time, I estimated I was firmly rooted in the suffering stage. Over the course of a few years, I noticed that the ‘suffering’ seemed to be subsiding and life seemed to require more endurance.

Aha! I thought. I’ve moved to the next step. Suffering: check.  Good thing I’m done with that. On to endurance!

Predictably, endurance showed up as a main act in my life. My early thirties brought stubborn toddlers, a husband entrenched in a PhD program, and an isolated life in the middle of a cornfield that was exactly the opposite of everything I had ever dreamt for myself. Every day required the drudge of one-foot-in-front-of-the-other. Endurance became my tried and true friend.

In spite of this drudging-reality, many pieces of life were rich and good. Though they threw temper tantrums and reeked havoc on my value of a good night’s sleep, I loved my toddlers in a way I had never loved before. Though my husband both worked and studied full time, he remained a faithful friend and loving father. Though I struggled to walk a different way in a world of sameness, slowly, I found my voice. Though the cornfields often felt silent and empty, my soul reaped the benefits of living in a world without much noise. While the suffering of my twenties had quieted, endurance sang its steady song.

As I walked alongside endurance, I learned some helpful life-skills like ignoring the Jones, practicing the spiritual disciplines, and living my own story faithfully. A square peg in a round hole, I found ample opportunity to practice both kindness toward others and compassion with myself. I didn’t always make it to either one of those goals, but I did get plenty of practice. Eventually, I completely gave up trying to fit in, pierced my nose and leaned hard on endurance to help me seek out the other tender-hearted souls who lived in the margins as well. Sometimes, I wondered if the enduring years would ever end.

To my great surprise, they did. I find myself now in a place where there’s space for someone-like-me. I have friends. My work is meaningful and life giving. I delight in my children and thoroughly enjoy my role as their mother. My husband and I sit on our front porch, drink coffee, and chat again like old friends while the kids ride their scooters down the street to the neighbor’s house. No one looks at us like we’re aliens anymore – we blend in just fine. Our community is growing, and daily life feels rich and meaningful and connected. I am happy – perhaps the happiest I’ve ever been in my adult life.

I’d be foolish, however, to somehow assume that happiness equates the-next-Romans-step of character. The happiness is merely a gift-for-the-day – one that I treasure mightily – but one that also has the potential of slipping through my fingers at any given moment. The gift-for-the-lifetime is the character that has been growing beneath it all through the suffering-and-enduring years.

I feel it sometimes, like when I walk down the street and breathe in the mountains, the palm trees and the blue skies, grateful for both the moment-at-hand and all the moments that have been and will be, suffering, enduring and all. I feel it when I want to throw an all-out-internal-temper-tantrum but instead pause and pray simply, Lord, have mercy – on me and all the other crazies out there. I feel it when the day doesn’t go my way and I retreat silently in the evening to rest and refocus rather than sulk and pout. I feel it when my hips round and my body ages and I know there is more to life than bikini worthy figures and wrinkle free faces. I feel it when the character growing slowly within starts to feel a whole lot like hope.

It’s not all perfect, but it’s changing one slow day at a time. I used to think life was a straight slant upward – once I learned one thing, it would be done for good and time to move onto the next. I now know it’s more like a spiral where we hit the same vertical points that tell the same stories time and again, but at different levels with new skills and deeper levels of maturity and faith. The gift of the Romans 5 spiral of suffer-endure-character-hope is that as it repeats itself in my life, each time carries a bit more faith, hope and love than the one before.

Belief, Books

The question that never goes away

I first read Where is God when it Hurts as a young 20-something agnostic.  Yancey’s delicate and thoughtful exploration of the reasons behind the presence of pain in the world spoke to many of the questions that had left me questioning the existence of a loving creator. Intrigued by what I read, I devoured the rest of his books, my other favorites being Disappointment with God and Soul Survivor: How my Faith Survived the Church.  Unlike other books I’d read, these were not apologetics as much as they were simple admissions of hard-questions and honest reflections on how he’d walked through them.

While I have slowly returned to faith in the years since my agnostic angst, the questions that Yancey addresses in his writing have never fully gone away. Why do horrible things happen? Is God unfair? Is he silent? Is he hidden?

These questions simmer behind every tragic headline or heart-breaking story I encounter. For awhile, I considered the fact that I couldn’t reconcile a loving God with a tragic world a distinct lack of faith. So I understandably grinned when I came across Yancey’s newest book, The Question that Never Goes Away: Why.  A sequel to Where is God when it hurts, his new book examines the questions that the recent tragedies of Newtown, the Japanese Tsunami, and the atrocities of civil war in Sarajevo raise.  Because of the relevancy of his book Where is God when it hurts, Yancey was invited to speak in the aftermath of each of these places.  

He speaks of these tragedies tenderly and gently, acknowledging with brutal honesty their unimaginable losses and heartbreaking consequences. I’m not much of a crier, but it didn’t even take me 5 pages to tear up.  These situations were unspeakably horrific, and their realities left the whole world’s souls aching.

