Rebecca K. Reynolds

Honest Company for the Journey

“The Truth Will Set You Free” (Today’s Faerie Queene reflection)

I’ve told you that the Red Cross Knight is trying to save a woman named Una. I haven’t told you that she’s actually a symbol for Truth in this book. 


Spenser isn’t obnoxiously didactic like Bunyan is in Pilgrim’s Progress (blech), so allegory doesn’t smother this story. The Faerie Queene stands on its own. But when you do pause to think about how the narrative works on a deeper level, it’s truly incredible.


After the knight (who stands for “holiness”) fails Una in just about every possible way—she finds a way to save and redeem him. He would have died lost without her. But Truth comes to his rescue when his own strength has failed.

I love this story so much. Gosh, I love this story.

P.S. Here’s a little piece of my transposition of an introductory section to Canto 8 of Book One. Maybe it will encourage you today.


“Is it even possible to count the dangers prowling around a person who is trying to do what is right? Trouble makes him stumble every day! If it weren’t for heavenly grace to uphold him—if it weren’t for steadfast truth to ransom him —he would become a slave to his own sin every time he allowed his own foolish pride or weakness to take over. But the heaven’s love and truth are firm; her care is constant. Were it not for this, the Red Cross Knight would have died in bonds. Instead, Una goes forth, guiding the prince, to deliver her knight from captivity.”


(Art: “Una and the Lion,” from Spensers Faerie Queene, 1880 (oil on canvas), Riviere, Briton)

http://www.thistleandtoad.com/wwwthistleandtoadcom/writings/2019/8/16/su19l4509opsng9t9cvn4cnfhl4ocy

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Which American Christian Are You? (A Quiz)

I’ve seen several posts flying around, trying to assess why apostasy is evangelicalism’s latest soup du jour.


A few days ago, I threw out a kickback against one viral theory—proposing that the Trump movement had more to do with this exodus than a lack of Sunday Schools. But even as I wrote those words, I knew I was being a bit too extreme. Trumpworld is part of it. It’s not all of it.


As I’ve been sitting on the dilemma over the past few days, a certain parable has come to mind over and over again. The story of The Sower. Perhaps we can apply this parable to Americans leaving the faith. 


I’ve included a couple of categories below—interpreted from my vantage point. You might have seen something different. But as I look at these three categories of failed faith, I know which two I’m most tempted to embrace. The second one is my biggie. And even though I’m technically a conservative, my empathetic heart can also incline me toward the first one.


Anyway, for what it’s worth. Three types of faith failures and how I see them fitting into our present culture. Have at it.


- - -


1. The seed that falls on the wayside before birds devour it.


This American hears the message of the gospel but doesn’t connect or apply it/ yield thoroughly—especially not where it pinches. (Note the verb “sunihmi” here. This is about more than intellectual comprehension.) So, the evil one snatches it away. 

(Is it fair to compare this to the overly-permissive, feel-good left?)


2. The seed that falls on stony places and springs up quickly but dies with the heat of the sun, due to shallow roots.


This American received the gospel first with joy but never developed deep roots. Spiritual optimism lasts only a short time. This faith crumbles with trouble (like isolation or disappointment) or persecution. 


(Is it fair to compare this to the disheartened idealist in the middle?)


3. This seed falls among thorns that choke it out.

This American hears the gospel and embraces it, but the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth and promises of earthly power choke out the word and make it unfruitful. 


(Is it fair to say this is the sold-out, politically-idolatrous right wing?)


- - -


13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”


...


18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”    


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Van Gogh’s study on Millet’s “The Sower”

Van Gogh’s study on Millet’s “The Sower”

A Prayer for Those Who Serve in Broken Organizations

God, bless all who serve inside broken machines for the sake of the vulnerable.


Give strength to those who tolerate another day of propaganda,


who are yanked about by recklessness or thoughtless dominance,


who absorb the blows of ego into their own bodies while keeping their eyes on eternity.


Restore the hearts of generous idealists wearied by double speak.


Show them how to be honest when honesty feels impossible.


Give them close friends who are truthful and wholehearted so that they will know they are not alone.


Grant them knowing smiles, silent hugs, and hands held in quick, secret prayers.


Give them a gentle sense of humor that deflects despair when power is silly, shallow, naive, proud, dishonest, or greedy.


Give them the long view. 


Remind them that Eowyn was given her moment, even in the darkness of Theoden’s kingdom. 


Remind them to breathe when they are lonely.


Really breathe.


When you allow the perceptive to see more of truth than a pure heart can bear, give them a safe place to cry out.


Then give them courage to keep going.


Show them when to overlook an offense.


Show them when to face up to a bully.


Show them when to acquiesce. 


Show them when to draw a line in the sand.


God, pull back the curtain and show them the abundance of grace you offer to those who  hobble onward in a world that doesn’t work like it should.


Tend their anger. Tend their despair. Tend their isolation. Tend the wounds they receive from false guilt and spiritual abuse.


Help them hear you whispering over them, “Friend,” and “Brother,” and “Sister,” and “Child.”


Orient them in the unshakable core of your unconquerable plan. 


Draw them into the refuge of your relentless love.

Broken Forms by Franz Marc 1914

Broken Forms by Franz Marc 1914

A few awkward thoughts on the love language of physical touch.

A few weeks ago, a friend and I were talking about the unfortunate love language of physical touch. 


We were joking (kind of) about how the hyper-sexualization of America society has made it very difficult for Christians of all persuasions to incorporate healthy physical contact into our lives.


With every other love language, platonic friendships can fill empty love tanks.  Quality time. Gifts. Words of affirmation. Acts of Service. Easy peasy.


But what happens if your love language is physical contact? What do you do if you don’t feel loved, seen, valued, or safe without actual, meaningful, sustained human touch?


Adults just don’t put their hands on each other. If they do, it’s either racy or super fast and super formal. Quick side hug. Pat on the back. Handshake.


Imagine any other love language playing out this way.


Gifts. Rushing into a room to hand someone a gift, then running out the door.


Quality time. “You have 2 minutes! Mark, get set, go!”


Acts of service. 30 seconds of washing the dishes. Done.


Words of affirmation. Running in and yelling, “You are awesome!” at a friend, then running back out. (Okay, that’s hilarious, but still.)


You get what I mean. There’s no other love language that requires such abrupt, formal, measured interaction. Those love languages are all considered “safe,” so our culture has no built-in barriers or limits on how these languages should be offered or received.


But with human touch, lingering too long is always potentially sexual. Especially in a world where every gender match can be romanticized, there’s no possible connection in which it’s 100% given that a long hug is just a long hug. 


Hang on. Hear my heart there, please. I don’t write that with an intent to condemn anyone—I write it more with my hands thrown up in the air in desperation, asking, “So now what? What do we do with this longing? Where do we go to get help?”


Most of the touch people I know struggle to even talk about it openly because in a hypersexed world, the public assumes any reference to touch equals a desire for intimacy. 


How strongly can I emphasize that this is absolutely not true. Though sex involves touch, it’s not the primary manifestation of this love language. Children hug eachother spontaneously. Mothers cuddle their babies. In other countries, platonic friends walk arm-in-arm and kiss one another on the cheeks. All those things are done as natural out-workings of a love that has absolutely nothing to do with human sexuality.


