Tag Archives: truth

Interrupted by nonfiction books, 2018

Of the many books I read in 2018 — reading is my favorite thing — some of them were nonfiction, this year more than any other since I’ve been keeping track. It doesn’t mean they were published in 2018, just that I discovered them this year. And the list is in no particular order. Finally — I have Hilary Clinton’s book “What Happened?” But I haven’t been ready to read it. I keep eyeballing Michelle Obama’s book but I haven’t read that either. There are zillions of amazing and powerful nonfiction books that I haven’t read. My niche is a bit narrow really. Let’s find out what it is! 

On Living by Kerry Egan (2016)

This memoir is a story about Kerry’s work as a hospital chaplain, which turns out to be the work of living fully into life, into the hard and broken places, into the memories and joys, into the peace of possibility. And it is also Kerry’s story, about her physical suffering after the birth of her first child. Kerry is inspiring in how to be compassionate and empathetic and real and honest. Most of all this is a testament to the power of listening. Those who are dying (and who among us is not dying, I ask) often want to forgive, to be forgiven, to share their love. We want to tell our stories. We want to be invited in and play a part in other people’s stories. Healing can be this simple — and this profoundly hard.

Everything Happens for a Reason (and other lies I loved) by Kate Bowler (2018)

Funny and open and full of deep sorrow, Kate is dying. She has stage 4 colon cancer and this came right in the middle of profound joy: her job as a professor of divinity at Duke, her loving husband, her little newborn son. Kate is so honest about how “the answers” don’t work so well when you are the one suffering. Living and dying and suffering are messy and hard and unfair and there’s no getting around that. Her particular field of research was on “the prosperity gospel” which is a very American take on Christianity that says something along the lines of if life’s blessings are showering down on you, then you are in right relationship with God. And you have the power to get everything you want just by being in right relationship with God. Not so hard to understand wanting — desperately — to have control over the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  And perhaps it is more true, more helpful, to counter that with something like no matter what you go through, God is there with you. Perhaps, as Kate would might say, there really are no answers. Life is beautiful. Life is hard. 

Pastrix by Nadia Boltz-Weber (2013)

Boltz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor who is “different” — tattoos, a recovering alcoholic, “loud-mouthed” woman who can create community, create a church, for all sinners and saints in Denver. She is funny and utterly sincere in her faith, and in her writing she embraces mystery. There’s no pat answers here, but so much joy and acceptance. And like the books above, the writing is wonderful. You just find yourself turning the pages desperate to find out what happens next.  Her 2015 book “Accidental Saints” is just as good. 

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers her Superpower  by Brittney Cooper (2018)

Brilliant. In Dr. Cooper’s words “I am fat, Black, and Southern. But this is not a sassy Black girl’s tale.” Dr. Cooper owns her anger and tells the truth — “America needs a homegirl intervention in the worst way,” she writes. A professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University, as well as writer, teacher and public speaker, Dr. Cooper is articulate, truthful, poignant, searingly honest and open. How faith shaped her and is shaping her Black feminism was deeply inspiring, although the book covers many topics. She has a Ted talk, for heaven’s sake. Go read this book already. Now in full disclosure, this is not a comfortable read. There is serious writing here, and there is serious work to be done about racism and I have another lens to see the world, and (I desperately hope) a more honest sense of my own deep and profound failings.

Educated by Tara Westover (2018)

Imagine growing up in an end-of-world survivalist fringe cult in deep isolation in Idaho? Tara was home-schooled in the sense that she learned to read and then was put to work in the various family businesses. To be completely honest there are parts of this memoir, about the abuse by her father and one of her brothers, that I could hardly bear to read and I would skim forward. For all her right to be deeply — eloquently — anger she is so much more forgiving and understanding than I could ever be. With nearly nothing, she was able to get into college and discover stuff that she had never heard of before, for example “the holocaust”. Tara’s quest to be educated took her ultimately to Harvard and Cambridge. But this is not a anyone-can-do-anything book. It is a memoir that shows first of all, we are all “educated” almost accidentally by how we are raised, what we see and read and hear and do. Every parent, every teacher, every auntie plays a profound role. And second, it shows that while a transformation like Tara’s is possible, it is extremely unlikely and the price can be high. This makes The Glass Castle look like a happy book, which just makes me want to weep. Tara now has a Ph.D. in history and I rather suspect when you grow up simply not knowing any history and what history you do know turns out to be a lie or at best incomplete, you wonder about questions like “what is history? who gets to tell it? what is truth?” 

