there is no naughty list

Here is my standard disclaimer about all things parenting related: I merely share what works for me, resonates with me, and interests me. Talking about what works for me is by no means a judgment about what works for other people, unless what works for you is abuse. 

Trying to figure out how to celebrate Christmas with your own kids is fraught territory, especially in the age of Pinterest and Instagram. This is especially true for people of faith who are concerned about the commercialization of our celebration of the birth of Jesus. I find myself smack in the middle of tension between my desire for a meaningful time that reminds my family of who Jesus was and why he was born an also the traditional, but rather irreligious, magic of Santa and reindeer.

While we incorporate an observation of the liturgical season of Advent, a Jesse tree, and making sure to give back to others, I didn’t want to wholly ditch Santa and have my kiddos be the ones informing all their elementary school classmates that the man in the sleigh is a lie. I wanted to find a balance somewhere in between, one that involved celebrating Santa as an embodiment of God’s love and generosity to us, without actively lying to my kids or using Santa to manipulate their behavior.

I am also, admittedly, kind of freaked out by the Elf on a Shelf. I read enough crit theory in my English MA program to feel that the whole thing is rather Foucaultian, a panopticon for children. My general parenting approach is not to coerce good behavior out of my children through a surveillance state or through bribery or threats. I have largely been a student of the “peaceful parent” school, though I admit I have always yelled more than I want to. I think my kids behave best when they feel we are in a warm, loving, and cooperative partnership to have our best days together, and when missteps and misbehavior happen, it is a time for emotion coaching and learning. I just can’t find it in me to be all “SANTA IS WATCHING YOU” in order to get them to behave.

But kids absorb things in our culture, and this week, my kids have been asking me, “Mom, is there such thing as a naughty list?” As I pondered my answer, and clarified my “theology of Santa,” I decided this might be worth firing up ye olde blog and writing about.

My answer is this: there is no naughty list.

First of all: why does Santa give presents at Christmas? Why do any of us give presents at Christmas? Santa gives because Santa (a real man and saint!) loved Jesus very much, and wanted to share that love for others. Just like God freely gives not just the gift of Jesus to the world, but all good things to all people, Santa has a spirit of love and generosity and gives to share the love of God with the world. We, and Santa, give gifts at Christmas because we believe Jesus was a great gift to the world, and because we believe God is a generous giver of gifts.

And if Santa gives and loves like God gives and loves, how does God love? The God I know gives and loves unconditionally. There is nothing you can do to earn or un-earn the love and generosity of God. God lavishes love and gifts on us because of who God is, not who or how we are. Would it make sense for a Santa who gives in the spirit of God’s unconditional love to be doing it conditionally? If I believe in a God who does not keep a record of my wrongs but pours out forgiveness, then how could I teach my children about a Santa who keeps a naughty list?

I never want my kids to doubt for a minute that they are worthy of love and acceptance and belonging. People who believe they are loved and accepted act in loving ways toward others. People who think they are constantly working against a cosmic balance sheet of naughty or nice live in fear and strive to prove their worthiness.

Santa is pretend. A fun myth. Good fun. But the stories we tell and the myths we share shape the way we see the world, Christmas, and God. On Christmas morning Santa will fill my kids’ stockings (in our house, Santa only does the stockings) because he is sharing the love of God with them, a love that in turn should inspire us to love and give to others.

thoughts on “the nashville statement”


I’ve been a Christian my entire life. I was blessed to be raised to know that I am a beloved child of God by so many wonderful people in Methodist and Presbyterian churches. It wasn’t until I got to high school that someone asked me if I was “saved,” and I found out that to a lot of Christians, I’m apparently some kind of heathen. Uh, I never “met Jesus” because Jesus has always been there? I can’t meet Him any more than I can meet my own heartbeat. I got saved 2,000 years ago, I guess? I grew up in a tradition with women pastors, now a tradition which allows LGBTQI people to serve as pastors and be married in church. My church is officially a “More Light” Presbyterian church, committed to pursuing justice and full inclusion for marginalized people and examining ourselves and our space to make sure we are on the right track.

I understand that Evangelicals are my brothers and sisters in faith (though I’m not always sure they feel the same way about me), but a lot of the time I find myself wondering if we actually read the same book and know the same Lord. We come from very different planets. And they’re the ones who keep adding doctrinal statements as if they were new creeds, as if sexuality is an essential tenet of the faith to agree upon (look at any of the historical creeds and see if it comes up…it doesn’t), instead of a place where people of faith can agree to disagree. This week, I’m again baffled as in the middle of all that is going on in the world. a bunch of Evangelical leaders have gotten together to condemn some of the most marginalized people in the world: LGBTQI folks.

