20 Proverbial Gems Guiding My Twenties ((That Look a lot like Freedom and Open Spaces))

20. On learning to do crazy things with life:
       Love Life. Be Brave. Play Hard. (Found this etched on a necklace in Kohl’s once)

19. On learning to give myself permission to experience freedom:
                    There is life here in the wide open spaces.
          When you stop waiting for permission from anyone but God,
       You’d be surprised how many of us there are  here, waiting for you.”
     -Sarah Bessey, In Which There Are More of Us Than You Might Think

18. On questioning what I’ve been taught:
“Life in the tank made me think of how we are raised at home and in school. It made me think of being told that certain jobs are not acceptable and that certain jobs are out of reach, of being schooled to live a certain way, of being trained to think that only practical things are possible, of being warned over and over that life outside the tank of our values is risky and dangerous…
It makes me wonder now, in middle age, if being spontaneous and kind and curious are all parts of our natural ability to swim.
Each time I hesitate to do the unplanned or unexpected, or hesitate to reach and help another, or hesitate to inquire into something I know nothing about; each time I ignore the impulse to run in the rain or call you up just to say I love you—I wonder, am I turning on myself, swimming safely in the middle of the tub? -Mark Nepo, Life in the Tank
(I was at a yoga class in January and our yoga instructor read this to us at the end of class while in corpse pose. I started crying warm tears, right there, on my yoga mat in the middle of a gym in Baltimore City and looked up at the ceiling. I realized that I was currently living my life in a fish tank. I was rarely present each day, but in that moment, I was. And the present hurt and required some healing and changes to make. I was the only one keeping myself there, stuck. I had long dreamed of a life “outside the tank” but what I really wanted, I was too scared to seek, and knew that others wouldn’t approve of me and would disagree with my choices. That scared me. But tasting those tears, I knew, from a stillness deep inside that I was going to commit to doing those very things because indecision, people pleasing, and fear have robbed my life for far too long. I made a commitment to reclaim life-not existence or going through the motions- and get brave, one shaky new beginning at a time.)

17. On learning how to use my voice instead of quake in fear:
Stop holding your breath, hiding your gifts, ducking your head,
       dulling your roar, distracting your soul, stilling your hands, quieting your voice,
dulling your mind, satiating your hunger with the lesser things of this world.
       Stand up, shake the dust from your feet if you need to,
and look outside, it’s beautiful, isn’t it?
        There are a lot of us here, waiting for you, in the open air.”
        -Sarah Bessey, In Which You Are Loved and You Are Free

16. On trying something different:
“Someday, sometime, you will be sitting somewhere. A berm overlooking a pond in Vermont. The lip of the Grand Canyon at sunset. A seat on the subway. And something bad will have happened: You will have lost someone you loved, or failed at something at which you badly wanted to succeed. And sitting there, you will fall into the center of yourself. You will look for some core to sustain you. And if you have been perfect all your life and have managed to meet all the expectations of your family, your friends, your community, your society, chances are excellent that there will be a black hole where that core ought to be. I don’t want anyone I know to take that terrible chance. And the only way to avoid it is to listen to that small voice inside you
that tells you to make mischief, to have fun, to be contrarian,
to go another way…”
 -Anna Quindlen

15.  On Christian Unity:
“We finally meet one another not in our agreements or disagreements,
but at the foot of the cross,
where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ.” -Bishop Mark Hanson

14. On how to live with my heart on my sleeve in reckless abandon:
To love at all is to be vulnerable.
Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken.
 If you want to make sure of keeping it intact,
you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.
Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements;
lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.
But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken;
it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” -C.S. Lewis

13. On learning to love:
“I will love you like God, because of God, mighted by the power of God.
I will stop expecting your love, demanding you love, trading for your love, gaming for your love. I will simply love.

I am giving myself to you, and tomorrow I will do it again. I suppose the clock itself will wear thin its time before I am ended at this altar of dying and dying again.
God risked Himself on me. I will risk myself on you.
And together, we will learn to love, and perhaps then, and only then, understand this gravity that drew Him, unto us.”
-Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

12. On travel and exploration:
“And so my prayer is that your story will have involved some leaving and some coming home, some summer and some winter, some roses blooming out like children in a play. My hope is your story will be about changing, about getting something beautiful born inside of you about learning to love a woman or a man, about learning to love a child, about moving yourself around water, around mountains, around friends, about learning to love others more than we love ourselves, about learning oneness as a way of understanding God. We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it?
It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out.
I want to repeat one word for you:
Leave.
Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be.
And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back.
It is you who will have changed.
” -Donald Miller, “Through Painted Deserts”

11. On remembering that my faith journey is actually supposed to enjoyable:
“I was not experiencing the joy or contentment Scripture promises us in Christ.
I was unhappy, frustrated, overworked, and harried.
God had brought me into the Christian life with the offer,
My yoke is easy and my burden is light‘ (Matt. 11:30),
an invitation to a free and abundant life.
 -Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

10. On accepting change:
“Change is not a function of life’s cruelty, but instead, a function of God’s graciousness.
If you dig in and fight the changes, they will smash you to bits. They’ll hold you under, drag you across the rough sand, scare, and confuse you. But if you can find it within yourself, just for a moment, in the wildest of seasons, to trust in the goodness of God, who made it all, who holds it altogether, you will find yourself drawn along to an entirely new place and there is truly nothing sweeter. Unclean your fists. Unlock your knees and also the door to your heart. Take a deep breath and begin to let God do his work in you.” -Shauna Niequest, Learning How to Swim

9. On letting go of people pleasing:
“A good woman knows she cannot be all things to all people, and she may,
in fact, displease those who think she should just be nice.

