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In which I read my bad reviews

You know better. Of course, you do. You know better than to read blog posts about your book. You know better than to Google yourself. You know better than to troll a list of “best blogs” looking for your own absent name.

And you know better than to ignore the 5-star reviews and only read the 1- and 2-star reviews of your little yellow book. You know better than to measure your self-worth by the measuring sticks of another.

Of course you know this. But some days…. Well, some days, you forget or you violate your own boundaries and you do it anyway.

So this is what people think of me.

And then you sit in their thoughts. Deflated. Out of breath. Hot. Why does your face always get so hot when you feel exposed?

They’re right. Of course, they’re right.

Who do you think you are?

That hiss always comes on the heels of these moments. Who do you think you are? And in this moment, you can’t remember the answer or can’t muster the words aloud.

So this is what you do first: you walk away from the reviews, from the criticism, from the mockery, from the ways you’ve disappointed.

Then you call your sister and you call your husband. You call your friends. You get mad and dare to say it out loud. You admit that you’re hurt. You admit that you made a bad decision by choosing to read them and now you’re living with the consequences but they seem a bit too harsh in your soul.

You admit that you’re feeling vulnerable and exposed, ridiculous and small, worthless and foolish. You are trying to harden your heart so it doesn’t hurt anymore.

Somehow saying it out loud helps a bit.

But you don’t want to have a hard heart. You’d rather be hurt than impenetrable. This is the price of living without armour, of making art with your life and stories and faith: you are vulnerable.

Every attack feels personal because it’s your heart-and-soul-work. And that’s okay. You might need a bit of time before you can sort through the legit criticisms – the kind that will make you better – from the hurt. Maybe it will make you a better writer. Maybe. Reason and logic seem insufficient at the moment.

You go for a walk in the sunshine. You remember that it’s spring and so you take pictures of the pink and white trees. You hold hands with your littlest girl and stop often to look at the wonder: look, a ladybug! look, a rock! look, a cigarette butt! look, a dandelion! And you carry her treasures in your pockets (except for the cigarette butt). You tip your face to the sky and breathe deep. This is real, this is real, this is real.

You argue and defend yourself and justify to a closed computer. Then you pray and you find comfort. You keep praying like you always do, throughout your life.

You consider quitting writing but first you’d have to quit living, quit caring.

You go home and clean something. You make supper. You bath your children and quiz spelling words. You sweep the floors and put away laundry. Your life is achingly normal and today this comforts you.

Then in the night, when everyone is asleep, you run the bath and sink into the warmth. Your damp hands hold up a book you love, and the pages absorb the warmth. You read and soak until your hair is damp and curling around your neck.

You rise up out of the water and stand. You look in the mirror at your bare face and you say it out loud this time: I’m a beloved warrior

Then you go to bed and sleep.

In the morning, when you rise, you already know that you will pour a cup of tea, sit your bum in your chair, and write again. And someone will not like it. But you will write anyway and you will keep writing because this is where you find God most clearly and most profoundly, this is your sanctuary and this is your work.

Continue Reading · books, fearless, journey · 55

In which this is for the ones leaving evangelicalism

For the ones (1)

I walked this path years ago: it is not an easy path. But there are a lot of us out here waiting for you.

Can we ever really leave our mother church? Perhaps not. The complexity of tangled up roots isn’t easily undone. And yes, I think there is a way to reclaim and redeem our traditions with an eye on the future.

But maybe this isn’t your time to do that. Maybe this is your time to let go and walk away.

I know you’re grieving. Let yourself grieve. It’s the end of something, it’s worthwhile to notice the passing of it, to sit in the space and look at the pieces before you head out.

In the early days, when you are first walking away, you might feel afraid. You don’t need to be afraid. It can be confusing to separate from what so-and-so-big-guy-in-the-big-organization says about you or people like you. It can be disorienting to walk out into the wilderness on purpose. It can be lonely. It can be exhilarating. It can be terrifying.

My friend, don’t stay in a religious institution or a religious tradition out of fear. Fear should not drive your decisions: let love motivate you.

Lean into your questions and your doubts until you find that God is out here in the wilderness, too.

I have good news for you, broken-hearted one: God is here in the wandering, too. In fact, you might just find, as Jonathan Martin wrote, that the wilderness is the birthplace of true intimacy with God for you.

Jesus isn’t an evangelical. You get to love Jesus without being an evangelical.

Your pet evangelical gate-keeper isn’t the sole arbitrator of the Christian faith: there is more complexity and beauty and diversity of voices and experiences within followers of the Way than you know. Remember, your view of Christians, your personal experience with Christians is rather small sample size: there are a lot more of us out here than you might think. A lot of us on the other side of that faith shift, eschewing labels and fear-tactics, boundary markers and tribalist thinking.