The 10th Island: Finding Joy, Beauty, and Unexpected Love in the Azores by Diana Marcum (2018)

I had never even heard of the Azores! A delightful read with love at the end. Not a history book, a book of her exploration of a culture and a place that became the place of her heart. Enjoy!

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans (2018)

A wonderful imaginative bible study, I can hardly express how not dry and dull this book is. Evans says “The stories we tell with our lives, then, aren’t meaningless absurdities, tragic in their brevity, but rather subplots of a grander narrative, every moment charged with significance, as we contribute our own riffs, soliloquies, and plot twists to the larger epic, the Holy Spirit coaxing us along with an ever-ebullient, And then?” How can we relate or see ourselves in scripture? How can we fully feel into the stories of the characters? This is the book I would have written, only Held writes better than me and does research. And I bow to her imagination. 

transforming: The Bible & the Lives of Transgender Christians by Austen Hartke (2018)

Beautiful, wonderful book — a clear guide for those of us completely at a loss on how to be welcoming to transgender Christians. There are the basics about words and why and when to use them and to not feel like a fool if you make an honest mistake; there is some history and some biology. But at the richest possible level there is a deep rich biblical study. Reading about Genesis 1 in a non-binary way was eye-opening. Reading about Acts 8 and the hope it brings to those who are also outside the norms, and how inclusive God’s message is and how inclusive baptism is was revelatory. Reading about stories — it’s always stories — from transgender Christians themselves and their faith in God’s love — was a powerful witness. This is not God-loves-you despite or because, you see, but God loves You. And transforming could work the other way — we in church together are enriched and blessed when all voices are brought to the table. How abundant is God’s love? More than we can possibly envision.


Genesis 1 (and a smidge) and God-as-Creator and a bit more of my story

Genesis 1 is a story of creation, yes? For some folk, this an essential quality of God and sort of proof of God. A God who can’t create a world, what good is that? H’mm? If this is the case, then science and evolution are threatening. But that is not me, mostly (more on that below). For one thing, “truth” can be found as much in fiction as in fact — heart-truth, sorrow-truth, joyful-truth, bitter-truth. Exploring scripture — God’s living Word — as a conversation with God that has lasted millennia and changed over time is a way to search and sort and sift for truth. And the bible is full of poetry, myth, soap opera, fables, battles, love, rules, etc. — as an English major you take a genre for what it is and go with it and poke at it and think about it. But you don’t twist it to be something it isn’t.

But I honestly do absolutely sympathize with those who feel threatened. Raised a good Unitarian Universalist girl who loves science fiction, I was eager to take my science requirement classes in college. And I took an anthropology class thinking it would be good and interesting — which it was. But I had never truly studied evolution before, never in a getting-it-in-my-brain-to-pass-a-test sort of way.

I was suddenly in a quandary. I was maybe 19 or 20? And I had lived mostly in books, to be honest; I was an English lit and creative writing major. So I had not truly thought about evolution. I had little knowledge of scripture so that wasn’t the issue. I was only vaguely aware that “evolution” was a topic that could rile people up. I was only sort of aware that some religious folks didn’t believe in it. I wasn’t worried about the science of it at all.

But suddenly I was in a bit of a quandary, which took me several weeks to put into words. And then I went to see the TA (teaching assistant). I was too shy to visit the professor and I figured I was just being stupid somehow.

So I popped into the poor TA’s office. “Hey,” I said. “I’m in the class? And I’m confused about this one part of evolution from the book? I can’t find the answer?”

You just have to picture me, basically cheerful and un-aware and absolutely clueless.

The poor TA goes, “So what is confusing you?”

And I go, “What makes us humans different from animals?”

And he goes, “Umm?” And his face looks like Where-do-I-hide?

