Archives For politics

I went on an epic rant to one of my best friends this morning (she was raised and leans more liberal, I was raised and lean more conservative, but no subject is off limits in our friendship and it’s one of the reasons I love her so dearly). It was over text message and we were both getting ready to leave for trips so not the most opportune way to rant, but when you live on opposite coasts, you do what you can to keep the spark alive.

My frustration had to do with a liberal elite smugness and a GOP’s smug we-told-you-so base I’m seeing in response to the election. Calls for “safe spaces and honest dialogue” and incredulity at the election outcome by liberals, and an absolute outright gloating and total blind-eye to the President-elect’s foibles, failures, and future blunders by conservatives. I was grateful, in one sense, that most of the Christians I know and respect did not vote for Trump, but that alone illustrates the issue: I surround myself with people with whom I agree. It’s called a confirmation bias and we all have them. The trick is to know you do and to not demonize the ones who don’t know, but to instead educate them and yourself along the way.

Screen Shot 2016-11-17 at 9.32.41 AM

If you lean liberal and are simply scratching your head at the results here, read Hillbilly Elegy. It will do more to help you understand the situation at hand in one sitting, than this entire election season tried to do in one and half years.

If you were raised in a poor, predominantly white town, it would be helpful for you to understand what is actually going on in cities where perfectly normal and legal citizens of this country with varying races are simply trying to live, read: American Passage

If you were raised in a predominantly white evangelical setting and have trouble understanding the unrest by African-Americans, read: Letters to a Birmingham Jail

If you were raised in the north or the south, and are sure you aren’t racist, read: The Warmth of Other Suns 

If you went to college pre-1990 and can’t figure out why Millennials care so much about the cost of higher education, read: Paying the Price.

If you were raised in a home where your parent’s income was considered Upper Middle Class or above, read: White Trash

If you were raised in a home where welfare, food stamps, and the food pantry was where you or your friends got food from, read: Bobos in Paradise

If you were raised in a home that leaned liberal or leaned conservative, but what you see happening today doesn’t reflect what you were raised to believe, read: Strangers in their Own Land.

If you are a pacifist or think all war is unjust, read The Heart and the Fist.

If no one in your immediate family has been deployed, read Tribe.

None of these books solve the crisis of divide at hand here, but they do give us a small glimpse into what “the other side” might be thinking or processing or what has bolstered their belief in what’s right. Rebecca Reynolds said it well in her post today on Thistle and Toad,

The beliefs of the average American are neither formed nor altered by reason. For the most part, our religion and our politics begin with affective impulses more than formal, cognitive research. What we believe about God and country is usually born in the gut, in the center of desire, nightmare, and imagination.

Many of us find our political and theological instincts early in life, then those instincts tend to interweave with a smattering of real life relationships. Over 15-years-worth of Thanksgivings, we hear that FDR destroyed America (or that he saved it). We hear praise or criticism of unions. We hear what happened to our aunts and uncles in California, or in rural Tennessee, or in Chicago as a result of legislation passed in D.C. All of these stories converge to form and then confirm a metanarrative that becomes a framework for how we interpret the entire world.

Few of us bother to fact check those metanarratives. They become too personal to vivisect. All of these beliefs have faces, because they are connected to people and situations we know.

None of us can truly understand what another person felt was at stake in this election or is at stake in the coming years, but we can certainly do our best to try. It’s not as simple or cut and dried as the one-issue voters and die-hard Democrats want it to be, but none of us will grasp that if we continue to crave both “safe spaces” and “honest dialogue.” The two are at complete odds with one another; there is safety in numbers, but not if all the numbers look, think, and act just like you.

If you turn away from those who don’t think like you, you simply cannot complain about the state of politics in American today, you do not have the right to choose an America that only works for you or people just like you. Chance offense or hurt, your own or others, but actually listen to someone with intent to hear them instead of listening with the intent to change their mind. There’s only one who changes minds, and thank the Holy Spirit, it isn’t you.

If you have books or a category you think should be considered, comment below.

Yesterday afternoon our neighbor held a bottle of wine up over the fence and shouted for us to come over and bring the pup. We love our neighbors. When Nate and I first looked at our rental house one of the things we remarked about the neighborhood was how in the mere hour we were here, the amount of young families, children, and elderly folks walking around made living here appealing. Over the past eight months we have gotten to know most of the neighbors living on our block and more around the neighborhood. Our pup is something of a local celebrity amongst them all. But our next door neighbors are, we have agreed, the best neighbors we’ve ever had ever. We love them and when we move, we will be most sad to leave them.

We sat around a fire, drinking wine, and talking politics for a few hours. That might sound like a nightmare to some, but in a season where deep friendships are few for us, a rousing conversation around a fire in the aftermath of the election was good. They are smart people, and have lived full lives.

A trifecta of a work contract keeping me busier than I planned, a season where, as I said, deep friendships are few, and a decision to stay off Twitter and Facebook for a while had me not very aware of election news last week. I was saddened by the outcome in some ways, and in some ways, I’ll be honest, I’m expectant. I told Nate on Wednesday morning this is much like when we have friends about whose relationship we are not excited, but for whom, after marriage, we choose to cheer, encourage, pray for, and point to Christ as the center. I do not think there is anything sinful in healthy skepticism, but I do think cynicism is a slow-killing poison that too many of our countrymen drink willingly, and we do not want to take part.