There are a lot of us out here who aren’t evangelical theologically or politically. There are those of us who are evangelical perhaps in our theology still (I think I am but who can keep track these days of the master list we’re supposed to be checking?) while separating from evangelicalism culturally or politically.

I’m someone who believes that we are in the midst of major shift within the Church – what Phyllis Tickle calls a “rummage sale” – similar to the Great Schism, and the Reformation. The Church is sorting and casting off, renewing and re-establishing in the postmodern age and this is a good thing. The old will remain – it always does – but something new is being born, too. If it is being born in the Church, it is first being born in the hearts and minds and lives of us, the Body.

Maybe evangelicalism as we understand it doesn’t need our defense anymore: maybe we can open our fist, lay down our weapons for the movement or the ideology or the powerful, and simply walk away.

It was helpful when it was helpful. Now, perhaps, it is not. Evangelicalism doesn’t get our loyalty: that fidelity is for our Jesus.

Sometimes we have to cut away the old for the new to grow. We are a resurrection people, darling. God can take our death and ugliness and bitterness, our hurt and our wounds, and make something beautiful and redemptive. For you. In you. With you.

Let something new be born in you. There is never a new life, a new birth, without labour and struggle and patience, but then comes the release.

Care for the new life being born in you with tenderness. It will be tempting to take all the baggage with you – to bring the habits or language or rules with you. That’s okay. You might need to be angry for a while. That’s okay. You might need to stop reading your approved-translation-of-the-Bible and only find Scripture in The Message. That’s okay. You might need to stop praying the way you were taught and learn to pray as you work, as you make love, as you walk at night. That’s okay.

I’m not afraid for you: you are held.  You are loved and you are free. I am hopeful for you.

Nothing has been lost that will not be restored. Be patient and kind with yourself. New life doesn’t come overnight especially after the soil of your life and heart has been burnt down and razed and covered in salt.

Don’t worry about the “should-do” stuff anymore. It might help to cocoon away for a while, far from the performances or the structures or even the habits or thinkers that bring you pain. The Holy Spirit isn’t restricted to only meeting with you in a one-hour-quiet-time or an official 501-3(c) tax approved church building.

Set out, pilgrim. Set out into the freedom and the wandering. Find your people.  God is much bigger, wilder, generous, more wonderful than you imagined.

The funny thing for me is that on the other side of the wilderness, I found myself reclaiming it all – my tradition, the habits, the language. Your path may lead you elsewhere, but I’m back where I began with new eyes, a new heart, a new mind, a new life, and a wry smile.

Now, instead of being an evangelical or whatever label you preferred, perhaps you can simply be a disciple, a pilgrim, out on The Way, following in the footsteps of the man from Nazareth.

You aren’t condemned to wander forever. Remember now: after the wilderness comes deliverance.

 

Related:

In which you’re a pioneer

In which the Spirit inhabits the praises of the people

In which I know, I’m sorry, and I hope I was kind

Lean Into It

Hope is a radical act of faith

 

 

Continue Reading · church, faith, fearless, journey · 153

In which I was a try-hard writer because I had a try-hard life

Six years ago, I quit writing. After more than 20 years of calling myself a writer, I laid the dream down in the ground, heaped on a bit of earth, and walked away. There were many reasons why I quit writing, but the final nail in the coffin was the literary agent who told a roomful of hopeful writers if we didn’t have a huge platform (think: mega-church pastor) to recommend us, then we’d be lucky to have a unique enough voice to ever be published.Quite right, quite right, murmured the packed room taking notes at the writer’s conference, all while my carefully curated dreams of sitting across from Oprah discussing my book’s inclusion in her book club crumbled to dust.

I knew the truth in that moment: I had no Voice. None. I loved to write, of course, I had a knack for a phrase now and then, but before I could happily delude myself out of the frank honesty, I knew, quite clearly, that my Voice did not exist and so, I could not be published. That night, I had a come-to-Jesus moment in my hotel room: it sounds a lot more romantic than it was. In reality, there was a lot of wadded up tissue and the bitter sense that I had been chasing rainbow gold that did not exist, a failure.

Before that moment, I had tried to be strategic about a writing career. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being strategic, not at all, but for me, I was using strategy to mask the lack of substance, strategy as smoke and mirrors to distract from an inauthentic Voice. I had read the tactics and tutorials for being a better blogger-turned-writer and so I tried them.

If a blogger was popular, I tried on their voice or topics for a while, imitating style and substance. I thought that I needed to narrow my focus a bit more because I couldn’t find my fit in the progressive Christian blogosphere – I wrote too much about my life and motherhood, perhaps. So I tried writing proper fodder for mum-bloggers: tutorials and tips, lists and anecdotes. This was a disaster because I was not made for do-it-yourself crafting or potty training tips. Then I tried the Christian-lady-blogger world with blog posts as devotionals but I was bored to tears and my own experience defied tying my spirituality up in a neat package. I tried to write like wry and smart feminists, objective and logical, then I tried to write like a serious social justice advocate for women. One persona after another after another, all were inadequate and fragmented snippets of my own self, masks for my whole self, and so it’s no wonder that I went to that writing conference discouraged and frustrated and unfulfilled.