She is not strident or petty or demanding,
but she does live according to conviction.
She knows the Jesus she follows was a revolutionary
who never tried to keep everyone happy,”
-Lynne Hybels, “Nice Girls Don’t Change the World”

8. On freedom from narrow Biblical teachings:
“They believe that they believe the right things and so they’re ‘saved,’ but it hasn’t delivered the full life that it was supposed to, and so they’re bitter. Deep down, they believe God has let them down. Which is often something they can’t share with those around them, because they are the leaders who are supposed to have it all together. And so they quietly suffer, thinking this is the good news. It is the gospel of the goats, and it is lethal.
God is not a slave driver. The good news is better than that.”
-Rob Bell, Love Wins

7. On letting go and holding on:
“True wisdom is knowing when to hold on and when to let go.” (I’m sure someone more well-known has said this, but it’s something that keeps mulling over in my mind. Life is a series of holding on and letting go. And sometimes we hold on for longer than is safe, than is wise. And sometimes we let go too soon, when all we really needed to do was to hang on a little tighter and fight a little harder.)

6. On learning that love and freedom cannot exist without each other:
Love gives freedom. (A theme of “Love Wins”: That’s how love works. It can’t be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins.)

5.On creating a more equitable and just Christianity for both genders:
“It’s time for Christians to do what they say they believe when it comes to giving voice to those who have been silenced, and to empower the marginalized, even if that subjugated group makes up more than half of the world’s population. ” -Christian Piatt, On Rachel Held Evans and Why ‘Vagina Gate’ Matters

4. On taking risks and getting out of your comfort zone:
“Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt... The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy.
But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning
and its incredible beauty.” ― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

3. On making new friends (particularly ones who encourage freedom):
        “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you.
                 You have to go to them sometimes.” -Winnie the Pooh

2. On being able to stop holding my breath in conversations about the Bible:
        “The Bible is meant to be a conversation starter, not a conversation ender,”
                              -Rachel Held Evans, “Asking Better Questions”

1. On recognizing that this is my year to experience full freedom and doing so
may cause others to disapprove of me
:
      Piss a few people off and sing freedom to the rest.” –Sarah Bessey, “Fearless”

Turning Chain Linked Fences into Open Fields

“loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
   set the oppressed free and break every yoke” ::isaiah 58::

  

“Proclaiming freedom to captives” and “where the spirit of God is, there is freedom” are beautiful gems strung together like pearls throughout the Bible. Here’s 68 more of those. I’m sure there’s more.

But what do you do when this very same belief, Church, Christian faith, doctrine, enslaves you?

What do you do when you’re told “you’re wrong?” When you cringe at the idea of voicing up a question, sharing your experience, or your opinion for fear of retaliation? What do you do when you aren’t accepted by some? What do you do when everything in your heart tells you one thing but your head is full of voices that drown you in disapproval?

What do you do then, when you discover yourself straight in the arms of God, away from those restraints and fears and arguing, as s/he places you in his loving arms beside still waters? What do you do after a good heart to heart talking-on-down from your maker proceed by an introduction to children of the same God, playing in a big open field, beckoning, inviting, waving you on in, urging, “come on in, there’s room for you!?”  When someone invites you to cartwheels, to running barefoot through this wide open field, heel against moist Earth and cushy, verdant grass? When someone sits beside you, blowing on wishies, talking about the Ancient of Days, and love and grace as they share their kite with you, untie the noose around your neck, and replace that choker of dogma with wings to fly? I know, they feel a little funny at first, right? But go on. Those wings are yours. And you can choose which direction you fly. Trust me, babe, these wings are made for you, by your Creator. He longs for you to give yourself permission to let your feet off the ground and take flight.

Suddenly each of you will have flown to a place. A place with this big, big table, with some grape juice and wine, some bread and some wafers, and you realize that everyone you’ve ever known and everyone you’ll ever know is gathered here, around this same table, and none of us are bickering or arguing or correcting or any of those other forms of speaking you can do with your mouths… just the kind of speaking that comes from our hearts, as we hold one another’s hands in reverence of the great big God who brought us all together. What do you do then, gathered around this love feast of saints and sinners, the “wrongs” next to the “rights,” brushing hands and elbows until surrender takes over and those hands are squeezing each other’s? Oh the downtrodden and weary suddenly finding their soul lifted as an inexplicable joviality takes over, cobwebs of depression and never-being-good-enough flinging and zinging up into the atmosphere, slowly dissipating into the cosmos, exploding into stars, bringing light to darkness, and beauty, too.

I don’t know what you do.

But worship the Holy.

And forget the rest.

And decide that this little bird’s gonna leave the cage, open up, and sing, along with all the other birds on trees, calling out to one another from Evergreen to Evergreen, and telephone wire, and, if you’re not ready to fly just yet, we’d still love to hear you, even from your nest.

We’ll celebrate all that’s bright and beautiful and good.

And try to live everyday in that field and around that table.

And create fields where it seems like there is only cracked pavement baking in the mid-afternoon sun, litter bunched around the chained fence.

And we’ll stock our fridges with bread and wine, ready to whip them out whenever we’re stuck in a moment that’s far strayed away from that meadow, those still waters, these gripped hands that are desperately ready to be open palms, clasping your hand, as you hold someone else’s, like dominoes mellifluously falling into sea billows of grace.

I’m ready for this.

I’ll head out to the grocery store now and make my way to those fields.
And though late autumn has settled in, I’ll bring nothing but a lightweight jacket, knowing my heart will grow warm from all of the love and the hugs and hands holding other hands.

