Wednesday, October 21, 2009


"Believers often charge the lost with not taking hell seriously enough, but I'm not sure we take it very seriously ourselves. To hope someone burns in hell is profoundly offensive to God and proves we lack His heart."
-Beth Moore, Beloved Disciple

How many people have posed the question, "If God exists, why is there such horror and suffering in the world?" Abandoning the idea of a loving God based on the evidence that any God worth his salt would intervene to stop the bloodshed, the abuse of the innocent, the cruelty and murder and corruption, they refuse to believe such a God could stand idly by. If he did, what kind of god would he be? But what if this being does, in fact, exist. What if part of him is burning in rage at the sickness of hatred, greed and cruelty between people? What if there is a settling of accounts that is coming? What if he is deeply moved by the desire to bring justice to his world? What on earth could be holding him back?

If studying Revelation, the last book in the Bible, has convinced me of anything, it is that Justice Is Coming. An account will be made of the events on earth, and the wrath of God will be unleashed on all the misdeeds of mankind. Why is he waiting? What is he waiting for? This god, who doesn't push himself on us, but petitions for our attention, knows that each of our actions earn a wage. That the wages of selfishness are an account in the red. We will be required to pay, justice will be had. And all he wants is for us to get on his payment plan. Jesus. The last thing he wants is for us to face the court of heaven owing. So he waits and watches over the earth, hoping we take him at his word.
He lets us choose. He keeps holding back the tide, hoping that we'll get it-that we cannot fix us, but there is nothing he loves more than our flawed, broken selves. He wants to save us from our selves, and there is not one of us, no matter how ugly, how twisted, how bent, that he despises. We are his creation, and he is forever bending heaven and earth to get us out of what we've gotten ourselves in to.

"As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live."
Ezekiel 33:11, Bible NLT

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


The fact that I don't smoke, and rarely drink, has little to do with morality or religion. It's simply the fact that I'm too cheap. Otherwise, I'd probably be an avid smoker, and I've always enjoyed those vodka fruity girlish drinks. I even love drugs, though the addictive quality of narcotics is as much a downside as the financial stress of procuring them. Having now partaken of a delicious range of narcotics via back injury, child birth and hospitalizing migraine, I can say that I truly, deeply love drugs, too. But I can't afford 'em, so I'm not even gong to start.

No, my drug of choice is Words. Words are free. Some would say they're cheap, but that's because they haven't been to the Public Library lately. There are hundred's of thousands, nay, millions of them, neatly categorized and stacked in alphabetical order for my ease and perusal. And lyrics, lyrics! I suck them down like jelly belly's, craning my mind's ears to suck out the different flavors. Songs upon songs to summon every frequency of feeling, each wave of memory, each spike of emotion. Don't even get me started on accents. There is never a need to say the same thing in exactly the same way twice, with the same inflection. I live for things like etymology, typography, and essays. I am an addict. With the same blind, gorging enthusiasm that I gullet them down, I puke them up again. Just ask my friends. I often find myself in a small gaggle of people, staring glassy eyed as I recite from my most recent collection. My volume is usually up too high by the time I notice their nervous glances at each other. I quickly outpace their own comments, filling in imaginary gaps in conversation with my own sub plots and side commentary. I'm suddenly on a speeding train, racing forward toward...? I don't know, but these words just keep tumbling out, and I have the decided impression that I am an artist, a painter, spattering thoughts and ideas Jackson Pollock style into the cringing ears of my confused audiences, and we're all hoping that something comes of it.

After enough of these outbursts and ill balanced interactions, I remember to practice my avarice in private-hence the keyboard. It's safer this way, so I'm not accidentally holding hostages.

The irony about my obsession is that the fewer I share, the closer I'm listened to. So I'm trying to be more careful, to hoard them, to roll them over on my tongue, to hold back what I know and what I think. The plan is to sift my twinkling jewels, to posses them, instead of being possessed by them. If I can master them, my darling beauties, then when I let them out, there will be thunder claps, lightening strikes, and things will Change, Get Better, because of My Careful and Incredible Devotion to Words.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Anne Lamott

When an acquaintance lent me 'traveling mercies,' it was with the caveat that 'this is not for the easily offended, typical uptight christian.' i assumed that was my ticket into the in crowd. after all, i don't think you get much more irreverent and un-churchy than me. Five pages into the book, i was already rolling my eyes and gagging. Half way through, and I was outraged and deeply offended. For the next 5 years, I could barely restrain the string of expletives whenever I heard her name mentioned. Unfortunately, many of my favorite writers openly adore her. (rob bell, donald miller...what IS it with her?)

