In praise of Jen Hatmaker

Jen Hatmaker is an inspiration. Over most of last week/weekend I was at the Festival of Faith and Writing (at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where it was very very cold). In that crowd, being an inspiration is the starting place. It was a wonderful event; it was useful and generous and I learned a lot. Jen Hatmaker did a Q&A one day and the next day gave a keynote about how to deal with criticism.  Jen (I feel like I know her, like we’re on first names now) is funny, laugh-out-loud funny.

In her keynote, she was fierce.

She has spend most of the last two years adjusting from being a darling of Evangelical Christianity to being cast out, her books taken out of some christian bookstores and church libraries. People she thought were friends went against her. Harsh words were used to her and at her and about her. Why you wonder?

For her embrace as an ally of Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ community. And she is front and center in that as an ally, she is not speaking for or instead of or owning things that are not hers. She is an ally. But she is not silent.

Here’s what I remember of her coping:

(1) Adopt a humble posture. “I could be wrong.” You might think: No I’m not, but as Jen put it, am I always always right? Well no. So “I could be wrong.” This humility — and I’ve rarely seen it demonstrated so well and so bravely — this humility is hard. This humility can be infuriating. But it is a way to lower the tempers and perhaps help us more than the person who has said critical and even nasty stuff.

(2) Wait 24 hours. Maybe wait longer, but wait 24 hours to respond.

(3) If there is no constructive part, if it is all nasty, then ignore it. Jen said, I guess I have to paraphrase from memory,  something like: no matter how awful at the end of the day, you go to sleep and you wake up and you are alive. Words can and do cause tremendous pain but words do not actually kill us.

In truth, it seems unlikely that I will attacked so publicly as Jen has been and is — as much as I hope that I, too, am an ally. Yet there is a person in my life who is extremely, and as far as I am concerned unfairly, critical and harsh. This advice can scale down to help me, too. More important the attitude of strength and humility — yes, please.

She is fierce and warm and funny and brave and true to herself. And Jen Hatmaker is something  else, something so rare: humble.

Oh one last thing: She puts down her first book, The Modern Girl’s Guide to the Bible, and it just isn’t that bad! I wish I could find my copy to refresh my memory but I can’t put my hands on it. My memory is that when I read it, it was actually helpful. Jen, if you have read my little blog — your first book was a fine first book!



Interrupted by waiting and Christian Century

Absolutely honestly, this happened: I was driving to work just yesterday thinking about nothing in particular and what pops into my head was the thought: “This is an in-between time.” And it rang of truth. My day job is “between” in many ways. And my son is more adult everyday — it is a different sort of parenting (of course you still worry). My marriage is a blessing, and might seem unchanging; however, we are enjoying it all more, I think is safe to say. It is a different time of life, but it isn’t yet time for a proper third act transition. I’m in-between. This is a blessing and a privilege to have a life stage like this and yet: Fear is always ready to leap on me with “what ifs”.

So what should I do while I wait for that “third act” to unfold? Is waiting time helpless? Is being in-between just waiting as if for a movie to start? How do I say no to fear?

I have already recommitted to blogging much more regularly — and it has been all joy.

I have already (being forced to by health reasons) taken healthy up to scary heights. I may as well admit I feel better!

I have a longing to slow down with “busyness” and to dig into the joy of being able to. Perhaps instead of fearing this in-between and being afraid of what might happen in the future that is what this time is for — a season of quiet. A season of gathering strength. A season of building strength.

And in the newest Christian Century (April 11, 2018), which I just sat down and read cover to cover, there was an article by Debie Thomas called “In-between” on page 35. Whoa! Every word she wrote is truth and beauty. Thomas writes “Maybe what we need is not an end to interim time but a greater willingness to mine its treasures. What can God teach us in the in-between periods of our lives that we can’t learn at other times?”

This was just amazing, to be struggling to think in a new way and have someone else pop up and join in with the perfect words. Receiving God as God really is, accepting reality as it is, accepting who I am — these may not be exactly what my in-between will center on. I think perhaps for me this in-between might be some sort of search for a core of authenticity, some search for truth within and in the world, some longing for deeper connection and enjoyment despite the awful brutal brokenness of the world and the huge chasm of fear that seems ready to swallow us all up.

Or like Thomas said, “Interim times force me to slow down, to listen, and to wait. They invite me to accept both my glory and my brokenness as gifts I can give back to God.” Amen.



My Story, part 13

The second most important sermon that I have heard happened as best I recall before we were married even. We joined my soon to be in-laws at the church we would later be married in, and our child baptized in, and so on. I don’t think it was a holiday; I don’t know why we went to church. The pastor preached on how going to church is a counter-cultural thing to do, a rebellious thing to do. It seems like an act of “being good” or worse of “looking like a good person”. But in reality, to sincerely worship and belong to a church is to be completely counter to the norms. It puts God first, even if just one hour.  It is an intention to connect with others. It is denying the world’s value of “winning” for God’s value of “loving”.

And it is a hard thing to do. It is so much easier to just sleep in, read the paper, go for a run, drink some coffee, go out to eat, work in the garden….You don’t get points for showing up and God doesn’t love you more, because you don’t earn love. Going to church is hard. And people can be very annoying.

