Midnight Calls

My body is fragile
Crack me open
at the seam in my
Ribcage, like
a damp wafer – watch
the strawberry blood
cake in exposed air.

How many midnight calls,
and dinnertime
Interruptions
can a heart
take before the valves
wear thin
And the tell tale tingle
moves up my arm?

Doctor’s orders:
I can’t lift
this weight
Give me something lighter.
Second thought:
Don’t give me anything at all.

“Be Brave”

Don’t tell me
to Be Brave,
again,
as if courage
is instinct for
half of us and
Learned Behavior
for XX chromosomes
alone. As if
my going
out is not its own
defiant act

And my speaking:
Bold, Direct
is not akin
to wielding
the sword.

Don’t tell me
Courage is:
holding my tongue
and the serving tray
at a 3rd wave
Dinner Party
thrown for strangers with
pasted on grins

I am no one’s
Darling
I am already
Strong

everyone who searches

And everyone who searches
finds – maybe not
the missing button, maybe
an old note, yellowed photo
with a missing corner.

And you realize
what you find is
good enough,
or better

And the cardigan can
do without mending –
its gapping filled
for now with a memory
of summertime,
or last year’s loss
– you never lost at all.

It was hiding under the bed,
stirred awake,
an answer. The question
never mattered.

———

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rilke

Like Paul, Like Kelly

Like Saul, Kelly Gissendaner plotted to kill the innocent. Like Saul, she was an enemy of the righteous.

Like Paul, Christ spoke life into her and, because of her, many were saved. Like Paul, she was killed by the state.

May we be like Paul, and like Kelly, and remember where we came from and where Christ brought us. May we sing Amazing Grace in our final moments. May we foster mercy in our hearts against reason and wage love against the pain.

“…and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ All who heard him were amazed and said, ‘Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?’ Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah.” (Acts 9:20-22)

frost bitten

You’ll be kind and
never lose your temper
and no one will misunderstand
your jokes. You’ll

wake up early and listen
to the mourning dove
sing     dooo
dooo               do-do-do
low-high calling
the new day good.

You’ll always have spare
change for the panhandler
at his median post. You’ll be

better.
You’re just a little bit good
for now.

But the You that matters
is the you that exists.

And she hits snooze and grumbles
through morning coffee, forgets
to take out the trash.

She whines and her
words don’t always
pour over wounds like soothing
balm. Sometimes,
she lets wounds fester.

But at least she exists, here,
now, placed for a season,
planted and occasionally watered.

You’re aloe with frost
bitten tips, but
you’re alive, and can still give
of your rich pulp.

Remember this,
God uses the You you are.

on suffering

If you’re trying to resolve the problem of suffering and wrap it up in a neat little package, you’ll only be disappointed by Christianity.

Christianity doesn’t answer that question. It dwells in the suffering. It acknowledges it, laments it, and looks for ways to reduce it, but it doesn’t tell you why.

A friend recently said that what strikes him most about Christianity is the image of the Suffering Christ. When tragedy strikes, Christ suffers. He dies again and again. Immeasurably deep empathy for the human condition.

Christianity doesn’t answer the why; it asks us to turn from our inward need to understand and look out to help alleviate suffering in the world. I can sit here and shout “Why?!” or I can go out and do something to end it, even while I knowing it will not end.

Christianity asks me to sit with the questions, but not alone. I am increasingly convinced that Christianity is a communal religion; it must be done with others; we acknowledge what we do not know, together.

Nothing can be wrapped up in a neat little package.

review: Rachel Held Evans’ Searching for Sunday

searching for sunday review

Rachel Held Evan’s Searching for Sunday is about church: its triumphs and failings, its hypocrisy and grace. Rachel, like me, grew up in a well-intentioned Evangelical community where the Bible is accepted as fact and the “plain truth” is within easy reach. It’s a culture of black and white morality, where spiritual cliches are a dime a dozen, rolling off the tongue the second something happens that doesn’t jive with the accepted worldview. Naturally, it has its limitations. Suffering is not easily alleviated with a dismissive utterance of “it’s all in God’s plan.” Rachel, like me, was encouraged to have a sense of ownership over her personal relationship with Jesus and, when the questions she wrestled with in the quiet started to gain momentum – when she started to ask them out loud – the church was unequipped to answer in anything but cliches.

Rachel, like me, flailed around, trying out new churches and new denominations, but the questions burned unanswered still, and she left.

Searching for Sunday‘s framework, quite fittingly, is the Sacraments: Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing the Sick, and Marriage. These themes, like the Sacraments themselves, act as a jumping off point for a journey of faith. They encourage exploration and mystery; they don’t operate in spiritual cliches. One begins to realize that sometimes, the best answer to our questions is simply the space to wrestle with them. Rachel deals eloquently with this wrestling, acknowledging that the hurt sometimes makes it impossible to be in community, but always seeking the Truth of Christ’s unconditional love. She never gives up on that, and I think that’s the key to learning from the dark times in our spiritual lives. You may feel directionless, but you are moving forward if you are oriented toward love.

Searching for Sunday is memoir, but it is more than that. It’s theology. Steeped in the Gospel narratives, deeply respectful of those first disciples, and appreciative of the long, tumultuous years of violence perpetrated by and against the institutionalized church, it seeks to explore and understand what it looks like to do church now. It reminds us that Christian community was essential from the very beginning, that we don’t get to do Christian life on our own. 

