Monthly Archives: March 2012

WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?)

WWJD: An acronym for “What Would Jesus Do,” a phrase so popular in the 1990s among Evangelical Christians that it was worn widely in bracelet form. The bracelet was meant to remind Christians to act in a way that communicates the love of God to others.

At first, the woven cloth is uncomfortable and rubs against your skin. You wear it anyway because you’re not ashamed of your faith. And also, because it’s The Thing right now, available in every color imaginable, noticeable even on the wrists of celebrities.

Should you sit next to that kid who is alone at the lunch table? WWJD. Cheat on that test? WWJD. Go on a missions trip? Smoke a joint in the parking lot? Pick up that child’s photograph from the Compassion International table, and promise to send $28 in support each month? What would Jesus do?

At fourteen, it’s as simple as a simple question. As easy as four letters on a bracelet.

You can’t remember the day you stopped noticing. One day it was scratchy, the next, soft and frayed on your skin. You’ve lived with it for so long that you pay about as much attention that acronym as you do the lines on your own hand.

*

The boy in the hoodie sweatshirt was shot for no reason that anyone can understand. It’s been a month now, and still the facts are a little hazy, his killer free. His name is still heavy among us. His picture circulates through the news – dark skin, glad eyes, wide smile.

Elsewhere in the world, a guerilla leader named Joseph Kony hurts children in unspeakable ways. I know his name because of a video made by a man who is broken in his own way. I know because the video was distributed by an imperfect organization. Because the internet blazed with it for weeks.

The world’s great hurts are trending on Twitter, throbbing like a great open wound. Everyone has an opinion, a point of view, an answer.

Would Jesus wear a Kony 2012 t-shirt? Help plaster the city in signs on a night in April? Would he shake out his pockets to give change to the Invisible Children, or would he overturn their tables in a rage?

Perhaps he would wear a hoodie in honor of Treyvon Martin, and the hood raised up over his head would communicate a hard truth: “What you do to each other, you also do to me.” Or maybe Jesus would just take a Greyhound bus toFlorida, put his hand on the boy’s body, and raise him straight up from the dead.

*

My almost-three-year-old is standing on purpose on the fingers of my almost-one-year-old, and I am yelling at him in my loudest, most terrible voice.

These boys of mine are everywhere all at once, requiring a store of patience that I don’t have, a level of consistency that I can’t sustain. I’m cutting up another frozen pizza, wiping sauce from floors and faces, carrying, yelling, singing, hugging. I’m lugging him to the stair-steps for another time out.

And the tragedies keep happening, the world breaking open at its seams with grief.

I don’t know what Jesus would do about all this murder, racism, genocide, pain. I can’t even manage to take a picture of myself in a hoodie, because my camera is dead and I can’t find the charger in that eyesore that is my “junk box.”

But I do know that once, a man named Lazarus died, and Jesus wept. A woman was condemned, and he offered her mercy. He walked, healed, listened, narrated. He opened his arms and let the children come.

The dishes are out of control and the phone is ringing. We’re late for class, and on the other side of the world, a child is being ripped from his home to fight an evil war.

We’re late, and I’m yelling at my toddler who is white and therefore privileged in some sense. He will likely be able to wear a hoodie at age 17 without being considered a threat.

I don’t know what Jesus would do about all of this mess. Except love. Love, love, love.

The answer is as simple and as complicated as that.

6 Month Blogoversary

As of yesterday, I have officially been blogging for six months.

It feels like a significant milestone to me…probably because I’m the equivalent of a blogging pre-teen, and I still think that half-birthdays count.

Liam was barely four months old, our whole family in the throws of a late-summer cold. I’d recently broken my permanent retainer bar trying to open bottle of olive oil with my teeth, and it was still flapping around in my mouth because the baby was teething and the toddler was insane and I could not, for the life of me, figure out a time to schedule an orthodontist appointment.

And of course, that’s when things like this happen. At the worst possible time.

An email from my agent: We really think you need to start a blog. There was all this talk of platform, that ugly word that sends introverted writers the world over spiraling into McDonalds/chick-flick comas. Or at least that’s what happened to this writer.

I remember thinking, When on earth am I going to carve out time to write a blog? What in the world am I even going to write about?

Here is an evangelical phrase for you: God works all things for the good. It is a paraphrase of a Bible verse (Romans 8:28), and it’s one of those mildly irritating things people say when you’re going through something crappy or frustrating. It’s meant to give a little perspective and hope, but it often feels reductive and trite.

But I think about this blog and I think about this verse, this cliché, and I think that maybe all we’re really trying to say is this: you are given the thing that you never asked for, never wanted, and it changes you in ways you could never have imagined.

There had been, of course, the book, and writing it had turned out to be important in processing my fiery, evangelical past and the subsequent loneliness and depression. This is one of those gifts of memoir: you spin and spin and spin your life until it’s no longer straw but art, and the creating brings a kind of wholeness.

But the book was done, and I’d been floundering. I was tentative toward faith, a little afraid to approach it, distrustful of the methods and language I’d used in the past.

And then here it was: this list of terms, clichés, metaphors, catch-phrases, and certainly they’re not all bad or obsolete. It’s just that, for me, re-imagining them has been like chipping away at some nameless thing that had calcified over my faith and made God inaccessible.

It’s slow, long work. But every once in a while, something falls away, and for a moment I can see straight to the wild, beating heart of it all.

I didn’t expect this. I didn’t think I’d be changed in the writing.

I never imagined that the internet itself would be full of love and friendship, all these little grace pockets, ready and waiting for me. And you. I never imagined you.

I have been buoyed by your honesty, changed by your insight, encouraged by your experiences, so similar to my own. And I’m thankful because with every month of blogging, I am finding myself a little less lonely, a little less cynical, a little less afraid.