Soon after I buried my dreams of being a writer, I was reading through the Sermon on the Mount when I read a few words from Jesus that felt new to me – this wasn’t really possible: I’d read them dozens of times, no doubt. But the Holy Spirit has a way of illuminating the words I need to know or live into at that moment. The words were spoken by Jesus in Luke 6:43 – “You must begin with your own life giving lives. It’s who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.”

The truth broke through again: my scattered copy-cat writing voice was simply evidence of my scattered copy-cat real life.

For years, I had a try-hard life. I tried to match my spirituality to certain men and women, a pastor here, a famous preacher there, a worthy mentor, or a compelling writer, until I could parrot the “right” answers without any real truth or discipleship on my own part. I could cry out, Lord, Lord but I didn’t know the voice of the Shepherd. As a mother, I would put other women on the pedestal above me, trying out their tactics or methods with varying success, always feeling like somehow I didn’t measure up, always feeling guilty and inadequate. As a wife, as a disciple, as a woman, as a writer, you name it, I was a scattered people pleaser looking for her real self. I was an inauthentic performer on the page because I was an inauthentic performer in my life.

If you’re a Today’s Christian Woman subscriber, you can read the rest of this article here. (It’s behind the paywall so you have to have a subscription to read it.)

P.S. The article is about finding your authentic self in Christ, not simply about finding one’s voice as a writer.

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Continue Reading · faith, fearless, Guest Post, journey · 23

In which this is a dispatch from the other side of the schism (I)

My friend, Tony Jones, has written a call for schism over the issue of women’s equality in the Church. He’s now decided that schism not the right word but the fact remains that we may need to separate from people who “preach a false gospel.” I’ve thought about it ever since he posted it. (Tony built bridges for this little charismatic kid to cross over into the ancient-future church through his ministry and writings over the years. I self-identified with the emerging church in my twenties and even 15 years later, I’m pretty sure I still find a home there. And one thing I know about Tony is that he often writes or posits with hyperbole to kick off the real conversation that actually needs to happen.)

So I’ve somehow written myself into a four-part series on this “schism” notion because there are parts of it that resonate with me – I would never attend a church that didn’t affirm women in full equality, for instance, and to me this is a major justice issue – and then parts the “schism” language freak me out or irritate me because I do believe with all my heart that there can be unity and redemption.  Instead of having one big long post like I did with my Christian conferences magnum opus of feelings, I decided to break this one up into parts. So this is just part one. Over the next week or so, I’ll write the rest of it  as I go along because I think the conversation is a worthwhile one indicative of larger conversations about unity and a new way forward. 

Oh, Father, I know I’m not perfect, I know we’re not perfect, but at least we are not like those people over there.

Secret telling time: I’m part of the people over there.

It’s funny how nice a schism sounds when you’re the one who is the active participant, the one whose decree makes it so. It sounds noble and high-minded when you say that someone else is a false gospel and you are the one with the truth. I imagine that it must be nicer to be the one leaving with our convictions so strong. The rest of you sinners can think what you want, I’m just trying to follow the Bible, we say. No hard feelings.

It’s not-so-great when you’re the one who is left on the other side of the slammed door.

This is a dispatch from the other side of the schism.

If there is one thing I figured out very quickly when I was introduced to the big old American evangelical church in my twenties it is this: there wasn’t room for me. 

It wasn’t just because I was a woman and an egalitarian. In my context, it was also because I was considered liberal in my politics. I liked universal healthcare, for starters. But mainly, it was because I was part of that happy-clappy branch of Christianity, born out of the fire of the renewal movement, because I was “one of those charismatics” and I spoke in tongues, four generations down from the old Pentecostal Holiness stuff as it splintered and moved through the world. The door was shut to me because my lineage of faith was, as Oral Roberts would say, “forged in the fires of healing evangelism.”

It was also because I was not-American. (We could talk about that, couldn’t we? Where is the room for those of us outside of that dominant empire narrative? My experiences with Church are pretty different because I grew up before globalization and technology homogenized our experiences. Remember our global brothers and sisters? It’s hard sometimes for the ones on the inside to remember that there might be reasons why the Pentecostal tradition is the fastest growing stream of Christianity in the world from the global south to Asia Pacific to post-Christian neighbourhoods in Canada.)

Oh, yes, I grew up charismatic and Word of Faith before I had a clue what those labels were or meant. (We just thought we were Christians now, end of story, we had no idea of our place in the big family of God. We were innocent enough to think we were all on the same team because, well, JESUS.)