Searching for Sunday gave me closure. I’d been hurt so badly by the church years ago, and I thought I’d moved on. But the truth is that I needed this reassurance that my pain was real, that my concerns were legitimate, and that the dark path I trudged through in the aftermath of leaving was not in vain. I needed someone to say, simply, “me too.”

As I sit here now with the sunshine streaming through the window and the birds singing and a cool spring breeze hitting my legs, I can tell you that I’m no longer searching for Sunday. I have found home in church community again. I am thankful for the path, and the hands that held me in the darkness, nudging me forward. I am thankful for space for the questions. I am thankful that God gave Rachel Held Evans the voice, and the heart, to tell her story, because it is my story, too.

I received an advance copy ofSearching for Sunday Searching for Sunday for review. Searching for Sunday is available for preorder here. It’ll hit store shelves this Tuesday, April 14.

*Artwork: Baptism by Ruth Catherine Meharg; used with permission.

homily: Abide Here

church pews

The Reading (John 15:1-11):

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed* by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become* my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

Homily: 

In John 15, Jesus uses an agricultural metaphor to describe the Christian life. He tells us that he is the “true vine” planted and tended to by God. He goes onto say that we are offshoots, or branches, of that “true vine” and that we only live abundantly through our connection with Him, saying “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

Well, that’s all well and good, but, practically speaking, what does it look like to “abide” in and with Jesus when he’s not exactly walking around on earth waiting to come to our dinner parties and church services?

Though it may not be immediately clear, I think this passage is rooted in a simple concept:

Growth happens in relationship.

I’m not presenting a new theological idea here, but I think it’s one we often take for granted. Paul helps us understand what relational faith looks like in 1 Corinthians 12, when he tells the people of Corinth that God’s church acts as the “Body of Christ” on earth.

He says: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” He ends this section with this: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” I love the phrasing of that last verse – though I read this passage over and over in my daily devotions as a young Evangelical, I’d taken it for granted. We don’t lose our individuality when we join a community, but we do become something different – and better – as a collective. Like the human body, we work together to survive and thrive. But we’re not just any body – we’re the Body of Christ – and we do His work when we band together.

That understanding helps clarify John’s passage – it helps us find a way to put into practice what Jesus suggests. Jesus is not present on earth as an individual entity – we can’t hold onto him like branches on God’s vine – but we do have the church. Through the church – Christ’s Body – we may find a life source, and a connection to God our planter and sustainer, while simultaneously offering the love of Christ to others.

A rewording of John 15:1-11, replacing the pronouns for Jesus with “the church,” becomes a powerful statement of the church’s relationship to us:

“Abide in the church as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in the church. The church is the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in the church and the church in them bear much fruit, because apart from the church you can do nothing.

…if you abide in the church, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you

…abide in the church’s love

…I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

God can work through you or me on any given day, but the work God does is always relational. God’s children must join together for the work of the Kingdom to be done. We prune off the bad fruit in each other’s lives when we ask hard questions and hold each other accountable. We bear new fruit by creating welcoming spaces for everyone – not just the people who are easy to get along with – and by joining together to solve issues within our congregations and the larger community. Conversely, when we resist relationship, we stunt our growth.

I thought for a long time that I could go off by myself with my beliefs and convictions and be just fine, but that mindset fails to grasp the awkward, fulfilling, annoying, life-giving power of church. And I don’t just mean the formal church – I mean the miraculous spaces that allow us to be seen for who we are, to hurt and to hurt others in our confusion, to just be – that don’t give up on us. We cannot fully participate in the Christian life – we cannot build a Kingdom! – apart from Christian community.

My own life is a testament to the church’s work. I attended a highly patriarchal evangelical church through much of college. Though I majored in Religious Studies, I was barred from teaching Sunday School classes if men were in attendance. It was a congregation that privileged the opinions and perspectives of men over even the informed perspectives of women. It tore me apart. I had decided to major in Religious Studies precisely because I wanted to understand my tradition and share it with the church, but everywhere I turned, I saw people who once seemed to love and welcome me slam the door in my face.

I wanted the church, but it didn’t want me. It was a horrible loss; the worst kind of break up. I wasn’t wanted, so I left.

When my husband and I moved to Charlottesville in 2012, we hadn’t been attending church for over a year. We haphazardly church hopped once we arrived in town, but I knew there was still a lot of pain and bitterness in me and I wasn’t sure I was ready to come back.

Ultimately, it was the newly formed Women’s Prayer Group that restored my soul. For the first time in a long time, I was experiencing Church. Not the smug, scared, resistant face of some organization calling itself church, but the welcoming, intentional, safe haven I needed to come back to life. I was free to ask hard questions or say nothing at all. I was allowed to be vulnerable, to be human. But I was also a part of this tiny Body of Christ in the basement of the Canterbury House, and that meant I was called to give the same love and offer the same restoration to other members. We couldn’t do it alone. We had each come as individuals to be healed by one another, but we had also become something different, and better. We had become church.

The church is why I left and the church is why I came back.

There will be pain in this place. There will be hurt feelings and rash decisions and ignorance. But we are called to ABIDE here, in each other, in Christ. We wither and die when we go it alone. In her book, Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans says it this way: “Like it or not, following Jesus is a group activity, something we’re supposed to do together.”

I need you to be Christ for me and, though you may not always feel it, you need to have access to the tangible, living Christ on earth, here in this community and in the universal church.