Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Justification: All grace, all the way

As we contemplate a transition to Roman Catholicism, there's a lot to think about, and some of the differences are pretty intimidating.

But the doctrine of justification doesn't bother us at all.

All Christians believe that we're not saved by our own merits, but by the meritorious work of Christ. (Catholics affirm this in every mass!)

It's all grace. All of it.

Moreover, all Christians believe that the God's saving grace inexorably draws us into ever increasing conformity with Christ.

Salvation is a free gift, not a thing earned. And true Christians are characterized by their active fruitful love. It's impossible to take the Bible seriously without affirming both of those things, but there are a number of different ways of talking about it.

Because of Jesus, God forgives our sins and makes us holy. When we talk about salvation, do we mean just the forgiveness part, or do we mean the holy-making part as well? Is sanctification part of justification, or something separate that comes afterward?

It all depends on how you define your terms.

Words matter. But I'm pretty sure that our salvation doesn't depend upon our deft definitions and delineations.

We're saved by grace, and we can't earn God's favor by our cognitive merits. Whatever the words "justification" and "sanctification" ought to mean, it's safe to say that God regularly gives both of these gifts of grace to people who define them imperfectly.

Which is actually one reason that I was quite content to remain Protestant long after I became convinced that the Catholic way of talking about salvation is more helpful.

Careful Catholics and careful Protestants agree that the process of growing into love (sanctification) is a gift of grace. It's not something you can bootstrap yourself into. Trying harder doesn't work. You have to wait upon the hope of righteousness.

But even though we all agree that it's all gift, it's easy for a protestant to slip into the habit of thinking that we're sanctified by our own efforts.

I'm sure that Catholics are not immune to this pitfall, and I know that not all Protestants fall into this trap.

But even though I've never met a protestant who seriously thought that we can sanctify ourselves by our own efforts, that's the logical implication whenever the Catholic view is characterized as "earning your salvation."

Thinking of sanctification as a part of justification has nothing to do with earning, unless sanctification is something we do for ourselves.

But it's not. It's all gift. It's all grace.

Day by day, I'm struggling to remember that God alone can rescue me from my sin. I need all the help I can get, and it really helps to think of my journey into love in salvific terms.

I don't see this as something to break fellowship over. But it does seem like a good reason why maybe we don't really need to go out of our way to avoid fellowship with the Christians in our neighborhood.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Looking Rome-ward

Last night, we sat down with the elders at our church, and explained why we're seriously looking into Catholicism. Not all roads lead to Rome, but right now, it sure looks like ours does.

We've been uneasy protestants for a long time, but for a long time, we've been committed to making it work. These are our roots, and one should never break with tradition lightly. Besides, the grass is always greener on the other side, and we were never quite ready to trade the familiar problems of Protestantism for the unknown troubles of the Catholic church.

There came a point, though, where it stopped mattering where the grass was greenest--we just needed some grass that we could get actually to.

On time.

Without completely exhausting ourselves.

If you've ever tried to groom, feed, and transport six high-energy kids anywhere, you probably know what I mean. Getting everyone to church is a superhuman feat, and for a while, we just stopped being superheroes.

But we could get to the big Catholic church down the road. Not usually all at once, mind you, and only sometimes at the time(s) we intended. But there were enough masses that we could miss church twice, and still end up making it on time.

And then we would find ourselves at home an hour later, strengthened and refreshed, sure of God's presence, and ready to face the rest of the day.

 Nathan says that when you're in the mass, it feels like it's forever, but then when you step outside, almost no time has passed. That's exactly what it feels like, and if the Catholics are right about transubstantiation, then I think it must be so. The eucharist is a temporal version of the miracle of the loaves, where time itself is divided and multiplied, broken and gathered, as we all meet together across the centuries in the eternal moment of the cross.

Stretched thin, exhausted, and overwhelmed, this is what I'm hungry for.

Friday, December 19, 2014

knock, shine,
breathe and mend,
although my fierce heart
cries out to be broken, battered.
On this you will not accomadate me, as tender
as you are. You are unyeilding
in your gradual
kindness. Come

Thursday, December 18, 2014

sits under
the bridge with Jose
and Maria, waiting for Juan
and Pedro. Sometimes he holds a sign. It's hard to say
exactly what he needs, and all
I know is whose
name it is
in which

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why Christians MUST affirm celibate gays

World magazine recently published an article about Julie Rodgers, a new counselor at Wheaton college.

Rodgers is open about her gay orientation, as well as her commitment to chastity. Combined with her other qualifications, this makes her especially well suited to help Christian students navigate their experiences of same-sex attraction. As we all strive to become more like Jesus, it's incredibly valuable to spend time with mature believers who can show us what that looks like in various different circumstances. I'm glad that Wheaton is committed to providing gay students with a vision of holiness and human flourishing.

This is oddly controversial, though.

