celebrating independence day?

Image: And Justice for All -- Pledge of Allegiance 5-9-09, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from stevendepolo's photostream

Happy Independence Day!

I am conflicted about this holiday.  I love the United States of America.  As a student of history and politics, I truly believe our democracy is the best political system in the world, even though I also know it can be deeply dysfunctional and destructive, and is always in need of reform.  I believe a major reason our nation is great is that we are a nation of immigrants, a melting pot, where variety adds to the beauty and strength of our people, though I question how we can celebrate that history even as our people fear monger about our neighbors to the south who desire a better life in our country.  And I also know that we are still not great at living side by side as a diverse nation.  I know that our past and our present bear the stain of hatred and cruelty and violence and oppression.  I know that institutionalized racism and sexism continue to this day, that our Founders were not perfect men, but rather falliable humans who created an imperfect document in our Constitution, great as it is, because they denied the full personhood of nonwhites and nonmales.  I know that the American Dream is all but impossible for many who are born here and even more who are not.  I know that much cruelty and violence and oppression have been carried out in the world in the name of American values, and I abhor all war and violence.

I think my discomfort with this very American holiday comes mostly from my love of Jesus.  I’m reminded of a Derek Webb song called “A King and a Kingdom.” (Well, actually, I’m reminded of more than a few Derek Webb songs today, including “My Enemies are Men Like Me”.)  “A King and a Kingdom” includes the line “My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man. My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood. It’s to a King and a Kingdom.”  On a day when so many churches will be singing patriotic songs and waving American flags, we need prophetic voices like Derek’s reminding us that we are first and foremost citizens of the Kingdom of God.  That we are first and foremost servants of the God who is Love, and, as I read in a piece by Shane Claibourne on the Huffington Post today: “Love is infinitely boundless and all about holy trespassing and offensive friendships.”

The God we love and serve is no respecter of boundaries or borders or citizenship or anything that separates His beloved children from Him and from each other.  He doesn’t bless one nation to the detriment of another, but, as the Bible says, sends rain (a very good thing) to both the righteous and the unrighteous—God longs to bless and love each and every one of us.  I’m reminded of one of my favorite bumper stickers from one of my favorite singer-songwriters, David LaMotte: “God bless the people of EVERY nation.”  It’s what I say to myself when I hear others say “God bless America.”

I’m sure most people who say “God bless America,” don’t mean “God bless us and not others.” Or, “God bless us, and curse our enemies.”  But to me, it’s a statement that is fundamentally exclusive of most of the people whom God loves very deeply, and it’s a statement I’m just not comfortable making.  We are already so amazingly, lavishly, almost disgustingly blessed.  I know some have amended “God bless America” to “America bless God.”  I think I would amend it further: “America, be a blessing to the world.”  That is my prayer today.  I pray it would be on my heart always.  Much like God’s covenant with Israel, to bless them that they might be a blessing to the world; much like Spiderman’s theology of “with great power comes great responsibility,” I think Americans have been given so much that they might give it away.  I strive to live that out, but I need to try harder.  I need to declare independence from consumerism and materialism, so that I might turn from my own selfishness and be more of a blessing to others.

And I’m sure if my more conservative friends could read this, they’d think I’m a “typical liberal” who “wants America to fail” or who is “ashamed of her country” or part of the “blame America first crowd.”  Maybe that’s all true.  I will say that I know that in no other country in the world would I be who I am.  In no other country in the world would I have the opportunities I have had.  And for this I am grateful.  But I do not believe these things come from my country, or my government.  I believe these things come from God.  And I believe God wants good things for all God’s people, whatever nation they may call their earthly home.

So today, I will go down by a river, sit on a blanket, hear a symphony play Sousa marches, and sing along with patriotic songs.  I will watch fireworks exploding in the night sky.  And I will be thankful to have grown up in a country where I am free to love Jesus and think critically and conscientiously object.  I will think of the beauty of our land and our people, and will pray that we may be better stewards of both.  I will dream of a day when we live up to our potential, because we have so very much.  And I will pray, “God bless us, everyone, all whom you love, stand beside us, and guide us, through the night with a light from above.”

we of little faith

Image: BBC Cross, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from ihar's photostream

This week, my latest issue of Relevant Magazine came in the mail.  I took it out to the beach on Saturday, and when I turned to the Deeper Walk column written by Jason Boyett, I felt I could have written his piece word for word.  It was called “O Me of Little Faith” (that’s a link to the piece in the digital edition of the magazine, just zoom in and read!), and in the very first line, Boyett confesses:

I am a Christian. I have been a Christian for most of my life. But there are times when I’m not sure I believe in God.