And I go (as best I remember), “You know, if we humans have souls, how does that work with evolution? Or do animals have souls too? Or maybe it has something to do with the brain, with the number of neurons or something?”

And he is really absolutely horrified now. He goes, “Umm.”

And I just smile at him and sit back and I’m waiting for wisdom.

Which the poor TA obviously could not supply. As best I recall he said something like, “That won’t be any part of any test, so it’s okay that there is no answer to those sorts of questions. Maybe in philosophy? But not here.”

I realize now, looking back, that the poor guy was terrified. Was I some sort of religious person? Was he going to get the university in trouble? And I realize (now) that he honestly may never have had these questions before. Maybe he had only a very practical brain.

I had thought all answers could be found somewhere, some way, by someone. But, of course, that just isn’t so. There are questions that just have mysteries for answers.


I was as shaken by the TA not having an answer as I was at the thought that humans might just be another sort of animal and not fundamentally different in some way. I was genuinely upset that semester trying to figure out what makes humans different from animals. I think I don’t have a very existential brain and the quandary sort of faded. And I think I also, mostly unconsciously, decided that humans-tell-stories and that works for me. At any rate, one way to look at Day 6 is that it explores this very question about animals and humans, but it has taken me more than thirty years to realize that.

So I guess pretty soon I’ll have to actually move on to Day 6. Yikes!

Thoughts on “God” and the Bible’s tension

I do not think of the bible as a some sort of children’s book – or as some sort of instruction manual or rule book for life – I think by and large that is missing the point. The Bible seems to me to be a story of God’s relationship with humans and the world and vice versa, told in sagas, histories, poetry, songs, Gospels, letters, all sorts of styles of writing. So the character known as “God” can be very different in different places. Whereas the “real God” is whole and loving and … cannot be put in words, really, cannot be put in a box. We have clues and beauty and thoughts and history and the Bible. We see the sweep of it! I have felt the Love envelop me. But we cannot actually know God.

That is one of the mysteries.

I wanted it to be all much easier and clearer when I was a “baby” Christian. But most of all I wanted the character of “God” to be fair.

Here’s where I am with that – we have to hold on fast, with faith and trust, that God revealed in the Bible’s character of God, and God revealed in Jesus, are one and the same and the biggest huge thing about God is love defined richly and with textures: Mercy, charity, grace, trust, peace, well-being, joy… God delights in us. We are to delight in Him/Her. So when it doesn’t seem that way, there is a tension.

For example:

The story of Abraham and Issac cannot be – to me – a story about obedience. “Because Abraham obeyed God, even unto being willing to sacrifice his only son, God had mercy for him and provided a ram.” That’s the general theology that I have heard. That I have been mulling over for decades now.

You can run with that powerful story of Abraham and Issac in a million directions. But a God of love deeper than anything we can imagine would not demand that a man kill his son and certainly not just to prove some point of loyalty or obedience. The traditional interpretation satisfies many people, and if that is you – great! I am not here to take that away. But I will say that I think there are small children who find that God unfair and unjust and immoral and wrong.


For me holding this tension is part of the fun of studying the Bible. The tension of having unshakable faith that God is love and caring and so on. The tension of a story about the character named “God” demanding obedience in such a cruel and horror-filled manner (in other stories too) that seems to fundamentally violate everything I trust and know. This tension isn’t necessarily mine to solve, like a puzzle. I am not sure we are supposed to solve it.

I think we are just to allow the tension to be. To say from the depths of our being, our inner most self, that story is not fair. That is not moral behavior by a person therefore it cannot be moral behavior by a God. We cannot wish away the story, but we can wrestle with the story. We can honor the limits of our knowledge. We can honor what we know is right and good and proper. We can trust that real God, as opposed to the character of God, is as much robust love as we are able to conceive of and then add some more. We can press on the story and go deeper and see what other possible things there are to learn. We can not turn away just because we don’t like it. But we don’t have make it pretty or claim that something that is wrong is right.

God is…A love so rich and full and complete that God sent God’s beloved Child down to us…..Sent in some fashion Godself down… to walk our walk and die our death.


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!