“Women Are Fine China” and Other Misconceptions of “Christian Gender Roles”

I’ve never understood the Evangelical preoccupation with “gender roles,” a phrase that Jesus never even mentions. The word “role” is defined as: 1) A part or character played by an actor or actress. 2) A proper or customary function. 3) The rights, obligations, and expected behavior patterns associated with a particular social status. It’s a word I don’t want to associate with my faith for several reasons. For one, I am cautious of following any type of socialized expectation without critical examination simply because of someone else’s implied standards of what they think is “normal,” “proper,” or “right” rather than fostering freedom for individuals to be their true created selves. The Jesus I worship did not adhere to societal expectations, but carved an identity that touched those who weren’t supposed to be touched, spoke to those who were not to be spoken to, and ate with those whom were not supposed to be given his company. And thank God he didn’t bend to what his society deemed appropriate, because otherwise there are women who would have never been touched or taught, people who would still be sick and unhealed, and there would not have been communication between “high” and “low” classes or cross-cultures (Samaritans and Judeans).
But perhaps my biggest problem with “roles” is that all of this leads to a show. I’m not trying out for a play; I’m showing up for my life. Therefore I don’t have a “prescribed role” to follow, line by line, scene by scene, for the applause of an audience of conservative Evangelical men. So putting on a “role” of who I “should” be instead of who I truly feel I am is disingenuous. Instead of carving out a subversive identity like Christ did, I fear that some circles of Evangelical culture contribute to this pretentious, shallow, unfulfilling “show” by its restrictive teachings on gender. Here in lies some of my experiences.

It was 2005 and I was a bright-eyed, eyes wide open, Division 1 collegiate swimmer in my freshmen year of college. I was feeling alive physically, mentally and spiritually in ways never before. That is, until I decided to read the entire Bible and gasped over passages in which Paul starts talking about women needing to be quiet in church and submissive to men. Trying to slough it off, I picked up some books on my college ministry’s recommended reading list. I picked up “Captivating” by Stasi Eldridge and was told that “every girl longs to be rescued and to be a princess.” Sorry, I was taught that the only person who could “rescue me” was Jesus and I’ll stick to that.

Enter sophomore year. This marked the beginning of wrestling with “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.” It was the year in which I cringed when I heard a guy from this same college ministry tell me that a female pastor was out of God’s will and her career choice was a sin.

It was the year in which one of the men in this particular ministry called me “to talk to me about something.” I made my way down to the college lounge, hair wet from swim practice, only to be told that when I wore a tank top (during that hot, 95 degree move-in day in August 2006), I “caused him to stumble.” He asked me repeatedly if I would please not wear tank tops anymore. I told him, “sorry, but I work out and when I sweat, I’d rather not have sweat stains.” What I really wanted to say was to please stop telling me it’s my fault that you’re stumbling. If you keep tripping, go grab some crutches, “man up,” and deal with your own sexuality instead of blaming me for the “feelings” you have (or a boner).

It was the year in which I was told from a male group bible study leader one cold, January evening that women were fine china and men were sturdy pots and that 1 Peter 3 meant that I had to be content with being fine china and embody a calm, gentle spirit. And in that moment of sitting in that guy’s apartment living room, with a fine china glass glaring me in the face, being told that’s what my gender is: essentially, fragile, I felt an aloneness and righteous anger that I will never forget. You see, my Bible study leader didn’t see that glass stare him in the face after working out in a weight room and swimming pool for five hours that day. He didn’t wake up at 6 a.m. to work out for two hours, only to return at 2:30 for another three. Or bench 90% of his body weight that day. Instead, this individual was inside all day preparing to tell me that the Bible says I’m fine china. When this Bible study night of oppression was over, I walked out of this guy’s apartment, tears warming my eyes as I trudged back to my apartment, imbued to only work twice as hard the next day, with each kick of my leg in the pool wanting to shout, “I AM NOT FINE CHINA!!!” For crying out loud, I am a Child of God. I happened to have developed two x chromosomes sometime in utero, before I had fingers and toes, thus making me a woman. My call is to love God and love others, no different from you. And so with a galvanizing spirit from that day forward, I vowed to pray. To serve. To love. To be strong. To benchpress. To dream. I will s o a r. I will continue on with this journey, ok with being contrary, if that’s what it takes.

And that’s exactly that it takes. Fast forward another year to summer 2007, the day before a dear friend’s wedding. The afternoon before the ceremony, a group of guys and girls affiliated with the wedding party went down to a lake for a picnic. Before we left the house, we had a pow-wow in which the guys requested that we wear a one piece bathing suit, no two pieces please. But it didn’t end at that. They then went on about “causing them to stumble” and requested that we not even wear bathing suits at all; we should wear a shirt and shorts to swim in the lake that day. I kept my mouth shut. Being a swimmer, I don’t have this feeling towards swimwear. A short car ride later, we arrive at the lake, dressed in our “bathing suits,” while the boys took off their shirts and splashed through the water in their swim trunks to their hearts content. Toward the end of the afternoon, we took pictures of us making pyramids. The guys had their shirts off, hairy (and not so hairy) chests completely exposed. The girls had their shirts on. And shorts. No swim wear. Just clothes that were supposed to count as such.

Upon graduating college and eventually moving back to Baltimore, I tried my best to find a church community with whom to devote quality time in involvement, but knew it was my queue to leave when there was an entire sermon on “the three P’s” in which men were instructed to be pastors, providers, and protectors to their wives. I met sincere, genuine people at this church, whom I respect and am grateful to have had in my life, but that was a clear signal that this was not the church for me to heal from restrictive gender roles.

And so I’m still trying to find my way; trying my best to keep a straight face through friends’ weddings in which “submission,” and “obey” have been used, but reached a bubbling point in 2011. I sat in the back row of a quaint church, tears streaming down my face, not because I was moved by the wedding, but because I was hurt. The pastor spoke about “knowing your roles.” I watched the groom, who I used to have a crush on (now grateful for God’s ways being higher than my ways when it comes to relationships!) listen to how he was instructed to be the leader of his wife, and I watched as the smiley wife’s eyes glittered as she was instructed to respect her husband’s leadership and to honor and encourage him. I walked out of the wedding ceremony swiftly, in hopes no one would see me, lest I attract attention to my tears rather than the wedding celebration. My boyfriend walked back with me to my car, putting his arm around my shoulder, to which I responded half angrily, half fearfully, “you don’t believe that stuff, do you?” “That’s not what you’re looking for, is it?” “Noo, babe, noo.” I was reassured. It made me question my faith all over again, not God and Jesus, but Church and Christianity and especially Evangelicalism. I couldn’t understand how this teaching at all correlated with the way Jesus lived, and couldn’t comprehend why she was being told that her new life mission was to honor her husband because that’s her “Biblical calling.”