And then I went out into the world and all I have heard from every other Christian out there was complete and utter disdain for me and for the people I loved, the ones whose prayer and faith had formed me, the ones who taught my Sunday school, who prayed for my parents, who discipled our little family in the faith, the one who plunged me into the water and told me to rise up as a new creature in Christ.

Part of me rails against the idea of a schism – even a decentralized postmdoern Internet schism – because I’m already hanging onto the last rung of the ladder. Don’t cut the thread to which I’m clinging. I’m already a back-alley dweller, far from  the tables. It isn’t my egalitarianism or my feminism or my femininity that ostracized me from certain aspects of the Church: that ship has already sailed. 

I live on the other side of the schism. I have no idea who these people are online half the time. I didn’t even learn about the existence of an organization called “The SBC” until I was nearly thirty. Lifeway? I don’t really care that they don’t like or or won’t carry my book because well, I never would have expected them to carry my book – I’m not Baptist, I never have been, I never will be (watch out now). I’m a postmodern post-evangelical post-charismatic outside of their postal code for the ones who freak out about lady-preachers in every way possible.

I’m used to being left out by now. I’m used to being the red-headed stepchild in the family of God.

Even now, people find out about my background and say, really? You aren’t what I expected. (The judgement in that kind of stings a bit, I admit.)

I did an interview a while ago and it came up that I went to one of those charismatic universities and the interviewer was plainly dismayed, even sympathetic. Oh, you poor thing, it must have been so hard for you. It’s hard to explain to people: those people you love to make fun of? those are my people. They drive me crazy, too, so trust me, I get it. But I still regard our precious mess with tenderness. 

Sometimes it has felt like the one thing that unites most of the western Church is not our love for Jesus, but our disdain for the charismatic Word of Faith world.

We’ve already had a schism, you see, thousands of them. The rest of the church schismed us over and over again, we’re barely clinging to the bridge that the rest of you have set on fire.

I can’t be okay with a schism. It hurts to much to be on the other side of it.

I’ve already been schismed, thanks to John MacArthur and Hank Hanegraff, thanks to seminarians and bloggers, thanks to Internet commenters and tv preachers. I’ve already been told there isn’t room for me. Me and my people, we’re already on the other side of that door, we’re already in the back alley.

I’ve learned how to fit in among the rest of the Church now, of course. But my foot is still firmly on the other side of that schism, and I won’t turn my back on my little tradition. I won’t turn my back on the men and women who raised me to love God and to love people, even if their theology makes the rest of us uncomfortable sometimes. 

(Sidenote: The people at the table could learn a lot from my tradition, particularly about the mobilizing and releasing of women for ministry.)

When my husband went to seminary outside of our tradition, he was wary. We had been so conditioned to being marginalized, so conditioned to think of ourselves as the black sheep and unwelcome at the table, that we didn’t know how it would go. People warned us continually to be on our guard as he went into higher education outside of our tradition: “careful now! you might lose your fire!”  We got so used to being the outsider that we convinced ourselves we didn’t want to be there anyway.

Imagine our surprise when we were welcomed.

Maybe it’s because we’re all a bit older now. Maybe it’s because we have realised we don’t have the luxury of cutting off our nose to spite our face. Maybe it’s because they realized that they missed us or we realized that we missed them. Who knows, but it felt good to sit among people who are different than us, with different theological convictions, and listen to them say “tell me about it.” It felt good to have a talk about our differences without a zero-sum-game, without the threat of nuclear action. It felt good to move with freedom and curiosity and respect.

That bridge meant the world to me. I crossed that bridge and it brought me into a whole new world of theological learning and understanding. I was given tools to sift through my experiences as a child born into faith in Christ Jesus through the charismatic Word of Faith movements. I began to leave behind aspects of my former ways, absolutely, but I reclaimed others that I had dismissed. It changed my life, refined my theology, helped me learn how to hold the gifts of both the wisdom and traditions of the Church with the renewal fire of my own lineage of faith.

I have a group of girlfriends who mean the world to me. We represent a broad spectrum: reformed, complementarian, egalitarian, charismatic, house church, no church, baptist church, all points between. And we do love to pray for and with each other. And of course, I end up laying hands on them while I pray, even prophecying or “having a word” heaven help us, and they receive it from me even though it must be weird for them. The gift of welcoming me and receiving me – all of me, even my happy-clappy weirdness – is a mark of the depth of our friendship. And it means the world to me that they opened up that door. We break bread together, and find we’re family still, we’re healing a small schism perhaps. I have to believe that if there is room for me – all of me without editing – that there is room for them, too, and we are seeing a small bit of heaven breaking through as we respect each other, learn from one another, and mutually change.

 

Continue Reading · faith, fearless, Jesus Feminist, journey · 39