Mark 8:31-38 and the cross

After I have shared a scripture in storytelling form (by heart), afterward there is this beautiful peace in my mind and heart. It can last a week or so. It is just the most quiet calm feeling. My brain, heart, body was working so hard to learn the passage and after, suddenly, a welcome silence.

Last Sunday I shared Mark 8:31-38 and it went well (I think). For the first time I used a lapel mic and that gave me more freedom to turn, although I kept my feet planted. (Some storytellers move all over of course, and maybe some day for some story I might. But I like to feel grounded.) I turned first as Peter taking Jesus aside to rebuke him; then turned the other way to show that Jesus, when rebuking Peter, was not doing it in front of everyone. Their argument was in private. In verse 34, Jesus calls the crowd and the disciples back to him (and Peter) and says, that to follow him, you have to deny yourself, and pick up your cross and follow him.” So I tried with my turning to show the various movements of the story.

Now what is “your cross”? What is my cross? What does that even mean? Does it mean face your fears? Or maybe find your joy? Or speak truth to power? Or change, move, learn, grow, do … something? Something unique to us or something everyone can do (if only we all would), like just … what? The cross was an extremely painful death, and one with shame in it. I read this murder mystery a couple weeks ago and there was a scene of the death of a death row inmate. Painful. Justice? In this particular mystery it wasn’t justice. And the inmate had a family member there, who was deeply shamed and deeply grieving a life lost, “wasted”. Her life too was shamed and wasted. Perhaps Jesus’s death on a cross was intended by the Romans, rather like our death penalty, not just to deter crimes of rebellion against the state, not just to inflict a terrible death, but to shame the “criminal” and the criminal’s family? How did that work out for the Romans?

The cross then for me – should I expect to be facing something equally painful, equally hard?

Which, you know, I don’t want to especially.

And I wonder if too many of us hear “pick up your cross” to mean “pick up your cross like a sword and swing it at people”.

I feel that it is Easter that changes me, you, the world…. Hold on to your cross and feel it, and sorrow. Envision what things would be like without that to bear, without that sorrow. Envision how to create that world, full of love and joy and hope and trust. Easter is coming.

Interrupted by TV

Okay stop reading this and go find somehow via the amazing web the episode of Grey’s Anatomy entitled Personal Jesus.

You’re welcome!

Wasn’t that just heart-breaking and amazing on every level?

Wasn’t April doing biblical battle with the kid just awesome and heart breaking? I think in fact that the kid had a false premise, that “TRUTH” isn’t all yes/no, that things are complicated. But at the same time, the kid’s anguish over not knowing what to trust, what to orientate his life around, how to find answers — that’s a real human cry from the heart. And not even April can easily help or help at all. Maybe hell is just this — fearing that there is no center, that nothing can hold together, nothing is solid.

And the way the episode interwove Job and BLM and everything….


Now go watch the pilot episode of Black Lightning on CW (http://www.cwtv.com/shows/black-lightning/).

This is heart-breaking and compelling and scary and high quality. A superhero show, a show in the Arrowverse for heaven’s sake, and it’s telling truth to power, with characters I am hoping to like and know.

For those of you in real-life heart break right now, I pray for you, I pray for the Holy Spirit’s strength to be with you, for God’s tears to be dripping down with you, for His heart to break right alongside yours, and for Her arms to be around you.

Interrupted by ancient Greeks

I recently read in Smithsonian magazine about Bryan Doerries’, “Theater of War productions” bare-bones readings of ancient Greek tragedies that have helped vets and their families come to terms with the multiple and ongoing tragedies of war. His production of Antigone in Ferguson, Mo., helped connect black and white, police and non-police. The power of ancient tragedies still works.

Googling, there was a similar story about a year ago in The New Yorker that I missed.

There is so much similar — that I never had words for before — about my experience of “telling” the Bible versus just reading or studying it.

*The connection with history. We are not isolated in time from humanity before us, there is a connection to make and feel.

*Understanding the historical context of these Greek tragedy plays — an era of war, an era of huge bloodshed, and the context that the plays were written, performed, by and for and to soldiers. What is the comfort in tragedy?

*Truth telling builds trust and connection. Storytelling connects people, and perhaps heals people.