Translating the feeling of being beloved by God into the action of going to church — and doing this nearly every week even when our kid was little — was not always easy, and rarely fun, and sometimes deeply boring.

What takes it to an even deeper level is “keeping Sabbath”. So all week, for six days, you do what you do, plus you get done errands and chores that might otherwise need to be done on Sunday. And you prepare your clothes for Sunday. And you figure out what you are going to feed people after, how to make that special — pancakes, or french toast, or eggs or …. Having it all ready.

So every Sunday is a party. Every Sunday is a huge break from endless daily chores, from earning our keep.

Actually, for me “Sunday” starts about 4pm on Saturday and ends about 4pm on Sunday when I start prepping for Monday again.

But “keeping Sabbath” brings some delight back into merely living. And every single time I go to church I think: I’m being a rebel. I’m being counter-cultural. I’m saying we are each of us valuable and connected to each other because She loves us.


More thoughts about John 10:11-18

So the Good Shepherd cares and the hired man doesn’t. The Good Shepherd can die for the sheep because the sheep belong to him and because he was given the power from God to take his life up again if he dies for the sheep.

I am still struggling with this passage!

Here’s the thing: I think the hired man isn’t being given proper credit. I work for a living and don’t often enjoy my job. But I do it as well as possible out of my own integrity not just for fear of not getting paid. On the other hand, I wouldn’t die for my job. I’m definitely not a first responder or brave like that. On the other other hand – that’s a pretty high bar. I’m not sure it is fair to judge the hired man as bad for not giving his life, to say he is only in it to get paid. I bet he likes the sheep, or some of them. I bet he has sunshine-y beautiful days where it is just plain fun to lead the sheep to still water and green grass.

Let’s not judge the hired man too harshly ok?

But let’s rejoice, absolutely rejoice, in complete amazement that Jesus knows us as completely as God knows Jesus. It is “The Message” version that shimmered this passage to me:

“I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father.”

And this knowing and loving — this being seen and understood — is for everyone! Somehow to me being seen and known and loved (anyway) is the true gift from God.


Holy Saturday, Happy Easter

I realized that I have no profound words to offer today, so then I realized: let’s use other people’s. I went searching for John Updike’s poem “Seven Stanzas on Easter” because it is perfect. I found it plus this blog entitled “In the Meantime”, so I’m just going to share the link, because it is excellent.

Happy Easter y’all! May it be green with hope and alive with wonder.

John 10:11-18 and scattered sheep

Today at church was Palm Sunday (the week before Easter) service, which at my church is only readings and liturgy, not a sermon. Plus I was so tired I was a zombie. I was still thinking about how confusing John 10:11-18 is, even if it seems straightforward, and even though the text today was Mark. What suddenly caught my attention was the scattered sheep:

Mark 14:27–

And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters; for it is written,
“I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”

Well there you are, remember how confused I was/am about Jesus saying he was a Good Shepherd because he would willingly lay down his life for the sheep, not let them be snatched and scattered as the hired man would? And I couldn’t figure out how dying would in any possible way protect the sheep from being snatched and scattered.

And it doesn’t.

The liturgy today — perhaps because I was zombie-tired — really seemed to unfold in my mind’s eye like a movie, the triumphal entry quickly turning to betrayal and brokenness and the cross. The “wolf” however willing Jesus might be to lay down his life, has come and has indeed snatched and scattered…. and I felt the terror perhaps. Terror if you are Peter or one of the others at being caught by the Romans and also killed. Terror of a world without Jesus in it, that you were only slowly learning to trust and hear and see. Terror of a life now empty and full of regrets.

Perhaps we the church are the “hired man” trying to help the sheep and care for the sheep but of course we cannot do whatever mysterious thing it was that Jesus did on the cross. Most practically we cannot “take up” our life again if we were to lay it down.

Perhaps if you are Peter or the others, afraid on all sides, you might remember Jesus saying he was a Good Shepherd. If it was inescapable for the Shepherd to not be struck, perhaps remembering that Jesus can take his life back up again, perhaps in the time between the cross and the empty tomb and the appearance of Jesus again they had some bit of hope. Or perhaps later — we were goofs, we had forgotten that Jesus was the Good Shepherd. they said, telling the story to others and remembering, remembering it all. We were afraid they would remember and shiver and then smile and break bread and drink wine.

First thoughts on John 10:11-18

In a few weeks, when it might maybe be actually spring, I’m the layreader for the first service and doing John 10:11-18. It is a beautiful passage, but the very song-like repetition makes it hard to learn by heart.

More sheep/shepherd stuff! So the book of John often poses challenges for the modern biblical storyteller; this passage does not. In fact, this passage seems so bland as to be meaningless. Help me Lord, help me find a way into this passage. At the most surface level, Jesus is saying he is a good shepherd, of us the sheep, because he is willing to die for us. He in fact is not being forced by some angry God to die for us, but is willingly ready to do so, as God commanded. Okay, that is good, of course. But shouldn’t there be more?

