2013 in Review

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I am not back yet. I’m still soaking in the break, which has been wonderful… until now, because winter has come and the world has gone to hell. (If I could vent for just a moment: It is below zero today. It is expected to stay so for the rest of the week. My bottom lip is splitting wide open. For 95% of my commute my car is arctic and I am breathing fogs of air straight into my windshield and I can no longer see the road. Last night, I seriously considered writing about my bare exposed thumb lifting up and down on the icy steering wheel- it was cherry red, the deepest kind of cold, the burning kind, the small red symbol of every soul in this state. Cold and Angry and Fighting to LIVE.)

 

Today, I have been inside, hidden beneath a hoodie and over indulging on coffee, reading, with pleasure, the end of the year lists from some of my favorite bloggers. And it made me wonder what topped my list this year. So I checked and have listed them below, along with favorite posts from other bloggers, top referrers, top guest post, my favorite search term…

 

And I am very excited to get back to a schedule come mid January. Some recent things have happened, for one, I decided to go back to school to get my teaching license, whaAatt!?!? And, in less than two weeks, I will be heading to Chicago for the Gay Christian Network Conference! I plan on taking care of what I need to take of in the next couple weeks and then dive back into blogging. I still love it so much. And I love the posts that you’ve read this year.

 

Here are a handful of them:

 

Psalm-55 Betrayed

A post about a church I ran out, the prevalence of unsafe Christians, and finding refuge in a church that took me in. It is a harder post, but a true one. One that was shared to said pastor who said I was damaging to the community, but to not be offended by that remark, because he was “Speaking the Truth in Love.” Thank God I found Jay Bakker’s church or I might have walked away forever.

 

These Hallowed Grounds: Our Story

The post I came out on. Sometimes, I go back and read through the comments and well up a little. It was such an emotional and liberating day.

 

LGBTQ Christians are People, and Christians, and Like to Blog, Too

This post I wrote in the aftermath of a few lists of specific types of bloggers that were being promoted, without a single LGBTQ Christian to be found. This both surprised me and didn’t. I spend so much of my internet time interacting with folks like me, I forget that many weren’t aware of these incredible writers and friends of mine.

 

The Accidental Oppressors

I was somewhat nervous to post this one. It’s about the constant condescension amongst progressive bloggers (which I note is, or at least appears, for the most part, completely unintentional.) It generated some good conversations, including comments from my friends Micah and Olivia.

 

An Open Letter to the Closeted

This one has meant very much to me. I have heard from parents that printed it out and gave it to their gay children who have felt unloved by Church and God. I was happy I could get myself out of the way so this message could pour forth: You are Loved.

 

Albus Dumbledore, John Piper, and our WORDS

This post was written in a huff. But Greg Boyd shared it! A moment in which I was going nuts, blushing, eyes obsessing over the stats graph. It was about that Piper tweet regarding the Tornadoes in Oklahoma and how our words matter. (also, I attribute a quote from Harry Potter which I said was in the book, but is actually only in the movie, my friend Emily quickly pointed that out!)

 

Speaking Up

A post related to “Psalm-55 Betrayed”

 

On Football, Incongito, and What it Means to Be a Man

I enjoyed writing this one. The culture surrounding professional sports has long bothered me with the way it promotes bullying behavior. Sports are not for bullies. I wrote about my football coach and, shortly after, I received a moving email from him.

 

Love is an Ability

Perhaps my writing at its’ best. I admit, I’ve reposted this one a few times. I’m still figuring out my writing chops, how turning a phrase works, and often, it is our best work that stands next to us in the mirror as we type, constantly drawing comparisons. Love this piece, for sure, but hate how it hovers over me.

 

Top Guest Post

 

Micah J. Murray: All I Have to Offer

 

Quick note: Micah is one of the most genuine people I have come across on the internet. Where I fail to be intentional, to truly engage, he is in there, building people up, encouraging others, and also writing kick-ass posts. I’m sure you are, but if you are not, follow him immediately. So proud of him with this successful year! Keep it up, Micah!

 

Favorite Search Term

 

Love dwells, it doesn’t just stop by.

 

Top Referrers

 

Rachel Held Evans

Fred Clark (Slacktivist)

Micah J. Murray

Sarah Bessey

Addie Zierman

 

(thank you all so much!)

 

And lastly, I’d like to leave you with some posts that made me cry, laugh and think this year.

 

Addie Zierman

Come Weary

Reconstructing the Bridge Metaphor

 

Sarah Bessey

In Which art is like manna

In Which Advent is for those who know longing

 

Brent Bailey

How the End of Exodus Changes the Church’s Future

            The Long Drive

 

Rachel Held Evans

            Responding to Homophobia in the Christian Community

           The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart

Micah J. Murray

Why I Can’t Say Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin Anymore

 

Emily Maynard

From Loathing to Love

 

Alise Wright

Your Gagging isn’t Loving

 

Jen Hatmaker

The Duck Thing: Is there another way?

 

Kevin Shoop

Blessed are they that mourn

 

Aaron Smith

How Long?