What I appreciate most about Yancey’s writing is his commitment to brutal honesty, willingness to admit that sometimes the answers elude, and conviction that we play a piece of God’s plan to renew and restore the brokenness in our world.  He writes,

“Optimism promises that things will gradually improve, Christian hope promises that creation will be transformed. Until then, God evidently prefers not to intervene in every instance of evil or natural disaster, no matter how grievous. Rather, God has commissioned us as agents of intervention in the midst of a hostile and broken world.”

Here’s another gem that captures well his willingness to face the difficulty of pain head-on:

After spending time in Japan and Newtown, I have adopted a two-part test I keep in mind before offering counsel to a suffering person.  First, I ask myself how these words would sound to a mother who kissed her daughter goodbye as she put her on the school bus and then later that day was called to identify her bloody body.  Would my words bring comfort or compound the pain? Then I ask myself what Jesus would say to that mother.  Few theological explanations pass those tests.

Finally – someone has the guts to admit the theologians don’t always have all the answers. Drawing from a rich knowledge of literature and philosophers, Yancey wades through the muddy waters of unanswerable questions with an intense level of equal parts faith and doubt. At one point, he writes about the final question he received in an audience following the Newtown tragedy, calling it the one he most “did not want to hear”:  Will God protect my child?

His response:

“No, I’m sorry. I can’t promise that.” None of us is exempt. We all die, some old, some tragically young. God provides support and solidarity, yes, but not protection – at least not the kind of protection we desperately long for. On this cursed planet, even God suffered the loss of a son.

The questions never go away, he acknowledges.  However, in the closing chapter of the book, he explores several answers to the question ‘Where is God?’  I highly recommended spending a few hours with this tiny-pack-a-punch (and a kleenex!) book to read more about his conclusions.  They’re well worth the consideration should these questions never leave your soul either.

Belief, Culture & Race

101 culturally diverse Christian voices

101 culturally diverse voices sq“I’m just tired of only hearing white, mainstream evangelical voices,” a good friend lamented to me recently. “Why aren’t voices from other backgrounds listened to in the same way as the white voices?” I heard the weariness of consistent exclusion in his question, and frankly, wondered the same thing myself.

When I saw Rachel Held Evans’ list of 101 Christian Women Speakers a few months ago, I was struck most by their lack of representation and recognition in the mainstream white evangelical Christian culture.  Looking at the speakers at so many Christian conferences and gatherings, it would appear that white males are the only people qualified to speak from a place of faith. Rachel’s list showed us that this was not so.

As I researched this list, I was struck by how many great voices from diverse backgrounds are speaking in the public sphere through all sorts of mediums – writing, music, art, speaking.  It is my hope that this list will broaden the conversation even further and be a resource to help distribute the collective voice beyond only one dominant cultural perspective in the public Christian sphere.

A few things to note about this list:

  1. This is not a ‘best of’ list.  It is a list to highlight the vast array of voices from culturally diverse backgrounds speaking actively about faith. My goal is mainly to show that such voices are plentiful and active in order to encourage the white Christian body at large better access to finding and listening to more perspectives as a norm – not an afterthought, exception or token.
  2. This is not a list of conference speakers. I attend professional conferences, but tend to steer clear of Christian ones.  I learned long ago that the group-think/yay-rah environment of Christian conferences wears my soul out quickly.  If I go on a retreat, it’s usually a silent one or at least a very small one without personality-driven agendas. Many of the people on this list do speak, but some of them write or paint or sing as well.  Their perspectives can be listened to through their writings, their creative work, and their voices.
  3. That being said, I value public voices deeply, but I tend to listen to them instead one at a time through books, blogs, and organizations. As a result, I tried to include people from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and perspectives who have this type of public voice.  Sometimes I gave preference to people with a stronger online presence not because they’re ‘better’ voices, simply because they’re easier to follow and hear from in a public context.  I also gave preference to some lesser-known voices over very-established ones like Tony Campolo, Luis Palau, Cornel West, Desmond Tutu, John Perkins, Ravi Zacharias, and Tony Evans.  That being said, I did also include some voices that have been around for quite some time but may not be as widely recognized like Ruth Padilla, Ajith Fernando, Samuel Escobar, Ken Fong, Noel Castellanos, and Michael Oh.
  4. Since I live in the US and the vast majority of my readers are from the US, much (though not all) of this list is also based in the US.  Singular vision and polarized conversation may very well be a problem more unique to the American church, and for this particular weakness we need lists such as these. For practical reasons, I did not include voices who communicate primarily in languages other than English. I am sorely aware of the privilege this reinforces, but also found it the most useful way to create a list like this.
  5. There is no intentional theological bent or classification for this list.  The voices represent a range from conservative to liberal, Catholic to protestant and I made no attempt to include or exclude voices because of their particular theological perspectives. The only qualification I looked at was if the person publicly identified as a Christian. That being said, it is likely ‘imbalanced’ in some fashion or another and is also most probably heavier on evangelicals and/or protestants because this is my own background as well as the protestant perspective running many conferences and powerful publishing companies.
  6. This list, of course, is woefully incomplete, and like Rachel, I encourage others to form their own lists of valuable voices that diverge from the mainstream. Additionally, please feel free to leave others’ information I may have missed (or your own!) in the comment section below. The louder the collective voice, the more clearly it is heard. I’d love to see others create their own lists – global theologians, regional voices (I could have made a similar list of 101 culturally diverse voices in LA alone!), or ethnic group specific voices.
  7. If you are included in this list and I have listed incorrect or incomplete information, please let me know and I’d be happy to correct it.
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Khristi Adams @KhristiLauren
Author, Campus Pastor, Documentary Filmmaker, Youth Advocate
Watch a promo for her book.
Watch her speak.  
Watch “Chivalry is Dead” documentary. 
Southern California
 