I read this from Dan Rather a few days ago on a blog I read regularly, Beauty that Moves. It summed up my feelings well. I am an American and Donald Trump will be my president. And if you are a citizen here, he will be your president too. There is no question of this. Every eight years, for the most part, the presidential party swaps places. Mourn that if you choose, but also it is good to recognize that, character flaws and all, men set up the American self-government experiment to swing back and forth with gentle predictability. The best way to participate in politics is to participate in self-government ourselves. Another word for that is self-control and we all need a bit more of that fruit of the Spirit.

It seems bringing up the name Ann Voskamp brings opinions to the surface wherever and however the mention comes. Ann was one of the first bloggers over a decade ago to exchange emails with me in the newborn years of serious blogging. She will always be, for me, a gentle cheerleader and friend for it. Regardless of whether you enjoy her prose and poetic way, no one who has met her can deny that she exudes the fragrance of Christ. I loved this interview she did with my friend Katelyn on Christianity Today. Ann has taught (and still teaches) me so much about gratitude and the spiritual discipline of it. If gratitude isn’t yet a part of your daily rhythm, I hope this article encourages you to start today.

Speaking of gratitude, we’re living back on the east-east coast now and “Daylight Saving Time” (in quotes because you can’t see me rolling my eyes) has ended, so it has started getting dark by 4 and is dark by 5:30pm. I am firmly of the belief that if it is dark, one belongs in hibernation mode, so it is taking a lot of gratitude to keep me from going to bed until seven at least. I am always reminded of the Norwegian secret to enjoying a long winter when we step over the threshold of short days. The word is Hygge and I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It’s become something of a hype in the past year. Whether it’s a myth or a way to sell books, all I know is the concept of enjoying these short days and long nights is one I need and maybe you do too. Here are some suggestions on how to (and how not to).

I hope and pray your week is full of good, constructive conversations about our President elect and the state of our country. After spending Friday in the city we call home for now, touring the Capitol, the Botanic Gardens, and a few museums, Nate and I decided to put ourselves through a refresher education on World History. We have been working on a spreadsheet overview of it, free documentaries and films we can watch, books we can each read or read selections from, and, if possible, sites we can visit. This is our way of remembering what a brief experiment America is, and how we are mere drops in the bucket of history. I think it will take us two years, at least, to get through, hopefully longer. Anything to avoid cynicism. Our spreadsheet is incomplete, but if you want to take a gander (or if you have suggestions for additions!), here’s a glimpse at it. Below, you can see the Capitol building through the leaves at the Botanic Garden (which I have decided, is surprisingly best visited in the fall).

Botanic Gardens DC

 

election 2016

Today is Election Day 2016. I haven’t been alive for very many years, but in all those years this has been an Election year for the history books—and today, that comforts me. I heard someone say a few weeks ago: In 100 years none of us will be here. I felt very, very small when I heard him say that, because, well, I am small, but also because 100 years is nothing really. Our country itself is only two and a near half of that. The times that 100 years have passed away in history is staggering when I think of all that has happened. I am not saying we are inconsequential or that our actions or inactions don’t matter, but I am saying, we’re not as strong as we think we are.

I came downstairs this morning and saw this little leaf clinging to my kitchen window screen and thought of the song by Rich Mullins:

Sometimes my life just don’t make sense at all
When the mountains look so big
And my faith just seems so small
So hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

And I wake up in the night and feel the dark
It’s so hot inside my soul
I swear there must be blisters on my heart
Surrender don’t come natural to me
I’d rather fight You for something I don’t really want
Than to take what You give and I need

And I’ve beat my head against so many walls
Now I’m falling down, I’m falling on my knees
And this Salvation Army band is playing this hymn
And Your grace rings out so deep
It makes my resistance seem so thin
I’m singing hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

And I thought that today maybe we all needed to remember how we are dust, leaves dropping in the autumn of history, clinging to screens for dear life, hoping yet another announcement or news program or article will offer the hope we’re looking for, but maybe we also needed to remember that our King Jesus holds leaves too.

Tomorrow morning we will wake up with a new President Elect and our King still on the throne. That’s good news no matter what.

I had promised myself to post more here these days. To be a hunter of beauty and a finder of joy in a season where everywhere we look are reminders of fracturing and fragility. I don’t really believe that, though, I think. Lately I’ve been reminded of how whole and perfect and beautiful things are and are becoming. Staying away from the angry articles and interviews and response blogs and angry response blogs and retweeted tweets is helpful for that though. Eternity really is written on the hearts of men, but I guess sometimes we think hell is eternity and not heaven. I’ve been grateful for heaven this past week.

I went home and on my way there I sent a text to Nate: “Where is home for you?” I asked. “If there’s anywhere in the world that feels, smells, tastes like home, where is that, for you?” He responded a bit later. “Virginia or D.C., I thought, but now that we’re here, it doesn’t. Maybe Germany. Not Turkey. Not New Jersey. Not Michigan. Not Georgia. Maybe Texas, I lived there the longest. What about you?” I wasn’t sure how to answer but as I continued to drive north and the bite of cold worked its way into my bones and the leaves grew more and more brilliant, I knew it was here, or at least here was the way to home. Eternity is written on our hearts, but earth is worked into our soles, embedded there with soil and leaves and tastes and scents of home. And so, I went home for a few days and it was lovely. New York in the fall always is.

