first sunday of advent


Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. – Romans 13: 11-14

hiking at Shenandoah

hike shenandoah national park hk33hk6 hk7 hk10 hk11 hk13 hk14 hk26 hk29 hk25hk28I went on a 5 mile hike on a section of the Appalachian Trail that runs through Shenandoah National Park with friends from church on Saturday. It’s one of the best things I’ve done all year. We stopped at overlooks along the way to rest and read some Psalms, and on the last stop we shared in the Eucharist. One of the girls said that the hike felt like a prayer. I agree. Thank God for this place.



Swimsuit Season: Modesty and Self Image

self portrait of a girl

This post was written as part of To Each Their Own’s guest post series on Modesty & Self Image.

I was steeped good and long in American evangelical culture, though not one that held too tightly to ideals of traditional gender spheres. As a result, I was both encouraged to join the worship team and participate in co-ed theological discussions and discouraged from flaunting my sexuality (along lines of thought very specific to Protestant Christian tradition). I was told that the boys in youth group would lust after me and sin in their hearts if I didn’t wear a shirt over my swimsuit on beach excursions. I was told to be mindful of cleavage and short skirts and too much makeup. Obsessed as a child (and still) with ideals of fairness and personal responsibility, this didn’t sit well with me. In my view, the boys were given a free pass to lust. I asked a youth leader once if boys would cover up, too, so as not to cause women to stumble. I was immediately dismissed with a laugh and the subject was never brought up again.

But the notion of blaming the inactive party for the thoughts and behaviors of the aggressor is simply nonsensical. The person to blame is the person who did the thing, whether that thing is something as seemingly innocent as adolescent lust or as devastating as sexual assault.

So I come to the traditional modesty discussion, as an adult, with a fair amount of cynicism and, I hope, with a helpful dose of moderation and practicality. I believe that men and women must take equal ownership over their bodies and their thoughts. If I walk out in public naked, that’s no excuse for rape. On the other hand, I recognize that I live in a society with specific modesty codes that apply not only to sexual expectations but to daily interactions, and that it’s within my best interest as a member of my social system to, say, wear a suit to an interview and save the swimsuit for the beach.

Modesty is inevitably political, and from that broad perspective I think people should dress as they please (within a reasonable distance from their society’s expectations) and not be harassed for it.

But modesty is also personal. For instance, I never worried much about showing too much cleavage because I’m an almost-A cup. When other girls took comfort in the appearance of fuller figured celebrities and lauded Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, I was busy taking solace in the appearance of thin, pale super models, who more closely resembled my body type and weren’t bullied for it.* At 16, I was 5’5” and 96 pounds; I ate but couldn’t put on weight. People, my doctor included, thought I was anorexic. My body image issues weren’t talked about because I, apparently, fit the socially accepted standard of beauty (no one told the boys that). Teen Vogue was a beacon of confidence for me, and I delved happily into the world of high fashion. Eight years later and I’m still enamored by fashion spreads, new novelty prints, and the season’s best shoes. I even have a fashion blog. I didn’t realize at 16 that this thing I clung to for comfort and body acceptance would have such a hold on me.

When I get dressed in the morning, or when I buy a new garment, I can see how I adapted and combined my experiences to suit my needs. I like to cover my shoulders because people tell me they’re bony. I flaunt my clavicles because I think they’re pretty. I won’t wear a skirt higher than mid-thigh because it just feels inappropriate. There are some things you carry for so long they become a part of you. I’d like to feel so comfortable in my body that I can wear anything and feel confident. But I think it’s ok that I’ve reached these compromises with myself and with the modesty/sexuality obsessed culture that exists both within and outside of the church.

Through fashion, and even through the modesty culture I grew up within, I’ve come to appreciate my body both as flesh and blood and as art. When blogging, I like the distance a self portrait can provide, the harsh objectivity. I can look at myself through the lens of a photographer interested in imperfection, angles, and shadows. It’s easier, too, when I know I contribute more than just my appearance to the world – when I can write, hug, listen, laugh, work – and know that these things are acknowledged, that these things make a considerable difference.

But I’d still like to think that God doesn’t just think I have potential on the inside. I’d like to think He thinks I look pretty awesome, too.