This week?! When millions of people are underwater, when Nazis march in our streets with the approval of the president white Evangelicals elected, when nuclear war seems a realistic threat? This is a week when Christians should be showing people the face of Jesus, and instead this group has decided to turn Christ’s back (they presume to speak for Him) on LGBTQI people. We should be making the news for our compassion, love, and service to the people suffering the devastation of hurricane Harvey. We should be making the news for our condemnation of white supremacy and our bold proclamation that we are all one in Christ Jesus, all beloved children of God. We should be making the news by proclaiming our allegiance to the Prince of Peace in the face of violence and war.

But instead, we’re making the news for once again announcing what everyone already knew about Evangelicals: they are not down with The Gays (or lesbians, or gender nonconforming/nonbinary/genderqueer people, or trans folks, or people who are intersex, or women who question their idea of Biblical gender roles). Did anyone actually have any doubts that they believe that? Did we really need a new reminder?

I find myself wanting to scream: this is not my faith! This is not the Jesus I know, love, and follow! This is not my tradition.

But I know that this isn’t actually about me, but about the vulnerable people who will continue to be hurt by this kind of theology and rhetoric. The gay kids kicked out of their homes to live on the street by “Christian” parents. The kids sent to (or desperate adults who choose) conversion therapy to have spirit and self-concept broken in the name of God. The people who will be driven to suicide because they feel that not even God can love them as they are. The people who will be ostracized and bullied by people who claim to follow Jesus. These aren’t thought experiments, but very real people who will experience very real pain and violence because words and theologies have consequences.

If you are LGBTQI, the thing I want you to know more than anything is: you are a beloved child of God. You are made in God’s image. You are the creation of a God who loves diversity and difference. You are a work of art. You do not need to change who you are in order to be loved by God, or to serve God, or to belong to a community of believers. You are worthy and acceptable. Period.

I also want you to know that there are millions of us who love Jesus and you, too. Who would welcome you next to us in our pews, who would bless and support your loves, and who would be proud to serve and change the world alongside you. You are welcome in our homes and hearts. You are welcome at our tables. You are welcome in our workplaces. You are welcome in the bathroom stall next to us. We are your brothers and sisters, and there are actually a lot of us that the Evangelicals and Nashville Statement writers do not speak for. We will speak out with you against hate and discrimination and oppression. We will examine the ways we are complicit in your marginalization. We will check our privilege. We will work to make our spaces and our society ever more welcoming. We are with you and for you, and so is Jesus.

My kid has spina bifida. The AHCA is a nightmare bill for kids like her, and pro-lifers should be calling their Senators in droves.

I decided, in light of the AHCA, to research the average cost of health care for people with spina bifida. They call them “million dollar babies” for a reason. The first year, according to an article I found on PubMed, is $41,000. Every year after that is around $14,000. (The first year is the most expensive, usually, because of neurosurgery and NICU stays. I’d bet we racked up more than $41,000 in our first month of life.)
In Arkansas, we had private insurance, as well as Medicaid TEFRA, for which we paid an income-based premium and which we qualified for on the basis of Claire’s disability. It covered 100% of what our insurance didn’t. And there’s a lot that insurance doesn’t cover, but that is necessary to help kids with SB be as independent as possible, like therapies and developmental preschool. In Colorado, a supposedly more progressive state, we still have private insurance, but no Medicaid. We end up paying more out of pocket for our daughter’s care, even though we are privileged to have excellent insurance because my husband works for the university hospital.
I remember when I testified before a committee about Arkansas’ proposed 20 week abortion ban. I talked about how 20 weeks is right around the time that people usually get a fetal diagnosis that changes their very wanted pregnancy into a nightmare. One thing that people are wondering when they get that diagnosis is, can we afford to provide this child with the care she will need for the rest of her life? Will this bankrupt us? It’s a very real consideration. And I have read that 60% of people who receive a fetal diagnosis of spina bifida choose termination.
I’m pro-choice. I support safe, legal abortion care for any reason. However, I also truly believe that there are ways we can help people keep these WANTED pregnancies instead of terminating. And one of those ways is helping them afford the care their disabled kids will need for their entire lives.
The AHCA comes from the supposedly pro-life party. And yet this is a deadly bill for people with disabilities, many of whom depend on Medicaid for their life-sustaining care. This bill will make the answer to “Can we provide this child with the care she will need?” a “no.” I am confident it won’t help, and will in fact increase, that 60% termination statistic.
It also creates new worries for us as parents of a kid with spina bifida. Will she stand to have her coverage capped at some point? Will our insurer say, welp, you’re at the limit, we won’t pay any more for you, and kick her off? Will she be able to get a new policy with her pre-existing disability? Will she be able to work as an adult, or will she have to stay unemployed, lest she get too “rich” for her meager benefits? Will my husband have to stay in his job forever to ensure we keep the insurance we have now, because she might not be covered if we have to switch providers?
If you haven’t already called your senators about the AHCA, please do so. It’s a needless “screw you” to Obama that will cause pretty much everyone to pay more for less coverage, and will literally lead to people dying and pregnancies being terminated. Repealing the ACA and replacing it with this cruel bill helps no one but rich folks who will be getting a tax cut. Please call your Senators and oppose this bill. Today.