While I was there I made it my aim to spend time with two women I love and with whom my time is always too short when I stop there for a few days. We had good conversations and talked about hard things. Mostly they talked and I listened but I felt my heart swell with love for both of them. And I also felt it swell with the kind of admiration I want to have for more people and don’t. They are walking through hard, hard, hard things and doing it well. Broken, sad, hurting, questioning, but this is the kind of well I think more of us need to draw from. The deep and aching sob of hurt reaches down past the normalcy of everyday, the kinds of days full of predictable nonsense and unexpected joy. These wells are deeper than that and rare to find. I think of the book of Psalms, the 84th chapter:

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.

The valley of Baka, or Baca, means the valley of tears, and another translation says, “They make it a place of wells.” This is what tears do, if we’ll let them. They pool in us deep caverns of proven grace, proven character, and a proven God, and they become wells. Spring rains bring life and flowers and greens everywhere, but autumn rains pull the dead and dying leaves from their stark trees, making dead things seem deader. But the poet said once, “Be like the trees. Let the dead things drop.”

The dead things, I find, for me these days, are feelings of shame, fear, uncertainty. It has been a rocking year, one I would never repeat if offered prizes of greatest worth. Shame has been my constant enemy and fear its close neighbor, tears have felt at times like my only friend. But if I can just let this valley of tears pool itself into wells, I know there is sustenance to be found there. I believe it with all my heart.

. . .

I was glad to arrive at the weekend with no knowledge of any election news, no interviews with famous Christian women, and a naive belief that God was repairing and preparing this world instead of breaking it. I dipped my toe into the latest for a minute, but found the well of my tears a better pool to swim in these days. Here are some beautiful things I’ve read this week:

From John Blase (whose poetry you should be reading, and whose letters to Winn you should also be reading):
I’ll never forget that rainy day
I wore my Scout uniform to school
not knowing our meeting was cancelled.
Those were halcyon days before
group text messages and reverse 911s.

From Cloistered Away: Training sounds like such an intense word, but all it is: reestablishing the order and peace of the home. The goal isn’t to lead perfect lives; it’s to heed the red flags as helpful guides letting us know some things need to change. Today always offers a fresh start and new mercy. When life feels chaotic, here is what we do to cultivate peace in our home again.

From Literary Hub: Writing is facing your deepest fears and all your failures, including how hard it is to write a lot of the time and how much you loathe what you’ve just written and that you’re the person who just committed those flawed sentences (many a writer, and God, I know I’m one, has worried about dying before the really crappy version is revised so that posterity will never know how awful it was). When it totally sucks, pause, look out the window (there should always be a window) and say, I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing.

This quote from George Eliot in her Letters to Miss Lewis keeps going round and round in my head. I read it many years ago think of it every autumn. I hope you love this season as much as I do, and if you don’t, I hope someday you do. Just because, no reason, just because. Below is a photo I took at home. I stood there and was reminded me of her Delicious Autumns.

Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonise. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one’s very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.

Screen Shot 2016-10-31 at 11.37.12 AM

Read any media and you’ll find a full on rushing swipe at Christians and conservatives. We’ve been told we’re in the minority for a while now, and as shots ring out across the media, we duck and run, scrambling to assert our position as the new moral minority.

prisonI’ve always been a fan of the fringe. If you can stand on the sidelines and affect change from within, you’ve followed the model Christ set forth well. I watched a movie a few months ago in which the principal characters return to high-school incognito. They’re so far removed from high-school that what was cool then is not cool now. The jocks are jerks and the nerds are neat. What happened?

What happened is regardless of seeming strength, the sidelined and fringe affected change because they weren’t swayed by what was happening in the middle of the action. Now that the nerds are cool, though, there are different fringe characters at play and this is the way of all life’s ebb and flow. Remember The Heart is a Lonely Hunter?

“But look what the Church has done to Jesus during the last two thousand years. What they have made of Him. How they have turned every word He spoke for their own vile ends. Jesus would be framed and in jail if he was living today.”

We turn the vile into heroes and the hope-full into anti-heroes. Whatever fits our flavor and palate.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

If you tell the truth long and stayed enough you’re going to be spit upon and hated. And if you love the fringe, the sick, the depraved, the sinners, the forgotten, and you love them with a love that values life and every cell and micro-organism and biology and mind and fault and fear and heart and sweat and blood and tears, you will not find a political home. If you are so pro-life that you rally for the rights of a two week old babe in the womb as fiercely as you fight for the right of life for a confused 13 year old or a broken 45 year old or a confident 60 year old or an aged 82 year old, you will find uneasy company in the Church. You fight not for quality of life, but life itself.

Jesus said He brings Life Abundant and who shouldn’t have that?

Whether you fall in the fallen moral majority or the rising moral minority or whether you are just a sidelined character going about your business as if nobody cares, because nobody does, Jesus cares and He sees. And you are not alone.

We’re all so homesick to belong, but if you are a child of God, you do not and cannot belong to this world. You may be liberal or conservative, progressive or traditional—but you do not belong and in this common life we can rejoice. So friends, be slow to rejoice in wins or losses, thrusts in your party platform or your pet politic, be slow to rejoice in anything but Heaven come to earth and the King on His throne.