And another “Biblical calling,” according to Evangelist John Piper, is to recognize that “God gave God gave Christianity a masculine feel,” as he proclaimed at the 2012 Desiring God: God, Manhood & Ministry – Building Men for the Body of Christ Conference.

So for many years I was slowly brewing inside with all of this, but after graduating college, I was no longer sad, in fact I was angry, and I’m not sure which I would rather feel, but perhaps the greatest feeling of all that I am JUST starting at this moment of my life to taste is FREEDOM.

Thankfully, I’ve gotten connected to organizations such as Christians for Biblical Equality and subscribed to the blogs of Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans and other women and organizations who are stepping out in faith to promote gender equality and have taken the time to dismantle the contextual aspects of scripture that entangle dissension and debate all too frequently.

Thankfully, I’m no longer cringing in my seat as a college student, behooved with anger but too afraid to speak up upon being repeatedly instructed that women needed to be willing to be led and should say yes to every guy who asks them out because they are demonstrating Godly courage (Where again, does Jesus say this in the Bible?).

No.

I’m not in my seat anymore.

I’m not angry at the megaphone.

I’m somewhere in between.

And I think it’s called freedom.

And though I still have much to learn, much to mature upon, much to learn about Christian unity in relation to voicing freedom from gender roles, I am learning how to let go of the lap bar and wave my hands in the air on this rollercoaster, no longer entertaining gender role dress rehearsals. And. I. Love. It.

Rachel Held Evans depicts the pitfalls of literal Biblical interpretation— http://www.rachelheldevans.com

For Those Who’ve Ever Cringed Through a Wedding Ceremony

This is for everyone who’s ever sat through a wedding service, cringing in their seat over the hurtful, debilitating, limiting words they’ve heard from the preacher, whether about gender limitations, or salvation of some and damnation of others, or both.

This is for everyone who’s ever sat through a church service, for that matter, and shaken in their in their pew, anger slowly boiling up in them, unsure whether they will cry or give voice to their righteous anger.

For anyone who’s ever been to a convention, women’s conference, meeting, or bible study, for that matter, and been told over and over again that Jesus died for you, but were never taught what he lived for. Who’ve been taught that God finds us so utterly, distastefully sinful and so despicable that we can’t even catch a glance at Him without the blood sacrifice of another human being. Because God’s punishment is death when you mess up, make a mistake, or sin. A loving Earthly Father would be jailed for punishing a child in such a manner. I find all of this rhetoric to be a bit of a hyperbole, because the God I know told me I’m made in His image, and like my Earthly Dad, I don’t need to be beaten, spanked, or die when I mess up. Knowing I’ve disappointed him is the ultimate punishment for me in itself because I hate it when I disappoint someone I love so much.

This is for days like today, in which I’m outside on a beautiful autumn day, sitting in a cushioned seat at a wedding, while a white socially conservative Evangelical man purports that this man up front, about to become a husband, is this woman’s leader. And she, the wife, is to submit to his leadership while he “lovingly leads her” and “leads his family as head of the home.”

For days in which the preacher man then describes God’s design for marriage with Paul’s words in Ephesians 5 to designate the husband as a head of a wife and his family instead of Jesus’ words to “love God, love one another, and love others.” I don’t understand why Evangelical preachers focus on gender so much during a ceremony, when Jesus never once used the terms “gender roles” or “submission to male leadership.” I don’t understand why the preacher asks an adult female, who has already consented to marriage, “Who gives this woman to be the bride?” in which the father, not the mother, then states “her mother and I do.” The Jesus I know offers choices and reminds me to grow up in maturity. I don’t need permission from anyone. Even if a woman actually needed permission, why wouldn’t the husband need permission too? Never mind. Someone’s probably going to retort a verse about leaving and cleaving instead of actually affirming equal decision making capabilities among spouses.

A service in which the preacher mentions not once, not twice, but three times in the same half hour service that marriage is between one man and one woman. We heard you the first time, actually, sir. And it doesn’t make you “right” simply because you repeated this three times with a stolid, authoritative glare and had “reverend” in front of your printed name in the wedding ceremony bulletin.

In which the preacher declares that “sin isn’t discussed often enough in the world” and I internally have to remind himself that this is his opinion, which he is entitled to, but it’s just that- an opinion; not etched in stone cement fact.

In which you must shake the hand of this preacher man who just finished stunting your entire gender as you exit the recessional, only to be seated across from this same preacher at the reception table afterwards.

And this, then, is when things start to turn around. Loud sound pours through the speakers and the first song ushering the crowd onto the dance floor is Aretha Franklin’s “RESPECT.” You rise to your feet and start singing it at the top of your lungs, in wild, reckless abandon, glancing over to eye this preacher man in the face, as if to remind him to respect the strength, knowledge, power, and VOICE that women have, alongside of men, and that this preacher man’s words will not resound as the only possible way for a woman to be a Christian woman, for we are in an era of freedom and grace and this girl, alongside so many other women and girls, has Kingdom life ready to bust out of her veins to quickly remind other females that you don’t have to adhere to any “role” some white man tells you to… for you have brains in your head, passions in your heart, and your relationship with God to reveal who you are and who you can become.

This is for Jesus’s words in which he asks us to, “be one, like I am one with God, to complete unity.” And to “love your enemies.” “Do good to those who disagree with you.” Because we’re all in this together, even if we come to different understandings.