Dear Governor Hutchinson

Cemetery Cross HDR

Here is a letter I just sent to the Governor of Arkansas, because I am heartsick over the state’s plans to execute 8 men right after Easter. Please join me in praying that the Governor will change his plans, and if you feel so-moved, write a letter yourself.

April 6, 2017

Dear Governor Hutchinson,

I was born and raised in Arkansas. I graduated from high school in Hot Springs. Went to college in Batesville. Left for 3 years while my husband did a residency in South Carolina, and returned when he got a job at ACH afterward. I gave birth to twins in Little Rock. They learned to walk there. Though we moved to Denver last summer for a job opportunity, Arkansas will always be my home.

It is with heartsickness and horror that from afar, I follow the news and see that Arkansas plans to fire up what I can only describe as an assembly line of death right after Easter. I was nurtured by the Presbyterian Church of Arkansas. I worship a Jesus who was executed by the state. I love a Jesus whose resurrection, which we celebrate at Easter, revealed the lie of redemptive violence, and showed that the only true power is that of life and love. I know you love that Jesus too.

It is in the name of Jesus that I beg, pray and humbly ask you to stop these 8 executions. Many of the men who stand to die at your hands are mentally impaired, had poor representation, valid reasons to grant clemency and halt the death machine. We cannot worship an executed and risen Lord on one day and execute others slaughterhouse style the next. There is no “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” in such an act– we know what we do. We know that it is horrific, unChristlike, unhuman. It is a blasphemy.

If I could, I would be protesting at the gates of the governor’s mansion. Instead, I am praying 1,000 miles away, sending you this letter, begging you to do all that is within your power to live out the teachings of the Jesus we both love and celebrate in this season.

Your fellow servant of Christ,


Sarah Sweatt Orsborn


Image above is by Adam Selwood, via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

the paralytic and the poor girl: confronting disability in church


Sunday morning, Claire and I were walking hand in hand up the steps to church. As I went through the door, a woman coming in behind us asked, “Is your daughter left handed?” “That’s a random question,” I thought, but I answered, “No?” “Oh, she leads with her left foot,” the woman said. “OH!” I said, “Yeah, she has spina bifida and her left foot is her strongest foot, so she tends to step first and step up with it.” And then she said it.

“Oh, you poor girl!”

To her credit, the look on her face as the words left her mouth was like she’d like to suck them back in unsaid if possible. I had kept moving toward the table where we make nametags, and she ended up writing her tag next to us. “I didn’t mean to say that like that,” she said. “You’re a beautiful girl.” I smiled at the woman. I don’t think she meant to say something hurtful, and she knew it came out wrong.

Claire and I went in, found seats, and sat down. I started to think about what I was going to say to her after church about what that woman had said.

And then guess what the lectionary text was on Sunday? The one where Jesus heals a paralyzed man after his friends lower him through a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus is speaking.

Little known fact: we parents of disabled kids who go to church are a little bit wary of Bible stories where disabled people are miraculously healed. We spend our time trying to convince ourselves, our kids, and the world that having a disability is just another way of being a person in the world, that people with disabilities are whole and complete, just the way they are, and then we go to church and hear retrograde terms like “crippled” thrown around and stories like that of the paralyzed man used to suggest that maybe people with disabilities are more in need of healing than the rest of us sinners, somehow.

To make matters more awkward, the children’s message was actually a play put on about the Bible story by some older kids. My little blonde piece of sassy perfection was sitting on the front row on the floor watching it. And while I’m sure they did it because slapstick humor is always funny, the play presented the “paralytic” as completely unconscious, constantly being dropped or otherwise accidentally injured by his friends attempting to carry him toward Jesus. It completely removed any agency or really humanity from the man, and made the only actors in the story the friends and Jesus.

Claire loved the singing and the big kids and declared it the “BEST. SHOW. EVER.”