*That’s not to say that I think that forced thinness in runway culture is acceptable. I understand the potential and already realized self image issues associated with the modeling industry.

on safety nets and waiting

waitingThe waiting times
I’ve heard
are lessons
to learn – so far
I’ve learned:

uncertainty is hard.
It wears at the
netting that holds us
Above that infinite
chasm of ultimate

I scribbled down the poem above in my journal a couple of weeks ago in an attempt to reflect on the ruthless anxiety that has spread out and seeped in over the past, seemingly endless few weeks. We were waiting to learn about job opportunities, grades, financial provisions, and family health concerns. We were waiting to see how much we’d have to change to accommodate all the changes we couldn’t control. And just as the pieces started falling into some sort of order, my car broke down – and we’re waiting for rides and parts and final bills.

Waiting is inconceivably difficult. You have no central control. You make decisions and ease transition by doing an awkward, breathless, side-stepping dance around the resolution itself.

I went through a period of waiting before where I practiced repeating:

Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord.*

I don’t remember what I was waiting for. I only remember the verse. It’s a brilliant phrase for us, the waiting ones, because it gives us back a sliver of control: You have to actively respond to a command. You get to take a deep, heroic breath, hold your fist out in an intimidating pose toward the empty air in front of you and press on. You are legitimized in your struggle by the implication that waiting does take strength and willpower. Your internal voice that incessantly nags, “What are you whining about?” gets a hand held over its mouth and, for the second you’re reflecting, you feel strong again. You feel ok.

So you repeat it like an incantation. You redirect your waiting. You wait for the Lord to show up, God-willing, and work toward believing that the rest of it will show up, too.

*Psalm 27:14

image source: Waiting by Dr. Hugo Heyrman

i’m still here

Hello, y’all. I’m not gone; I’ve just been posting up a storm on my fair trade blog, Style Wise.

hot air balloons charlottesville

I’ve also been reading some thought provoking and inspiring articles:

It’s an almost universal truth that any language you don’t understand sounds like it’s being spoken at 200 m.p.h. — a storm of alien syllables almost impossible to tease apart. That, we tell ourselves, is simply because the words make no sense to us. Surely our spoken English sounds just as fast to a native speaker of Urdu. And yet it’s equally true that some languages seem to zip by faster than others. Spanish blows the doors off French; Japanese leaves German in the dust — or at least that’s how they sound.

Reflecting on what he went through when Ruthie was sick, he told me that the secret to the good life is “setting limits and being grateful for what you have. That was what Ruthie did, which is why I think she was so happy, even to the end.”

While honest compensation should always be sought with both humility and pride, the pursuit of riches and wealth as an end goal is always a losing battle. Riches will never fully satisfy… we will always be left searching for more. People who view their work as only a means to get rich often fall into temptation, harmful behavior, and foolish desires.

And when you believe that minuscule imperative statements trump entire narratives, you miss out on the complexity that is woven into scripture. You lose stories like Deborah and Junia and Phoebe and Tabitha and Lydia and Anna and Priscilla– because these stories about powerful women conflict with the limited suggestion of one author to one friend. You lose the ability to learn from the value of contradictions, because instead of recognizing contradictions as the human component of individual perspective and human narrative, the contradictions become something you have to explain away or deny

Somewhere in my mid-twenties, I drifted off the Romans Road and stumbled onto a bigger, wilder Gospel in which salvation is less about individual “sin management” and more about God’s relentless work restoring, redeeming, and remaking the whole world. Salvation isn’t some insurance policy that kicks in after death; it’s the ongoing, daily work of Jesus, who loosens the chains of anger, greed, materialism, and hate around our feet and teaches us to walk in love, joy, and peace instead. It’s good news, not bad news, and I can’t, for the life of me, believe that only evangelical Christians like myself have a monopoly on it.

What have you been up to?

*Hot Air balloon over Charlottesville, by Reid Kasprowicz on flickr


easter vigil

As the sun sets, attendees are given an unlit candle. Outside, the light of Christ is lit just as the last light of the sun settles on the horizon. Parishioners process in quietly and await the coming of the light of Christ as it is solemnly paraded down the center aisle. All are aided in lighting their candles from the light of Christ at the front, passing it on, candle by candle to those within their pew. The sanctuary is unlit apart from the growing light of Christ clutched in the hands of this body of individuals, awaiting the readings in silence.

Each contained fire flickers and flares – rhythmically, chaotically, still for just a moment – as members of the congregation recount God’s victory amid despair and oppression. Psalms are chanted in a resonating baritone. The mood is somber, but a quiet hope begins to swell as words of salvation are announced, as the chanting echoes across the high ceilings and glass walls of the sanctuary.

All at once, the room comes alive with light, parishioners ring bells they hid among their belongings, and the organist begins a triumphant song. All stand and sing:

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!
suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!

Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia!
unto Christ, our heavenly King, Alleluia!
who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia!
sinners to redeem and save. Alleluia!