See how you are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses!? Let us throw off every sin and the weight that so easily entangles us and let us run with patience this race marked out for us, setting our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despised the shame, and sits down at the right hand of his father.
Hebrews 12

My family isn’t from America. We’re Scotch-Irish. Family crests tattooed on flesh, bagpipes at weddings, hot tempers, strong drinks, and my older brother wore a kilt to his wedding: that kind of Scotch-Irish. I expect my ancestors were the sort coppers in the 19th century had their eyes on. We had the sort of Scotch-Irish lore that birthed a quiet pride in us all. We are Ferguson-Bradys, through and through.

I grew up outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, though, where we watched reenactments of Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas, toured Valley Forge more times than I can remember, and the Liberty Bell was a familiar sight. We were Americana Americans. But as much as I felt like an American, I also knew I wasn’t this kind of American.

I am not of the colonial Americans; I am of the immigrant kind.

When this realization came upon me, I began to feel a somewhat deeper kinship with places like Ellis Island than I did with the statue of William Penn peeking above the rooftops in downtown Philly. Whether my ancestors came through Ellis Island didn’t matter to me, the reality was that I was of another place. William Penn was not mine in the same way those bedraggled masses filing through ports in New York City were mine.

Whenever I read the words of Emma Lazarus in her poem, The New Colossus, affixed to the Statue of Liberty, a small sob catches in my throat and an overwhelming gratitude fills my heart.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I am more of Lady Liberty than I will ever be of William Penn. I am a sojourner in a country that is not my home. But even more than that, I am a spiritual sojourner in a land not my own, I am tired and poor, yearning to breath free, tempest-tossed, and more. My haven is secure and the same invitation is to everyone.

Right now we have thousands of children crossing into our borders. Escaping poverty, violence, corruption, and danger in their homeland. They are six and seven years old, some are sixteen and seventeen. They seek a haven and we all want to pull out our constitution, talk about borders and control, and how many of us have read the book of Exodus recently? Or Hebrews? Or, goodness gracious, Revelation?

Brothers and sisters, we cannot look too far behind us before we come against a father or mother in our lineage who came to America looking for a better life. Did they get one right away? I don’t know. They might have been Irish immigrants, like mine, angry and drunkards. But those immigrants fathered me and they might have fathered you. Even if you can trace your lineage to colonial America, think of what they escaped and why the Declaration of Independence and Constitution was written?

Think, then, of looking toward your heavenly country, the better kingdom. This world, this new world, America, land of opportunity and middle class and welfare and democracy, it isn’t home, so do not treat it as such. Not for you immigrant, son of Heaven.

liberty

caricature

The thing about caricatures is you always know who it is just by looking at it, and yet, you know you can’t trust the likeness.

Right?

A caricaturist zeros in on several points on a person’s face. Maybe it’s a slightly larger nose, or a bit of a crooked smile, or maybe something as pedestrian as deeply blue eyes or a natural blush. The caricaturist’s aim is to exaggerate and minimize what sets the face apart. His aim is not to make ugly, but often times a caricature looks ugly. If you’ve ever had one done you know the righteous indignation that accompanies first sight,

“I don’t really look like that!” you say, and of course you don’t.

But you kind of do. Not really. But sort of. Enough that you’re recognizable, not enough that anyone who knows your face well would say it’s an exact likeness.

Within culture at large, and Church culture especially, caricaturists abound. In some ways, they’re the comedians of the inner circle; the Jon Acuff and Jen Hatmakers. They zone in on the ridiculous and ludicrous parts of the Christian life and family and help us all laugh at ourselves. They satire, and they’re good at it, and we laugh at them because they’re helping us laugh at ourselves.

When Caricature goes badly is when a sly artist studies a theology or movement solely to find the weak or shallow parts. Then they pound out a blog post heard round the world for a split second and then life goes on as normal. A moment of fame while everyone points and laughs at the funny man in the picture, asks how could he be so silly and stupid and ugly, and how could he not know he’s so silly and stupid and ugly.

Ha ha.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Here’s the other thing about caricatures: we know the elongated nose or tiny eyes or stout neck are true about us; in fact, nobody sees our face in the mirror, under such a microscope as we do.

But when the caricature is passed around as truth for long enough, everyone starts to believe that’s our real face. That’s who we really are. But it’s not.

That’s not the person who wakes up in the morning, drinks their coffee while they read the bible, who packs lunch for her kids or drops the shampoo in the shower, who can’t find their keys where they left them, who buys coffee for the person behind them in line, who killed it at the meeting with his coworkers, who meets weekly with a guy who just needs prayer and a friend, who forgot to put gas in the car, who falls into bed every night exhausted and confident that they are doing exactly what God designed them to do and be and look like.

Who cares about a caricature when there are real people to be seen?

If you are tempted to zero in on a particular face of a movement and draw for the world a caricature they won’t forget, what you need to remember is at the end of the day we throw those caricatures in the garbage. Nobody really wants to look at them, and especially not the subject of the drawing. Why? Because it’s not true. It’s partially true, which makes it not true.

If you want people to listen to what you have to say, really listen, not just rally around you, or press like on your Facebook post, you have to sit with them and be true with them, and be truthful about them.