The World article cites the concerns of a former lesbian, now in a heterosexual marriage: if we affirm the work of God in the lives of celibate gays, aren't we denying his power to change people?


Holy matrimony is holy. Holy singleness is holy.

If we're going to get into a rumpus over who's holier than whom, St. Paul says that singles are better suited for Christian service. But he also warns us not to play that kind of game.

We are many members of one body: marriage itself teaches us this, being built upon the generative power of unity and difference. The mystery of marriage confirms the teachings of Jesus and Paul. It is good that some people marry, and some people don't.

Just as the human race cannot survive unless some people are male and some people are female, I'm firmly coninced that we can't have healthy churches and communities unless some people are married and some people are single.

God is in the business of transforming sinners and making us holy. For some of us, marriage is part of this process. For others, it isn't. But all of us are called to love and value brothers and sisters who have different callings.

Scripture is unambiguously clear on this point. Holy celibacy is holy. And as Christians, we aren't permitted to take what God has declared to be holy, and call it dirty.

But there's another concern. If we affirm that celibate gays have a valuable role in the church, then doesn't that open us up to the idea that God didn't necessarily make everyone male or female, but might have also made some people in between?


No, it doesn't.

And if did, it wouldn't matter. People are more important than ideas, even when those ideas are very important ones.

This doesn't mean that we can't ask people to do hard things. But it does mean that when people faithfully do those hard things, we can't turn around and reject them so as to avoid confusing people. That issue was settled long ago, when Paul told Peter that he had to eat with the gentile Christians, no matter how bad that looked to some of the Jews. To do otherwise is to reject the work of Christ.

As it happens, Wheaton's decision to hire Julie Rodgers has little do with whether or not God made people who are neither male nor female.

Gayness is not the same thing as being neither male nor female, and affirming
people like Wesley Hill and Julie Rodgers doesn't imply anything at all about whether or not God has made people who don't fit these categories.

 But at any rate, I fail to see the earth-shattering implications of God's sovereign
choice to make people like that.

Reproduction is an important part of who we are as humans. It's how we all got here, and it's predicated upon the male/female duality.

But not all of us physically reproduce.

Not everyone is physically capable of reproduction, and not everyone is born with a standard reproductive system with a clearly identifiable sex. Some have even made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom.

This is okay, and more than okay. This is part of God's sovereign plan to make us into one body with many members.

Don't reject the work of Christ.

Monday, December 15, 2014

fill up
the empty:
a costly comfort.
Dynamite sends smoke heavenward.
Mountains must be moved
to make way
for this

Friday, December 12, 2014

(eight of them
in the optical)
the idly waiting customers
try on frame after frame, re-envisioning their sight.
One by one, each name will be called,
lenses cut to fit
the chosen
frame for

Thursday, December 11, 2014

of God, for
all those upon whom
my weary eyelids have fallen.
May your groanings reach
through my dreams,

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Seventy times seven

Ferguson is burning. We watch uneasily from a distance. We may be miles from Missouri, but this raises questions that are all too close to home.

My facebook feed has erupted in fiery arguments.

What is behind the violence? Is this all about systematic racism and scripted oppression?

Or is it about sin?



Sin is systematic. Sin is a script.

If sin was just a matter of isolated individual decisions, racism wouldn't be quite so hard to deal with. Neither would fatherlessness, or any other sort of abandonment.

Everybody should just make good choices, and the world will be happy. Easy as pie, right?

But none of us make our choices in a vacuum. Not anymore. Not since Adam and Eve.

Our first parents made their choice to sin in a peaceful paradise with a perfect father, but the rest of us can only dream about that kind of privilege. In different ways and tho different degrees, we are all struggling to cope with the fallout from that first fall.

Ashamed of his disobedience, Adam tried to justify himself before God by throwing Eve under the bus. Cain learned the art of betrayal from from his father, amped it up a bit, and became the world's first murderer. Their descendants took this legacy and paid it forward with ample interest. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy times seven, and so on and so forth until the whole world was full of violence, and God regretted ever making mankind in the first place.

And then, when the world was shiny and clean again, when the dove with the olive leaf had finally found a place to rest on the blood soaked earth, when human civilization consisted of a single family homestead and a rainbow.... Granddad passed out drunk, cursed the kid whose dad had dared to laugh, and the cycle began all over again.

It's a script that we copy out for our children every generation in fresh red ink. This is what we humans do, and it's only natural. We take the hurt that we've been given and pass it on and on.

Jesus shed his blood to write us a new script, with a different kind of seventy times seven.

It's a costly script, but its our only hope.