 

Carol Vinson

Advent: the Coming Peace

 

Natalie Trust

Christians, Divorce and Marriage: On Being Excluded from Conversations

 

Jamie Wright

This is my brain on hugs

            What Would Jesus… Blog?

 

Now, pertaining to the abovementioned list, were there any posts that really, I mean really, stood out to you this year? Had a deep impact on you? I’m asking cause I still have two weeks left on my blogging break and need some reading. Also, what blogs should I be reading in 2014? 

~ ~ ~

To My People in Real Life (and a brief note)

I am tired, so I am taking a month off.  A month away from my blog.

 

It isn’t that I don’t still love it, I do, but as of late I feel like it has surpassed a point where it is obscuring other things in my life, bouncing back and forth between obligation and joy, and I think I need some distance. A bit less posting and a lot more listening. 

 

Many people from my real life, the ones all around in my community, have been hearing word of my blog and all about me. I am receiving such moving messages of love and support these days. This has prompted me to repost the piece below, so they might read this first.  It is something I had written specifically for them. A piece that I poured my whole beating heart into. 

 

I’ll be back in mid-januaryish, hopefully refreshed and ready to write again! Thanks for reading!

 

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Image credit

 

We might’ve gone to high school together. I was in your close group of friends, but then graduation and college came and, gradually, we drifted apart toward new places and different lives. You might not get this blog, my whole story, but that’s because you only ever saw the half of it. You remember me as sarcastic, as self-deprecating, the guy always going for a good laugh. But there was also another part of me living in the shadow of myself. This page, the one you’re reading, this is where I let that side breathe. An open place to be honest and alive and complete.

 

We might’ve been missions trip partners, digging shovels into the dirt of that wasted Honduran mountain. We helped those that couldn’t understand a single word we said, hugged them, built alongside them an irrigation system drawing in clean, beautiful water. You told your story and I told mine, before each other and the entire village and I bet every single one of us on that team held back a little, kept some cards close. Yet I also know we had never lived into a more honest and true gospel than we did that trip. A gospel of hands and feet, tears and laughs, international soccer and rushing streams of holy water. To this day, those are still some of the greatest days of my life.

 

We might’ve been in the same freshman year dorm, you might’ve been my Resident Director. The first night of Welcome Week orientation, you laid out the lists of rules through a skit with your fellow RAs and there was this thing you said. Even now, when I think about it, I still get all choked up. You were talking about kindness, about how cursing wasn’t okay and then you said, “Also, gay doesn’t mean stupid, okay? It doesn’t mean bad or dumb or ugly. If I hear it intentionally thrown around as an insult, we’ll be talking. I really, really hope I’ve made myself clear.” And for the very first time in an evangelical setting, I felt safe.

 

We might’ve studied together for Christianity in Western Culture, the class everyone loved to hate, and when we we reached our mental capacity to learn in those late night cram sessions, we flipped those flashcards in the air and ran up to Seminary Hill to sled stolen canoes into icy snowbanks. A couple times, we grabbed coffee in the campus cafe and you told me how you didn’t feel safe in the evangelical bubble of our college. Like it was Wonder Bread and you were made of a different morsel. I want you to know what a gift that was to me.

 

You might’ve been my youth leader, my counselor, my pastor or my teacher, and you might be wondering now whether there was something you did wrong. Whether you contributed to this shame corroding me from within. I want you to know that, yes, some of you absolutely did. But I also want you to know that I love you and I forgive you. I understand that you were working within a world where that kind of talk was understood as Hard Truth. The Truth in Love. And while we are certainly in control of our decisions, we are, also, much more importantly, standing before that indescribable grace, gusting in and around and through us.

 

You might be a friend, a relative, a coworker, a professor, or some person I sat next to on a plane once. You might barely know me. You might think you know me more than most. And I want you to know this side of me, but I also want you to know that I am, in fact, still me

 

I’ve been writing this blog anonymously for over a year and I didn’t expect it to be what it is. I expected it to be like free therapy. A documented account of my life, my best and worst moments, my deepest truths. I thought that if I recorded it publicly, but anonymously, it would safely make my story significant. I expected it to make my story matter.

 

I didn’t think this place would become an inseparable part of my faith journey. A part of my life now. And it all started after a small trickle of messages made their way into my inbox. These tragic stories of closeted teens afraid that once they let their parents in, they’d be kicked out. Many mothers messaged me expressing thanks for a place where they could feel safe, hopeful for kids that walked away long ago. I have heard from people of every persuasion, theology, gender identity, sexuality, and to my surprise, I became deeply connected to them. A part of a fragile community strung together by satellites and laptops. A community that felt as close as my breath.

 

And I balanced my life between here and there. But at a certain point, that wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t keep writing for young kids to be brave when I was still speaking from behind the veil. I couldn’t keep telling parents to stand up for their kids, hold them close and never them let go, while I myself remained nameless. It was an integrity issue for me to come out. And maybe a faith one too.