Robin Afrik @afrikadvantage
Speaker, national consultant and strategist on issues surrounding reconciliation/diversity, international adoption, multi-cultural families’ and identity formation. 
http://afrikadvantage.com/
Check out her work here.
Holland, Michigan 
 
Dr. David Anderson @AndersonSpeaks
Pastor. Author. Radio Show Host
http://www.andersonspeaks.com/
Check out his books here.
Washington, DC
 
Ramez Atallah @RamezAtallah
General Director, The Bible Society of Egypt 
http://rameza.wordpress.com/
Listen to him speak.
Egypt
 
Sami Awad @Sami_Awad
Founder and Executive Director of Holy Land Trust
http://www.holylandtrust.org/
Listen to him speak here.
Palestine
 
Leroy Barber @LeroyBarber
Executive Director, Word Made Flesh
http://www.wordmadeflesh.org/
Listen to him speak here.  
Check out his book here.
 
Eric D. Barreto @ericbarreto
Theology professor, Luther Seminary
http://www2.luthersem.edu/ebarreto/ebarreto/About.html
Check out his writing here
Listen to him speak here.
Saint Paul, Minnesota
  
Cheryl Bear
First Nations Musician and speaker
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cheryl-Bear/70132140328
Listen to her music here.  
Listen to her speak here.
Check out her book here.
Canada
 
Grace Biskie @gracebiskie
Blogger/author, advocate, community activist 
http://gracebiskie.com/
Read more of her writing here.
Kalamazoo, Michigan
  
Edward J. Blum @edwardjblum
Author, teacher, student of race, religion, culture, politics
http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~histweb/faculty_and_staff/faculty_bios/e_blum.htm
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
San Diego, California
 
 
Amena Brown Owen @amenabee
Writer. Poet. Hip hop head.@spelman woman
http://www.amenabrown.com/
Check out her book here.
Listen to her spoken word here.
Atlanta, Georgia
 
Austin Channing Brown @austinchanning
Learner. Listener. Trainer. Writer. On a mission to make the racial divide smaller.
http://austinchanning.com/
Read more about her here.
Chicago, Illinois
  
Velynn Brown @gospelrainsong
Blogger, Poet
http://velynnbrown.com/
Pacific Northwest
 
J. Kameron Carter @jkameroncarter
Writer, intellectual.  Professor of theology and black church studies at Duke University. 
http://jkameroncarter.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
North Carolina
  
Noel Castellanos @NoelCCDA
CEO of Christian Community Development Association
http://www.ccda.org/about/staff
Check out his books here.  
Watch him speak here.
Chicago, Illinois
 
Elias Chacour
Former Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth. Writer, reconciler between Arabs and Israelis
Check out his books here.  
Watch him speak here.  
Israel 
 
Mark Charles @wirelesshogan
Native American writer
http://wirelesshogan.blogspot.com/
Watch his videos here.
Navajo Nation
 
Peter W. Chin @peterwchin
Pastor of Peace Fellowship in D.C. 
peterwchin.com
Read his writing here.
Listen to him speak here.
Washington, D.C.
  
Eugene Cho @EugeneCho
Christ Follower. Husband. Father. Pastor. Humanitarian. Activist. Founder of One Days Wages, Q Cafe, and Seattle Quest Church
http://eugenecho.com/
Listen to his TedTalk.
Check out his upcoming book.
Seattle, Washington
 
 
 James Choung @jameschoung
author of True Story & Real Life, national director @IVWitness, founder @vineyardU, speaker, professor
http://www.jameschoung.net/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Los Angeles, California
 
Christena Cleveland @CSCleve
Author of DISUNITY IN CHRIST: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart.
http://www.christenacleveland.com/
Check out her book here.
Listen to her speak here.
Minneapolis, Minnesota
 
Rev. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, Ph.D.
Dean of Esperanza College, Eastern University
http://www.eastern.edu/about/university-leadership/rev-elizabeth-conde-frazier-phd
Listen to her speak here.
Check out her books.
Pennsylvania
 
Orlando Crespo
Pastor, theologian, writer
https://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/author.pl/author_id=1407
Check out his book here.
Listen to him speak here
New York
 
Linson Daniel @Linson_Daniel
Area Director for @INTERVARSITYusa. Teacher. Blogger. Podcaster. Musician. 
http://www.linsondaniel.com/
Listen to his podcast.
Dallas, Texas
 
Ruth Padilla Deborst
Theologian and educator
http://www.stjames-cambridge.org/padilla-deborst/
Read an interview here.
Watch her speak here.
 
