In the end, their calling, and their value in the kingdom of God comes not from the approval of a denomination or of the other workers, but in their having been come-and-gotten by God.

Nadia Bolz-Webber on Matthew 20:1-16


Forty-One. Odd Sheep Out.

I am convinced that Jesus is actually the Son of God and that He came and died so that who ever would believe would not parish but get to know and experience everlasting love and life with the Father. This being my conviction, I also happen to believe that Jesus is the best that that ever happened to me and that the abundant life I have partaken of in the Spirit has radically transformed every part of how I interact with reality. However, I still must resign myself to the fact that after nearly a decade of following Christ I still am far from mastering this whole ‘life in the Spirit’ thing. I guess you could say I still have  at least a few (hundred) things I still need to figure out.

You want to know what I did have locked down though?

This funny little world that has dominated Western gospel thought for the last several decades and that is what we would call American Evangelical sub-culture. We have our own books, movies, games (I still NEED to know who was convinced that Christian Guitar Hero was a good idea?) fast food establishments, TV shows that we all collectively watch and feel good about, TV shows that we all collectively watch and feel guilty about, clothes that we will wear, clothes that we would never wear, philosophies on …well every faculty of life, and we also claim a monopoly on both Truth and the proper biblical hermeneutic.

And I knew this world. I understood the structures, I defended the structures, I upheld all of its tenets (well minus the movies because…well I am just never going to be able to like “Facing The Giants”)

Over the years there were a lot of parts about this protective bubble that I was more or less disillusioned with but I could easily overlook these things because A. I  felt like I knew the intentions of the people who were pumping out the content and they were ones for good and B. Because I was entirely captivated by Jesus, by the Scriptures, and by the divine romance I had found myself caught in that was both rich and transcendent. I didn’t mind that sometimes the breadth of spirituality found in the Christian tradition and belief was obscured by trite and cheap phrases, a certain winged politics, neat and tidy categories, and this unanimously shared notion that we were never to ‘rock the boat’ amongst ourselves…butttt as soon as one of us does such a thing in the public square at the expense of an already marginalized group then one is applauded for “taking a stand on God’s Truth” and it’s chicken sandwiches for everyone!

I say all of this because throughout all of this time I was generally considered a part of the ‘leadership’ in these conservative faith circles. I somehow found a way to squeeze, bend, and jump through some hoops to the point of being able to fit. I learned to receive rebuke, admonishment, and correction…both the kind which is exercised graciously and the kind where I get told that I have a “resistant personality that could destroy the Kingdom” without any context or clarification as to what I said or had done to merit that description. I learned how to not conform to the patterns of this world but to be clipped and groomed into the image of the other girls within the non-denominational contemporary Christian world. About half-way through my general inability to identify with any of the Francine Rivers books I tried so hard to read I decided it was time to just focus on my prayer life, daily walking with God, and seeking out wise council from a few other Jesus-loving rabble rousers who had been doing the same We-Don’t-Fit dance for much longer than I and somehow I got by with a lot of eye-brow raises but never having to fall victim to exclusion.

The first time I began to recognize the residual effects of this phenomena was last summer as I was thinking about my brother. If you know my brother then I don’t need to explain…but if you don’t we will just say that he is a little rough around the edges. He is completely genuine, too smart for his own good, musically genius, endlessly creative, and so pro-anarchy and anti-establishment that he has more or less been in some kind of trouble since my earliest childhood memories. My brother is also a human. A human who both needs love and is fully capable of giving love. I trust my human brother with my life and despite our different religious identities my atheistic human brother still respects the idea of life having meaning and there being some kind of universal story interconnecting all of our lives. Sometimes we talk about God and especially lately because for whatever reason coming out to my brother made me that much more personally and emotionally accessible to him. You see, in the last several months I have had my eternal destination called into question and condemned more than my brother has his entire life and of course he finds that, given all that I’ve told you above about myself and him respectively, wildly hilarious. He likes to know how I am dealing with many of my friends getting all weird and Truth-speaky. He likes to know what it is like to interact with people regularly who have a planned questions and pre-tense to their conversation. He just likes to know how I am doing. Sometimes I laugh. And sometimes I cry. I cry because I miss the days when the people who God has loved me through and God has used me to do the same for them didn’t have to dichotomize my existence and relegate me to this category of “walking in open rebellion” and “choosing my sin over Jesus” and all of these other kind of bombastic things…but my tears are for so much more than this.

I cry because behind my brother’s questions about me and my experiences are my brother’s questions about his own life and his own experiences. Who does God say He is? Could He love someone like me? What actually is grace?

My brother never took issue with Jesus. He never resisted the gospel for sake of the gospel. My brother just wasn’t ever capable of the social gymnastics it took to morph into evangelical culture.

Will my brother come to know and qualify the message of Jesus? It is certainly possible.