This is for gathering around the table, the same table, with that preacher man and the rest of the body of believers, and sharing in the same cup, partaking in the same bread, whispering a  prayer to the same God, realizing that our God is bigger than the divisions we’ve created.

This is for unity without passive agreement to everything “Christian” that you hear.

This is for asking questions. Lots of them. Any of them you’d like.

This is for speaking up, recognizing that your voice is equal to that preacher man’s, regardless of title, gender, professional studies, or social beliefs.

You see.

There’s a place, there on that same dance floor that Aretha was singing out from earlier, that’s big and open and free.

A place you can go to physically, or carry within your heart on days in which you feel stuck hearing another message that doesn’t ring true of your study of scripture, who God says s/he is, that is subtly being used to denote a hierarchy of gender.

We’re in that place with you.

It’s this wide open field.

Some of us do cartwheels here.

Others, handstands.

And some of us just like to sit on our backs, gazing up at the sky, deciphering the shapes of puffy, white clouds against a contrast of ocean blue, while warm zephyrs tickle your face and the tip of your nose.

We love each other here.

We offer freedom here.

There’s more of us out here than you think.

Look around.

We exist.

We sit in church pews next to you, putting our arms around you when  they tell you that the Muslim woman on the tv screen suffering in Saudi Arabia from gender based violence, rape, female genital mutilation or human trafficking, is, undoubtedly going to Hell, banished from God forever. We know that all you want to do is hug this woman and sit down with her, like Jesus would have, and listen to her story, her pain, her dreams, her brokenness and affirm her strength and dignity and that God knows her heart, her beautiful, pained, but still resilient heart that’s being redeemed by the Healer of the World. This is what happens when we embrace. When we engage in loving kindness and this is how we make Jesus visible. Not through forecasting doom and hell and who’s “in,” and who’s “out,” as if you are the gatekeeper.

We sit beside you in wedding services that often feel unbearable and oppressive.

We dwell inside of you, the voice that longs to be heard, to be voiced, to be understood.

I promise you, there’s more voices than you think.

You just have to be courageous and dare to believe that the God you worship is big enough to hold you, those you disagree with, room for all of us… to believe that God is big enough for our questions, our doubts, and differing interpretations and studies of scripture.

We have a dance floor too out here in this open space.

And our song is freedom.

We’d love for you to sing along.

We will comfort you when you are cringing in your seat, in disbelief of what you are hearing.

We will listen to your questions and share some of our own.

We will help you find new places and ways to worship, places in which you are free to express your thoughts, feelings, opinions, ideas, longings, and aren’t restricted by an authoritarian, intransigent pastor.

We will cheer you on when you speak up for the first time.

We will support you when it feels like no one else is.

You don’t have to be afraid here.

You don’t have to submit to one of your fellow, Earthly, breathing, pulsating human beings here.

You don’t have to vote any particular way.

You are free to love whomever you love, irrespective of gender.

We are people of grace. We are people of second chances. And third. And ninety nineth. We’ll come back to find you if you lose yourself along the way.

We are people who are willing to stand, or at least try to stand, in the face of those who try to tie boxes around you, dismantle your voice, stereotype you, or shame you.

We are outsiders, on the fringe, and our God has brought us into inclusion.

Instead of shrinking and succumbing to words of preachers who try to tame your gender, passions, feelings, and questions, we ask that you speak out.

You are needed.

You are wanted.

You are welcomed.

We want your presence. The world will be stronger because of it.

We want your voice. The world will be more courageous because of it.

We want your song. Whether it composes a beautiful cacophony choir of Aretha Franklin’s R-e-s-p-e-c-t or the song we have yet to hear because you only sing it alone in your shower, where no one can judge you or tell you you’re not good enough. We’re here to tell you it is good enough. In fact, we’d like an encore.

Enough of walking on eggshells.

Enough trying to please everybody.

Enough division.

Enough of the disrespect and incivility.

Come, let’s lock arms together, you, and me, the preachers who are willing, all of us, each of us, each of us who recognizes the Image of God in ALL of us, not just some.

Let’s run.

Let’s laugh.

And instead of debating and arguing and trying to convince your “rightness,” and their “wrongness,” hop on the dance floor. Put on your boogie shoes. Play your funky music, [white/black/Asian/Indian/whatever culture you identify with] –[girl/boy/man/woman/transgender/whoever you are, wherever you come from.]!

Because you can’t argue and dance at the same time.

And remember, the place we’re headed- we’ve already been told there will be dancing and merriment.

Some come on.

Dance. Dance with somebody who loves you.

Turns out there’s a lot of us.

When Words are Unnecessary

This gallery contains 1 photo.

I am tired of explaining away my faith. I am tired of defending, “proving,” withholding my true feelings for fear of religious retaliation. I’m tired of watching some people argue their faith, trying to “win people to Christ” with their … Continue reading

6 for Six

We are just under a month away from election day and, despite all the progress in achieving marriage equality in Maryland, it could just as easily be taken away depending on how Marylanders respond to question 6. Here are six reasons why I will emphatically vote YES for question 6 to support marriage equality:

 6) Because I don’t believe that I have the right to deny the marriage of two consenting adults who love each other.

5) Because the quicker marriage equality is achieved, the quicker we can get back to using our time, capital, and media attention to address poverty, peace-building, human trafficking, and other social justice issues.

4) Because I want to add our country to one of the eleven that recognizes marriage equality. At the very at least, I want to remain one of the six states that currently recognizes same sex marriage.

3) Because the law gives freedom— freedom for people to marry those they love and for faith based institutions to choose which marriages they wish to recognize. (It saddens me to have to phrase this in such a way as to insinuate that some faith based institutions will disregard a couple’s marriage simply because they are of the same gender —-while eagerly welcoming in a divorced couple, another supposed “no-no” in the Church—-, but for those who are not ready to observe marriage equality, you will not be forced to change your faith based institutions’ stances or beliefs).