Me too.

In many ways, the same things that drive me toward a life of faith often also pull me in the opposite direction, particularly my curiosity and my questioning nature. I’ve been known to practically give myself panic attacks thinking too hard about whether or not what I say I believe is really true.  I’m prone to many dark nights of the soul.  I’m prone to praying, “Lord, I believe, please help my unbelief.” And yet, something always pulls me back to God. You could probably say God always pulls me back to God. No matter how deep my doubts, it’s always to God that I pray, begging God to please just give me my faith back.

And yet, I’m often jealous of those for whom faith seems to come easily, even as I’m frustrated that what so often seems obvious and unshakable to them comes so hard to me. Continue reading “we of little faith”

for i know the plans i have for you?

Image: freedom, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from bexross's photostream.

When I was a teen, had you asked me my favorite Bible verse, I would have rattled it off for you immediately. Jeremiah 29:11-13. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will come to me and you will pray to me and you will find me. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.'” (That’s a paraphrase based on what I remember.)

As I’ve grown older, my understanding of that verse has seriously changed. For one thing, I’ve learned the danger of pulling a Bible verse out of its context and attempting to apply it to my life as if it was written to me as an individual in the modern world. In the case of this verse, I have to remember that this is from a piece of prophesy to the Israelites, and the “yous” in it are all plural. It’s about a plan for a nation, a people, who at the time were in exile and suffering, letting them know that even though they, themselves, might not live to see it, one day their people would be back in their land, back into the relationship with God that they craved. It’s not a promise about my individual prosperity, but a promise that even in the darkest times, we can trust that God wants good things for and a right relationship with God’s people, and is always at work to bring them, as a group, back where they were created to be.  You can read more about understanding this verse in context in this piece, The Most Misused Verse in the Bible, over at Relevant. Continue reading “for i know the plans i have for you?”

eating is a pleasure

So, I was going to write a great big ole political post about the Founding Fathers and the rule of law and the idea of liberty and my disappointment that it looks like Obama is going to cave on trying accused terrorists in the criminal justice system and try them in military tribunals instead, but it’s the day I start my vacation and I just don’t have it in me. So maybe that post will show up sometime after next week, full of quotes from my favorite Founder, John Adams.  In the meantime, you get yet another post about food! Because I’m crazy about food! I talk about it all the time! When I told my boss that my main contribution to my trivia team the other night was knowing that “banh mi” is a type of Vietnamese sandwich (thank you for teaching me that, Anthony Bourdain), he said, “Why am I not surprised that you’d know the answer to a food question?”

The trigger for this particular food post is yet another piece from DoubleX. I promise I’m not going to go on yet another rant about baking my own bread while sacrificing my hopes and dreams and ambitions, so bear with me.  Before I get to that, though, I have to talk about the Salon post that inspired the DoubleX post which in turn inspired this one.  In a piece for Salon, Kim Brooks writes about pregnancy and weight gain.  She describes a moment when, post-partum, a stranger asked her when her baby was due, making her feel ashamed to still be carrying “baby weight.”  Now, if you ask me, Kim Brooks really shoulda told that nosy asshole off and then written a post about the GALL some people have to comment on women’s bodies or to ever dare to ask the question “when is your baby due?”  But instead, Brooks beats herself up for still carrying baby weight 6 months after her baby was born.  (If you ask me, it took you 9 months to put it on, cut yourself a break already, lady.)  In fact, she makes the audacious claim that mothers aren’t shamed enough for daring to “get fat,” aka, look like they’ve actually grown a human in their bodies, pushed it out of their vaginas, and then lived to tell the tale.  All of this is of course, completely insane, and I’d like to point Brooks and anyone thinks like her in the direction of Shapely Prose and the Healthy at Every Size movement.

But what inspired Amanda Marcotte’s DoubleX response to Brooks, and what inspires my post on the subject, was the guilt Brooks heaped upon herself for daring to LIKE FOOD.  Marcotte writes: “Brooks shames herself for loving family meals, the smell of baked bread, and the flavor of cheese. I don’t consider that out of control; I consider that being human.”  Marcotte, rightly, I believe, points to a culture that tells women they have no right to enjoy eating actual food (hello 80 calorie soups??) which creates monsters:

“The kind of eating that Brooks describes that causes women to put on way more pregnancy weight than recommended doesn’t sound like the eating of people who just love to eat. It sounds like the eating of women who’ve been deprived of the right to enjoy eating for so long they have no discernment at all—sucking down milkshakes, devouring entire pints of ice cream, vacuuming up white grains and pasta like they’ve never really been allowed to eat before. And in a sense, they haven’t. Not without feeling guilty, and having their enjoyment of the food dramatically compromised by that. I’m inclined to think that binge eating isn’t a matter of being a bad girl who likes food too much, but being a woman who hasn’t been allowed to enjoy it and so goes a little nuts when given even the slightest permission.”