 

You might be reading this and thinking Gay and Christian are incompatible identities, you need to pick one. First of all, I’d point out, there is a hierarchy for me. I will always be God’s child first and foremost. He saved my life and I live for Him. Secondly, being gay has actually been the biggest catalyst to my faith since baptism or first communion or even that very first prayer. Accepting that I am accepted, warts and all, has allowed for Christ’s love to flow down the lowest places. It has brought me into divine intimacy in ways we never could be if I was rejecting myself. If I was rejecting myself, I was rejecting his love.

 

And you might be worried. You might be concerned because you genuinely love or like me, even now, but you’re afraid that your particular belief or theology will hurt me and effectively end our relationship, so maybe it’s best to stay at a distance. I want you to know, that is far from true.

 

Even most recently, I had one of the best conversations about this with one of my closest friends. I told him I was gay and he said, perhaps ten times over, that he loves me. Later into the conversation he asked for grace moving forward as he would need to learn more and he might not even change his theology. And some might say that he’s not affirming my humanity, but I’d tell you that his tear-streaked face attests to the contrary. His questions, his search,  his friendship, as well as those of other friends, have proven that love is possible in spite of such personal disagreement. Love is amazingly resilient.

 

There isn’t always an easy answer. There is no book that solves it for you. This is a long road and many, many good and Godly people arrive at different places, and who knows why. But while we stare through this glass darkly, hold that wild sea of scripture in our hands, I think we can all still love one another well.

 

And this might be no big deal to you at all. You might be shrugging your shoulders right now, thinking Oookay?? To you I say, Cool. Let’s move forward in whatever relationship we’re in as we always have.

 

To others, this might be the biggest deal. You might have a thousand thoughts, questions, feelings ping-ponging through your mind, and you are helpless in grabbing a single one. I want you to know that that is okay. Something friends and family have consistently drilled into my head is that while this was my lifetime secret, this was their first few days, weeks, months, and they needed time. I just might be the very first person you know that is gay. And you might need awhile, I get that.

 

Still, if you’d like, I invite you to email me or call me or text me. I would love to talk to you more, because you matter to me.

 

All I ask in return is that you be kind, good, and honoring of such sacred conversation. All I ask is that you be a friend.

 

With love to you, always,

 

Ben

Faith in a Dark World

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I see the sun for about twenty seconds on a given weekday. I fall in its’ path as I pull up on the rising freeway on my way to work. I watch it pour and sparkle across the snow shrouded homes and rows of trees until it comes on my face as I stare longingly into it. It gets dark very early now, so I know I won’t see the sun until this time tomorrow.

 

I’m in a darkness I do not understand. Winter, for me, always arrives in different degrees of intensity. Some seasons are very hard, then others, I can manage. Consistently, though, the darkness seems to play into some inner angst: I come swimming into the winter, working my way toward wellness, and I am at once hit by wave after wave of bitter cold wind and shorter and sharper days, but this winter is somehow different.

 

This winter, I know who I am and I love myself. All things inside are chirping away happily. All things considered, I have a clean bill of emotional health.

 

So maybe I should count it a blessing that this winter, I am not so inwardly focused. I am staring out. Eyes are wide open. Maybe I would, maybe I could, count blessings, if I wasn’t pinned on my back by the dark of the world.  It is a fallen wall on top me. The whole world is groaning. I hear it, I see it and I cannot stop.

 

I felt it first in the force of a six-year-olds’ anger: a small boy who tells me he likes to hurt people, whispers death threats on his teachers, and says red is favorite color because of blood. No matter how much I affirm him as good and kind inside, his haunting words keep coming out. And I can’t help, but wonder if God is asleep at the wheel with this boy.

 

The dark floods in again with the News and my inbox, suddenly filled with real stories of sexual abuse. And it is such heavy dark.

 

Two people stood on the church stage the other night, both recovering addicts, both telling their stories of failed suicide attempts. For one, the rope broke. For the other, the gun jammed. We stood in applause at the God that surely intervened, shoving them away from the abyss, but I couldn’t stop thinking about those for whom the rope held strong, the gun didn’t jam. Those in violent neighborhoods with bullets flying into their house. The family in Syria there, then gone. The unpredictable dark that keeps torpedoing all around us, and we’re so selective in how we question it.

 

It’s enough to make faith feel foolish.

 

It doesn’t help me when I hear one pastor (just the other night) launch into an exhortation about how “if you’re praying to Allah, you’re in trouble. If you’re praying to Buddha, you’re in trouble. We all have to bow down to the one true King.” There are other less toxic expressions, like God is God, and I am limited, and He’s Got a Purpose, but all in all, it’s the same rug covering of the hard questions no one wants to ask.

 

Because what about the Muslims? The Buddhists? Those raised to believe in something else entirely? What about those non-believers departed in successful suicides? What about the abused? The refugees crawling toward the border? The very old one suffering endlessly in a nursing home, ready for this all to be done?

 

What about the six-year-old boy becoming one with the darkness?

 

I am confused. I am looking up, like Sarah Bessey, asking, “where are you? Wake up! Take over! Heal! Be!