But will my brother enter as that as a black sheep? Absolutely. My brother will simply become a little black sheep who loves Jesus just as I am a little rainbow sheep who loves Jesus.

Thirty-Five. And Then I Became An Activist.

g6e8siuo.3-0_1Two-thousand years ago the public ministry of Jesus turned the Palestinian world upside down. The Roman Empire’s understanding of power, influence, morality, and belief in its general sense were all challenged and left both scrutinized and exposed. Not only were the weak, the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized able to be seen and heard…the weak, the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized were put on display and esteemed. They were affirmed, accepted, legitimized, and qualified – not merely ‘tolerated.’

There is no historical gospel without the historically powerless, the historically stigmatized, the historically “least of these.”

And in this way, is it not reasonable to believe that this is the same type of work we are called to as we “follow in His steps?” Is it not reasonable to believe that instead of living our lives in fear of “slippery slopes” and  accidentally “fighting for the wrong side” in these culture wars that we’d actually DO SOMETHING about the variations of injustice and inequality that still pervade our society?

The idea of working in ‘advocacy’ was never something that I expected or even imagined. Quite frankly, I think I was taught to stay away from this type of work lest I ‘back slide’ and forsake the call to foster the life and way of Kingdom. However, I have become increasingly convinced by way of both the Scriptures and tradition that this…this fighting for the voiceless & ending the discrimination, hatred, and ignorance surrounding the dignity and pursuit of full life for all people regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, and so on and forth is actually a central part of this ‘Upside down Kingdom’ we have come to understand through the message of Christ.

Twenty-Six. Servant Song.

In the dark of this soul, my God I pant for You.

desperation tastes like dust

frustration narrows my throat

and mental circles can’t stop asking

“Why and where?”

Offering turns to turmoil

affliction throbs in my chest

and broken reasoning won’t quit saying

“Just. give. it. up.”

Bones have been crushed

flesh  has been pierced

and incessant pressure keeps on giving

salt and acid, salt and acid.

but through the cracked earth

does the bloom still come!

beyond the cloud the light streams above

Hope is seen to float and yet is heavily anchored by love

more than the notion that everything may or may not happen for a reason or the ethereal ‘for all under  the sun there is an appointed season.’

I cling to a message that maintains  this shell could be destroyed and I’d still grow and gain

tthis discipline and chiseling away isn’t for nothing, isn’t in vain

so  call it a crutch

call it what you may

but I’m convinced of a Cross, I’m persuaded by a name

Oh,  yes I believe in caged birds that sing and bloody wings that still fly

arrow holes that may never close

but form and birth wounds which heal

and the death that leads to life.

Twenty-Five. The Ache In Achor.

Oh, Indulgence
what I gave to satiate you!

All for silver, gold, and a cloak of brilliance

I coveted and took
witheld and hid
stood indignant, covered myself with pride and fear.

Oh, Israel
What I did to trouble you!

Lies, shame, and a crime of proportion
I earned my stones
invoked judgment
offended counsel, tainted the nation with ashes and crimson.

Oh, Hosea
what You’ve done and given to restore me!

Romance, vineyards, and a gateway of hope
You persuaded and promised
torn and healed
revived tenderly, dressed wounds with dignity and white.

Twenty-Four. Mister Piper

“This is a wise and cautious balance. It is wise not only because with God all things are possible, but also because “either-or” thinking is especially unsuitable when dealing with sexual orientation.
There are not simply three groups: Heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual. There are hundreds of variations of impulses that make up our peculiar sexual identities. This means that “change” is not a movement from one of three groups to another of three groups. Rather, it is a totally unpredictable reconfiguration of dozens of impulses and desires. And these desires and impulses are interwoven with dozens of personal and relational and spiritual realities, all of which are moving and shifting as God and his word and his people come to bear on the totality of a person’s life.
Is change possible? From this perspective change is inevitable. We are all changing — in a hundred ways including how sexuality fits into our lives. And for the Christian, the Spirit of God and the word of God are gloriously in the mix. It is a lifelong quest.”

John Piper on “Reorientation.”

Twenty-Two. Babylonian Fire.

The voices have risen and all the talk is clear

all the Things She Said are sure and the notion of flesh is impossible not to hear.

Bow down to the idol, worship the splendorous gold!

Bow down to their god, worship the statue & behold!

If you dare say you wont

keep your affections and don’t

it’s the end you’ve warranted, a life resigned to smolder and smoke.

Costs considered and consequences secure

I’d rather walk the funeral pyre then succumb to coercive fear.

Shocking and audacious, resistant and robust

but even if I burn away I cannot serve the system or worship the image they set up.

The binding in place and the execution set

soldiers on all sides to burn this body to death.

To my confidant’s and my opposition’s surprise I’m not touched by the flames and we all ask why?

Preservation, protection, and providence collide

Never of my own devices

but rather

the Fourth Man to my right.