Miguel De La Torre @DrDeLaTorre
Professor of Social Ethics and Latino/a Studies at Illiff School of Theology, writer, speaker
http://www.drmigueldelatorre.com/
Listen to him speak here.  
Check out his books here.
Denver, Colorado
 
Mark DeYmaz @markdeymaz
Founding Pastor: Mosaic Church (AR); Executive Director: Mosaix Global Network; multi-ethnic church movement leader: author, columnist, consultant.
http://www.mosaix.info/
Listen to him speak here.  
Check out his book here.
Little Rock, Arkansas
 
Joshua Dubois @joshuadubois
Author of bestseller, The President’s Devotional; @thedailybeast columnist; led @whitehouse faith office
http://joshuadubois.com/
Check out his book here.  
Listen to an interview with Joshua here.  
Washington, DC  
 
Dennis Edwards @RevDrDre
Teacher, mentor, pastor of Sanctuary Covenant Church.
http://dennisredwards.com/
Listen to him speak here.  
Minneapolis, Minnesota
 
Samuel Escobar
Writer, theologian
Watch him speak here.
Check out his books here.
 
Helen Soosan Fagan @drhelenfagan
Teacher, global leadership scholar, diversity consultant
http://helenfagan.com/
Watch her TedTalk here.
Lincoln, Nebraska
 
Richard Allen Farmer @timsdad
Bible expositor, concert artist, worship leader
http://richardallenfarmer.com/
Watch him speak here
Dallas, Texas
 
Ajith Fernando
Writer, theologian, preacher, former country director of YFC Sri Lanka 
https://www.facebook.com/AjithFernandoYFC
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.  
Sri Lanka
 
Anton Flores @ANTONofALTERNA
co-founder of Alterna, a Christian missional community that offers accompaniment, advocacy, and hospitality to Latin American immigrants
http://www.alternacommunity.com/
Read his blog here.
Listen to him speak here.
LaGrange, Georgia
 
  
Ken Fong @KenUyedaFong
Pastor, Evergreen Baptist Church
http://www.ebcla.org/
Check out his books.
Watch videos from his church here.  
Los Angeles, California
 
Makoto Fujimora @iamfujimura
Artist, writer, creative catalyst
http://www.makotofujimura.com/
Check out his book here.  
Watch him speak here.
New York
  
Nicole Baker Fulgham @nicolebfulgham
public school advocate, faith-motivated justice seeker, founder of The Expectations Project
http://www.theexpectationsproject.org/about-us/leadership/
Check out her book here.  
Listen to her speak here.  
Washington, DC
 
Marilyn Gardner @marilyngard
Writer, blogger on cultural issues and third culture kids
http://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/
Cambridge, Massachusetts
 
Ivy George
Academic in Sociology & Social Work at Gordon College, speaker, writer
Ivy is an especially captivating speaker.  Watch her speak here.
Check out her books here.
Massachussetts
  
Edward Gilbreath @EdGilbreath 
 Author of Reconciliation Blues and Birmingham Revolution.
http://www.edgilbreath.com/
Listen to him speak here.
Check out his books here
Chicago, Illinois
 
Justo Gonzalez
Theologian, writer, academic
Check out his renowned theological books here.  
 
  
Derwyn L. Gray @DerwinLGray
Lead Pastor of Transformation Church; Former NFL Player
 http://www.derwinlgray.com/
Listen to him speak here.
Check out his books here.  
Charlotte, North Carolina
 
Jelani Greenidge @jelanigreenidge
Writer, communicator, comedian, thinker, speaker, musician
http://jelanigreenidge.com/
Listen to his music here.  
Check out his comedy here.  
Listen to him speak here.  
Portland, Oregon
   
Gustavo Gutierrez
Peruvian theologian, author, endowed professor at Notre Dame
http://theology.nd.edu/people/faculty/gustavo-gutierrez-o-p/
Check out his books here.
 
 
Erna Hackett @ErnaSings
Songwriter, Blogger, Social Justice leader, Intervarsity staff member
http://feistythoughts.com/
Listen to her music here.  
Los Angeles, California
 
Linda Hargrove @llhargrove
Fiction Writer
http://llhargrove.com/
Check out her books here.
Watch a trailer for her book here.
North Carolina
  
Lisa Sharon Harper @lisasharper
Director of Mobilizing @Sojourners. author, political activist
http://sojo.net/biography/lisa-sharon-harper
Check out her books here.  
Listen to her speak here.  
Washington, DC
 
Gary Haugen @garyhaugen
President & CEO of International Justice Mission
http://www.ijm.org/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Washington, DC
 
Young Lee Hertig
Co-founder and Executive Director of Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity
http://www.isaacweb.org/
Check out her book here.  
Pasadena, California
 
Peter Hong
Pastor of New Community Covenant Church
http://thenewcom.com/who-we-are/our-staff/
His sermons are rich and deep.  Listen here.  
Chicago, Illinois
 
Munther Isaac @MuntherIsaac
Christian Palestinian professor at Bethlehem Bible College
http://muntherisaac.blogspot.com/
Watch him speak here.
Jerusalem, Israel
 
Greg Jao @GregJao
Urbana emcee, IVCF National Field Director, author of Your Mind’s Mission
http://www.intervarsityleads.org/
Check out his book here.  
Listen to him speak here.  
New York
 
Katelyn from By Their Strange Fruit 
Blogger on race and christianity
http://bytheirstrangefruit.blogspot.com/
Columbus, Ohio
  