Monday, November 24, 2014

set in
silences prepare
a table spread beneath the tree
whose leaves are life. Bless'd
come share

Sunday, November 23, 2014

windblown dust
holds these anxious
flutterings, makes uncertainty
solid, so may my mind, relieved by your gift of flesh,
find syllables and sounds to hold
the shape of mighty
rushing air,
your breath

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

have pity even
on the pitiless. Remonstrate 
gingerly, gently; confident, but without delight.
Wait patiently for morning's hope
in the blossoming
where love

Saturday, November 15, 2014

truth, independent
of our fluctuating knowledge.
Respect its vastness. Child of dust, your life is a breath.
Breathe while the wind blows within you.
Listen to its voice.
love calls

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

in fact
have arrived.
Perhaps you’ve achieved
more than you have dreamed, and perhaps
there is nothing left for you but sleep. You may have reached
the center where the frozen flames
hold you motionless.
Perhaps. Pray
it is
to learn,
but didn't.
Failure is the best
teacher, but what is there to learn
from lack of learning? Still, stagnation itself provides
a certain sort of resistance.
Eros surely finds
out of
give out
many fine
gifts. Gifts matching all
their many fine plans. Fine plans
that are well worth any pains you could possibly take
to avoid them. Small earthly joys
like justice outshine
these splendid

Sunday, November 9, 2014

your words are a drug,
bewitching your hearers, whether
you will or no, stringing them along like iron rings,
held by your magnetic daimon.
This, too, can corrode,
leave the youths

Saturday, November 8, 2014

rage and me,
with words fine enough
to seep into the crevices,
and swelling, break. Pry me from myself, that divided,
finally seen and seeing, I
may share with myself

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

perfect, just
as your father pours
blessings down upon the righteous
and the unjust both. This mystery is far too deep
to grasp. There is no grasping here,
just mercy's wildness
and the wind.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Keeping watch over their souls

I have been thinking a lot about the contrversy over Houston's equal rights ordinance and its prohibition against discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

This is important stuff. What we do about this as a city will powerfully affect many people, and how we talk about it as Christians will affect all of us, because it brings up all sorts of questions about what it means to be human, and about the very nature of the gospel.

You can read my general thoughts here and here.

As I argued in my third post on the topic, I don't think that our children's physical safety is affected by which bathroom gender nonconformists use.

Now I want to talk about emotional and spiritual safety.

Let me start out by saying that privacy matters. Locker rooms and urinals present real logistical challenges, particularly in schools, and if institutions cannot meet those challenges in a way that provides sufficient privacy for everyone, that's a problem. A really big problem.

But I'm confident that those challenges are surmountable, precisely because of all the horror stories I've read about the emotional harm these policies inflict on children.

You see, almost every one of those anecdotes tells a story about an institution creatively and successfully making the changes necessary to give everyone privacy.

But that wasn't good enough. The authors of those anecdotes didn't just want to protect kids from indecent exposure, but also from the very idea that some people have complicated gender identities.

The problem is, we can't actually do that.

If your child is aware enough ask you why there's a man in the ladies room, you can bet that she's also aware enough to be perplexed by gender ambiguity in any context. Bathrooms have nothing to do with it.

As parents, we have just two choices: talk about it, or don't talk about it.

Talking about it can be scary, but not talking about it is what's dangerous.

If we let our fear keep us from talking with our kids about these things, we will lose the opportunity to guide them through whatever ethical decisions they may face. Statistically speaking, any one of our kids is unlikely to face tough decisions about his or her own gender, but each of them will almost certainly face decisions about how to respond to peers who don't fit into tidy gender categories. And almost all of our kids will face decisions about bullying.

As I look back on my own childhood,  I'm haunted by my cowardice; cowardice rooted in confusion. I didn't know what to do, so I stood by and didn't do anything at all.

I want to spare my kids that kind of guilt. I want to make sure that I'm alert and present to teach them how to love people they don't understand. Even people that they suspect of bad choices.

And if any of my kids do struggle with gender, I definitely want them to talk with me about it.

We cannot protect our children from finding out that they live in a complicated world, but by the grace of God, perhaps we can equip them to live wisely and well, and above all to love. At any rate, we have to try. We must not fail to keep watch over their souls.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Leaving fear behind: a meditation on 1 John

"So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. " 
                                                --Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933

I am terrified of fear, and with good reason, too.

I've seen what it can do.

Fear is scary stuff, and the fear of fear itself is among the scariest of all. It's like quicksand; the harder you struggle, the more impossible it is to escape.

You can't scare yourself into courage.

Only love can teach us how to be brave.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but it isn't the end.

In the end, love drives out all fear, after the love with which God loved us has reached its final destination, becoming our daily practice. 

(What can it mean to give ourselves up as propitiation for the sins of our brothers and sisters? These mysteries are frighteningly deep.)

Slowly, slowly, love is teaching me not to be afraid, and gently to unclench my fingers from around my fear of fear.

Fear has to do with punishment, and the one who fears has not been perfected in love.

If I were to say that I have no fear, I would lie, and the truth would not be in me.

Slowly, slowly, I am learning to confess my fear; to quietly and bravely dig down deep into it, and trace its contours. 

When I am afraid of my fear, I clench my eyes shut, and open my soul to all its lying shadows.