But the pains which he endured, Alleluia!
our salvation have procured, Alleluia!
now above the sky he’s King, Alleluia!
where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!

For the first time since Lent began, Alleluia rings out again. The world was dark and cold as a winter night, but Christ is alive and in it and working once again!

tree blossom

The final verse of Wheat that Springeth Green, in particular, rang true for me this year:

When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain,
thy touch can call us back to life again,
fields of hearts that dead and bare have been:
love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

How I needed to exhaust my lungs with the singing of those words! After a long, dark winter, after several weeks of chaos and confusion and self doubt, after 8 months of not dealing with the weight of moving away from everything familiar and comforting, I needed to acknowledge the barren winter in my heart, clear the snow away, and discover joy without limitation in Love springing up again.

He is risen! Alleluia!

first image source: Catholic News/second image: my own

Let Them Sing by Paul Gleason

My friend Paul presented the Palm Sunday homily last weekend at our church. I really enjoyed it and I hope you do, too.

palm sunday

Readings: Isaiah 50:4-7; Luke 19:28-40

He’s finally here. Jesus has finally entered Jerusalem. His whole life has been leading him to this place. And he’s not the only one who knows it. For a year he’s been preaching in the country, gathering a multitude of disciples that’s following him now, into the city. And they have some pretty particular ideas about what this means. Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. He’s finally here, the king of Israel is finally here. What’s he going to do? Who knows? But we can guess. Chase out the Romans, restore the ancient Kingdom of David, the possibilities seem endless. And the multitudes of his disciples and the people of Jerusalem who are throwing their clothes at his feet and waving their palms in the air are ecstatic. And they began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice. Luke tells us they are saying Blessed is the king, but joyfully with a loud voice? They’re singing. They are so full of joy and hope that they can’t help but sing, because he’s finally here.

It must be said that Jesus doesn’t exactly disabuse the multitudes of this notion they’ve got. That he’s here to kick some Roman keister. Earlier in Luke he told the twelve what’s really going to happen, about how he’s going to suffer and die on the cross. But of course telling a secret to the twelve was like telling it to a brick wall. Huh? Anyway, Jesus sends two of them ahead to find him a colt, so that he can ride into Jerusalem on horseback, like a king. And the people who saw him approaching must have immediately heard the words of the prophet Zechariah ringing in their ears.

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O Daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you,
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

He will cut off the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorse from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow shall be cut off.
And he shall command peace to the nations.
His dominion shall be from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

And there he is at last, riding on a colt. Surely the Roman chariots and warhorses will be routed. The victory of peace is at hand. The prophecy is being fulfilled before their eyes, and so they celebrate in the streets of Jerusalem. They start the party. They sing for joy.

And it’s tempting to say, they’re deluded. They are deluded. Because they have no idea how bad it’s about to get. The ones who do are the Pharisees. So they try to stop the singing, end the party. They say, Teacher, order your disciples to stop. This isn’t just because they’re jealous of all the attention this new rabbi’s been getting. We don’t have to think of these Pharisees as part of that cabal of chief priests, scribes, and political leaders who are already plotting Jesus’ death. They’re worried about what the Roman response to this festival, to this sudden unexpected outpouring of worshipful, joyful song, is going to be. They are worried about what’s going to happen to them, to Jesus, and to all of the people of Israel, disciples of Jesus or not. And they are absolutely right to worry. Within a few days the king, who was finally here, will be gone. The disciples will be scattered. Rome will still stand and, within a few short years it will decide it has had quite enough of these annoying Israelites. Its armies will siege and sack their city. Its armies will burn their temple to the ground. The Pharisees, they can see it coming. And they’re right. They have taken an honest look at the world, they have seen it clearly, and they have concluded that there is nothing here to sing about.

And Jesus, he can see it coming, too. His own death, I’ve already mentioned that he knows about that. And Luke tells us, in the next chapter of his Gospel, that Jesus knows what’s coming for Jerusalem. But what must have been worse, or I think it must have been worse for him, was to know that while all of these people are throwing their clothes at his feet and waving their palms in the air, in a few days, an equal number going to be shouting for his death. He can see Rome and the scheming leaders of his day. He can see into the hearts of everyone around him. He knows how fickle they are, how many of his own disciples will abandon him. If anyone can see the reasons not to sing, it’s him.

And yet he turns to the Pharisees and says, I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout for joy. What I take him to be saying is that this feeling, this upswelling of joy in the people’s hearts is so powerful that it seems to be permeating the world around them. Like a failing dam if you stopped it up here it would just burst out over there. So what he says, in effect, is let them sing. Even if Rome won’t like it. Let them sing, in spite of their erring hearts. In spite of the fact that Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are coming, in spite of every good reason I can think of for them to stay silent, let them sing anyway.