Skye Jethani @skye_jethani
Christian author, speaker, editor, pastor. 
http://www.skyejethani.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Chicago, Illinois
 
Rachel Pieh Jones @RachelPiehJones
Writer, development worker in Djibouti
http://www.djiboutijones.com/
Djibouti
 
Kathy Khang @mskathykhang 
Reader. Writer. Speaker. Follower of Jesus. Regional multiethnic ministries director @intervarsityusa.
http://morethanservingtea.wordpress.com/
Read an interview with Kathy.
Check out her book here.
Chicago, Illinois
 
Grace Ji-Sun Kim @Gracejisunkim
Author, visiting researcher at Georgetown University. 
http://gracejisunkim.wordpress.com/
Check out her books here.  
Listen to her speak here
 
Helen Lee @HelenLeeAuthor
Author, journalist, speaker, blogger
http://helenleeauthor.com/
Check out her books here.
Listen to her speak here.
Chicago, Illinois
 
Terry LeBlanc
Director, My People International; Chair, North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies; Indigenous Studies Program Director at Tyndale University College & Seminary
http://www.mypeopleinternational.com/index.html
Watch him speak here.
Canada
 
Grace Hwang Lynch @HapaMamaGrace
Writer, Consultant, Blogger, News Editor at BlogHer @BlogHerNews
http://hapamama.com/
San Francisco Bay area, California
 
Zaida Maldonado Pérez
Professor of church history and theology at Asbury Theological Seminary
http://www.asburyseminary.edu/person/dr-zaida-maldonado-perez/
Check out her books here.
Kentucky
 
Vishal Mangalwadi
Lecturer, philsopher, writer, social reformer, political and cultural columnist
http://www.revelationmovement.com/
Check out his books here.
Watch him speak here.
 
Loida Martell-Otero
Professor of Constructive Theology at Palmer Theological Seminary
http://www.palmerseminary.edu/about/faculty/loida-martell-otero
Read her books here.
Pennsylvania
 
 
Fouad Masri @CrescentProject
Pastor and founder of the Crescent Project
https://www.crescentproject.org/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Indianapolis, Indiana
 
Ramon Mayo @mayotron
Writer, missionary, blogger on diversity, the church, and racial justice
http://ramonmayo.com/
Check out his book here.
Chicago, Illinois 
 
Erwin McManus @erwinmcmanus
Writer, speaker and lead pastor of Mosaic Church
http://www.erwinmcmanus.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Los Angeles, California
 
Idelette McVicker @idelette 
Writer. Activist. African-Canadian. Founder & Editor of SheLovesmagazine.com 
http://www.idelette.com/
Listen to her speak here.
Vancouver, Canada 
 
Paul Louis Metzger @paulouismetzger
Professor at Multnomah University, Director of the Institute for the Theology of Culture, Author, Speaker
http://new-wineskins.org/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Portland, Oregon
 
 
Osheta Moore @osheta
Urban church planter and blogger
http://oshetablogs.wordpress.com/
Cambridge, Massachusetts
 
Salim Munayer
Instructor at Bethlehem and Galilee Bible College
http://www.bethbc.org/academics/faculty/dr-salim-j-munayer
Check out his books.
Listen to him speak here.
Jerusalem, Israel
 
Samuel Naaman
President of the South Asian Friendship Center in Chicago, professor of World Missions and Evangelism at Moody Bible Institute
http://www.safcbookstore.com/staff/
Chicago, Iliinois
 
Trillia Newbell @trillianewbell
Freelance journalist, Christian writer, author of United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity (Moody, 2014)
http://www.trillianewbell.com/
Check out her book here.
Listen to her speak here.
Nashville, Tennessee 
 
Kelly Nikondeha @knikondeha
Writer. Thinker. Lover of Jesus, justice & jubilee. Adopted & adoptive mother of 2. Doing theology in transit. 
http://kelleynikondeha.com/
Listen to her speak here.
Arizona & Burundi
 
Michael Oh @ohfamily
Executive Director / CEO of the Lausanne Movement as well as founder & board chairman of CBI Japan (http://cbijapan.org ).
http://www.lausanne.org/
Listen to him speak here.
Nagoya, Japan
 
Enuma Okoro @TweetEnuma
Writer. Speaker. Consultant.
http://enumaokoro.com/
Check out her books here.
Watch a book trailer here.
Listen to her speak here.
 