 

I am looking still.

 

I am waiting in the grief of longing. Of wanting my faith to fit in this world that is densely dark. I am letting Advent come to me, try and prove me wrong. I am hanging on to the early sight of sun. I am clutching my pouch of mustard seeds. I am trying and waiting and hoping, not in the impossible answers to arrive, but in some kind of real peace. The one that isn’t trite, that isn’t phony, that is not a rug. The one that sails this faith into the deep of the darkness and remains unaffected, floating, strong.

 

faith on a recipe

Man with cookbook baking in kitchen

 

 

Let’s call her Mrs. Incredible. She is the counselor of over a dozen children with Emotional Behavioral Disorders. In the circular structure of classrooms that forms the first grade floor, her office is stationed in the heart of it, within earshot of any of our desperate calls. Not that she really needs to hear us- she has her walkie strung to a bud stuck in one ear like a cop, ready as always to be the on-call medic, the wiper of snot, the pure face of calm before so much screaming. I am starting to suspect I’ve never known a greater person.

 

I find myself grabbing her arm like an addict, needing an antidote for the kid kicking at my leg or the one spitting in my face or the other calling me names. I am pleading for her honesty, am I cut out for this? And she says it so gently, you are, and it will all get better soon.

 

For twenty minutes a day, the five boys I am trying to keep a lid on sit attentive and quiet around a semi-circle table facing her, with the exception of one that is smoldering arms crossed apple sauce in the corner. The other four sit silently awaiting her commands. I think: Are they doing this to me on purpose? I mean, I’ve been talking to Mrs. Incredible- a lot, and it would appear that I’ve been complaining about a chorus of baby angelsThe thought is blown out my mind as the corner kid mouths out a swear into her steady, authoritative eyes. She throws me a wink.

 

She is a master as a teacher, a Children’s Yoda, although, she says it wasn’t something she planned, rather something she was traded into. Her years of training were for work with the physically disabled kids, not the emotionally, but, one day, the principal came to her and informed her she had to switch with the EBD instructor. Neither one knew they were better than the other at their jobs. But the principal noticed.

 

And I notice it. The grace, patience and utter control she exhibits in this cloud of screaming children, as well as the unceasing adoration they fan her with, makes her my ultimate hero. I am becoming her shadow.

 

At the table, each kid gets a sheet of paper with a hypothetical story printed on it, one she reads aloud. They are about to bake a birthday cake and there are four choices for accomplishing the task: 1. Read the recipe and follow it closely. 2. Throw random ingredients in the bowl and then shove it the oven. 3. Ask your parent or guardian to help with it. 4. Go do something else, forget the cake.

 

My can’t-sit-still (by no fault of his own) boy shoots up an eager hand.

 

“I can’t read good, so I’d ask my mom to help!”

“Ya, me too!” volunteers another.

 

“Remember our hands,” she says.

 

Another boy raises his hand and is thus rewarded. “I would read it, I’m good at reading.”

In the corner, the angry boy mutters incoherently to himself.

 

When Mrs. Incredible smiles, they all smile back in return. Most of the time, I am getting stuck out tongues and muteness, sleepy eyes and stink-eyes. Quiet smiles are a feat, a fortune.

 

“What this tells me,” she says, “is that everybody learns a little differently. No way is better or worse, but the important thing is to always try. You might just find your way when you do.”

 

Yes, I think. I drink this in like a secret. Like a treasure.

 

I am heartened that she explained this truth to my kids. I’ve seen them, from class to class, trying so hard to be to be good, trying to look smart, trying to do what comes so naturally to their peers around them. And I never miss the flash of humiliation and failure behind their flipping-tables temper when they just can’t get it right.

 

I walk them out of the classroom holding them by the hand, prepared to sit along the wall on the carpet and talk about behavior, but first, I always try to smile, slow and lighten my annoyed voice, say how good they were doing. How impressed I was and how thankful I was for the way they tried hard and made the good choice of leaving when it was time to leave, because, God, who knows how often they hear these things.

 

And I relate to them. I see in these hard frustrated faces my own failed tries at things, including, most importantly, my faith. I see my long-ago shame of trying to get a grip on God in the dense fog of depression, pretending I was on fire for him, a seasoned pupil, and watching the way my friends nodded back, talked excitedly about Jesus as if he were a tangible thing, a ball of light tucked in their pockets.

 

I remember the feeling of being small, of yearning to bloom like the peers flourishing all around me. There were so many books I read, Purpose Driven Life, Mere Christianity, Left Behind, none of which sparked anything new and it felt like I just wasn’t faithful enough. I remember how, at long last, I just gave it all up, shoved the whole tiring thing away.

 

Until, one day, I came across a book by Brennan Manning and it struck some low and nameless place in my soul. I learned about grace, the deep and gritty kind, and the unfailing, never-ending, furious love of the Father. I remember my tears, streaming, as I listened to Phil Wickham’s I will Wait for you There and falling to pieces at the old hymn It is Well. When I grew dark and distant again, turning away from the music and books, I looked to the canvass for distraction, deliverance. I sat for hours mixing and making new colors, slowly learning to loving the expressions of my God-given heart.