This love language isn’t rooted in sex drive or lust. It’s about needing to feel safe, anchored, and seen in a world that feels dangerous, chaotic, and anonymous. 


It’s about a connection between body and soul that can’t be bridged by generous activity, by cognition, or by conversation any easier than thirst can be satisfied with a photo of a glass of water.


It’s anti-gnostic, if you need a theological excuse for our existence. It’s the wiring of God reaffirming that the flesh and the soul are not entirely separate.


Sadly, human touch people often walk around with a tank so empty, it would take a long, awkward time to fill. Just like a young woman who had never once been praised would not believe a single compliment, adults who carry this need are virtually starved to death. 


Last week I watched a therapy session online in which two men were helping a third man process a past wound. At the end of the session, one of the men opened his arms wide and just let the third man bury himself on his chest and weep for as long as he needed.


For as long as he needed it. 


All the touch people are letting that phrase hang in the air a while.


The setting was safe. Lots of people were sitting around in the therapy room, so there there was no question of sexual intent. At first, it was just a normal hug. I felt the culturally-appropriate seconds pass, while the person in therapy remained tense. But the counselor didn’t let go after the measured moment was gone. He stayed present.


This is when I watched the magic happen. This grown man’s body melted; I watched his body language yield like a broken child, I watched him gain strength, and I watched him find orientation. I watched him finally start to breathe—really breathe.


If your love language is physical touch, you’re 100% with me right now. You know how rare this is. You remember the few times it’s happened to you—if it has ever happened to you.


Single straight and celibate gays may be tempted to think that hetero marriage makes this love language easier. But that’s not always true. 


In fact, in many ways this sort of contact can be almost impossible inside of a sexually-attracted marriage. It’s an old and painful joke that women just “want to be held” sometimes, but if your physical form is evocative to your partner, the best intent to simply embrace someone can become distracting so quickly. (BTW, it’s not just women who want to be held. That stereotype is grossly mistaken.)


And you know what really stinks? A physical touch partner can absolutely tell when the willful decision is being made to engage in platonic contact. We can tell because we can read body language like a book. It’s what we do.  That’s when all the “But, I’m TRYING to just hold you!” and “Why do you have to TRY?” tension rises. 


It’s funny. It’s not funny.  That’s why comedians and sitcoms joke about it.


As far as I can tell, there’s not an easy answer to this. And I think it’s just as complicated in the secular world as it is inside the church.


I’m not a psychologist, but I’m about to risk a guess in the dark here. Forgive me if this doesn’t hit home in your life. But sometimes I wonder if this language gap is why so many non-Christian physical touch people can’t find what they are actually looking for in sexual relationships, even when they have no apprehensions about intimacy outside of marriage. 


Sex is beautiful, artistic, exciting, and fulfilling as sex. But sex is not all human touch—nor should it attempt to be. 


As you might have guessed by now, this is one of my top two love languages—and I absolutely hate it. In a heartbeat, I would trade with anyone else for any of the other gifts. It feels barbaric and ignorant. Dangerous. Vulnerable. (I have this weird urge to try to somehow prove to you that I’m actually a smart person as I admit that. Why is this?)


My dear, generous husband is an acts of service person whose default reverts to washing the mass of dishes I would easily, even thoughtlessly wash after a five minute hug. Meanwhile, I sit paralyzed, demotivated, frozen instead of jumping up to do the acts of service that would make him feel oriented enough to feel like he had the time to hug me.  Welcome to our rat race.


Sometimes it’s difficult for us to work in the same space because he might miss an opportunity to put his hand on my arm or kiss me on the cheek. He’s not being cruel. He loves me. He just doesn’t think like that. But I notice that he didn’t do whatever silly thing it was, and in that vacuum, I deflate. I don’t want to deflate, but I do.


He can literally sit on the opposite side of the couch while watching a movie. (All the physical touch people are dying a little inside.) Once I sat three hours with four feet between us. Miserable the entire time. When it was over, he was happy as he could be, and I was planning to sleep in the basement. 


“Great movie! Right?” he asked. He wanted to talk about the plot, feeling totally bonded with me. I nearly screamed. 


You can laugh. It’s okay. 


And here’s the other side of our mess. I miss opportunities to pick up clutter I left on the table, to change out the laundry I said I’d finish, or to return the comb I borrowed from the particular spot he likes to keep it. These things mean nothing to me but feel so rude to him when I forget. He literally feels unloved when I leave a fast food bag in his car. (The acts of service people are screaming right now. How dare you not pick up your own garbage! You evil person!)


This has been our cycle for over twenty years. Though we’ve read the books, we get busy, and we forget, and we revert to our own default.


When my tank gets dry, the mound of acts of service duties feels like Mount Everest. And I’m sure he has moments when he wants to run and hide from the five-hour hug monster. 


In those first months after we were married, we would always wake up on *his* side of the bed, with him dangerously close to falling on the floor, and me wrapped around him like an octopus. In my subconscious state, I was a snuggle banshee. One morning he just patiently got up, walked around, and lay down on the other side as a “reset.” We both had to laugh.


It’s funny. It’s wretched. I’m not sure what the answer is to this dilemma.


But as someone who is married, in a loving and regularly intimate relationship, I thought it might be helpful to say that we still struggle with this. Paul says to marry if you can’t resist lust—but this isn’t lust, nor is it resolved by regular sex. 


This is more like an innate need to be constantly surrounded by a mass of golden retriever puppies, the need to constantly stand in the crash of an ocean, or the need to feel breeze on your arms. It’s about aching when you read verses about John resting his head on Christ’s chest. 


Sometimes I wonder how much healing would come if the church could figure out how to meet this need in a restorative, non-sexualized way. Every solution I can imagine is too dangerous—too likely to lead to illicit connections or excused indulgence. Especially since this need in many is so deep and so old, I don’t know what would come out at first, if attempts were made to bridge the gulf. It could get ugly fast.


But maybe there’s a benefit to just saying, this is tough. Sometimes confession is a really healthy place to start. This isn’t easy. I wonder what would happen if we could figure it out. And if you are blessed with one of the gifts that’s easy to tend by a platonic friendship, maybe you could pray for those weaker brothers and sisters you know who walk around like this daily, always feeling like they need too much in a virtually touchless world.


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Thoughts on Joshua Harris

“On Joshua Harris”


Everybody on Twitter seems to have an opinion on Joshua Harris, so here’s mine: 


No matter what Harris says in the next few months—no matter what he tweets or does—I think we should give the guy some space and some time to sort things through.


Sometimes life and faith are horribly messy. And sometimes grace looks like patience when somebody else is hurting.


Think about it. Harris never got a chance to be a stupid young adult. Twenty is way too young to be an expert about anything, and yet J.H. found himself at the center of a massive national movement at that age. 


Was that self-inflicted pressure? After all, he wrote the book and promoted it. I guess you can make that argument. 


Did his opinion mess up some lives? You can make that argument as well.