Jacqueline Ottmann
Aboriginal scholar at University of Calgary
http://jacquelineottmann.com/
Check out her research here.
Calgary, Canada
 
Eboo Patel* @EbooPatel
Founder and President, Interfaith Youth Core. *While Eboo is a Muslim, not a Christian, he works frequently with Christians in interfaith dialog.  
http://www.ifyc.org/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Chicago, Illinois
 
Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 5.42.10 PM
Soong-Chan Rah @profrah
Pastor, author and academic at North Park Theological Seminary
http://www.profrah.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Chicago, Illinois
 
Vinoth Ramachandra
Writer, Secretary for Dialogue & Social Engagement for IFES
http://vinothramachandra.wordpress.com/
Check out his books.
Watch him speak here.
Colombo, Sri Lanka
 
Patricia Raybon @PatriciaRaybon
Writer
http://www.patriciaraybon.com/
Check out her books here.
Listen to her speak here.
Colorado
 
Deidra Riggs @DeidraRiggs
visionary at JumpingTandem, managing editor at TheHighCalling.org, monthly contributor at (in)courage.me
http://www.deidrariggs.com/
Listen to her TedTalk here.
Lincoln, Nebraska
 
Natasha S. Robison @ASISTASJOURNEY 
Speaker, writer
http://www.natashasrobinson.com/
Listen to her speak here.
North Carolina
 
Robert Chao Romero @ProfeChaoRomero 
UCLA Professor. Historian. Lawyer. Pastor. Author
 http://www.jesusforrevolutionaries.org/
Check out his books here.
Los Angeles, California 
 
Gabriel & Jeanette Salguero @NalecNews
President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition
http://www.na-lec.org/
Listen to Gabriel speak here.
New York
 
 
Brenda Salter McNeil @RevDocBrenda
Reconciliation Trailblazer, Associate Professor of Reconciliation Studies & Teaching Pastor at Quest Church
http://saltermcneil.com/
Check out her books here.
Listen to her speak here.
Seattle, Washington
 
Alexia Salvatierra 
Pastor, writer, advocate, consultant, community organizer
http://www.alexiasalvatierra.com/bio.html
Check out her book here.
Listen to her speak here.
California
 
Arlene Sanchez-Walsh @AmichelSW
Professor of American religious history and Latina/o religion
 http://www.patheos.com/blogs/amsanchezwalsh/
Check out her book here.
Los Angeles, California
 
Tamara Shaya Hoffman @tamarashaya
Media Communications Specialist. Conflict Analyst. Development Advocate. Strategist. Storyteller. Leader.
http://www.linkedin.com/pub/tamara-shaya/6/893/793
Washington, DC
 
Priscilla Shirer @PriscillaShirer
Bible teacher and speaker
http://www.goingbeyond.com/
Check out her books here.
Listen to her speak here.
Texas
 
Andrea Smith
Intellectual, professor at University of California Riverside, Co-founder of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence
http://mcs.ucr.edu/andrea-smith-associate-professor/
Check out her books here.
Listen to her speak here.
Southern California
 
Emfrem Smith @efremsmith
President and CEO of World Impact. Author and speaker with Kingdom Building Ministries.
 http://www.efremsmith.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
San Francisco Bay area, California
 
Matt Soerens @MatthewSoerens
Field Director for the Evangelical Immigration Table. US Church Training Specialist for @WorldRelief, author
http://evangelicalimmigrationtable.com/
Check out his book here.
Listen to him speak here.
Chicago, Illinois
 
Bryan Stevenson
Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative.  Lawyer defending the poor, imprisoned, and mentally ill
http://www.eji.org/
Listen to his TedTalk.
Montgomery, Alabama
 
Jemar Tisby @JemarTisby
Co-Founder of @RAANetwork, Student at @RTSJackson, Black & Reformed Christian
http://www.jemartisby.com 
Jackson, Mississippi
 
Nikki Toyama-Szeto
Senior Director of Biblical Justice Integration and Mobilization at International Justice Mission
http://www.ijm.org/node/2392
Check out her books.
Watch her speak.
Washington, DC
 
Richard Twiss
Speaker, activist, educator, author on Indigenous communities.  Founder of Wiconi International. 
(Richard passed away earlier this year, but leaves a rich legacy of work with us)
http://www.wiconi.com/
Watch some videos here.
Check out his writing here
 
 
Kathy Tuan-Maclean
Area Director, Boston Graduate/Faculty Ministries, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wordynerdy/
Watch her speak
 
Canon Andrew White @vicarofbaghdad
Vicar of St. George’s Church in Baghdad
http://frrme.org/
Check out his books.
Listen to him speak.
Baghdad, Iraq
 
 
Marcos Witt @MarcosWitt
Christian musical artist
https://www.facebook.com/marcoswitt
Listen to his music here.
Houston, Texas
 
Randy Woodley @randywoodley7
Native American (Keetoowah), Spiritual, farmer, professor, activist, writer, Ph.D. Intercultural Studies
http://www.eagleswingsministry.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Oregon
 
George Yancey @profyancey
Sociologist, researcher, writer
http://www.georgeyancey.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Denton, Texas
  
 
 
Jenny Yang @JennyYangWR
Vice President of Advocacy and Policy @WorldRelief and co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate.
Read more about Jenny.
Watch her speak.
 
Naomi Zacharias @Naomi_Zacharias
Author, Speaker, and Director/Vice President of Wellspring International.
http://wellspringinternational.org/ 
Check out her book.
Listen to her speak here.
Atlanta, Georgia
  
 
Belief, Restoration & Reconciliation

A skeptic falls off her soap box

dillardWhile ultimately my faith sits at the feet of Christ, the steps that got me there were ‘friends’ who took the time to sort out their faith on paper: Phil Yancey, Cornel West, Frederick Buechner, CS Lewis, Anne Lamott, NT Wright.  My heart holds Annie Dillard in a special little corner though, for she was the one who broke the final straw of my resistance to faith.