But Jesus isn't afraid of my fear. He isn't ashamed of my shame.

He held them both inside his bleeding body, carried them all the way to hell, and now he lives.

Which means that so can I.

When I confess my fear, I find that God is faithful, and when I open my eyes I find beauty.

Everything becomes light when it is brought into the light. Even fear.

And it's in the truth about my fear that I find mercy.

Mercy to receive, and mercy to give.

Mercy that seals me into mercy, whispering to my soul that love has cast away all fear.

"God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him."
                                                           --1 John 4:16b

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Keeping kids safe

Child safety is a big concern in the controversy over Houston's equal rights ordinance, and this drives me a little bit crazy.

Only a very little bit crazy, mind you. As mama to six extraordinarily precious munchkins, I can't get too mad at anyone who wants to keep kids safe.

I do, however, feel approximately the same way as I would over a campaign to protect children from auto injuries by keeping car windows closed at all times.

You see, red herrings are not harmless. Given that carefully rolling up your windows won't actually keep your kids safe, this hypothetical misconception would be dangerous as well as silly. Auto safety is too important to dink around with ineffective strategies. Just strap your kids into appropriate car seats, observe all traffic laws, and put away that cell phone already! The windows have nothing to do with it.

In the same way, keeping gender nonconformists out of public restrooms won't protect our children from pedophiles.

It just won't.

There has been a good deal of hand-wringing over the idea that biological males might gain access to the restrooms that little girls use, but as a mother of five sons I am keenly aware of the fact that biological males already have full access to the same facilities as little boys.

There's no call for paranoia, but the buddy system is definitely in order. And if you really want to keep kids safe, family restrooms are the way to go.

Family restrooms solve all kinds of problems!

Other cities have had similar equal rights ordinances for quite some time, so Houston isn't exactly jumping into the dark. If you find any evidence that these laws have increased the risk of assault, please let me know, but my own search has come up blank.

Still, even if this law wouldn't affect our children's physical safety, emotional safety also matters. Here too, I think that worries about restrooms are a dangerous distraction. Restricting restroom access won't actually keep our kids safe, and parents need to focus on the things that really will prepare and protect their children.

But I will save this for a future essay.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Highly exacting.
Love is ethereal and light,
which is to say that its constant is immutable.
Though all else fade away, love is
and mercy
will judge

Counting on mercy

"Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."
                                                                     --Luke 15:1-7, NIV

It's funny how the numbers can bring everything into focus. 

NoUnequalRights.com asks the question "Why should the 99% of the population who are NOT gender confused be forced to accommodate the less than 1% who are?"


Because Jesus, that's why.

Because Jesus didn't come to save the righteous 99% of the population. He came for the rest of us: the bewildered and bruised wanderers.

This isn't about gender ethics. 

This is about the gospel. 

I care about the needs of 1% of the population because Jesus cares about me, and I am counting on his mercy.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bathroom breakdown

Crazy things are happening in Houston. Early this summer, the city council passed an anti-discrimination ordinance that added sexual and gender identity to the usual list of unacceptable reasons to deny someone housing or employment. Initial drafts of the ordinance also mentioned bathrooms and other gender-specific facilities, and even though that language was removed from the final ordinance, the legal consensus seems to be that if you aren't allowed to discriminate on the basis of gender identity, you aren't allowed to keep people from using the restroom of their choice. The conservative Christian community found this pretty scary, and gathered more than enough signatures to put the ordinance to a referendum.  The city rejected the petition, though, saying that there were multiple instances of double-signing, and many of the pages were not notarized. Now the petitioners are suing the city, and as a part of that case, the city's lawyers have subpoenaed sermons and other communications from several prominent pastors.

Like I said, crazy. Snopes has a good recap.

Anyway, the other day, I started writing an essay about the situation. It was clever and witty, funny and compelling. At least, I think it was, and nobody can tell me otherwise, because now it is gone forever.

Save your files, people. Save your files.

I stand by every lost word of it, but maybe it's just as well that the file is gone. My heart wasn't really in it.

I wrote that essay shrewdly, prudently. I tried to meet my audience half-way, establishing our common ground before moving on to my main arguments.

Actually, I felt compelled to go a whole lot more than half-way, and that's part of what bothers me about this whole situation.

I believe in conciliatory dialogue. Really, I do. Real communal truth seeking can only happen when we root our arguments in shared premises.

But it needs to go both ways.

I was pretty sure that if I wanted anyone to listen to me, I would have to start out by saying that I think it's scary for the government to subpoena sermons, and that I think it is quite possible to love someone while disapproving of his or her way of life.

So far so good.

But I was doing way too much beating around the bush, when I really needed to just come right out and say that I don't see how you can possibly love your neighbor while simultaneously campaigning to keep your neighbor from going to the bathroom.