I would liken it to my growing up in a teetotaling household and going a bit nuts with the drinking during my first semester in college. Continue reading “eating is a pleasure”

yoga and struggle

I am not a graceful person, and that’s putting it mildly.  While sometimes I pretend it’s a depth perception problem that keeps me knocking my hips on countertops, grazing door frames with half my body, and dropping and spilling things on the regular, I really just have poor control over my body and zero coordination. Some days become such an endless series of dropped, stubbed, banged, knocked, tripped, bumped, klutziness that my husband tells me, “Sarah, make a conscious effort, would ya?”  It’s somewhat charming that he seems to think just trying harder is going to solve a lifetime of gracelessness.

On the other hand, I am a very competitive person.  This may sound silly, but people are amazed at how fast I can type.  People come into my office and are awed by the speed of my fingers on a keyboard.  Want to know how I achieved such mad skills?  Pure competitiveness.  When I was an 8th grader taking keyboarding, I sat next to a friend of mine who was a very fast typist.  And every single day, I had to prove that I could type faster.  I’d will myself to type faster and faster until my wrists started to cramp.  Because in my mind, it was the keyboarding Olympics.  I was winning the gold. I was blowing everyone else out of the water.  That’s just one small taste of my competitiveness.

Taken together, these two traits make for an unlikely yoga student.  Add in the fact that I’m so out of shape that when I stepped on my little sister’s Wii Fit for analysis, my Mii slumped over like a weak little noodle and I was informed that I’m out of balance and underweight, and you’ve got a VERY unlikely yoga student. Continue reading “yoga and struggle”

God is not enough?

One of the most exiting things for me in the past year has been that Jon and I have both been excited by and interested in some new (for us) thinking, particularly around the issues of sustainable food (mostly thanks to Michael Pollan) and the emerging church movement (mostly thanks to Rob Bell and Brian McLaren).  We’ve been reading books passed back and forth, and talking about new ideas, and bouncing thoughts off of each other, and it’s just been really fun.  Maybe that’s one of the cool things about getting to live with my best friend: we can geek out over the same things.

All of this to say that I’ve been reading Brian McLaren’s The Story We Find Ourselves In.  It’s the sequel to his book A New Kind of Christian and I highly recommend both.  They’re sort of fictionalized dialogues between characters, and through their conversations, McLaren introduces a whole lot of just mind-blowing stuff. I just wanted to share one small snippet that struck me while I was reading yesterday, made me wonder why I’d never thought of it before.

There’s one other surprising thing that the second creation story in Genesis suggests to me. It’s something shocking, maybe put best when it’s put in a way that borders on heresy: God is not enough, the story says. That has nothing to do with any deficiency in God; it has to do with the storyline God had in mind for us. God doesn’t want to be the only reality in our lives, the only relationship in our network, the only message on our screen…This is the story we find ourselves in, isn’t it? Caught between two dangers: a hyperspiritual danger that says ‘It is good enough for human beings to be alone, so all they need is God,’ and a hypersecular danger that says, ‘It is good enough for human beings to be with the other created beings; forget about the Supreme Being from whom all being and blessing flow.’ Neither of those options is good enough. The only viable option in our story is for us human beings to enjoy the company both of our Creator and of our fellow creatures: our brother sun and sister moon, our brother fox and sister fruit bat, and especially of our mates–either sexual mates or mates in the Australian sense of the term, our friends–in whom we find a lost part of ourselves restored to us again.

I’ve heard well-meaning people, even myself, say things like “God is all I need.” But even in Eden, God saw that there was something “not good” in paradise, something that needed fixing: the human being was alone. The human being NEEDED more than just God and nature. The human being needed companionship. And God creates a companion, and then everything is good.

Which brings me to something else the book pointed out that I hadn’t noticed before.  This is what my ESV Bible says in Genesis 1:26: Continue reading “God is not enough?”

CSA Charleston: the great mustard greens FAIL, food, and faith

All the goodies we got this week!
All the goodies we got this week!