There are 3 things that bother me about anne lamott. First, and least important, her writing style smacks of 12th grade creative writing class. All the fragments, the 'stream of consciousness', breathy delivery. You can almost hear her cliched 'I'm an artist and a poet' voice drawling out the words while you read. So obnoxious. Anyone can do that. Second, her soft opinion on abortion. It's hard for me to admire anyone who is so ambivalent about the birth of her own child. Last, her smug descriptions of having sex with other women's husbands.
I don't think I've ever worked harder on anything than on my marriage. It offends and terrifies me that someone like Anne is out there, splurging on her pet sin from time to time, and then chalking it up to her tragically flawed human nature. Remorse? I don't think it's in her vocabulary. Self loathing is just another form of self worship, Anne. At least she knows she's a narcissist. (She mentions it often.) It's so annoying to have someone ignoring the rules, and bragging about it, as if she's advertising grace.

Ok, that's off my chest. I truly don't know if she really knows Jesus. I have trouble wrapping my head around what comes off to me as a total lack of repentance. It feels like bragging to me.

That being said, I have wondered for so long why this woman can inspire Christians. I've found her writing so...hopeless. I've felt infuriated at her apparent lack of desire to change. Her total acceptance of miserable failure to perform even the basics of what's considered standard to being good, let alone spiritually mature. I hated her for that. I hated her for being able to inspire others. I want to get better. Doesn't everyone else?

Two years ago, I accidentally loaded her audio book (Grace:Thoughts On Faith) onto my ipod, after borrowing it from the Public Library. Now, when I'm out jogging, I keep getting bits of Ann Lamott thrown in with my Killers and Pixies and Keane. Somewhere along the lines, I've realized that something changed. Her obnoxious reading voice still sounds just exactly like my 12th grade creative writing teacher (I just knew it would), and I'm still totally baffled by her easy proclivity with politics that don't seem to match any rendering of the Bible that I can see, but...I no longer find her hopelessness offensive.

I think this last couple of years has seen the beginning of the death of my perfectionism. I don't want to get my hopes up, here, people, but I think I've finally made peace with some of my own personal failures. Maybe even some of those of my friends and loved ones. Where Ann used to whip me up into a rage of 'Pull-Yourself-Up-By-The-Boot-Straps redoubling of my efforts inclined fervor to never give up the fight to Fix Me,', I just hang my head and laugh. Or sigh. Some things die so hard. Others take sooooo long to change. And still more parts of me may just be broken forever. And God still likes me. I think, if anything, Ann and I could toast to that.


The last book in the Bible is called Revelations. I've never read it. Not until this year. Granted, my step dad read us through the entire Bible as kids during morning "devos" (short for devotionals, a term which I find just as ambiguous. A term for a Christian's daily reading and meditation on the Bible), at least twice. But I don't remember it. And I've steered completely clear of it for most of my adult life primarily because of what I'll call End Times Enthusiast who want to fight about their pet theological time line...and the crazy person I've met in nearly each and every church I've been in who lives and breathes tales of 'The Beast,' 'The Rapture,' and the Left Behind book series. So when both my husband (the pastor), and the Community Bible Study group I'm involved with three towns away both announced last spring that we would be studying Revelation this year, I felt a measure of relief.

CBS, or, Community Bible Study, has been one of the most fair minded interdenominational groups I've ever been a part of. I'm constantly amazed at how objective and inclusive the commentaries are, and how few theological fights break out, though we're around the table with Catholics, Baptists, Calvanists and Pentacostals. I trust them to deal soberly with Revelations.

My husband, too, is not one to dabble in wild eyes speculation when it comes to Scripture. Wait, that is not true at all. He lives for wild eyed speculation of scripture. But at least he knows, and acknowledges it when he's dong it, rather than bending and warping the Bible around his favorite whipping boy topics. (Honestly, I'm sure we all do that in some respect, because we can't help it, but I appreciate Jason keeping us all informed when he is forming an unprecedented conclusion.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I had an unsettling experience a few days ago. I got in a fight, an escalated, angry theological argument with a friend. I used to do it all the time, you know. Match wits, clash of ideas, etc. There was always a feeling that went along with it that all of Christianity was riding on my shoulders, and if I failed to convince my opponent, or at least best him with my shining reason, that I would be losing something of my self, my identity, of my safety, of my right to have my faith. It was a terrifying venture, trying to strong arm my ideas down someone's brain. I recall not being able to walk away. I was like an angry animal, embarrassed, insistent, obsessed.
Somewhere along the line (I think it was after reading Blue Like Jazz) I realized that people are real,that they are not just extras and props in the movie about my life. And that God actually likes everyone else as much as He likes me. And that He can stand up for Himself. He doesn't get a pass/fail grade all on my ability to describe and convince everyone of His existence and intentions. I can just enjoy people. And share what I know about Him when it fits. Which, it turns out, is practically all the time.
So, how did i get from my recent status as mellow, wise sage to angry red faced seething anger machine hurling thinly veiled insults across the van to my dear friend in defense of my understanding of scripture as pertaining to an important but not life and death point of theology???
I don't know. It scared me. I thought I'd left that angry frantic person behind. I thought I was in command of my feelings enough to avoid losing control like that. I thought I had achieved the composure to be civil even under duress. I was so wrong.
The last decade of my life has taught me that I can control, subjugate and compress my anger very carefully. But it is still in there. I'm not even sure how to get rid of all of my anger, or process things in a non angry way. But I think I have a lot of anger. I took a survey in an anger management book, and I came out in the red zone. I took a week of silence, and I felt enraged all the time. When I'm in pain, I am furious. I'm not sure how and why this happens. I just know I try to cover it up and contain it.
I'm starting to think maybe I can just choose not to be angry. That I am not required to respond with anger and outrage to every circumstance that seems unjust. But I have a lot to learn. Congratulations to you, dear friend, for showing myself just how far from enlightened I truly am. That is a lesson I am still smarting from.