I asked an artist one time, a man who paints likenesses that almost breathe with life, how he made the paintings.

“Do you take a photo and paint from that?” I asked him.

“Oh, no,” he said, “I make the subject sit in front of me, hours and hours and hours. How could I paint them life-like if I did not see them living?”

I was small, small enough that my parents were still zipping my coat and tying my shoes. The signs were bigger than me and we stood out on the sidewalk in the cold in front of a hospital in southeastern Pennsylvania. I remember my father lifting me up to put money in the parking meter. Sometimes we ate hotdogs afterward with our fellow marchers and house church members. I remember complaining sometimes about our weekly march.

I didn’t know what abortion was, but I knew what babies were because we always had babies in our house. We loved babies, ours and others.

We loved them so much, I thought, we were willing to stand on the street corners and sidewalks around the hospital holding grotesque and provacative signs in front of shocked patients.

Holding signs in silent protest of abortion isn’t cool. It stopped being cool around the same time fundamentalism took a steep decline and social justice, ironically, took a steep climb.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This week I read a tweet from RC Sproul Jr., “I believe in a baby’s right to choose.”

Maybe our signs said some variation of that, but mostly our tactics were intimidation, either through guilt or manipulation. Get dirty if you have to, the lives of the most innocent are at stake. Our intentions were good.

But the simplicity of Sproul’s tweet sticks to me this week in particular.

He has taken the pro-choicer’s entire argument and given it to them in decadent fullness.

Of course we believe in the right to choose, we believe it in all the way back to the beginning, the conception, the fusing together of cells and formation of the brain, the movement of the heart, the limbs, and the lungs.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

No one is arguing for the abortion of three and four year olds, but three and four year olds have similar decision making abilities as infants. Of course there is a small gap of maturity, but a child who cannot zip her coat or tie her shoes, whose father has to lift her to put his money in a meter to park a car she can’t drive—how limited is her ability to choose?

We cannot know how any child’s life will turn out, but shouldn’t we give them the basic right to choose? Or, less even, the ability to learn to make choices?

Every choice—for better or worse—my parents made for me as a young child resulted in growth and maturity, raising me into a responsible adult who makes wise choices of her own now.

One choice I make is to not hold signs in front of hospitals. I think there is a better way. But if I have children someday I hope they find an even better way. I hope my children will look back to my generation and my parent’s generation and see the Holocaust of abortion will have lasted 40 years longer than it could have.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that my generation, the one who has lost 55 Million of our brothers and sisters, will be a holistically pro-choice generation.

We will be the generation who chooses life.

Whenever tragedy strikes, for the young boy who has lost his dog or the recent Connecticut shooting, it’s in these hollow places our theology makes itself known. We may say we are not theological, but Tozer once said that “what a man thinks about when he thinks about God is the most important thing about a man,” and so we are all theological.

It is in these dark moments that we think about God the most. His existence or His absence, the strong tower or the hollow void—we shout our questions out and wait for an answer, or don’t. We think about God and so reveal ourselves.

Mere hours after the shooting on Friday crosses formed on the school property, candles were lit, and people kneeled down, heads bowed. Churches filled for vigils and our President read from the Word breathed words. Children singing Silent Night opened Saturday Night Live, and today a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah circulated from NBC’s The Voice.

It seems that when tragedy strikes we all find ourselves pulling at the familiar spiritual things, bringing forth faith in an agony akin to childbirth with none of the beautiful reward.

But sometimes our hallelujahs are empty because we don’t know the God with whom we’re pleading.

______________

After my brother was killed, I can’t remember whether it was days or weeks or months after, a family friend erected a cross, painted it white with his name on it clear: Andrew David Ferguson. My father put that cross in the ground less than a mile from where we lived. I was there when my brother died, misshapen on the wet highway, and the cross is nearly forty feet away.

I passed that cross for years and it’s still there, I’m sure, overgrown with weeds and tall grass—and every time it is not a reminder of my brother, but instead my father. My father, though he tried to get there quickly from seven hours away, was not there with us on that rainy April morning. The cross is a reminder of the void—not of my brother and the tragic way he died, but of my father, the one I wanted to take care of us, explain this, clean this mess up, make sense of it.

______________

And so in moments like these, when we are all seeking sense, building towers of thought and politics, I understand the fumbling words people say and don’t mean, the beautiful heretical tributes, the plastic crosses and empty prayers, the haunting hallelujah song and the comfort we find in trite verses. I understand we are all trying to make sense of it all—using whatever we understand to make our way there.

We are all looking for a Savior in the hollow places. We are all betraying our theology of belief or unbelief. We are looking for someone to make a way, make sense, make whole.

______________

So be gracious in days like these, hold the gospel near if you believe it is truth, and if you don’t, come near, come and drink. God is not a God who promises answers, even to His children, but He does bind up the brokenhearted and set free the captive.

He was once a Father who set up a cross in a moment of unspeakable tragedy too.

photo-827xx_large

________________________________________

If you’re interested, I have a guest post up at Everyday Awe today on The Worth of a Soul.

“He shouts, breaking in, throwing his grand cloak over our unrighteousness, our unworthiness, our most tender parts and our weakest shames. She’s mine! He says. He’s mine! He says. I’m claiming this weary soul. I’m calling its worth.