 

And certainly, many of my friends were hiding it too; I wasn’t the only one struggling. Perhaps all of us were. Perhaps all of us were trying to follow some expected recipe, step by step, only to then taste a faith that was burnt, dry, fake in how forgettable and foreign it was. None of us knew that being a Christian never meant losing our unique quirks and soft spots and shortfalls. Faith was never meant to be a one-size fits all thing. It was freedom, breathing, a world full of space. Accepting ourselves as fawned over children of an almighty love.

 

As the kids are dismissed from this session, the corner child comes sauntering toward me. He takes my hand and says, “can we go to class now?” I look up and Mrs. Incredible is giving me a congratulatory smile, and I raise a fist, Yes!.. To class, I mean. Ten minutes later I am back in her room. He won’t stop crying, I moan, and she gestures toward a seat I slump into.

 

“How did you become who you are?” I ask, “How did you get so good?”

 

“I don’t know how, or if I really am that good, but I do know how long. It took me a million different approaches with these kids to finally find my footing and start seeing their needs. Even now, I am still learning.”

 

She paused for a moment and then said:

 

“It’s about building relationships and following the protocol. But it also about finding your own way in this crazy school of emotions. You’ll get it.”

 

I left the room in peace, a little taller now, and practicing a reminder of inner grace: I am learning and I will find my way. 

 

Advent is for the Magnificat

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“And Mary said:
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
For he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
For the Mighty One has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
From generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
But has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
But has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
Remembering to be merciful to Abraham
And his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.’”

– Luke 1:46-55

 

In 1977, during the time of the Dirty War in Argentina, a war that led to countless children abducted from their homes by the military, a few hundred mothers met in the dark of night. They staggered, as one, a mob, down the street, stumbling on toward the Plazo De Mayo for a vigil for their babies. They lit candles and moaned, for their stolen ones, shrieked out, for the light to come, held the fragile flickering candles in their hands and let them burn all the way down.

 

They sang Mary’s song, the Magnificat, loud and painfully, and the government felt at its’ throat. They plastered her words on posters on street corners and in office windows, and the despots drew back like a tiger, thrashed forward, slammed a fist, banned the song from being sung outright.

 

In India, under the heavy hand of British rule, they were more shrewd. Churches were numerous around the country, in all appearances thriving, and every word of the Bible could be freely spoken, written and preached about, except for one single song. The British knew its’ message, felt its heat emanating in the air from any that recited it, and they heard the drum of rebellion. They heard uprising. They criminalized it out of existence.

 

Dietriech Bonhoeffer once reflected:

 

“This song of Mary’s is the oldest Advent hymn. It is the most passionate, most vehement, one might almost say, most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. It is not the gentle, sweet, dreamy Mary that we so often see portrayed in pictures, but the passionate, powerful, proud, enthusiastic Mary, who speaks here. None of the sweet, sugary, or childish tones that we find so often in our Christmas hymns, but a hard, strong, uncompromising song of bringing down rulers from their thrones and humbling the lords of this world, of God’s power and of the powerlessness of men. These are the tones of the prophetic women of the Old Testament: Deborah, Judith, Miriam, coming alive in the mouth of Mary.”

 

~

 

What I love about Advent is also what I hate about it: the coming together.

 

I love the planning, the way the house gradually fills with lights and straw bound reindeer and a tall tree given just the right amount of tinsel and red and white. I will never be happier than I am by the fire on Christmas morning, surrounded by my family, all of us sipping mugs and excitedly shoving gifts in laps. It is time of laughter and remembering, of prayer and reciting the Christmas story, and it is on this morning that I always remember how privileged I am to have this family that comes together and loves to be together.

 

I kind of hate the church part. The coalescing of all the Christians around this moment. Most of the year, I can selectively choose when to join in their presence and when to withdraw, but at Christmastime, they are everywhere. They make me tired. It starts, simply enough, in a sermon where the pastor declares warmly that Christ came to give light to the world,  a beautiful truth that I love to hear, until I see him sharpening it up, wielding it around into a wake up call against the culture, a vague dark mass of people out there, likely, me. From there, my mind gains steam, fueling off of every off the cuff remark, every slam on Happy Holidays. I saw Rick Warren on TV the other night and I am picking imaginary fights with him. I am trying so hard to hear the good news, but Christmas drags in Christians and my baggage is heavy and it is all way too loud.

 

It is a season where, at once, I can feel myself perched adoringly over the precious Christ Child, and then, abruptly, pulled away.

 

~

 

My brother gave a sermon the other night on the Magnificat. About how God had disappeared out of history for four hundred years, leaving off the Old Testament with Malachi and then went dark, allowing the world to descend into chaos. The Roman Empire was ruthless, crucifying entire villages of men and women and children; it was expansive, covering most of the earth in its power and culture and enforced religion. To stop them, it seemed, would take a divine legion of warriors, a giant fist slamming into the heart of Caesar… But God chose a fourteen year-old peasant girl instead. Out of anyone, he chose her.