As you can see, we got another cornucopia this week.  To break it down:

  • 1 watermelon
  • 1 cantaloupe
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 1 bunch greens (more on this in a minute)
  • 3 winter squash
  • 5 ears corn
  • 6 banana peppers
  • 1 small eggplant
  • 3 turnips with greens

Right off the bat, I have to confess that not only have I STILL not used last week’s beets, but this week’s turnips didn’t get used either.  The watermelon was enjoyed as a beach-day snack, and the cantaloupe is sliced and in a box in the fridge for snackies.  The tomatoes, banana peppers, and corn were grilled and eaten with steak with guests Saturday night. The squash was roasted and pureed and was made into soup along with the squash we received in our box yesterday (that box will be the subject of next week’s post).

Which leaves the greens.  I thought they were just greens, like kale or something, so I made some salmon and sauteed the greens with garlic and olive oil, for a little yummy wilted greens action.  Internet, I took ONE BITE.  My nose started to burn, my throat refused to swallow.  I had to spit them out.  It turns out they were MUSTARD greens, which, as a blogger friend helpfully informed me, turn into mustard gas, that great WWI weapon.  They were inedible.  I will have to do some research to figure out what to do with them, because we got more in the next week’s box.

Now that I’ve described the contents of the box and what we did with it all, I thought I’d share a little more about how I feel about this little experiment in eating. Continue reading “CSA Charleston: the great mustard greens FAIL, food, and faith”


Picture 2Today, two of my favorite thinkers seem to be in a weird synchronicity, so I thought I’d share.

First, Colin aka No Impact Man asks, what fills you with awe?  Colin is not, as far as I know, a Christian, but he’s a very spiritual person, and often in his writing I find things that resonate with what I think and feel and believe as a person of faith.  Today he has a video of whales and writes:

Once in a while, even though it’s trendy, these days, not to talk about other species when we talk about environmentalism, I like to reconnect with that about our planet that fills me with wonder. And for me, one of those things is whales….Meanwhile, what about our planet fills you with awe?

Second, Rob Bell, a pastor from Michigan whose sermons I often listen to via podcast and whose book Velvet Elvis recently changed my  life, has his latest Nooma film availble for free viewing online today, until midnight.  You can check it out here.  This video is about the story of Job, and how God speaks to a man who is in the midst of unspeakable suffering and despair and reminds him that the story is so much bigger than he is, and that his suffering is not the final word in the middle of the grand story of our creative Creator God.  Bell says

We want to know why we suffer like we do…and there are times when the only honest, healthy, human thing to do is to shout your question and shake your fist and rage against the heavens and demand an explanation.  But true wisdom, the kind we find here with Job, the kind that endures…that kind of wisdom knows when to speak and when to be silent.  Because your story is not over.  The last word has not been spoken.  And there may be way more going on here than any of us realize.  So may you be released from always having to understand why things happen they way it does…May you have the wisdom to know when to say ‘I spoke once but now I will say no more.’

What is it that God says to Job that inspires him to be silent?  That changes the way he feels about his suffering?  It’s the thing that ties in with Colin’s question above.  What God says to Job is truly awe inspiring:

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone–while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?

Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?…

Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.

What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!

Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen?

Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion’s belt? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up [God’s] dominion over the earth?

Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water?Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?

Who gives the ibis wisdom [about the flooding of the Nile], or gives the rooster understanding [of when to crow]?

Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together?

Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?

Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? Do you count the months till they bear? Do you know the time they give birth? They crouch down and bring forth their young; their labor pains are ended. Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds; they leave and do not return.

Who let the wild donkey go free? Who untied its ropes? I gave it the wasteland as its home, the salt flats as its habitat. It laughs at the commotion in the town; it does not hear a driver’s shout. It ranges the hills for its pasture and searches for any green thing.

Will the wild ox consent to serve you? Will it stay by your manger at night? Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness? Will it till the valleys behind you? Will you rely on it for its great strength? Will you leave your heavy work to it? Can you trust it to haul in your grain and bring it to your threshing floor?

The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully, though they cannot compare with the wings and feathers of the stork. She lays her eggs on the ground and lets them warm in the sand, unmindful that a foot may crush them, that some wild animal may trample them. She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers; she cares not that her labor was in vain, for God did not endow her with wisdom or give her a share of good sense. Yet when she spreads her feathers to run, she laughs at horse and rider.