After she went off to children’s church, I paid extra attention to the Bible reading of the story, Mark 2:1-12. And you know what I saw? Everyone but Jesus is focused on the man’s physical body, his disability. Four friends carry the man up to a rooftop, make a hole in it, and lower him down. But when Jesus sees the man, his first words are, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” And Jesus stops there. Jesus doesn’t immediately jump to healing that man’s body. He sees him as no different than anyone else: someone in need of grace and salvation, just like we all are, able-bodied or not. In fact, he doesn’t infantilize the man or take away his agency, but he reminds us that the man is a human actor with free will, responsible for his own sins, as in need of forgiveness as anyone else.

It’s only after some of the crowd starts grumbling and questioning, “who is this guy to forgive sins? This is blasphemy!” that Jesus decides he needs a way to show people that he has the power to give us all the wholeness we need. It’s like he goes, ok, fine, since you guys don’t believe I can heal the important, soul-level stuff, let me give you something you can see. And then he tells the man to take up his mat and walk.

Finally, an insight into this story that doesn’t leave me feeling frustrated with a Bible that reinforces a worldview that sees Claire as somehow less than whole in a way that able-bodied people aren’t. Instead, I see a Jesus who sees us all as equally in need of healing and wholeness. A Jesus who gently rebukes the people who might only look at the physical disability and reminds everyone that the place we’re all broken isn’t a place anyone else can see.

That night at the dinner table, I said to Claire, “I want to talk to you about what that woman said in church, how when I said you have spina bifida, she said, ‘poor girl.’ Do you think you’re a poor girl, or that she should feel sorry for you because you have spina bifida?” And Claire said, “I’m not poor! I’m just different!” We talked about how our bodies are not the reason we love and are loved, but that it’s our hearts and minds that make us who we are to people. We talked about how so many of us are different and need help sometimes. And we reminded her that we love her because of who she is, a funny, nurturing, hilarious little being who takes such great care of everyone around her. Thanks be to God.


we will not comply

litany of resistance

In 2008 or so, around the time I started this blog, I went down a rabbit hole that changed my faith forever. I think it was because I was a Relevant magazine subscriber and frequent message board contributor there (if you were on the Relevant boards at any point in the first decade of the 2000s, you may remember someone named funnyface with an Audrey Hepburn avatar). Thanks to Relevant, I heard about Rob Bell. I started listening to his sermons (and, briefly, to some Mark Driscoll sermons because I thought the two Mars Hills were related: BOY THEY WEREN’T), reading his books, and then reading the people he footnoted in his books. Rob Bell, Dallas Willard, Brian Maclaren, and Shane Claiborne radically revolutionized my thinking.

The Way of Jesus became not primarily a creed I promised to believe in but an actual lifestyle. It changed the way I ate, the media I consumed, my politics, everything. Heck, it’s still changing me. Shane in particular challenges areas that I might not actually want challenged all the time, particularly my consumerism. By the way, I told him this when I had the opportunity to meet him last year, as I had helped lead a class at church based on his and Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Revolution, and then he came to speak. He smiled. He really doesn’t care about my angst around wanting All The Things.

Shane literally lives his faith in a way few do. He’s been a radical and a resister of empire since at least the Bush administration. And I’m finding myself drawn back to his work at the beginning of the Trump regime (I refuse to call it an administration, because an administration implies some level of competence and experience and reason that does not exist with this presidency). We’re only a week in, and I’m already finding my emotional and spiritual reserves tapped, my cynicism rising, and my anxiety raging. I need to get grounded in things that will feed and fuel me through months and years of this. I’ve been doing things that busy my hands and occupy my mind, like sewing, cooking, and crafting. I took a long walk with my dog yesterday while listening to a Robcast from Rob Bell, and it felt so good, I’m planning to do it more often. And I’m coming back to the book by Shane that changed my faith in 2008.

Get this. It’s called Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals. You should absolutely get a copy. (That was not an affiliate link, btw. In fact, it’s to the used copies of the book, because Amazon is currently out of stock on the paperback.) In particular this week, my heart is drawn back to the Litany of Resistance in the back of the book. Since Shane says he invites readers to use and adapt it, I feel ok reprinting it here. I am thinking of writing out a copy so I can read it every day. I pray it fuels your reserves for resistance as it does for me.

A Litany for Resistance

from Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw

One: Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world.

All: Have mercy on us.

One: Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world.

All: Free us from the bondage of sin and death.

One: Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world.

All: Hear our prayer. Grant us Peace.

One: For the victims of war.

All: Have mercy.

One: Women, men, children.