This is kinda awkward, though, because I seriously doubt that anyone is thinking of the petition in those terms. They should just use the other restroom, right?

Unfortunately, this solution works a whole lot better for hypothetical constructs than for real flesh-and-blood human beings who can't use either bathroom without running the risk of raised eyebrows.

Or... worse.

I've never heard of a rapist using an equal protection ordinance to sneak into a ladies room (there are much more effective ways of eluding detection!), but bathroom rape is a real thing, and the transgender are at particular risk.

But I haven't heard any of the petition's supporters even acknowledge these issues.

This is a problem.

People are people, even when their lives are messy and full of sin. And people need to go to the bathroom, even when it's not entirely obvious which restroom they belong in.

Moreover, people need Jesus, especially when their lives are messy and full of sin. And I cannot imagine darkening the door of a church that was conducting a campaign to keep me from going to the bathroom.

This is not about shifting our ethical positions on gender and sexuality. This is about the gospel. Love and mercy accomplish what shame and the fear of punishment cannot.

If you want a different kind of salvation, a different kind of transformation, then go and get yourself a different religion.

As for the ethics of gender identity, I have no idea what it could possibly mean to be born with a body of the wrong sex. Philosophically, this makes no sense to me at all.

I do, however, know exactly what it feels like to know that my soul could only be valuable if it were paired with a different sort of body. I know what it is like to try to squeeze my repulsively un-feminine soul into an acceptable mold, and to loathe my successes more than my failures, because it was a rejection of who God made me to be. I know what it is like to be disgusted by everything about my body that insisted upon telling lies about my soul. I know what it is like to starve myself in a desperate bid for femininity, while simultaneously trying to starve away my grotesquely feminine curves and erase their condemnation. It was terribly contradictory, but it didn't really matter. I couldn't have eaten anyway, with my stomach in so many knots. I watched helplessly as the numbers on the scale sank lower and lower, and I wondered if death might be the only escape from this ill-fitting flesh.

Without ever meaning to, it is so easy to be cruel to anyone who fails to live up to our culture's intensely exacting and often arbitrary gender categories.

What if instead of getting mad at people for trying to escape those categories, we started out by trying to make those categories more welcoming places?

Let's start with the little things. Let's make a world where boys are free to love flowers and dancing, where girls don't have to pretend to be bored with math.

Before we start talking about how people should live out the genders implied by their biology, we need to make sure that we haven't turned gender into something unnecessarily constricting.

Besides, for a lot of people, gender is verifiably complicated in ways that have nothing to do with sin and choice. Out of every hundred babies, one is born with an ambiguously sexed body. These people were outcasts in the Old Testament, but Jesus explicitly welcomes and blesses them.

All this is pretty hidden, though, as well it should be. Whenever we meet someone whose gender perplexes us, we can safely assume that we don't know what's going on.

And most of the time, it's not our job to know, either.

It's our job to love, because love accomplishes what shame can never do.

If you've managed to read this far, thank you for listening to me. Thank you for meeting me in my hurt and disillusionment. It's an image of what Jesus did when he left the glorious purity of heaven to come break bread with swindlers and prostitutes.

I bet there are some other people who could use that kind of listening grace, as well.

Monday, October 13, 2014


In fourteen hundred and ninety two,
you thought you knew
that the world was small enough for you to grasp.

Still, you were spared by its unexpected vastness,
and still you insisted on closing both your fists
and your eyes, clutching your pleasant delusions of a world
small enough to own. Today we remember
that the rain falls down on the just and the unjust alike,
that the winners write the histories, right or wrong,
and this wild, cruel world's too much to comprehend.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What *would* he do?

Remember those woven bracelets we wore way back when? Not the ones we made for each other at camp, but the ones we bought at the Christian book store, along with the matching Bible covers. I had a necklace too; I think mine was a leather cord with pewter fish and that ubiquitous acronym.


The whole thing was apparently based on a book, but I never actually read it. I'm assuming it was good? But really, I have no idea.

All I know is that having surrounded myself with reminders of the right question, I still forgot to ask it.

It wasn't for lack of trying. I would read those letters on my bracelet, and I would try a little harder, try a little harder. But it never occurred to me to ask.

You see, the problem with acronyms is that they are so easy to mispronounce. And on this one, it makes all the difference in world whether the pitch of your voice goes up or down on the D at the end.

Had I been saying the actual words, I would have noticed the problem immediately. "What would Jesus do" makes no grammatical sense at all unless it's a question.

But I was the girl with all the answers, and "W.W.J.D." was an unquestioning statement to me, a reminder to do whatever it was that I already thought I was supposed to do. A reminder that I had to try harder to be perfect, or at the very least to look like it, so that my life would be good advertising for Jesus.

But the funny thing is, that's precisely the thing that Jesus wouldn't have done.

Jesus would have loved wildly, forgiven extravagantly, and even though he was known for breaking all the right rules, he probably would have done most of the things I tried to do.