In her essay The Book of Luke, Annie Dillard captured my reconversion perfectly.  To this day, I cannot read it with dry eyes.  She draws her observations on Luke to a close by describing how it ends with the disciples enthusiastically ‘praising and blessing God,’ moving the fledging church forward.  A skeptic reading her words, I rejoiced at her unexpected critique of the developments that followed Christ’s crucifixion:

“What a pity, that so hard on the heels of Christ come the Christians.  There is no breather.  The disciples turn into early Christians between one rushed verse and another.  What a dismaying pity, that here come the Christians already, flawed to the core, full of wild ideas and hurried self-importance.

Internally, I cheered her on, “Yeah! Those Christians…crazy, arrogant, obsessed.”  She continued her rant:

For who can believe in the Christians?  They are, we know by hindsight, suddenly not at all peripheral.  They set out immediately to take over the world, and they pretty much did it.  They converted emperors, raised armies, lined their pockets with real money, and did evil things large and small, in century after century, including this one.  They are smug and busy, just like us, and who could believe in them?  They are not innocent, they are not shepherds and fishermen in rustic period costume, they are men and women just like us, in polyester.  Who could believe salvation is for these rogues?  That God is for these rogues.

I’d now climbed right up on my own soapbox behind Annie, fully entrenched in my private choruses of “You go, girl!”  She’d hit the nail on the head.  These rogues – they were crazy.  They converted unethically, didn’t think about anything critically, and threw their Bibles around carelessly defending their narrow-minded political causes.

But then – unexpectedly – she inserted the words

Unless, of course – 

I paused my internal pep rally and furrowed my brow, feeling the winds shift slightly,

Unless Christ’s washing the disciples’ feet, their dirty toes, means what it could, possibly, mean: that it is all right to be human. That God knows we are human, and full of evil, all of us, and we are his people anyway, and the sheep of his pasture.

Tears brimmed. I was human, wasn’t I?  I was not merely brain or body or achievement-after-achievement.  Sometimes I stumbled and didn’t know how to get back up.  Sometimes I failed to love those who I claimed I would give my life for.  Sometimes I failed to love myself.

She wasn’t just talking about them; she was talking about me, too.  The breeze shifted again and I read on:

Unless those colorful scamps and scalawags who populate Jesus’ parables were just as evil as we are, and evil in the same lazy, cowardly, and scheming ways. Unless those pure disicples themselves and those watercolor women – who so disconcertingly turned themselves into The Christians overnight – were complex and selfish humans also, who lived in the material world, and whose errors and evils were not pretty but ugly, and had real consequences.  If they were just like us, then Christ’s words to them are addressed to us, in full and merciful knowledge – and we are lost.  There is no place to hide.

We are lost.  There is no place to hide.

Those last words, they undid me permanently for they exposed the truth that every one of us tries to hide from our humanity with our adherence to traditions or non-traditions or skepticisms or fanaticisms.  Plain and simple, we’re not all that different from one another when you strip us straight-down to our skivvies. Underneath the masks we don, we’re all just broken, bumbling, and beautiful creatures, a-little-found and a whole-lot-lost, sitting broken and bare at the feet of the One who made us, whether we know it or not.

Belief

{this side of the stars}

dear god:
this may not come as a surprise to you,
but
i don’t really know
what i’m doing.
~
i see so many
claiming to understand you perfectly,
to know just exactly what pleases you
and what disgusts you –
they all seem to get it,
to not struggle a bit
with the idea
that they claim to understand
every last detail about
the Creator of a billion galaxies.
~
but i do –
struggle, that is,
to understand
why and how and that
you love
me.
~
little old me.
~
i’m not even a star,
or a planet or moon.
i’m just blip,
one speck of the human race
that in all carnal understanding
is quite dispensable, disposable.
~
i certainly don’t begin to match
the glory of a galaxy or a fire of a planet
(especially not after i’ve just woken up).
i don’t always obey my Creator
or orbit just as i should
or shine with the magnitude of the sun.
~
sometimes i just stop,
too afraid or too lazy or too overwhelmed
to continue on.
half the time i don’t even know
which direction i should be going.
~
i, for one, don’t understand you.
i doubt i ever will this side of the stars.
but then i pause and consider
how you’ve hung the stars in place,
how you’ve drawn the orbits of the planets,
and i find a glimmer of hope
that you might possibly
know what you’re doing,
even if
none of the rest of us do.
Belief

Jesus doesn’t ride a magic carpet and other myths of American faith

A piece of my story that I don’t speak about much here is my days of agnosticism and the time when doubt spoke so much louder than faith.  These days unfolded slowly in the shadows of my mother’s cancer, the loss of several close friendships, and the dawning of the clash of cultures I had never encountered in my mono-cultural world.

Even though I had been loved well by so many, there were still days I felt I’d been lied to.

Even though I had learned many answers, there were still so many unrelenting questions.

Even though my childhood world had been safe and beautiful and rich and good, there was still sorrow to face that it, too, was a broken place.