All: Have mercy.

One: The maimed and the crippled.

All: Have mercy.

One: The abandoned and the homeless.

All: Have mercy.

One: The imprisoned and the tortured.

All: Have mercy.

One: The widowed and the orphaned.

All: Have mercy.

One: The bleeding and the dying.

All: Have mercy.

One: The weary and the desperate.

All: Have mercy.

One: The lost and the forsaken.

All: Have mercy.

One: O God, have mercy on us sinners.

All: Forgive us, for we know not what we do.

One: For our scorched and blackened earth.

All: Forgive us.

One: For the scandal of billions wasted in war.

All: Forgive us.

One: For our arms makers and arms dealers.

All: Forgive us.

One: For our Caesars and Herods.

All: Forgive us.

One: For the violence that is rooted in our hearts.

All: Forgive us.

One: For the times we turn others into enemies.

All: Forgive us.

One: Deliver us, O God.

All: Guide our feet into the way of peace.

One: Hear our prayer.

All: Grant us peace.

One: From the arrogance of power.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the myth of redemptive violence.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the tyranny of greed.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the ugliness of racism.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the cancer of hatred.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the seduction of wealth.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the addiction of control.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the idolatry of nationalism.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the paralysis of cynicism.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the violence of apathy.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the ghettos of poverty.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the ghettos of wealth.

All: Deliver us.

One: From a lack of imagination.

All: Deliver us.

One: Deliver us, O God.

All: Guide our feet into the way of peace.

One: We will not conform to the patterns of this world.

All: Let us be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

One: With the help of God’s grace.

All: Let us resist evil wherever we find it.

One: With the waging of war.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the legalization of murder.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the slaughter of innocents.

All: We will not comply.

One: With laws that betray human life.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the destruction of community.

All: We will not comply.

One:  With the pointing finger and malicious talk.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the idea that happiness must be purchased.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the ravaging of the earth.

All: We will not comply.

One: With principalities and powers that oppress.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the destruction of peoples.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the raping of women.

All: We will not comply.

One: With governments that kill.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the theology of empire.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the business of militarism.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the hoarding of riches.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the dissemination of rear.

All: We will not comply.

One: Today we pledge our ultimate allegiance to the kingdom of God.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To a peace that is not like Rome’s.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the gospel of enemy-love.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the kingdom of the poor and broken.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To a king who loves his enemies so much he died for them.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the least of these, with whom Christ dwells.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the transnational church that transcends the artificial borders of nations.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One:  To the refugee of Nazareth.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the homeless rabbi who had no place to lay his head.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the cross rather than the sword.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the banner of love above any flag.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the one who rules with a towel rather than an iron fist.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the one who rides a donkey rather than a war horse.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the revolution that sets both oppressed and oppressors free.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the way that leads to life.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the slaughtered Lamb.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: And together we proclaim his praises, from the margins of the empire to the centers of wealth and power.

All: Long live the slaughtered Lamb.

One: Long live the slaughtered Lamb.

All: Long live the slaughtered Lamb.


beware of false peaks: we are not yet to the mountaintop

Finding a new church here in Denver was a process I worried about and prayed over. We loved our church in Little Rock, and I didn’t think we’d find a place I loved so much here. Theologically, we line up most with progressive, mainline churches, but we’re not anchored to one denomination. In the past we have attended Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Methodist churches. We visited two Methodist churches here where we were warmly welcomed, but knew neither felt “right.” We visited a gorgeous Episcopal cathedral, where Etta loudly exclaimed that the communion host “tastes like cotton balls,” and we realized our four year olds are just not ready for high church.

And then we visited Montview Presbyterian. Walking in felt like walking into our beloved Little Rock church. Even the architecture was similar. And the music! That first day, there was brass, timpani, organ, and choir, and the music gave us goosebumps. We noted that the church is led by a man and woman co-pastor team. We were soothed and challenged by the prayers and preaching. We were excited to see the classes, events, and mission opportunities they listed in the bulletin. And to top it off, they were having an ice cream social after church that day, and the girls were totally sold. Plus, when Claire ate too much ice cream too fast in the hot sun outside and barfed, several members helped us deal.

We knew our hunt was over. And then, months later, we learned that in our new church, we actually already had some deep roots. Jon’s dad said, “You know, I think Montview is where my grandfather and grandmother met,” and it turned out to be true.

While we are excited to talk to the church historian and see if we can find any members who were around when Jon’s great grandparents were there, our family history is not the biggest historical event that has happened at Montview.