Do you give the horse its strength or clothe its neck with a flowing mane? Do you make it leap like a locust, striking terror with its proud snorting? It paws fiercely, rejoicing in its strength, and charges into the fray. It laughs at fear, afraid of nothing; it does not shy away from the sword. The quiver rattles against its side, along with the flashing spear and lance. In frenzied excitement it eats up the ground; it cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds. At the blast of the trumpet it snorts, ‘Aha!’ It catches the scent of battle from afar, the shout of commanders and the battle cry.

Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread its wings toward the south? Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high? It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night; a rocky crag is its stronghold. From there it looks for food; its eyes detect it from afar. Its young ones feast on blood, and where the slain are, there it is. (Job 38:4-39:30)

So I will answer Colin’s question. One thing that has always filled me with awe is the stars. Perhaps I inherited this from my father, who was always calling us outside, sometimes even after bedtime, to point out Mars and Venus in the night sky, to trace the lines of Orion or the Pleiades in their constellations (just like the part I bolded above). Who calls me from 1000 miles away, even now, to tell me to go outside and look at the moon, or Jupiter, or some other stellar thing. When I would go to camp in the summer at Mo-Ranch in Texas, my favorite thing was after vespers, when we’d all go lie on the tennis courts in the dark, their concrete still warm from a day’s baking in the sun, and stare up at the sky, so far from any city that even the Milky Way was visible. And more than any sermon ever could, this would fill me with awe and wonder and a deep awareness of the presence of God. The sight was so overwhelming and beautiful and humbling that tears would well up in my eyes and in the back of my throat.

And my love of seeing the stars is one thing that inspires me to take better care of the environment.  To keep the air clean so we can even see the stars.  To be mindful of light pollution and its effects on ecosystems.  As Rob Bell says, “How we treat creation reveals how we feel about its Creator.” (my paraphrase)

So. I answered Colin’s question. What fills YOU with awe?

Photograph above is by Jim Richardson, via National Geographic.

some thoughts on the state of church (and state)

This started out as a bullet point in today’s “bufflo tips,” but then I realized I had a whole lot more to say on the subject than could be tied up nicely in a sentence or two.

If you ask me, the Church needs to do some turning.  Via Afroswede @Flickr.
If you ask me, the Church needs to do some turning. (This picture is actually of a church in a town I consider one of my homes, Little Rock, AR) Via Afroswede @Flickr.

This post by Courtney E. Martin at The American Prospect about the much-hyped Pew study on Americans’ religiosity or lack thereof, was very interesting to me as a Christian.  In particular, this portion of the report on why so many people have recently left the faith:

About half … became unaffiliated, at least in part, because they think of religious people as hypocritical, judgmental or insincere. Large numbers also say they became unaffiliated because they think that religious organizations focus too much on rules and not enough on spirituality, or that religious leaders are too focused on money and power rather than truth and spirituality.

In particular the bit about rules over spirituality speaks to me in ways similar to the kinds of things I have been reading and thinking lately. How have we, who claim to follow a Savior who told us that his yoke (his list of rules, each rabbi had one) is easy and his burden is light, become known for our Pharisaical emphasis on rules rather than for echoing our Savior’s emphasis that following him leads to a right heart from which right actions automatically flow? Again I’m going to pimp Dallas Willard, who argues against our petty gospels of “sin management.” We should be known for freeing people of their burdens, not for adding to them with lists of rules, because without the life-transformation that comes from being a disciple of Jesus in the truest sense (not merely an intellectual agreement with the idea that Jesus is Lord and died for our sins, but truly a modeling of one’s life to be like Christ), following the rules is impossible.

Also, Martin writes:

The report, which indicates that one-fourth of adult Americans have changed their religious affiliation from what they were raised with, also explains, “The unaffiliated population is a very diverse group. Not all those who are unaffiliated lack spiritual beliefs or religious behaviors; in fact, roughly four-in-ten unaffiliated individuals say religion is at least somewhat important in their lives.”

I would say this is definitely true for me.  If you asked me today, I’d probably claim “unaffiliated.”  I grew up in a Presbyterian, PC(USA), church in which I was very active, and for which I am very thankful.  I was encouraged to ask questions, to learn about theology and church history, and even to doubt.  I attended PC(USA) churches in college, and now that we have moved far far far from home, we sporadically attend an Episcopal church and go to a small group hosted by a Baptist church.  Even though I’m not attending church services as regularly as I did growing up, I’m reading my Bible more than ever and also reading books about theology and Christian living.  In particular, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Dallas Willard have been topping my reading lists.  For the time being, I’m experiencing remarkable spiritual growth also remarkable because it’s taking place outside of a church. Continue reading “some thoughts on the state of church (and state)”

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