But not many of us should have been in that sort of role at that age. And not many of us knew it. A lot of us would have accepted the book deal, accepted the speaking engagements, accepted the fame and believed we were doing it for Jesus.


I’m so thankful the publishing world didn’t find me at that vulnerable place. I’m embarrassed about stuff I wrote at 35, and at 45, and at 46–-let alone fresh off my teens. It’s way too easy to be influential these days.


Does part of the blame for _I Kissed Dating Goodbye_ extremism rest on the 90’s evangelical machine? What about all those speaking platforms and publishing companies run by 90’s adults hungry for the next big thing? Those same Christian business folks still busy themselves scouting for another attractive, young, talented, died-and-came-back-from-heaven, Olympian, Idol-singer, pick-your-gimmick, just sexy-enough, pro-Jesus voice that will sell truckloads of books.


Authors need two of three things to get published In Christian world: 1. a big idea, 2. a big platform, or 3. good writing. Most often, the last of those three is the first to go.


A hot young guy deciding not to kiss girls was big news in the 90’s. But it was also a cheap sales trick. Shame on those older, supposedly-wiser adults who helped him get famous by writing about this.


Harris was too certain too young, but a lot of us were. The difference is, he was too certain too young with the whole world watching. 


That’s a darned good lesson for publishing/platform world in 2019, if we will take note. 


Agents—stop agenting the 20-something attractive sports star who is willing to talk about Jesus in public.  Publishers—stop publishing the 20-something singer who makes faith sexy. Promoters—stop promoting books about parenting by young moms of toddlers. Stop. Stop. Stop making money off of kids who are not going to be able to handle fame if your marketing works.


Because where does all this end?


When you’re too young, spending decades in the wake of a spiritual spotlight, the complexities of real faith  grow inside you like a secret cancer. God seems too quiet. God seems cruelly unaware of the real cost of your faith. 


Everything on the outside is black and white. People talk in a weird evangelical dialogue of “hashtag blessing” this or that, and dividing every spiritual matter into us vs. them—while everything on your inside is suddenly a mass of toxic greys. There’s no place for sincere questions. There’s no place for the terror of uncertainty.


That’s too much pressure on a young adult. Way too much.


I absolutely think it’s wrong to have sex outside of marriage. I also think millions of Christian young people were handed a prosperity-gospel approach to relationships that wasn’t realistic at all. And at the center of all this pressure was a too-young man who was in way over his head.


That struggle calls for mercy, not severity.


Truth is, you and I cannot comprehend what that struggle was like. There’s no telling what sort of damage was done to Harris’s soul during this time. As a former pastor’s wife in an invisible church, I remember how little room there was to struggle, doubt, or fail. When I finally got free of our toxic situation, it took years (and several messy explosions) for my faith stabilize.


JH is going through something much more difficult. All that pressure. The weight of conservative evangelicalism cheering—knowing that cheering would turn to venomous seething if he flinched. He’s surviving a divorce. He’s feeling his way through the guilt/shame of feeling like he’s done things the wrong way, but not feeling safety to sort out how or why.


Do I agree with his recent conclusions about Christianity? Of course not. But I also know that he’s lived through struggles I cannot begin to imagine, and I am willing to give him time to heal.


Today I saw some “Christians” gleefully condemning Harris to hell on Twitter. They were proud, stupid, mean—probably the exact responses Joshua Harris anticipated after his announcement that he no longer identifies as a Christian.


Watching this, I remembered those times in my life when friends loved me enough to give me room to roar during a season of severe pain—sometimes even in public—without making permanent assumptions about my character or the end of my faith.


Twitter allows men like Joshua Harris and Donald Trump to unload every day’s emotion for the world to see. If we’re going to “pray for” one and “believe God can work in” one—we have to be willing to extend the same patient grace for the other.

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The one who wasn’t entitled.

During my time in Oxford, I was able to have two long conversations with someone who has made a lonely and difficult decision to refrain from chasing one of his strongest desires.


I’m not going to describe his struggle in detail because its not my story to tell—and because my point doesn’t depend upon the particular nature of his desire. I think most of us have something we want but cannot chase without violating a principle, standard, or commitment.


Maybe you have self-control issues with food. You want the immediate comfort of consumption, but you know you’re violating godly stewardship of your body by over-indulging.


Maybe you have a natural tendency to zone out on social media, television, or news because you’re overwhelmed with the clutter in your home. So you allow your family to live in constant visual chaos while you indulge in these escapes.


Maybe you spend too much money on material goods seeking an endorphin rush because you are living inside of a cold, touch-less marriage and feel a need to hold objects since you can’t hold a person. 


Maybe you have allowed yourself to idolize worldly power and have become addicted to pseudo-Christian news that runs on fear and hate—while bastardizing the name of God.


Maybe you have another impulse struggle.


During my trip, I met someone who looked clearly at his strongest, most alluring impulse and had the courage to see it for what it was.


And instead of finding ways to excuse it—instead of saying that he was a victim to someone else’s cruelty at some point in the past and therefore deserved relief—instead of trying to force some sort of godliness into his own self-medication—he was brave enough to assess the whole of his bruised story, the whole of his longing, and walk the lonely, broken way of chasing union with an invisible God.


I can’t tell you how moving this was to me.


I don’t have the same inclination he does. My struggle is different. But watching someone have the humility to evaluate his own life with such defenseless realism impacted me profoundly.


He stood in the current of his own pain and desires and said, “Who is this God who loves me? What does he want from me? I am yielded, though it hurts—for there is beauty beyond the present.”


As someone who has felt regularly alone and discouraged by entitlement culture, I can’t tell you how it shook me to watch this one man describe what he is learning from a different way of living. 


I think maybe it gave me a glimpse of the long-lost-concept of dying to self and how if it is done inside of a relationship with Jesus (and not mere asceticism), it  can point those who watch to the Kingdom.

By Edmund Dulac

By Edmund Dulac

Before We Get to the Good Stuff—A Few Technical Thoughts on Translating Edmund Spenser

One of the most brilliant aspects of The Faerie Queene also makes this work inaccessible to most modern readers. For approximately 35,000 lines, Spenser writes in verse (tight poetic form).


Because I’m a recovering English teacher, I’m going to explain a bit about how meter and verse function in this poem. (Lit nerds who already get it, move along.) In 2019, very few people seem to understand this stuff, so I’m starting at ground zero because I want you to see an important choice I’ve had to make along the way.


METRICAL FEET


So, a *stanza* is a big chunk of poetry. It’s sort of like a whole verse in a song. These big chunks of poetry are broken up into two smaller units—lines and metrical feet.


You know what a line is. We still use that term for music and poetry today. But a “metrical foot” is a little less common. This is a specific unit of stressed and unstressed syllables.


To simplify that—imagine the name “Julie.” That word has two syllables, and the stress is on the first syllable. The name “Bernard” also has two syllables, but (at least in the US), we stress the second. Lit nerds have special names for all of these wee little metrical units,  and Wikipedia has a decent chart here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iamb_(poetry)


RHYME


Spenser primarily used  pentameter in The Faerie Queene, which means (for the most part) he had five of these metrical feet per line. He also used a very particular rhyme scheme as he put these lines together. Here it is:


A


B


A


B


B


C


B


C


C


Each letter there represents the ending sound of one line within a single stanza. So, lines 1 and 3 rhyme, lines 2, 4, 5, and 7 rhyme, etc.