2) When I found out that interracial marriage used to be illegal, I was appalled and astonished. I also wonder where the Church was at this time. Was it supporting equality, love, and freedom? Or was it fostering hatred, judgment, separation, and inequality? I want my children and grandchildren to be so shocked that marriage equality used to not exist (i.e. they’re so accustomed to it that they don’t understand what the big deal was). I want to know that I, along with other people of faith, were on the sidelines voicing for equality, equity, and justice.

2012

1967

                                                                                                                                          Is it any different today?

1) Because my life has been personally touched by men and women who are gay or lesbian. Marriage equality has a face and a story. If you haven’t already, get to know someone whose sexual orientation is different from your own. Your life just might be changed. For more voices and stories, check out Believers for Marriage Equality: http://www.believersforme.com/

Are you registered to vote in Maryland?
Check here: http://elections.state.md.us/voter_registration/index.html

*Photo credits for this page: http://interacc.typepad.com/synthesis/2012/05/divided.html

My love/hate relationship with the Bible.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the Bible this year.
There.
I said it.

Oh, I know what I’m supposed to say about the Bible- it’s divinely inspired, living and breathing, sharper than any double –edged sword. I know what I’m supposed to do-  read it daily, memorize it, “eat it” (Jeremiah 15:16), “hide it in my heart” (Psalm 119:1).

But I’m trying to be real here.
And in my current season of life, that’s not quite where I am.

This year, these feelings have been precipitated by a writing piece I’ve been working on as well as the inspiration and wisdom I’ve read from several authors/bloggers I respect. Rachel Held Evans posts about Biblical Womanhood and points out that this can mean anything from making a woman marry her rapist, to calling your husband master, if you take the Bible at its literal word. She was making a point that we need to ask better questions about why we interpret things the way we do and to be wise with the way we throw around “Biblical” in front of words. Because we all “pick and choose” which scripture to follow. For example, I choose not to follow the scripture verse that says to kill a woman if she isn’t a virgin (Deuteronomy 22:21). All of this reading and processing got me thinking. I’ve been working on a writing piece in which I’m trying to find 101 verses that Evangelicals no longer follow and 101, in contrast, that if followed, would literally change the world. I’ve had lots of stops and starts along the way. I’ve been working on it since April. It’s now October.

Why do I keep stopping and starting?

I stop often because I lament and am frustrated about the way women were treated in the Old Testament and how certain verses in the Old Testament and New Testament are used to promote gender roles, in particular, that women should be submissive and men should be leaders. I mourn the wars, the violence, God smashing babies heads on rocks. I feel unsettled when I read narrow verses about eternity and can’t fathom God banishing my Jewish friends or my Muslim sisters in the Middle East who lived their lives in Earthly Hells of forced prostitution, genital mutilation, and honor killings. They dealt with this their whole Earthly life, and now, supposedly, they will have a relentless life in Hell in their life after death too?

Sometimes I feel a sense of shame for feeling the way I do. Especially because I “know” what I “should” be thinking, feeling, and saying about the Bible.

But simply put, I can’t fake it anymore.

It’s leaking out.
I bring my Bible to less and less places these days.
I open it less and less these days.

But I am learning more about God, the ways that He/She speaks, more about people and imago dei than ever before. I am learning that the story didn’t end with Revelation. I believe, along with the UCC and other churches, that God is, indeed, still speaking and that he isn’t limited to the sole medium of the Bible.

By looking for him in ways other than this book, I am washed over with refreshment by all of the ways I discover him all around me. In the beauty of the trees. In a song. In the resilience of women and girls who have been trafficked but refuse to see themselves or others as victims, rather as victors. By not reading this book as much as I “should,” I am more acute to these other ways he speaks (kind of like how dogs don’t have good vision, but make up for this with an excellent sense of smell). I guess what I’m saying is I see him everywhere. And it’s not in the more traditional places that I’ve been so affixed to.

He’s everywhere. All day. I see his love win out over evil time and time again. I know that’s supported by a verse in the Bible. Though I’m not reading it right now and quoting it, I am most certainly experiencing it and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God’s hand is in this, making beauty out of brokenness.

There’s some dark stuff in the Bible. Genocides, infanticides, killing animals (God’s creation) to assuage God into forgiveness of sin, commanding women to remove themselves from everyday society simply because they had their period and that this uncontrollable bodily act is somehow so revolting that women should be embarrassed to be seen when it, by no choice of their own, arrives biologically…

There’s beautiful stuff too. You know. Faith, hope, love. Forgiveness, grace, life over death. I can’t read 1 Corinithians 13 without feeling a deep connection to something holy and beautiful. I can’t read the Sermon on the Mount without feeling as though Jesus was truly remarkable, encouraging all of us to live a life very subversive to cultural, societal, even, at times, religious mores.

But for right now, I’m taking a little break from this book. You can tell me that I’m straying in my faith. You can tell me that I shouldn’t be doing this. You can tell me I’m wrong. You can tell me I’m missing out. You can call me a disrespectful sinner. You can tell me that God doesn’t like the way I’m talking about His word. Go ahead.