 

We reflected on her song in response to Elizabeth, the places they have traveled and the powers they have shook, and at the close, when we sang in unison the Magnificat, it hit me like a breath of air. It hit me like the first time I read Jesus saying the Last Shall Be First, the Least of these are Me, Come to me, all who are weary. And things grew quieter for me. My head and my heart focused on this song of liberation, this unraveling of the Kingdom born from the most meager in the world, the most suited in spirit.

 

And now, I can’t stop seeing that teenage girl, young Mary, God put his hands on her shoulders after four hundred years of silence, and said, I want you to bring me back. I picture her proud and sure in her role as the first cannon of the revolution, standing defiant against an empire so large and so brutal, that it clutched the world in its’ darkness. Singing all the same.

 

And in this advent of uncomfortable noise, of my own heavy baggage, I am clinging to this song of a new day coming, I am staking my claim on this season. I am feeling it flowing in, entering my days, reverberating through me. I am hearing the good news in the sound of hope for least and the last.

 

I Hate Winter

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Yesterday evening, I held Wyatt by the window as the first snowfall came in. It was adorable. He was slapping the window, gasping like a baby chimp. To him, this is a new world of crazy. To him, sparkling diamonds are descending from the sky, streams of flickers in the dark. To him, this is some kind of wonderland. To me, this is heartbreaking and awful.

 

There are a lot of different winters out there. Some are pleasant. My uncle, for instance, said that in DC they’ll get an onslaught of snow that will draw out all the neighborhood kids, boys and girls scurrying up hills and bombing down on trash can lids, having late night snowball fights and snow angels and snowmen, “and the best part,” he said, “it’s all gone the next day. It’s too warm for it to stay here.”

 

Not in Minnesota. Here, winter is not a come and go kind of gal. Here, winter is a vampire fresh out the coffin and she’s thirsty. Starved, for our sadness, stimulated, in our struggle, and she goes about playfully painting the world in bleakness, freezing our roads to black ice, stealing all the heat out the air, making us so cold that our cheeks are red with insulating blood, and its’ like she’s sucking the life right out of us. Except, she goes slow, decidedly slow.

 

I look out the window at the seemingly harmless flakes making Wyatt laugh, and I know she’s just limbering up.

 

For a thousand reasons, I hate winter, but the biggest is because when I was already depressed, she made it worse. She seemed to goad me along in the darkness, leading me lower and lower with her persuasive sense of tragedy. And what might’ve been manageable in summer, was an impossibility in winter, as she convinced me to wade in deep until I couldn’t touch the bottom.

 

And it’s all a bit surprising how much it is hitting me now. I’m in a fairly good place in life, healthy emotionally and set in a new job that I kind of love. The old problems that winter once exacerbated are resolved, and there is no deep cause for sad, but still… the effects, distant echoes of long ago pain, come roaring back with the cold winds, amassing like the snow outside my door, leaving me with no return address. No one to blame but the sky.

 

Just the other day, I worked with one six year old that turned out to be more horrifying than any angry teenager I’ve known. In a locked room along with another teacher, we let him unhinge: flipping tables, throwing chairs at the wall, sniping pencils at us like we were dartboards.

 

I said, are you done? He replied, fuck off, bitch.

Six years old.

 

At one point, exhausted, I got down on a knee, gently put my hands on his shoulders to say something, but before I could he spit on me. I searched his face in disbelief, looking for some regret or fear in this little man, but all I saw was resolute eyes. So cold and severe for a six year old.

 

After ten more minutes of kicking and screaming, I heard my tired companion, his teacher, mutter a question that should have been blaring through my mind from the start. Who taught you this?

 

I am very cold in Minnesota, but I am not the only one. Instead of throwing my head beneath the pillow, drawing the blinds, ignoring everything around me, I need to spend some time being aware of this. I need to rise up, seek out, snatch rocks into my hands and slam them and slam them and slam them until some sparks of hope alleviate the weight of this season.

 

I need to be the first person to a kid who has never thought of humans as people with hearts and feelings and dignity. I really need to get to my email inbox, it’s stacked through the roof and daunting when I approach it, effectively making me see blessings of people wanting to connect as burdens. I need to see that this whole Seasonal Affective Disorder is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that we wall off the dark winter to keep away the sad, but we also wall off everyone else. Leaving us completely alone. And sad.

 

And that’s exactly what winter wants. To steal my joy, peace and health while I think I am escaping her wrath. While I think I have hid from her, the unspoken truth is, I’ve been playing into her game all along.

 

Winter is the calculating maniac taking us all down a notch. Be it the season of the year of the season of the soul. It is the laughing face peering down on your brokenness. It is the bully that meets you as soon as you step out the door. Winter is wearing away at all of us, none more or less than the other.