But Jesus never guarded his reputation the way that I did.

He let go of it.

He didn't consider equality with God something to be grasped, but he emptied himself.

He emptied himself of his glory, and he didn't run away from shame.

Sometimes following Jesus means being the good little girl who keeps all the rules, and sometimes it means being the rabble-rouser who keeps making everybody squirm. Always, it means prioritizing love over reputation. It means fearlessly plunging straight through the shame for the sake of the glory on the other side.

If I had only thought to ask the question on my bracelet, I would have found that the answer was right there all along, in the shape of a cross.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Love is the scandal that flips the tables, that rips
the veils and the curtains, flings open the kitchen window,
and lets the wind roar through the fluttering rags.

Love is the all-pervasive gravity
that guides the waters, causing rivers to flow
downward, always downward, almost like justice
is after all the most natural thing in the world.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

I don't read my Bible every day.

I know, I know. This makes me a pretty rotten evangelical.

But I'm in good company. Most Christians in most places at most times didn't even have access to their own Bibles. Jesus didn't read the Bible every day, and neither did St. Peter, or St. Paul, or any of the early church. 

The "read your Bible every day" rule is ubiquitous within evangelicalism, but despite its strong presence in our particular church tradition, I'm unaware of any Scriptural basis for it.

The Bible itself doesn't tell us to read it every day, but rather to meditate on it day and night. Daily Bible reading regimens can be a wonderful tool to help modern Christians answer this ancient call, but we have to remember that the Bible was initially written for people in less technologically privileged times and places. God was still at work among them, even though they didn't read their Bibles every day, and he's still at work today among believers all around the world who don't share our astonishing access to print.

The Bible tells us to meditate day and night, but it leaves a lot of freedom as to how we're supposed to do that, and it only ever refers to Scripture reading in public contexts. Given that we are no longer bound by Old Testament regulations, it's just fine that we don't read the entire book of Deuteronomy aloud every seven years at our debt-cancellation party. Still, the plans laid out in Scripture are full of wisdom, and while we have full liberty to replace those ancient devotional practices with modern technologically-driven approaches, we are not free to mandate our modernized practices, nor to restrict the work of the Holy Spirit to the confines of our inventions.

If we tell people about the ways that we benefit from daily Scripture reading, and recommend that they do likewise, this is good. Very good. We serve a God who chose to become incarnate, and we do Him honor by bringing His truth to bear in our particular times and places.

But if we tell people that it's a sin not read their Bibles every day, we join the Pharisees in adding on to God's requirements, and we dishonor Him by restricting His work to the particularities of our time and place. 

And anyway, why every day? Why not every hour? Why not every minute?

But this is silly. We're supposed to be doers of the word, and not hearers only, and reading the Bible every minute would surely prevent anyone from actually acting on the things that he read. Hourly Bible reading is slightly more plausible, but it is still unlikely to work out well for most of us, most of the time. In the same way, reading the Bible every day is very profitable for many people, but it is not something that everyone is able to do.

And that's okay.

So read the Bible when you can. Better yet, listen to other people read it aloud whenever you get the chance, whether that's in public or in private or through your computer speakers. Meditate on God's Word always. Think about it while you wash the dishes, while you commute, while you break up yet another fight between your kids, and while you scroll through your facebook feed. And as you flop exhausted into bed, pray that you dream about it all night long.

And yes, take a good honest look at your schedule. Plan to be transformed by Scripture, and if that means cutting some things out of your schedule, then so be it.

But never forget that God cares more about the doing than the reading, and that all the reading just multiplies your guilt if it isn't teaching you how to love. And whatever you do, don't ever allow your Bible reading to squeeze obedience to Christ out of your schedule.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

the world's
bright blood stain
your hands. May it pulse
in glittering veins buried deep
beneath Earth's crusty skin. You who breathe the air, live free.
Let love like golden sunlight pour
in spirit and truth
from hands held

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

would rise
stoop down to caress
the tattered fragmentary leaves,
the rocks that crumble first to sand, then dust, and above
all the little earthworms, fellow
flesh. Bow low, knees pressed
to the ground
that God

Friday, August 8, 2014

His yoke is easy, but you really do
have to put it on. Bear this burden,
and be borne by its light. Rising with the gravity
of fire and wind, obey his stern command
of mercy. Receive its blessing, and live as children
of God most merciful, God most kind, and God
all mighty righter of wrongs and bringer of peace.

Saturday, August 2, 2014


Choice is an odd phenomenon. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever managed to give a really adequate explanation for how it can possibly exist, but experience tells me that it is very real.

I do this thing.

I choose.

I decide, and in so doing I demonstrate time and again that the universe is much more than matter and energy in mindless motion. There are always various reasons and causes behind my choices, but there is a bright, bewildering freedom as well. I am constantly constrained both by my circumstances and my character, but within those limitations, I can choose to do one thing... or another. Whatever I choose, the fact of my choosing is a deep mystery that points to the great Chooser who was from the beginning, and whose intention contintually shapes and directs all our lives.