A new and glorious morn.”

wonder button 250px

A few weeks ago I tweeted the following quote from You’ve Got Mail, “In the last mayoral election when Rudy Giuliani was running against Ruth Messenger, I went to get a manicure and I forgot to vote.”

The response was overwhelming. People love that movie—and there’s no reason not to. Email love? Golden retrievers? Shops around the corner? Bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils? I mean, really? People love that movie. I love that movie. But the point of the tweet was missed I’m afraid.

Two years ago I moved to Texas. New York was the most recent place I’d lived, so I still had my NY drivers license, and was in no rush to plant my roots here, so I kept it. Plus I was having a good hair day when the photo was taken and good drivers license photos are like good men—they’re hard to find, so when you have one, keep him.

The thing is, I still have my NY license. Which means, technically, I’m still a resident of NY. Which means, literally, if I voted in this election, I’d have to vote as absentee New Yorker. Fine and good except I forgot and then it was too late and I think technically I’m not even registered anymore and even I was, I wouldn’t be voting my party, etc. So in this presidential election, while Barack Obama is running against Mitt Romney, I live in Texas and forgot to vote.

__________________

When people tell me it is my “God-given right as an American to vote,” I want to offer them a slice of pie, one made from earthworms and one made from mice innards. Not because I’m a mean person, but because it’s their right to vote and it’s also their right to say “No, thank you.” Having the right to choose something does not necessarily mean the options are something your gut will agree with.

Before you take offense at me comparing the incumbent or his adversary to earthworms and mice innards, the allegory works best if you realize that neither pie looks very appetizing from this point of view.

When people assume that because I will not be voting in this election it is because I don’t understand, nor appreciate the men and women who have fought wars to give us this right, I will remind them I have two brothers recently back from Iraq and Afganistan and I know full well what is at stake here.

When people talk about lesser of two evils, I ask if they had a choice to jump off the Brooklyn bridge or jump off a five story building which would they choose? Well, I’d rather not jump at all, they would say, and I rest my case. If I am adamantly opposed to more than 60% of each candidates’ position (and I am), why would I punch that ballot?

When some well meaning soul brings up their single issue voting platform (on either side), I look them deeply in the eye and listen to them, and laud their passion, appreciate why they hold their position, and then ask them if they’ve listened to the people who care deeply about the other side’s position. Most times they have not, and more importantly, they would not be willing to.

__________________

Here’s why I won’t be voting as a Republican or Democrat in this presidential election:

I am proud to be an American. I have seen the world, been in several third world countries, and in countries where democracy is a thing of dreams; I have seen poverty; I have friends who have had abortions and gay friends who want to marry their partners; I have friends who have declared bankruptcy and I have friends who work in Washington; I have friends who bleed blue and some who bleed red (literally and figuratively); I come from a state where a Republican vote simply didn’t seem to matter, and now I live in a state where a vote for a Democrat simply doesn’t seem to matter.

I am proud to be an American. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to vote, and when my conscience allows for it, I flip that lever gladly, even passionately, with a deep belief that my vote will say something.

But my vision for America is a little more simple than the two parties have made it at this point. I want to see liberty for all, and justice for all, and frankly, I don’t see much of that in either candidate’s plan or past. I want to see less marketing, less hype, less promises. I want to see more George Washingtons, men who get down off their dapple grey and serve the people. I want to see men who promise to serve the people, instead of trying to pull us onto their mighty steed of greed.

I won’t be voting because I have a deep conviction and hope for America and I think the tide is turning. I’m convinced of that, more than I ever have been before. I’m convinced that young people are understanding more and more that local matters, and not just local business or local food, but local government. I think the more we feel let down by Washington, the more we will care about what happens in our own sphere because we’ll see that it matters. It matters to somebody.

I’m not voting because I see two parties facing off but inching closer and closer to one another on every issue and my hope is that they crash into one another soon.

So I’m voting by not voting and I’m voting for something different, new and old, progressive and historical, liberty for the marginalized and the upper echelon, and justice for babies and criminals—and I don’t think the two candidates on the ballot offer any of that.

I’ll probably get a manicure instead.

PS. If I hadn’t forgotten and was registered, I’d have written in my vote anyway and he doesn’t have a chance at winning right now, so don’t give me your “You’re throwing your vote away!” mantra. My vote wouldn’t matter for your candidate anyway.

PPS. Wanna go get a manicure with me?

(If you’re wondering why there are no comments on this, it’s not because I’m a scaredy cat, promise. Here’s why.)

Do you have a few minutes?

I’d like to sit down, share a cup of coffee, chat with you. I’d like to look at your face, see you eye to eye, know the way you shift in your chair and the way you brush your hair back from your face. I want to know the sound of your laugh and the things that make you feel insecure about yourself.

I want to know you.

____________

When I set out to write in this space it was 2001. My life as I had known it had fallen apart or was being ripped apart. I didn’t know the first thing about blogging. Certainly never thought a stranger would read what I wrote and never had any illusions of grandeur. As the poet Adrienne Rich said, “I came to explore the wreck, the words are purpose, the words are maps. I came to see the damage that was done, and the treasures that prevail.” That was the first tagline on my blog and it remains an important one to me.

Diving into the wreck, using words to find purpose, to find my way, to see the damage and the treasure—this is why I write. This is why I have always written.