I find that I am wondering about the wolf in verse 12. The hired man, in my opinion, would in fact try to protect the sheep from the wolf, don’t you think? Isn’t that his job? Of course I say this but I would be very afraid. A wolf! Is it correct to think that in verse 15, Jesus is saying that he would die from the wolf, to defend the sheep? But how does dying — whether it is the Good Shepherd or the hired man — actually protect the sheep? Aren’t the sheep then utterly defenseless? Completely without hope?

Perhaps it is something to do with the voice, the sheep know their shepherd’s voice, they come when called. I am hearing a bit of an echo of John the Baptist, who was the Voice of one crying out in the wilderness. That is he was the voice of God, a message from God.

Jesus is the “logos”, which is the Word but more than that — push and press on that. God is the Verb that starts the world up — that’s a big Voice.

Maybe we’re sheep but we can hear God speak, we can follow God and perhaps that leads us out of danger, even more than the dying God who says ” I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” If (or when) the wolf gets him, it is only to allow him to be restored to his full Glory of God. Now this is pretty deep into the weeds maybe?

Such a small passage with such a simple first layer to have me completely frustrated in trying to go deeper.


Interrupted by movies: A Wrinkle in Time

Oh I just loved this movie! A Wrinkle in Time based on the classic children’s book by Madeleine L’Engle is out and just beautiful and delicious and full of … rage….

Meg, our teen hero, is angry, deeply angry: at her father for vanishing one night, at the world for judging them, at so many things, all the things, both personal and clearly also systemic. Sometimes you cannot just put on a happy face. Sometimes things are bad. Sometimes people do unfairly attack you. Sometimes you don’t rise above it. And, why should you have to? Why can’t you just be full of rage at injustice? Why can’t you be terrified that your father isn’t just vanished, which is bad enough, but has left you, rejected you, walked away? And why not be angry about that?

Normally in these stories by the end our heroine is remade: she was ugly and now is beautiful, she was picked on and now she is the queen bee, she was misunderstood and is now seen to be brilliant.

Meg is given — her faults. She is given her stubborn refusal to just accept the brokenness of the world. She is allowed her anger at injustice. She is given words. She has agency. She is seen.

She is a heroine without having to be remade. She is beloved just as she is with her flaws.

I completely enjoyed this movie and was not bored once, which is so extremely rare for me and movies. I didn’t even get sleepy. Normally put me in a chair for two hours and I’m asleep somewhere in the middle. Yes the ending is happy happy and love wins, which is great! But the best thing is that I don’t think Meg is fundamentally changed. I think she is still going to be angry, and still able to fight, and be seen.

The book, from an adult point of view, I have to admit is pretty bad and makes no sense and is extremely dated. The movie really transcends the book and updates it. I wish is was still explicitly Christian — the book is explicitly Christian in a way that was completely over my head as a child. Even so, in the movie, Meg is still fighting “powers and principalities” — evil — and the win is more than rescuing her father, it is pushing back on the darkness and brokenness of this world in all the little and not so little ways that evil worms in.

Let’s rejoice in a good movie!


My Story part 12

One of the ways in which I see God moving and working in my life is back when I was about 12 or 13. That summer before middle school, if I recall correctly. I was miserable. I don’t think that childhood depression had been invented yet; but in today’s terms perhaps that was what was going on with me. Perhaps it was just “the ugly duckling phase” as my parents would put it. I didn’t have the words to explain that things were ugly on the inside or to explain the depths of how much I did not like myself. It was far worse than just not being pretty or coordinated or so shy I could rarely talk to people.

So one way that God found me was through an public service ad on tv — as best I recall. I tried googling this to see if it was on the web somewhere, but did not find it. So take all this with a grain of salt. What I remember is black screen and a deep voice saying, “Is it better to light a single candle than to sit and curse the darkness?” and the sound of a match being struck and a candle is lit and all is glowing light. (Not from the Bible actually, which I thought it was until I investigated because of writing this. From a man named William Watkinson. And what was the PSA about? I have no idea!)

I thought, “Okay that makes sense. I’ll improve myself. I’ll light ten candles (because ten fingers) and if things are not better after that….”

Things were better after that. I get that my “self improvement” at 13 was mostly selfish — how I looked, how happy I was — but one of my candles was to talk to my parents.

My dad loved to go to garage sales and he would often make me go with him. So I started talking. After a few weekends of this, he goes, “So you have gotten … chatty…lately.” And I beamed at him. “Yes, I’m practicing talking.” “I think you’ve got it,” he said.

As an adult I realize that there was subtext, perhaps.

At the time I felt like a huge success.

Another of my candles was to make friends. And I met a girl named Diane — Diane if you are out there get back in touch with me! She taught me about making friends and being a friend. She saved my life.

Setting achievable goals to tweak your life toward better — that’s essentially what “solution-focused brief therapy” is about, and I highly recommend this problem solving technique. But I didn’t know that of course.  Lighting my “candles” was a gift from God. God reached me where I was and spoke to me in a way I could hear and helped me. And until I started this project of writing down my spiritual memoir stories, I didn’t even know it.