Monday, January 12, 2009

spirit of santa claus

I'm a bit over sensitive to the idea of lying to my children. There is something unsettling to me about informing them that an overweight bearded stranger is responsible for the pile of bright pink and purple plastic that annually populates our Christmas tree. Honestly, it just doesn't sit right with me. Maybe because I want credit for my purchases. Maybe because my deepest scars from childhood involve looking back and realizing I was duped by my (well meaning? self serving?) parents.
I was a very serious, philosophical child. It bothered me that grown ups usually laughed indulgently at my questions about life. Only my father would sit up late hours discussing love, god, truth, faith and the meaning of things. That's why it cut so deeply years later to realize that he'd been using his powers of intellect and manipulation to solicit my regard and approval, meanwhile subtly redefining the lines of reality and truth in his favor.
That brings me back to Santa Claus. I've made an unspoken promise to myself not to lie to my children. Some information, let's face it, lots of information, is on a need to know basis.
But there are enough mysteries in life, and I'm not interested in muddying the waters with what is known fantasy.
In an awkward but funny dialogue weeks ago at book club, I admitted that Levity's kindergarten teacher pulled me out of car line mid December to make a strained request. She informed me that at every mention of Santa in the classroom Levity was leaping up Joan of Arc style and asserting to the entire class that, "Santa isn't real. You're believing a lie." (Can you hear the shattering dreams of little children all across our city?) Why hadn't I briefed her on this topic? While I honestly don't like giving some nebulous clown character credit for all of the gifts under the tree, I don't have a problem with folks perpetuating the Santa myth. I'm just not interested. Truly, had it occurred to me, I would have told her not to share her opinion unless asked. oops.
When I shared the story, to the horrified stare of my dear friend and fellow primary school parent, D, she was stunned. For my oversight in the matter of swearing Levity to secrecy on the Santa thing, D chastised me thoroughly, taken aback that I allowed such a cruel social blunder. That brought the conversation around to my basic question: What is so great about Santa Claus? D's eyes widened and she gasped at my ignorance. 'The Spirit of Santa Claus,' she exhaled. According to D, it's the Spirit of Santa Claus that causes stressed out pre-Christmas shoppers to put away their grimaces and paste on a smile in the stampede to the grocery checkout. The Spirit of Santa Claus keeps her from speeding angrily through downtown traffic, cursing the lemming masses for clogging the intersections with badly timed U turns and driving like they're the only ones who need to get somewhere.
(Santa get's credit for that, too?)
I presented my 'not to muddy the water' spiel. Another friend put forward her thoughts. Knowing my husband is a minister, she suggested that teaching the children about Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy might actually help them develop faith.
That stopped me cold. Is that what people really think of faith? That believing in Santa helps develop a deeper ability to have faith in Jesus?
How odd. I pointed out as gently as I could that telling my children all about Santa, the big Rabbit and the money leaving fairy who trades for teeth, along with Bible stories about Jesus, could actually backfire quite badly. When they get old enough to realize Santa was a fraud, why on earth would they think Jesus is any different?
It made me think, though. There is a difference between having faith in ideals, and having faith in someone. I think a lot of people who follow Christianity loosely have faith in it's ideals. But I have faith in a real, distinct Person. A being who exists outside this created reality. Someone who conceived of everything we know, spoke it into reality with the power of words, and then wrote himself into the plot as a character-born into our race human, just to talk to us, and make a way for us to know Him, understand Him. But this concept is more strange and sci fi than the average person's faith, I think. They aspire to belief in the ideas of faith, so that they might live up to their best possible self, and see the best in others. Maybe they don't even believe the actual Being exists. So they chalk it up to the spirit of Santa Claus.