But the past two years more and more people read here. Strangers. People from all over the world are reading these maps, these purposes. And the deeper the numbers go, the more I want to swim in the shallow waters. It feels safer to not come out and say how I really feel about some things. To keep quiet on matters about which I feel strongly. To omit needless words, as E.B. White said, but sometimes to omit needed words. Because I am afraid of the wreckage—not the one that has already been made, but the one I might make with my words.

I have never wanted to be a confrontational writer and I still don’t want to be. But I had a conversation recently with someone and his words sit heavy on me: your faithfulness to the craft of writing, the poetry you spin with your words, must never come before your faithfulness to the truth of what you write.

In other words, pick a seat or get off the ride.

____________

So I’m going to do something a bit scary: I’m going to come clean about some things in the coming weeks. I’m going to tackle some subjects that never make me squirm to talk about in real life, but make me all sorts of uncomfortable talking about online.

Because the truth is that I have picked seats on these rides, but I just didn’t want anyone to know where those seats were.

____________

But here’s what I want you to know: I want you to know that I wish I could sit down across from you, so I could know you and you could know me and we could be real people with real thoughts and real stories and real lives. It’s really easy to write things on the internet and cast people in pale shallow lights. It’s easy to create a monster from a man and to polarize politics. It’s easy to assume we’re right because these days it seems less and less about authorial intent and more about how that piece made the reader feel.

So here’s what I want you to know, and I’ll restate this many times in the coming weeks: this is not about making you or me or anybody else feel anything, it is about the intentions of my heart—and so too the intentions of your hearts.

You can’t know mine and I can’t know yours, so come play, but play nicely, because we’re all walking out of a wreck and we’re all walking into one—let’s find the purpose, the map, and the treasures in them all.

Yeah?

28074055231

biblicalwomanhood.grid-4x2It seems that in the middle of every feud, be it theological, political, who left the toilet seat up or the toothpaste cap off, there are those who will staunchly dissect and throw their fist in the air, tout truth and justice. Rightness is the aim. And then there are those who will seek peace, restoration, claim mercy and love as the higher standard. Progress is the aim.

What is interesting here, though, is that those of the justice persuasion will rarely come over to the side of mercy, but those of the mercy persuasion will come over to the side of justice only when their acts of love are being infringed upon.

Who ends up looking like the bad guy here?

The just of course. The less progressive one.

Nobody likes a bully. And the world, and the Church, is full of bullies. Those who throw big words and the Bible around with little regard for the people it affects.

Elephant-Donkey-Boxing

But I would like to propose, if I may, the fact that the sneakier of the two is the merciful turned just.

We ought to be wary of sneaky people. The world, and the Church, is full of sneaky people. Those who have agendas in every direction and woo us in with good-feeling words.

And someone wants to talk about feelings here, I know (because you are the merciful ones). But when I begin to infringe on yours, you bring out the big guns and talk about how I ought to be just and not be too mean because someone’s feelings might be hurt. (Let the record stand that I am by nature a Mercy, and by nurture, Just.)

Here’s something:

Instead of taking our cues from culture, from just judges or merciful peacekeepers, from liberals or conservatives, from caps on or seats up, maybe we should take our cues from God who is perfect judge and perfect mercy.

He is perfect judge, so sin is not tolerated, holiness is the only acceptable state, watered down faith isn’t helpful, and nothing but the best will do.

But He is also perfect mercy, so He gave a Substitute, laid on Him the sins of us all, but still, nothing but the best will do.

In our pursuit of mercy and love and all the good feeling parts of our faith, let’s not forget that sin entered the world and our heroes of the faith still fall miserably short of anything good—and that sin (false teaching, acts of unrighteousness, mockery of God, poor leadership) ought to be exposed for God’s glory and our good.

And in our pursuit of justice and truth and all the certain parts of our faith, let’s not forget that the same righteousness that covers us, covers our sisters and brothers too—and that the call on all of us is glory to glory, faith to faith, further in, further on, nearer to God, nearer to glory.

 

Full disclosure: I work for the media department of non-profit so I am properly subjective, absolutely biased, and in no way can my appeal to your emotions be trusted. I need you to understand that this is not about my particular non-profit gaining ground or having great financial success. God has immensely blessed the work of the hands that work here and He has sustained the work on the field for 20+ years. I am not jealous of those who have better media, better websites, better social media platforms, etc. My job is to tend my plot well, and one of the plots He’s given me to tend is this blog and the message that goes out from it. This is something I’m personally passionate about—what I’m writing here is not necessarily endorsed by my employers.

Celebrity

I read an article a few weeks ago that is still ruminating around in my innards. I found myself nodding so much while reading my co-worker probably thought I’d forsaken Bon Iver and was headbanging to Metallica in my headphones. He wrote:

We cross into a culture of celebrity when we assume that merit in one field or one discipline necessarily carries that merit to other fields or disciplines. More particularly, it comes when we transfer theauthority of one field into another, so that we assume the guy with the popular blog must be a great expositor of the Bible (thus transferring the authority of his success in social media into authority the pulpit). Christian celebrity comes when we assume that the songwriter must be a noteworthy teacher, that the YouTube phenom is worthy of our pulpit, and that the guy who sells so many books must be able to craft a sermon on any topic or any text. Merit in one isolated field convinces us that this person has earned the right to every other platform. When we do this we have elevated not on the basis of merit, but of celebrity.