So anyway, this is all my long-winded way of saying that it’s my six month blogoversary, and I am grateful and I’m tired and I’m happy.

Here’s to another six months. And then another. And then another.

Faith Journey

Ask me in winter, and I’ll tell you that Minnesota is a vortex, a quicksand of dirty, cold slush that grabs you until you’re stuck. A God-forsaken mess of subzero temperatures.

But in summer, the loons call to each other on ten thousand lakes and the light stretches into ten o’clock at night, and the whole place smells like pine. We drive north, and the landscape drops rocky into Lake Superior, and only the rugged souls can manage a swim because even in July, the water is take-your-breath-away cold.

Once I went swimming in Lake Superior during a rainstorm. Under a double rainbow. I’m not even kidding. It was like a postcard, and it’s moments like these that that suck you in, and then, before you know it, it’s January, and you’re swearing under your breath about the whole thing.

I rage against it, but the truth is that I chose Minnesota at 18 when I packed my bags and drove my green Honda here for college. This place belongs to me now, and my life has found meaning and definition in the cold, the warmth, the pine, the water.

And we say that faith is a journey, and, as far as well-worn metaphors go, it’s a good one. I like the way it reminds us all that faith is long and winding. That it’s less of a defining moment; more of a kind of movement.

But sometimes I find myself using that phrase – faith journey – to distance myself from others.

“She’s on her own journey,” I might say of the one who doesn’t champion my causes, agree with my insights, share my opinions. It’s subtle, but what I think I might really be saying is, She’s not quite there yet. She has not arrived, doesn’t know what I know, hasn’t yet seen the light.

What I really mean is that she’s not like me.

*

There’s this moment when Highway 35 rises out of the birch trees, and you can see all of it spread before you. The lake. The bridge. Smokestacks pouring white into the air. That rocky shoreline, both marred and enhanced by the work of life going on around it, and it makes me wonder, sometimes, if faith isn’t more like a landscape.

What if faith is soil, air, water? The streets you walk on, the lot you park your car every day? What if it’s a kind of place, and it’s full of people, and everyone’s just trying to make a life here the best that they can?

You are here. Some days, you can’t remember why. You think about leaving, relocating to someplace warmer, someplace easier, someplace new. Certainly things would be better in, say, Hawaii.

But in the end, you stay because it is your home, because you’ve chosen it. Because it’s chosen you.

The ice-storm comes, turns to slush, turns to water, running clear and clean in the gutters. The lilacs pop purple. The voice of the loon rises out of your sadness, and faith is all of these things at one time or another. Beautiful and terrible. Life-giving and exhausting. Easy and hard.

The winter comes, goes, comes. You stay another day, another month, another year. You drink water pumped from ten thousand lakes and find that you are filled.

A Feature Article, Harsh Comments, and Why I Write

The Feature

I found Relevant Magazine years ago, just as the depression was tapering down, the healing slowly beginning. The first copies were given to me by a  hipster who drove a school bus and frequented my Caribou, and I took them, because something about his kind of Christianity disarmed me.

What I found in the pages was a kind of grace. A willingness to look at issues from all sides. Intelligence and wit and beauty. Over the past several years, this magazine has been a source of encouragement for me as I’ve re-imagined my own broken faith.

So when one of their online editors contacted me a month ago and asked me to write an article based on this blog, I could not have been more excited.

I set to work. It took me an obscene amount of time, but somehow, I got it done. (You can read it here.)

The Response

I stopped reading the comments after the sixth page (so if you wrote something awesome after that, sorry. I’ll never know). Let me be clear, there were a number of very kind notes. Hundreds of “Likes” on Facebook. Dozens of Tweets.

But, of course, those aren’t the things that stay with you. The comments that you internalize as a writer (as a person) are inevitably the harsh ones, the critical ones. And there were a lot of those.

My first response, of course, is to try to defend myself. It’s to write a thousand individual comments saying, “That’s not what I meant at all. Let me explain.” My first impulse is to rewrite it, to try to make you like me better, or at least understand me.

But I keep thinking about that story at the very beginning of the Bible, that part in Genesis where we all got together and tried to climb to heaven on our own. We built a tower, called it Babel, and God said, “Enough now,” and split us into a hundred thousand different languages. Scattered us all over the face of the earth.

I think that part of what it is to be human is to misunderstand each other. We spend ten excruciating hours writing a feature article, or we try to say it out loud in just the right way, and still, we hurt and confound one another.

Sin means that the whole world is broken—even the words we use to try to repair it.

The Same Old Discussion

If you’ve spent any time here, you know that this blog is something of a living glossary. My thing is Christian cliché. Evangelical catchphrases. The words we’ve whittled into weapons and used to stab one another in the back. The ones that have been so overused we hardly think about them at all anymore.

I’m not doing it for laughs. I’m not trying to take cheap shots at the culture that raised me. I do it because I’ve said every last cliché in all sincerity. Because I spent ten years getting into the Word until one day, I couldn’t find my way back in.

I write because I know what it’s like to say, “Just get plugged in!” and I know what it’s like to have it spoken back at you when you are your most desperate, lonely self. I write because, believe it or not, I agree with that old adage, “Don’t put God in a box,” and because I think that it’s possible to do that even with words.

I write because in the end, what I have to give you is this: my whole, unedited self. I write because I love it and hate it and can’t seem to stop doing it. Because I believe that the work of God is redemption, and I believe that even words can be redeemed, even this same old, tired discussion.

You can love it or hate it or tweet it or slam it, but I’ll be here again on Thursday. I’ll write down another term, try to get at it in a fresh way with my own inadequate words.

I hope you’ll come. I hope you’ll offer your own thoughts, your own words, your own stories; I hope you’ll join me in this tentative, imperfect, messy work of redemption. I hope we can figure it out together.

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