WHY DID HE DO THIS FOR 35,000 LINES?


Well...because at the time, readers were used to looking for rhyme schemes and meter in poems. Just like the rhythm and lyrics of a modern song help imitate the song’s meaning, these tools helped a poem’s form enhance its meaning. (You can read more about this in Kaske’s “Introduction” to Book One of The Faerie Queene, if you are interested. Photos attached.)


But the problem is, today, most Twitter-trained readers get bogged town trying to read such complicated forms. Not only is Spenser’s language archaic (which is difficult in itself), but the nuanced connections he tries to make between stanzas while holding to a very tight and complicated formula, can make his work almost impossible to understand.


When I first started transposing The Faerie Queene, I tried to keep to Spenser’s meter and rhyme. Very quickly, though, I realized that it would be impossible. Too many common words and phrases used in the Elizabethan era are not used by people today, so they require many more words to explain. In the end, I decided it would be kindest to complete a vivid, stanza-by-stanza, prose transposition that catches most of Spenser’s meaning, while preserving as much of his musicality as possible.


MY INSPIRATION?


As I thought about all of my favorite translators, I realized they had each chosen narrative heart over pedantic precision at times. I’ve loved Beowulf for decades, but Seamus Heaney’s made me weep in my kitchen. Dorothy Sayers’s Dante is electric. Les Mis is gorgeous in all forms, but (despite those few distracting too-modern idioms the critics gripe about), my favorite English Les Mis was given to us by Julie Rose. I can tell these translators weren’t just converting one language to another, but that they had a deep inner fire and respect for the story. They didn’t just translate denotatively but connotatively.


Of course, some losses are inevitable with this choice—especially in a poem like The Faerie Queene. Not all double meanings, elements of wit, or bits of irony can be caught in prose. However, as I’ve spoken with people who’ve “read” The Faerie Queene in school, almost all admit to “skimming” over bits that were difficult to understand. 


So, I think there’s a huge value to preserving as much as I can, providing a segue into the main plot for the common reader, and then urging those who fall in love with Spenser to head back into the archaic text to discover what I could not capture. Consider me the salt on the oats.

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July 14

Yea, though I walk through the valley 

of my own defeat, Thou art with me.

What a strange and terrible fight it has been, my Lord.


Lying prone, 

bloody chin rests on bloody arm,

and I can only look round enough 

to see the casualties.


The corpse of myself

who tried to do all things properly—

who killed herself trying harder 

than anyone.


The corpse of myself 

who strained to believe all things properly—

who recited true creeds like false propaganda

and worked to assuage human doubt by human lies.


The corpse of myself

who attempted to feel what she did not feel—

who exercised brute will upon wild impulse

and lost.


The corpse of myself

who said she was not afraid when she was terrified,

who said she did not want when she was devoured by hunger,

who swore to be faithful while she was a double agent.


Bodies everywhere.

At last, I am slaughtered.


But You, Lord, are my shepherd, acquainted with the fool ways of sheep. 

You meet me in the valley of all I am not, 

where I am finally dead enough 

to tell You the truth at last.


Here in my defeat, 

the whole mess comes pouring out.

A child in convulsive tears,

broken stories come and come. 

I wipe a snotty nose on 

Your dress shirt

and try to find a breath through the cramp.


“The valley of the shadow of death,” 

You say, with soft levity.

Then, lifting me up, You carry me. 


I have always known this place— 

its name has always frightened me.

But it’s quiet and lovely here. 


Nobody told me how

in the twilly shadows

a light waits in the window

or that home sits at the edge 

of this black wood.

“The Good Shepherd” by Henry Ossawa Tanner

“The Good Shepherd” by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Ezekiel 16 and Gilded Dildos

Remember that section of the Bible in which God gets upset because his chosen people took the jewelry he had given them and turned those sweet ornaments into gilded sex toys? (See v 17)


Yep. The unflinching Lord used an image that severe and crude to describe the adultery of a nation that abandoned His holiness to pleasure itself with the priorities and commodities of earth. 


Read it below. Read how a husband’s heart breaks at the unfaithfulness of a wife he loves.


This passage is about Jerusalem, but since Americans are so keen on applying all Biblical promises to ourselves, perhaps a bit of rebuke will apply as well. 


What comforts have American evangelicals taken in exchange for holiness? What divine gifts have we melted down and used for selfish pleasures? How have we thought only of ourselves and our present needs instead of using our resources as stewards of a beautiful coming kingdom? Have we supported wicked leaders so that we could continue to live as we please?


Ezekiel 16


16 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices 3 and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. 4 On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. 5 No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.


6 “‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!”[a] 7 I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew and developed and entered puberty. Your breasts had formed and your hair had grown, yet you were stark naked.


8 “‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.


9 “‘I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. 10 I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put sandals of fine leather on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. 11 I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, 12 and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was honey, olive oil and the finest flour. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. 14 And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord.


15 “‘But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his. 16 You took some of your garments to make gaudy high places, where you carried on your prostitution. You went to him, and he possessed your beauty.[b] 17 You also took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them. 18 And you took your embroidered clothes to put on them, and you offered my oil and incense before them. 19 Also the food I provided for you—the flour, olive oil and honey I gave you to eat—you offered as fragrant incense before them. That is what happened, declares the Sovereign Lord.


16 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices 3 and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. 4 On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. 5 No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.


6 “‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!”[a] 7 I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew and developed and entered puberty. Your breasts had formed and your hair had grown, yet you were stark naked.


8 “‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.


9 “‘I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. 10 I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put sandals of fine leather on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. 11 I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, 12 and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was honey, olive oil and the finest flour. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. 14 And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord.


15 “‘But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his. 16 You took some of your garments to make gaudy high places, where you carried on your prostitution. You went to him, and he possessed your beauty.[b] 17 You also took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them. 18 And you took your embroidered clothes to put on them, and you offered my oil and incense before them. 19 Also the food I provided for you—the flour, olive oil and honey I gave you to eat—you offered as fragrant incense before them. That is what happened, declares the Sovereign Lord.

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Glory Be to God for Cuddly Things

Glory be to God for cuddly things;

for musky, nubbly, puppy ears,

soft, velvet pink inside;

and teeny, checkered noses that twitch. 


Praise Him for tickly, white kitten whiskers;

lazy, downy lop-ears;

and sea bellies, a bliss-full mass 

of frost-tipped charcoal furs.


Goodness and mercy have followed me

by bitty toe beans and itsy yawns—

wee little exhalations 

of baby clove breath.


Blessed am I, for Thou hast given me

doggy snores and doggy dreams,

neck nuzzles, 

and boopy bum wags,

and happy beasty sighs.


Blessed be the God who thrums 

in these thumper hearts,

Who warms my weary head

when it is buried deep in 

a drowsy creature chest.


“Peace, be still.”

“Lo, I am with you always.”