Today being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, yesterday our pastor Ian preached about the civil rights movement and the struggle for social and racial justice which continues today. He started by saying he was always honored and humbled to preach from a place Martin Luther King Jr. once stood. In 1964, MLK visited Denver, and he actually spoke at Montview. In fact, the story goes that he got stuck in a room of the church (I have heard cloakroom, bathroom, and pastor’s study all mentioned) and had to be rescued with a ladder at a window in order to get out and walk around to the front of the church to go in and speak. To the overflow crowd gathered out front, he was just kind enough to come say hello before his talk, but the truth was, that great man had just climbed out a window and down a ladder!

Martin Luther King Jr. at Montview Presbyterian Church.
Martin Luther King Jr. at Montview Presbyterian Church.

It turns out his choice of Montview was significant. Montview is in a neighborhood near ours called Park Hill. In the 60s, as in much of the country, white flight was happening from the city to the suburbs, as many white people opposed the integration of their neighborhood. In Park Hill, there were many residents and many churches who bucked this trend and decided to stay and fight for a unified, integrated neighborhood. Montview was one of those churches.

I am sure that this longstanding legacy of activism and unity is why I can look in my church bulletin and see, just listed this week, that there was a Peace And Justice Forum with leaders from the Denver Justice Project and Together Colorado “to learn more about important issues in Colorado’s criminal justice system, including prison overcrowding, use of force issues, and current reform efforts.” On Tuesday, at least 100 members of our congregation plan to attend a meeting at a nearby AME church to also learn about these issues. In a couple of weeks, people from the Colorado Faith Communities United to end Gun Violence will come help members learn about the legislative process and how to lobby for reforms that will reduce gun violence. And next month, we are invited to a Presbytery-wide conversation about race and the Denver Presbytery.

I also think this legacy is what enabled Ian to stand where MLK once stood, and preach to a largely white congregation about things like privilege, police accountability, and mass incarceration. Like MLK, Ian chose a metaphor very familiar to a Colorado congregation: mountaintops. He reminded us that climbing a mountain is hard work, and that there are many false peaks. A false peak is when you can look and see a ridge up ahead. You are tired, and yet so excited, and yet you get there only to realize you still have a long way to go to reach the top. This is a point where you have to decide if you want to keep pushing on toward the top, or if you will turn back, or stay where you are.

I think for a lot of our nation, we experienced a false peak with the election of Barack Obama. While the election of our first black president was indeed a milestone and a huge piece of history, it was not the mountain top. We are not “there” yet. We are not past racism or “post-racial” as a society, by any stretch of the imagination. The last year has brought a lot of un-dealt-with injustices into the light– things that black Americans have always known were issues are finally being brought to the attention of a white America that has for too long been too insulated by privilege to see– how many young black men have to be shot down in the street by police, how many hateful comments do we have to hear from our own president-elect and his supporters, before we realize that the civil rights movement was not just then but is now, and we have to keep going, keep pressing on toward the mountaintop?

Ian wrapped up his sermon by reminding us of the words of Jesus to some of John the Baptist’s followers: “Come and see.” We are called to come and see the injustices faced by our neighbors. We are called to show up for tough conversations, and to get uncomfortable with our own privilege. Because to come and see is to follow Jesus into the way of love. When we see, then we realize we have to act.

So, this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I am planning to do more showing up. To the meetings about racial issues and gun violence, to the marches, and the protests. What are you planning to do?

Of course, after his wonderful sermon, Ian got completely upstaged by the choir. They performed “Up to the Mountain” by Patty Griffin, with actual recordings of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking interspersed with the singing. I was moved to tears, as were many in the congregation. I will leave you with a video of Patty performing the song (click through if you can’t see the embedded video):

I’m not ready for Christmas, but I’m desperate for Advent

I'm not ready for Christmas, but I'm desperate for Advent |

I'm not ready for Christmas, but I'm desperate for Advent |

It’s a weird holiday season this year. I’m not so sure I have ever entered this season in such a fraught place. Last year, yes, I was struggling with what I later realized was clinical anxiety, but this year feels like a malaise bigger than me. It’s not just a darkness in my thoughts, but it seems like darkness is all around me. The election seems to have emboldened some of the darkest parts of our national identity. We look around and see reasons to fear and worry. Many of our neighbors are afraid and worrying too. Wondering what the new presidency will mean for their lives in very real terms.

None of this feels very Holly Jolly Christmas. But it turns out it’s the exact right mood for Advent. We begin this season with prophecies for “a people who walked in darkness.” The Israelites had lived in exile, in slavery, in the wilderness, and under an oppressive empire. They had experienced war, famine, and death. I can relate to them now more than ever. Times feel uncertain. The future often looks bleak.