In the Smithsonian article, writer Jeff MacGregor says “What did Sophocles know that we don’t? That drama, live theater, can be a machine for creating empathy and community.”  Further, he writes “…there is something profoundly lonely in modernity, something isolating and dislocation. Maybe sitting in the same room with other humans who suffer and speak is comfort enough. Maybe enough to save us.”

And that is what I seek in church. That is what my soul longs for, to connect, and for church to be that conduit. And Scripture to be the narrative text and context for that connection and that meaning — and the healing.

From the website of Theater of War, it says “Each reading has been followed by a town-hall style audience discussion, which has been facilitated with the help of military community members. These have been arresting, emotionally charged events, in which service members have spoken openly about their experiences in combat and at home. To date, over 80,000 service members, veterans, and their families have attended and participated in Theater of War performances and discussions.”

Church, yes? “For while we were sinners, Christ died for us.”

Let’s pray for peace.

Interrupted by surprises

I was sinking down into a depression-sized hole. I don’t think I am quite crawling out of it yet. But several surprising things happened.

(1) At Awesome Con, the wonderful Wil Wheaton talked about depression/mental health and… he said (more or less), “If any of you have not been touched by depression/anxiety/other mental health challenge or someone you love or know has not been — if it hasn’t affected you at all, then please clap.”

You could have heard a pin drop.

My eyes, personally, were pretty wet for some reason. It was a profound moment of both stillness and connection, silence and witness.

(2) While there are lots of reasons for my down cycle one involves a mistake I made. In making amends, I talked to a person who said, “Well, it’s a pain of course. But we all make mistakes. It is unlikely to be the last mistake or the worst mistake — you’ve got a lot more mistakes to make before life is over, right?”

For the first time in a while, I laughed.

Yep, I’m not now going to be perfect. There’s going to be more mistakes. The world will keep spinning.

(3) And for the first time, I recognized my pattern — when I am depressed (or whatever this is), when I am over-stressed, my go-to reaction is to not talk. Just when I need to reach out and talk to people, I literally have no words.

My parents used to tell stories of me as a little thing, before school. “You would only talk to us,” they would say. These days parents would rather panic, don’t you think? Mine thought it was kind of cute. And while I started talking in Kindergarten to lots of people, it isn’t my first response. My first response — not even on a conscious level — is to choke on my words. I almost think it cycles.

So I’m tipping a toe in the water of just — talking.

And trying not to think of how dumb it is to talk about the weather, trying not to think of all the wrong things I could say or more mistakes I could make, trying not to talk myself out of talking.



Matthew 1:18-25 and dreams

To touch on the notion of dreams again — I don’t know what dreams and visions meant historically to the people who would have first created/told/listened to this story. We can agree that a man named Joseph that dreams is a big flashing neon sign of “stop and listen”. Yes?

But dreams/vision/prophecy — we here and now don’t really think about that as being real, just “artsy” or perhaps “made up” or perhaps a “lie”. Because, here’s the thing, in real life, generally dreams don’t make sense. Or they make sense only in retrospect. If you find yourself dreaming and it is one of the dreams that matter, then listen. Don’t be afraid.

One of those dreams for me came the day before 9/11. Yep. I had gotten so angry and upset at a situation that I don’t even remember now. Yep. I just remember the feelings: wild, upset, unclear, hopeless, shame, anger….. powerful feelings. And I took a nap and I dreamed of my husband’s dead grandfather, sitting in his chair, smiling gently at me and pointing out his window to a field (that wasn’t there in real life, although the room and the window and the chair were). The field was a vast beautiful golden field of wheat, blowing in a breeze. It was astonishingly beautiful.

I had and have no idea what that dream means; it felt like the visual equivalent of “don’t be afraid”. And a bit like “you are just one little speck of a whole” and instead of feeling insignificant it felt great to be a part of a whole. And a touch of life is fragile.  It was all feelings.

Both Josephs had powerful dreams, more clear cut than anything I can imagine. And the dreaming meant something. And the dreams would mean something to the people listening. So I think we should be very careful to not dismiss this story as just a dream, just a thing that a man made-up to save face so he could marry the girl in trouble. I think that even though a good part of the story is framed as a dream does not make it untrue, but perhaps more deeply true.