Praise to the God 

who has taught me faithfulness,

forgiveness, hope, and home

by the giddy pounce of a prodigal God 

who has been waiting by the kitchen door

since 7:30 this morning,

so happy to see me at last.


He meets me by the weight 

of two great, giddy paws on my chest,

a sloppy lick on my cheek,

and a round-the-round dance.


He dares to be undignified

as a father running down the lane

to meet a wayward son— 


undignified as a God who chose 

(of all things) a stable for

His first human touch, 

impressing upon every goodly, 

cuddly beast the sleepy, 

holy scent of heaven.

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the cost

If you believe in God by faith, without wrestling with the hard parts of the Bible—then you support wicked political leaders with a similar faith, without admitting the flagrant wrong they do—your religion will look empty and superstitious, like the foundation of a blind and naive life.


This combination will reinforce your spiritual untrustworthiness, showing that you are someone who embraces propaganda and follows a crowd.


And those neighbors, grandchildren, and friends you love who do not believe in your God will have no desire to know him. 


They will choose hell over a faith that lies. Yes 

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Addiction to an Imagined World

Most people have an addiction of some sort: the internet, drugs, alcohol, food, anger, porn. Something to take the edge off the pain of getting stuck here.


My addiction is imagining an impossible ideal.


Sounds fake, but it’s absolutely not. My struggle is just as ugly and just as dangerous as anything I listed above.


Here’s how it works.


I live life with you in a real world. I love and tend the people before me. I fight for causes. I create in a tactile way. But I do all this with a backup life. I’m always keeping one or two lines open to an imaginary second reality where I can retreat when existence gets too heavy and too hard.


When I’m so lonely I can barely move, I go into the “What if these factors were different?” zone.  And I let those possibilities create an alternate reality—then I begin to walk toward it and sink into it.


There’s a scene in the movie Inception in which a room full of elderly dream addicts confuse real existence with their ideal communal dreams. They begin to see dreaming as primary and reality as secondary. And I can do that, too.


I don’t walk around drunk. I’m not hooking up with strangers on the sly. My BMI is super healthy. But internally, I run away.


And just like you don’t see the consequences of other addictions immediately, the long-term harm of “ideal addiction” only reveals itself over time.


If you are INFJ or INFP, our kin are particularly notorious for believing that “the ideal” is out there somewhere—we just need to find it. That impulse is what makes movies like Amelie charming or writing like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” relatable. But what looks sweet or human in art can get pretty ugly in real life.


Giggly infatuation with a witty, electric (though totally scripted) Pimpernel/Mauguerite dialogue can slowly form into a feeling of entitlement. We can start to believe, “My life is boring and empty. I deserve similar banter. Unless I have what I can imagine, I am dead inside.”


This resentful ache can grow inside until INF’s can begin to feel hopeless—until they spend a lot of the day checked out emotionally—until they stop trying to engage—until they survive by quietly tolerating.


As a result, gratitude disappears. True vulnerability retreats. We start to become impossible to truly know—which drives us further into the dream.


When I was much, much younger, B and I were having a pretty hard time of marriage. I won’t go into the details, but there were legitimate reasons for both of us to be tired and frustrated.


In the midst of this struggle, I received a piece of writing from a male friend.  It was powerful and nuanced, and it seemed to indicate tenderness toward me that took my breath away. I felt those words wash over me. I walked two miles holding it in my hands. I thought back over many, many other instances in which this person had laughed with me, worked with me, connected with me.


And as I reflected on all of this, and as I considered how hard things were at home, I sank into an all-consuming “What if?” That daydream was exciting and overwhelming, and I let this new, imaginary second world carry me for several DAYS while externally doing the tasks I needed to do to serve my family.


Finally, I had to tell B what I was struggling with. As mad as I was at him, I just couldn’t carry it alone. Slowly, this alternate reality died down into nothing. But over and again in my life, similar situations have occurred. And it hasn’t just hit in romance—this has happened in friendships, in work, in calling—in weird dreams about running off and creating a whole new life.


It can be triggered by blogs from wanderers and rebels. Blogs from artists and free spirits. People who live elsewhere doing better things than I do. People who have “the life I can only dream about.”


Today our family had a pretty big scare. I won’t go into the details, but I will say that for about three hours, I was thrown into a severe awareness that my painfully boring, everyday life is actually pretty, stinking beautiful.


During this event, my physical state was vulnerable—I was (literally) in the middle of an Appalachian forest, on a trail that was scary and empty, with only a kid beside me that I knew I couldn’t fully protect. I was looking for someone I couldn’t find and had no way of finding. And I was afraid this person was in danger.


At that moment, reality was acute and severe. I gripped my Mace, hoping for the best in the men who occasionally approached us. My legs shook with the rigor of the path—one incline was nearly straight up for perhaps 1/4 of a mile. My legs were trembling with fatigue, my heart was pounding, and I thought my lungs were going to explode. I didn’t know if tragedy awaited.  And I couldn’t stop.


The severity of that situation pushed me to talk to God like I haven’t in a long while. As I did so, I realized I’ve been kind of avoiding him— at least I’ve been avoiding certain conversations with him—because I’ve been angry that reality and my ideal don’t line up in some serious ways.


Strangely, in the hours leading up to this event, a friend had made me watch an interview with Eugene Peterson and Bono. As those two men talked about the Psalms, I realized that I have not made space to be emotionally present with God.


When I’ve been lonely, I haven’t written those severe feelings in honest appeals to the Lord. Instead, I’ve run into my imagination to medicate with fabricated impossibilities.


When I’ve felt doubt because of the duplicity of Christians in the world, I haven’t written those tremors to the Lord. I’ve run to humans (real and imaginary) and tried to find security in them instead.


Something about being out in the middle of a vast wood, panting, scared, trembling, weak stripped all that away. Imagination was no comfort in severity.


It was a terrible experience. It was also a critical experience.


Tonight I’ve been thinking a lot about the reality Jesus chose for his 33 years on planet earth. I’ve thought about the irritating people he found as companions.


Jesus was the one person who didn’t have to imagine the ideal—because he had been inside of it always. He knew utter perfection.


Then suddenly, he was thrown in the middle of a superstitious, disappointing lot of yahoos who couldn’t provide him any sort of true intellectual or spiritual companionship. People were stinky, greedy, messy, dumb. Local scenery was just meh. (At least from my perspective.)


And Jesus didn’t even wait until an era in which humans understood the scientific advances he’d planted into the world. He showed up smack in the middle of primitive life.


These were the people he loved and served every day. 


To get the strength for this, he prayed. He was honest with the Father.


Then he went into reality, believing those slow, uninteresting people he would encounter weren’t just secondary citizens but an exact selection of souls he was supposed to know face-to-face inside the whole of human history.


These were not the elite. Not the powerful. Not the witty. Not the stuff of dreams, but the stuff of fish boats and dusty roads. These were people who missed punchlines. People who dreamt small. People who wanted a free meal when the Bread of Life was walking in their midst.


“Who do I think I am?”


It clanged like a gong inside my chest after the crisis was over.


“Why am I so unwilling to be fully present?”