It happens every time I choose pistachio almond instead of fudge ripple, every time I choose to write a sonnet, and every time I choose to let the words slip by because this moment with my children matters more than anything I could say about it. It happens every time I choose to gather the courage to lovingly confront another's sin, and it happens every time I choose to swallow back my bitter words and just keep silent.

I participate in this god-like mystery of choosing all the time.

Except not really. Not always.

Sometimes I don't choose. Sometimes the ugly words just tumble out before I can catch them, and sometimes my silence is fear-bound and involuntary. Sometimes it's both all once, as shame of the words that I shouldn't have said holds back the words that I should have said, until they burst out, putrid, at some absurdly inappropriate moment.

Sometimes my actions are simply and entirely the product of my circumstances and my temperament. Sometimes the image of God is so obscured in me that I am little more than matter and energy in mindless motion.

It's pretty ugly when I'm in that state. We humans can't be good automatons, since that is not how God designed us. The moment we cease to choose, we cease to submit to God's perfect plan for us, since choosing--and choosing well!--is at the heart of what He wants from us. We can choose well, or we can choose badly, but when we aren't choosing at all, it's always awful.

When we choose badly, we start to lose our ability to choose at all. We slip into a spiral of hurt, shame, and just plain orneriness, until we find ourselves doing most of the things that we've decided not to do, and very few of the things that we wanted to choose.

Jesus paid a tremendous price to bring us back to our original glory as choosers in the image of God.

Grab hold of this gift, and guard it well!

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free...serve one another humbly in love." Galatians 5:1a; 13b NIV

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I was always told the passive voice
should be avoided, since it does not result
in drama. Still, my rebel soul's been captivated
by peace. Things have been said and done, and these
must not be allowed to continue on unnamed.
There are words which must be spoken with unrelenting
quietude, with love that leaves nothing forgotten, but keeps
no record of wrongs. Things have been said and done.
I have done my share of them; this much
I must confess. As for the rest, the telling
may be the task of another, but for me,
to speak will always be passive, and the words of blame
must all give way to deeds of restoration.
Things have been done, and much remains to do.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

the fullness
nor the poverty.
Do not be distracted by such
incidentals. Love is the endless economy,
the current and the currency
that flows in between
the endless

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tears are somewhat elegant in the abstract.
Diamonds of dew rest on velvety rose-petal cheeks.
It's awkward, though, when your nose blossoms red,
billowing out to twice its normal width.

Beneath translucent skin, your glowing veins
form a lacy network, hot with pulsing blood.
Mathematically beautiful, but I flinch because I know
how one's stomach clenches up with every sob,
bile rising sharp and diamond-bright.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

They milled around the cooler in awkward silence,
bobbing between the ice cubes while enormous
infant fingers splashed in the cold water,
searching, hungry with anticipation.

The party is over. Crawfish carcasses
stare from the table, dull-eyed and sunburn red.
The cat sniffs inquiringly, but their flesh
has mostly been picked over. The sky unfurls
pure as a morning glory. Birds preen,
bustle about their various errands, and chatter
lightly. I pace the yard in silence, gather
up the paper plates and empty cans,
boil water for the coffee, and feed the cat.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Summer Rain in Houston

Joy, like the polka-dots
splashing in the parking lot
with the crepe-myrtle blossoms
floating on the rain

drenches me warm to the bone
while the shopping cart
frolics with the wind.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Spring 2014 issue of Californios features some of my work, including the one poem that is probably closer to my heart than any other. Writing is always a profoundly odd experience, but this sonnet in particular transformed me at the volta. Go check it out, and enjoy all the other good suff there, too. Jesse Cone's poem on the annunciation is simply wonderful.

I'm a passionate believer in blogging, in throwing my best words out onto the wind and letting them fall where they may. Still, it's true that words need breathing space, and I think that my fibonacci poetry, in particular, is best experienced interspersed with other work. So I'm excited about this little set-that's-not-a-set, these little "wanderers" about my wanderings in California, wandering through other California poetry, short stories, photography, and essays.

The title 'Wanderers' refers to the Greek origins of the word 'planet.' All the 'wandering stars' were considered planetai. Originally, the sun and moon were considered part of this set, since they too 'wander' through the zodiac, but of course we see things very differently now...

Eventually, I would like to write a little star-shaped poem for each of the planetai. I have a rough draft for Mars, and just the vaguest of ideas for Jove and Saturn, but however the set eventually turns out, it will probably end with something like this little reflection on Sol:

she moves,
satellites spinning
around her in epicycles
of her grand ellipse.
The milk-bright
way speeds

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Knowledge passes in and out of dreams,
a mirror dim, and frequently inverted.
Its objects are usually closer than they appear.
Love is the only absolute, and all
that's sure is only made sure by its power,
seen through the faith and hope that it inspires.
All of it passes away except for love.