As for me, I’ll be sitting here, real, raw and exposed, being transformed into something, someone, I hope, that has experienced God on a visceral level, reminded that some of our “Heroes of Faith” mentioned in Hebrews 11 did not even own Bibles. And to let you in on a little secret, I do, in fact, still turn to it from time to time. Just not as often as I have in the past. And to let you in on another little secret, I really do love this book. Not in the pollyanna ways I once used to, but from a part of me that’s been willing to ask questions, talk to God openly and honestly about what’s going on here, and take a chance that even though I may not be reading it, I am, in fact, experiencing it. And sometimes in life we don’t need to read anymore; sometimes we need to get our hands dirty, our toes squiggling through wet grass, because life is meant to jump off the page, have actions to correlate with words, and to be LIVED. Because the story is still being written. Somewhere along the way, I feel as though I’m living the words I have read or heard quoted time and time again. And sometimes I wonder if I’m literally standing on a page in the Bible. But then I realize that I’m experiencing it, in real time, and somewhere in between this reading and experiencing, it all amalgamates, and I don’t know if I’m reading or living or both. All I know is it’s beautiful, it’s holy, it’s reckless, swelling with this life abandoned, messy with watercolor streaks painted far outside the lines. I’m not worried about my behavior (or misbehavior if that’s how you see it) in this season. I’m ok with experiencing God in ways predominately outside the Bible in this current season. Because He’s got me. He’s got you. Letting each one of us experience Him in the ways we connect with him the most. I’ll keep coming back to this book; you can count on that. You can travel the world over, but there is some place in the world that can resonate as home. I guess what I’m saying is I’ve left my “safe home” of Bible reading “quiet times” (Christianese for Bible devotionals) and I’m running around the field, to first base, and second base, and even third, and I will always end at home. I might strike out on my way. But I always start fresh at bat from “home.” I’ve found my home in Christ, and this home is lit with the light from the Bible. And it’s also lit with solar panels and candlelight; it’s energized by some stories of the poor, some preaching, some time spent in solitude out in Creation, sunlight on my face…

It’s beautiful.

So beautiful that the more I think about it, I wouldn’t describe my Bible relationship as “love/hate.”

I’d say it’s “love/freedom,” and it’s an insatiable love that cannot be contained to any page or binding.

If you see me somewhere along the way on my journey to “home,” I’d appreciate your encouragement, not your judgments. I hope we can ask each other hard questions. I hope we can recognize that there is so much going on here than we will ever realize and that’s why it’s called FAITH. I hope you accept me when I say that I see a lot of grey in the Bible, with a few “black and whites.” But maybe you won’t. And that’s ok. I’ll see you at home plate, where we will celebrate the big, big God we worship as this big, big team as brothers and sisters. There might even be ice cream.  

“Figuring Out God’s Will For Your Life,” Revisited.

A reoccurring trap I find myself getting stuck in during this life stage is continuing to act with the same anxiety-ridden prayers and ways of relating to the God I was presented with from some Evangelical circles. The prayers where He needs to tell me exactly what to do, please, because I have to make a decision and it HAS to be the ONE decision He wants for me and I need to make that decision soon, now, because I can’t get it wrong! Afterall, I most certainly can’t spend another day doing something that isn’t your will, Lord!…

I think we do a disservice to both ourselves and to God when we continue praying to THAT God… the God who has prescribed a specific set of instructions for your life- and if you don’t follow them, in order, then clearly you’re not following His will and aren’t living out of His/Her “specific” will for your life.

Is that what God wants for us?
I mean, where do we draw the line?

Do we ask what “God’s will is” for our breakfast choices? Lord, show me if I should eat cereal or eggs for breakfast this morning. Help me, Lord, I need to know!

Is it “God’s will” for you to stay or to go or to move or to switch jobs or to leave the country or…

…I can hear those questions now. They roll around in my brain often (the jobs part, especially, not so much the eggs. I’m more of an oatmeal-on-the-run kind of girl).

But I’m done. To those thoughts and harried, twisted, fretful prayers, I bid you farewell.

You say we need faith like a child?
Well, then start simplifying, Child of God.

God has created each of our lives to have meaning, purpose and significance and S/He gives us gifts to show the world more and more of who She is. I just wonder if God is not so concerned with us “getting His will perfectly right;” rather, that we are finding Him along the journey in which He is walking with you. Beside you. Next to you. Embracing you. Encouraging you, present with you in this season, every season, every decision. Perhaps He’s not disappointed when we go left or when we turn right, U-turn or keep the same path, walk or run, or at our weakest moments, crawl. Yes maybe it truly is about the journey, not the destination. The process of becoming, rather than doing the “specific will.” I’m beginning to think all that He just wants you to know is that in life, there will be some goings and some comings, some dark valleys and some unsullied joy, some mess and some yes, some no-s and some grow, and that somewhere along the way, this journey, no matter how traversed, circuitous, or wild goose chase it’s been so far, he will certainly “lead you beside still waters” and refresh your soul.

And so tonight, as I catch myself praying one of those fretful prayers for the umpteenth time, I will stop. Look up. And remember that the God who has gotten us this far, can surely lead us to the next step. I will stop focusing on the destination and find solace in knowing that we will get there, someday, wherever “there” is, anyway. But what’s most important is the journey He’s taking us through, as we seek His face in the glory of the mountains and trees, seek His love in desert, and seek His heart in the times of uncertainty.

Yes, we’ve got a good Maker. And while we seek Him and take a look at where we are and how we’re doing, S/He’ll be making you, be making me.

For more thoughts on “God’s will for your life,” check out this talk by Donald Miller: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggLQwxS-rcI

“If you have a donkey and it talks to you, God has a specific plan to your life. If you are a virgin and pregnant, God has a specific plan for your life… other than that, you kinda get to do what you want… You get to be really creative. The people who understand this CHANGE THE WORLD- the people who understand that me and God get to do something really cool out of the creativity of my imagination and the desire of my heart; they get their entire passion. But the people who say, “I’m so afraid that I’m not honoring God!”- they don’t do anything.”

I’m trading in my box. (A reflection on letters, hula hoops, and being the person God has created you to be.)