My addiction to imagining the ideal has sucked away so many psalms I’m way past due writing.


I’m falling asleep tonight feeling a little shy about that. Also, I’m a little excited that tomorrow would be a good day to start writing them.

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 “Imagination’s Door” by Ronnie Landfield

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June 20

Why the silence, O Lord?

Yet, in it

I am uncovering what I want to hear,

meeting my own lies face-to-face,

learning how I fill gaps with noise

and excuses,

discovering idols I construct in my sleep,

watching where I say, “No,

I am unwilling.”

For the silence exposes.


When I was young,

I crossed my heart, hoped to die,

and swore,

“I will follow you anywhere,”

imagining a firing squad or a den of lions.

Not silence.

And yet,

you who allowed formlessness and void

to steep for epochs perhaps

before speaking, “Let there be,”

prepares me.


Who, then, am I

to rush eternal gestation?


Who am I to command

the fingers of the Divine to knit me

more quickly in the soft, black, pink

of the soul’s womb?


Grow me then while I float,

kicking my heels,

in the muffled inner sanctum

of a God I cannot see.

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Star Formulation in Tadpole Nebula, NASA

June 16

Whimsymaker, should you (like Pollock) spatter the universe

on the back of a swallowtail,

would I catch your wink

across the crowd?


Would I hold both my knees

in the understated privacy of a ratty,

small town concert hall—

minding the variation

on the theme—

letting the tension before the key shift

do its work?


Or would I beat my breasts at his torn,

feathered abdomen, digging around to get

the courage to end the life of a miracle suffering?


Will I only lament, accusing the Divine

of dropping us like a broken plaything—

leaving our trauma-busted heads and broken fingers to the winding down of our dirt selves?


Yet, there is a point in this green wood

where two lone streams converge—

where all the force of a paradox

rolls downhill to

make a happy chatter—


and I remember how faith breathes.

It inhales,

and it exhales.

It inhales, and it exhales.

Peace. Be still.

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June 15

God, give me the humility

to tend from a small place—

to offer worn, indelicate hands—

to the labor of delivery.


If you show me a curl of hair

to turn from a tormented forehead,

make my fingers’ touch two seconds of respite—

even when there is no prospect

of being known, seen, or remembered—


though my touch breaks off from my person

and I begin and end this whole life

invisible as the wind that washes over

the delusions of a fever,

always give me the strength

to hold one more broken human

in these two human arms.


Though you are silent—

though you give me cold proofs while

refusing to show me

how you smell in the morning

and how you sound when you sing over the valleys—


though I am angry at the prospect

of years upon years of faith without sight when you have made me carry sentience and impulse—

though some of these humans you have made radiate

and I am tempted to kneel before them—

so that I might stare into the whole universe of two close eyes—


though you hide from me and test me—

at least make me brave enough

and kind enough

to bear the electric storm

of a heart that is not mine

to own.

For all you have not given me,

do this one thing.

I implore you.


Let kindness be my widow’s oil.

Open my fist grip (or dash the ribs of my chest)

if this great and holy novel you are writing

needs a Peggotty.


So be it.

Just give me the character to roll up the sleeves of an old work dress

and sink my hands in the water

to quietly wash one more set of dishes,

even when I can hear

the music of the ball next door.


When I feel faint from the hunger

of this faith you require—

when my knees and fingers shake while

looking through the bakery glass—


when I must whisper my own name

to remember what it sounds like—


when the hair I cut off

to give away leaves me nothing but

an old fool who knows the wrong books,

then take this fool’s skin and fill it

with new wine so that

when you turn me up

to the lips of the perishing,

their hearts will be made glad.

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 “Man in a Room” by Rembrandt

I found a wild kitten lost in the woods

I found a wild kitten lost in the woods.

The top of one white paw was gone

revealing a splay of bones,

like four white rods of an automaton.


Her eyes were shut. Her mouth was tight.

She swayed in pain, holding the front leg in the air—

a gesture of trust? I stepped forward and

saw she was dying.


When I conceived that first child, I did not know

that the hand of God stitching a single cell

into the deep, secret pink folds of my uterus

would change me forever—would stitch some sort of thread

from the base of my diaphram

to the abandoned fawn sucking on my leg—

to four clay-buried, hot, fertile eggs of a red-eared slider—

to this wee kitten who hissed without opening her eyes.


I lost that baby, but I did not lose maternity—

I did not lose the instinct to make room on my chest

for every rooting, dying thing. God, that little cry.

God, oh God.


When my milk came in,

when there was no child to take it,

I felt it burst and run hot over my empty belly;

I held out my arms to the world and said,

“But, I am a mother.”


And the house was silent.


Today I found the same two rangers

who had promised to help

looking for the kitten.

They had let nature take its course,

like men so often do.


They recognized me and flinched.

“Absolvo,” I said,

though the wood smelled of death.


A light rain fell across their jacket shoulders,

tittering on the broad summer leaves above them.

Here were two grown men with boy faces,

wearing leather gloves,

and carrying a white garbage bag.


They were searching intentionally now,

looking through all the undergrowth,

for her body.


I put my head down, walked on in silence,

waited till I got around the bend to choke—to gasp.


I felt the earth spin; I reached my hands wide;

I stood still,

surrounded by a bird song requiem.


Brahms wrote for the living, not the dead—

and that is faith, I suppose—

granting the minor key its measures

then pulling out of it—

believing there is resolve to the dissonance

of all that dies lonely and lost

in a miscarrying world.

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A prayer

Lord, I give you the interpretations I have created to manage pain.


Every villain I have reduced is known in complexity by you. You alone are fair.


I have sub-created a grand story so that I might survive the constant ache in my chest.


I have flattened and compressed the past out of self defense.


I have set up a framework that has justified my yank at the reins.


I have allowed my loneliness to accuse.


But you see with utter clarity.


The past I’ve commandeered is yours.

Show me what to believe.

“On a Ten Scale”


When we first got married, I was dumb enough to ask my husband a question no wife should ever ask—and he was dumb enough to answer honestly.


I had enough close man friends to know that guys (even Christian guys) often rank women on a scale of 1-10, and I wanted to know where I stood.


By nature, I’m the sort who constantly assesses data. Somehow knowing the absolute truth (good news or bad) felt like a responsible part of being a woman on planet earth. I knew that if I assumed too high, I could end up going out on a limb and looking like a fool. Too low, and I wouldn’t maximize my potential leverage as a female in culture—a capacity too often limited by a woman’s physical appearance.


So, I caught my poor young husband at a vulnerable moment and made him nail down a number. I’m not going to tell you what he said. I will tell you that the number did something permanent inside me.


I considered it generous. Took a deep breath. And from that point onward, I embraced it as cold, hard fact.


I would look at other women and think about what their number was, then I would think of my own. I don’t remember thinking ill of those who might fall lower. I do remember feeling a need to defer to those who would rank higher.


Because I’m a visual artist, I had pretty strong ability to look at my essential features and know what could and couldn’t be changed about me. Working out is good, getting a tan is nice, but I knew none of this would bump me up more than half a point or point. I had certain limitations effort couldn’t negate. No matter what effort I put into my hair or clothes, there would always be a woman who could slip on a pair of denim shorts and an old t-shirt, throw her hair in a pony tail, and still be a 10. And she would have more power because of this.