Jesus, as Luke presents him in today’s Gospel, wants his disciples to feel joy and share it. And it is Jesus who brings that joy with him to Jerusalem and to all of his disciples wherever they may be. He’s finally here, and in Jerusalem like in Bethlehem he arrives unexpectedly and fills everyone around him with irrepressible joy. And here and now on Palm Sunday we commemorate and we share in that joy they felt in Jerusalem. The party finally begins, and then it is over, too soon. Thursday and Friday always come, so soon.

And it will be tempting to think that we in our joy were deluded, too. Lent after all is the time for reflection on our failures and shortcomings, the time in which we, like those Pharisees, are supposed to make an honest assessment of ourselves and our world. And there are a lot of reasons not to sing. If we’re particularly introspective, we might echo good old John Calvin, who in the second volume of his Institutes lamented that “No one can descend into himself and seriously consider what he is without feeling God’s wrath and hostility toward him. … All of us, therefore, have in ourselves something deserving of God’s hatred.”  If we find it easier to see sin in the world we won’t have to venture too far to find that, either. But the discovery will be no less painful. The German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher understood original sin not as a sin that we are born with but as a sin that we are born into. He writes “…the sinfulness which is prior to all action operates in every individual through the sin and sinfulness of others … it is transmitted by the voluntary actions of every individual to others and implanted within them.” In other words, the sins we see in our society are our sins, too, transmitted to us, implanted in us, operating through us, even if it looks like they are somebody else’s fault. I don’t mean to frighten you a lot, but I do submit that there will always be good reasons for us not to sing for joy.

And yet we do. Not because we can’t see our broken world or our erring souls clearly. I think we can. But we sing for joy anyway, because as Christians we proclaim that the spirit of Christ is present among us, present at our table. And his presence can act on us like he acted on the people of Jerusalem. It can move us to joy. As Christians we are called to see ourselves and our world rightly. Jesus spends too much time in the Gospels naming the evils he sees for us to doubt that. But we must also be ready to sing for joy. We ought to be known for our joy.

I’m pretty sure I’ve heard sermons that said Palm Sunday was a preview of Easter. And it’s true that Easter is usually the most joyful day of the year, when the fast of Lent is over, and spring is here, and the sun shines through the windows on the pews full of everyone in their brightest clothes. The brass choir plays and the people sing. He’s finally here, and it’s quite a party. Except, in the Gospels, he isn’t there on Easter.  Not like he was on Palm Sunday. He is risen, yes, but he doesn’t process through the streets of Jerusalem again. He appears elsewhere, in the country again, on the road to Emmaus. There was more confusion and awe and fear on that first Easter, if you ask me, than there was joy.

So perhaps on Easter we are actually celebrating like it’s Palm Sunday. Like he’s finally here. Like everyone on that road to Jerusalem we are hoping for that day when the chariots are cut off from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem. We are hoping for the triumph of peace at last, and for the day when his dominion stretches from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. And whatever our doubts and whatever our failings may be, we are moved to sing with hope and joy. Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!

He’s almost here. Amen.

image source here.

freshly pressed

freshlypressedThank you to all who accessed my blog through WordPress’ Freshly Pressed feature and read, commented, liked, or followed. The homily I posted here was presented in my local congregation last Sunday. Since it was my first time presenting a sermon, I was nervous and emotional, but I made it through and felt moved in a way I didn’t expect by the message presented in the Biblical readings and through the process of speaking the words aloud. Helping the oppressed – especially those suffering within systems we can at least begin to change with minimal effort – is close to my heart; expressing that to an audience made it real to me in a way it hadn’t been before. I’m thankful that WordPress made it accessible to a wider audience.

I thought I’d provide a few resources if you’re interested in poking around the blog or exploring social justice issues further:

  • If you’re interested in social justice and fair trade issues, I encourage you to check out my ethical style blog, Style Wise, for retailers, resources, and inspiration.
  • If you’d like to know more about my journey through Lent, you can read my Lent post
  • For all other explorations, you can navigate by topic using the Categories menu on the left hand sidebar. 
  • If you’re interested in a thorough discussion on the sacredness of life, you may want to read The Sacredness of Human Life by David P. Gushee. I’m reading it now and find it uplifting and thought provoking.

I can’t promise that all my future posts will be as meaningful as the last one, but I’ll continue to keep an account of my life with honesty and (hopefully) a fair amount of reflection.