Read that again if you need to.

Golden Opportunity

America is the land of opportunity and one of the opportunities we have is free speech. Free speech means we can say pretty much anything we want and evolution means that the ones who say what they want the best win. This has resulted in many voices saying powerful, enlightening, and inspiring things. This is why we had Martin Luther King, Jr. and Langston Hughes and Flannery O’Connor and even Joel Osteen. Men and women who say winning things in winning ways—everybody wins, right?

Not right though.

Message aside (I’m in no way endorsing Osteen, for example.), the one who says it best still wins. Presidents are elected on this merit and pastors are procured on it, men are married and professors are picked on it. Merit on the basis of winsome words wins peoples affections, allegiances, and votes.

There’s no way around that. It’s beautiful if you think about it. Really beautiful how words and images resonated within us. I love that. It’s why I’ve committed my life to using words and images to tell the stories of people everywhere.

In the non-profit world, or more specifically the charity world, however, this beautiful gift of telling a story can be very deceptive.

A Name by Any Other Name

I told you at the beginning of this that I was going to use the logical fallacy of appeal to emotions which is interesting because that is what the non-profit sector in many ways spends their energy doing best. I do it too. I want to tell our story in compelling and interesting ways, I want you to cry, I want you to feel deeply what the people we’re helping feel. Then I want you to give. I do. I want you to give me two pennies or two thousand pennies. I want to show you that there’s a need across the globe and you can meet that need. But I use the fact that you’re a human with a predictable emotional response to get to that place. And I don’t think that’s wrong. The bible says that there’s a relationship between our emotions and our finances and that’s a good thing, I think it is.

Where it begins to go poorly, and where I am actually going with this post, is when you have someone with celebrity status or someone who rises to celebrity status on the platform of a social issue—but they are standing on nothing but the shoulders of financial backers. What I mean is that they have no numbers, no people, no proof that their passionate plea is actually resulting in lives being affected and changed—at least results equal to the amount of financial backing they get.

Because they have made a name for themselves, they become the authority on activity that might not actually be producing the results you think you’re supporting.

And I know, I’m know I’m biased, but I also know that I have an insider’s view on some of these non-profits and I’m not going to tell you who they are.

Because that’s your job.

It’s Your Job

It is your job to ask about financial decisions charities make—what percentage goes to the field?

It is your job to ask for numbers of lives changed? Sometimes it’s hard to nail down exact numbers, but we can at least give you an estimate.

It is your job to ask whether the cost of paying for a pair of shoes, glasses, a tshirt, a bracelet, a watch, etc. is creating a sustainable and substantial difference in the places you’re being told it is.

It is your job to look at the crowd a charismatic speaker draws and ask whether there is celebrity happening here or charity.

Cold Water

It is not impossible to have charity with celebrity at the helm, and some great, great work is happening when the headliner is a great marketer.

But do not be deceived by masterful campaigns and flashy marketing:

Sometimes it is the least of these giving cups of cold water to the least of these.

small

I haven’t always been a peacemaker.

I used to be a peacekeeper. I hoarded peace like a child with his Christmas stocking full of Andes Mints and Pez candy dispensers. I kept peace to myself, sure that if I could pet it, and feed it, and care for it, it would stick around. I kept it like a kept girl, made it work for me, paid its wages at the altar of hiding in groups and keeping relationships at arms length. I kept peace by repeating after myself that I was not at fault for the grenades flying over my head or the words flung across wooden tables or down long hallways.

Romans 12:18 says to live peaceably with all and, well, I have tried to do that. No one can accuse me of bringing wrecking balls into life’s infrastructures in the past decade. No sir.

Tonight I think about the rest of that verse, though, or rather, the beginning of it: If possible. So long as it depends on you. Then live peaceably with all.

If possible. Meaning: when all other outlets have been explored, when I have sorted through the cans and wills and dos and don’ts of possibility. When I have exhausted improbability and taken no thought for the bullets colliding through my unchinkable armor. When I have braced myself for the fall that will inevitably come when I am most certainly misunderstood and when I am blacklisted from here til kingdom come. When it is possible, do it.

Stop writing the rebuttal. Don’t blog the discourse. Don’t preach to the choir or to the vagrant in the back row on whom you have your [plank-filled] eye.

Why? Because it’s possible. It’s possible for you to shut up, pursue peace.

So long as it depends on you. Meaning, and don’t miss this: the world will spin madly on.

Eliza Doolittle sung a bit of theology for us all when she sang to Prof Higgins, “And without much ado we can all muddle through without you.” So as long as we hold the beautiful ability to pursue peace with all men, we ought to. So long as it depends on us, we should trust that our meddling in affairs that bring an end to peace, well, people die on hills like that and we wade through the carnage for centuries.

Tonight I sat in a room with some beautiful people and we shared some broken things, some carnage, places where we didn’t pursue peace or where someone didn’t pursue peace and we were the wreckage left behind.

But here is the beautiful part of that: wreckage will be left while we wander this earth, but what’s ultimately left, when the All Consuming Fire has come and burned away everything but what shines brightest, what shines brightest will be the Prince of Peace and we add nothing to that beauty with our earthly bickering.

43417583877129362_LQHFjlWC_c