 

But maybe, if I stop seeing her closing in around me, stop believing in the strength of cold, I could smash this glass, wave a torch in the dark, be the glow at the end for fellow sojourners steeling themselves for this abominable eternity. Hoping that this time, it might not be so damn much. This time, it might be some kind of miracle.

Terms to Avoid…

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We all know the obvious ones, they don’t really warrant repeating, but I’ll give you two examples: Faggot. Dyke.

 

These two terms are never thrown accidentally, or by the arm of good intent, they are malicious, sharp slurs that, while many in the gay community have reclaimed as their own, are almost always deeply offensive. Obviously.

 

HOWEVER, the arm of good intent sometimes tosses out other terms that hit harder than they were ever meant to. When I hear the person that spoke it, typed it, tweeted it, I try to gently correct them, but then, I watch a deluge of heartfelt apologies come crashing in. Mistakes happen, but this seems to have gone too far! I imagine in these moments, somewhere out there, behind some screen, there is a lot of cringing and sighing and hands knocking heads. A lot of unnecessary guilt.

 

But listen, I get how tricky these conversations can be. Often, a word might just be the easier one to use in questions about the LGBTQ community as it quickly cuts to the chase of your ask. In a lot of ways, some words make more sense.

 

(Good example, Rachel Held Evans got some pushback on one post in which she used the term “homosexual relationships” opposed to same-sex romantic relationships. Rachel pointed out that she was primarily discussing orientation, where she uses both heterosexual and homosexual descriptors, and she didn’t use the term LGBTQ [rightly so] because this conversation wasn’t about Transgender people. Rachel went in and carefully edited the piece, so as not to distract from the conversation.)

 

Some might call mine and others’ offense to these terms (better said, the context in which they’re used) as overly-sensitive or censoring every conversation with Political Correctness, but the truth is, the terms make the conversation difficult. See, when you drop one (often, without knowing), my mind takes a detour from whatever conversation we’re having toward the pungent odor that that term brings in. It places you in a position of distrust, suggests a lack of concern on your part, be it fair or not.

 

But most of you, I know are trusting and considerate, and you just don’t know the harm of these small, but volatile social tacts. So I want to invite you to explore a few common ones. I hope you appreciate this!

 

Let’s start with…

 

 “Lifestyle”

 

Peggy Campolo, wife of Tony Campolo and gay rights advocate, once said,

 

“Madonna and I are both heterosexual women, but we live drastically different lifestyles.”

 

Her point? Gay people aren’t living into a lifestyle anymore than straight people are. We’re intricate and varied, human beings with jobs and families and, for a lot of us, a faith in Christ our hearts have been dyed in.

 

Typically, “lifestyle” has been used to suggest that being gay is a picked out identity, similar to choosing to become a Vegan or a Republican or a Chair Maker. It has been used for political reasons, arguing that gay people are not a class of individuals, but a bunch of straight folks suddenly choosing to be gay.

 

It seems so absurd now, but the word still has really sharp edges, an awful smell and would be best to be barred from this conversation.

 

(Also offensive, Sexual Preference)

 

“Homosexual”

 

I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with this descriptor, not because it’s not true of my sexual orientation, but because it feels as if I am being labeled in some lab somewhere, like an exotic frog.

 

For many, this word drums up the long dark history of clinical diagnoses of homosexuality as a mental disorder, which have been refuted now by the entire medical community. Even deeper, due to it’s clinical connection, this word was used by anti-gay people to stir fear into communities about the diseased homosexuals. It played into crude images of animalistic, depraved people that didn’t have any moral code or boundaries. It was used to stoke hatred.

 

Again, totally true in describing exclusive same-sex attraction, but inappropriate, offensive to use in reference to gay people.

 

“Admitted Homosexual”

 

As I explained above, homosexual isn’t a good word to refer to someone as, not because it isn’t true about their orientation, but because it drags a long history of abuse and detracts from the conversation.

 

Speaking of someone as an admitted homosexual is a double whammy. It perpetuates shame, that being gay should somehow be kept secret, or, on the flip side, something you should admit to others about, as if everyone is entitled to this part of your life. BAD TERM!

 

(Also offensive, Avowed Homosexual)

 

“Homosexual Relationship”

 

Very much the same as the above term, but slightly different. It boils the entire love, relationship, family of gay couples to what goes on in the bedroom. This has a history of use by anti-gay people to subtract love and meaning to intimate relationships, and instead play into the deviant, sex-crazy narrative.

 

~

 

I want you all to know that here, I am a very gracious person. We hold a small LGBTQ group at my church, one where people come and share their stories, and often, a straight newcomer will use a term that I will later explain to them was probably the wrong choice. They usually do something like this:

 

And I’ll lean in, throw a hand on their shoulder, simply say: “Grace.” They came because they wanted to learn. I showed up because I wanted to share. Out there on social media, people are trying to interact, trying to keep up, trying to educate themselves and humble themselves and take the necessary steps to loving their neighbor. These words detract from that, even if it is unintentional, they sort of ruin conversations. But there is always grace to go around, you can certainly expect that from me.