Perhaps you are dreaming. What of it? Love is love
regardless of the state in which it finds you.
Though God is love, the senses still decieve,
but those who dream in love, He will surely wake,
and to those who wake in love He will give true dreams.

Monday, May 19, 2014

"Let us go then, you and I..."
--T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The patient and ethereal evening spreads
itself upon the horizon's chilly table,
inhales the cloud, and prepares for oblivion.

Clad in surgical blue, the sky reaches out
for the instrumental stars and the moon's bright blade.

Later, morning will slowly emerge from the fog,
stumble to the mirror, and find herself
to be (as usual) somewhat rearranged.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

when dust
light descends, and bends
the clouds in loud fantastic hues,
cues for this proud day
to end, just
as all

Thursday, April 24, 2014

the eye
of beauty,
drawing the spirit
in elegant lines sweeping out
through the flesh,
and so

Saturday, April 12, 2014

is the right
way, but love doesn't
demand it. Love is recklessly
wronged, but still remains,
of faith

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

the oats
and measures
out the salt, but words
are harder to count. Cold fury
boils over easy;

Monday, April 7, 2014

Today, I'm talking about poetry and motherhood over at Homemaking Through the Church Year.

These days, it's hard to write much prose.

Tonight is something of a windfall, though. I can't exactly go to bed until the load of vomit-covered bedding comes out of the dryer. Hence the midnight writing time.

This is how it always seems to go. During this season of motherhood, writing happens in the most unexpected ways. I take what I can get.

And usually, what I can get is verse.  . . .

You can read the rest here.

And poke around the archives while you're there: it's a blog well worth following if you don't already. Whether she's talking about crafting, spiritual formation, the writing life, or housework, Jessica's words make for good companionship.

You should also check out her new book series on the church year. Good stuff.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

along with the long
lines drawn, quartered, and otherwise
tortured and divided. Love sits down brave and serene
in the rubble, resting, wrestling.
Love knows just how long
these things take,
and love

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Bible tells me so

The Bible is an incredible gift. It is an amazing thing to be entrusted with the oracles of God. An advantage in every respect, as the Apostle Paul would say.

We search the Scriptures day and night, and well we should. They are God-breathed and useful for training in righteousness, equipping us for every good work.

Equipping. Equipment.

In other words, the the Bible is a means to an end, not the goal itself.

Bookworm that I am, this is a bit hard for me to swallow. Bible study comes easy for me, and I'd really like to believe that my affinity for words gives me Christian superpowers, or at the very least a few extra automatic holiness points.

But that's not what the Bible says about itself. The Bible tells us that Bible study is a very (very!) good thing, but it also tells us that Satan himself knows his way around the holy text, and that zeal for the Scriptures is not necessarily even a sign of faithfulness.

Love is. Love is the goal, love is the sign. Love is how we (and everyone else in the world) can know that we're not just wasting our time with all that Bible study.

We search the Scriptures day and night, thinking that in them we have eternal life, but the Scriptures point to Jesus.

On the Day of Judgment, God is not going to ask us how much time we spent reading our Bibles, but rather, how we responded to Jesus.

We encounter Jesus in the holy pages, yes, definitely. But more importantly, we encounter Him hungry and exposed and lonely, in the places where we least expect to find Him. All our studying is to prepare us for these practical pop quizzes that face us every day, and none of it matters if we don't prove to be a people marked by love.

The Bible tells me so.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Pro-life by Grace

Jesus was exactly the sort of child who would have been aborted. By law and custom both, Mary's pregnancy ought to have come to an untimely and violent end.

 Unlike the Koran, the Old Testament makes no allowance for protecting the unborn when it calls for the execution of adulteresses. Had Joseph acted according to the letter of the law, Christ would have died before taking his first breath on earth.

This troubles me deeply, along with Joshua's "every man, woman, and child" genocides and the Psalmist's fantasies about crushing the skulls of babies. How could the God who formed me in my mother's womb tolerate, and even command, the slaughter of innocents?
I don't know.

But I do know that the gospels tell us that Joseph was a righteous man, and his righteousness was manifested in mercy. Even before the angel appeared to him in the night, where the law prescribed death, Joseph chose life for the Holy Child and His mother.

 It is because of Jesus that I can still trust in the goodness of God, and the mercy of Jesus inexorably leads me to care about the unborn.

Because of Jesus, I am pro-mercy, pro-redemption, pro-the-least-of-these, pro-woman. And because of all that, I am pro-life.

The law hands out death to the born and the unborn both; it is grace that saves us all. There is no biblical way to be pro-life except by way of the lavish and undeserved mercy of Jesus Christ. There are no short-cuts. 

I am pro-life by the very grace through which I live.

Monday, February 3, 2014

encroaching upon
knowledge: eternal asymptotes
our hyperbolic
still can't