Eventually, I looked out into the world and decided what I could and couldn’t do—what I could and couldn’t be—within the parameters of my number. As a female, I could be respectable but not powerful. I could be beneficial but not moving. I could be a companion but not a muse.


I watched from the sidelines and noticed how other men treated men with 5’2”, blonde trophy wives. I watched how a woman’s number played out in a thousand scenarios—like a meeting I attended with hospital executives. Another woman and I entered a room full of men. She was shorter. Blonde. Cute. Her number would have been at least three points higher than mine.


I don’t remember what compliments those men lavished upon her. I do remember her smiling like someone who got the same response everywhere, and also that awful next moment when an older male friend was sensitive enough realize nobody had said anything so complimentary to me. He spoke up with a sincere-sounding but obligatory, “And you, too.” The other men mumbled in polite agreement, realizing their error. I wanted to sink through the floor.


Now that I’m older, different numbers seem to matter more. In artistic community, some writers are 10s. When their names are mentioned, a flurry of affirmations naturally rises.


They seem to be effortlessly relevant. Restrained on social media. Vulnerable yes, but in attractive, careful ways. The look. The credentials. The eloquence. They read what’s just right. They go places and post pictures that seem like snapshots of fullness.


All their pieces fit together into a balanced whole. They are welcomed into forums. They are invited to travel and speak.


And there’s a fraternity to it all. Tens recognize one another at events and take pictures together because there’s a mutual respect and trust among them.


My writer number is similar to the rank I held for a long time as a female. I’m not a big deal. I’m fairly respectable, but I’m not powerful. I’m sometimes beneficial but not culture moving. I’m a companion to a few but not a muse for a movement.


My personality is awkward in some ways branding can’t fix. I’ll never be Nashville relevant.


And, it’s funny, I still feel the same old embarrassment I felt over other limitations. I show people a little bit of me. Then, as I look out into the world and see writers with magnificent minds, and vast stores of deep knowledge, and experiences that I will never be able to reference, I regret the foolish clank of my two mites thrown in a pot, and I want to run and hide away in shame.


“What do you have to offer?” I hear whispered from the darkness.


Reality burns, so I retreat and back off and watch from a distance while those who are clearly made for influential community get out there and run in packs.


They will know what to say. They will know how to say it.


“Who do you think you are?” A second accusation hits out of the silence.


When the Bible talks about boasting in our weakness, I always assume it means weaknesses like a 5’2” blonde cutie with a pimple on her perfect nose. Or, I assume it means the scholar-writer with razor wit who goes to edgy coffee shops and live concerts while wearing the jeans-du-jour—but dropped his journal in the trash by mistake.


A doll with a blemish. An icon who fumbled.


Not people like me. Not the ones who will never even get in the B range. Out of self-defense, I want to assess reality, absorb the blow of my limitations, and live invisible.


But this morning, after finishing one of my regular deletion frenzies, feeling stupid for reaching out and believing my words mattered, I felt a hot rumble in my soul. “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."


Humans rank humans. Humans rank, and rank, and rank humans. The Bible tells me so. There are things man “looks at,” and there are assessments that rule culture—and I am barely passing on any of those standards.


But here in the quiet, God kicks away all constructs.  The physical beauty that never was high enough. The relevance that never hit hip. The little habits and preferences known by gentility but not to someone like me. The intelligence that never reached brilliance. The numbers, the brackets, the everything I’m not.


There’s something beyond all this God sees, knows, values—even loves. He treasures me, and it’s the oddest thing in the world to believe that. He sees worth in my receptivity. That’s enough for the God who made an entire universe out of nothing.

Edvard Munch  Femme á sa toilette , 1892.

Edvard Munch Femme á sa toilette, 1892.

“The Snap of Thanos and the God Who Flooded Humanity”


If you haven’t seen Endgame, stop reading now.  I’ll try not to post any spoilers until I get a few paragraphs deep, but I am eventually going to drop a few. Consider yourselves forewarned.


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So, I loved Endgame. I laughed, I cried, I clapped and shouted, “No!” in the theater. Just behind Shazam, the multiverse Spiderman, and Wonder Woman, Endgame falls right in line with my top superhero movies of all time.


The CGI battle scenes were try-not-to-stand-on-the-theater-seat epic. Relational tension and resolve were near perfection, considering the genre and backstories. 


Watching what time does to human hearts broken by failure, loss, and disillusionment felt honest. What do we do when it all falls apart? Some of us organize. Some of us hide and drink. Some of us join support groups. Some of us let the anger of losing it all drive us to destroy.


I loved the camaraderie of a risk-it-all fellowship; the fierce determination of a band of women standing firm and proclaiming, “Just so you know, she has backup”; the way best friends fight to beat each other to die for each other.


The end... well, the end broke my heart because “that guy” has always been my favorite superhero. I didn’t cry during, “Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good.” This one— this one hurt. I’m still not okay about it.


Despite all this, Endgame dug a little too deep into the Mines of Moria for me, unearthing an ache that probably bears discussion. Actually, I almost wrote about this after seeing Infinity War, but I decided to wait and see how EG turned out. Now I know.


Before I hit on this, though, please understand what I’m not saying. I’m not saying the movie is bad. I’m not saying the movie is anti-Christian propaganda or that masses of people should protest it, or anything of the sort. I’m writing about this confessionally—like I might write about a classic book like 1984 or a classic movie like the 1968 Planet of the Apes—both of which I love.  I’m saying, “What’s here? Why is it here? What does this film reveal about my own fears, wounds, and suspicions and those of our present culture?” This post is exploratory, not condemning. It asks what we can learn from a flicker on the screen of the human consciousness.


For a couple of years, friends (like David Mitchel) and I have been talking about how the greatest opposing force facing modern Christianity isn’t obvious evil. Our fiercest opponent is human morality that considers itself superior to the morality of God.


Chesterton wrote about the danger of virtues splitting off and separating from their core a hundred years ago, and his warning has come to fruition in 2019. Nobody cares about Nietzsche’s “God is dead” these days. The resistance of our time isn’t atheistic but accusatory. It points a finger and says, “That God is immoral.”


“After all, he commanded certain people to be stoned for hundreds of years.”


“After all, he commanded women to sit outside their own community during their monthly periods.”


“After all, he rained down fire, and caused horrible plagues, and slaughtered firstborn babies.”


“After all, he lets people go into eternal torment if they don’t check off the right belief box before they croak.”


“After all, he snapped his fingers and, ‘Poof,’ he turned all the people of the world to dust except for a single family in a boat—hoping to reboot a broken, self-destructive world.”


Sound familiar?


The first time I read 1984, I broke out into a cold sweat when I read about Big Brother’s demand for love instead of mere obedience. I could feel the theological tension. Whether Orwell meant it or not, the soteriological parallel nearly choked me—the severity of an impossible dilemma: either learn to feel devotion from the heart or experience endless torment. There is no middle ground.


I was horrified. Paralyzed.