 

To check out other terms to watch out for, along with suggested words to substitute, check out the GLAAD Media Guide. It’s a great resource that helped me put together this post!

 

What I’m Into- November Edition

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I drove eighteen hours home from DC to Saint Paul in my small Saturn with busted up cruise control. By the time I got to Chicago, my right ankle was throbbing.

 

I was making good time up through Pennsylvania and into Ohio. Around 6 pm, I thought about speeding 15 over the limit the rest of the way in an effort to make it back in one day (the GPS said my ETA was 3:30 am) but then Indiana nearly tossed me off the road. Wall after wall of rain and air smashed into my windshield, making it almost impossible to see the two freightliner trucks boxing me in on the highway.

 

I pulled over at a Burger King in the middle of nowhere and sat in a booth for an hour searching my phone for old contacts in Chicago, someone with a couch I could crash on. Luckily, my sister-in-law’s sister and husband, Erin and Jeremy, were kind enough to take me in around 11 pm. They inflated an air mattress in the small study just off the hallway for me. I woke up around 7 am, helped myself to some coffee, and then Jeremy prayed a blessing over me for the rest of my journey which, surprisingly, was really moving.

 

And then I sped out of Chicago, into Wisconsin, busting through into Minnesota and I felt myself coming together again. All the familiarity filled some emptiness of the east coast.

 

This past week we spent at the cabin with all the extended family. It was perfect. We played games until all hours of the night, had an enormous feast, went around the table and said what we were thankful for with no shortage of tears and tons of mentions of Wyatt.

 

Our cabin sits on a large lake that is almost completely frozen over, a small circle of open water sits in the middle.

 

My brother wrote a song and made a little video for it, awhile ago, if you’d like to see it:

 

 

The street my cabin is on is a square mile block that sits beneath a dense forest of trees. I took a couple walks around it in the twilight chill, my favorite time of day. I stood on one side watching the sun radiate through the trees, casting each one in gold and shadow. At night, outside I looked up at a thousand twinkling stars covering in the intensely black northern sky. I was reminded of how this is my holy language. This is where God and I meet.

 

Let’s see what else…

 

I GOT A JOB.

 

When I was in DC I went to around three, maybe four thousand interviews where there was, on average, fifty other just as or more qualified candidates competing with me. As I was thinking of moving home, I started absentmindedly shooting out my resume to various places in Minnesota. Then they called.

 

The school I applied to be a para at thankfully agreed to a phone interview (despite the fudge on my application that implied I was in Minnesota already) and a few laughs and a couple days later, the principal called to offer me the job. I start tomorrow, wish me luck!

 

Books

 

On my way back, I listened to Gunslinger, the first of seven books in Steven King’s Dark Tower series. I got it because I love King, but also because it was one of the less expensive options in the criminal marketplace of audiobooks. I liked it. Whenever I read or listen to King I feel both happy at his incredible way of weaving a story, and insecure, because how does one DO THAT?

 

I read part way through a book on sexual ethics, Marvin Ellison’s Making Love Just, which is premised on the idea that intimate relationships are situations of social justice. That instead of calling sexual acts inherently sinful, the real sins we should be focusing on are those of oppression and exploitation of vulnerability in relationships. Planning on writing a series on this book.

 

I’ve re-opened Barry Lopez’s About this Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory, a book that is so chalk full of impossible imagery that, like King, I am made insecure. Lopez is one of the best writers of our time, and his attention to the natural world around us reveals so much beauty that goes unseen. Here’s a passage from him about where he grew up, beside the ocean.

 

“Standing in seawater stirred to wavelets by the wind, my head thrown back, I’d turn slowly to gaze at the towering crown of the elm, backlit and twinkling in noon light, turn and catch the long horizon of the sound to the east, keep turning to follow the scudding sailboats on that wind. On the hottest days I sought out the shade of the big elm, but I would go back into the water again to experience that particular yearning- to swim, to sail, to go. I would wait in the water for something to emerge, to appear in that empty space above its surface.”

 

Shows

 

I have successfully melded my watching habits with social media and Kate Green of @cgmama and Kristen Soo of @readstooswift watch the Voice together as if the three of us scattered across the continent are passing popcorn on the couch. Matthew Schuler is still my favorite, thus I was biting my nails to the bone when he was thrown into the bottom three. Luckily, twitter saved him tens of thousands of #voicesaves MATTHEW!!! tweets. Close call.

 

Other shows (I’m not proud of this): Parenthood, Scandal, The Walking Dead, Homeland, New Girl, The Mindy Project, Web Therapy and more I’m probably forgetting. I am helpless.

 

On the blog this past month I wrote for Addie Zierman about the Marin Foundation for her One Small Change Series, I wrote about Incognito, a great coach in my life, and this effed up culture of masculinity we cling to, and, exhausted by how dark much of evangelicalism is getting today, I wrote about my pouch of Mustard Seeds, how I keep my faith surviving in a harsh climate.

 

Linking up with Leigh Kramer for the always enjoyable “What I’m Into” synchroblog!

 

 

What have you been into?