Advent is a time of waiting and expecting and daring to hope in the worst of circumstances. As we’re literally anticipating the birth of a savior, pregnancy is often a fit metaphor for Advent, for this waiting time. I didn’t really grasp these metaphors until I actually was pregnant. It’s a time of joy, for sure, but also a time filled with worries and discomfort. During Advent 2011, I was pregnant-to-bursting with twins and had just found out that Claire had spina bifida. The joy of that season was also tempered with sorrow and worry, uncertainty about what our life would look like with a disability in the midst of it.

We are in such a dark time now. We feel stretched, swollen, tender, emotional, and concerned. We are restless. It may not be pregnancy heartburn keeping us up at night, but there is a tightness in our chests. Our hearts do burn a little. And though we have hope for new life, we know there will be much pain in the attaining of that joy.

A familiar verse from Romans comes to mind:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Right now, we are the weary world, not yet the one that rejoices. We are the people who walk in great darkness. We are captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here. We are groaning and in pain. We look around us and we do see bondage and decay.

I read a perfect piece Sunday morning by Diana Butler Bass in the Washington Post, suggesting this may be more of a “blue” advent. She notes our national blue mood, and suggests blue as an appropriate advent color, because blue is the color of the sky just before dawn. We need Advent as much as ever because

Advent recognizes a profound spiritual truth — that we need not fear the dark. Instead, wait there. Under that blue cope of heaven, alert for the signs of dawn. Watch. For you cannot rush the night. But you can light some candles. Sing some songs. Recite poetry. Say prayers.

On this, the first week of Advent, we dare to light the candle of Hope. We hope for that which we do not currently have. We hope for so much more than where we are at right now. We are not ready to jump straight into Christmas joy, but Advent doesn’t expect us to. Advent sits with us in this darkness. Advent lets us feel how we feel. But it’s also a little pesky, a little optimistic. It keeps directing our attention to flickering flames and twinkling lights, reminding us that we will see a great Light. That our labors will produce joy. That our waiting will not last forever. That while the sorrow may last for a night, and those nights seem oh-so-long in the bleak midwinter, joy comes in the morning, and there is a bit of light on the horizon. And so I too will light a candle. I will try to remind myself to hope.

My prayer this week is from my church’s corporate confession on Sunday:

Hear me Lord,
grant me an ease
to breathe deeply of this moment,
this light,
this miracle of now.
Beneath the din and fury
Of great movements
and harsh news
and urgent crises,
make me attentive still
to good news,
to small occasions,
and the grace of what is possible
for me to be,
to do,
to give,
to receive,
that I may miss neither my neighbor’s gift
Nor my enemy’s need.


advent starts tomorrow!

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar |

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar |

Some folks say that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. I would say it’s actually Advent, the season of anticipation leading up to Christmas, that’s the most wonderful time of the year. I grew up Presbyterian (PCUSA) and always loved observing Advent– lighting candles on our wreath, doing devotionals from our church, and especially the big church Advent Celebration where we’d have a fellowship meal and then go around making different Christmas crafts and games. We always drew the name of one other attendee to make a gift for during the evening, giving it to elves to be delivered to the recipient. Our favorite was always the room where white chocolate pretzels were made.

Last year, I posted about finally (two years after I had intended to) finishing our felt Jesse Tree Advent Calendar and offered ideas about creating your own. I love that the Jesse Tree Advent Calendar corresponds to Bible stories about Jesus’ family tree, and each night as a family, we hang up an ornament and read a Bible story from our Jesus Storybook Bible. As last year was our first year using the calendar, and I finished it just under the wire, I didn’t have time to make sure there was a corresponding story for each ornament in the JSB. As we went through, I discovered that some of the ornaments didn’t have a story in the JSB, and I also learned that attempting to read out of a regular Bible to small children is difficult and boring for the. This year I thought ahead and pulled out the calendar early. I discovered that Ruth and Naomi, Esther, Jacob’s Ladder, Mary Visiting Elizabeth, and Gideon were all missing from the JSB. In some cases, like Ruth and Naomi and Gideon, I wrote paraphrase stories to read to my kids, printing them off and tucking them into the JSB. In other cases, I swapped out the ornament to better reflect the story that is in the JSB, like getting rid of Jacob’s ladder and making an ornament of 3 wedding rings, since the ladder story isn’t in the JSB, but Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachel is. I also ordered a kids’ storybook about Esther to tell her story.
I also got curious about options for Jesse Tree Advent Calendars on Etsy and scoped a few out for you if you’d like to start using this tradition with your family. Most completed felt calendars are still quite pricey. I found a nice one for $180. I also discovered that if you want to go the full DIY route, the pattern is still available to make one like I did. However, I think the best option I found was to buy this pre-made tree calendar for $13, and then buy this semi-DIY kit where all you have to do is cut out machine embroidered ornaments and add hanging string to them. The ornaments even come with a book. You’ll end up with an heirloom for $73, and not have to do nearly as much work as I did. (I have embedded pins of these items in this post– if you’re reading this in a RSS feed, you may not see them below.)