I felt something similar watching Thanos.


My soul began to cry out, “Who? Who has the right to eliminate so much of the population, simply because he sees how broken it is?”


Then, in the dark of that theater, my second sight flashed with a Citizen Kane newsreel. I saw human masses drowned by a global flood. I saw entire cities obliterated by fiery hail. I saw Lot’s wife turning to a pillar of salt.


Before me roared Thanos with a cruel hand wrapped around the neck of Nebula, that quivering daughter who is never good enough. He demands utter allegiance or else...or else...


Pulling the blanket I always carry into the theater up around my neck, overcome by the cold fear of God, I shivered.


I say “cold fear” because this sensation is very different from what I call the “hot fear” of God. The cold fear of God is the stuff of my nightmares—not the stuff of my worship.


The cold fear of God whispers that he is demanding, detached, and heartless.


The cold fear of God whispers that he is egotistical, demanding allegiance at the cost of the eternal suffering of his lessers.


The cold fear of God whispers that he has a favorite daughter, and I will never be she—no matter what I sacrifice.


The cold fear of God whispers that his goodness isn’t really good—that he is an alien force who sits with mad patience on a distant rock, churning over a skewed ethic, and counting down the seconds until he can snap us all to dust.


I don’t know if there will be a literal Rapture. Most of my friends think this concept was invented by John Darby in the 1800’s. I don’t really agree with them because I’ve read stuff that makes me think otherwise, but I’m also not fully on board with the pretribbers. In this age where everybody is sure about everything, I don’t know this. I’ll have to study more to figure out where I stand.


But after watching Infinity War, I realized that if such a thing ever should happen, it will be interpreted by those who remain as the work of a Thanos-type power. It will make resistance seem just. It will rally the troops, spiritual and earthly, and as they attempt to defy the “One Who Removed,” they will feel noble and right.


My family kept asking me why I was so quiet on the ride home. This is why.


I didn’t want to talk about it yet.


I needed time for the hot fear of God to replace the cold.


Sitting in that theater, I felt the recurrence of the Edenic slither, I heard the echo of, “Eve, hath God really said,” and the, “Don’t you want to be like God?”


“After all, Eve, you could do this so much better.”


So I needed time to back away from the CGI—the portals—the shining powers—the glorious masses of Wakanda—time to shake off the roar of a thousand secondary virtues that work within a 3-hour redemption plot and spend time with Virtue Proper. 


I needed to find the metanarrative within which all lesser narratives live, straining and reaching for what will only be revealed in full in the final “Ah-ha!”


I needed to bathe my own battle wounds—wounds of suspicion and accusation of the divine—in the blood of the God who not only has a moral right to remove life but who  spread a glove full of Infinity stones wide and allowed humanity drive a hard stake right through it.


I needed to remember that he will not break a bruised reed. I needed to remember how he knelt to wash the feet of fishermen. I needed to remember how prostitutes, and children, and thieves were drawn to his gentleness. I needed to remember that the groves were his first temples. I needed to remember that his mercies are new every morning.


I needed the hot and holy fear that warms me like a fire—the fear that is the true beginning of wisdom—the fear that roots itself in ethos not just logos—the fear that is more awe than terror—the fear that entails a clear and honest vision of my own limitations more than paranoia over a cage full of rats.


I needed the fear that says, “Good emanates from You, Oh Lord. It is not the sum total of all human virtues.”


I needed a paradox that can never be caught in a straw man. I needed the complexity of a living Person.  I needed the magnitude of Job 38:


“Brace yourself like a man;

    I will question you,

    and you shall answer me.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?

    Tell me, if you understand.

Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!

    Who stretched a measuring line across it?

On what were its footings set,

    or who laid its cornerstone—

while the morning stars sang together

    and all the angels shouted for joy?”


I needed to remember the trilliums that bloom in the mountains.


I needed to remember the deep-forest birth of a doe who will never be seen by the eyes of a human.


I needed to remember the Story before all stories.


I needed to see a glimpse of a God whose ways are incomprehensible at times, who does not fit neatly into a Jungian archetype, nor into one of Vladimir Propp’s file folders, nor into one of Joseph Campbell’s reductions—but a God who cannot be deconstructed on a dissection table by Turgenev’s Bazarov, then boxed in to some mad “Other.”


No genus. No species. He is what he is. The Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end.


Behold the holy severity and the paternal tenderness of a Living God.


I do not understand all of the hard things done by my Lord, but I do understand this. For of all the things he could have done with the darkness of the heart of humanity, he chose to be born among simple people and beasts of burden. He chose to be despised, to allow himself to be beaten, to allow himself to be stretched out and nailed to a cross so that people like you and me might have life.


Then he said, “Take this gift I give you. Take it quickly to all the earth, and offer it to everybody you see. Throw it like silver dollars from a parade float. Distribute it like antivenin. Go. Go. Go. Give it away, and give it away again, and give yourselves as I give to you, so that as humanity self-destructs, it might instead have life and have it abundantly.”


This was the cosmic snap. The snap of a God allowing himself to be stuffed into a tomb that became a portal for everyone you know.


Then I saw the whole thing more clearly.


God is not Thanos.


Thanos is the work of governments deciding which lives are not worth living. Thanos is the work of governments deciding which lives are not worth protecting.


Thanos is the work of governments crawling in bed with men who prostitute imitations of religion to maneuver the masses. Thanos is every alternative human morality that says, “We will be like God without God.”


At this, I feel my spirit kneel in wonder, as the illusion slowly turns inside out. Sweet, hot fear chases away the cold, burning away my suspicion and resistance.


This is not a forced love. This is a human looking into the white hot center of the universe and seeing that it shines, and simply calling light light.


All things hold together in him. All things. When the serpentine cold fear returns—when I listen to, “He doesn’t want you to know good from evil, see?”—when I place him in the dock as a suspect—I forget the evidence. My name is carved into his hands. When he had the chance to take it all, he gave to us instead.

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​Seventh Grade Grammar and a Gillette Ad about “Toxic Masculinity”

Twitter is full of fury today, claiming Gillette’s ad about “toxic masculinity” is an attack against men in general. However, applying basic, seventh grade grammar shows why this accusation is illogical.


In Gillette’s ad, “toxic” is an adjective modifying the noun “masculinity.” By definition, adjectives distinguish a noun’s type.


By using an adjective+noun construction, Gillette was specifying which sort of masculinity is harmful.


If you will look at the photo included with this post, you will see how switching an adjective changes the noun. Gillette’s ad compares toxic masculinity with healthy masculinity. It calls America to the latter.


Gillette is not demeaning masculinity in general. It’s not accusing all men of being monsters.


It is asking our nation to grow a healthy masculinity—one that protects others with strength instead of harming or using them.


Hopefully this week’s brouhaha is a simply result of a gross misunderstanding, another knee-jerk in a trigger-happy world primed to rage. From what I’ve read on social media, it seems like a lot of folks misread the title, made assumptions, and roared before thinking. While America is top-down full of sloppy, reactive Tweeters, I can’t quite believe we want our men to be violent, disrespectful abusers. Surely, we’re better than that.

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