As the questions of these days quieted, I grew into a new kind of faith, one that was less flashy and more rooted, less emotional and more perseverant, less starry-eyed and more observant, less notch-on-my-belt and more depth-of-my-soul, less-shine-Jesus-shine, more-candle-flickering-in-the-dark. To my great surprise, the questions didn’t just go away.  They hung in the air, following my faith around like a shadow. The betrayal of a broken world sunk deep into my soul, leaving me with a thirst for justice and a hunger for righteousness.

Like Donald Miller expresses in his essay on why he doesn’t attend church much, I still find that I don’t meet God very frequently in ways the modern day church facilitates, especially the never-ending ‘pop-corn’ prayers and endlessly repetitive singing.  My personality isn’t much built for these – I’m an ENTJ (aka ‘the executive’) on Meijers-Briggs and other such tests label me “Independent Thinker”, a learner, intellect, seeker of input and connection, always strategizing for the future.

So when I hear folks speak of how much they love Jesus, I grow a little sheepish.  Given my personal wiring, I don’t ‘feel’ all that much, at least not in the ways traditionally advertised by feelers. When I speak of Jesus, it’s hard to sincerely say that I ‘love’ him with the same kind of fiery passion to which I frequently hear others refer for my faith feels far more often like a candle flickering faintly in the dark.

Perhaps one dynamic influencing my hesitation in this business of ‘loving’ Jesus is American culture’s Disney-movie interpretation of love.  From the movies, I learned that love was a magic carpet ride full of wonder and adventure, a prince arriving to save me at just the right moment, or swirling around a ball-room in a place I didn’t really deserve to be.  I learned that ‘being in love’ meant swooning emotions, pretty dresses and palpitating hearts.  There were no Disney movies, however, about crying angrily on the way home from church or getting up with screaming babies six times in the middle of the night or being overly snippy with your spouse.  The Disney view of love wasn’t particularly sustaining through these moments.

When I cut to the core, though, I’m also hard-pressed to say that I don’t ‘love’ Jesus just because I don’t express my commitment like the enthusiastic-feeler-personalities. I just find myself using different words:

I walk with Jesus in caring for the stranger, in welcoming them to a new land.

I listen to Jesus as I create quiet spaces for myself and my family, refusing to run at the break-neck speed of the rest of the world.

I trust Jesus as I put one foot in front of another blindly, having given up one story and wait patiently as the next one unfolds.

I hope for the continual restoration of brokenness and healing of wrongs, even though some days feel completely hopeless.

I long for the days that will bring all those I love into one place together, no longer separated by airplanes or oceans or passports.

I dream of making the world right, of creating reflections of God’s kingdom here on earth, of making all things new.

I speak honestly and forthrightly, pushing through hard conversations toward wholeness, restoration and healing.

I walk toward the broken things, refusing to turn my head away just because they are ugly to look at or too complex to resolve by tomorrow.

While I no longer use the same words as the ‘Jesus Freaks’, I suppose I ultimately mean the same thing.  Since we’ve lived in many parts of the country, I’ve had the curse fortune to participate in a wide variety of traditions in the church.  We’ve visited a gamut of staunchly conservative, wildly charismatic, stiffly liturgical, and laid-back artistic churches.  When we’re in the evangelical churches, we hear a lot about loving Jesus.  In the charismatic churches, its all about the Holy Spirit’s moves. The liturgical churches wax quiet and reverent about the Father.

I actually find all these different perspectives quite refreshing because their diversity allowed my faith breathing-room just when I needed it most. Though I met Christ first among the Jesus-lovers, I returned to Him quietly among the Father-devotees. In the shadow of their liturgy, I bent on my humbled and aching knees, tasted the sweet potency of communion wine, and whispered time-tested words alongside the other voices. Their quiet way soothes my soul and allows me a pause-of-calm in the midst of a chaotic world.

It’s almost like God knew that some of us would need a completely different spin on faith for one reason or another, so He* allowed us to create spaces which differ wildly from each other.  Humans tend to see this as problematic and try to force everyone else to function exactly like themselves; but I think God grins at our bumbling efforts. Like we smile proudly at our toddlers when they stumble over themselves in their attempts to copy us, maybe He is simply grateful when we find paths that connect us to others and help us follow Him more faithfully instead of hurling our faith over cliffs instead.

Seeing this distinction changed everything for me – it meant I didn’t have to leave completely; I just needed to move around a bit.  And as I did, I returned to faith slowly with an awakening realization that I was just as helpless and broken as all the bumbling folks around me I didn’t understand. I returned because traveling the road alone was even bleaker than the doubts I had within faith.

Once I dug past the shallowness of our Disney-love culture, I found a sustaining faith rooted deep and strong in spite of its imperfect followers. It definitely lacked some of the enthusiasm of my youth, but easily made up for this in its substance and depth. When I hear all the raging debates these days about who’s-right-and-who’s-wrong, who’s-more-relevant and who’s-more-biblical, I wink at the sky, fall to my knees, and whisper a prayer of gratefulness that under God’s love, there’s a space of grace for all of our bumbling ways.

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 * I’m not a huge fan of assigning gender roles to God, and find the English language disappointingly limiting in this regard.  If the use of God as He is hard to swallow, feel free to ignore these imperfect terms.  Personally, I don’t find she or it to work any better, and thus remain at a complete pronoun stand-off.

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