I received a letter in the mail today from a well-intentioned soul encouraging me to buckle down, get married and “procreate” (their words, not mine). I don’t think it’s prudent for me to share who the letter was from, but it was someone from whom I love receiving hand-written notes. I held the lined yellow paper closer to my face, but cautiously further from my heart, and continued to read. “Please stop and think outside the box.” “You should reproduce yourselves in children…” “You can help the world by producing several more children.” Warm tears made rivulets down my face. A deep cry ensued. Not a weepy cry, but a hemorrhaging cry from somewhere deep inside you that knows you will not be tamed, not succumb to the expectations of others, will grit your teeth and persevere to become the person God created you to be, no matter how hard the growing pains it will take to get there.

I continued to read words from pages to which I could find no visceral attachment. “You are in your best childbearing years. Please don’t waste them… You’ve always gone to our Father in Heaven for guidance, so open the door to your heart and let the light shine…”

I continued to cry. I mourned the loss of, apparently, young adulthood, because all of a sudden someone’s talking to me about creating life. A very adult thing to do.

I cried because I think God has called us to serve the least of these. And what I believe that looks like for me is not having a family right now. And if I do one day, I wish to adopt.

I cried because I heard from many influences how “good” it is for women to be Mom-my and wife-y. I haven’t heard as many say to go chase after the thing that gets your blood moving, that gets oxygen to your brain, that says to be contraire, to go another way, to try, to risk failure, to travel, to live with wreckless abandon the story you wish to co-author with God, not the life that someone else has scripted and wished-up for you. No. I’ve heard plenty of voices remind me to multiply and fill the Earth, to be pro-family, but not as many voices remind me that we are already family. One day last summer, I met a gentleman at a volunteer event whom I will never forget. In conversation, he mentioned his wife. I asked if they had kids (mostly because I had moved back to Baltimore and was looking for more friends). He responded, “No; we didn’t wish to have any kids. We wanted to have more time available to serve God in other capacities.” I was amazed. Why did his story seem so shocking? Have we such narrow-minded a view to think we can’t be a family without having children?

Pent up energy, passion, righteous anger, and tears continued outpouring out of my soul. But of all that I was crying about, I cried most of all because I was being encouraged to do something that God has not called me to do.

The biggest disservice we can do is to take someone away from God’s calling on their life simply because you think you know what their calling is or should be. God is wayyy more original and bigger than that.

God may very well call you to family. You may be impassioned to create and raise children in the home. You may be equipped to be a president, a CEO, a full time employee serving God with your forty (or fifty or sixty) hours a week. We, especially women, need to get past this and link up. We don’t have time to tear each other down with who is “doing it better,” “doing it right,” or “doing it wrong.” We only have time to encourage each other to be the best person we can be– the best teacher or doctor or pastor or construction worker and/or Mom we can be. We only have time to respect one another’s decisions and simply observe such choices as that person’s way of following through with what God has placed on their heart. Enough with the comparisons, the critiques, the should’s and the should nots.

You see, the problem with boxes is that they’re secluded. You pack things in boxes. You tape them shut. You store up old papers and things you don’t really need inside of them. They’re not permeable. What was that song we used to sing when we were kids? A circle is round and has no end? I say, let’s trade in our insipid boxes and jump in the circle of global sisterhood that affirms and encourages your other sister no matter how similar or different your lives look. Better yet, let’s not stop there. We live on a circle called Earth. All seven billion of us. It’s time we leave our boxes by the curb for recycling and become the men and women, sisters and brothers we were meant to be, doing our best everyday to create Heaven on Earth, no masks, no masking tape, no boxes, just all of us, anyone who wants it, inter-connected inside of one big, brilliant, beautiful, never-ending hula-hoop circle of love.

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You Don’t Have to Raise Your Hand Anymore.

Sometimes I still get caught waiting… waiting for permission.

I’m not sure where along the way I developed the notion that you had to ask for permission to voice your opinion, to share your hurts, to offer another viewpoint, to experience different churches, to try different ministries and ways of serving, to find God in ways other than the Bible.

Perhaps it’s nothing more than the “nice-girl-syndrome” that both the church and society often place upon females, being subtly taught to smile, always smile, be polite, share all of your toys, be nice…

But I don’t want to be a “nice girl” anymore.

No. I’m discovering that we were meant to be courageous, be brave, contrarian, strong, and bold… to be women of peace but not passivity, to be women and men of kindness, but not doormats. To be loving, but remembering that the command was to “love God as you love yourself.”

I truly believe that l, and many women and girls too, today, are acting like we are raising our hands, properly seated at our desks, feet crossed around the ankles, waiting to be called upon. Just yearning for one person to call on us, to let us speak, to let us try. I’m absolutely terrified and yet at the same time completely ecstatic to remind that you don’t have to raise your hand anymore. You don’t need permission, because dear Child, in Christ, you are already free. You already have permission. And not only do you have permission, but you actually have a responsibility. To speak out against injustice. To make the church more just and equitable, no matter the gender or sexual orientation. To try. To mess up. To get it wrong. To receive grace and open arms, ready to welcome you in as you spread your wings.
So use that voice. Lift up that head. Turn your whisper into ebullient communion. Yes, step out; You don’t become bold and strong and brave by sitting in your seat. No, that’s not for you.

It’s scary, I know, stepping out onto the edge. None of us can hit fast-forward and watch the scenes unfold in our lives to make sure that we’re not just telling ourselves nice things for a moment of comfort, condolences for lost time, but really… deep within my core… I really believe it. I believe we are rising up, each one of us, finding our voices, waving and embracing and opening doors with the hands we used to raise. We’re going to find freedom.  We really are. Yes you are going to pursue your impassions and when people disapprove, in due time, you’re going to feel a small self-assured smile come over you. It will be your clue, your token, your sign of knowing you’re doing the right thing. You’re living the way you were meant to live… something to the tune of what Sarah Bessey once wrote: “To piss a few people off and sing freedom to the rest.”

I’m so excited. My desk is gone and my hand is no longer raised. It’s time to head out to recess and sing, hop, skip, run, jump into reckless songs of freedom. Class dismissed.