the morning after


I started crying about an hour before it was clear that Trump was really winning the election, and I didn’t stop for hours. I shoved the unpopped champagne to the back of the fridge and poured myself a generous glass of bourbon. Since this is the internet and I’ve been lectured about everything down to my coffee drinking, yes, sometimes you do just want to drink straight liquor and sleep the sleep of the dead, and if such a loss isn’t the time, when is?

I woke up probably more hungover from the crying. I went downstairs when the girls stirred. Our houseguest for a week had left to catch her plane back home to Canada before we got up. She was a campaign fellow, a university student studying politics who had spent time working on the Clinton campaign here in Denver. She left the house key, a copy of Stronger Together, and the most beautiful letter. She let me know that she’s still in this fight with us.

“I was exactly the twins’ age when George W. Bush won in 2000…I learned as I grew up, much like the girls will, that sometimes, the right people don’t win…However, the fall of Bush led to the rise of Obama, and sometimes things like this must happen in order to witness some truly incredible things. Since Bush was elected, I became interested in politics and wanted to learn how to fight for the little guy. The first political book I read was The Assault On Reason by Al Gore…I know the future looks scary right now, but you and your family represent a side of America I am glad is still going. Etta and Claire, I already know you will grow up as strong, if not stronger than Hillary and learn from this. You are the reason why I have faith the views and values of Hillary will be passed on. When the girls are ready, like I was, they will read Stronger Together and learn…This is only beginning, and I have faith that Americans like you will continue to contribute society and push for the values we all hold so dear. We will always be #strongertogether.”

Buoyed by her letter, I went into the girls’ room and told him that even though we really wanted her to win, and even though mommy spent all that time in the campaign office, Hillary Clinton didn’t win the election. Claire immediately started crying. She knows Donald Trump says unkind things about and emboldens his supporters to do unkind things to people who are different. She’s a smart kid, and she knows she is different. Somehow she has more empathy and compassion than a lot of white voters did yesterday. I assured the girls that we will keep fighting for kindness in this country, and that we would never stop trying to make this place better. Claire didn’t much feel like eating her breakfast. “I just feel so sad,” she said. I need to let her feel sad. I need to let me feel sad too.

I got them off to school, their lovely, happy, hippy-dippy little school that is shaping them and their classmates into kinder, better citizens by teaching them kindness, courtesy, independence, inquisitiveness, and curiosity. Their teacher had already started circle time, but she and I exchanged shocked looks about the state of this nation. I drove home through the morning rush wondering how so many of us would manage to just live life today. I got home and got back into bed and snuggled with my cat. I think I hoped I’d wake up and things would be different. I woke up, no longer felt the sobbing-hangover, and fixed myself some coffee.

They’re home and napping now, and their wonderful dad just texted to let me know he’s coming home and said “Think about and let me know how I can best help you tonight.” The man should write a book on husbanding. I feel like a lot of the world is telling us Hillary supporters that we need to go ahead and move on already. Move on? Many of us just found out our country isn’t quite what we thought it was, that white people are still fearful enough and angry enough to elect a dishonorable, unkind, hate-mongerer to the highest office in the land, and that’s a lot to deal with. We are worried about our friends, family, and neighbors in this new world. Books about raising kids to be emotionally stable adults emphasizing how important it is to let our children feel their feelings and work through them. We need to allow ourselves to do the same. We need to be allowed to grieve and cry and rage before we are expected to figure out our next steps.

Tonight I want to go out to dinner with my family. I don’t feel like cooking. I want to let my kids take a bubble bath, and bundle them off to bed in their footie pajamas that make them so cuddly and cute. And then I think I want to watch The West Wing and pretend we just elected Bartlett instead. Tomorrow, we’ll see how I feel.

If you’re sad or angry or scared today, your feelings are valid. Check in with yourself and see how you can best care for yourself right now. You don’t have to have a grand plan to stop Trump from ruining the world right now. Obama is still the president, at least until January, and we’ll figure more stuff out by then. For now, let yourself feel your feelings. I’m here if you need to talk.

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